Friday, July 31, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

[Guest Blogger Mitch has a few things to say about the new Wes Anderson trailer.]

I'm always trying to tell people precisely what it is I like about Wes Anderson's movies and my friend Carla hit the nail on the head earlier today, when I posted the trailer for his new (stop-motion!) movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox on Facebook. There is a little scene where the Jason Schwartzman fox is getting ready for the caper and says, "I don't have a bandit hat, but I modified this tube sock."

The vocabulary of that one line alone perfectly sums Anderson up. First, there's the purposely-banal choice of "bandit hat" over the more exciting, but overused term "mask." To say he "modified" it implies a much funnier, more methodical process than simply cutting eye and mouth holes. This over-sophisticated phraseology, when paired with the image of the actually crudely cut sock tells us a lot of about how seriously Schwartman's character takes himself. (A fair criticism of Anderson would be that most of his characters speak in the same self-important jargon.) The joke obviously hangs on it being a "tube sock," because "sock" alone wouldn't be enough to hammer this dichotomy home.

The Meryl Streep fox also has a great, overly verbose line: "If what I think is happening is happening... it better not be." This is one of Anderson's favorite tricks -- telegraphing a familiar, cliche line structure and then sabotaging it with something far more potent. Another example of this is Dennis the Menace's line in Rushmore: "With friends like you, Max... who needs friends?"

I'm still looking for the perfect phrase to characterize Anderson's style, though. "Surprising Banality?" "Poetic Banality?" Any ideas?

[And as someone commenting on your facebook pointed out, the tube sock line is followed by "You look good" -- "Yeah. I do." That is kind of wonderful because it is delivered with a childlike unconsciousness of ego, just a statement of fact, which is adorable.]

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 13 (or episode 20)

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter

[Jill Duffy continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks.]

What happens when you are 13 episodes into a season, and the show you’ve been following just isn’t the same one you started with?

I make a lot of comparisons between Twin Peaks and the other serial shows I watch, notably The Wire and Lost. Most of the time I’m looking at the larger planning aspects, wondering how much of a season or series the writers and creators have mapped out ahead of time. I wonder whether television series writers even have the authority or job security to plan the major movements of a show one or two seasons into its future.

With Twin Peaks, I wonder how, or rather when, the writers got to the point where they knew they would be writing this whole new thing, this show that was no longer about solving the death of a high school girl.

The new main plotline is about Major Briggs, father of Bobby Briggs (which is easy to forget; they’re almost never shown together and they have nothing in common). We don’t know what’s happening with Briggs, but it appears to deal with aliens, or at least outer space and some such supernatural being or force. We see Briggs at the opening in a weird montage, fire overlaid, and a cheesy, swirling image of a biohazard symbol, the same symbol that has shown up as a scar on Brigg’s neck.

Just as Briggs tells Harry and Cooper about the “unofficial work” he and a few people have been doing investigating UFOs and “the heavens,” and “in the case of Twin Peaks, below,” some uniformed service guys barge in and whisk him away. He goes without a fight.

In a way, I like that Briggs doesn’t stick around long enough to tell us anything of substance, not now and not at the moment of his disappearance a few episodes ago. Stringing out his plotline does indeed keep me interested and curious to know what will happen next.

Meanwhile (cue spinning bat emblem and music) . . . Ben Horne is going crazy, setting himself up as a general in the Civil War for the South, setting himself up for failure in the process. Audrey calls in Jerry and Dr. Jacoby to help, but Catherine shows up before they can get there. Catherine is then trying to seduce Ben, which I don’t quite understand. She makes it seems as if she can’t resist him and can’t stay away, but I’m definitely thinking that there is a catch to it and that she’s going to use him for something.

Other than Briggs, the memorable moment happens when Cooper, Truman, and the other lawmen set up a drug bust. The whole drug bust isn’t really set up too well. It’s rushed rather than developed, and Renault, on the drug side, is dropped in rather than introduced slowly.

We do see and hear a lot of planting before the moment, but it’s kind of fun to watch, pay attention, and try to figure out the logical snags that will happen based on the clues given via planting, sort of like reading a classic detective novel, the kind that gives the reader just enough clues to piece together and solve the crime.

As the drug bust starts, Ernie, the mole, is sweating profusely (a condition that was established earlier), causing the wires taped to his body to sizzle and smoke. Ernie and David Duchovny’s character, who in this scene is “Denis,” are found out. Cooper trades himself for those two hostages.

Renault and Cooper’s situation turns into a standoff. Coop and Renault have an exchange as they are waiting out the standoff and trying to figure out what to do. Renault has a monologue that is really good (Renault is French-Canadian, so his English is intentionally full of errors):

Renault: “…first we must decide to give up quietly or to kill him.”
Cooper: “Then we both die.”
Renault: “I know.”
Cooper: “Is my death so important to you?”
Renault: “My two brother died. I hold you responsible.”
Cooper: “Why?”
Renault: “Why? Before you came here, Twin Peak was a simple place. My brothers deal up to the teenagers and truck drivers. When I check welcome to businessmen they tell us quiet people live the quiet life. Then, a pretty girl die, then you arrive, then everything change. My brother Bernardo, shot, then left to die in the woods. The grieving father smother my remaining brother with the pillow. Kidnapping. Death. Suddenly, the quiet people, they quiet no more. Suddenly the simple dream become the nightmare. So, if you die, maybe you will be the last to die. Maybe you brought the nightmare with you. And maybe the nightmare will die with you.”

At that moment, Denise/Denis, now dressed in an R&R waitress uniform, approaches the house carrying a tray of food. She saunters in to deliver the food, hikes up her skirt a little to show a gun in her garder, which Cooper grabs and fires at Renault. The sheriff and Andy storm the building. Renault dies.

In the very last scene, a tied up dead body is left in the Sheriff’s office in front of a chessboard. It should be a very dramatic moment, but it falls flat because it’s a cliffhanger that hasn’t been set up. It’s just introduced out of nowhere and is meant to be shocking, but with no build up.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

YCDTOT and RIP Les Lye

By Scott

[Scott remembers You Can't Do That On Television, and I was surprised to discover that I was persuaded here that it was pretty ahead of its time.]

Upon hearing the news that Les Lye, the actor who played the adult male roles on You Can't Do That On Televsion, passed away this weekend, I found myself watching old clips on youtube and reading up on the show online. In doing so, I came across the following quote from Justin Cammy, a former cast member who is now a professor at Smith College. Seeing as how many of us on the blog probably grew up with the show, I thought it might be worth posting/discussing:

"You Can't Do That on Television was the first post-modern children's program of my generation. It subverted all recognizable forms and deconstructed the pre-teen's understanding of such important institutions as the family, the school and the video arcade. When the schoolteacher did not know any better than to call Milton's masterpiece "Pair of Dice Lost", the program functioned as an ideological clarion call to future college students like you who would go on to demand the displacement of an ossified Western canon with more relevant investigations of low culture."

I would like to point out that I always felt, and watching old episodes confirmed, that the show was very much a junior Monty Python and that went much deeper than the Giliam-esque opening sequence. It also pre-figured a lot of what we see on Adult Swim; particularly the sort of 'Short Attention Span Theatre' of shows like Robot Chicken as, on YCDTOT, most of the sketches were only between 30 seconds to about a minute in length.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jack Kirby's The New Gods #6

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods -- and this is perhaps the most famous issue. If you were only going to read one issue of the New Gods this might be the one.]

“The Glory Boat!”

New Gods #6 is a near perfect Fourth Word tale. Kirby uses New Gods, sea monsters, and the roaring ocean to ruminate on the ideals of humanity, war and peace. Although our world often feels like the fire pits of Apokolips, there’s still the dream of living in Super Town within the bright and happy New Gods.

We open on the monster witnessed by Orion in the last issue. In four pages, we learn the power of the monster as it plows through a giant ship with ease. The panels open to full page to depict the size of the destruction. Orion is not far behind, exploding out of the water in front of a trio of humans that are lost at sea. He cannot be bothered with saving these bystanders and only offers to bring them along on his mission. Mother box leads him to an oddly angular craft in the ocean with a lone figure, wrapped in bandages, on top of it. It’s an odd visual, which also appears upon the cover of the book. Orion uses his astro-force to tear away the bandages only to find himself face to face with his friend, Lightray.

The working dynamic between these two characters is interesting and something I’ve been hoping to see since the first issue. Lightray has finagled his way off New Genesis because he is eager to join Orion in battle but his sunny disposition and appearance seem in conflict with this desire for combat. He yearns to be a warrior and respected by Orion while Orion wishes Lightray to remain pure and untouched by the horrors of war.

The three humans “rescued” by Orion add another layer to this situation. There is Farley, the father of the other two who has served in war before and seems willing to join in battle, even if it’s from another planet. Farley is constantly belittling his son, Richard, who is a self-described conscientious objector. Richard is dressed in a long smock witch mostly covers his shorts which makes him often look like he’s not wearing pants (Make of that what you will). Farley also has a daughter, Lynn, who can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. There’s no stereotypical debate between Orion, god of war, and Richard, conscientious objector, mostly due to the chaotic circumstances. Lightray is friendly to the trio and he and Orion work well together despite their obvious differences in demeanor.

Lightray and Orion enter the craft to find a disgusting one eyed creature which is directing the deep six. Orion’s impulse is to destroy, while Lightray’s is to rehabilitate. Lightray displays some matter changing abilities (quite common on New Genesis) which turn the creature into a basic life form and imprint the image of a “caller” which will cause the six and their monster to return to the craft. I’m not quite sure what this “caller” is, but is seems to have some sort of New Genesis back story. The six do indeed turn around and head towards the ship while Lightray and Orion scan for their presence.

Back on the ship, Farley and Richard are debating their situation and the course of action when Jafar, one of the deep six, surfaces and attacks. The call to action causes the two men to reverse their positions on conflict. Farley freezes at the sight of the creature and goes into a catatonic state. Seeing his family in mortal danger, Richard leaps forward and punches the monster. Throughout his travels, Kirby has seen boastful people who are trying to cover their hidden fears and seen other people who are capable of major action when their loved ones are in danger. Unfortunately Jafar is beyond mortal punches. He lifts Richard off the ground, pummels him with one hand, and mutates Richard’s head into and empty metallic mannequin head. This transformation is somehow much creepier than a typical form of violence.

Orion roars in from the reconnaissance mission and unleashes a flurry of asto-force power on Jafar. Jafar explodes in the air as Orion muses: “Complete destruction! Jafar has paid for his vicious act!!”. Lightray takes the body of Richard inside where the basic life form has been evolving in a major way. Orion puts Lynn astro-harness which flies her to safety and the two New Gods wait for the remaining six to approach. Two of the six lunge forth and Orion sends them back into the ocean to regroup. Meanwhile, Lightray has harnessed Farley to the mast he himself was once held to. The craft begins to burn from the attacks and it would appear Lightray has sent the man to his doom. However Lightray has a plan for the impending collision with the remaining six and their monster.

What follows is an amazing 2 full page spread with the remaining six and their monster charging from one end and Orion and Lightray on the other. The New Gods are on top of the the life cube which has evolved into a giant warhead. The two appear to be ready to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy the denizens of Apokolips.

This page could be a summation of Kirby’s fourth world work. The speed at which they travel is equivalent to the speed at which Kirby was creating. They ride on top an amazing creation seemingly created out of thin air which happen often in these books. The attitude of the men is if they succeed or if they fail, they want to do it in a grand fashion which ultimately describes Kirby’s saga.

A huge explosion follows and we can see Lightray has used his speed to rescue himself and Orion at the last second. The explosion has carried Farley safely out to sea and he’s left to drift and think about his actions on this harrowing day.

Final Musings

- The tale taken from the human’s perspective reads like a classic EC horror/suspense title from the 1950’s.

- I’m surprised DC editorial allowed the heroes to kill the six and their monster. Maybe it’s their fish-like visage which makes it ok.

- The art in this issue is great. Very expressive, lots of momentum. The expression of Farley seeing Jafar is absolute horror. Orion doing a flip in the air as he destroys his prey is perfect. I realized that Kirby had a new inker, Mike Royer, jump on an issue ago. Royer has a bit of a heavier line, but the afterword seems to indicate he refines his touch as the series progresses.
Lightray alludes to the fact that most of New Genesis are conscientious objectors. I realized Orion, Barda, and Mr. Miracle who all fight for New Genesis are all Apokolips born. Lightray and the Forever people are the only two major New Genesis born combatants.

- The life cube has typically been the type of plot devices I’ve had issues with, but again the issue was so good it didn’t bother me much. I have to come to terms with the fact that they are gods and will have amazing powers. However the story still has to hold weight.

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Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If I forget, remind me. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #232

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Uncanny X-Men.]


This is more like it. After two issues of bleeding off the momentum of Uncanny #229’s strong relaunch, Claremont – reunited with both members of the regular art team, Silvestri and Green, and now under the guidance of a firmer editorial hand than he was used to (that of Bob Harras) – snaps sharply back into focus. Harras’s ability to rein in Claremont’s chaotic storytelling style (which will become tighter and tighter over the next three years, ultimately proving so constrictive that Claremont will quit in frustration) is demonstrable in the very first page, which pointedly draws together several random threads from X-Men issues 215-218, finally explaining their significance. The sudden tightening of these previous loose strands is the dramatic equivalent of a whip crack – immediate, arresting and impossible to ignore. Though Claremont has nothing good to say about his time working under Harras’ editorship, it can’t be denied that – at least during the first year of their collaboration – the two seemed to find a powerful equilibrium. The tension between Claremont’s chaotic creativity and Harras’ conservatism created a brand new dynamic, and was another factor in the sense of renewed excitement and exoticness that washed over the series during this time.

Uncanny #232 also reprises “Down Under”’s trick of delaying the X-Men’s arrival, this time all the way until Page 13 of a 22-page story. Once again, the results are spectacular, allowing the tension to build over the course of several eerily surrealistic scenes, e.g, a woman being eaten by a gigantic space-shark (accompanied by a massive “CHOMP” sound effect), and a paramedic molesting a dying mutant with a tentacle. We also get our first in-story look at Silvestri’s version of the Brood aliens. His variation on Cockrum’s design is astoundingly frightening.

As noted in the entry on Uncanny #229, Colossus – now perpetually stuck in his “organic steel” form, is an emblem for what the entire team has become: cold and hard, almost alien. The effect spreads to a second member of the cast in this issue, with Psylocke suddenly draped – without preamble or any satisfactory explanation – in pink body armor. Not only is the costume itself alienating, but so is Claremont’s decision not to let the readers be privy to where it came from. Once again the audience is being excluded from the X-Men, whereas in the Cockrum/Byrne issues, we were always invited welcomingly in.

(Note that Claremont will eventually explain how Betsy got her armor, though notably never in an issue of Uncanny. He saves the explanation – which itself only raises more questions – for the Wolverine ongoing, inaugurated in July of 1988.)

Along similar lines, the Longshot/Dazzler romance first hinted at in the Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men miniseries also seems to have progressed between issues. Even here, though, the audience is kept on the outside, wondering whether Alison and Longshot’s physical intimacy is just part of their cover while they spy on Harry Palmer. The Claremont of earlier years would’ve been obliged to supply thought balloons for both characters, to let us all know exactly what they were thinking.

All of this contributes to the X-Men seeming more dangerous than they have in a long time. Consider this no-nonsense bit of strategic instruction from Storm (who’s also in a new costume, having given up the “punk” look at last, only to trade it for fetishistic full-body black leather):

“He has been running free ever since the crash. We must not – dare not – harm him ... until we have learned if he has implanted any others with Brood eggs ... and if so, who they are. Then, we will deal with them all. Think of this as a plague, X-Men, more virulent than any you can even imagine.”

This is a new era of X-Men – they’ve collectively become tougher and meaner, less likeable as personalities but far more hardcore as sci-fi protagonists. They now truly seem like outsiders, a notion that always hung over the X-Men premise, intellectually, even in the 1960s, yet never has felt more visceral than it does now. Geoff commented on how the original Brood arc made him impatient, with Storm in particular having a crisis of conscience over whether she should kill the Brood embryo inside her. The 1988 iteration of Ororo is a different woman, the storylines of the intervening six having toughened her up. Her desire to keep Palmer alive not out of compassion but only for questioning is striking, particularly in that it mirrors similar instructions she gave to Wolverine regarding The Mauraders during “Mutant Massacre.”

Having made his X-Men seem like outsiders even to the audience, Claremont brilliantly draws them back in through that old saw, continuity. No matter how frustrated some readers may have become at the loss of the friendly, familiar team they’d loved, the siren’s song of continuity surely must have drawn them right back in: The return of the Brood is the most obvious use of the now extremely dense X-Men mythos, but other allusions turn up here as well. Wolverine’s attacking a policeman on the next-to-last page, leading a teammate to believe Logan has snapped, alludes directly to Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s first encounter with Proteus over 100 issues ago (Uncanny #126). And detail-minded X-Men readers (practically a tautology) would be sure to spot the “Reverend William Conover: Glory Day Ministry Billboard” and wonder whether it meant a reprise of “God Loves, Man Kills,” whose main antagonist bore the same title and first name.

With its freshly unpredictable set of cast members and liberal use of comfortingly familiar continuity bits, “Earthfall” is a dynamic package. Whatever tension was lost in the last two issues’ sentimental meanderings is recouped and then powerfully consolidated here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sci-Fi vs SF vs SyFy

The decision that the Sc-Fi Network be changed to "Syfy" seems to be part of a larger system of rebranding, and also rethinking the relationship between the name and the thing -- MTV has not played music for years (I don't even think MTV2 does either), KFC tried out "Kitchen Fresh Chicken," the History Channel plays Ice Road Truckers (which I guess is history in the larger sense of "it happened") and once played The Planet of the Apes. Back when it was the Sci-Fi channel it played Cabin Fever which has no science fiction element at all. I feel sort of fine with all this, but I can see how it might drive some people crazy.

The thing that sets the SyFy thing apart a bit is that often Sci-Fi people are sticklers for accuracy -- from the accuracy of hard sci-fi ("How does the Warp Drive work") to the accuracy of an internally consistent world building ("Everyone must return to the island. Everyone. Except I guess not Walt for some reason"). Names matter to Sci-fi fans: I once got into a conversation where I was told a female looking android should be called a "gynoid" (since "andros" means "man"). Sci-fi Fans are also pretty serious about branding a lot of the time -- the "Batman" brand has to mean Bruce Wayne, and "Captain America" brand has to mean "Steve Rogers" -- and the comic book companies know this, which is why these two characters will never die, even when they appear to. Combined with the social standing of science fiction fans, the decision to brand Sci-Fi as SyFy (I imagine) would feel to a lot of people like someone who is insulting and ditching their small group of friends because it will help them make more friends with a larger, more popular group.

But this reminded me that among some sci-fi fans the term sci-fi is itself verboten -- I was once told to use SF, as sci-fi is insulting, a claim I had never heard before, and have only heard about once since. I take it that people in the past have used "sci-fi" as an insulting term, and so maybe tainted it, but to rebrand as "SF" as a result seems to be a similar move as the one that resulted in the SyFy channel. I have heard it described in terms that sound to me like the ones used to discuss racial epithets, it has been used for years to demean the genre and so on, and we should not encouraged the continued use of this nasty term (perhaps someone out there has a counter argument that it should be rehabilitated and embraced).

"Sci-fi" feels normal and unpretentious to me, but I think I like it most of all because I don't want to be the guy telling other people what it should be called, because that seems fussy to me. But maybe I am not appreciating some aspect of this debate. Do folks around here have an opinion on the subject?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 12 (or episode 19)

By Jill Duffy

For this series of blog posts, I take notes while watching the episode, and then fill in the blanks with a little more synthesis later. But for this entry, I’ve decided to leave my notes as they are and just share them raw. Enjoy! –Jill Duffy

This is the episode in which Ben Horne really starts to go crazy.

Bobby is trying to blackmail Horne, but between Horne’s crazed state and Bobby’s stupidity, he can’t pull it off. Instead, Bobby ends up working for Horne. What a dupe.

Cooper is dressed like Harry and is considering buying a house in Twin Peaks. As he’s talking to the real estate agent, he comes across a listing for a mysterious house.

Is that Molly Shannon as Little Nicky’s case worker? Dick Tremane meets her and says, “Charmed, I’m sure.” I wonder where that expression came from and what it really means.

The mayor’s brother dies of what seems to be death by sex, with his young new wife.

Nadine joins the wrestling team. Mike is being toyed with by her.

There are lots of little oral stories: Little Nicky’s parents died of mysterious circumstances; before Nadine joins the wrestling team, the coach tells a story about black players trying to get equality; another guy at the house where James is now working tells a story (backstory) about Mrs. Marcy and how she operates; the real estate agent tells Cooper a little about the house,

Dead Dog Farm; Mr. Niles, who is wrapped up in the drug sell and trying to get out of the charges against him, weaves story after story to try to win over the cops’/FBI’s sympathies.

James is living with Mrs. Marcy.

Dick is trying to change a tire.

Colonel Riley is investigating Briggs’ disappearance.

The show gets very X-files like with Briggs stuff, but it’s still a huge fucking soap opera with James and Mrs. Marcy.

Audrey is a much more appealing character at this point than Donna.

Pete and Catherine have Josie working for them now. The relationships between them make for more interesting plotlines. We like Catherine because she’s great on screen, dynamic, self-obsessed, but she’s also a villain. On the other hand, Josie is kind of getting what she deserves, and so we don’t think of Catherine as being as much of a cold-hearted witch as it at first seems. We don’t know the real relationship between Pete and Josie either, except that we know he loves her—we just don’t know to what degree, though it’s been always platonic in the show.

David Duchovny as Denise is a joy to watch.

Some characters, like Norma and Ed, keep showing up, but they have nothing to do. They’re being included in a very soap opera way; we follow up with them simply because they’re a part of the show and we can’t just ignore them for a few episodes.

One thing that’s interesting is how much the show now has strong female characters.

Oh my god, I forgot that Bobby is Bobby Briggs, son of Major Briggs. In the final scene, he goes home and sees his mother, who is up late at night, just sitting and waiting and worrying about her husband. Bobby comes home and tells a story about a dream he had about his father. Then out of nowhere, he is in the living room in an old-fashioned pilot’s uniform, with a long leather coat, white scarf, and goggles.

What the hell? Why is there the photo of Laura again behind the end credits? Grr.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

3D Glasses: Beowulf, Coraline, Up, Superman

When I saw Beowulf in 3D one of the things I noticed was that in a movie that ridiculous -- Crispin Glover as a mutant fish monster reciting old English poetry in a mainstream film, and Angelina Jolie demon feet just naturally being in the shape of stilettos -- it helps to have the 3D glasses on. In getting you to put on these dumb plastic glasses the movie has gotten you to surrender to its silliness -- you are an active participant in the silliness. I mean, I look like a dork all the time but I really look like a dork in the glasses.

I was very disappointed that the Beowulf DVD did not come with a 3D version and some glasses. Watching it with my students I felt like they were missing out on some key part of the experience.

Coraline was the next 3D movie I saw -- I actually ended up watching it with the same glasses I wore to Beowulf.

It features a major plot point having to do with black plastic buttons a character must put on their eyes WILLINGLY, just as the audience willingly put on these black plastic glasses. For both the characters and the audience putting black plastic on your eyes is the price you must pay to enter into a illusory fantasy-land made just to entertain you, a place where nothing is as it seems.

Then, at the end, it features a little stone with a hole in it -- by looking through the hole Coraline can see past the illusion and get to what is hidden there that she must find.

The whole third act of the movie became a video-game treasure hunt, and rang false to me, but I think part of the reason it rang false was that I had put on the glasses to see an illusion and now Coraline was looking through something very similar to dispel illusion. It broke my identification with the character just the tiniest bit.

The third 3D movie I saw was Pixar's UP and, as we expect from Pixar, this had the smartest device to making the most of those 3D glasses. How are you going to get a primarily younger and eager audience to identify with an old cranky man? Well first off, like Batman's Robin, you give him a young and eager sidekick.

But you also have the old man wear big, square black glasses through the whole film -- glasses that are virtually indistinguishable from the square black glasses the audience is wearing.

You have to get this identification right at the get go, because there is a heartbreaking dialogue-free sequence in the first act of the movie that relies on the audience's identification with this character, and is going to make them cry if they are not robots. How do you do it? You show the old man as a young person, and you have the young person (even as a kid) wearing those same glasses, AND you put the kid in a movie theatre watching a film in WONDER through the glasses -- as we watch our movie through the glasses and reailize that someday we will be old too.


This is why there will never be a 3D Superman movie. Because the moment you would want the 3D to kick into high gear is also the moment that Clark Kent TAKES OFF THOSE BIG SQUARE BLACK GLASSES, severing his connection with the audience.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Andy Bentley on the New Gods: The Forever People #6

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at the New Gods. I make a brief comment about Final Crisis, which I weirdly look back fondly on while also remembering that I did not like it that much at the time. I almost want to add it to favorite comics. I should read it again.]

“The Omega Effect”

The Forever People continues to be my favorite title with it’s fast action, frequent Darkseid appearances, and focus on the quest for Anti-Life. The action pics up moments after the end of the last issue with Godfrey’s Justifiers attempting to secure the Forever People’s Super Cycle. The Super Cycle has a security system which allows it to transform into a defense station equipped with a powerful canon (add Transformers to the franchises Kirby has touched). Godfrey sends new recruits to help tackle this issue and Kirby expresses his objection to man’s penchance towards war through his character’s words.

Follower: They’re really eager to destroy! What’s the secret, Godfrey? The helmet? The uniform? The creed?
Godfrey: Earthmen are given all those things at birth!! I merely justify their readiness to use them!!

The scene shifts to the Forever People who are utilizing Sonny’s ability to wield the anti-life equation to incapacitate the remaining Apokoliptians in Happy Land. Mark Moonrider destroys the CPU and the perverse amusement park begins to crumble -attracting the attention of the police. Darkseid and Desaad watch from below and are none too pleased. Darkseid realizes it is time to unleash the Omega effect.

The Omega effect consists of energy beams that emit from Darkseid’s pupils and never miss their target. When they connect, they transport the victim to another place in space/time. The beams connect with each of the Forever People save Serafin. Desaad whines like a baby for Darkseid to finish his dirty deed, but Darkseid believes the threat has passed. How many villains have fallen into this trap? Serafin has little time to mourn his compatriots as the police begin to enter the room. He avoids them and commandeers an aero-van with the help of his cosmic cartridges. The story ends with a fantastic panel depicting Serafin hunched over in the direction of the sunset with an army of Justifiers waiting below to attack.

There is a final backup story set in New Genesis pre-war involving Serafin and Big Bear. Not too much of note here, however the final pin up does need explanation. It’s a self portrait of Kirby at his desk! The copy on the page urges the reader to explore Kirby’s older work at DC and Kirby himself says “there’s one in this mag!”. It took another look at the cover for me to realize that the original comic was 48 pages and had a backup reprint of the Simon/Kirby Sandman material he produced in the 40’s. Too bad, I would’ve liked to have read it.

Before I began this journey, I thought Forever People was to be the title I would have to push through. It looked to be about 4 space hippies who spouted out-of-date phrases and would preach peace and love to combat Apokolips’ hate. Instead, it’s four young but seasoned New Gods who are in direct conflict with Darkseid and have prevented him from obtaining his ultimate goal. Their personalities are more real and mature than the Newsboys and the Harries and the plot structure varies much more than the other titles. The title contains the main themes of free will and oppression, but it also has the strongest feeling of rebellion. Godfrey is the symbol of religious oppression and Darkseid is the ultimate authority figure. He demands all follow and obey without question. The Forever People realize they don’t have the power or stature to overthrow Darkseid, yet they push him to the point of retribution.

Final Musings

Apparently I’m the only one who liked this title: Forever People had the quickest drop in sales and the lowest sales overall of the four titles, including Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. Well, to each his own.

Darkseid’s appearance seems to slightly shift panel to panel. His helmet moves from more of a bullet shape to more of a Darth Vader style. His height and bulk wax and wane and he sometimes has pupils.

The Omega effect is a great visual, and has been attached to almost all incarnations of the ruler of Apokolips.
erafin as the lone survivor jives with his cowboy getup. His get-out-of-jail-free cosmic cartridges did bother me slightly, but with this solid story I was willing to let it slide.

Some dialog seems to indicate that the Omega Effect is an ability which Darkseid has learned to harness rather than an inherited power. Could other beings wield it?

Another great panel: Darkseid walking through the burning remains of Happy Land.

Fun Fact: Vykin was the first black super-hero to appear in a DC comic book, preceding Kirby's Black Racer by approximately 7 months.

[Some Final Crisis fans thought it was a cop out for Batman to be revealed fine in caveman days or a caveman planet or something after he died one issue before at the end of Final Crisis, but if you look here that is what the Omega Effect IS, that is the way it is used for the first four times. (And as a brief sidebar -- it also makes sense that DC wanted to show Batman not killed at the end of Final Crisis because I dead Batman means an undead Batman Black Lantern, which surely no force on earth could even think of stopping. He would literally take over the universe and BE the next Darkseid.)]

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, July 21, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #231

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run.]

“Dressed for Dinner”

The previous issue’s Christmas-in-February diversion was forgivable because it was so heart-swellingly sweet. But with “Dressed for Dinner” – featuring Colossus vs. characters out of a Russian novel – Claremont IS in danger of completely hemorrhaging away the momentum of the X-Men’s startling debut in Uncanny #229. But this is Ann Nocenti’s final issue as editor before handing the reins over to Bob Harras, so perhaps Claremont simply wanted her to go out on something more emblematic of their collaborative relationship: a character-based story, grounded more in the emotional relationships between characters than in straightforward hero/villain clashes.

Or perhaps the converse is true – that Claremont would have continued to meander from his firmly established “Down Under” status quo had Bob Harras not happened to step in and (lacking the empathy of Nocenti or Louise Simonson) forced Claremont to snap back into focus.

At any rate, “Dressed for Dinner” also suffers from the substitution of Rick Leonardi’s clunky obviousness for the hard, sexy alien-ness of Silvestri’s work two issues before. When Rogue eyes up Colossus on Page 3 and thinks, “Oh, lordy – big guy, d’you have the slightest notion – how good you look! Yum!”, the effect is laughable. With Silvestri doing the art, it would have been steamier than hell.

Nonetheless, Claremont is still in good form, and in several places, his writing proves convincing. The dialogue between Peter and Illyana at the end of the issue, for example, though overly extemporized, resolves into a lovely exchange near the end:

Colossus: “What you are does not matter – because you are trying to become something better.”
Illyana: “I keep failing.”
Colossus: “You keep trying.”

Meanwhile, issue 231 is significant in terms of the long-term serial. We get our first hint of the “Inferno” crossover that will dominate not only the X-Men – indeed, not only the X-franchise – but the entire Marvel Comics line during the latter part of 1988. In a borderline audacious bit of self-plagiarism, the plot is a straight crib from what Claremont did for the 1987 crossover, “Fall of the Mutants,” i.e., invading demons from another dimension who want to throw reality into chaos. Indeed, it’s only been four months since “Fall of the Mutants” ended, yet already Claremont is offering up more of the same: “[Illyana] thinks she’s on top, but she’s wrong,” goes S’ym’s monologue on the final page. “Her wild sorcery’s puttin’ too great a strain on the ‘walls’ between Limbo an’ Earth – nasties are startin’ to slip through.”

It’s the same story again – yet, really, this is no different from what superhero comics always do: Villains recurs, stories are re-told. And Claremont is oftentimes quite brilliant at finding new twists with each iteration of a familiar motif. “Inferno” will be far larger in scope than the Adversary story was -- for both better and worse, as we will see.

Claremont also gives his first hints in issue 231 of a fantastic idea that editorial mandate unfortunately will prevent him from completing. It’s not just out of plot convenience that the Gateway transports Peter to Limbo just in time to stop Illyana’s necromancy spell (which we are told at the end would have condemned her soul beyond redemption). Gateway was being deliberately developed as a character who – with his apparently mystical insights and powers – would become the X-Men’s new mentor figure. This would have been brilliant had it come to pass: Rather than be led by the white and privileged Charles Xavier, these genuinely outcast new X-Men would have deferred to the wisdom of a black, disenfranchised Australian.
Unfortunately, Gateway became lost in the shuffle when Bob Harras – acting on behalf of the corporate behemoth that was Marvel Comics – clamped down on Claremont’s creativity, demanding that the X-Men’s status quo return to the familiar, iconic structure: The X-Men live in a mansion and Professor X is their leader.

One of the most frustrating tragedies of that editorial edict – besides Claremont becoming so incensed by it that he quit in 1991 – is that it took the massive potential of the entire Gateway/Outback thread, and drained it dry as a bone.

Scott on Michael Jackson: The Miles Davis of Pop

[Guest Blogger Scott with a piece on Michael Jackson.]

Prince’s “Darling Nikki” is technically a much better song than Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”; it’s funkier, sexier and more daring; however, when the average person first hears “Dirty Diana” their response is “Hey, that’s a pretty sexy sounding song” whereas when people first hear “Darling Nikki” they tend to… I don’t know… form the PMRC. Herein lies the key to Michael Jackson’s success and, in part, much of his genius: his accessibility.

Chuck Klosterman once wrote in an essay where he defended the merits of “Wal-Mart” country artists like Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks that, in comparison to more ‘prestigious’, they were less talented but they understood more people. While I by no means think that Michael Jackson was lacking in talent, the second part of that statement, the understanding more people, holds true.

Over the last week or so I have been listening to The Essential Michael Jackson pretty much non-stop and I have come to the conclusion that despite his eccentricities, despite the occasionally trite, middle-of-the road fluff, he crafted, quite simply, some of the most brilliant pop-music ever. Lyrically, he wasn’t really anything special, but his gifts as a composer and arranger resulted in some of the most irresistibly catchy songs ever to hit the radio. As dated as the production on “The Way You Make Me Feel” might seem (very 1980s) I’ve had the song stuck in my head for a solid two weeks now.

When it comes to Michael Jackson, I’m reminded of something that I heard in my Jazz Appreciation class The professor once told us that the reason for Miles Davis’ greatness, his importance to Jazz Music, was less about his abilities as a trumpet player but more about his ability to have his pulse on current trends within Jazz music. On his most important albums, Davis would surround himself with the hottest players and arrangers of the day in order to create something that was always fresh and modern yet, at the end of the day, it still sounded like Miles Davis.

This is what Michael Jackson was best at; he didn’t merely follow trends, he found ways to make those trends work FOR him and, as a result, made records that would outlast the very trends that inspired them. For example, Off The Wall is basically a disco album and Dangerous is, according to my research, often considered the most successful ‘New Jack Swing’ album of all time. Disco and New Jack Swing both went the way of the dodo, but the songs off of those albums endure. Why? Because Michael Jackson understands more people or, rather, has a greater understanding of what more people like, he makes this music more accessible than it normally would be. Because, at the end of the day, we don’t think of “Rock With You” as a disco song, we think of it as a Michael Jackson song.

My favorite example of this is “Beat It.” Some of you may have heard that Jackson’s inspiration for this song was the Knack’s “My Charona”, most likely a connection that you would not make independently but the similarities become clear once pointed out. Basically, what Jackson heard in “My Charona” was a rock song with a danceable drum and bass part. He found an arrangement that worked for him, one that drew upon his skills as an R & B and Pop artist but still allowed the song to maintain its rock edge, brought in Eddie Van Halen to play one of his nastiest most insane guitar solos and the result was a song that broke down barriers in pop music; this wasn’t Michael Jackson doing a rock song, it was a Michael Jackson song that rocked. Rock fans liked it because it had an awesome guitar part and Eddie Van Halen, New Wave fans liked it because it was catchy, R&B fans liked it because you could dance to it, he simply found a way to make this song appeal to the broadest range of people. That’s what my favorite artist do: they are innovative and inventive but still accessible. Sure, Jackson’s music wasn’t the most challenging or intellectually stimulating music but, if you want to be challenged, go listen to Radiohead. However, if you want to get a mixed crowd dancing at party, put on “Billie Jean.”

(For the record, by no means was that a dig at Radiohead. I think I will go listen to some now)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Comic Book Club Live

Last month I appeared at Comic Book Club: Live and you can listen to the whole thing HERE.

Andy Bentley on New Gods: Jimmy Olsen #143

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a breif comment below.]

“Genocide Spray”

To recap, Jimmy and Superman are investigating the mad science project of Dabney Donovan which is a miniature planet called Transilvane. The inhabitants of this planet have been influenced by monster movies projected onto the surface of their planet which has somehow caused them to resemble the Universal Monsters in appearance. Oh and the Newsboy Legion is in the underground hideout of the intergang gangster who offed the first Guardian.

As Supes and Jimmy are discussing their recent discovery, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and other inhabitants of the tiny planet appear and demand to know the whereabouts of their creator, Dabney Donovan. It’s explained later in the issue that the monsters can travel from their tiny planet to ours in magical coffins which also adjust their bodies to earth size. Superman later declares that the inhabitants are natural “copiers” who have a fluid atomic base that allows them to morph into the monsters they’ve studied. Kirby puts the proverbial carriage in front of the horse repeatedly by inventing a wild premise and then coming up with a pseudo explanation. It’s excusable when the premise is interesting however this isn’t one of those times.

The monsters hit Jimmy and Superman with some sleeping gas and again Superman plays possum. They string Superman up in a deadly spiked rack which he quickly destroys. Superman tries to explain their home planet’s situation but is only met with paranoid tales of a Demon Dog. Superman looks and discovers a hidden opening in the stone floor. The mundane artwork suddenly awakens in color and dynamics as Superman descends below the surface to investigate the monster’s claims. His body once again contorts to crouching, outstretched Kirby poses as he is dwarfed by familiar blocky gadgetry. He ultimately discovers a robotic orange dragon which is on it’s way to gas the tiny planet above. The final panel has a wild perspective as Superman’s hand “ZOM”s out from the page to break apart the dragon.

Moments later, Jimmy awakens and finds that Superman has dismantled the dragon whose mission is to douse the entire planet with a genocide spray which would eliminate all life to begin Donovan’s experiment anew. Here, Kirby finally returns to his main message of oppression vs. free will. Jimmy cries: “They can become anything they wish! Too bad they were conditioned to Donovan’s implanted horror-culture!!” Superman tries to repair the situation by changing the film to the classic musical, Oklahoma. The logic is flawed because again the inhabitants are forced to conform to a higher power, now just a more benevolent one. It does lead to a nice bonding moment between Jimmy and Superman as they pull up a seat to watch the film themselves. The Jimmy/Superman team up is about the father/older brother friendship and the emotional touch is something that has been lacking since Kirby took over the book.

And what can said of the Newsboy Legion? They get the drop on the Guardian’s assassin, only to have him escape from their clutches. As he runs for an exit, the realization that this was more of a cage than a sanctuary dawns on him. A message above a large bomb explains Intergang is cutting ties and with that the bomb detonates. This does toughen Intergang’s reputation after several failures in issues past. The boys escape through a manhole cover above and are on their way to suicide slum as the issue closes. Kirby uses his final two pages to tell the tale of the 1st D.N. Alien which is mostly forgettable.

Final Musings

-Jimmy’s outfit noticeably shifts between his James ‘Dean” Olsen clothes he had on the issue prior and the Science Project smock and gloves he wore in the 1st Omnibus. I hadn’t seen that type of continuity snafu in the series before so it came as a surprise.

-I have to assume Donovan the mad scientist will ultimately be revealed down the line. I hope we can make a clearer sense of what he’s building towards with such odd experiments.

-I started to let my imagination run wild as to the possible films Superman could have exposed the tiny planet to.

-Flippa Dippa has a racially charged comment about still being in “the back of the bus” as he’s last in the row of Newsboys escaping the hideout. It comes out of left field, but does sync with the themes of oppression Kirby is wrestling with.

[One thing worth pointing out in this issue is something Morrison and others will pick up on and expand: WE are like the little mini-planet, heavily influenced by movies (and television and comics and so on) -- I think Superman's shaping the planet with the musical Oklahoma is less a (morally ambivalent) paternalism (though Superman as God is certainly in All Star Superman 10) and more a hope on Kirby's part that the stories he is writing in New Gods can have that kind of influence on his own planet (and comics have shown Kirby to be God before).]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 11 (or episode 18)

By Jill Duffy

[Jill Duffy continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks.]

Now well into Season 2, with Laura Palmer’s murder solved and Twin Peaks chugging steadily forward, some of the action moves into the local high school.

It feels funny (and doesn’t last too long), and not just because Nadine—the adult woman with the eye patch who is suffering from some kind of amnesia and thinks she is 16 years old again, and has superhuman strength, too (oh, that Nadine…)—is plopped back into the academic halls. It also feels funny to see Donna closing her locker and listening to gossip. We accept that she is a high school aged young woman, but we hadn’t before seen her in school. It kind of reminds me of Beverly Hills 90201, how all the actors are just way too old to be in school.

Another thing that feels odd are the1950s themes throughout the show now. Nadine’s school clothes include patent leather Mary-Janes, party skirts that flare and rise like a helicopter when twirled, and ribbons tied in her ponytail. James plays an old-fashioned juke box. Dick Tremane mentions going to have “a malted.” I can’t make much sense of them. Are they there to make Twin Peaks seem weird? Dated? Different? As if it were a place ungoverned by time?

On the other hand, modern audiences might pay more attention than is necessary to something that I’m going to guess is unintentionally dated: a huge portable computer that the FBI Internal Affairs investigators bring with them while they are investigating Agent Cooper. The thing looks like a desktop printer. I get as much of a kick out of seeing this behemoth as I do when Jerry Seinfeld answers his machete-sized cordless phone.

The real kicker in this episode, the pure entertainment that makes me keep watching, is David Duchovny, who shows up as Denise, a cool, confident, and extremely self-aware transvestite.

Elsewhere, the plot begins to sprawl uncontrollable, like Los Angeles, seeping out into hills and valley and infecting other places that are not really Twin Peaks at all. For example, James runs away to somewhere that is not all that far, but is not Twin Peaks, and meets an older woman, who is obviously trying to seduce him. The relationship is flat, clichéd, and ill fitted to the better themes of the show, like supernatural evil, the dark underbelly of common people and common places, and all that lies beyond our knowing.

There’s a new focus on storytelling within the show. Josie is back in the picture, and she tells Truman a story about a man in Hong Kong named Thomas Eckhart, and how she worked for him as a young girl. Then she married Andrew Packard, whom we already know died a year or so ago in suspicious circumstances. Eckhart, she says, thinks Josie is his property and wants her back, and when Andrew died, she was left without his protection. She says she thinks Eckhart was responsible for Andrew’s death. It’s backstory and storytelling rolled into one. But Josie is whiny and a little pathetic—a put-on to further seduce Truman. Seduction, again here as with James’ plotline, is trite and kind of annoying.

Horne, disheveled and alone, is watching old home movies of when The Great Northern first opened, when he and his brother Jerry were little boys. The storytelling here is visual, and I like it, especially as it taps into a lost era rather than “that topsy-turvy plotline that happened last year, that’s still alive and well and will greatly inform what’s to come in the show.”

As much as the conspiracies and transgressions are, for the most part, dry and paltry, it is neat that they are all intertwined. Catherine is a good example of that. She basically enslaves Josie, telling a story as she does it. I like how Catherine is a villainous character who we feel more empathy toward over time. In a way, we don’t blame her for enslaving Josie. It’s a smart decision, politically, and it also seems very businesslike.

Just as Josie leaves, Andrew, whom we were told is dead, appears: “… and now dear sister we wait for Thomas Eckhart to come looking for his one true lover, and when he does…”

Catherine: “We’ll be waiting for him.”

A welcomed relief is that for the end credits, there’s new music and new footage, and the photo of Laura is gone! Yay.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blackest Night 1

I don't read Green Lantern Comics pretty much at all, and Geoff Johns is not one of my favorite comic book writers. I read a chunk of his JSA and was unimpressed, I do not remember why -- I don't remember any of the issues. I read Infinite Crisis, which I think has the Johns hallmarks -- deep continuity callbacks and over the top violence. It was sort of serviceable, but had a lot of foolishness in it. Like JSA I don't really remember it too well. I was so interested in Blackest Night as an idea -- that preview so many wagons ago really go my attention -- that I read Sinestro Corp War. I loved the idea of the Anti-Monitor and Cyborg Superman as members of the Sinestro Corp because it is so ballsy and insane, but much of the Space War / Space Cop stuff I found pretty dull. Matt Fraction said that nothing puts him to sleep faster than elves on horseback and I think that is how I feel about seeing tons of throwaway designs for various aliens with little captions that say "Ring at .002% power" and whatnot. Twists like the Lanterns being able to kill lead to the most obvious moral discussions and violence. The rainbow corps is one of those ideas you have to love because it is so unashamedly what it is -- the product of a 12 year old imagination, taken as far out as you can think it.

Blackest Night is a fantastic idea, especially at Didio's DC. Marvel had Marvel Zombies, but that was for the most part a kind of throwaway gag, a chance to see all the characters mashed up in a totally different genre. Blackest Night is able to so something quite smart -- make a plot point out of DC's massive body count, a body count that comic books kind of demanded by the "Event" climate of the moment, where comics are made important by major characters dying, hopefully in such a way as to get press like Captain America did. Superboy dies at the end of Infinite Crisis, and Ralph and Sue die in Identity Crisis. Plus the general violence of DC comics as symbolized by Kyle Rainer girlfriend being stuffed in a refrigerator and the "women in refrigerator" site that sprung up around it. Johns puts that image right in the first issue here.

But the other things comics are famous for is bringing dead characters back to life. Morrison made this point more than a dozen years ago in JLA when Superman goes to the grave of Metamorpho: he is distressed that no one is there to pay respects but the guy at the grave tells him "you people come back all the time." Even the two sacred cows of superhero death -- Bucky and Jason Todd, the only characters who you thought were really going to stay dead -- came back, as did Barry Allen in Final Crisis. Comics are more and more driven by nostalgia, and that nostalgia means people want to see the things they knew come back; if they are dead, they have to come back to life. They will never accept anyone other than Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern so back he must come -- the reason Johns got the Green Lantern gig in the first place, I think.

So Blackest Night makes perfect sense. It is able to take advantage of the exhaustion and body count of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis -- an exhaustion that could have been counted against it as just one more DC event -- and turn it to a virtue. And it takes advantage of the great visuals Marvel Zombies has been enjoying for years, but with the added fun that they are totally in continuity. And the images are fantastic -- the black swarming rings like flies swarming through the universe, licking Batman's Skull, a Guardian chomping on a Guardian, the dead heroes being chosen and rising, Black Martian Manhunter, Ralph and Sue, realizing that Hawkman and Hawkgirl are next -- hilariously after being back for like five minutes (they died at the end of Final Crisis right?). Jonathan Kent -- could he be among the returned? Awesome. Interesting that the Enlongated Man is so important as a Black Lantern -- not only is he from the first of the violent crisis sequels but it was Reed Richards that set the zombie thing in motion over at Marvel. The hungry jaw dislocated open is such a horrific image, and so many movies use it for horror -- I guess you can't resist it when you have characters like Mr Fantastic and Ralph Dibney around.

As a system for image deployment this is great, but as a story -- not so much. There is no sense of place at all -- where are those Black Lantern's rising from? Establishing the back-story of the Green Lanterns of Earth -- a story I, unlike a lot of the readership, actually needed -- seemed really badly done, just uninteresting, and unclear (what is the story with Ice?). Damage and Atom Smasher -- are these real characters? There whole conversation seemed really silly. The JLA morgue -- what? A splash page of dead heroes for Barry after pages and pages of graveyards? And this conversation between the Hawkpeople was dreadfully hitting the nail on the head again and again and again. You just can't create this sense of epic doom by in a handful of pages if you are going to also have the image of Hawkman on a phone WITH A CORD in that group of pages.

Scott on Remembrance of Comics Past (Formerly ‘From the Box’): DC’s Who’s Who

[After a hiatus, Scott returns to us with another entry in his series looking with fresh eyes at comics he read long ago].

I don’t know what the big deal about Morrison ‘killing’ Batman is, after all, the ORIGINAL Batman, the one who first appeared in Detective Comics 27, was killed off years ago. He had married Selena Kyle (the original Selena Kyle that is) and fathered the original Huntress (Helena Wayne) and “A year after the debut of the Huntress Bruce Wayne donned his Batman uniform for one final mission with the Justice Society, and laid down his life to save Gotham from a Super-powered Criminal.”

How do I know this? Did I look it up on Wikipedia? It’s entirely possible… but what was a comics fan to do twenty-some odd years ago? How could they acquire this information? They need look no further than DC’s Who’s Who: The Definitive History of the DC Universe (at least up to 1985).

Who’s Who may, in fact, qualify as DC’s first weekly tie-in event as it was originally published to coincide with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Given the massive cast of that crossover and the way that it extended to pretty much every corner of the DCU, this series, published on a weekly basis, served as a handy ‘dramatis personae’ to help readers familiarize themselves with the massive cast involved in that crossover. Of course, much of the entries mentioned in these pages would be rendered obsolete by the end The Crisis but, in many ways, it managed to serve as a sort of yearbook that provided a pretty nice bookend the previous 50 years of DC’s comic history (as I remember, the series was brought back in an ‘update’ format a couple of years later in order chronicle the population of DC’s newly streamlined universe).

Each character was featured in a pin-up style portrait (whenever possible drawn by the artist who made the character famous or vice-versa; for example Jack Kirby provides the art for most of the Fourth World Characters) with information provided under three categories: Personal Data (Which includes vital statistics like hair color, eye color, base of operations, first appearance, etc.) History (this gives a concise summary of the characters exploits… no small feat when it comes to a character like Batman) and Powers and Abilities. Going back to that Batman entry; I can tell you that Bruce Wayne was married to Selena Kyle (deceased) his initial occupation was ‘millionaire playboy’ but he later became police commissioner of Gotham city. This, of course, was the ‘Golden Age’ Batman who made his ‘Base of Operations’ the Gotham City of Earth-2. The ‘Silver Age’ Batman didn’t make his first appearance until Detective Comics 327 (which I’m assuming is the first appearance of the ‘new look’ Batman; this, of course, also begs the question of the first appearance the ‘Modern’ Batman. Is it Batman 401-the first issue of ‘Year One’-or is it The Dark Knight Returns?) I know what you’re thinking- aren’t these pretty much the same characters? How are they different? It’s all in the details my friends. You see, the original Batman’s father was shot by a criminal and his mother-who had a weak heart- died from shock at the sight of seeing her husband gunned down in front of her; it wasn’t until the silver age that both of young Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot by Joe Chill. It’s also interesting that both the Golden Age and Silver Age Bruce Waynes were later ‘raised’ by an ‘Uncle Philip’ who, as far as I know, even Grant Morrison hasn’t managed to resurrect yet.

Speaking of Morrison, with detailed entries on such obscure and often bizarre characters as Congorilla, Crazy-Quilt, Baron Winter, Ben Boxer and the Creature Commandos, I can’t help but think that he has a pretty complete Who’s Who collection that he keeps handy whenever he feels like finding a long forgotten character who is due for a revamp. I can just see Morrison salivating and thinking, “Oh, man, the stories I could tell about Chris KL-99!”

In fact, that’s something that I have in common with Morrison; part of my love for this series when I was a kid is that it introduced me to all of these characters that I had never heard of and I felt completely free to make up my own stories about all of these characters (also, when I would go on to make up my own characters I would create my own Who's Who pages based on this format... of course I couldn't get Jack Kirby so I just drew the pictures myself). Morrison and I are in good company, as there are also listings for Cain, Abel and Destiny who Neil Gaiman would go on to weave into the fibers of his Sandman mythology.

Other than being pretty important reference material (at least to my 8 year old mind), Who’s Who was also a lot of fun. As mentioned before, there are a lot of great, iconic renderings of classic characters by some of the greatest comic artist of all time (in addition to Kirby, there’s Curt Swan, George Perez, Neal Adams, Joe Orlando, Walt Simonson, John Byrne and the many rising talents of the time like Brian Bolland). There are not only individual entries for characters but, also, entries for various teams and their histories as well as certain important institutions (The Daily Planet, S.T.A.R. Labs) and, of course, there are complete entries on The Bat-Plane (a customized F-4 Phantom Jet), The Batmobile ( “A sleek high powered sports car possessing 4-wheel drive and off-road capabilities!), the Batcave (complete with detailed cross-section) and Batman’s Utility Belt (the two way radio is located in the belt buckle in case you were wondering). Some of the ‘Personal Data’ is pretty amusing to read. For example, for The Demon under ‘Known Relatives’ it lists “The Demons of Hell”, Bat-Mite’s Occupation is listed as “Troublemaker” while the same spot for Baron Winters lists “searches out evil for a fee” which are both pretty unglamorous when compared to Blackbriar Thorne who’s current day job is “Last of The Druids” or Captain Nazi who gets to list “Would Be World Conqueror” on his resume (Now that I think about it, an awful lot of the heroes listed occupation is “adventurer” which is, pretty much just a euphemism for “unemployed”; I guess Nightwing becomes a lot less cooler when you have to picture him collecting unemployment).

Geoff and I had an exchange not too long ago about how part of what he loved about comics was the idea of the universe full of characters and stories; DC’s Who’s Who definitely gave you real sense of that and, while I must admit that the 12-year-old me preferred the Streamlined, Post-Crisis Continuity, the 8 year old me definitely loved the gigantic cast of characters and worlds that Who’s Who exposed him to. In fact, my love of stories, my main motivation for wanting to be a writer and study literature, comes from comics and, some of the first stories that I ever told, were with the very characters found here in the pages of Who’s Who. So, in a very important way, these comics are the very reason that I am who I am.


It’s also worth noting that Who’s Who managed to handle various explanations of the old ‘DC Multiverse’ with much greater economy and clarity than seems possible with the new Multiverse. Just take a look at this Wikipedia explanation of the new Earth-2:

“Based on comments by 52 co-writer Grant Morrison, this alternate universe is not the pre-Crisis Earth-Two. This different status between Pre-Crisis Earth-Two and Post Crisis Earth-2 was confirmed in Justice Society 2008 Annual and expanded in the Justice Society Kingdom Come Specials with other differences such as Rebecca Tyler as Hourgirl rather than Rick Tyler succeeding Rex Tyler as Hourman. Writer Geoff Johns specifically names the new reality as "Earth-2", Roman numeral specific, in Justice Society 2008 Annual as the title of the story.

Thinking that she has had her most longing desire fulfilled of "returning home" to her long destroyed source reality of Pre Crisis Earth-Two somehow by Gog, Power Girl arrives on the closest parallel of the current 52 Multiverse, Post Crisis Earth-2, which appears similar to the pre-Crisis Earth-Two. In this new reality, the Justice Society of America has merged with Infinity, Inc. and is now known as Justice Society Infinity. Initially, Power Girl believes she has returned home until the missing Post Crisis Earth-2 Power Girl reappears and declares that the other Power Girl is an impostor and has caused the disappearance of the Post Crisis Earth-2 Superman which results in the Post Crisis Earth-2 Power Girl and the Justice Society Infinity to go after the New Earth/Earth-Two Power Girl.

The Power Girl of New Earth recruits the Post Crisis Earth-2 Michael Holt, who is a physics professor and father, to help her return to her source Earth and has never become a costumed hero. Post Crisis Earth-2 Prof. Michael Holt constructs a device similar to the Cosmic treadmill used by Barry Allen to open a portal to New Earth. The Power Girl of New Earth returns home, followed by the Justice Society Infinity, who kidnap her and taker her back to Post Crisis Earth-2. During the confrontation, Green Lantern and Jade are initially confused when they see each other, as the Post Crisis Earth-2 Jade's father, Alan Scott, is dead, and New Earth's Jade is also dead. The JSI interrogate Power Girl for information on the Post Crisis Earth-2 Superman's whereabouts. The Post Crisis Earth-2 Power Girl assumes that the Superman the New Earth Power Girl said was dead was the Post Crisis Earth-2 Superman (rather than Kal-L who was killed by Superman Prime) and that the New Earth Power Girl had killed him. The Justice Society of New Earth arrives to stop her torture.

Starman reveals that the re-creation of the Multiverse also lead to the creation of a Power Girl and Superman native to this new universe, Post Crisis Earth-2 and that the Post Crisis Earth-2's Superman is still alive. The Power Girl of New Earth then returns home along with her Justice Society but with no apology from her counterpart or the Post Crisis Earth-2 Huntress for their actions against her.”

Now, was anyone else lost by the end of this?]

[I kind of GLORY in how little sense that makes -- Geoff]

Wednesday, July 15, 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.

Andy Bentley on The New Gods: Mister Miracle #5

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods.]

“Doctor Vundabar and His Murder Machine!”

By issue five, it’s apparent that Mister Miracle follows a rigid plot structure: (1 )Mr. Miracle and Oberon setting up a new stunt for his ‘upcoming’ escape act. Here Oberon will get a morsel of Scott’s backstory (2) Interruption by an interloper from Apokolips (3) Mr. Miracle pursues and takes on the latest death trap prepared for him. (4) Miracle escapes with the help his Mother box/aero discs and returns home.

Unless a wrinkle in this plotting appears, characterization becomes the only variable in the book. Although Barda does offer some different dynamics, Vundabar (the villain of the month) is a retread of many a super-villain making this just an average issue.

Mr. Miracle and Oberon setting up a new stunt for his ‘upcoming’ escape act. Here Oberon will get a morsel of new background on Mr. Miracle

However now Barda is in the mix. She’s doing some early morning calisthenics much to the delight of the moving crew. The moving crew is there to drop off a civil war era cannon for.... Mr Miracle’s upcoming act! The Amazonian attitude of Barda is enjoyable and it’s fun to watch the movers react to her amazing strength. Barda is the type of strong women Joss Whedon would go on to write. The cannon is to fire upon a chained up Mr. Miracle. During preparations, Oberon learns that Granny was in charge of several institutions where the young of Apokolips are raised and trained to harness their inherited powers. Scott and Barda were in one of these institutions together and subsequently escaped in unison.

Interrupt the practice of the stunt with an interloper from Apokolips

Again, Barda twists the plotting ever so slightly by being the subject of the attack. Barda is enjoying the peacefulness off the woods and compares Earth to the war torn Apokolips. This euphoria might be something Kirby felt returning from the war . The calm is interrupted by an infantry from Apokolips which Barda handles well until an energy dispenser saps her of her strength. She’s loaded into a magna-lift which Scott sees in the sky and....

Mr. Miracle pursues and takes on the latest death trap from the denizen of Apokolips.

This time it’s Virman Vunderbar, a villain Miracle coincidentally predicts might show up in the beginning of the issue. Vunderbar’s appearance makes the Fourth World allusions to Hitler’s 3rd reich quite blatant. Dressed in a regal military outfit, Vunderbar has a short stature, slick oiled black hair, a monocle, and flunkies that belong on Hogan’s Heroes. He has been perfecting a deathtrap for Miracle to best which involves a mobile metal coffin in which the inhabitant is pummeled, shocked and then smelted by hot fires. Miracle agrees to this challenge and is seemingly destroyed within the coffin to the delight of Vunderbar and company.

Miracle escapes with the help of Mother box or his aero discs and returns home.

The comic timing of Miracle’s unexpected return behind Vunderbar and his flunkies was well appreciated. Vunderbar (like myself) assumes mother box allowed Miracle to escape the trap. Instead, Miracle’s aero discs allowed him to super heat the floor and escape the coffin. Out of Miracle’s escapes so far, this one was rather innovative. Scott uses the same trick to cause the floor to collapse on Vunderbar and his troops. Scott collects an embarrassed Barda and the two return home.
There was a reference to Oliver Twist by Mister Miracle in the middle of the issue and another in the new and ongoing backup story, The Early Life of Young Scott Free! We learn of the torment Scott endured under Granny Goodness which Kirby compares to the trials of the young Oliver Twist. At adolescence, the offspring of Apokolips are put into training camps where they’re taught interrogation techniques at the hands of their master, Granny Goodness. They even have transmitters attached to their lapels which transmit these lessons. Scott has refused to learn the ways of torture and is subjugated to a beating by his fellow inmates. Bloodies and defeated Scott is tossed into his jail cell. Suddenly Metron appears from behind him to comfort the youth he’s been studying from afar. To be continued.....

Final Musings

-Oberon looked just adorable in his little civil war outfit.
- Young Scott Free can be seen goose-stepping in one panel. The Nazi references are becoming much more overt as the series continues

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #230

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men.]

“Twas the Night ...”

After the extraordinary impact of the new, dangerously exotic X-Men of the previous issue, Claremont – somewhat disappointingly (at least at first) – now hedges on that story’s promise in the very next issue. Uncanny X-Men #229 was brilliantly alienating; this one goes for heartwarming. Appropriately, the delicious messiness of regular inker Dan Green is missing here, replaced by the soft innocuousness of Joe Rubinstein.

Inexplicably, Claremont also gives this issue a holiday theme, despite its publication date (June of 1988, which means it was actually published in February of that year, well after Christmas).

Fortunately, Silvestri proves quite adept at accommodating Claremont’s sudden sense of whimsy. Between the two of them, they manage quite a few smile-inducing moments. The scene in which Dazzler cleans her room is rather charming, thanks to Silvestri’s visual flair: not just with Alison’s facial expression and body language but with the slapstick elements, e.g. Colossus smashing through part of the door frame as he charges into Dazzler’s room. It’s also great to see that Havok’s deadpan nonchalance is still intact, as evidenced by the return of his new signature posture: one hand lazily kept in his pocket while the other almost offhandedly tosses off an energy bolt.

Furthermore, Silvestri’s ability to draw women that are both breathtakingly sexy and also rather quaintly charming is impressive. Rogue is absolutely adorable in this issue, in her gawkily shy attempts to win Gateway’s friendship.
So, granted, issue 230 – with its “X-Men become Santa Claus” plot – is saccharine through and through; no denying that. Perhaps Claremont didn’t have faith that his new hardcore X-Men vision would enthrall a fanbase more accustomed to a high-level of emotion-based melodrama; thus, an immediate swerve toward sentimentalism, reminding us all in the most blatant terms possible that the X-Men still have hearts and souls.

An unnecessary swerve, I think, so early on in the new direction. Claremont should’ve waited a bit before softening things up again. Yet, on its own terms, this issue’s unabashed sweetness is rather powerful. The moment in which the nurse in Boston clutches her mother’s necklace to her chest is lovely, for example (Silvestri is a master of expressive body language).
And at the end, any doubts about Claremont’s intentions are erased with the last page, conveying the heart-swellingly simple moment when Gateway at last responds to Rogue’s overtures of friendship. The final two panels – silent, as Claremont again trusts in Silvestri’s expressiveness to sell the scene – are especially beautiful, and quite touching.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Andy Bentley on the New Gods : Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a comment about genre mixing below.]

“The Man From Transilvane!”

All traces of the New Gods saga have been exiled from this issue of Jimmy Olsen which offers little that Superman readers haven’t seen before. With a uninspired plot and redrawn Superman faces, this issue could have been handled by just about anyone at DC Comics at the time.

Jimmy and Clark are still trying to get into Morgan Edge’s office to expose his connection to Intergang and by proxy, Darkseid. However their mission is derailed when they realize Morgan’s assistant, Laura Conway is exhibiting vampire-like symptoms. I’ve come across some pale and unpleasant secretaries in the past, but never considered vampirism as the cause. The being responsible for her condition, Count Dragorin, suddenly appears in the office (The Count is much more Sesame Street count than Twilight vampire). He sweeps Conrad into his arms and seduces from her the whereabouts of Dabney Donovan, her previous employer. Clark and Jimmy are helpless after a yellow power stare from the Count’s eyes (Clark’s playing possum). The count ‘pof’s out of the room and Jimmy and Clark follow him to Donovan’s last known whereabouts, The Science Research Center. Through dialog between Clark and Jimmy, we learn this center was a public precursor to the underground D.N.A. Project. They arrive at the abandoned facility and are greeted by a very angry werewolf. Yep, it’s one of THOSE nights. Clark is attacked, Jimmy diverts the werewolf towards him, Clark switches to Superman and takes care of the furry fiend. Supes add insult to injury by twirling the werewolf over his head until the Count appears and creates a light show to allow his werewolf buddy to escape. The duo enter the lab and Superman explains Donovan was a mad scientist researching the conditions on other planets. Jimmy comes across a picture of a green globe with what appear to be devil horns. Superman uses his ex ray vision to discover the name of a local cemetery written in teeny letters. Superman flies Jimmy to the graveyard, they open a mausoleum and descend to find the green object they saw in the poster. It is a relatively tiny planet called Transilvane. The Narrator ends by asking “WOW!! Isn’t this the GREATEST??”
No.... no it’s far from it.

I’ve been watching old Simpsons episodes over the summer and discovered a moment that sums up my feelings about the Jimmy Olsen title. Springfield has gathered to watch the first Itchy, Scratchy and Poochie cartoon show. It begins by Itchy and Scratchy driving to visit a fireworks factory which should be full of fun and excitement. However they encounter Poochie, a shoehorned in character who’s obnoxious and unfunny. The crowd begins to turn when Bart’s friend Millhouse says:
“When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?” [Milhouse starts whimpering]

Well I’m Milhouse and Morgan Edge’s office is the fireworks factory. and the DNAliens, the two Don Rickles and the faux vampire and werewolves are all Poochies. Milhouses line is funny because he foolishly expected Itchy and Scratchy to make it to that factory. The argument can be made that I am just as foolish. The Jimmy Olsen issues are included in this Fourth World Omnibus, but maybe thats just so everyone can have the complete span of Kirby’s DC efforts at this time. Kirby apparently just wanted to do weird Sci-fi 1950’s Superman adventures on this title. But Kirby has shown continuity and cohesiveness in the other titles which makes me yearn for Superman to get involved in the invasion from Apokolips.

There’s a small b-plot I should mention involving the Newsboy Legion’s escape from the project. They pop up in gangland and overhear a man on the phone claiming he killed Jim Harper, the Guardian. Logic would predict he murdered the original Guardian off panel between Kirby’s work for DC. There’s also a 2 page backup chronicling the secrets of the Haries which I think very few readers were clamoring for. There are for more things I need explained in this saga before the scale of The Mountain of Judgement compared to a car.

Well Jimmy’s out of the way so next time we’ll be covering.... oh fudge it’s another Jimmy issue.

*deep breath*

Final Musings

- I always welcome the Superman full of Hubris: [twirling a werewolf over his head] Superman: “Many of my innovations are rather spectacular!”

Jimmy exclamations of note: “suffering catfish!” “Stay back, you matted masterwork of murderous malignancy!” Stan can’t be blamed for ALL that alliteration at Marvel.

One page of art that did catch my eye was the seduction of Laura Conway colored in shades of black, purple and green. Moody.

[I have to disagree with you on this one -- I think, not unlike LOST, you have to enjoy the rambling quality of the stories here, the ability to combine fun stuff that is not that closely related to the main narrative because it would just be fun. That said one of my other favorite things, also big on LOST, is the combination of genres, so I really like the way vampires, superman and space opera can exist in the same book. There are problems with it, but I think I prefer the "anything goes" dynamic. You never know what a Kirby comic is going to be, just like you don't know if LOST will be about catching boar, or time travel, or ghosts, or Alfred Hitchcock presents, or fixing a bus in the jungle. The alternative is Law and Order, ER, CSI and every spin-off and rip-off: you always know what you are going to get, which is comforting and depressing at the same time.]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jill Duffy on Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 10 (or episode 17)

[Jill Duffy continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks]

Poor Sarah Palmer. Considering what she’s been through, you would think she would have had a bigger part in the show. Now, not only is her daughter dead, but so is her niece and her husband, and her husband (sort of) killed the two girls. Sarah also encountered Bob, and in the opening moments of this show, she describes him.

When Sarah Palmer is first introduced, it’s easy to see how quickly she will become an exhausted shell. Her hair is a huge frizz of curls. Her eyeliner rings her eyes with such weight, they seem to create the creases on her gaunt face. Cheekbones jut out, her frame is frail, she looks like someone whose hands shake at the suffering of everyday life.

There’s a gathering after the wake, in which all the characters are brought into one room. It allows everyone to mourn and share stories, as well as make new plans, so we can get a glimpse of how the characters (and the show) will move forward. We meet two new characters, too, the mayor and his brother.

What Happens

Cooper explains to Audrey what happened with his lost love and Wyndam Earl. Bobby conspires to blackmail Horne, but Shelly doesn’t seem to be into it. Horne starts to go batty. The Lucy, Dick, and Andy web continues to tangle; Nadine re-enrolls in high school; Norma is still bickering with her mother; Hand and Norma’s step-father are still scheming; Audrey is still flirting with Cooper—basically all the minor plot lines that were set up earlier are just being drawn out, sometimes at a painfully slow crawl.

Catherine (Piper Laurie), who went missing for two weeks, tells Truman a crazy story about where she has been. We only know some of what happened to her, and that part that she recounts is partially true, so whether we decide to believe the rest of it is really up to us—but I buy it because Piper Laurie is awesome. Here’s a snippet:

Catherine: “Thank god we always kept a well-stocked pantry. I went in, and I opened a can of tuna fish, and I waited for whoever it was who was trying to kill me to finish the job. A loaded gun by my side, I was terrified that every moment was going to be my last.”
Truman: “What made you come back?”
Catherine: “I ran out of tuna fish.”

And that’s where the scene ends.

Cooper gets suspended from the FBI for crossing into Canada unlawfully and for his methods and motives, apparently.

What Could Happen Instead?

Television programming has changed so much since 1990, and it’s all changed drastically since 2000, when Survivor first aired. Knowing what we know now, we could take a page from The Wire by ending the season and starting a new season with some huge changes in the cast, scenery, investigations. We could follow the lead of many other shows by pushing the show into the future, say six months or a year, so that when the show begins again, we have all new recent history to uncover about all the characters, some thing to keep us guessing about their new motivations and changes to their lives. We could push the show out of Twin Peaks and follow Cooper to a new town, but that would create a problem in calling the show Twin Peaks.
What I’m looking for in the show at this point is a drastic change to give me something new. It’s hard to care about the old stuff now that the major plotline has been totally and completely resolved. But in 1990, this isn’t what television shows did.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m trying to re-write a show that ended 20 years ago, but it is interested to consider how a great premise to a show could be improved based on the new techniques and tricks television writers and directors have at their disposal now.

What I like, and what seems to work most, is the hint of something new to come with Major Briggs, which only comes at the very end of this episode. Briggs disappears into thin air. It smacks of X-Files now, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

(Oh, and let’s ditch that senior portrait of Laura Palmer when the credits roll!)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Batman and Robin 2 and Wednesday's Comics

Batman and Robin 2. This is my second least favorite Morrison Quitely team up (my least favorite being Riot at Xaviers because all the characters were so unsympathetic) -- that is not as bad as it sounds, since all the other Morrison Quitely team ups are all perfect A's. What's my problem with Batman and Robin? I am not quite sure. I don't hate it. I can see that Quitely's pencils are great. The coloring I am not wild about: in the reigning war between Morrison's Batman and Miller's Batman, the coloring reminds me of nothing more than Varley's colors for DKSA -- except they went so much better with Miller's "sloppy" pencils. Once again -- and I know this is an issue of debate whether this should matter (cf the conclusion to Batman: RIP) - but Morrison overhyped the fight scene with the three circus dudes fighting as one -- he compared it to WE3, which was not the place to go. It was interesting, but not a great use of the medium, as I had the rare thought that what I was reading in a comic book might be better on screen. It is also very strange for the second issue to grind to such a halt to do a character piece about the relationship between the new Batman and new Robin, and a pep talk from Alfred. The characters are very well done, and the Alfred scene especially was heartwarming in all the right places -- one of the better done emotional moments Morrison has done in a superhero comic book. It just felt strangely placed to me -- something not helped by the fact that the ending beat here was so similar to the ending beat of issue 1, just amped up by placing a character we know in place of one we don't. I a obviously still on board with this story -- the only comic book I am picking up on Wednesdays, and it is only weak in the context of other Morrison Quitely Team Ups -- but I am still not sure that Miller does not continue to haunt Morrison in the worst way.

Wednesday's Comics 1. I hated 52, the only Morrison work that I simply stopped getting (12 issues in), never once regretting the decision. But I did admire, especially in retrospect, the formal innovation, especially when all Marvel could muster in response was a Spiderman book coming about three weeks a month. Now DC has done it again on a bigger level -- a comic book I basically am bored with in terms of content, but one that is pretty impressive and exciting on the level of form. GIANT NEWSPAPER COMICS! The idea to give a single page to separate creative teams working on separate stories was a great one: one of the things I want from comics is for the same creators to be on a run -- no fill ins -- and this does it, and also comes out weekly. Nice. But the stories had too little room to go anywhere, or even establish a decent hook -- and if we can compare a single page story to the teaser of a TV show (and I will admit maybe we can't) it should be possible to get a good hook in there. Instead we got an old man we don't care about about to be smothered, a story both distasteful and boring (Batman), the last man on earth is not the last man on earth, Superman is an alien like his foe (a story told a million times), Hal Jordan is in space while everyone he knows is in a diner, Metamorpho is after treasure (and in one of the only stories where someone did something heroic), a villain attacks the Teen Titans in empty space for no reason, Superpets on the loose, Metal Men cant stay under cover, Wonder Woman has a dream, a soldier is tortured, the Flash races and his wife things about leaving him, Catwoman scopes treasure and in the worst one if the bunch birds narrate this horrible dialogue lifted from Miller's 300, but with no sense of irony in replacing the word "march" with "flap" -- a word that surely should come with irony. Pope's art was maybe the only thing I cared about. That said, this is just getting started -- the other thing this reminded me of was when Marvel did that month of sideways annuals: it is a great formal innovation, but artists had not really had time to adjust to the new options (the way, say, Frank Miller was able to get the feel of a similar formal break in 300). Many of the stories here fought a bit with the form: compare the Wonder Woman Story to the Srgt Rock story -- Wonder Woman was trying to get more than a dozen normal comic book pages squeezed into the space, Rock simply blew up what probably would have been a single page (in, say, a book like Watchmen). In time, as people get a feel for this, it might be a really neat thing, but for now I think the only legacy Wednesday Comics will leave behind is it had the guts to try something new with the format, no small thing.