Friday, January 30, 2009

TV and Comics This Week (Final Crisis, LOST, BSG, 24)

FInal Crisis 7. Grant Morrison has been pissing me off lately, with the messy art in Final Crisis 6, and the ambiguous (and I have argued not in a good way) chose-your-own-ending to Batman RIP. And as much as I love his earlier work, I do HATE fill in artists. People were always telling me that messy inconsistent artistic chaos was great because it matched the theme of the book -- intentionally in Invisibles, unintentionally in New X-Men. I don't deny that it matches thematically; I just deny that that particular way of expressing the theme leads to bad storytelling. People need to stop praising ambiguity and chaos as good things in and of themselves -- it is how it is handled by the writer that makes it work or fail, and I call FAIL on BATMAN RIP and the INVISIBLES. That said I LOVED Final Crisis 7 in all its ambiguous messy glory -- Morrison can stick hell of a landing, even on a messy book (New X-Men, Invisibles). Batman RIP promised a reveal of the Black Glove through a series of red herrings, then failed to deliver anything. Final Crisis 7 promised to celebrate the insanity of the multiverse and superhero comics generally and could not have delivered more thoroughly -- Supermen from the multiverse team up to use solar powers on a cosmic vampire, while the Green Lanterns show up to collectively stake the thing; the army of god arrives with them at the same time Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew show up -- and you realize this is what superhero comics do that nothing else can. I am amazed that Morrison was able to play with Obama joking that he was Superman by opening with the black president of the United States who was also the Superman of his world. Morrison will often talk about creating a new kind of storytelling mode, and sometimes this seems an empty boast, as it did when he described 52 as genuinely different. The most important thing about Final Crisis 7 is that is DOES seem like a new kind of way to tell a mainstream superhero story. I talked about Morrison's elliptical style in the first two issue of Final Crisis and said it was not fully figured out yet, but it seemed like a good idea -- he really figures it out here. The thing reads more like some crazy John Ashbery poem than anything else, and I absolutely love it. Every panel was fun even when I was not sure what was going on. (Did Hawkman die?)

LOST 5.3. I liked LOST this week, more than the first two episodes, though I am not sure how much I have to say about it. I really like the island skipping though time as a way to tell all those stories that have only been alluded to and I love how quickly we made it all the way back to 1954 to get a key detail -- Widmore was an Other in his youth. I am really excited to hear about the "Adam and Eve" bodies in the caves from season one (which, because of time travel could be characters we know), the Pirate Ship landing, Rousseau's crew, the Dharma people and the war between the Dharma people and the Others, and that four toed statue. I never saw Cane but I heard it was good -- in any case I am glad it got cancelled so that Richard can be in all the island flashbacks. And, at some point, will the end of in the future? Also that new girl Other is totally Faraday's Mom, who is totally Mrs Hawking -- check the hair and the first name and the timeframe.

BSG. Several people got upset because with only nine episodes to go they felt BSG should be going mythology episodes all the time, but BSG has always been about stories centered on people. Mary McDonnell owned the episode with here scene in the hallway arguing that her and Adama deserve a break. It was not perfect -- the opening scene with the Ultrasound had some nice camera work hanging on the image for a long time, but it was very strange to see Tigh and Six acting like a happy family so suddenly. Starbuck's cripple jokes were really lame and that scene lacked the acting chops it needed -- Starbuck needs something to DO. I am still on the fence about Gaeda as Ahab. The other complaint was Callie, who already morphed quickly into a shrew willing to kill her baby, now revealed as unfaithful as well. It had to happen. Clearly the writers decided on the final five late in the game -- and at no point during the first half of season 4 did anyone mention the fact that Callie's baby was a cylon human hybrid and thus as important as Hera. I figured that baby was going out the airlock with Callie, but this is how they wanted to keep Hera uniquely important. One detail that fails , however, is it made a lot more sense that Callie wanted to kill her baby when she planned to kill herself if she thought the baby was half cylon. Now she just seems really mean. A rare instance of poor plotting on the part of the writers gave her a very unfortunate -- and I am sure some will argue misogynistic -- character arc.

24. 24 was good and action packed this week -- better than it has been for a bit. But it is still pretty foolish. This show needs a new gimick.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #194

[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 #194
“Juggernaut’s Back in Town”

While from late 1984 to early 1985 Claremont was reaching new heights of narrative complexity with Bill Sienkiewicz on New Mutants, he seems to have been relatively less inspired by the art on Uncanny. John Romita Jr. is a formidable artist by any standard, but compared to Sienkiewicz he is of course much more conventional. So in February of ’85, while New Mutants completed the multi-layered “Legion” trilogy, featuring a metaphoric struggle between an Arabic terrorist and an Israeli mutant -- a story that still seems timely over two decades later – the Uncanny X-Men fight the Juggernaut for the umpteenth time.

What lifts the story above expectation is Claremont’s shrewd decision to transfer his apparent own sense of ennui as an author to that of the characters. In one of Claremont’s funniest openers, we get a montage of the X-Men hearing a radio report of Juggernaut’s return to New York City, and most of them react with boredom, apathy, or – most humorously in Nightcrawler’s case – a petulant tantrum. The sequence (filled with lovely art details by Romita Jr. including, marvelously, Kitty phasing through her alarm clock so that it explodes and she can go back to sleep) can’t help but bring a grin. The very notion that the X-Men are simply fed up with this sort of thing is a wonderful dash of prosaic realism, lifting the story into being something beyond the rote superhero clichés it makes fun of.

The bit wherein Wolverine talks Nightcrawler into going out to take on Juggernaut again is priceless as well, worthy of extended quotation:

Nightcrawler: “Anyone ever tell you, Logan, that you’re a sadistic brute?”
Wolverine: “You’re the first.”
Nightcrawler: “We’re in no shape for this.”
Wolverine: “We’re also all there is.”
Nightcrawler: “Do we have to?”
Wolverine: “Nope. We never have to.”
Nightcrawler: “Sigh – coffee?”
Wolverine: “Already brewed.”

Logan’s deadpan responses are quite funny, a canny way of sweetening the firm undercurrent of the X-Men’s responsibility (“We’re also all there is”). Note also that Wolverine doesn’t contradict Kurt’s assertion that the X-Men are in “no shape for this,” nor is he enough of a “sadistic brute” to suggest that they go out to fight the Juggernaut before they’ve had their morning coffee. Hilarious.

Claremont also comes up with a clever new use for Rogue’s powers in Uncanny #194: Although Rogue had previously absorbed several characters’ powers simultaneously (it was during her first appearance in Avengers Annual #10), this issue marks the first time Claremont has made a visual trick of the idea. The image of the Rogue/Nightcrawler/Colossus amalgam is great, very comic-booky, and it’s also nice to see a reiteration of Nightcrawler’s trick from two issues earlier of teleporting only a piece of the enemy.

“Juggernaut’s Back in Town” also features the use of a simple, but classic, trick in the arsenal of any good serial superhero writer: The taking down of a classic powerhouse villain to demonstrate how formidable the NEW bad guy is. Granted, Cain Marko’s “unstoppable” gimmick had been devalued over the years thanks to various comics in which he was physically overpowered. Still, Nimrod’s ability to toss Juggernaut around like a toy is a good shorthand way of establishing his power-level. It also continues Claremont’s political re-alignment of the X-Men. Once again, they find themselves in sympathy with former enemies – outcasts, in other words – in the face of a new enemy who represents the Establishment (Nimrod was built by the U.S. government, his entire existence dedicated to the maintenance of the status quo). Not only do the X-Men protect Juggernaut in spite of the fact that he’s a “jerk” (another hilarious line from Rogue toward the end of the issue), but they also escape the scene of the altercation via the Morlock tunnels.

Annotations department: The epilogue set at KGB headquarters with Colonel Vazhin ranting about a coming Armageddon goes nowhere – but in an oblique symmetry, Rogue’s listening to the “Nazgul” on Page 5 is a reference to George R.R. Martin’s 1984 sci-fi novel “The Armageddon Rag.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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, January 27, 2009

Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters -- Afghan Branch

TODAY'S PICTURES: Afghan girls at school.

Dust, from Morrison's New X-Men run, was born in Afghanistan. 

Jason Powell on X-Men/Alpha Flight #’s 1-2

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

“The Gift”

Published in late 1985 but set chronologically earlier (circa Uncanny #193), the X-Men/Alpha Flight miniseries is one of Claremont’s purest stories, possessing a sweetness and simplicity that are almost musical. He works from a premise conceived by committee -- it is credited collectively to Jim Shooter, Ann Nocenti and Denny O’Neil (at the time the editor-in-chief, the X-Men editor and the Alpha Flight editor, respectively). One would expect that to be the kiss of death creatively, but the premise is rather direct: In order to gain the favor of a pantheon of beings even more powerful than gods, Loki (the Norse god of mischief) tries to give the world a gift: a magic fountain capable of creating a utopia for all of humanity, but at the cost of all our souls. Take away the Marvel Universe trappings, and it’s a timeless and universal theme.

Re-teamed with penciller Paul Smith, whose work is as beautiful as ever, Claremont crafts a work rich in character detail. Unburdened by the latticework of plot threads that now continually rest upon the proceedings in the monthly Uncanny title, he is able to let this story unfold with grace and sensitivity. Potentially clichéd sequences, i.e., extended moments of mentally or physically handicapped characters (Puck, Aurora, Rogue) being cured thanks to “the gift” contain a genuine sense of joy. This story also contains a key scene in the X-Men canon, historically: Scott learning that Madelyne is pregnant. In depressingly prosaic terms, thanks to post-Claremont ret-cons, this is kind of the “first appearance” of popular X-character Cable, and thus one of the most significant moments in X-Men history. More importantly in terms of creative expression and emotional weight, and certainly for the purposes of this series (which could not be less interested in the banal story developments that followed immediately in the wake of Claremont’s departure), this is simply one of the sweetest moments in X-Men history.

Rachel Summers, meanwhile, once again starts weeping (as she does at virtually everything said or done in the present since she arrived from the future) at the news that Madelyne’s baby is a boy and, thus, not her. Considering that Madelyne wasn’t her mother in the alternate timeline anyway – not to mention the very fact that this timeline IS alternate – you’d think this would all be moot. To give Claremont credit, however, he parlays Rachel’s angst into a genuinely tear-jerking final scene between Cyclops and Rachel in issue 2 of the miniseries.

Other standout characterizations in X-Men/Alpha Flight include that of Colossus, the only X-Man (other than Rachel) who proves willing to accept Loki’s gift despite the sacrifice; and of Rogue, who develops a charming rapport with Alpha Flight’s Northstar (the first gay superhero, though in 1985 he was still closeted) over the course of the two-parter.

Most intriguing of all is Claremont’s use of Madelyne Pryor in the comic. Made into a healer by Loki’s fountain, she is tested more intensely than any other character. Loki puts the screws to her excruciatingly in the story’s climactic sequence – and she buckles. When put to the ultimate test, she comes down on the side of selling out to keep her power. This is another example of serendipity via serialization. At the time he wrote this arc for Scott’s wife, Claremont surely didn’t know that three years later he’d write a massive X-Men crossover that hinged on Madelyne making a deal with a demon, trading her soul for power. Yet in her confrontation with Loki, this is pretty much exactly what happens. Retroactively then, “The Gift” turns out to contain a very key bit of foreshadowing regarding Madelyne’s ultimate fate in Claremont’s X-Men saga.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Girl Talk's Feed the Animals

This album is entertaining the hell out of me. I am going to try to review it later this week. It is a cento, or something in the vein of Kill Bill. For now, check it out. The end of the "No Pause," in which cute jewish Yael Naim plays under Eminem after being introduced by Hendrix, is one of my favorite bits.

1. "Play Your Part (Pt. 1)" - 4:45

This track samples from:

0:00 Roy Orbison - "Oh, Pretty Woman"
0:01 UGK featuring OutKast - "International Player's Anthem (I Choose You)"
0:01 The Spencer Davis Group - "Gimme Some Lovin'"
0:03 TTC - "J'ai Pas Sommeil"
0:42 DJ Funk - "Pump That Shit"
0:55 Cupid - "Cupid Shuffle"
1:08 Pete Townshend - "Let My Love Open the Door"
1:19 Unk - "Walk It Out"
1:59 Twisted Sister - "We're Not Gonna Take It"
2:04 Huey Lewis and the News - "The Heart of Rock & Roll"
2:13 Lil Mama - "G-Slide (Tour Bus)"
2:29 Ludacris featuring Shawnna - "What's Your Fantasy"
2:36 Jurassic 5 - "Baby Please"
2:36 Temple of the Dog - "Hunger Strike"
2:48 Birdman featuring Lil Wayne - "Pop Bottles"
3:01 Rage Against the Machine - "Freedom"
3:02 Aaliyah featuring Timbaland - "We Need a Resolution"
3:02 Birdman and Lil Wayne - "Stuntin' Like My Daddy"
3:05 T.I. - "What You Know"
3:17 Edwin Starr - "War"
3:41 Sinead O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2 U"
4:13 Shawnna - "Gettin' Some" (which samples "Blowjob Betty" by Too Short, which samples "Ring the Alarm" by Tenor Saw)
4:32 Jay-Z featuring UGK - "Big Pimpin'" (which samples "Khosara" by Abdel Halim Hafez)
4:33 Kelis featuring Too $hort - "Bossy"
4:34 Southside Movement - "Save the World"

6. "No Pause" - 3:12

This track samples from

0:00 Faith Evans - "Love Like This"
0:00 Tom Tom Club - "Genius of Love"
0:00 The Crooklyn Clan featuring Fatman Scoop - "Get Your Hands Up"
0:00 Missy Elliott - "Work It"
0:01 Full Force - "House Party"
0:18 Nu Shooz - "I Can't Wait"
0:58 Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force - "Looking for the Perfect Beat"
0:58 Led Zeppelin - "The Crunge"
0:59 Kid n' Play - "Gittin' Funky"
1:00 Run-D.M.C. - "Sucker M.C.'s"
1:01 Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force - "Who You Funkin' With?"
1:01 Heart - "Magic Man"
1:02 DJ Khaled featuring Paul Wall, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Fat Joe and Pitbull - "Holla at Me"
1:04 Public Enemy - "Rebel Without a Pause"
1:07 Thin Lizzy - "Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed"
1:31 Andrea True Connection - "More, More, More"[12]
1:32 Ol' Dirty Bastard featuring Kelis - "Got Your Money"
1:32 Young Leek - "Jiggle It"
1:33 Len - "Steal My Sunshine"
1:33 Spank Rock - "Put That Pussy on Me"
1:35 E-40 featuring Keak da Sneak - "Tell Me When to Go"
1:46 Tears for Fears - "Head over Heels"
1:49 Cheap Trick - "I Want You to Want Me"
1:49 Missy Elliott - "Ching-a-Ling"
2:08 Bob James - "Take Me to the Mardi Gras"
2:09 Young Jeezy featuring Bone Crusher - "Take It to the Floor"
2:22 Jimi Hendrix - "Purple Haze"
2:26 Yael Naim - "New Soul"
2:37 Bubba Sparxxx - "Heat It Up"
2:37 Eminem featuring Nate Dogg - "Shake That"
3:03 Beyoncé - "Get Me Bodied"
3:03 Swizz Beatz - "Money in the Bank"
3:13 Jay-Z featuring Pharrell - "La-La-La (Excuse Me Miss)"

Friday, January 23, 2009

24, BSG and LOST this week

24 Season 7 episodes 1-5. Sara is right -- after season one every season of 24 is essentially a remake: Bauer is the one man who can save America, willing to go outside the law and torture to save everyone, some pansy liberals are trying to slow us down, there is a mole, main guys are undercover and hated even though they are trying to do the right thing, hard decisions are made in the line of trying to keep your cover to get to the main target. Season Five was the best season of 24, the one that worked the best, and I think it is time to go at this concept another way maybe. Still watchable, but dumb -- this has the makings of a bad season so far. I wish Tony had been the bad guy for longer, or the whole time. That had more legs. Also one of 24s main problems is they kill off likable characters faster than they replace them -- I am not sold on any of these new people. The best part of the show was always the RETURN OF X, and they have very few characters that can do that. Plus they do not want to lose the audience who has maybe not seen all the earlier seasons.

Battlestar Galactica's "A Great Notion." I usually hate stories that are unrelentingly grim, but this was so bleak I was laughing, as you would at black comedy or Beckett or gallows humor. Mostly I admired the fact that the writers were willing to take the idea of the 4.0 cliffhanger and spend a full episode dealing with the fallout. It was a good example of what Zizek calls the second death: you lose your civilization, but the full impact of that does not register until you lose the hope as well. (HIs example was of a woman whose husband dies -- she is actually handling it ok, until their beloved dog dies as well). One thing BSG does really well is COMMIT. The acting was superb -- apparently Olmos went around depressing everybody about how the show was not going to survive the upcoming writers strike, not because he believed it was true but to aid everyone in capturing a bleak mindset for their characters. He also ad libed the "main vein" line, which is stunning. I love this show -- it is not a guiltly pleasure, or even, I would argue a geeky one -- because it puts character and acting first, and in this regard has more in common with the Wire and Deadwood than Star Trek or Star Wars or Star Gate or Star Whatever. I found the advance of the mythology to be a little weak, which may be my fault -- they introduced major shifts in the status quo by revealing the fifth Cylon and discovering that the 13th colonies were organic Cylons, but, because I was a little in the dark on what the status quo was in the first place (I had to remind myself what the status of the 13th colony was in their minds -- quasi-Biblical myth?) some of the impact was lost. I think the writers wanted me to be stunned by the revelations, but I was more scratching my head.

LOST, Season 5, Episodes 1-2. Since the last season of Lost ended I have seen all of The Wire, the Sopranos, and most of Deadwood, and all of BSG. I think those shows are so good, the robbed me of some of my LOST enthusiasm. I enjoyed the start of Season 5 basically and it had some great moments -- "Why is there a dead Pakistani on my couch?" Hurly throwing a Hot Pocket at Ben, Hurley summarizing the events on the Island ("He had to push a button every 108 minutes or ... well I was never very clear on that"), the room in the basement of the church with the 70s computer at the Foucaults pendulum, Sun and Kate talking about Jin, Neil getting hit by a flaming arrow. The skipping record idea is a good one because it will allow us to get the history of the island -- maybe all the way back to the four toed statued by the end, and it promises to always give up something new, to shake things up constantly. But the dialogue in episode one was really bad -- especially with Halliwax in the cold open talking about time travel with the construction worker. "There are RULES" is weak sauce, especially since there sort of aren't and also because the rules are very much a writer's room problem that I would like to remain behind, but not IN, the actual dialogue. There were a lot of scenes of tension where you could not see someone's face but my group was calling out who it was correctly before they were revealed, even Anna Lucia. And I was not that invested in the emotional story of the lie because I was never super clear why they had to lie -- or how lying was supposed to protect the people back on the island from Widmore since the island moved. I thought the point about "Whatever Ben says, do the opposite" -- and they fact that it WORKED -- was dumb since the point of Ben's character is surely to anticipate that reaction and counter it -- say something that will make you do the opposite, make you think you are going against him, when doing the opposite is exactly what he wants. I was upset when he told the woman at the end he had lost Hurley -- sure he should have said "Hurly is locked up -- exactly where I want him [LOST logo; credits]." But my main problem with this season was that the goal seems wholly passive -- in order to save everyone on the island, the have to get to the island -- and then just stand there? No one has even raised the question of "and then what." Ben indicates they will never come back but what they are supposed to do there is very unclear -- and if I had more of a sense, or even a sense that any character cared about the question, I could care about them more.

By the way, since several viewers are unclear on this -- the old woman was Mrs Hawking from Desmond's time travelly flashback in Season 3 episode 8. I am also putting money on her being Daniel's mom.

UPDATE: I forgot something funny Brad said to me on the phone: "So if a person is standing next to a tent when they movie in time the tent disappears but their clothes stay and also if you give someone a compass then that goes with them?" This could be a complaint but this kind of pulpy silliness I have come to LOVE from Lost -- it is typified in the Constant, which I am starting to think is the quintessential Lost episode in the way it uses time travel sci fi to just tell a love story and does not get hung up on how it would actually work.

Comics Out January 22, 2008 (Superman Beyond)

Superman Beyond 3D #2. I continue to find the 3D tech really far more interesting than I have a right to. I kinda wish lots more comic books were in 3D. The art here is passable -- although some times the heads look pasted onto bodies rather than being really connected with them -- but I wonder what the 3D effects would look like with an artist I like more -- Bachalo for example, or even Ashley Wood. A lot of people have wondered how this story fits in with Final Crisis, and the answer is that it fits in exactly like it should in a way -- it is a spin-off book from the main title, and is rooted in what is clearly a spin off idea from the lines Morrison was thinking in Final Crisis. Thinking up Final Crisis I imagine him free associating a note along the lines of "Bleed between universes -- cosmic vampires? Monitor Vampires?" That did not have a place in the main book with Darkseid, so here we go -- essentially a two issue series about something that could have been the subject of the main book if he had wanted to do that, and it looks like someone, maybe Morrison, will get around to telling the main story at some point in the future -- this serves as a prologue to that plot, basically. If you missed getting this expect a reprint just before the Vampire Montor Crisis of 2011 or whatever. He is getting some of this from Gnosticism by the way -- the "angel" figures who are corrupted by their participation in the fallen material universe. That I do not mind, but I will admit to getting a little weary with Morrison's fascination with magic meta-narratives the characters talk about. He has done such a good job with the idea in the past -- it reached an apotheosis in All Star Superman 10 I think -- that I wonder what it is going to take to give it a rest. Is he still trying to outdo himself on the topic? Because if he is, I think he is failing, and if he is not, isn't he just repeating himself? The image on the final page was especially nice, and made me wonder if it was a rejected final page of All Star Superman, which ends with an icon on a similar theme. I also loved the All Star Superman again -- "Sounds like a challenge to me" and "Superman Can." That seems to me how the character would really be. I also was really impressed by the idea that the Nazi Superman is not a bad guy, straightforwardly evil, but that he is a sad man adopted by a world he did not chose, trying to cope with "A Utopia built on human suffering. Mine is not any world you know."

Oh, and the big reveal that the Monitor Vampire was Dax Novu (was that a big reveal?) -- I have no idea who that is.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #193

[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 #193

“Warhunt 2”

A fantastic action story, “Warhunt 2” makes shrewd use of its allusion to issues 94 and 95 (published nearly a decade earlier). As with all such “commemorative” issues, its look to the past invites readers to reflect on how much has changed in the time between then and now – and, for that matter, between now and the very beginning.

The X-Men’s politics continue to evolve into something much more sympathetic and workable. Consider that the very first issue of X-Men saw the mutant Magneto (the revolutionary) attacking a government installation (the establishment), and it was the X-Men who came in to protect the status quo. As Julian Darius – quoted by Neil Shyminski in his essay “Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants” – wrote, the X-Men as originally conceived “were not revolutionary.” “In fact, they were explicitly counter-revolutionary. They were not created to fight for civil rights; rather, they were created to fight against those who did so.”

In “Warhunt 2,” the format of Lee and Kirby’s X-Men #1 is flipped: The heroes are the ones invading a government establishment. They know going in that it’s illegal, but – as Wolverine says – “X-Men look after their own.”

It’s also significant that the Hellions (who first appeared in New Mutants 15-17, for anyone that was wondering) are the ones initiating mutant-on-mutant violence here. With the exception of Thunderbird, who turns out to be a man of honor, the two true villains, Empath and Roulette, are – quite literally -- spoiled, privileged, prep-school kids. The point of view for X-Men has very much shifted: the more privileged the mutant, the more villainous he or she is. Note that in this very same issue, Callisto – the biggest underdog of any character in the story and formerly portrayed as the worst kind of villain – has metamorphosed into a selfless altruist. She’s more sympathetic even than Xavier, one of the comic’s putative heroes. In the early Xavier/Callisto interaction of the scene, Claremont deliberately skews the conversation so that Charles comes off a little worse – a slightly spoiled man who needs to be taken down a few pegs.

Indeed, by the end of the issue, that is possibly exactly what’s happened. Crippled both physically and psychically, Professor X realizes in his final confrontation with James Proudstar, “I’ve only my instincts and intelligence to rely on.” Robbed of his typical ability to gain the intellectual upper hand thanks to his powers, Xavier is forced to speak from the heart. Claremont’s writing is quite skillful in this scene – Charles’ speech comes off as genuine and heartfelt; it’s entirely credible that James, whom we know from earlier in the story is essentially moral, would be convinced by Xavier’s words to throw down his knife.

The final payoff occurs in the story’s denouement, depicting the X-Men treating the defeated Hellions with an unprecedented amount of compassion. More than ever before, the X-Men of these final pages seem genuinely pro-mutant. In the past, villains who’d gone as far as the Hellions would have been turned over to whatever authority was appropriate. The X-Men of “Warhunt 2” however are explicitly anti-establishment in their solutions. In response to Proudstar’s surprise that he and his fellow prep-school mutants are “not to be punished,” Nightcrawler has the key line: “If society forces us to become a law unto ourselves,” Kurt says, “then it will be tempered with mercy.”

On the following page, Xavier adds, “Nothing in Cheyenne Mountain was damaged that was not easily – and immediately repaired. The nation was never in danger, James – and you have enough to cope with without adding a possible lifetime in prison to your burdens. ... This perhaps does not serve the law but to my mind it well serves justice.” In other words: The Establishment has got plenty of money and resources to fix their toys. Why should we mutants throw one of our own to the wolves just to satisfy a legal system that’s never worked in our favor?

This is the most revolutionary incarnation of the X-Men we’ve yet seen – explicitly a “law unto themselves.” This new approach to the team will intensify over the next two years. Indeed, by the end of 1986, the “play nice” Silver Age X-Men will be well and truly dead, replaced with something much more extreme and very, very interesting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ripping Off AvClub's "The Hater"

By Sara

Because I am home sick for the second day in a row (let's hear for the Flu!) I am going to comply with my loving husband's repeated requests for me to guest blog. Why does he want me to guest blog, you ask? Because of my rampant hate, intolerance and impatience for just about everything in pop culture. This doesn't mean that I don't adore it as well, I just tend to snark on everything that Geoff loves, in a way that he finds hilarious. He thinks you'll find it hilarious too. I have my doubts, but anyway, my snark level is at an ultimate high because I'm super cranky that I'm stuck in HERE while my friends are out sledding in a winter-wonderland -- which is some MAJOR bs as I've been wanting to go sledding for ages and no one would get on board with me -- I thought I'd write the flagship post and turn my crank into some outward hate.

I am promised a special weekly post if my hate is good enough and I'm funny enough. Usually I will be hating on everything that Geoff loves, especially TV. Perhaps some movies thrown in. I MAY dabble in comics, but that is sacred territory around here so I know I will have to have a damned good (and damned hilarious) critique if I'm gonna fly.

The format will be oh-so-simillar to Amelie Gillette's HATER on The Onion's AVClub website (for those unfamiliar check it out: here are some things I will be hating on:

24 (ridiculously overblown republican torture-porn alpha-male claptrap. but what really bothers is me is that EVERY DAMNED SEASON IS THE F'ING SAME! )

30 Rock (a show I once loved too that has turned from quirky funny boyfriend to desperate and lame boyfriend but you stay with him because of a mixture of nostalgia, hope and your own sad desperation)

BSG (featuring "how many characters have cried and/or shot themselves" episode misery index)

The Wire (I haven't seen it, and man are the people who have SERIOUSLY annoying cultists)

and of course LOST. A show I watch because i HAVE to watch it and there is some major backlash going on. I think I've realized I dislike 90% of the cast.


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, January 20, 2009

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #8

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

“The Adventures of Lockheed the Space Dragon and His Pet Girl Kitty”

Occurring chronologically in the gap toward the end of Uncanny X-Men #192, between Magus’ final threats and the cliffhanger that takes place “months later,” the events of X-Men Annual #8 are of course mostly inconsequential. The final few pages advance some of the storylines: Storm decides to once again try heading back to Africa (her first attempt having been abortive thanks to Kulan Gath’s spell in Uncanny #’s 190-191), while Colossus and Kitty get back on speaking terms.

Everything leading up to those end bits are simply a weak attempt to recapture the whimsy of Dave Cockrum’s “Fairy Tale” in Uncanny #153. Artist Steve Leialoha has the appropriately cartoony style for such a project, but Claremont’s writing has never been more awkward.

The premise: Kitty’s “best friend,” Illyana, decides to tell a campfire story to cheer Kitty up. She sets it in space, and the title implies it will be light-hearted fare about Kitty and Lockheed. Fair enough. So what happens in the story a few pages in? Kitty’s parents get murdered by the White Queen. Oh, Illyana, you little scamp! Boy, with friends like these...

And she only gets more tactless as time goes on, painfully reminding Kitty and Colossus of the awkwardness between them, and bluntly incorporating Storm’s power-loss into the plot as well. And all for a story that isn’t even any good in the first place.

Between 1975 and 1991, inclusive of all the spin-offs and ancillary titles, Claremont wrote roughly 340 comics about the X-Men. Statistically speaking, one of them has to be the absolute worst.

X-Men Annual # 8 ... ? Stand up and claim your award. You deserve it.

Claremont is now six for six in churning out X-Men Annuals that aren’t very good on their own terms and also rarely contribute anything of significance to the overall mythos. Happily, this will change in a year. Teamed with the magnificently talented Art Adams, Claremont will produce some fantastic material for both the 1985 and 1986 annuals.

The 1984 one, however, remains thoroughly, depressingly awful.

This should be my new icon

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cracks in Taste

I have been watching Deadwood pretty regularly, and Sara and I just started Mad Men. Sara asked me why watching penned up housewives living lives of quiet desperation made me want to flee the room, but I seemed to enjoy watching a show that has more than a few murdered prostitutes. I also thought of how often I dismiss something because it is far too bleak (Wit, Requiem for a Dream) -- but then turn around and really enjoy the hell out of something equally bleak (the most recent Battlestar Galactica, Beckett). There are obvious reasons for this, of course: Deadwood is all huge drama while Mad Men is more subdued; Requiem for a Dream is so scuzzy, while Beckett is all poetry. And of course there is no REASON taste should be consistent. But I can't quite shake the idea that, when I find a rift like this, where I have trouble justifying my tastes, that I am not seeing some level of myself where this makes some kind of perfect sense. I think of it like a Freudian Slip, where some mistake suggests some deeper thing about yourself you do not have access to.

Where do your tastes go wonkey? Where do you find yourself wondering why you like X but not the similar Y? What do you think accounts for that?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Batman's Alignment

Darius Kazemi sent me this link to Batman as filtered through the moral system of Dungeons and Dragons. There is something to considering whether you want to make Miller's Batman Chaotic Good or Lawful Evil.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #192

[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.]

“Fun ‘n’ Games”

Although the villain for this particular issue more properly should be showing up in New Mutants, Uncanny #192 is nonetheless – startlingly, at this point – an X-Men story par excellence. For the first time since issue 188, the concerns and preoccupations of the lead characters are forefronted: Nightcrawler unwittingly mock’s Rogue’s inability to touch; Colossus agonizes over his breakup with Kitty; Xavier wonders how to help the now-powerless Storm, and also expresses concern that the “recent controversy about Dazzler and her film has evidently catalyzed considerable dormant ill will” against mutants. (This last is a reference to Jim Shooter’s risible “Dazzler: The Movie” graphic novel.)

Though most of the issue is given over to a gratuitous battle against Magus -- the evil father of the New Mutants character Warlock – there is nonetheless a strong sense that events in the X-Men universe are moving forward. Apart from the above examples of solid character focus, “Fun ‘n’ Games” also sees Wolverine and Kitty’s return to the title after an eight-month absence, as well as a tersely exciting one-page flashback to the “Days of Future Past” timeline, giving strong hints about how Nimrod fits into matters.

Also, it must be said that the X-Men vs. Magus battle is one of Claremont’s best fight scenes to appear in Uncanny in quite some time. Claremont seemed a little blocked in recent months when it came to finding new things to do with his lead characters (hence their relegation to guest-star status in Uncanny #’s 184, 187 and 189). Now, it appears Claremont has been doing some brainstorming. Hence, for example, the brilliant idea to have Nightcrawler teleport only a piece of Magus rather than his entire mass – in almost a decade of the character’s existence, no one had ever thought to have him do such a thing before now. Almost as exciting is Rogue’s absorption of the villain, causing her to temporarily become living circuitry, which is a great visual and a demonstration that she’s getting less timid about using her power. (Back when she appeared as a villain in Dazzler, she wasn’t even willing to absorb the Angel because the idea of growing wings freaked her out.) The X-Men are starting to feel hardcore again.

Issue 192 also features one of the most shockingly brutal cliffhangers Claremont has ever written. Indeed, that last, horrifying scene – more than anything else in the comic – really draws the reader back into the series. No doubt many readers were getting restless at around this time, 1984 having proven to be one of Claremont’s more meandering – albeit imaginative -- years on the series. With the December 1984 issue’s depiction of Charles being beaten to death by callous anti-mutant bigots, fans were no doubt hugely surprised – not only by John Romita Jr. and Dan Green’s incredibly stark depiction of the violence, but by the instant sense that 1985 would prove to be a far more intense year.

I hate creativity and children and, this week, Grant Morrison

THE BEAT has this quote from Morrison

“I had the idea to develop an approach to comic narrative that would actually benefit from becoming entangled in internet fan speculation, gossip and research…I’ve always liked to leave resonant spaces, gaps and hints in stories, where readers can do their own work and find clues or insert their own wild and often brilliant theories. I’m often trying to create a kind of fuzzy quantum uncertainty or narrative equivalent of a Rorschach Blot Test effect, which invites interpretation. Lazier readers hate when I do this but fortunately they seem to be in the minority.”

This is one of those ideas that is much better in theory than in practice because it hits something that sounds really nice: the creativity of the reader. Who would argue with that? It is one of those unassailable things, like when some politician gets dumb "give up all your civil rights" style things enacted to "save the children." What kind of monster would be against children or creativity?

In this specific case: me. Or more precisely, reader creativity is great, but I think the best venue for it is to write a Batman story that is a revision or swerve or response or remix or attack or tribute to Batman RIP. Like a story that was going in a similar direction, but then had a satisfying ending. I do not think this wonderful sounding reader creativity should be used as an excuse to introduce a villain, promise to reveal who the villain, then at the end say "Who was Dr. Hurt? You the reader can decide for yourself who it is. I mean I am perfectly capable of thinking Dr. Hurt is Thomas Wayne or an incarnation of Darkseid, or Satan, or Batman's rejected evil side from his Tibetan purification ritual. It is all POSSIBLE. But it is not PERSUASIVE. Many comic book fans, because of no-prizes and whatnot, seem really satisfied to discover something is POSSIBLE, forgetting that a story should persuade you. Firefly, for example, persuades you that life in space would be dirty and not at all like living in a Sheridan Hotel, as Star Trek would have you believe. I just want to hear a good story that will persuade my imagination that THIS is how it must have been, or would be like in this world. Stories should bring pleasure, through careful pacing, not unlike sex.

Self empowerment sounds fun until you engaged in the best foreplay of your life and the woman says toyou "I’ve always liked to leave resonant spaces, gaps and hints in SEX, where MY PARTNER can do their own work and find clues or insert their own wild and often brilliant SEX TECHNIQUES. I’m often trying to create a kind of fuzzy quantum uncertainty or SEX equivalent of a Rorschach Blot Test effect, which invites CREATIVITY. Lazier PARTNERS hate when I do this but fortunately they seem to be in the minority. Finish yourself off while I go home. Bye."

You will have to forgive me for the vulgar metaphor. I am practicing writing in the mode of Warren Ellis today.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Final Crisis 6 -- one more note (spoilers)

From Newsarama:

As explained by DC Universe Executive Editor Dan DiDio, the apparent multiple endings of “Batman R.I.P.” were due to making sure readers of the collected editions got full stories. DiDio told Newsarama back in December: “ Here’s the conundrum on this one. And this is reflective of the world that we live in now – the world of collected editions. The R.I.P. story was always meant to play through to the end of Final Crisis - always. The thing is, we had to come up with a very complete story in “Batman R.I.P.” as it existed in its title. The reality is that the “Batman R.I.P.” story does not conclude until Final Crisis #6. There are also issues #682 and #683 of Batman that feed directly into Final Crisis #6, and we’ll have a big finale to the Batman storyline.”

So Batman died twice so the trades could separately lead into the Battle for the Cowl?

This is some seriously messy shit.

Comics Out January 14, 2008 (Final Crisis 6)

Final Crisis 6. I felt an overwhelming urge to write about this, so I am going to push the next Claremont piece to tomorrow so I can have my say fast. Final Crisis, along with Batman, has reached New X-Men status -- brilliant and audacious in fits and starts and drawn horribly. I am just going to REACT to this thing page by page.

The cover: wasn't the title disintegrating? I feel like it is more legible now, if only because someone worried that it would be harder to sell if they took the disintegrating title thing seriously.

Pages 1-3: classic Morrison JLA stuff; I guess we are going to have to wait till next issue to really get anything out of this seemingly randomly introduced super machine. It looks like Superman Beyond 2 was supposed to come out by now, but it also does not look that important that it didn't, which is lame. This seemed a really strangely powerful element to introduce in the penultimate issue. I thought the design pretty well failed. The art is bad throughout and this is one of the key failures. Still -- it will be interesting to see what this machine does next issue.

4-5. Boring. This stuff with Ray has me lost. Could have come from any comic.

6-9. Less than inspiring punch-em-up, with lame dialogue, and lame art. Could have been from any comic book. Unremarkable.

10-14. The Mary Marvel fight was the second key art failure. I do not follow the DCU very well but I am pretty sure Mary Marvel's loss of innocence has been a big deal for a while -- I remember people talking about her having a big role in Countdown or something at the New York City Comic Con last year. So this moment where she is transformed back is big, and it feels like it should be big even without the knowledge that this plot goes back a ways. But the art is just not there for it, in part because so much is jammed in, but also because it is just not that well dramatized -- the eye is not drawn to it among the chaos, and even looking closely there is not a lot to see. His plan to say Shazam and the word Shazam are jammed into the same panel, we see the lightning in the distance, and then on the next page it is over. Also, and I do not want to go on a whole thing here, but it needs to be said -- weak female character: psycho-bitch-whore or scared little girl. Sad. Supergirl in the miniskirt is not exactly helping the image.

I have mixed feeling about the Kalibak/Tawny fight. On the one hand, there is something weirdly exhilarating about an odd character from a corner of the DCU that I do not really know -- very much a Seven Soldier type -- taking down a major New God and then adjusting a tie. On the other hand, this is the kind of thing people have be complaining about for YEARS now right? The Geoff Johns style nostalgia-ultraviolence combo. It did not feel right that Tawny, a cute quirky comic book creation, just fuckin disembowels Kalibak, and then is fine about it. The juxtaposition was almost Robot Chicken. Also BIG ART FAILURE 3: Darkseid's tiger henchmen are just cuddly-wuddly looking. Generally I have felt that the redesigns of the New Gods has been a big step down from their old incarnations, but never moreso than in these panels, where the artist is making it even worse than it would have to be. I would also like to take this opportunity to bitch about the lettering, which has deeply lame images for emphasis. It seems childish.

15-17. The art in 15 is particularly bad here; not quite Korday on New X-Men bad, but only the next level up. Mr Miracle looks terrible. The tiny comic strip on the bottom of 16-17 about the Japanese characters was not good, and not helped by the better drawn poster someone hung above it. And was anyone else surprised by the 3 billion free humans thing? I was thinking Darkseid's invasion was way worse than that, like THE STAND proportions or something. I would have guessed 100,000 or something. 10,000 even. Are these just people in places where there is no email to get the evil broadcast?

18-19. Again, the art here is just bad. I might need to get the New X-Men issues out here but I think this is getting Kordey bad.

20-21. These two pages are supposed to be captured by Montoya's "Enough with the sensory fuckin overload" but the art does not give the sense of the overload, especially as the panel where she makes the comment looks generally clean and spacious. I did like the "Wait a minute. Say that whole bit again."

22-23. Ugly. Is Luthor's head coming out of a pillow in the armor? If that was the last we see of Libra in this book then Libra royally sucked. Also when someone says "They'll hear your voice as the voice of Darkseid if you speak into this" the art should show a "this." That is pretty basic. Like if someone says to me "where is the bar?" I do not reply "over there" while standing stock still unless I am trying to be a jackass. Also, how dumb is it to have these anti-life helmets be so easy to take out -- a watch, or some paint, seems to be all anyone needs to FREE HUMAN SOULS.

The more I write about this the more I realize how much I HATED most of it.

24-25. These two pages basically say "Hey lookalike Flash guys, lets run really fast." Right? To get to Darkseid? But Batman can just walk up to Darkseid? Because he is already in that realm? Or because that is not really Darkseid but only the incarnation of Darkseid? What? Ugly art make Geoff angry.

26-29. THIS I quite liked. The psychedelic art is the "real" Darkseid not to be confused with the shell right? Morrison and dodgy art. Anyway, Batman drawing down on Darkseid with a New God Bullet is pretty bad-ass -- Morrison really understands, and USES, the power of the image of Batman with a gun. I do not know what is going on with the Flash in these pages, [It is not the Flash -- it is a red tinged Batman. Fuckin art] but overall a Darkseid Batman confrontation was a pretty good idea, surprising and inevitable and pretty well awesome.

30-31. This seems like a dumping ground for a lot of weak plot points that we did not have room for: Hawkman and Hawkgirl? Olson and Kat? I missed why I should care. Also, superheroes are now sick apparently by Wonder Woman somehow, just one more thing jammed into a jammed page -- along with a new problem with humanity's escape plan from Metron. And Nix Uotan I guess we did not have time for after such an auspicious debut last time. Just on hard to see small panel. Oh well. Next time.

32-33. This Superman rampage is kind of underwhelming, as I am not really sure where he is coming from or where he is going and the eye is just not drawn to anything in particular-- also the background to page 33 panel 1 lost me, as did the sphere -- or cloud? -- in 33 panel 2.

34. This actually shocked me. I guess I should have seen this coming. Morrison gets Batman for a while, in a run that sort of concludes with Batman RIP. I thought the RIP was foolishly metaphorical there but I guess it is a kind of farewell to the character, as muddy and frustrating as that story was. Then we get ANOTHER tribute in The Butler Did It, but it feels pretty necessary now that I see where this was all going. Messy, but at least I have a better idea of what they were going for here, and I liked that Morrison got his two projects to converge in this almost satisfying way. Battle for the Cowl seems just like Death of Superman again, but I was still kind of taken aback here. An interesting revision of the Supergirl death as well, it feminizes Batman maybe? I do not know. I am still thinking about it. But it is sticking with me. Is there something to noticing that at the beginning of Final Crisis there was this whole debate about how Orion died twice in two books in two different ways -- and then Batman "dies" twice in two books in two different ways. Something about this is resonating with me. This double death thing. And in both RIP and Final Crisis Batman faces the "source" of Evil -- is this what Hurt was all about -- was he an incarnation of Darkseid somehow?

All in all I WISH J.G. Jones could have done this whole book. I do not know what to do with Morrison on Batman and Final Crisis. Messy but good enough that you can't quite dismiss it -- you just wish you could isolate and focus the good stuff somehow. Quitely seems to be the only one who can do that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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, January 13, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #191

[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 #191

“Raiders of the Lost Temple”

Everything written about the previous issue applies to this one as well, so there’s not much else to say about the story or art. I would, however, like to explore the ending, wherein a time-travel gimmick prevents Kulan Gath from ever escaping his amulet in the first place, but also leads to an unexpected side-effect: The arrival in the present day of an advanced Sentinel from Rachel Summers’ alternate future. Called Nimrod, the character is a blatant trope on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character, about whom James Cameron’s original film had just come out only months before the November 1984 release of Uncanny #191. (The final line of the commemorative issue 193 published two months later is Nimrod’s: “The Uncanny X-Men,” he says, “will be terminated.”)

But this entire Kulan Gath arc was already a trope on a different Schwarzenegger film franchise. As Spider-Man puts it on Page 17 of Uncanny #190, “My hometown [has] turned into a giant-sized set from ‘Conan the Barbarian’...” It should be noted that 1984 saw the release of two Schwarzenegger films: both The Terminator and Conan the Destroyer (the latter being the second film of the Conan franchise).

So, much like issue 189 saw Claremont placing two different avatars of Dark Phoenix (Rachel and Selene) in opposition, we now have a story wherein a massive apparent homage to Conan (as embodied most famously by Schwarzenegger) is rendered literally non-existent within the story by a time paradox that also introduces into the X-Men’s world their own version of The Terminator. (I have to thank Geoff for inspiring this observation, which occurred to me not long after I heard him on Comic Geek Speak talking about how Kill Bill pits different avatars of Bruce Lee against each other.)

Claremont didn’t have to do much inventing to explain the existence of Nimrod. He had already teamed with John Byrne four years ago to create the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past,” which – itself an unintentional rip-off of an old Dr. Who storyline – predicted quite a few elements of the plotline of The Terminator. (As more proof that the idea has seen a myriad iterations, recall that Harlan Ellison sued the makers of The Terminator on the grounds that they had stolen ideas from HIS work.)

So what we’re left with is a strange fantasy story that from the start had nothing to do with the X-Men, and at the end seems to have been all about Arnold Schwarzenegger. A possibly more relevant interpretation is to suggest that Claremont was trying to say something about which genre the X-Men are more appropriate for. To go back to the Neil Shyminski observation I’ve referenced several times already, the X-Men work best as sci-fi characters. So we have an X-Men story wherein fantasy is supplanted by sci-fi -- not just with the Nimrod twist at the end, but in the way both a wizard and a witch are ultimately defeated by Warlock, who (despite the fantasy connotations of his name) is a “techno-organic” alien made out of living circuitry, possibly the most science-fictional character of any in the X-universe at this time. (The X-Men will battle Magus, Warlock’s father, in the very next issue, affirming sci-fi’s ascendancy.)

Whatever the point – be it about genre, pop culture, or something else entirely – this is certainly a circuitous (if you will) way to make it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dylan Moran on Rejection

If you have ever gotten one of those terrible rejection letters in the mail, this youtube clip of Dylan Moran, one of my favorite comedians will make you feel better -- but you are going to have to click the link as embedding this one is not allowed. It is less than two and a half minutes.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Fan Made Thundercats Live Action Movie Trailer

Speaking of passive TV watching becoming active youtube trailer making (see the post from earlier today) -- have you seen this? This is deeply crazy, but you have to admire the work that went in here. My friend Brady sent this to me.

Should video games aspire to be films? Passive vs Active viewing

by Stefan Delatovic
[I make a substantial comment below -- Geoff]

As technology continues to evolve and graphics approach photo realism, video games are providing an increasingly cinematic experience.

Should video games really be aspiring to be films though? Wouldn't it be better if they were trying to be great video games?
Narrative film is a great thing, so I understand why games would like to emulate them. That time Nicholas Cage swapped faces with John Travolta? Movie magic. But film isn't interactive. I noticed that I couldn't shoot Travolta as he chewed scenery. My girlfriend noticed that she couldn't build him a three-bedroom apartment and manage his relationships.

Video games that get the closest to cinema seem to receive the highest praise. Grand Theft Auto IV - which featured a credit sequence and opening footage clearly aimed at being viewed as a film, was hailed as the greatest game of all by many reviewers. The game had a lot going for it; a living world more realistic than any seen previously, well-drawn characters and a compelling story.

The one thing that let it down, however, was gameplay. Personally, I found the game boring as hell. I wanted to see how the story was resolved, but I was too bored to continue.

See, when I start up a new film I lie back on the couch and prepare to observe. When I boot up a new game I have a controller in my hand and I'm eager to use it. Whenever I am viewing a video game cut scenes, one thought simmers in the back of my brain: "I really want to see this, I want to follow the story, but I wish it would end so I could play."

A good story and characters are boons for any game, but everything is driven by gameplay. If a game isn't fun to play, then everything else is wasted.

'Games as movies' ties into a general belief amongst many that graphics make a game, a belief I cannot personally understand. The Wii, the most graphically inferior console of the current generation, is a solid gold candy bar of fun.

Bioshock was elevated to a fantastic game due to its excellent atmosphere, design and a compelling story, but all of that was wrapped around solid gameplay with a neat mechanical twist.

Super Mario Brothers destroyed my childhood from a time management standpoint. It's characters were insane and its story nonexistent. But it was fun, and continues to be fun, as it introduces new game mechanics, if not new narrative elements.

Little Big Planet, a terrifyingly fun game and a truly innovative product - could never be produced on film.

If games must aim to become 'interactive movies', then there must be a better way than simply scattering overly-long movies between the fun bits.

[Star Wars Clone Wars Lightsaber Duels has a few seconds of story between the battles -- an even those I have never seen because I hit the button to skip them in an effort to get to the next fight. This is a really good point about the differences between games and films, which are so often compared or contrasted in reviews -- Tim Callahan said the thing that bothered him about the Clone Wars movie was it was like one giant cut scene, and he was frustrated by his inability to "play" it. When a video game offers me the chance to shape the story by choosing what direction to send my character, I don't feel empowered -- I feel like I am missing some possibly better story. I am very much in love with the passive nature of movies, in which decisions are made for me and I am along for the ride. I do not want to make narrative choices in a game, I just want to swing a sword around.

I have a kind of clunky pop psych idea about this that maybe we could use as a springboard to something useful. I feel like one of the reasons I like the movies is that I like not having to make decisions -- I make them all day, and most of them get on my nerves, and I like sitting down in a place where someone else will tell me a story. If I wanted to make a series of bad decisions I have my life. (I am the same way with sandwiches: I do not want the guy asking me 30 questions about various sandwich toppings; I want to ask for the Number Four or whatever, and be done with it). One aspect of this passivity, is how much I love TV on my Netflix cue -- once I decide to watch The Shield, for example, I have 23 disks on the way to my house, and I do not have to make a decision about what to watch next for a good long while. I get passivity from Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde and a school of literary criticism that encourages you to surrender yourself to the object. There are deeper levels to this psychology but I do not think it worth getting into here.

Is there a different psychology to people who like video-games where they control the story? Are these people more "creative," more artists than critics? Or are they more disenfranchised -- I have this image of teenagers playing videogames and loving all the decisions they get to make in Grand Theft Auto because so much in their lives is decided for them by their parents and other authority figures. But this is an old image I think, from my childhood, of nerds living in their moms basement playing -- everybody plays videogames and loves them and many of these people are quite cool, so I hear.

Of course, disenfranchised teenagers who do not get to make decisions in their own lives, or do not feel like they do, also love passive entertainment like movies and TV and books -- but they make them into active entertainment with things like role-playing games and fan fiction and youtube tribute movies.]

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jokes that are funny because of a concrete detail

I am putting together a short lesson for my students on the importance of concrete detail in their writing. I want to illustrate this with a series of jokes that revolve around a concrete detail to the point that if you took the detail away, it would lose all the humor.

I know there are lots of jokes like this but the only one I can think of is a TERRIBLE joke on a Rita Rocks commercial, where the mom says "remember the last time we let her go to the mall? Visa sent us a gift basket?" That barely qualifies as a joke but you see the idea -- if the second sentence was "she ran up a huge bill" this is no longer even an attempt at humor. I am looking for jokes along these lines, but, you know, funny.

From The Box: Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood

by Scott

A brief introduction: I made a suggestion to Geoff a while back about a ‘first comics’ post but, thinking the idea a bit overdone, Geoff suggested instead re-reading our first comics and applying what we now know about the comics form, as well as our own ‘matured’ perspectives, to evaluate them anew. I thought it was a great idea and, when I went home for thanksgiving, tried to find that ‘first’ comic. I didn’t, but what I did find was a box of my old comics, many of which I am now ashamed to admit owning, and, many more, that I can’t even remember what the motivation behind my purchasing them might have been. To give you an idea, the box contains a bunch of old Excalibur (both Claremont and post-Claremont), a bunch of New Mutants, almost the complete series of Nomad, most of the first dozen issues or so of Spirits of Vengeance, the occasional random issue of X-men or New Warriors, miscellaneous early Image and, Liefeld, Oh, God…. I can’t believe I really ever owned this much Liefeld.

Thus the ‘From the Box’ Idea was born. I hope that this will be a semi-recurring feature where I grab one or two of these comics at random and try to discern whether or not they were actually any good. Sometimes (as is the case in this first post on Youngblood) my suspicions will be confirmed that yes, 15 year old me did, in fact, have absolutely no taste whatsoever. Other times, I might find myself pleasantly surprised by a really well done issue of a series or discover some long forgotten gem.

Also, I don’t want this feature to be limited to me! I want to welcome any of you folks out there to go dig up some of your old comics and, when you come across something worthy of praise or scrutiny… or just find yourself incredibly embarrassed by a purchase made by a much younger/more naïve you, then, by all means, write it up for this post!

So, here goes the first one…

Youngblood issues 1-3 (I’ll be focusing on the first issue but I’ll draw from the others as well)
Rob Liefeld
Plot, Script & Pencils (yes, Liefeld was a triple threat on this series)

When Image launched in 1992, it was a watershed moment in comics history: for the first time a company run by creators, for creators was in a position, mostly due to the popularity of its artist, to be on a level playing field with ‘The Big Two.’ Unfortunately, with early Image, the ‘creative control’ championed by the founders was less about artistic integrity and freedom than it was about total control of the PROFITS of their creations. No where was this more painfully apparent than in the work of Rob Liefeld.

First of all, is it really as bad as it has been made out to be? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!” In fact, it’s probably much, much worse than you remember it. The best way to describe Liefeld’s Youngblood is if someone hands you a comic book and tells you their 13 year old nephew wrote and drew it ‘all by themselves.’ You might think “Gee, this is pretty good for a 13 year old. Once they take some art classes and learn the basic principles of storytelling they might be able to make a real go at this.” However, when one considers that Youngblood was NOT the work of a 13 year old fanboy but the work of an adult who was, at the time, one of the hottest artists in comics and that the work in question was an eagerly awaited new series, then it becomes clear that something is seriously wrong here.

The horrendousness of Liefeld’s art, in and of itself, has already been discussed at great length and is more explicitly (not to mention hilariously) illustrated here with the ’The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings.’ However, that title is a bit of a misnomer; it shouldn’t be called the ‘40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings’ as this would imply that, in some way, his other drawings were somehow better than these, a more accurate title would probably be ’40 Typical Rob Liefeld’ drawings. Based on the first few issues of Youngblood, it would seem as though every page… scratch that… every panel of Liefeld’s work is riddled with gross distortions of anatomy, awkwardly posed figures and a total lack of the basic artistic principles regarding perspective, distance etc. I have long held a theory that much of Liefeld’s shoddy style can be attributed to a short attention span. It’s almost as thought he grows bored with a figure before he has even finished. This would probably explain why he was always tapering off on extremities like hands and feet (but who needs those anyway) or why weapons (be they gun or sword) often seem sketched in as an afterthought.

Indeed, early Image was a triumph of style over substance but, in Liefeld’s case, not only was the style more important than the substance but there was virtually no substance.

The dialogue alone is cringe-inducing [Note: for the first issue scripting chores were handled by Hank Kanalz who, apparently, was too competent for Liefeld’s taste (but not, I’d imagine, anyone else’s) and promptly dismissed and replaced by Liefeld himself in the second issue]. The first issue opens with Shaft, the teams bow-wielding leader (originally a re-designed Speedy Liefeld proposed for The Titans in the late-80’s), is shopping with his girlfriend who says, “It’s too good to be true. I’m actually shopping with my boyfriend. Unbelievable!” Now, aside from the redundancy of the ‘Unbelievable’ combined with the aforementioned ‘Too Good To Be True’ this is some of the most thinly veiled expository dialogue ever. One thing that I hate in comics is redundancy, especially when it comes to dialogue; if something can be communicated visually then there is no need for words to explain it. This is one of the great strengths of comics after all. So, of course, when a would be assassin (who is using a sniper pistol rather than a rifle for no other reason that it seems as though Liefeld drew him in such a position that holding a rifle in the appropriate direction would be impossible and so he just stuck the pistol in his hand instead) attempts to take out Shaft, our hero announces: “No arrows, this pen will have to do!” He then hurls the pen at the villain who, in case we haven’t gotten the point, croaks “How’d… *gurgle*… No arrows!” before falling to his death in the mall’s water fountain.

Ok, so a lot of really great comics have had cheesy dialogue over the years so maybe this particular sin is forgivable. However, what is not forgivable is the series total lack of any plot whatsoever. Seriously, after 3 issues I have NO idea what is going on. It seems as though there are two Youngblood teams (the 1st issue is done in a ‘flip book’ format with half the issue being dedicated to each team, an idea which Liefeld quickly grew bored with since it is abandoned by the 2nd issue) a ‘home’ team and an ‘away’ team. The home team goes to stop two members of a villainous group called ‘The Four’ from breaking out the other two at which point the story abruptly ends mid-battle (by the time we join the team again in the 2nd issue the bad guys have already been apprehended so, the chief action built up to in the first issue occurs entirely OFF PANEL). The ‘Away’ team is sent to deal with ‘Hassan Kussein’ which results in the team’s ‘loose cannon’ psychic, Psi-Fire, making the fictionalized dictator’s head explode. [ Lousy Art watch: the ‘away’ team’s alien member, Combat (despite the fact that his trading card tells me that he is 7ft tall), is depicted as being anywhere from 10 to 20 feet tall… also, his real name? Kh’ambt. Genius.]
Trying to explain the plot is damn near impossible, but it includes two government sponsored superhero teams, one team of bad guys (the Four), an interdimensional force of evil, there are two alien races who are watching things from above (for a possible invasion, maybe? It’s pretty unclear. But it is known that a member of each race is part of one Youngblood team or another), the second issue introduces us to some genetically engineered superhero named Prophet who has been in a state of cryogenic stasis for the purpose of fighting the aforementioned ‘extra-dimensional’ evil. In the midst of all of this, a group of heroes called The Bezerkers shows up to assist in fighting the bad guys. By the beginning of the 3rd issue the entire away team and the Bezerkers are seemingly dead as a result of the battle taking place at the end of the previous issue (and once again, the big battle built up to in the previous issue has occurred ‘off-panel’). Oh yeah, and at one point, some ninjas show up (I’m dead serious about that).

Again, I think much of the problem here is Liefeld’s own short attention span; every issue keeps introducing something new without finishing or expanding upon what has been introduced. It’s as though he has no concept of the basic Aristotelian principles governing plot. Or, perhaps as a result of his ADD, he never got past the part about ‘rise in action’ and never learned about things like ‘climax’ or ‘denoument’ or ‘conclusion’. Thus, the series seems to be a constant build-up towards nothing. Who knows? Maybe Liefeld was actually experimenting with some sort of bold new plot form… or maybe he just doesn’t know how to tell a story.

Along the same lines, there are far too many characters here: there are TWO Youngblood teams (with 6 members each), The Four, Prophet, The Berzerkers, Lord Darkthorne, support staff for the Youngblood teams etc. There are so many characters that it’s hard to distinguish who is who and, of course, there is virtually no time for anyone to develop a personality. I’m reminded of something Mark Twain said in ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses’ that one of the rules of literary art is that “All personages of a tale, both alive and dead, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.” To paraphrase Twain, “This detail has been overlooked in the Youngblood comic.”

The in house ads also give us some insight to the fact that Liefeld has already lost interest in his flagship team and is turning his attentions to other creations including: Supreme, Brigade (a Youngblood spin-off already in the works before the series had even started), Bloodstrike etc. In addition, all the teams seem to be almost exactly the same. A guy with big guns, a genetically enhanced super-soldier, a feral-wolverine-like guy, a chick… all teams are government sponsored or mercernaries…and at least one member is former CIA or FBI. It seems as Liefled isn’t so much distracted by new ideas as he is buy the same idea with different clothes.

Almost forgot, in the midst of all of this Liefeld makes an attempt at satirizing the commercialization of the superhero genre which raises an important question: Is it possible to satirize something of which you yourself are the greatest and worst offender?

At the time of its release in 1992, Youngblood number 1 would become the highest selling independent comic of all time. Upon reading it one can only ask the question “Why?” Still, perhaps it is not without merit; on some level or another can this be considered ‘art’? I think it is perhaps best to answer that question with another Twain quote from “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences”:

“A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are -- oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.”

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

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, January 06, 2009

Comics Out Friday January 2nd 2009 (Umbrella Academy, Final Crisis: Secret Files, and Morrison's Batman))

A little behind with this post because of the holidays -- I also got confused and I think some of the things I picked up on the 2nd actually came out the week before. Nevertheless.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas. The more I read this comic book the more I like it. The two guys at the beginning, in the masks, are absolutely terrifying, and I am starting to think that this book may have the potential to transcend its huge debts to the X-Men and Doom Patrol. In a world with Casanova and All Star Superman this book was just pretty good, but now that those series are off the table, this is one of the ONLY books I find myself looking forward to, though I am feeling pretty down about comics lately. Jesus shit those guys were scary.

Final Crisis: Secret Files. I call Shenanigans. Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones are listed on the cover and Frank Quitely was promised in the solicitations. Actually Morrison is listed second on the cover out of four names making me think he was the second most important person contributing -- actually, they listed the two writers followed by the two artists even though the second writer barely contributed to this. Basically the entire comic book -- certainly the only story in the comic book -- is Len Wein and Tony Sashstein's origin of Libra, which is a bad idea since most of his story is a rehash of his one comic book appearance from the 70s which DC already reprinted as a sort of Final Crisis preview six months ago. Then there is one page of nonsense by Ruka, one page of text notes about the anti-life equation by Morrison and four more pages of sketchbook material by Jones and Morrison that should have been in the original sketchbook comic. The Morrison prose is sort of interesting, and clears up a bit the connection between Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis -- though surely that should have been in the story and not as some kind of a director's commentary: this reminded me of nothing more than Richard Kelley's explanations of Donnie Darko: there is something to knowing that was what he had in mind but it is sort of his job to actually put that on the page somehow. Anyway Morrison's thoughts on the subject are, as I say interesting, but the are not 4 dollars interesting.

Batman 683. I enjoyed these last two issues of Morrison's Batman after really being annoyed with the conclusion to Batman RIP. I especially hated the ending to Batman RIP once I started reading around the internet -- apparently one of the working theories of Dr Hurt was that he was the evil self Batman rejected in the Tibetan Ritual, almost Batman's Casandra Nova. That is a GREAT idea and I cannot understand why that was not the reveal at the end. Certainly Morrison's Batman has a lot in common with his New X-Men run -- sporadically great and sporadically so badly made it is unreadable, with large swaths of awful art. One thing Batman 683 does wrong is that it adds insult to injury with the claim at the end of the issue that we should "Follow the Dark Knight to his Last Adventure in Final Crisis 6" -- after promising that Batman RIP was some kind of "final story" two issues later we get the next "final story." Obviously there is not going to be a final Batman story, but that does not mean you should just announce the end every few issues with no connection to what is inside. Maybe they did that in the old days or something, but in an auteur culture you just loose all your credibility.

This story was the high point in the run for me, a really nice tribute to Batman's history, and a brilliant idea about how Batman can make even his memories a weapon. The art was not great, but the end of this was really nice with the Lump and Alfred. I even liked how it was isolated from Final Crisis -- it felt right since it was basically all in Batman's mind. I look forward to reading the conclusion in Final Crisis 6 actually. This issue also featured one of Morrison's major anxiety of influence tropes -- the canonization of key moments of a character's history with his own contributions to that history prominently displayed. See All Star Superman, which hits major Superman moments (Luthor, Bizarro, Doomsday) but does not fail to give major time to Morrison's recent contributions, Solaris and the future Superman and Golden Superman from his DC One Million. See also New X-Men Here Comes Tomorrow, which pays tribute to the Sentinels, Days of Future Past, and Dark Phoenix but also Casandra Nova, Fantomex, and Sublime. Batman 682-683 takes us on a whole ride of Batman's history, but the end is a big kicker -- the Lump knows everything about Batman (wonderfully he can trust Batman to get revenge) but is dying. Batman says "you need a jolt to get you moving?" His memories -- his history -- destroyed the Batman clones, but you know what resurrects the Lump Neo style? MORRISONS CONTRIBUTIONS TO BATMAN"S HISTORY! "You need a jolt to get you moving" is followed immediately by memories of Batman's purification ritual in 52, the Thogal ritual, Damian, and the Batman of Zur En Arrh, all from Morrison's Batman run. That was the jolt Morrison thought the Batman mythos needed. Pretty good stuff.

That said this may be time for me to get off this book, unless the art gets better. Because that final image is really less than inspiring and I need something inspiring right now. If Quitely joins as is rumored I will pick it up; if not I may switch to the trade.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #190

[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 #190

“An Age Undreamed Of”

Back in the 1970s, Claremont and Byrne seem to have been all over the place. Besides Uncanny X-Men (their greatest triumph), the pair also collaborated on Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up at around the same time. Around Christmas of 1978, they produced Marvel Team-Up #79, which saw the Marvel Universe cross over with the universe of Conan the Barbarian. Though Conan himself did not appear in Team-Up #79, his female counterpart, Red Sonja, did. The villain of the story was a wizard called Kulan Gath, who manifested in the Marvel Universe by possessing an innocent man who donned a magical amulet. The single-issue tale ended when Spider-Man managed to remove the amulet from Gath’s host, and later he threw the trinket into a river.

Uncanny X-Men #’s 190 and 191 are a sequel to that earlier adventure. Another innocent has found the amulet, thus Kulan Gath has returned and transformed all of New York into the Conan-era world he remembers. The entire premise is apropos of nothing; other than the couple of set-up pages from Uncanny #’s 188 and 189, nothing in the series up to now has prepared us for this kind of story. And the tale even ends with one of those time-travel gimmick-conclusions that go back to the beginning and prevent the whole thing from ever happening. Thus, the story is almost entirely self-contained, and seems to exist solely for its own sake. There’s not much to be gained in trying to analyze its larger place in the X-Men canon. One just has to go with the flow and judge both this issue and the next one on their own merits.

From that perspective, this is a perfectly enjoyable little two-parter. Certainly any fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre should find little to complain about. Claremont clearly has a lot of affection for this sort of thing: wizards, witches, knights, magicians, warriors, etc. If one has the patience to follow the labyrinthine mechanics of the overall arc, some of the plot turns here are fairly clever and exciting – possibly more so for New Mutants fans, given the key roles that characters such as Illyana, Magma and Warlock play. That last one is a particular curiosity. Having debuted at the same time that Bill Sienkiewicz did in the pages of New Mutants, Warlock is very much a Sienkiewiczean creation – a wild-looking entity whose dimensions seem, in a vaguely Escher-like way, to constantly contradict the laws of physics. The in-story explanation for the character’s bizarre look is that he is an alien made out of living circuitry, whose physical shape is in a constant state of flux. The real reason is just that Sienkiewicz is a mad visual genius.

That said, Romita Jr. and Dan Green handle the character’s look admirably. Though their Warlock can’t hope to match Sienkiewicz for sheer wildness, they still create a striking visual. Green in particular seems quite at home with the “living circuitry” idea, his loose line running wildly all over Warlock’s body to quite an impressive effect.

Indeed, Romita Jr. and Green have fun throughout the Kulan Gath arc. Their opening double-page spread of a transformed New York City is breathtaking, for example. Romita Jr.’s viscerally kinetic approach to action -- combined with the remarkable sense of expressionistic detail that Green creates with his gesturely inking style -- all make for some incredibly arresting pages.

[Isn't this also I kind of dark revision of Kitty's Fairy Tale -- except this is "real"?]

Monday, January 05, 2009

Favorite Stand Up Comics

Thinking about stand up comics this week, and I decided to make it into a separate category. I really admire stand up comics -- it seems like a really hard job, but I really admire how amazingly low tech it is. Just storytelling, basically.

Eddie Izzard

Dylan Moran

Bill Bailey

Ron White

Mike Birbiglia

Patton Oswalt

Kevin James (no. really. King of Queens is terrible, but he is really good).

Jim Gaffigan

Daniel Tosh

Jim David

Stephen Wright

Mitch Hedberg

Maria Bamford -- check out The Maria Bamford show on YouTube.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Lovecraft in the Marvel Universe Addendum

Nathan Adler made a substantial, and substantial sized, comment to Cove West's piece here on Lovecraft and the Marvel Universe (which itself started out as a substantial three part comment on Jason Powell's discussion of the Illyana issues of Uncanny X-Men). Check it out:

Hi Cove,

With regard to the “Elder Gods” I’ve always found that Chris meant the N’Garai when using this term. Overwhelming evidence of this occurs in Dr. Strange #43-4, where Chris uses both terms in this story, finally confirmed in X-Men: Black Sun #1, where the N’Garai are identified as those Elder Gods served by Belasco.

We know from Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #22 that well before the Great Cataclysm which sank Atlantis, the Earth was ruled by the race of Elder Gods known as the N’Garai. Humanity was enslaved by these gods, serving as their workers, pets and meals. One account, in Marvel Preview #7, revealed that the N’Garai were defeated and driven from the Earth by the forces of Heaven, led by the angel Lucifer, prior to his fall. Humanity subsequently gained its freedom. Incontrovertible proof that Satan was that self-same fallen angel came in this same issue when the Camarilla of the N’Garai, human servants dedicated to them, sought revenge on that fallen angel, and saw the means to gain it by slaying Satana, the daughter of that same fallen angel.

IIRC Chris Claremont had a few stories outstanding for Satana that would have appeared in Haunt of Horror, but never did… including a Satana story by himself and George Evans entitled ‘Return of the Elder Gods’. The story, while never published, did appear to have been completed, with Claremont referencing it in his introduction to Satana’s appearance in Marvel Preview #7.

I suspect the story eventually showing Atum’s defeat of the Elder Gods in the distant past was grown from the seeds of Chris’s unpublished story about how the angel Lucifer, prior to his fall, was responsible for their banishment.

Despite driving the N’Garai to another dimensional reality, I further suspect Chris would reveal that Lucifer absorbed so much of their energies that he transformed into Satan, akin to Atum’s transformation into Demogorge. The army that he led was similarly tainted by the N’Garai’s evil, eventually becoming his satanic host, and returning to Heaven, the degenerated Lucifer leads his army in war against God, resulting in their being cast down from Earth.

Another of Chris’s stories, this time slated for The Legion of Monsters #2 but never published, was titled ‘Night Of The Demon – Night Of The Damned’. Later that year he wrote X-Men #96 which contained the almost identical title of ‘Night of the Demon’, which would seem to indicate that Chris took this subplot and planned it for his X-Men book. In this story, right after Thunderbird’s death, a powerful N’Garai demon going by the name of Kierrok the Damned was accidentally released from its other dimensional prison by Cyclops.

Then in the story from Marvel Team-Up #76-77, Chris shows Silver Dagger reading the Shiatra Book of the Damned in the Vatican library during Curwen’s time as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. This book was later retconned to be one of the many names of the Darkhold. I suspect, however, that Chris’s use of the term ‘Damned’ suggests a different intention, that the Shiatra Book of the Damned was originally intended as an indestructible parchment which Kierrok managed to infuse his mystical knowledge into, later used as the basis of the tale about Chthon’s leaving the Darkhold to provide a gateway for his eventual return.

Of further interest is how, in the story of Marada, the She-Wolf, we have the N’Garai masters, the Mabdhara, including Y’Garon, first of the Triad, seeking out the soul of Marada for her powers “both temporal and arcane, though she knows it not.” Simyon Karashnur, a sorcerer serving the N’Garai, sought to bind Marada’s power to the service of his masters.

Now, as detailed by Archie Goodwin in Overview (Epic Illustrated’s notes on stories and contributors), Marada’s story was initially intended to feature Red Sonja, but copyright complications at the time resulted in the story and character being totally redesigned into Marada. In addition, Simyon Karashnur was changed from Kulan Gath.

During Marvel Team-Up #79, mention is made that Red Sonja slayed Kulan Gath by cutting out his heart, an identical fate met by Simyon when Marada enters Y’Garon’s realm.

Thus, following on from Chris’s Sonja tale during Marvel Team-Up, one could adduce that during the Hyborian Age Red Sonja came to blows with Kulan Gath due to his N’Garai masters wishing to possess her soul due to its powers “both temporal and arcane, though she knows it not.”

Fast forwarding numerous millennia, Belasco seeks to bind Illyana’s powers “both temporal and arcane” to the service of his N’Garai masters.

What this all seems to point to is the N’Garai aiming to acquire control over time.

Given their motives to gain control over time, this might suggest Immortus as another sorcerer similarly seeking to bind Wanda’s powers “both temporal and arcane” to the service of the N’Garai!? 

Recall that Wanda was not only bound to Chthon as a foetus, but had much of her life orchestrated by Immortus, Master of Time. Given the revelation that Chthon conceived the N’Garai, could Immortus be another agent of these N’Garai?

It is interesting that just prior to the revelation of Wanda Maximoff as a so-called “Child of the Darkholde”, Chris had written a few stories on the topic hinting at Chthon scheming nasty plans for Spider-Woman, with her mother Viper used as a pawn to twist Jessica into his servant.

With regard to Claremont’s plan to bring about an epic around Magik and Limbo (the original plan for Inferno which ended up coopted to clean up the Madelyn mess), I would however posit that Illyana’s role was originally intended for Satana, the Devil’s Daughter in the epic ‘Return of the Elder Gods’. I recall seeing an illustration by Sienkiwicz of Satana wielding what appeared to be a Soulsword years ago, so was she originally intended to conquer Limbo on behalf of her father to hold back the N’Garai hordes? Satana was definitely destined to become a darkchild of sorts. While her brother Daimon hated his hellish heritage, she seemed to revel in human suffering, acquiring a vampiric thirst for syphoning life energy from others.

Nevertheless, this would seem to suggest that Chris’s plans for Satana were foiled, so he began grafting his plot upon Ms. Marvel (Dark Ms. Marvel), then Jean Grey (Dark Phoenix), Jessica Drew (Child of the Darkholde), and finally Magik (Darkchilde).

When Chris wrote Spider-Woman, Chthon was referred to as “The Other.” Was this demon intended as another N’Garai, or perhaps Y’Garon?

Now recall that the clay used to great effect by Philip Masters was imbued with some form of demonic essence allowing him to animate it.

Then recall that Magik constantly found herself fighting back the demonic essence of Limbo, also known as Otherplace, and this included its soil being imbued with demonic life.

Then consider that Chthon was referred to as the “Other” when first introduced into the Marvel Universe. Coincidence!?

Was Otherplace where Chthon fled to when Demogorge came to devour the Elder Gods (or in Chris’s plan where the Mabdhara fled when banished by Lucifer/ Satan)?

Then, if Immortus is actually Limbo’s own defence against invasion by the Elder Gods, does this make him an agent of Gaea, intent on preventing her brother gaining control over time and rewriting history to ensure he did not have to flee Earth? Is this why he chose to manipulate Wanda, i.e. to undermine the influence Chthon had upon her?

This would suggest that Immortus is actually akin to Yandroth (another champion of science vs magic), in that he resists the mystic aspects of limbo and masters them with technology.

Then if Chris was not allowed to use the Scarlet Witch, did he create Magik as a substitute. You’ll recall he suspended the difference between mutation and sorcery a lot. With Magik you could never tell when mutant powers ends and spellcasting begins. Stan also did this with the Scarlet Witch. Coincidence? But I digress…

Now, when Chris was writing Dr. Strange, he had Stephen slay a servant of the N’Garai, the Shadowqueen (cf. II #42-44), by invoking the power of the Tetragrammaton. This was the same power called upon, in the Book of Enoch, to defeat the Nephilim, whom Robert E. Howard appears to have based his “Giant-Kings” upon.

Given this, might Chris have gone one better than Roy Thomas and revealed that mutants existed even further back in Earth’s history than Ahmet Abdol had claimed, quite interesting when one considers that the Pharaohs Abdol theorised as mutants came from the land that was once Stygia (i.e. Egypt)?

On another note, Morgan le Fay makes mention during Chris’s run on Spider-Woman of Mordred being imprisoned for a time in the Outer Dark. The only stories referring to the Outer Dark were written by Chris. These include Chris’s “Bizarre Adventures” tale of Lady Daemon, also known as Megan Daemon. Whilst this might appear out of continuity, the Mother of Demons, Kthara, pitted against Satana and Daimon by Chris in Marvel Spotlight #24 is referred to as “She who Rules the Outer Dark”. Kthara’s relationship to their father, Satan, further suggested that those demons encountered by Lady Daemon were indeed the N’Garai.

With Chris never getting to explore the character of Megan Daemon any further, I wonder if Chris created Meggan from Excalibur to act as her substitute!? Chris even managed to sneak elements of Lady Daemon’s tale into early issues of Excalibur, but first…

With the mention by Chris (cf. Excalibur #12 (v1) p.15) of Meggan having some connection to the fairies, and his later contention that the Neo had some *connection* with stories of fairies and fantasy from human history, I would posit that the Neo were intended as some hyper-evolved mutant defence against an N’Garai invasion!?

With Chris’s intending Kitty Pryde’s inheriting Magik’s Soulsword, and his further hints, in X-Men #100 (v2), at her being a Neo, this would seem to have some connection to the Elder Host demon calling Kitty a “Guardian,” her purpose perhaps being the prevention of N’Garai breaching the dimensional barriers to Earth.

Could the Petrified Man perhaps be another curse brought about by the N’Garai? Recall that Chris had Garokk sacrifice himself to resurrect the Savage Land, only to have his “negative” influence do nasty things to some of the evolving dinosaurs, so when they reached maturity, they were smarter or more crafty than ever before. The Savage Land of all places would be the perfect environment for the N’Garai to develop a ground swell of power, since the majority of its inhabitants live a life of bestial depravity so similar to the legacy the N’Garai left behind on the Earth.

Another reveal never touched upon since is how Forge claimed the life-force of his fallen comrades to summon forth N’Garai demons to avenge their deaths in Vietnam.

Interested in your thoughts.

P.S. Of further interest to you might be the Unforgiven Dead from Bob Harras’s run on Namor, in particular Suma-Ket who was revealed to have incredible magical power due to his consorting with the Elder Gods. Given the Elder Gods referred to in issues #43 and #44 of Dr. Strange were the N’Garai, this would seem to suggest that like Kulan Gath and Belasco, Suma-Ket was another Priest-King of the N’Garai. The question this leaves me with is what surface group Harras intended the Unforgiven Dead to be derived from.