Thursday, October 29, 2009

James on Watchmen / Savage Critics on Dark Knight Strikes Again (comment pull quote, link)

James wrote in the Free Form Comments

Watchmen, bloody Watchmen. Finally read my Absolute Edition, after what, 2 years? 3? (Actually, I haven't read all the scripts and stuff in the back, yet. It's a lot of book.)

It's a beautiful edition. There's recoloured versions of the regular trade now, but they don't come close to the quality of print and paper in the Absolute, and you can't imagine how different the art looks at this size. Proper gorge'.

I can't remember if I've linked to Andrew Rilstone's Watchmen essay before, but it's the best analysis I've read since Geoff's, check it out. He says he admires the comic, but can't bring himself to love it - a view I think Geoff shares, and one I've always resisted. It's not just a clinical literary exercise! It's a rollicking good story in its own right! Isn't it?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free Form Comments

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

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy.

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

You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #243

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

“Inferno: Part the Fourth — Ashes”

The previous issue ended with a cool and sexy cliffhanger, as Dark Madelyne stood atop a tower -- Dark Havok by her side, Jean Grey her prisoner, and her own baby about to be sacrificed. From there, Claremont passed the narrative baton to the Simonsons, who turned in a pretty ugly issue, both visually and textually. But, it did at least offer a definitive origin of Madelyne Pryor, every loose end accounted for and every old plot thread addressed. (Claremont is rarely as neat and tidy.)

X-Factor #38 is a faintly depressing comic in terms of production value – but, from there we bounce back to Uncanny X-Men, and we get a gorgeous splash page of Madelyne Pryor, whose cape is a black Phoenix bird, every fold of which is gorgeously rendered by guest-inker Hilary Barta. Claremont’s narration is comfortingly baroque (with Madelyne described as a clone grown from “a clutch of stolen cells” – lovely); Silvestri’s figure-work is beautiful … ah, all is right with the world.

Mister Miracle #9

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I am not going to lie to you. I literally just forgot to blog today, which is why this is going up after midnight. Sorry.]


Like “The Pact!” before it, “Himon!” opens with a note from Mr. Kirby thanking us, the readers, for indulging his efforts on this issue. I’m at a loss as to what I’m indulging, as I found Himon to be as enjoyable as “The Pact!” before it. Kirby finally gives us the details of Scott Free’s escape from Apokolips which delves heavily into freedom of creative expression- something that if you have been following along, is a common theme in Kirby’s work at DC.

“Himon!” takes place after “The Pact!” but before the first issue of Mr. Miracle. The prologue sets up the issue’s villain, Willik, who is in the slums of Apokolips looking the legendary peaceful objector to Darkseid’s regime named Himon. Willik rounds up the people of the area and demands Himon step forth. Believing Darkseid’s subjects would willingly die for his regime, he sets the entire crowd afire to weed out the rabble rouser. With this act (and one further in the story), Willik becomes a more dangerous villain that any of Darkseid’s colorful flunkies we have seen before. His costume is not flashy, he has no gimmick or powers, yet he proves he will murder innocents for Darkseid rather than just threaten it. Kirby’s Fourth World is often said to have one foot in the past and one in the future. Willik is the villain of the future.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 22: THE END

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter [completing her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. I make a brief comment below.]

“And now, an ending. Where there was once one, there are now two. Or were there always two? What is a reflection? A chance to see two? When there are chances for reflections, there can always be two or more. Only when we are everywhere will there be just one. It has been a pleasure speaking to you.” –The Log Lady

When the Log Lady speaks her parting words about duplicity, sameness, and reflection to introduce this final episode of Twin Peaks, I honestly wonder what she wants us to think about.

There is no obvious answer, but the two “twos” that come to mind first are Bob and his “host” (Leland, for example), and Laura and Maddy.

Let’s start with Bob. We haven’t seen much of Bob lately at all. Then there’s Leland, who came apart at the seams and finally died a few episodes back. Maddy has been dead for quite some time, and Laura was never seen alive on the show ever.

I never really thought about that until now. Laura Palmer isn’t really on the show.

I guess for Laura at though, her absence was her presence. Her whole role in the show was that she was dead at the start of it.

But in this final episode, directed by David Lynch, many of these people come back.

What Happens

The show gets off on a roll. There’s some turmoil in the beginning about Pete and a stolen truck—just enough to establish a conspiracy and pick up some momentum. Pete thinks Margaret, The Log Lady, stole his truck, but it was actually Windom Earle disguised as Margaret. (More Bugs Bunny stuff for you right there!)

Earle has kidnapped Annie and is taking her to the woods in the stolen truck. His plan is to invoke fear in her, because he needs fear in order to open the gateway to the Black Lodge and the other side.

I feel like it’s strange to watch Annie at first in this scene because she’s almost cold. But something else about her seems strong, like she is deliberately trying to not show fear so that Earle can’t get what he’s after. None of that is explicit, and maybe it wasn’t even intended, but that’s how I felt about her performance.

Annie at first repeats prayer (she used to be in a convent, if you recall) and talks to her captor rationally. But aggressively, Earle makes her submit and forces into a circle of sycamore tree. The moment she steps into the circle, she becomes totally washed over.

A flashlight shines on Annie in the darkness, with high contrast, and she looks a little like Laura at a glance. Then she and Windom walk behind a red curtain that appears in the backdrop. They just slip behind it and disappear in the woods. I can’t imagine what that moment must have been like to see on television when this episode first aired.

Meanwhile. . .

Nadine and Mike suffer head trauma, which causes Nadine to come back to full consciousness and adulthood again. She back in reality, but she’s also back to her frail and crazy self.

I don’t like the Nadine thing ending this way. It’s sad to see her acting like a hysterical woman, screaming about drape runners again, when she had become such a strong and fearless young woman.

It’s strange that this scene is butted up against the one with Annie, as two women who were momentarily strong are not anymore.

As for Donna, she has learned that Ben Horne is her biological father. There’s a confrontation, and Doc Hayward goes berserk, punching Horne hard and causing him to spin, stumble, and crack his head open on the fireplace. Doc Hayward falls to his knees, shaking his fists and head in anger, or in frustration at being overcome by emotion or darkness enough to knock another man out cold. That was totally unexpected. Doc Hayward is the last person you’d ever suspect to lose his cool, or worse, be overtaken by Bob—and there’s a hint from the music cues and the level of gore in this scene that maybe that’s what’s about to happen.

Back In The Woods. . .

Cooper goes to the woods, in pursuit of Windom Earle and Annie, with Harry, but says he has to go forward alone. The lighting uses a lot of flashlights, and there’s a lot of handheld camera work. It’s very Blair Witch Project, only less nauseating.

Cooper finds the circle of 12 sycamore trees, sees a pool of oil, and just like that, slips behind the same red curtains where Earle and Annie disappeared.

Harry seems to look on. Can Harry see the curtain? When the camera is from his perspective, it’s there, though I’m not 100 percent convinced he can see it. Maybe he sees Coop just disappear into a little strike of light.

Behind the Curtain. . .

Behind the curtain, the dim spot-flashlight lighting changes and we get strobe instead. There’s an old singer with an old-fashioned mic with heavy reverb. The little man is there.

We see the little stage area of two couches and a statue where Laura once appeared with the Little Man in Cooper’s dream.

The red room is what’s memorable about Twin Peaks, so I understand why Lynch and Frost want to end the series here. But it is odd that so much time has passed since Twin Peaks took place in the red room. This is riveting for television, and what I think makes it riveting is returning to this magical and special place that was never explained to us. We get to return to this place that we wanted to know more about.

Seriously, riveting! The characters in this show go into another dimension, where there are strobe lights, murdered high school girls, a midget—and!—this isn’t even the first time they go to this place! There are people on the outside, namely Harry now, waiting for the characters to return to the normal world. Usually if this kind of alternate universe were taking place in a television show or movie, no one but the character experiencing it would know so that we, the audience, would always have to wonder if the entire experience were only some allusion or delusion.

In Twin Peaks, though, we have Harry, Hawk, Margaret, and Briggs to back up the story. We had the one-armed man Mike. We had the little boy who made the creamed corn disappear. All the corroborated stories tell us, “This is really happening!” This place really exists.

At daylight, Andy and Harry are waiting for Cooper to reemerge. It’s been about 10 hours, they say.

Again, Meanwhile. . .

Audrey goes into a bank and handcuffs herself to the local Savings and Loan to protest its investment in Ghostwood.

There’s an excruciatingly old man working at the bank. I like the old geezer cameos, like the one in Cooper’s hotel room after he has been shot. They walk as if they need a walker or cane, but can manage to take just a few steps on their own... just a few more… just a few more. They limp along at a hilariously slow pace.

In the bank vault, we get a lot of Lynchian shots, where we watch, in one continuous shot, the old man walk way down a hallway, fetch a glass of water, and then walk all the way back to Audrey, and then walk another stretch to put the glass down, and then pace around some more.

This long distance shot, which is still in effect when Andrew and Pete show up, puts a huge amount of distance between us and them. It also, though, tells us that the action is due to move back our way any moment now.

Andrew has come to the bank because he has a key from Eckhart that is, apparently, for a safety deposit box. Andrew finds the box, opens it, and inside there is a note—“Got you, Andrew”—and a bomb that immediately blows the whole place to smithereens. We can only assume everyone is dead.

At the R&R Diner, Shelly and Bobby are hanging out. Sarah, Laura’s mother, and Dr. Jacoby enter looking for Briggs and his wife, telling them they have an urgent message. Sarah sits down and tells Briggs, in a crazy demonic whisper, “I’m in the Black Lodge with Dale Cooper.”

Who is channeling Sarah to say this? Is it Bob? Windom Earle? The midget? Laura? Suddenly, there is a shot of the red room hallway, and voice saying, “I’ve waited for you.”

We are now 31 minutes into this 49-minute show, if you can believe it. I can’t. That’s why I made a note of it.

In the red room, Laura arrives. The elderly hotel porter arrives. The giant arrives and says, “One and the same,” as people continue to appear and disappear or turn into someone else.

One unique thing about Twin Peaks that I’ve harped on before is how explicit the show is in getting across some of its messages. When Bob inhabited Leland, nothing was left up to interpretation. We saw and heard several times how Bob took over Leland’s body. There was never any doubt in anyone’s mind about what was happening.

Now, however, what the hell is going on?

It’s kind of great. What could be creepier? And again, I can’t believe this was ever on prime time.

Cooper picks up a cup of coffee. It’s fake and the liquid is fake, and doesn’t pour. He rights it, tips again, and now it pours like normal. He rights it again, pours again, and now it pours like molasses. Cooper is experimenting in the world, I think, testing things out to see what happens. The problem is, objects do not seem to have fixed properties, much like how people morphed into one another only moments before.

The Little Man says, “Wow Bob, wow,” and “Fire walk with me.” Then more strobes.

Cooper exits to the hallway, through the curtains, and parts the curtains on the other side only to find a replica of the room he was just in, except devoid of people. He returns to the first room, and the Little Man yells at him, “Wrong way.”

He exits again, goes back to the second room again, and finds the Little Man there this time, yelling and gyrating. He says, “Another friend,” and we see a silhouette coming from behind the curtains. It’s Maddy. She says, “Watch out for my cousin.”

Cooper goes to the first room.

It’s empty.

Then the Little Man appears, but his eyes are messed up. He says, “Doppleganger.”

Laura appears, also with messed up vampire eyes. She screeches and screams, blood curdling, for a long time. Cooper runs away. Now he’s bleeding. He goes back and forth between the two rooms so much that I lose track of which was the first room and which was the second. Where are people good, and where are they bad?

He enters one again. Each time it’s different. Now he sees Caroline dead on the floor lying next to his own body double. She rises and it becomes Annie, with a bloody and punctured throat.

He exits, reenters. Annie is there. “I saw the face of the man who killed me. It was my husband.” Then Annie becomes Caroline, then Annie again, then Laura, then Windom. He says, “If you give me your soul, then I’ll let Annie live.” And Windom seems to take his soul. Then fire. Then Bob tortures Windom.

Bob tells Cooper to go, that Earle is “wrong.” “He can’t ask for your soul. I will take his.” As Bob laughs like crazy, Cooper flees the room, toward the camera. Then there is a shadowy figure behind the curtain at the opposite end of the room, and in through the curtains comes Cooper, now with messed up eyes, and he joins Bob in laughing.

We are 45 minutes in. I can’t believe how much happens in this episode in only 45 minutes.
Leland appears with the cataract eyes, and colored hair again (remember his hair went white). He says, “I did not kill anybody."

Another Cooper appears in the same shot. Cooper 1 leaves. Cooper 2 approaches Leland. Cooper 2 has an evil grin. Cooper 2 goes after Cooper 1.

The two Coopers run in circles, as much as where they are can be said to put them in circles. The evil Coop catches up with the good one just as we cut to the woods and see Harry waking, and yelling out to Cooper, who is now in the ground in the sycamore circle. Annie is there as well, knocked out, with a bloody face.

This is the 47 minute mark.

Cooper wakes up in the hotel room. Harry and Doc Hayward are there. He says several times that he needs to brush his teeth and goes alone into the bathroom. Something is off about him. Obviously, he’s upset, and that’s an understatement.
Once in the bathroom, he squeezes toothpaste into the sink, then raises his head at the mirror and smashes it into it, bloodying his face, cracking the mirror. As he lifts his face, it’s Bob’s reflection. In a maniac’s mocking voice, he repeats, “How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?” and laughs at himself. And that’s how it ends, at 49 minutes: Bob takes over Cooper.

Last Rites

I don’t know what to make of it. I’m glad the show is over because I wouldn’t have wanted a season three in which Bob manifests as Cooper. What would have been the plot? Waiting for Cooper to kill Annie or Audrey or some other young girl? That would have been too dark, too grim, and too much of a stretch with Cooper’s character.

I think Cooper already became someone that I wasn’t as crazy about in season two when he fully became a community member of Twin Peaks. In season one, he is an outsider, hanging upside down in his hotel as part of his daily exercises, making voice recordings to Diane, his secretary back at home base, in short, a kooky guy who has brought his kooky ways to this small town, which he then learns has its own kooky ways.

Knowing that at the end of this episode, there is no more Twin Peaks the television program, I think it works to end it this way. Having Cooper be overtaken by Bob works only if it isn’t explained or followed through on. It works because we don’t know what will happen next.

[I kind of disagree about not knowing what will happen next, but I am in the minority on this. I think that just like in Lost Highway the whole thing comes full circle. Next up: a beautiful young girl is murdered, and the person who did it is the person you would least expect: someone who loved her very much. I think this is partly why when Lynch does the Fire Walk With Me movie it does not really advance anything -- it just acts as a prequel, not really revealing much.]

[Also: Thank you very much Jill Duffy!]

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Some spoilers for LOST season 5.

I got into a conversation today with Brad who I had not talked to in a while and we discussed Flashforward: we discovered that we had the exact same reaction. We liked the first episode, but immediately put it on the burn pile because of the second one. Flashforward is a great premise: everyone on earth gets a glimpse of 6 months in the future, and then has to grapple with what it means, and how it happened. Just the neatness with which you can describe the thing shows that people are working hard to make this thing work. It makes a calculated full frontal assault on the throne of LOST at ABC, which goes off the air in May. Not just with the casting of Lost's Penny and eventually Charlie, but with that opening sequence which introduces our main man just as Lost did.

Wednesday, October 21, 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, books and iPhone apps.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #242

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. An especially good entry here, in its look at Cyclops and Havok.]

“Inferno: Part the Third — Burn”

In 1988, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green earned a place in X-Men history, drawing the first issue of Uncanny X-Men since 1969 that featured the original five members of the team as the chief protagonists. They are even the main focus of the cover, charging towards the reader heroically while Storm, Wolverine and Havok loom above them like villains. The entire first half of Uncanny #242 sees the current X-Men – the ones who had spent all of 1988 being terrifying and alien – taken to that extreme. They are being influenced (albeit not outright possessed) by a demonic invasion, and further manipulated by Madelyne Pryor, and as such end up acting more as antagonists; while the pure-hearted, Silver Age X-Men seem somehow immune to “Inferno”’s psychological effects. This is a nice twist on Claremont’s part.

The “new X-Men vs. old X-Men” story here is, oddly enough, a first. There were a couple such issues back during Claremont’s earliest days, but in both of those cases, the “old X-Men” who showed up were imposters – robots, in one case; illusions in the other. This is the first time in the franchise’s history that the “real” Silver Age X-Men fight the “real” new X-Men.

Monday, October 19, 2009

LOST revisited - Season 1

[Andy Bentley takes a look at the first season of LOST. I make a brief comment at the bottom.]

“Its comin' back around again” - R.A.T.M. People of the Sun

In the summer of 2004, I obtained the screener copy of the first two episodes of LOST. I was intrigued by the concept, particularly the sci-fi aspect to the show. But it also had a lot of hollywood gloss to it and I doubted the show would ever move beyond the island. When I saw the creepy title sequence had survived the summer and made it to broadcast, my respect for the show grew. By the time I saw Walkabout, the episode which cleverly reveals Locke’s paralysis in the final moments, I was completely hooked. I’ve watched all the episodes in real time week-to-week which is something I now rarely do. Many of my friends have blown through a season or three and then felt helpless to be at the mercy of ABC’s scheduling. With all of us losties now eagerly awaiting February 2010, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the show: 1 season a month.

First seasons feels a little incongruent to a show as a whole and Lost is no exception. The actors feel a bit less genuine in the 1st 12 episodes or so but soon settle into their characters. Many of the people we follow from the crash try desperately to rid themselves of their past lives but all end up back where they started. Let’s go over the principal players:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 21 (or episode 28): The Penultimate Episode

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter [continuing her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks.]

What is the purpose of this episode?

Given that the final installment of Twin Peaks is near at hand, this episode should theoretically help to speed up some plots, give vital information, and otherwise help tie up loose ends. And in many ways, it does. We learn some things that are crucial to understanding the last episode and understanding the true nature of a few characters. For example, Windom Earl reveals that he was the one who actually killed his wife: “I haven’t been this excited since I punctured Caroline’s aorta,” he says when he learns how to get inside the Black Lodge. I think we’re supposed to gasp a little bit at this moment, having previously believed that Caroline was killed by some villain who was really after Cooper (that’s a basic summary, though it’s slightly more complicated than that).

But at other moments, this episode is a free-for-all. There are three -- count ’em, three! -- dance numbers. They all take place during a “Miss Twin Peaks Beauty Pageant,” but three dance performances is fluff no matter what context it’s in.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Plok Interviews Me on his Blog

And in that interview I say:

My point of reference when I worked [as a nightwatchman for two years] was the final issue of the Invisibles, where someone says “My Invisible initiation involved three years as a trainee accounts manager. I learned to shovel numbers, go home and dream, get fat on tortillas and Oreos. Then when I was ready, I found them again.”

Click the quote for the whole thing.

Uncanny X-Men #241

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

“Inferno: Part the Second — Fan the Flames”

It’s excessive, it’s bloated and it’s plagued by more than a couple dubious leaps in logic, but for all of that, the “Inferno” crossover can be said to have delivered some major climaxes to several long-running mysteries and plot threads. The X-Men had been talking about bringing down the Marauders for a good long while now … indeed, the Marauders were the reason the X-Men decided to “let the world believe them dead.” Now, in the previous issue and this one, they finally take those bastards down. Silvestri is in excellent form, and he has a lot of fun with the action sequences. He and Green sell the Marauders’ last stand with gusto.

Meanwhile, we also get (as the cover blurb puts it) “At last! The startling secret of Madelyne Pryor!” Indeed. Now, again, Claremont has always, always said that Madelyne was meant to just be a dead ringer for Jean, and the whole “Is she Phoenix reincarnated” mystery was a red herring. He maintains that position to this day. In this issue, we learn that she was a clone of Jean Grey, but this is a ret-con that was shoehorned into Maddie’s backstory, so that she could find out about it and thus have more reason to become an insane villain. This is still Claremont’s idea, presumably, but not one he seems to have liked very much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Gods #9

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at the New Gods.]

“The Bug!”

This issue introduces readers to Forager, a character I have only seen in the Justice League cartoon series. In the episode, Twilight, Forager bravely rescues Wonder Woman and Batman in New Genesis yet he seems to have a self esteem issue. “I’m just a Bug” is the line I remember from him. Forager appears to be defeated by a social class system where the New Gods in the golden floating city above look down upon the lowly people below. A heavy handed metaphor, but that’s the way Kirby likes them. In the end, he is commended by the New Gods for protecting the children of New Genesis. By the end of this issue, Forager has arrived on Earth to seek out Orion which leads me to believe similar accolades from the New Gods are on the way.

The opening soliloquy by Kirby explains that “micro-life” emanated from the great clash between the New Gods bringing forth Forager and the race of Bugs that he belongs to. Kirby uses the words “Toxic” and “Festering” to describe this race of... well what exactly are they? They appear to be humans in superhero outfits that resemble insects to varying degrees. They have a hive type of culture where drones are sent out to hunt for food by a queen. However Forager is different than the rest of his species. His mentor (and consigliere to the Queen), Prime One, explains that Forager is more evolved because he questions the nature of their lives and sees a future where their race could roam New Genesis free of persecution. Prime One seems to suggest that their prison is self made and that the bugs must overcome their own fears first. However there is definite contempt for their species by the New Gods as we see flying drones sent by High-father that spray a sort of pesticide that kills the food crazed bugs.

This rumination on the way of the world is interrupted by a familiar face. Kirby has brought back Mantis who’s powers fit the insect theme nicely. Mantis has been rabble-rousing the Bugs into a war with the New Gods in order to carve a spot on the planet for themselves. This sets up a Magneto/Professor X type of conflict with only Forager on the side of peaceful integration. He returns to find his mentor, Prime One, about to be executed by the queen. It is explained that this is ritual, yet it feels like he’s being killed for his views. Forager leaps to save him but is restrained by the royal guards. Prime one offers one last command to Forager: Find Orion. With his Obi-Wan Kenobi gone and his people set to murder him for heresy, Forager attempts to escape to the surface of New Genesis but is instead pulled into an boom tube pointed towards Earth. Where Orion is. Very convenient.

During all this, Orion has been healing his wounds from Kalibak on the rooftop of one Eve Donner. Eve is a playwright who compassion towards Orion turns to pity after she sees him shouting at the heaven’s for Darkseid. Once healed, Orion and Lightray take off towards Dave Lincoln’s apt where the authorities are ready to take the two in. Whether they will oblige will be revealed next issue.

Orion has the smaller part of this A + B story, but it does setup a contrast and comparison between him and Forager. Forager’s savior, Orion, is as one sided and visionless as the bug culture. Both men seek freedom from tormentors, and are looking to escape their heritages. Orion is abrasive and unlikable whereas Forager’s intellect and optimistic spirit are refreshing and could motivate others. Maybe a little Forager will rub off on Orion next issue. We shall see.

Final Musings

-The caste system of New Genesis bring me back to the question of races on these planets. Are bugs a subspecies descended from the gods? If so, why have they forsaken them? If the bugs lacked a human resemblance, how different would the story be?

-Prime One refers to the New Gods as “Eternals”. This word was obviously bouncing around Jack’s head as he would go on to create The Eternals over at Marvel in ’76 which explored many of the themes seen in The Fourth World saga.

-Forager’s design is just plain awesome. Like many other action figure enthusiasts, I am anxious to get ahold of the new figure of him. A Wal-Mart exclusive:

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, books and iPhone apps.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Planetary 27

[Jason Powell's next X-Men essay has been pushed to Thursday, because I have gotten a lot of calls for this, and I don't want it to be untimely.]

Major spoilers for the series, and this issue in particular.

More than ten years later, the series that got me to write my book on superheroes comes to a close with its 27th issue. The series began very much in the debt of the X-Files: the investigators look into the "freak of the week" which is culled from various pop culture while revealing an overarching conspiracy. It took so long to come to a conclusion that X-Files knock-off Fringe appeared, and became successful, in part because a chunk of the viewing audience was simply too young to remember the X-Files.

A third of my life passed between the first and twenty-seventh issues, which makes it very hard to review. People bitched about the long wait between issues, but I think the worst effect was that I can only guess what my 20 year old self would have thought about this issue.

At 20 I wanted good ideas to write about primarily, and the Planetary delivered. I was interested in how a work of pop culture incorporates, revises, and attempts to ultimately transcend its influences. Planetary put that theme front and center. The best example of this was issue 10, which showed how the Four (analogues for The Fantastic Four, but evil, and the main antagonists) destroyed three beings that could have been so valuable to earth -- beings who were analogues of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern. Put that with the first issue in which analogues of pulp novel heroes -- The Shadow, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Fu-Manchu, G-8 -- get into a battle with a group of creatures that are clear analogues to the classic Justice League of America. The Pulps battle their comic book successors, just as the Silver Age of comics kills the Golden Age of comics, in order to supersede them. I argued in my book that Planetary made this battle between creators for imaginative supremacy into the plot of the story in order to establish itself as the herald of a new age -- because of course ultimately they would take down The Four just as the Four took down the Golden Age and the Golden Age decimated the pulps.

Planetary was great because of all the things we got to see along the way especially in the first 14 issues: Godzilla monsters, Hong Kong Ghost Cops, Vertigo comics, 50s B movies, Bond, Sherlock Holmes teamed up with Dracula and the Invisible Man, and the X-Files. It was fun getting to see Ellis and Cassaday riff on all these things, and organize them as a critic might: William Leather (The Johnny Storm analogue) was the son of the Lone Ranger, if I am remembering this correctly.

In the back half of the series, after the first major 2 year hiatus, the series had to head for a conclusion, had to begin to wrap up the overarching plot. Analogues were still there, but they were less important - -partly because it felt like Ellis was just sort of done with this thing and wanted it over. There was a ton of build of to the reveal of Jacob Green (the Thing analogue), for instance, but the reveal was pretty anti-climatic -- after many years of hearing about how evil and terrifying he is we see him in full sunlight, with none of our characters anywhere near him. And just like that he is blown up remotely without costing our guys hardly anything. In the end the Four went the same way just sort of getting their asses kicked pretty quickly, at no cost. Ellis has a point here about how it was never really about them, how they are just small things in the nature of the universe of the series. It is a nice point, drawing our attention back to those one off issues from the first half of the series and enjoying the journey more than the destination, but it does not make for satisfying storytelling. You can't spend huge amounts of time building something up and then just have it be no big thing, unless you have a really good plan for a left turn (e.g. Bill in Kill Bill turns out to be a very different kind of threat: the threat of forgetting about revenge and living happily ever after).

After 10 years I care less for ideas and themes, and more for the ability to deliver a good story. From its first issue Planetary had a bit of trouble with story just in terms of structure: a lot of the time, like Hellboy, the characters would stand around while something happened in front of them, or hear a story (like Doc Brass's story in the first issue) and then be done. The Planetary could be like that hanging Scrabble tile that you could use as part of the seven letter word you were building -- you need the letter but the letter is not the word. Ellis was always interested in ideas first, and because the ideas were good it was not so much of a problem. But when he had to wrap up the story, had to have his main characters be MAIN CHARACTERS he runs into trouble. He is just not interested. It is very telling that interviewers have gone to him for a statement now that the series has come to an end, and all he can say by way of getting excited is "it reminded me of a bad time, and I am glad to have it behind me." In issue 26 he even has Snow say something to that effect.

So here we are with 27, which is frankly a pretty bad story. Three panels showing us through news broadcasts and a conference that the Planetary have changed the world, followed by a long science lecture, and a mostly tension free experiment, followed by a happy ending, with no cost.

I am going to edit the text of the issue into something slightly different, and people are going to say I am being unfair, but I think there is something to the exercise. Here it is:

"He raised a non-physics bubble around himself. He was a natural description-theory engine; inside that bubble he could select what physics could actually do. He could slow down time. I saw his descriptor effect the second before he vanished. ... You cant go back in time beyond the point the where the time machine was switched on. If you're in the future and you've got a time machine, and you're interested in history what's the first thing you'd go look at? Dinosaurs? The Crucifixion? The Great Flood? You can't. Because the farthest you can go is the point where the first time machine was switched on. You would go look at that. You and everybody else. Everyone from the entirety of future history arriving at once, the second after you flipped the switch. Therefore the whole of the future can be said to have happened at once. And you can't change it because it already happened. That's planetary apocalypse condition. What's the point of anything if it's all already happened? It's Schrodinger's cat writ large. The future currently exists as a mass of probability waves, collapsing into choices and events one at a time as we move forward. Turning on a time machine collapses them all at once. An infinite number of dead cats all arriving on your doorstep at once. It's a loop of light, and moving along the loop moves you along in time. (We're all living on two dimensional planes of of information. The fact that we live and breathe is a side effect of the universe.) There should be Chernikov radiation coming off of the surface of the descriptor bubble. In order for the closed loop of light to do what it's got to do, it needs a massive amount of power. If the bubble is still up there's going to be something called quantum foam around it, the outward sign that something weird and disfiguring is happening to the fabric of reality. If we can visualize that it is going to look like 800 tornadoes in a box. Those vortices create vacuums that give off energy -- massive power from nothing. Supermassive Frame Dragging: big rotational objects pull the fabric of spacetime around with them. Frame Dragging effects time and objects. So we create a closed loop of light, make it incredibly powerful and it will do the same thing only locally -- supermassive frame dragging. These extend down into the quantum foam and draw off the energy we need to power the machine."

It's not that I don't enjoy the hell out of some mad-science / gorgeous-nonsense but a little bit goes a long way: this is a lot of undigested material, like an essay in comic book form. Drums even illustrates his lectures -- not too helpfully I thought -- with a magic pen writing on air, but it was still not so far removed from just a powerpoint lecture.

Plok wrote recently about how a lot of storytellers hit the beats of a story pretty mechanically. There are worse things -- Superman Returns failed to hit some beats AT ALL -- but Ellis seems to fall into exactly the trap Plok describes. Everyone has to learn something and so Elijah learns some science stuff from Drums ("I read your damn books!") and Drums learns to bark orders like Elijah ("You're starting to sound like me, Drums") all because that is what you have to do in the last issue of something. The real image of this issue is Jakita: she is feels useless because she doesn't have anyone to hit in this utopia of mad science. It feels to me like Ellis failed to give her anything at all to do in the first draft of this script, then writes the problem into the script as her discussion with Elijah (resolved in her future self telling her (not showing her) everything is going to be fine). But then he still wants her to have something to do visually (since a lot of the "action" in this issue is pretty hard to make visual, such as "putting more power to the pulse lamps"), so she gets to leap into action and GRAB A LAMP like a monkey.

And then there are the really pointless beats: one of the medical team telling Jakita DURING THE RESCUE "we've never had so much prep time for emergency treatment in out lives but it'll still be touch and go" in response to her "you know what to do, you're all briefed on his injuries." Why, you know ON EARTH, would they be having this conversation NOW except for the fact that Ellis needs to put some exposition in and he needs it in conflict form to jazz the scene up because there is not a heck of a lot going on here; it reminds me of nothing more than the Simpsons moment when the family goes to the library and Homer bemoans having to go as soon as they enter and Marge says "Why do you always wait till we arrive somewhere to complain" (or something -- Scott, help me out here).

And the "required" beats just keep on coming. One page of news broadcasts to telling, not showing, how the world has changed: on the one had this is lazy writing, but on the other hand I can understand why you would just allude to this -- it would take a bunch more issues to show how the world was different; and again, Ellis is just THROUGH with this now: all he can to is point ahead, because he does not want to write anymore. We get cameos of Hark and Doc Brass to bring things full circle (remember when we thought maybe Doc Brass would become an antagonist?). We have the recap of the fictional survivor plot from issue 9, and Elijah's dismissal of that whole storyline ("We never found out what happened to the person they brought back" -"Probably never will"): again, I get that maybe you don't want to explain EVERYTHING (sometimes mysteries are just better as mysteries) but you also don't want to feel Ellis's exhaustion with this whole thing -- he just does not want to write this book anymore and has no interest in following up on one of the most interesting and ominous things he introduced even a little bit.

There is the pointless callback of "It's a strange world. Did you think for a minute that I wasn't going to keep it that way" -- I am not at all clear HOW is he keeping it that way, except I guess it is strange to Drums because Elijah did not give him enough information to understand what is happening when the "future" arrives. (Snow has always been Ellis's stand in character, and here we see they are alike -- they keep the tension up by just keeping key information to themselves in the cheapest way).

And worst of all -- the doctor in one of the final pages saying of Ambrose "No. No, that's it. That's all we can do." I get that TECHNICALLY this is ambiguous but I cannot see why anyone with any sense would say something so ambiguous in front of friends worried about their friend dying -- except for the fact that the happy ending is forgone conclusion, which lacks tension: so Ellis goes for the cheapest kind of tension, one notch above the bait and switch of horror movies where you think the character is in trouble and it turns out to be the cat in the cupboard or something equally lame.

This is what my 30 year old self things of this issue. But I thought it would be nice to see if I could think back to what I would have said at 20. I am not sure I would have wholly loved the issue but I would have had some good things to say about it. I would have said that Ellis has always been kind of amazing with this book in terms of tropes of past and future. There are those I have already mentioned above about the Pulps vs the Golden Age vs the Silver Age, but there are others, particularly an issue in which Snow visits a woman who gives this whole trippy lecture about how drugs come from plants that are nourished by the dead, so that we are seeing visions inspired by the dead, literally eating and incorporating our precursors. He does not fail to deliver an equally, even more powerful image here -- because no one can go further back in time than when the time machine was switched on all of future history will come back to see it the moment you flip the switch: the end of all history essentially. The twist is that only future versions of the Planetary arrive, all of them intact, and the only difference between them and the current team slight changes in dress and hair. In my book I argued that Ellis was organizing all past comic book history to set up the fight between the Four and the Planetary that the Planetary would WIN establishing themselves as the future of the genre. That pretty much literally happens here: there is NO FUTURE BUT THEM. In the entirety of future time they are the only ones to have this technology -- they never share it, and no one else ever duplicates it. If they did --then where are they? The whole of Drums' discussion of the future collapsing is meaningless if this is not how we are to read this scene.

There was a time many years ago when noticing as Jog does the Four as the Comics Company metaphor (the people who rape and profit from a naturally imaginative world where people who can do amazing things should be able to control their own destiny); and noticing Ellis' mean streak (I did not appreciate what a sentimental guy he was back then) I imagined he might end Planetary with the Four winning. He is after all writing X-Men nearly ten years after he attacked Morrison for writing X-Men instead of creator owned stuff with the line "sometimes your friends fuck ugly girls." It feels like the corporate side is doing pretty well. Looking at the ending we did get I notice that the split second we get the Fourth Man back on the Planetary Team we get a vision of nothing but the Four of them on and on through all of future time, having shared the time travel technology with absolutely no one. It is probably over-reaching to say this, and even more over-reaching to claim that they also snuffed out anyone else coming up with this time travel tech at all points in all future -- but then where IS everyone else when the time machine is switched on? This issue could have ended with a big fold out tableau along the lines of the cover except with new stuff -- a vision off the amazing new world of new things that have opened up because of the Planetary, but it does not. "A long long future lies ahead of us all. It's taken a long time to get here but you and me and her and him -- we're just getting started." Ellis figures his 10 year Planetary run as prelude -- but prelude to nothing but more Planetary adventures, adventures we will never get to see. It is a new kind of Four that dominates all future time.

It is a strange world, and Ellis did keep it that way, but I am not sure he intended to keep it strange in THIS way.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 20 (or episode 27)

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter [continuing her issue by issue look at Twin Peaks]

Rusty is dead!

Wait, who the hell is Rusty?

At any rate, some dupe named Rusty got nabbed by Windom Earl. Earl built a gigantic pawn chess piece has put Rusty on display inside it, in public park.

When Deputy Andy sees this and hears Rusty’s friend identify the body and talk about his deceased friend, he cries – no, he wimpers. Is that to point to how ridiculous the scene is?

We learn that Windom Earl may be in search of the Black Lodge more than he is after Cooper. Earl tends to think out loud, which is annoying and cliché, but serves to explain what the hell is going on.

Despite poor dead Rusty and the evil villain Earl, there’s some real creepy stuff afoot once again, thank goodness. Twin Peaks had substance to its uncanny style, and I want more of that.

I think what makes the uncanny parts work is that it’s not always explained. So much of the show very explicitly answers the questions it poses, as I’ve pointed out before. We learn what Bob is, where he came from, and where he lives. We learned and saw with our own eyes how Bob kills. But we never learned why the creamed corn disappeared from an old woman’s plate only to show up in the hands of a little boy. Neither have we ever been told who the giant is and why he comes to warn Cooper. The uncanny works.

Donna looking into her past by sorting through old photos, is in her family’s attic, where a fan whirls and creates a strobe effect, reminiscent of the fan clicking and whirling when Laura died. A few peoples’ hands start shaking violently at different points in this episode for no reason. A slow pull-out shot of Cooper and Annie as they are having a sweet conversation, overlaid with dark music, is juxtaposed with a close-up of them kissing, then a crash, as dirty diner dishes shatter on the floor, followed by one more close-up of disgusting goop dripping in slow motion from the broken coffee cup, with a spooky audio cue of a looping thud, like the telltale heart.

Later, as Annie and Cooper kiss a second time, the giant appears, with a frantic face, shaking his head, mouthing “no,” and waving his hands. Another reason moments like these are creepy is because they happen in the same scene as an exceptionally tender moment.

It’s also that we don’t know what’s going to happen when the giant appears. Is Bob taking another life? Evil is certainly stirring, but how? Why is the giant telling Cooper, “no!”?

Then, we see a shot of the woods and Bob crosses from the other side into the real world.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

U2 360 and Rock's Battle for Intimacy in Stadiums

[Scott talks about U2 again, but since he knows we do not have so many U2 fans around here -- myself included -- he makes it a lot about the whole notion of live concerts. I wanted to do a review of Planetary 27 today, but the day got away from me. Expect one shortly, and thanks Scott for filling in.]

There are many who would consider themselves hip in the musical sense who would be quick to turn their nose up to stadium rock. They might champion clubs or small theatres as the only place to really hear music; the only place where a band can truly make a connection with the audience. Such aspersions are easy to make when one lives in a large city where, on any given night, several hot, up and coming acts can be found performing to packed houses and seeing them is as easy as catching a train across town. However, it’s not quite as easy for those of us who live a more rural existence. For me, Washington DC would probably be the closest locale to see such a performance and that would mean a 5 hour drive NOT including beltway traffic.

So, for many of us, the only chance we have to see a ‘real live Rock N’ Roll’ show is to catch the major artists who stage massive arena and stadium tours (and, usually, this still involves a drive of at least a couple of hours). Perhaps the most challenging venue for an artist to achieve a true connection with the audience is the stadium. Since the Beatles first played Shea Stadium only to be drowned out by the screams of their fans, major artist have struggled to be ‘heard’ in stadiums. The first step was simple: play louder. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that, to the people in the cheaper seats, the band themselves might as well be ants.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Free Form Comments

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

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy.

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

You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

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

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #240

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. This is an especially good entry. ]

“Inferno: Part the First — Strike the Match”

So begins “Inferno,” the 1988 X-Men fall crossover. This is the one everyone hates. To sum up the history at this point: 1986 was the year of the first X-over -- “Mutant Massacre,” a flawed but entertaining comics event built around a suitably momentous occurrence in the franchise’s history: the large-scale massacre of an underground mutant population. It wasn’t meant to be the start of a yearly tradition; but the commercial success of the project guaranteed that Marvel would attempt to duplicate it in 1987. Although “Massacre” occurred during the summer, the following year saw it placed during the autumn months – hence, “The FALL of the Mutants.” Unlike “Massacre,” this second event was tied together by concept rather than story, with each of the three core mutant titles (X-Factor, New Mutants and Uncanny) seeing tragedy befall at least one member of the team (Angel, Cypher and all of them, respectively). “Fall of the Mutants” was shrewdly economical, eschewing the bloated excess that ultimately weighed down on the latter parts of “Massacre” in favor of something quick and clean: three issues of three titles (with the middle installment for each series being “double-sized”), and then done.

By contrast, the number of Marvel comics published in the latter half of 1988 that tie in to “Inferno” is in the dozens – a horrible display of excess on behalf of the company, one which would be repeated many times in the following two decades. (Every aspect of “Inferno” promotion is over the top – on the core series, including Uncanny X-Men, the art department even pastes the word “Inferno” over the line usually reserved for “The Uncanny” – the first such textual manipulation of the logo since “The Uncanny” was added in the first place, eight years earlier.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

"Failure is to form habits"

I am teaching Walter Pater today and thinking about habits. I am also thinking about General Tso's Chicken: My wife goes to this Chinese place all the time and I, by default, always got General Tso's chicken. I would sort of pick at it, and stop, and pick at it again, and then still be hungry, but would not finish it. I asked her why that was and she came back with "You don't like it." And I realized with a little shock that she was right -- I did not like it. And yet I kept getting it, just out of habit I think. The habit was stronger than my dislike of the thing, to the point that I did not realize I disliked it until someone pointed it out. And I thought about it again, as I noticed leaving the house that I had some comics on the table I had not read yet, comics I picked up Wednesday (I won't say which ones because I am tired of getting hate mail when I say I do not like a comic book). And there was that feeling again -- I had not read them yet because I did not LIKE them. But then why did I BUY them? Habit. Scary little thing, habit. I am digging things like facebook's statistics that tell me how often I post and what the most recurring words are and so on -- and I wonder how much of my media consumption is habit and how much is enjoyment. I feel like the pure "habit" media is a small percentage, but once you realize you can think you like something when you actually don't -- well that is the thread that unravels the whole thing in a way, or at least has the potential to.

Where is habit overrunning your good taste in your life? What needs purging and why?

(Also -- I feel like Plok's style has infected mine more than a bit here. Interesting.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 19

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter [continuing her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks.]

Why is Windom Earl so hokey?

Before we knew him, when we only knew of him, he was threatening. Before a character is formally introduced, if we viewers are told that he’s a mastermind evil genius, we’ll buy it. “Hey, our guy Cooper seems legitimately afraid of what Windom Earl might do, so we’d better take him seriously.”

Eventually (several episodes ago), Windom Earl does become a character with a face, a voice, body language, and a maniacal laugh. Only the laugh isn’t so maniacal. It’s more like the laugh of a bad guy on a children’s Saturday afternoon low-budget television show; like I expect Windom Earl to shout out, “Rats! Foiled again!” and shake his fists in anger when 30 minutes is up. Here, and in the previous one or two episodes, he keeps putting on ridiculous disguises as he trails Cooper, Donna, Shelly, and Audrey. It’s goofy. He’s very cartoonish. Need I remind anyone that this is the same tactic Bugs Bunny used to outwit Elmer Fudd?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Character Actors

I am not sure "character actor" is the right phrase I want for this: I want to talk about those TV and movie actors who play very small roles but who I am always irrationally happy to see. I want to talk about that moment where you watch something and smile and say "Oh, THAT guy. I love that guy" and you say "that guy" because you probably don't even know his name -- you just know him as "the guy from that other show." I am also not sure what I want to say exactly, except that they bring this strange pleasure with them -- part of the reason I like to see these actors is that for some reason I am glad so see them continue to get work, and part of it is that they are so small that I can feel closer to them than the big star -- there is an odd sort of unconscious identification with them, in part because I know if I was an actor I would be one of these minor guest stars rather than a main player. There is no way I will be able to remember enough of these guys: they can be hard to think of out of context. You guys will help. Here are 10 to start you off.

Leslie Jordan is the 4'11" actor I know most from Will and Grace, where he played closeted millionaire Beverlie Leslie, and Reba where he also played a character who acted fay. David E Kelly is a big fan of his -- he appeared on Boston Public, Alley McBeal and Boston Legal.