Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
* Infocult's Bryan Alexander tracks developments in the case of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter and their inbred children in hidden chambers in his cellar for over two decades. I'm as astonished by this story as I have been by anything I've read in all of my years following macabre crimes. To my surprise, the most outlandish details of the initial reports have not just been confirmed, but surpassed.
* Though I haven't seen any of the Masters of Horror films that And Now the Screaming Starts' CRwM is talking about in his review of John Carpenter's Pro-Life, I greatly admire the way he goes after mainstream critics for myopically focusing on "horror as current-events report" and horror filmmakers for catering to that particular fixation.
* I like the sound of I Love Sarah Jane, a short film about a lovestruck junior-high kid's experiences during a zombie apocalypse, screened at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and reviewed by Not Coming to a Theater Near You's Katherine Follett.
DC Universe #0
Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, writers
George Pèrez, Doug Mahnke, Tony S. Daniel, Ivan Reis, Aaron Lopresti, Philip Tan, Ed Benes, Carlos Pacheco, JG Jones, artists
DC Comics, April 2008
Four of the six* ongoing DC-published superhero titles I read are written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns. The former is as engaging as ever in All Star Superman and Batman (which reads better in chunks than it does in monthly installments), while the latter has truly come into his own with Green Lantern and the Superman series Action Comics (both of which are at this point my all-time favorite main-line runs of their respective lead characters). Morrison, for his part, is my favorite superhero writer, and I enjoyed his earlier collaboration with Johns on 52. So despite having no interest in Countdown to Final Crisis and some innate resistance to the DC approach to crossovers--they tend to be epic discussions of comics-y concepts like continuity and multiverses, as opposed to Marvel's tendency to root its events, however perfunctorily, in more familiar ideas like the privacy/security tradeoff or post-9/11 paranoia or whether the ends justify the means--I naturally gave this book a whirl based on my appreciation of its writers. I even brought home a copy since Jim Hanley's was giving them away for free!
It's a fun book. I don't think I knew that it was going to be a collection of teases for upcoming storylines rather than a self-contained story, or even a coherent prologue to a larger story. But this approach seemed like a smart way to get across several things:
1) The DCU is heading in a unified direction...
2) ...dictated by storylines involving the big iconic characters rather than Donna Troy and the Pied Piper...
3) ...and written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns rather than Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Heck, given the reception of Countdown and its countless spinoffs, even Greg Rucka and Gail Simone, who are riding shotgun with vaguely connected tie-ins, seem like a huge deal.
DC Universe #0 seems to show that DC recognizes that its core characters/franchises (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, perhaps Wonder Woman) are all pretty strong right now, so why not recalibrate the company's crossover mojo around them rather than trying to force people to be interested in peripheral nonsense about nobodies? So instead of Monarch and Jason Todd, you get Batman grilling the ever-creepier Joker about a long-running plot thread involving a godlike supervillain gunning for the Dark Knight. You get one of Johns's now-trademark multi-panel rapid-fire tastes of the rainbow of power rings now zipping around outer space. You get Superman in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes (a concept I really don't cotton to, but Johns has earned some credit in this department with his most recent Action arc), preparing to do battle with the hilarious fanboy-entitlement metaphor Superman-Prime. You get Wonder Woman's godly forebears preparing to replace her with an army of 300 knockoffs, which makes for a funny visual at least. You get a creepy villain holding the scales of justice and trying to recruit other villains into yet another version of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, this one a Scientologyesque cult presumably dedicated to the awesome Jack Kirby villain Darkseid. You get an obliquely established return of Barry Allen, the long-dead Silver Age Flash, that plays itself out primarily through the shifting tone (and colors) of the narrative captions; it's pretty funny to see Morrison do a mainstream-press-worthy character revival the same way he might establish an obscure plot point like, say, the link between the Undying Don and Ali-Ka-Zoom in Seven Soldiers. And you get the Spectre, but hey, they can't all be winners.
As might already be apparent, the book is written in the crazy million-things-happening-at-once style of Morrison's JLA Classified, Seven Soldiers, and those acid-flashback Batman issues from a few months ago, Johns's Action Comics Annual and Sinestro Corps Special, and the pair's 52. It's possible to see the seams between the two writers' work from time to time, but it takes some doing. I'm really happy to see Johns genuinely collaborating with Morrison and holding his own--it's worth it for the horrified reaction of blogosphere snobs alone.
The art, needless to say, is of varying effectiveness. (Ivan Reis does what Ed Benes would like to do much better than Benes actually does, for example.) I think the George Pèrez cover is ugly and unnecessarily retro. However, I do like the design of the house-ad teaser pages interspersed throughout the comic to tout the relevant tie-ins--the text so blocky and matter of fact it's almost funny. And they beat the hell out of either those orange Countdown-slogan teasers or the previous wave of motivational-poster-style teasers.
That being said, the notion that this is at all accessible to someone who isn't a giant nerd is laughable. But I don't care, since I am a giant nerd and I don't give a shit about this particular book attracting new readers. That's what manga is for! And even then we're only talking about the first volume in a given series. I think the myth that "every issue should be written like it's somebody's first so that superhero comics would be more accessible" might make sense from a publishing perspective, but not necesarily a storytelling one, and maybe not even a publishing one anymore either given who the audience really is. I mean, any given fourth-season episode of Lost or Battlestar Galactica is completely incomprehensible to people who haven't been following along, yet we fans don't complain about that because we are fans and that's who the shows are aimed at. Nobody gets upset because Death Note Vol. 7 isn't a good jumping-on point, because that volume is for preexisting Death Note fans. Virtually everyone who picks up a comic called DC Universe is going to be someone who is already familiar with what a shared universe is, and that is totally fine. Now, the big corporate superhero companies can claim that the goal of something like DCU #0 is going to woo Johnny Dailynewsreader, but we don't have to play along by evaluating the book negatively based on that standard. The standard I evaluated it on is "here's a book by two of my favorite writers at DC that leads into their upcoming storylines on various titles--does it make me happy I'm reading them?" The answer was yes.
* All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder and Ex Machina
* Bruce Baugh offers a thoughtful review of Eli Roth's Hostel. I really appreciated his insights about the look of the film, the redeeming qualities of the American characters, the lingering effects of torture...just a wonderful analysis. Also worth reading is the comment thread where various people explain why they refuse to watch the film.
Originally written on July 19, 2004 for publication in The Comics Journal
Grant Morrison is the X-Men franchise’s angel of mercy. In the two decades since Chris Claremont transformed a third-tier Stan’n’Jack creation into the most popular concept in North American comic books, no greater act of love has been committed on behalf of mutantkind than the truly mighty act of deadwood clearance that was Morrison’s much-heralded run on New X-Men. Culminating in the issues collected in the trade paperbacks Planet X and Here Comes Tomorrow, Morrison’s labor of love meant killing not just characters but concepts, entire ways of writing both the X-Men and superhero comics in general. The posturing villains, the alternate futures, the constant battles, the tortured soap operatics, even the costumes (easily the ugliest in all of superherodom, by the way)--for this potentially fascinating heroic-fantasy concept to be fascinating once again, Morrison says, we’ve got to wipe out everything they’ve come to be known for and start over. And it worked. Naturally, the House of Ideas undid nearly all of it within a month of Morrison’s departure.
Morrison refers to his four-year run on the title as one giant graphic novel; Planet X and Here Comes Tomorrow are the concluding chapters, and as such tie together nearly every loose end of theme and plot left dangling during his incredibly dense tenure. The big reveal that sets this final act in motion is the discovery that Xorn, the Chinese X-Man and healer with a star for a brain (!), is in actuality Magneto, the X-Men’s nemesis, presumed dead in an anti-mutant genocide that kicked off Morrison’s run. In the guise of the gentle Xorn, Magneto has exerted his influence over the Xavier Institute’s “special class” of ugly, poorly adjusted mutant teenagers, while simultaneously sowing the seeds of discontent and death among the X-Men themselves in the form of everything from extramarital affairs to widespread drug abuse. We’ve seen Magneto come back from the dead before, but we know we’re in uncharted territory when his first post-unmasking act is to quite literally destroy Manhattan. (This was sign number one that Marvel would be hitting the big red reset button once Morrison defected to DC. Where’s Spider-Man going to fight Doctor Octopus--Hoboken?)
Despite giving the preening bad guy his brightest moment in the sun, Morrison’s aim with Planet X is to savagely mock the character to the point where the last vestiges of appeal in his violent brand of sci-fi identity politics are erased. Magneto, who throughout the series had become a beloved martyr figure, his image appearing on the t-shirts and bedroom walls of disaffected mutant youths everywhere, quickly finds that he lacks the vision thing. His new “subjects” have seen him die and return so many times they don’t believe it’s actually him now. The special class, unwitting members of the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, either prefer Xorn outright or just think it’s kinda queer for their fearless leader to have dressed up in costume for months. In one hilarious sequence, the self-styled Master of Magnetism launches into a rousing speech so grandiosely Shakespearean that one can hear the mellifluous voice of Sir Ian McKellen proclaiming it in the next X-movie, only to be told by his henchman Toad that the masses can’t even hear him, seeing as they’re milling about in the street and he’s inside the upper floors of the Chrysler Building. Throughout this volume Morrison displays a genuine comedic gift, particularly in contrast to superhero writers whose idea of a gag is to have Ant Man crawl up his wife’s vagina. Morrison has said in interviews that his brutally satirical treatment of Magneto was a condemnatory reaction against the so-called nobility of a character who is nothing more than a murdering terrorist. It’s a welcome point of view even here in the real world, where we’ve so often been beseeched to “understand” the inexcusable, and where ostensible humanists serve as apologists for benighted fundamentalist slaughter.
Phil Jimenez, a solid if not thrilling artist of the George Pèrez school whose talent (besides drawing a fierce Jean Grey) lies in evoking superhero classicisms well enough to be able to subvert them too, draws Magneto throughout as an eight-foot-tall, floating, purple Darth Vader, but transforms his right-hand man Toad into the type of hip London scumbag who sells E outside of Sophisticats. Before long, the increasingly impotent potentate is addicted to Kick, the mutant club drug/performance enhancer. Bereft of new ideas, he begins dredging up idiotic schemes from X-books past, like reversing the world’s magnetic poles, a move as sure to kill mutants as it is to kill everyone else. By the time this pathetic old asshole finally gets his comeuppance (at the claws of Wolverine, naturally), his long-time rival Professor X has dismissed Magneto’s ossified, coercive philosophies utterly: “…the worst thing you ever did,” he tells the would-be dictator, “is come back.” Or as the stylish living weapon Fantomex puts it to the villain, “Is everything you say a cliché?” Adamantium claws may cut off your head, but having your self-created legend deflated really hurts.
Here Comes Tomorrow is to dystopian-future X-stories what Planet X was to Magneto stories: the final word. Readers of blockbuster superhero titles like Paul Jenkins’s Wolverine: Origin or Jeph Loeb’s Batman: Hush can tell you that while throwing a shock reveal into your story is easy, doing it in a way that’s supported at all by what’s come before, that’s both difficult to figure out before the reveal and impossible to miss afterwards, that enriches your understanding and enjoyment of what you’ve already read, and that generally doesn’t make you want to punch yourself in the face is apparently beyond the ken of most mainstream writers. Not so with Morrison, who after his surprise resurrection of Magneto in Planet X reveals a puppet master behind not just the once-again-dead magnetic supervillain but nearly every bad thing that went down in Morrison’s run and beyond. The “intelligent bacterial colony” known as Sublime was the very first form of life on Earth, and has labored for three billion years to stay at the top of the evolutionary ladder. The inherently powerful and fabulous mutants are the only true threat to Sublime’s self-confidence; he therefore worked behind the scenes in various guises to make sure that mutants were too busy getting killed by both humans and each other to realize their true potential for greatness. Here Comes Tomorrow takes place 150 years in the future, a time in which Sublime is preparing his final assault on the lifeforms of Earth by resurrecting the omnipotent and destructive Phoenix (aka Jean Grey), who was killed by Magneto in a final act of defiance just before his own execution.
If your eyes are already glossing over from simply reading a description of the hoary X-concepts being trotted out here, hang in there. (And ignore the fact that this arc marks the return to Marvel of early-90s superstar artist and Image co-founder Marc Silvestri. I’ve never been wild about the hyperrendered style of Silvestri, Jim Lee, and the like, but nor am I morally offended by it, as are some observers of the scene. There are a few storytelling lapses here--it would have been nice if the oft-mentioned White Hot Room in which the Phoenix resides was actually, y’know, white--but they’re mainly out of Silvestri’s hands. For what it’s worth, I think his style works rather beautifully here, cranking up the intentional superheroic/supervillainous clichés to eleven and giving this crazed, patchwork future a rough-hewn glamour and muscular sex appeal. His Wolverine, for instance, is both a man who is believably ready to die and a man with an unbelievable ass.)
What truly separates Morrison’s story from every other all-powerful-villain-in-a-future-we-may-be-too-late-to-prevent tale you’ve come across is not just his proficiency in generating stunning sci-fi concepts (the Termids, the Crawlers, the Feeders, the Phoenix Corps (!)) or instantly riveting characters (the Proud People (complete with Magic Car and Mer-Max the talking whale), Tom Skylark and Rover, Appollyon the Destroyer), though indeed introducing all of these in a four-issue arc whose world we’ll likely never see again is equivalent to throwing a gauntlet in the face of other writers of imaginative comic-book fiction. (See Morrison’s Seaguy for a similar act of “I’ll see you and raise.”) No, the strength of this book, and of Morrison’s entire tenure with the characters, is his belief that love trumps the horror of the world, and his ability to convey this in a way that’s emotionally direct without being trite or mawkish. It’s Dr. Hank “Beast” McCoy’s heartbreak over his own lies that gives Sublime an entrée, and Scott “Cyclops” Summers’ refusal to let go of a failed love with Jean Grey that ensures Sublime’s success; in the end, it’s connections that are just as personal--between ugly Ernst and disembodied Martha, between the identical triplet Stepford Cuckoos, between human Tom Skylark, his Sentinel parent Rover, and his robotic lover EVA, between the near-immortal Wolverine and his beloved Jean Grey--that set Sublime up for the fall. And it’s Jean Grey’s love for Cyclops, great enough for her to rewrite history and let him admit his own love for her one-time rival Emma Frost, that fixes “the hole at the heart of creation” and undoes Sublime’s machinations once and for all.
Morrison rode into New X-Men at the crest of a wave that saw Marvel taking bold risks with its core characters and ushering in a new writer-driven era of good, and even great, superhero comics; he rode out as persona non grata, his celestially vast ideas out of joint with a newly conservative company aiming mainly either to mimic the methods of blockbuster action cinema or mine fanboy nostalgia. He intended his forty-issue X-Men novel to be a gift to the franchise, but the gift has gone mainly unopened: Most of his new supporting cast has been shuffled offstage, the profoundly fresh relationship between Cyclops and Emma Frost seems poised for the chopping block, and eternal X-scribe Chris Claremont resurrected Magneto almost before Morrison had a chance to leave the building, pegging the villain’s whole Manhattan meltdown on the work of an impostor. (Would that we could place blame for the past twenty years of X-Men comics on a similar entity.) But we the readers are left with one of the most humanistic, richest, funnest, greatest superhero comics ever written. That’s gift enough.
* The same IRL issues that have prevented me from doing a lot of blogging over the past few days have also prevented me from seeing Iron Man, which I think makes me one of five people online who haven't. So I can't really speak to Jim Henley's review of the film other than to say that Jim's nerdblogging is always a treat and that this passage, about the much ballyhooed in nerd circles post-credits cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, is quite applicable to similar moments in comic books that rely solely on costume recognition rather than inherent drama for impact:
Downey and Mister Cameo are both great big comics fans, and the irony of Mister Cameo performing in the role that was literally drawn for him is a huge pleasure, but as a scene it’s inert. They give each other nothing. There’s nothing there that you, the fan, haven’t brought yourself.
* Speaking of superhero movies, I thought Batman Begins was absolutely dreadful and I think Tim Burton's Batman film costarring the Joker is the best superhero movie ever by a country mile, so I've had a really hard time mustering any enthusiasm for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. However, I did enjoy the new trailer, and not just because Heath Ledger's Joker sounds a lot like David Lynch. (But it helped. I wouldn't say "exactly," though, Jason--let's hear him pronounce "chihuahua" first.)
* There's viral pictures of Cloverfield critters circulating around the Internet thanks to the already-underway campaign for Cloverfield 2. I am totally down with this as long as the focus remains on the monsters, which were excellent.
* This reminds me that I re-watched The Mist last week and found myself able to enjoy it more, since I knew what the problems were (Mrs. Carmody, the terrible CGI for the tentacles, a lack of genuine horror-scares, the awkwardly paced ending) and could basically brush them off and focus on the fact that it's a movie about grotesque monsters killing and eating people trapped in a grocery store, one of the all-time great horror concepts. Focus on the monsters, that's my motto.
* Kristin Thompson, big-time film scholar and (I still can't get over this) LotR fangirl and author of The Frodo Franchise, rounds up recent rumors regarding production troubles on Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones, most of which now stand debunked.
* In his latest update on the horrendous rape/incest/imprisonment saga of Josef Fritzl and family, Bryan Alexander engages in some amusing alternate-reality headline writing for a world in which the case somehow involved the Internet. That sort of thing is always instructive.
* Here's a lovely, evocative drawing of some kind of water monster by the great Renee French. One of the things I find so powerful about water monsters is the way that depictions of them can play off size and depth so as to make not only the monster itself but its very environment a locus of horror, and that's what this drawing does.
* Bruce Baugh points out something I'd really never considered about Hostel and its crappy sequel, namely that they never really explain how and why the torture ring came into existence. It's a welcome lack of exposition, and I'm almost surprised that the dopey sequel didn't ruin it along with virtually everything else that was good about the original. Speaking of, I hope Bruce is gonna review Part II at some point.
* Finally, Mahnola Dargis's New York Times article bemoaning the lack of worthwhile female characters in both superhero/action blockbusters and arthouse/critical darlings alike is mostly just finger-wagging that also happens to be annoyingly written (last lines: "...you might think that Hollywood would get a clue. [hard return] Nah."). It does, however, really hit on something when it lists No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood alongside Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and The Incredible Hulk (which she obnoxiously refers to as "Big Angry Green Man" as though no one's supposed to know who the Hulk is). A while back my wife was listening to a commercial on the radio for Michael Clayton and said, "This is really unappealing." When I asked why, she said, "It's just the same thing as every other movie. There's some guy, and he's an alpha male, and he's really tough and serious and he says tough and serious things...blah blah blah." That made me think that even most of the movies I watch that are outside the various subspecies of the fantastic (there aren't many, admittedly)--No Country, TWBB, Children of Men, The Departed, Eastern Promises, A History of Violence--could almost all be described as "angry men being mean to each other." (Link via Keith Uhlich.)
Mome Vol. 9: Fall 2007
Ray Fenwick, Tim Hensley, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis, Jim Woodring, Gabrielle Bell, Andrice Arp, Joe Kimball, Mike Scheer, Tom Kaczynski, Brian Evenson & Zak Sally, Kurt Wolfgang, Paul Hornschemeier, Sophie Crumb, writers/artists
Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, editors
Fantagraphics, October 2007
$14.95 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
Mome Vol. 9 by contributor, in order of appearance:
* Ray Fenwick's text-heavy pin-up pages, drawn on the dismembered back covers of old hardcover books, mostly do that ironic combination of grandiose language and quotidian concerns, but for my money his best gags are the simplest. His "FUCK YOU AND YOUR BLOG" page, where that line of text is juxtaposed with a jauntily floating balloon, is a little easy but still made me think of scanning it and posting it on message boards; the conclusion of his first piece, which states that your estranged former best friend is "not available for comment," hit me like a punch in the gut.
* Tim Hensley's Wally Gropius strips have always been both funny and interesting to me in their absurdist, angular deconstruction of old Archie visual and narrative tropes, but I think this is the volume where they really made me sit up and take notice. The panel to panel physical business in the library-based strip "Shh!" is a delight to behold, and the incestuous conclusion to "Jillian in 'The Argument'" is a note-perfect, savage lampoon of Sam-and-Diane-style "enemies become lovers" rom-com rhythms.
* Al Columbia can draw like a motherfucker but that's really the only thing I got out of his Hansel & Gretel pastiche. Aside from the kiddie-killer's creepy face it wasn't really funny or scary.
* Eleanor Davis's tale of two brothers and the abandoned house they discover in the woods reads like a cross between her usual monster-myth beat and the observational-drama family matters of her minicomic Mattie & Dodi. I'd probably still prefer the straight-up former to a combination of the two. However, Davis's ambiguous treatment of what the brothers experience in the house and the casual fraternal violence of its aftermath is certainly unsettling.
* The first half of Jim Woodring's "The Lute String" is a bonanza of adorably mischievous drawings of Pupshaw and Pushpaw, weird fungal creatures and transformations that gently trigger a phobia I have about growths, and a portrait of what God looks like in the world of Frank. (He's an elephant!) Woodring comics are funny and scary and beautiful and look like Woodring comics and nothing else, which is a colossal achievement.
* I don't get why Gabrielle Bell spots blacks the way she does. It clutters the image and distracts from the rhythm of the page.
* Andrice Arp does her own thing with another adaptation of a pre-Revolutionary War anti-English broadside. What's interesting about these is how astutely they simulate what comics probably would have looked like had comics proper been around at that time, not just in terms of the character designs and typography but the metaphorical visual vocabulary itself--a haughty English captain vomiting his heavily taxed tea down the throats of helpless colonists, for example.
* Joe Kimball's vertiginous page layouts and masterful graytones maintain the eerie air of his previous contribution to the series, but the comparatively straightforward visuals and storyline--involving an old man returning to his vampiric lover for one last embrace--reveal limitations in his figurework and storytelling.
* Mike Scheer's art is indeed astonishingly lush given that it was created in ballpoint pen, but beyond that I don't connect with it. I like the overly long titles he gives each piece, though.
* Tom Kaczynksi's vaguely Ballardian tale of a young couple traumatized by the construction of a high-rise condo in their ersatz neighborhood is another of his capitalist cautionary tales, and like the earlier ones it somehow never feels didactic despite the potential for lecturing or hectoring. I think it might be because he is primarily concerned with the emotional impact of consumer society rather than the political, philosophical, or economic impact. The narration is just shy of hard-boiled, which is funny, and placing his story right after one of Bell's makes for an interesting contrast in terms of how the two artists differ in their depictions of urban ennui--Kaczynski is colder and sharper, and while his characters lack the warmth of Bell's his pages convey their information more dynamically and convincingly.
* Zak Sally's adaptation of horror writer Brian Evenson's shifting-identity body-horror story "Dread" is a case of designy typography overwhelming whatever power the story itself might have had.
* At this point Kurt Wolfgang's Bagge-esque cartooning is almost as out of place in Mome visually as Sophie Crumb, and it's not the kind of style I gravitate to naturally, but the fact that his story's premise is "last night before the end of the world" is a hell of a way to keep you eagerly coming back in anticipation of the climax. With my luck nothing will happen.
* This is the most effective chapter of Paul Hornschemeier's "Life with Mr. Dangerous" so far, and not just because of the nudity--I just really liked the panel where our heroine's murmur of "I'm sorry" to her absent boyfriend is partially drowned out by her one-night-stand's snores.
* Apparently there's some concern that Speed Racer will be a giant flop. Considering that that my uncle went to the world premiere a few days ago and told me how much he loved it ("a movie version of Mario Kart") and a friend of mine emailed me yesterday about how great it was and I still didn't realize it was coming out this weekend, this concern is probably warranted. Anyway, Jason at My New Plaid Pants brings this up because he didn't like Iron Man (which I still haven't seen) and can't understand why that movie was so much more anticipated than Speed Racer. In a world run by Jason this would be different, but a billionaire playboy who builds a suit of armor and blows up terrorists with is probably just a bit more fundamentally appealing to most people than day-glo Christina Ricci outfits. (I say why choose?)
* I disagree with Jon Hastings about Batman Begins--real quick: directorial anonymity is not a virtue, there's nothing "sophisticated" about the film's absurd take on justice vs. revenge, and in terms of the Tim Burton Batman's supposed Joker weak spot, I think the difference between Nicholson as Jack Napier and Nicholson as the Joker is night and day--he goes from this slick buttoned-up sociopath to this wild, camp, let-it-all-hang-out grand guignol comedian. Plus all the praise Jon heaps on the Burton Batman in terms of its superior pacing, action choreography, design and so on is dead on. All that being said, his new post on visual poetry (or the lack thereof) in superhero films basically nails why I like the first Burton Batman so much and remain so unimpressed with, say, the Spider-Man movies (except for the third!): They've just got no panache! As Jon puts it, their action and spectacle is strictly in the summer-blockbuster idiom; take away the costumes and origins and they could easily be secret agents, pirates, archaeologists, soldiers, cops, space swashbucklers, whoever. The uniqueness of superhero comics' native fantastical action is lost, with very few exceptions.
The panels where Thor is not punching people so hard their light source changes are stuffed to the brim with either a) cool-looking Kirbyana almost always in the form of monsters and machinery, b) Volstagg, a fat coward who can bench press a bus, providing J. Wellington Wimpy-style comedy relief, or c) Thor screaming at someone about how awesome he is in preparation of punching them so hard their light source changes.
* Go, cover your eyes: That horrifying scene from Superman III where the big computer turns the lady into a robot and I ran screaming and crying from the room and couldn't go near the TV for days because I was afraid it would somehow turn itself back on and show this scene again!
Mome Vol. 10: Winter/Spring 2008
Al Columbia, Sophie Crumb, Dash Shaw, Ray Fenwick, Émile Bravo, Jim Woodring, Robert Goodin, John Hankiewicz, Tom Kaczynski, Jeremy Eaton, Kurt Wolfgang, Paul Hornschemeier, Tim Hensley, writers/artists
Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, editors
Fantagraphics, December 2007
$14.95 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
Mome Vol. 10 by contributor, in order of appearance:
* Al Columbia's gorgeous and frightening front cover is so great that I found myself trying to justify the "someone's about to torture an animal" back cover image, where normally I'd just say "fuck that shit."
* I really like the ink and watercolor portrait that is Sophie Crumb's first contribution to this volume. Her comics, though, are more of the smug writing and unpleasant art that have put me off of her work in past volumes.
* Dash Shaw's science-fiction story is my favorite thing by him I've seen so far. I feel like his lo-fi diagrammatic art and layouts are really clicking here, while the storyline's central conceit of a man who comes from a world where time runs backwards is ambitiously complex and demands Shaw be inventive in solving the problems it presents him with visually. The use of color is measured and smart, and there's a weird pathos to both the ideas and the way Shaw draws the characters. I could imagine Kevin Huizenga doing a wicked cover version of this strip.
* Ray Fenwick does his sublime/ridiculous prose/subject matter juxtaposition thing again and I don't think it works all that well here. Celebreality gossip culture is a soft target.
* Émile Bravo does another sociopolitical pictographical parodical morality play involving various ethnicities' views of those below their rung in the social hierarchy; it's a sensible idea but not something that blows you away with its insight, and I think he undercuts it slightly with the punchline.
* In the conclusion to Jim Woodring's "The Lute String," Pupshaw and Pushpaw are punished by the elephant god for their transgressions by being sent to Earth Prime! It's as much fun looking at Woodring's art as it is seeing this pair of pranksters get their comeuppance, and meanwhile it's really odd and funny to see Woodring draw normal people. That punchline panel is a scream.
* I really like the way Robert Goodin draws people, with big forearms reminiscent of Popeye and really unique facial designs. I've seen world-culture myths adapted before, of course, and this Indian shaggy-dog story doesn't stand out all that much in terms of the moral imparted or the mechanics of getting there, except for that lovely art.
* John Hankiewicz's debut Mome contribution is a doozy. The narrated story, a tale of a gentrifying neighborhood reminiscent of Tom Kaczynski's contribution to Vol. 9, draws attention to Hankiewicz's finely detailed environments and thus heightens the frisson of seeing three very different types of figures moved through it by the cartoonist: a fairly realistic representation of the narrator and (I think) his father; a giant-headed, Tweedle-Dee/Tweedle-Dum-esque couple whose out-of-scale-ness represents the gaily crass nouveau riche new inhabitants of the neighborhood--in one memorable panel, they appear totally and disconcertingly naked; and a thickly delineated, faceless abstraction of a female, symbolyzing the anonymous self-mutilator whose weblog or livejournal the narrator habitually visits. It's this strip I'll return to, no doubt.
* I was going to say something like "Tom Kaczynski returns to the familiar territory of industrial/commercial environments altering people's internal landscape," and then I thought how funny it is that a subject like that is familiar territory for someone. I'm grateful that's the case even though I don't think it's all quite cohered to the level of power he hopes for yet. This one comes close, but for some reason I think it would have worked better if it were longer and had more time to build up to the ending.
* Jeremy Eaton's art is text-heavy and really loose, Stieg-esque I suppose. I'm not 100% sold on his short-story-ish tale of a retarded man accused of a gruesome crime, and I'm not sure the limited scope of his layouts gives his loose line enough room to breathe and really have an impact, but I'd like to see more.
* This is my favorite chapter of Kurt Wolfgang's "Nothing Eve" so far. It's replete with insightful observations about crowd dynamics, and a funny (if slightly overwritten) wink at how Hollywood inflects our view of how momentous occasions are supposed to unfold.
* Paul Hornschemeier's heroine gives her one-night-stand the kiss-off in this installment of "Life with Mr. Dangerous," and I think the scene plays realistically and uncomfortably. But Amy's affect is so flat and her reasons for being such a downer all the time so underexplored that it seems to me like it'll be really hard for her to hold our interest as a main character in an eventual collection of this story; I found myself agreeing with her gossipy coworker's harsh assessment of her even while I thought the coworker herself was a bit too one-dimensionally glib.
* The punchline panel for Tim Hensley's sole Wally Gropius strip this volume continues the disturbingly violent undercurrent he kicked off with the Jillian/incest strip last ish, and also serves as a rejoinder to the callous Columbia image that follows on the back cover.
* As is the case with pretty much every volume of Mome, it's tough to imagine a better value for your alternative comics-buying dollar. The range in tone, style, subject matter, and even quality makes it a uniquely bracing quarterly(ish) view of the state of the art.
There's something about the ululating crowds who line the action in color-coordinated rows; the desperate skirting of ordinary feelings in favor of the trumped-up variety; the confidence in technology as a spectacle in itself; and, above all, the sense of master manipulators posing as champions of the little people. What does that remind you of? You could call it entertainment, and use it to wow your children for a couple of hours. To me, it felt like Pop fascism, and I would keep them well away.
Narrowing your eyes against the strobe effect, you make out three
movie stars: John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci,
cheering Speed on from the impossibly vast stands that rise up from
the racetrack (so vast they recall footage of Nazi rallies, but no
time to think about that now).
* This week's Horror Roundtable is about our favorite special effects sequence in a horror film. I personally stay in my (dis)comfort zone, but among the other responses a clear Greatest Of All Time emerges, and on that score I wouldn't disagree.
This is one of the funniest comic books I've ever read. The closest thing I can compare it to is the music of the cock-mock-rock band Electric Six; both take the absolute lamest aspects of rokkin'-out culture--bad drugs, bad booze, bad food, bad jobs, bad taste--and po'-facedly present them like features of that lifestyle rather than bugs. Instead of phony rock gods, the main characters of Boy's Club are a quartet of '80s-style funny-animal cool dudes with all the right moves, like a cross between Bill & Ted, the Tri-Lams, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many of the funniest gags center on their cliché-heavy responses to absurd situations--lots of big grins and thumbs up, statements like "oh snap!" and "it's a free country" and "peace out!", words like "amigo" and "awesome," and so on. Meanwhile, the visuals come across like a sitcom version of Paper Rad, frequently riffing on drug experiences to pull of non sequitur sight gags like one character's face melting off or morphing into Falcor from The Neverending Story. The best jokes--and in this book, that means they're pretty goddamn great--combine goofball visuals with that deadpan duuuude humor: a six-panel grid of reaction shots to a particularly huge hero sandwich, a character's response to finding another character's vomit in the bathroom sink. They're kind of like Achewood if that strip were done by the guy your roommate bought pot from in college rather than a software designer. It's the kind of comic you'll stick in friends' hands and force them to read it. If you like humor comics I really can't recommend it highly enough.
* IRL mishegoss continues to interfere with my ability to see either Iron Man or Speed Racer, but apparently the former's second-weekend performance obliterated the latter's debut. We're talking all-time, legendary, Cleopatra/Heaven's Gate-level failure, not just in terms of the financials but the role that hubris played in the film in question's creation (separating it from, say, The Adventures of Pluto Nash). My completely uninformed opinion is that this is probably a damn shame. Without seeing the movie I can't know if this is an Ang Lee's Hulk-style noble-failure arthouse-popcorn experiment gone bust or a work of sheer awesomeness that a mainstream critical consensus I've come to find increasingly irrelevant to my own experience can't possibly appreciate, but because I am a misanthrope I'm leaning toward the latter. Anyway Jog reviewed the thing and I enjoyed it without even having seen the flick.
*LOST SPOILERS FOLLOW, SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE LAST FEW EPISODES, PLEASE DON'T READ THE NEXT THREE PARAGRAPHS
On the "genre art I've actually seen" beat, I thought last week's Lost was a good-but-not-great episode. It lacked the emotional heft that Alex's matter-of-fact execution gave the previous mythology-centric ep a couple weeks back. However, it benefits from the return of two shaping-up-to-be-terrific villains in a show that's seen its share. First, there's so and so's Keamy, the intensely amoral mercenary whose beady eyes and slightly sibilant speech make him seem like nothing so much as an insecure alpha-male lacrosse-team stud from high school gone overgrown and rancid. Then there's Nestor Carbonell's ageless Richard Alpert, whose beatific smile and seemingly kohl-lined eyes exude this warm, calm, almost androgynous handsomeness that nonetheless comes across as latently threatening and incredibly creepy. When they held on that close-up of him outside Baby Locke's nursery I nearly lost my shit.
* If you're interested in further discussion of last week's episode you could do worse than to check out the following pair of links. First, E!'s Kristin Dos Santos does the Damon Lindelof/Carlton Cuse joint-interview thang. "Darlton," as they've come to be known in the abbreviation-happy lingo of shippers (now there's an untapped slashfic pairing--at least I hope it's untapped), do their usual interview balancing act of recounting how the show's now-set-in-stone scheduling and now-resolved writers' strike impacted their storytelling; teasing sexytime secrets for the Skaters, Jaters, and Jackets among us; and addressing the Theory School of Lost Fandom by simultaneously fanning the flames and knocking down some castles made of sand.
* Second, I found this week's "Best of the Lost comment thread" selection at Whitney Matheson's Pop Candy a particularly enjoyable batch. Just for example, I had no idea of the origin of the little item-selection ritual Young John Locke is put through by Richard, while the notion that the Island is Atlantis (or at least the basis for the Atlantis legend) delights me to no end (and is about a billion times more plausible than your average Grand Unified Theory of Lost to boot).
* The next volume of the seminal experimental comics anthology Kramers Ergot will be 16" x 21" and retail for $125 for 96 pages. A bargain at any price, most likely.
* Everyone knows about Sam Jackson's Nick Fury cameo and Avengers name-drop at the end of Iron Man, but apparently Marvel is also subtly planting Captain America Easter eggs in both Iron Man (his shield) and The Incredible Hulk (the super-soldier serum). That's a cute way to lay the groundwork without being annoying and confusing the squares.
Batman #664-669, 672-675
Grant Morrison, writer
Andy Kubert, J.H. Williams III, Tony Daniel, Ryan Benjamin, artists
DC Comics, April 2007-April 2008 or so
22 pages each
Grant Morrison is my favorite superhero comics writer, one of the very few writers in comics I'll read anything by. Batman is my favorite superhero, the only character I feel an attachment to as an entity rather than as a character in a story that may or may not be good by artists and writers who may or may not be good. Put Morrison and Batman together and you should have a recipe for Sean T. Collins Nirvana, but for some reason that hasn't been the case. What I seem to recall being the standard Kubert Bros.-related scheduling difficulties early on; Morrison working in a deliberately choppy, almost disjointed narrative style both within individual issues and from issue to issue and short arc to short arc; sketchy, sloppy art from Kubert and unremarkable '90s-style art from Daniel and Benjamin jarringly interrupted by a bona-fide star turn from the great J.H. Williams III; that awkwardly inserted Ra's al-Ghul-centric crossover with all the other Bat-titles; my job at Wizard coming to an end and with it my weekly free access to superhero comics...put it all together and you have a book tailor-made for me that I wasn't even following.
I was recently loaned a more or less complete run of Morrison's tenure on the title--sans the initial "Batman & Son" arc that introduced Batman and Talia al-Ghul's enfant terrible son Damian and the issues pertaining to the Ra's al-Ghul crossover in which the old villain attempts rebirth in the body of his grandson--and I was pleased to discover I liked the whole thing a lot.
Like so many of Morrison's long runs it's badly hampered by the art he's saddled with, perhaps moreso here than in other cases since so much of Morrison's staccato scripting depends on nuances of body language, facial expression, and mise en scène. Meanwhile, that pow-pow-pow pacing and those brief, three- or two- or even one-issue story arcs give the illusion of a lack of continuity within the run overall. But taken in one sitting these problems are easily smoothed over, and what reveals itself is a dual project.
First, and credit here goes to my friend Kiel Phegley for pointing this out, Morrison foregrounding Batman as the main point of interest in every story. Whereas normally the character plays a particularly badass brand of straightman to the more glamorous villains and horrifying murder-mysteries he's up against, Morrison's emphasis is on the hero himself, and on establishing him as every bit as weird, exciting, scary, and memorable as his antagonists. This is reflected in Morrison's choice of antagonists itself: as with All Star Superman, he's trotting out a parade of baddies who in one way or another serve as his flawed doppelgangers. The peak-human-specimen al-Ghul family, the crimefighting Batmen of Many Nations and their billionaire benefactor, three crazed Batman-impersonating policemen, even Bat-Mite--they all throw what makes Batman Batman into sharper relief via contrast, demonstrating that while he is indeed weird, exciting, scary, and memorable, he's also a fundamentally good person who never loses sight of the values that matter to him and by which he's chosen to define himself.
Second, Morrison is slowly advancing a novel and vastly more enjoyable take on the shopworn "shadowy villain manipulating things behind the scenes" mega-storyline in the person of the Black Glove, a figure of unknown provenance behind many of the story's events. Morrison has basically avoided those annoying scenes where the shadowy figure literally appears as a figure in shadows once or twice per issue, making ominous statements and showing us just enough of his silhouette that we can start guessing whether he's Mysterio or Hush or whoever. Instead, Batman arranges his recent cases into a pattern at the center of which is a hole in the shape of something that's more of an idea rather than a person--a "king of crime" figure so brilliantly evil that even Batman had no idea he existed and had been pulling strings for nearly Batman's entirely career. It's all coming out in this kind of slow, unnerving fashion, more identifiable as something feeling weird about the stories rather than as a story element in and of itself. Hopefully the central revelation will be as satisfying as that of, say, New X-Men. At any rate, while I can see why people (myself included) may have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle, I'm now reading some of the book's more oblique storytelling choices as just that--choices--rather than lapses, and I'm firmly back on board.
* Sean T. Collins in the news! I'm one of the creators mentioned in Publishers Weekly's piece on Top Shelf's new webcomics initiative, Top Shelf 2.0. Look for some new comics written by me and drawn by Matt Wiegle and Matt Rota in the near future.
* Sean T. Collins in the news again! Well, kinda: Tom Spurgeon has posted my response to his recent essay bemoaning the high cost of pamphlet-format comic books. I didn't find a lot to disagree with, let's say.
* Sean T. Collins in the news but he forgot! Because I am a terrible self-promoter I neglected to mention that I've had several pieces in Maxim over the past couple of months. In the issue currently on stands (with Elisha Cuthbert on the cover) I co-wrote the features on 300 Movies to See Before You Die and Superhero B-Listers. And in the previous issue (with Mischa Barton on the cover) I wrote pieces on the deluxe edition of Alan Moore & Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke and the new season of Battlestar Galactica featuring a mini-interview with Katee Sackhoff. I hope you enjoy(ed) them.
* Spurred on in part by the great Matthew Zoller Seitz's retirement from film criticism and the latest round of firings and buyouts among newspaper and magazine critics, film scholar David Bordwell has put together a feast of a post on the enterprise of film criticism--what criticism is, different components of it and approaches to it, the difference between taste and judgment, the difference between criticism and reviews (it's mostly that the latter's a subset of the former, but I'll let him explain), the criteria we use when we write criticism, and a call for a different type of criticism on the web. If you write criticism or read a lot of it, it's a must-read.
* The big news of the week for the refined superhero nerd is the launch of Douglas Wolk's Final Crisis Annotations blog, an attempt to do for the upcoming DC mega-event and its direct tie-ins what Wolk previously did, entertainingly, for the weekly series 52 with his 52 Pickup blog. I wish he'd include Final Crisis writer Grant Morrison's indirect FC tie-in "Batman: R.I.P.," but you can't always get what you want, as the fella says.
* Speaking of Final Crisis, here's design god and comics nerd Chip Kidd on his designs for series' covers, which I'm really quite fond of so far. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)
* In less stellar design news, Dave at Rue Morgue gives the business to some stupid art choices for The Mist's Korean-theatrical and American DVD releases.
* My Topless Robot compadre Jackson Alpern sticks it to the Top 10 Brutally Annoying Comic Relief Characters. As he himself points out, since Jar-Jar Binks isn't number one, you know you wanna read it. Jackson also gets huge points for likening Snarf from Thundercats to a Jewish mother and his use of the phrase "fucking suckitude," points only slightly mitigated by his inexplicable enthusiasm for The Fifth Element. (It's a silly movie with a terrible plot ("Love is the fifth element!") and terrible acting and pretty visuals, and since everyone involved is condescending to the genre rather than embracing it, they think that's good enough. It isn't!)
* I found this Matthew Perpetua post on the perils of scenesterism and "community" quite sharp. As I think I used to talk about on here years ago, I've come to view my relatively isolated existence in the suburbs of Long Island as a real saving grace given how easy it is to lapse into mindless boosterism when surrounded by likeminded artsy-fartsy types. Then again, maybe I'd have gotten more work done if I were surrounded by people telling me how great I am.
* Finally, your video for the day is "But Not Tonight" by Depeche Mode. What I like about it is not just its glimpse of Dave Gahan during his transitional period from gawky, enthusiastic teenage New Waver to brooding synth-goth hunk, but its incorporation of snatches of the forgotten '80s urban-romance-drama (I assume) Modern Girls, the soundtrack for which included this song. I don't know anything about the movie beyond recognizing the cast and inference from the snippets, but it all goes toward what I now find so compelling about '80s synth-pop, or at least what I get out of it: an utterly unironic sense of importance about how your heart feels right now. The pristine production roots every note in the moment and the earnestly Romantic lyrics convey a life in which the thought of tomorrow is impossible.
Reviews seldom indulge in analysis, which typically consumes a lot of space and might give away too much. Nor do reviewers usually float interpretations, but when they do, the most common tactic is reflectionism. A current film is read in relation to the mood of the moment, a current political controversy, or a broader Zeitgeist. A cynic might say that this is a handy way to make a film seem important and relevant, while offering a ready-made way to fill a column. Reviewers don’t have a monopoly on reflectionism, though. It’s present in the essayistic think-piece and in academic criticism too.
To this he appends a footnote:
Reflectionist interpretation usually seems to me unpersuasive, for reasons I’ve discussed in Poetics of Cinema, pp. 30-32. I realize that I’m tilting at windmills. Reflectionism will be with us forever.
Besides giving me something to add to my reading list, Bordwell has gifted me here with a term for the lamentable fixation of mainstream reviewers on sociopolitical allegory, real or imagined, in genre films generally and horror films specifically. As Bordwell implies, this tendency is by no means limited to genre and may or may not be a worthwhile line of inquiry.
* EW's fanboy-writ-large Doc Jensen takes a look at 17 unsolved mysteries from Lost. I'm glad he called out the fatuity of the show's creators' half-assed treatment of the mysterious Numbers, because he actually has their ear. Dropped ball on "Adam and Eve," though. (Via Whitney Matheson.)
* Because the only thing cooler than water monsters is water monsters from subterranean bodies of water, based on the plot description in this piece about how the guy who designed the Cloverfield monsters is working on the movie, I am now looking forward to the remake of Piranha.
* In an earlier, Spoiler Warning-free iteration of this post, Matthew Perpetua took the liberty of revealing to me the secret of M. Night Shyamalan's upcoming film The Happening, goddammit.
* This parody video centering on a deluxe Tokyo hotel that doubles as a giant robot makes good use of uncanny immensity, something that all parody videos should probably do. (Via Topless Robot.)
* Your video of the day is "Let Me Go" by Heaven 17. The whole first two thirds is an redolent with the promise of the final third (you can't miss when it kicks off)--it's one of the most brilliantly structured pop songs I've ever heard.
* Finally, in the vein of my months-long project of Netflixing The Wire and watching it during my lunchbreaks, I've lately been doing the same with Deadwood. So far it makes The Wire look like CSI Miami, but the real reason I bring it up is because last night I had a sex dream about Calamity Jane and I don't know how to feel about this. (I should note that this dream began with me being engaged to Gene Hackman's daughter, who I barely knew and whose name I couldn't even remember, and ended with me locking my father and uncles into a room, then holding the door shut while I listened in horror as they succumbed to the zombie bites they'd incurred earlier, tormenting myself by trying to discern who was the last to turn and therefore the first victim of the other two. It made the Jane-sex seem a lot less uncomfortable in retrospect.)
Originally written on July 25, 2004 for publication in The Comics Journal
Never Ending Summer blazes no new trails. In fact, what trails it treads are familiar almost to the point of predictability: I think that by now we've all read enough auotbio comics to know that young, hip people drink cheap beer, complain about their jobs, obsess over their relationships, fetishize vinyl records, make mix tapes, and make out. If adolescent power fantasies are this medium's overheated yin, post-adolescent disempowered realities such as this are its underheated yang.
But there's a lot to be said for charm, and that's why there's a lot to be said for the very charming Never Ending Summer. The story, such as it is, follows author Allison Cole through a summer of minor upheavals in Providence, Rhode Island. Allison wakes up one day at the beginning of June with an enormous injury of an unspecified nature upon her lip. "So this is how summer begins," she thinks as a friend drives her to the hospital in another friend's borrowed car. It's a fitting beginning to the story as it introduces several prominent themes: The power of Cole's minimalist cartooning (her nightmare image of the injury consuming her entire face works perfectly), the unexpected difficulties that beset her throughout the season, and the support and succor she gains from her community of friends.
Cole's debut graphic novel finds her confident in her use of her unique vocabulary of character, which is to say she draws adorable little people who look sort of like the ghosts from Pac-Man, but with arms and legs. Each is given a unique adornment for distinguishability--a ponytail here, an ironic moustache there, Descendents-style eyeglasses everywhere--and while that trick doesn't always work, what does is the simultaneous sense of universality and idiosyncrasy the overall device lends to the characters and the story. It's a lot harder to get tired of the misadventures of hipsters who hang out in kitschy dive bars when they look like stuffed animals. (It's also interesting to compare this technique to the almost manic self-scrutiny of a Jeffrey Brown, say. Where Brown makes his seemingly uneventful autobio stories work through the intense navel-gazing reflected in his restless, sketchy inks, Cole takes the opposite tack and breaks the action down to a bare minimum of lines on a page. In the former, the reader is moved along by the sweaty work of the artist; in the latter, the artist encourages the reader to move the breezy work along.)
The clear influence overall is John Porcellino. Cole does not have the minicomics god's assuredness of line, nor the ability to pull off the transcendental moments of liberation that marked Porcellino's similar autobio novel Perfect Example. I was actually all the way through such a moment in Never Ending Summer before I realized, "hey, that was the big climax, wasn't it?" But Cole's learned that simplicity suits a simple story, There's never a moment that feels forced, pretentious, or overblown, and the quiet moments are quiet without being maudlin or tedious. Some of my favorite images are simply Allison kneeling on her roof next to her chimney, or curled up with her cat. Clearly these are some of Cole's favorite images, too.
Cole's piece in Kramer's Ergot 4 was a bit of inspired comedy, terrifically lampooning the oh-so-sensitivity of emo boys by casting them as the world's wimpiest pirates; I'd have liked to see more of that wit in use here. I'm also not sure that the ending is earned by the events that come before: The idea is that Allison's newfound creative outlet as a DJ enables her to be happy with and by herself rather than fixate on emotionally unavailable men, but wasn't she already a cartoonist? Perhaps the nature of her cartooning--writing about her fixation on emotionally unavailable men--precludes that kind of fulfillment. Makin' people boogie is probably a much better way to forget about that sort of thing. But unwittingly she's done that here, crafting a delightful book that I'll happily read again. It's a promising start until she begins blazing trails of her own.
* While we're on that subject, I suppose I should say that I'm looking for artists with whom to collaborate on some additional strips. My email's to the left if you're interested.
* A woman in Croatia sat dead in front of the TV in her unopened apartment for 42 years after she was reported missing. In thinking about this story and the Stitzl incest case in Austria, it strikes me that the notion that people can go "missing" for decades while being right there among us is particularly horrifying, perhaps because of the way it implicates the rest of us for our failure to find the disappeared. (Via Jim Treacher.)
* I had forgotten all about the Nintendo game Super Dodgeball until Topless Robot pointed me in the direction of this free downloadable album of remixes and reinterpretations of the game's multi-ethnic music. You could throw the dodgeball so hard it killed people, man!
* Finally, your video of the day is "Doot Doot" by Freur. Even back then, the future Underworld had something, and I don't just mean "Brian Eno's wardrobe." Listen to how effortlessly it glides into "epic."
* The penultimate Horror Roundtable is up, and it's about horror works that changed the genre. As our gracious host Steven Wintle puts it, "Ninety-nine weeks of Roundtables; ninety-nine weeks of Sean struggling with the topic and/or answering Hellraiser." Which one is it this time, dear readers? The answer may surprise you!
* Here's the red-band trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. It spoils some of the ways in which the people who are dying actually die, so be warned. Suffice it to say that the movie looks like it's gonna earn its R rating. (Via Vault of Horror.)
It came to Jeff Bridges in a flash: "I must wear jellies when I play The Dude." I cannot imagine why, I do not know why he made this choice, or where it comes from... who can say where genius lies? All I know is that every time I see that movie, and I watch him galumphing across a parking lot, jellies flapping on the pavement, I know that it is deeply right. It seems so right that it feels as though it must have been a conscious choice from a wardrobe department, or somehow imposed from above. But no. Jeff Bridges thought: "Jellies. I must wear jellies." And this is why he is my favorite actor.
Created as a Valentine's Day gift for her cartoonist husband Drew Weing, Eleanor Davis's How We Sleep consists simply of 7 drawings of the two of them, and sometimes their cats, asleep in bed. It's a remarkably sexy comic, and sweet too, succeeding because of the way those two qualities intertwine. Davis's finely observed drawings of her and Weing's undressed bodies convey intimacy about as well as you could hope for in illustrations, with their unidealized figures suggesting great mutual affection, attraction, and vulnerability. Their cats and their kind of goofy underwear remind us that these are just folks, albeit folks in love. This must have made a heckuva Valentine's Day present.
As my passive-aggressively brief review of Iron Man the other day may have indicated, I've about had my fill of talking about superhero movies, because I increasingly find discussion of these films (if not the films themselves) to be nothing more than acts of self-validation by nerds seeking to wash away the sins of their insular, socially disreputable hobby in the cleansing waters of Big Money and Beautiful People. Particularly insofar as these movies tend to be seen as "better" the more "seriously" they treat their subjects I have less than no use for the prevailing inter-nerd critical discourse on them and resent feeling obligated to write about them simply because they are nerd-oriented product and I am a nerd.
That said, it's nice to see people recognizing that what makes Iron Man a good movie was that it's fun rather than some hamfisted attempt at constructing modern myths. To me it's fun in a fairly conventional way. It's well-acted--Terrence Howard's drunken explanation of why he's proud to be an airman is one of the best character moments I've seen at the movies all year, and I saw There Will Be Blood at the movies this year; meanwhile, like everyone else says, I'd go see a Robert Downey Jr./Tony Stark movie even without the superhero armor. The action set pieces are exciting and the wish fulfillment is pretty kick-ass because it acknowledges problems before overcoming them--from "the icing problem" to that unbelievable sequence where Iron Man's armor automatically targets only the terrorists in a human-shield situation). The dialogue is funny--it's kind of like a whole movie constructed of director Jon Favreau's Foggy Nelson scenes from Daredevil.
I suppose most importantly, every single thing they do with the Iron Man concept should make the writers of his comics for the past few years hang their heads in shame. "He's just been a guy in a suit of armor for decades, we have to bring him into the 21st century by giving him a technoorganic virus and making him see through satellites and talk about the transformative power of cellphone technology." Fuck you! "He's a futurist and a surveillance-state metaphor and he's going to beat up the World War II hero and dick over Spider-Man because of The War On Terror or something." Fuck you too! Folks, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of a rich playboy genius who builds a suit of armor in which to fuck bad guys up. If you think that there is, there's something wrong with you, and this movie proves it. God bless it for that.
Anyway as I said it's a fun movie and I'm certainly glad I saw it; it's in my top tier of superhero movies. But also as I said it's fun in a fairly conventional way. There's really nothing in it that subverts the constraints of mainstream movie making--certainly nothing like Jack Nicholson's weirder-the-more-I-think-about-it gay-pimp-dadaist-vaudeville Joker and Anton Furst's art direction in Tim Burton's first Batman movie, or even the outsized romance-violence-angst of the much maligned Daredevil and Spider-Man 3. (The closest it comes is the hilarious mechanized voices of Jeff Bridges and RDJ during the climactic fight scene.) To me there's something a little depressing about superhero art that strips away the total fucking bizarreness of your average superhero comic, your DC Universe #0's and what-have-you--that bizarreness is the only thing keeping art as incredibly corporate as American mainstream superheroes from slipping into the analysis-defying mercenary dreariness of "The New Mainstream" and that sort of entertainment-product. Iron Man is too sharp and too buoyant for that, fortunately.
Speed Racer, meanwhile...I really don't get the critical reaction to it. For starters it didn't feel too long to me. I actually got antsier during Iron Man. The race/drama/race/drama/race/drama structure felt pretty easygoing to me. Nor did I feel bludgeoned to death by its relentless brightness and fastness. I didn't feel bludgeoned at all! Again, that up-and-down structure kept it from being relentless in the first place. And I certainly don't get the comparison of the crowd scenes to Nazi propaganda. It's not even a "hmm, I can see that" award ceremony at the end of Star Wars type situation--that shit is simply not there. The idea that it's one of the worst movies ever? Completely baffling.
I thought it was beautiful to look at, and frequently funny--especially when Spritle and Chim-Chim were around (yes, that's right!). I thought Emile Hirsch was a real disappointment, with that doughy expressionless face and mumbly voice and beady eyes that marks the leading man in this the Tobey Maguire Age, but everybody else was pretty fabulous. Matthew Fox's clipped inflection was a scream, John Goodman (completing the takeover of this summer's popcorn movies by Big Lebowski alums started by Bridges in Iron Man) was like every lovable uncle you've ever had. Man oh man, Christina Ricci, arch your eyebrow my way! And I'd totally buy Susan Sarandon's pancake recipe, youknowwhatI'msayin'??? I even liked Bad Guy Inexplicably Not Played By Tim Curry, despite the fact that he was inexplicably not played by Tim Curry. I did wish that the visuals allowed for more weight to be given to the cars so that we could truly feel their velocity--I think the decision to show so much lateral movement and fishtailing during each race interrupted what could have been a really unstoppable display of forward momentum--but the colors and "moves" of the cars (which reminded me of the "styles" of a kung-fu-movie fighter or Immortal Iron Fist Immortal Weapon) made up for it. Overall it seemed like a fan-freaking-tastic movie for kids, like the podrace sequence from The Phantom Menace freed from the shackles of pseudo-realism and allowed to run wild, with the occasional ninja and weird British gangster thrown in.
But again I found myself weighing my enjoyment of the film against my antipathy toward the critical establishment's discussion of it. What an astounding display of aesthetic conservatism we've seen from mainstream reviewers of this film, once again equating technical proficiency with soullessness as they now have done with everything from 300 to Children of Men to No Country for Old Men, and equating video-game influences with arrested adolescence (as if adolescence were a bad thing!), and equating any kind of celebration of skill and proficiency within the film with fascism, and treating the Wachowski Brothers (admittedly not the most sympathetic characters) like angry gods paying back some hero's hubris. All because this movie is ostentatiously weird, the anti-Iron Man. We need new critics, basically. To start, here's Jog and Jon Hastings and Ken Lowery and Ken Lowery again. Go!
* Kristin Thompson reads some tea leaves to determine that the Hobbit movies will be written by Lord of the Rings masterminds Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (though she doesn't mention their cowriter, Philipa Boyens).
* A trio of The House Next Door's critics--Keith Uhlich, The Odienator, and Matthew Zoller Seitz (hopefully reports of his retirement from criticism have been greatly exaggerated!)--take on the original Indiana Jones trilogy. For my money Uhlich overwrites his piece on Last Crusade into incoherence, but Seitz is predictably compelling on the "Anything Goes" nature of Temple of Doom while Odienator nails the everything-in-its-right-place narrative economy of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
* Comics wonk and commentator for hire Douglas Wolk compares the Barack Obama of those crazy email forwards your vaguely racist relatives send you to the evil mirror-image denizens of Earth-3. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)
* Also on the Spurge beat, I've been very grumpy lately so I liked this paragraph from Tom's post on the dire financial straits of ailing artist Gene Colan and what that portends for the industry given its history:
Comics operates under the shadow of an original sin of exploitation where caretakers and money men cash in from obliquely "managing" a property during a single quarter for greater reward than the original creator and their family might see in a lifetime. It's an industry where elements of this kind of practice continue in the present day through, say, brutally unfair secondary rights clauses in standard contracts and no one want to talk about it because it's unpleasant and violates some seemingly agreed-upon right that every creator must be allowed to sign a bad contract if they want or don't know better or can talk themselves into it being for the greater good. It's a business where some of its most devout patrons can recast what should be simple matters of creators rights and economic justice into issues of dishonor and greed based on the concern of whether or not their corporate branded fantasy fix will continue without interruption. All of this is supported by a culture of indulgence, and denial, and status based on establishing a life for oneself behind the "staff only" door without ever asking the question of whether or not that's a life worth leading.
Remember in the Nikki & Paolo episode when in her flashback she was an actress in a television show and was told that they were going to reveal a major villain at the end of her show's fourth season? It's the end of Lost's fourth season.
* While I enjoyed shopping at his enormous, perennial San Diego Comic Con booth as much as anyone, I never met nor knew much about late comics retailer Rory Root. Tom Spurgeon's thoughtful obituary (accompanied by testimonials and remembrances from several industry figures) gave me a much clearer picture of what made Root a likable, interesting, and important figure.
* Here's your first look at Viggo Mortensen in the upcoming Oscar-bait film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road (via Shock Till You Drop:
* Here's another red-band trailer for The Happening. Visual spoiler warning duly noted. (Again via STYD.)
* It's a big day for remakes of '80s sci-fi/fantasy cult classics with kick-ass Queen theme songs, as the Hollywood Reporter, uh, reports that remakes are afoot for both Flash Gordon and Highlander--the latter from the writers of Iron Man.
* Now here's an odd one: Guest posting at Carnacki's The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire, Arbogast of Arbogast on Film offers an interpretation of Wes Craven's ultraviolent Virgin Spring riff The Last House on the Left as a modern-day blood libel, pointing out how various elements of the film can be seen as (probably unintentional) echoes of anti-Semitic propaganda. Really fascinating stuff.
* And speaking of both Carnacki and Arbogast, as well as many more of your favorite horror bloggers, I've been inducted into the League of Tana Tea Drinkers, an elite cadre of horror-blogging types. I've celebrated by perusing their recent roundtable of mini-essays on torture porn, which contains viewpoints both pro and con--and both insightful and retrograde (on both sides!). For example, I was sort of shocked by T Van's dismissal of the use of torture on Battlestar Galactica as "ridiculous" simply because some of the characters are involved are "fucking robots"--this, of course, pretty much invalidates any fantastical genre as a legitimate mode of discussing important ideas. On the other hand, while I still disagree with Curt Purcell's assertion that fear is overvalued as a criterion for horror, I find his theory fascinating and well constructed. And then there's a lot of longing for the good old days of more wholesome fare like the Friday the 13th movies, which seems a bit like grown-ups complaining about those crazy kids and their rock and roll to me. A few writers make the connection between torture-porn horror and torture in non-horror films--including whoever wrote the introduction, which insightfully mentioned the likes of Irreversible, The Passion of the Christ, and BSG--but few of them have seen enough of the current torture-porn wave to feel confident enough to tease that connection into a thesis of any kind.
As I've discussedbefore, I think torture porn is a perfectly fine phrase that horror fans are using almost exclusively pejoratively, in ways they didn't do with other seemingly dismissive terms like "grindhouse," "exploitation," or "slasher." So that's problem one: these discussions lump the "good" torture porn movies (Hostel, Wolf Creek) in with the bad (Hostel Part II, the Saw sequels). Problem two is this weirdly reactionary response to torture in horror, dismissing its appreciative viewers as mindless gorehounds in ways that these critics would not tolerate for other more "traditionally" gory horror movies, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that torture porn is at least as connected to Deliverance and the climax of Nineteen Eighty-Four as it is to Halloween, at least if it's done right.
Comics Time: JLA Classified: Ultramarine Corps and Seven Soldiers of Victory Vols. 1-4
JLA Classified: Ultramarine Corps and Seven Soldiers of Victory Vols. 1-4
Grant Morrison, writer
Ed McGuinness, J.H. Williams III, Cameron Stewart, Frazer Irving, Ryan Sook, Pasqual Ferry, Billy Dallas Patton, Freddie E. Williams II, Yanick Paquette, Doug Mahnke, artists
DC Comics, 2002-2007 JLA: 144 pages Vols. 1 & 4: 224 pages Vol. 2 & 3: 176 pages
$14.99 Buy JLA from Amazon.com Buy Seven Soldiers from Amazon.com
Inspired by the delightful reading experience of working through the bulk of Grant Morrison's recent, weird Batman run in one go, I decided to revisit his most ambitious project to date: The interlocking miniseries Klarion the Witch-Boy, Frankenstein, Zatanna, Mister Miracle, The Manhattan Guardian, The Bulleteer, Shining Knight, and Seven Soldiers—known collectively as Seven Soldiers of Victory. I started with the epic's unofficial prequel, the three-issue JLA Classified miniseries Ultramarine Corps. In a way that earlier title is emblematic of all of Morrison's output for DC. While nominally it revolves around a StormWatch/Authority-style take-no-prisoners super-team he introduced during his late-'90s JLA tenure and now updated for the Ultimates era, its villain is a revamped golden-age baddie (Nebula Man/Neb-U-Loh) who is now set up to be the ultimate weapon of eventual Seven Soldiers villains the Sheeda; themini also directly references characters and concepts (the Sheeda queen) that Morrison wouldn't be using for another couple of years, and others that would pop up not just in Seven Soldiers but also in seemingly disconnected books like Batman (the Club of Heroes) and even the non-continuity All Star Superman (the Infant Universe of Qwewq). In other words--and this is fitting given Morrison's view of spacetime as a single, physical living organism--what looks like a three-issue slushpile Justice League story is in fact simultaneously drawing from Morrison's past, present, and future at the company. It's all one big mega-story.
In this day and age of decodable genre entertainments, it's tempting to spend this review of a re-read making connections and unearthing clues. I certainly did some of this during the re-read itself (one of my pet projects was pinpointing all four elemental golems mentioned by Baby Brain Stargard in the first Guardian issue.) It was also inevitable that I spent much of the re-read just blocking the plot out in my head in a more accurate way than I did the first time around. For example, I now think I have a pretty firm grasp on the exact roles played by the four main villains--Gloriana Tenebrae, Melmoth, Zachary Zor, and "Dark Side," whereas if you'd asked me a couple days ago I'd have gotten the middle two conflated and had no idea how the first was connected to the fourth. Finally, given how directly the plot of the Mister Miracle mini--Darkseid's forces win the eternal war of the New Gods and descend to Earth in the form of outwardly normal humans--mirrors what we're told to expect from Morrison's Final Crisis, it's hard to resist trying to puzzle out where that mini fits in with the rest, or where the whole thing fits in with the flow of the DC Universe in general.
But I think the thing that I most want to convey about this re-read is just how affecting it is to read a superhero comic this dense. Everything I just talked about--the scattered Easter eggs, the continuity tweaks, the riot of opposing forces--are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the disparate elements the project comprises.In what almost seems like a self-satirical move, Morrison deliberately tapped an army of artists to illustrate the project (including one, J.H. Williams, who at various points draws in the style of every single other one) rather than allow this to happen through the vagaries of scheduling like it seems to do on all his projects. The effect is dizzying and sensuous, in no small part because this is the strongest set of collaborators he's ever assembled, even given a hiccup in the production of Mister Miracle. Williams' mimickry is a tour de force performance, Bianchi is a true otherworldly discovery, Sook and inker Mick Gray's spotted blacks are sexy as heck, and Irving is a comic genius with color and facial expressions, just to name a few high points. Meanwhile Morrison himself discusses in his intro how he deliberately bounced between genres in the book, to encompass science fiction, fantasy, horror, action, comedy, soap opera, satire and more. So too does he vary up the raison d'etre of his "heroes"--none of them are in it as an exploration of What It Means To Be A Hero, which is an immediately disorienting difference from the norm as it recalibrates our expectations of what the characters will do at any given juncture. All in all it's a bit like a supercompressed Twin Peaks or Lost--there's just so much going on and the fun is in not knowing and trying to grok it anyway as you take succor in the crackerjack genre aspects.
The most pleasurable aspect of the project, ultimately, is that it is the challenge that the characters within face. It's a huge story that's just slightly too big for us to grasp from our frame of reference, but it gives off the sense that the picture is there to see if you know where and how to look at it--perhaps from the kind of vantage point that enables you to seed story points from a vast span of years into everything you write--rather than the nagging suspicion that the author has deliberately made vital information inaccessible. Trying to absorb and understand what's going on is like standing on your tippy-toes to grab something on a top shelf, a delicious challenge to exceed your station just a bit and hold on to something outside your usual grasp, and if you don't succeed this time, no big deal, there are any number of other angles you can come at it from. In that way the final page, one of my favorite endings to any comic ever, is a fittingly euphoric image: one of reaching.
* Much anticipated by me Clive Barker adaptation The Midnight Meat Train is now headed for a July 11 release, up against Guillermo Del Toro's sequel to his own egregious Hellboy. Bloody Disgusting's report hints that the film may have a super-limited release.
* In a post about an unrelated project by Del Toro, Variety reports that Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and Viggo Mortensen have all been approached to reprise their Lord of the Rings roles in the Hobbit movies. This appears to indicate that Aragorn's stealth adventures in Rohan, Gondor and the like will play a role in that not-as-mysterious-as-everyone's-making-it-out-to-be second film. Kristin Thompson caught it and offers further thoughts.
* There's an awful lot to disagree with in Ted Pigeon's essay on Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist."Sociopolitical policies" are not the "most important" aspect of adapting this story, nor is it the case that "no single image in The Mist is more frightening than the sharp blade grasped on one end by human hands plunging into the stomach of a fellow man." Indeed I think the film's hamfisted focus on the former and misplaced belief in the latter is part of what hurt it in the end. Face it, people like The Mist (or at least this person does) because it features giant, ugly, disturbingly unique monsters plucking people out of a grocery store and eating them, not because of anything the character of Mrs. Carmody tells us about religious fundamentalism; and to the extent that the opposite might be true, the movie version has a spotty record at best with treating such elements with the deftness they require. That being said I'm happy to have found Pigeon's essay (courtesy of The House Next Door's Keith Uhlich), because it's clear he's actually taking the film seriously on its own terms rather than as a tee of which to smack the wiffle ball of "reflectionist" pontificating. I look forward to browsing through the reviews listed in his sidebar.
* Sylvester Stallone says there may be a director's cut DVD release of Rambo down the pike, which would restore the film's original title, John Rambo. That's the newsworthy(ish) part of AICN's story, but perhaps more exciting is their reposting of a YouTube clip comprising the climax of Rambo in its entirety--the most insanely violent five minutes of film you will ever see. I'm serious, this thing is completely...wow, words are literally failing me. Now I DO NOT RECOMMEND WATCHING THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE WHOLE MOVIE FIRST. It's a very unusually structured movie that kind of explodes into this climactic sequence, and seeing it by itself before you've seen the rest of the movie will really dilute one of the most unique action-movie-watching experiences you're likely to have. So be warned. But if you have seen the movie, this is heaven.
My friend Kiel Phegley was let go by my former employer Wizard yesterday. This stinks, not just because Kiel is a terrific person and a very, very good writer who you'd think they'd bend over backwards to hang onto, but also because it reduces to just David Paggi a cadre of indie-friendly staffers that as recently as last September included Dave, Kiel, myself, Rick Marshall, Brian Warmoth, and Rickey Purdin.
Anyway, Kiel would be a great hire, were I some sort of comics-related entity looking to find one.
* Well now, here's a treat: A very, very entertaining interview with Michael Emerson, aka Ben from Lost, by the Daytona Beach News-Journal's Tom Iacuzio. It's full of both spoilers and speculation, so be careful, but the adorable thing is that the speculation comes from Emerson himself rather than the interviewer! Emerson also has some interesting things to say about Deadwood and Battlestar Galactica. And then there's this wonderful little exchange:
What kind of reaction do you get from fans on the street?
Mostly people react to me with pleasure but in general it's a kind of guarded pleasure. They are happy to see this face and voice that they know belongs to a character that they enjoy but part of them can't fully disassociate me from the part I play. So they worry a little bit that I might actually be somewhat dangerous.
Do you ever just shoot them that patented Ben stare?
(pause) I don't even know what you're talking about.
* Buncha Marvel movie news that has me kind of excited. First, there's a film adaptation of Runaways on the way, with a screenplay by series writer and Lost ass-kicker Brian K. Vaughan himself. (Via JK Parkin.) Second, displaying an admirable level of cluefulness, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige sez the upcoming movie versions of Captain America and Thor will take place during World War II (entirely) and in Asgard (partially) respectively. Sweet.
* Artist Robert Burden is selling prints of his awesomely over-the-top portraits of action figures! (Via Uncrate.)
Thor: Ages of Thunder
Matt Fraction, writer
Patrick Zircher, Khari Evans, artists
Marvel, April 2008
A while ago I linked to a video of crudely animated Thors performing Slayer's "Raining Blood" and, in a post that got some attention here and there around the Internet, said basically that Thor comics should be at least that metal. If your Thor comic doesn't evoke Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," there is something wrong with your Thor comic. Needless to say, there's been a lot wrong with a lot of Thor comics by that standard.
In Thor: Ages of Thunder, writer Matt Fraction takes a big step in the right direction. The action primarily consists of Thor attacking and beheading enormous frost giants, then dragging their heads into Asgard as trophies; between these feats he has sex. With the exception of the two included stories' introductory pages, everything is done in big two-page spreads. There are shots of Thor's war hammer Mjolnir dripping with gore. The chorus of the one Zeppelin song that explicitly references Thor, "No Quarter," is paraphrased. The coming attraction page for the book's sequel reveals its title to be Thor: Reign of Blood.
But in much the same way that it doesn't quite get the "No Quarter" chorus right and didn't quite name its follow-up after the Slayer album, it doesn't quite gel overall. Mostly this is because of the narration captions in virtually every panel. It's not that they're knowingly overwrought--that's as it should be--it's just that there are way too many of them and there are way too many words in each. A action comic about gods warring with giants and constructed solely of two-page spreads should flow effortlessly, but the constant jibber-jabber stops both the eye and the brain short when they should be on cruise control. Show us how awesome your Thor is, don't tell us. Moreover, I just happened to have read a whole lot of mythology-based comics recently, whether we're talking about short stories in Mome or minicomics by Eleanor Davis and Matt Wiegle or flashbacks in Incredible Hercules, and the captions make this one feel comparatively belabored.
There's also a disparity between the art in the two stories. Patrick Zircher's detail-driven art packs genuine power, and the witty coloring by June Chung (dig the red noses she gives everyone--after all, it's chilly in the realm of the Norse gods!) puts it over the top; Khari Evans's figures, particularly his women, seem awkwardly proportioned and inconsistently constructed by comparison. (Though his Thor itself is quite strong, and he's one of the first artists I've come across who truly conveys that Thor flies because he throws his hammer so hard the thing pulls him up off the ground with it.)
That being said, it's all enormously more appropriate to a character based on gods worshipped by the priests who gave us the term "berserkers" than a leisurely rumination on the cyclical nature of existence set within the rural farms and diners of Oklahoma. It's also entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that a collection of stories of this type (which is surely in the offing given the announced second issue) will make for a satisfyingly loud read, and be priced more efficiently to boot. In much the same way that I'm comforted that most kids' first exposure to the potentially awesome character of Iron Man will be from Jon Favreau's movie rather than Mark Millar and J. Michael Straczynski's comics, I take great solace in the hope that somewhere, some kid is reading this while listening to the copy of Black Sabbath Volume 4 he stole from his older brother rather than reading something that will lead him to form the opinion that "Thor is boring."
* Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson did an online Q&A about the two upcoming Hobbit movies, and the transcript is here. (Via AICN.) Kristin Thompson runs down some of the highlights--John Howe, Alan Lee, Howard Shore, Andy Serkis, and Ian McKellen are all confirmed for both films, for example--but for my money the most interesting thing (not necessarily good, just interesting) is Del Toro's comments regarding supplementing the Weta design and effects teams with his own staff.
* B-Sol at Vault of Horror says that The Strangers' tendentious "inspired by a true story" claims indicate a studio with something to hide, but isn't that just the exact same hyperbole used to promote The Texas Chain Saw Massacre back in the day. For me it has more to do with the film's deliberately old-school promotional campaign rather than trying to pull the wool over people's eyes (though based on a conversation with my non-horror-fan little sister about the movie, that's happening too).
* AICN has links to some fun clips from The Incredible Hulk. Looks like a good time to me.
When I was in middle school and first got into Monty Python, I assumed that most grown-ups knew all about philosophers, because Python had so many jokes about them. As it turns out the kinds of grown-ups who know all about philosophers first learn about them as kids in middle school who get into Monty Python, so it's a bit of a self-perpetuating system. Anyway, Nil sort of takes this premise for granted--it's like the looooooooooooooongest Monty Python philosopher sketch ever, with liberal doses of Brazil thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately it's not funny, let alone as funny as Python or Gilliam solo. The basic idea is that there exists a dystopian land called Nil that embodies nihilism in its many conflicting forms, where people pilot big wrecking ships that destroy literal outgrowths of belief, and which is at war with a similar antithetical nation called Optima. The people of Nil spend almost all their time one-upping each other as to who best embodies the principles of nihilism, such as they are--except for our hero, Proun Nul, who yearns for something more. Or maybe he just yearns to have sex with the lovely Miss Void, I don't know. The problem is that the concept never quite seems sure what it wants to be. Is Nilean nihilism a matter of literal, physical warfare against belief as a living thing, or is it the usual matter of debate and argument? If Nil is resolutely anti-capitalist, why is every page covered in ad parodies? If Nil is resolutely anti-totalitarian, why is it such an ersatz Oceania? Is it a model of efficiency, or of incompetence? Maybe some kind of point is being made here of the nonsensical nature of nihilism to begin with, but it feels more like an attempt to cram in every kind of joke available than a coherent choice of satire. It's kind of baffling and it leaves the jokes without any solid ground to pivot off of, and it's not as though any of the characters are developed in any sense but the most broad and parodic since they have no constants to play against. By the end of its 236 pages, which seemed a lot longer, I really didn't care anymore. All told, the five or six minutes of total screen time given to the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski are a more effective satire of that anti-belief system and the excesses of the life of the mind in general.
All of this is compounded by Turner's art, which is designy and iconic in the extreme. I'm sure there's a perfect point of comparison out there that I'm totally missing, but what it calls to mind for me is flash animation, or some very old computer program, or Legos...it's resolutely cold, flat, and artificial. This can occasionally lead to startling images--generally speaking, the bigger the weapon of war, apartment complex, or Nihilist temple, the cooler Turner makes it look through accrued geometric patterns. (Remember those flying bomb ships in Super Mario Bros. 3, with all the propellers and cannons and things? Kinda like that.) But for the most part it's deliberately unlovely, making empathy or even awe impossible. It kind of substitutes cleverness for the usual kinds of qualities that make art compelling--of which cleverness is one, of course, but not the only one.
In some ways I think it's exciting that a book like this can get made and published, but it wasn't for me.
* A different kind of guide: Cryptomundo's Loren Coleman has complete coverage of a controversial recent Bigfoot-expert conference at which analyst M.K. Davis more or less asserted that the specimen seen in the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage is a) human b) wearing a braid c) the victim of a gunshot to the leg that was inflicted by one of the filmmakers. Yes, seriously.
* B-Sol at Vault of Horror takes a look at the modern zombie movie's famine years, the 1990s.
* Curt Purcell takes a whack at the wack notion that the only really scary fiction is about stuff that can actually happen, preparing to argue why supernatural horror is the sine qua non of the genre. The post is also a slight walk-back from his position regarding the overvaluing of fear among horror fans--worth a read if you've been following Curt's thoughts on that matter.
* Steven Wintle has posted the farewell edition of The Horror Roundtable. I stole my entry from My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult's Buzz McCoy's contribution to the liner notes of the WaxTrax! box set, but my favorite valedictory has to be T Van, who drops the greatest, and most underutilized, Seinfeld quote of all time.
The numbers are also surprising since “Battlestar” has as many fans frustrated with the current season as enthralled. The storylines have turned the show’s longtime shades-of-gray character morality into a muddy and often indecipherable quagmire of interlocking mythology, with a slew of formerly down-to-earth human and cylon characters elevated to quasi-deities pondering their higher purpose.
I don't think it's all that indecipherable--I don't find Lost hard to follow either--but other than that, yeah, that's kind of a downer, isn't it? Not surprisingly, the focus on mythology seems to have completely energized various BSG fans of my acquaintance who made the transition over to the show via Netflix'd DVDs after hearing "Hey, you like Lost? You'll like BSG too!" The current Battlestar storyline seems tailor-made to fan the guessing-game flames that mark Lost's most ardent fans. (Via Whitney Matheson.)
* I'm fond of saying I didn't read comics as a kid, and this is basically true. However, around the time that I saw Batman and read The Dark Knight Returns, I was massively into Marvel trading cards. In one of the all-time great acts of cluefulness, my buddy Ryan Penagos at Marvel.com has posted every single Marvel Universe Series I trading card. I found this via Gary Wintle, who writes that he took the cards so seriously, he thought the "joke" cards were canonical. I'd imagine there are a lot of us out there whose ideas of heroic fantasy were shaped in a fairly fundamental way by these cards.
* Also at SciFi Wire, Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier says his movie is both a reboot of and sequel to Ang Lee's Hulk film (I guess he does, it's not a direct quote), sources the movie's inspiration to the '70s TV series and the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale graphic novel Hulk: Gray, and promises you won't have to go 40 minutes into the movie to see the Hulk for the first time.
* My experience with actor-director Sydney Pollack is basically limited to his role as Ziegler in Eyes Wide Shut and his black-comic bluebeard cameo in The Sopranos. That being said, I loved Matt Zoller Seitz's two-paragraph comment-thread obit, not just as a reminder of how great a film writer Seitz is, but for the way it effortlessly implies an ocean of interesting work beneath the surface of every "So-and-So Dead at 73" headline.
First, let me defend my claim that torture porn is fantasy by focusing on the visual style that has become torture porn's most distinctive trait. The look of torture porn is not realistic, but hyper-realistic. It is a highly artificial approach that takes the trappings of realism and blows them all out of proportion. The result is a lavish, over-stuffed look – most often taking an archetypal image and stuffing it to the breaking point. This is most apparent in the dungeon settings of the two Hostel flicks and the bathroom set of the first Saw. Both sets are not just dirty, but absolutely coated in grime and slime. One imagines you could get tetanus of the eyeball just from looking at them. But neither represents what (sadly) we know torture looks like. Real torture, when governments undertake it, is conducted not in sewers, but in relatively orderly places that look disconcertingly like hospitals. Why leave a filthy crime scene behind? Mud and crud tends to trap potential clues like hair, foot and fingerprints, and so on. The answer, of course, is that these aren't "real." They visually represent the feelings the idea of torture evokes. Men in rubber aprons, faces hid behind monstrous brass and steel facemasks, power tools inexplicably left to rust (despite the fact that they are supposedly the property of an elite club of super rich people) – it all suggests the moral, spiritual, ethical decay of what's happening. The whole visual approach adopted by Roth and Wan is not realistic some much as it represents the typical strategies of film realism – a little grime here, some busted glass there – and invests it with symbolic purpose. The very fabric of their films' worlds reflects the mental state and fate of their characters.
Man oh man. Read also for his (accurate) attribution of the look of torture porn to David Fincher's Se7en, his analysis of the significance of that miscellaneous torture device on the cover of the DVD for Hostel, and much, much more.
What do I make of all this? Well, it's a much more effective "defense" of torture porn than my own. But to be fair to me, I wasn't defending the genre, just the term. What CRwM is doing is making the case that the genre's defining characteristics have the potential for great horror art. My only concern is that in so doing, he perhaps allowed himself to fiddle with his designation and delineation of those defining characteristics so as to reach that conclusion.
Maybe it's possible that the only torture porn movies are the Hostel and Saw franchises, as he argues. But in a way, what he's doing is the same kind of definitional sleight-of-hand that so irks me when mainstream critics do the "If It's a Horror Movie and It's Good, It Must Be Transcending the Genre" rag--in other words, they define the genre so as to preclude the possibility of good art, so that when good art comes along it's not part of the genre, it's something else. You've seen this done with "torture porn"-as-pejorative, by the way; CRwM is, in a way, offering the flipside of that. Now, he isn't saying that torture porn movies are good, just that they can be good--but he's doing so by reducing the definition to being applicable only to a very, very narrow set of films, which to me is kind of a cheat. If "torture porn" can't also be used to describe Audition, Turistas, The Passion of the Christ and so on, what good is it? Don't we on some level instinctively understand that the goals of those films, in terms of the torture content, is largely the same? Would we settle on (or for) a definition of "slasher" that only included Halloween and Sleepaway Camp? Whatever you might say about my definition of torture porn, I think it's a lot more useful--it's basically just a film in which the primary fear engine is the immobilization and brutalization of somebody. To me at least, the conceptual richness of those two "-ization"s gives you all the freedom you need to make a more elaborate case for the genre's inherent interest.
This sort of brings me around (finally!) to Curt Purcell's provocative response to my monumental horror-image theory/essay. What sticks in Curt's craw about it is how far I swing the pendulum in the opposite direction of violence and gore in terms of trying to get at the images that "define" horror. Might not seeing ostentatious violence as a sort of Freudian doubling of the monumental horror-image--the actualization of such an image's potentiality, the yang unconsciously called to mind by the yin--enable us to construct a Grand Unified Theory of Horror?
The answer: yes, it might. But I fear that the drive to do so stems from me overstating my case in my original essay. That essay's genesis was pretty simple: Over the years I discovered that certain types of images--the Shining twins, the Wicker Man--scared me more than anything else in horror movies. But when I turned to the literature to see what had been said about it, the answer was, basically, nothing. Most horror scholarship focused on gender- and sexuality-based explorations of horror violence and horror monsters, rather than these kinds of images. So I went about cobbling together an explanation for how and why such images did what they did. Again, they were, to me, the scariest images to be found in horror; meanwhile, contra the "transcending the genre" crowd, I believed that a genre should be defined by its best works--in this case, its scariest. Hence, calling the monumental horror-image the "definitive" horror-image, heavily implying if not stating outright that this is as opposed to the violence and gore.
BUT! It's that "as opposed to" that gets me in trouble. Never did I intend my praise of the monumental horror-image to mean that other kinds of horror images should be excluded, that they didn't count, that they couldn't also be super super scary or creative or effective or disturbing or Art with a capital A. The gore and violence that Curt attempts to loop into an expanded conception of what makes horror imagery tick is perfectly valid and requires no such expanded conception, at least as far as I'm concerned, because I was trying to define a very precise set of images, not the genre overall. Those images work best for me for (I think) the reasons described in the essay, but they're not the only images that work, for me or for anybody else, and I have no ambitions to state otherwise. Similarly, there may be torture porn films that work best, or even just embody certain principles the best, but ironically the less ambitious definition covers more ground and is therefore more useful, I think.
Cruelly overlooked by many year-end best-of lists (my own included) due to its late-in-the-game arrival (now a perennial occurrence) and, perhaps, a level of quality we've come to take for granted, the latest installment of The ACME Novelty Library is a tough book to review by virtue of the fact that it belongs at or near the top of any such list worth a damn. In trying to express what is so compelling to me about Ware's work in general or this book in particularly I am, to quote Stephen King on Clive Barker, almost literally tongue-tied. Instead I'm rambling on about year-end best-of lists, and eventually I'll be enthusing vapidly. (Hey, it could be worse--I could be complaining about the people who find his work cold, emotionless, and boring. Specifically I could be calling those people morons. How lucky for you, then!)
In this particular case I'm kind of floored by how Ware assembles a panoply of snippets of a lonely young woman's life--some are lengthy flashbacks, others are day-in-the-life moments, still others are seen from the perspective of the old building she lives in--into this sort of long seamless tapestry of ache. Like the tiny diagrammatic panels Ware foisted on an unsuspecting comics world, these narrative building blocks give the material an engaging ebb and flow, and simultaneously ape the way the protagonist's own life flows without pause one dreary day into the next, occasionally enlivened by reverie or some small humiliation. Now that I think of it, she herself looks back on her life's more exciting or rewarding times as dreams--temporary and illusory. And in a real way this book could go on forever, or at least as long as our heroine remains stuck in this (seemingly lifelong) rut, this cycle going on and on the same way some of Ware's pages (the knockout front endpapers, for example) are all but cyclical. This chapter itself doesn't really end, it just stops, which is perfect.
I don't know, what should I say? He's the best colorist, the best letterer? Those things are both true. His line is superhuman, like a machine made it, which is why people think it's cold, but they're wrong because he's using that precision to nail specific and devastating emotions and sense-memories--my god, that moment where the heartbroken heroine sinks into her dormroom bed! "I lay there, facing the fake wood wall shelf...but it might as well have been the blackness of space..." The image has the pull of a black hole. And as it turns out Ware is also quite good at cartooning sex, particularly that delirious brand of first-flush collegiate sex, daily coupling and mutual masturbation and the raw, almost manic hunger to have and give and demonstrate pleasure. Cold schmold! All with the best chops in terms of line and layout of anyone in comics. The funny thing is I don't really think of comics when I read this, I think of my life and my wife's life and my friends' lives and complete strangers' lives, which of course is what makes it the very best kind of comics there is.
* FourFour's Rich Juzwiak assembles an awesome continuous mix of songs that sample Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers' seminal drum break from the song "Ashley's Roachclip." (It's the beat from "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," "Unbelievable," "Paid in Full," and "Girl You Know It's True.") That, as they say, was a good drum break.
* Here's a pair of interviews with Lost's great Michael Emerson. Pseudospoilerishesque if you want to go into the season finale with no expectations whatsoever, but delightful for fans of how Emerson has become the de facto non-Lindelof/Cuse spokesperson for the show. (Via Whitney Matheson and Jim Treacher.)
* Jason Adams at My New Plaid Pants defends Hostel from unfavorable comparisons to Inside--which he also liked, but for different reasons than...well, here, read this quote:
just because you put on airs of importance by throwing a bone to some random social or political message,...it doesn't instantly make your film more worthwhile.
I did not win a contest and I was never an overnight success. The instant-gratification-American-Idol mindset is so sad, so damaging. Everyone I know who's successful got that way by hard work, gradual building of an audience, nonstop hustling, plenty of luck.
Today is my fifth blogoversary. (That's even if you factor in a brief hiatus in 2004-2005, since I blogged for a few months prior to being here and for a few months elsewhere during the hiatus.) Thank you for reading!
Tonight is the two-hour season finale of Lost, preceded by a slightly expanded version of last week's penultimate episode (technically the first part of the finale). Meanwhile, to hear the critics tell it, this is the best season of Lost since the first, if not ever. Why? The explanation used to be that signing a deal that cemented an endpoint for the series gave the show's cast and creators a renewed sense of purpose, but you don't hear that much in the thinkpieces popping up hither and thither today regarding the finale. No, the explanation they give is that this season, with its embrace of the flashforward device that made its debut during the last ep of Season Three, has made it a televised mind game par excellence.
Here's Juliet Lapidos (whose name makes her sound like she's a Lost character herself) at Slate:
...only in the current season, which ends Thursday night, has Lost achieved complexity and intricacy worthy of the critical attention it's been receiving all along....the writers have shaken themselves out of the old formula--and are finally attempting a truly high-wire narrative move.
"Lost," which concludes its fourth season on ABC on Thursday night, refuses our passive interest while it denies us the satisfaction of ever feeling that we might confidently explain, to the person sitting next to us at dinner, that we have a true grasp of what is going on -- of who among the characters is merely bad and who is verifiably satanic. To watch "Lost" is to feel like a high school grind, studying and analyzing and never making it to Yale. Good dramas confound our expectations, but "Lost," about a factionalized group of plane crash survivors on a cartographically indeterminate island not anything like Aruba, pushes further, destabilizing the ground on which those expectations might be built. It is an opiate, and like all opiates, it produces its own masochistic delirium.
Here's Emily Nussbaum at New York, making the clearest case yet for Lost-as-puzzle in a piece straightforwardly entitled "Why Lost Is the Best Game Show in TV History":
[The introduction of flashforwards] flipped the Lost game board out fifteen squares in each direction. It expanded the show's setting from the island to the world. It raised the level of narrative difficulty, both for the writers and for the fans, pivoting elegantly away from "Will these people get off the island?" and complicating the whole notion of "What will happen next?" (And I'm not even getting into the whole time-travel thing.)
But best of all, it made the show's appeal weirdly clear: that this is as much a game as a story. It's no surprise I find myself talking about the level of difficulty; it feels very much like we're leveling up. My husband, who is a video-game critic, pointed out that Lost online commentary often feels less like a response to a story and more like the way fans deconstruct an ARG, an alternative reality game, participating in communal puzzle-solving and focusing obsessively on tiny details.
You say this like it's a good thing!
Even moreso than the widespread fanboy venom spat at the show during early-mid Season Three, my disconnect from the nerd CW regarding the proper approach to the show has thrown me for a loop this year. Back then, it was easy enough to simply ignore the constant bitching and nitpicking and enjoy Lost for what, to me, it is: a byzantine sci-fi mystery about the choices we make--from romantic to philosophical--when confronted with failure.
But this year is different, because now that I'm no longer seemingly alone in enjoying the show anymore, I'm discovering that the way others are enjoying it may be limiting my ability to do so is well, or at least limiting the ways in which I'm able to do so.
First of all, I simply don't find the show impossible to follow or explain, because it isn't! The only thing that makes it so is if you deliberately throw yourself against the rocks of the "unknown unknowns" that make up the show's mysteries. As I've pointed out at length, it's no more possible to "figure out" "what's going on" in the show's mythology now than it was at the end of Season One, when we'd yet to see a Dharma Initiative logo, take a visit to Others Village, time travel with Desmond, meet anyone with the surname "Linus" or "Widmore," see a four-toed statue, summon the smoke monster, hear the phrase "Oceanic Six," and on and on and on. There's tonight's season finale and two full seasons between us and getting to the ass-end of Lost's full complement of everything-you-know-is-wrong revelations.
So the show is incomprehensible only to the extent that you insist upon trying to comprehend it. I choose rather to appreciate it the same way I would any other great show--the performances, the writing, the criminally overlooked cinematography--or any other great science fiction story--eye-opening ideas, fun technology, Frankensteinian terror--or any other great mystery--wondering whodunnit and guessing from time to time but not trying to construct elaborate theories of who what when where why how even though there's still a full third of the book to go--or any great pulp story--digging the types and tropes and sex and violence.
In other words, I don't find it to be a high-school grind--but beyond that, I don't see why that's pleasurable! It's not just that people are driving themselves into "masochistic delirium," it's that they adamantly feel that that is the best way to experience the show! I'm not a masochist and I'm not feeling delirious. I don't want to solve a narrative. I want it to unfold--and the genius of Lost, to me, is that it's all about that unfolding. Why try to jump ahead of it?
UPDATED BECAUSE I'M STUPID AND FORGOT TO INCLUDE THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS POST IN THE POST WHEN I FIRST POSTED IT:
However, I realized yesterday that the constant barrage of Lost-as-game theorizing and "masochistic delirium" and so on we've all been subjected to may be preventing me from being able to enjoy those aspects of it--that in some theoretical world where there's less of that going on to drive me up a wall and interfere with what I find the main attraction of the show to be, I'd be much more into that sort of thing. Am I letting reverse peer pressure blind me to what may well be the genuine pleasures of treating Lost like a puzzle, theorizing madly about it, working myself up into a weekly frenzy? I honestly don't know. I remember doing more theorizing back in the day, before doing so took on such a manic feel, so maybe there really is something to this.
Originally written on July 26, 2004 for publication in The Comics Journal
'Tis a strange fate that the breakout success story of Dark Horse's recent attempt to craft a line of horror comics around its flagship title Hellboy turns out to be not so much Hellboy as Hellboy Junior. But such is The Goon, Eric Powell's ongoing riot of hard-boiled noir tough guys, zombie splatstick, and Warren Comics pastiche. It's unsurprising that its similarity to Mike Mignola's endlessly fascinating tales of paranormal fisticuffs are both The Goon's great strength and, by comparison, its great weakness.
The Goon takes place in what's becoming a fairly common type of indie-genre-comic city, one that's a melange of trash conventions thrown into a blender and poured onto the page. This one encompasses down-home hillbilly thugs, Edward G. Robinson-style gangsters, haunted houses of EC vintage, and so forth. (See also Street Angel's combination of mad scientists, b-boying ninjas, pirate conquistadors, and skateboarding female teen martial-arts experts.) The titular strongman (think Hellboy with a hat instead of horns, Sin City's Marv with a wifebeater instead of a trenchcoat, The Thing as a Tennessee redneck instead of a New York Jew) is the terror of the city's underworld, serving as a brutal enforcer for the reclusive mob boss Labrazio. But a raging gang war against "the nameless man, the zombie priest" and his undead crime family has made the Goon and his Little Orphan Annie–eyed sidekick Frankie into the city's unlikely saviors. As they're all that stands between the city and uncontested zombie dominance, the Goon and his pal are forgiven their (ahem) enthusiasm for their work of roughing up lowlifes, werewolves, evil elves, giant fish people, et cetera, usually conducted with knives, Magnums, shotguns, huge monkeywrenches, talking chainsaws, et cetera.
Et cetera and ad nauseum, I'm afraid. Perhaps I'm simply armchair-editing the book, angling for it to become the type of genre fiction I personally enjoy, but the endless game of can-you-top-this splatter and silliness overpowers what could be a very interesting crime-horror concept. Now, I'm certainly not asking for the humor to be excised completely. There are moments that work hilariously--Frankie's repeated "KNIFE IN YOUR EYE!" gag is in gloriously bad taste, and the reactions of the people of the Goon's burned-out burg to his rampages are terrific in that "aieeeeeee!" sort of way. ("Look out!" says one bum in Volume One as the Goon gives the business to an arachnid poker cheat named (you guessed it) Spider. "He's gone strangle crazy!")
The problem is that when Powell gets serious, or seriously creepy, he's clearly at his best. The Goon's origin story, besides containing a pretty brilliant twist that alters our perception of his present-day behavior, packs a surprisingly emotional wallop. (I'm guessing Vito Andolini Corleone's start in The Godfather Part II was the inspiration, and in this case the imitation is indeed flattering.) "What have I got to live for?" asks the Goon of his new friend Frankie as they embark on their first (and what seems at the time to be likely their last) gang-enforcer outing. At this point you've seen the Goon beat up, chewed up, and thrown up by nearly every monster known to man, and yet this clear-eyed (literally, for this panel only) expression of nihilism makes you feel the characters' risk. Similar hints at a larger emotional tapestry are intriguing (a gorgeous dame whose romantic overtures the Goon thinks are too good to be true, the long and sordid history of the zombie priest), as is the fact that the hero of this story is himself a brutal criminal who looks good only in comparison to the cannibal zombies that fight with him for territory. Often these flashbacks are drawn in an evocative pencil-heavy style with far greater depth than the increasingly slick Saturday-morning cartoonisms that comprise the remainder of the series, to the flashbacks' great benefit. But all this is inevitably drowned out by the next beheading, the next disemboweling, the next appearance of a spontaneously combusting orangutan. No, I didn't make that last one up. Such is The Goon.
I realized yesterday that the constant barrage of Lost-as-game theorizing and "masochistic delirium" and so on we've all been subjected to may be preventing me from being able to enjoy those aspects of it--that in some theoretical world where there's less of that going on to drive me up a wall and interfere with what I find the main attraction of the show to be, I'd be much more into that sort of thing. Am I letting reverse peer pressure blind me to what may well be the genuine pleasures of treating Lost like a puzzle, theorizing madly about it, working myself up into a weekly frenzy? I honestly don't know. I remember doing more theorizing back in the day, before doing so took on such a manic feel, so maybe there really is something to this.
* There's a trailer out for the new Coen Brothers comedy, Burn After Reading. It looks funny. How had I never heard of this film before yesterday?
* How big of a T-shirt nerd am I? Big enough to seriously consider ponying up $200+ for a subscription to a series of 13 limited-edition Venture Bros. shirts--available for sale for one week only following the premiere of each new episode from the show's third season--despite never having seen the show. (It's next on my Netflix queue after I finish Deadwood.) (Via Topless Robot.)
* Matthew Perpetua, ahem, succinctly reviews Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1.