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.
I've had this book for a long long time, acquiring it through Sequential Swap because hey, Lorenzo Mattotti, right? One of the great comics artists in the world! But I've put off reading it for just as long because the great comics art inside it is, if I'm being honest, not for me. I don't see people in Mattotti's blocky, quasi-cubist painted figures, I see blocks. With its tactile layers of color covering every inch, I have a hard time finding an "in" to any given panel. My eye just bounces right off the surface.
The funny thing is that the story almost overcomes this. It stars one Lieutenant Absinthe, an officer in the navy of a South American archipelagic country whose battleship is sent on a mission to investigate the mysterious island of Saint Agatha, where ships seem to go missing with alarming regularity. In an arc that should be familiar to fans of everything from The Lord of the Flies to Lost to The Shining, Absinthe--heh, here I was going to say "slowly" out of sheer force of habit, but it happens almost overnight--goes native, and ends up helping the supernatural (?) forces present on the island destroy his comrades. On the back cover, a blurb from Mattotti indicates that his inspiration was the films of Tarkovsky and Herzog and the hypnotic power of their environments; in essence, Mattotti's project was to craft a story that does what his art fails to do with me, which is suck one in. He works so hard at it that he almost pulls it off--the story's climax in particular is vividly done--and the countless similar stories you've read or seen do some of the work for him, but ultimately I keep running into that wall of visual information over and over again and finding no way to join Lieutenant Absinthe as he's pulled in.
* To the extent that you care about the blend of enthusiasm and unease this blog occasionally displays for displays of hypermasculinity, you are advised to download and listen to Matthew Perpetua's best-of mix for mock-cock-rock geniuses the Electric Six. You probably are familiar with their songs "Gay Bar" and "Danger! High Voltage," but that truly is just the tip of the iceberg for their oeuvre of awesomely accurate lampoons of macho insecurity. The mix even includes songs from their not-yet-released fifth album Flashy, so go and enjoy the sound of the future.
* Tom Spurgeon has done another of his always-worth-reading slush-pile review marathons. This one includes his takes on the rewardingly bizarre Water Baby by Ross Campbell, some Johnny Ryan minicomics, the latest MOME, and, in a review that contains compliments so awesomely backhanded they'll make your face ache, Comic Foundry.
* Chuck Palahniuk says his first more or less openly horror novel Lullaby is headed to the big screen. Chuck Palahniuk is not the most reliable source of information regarding movie versions of his books, but hey. (Via Bloody Disgusting.)
* Aaron "Chief Galen Tyrol" Douglas says Battlestar Galactica's final episodes won't start airing till April, rather than the originally announced January start date. (Via AICN.) SciFi Channel says au contraire--the January start date is on as planned.
* Curt Purcell of The Groovy Age of Horror continues his series of essays critiquing--even "debunking," in Curt's words--Freud's seminal essay "The Uncanny," one of the core texts for scholars of horror. This time out he argues that the supernatural isn't scary because of how it indicates the return of the repressed, but that the return of the repressed is scary because it indicates the presence of the supernatural. Total protonic reversal!
Clive Barker's The Thief of Always
Kris Oprisko, writer
Gabriel Hernandez, artist
adapted from the novel The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
$19.99 Buy it from Amazon.com
Given the standard weakness of comics adaptations of non-City of Glass prose material and the standard cheesiness of American horror-comic art, any project that entails adapting a prose horror novel would normally already have two strikes against it. But Clive Barker has gotten lucky on that score a few times during his career, from the impressively atmospheric Books of Blood-based anthology series Tapping the Vein back in the day to this little number based on Barker's first all-ages book. While you can see the rough edges in the edits quite frequently--most notably during the beginning and ending, which are rushed enough to feel like they happen how they do because they must, not because that's what springs from the events that befall the characters and emotions they experience as those events take place--it's a surprisingly evocative, beautifully illustrated little graphic novel about a childhood lost.
The story concerns a schoolkid named Harvey Swick who, bored to tears by a dreary February, is approached by a magical being with a beyond-ear-to-ear grin, named Rictus. (Already a good sign, right?) Rictus offers Harvey a vacation to a place called the Holiday House, whose mysterious proprietor Mister Hood offers "special" children an eternity of carefree carousing, with each day in the place comprising all four seasons of the year. (Every morning is springtime, while it's Halloween every evening and Christmas every night.) Needless to say things aren't what they seem, and before long Harvey and the friends he makes at Holiday House try to escape this lotus-eating interval to return to the outside world, which turns out to be tougher than it looks.
While the book tends now to be compared to Harry Potter, it has a lot more in common with other stories of childhood voyage and return to a dangerous land of fantasy: Oz, Wonderland, Never-Never Land, and Barker's own Abarat. The idea of the haunted house--since that's obviously what we're dealing with--also hits notes resonant with everything from Hansel & Gretel to The Shining, not to mention Candyman director Bernard Rose's Paperhouse, a more-or-less contemporary product of the British dark fantasy scene, iirc. Aside from the obviously truncated start and finish to the story, Oprisko does a solid job of preserving as much of Barker's weird whimsy as possible, making sure to include moments that stand out from the fairy-tale norm--Harvey's phone calls home to his parents to make sure they're okay with his vacation, for example.
The real star of the adaptation, though, is Gabriel Hernandez and his absolutely lovely art. It appears to have been done in pencil, then given a soft bath in muted color washes by Sulaco Studios. The contrast between Hernandez's off-kilter, frequently angular character designs and Sulaco's gauzy palette is pretty much perfect for Barker's kids' fantasy work, which itself introduces elements of the horrific into a storytelling mode we're frequently quite cozy with. Hernandez is as attentive to detail as he is to design--for example, quietly filling the Holiday House with everything a boy could wish for, from suits of armor to Egyptian sarcophagi to preserved pterodactyls, despite this never being referred to in the dialogue. It's the art that will keep me coming back to this one, and makes it worth at least a first look.
* Related: John Harrison, director of the upcoming Barker adaptation Book of Blood, refers to the film as more character-driven than splatteriffic. (Via Bloody Disgusting.)
* Matthew Perpetua links to an old Hard Copy story on that time the FBI mistook part of the video for Nine Inch Nails' "Down in It" for a snuff film. That never happened to Stabbing Westward.
* Douglas Wolk annotates Grant Morrison and Dough Mahnke's event comic/Supermen team-up/Watchmen fanfic Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1.
* My experience with RPGs is limited to one lovely, beery summer between freshman and sophomore year in college, but I still found Bruce Baugh's look at early D&D guidebooks fascinating as an examination of how imagination and play can be given structure and stricture of varying efficacy.
College is the time in everyone's life when maximum personal freedom meets minimum personal responsibility. Classes and grades notwithstanding, there's really nothing to stop you from doing pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want, in a parentless, highly sexed world where you are generally rewarded for following your bliss. I mean, at least this was how it was when you were a film studies major. It also seems to be how it is for the art students who populate Wet Moon, Ross Campbell's languid goth soap opera. As is the case with those heady times before you've picked a major, or perhaps toward the end of your four years when you've basically completed all your requirements and have maybe four hours of classes every seven days, the kids in Wet Moon seem to neither know nor care where they're going, simply soaking in the atmosphere of aimlessness. I can't remember the last time I read a comic this visually (and aurally--the dialogue is spot-on) ambitious while having so little an idea of where that ambition was eventually going to take me. I don't know how you'd feel about it, but I'm loving the experience. For one thing, it allows Campbell's art to shine almost as an end in itself. It's not just that his line is lovely or that his character designs are each unique and memorable or that his characters are basically all super-sexy in this delightfully slatternly way, though all these things are true; he also makes very smart choices in terms of choreography, body language, and pacing that really stick. When lead character Chloe accidentally mispronounces a pair of words in the middle of an argument, the look of self-irritation on her face is pricelessly accurate. There's a great sex scene where the interplay of insecurity and self-confidence among young people is conveyed deftly and appealingly, but Campbell can also deflate his characters' romantic presentations, as when he transforms Chloe's memory of getting dumped by her beautiful ex-boyfriend Vincent into an over-the-top parody of goth sentimentality. And then there are random-ass scenes like some sort of reverie/dream sequence/I don't know what involving a character drinking orange juice out of the carton, wandering into the street, and rolling one eye up into her head. What a weird, addictive series this is.
I meant to link to this yesterday, and you've probably seen it already anyway, but the wonderful publisher (and occasional patron of none other than Sean T. Collins) Top Shelf is having a terrific end-of-summer sale, wherein many of their books are marked down significantly and some are reduced to just three bucks! Click here and shop.
* This is the best idea the comics blogosphere as such has had in ages: Sandy Bilus at I Love Rob Liefeld tells the story of Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's All Star Superman in eleven panels, one per issue so far. It works! (Via Douglas Wolk.)
* G.I. Joe movie producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura opens his mouth and a veritable ocean of stupid pours out. Jiminy Christmas, they take my favorite toy line from when I was a kid, cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander, and the movie is still going to royally eat it. (Via Topless Robot, who, for their sins, compile some of the choicest idiocy.)
* Eve Tushnet writes on abortion in horror, and discovers a surprisingly underutilized approach thereto. Worth a read even if (as is likely) you disagree with where Eve's coming from on the issue, since her approach is descriptive rather than prescriptive (which is something I could stand to see more of in horror writing, as a matter of fact).
Mome Vol. 12: Fall 2008
Kaela Graham, Sophie Crumb, Nate Neal, Ray Fenwick, Olivier Schrauwen, Dash Shaw, Tom Kaczynski, Al Columbia, Jon Vermilyea, Derek Van Gieson, Killoffer, Sara Edward-Corbett, David B., Paul Hornschemeier, writers/artists
Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth, editors
Fantagraphics, August 2008
$14.99 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
I'm not a big underground comics person, particularly today's derivatives thereof. Too much of it feels like schtick to me: using "th' " instead of "the," bigfoot characters smiling and waving at you and saying "hiya!", funny animals fuckin'...I dunno, maybe this is how people who are sick of superheroes feel about capes and masks and punching--that it's just going through the motions while not really saying anything about anything. It's mostly not for me, though there are those who can make it work by blowing it out into the ionosphere of savagery (Rory Hayes) or through trailblazing and raw, restless chops (Crumb). Its imitators have an even tougher go of it with me--there aren't a lot of Marc Bells out there, you know?
Last time out with Mome, I thought I was starting to detect and undergroundward drift, and the recent announcement that Gilbert Shelton seemed to confirm that suspicion. So I was all frowny-faced when I read the first comics contribution to this issue, from Nate Neal, "Whadda grade 'A' maroon I been! All that pissin' and moanin' I do about the world goin' to shit..." says title character Tender Henderson. It's enough to send you screaming for your Big Brother and the Holding Company record. But suddenly Neal shifts gears to a finely observed relationship comic, and even if you've seen this sort of thing before, we're clearly back in the far less hammy, frequently more rewarding territory of contemporary artcomix.
That's where I'd prefer Mome to stay, and for the most part that's where it is here. For the first time in a while there are a number of comics included that fail to make much of an impression one way or another, but the winners are real doozies. David B. contributes yet another rhapsodic blend of history and fantasy with his tale of sex, violence, and religious zealotry "The Drum Who Fell in Love." Olivier Schrauwen, Al Columbia, and Dash Shaw all discomfited me mightily with their astute use of silent, nightmarish strangeness. Kaczynski is really on a roll with his examinations of modern life's nuisances-cum-perils, focusing this time on the pervasiveness of noise. Killoffer and Jon Vermilyea each serve up a different blend of gross-out humor and disturbing violence, both capping them off with killer, laugh-out-loud final panels. And let's be honest with ourselves, any place you can get new work from David B. and Killoffer between one set of covers is the kind of place you want to be.
* Last week's "Confessional" installment of Tom Spurgeon's regular reader-participation feature Five for Friday, featuring twenty-five questions total from five different categories about nearly every comics-related topic under the sun (and some non-comics stuff too), was a real doozy to answer. Or so I thought, because I am an ignoramus and didn't read the part that said you were only supposed to answer one question from each of the five five-question categories. Oh well, you can read all my answers here. And I don't even feel so bad, because in misreading the topic I'm in the company of such comics luminaries as Paul Pope, Brandon Graham, and Richard Starkings.
* Douglas Wolk annotates Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins's Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge #2. Kolins is easily the comics pro with whose name mine most often gets mixed up--our first names are monosyllabic and begin with an S, our last names sound exactly alike, and in many company email systems my address starts with "sco," adding to the confusion. However, only one of us drew Weather Wizard blowing up someone's torso with a miniature tornado.
Nuclear bombs can accomplish a lot of things, but exploding so hard that magic exists isn’t one of them.
* My bud Rick Marshall at MTV's Splash Page talks with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator (and Xeric Foundation founder) Peter Laird about the possibility of new live-action/CGI Turtles movies. I don't really care about that all that much, but I was interested in what Laird had to say about the original TMNT movie, quite the post-Burton-Batman cultural touchstone for yours truly. I haven't watched it in ages but I remember it being a good-looking film for what it was, in terms of things like lighting and the costumes, and Laird echoes that.
* Also at Splash Page, Mike Mignola lets loose with a steady stream of guffawing backhanded compliments for Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy movies.
A big reason I wanted to go to Comic-Con International in San Diego this year was solely for the Bowie sketchbook. While I'd hoped to get some superhero artists in the book for the first time, a combination of work duties keeping me away from their official signings and the fact that most of them charge an arm and a leg and have months-long wait-lists for commissions put the kibosh on that. But I did manage to round up a small but elite squad of altcomix luminaries to put their stamp on the wild-eyed boy from Freecloud. Let's see how they did, shall we?
Mark Todd: Pirate Bowie makes a comeback! Whoever's in charge of marketing Bowie's iconography, please pay attention to how many hip young artists gravitate to this one-off look.
Jaime Hernandez: Ah yes, the one you've been waiting for.
Mario Hernandez: All three cartooning Hernandez Brothers are in my book! I'll tell you this--from my position on the opposite side of the table, looking at this upside-down, it was really, really difficult to figure out what Mario was drawing until he finally flipped it over to draw the head.
Johnny Ryan: Lesser men of my acquaintance have been too timid to approach Johnny for their sketchbooks, given his usual MO. Look what you're missing, wimps!
Jim Woodring: Another freaking giant of comics, another relentless self-deprecator. Man, you created Frank and your Bowie looks just fine. Go easy on yourself.
Jordan Crane: One of my oldest acquaintances in comics and the guy directly responsible in many ways for my involvement in them, Jordan represented two firsts for the sketchbook: He was the first to draw Bowie's pre-stardom Mod look, and the first to shit-talk other sketches. Which ones? That's a secret I'll take to my grave.
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Anders Nilsen, writer/artist
with Cheryl Weaver, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, 2006
$14.95 Out of stock at D&Q
This book beggars review. It's an account of the great young cartoonist Anders Nilsen's relationship with his fiancee Cheryl Weaver, through a series of varyingly told vignettes about the trips they took together or apart. Postcards they sent to each other are reproduced; a long letter from Nilsen to his little sister recounting a disastrous camping trip the couple took is printed in its handwritten entirety; there's a three-page interlude about the couple getting stranded in a New Jersey parking lot on Christmas and, one infers, getting engaged shortly thereafter; there's a photo essay about their trip to the Angouleme festival in France and a humor comic about their ill-fated first attempt to get there. Then we discover from Nilsen's illustrated journal that Cheryl has been diagnosed with cancer, and the true meaning of the book's metaphorical title, cribbed from J.R.R. Tolkien, becomes all too apparent. The comic that concludes the volume, perhaps the loveliest Nilsen has ever drawn, offers the final proof that the titular request has been met in the heartbreaking negative.
On the strictly technical side of things, Nilsen is one of his generation's finest cartoonists, so part of what is so impressive about the book is how much of his comics' pointillist emotional power comes through even via mostly non-comics media. By selecting a rigid parameter for the material, "stories about problematic travel experiences" (a theme he reveals in an afterword to have planned to develop even prior to Cheryl's illness and death), Nilsen paradoxically conveys a sense of the totality of the couple's relationship: thoughtful, humorous, shot through with both the thrill of adventure and discovery and the longing for the comforts of home, and one another. While Nilsen's companion Ignatz series The End deals more in the gargantuan, even frightening feeling of grief and desperation engendered by having his and Cheryl's life together suddenly yanked away, Don't Go Where I Can't Follow's mood is gentler--more focused on love and how it changes when the loved one is gone--but no less profoundly moving.
Personally, the way I deal with death is to focus on the fact that the life I shared with that person was a good one, a happy one, and that while it is now over, that goodness and happiness remains in my memory. But what happens when that shared life was, by any reasonable standard, far too brief? What to do then? I don't know. Recent events have forced me to confront this question and I still don't know. Reading this book has helped, though, and I hope you'll forgive me if really all I have to say about it is "thank you."
‘There is a word in Newspeak,’ said Syme, ‘I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.’
The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.
Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.
This peculiar linking-together of opposites — knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism — is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. The official ideology abounds with contradictions even when there is no practical reason for them. Thus, the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of Socialism. It preaches a contempt for the working class unexampled for centuries past, and it dresses its members in a uniform which was at one time peculiar to manual workers and was adopted for that reason. It systematically undermines the solidarity of the family, and it calls its leader by a name which is a direct appeal to the sentiment of family loyalty. Even the names of the four Ministries by which we are governed exhibit a sort of impudence in their deliberate reversal of the facts. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted — if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently — then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
I finally watched George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead. I wish I hadn't. Holy cow, was this movie bad. Thrilless horror, laughless black comedy, toothless satire, pointless sociopolitical ruminations, directionless plotting, unlikable characters that make the Cloverfield gang seem deep, laughable dialogue filled with puns (fucking PUNS!), special effects that make you wonder why they couldn't just hire Tom Savini and his squibs, a documentary conceit that adds nothing but an extra level of cheesy phoniness to the already cheesy and phony script, freshman-year baloney about the media and the camera eye and blah blah blah that you've heard a billion times before in much better movies...I'm honestly at a loss to try to describe just how many things Romero got wrong in making this movie, from doing a mockumentary without improvised dialogue on down. And that ending! Just coming right out and saying what Night had the balls to simply imply. Awful, stupid, shockingly tedious, not scary at all. Don't buy it, don't rent it, don't watch it, don't sully your feelings about the other Dead movies with it. Just...don't.
PS: Post-movie conversation that was a million times more entertaining than anything in this nothing-to-say movie:
THE MISSUS (arrives home): What did I miss?
SEAN: I watched a terrible, terrible movie.
THE MISSUS: Oh yeah? What?
SEAN: Diary of the Dead.
THE MISSUS: Diarrhea of the Dead? Why would you think that'd be any good?
God bless America
Land that I love
Stand beside her
And guide her
Through the night with a light from above
From the mountains
To the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home
As he followed her inside Mother Abagail's house he thought it would be better, much better, if they did break down and spread. Postpone organization as long as possible. It was organization that always seemed to cause the problems. When the cells began to clump together and grow dark. You didn't have to give the cops guns until the cops couldn't remember the names...the faces...
Fran lit a kerosene lamp and it made a soft yellow glow. Peter looked up at them quietly, already sleepy. He had played hard. Fran slipped him into a nightshirt.
All any of us can buy is time, Stu thought. Peter's lifetime, his children's lifetimes, maybe the lifetimes of my great-grandchildren. Until the year 2100, maybe, surely no longer than that. Maybe not that long. Time enough for poor old Mother Earth to recycle herself a little. A season of rest.
"What?" she asked, and he realized he had murmured it aloud.
"A season of rest," he repeated.
"What does that mean?"
"Everything," he said, and took her hand.
Looking down at Peter he thought: Maybe if we tell him what happened, he'll tell his own children. Warn them. Dear children, the toys are death--they're flashburns and radiation sickness, and black, choking plague. These toys are dangerous; the devil in men's brains guided the hands of God when they were made. Don't play with these toys, dear children, please, not ever. Not ever again. Please...please learn the lesson. Let this empty world be your copybook.
"Frannie," he said, and turned her around so he could look into her eyes.
"Do you think...do you think people ever learn anything?"
She opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, fell silent. The kerosene lamp flickered. Her eyes seemed very blue.
"I don't know," she said at last. She seemed unpleased with her answer; she struggled to say something more; to illuminate her first response; and could only say it again:
I finally got around to reading this Blankets-sized graphic novel over the past weekend. (Doing most of your reading on the commuter railroad disincentivizes taking a crack at really big books. Sorry, Bone. What is it with gigantic graphic novels that begin with the letter "B," anyway?) It has more in common with Blankets than simply the initial and the size. They're both works of great ambition from young authors--statements as much as stories--that tackle love, family, and the conflict between the two. They're also both very, very successful.
The story takes place over the course of an awkward weekend-or-so at the home of the Loony family. The parents of adult children Dennis, Claire, and Peter have summoned their kids and their respective families or lack thereof to inform them of their impending divorce, after forty years of marriage. The set-up itself contains a rich vein to mine; as someone whose parents split up when I was an adult, I've never seen that uniquely pleasant situation this convincingly depicted, as once-intimate and effortless family dinners become merely cordial, well-worn anecdotes take on the feel of elegies, and being forced to think of your parents as full-fledged sexual, emotional, and psychological beings whose dreams have in some major way not ben fulfilled takes its toll.
Of course this could all be the territory of standard literary fiction, but to that sturdy framework Shaw harnesses any number of narrative digressions and artistic flights of fancy. A prologue section conveys its general point about the many facets of "family" and its specific expository information about the Loonys in the abstracted fashion of Shaw's short comics. The book's only nod to Shaw's more surface-weird work--drawing youngest son, introverted loser Peter, as an anthropomorphized frog--is basically a multi-hundred-page set-up for a dramatic visual punchline that works so well it literally made me gasp. Meanwhile, each family member is given memorable mini-stories and scenes to play out, from Peter's meet-cute with local beach bunny Kat to Claire's drunken night out on the town with Dennis's wife Aki to Claire's daughter Jill's disastrous rendezvous with a friend's hilariously sleazy soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (it's complicated). This also means that Bottomless Bellybutton is several different kinds of comics at once; Peter's story, for example, is at varying times a romance, a "my first time" erotic work, (briefly) a Christopher Guest-like send-up of indie filmmaking, and in one pulse-pounding sequence toward the end, something approaching Hitchcockian suspense. Yet the book never feels scattershot or random--it all quietly reinforces Shaw's point that family means many different things to each of the many different people inside that unit, sometimes different things at different times and sometimes different things at once.
Perhaps the best illustration of this concept is the story of Dennis, the beloved eldest child. He takes his parents' divorce much harder than Claire (herself a divorcée) or Peter (numbed to it by his distant relationship with a father who barely conceals his lack of feeling toward him, not to mention plenty of beer and weed), and begins a pretty literal quest to find the "reason" for the divorce, thereby becoming able to prevent it. This ends up involving secret passages, X-marks-the-spot maps, and notes between his parents' younger selves, written in elaborate codes. As Dennis grows more and more insistent and angry about the divorce, his conviction that it can be "solved" like a Lost episode mounts as well, with Shaw playfully reinforcing this sense in the reader through those parlor-game clues and boy's-adventure tropes--and also, though who knows if this is deliberate, making Dennis an insufferable Flat-Earther straight out of a Stephen King story. By the time Dennis's quest ends in a heatstroke-induced "revelation" that turns out to be anything but the answer he sought, it's clear that searching for any such answer to why life works the way it does is a mug's game. That's not to say that any of the other coping mechanisms adopted by the characters are superior--simply that rambling off into your own directions stands just as much of a chance at finding you what you want.
In pitching Bottomless Bellybutton to some friends who aren't big alternative comics readers but who recently read and enjoyed Blankets, I said that the biggest difference between the two is the lack of Craig Thompson's surface-pretty art. Shaw's, by contrast, is deliberately uglified, particularly with those nothing-else-like-'em character designs. But I added that it's an ugly that's easily followed, and more to the point, easily understood. Both Blankets and Bottomless Bellybutton are about what happens when the idealized rapture of romance fades, but Bottomless takes place almost solely after the fade-out has already taken place. In this fallen world, Thompson's vistas of snow and mandalas wouldn't make a lot of sense. And while we do see one romance blossom, Shaw is intent on milking the tension between idealization and reality, starlit swims on the beach and premature ejaculation if you will. Impressive in the power of its gestalt, able to make judgments without seeming judgmental, and powerfully moving on more than one occasion, it's a mature work from a young artist who with it comes fully into his own, and a deeply pleasurable, and rewarding, read.
* Grant Morrison announces a new Vertigo series called Warcop, concerning a super-soldier and his hip teenage friend in the post-9/11 world and borrowing its title from a rejected Morrison/Madonna movie idea. How about them apples.
I have no idea how this awful thing happened. It's just one of those terrible and glorious things that happen time to time in publishing.
Italics Frank's, apparently. You can practically hear the sneer! (Via everyone)
* Jon Favreau discusses the potential presence of War Machine, the Mandarin, Matt Fraction, and IMAX 3-D technology in Iron Man 2. Wouldn't it be great if he made another really good Iron Man movie?
* I may not know toys, but I know what I like, and I totally disagree with Topless Robot's Rob Bricken regarding the superiority of the redesigned Masters of the Universe toys to the originals--a hot topic given plans to release a line of new, more articulated figures based on the original look of He-Man and friends. It just seems like a case of surface "coolness" interfering with the simple purity of streamlined ridiculousness, and it reminds me of when grown-up fanboys take beloved childhood comics characters and try to make them seem more grown-up and mature and grim and such. It's He-Man--isn't raw nostalgia the whole point?
* Dan Nadel is a cat who just don't give a fuck and that comes through entertainingly in this interview about his new Rory Hayes collection Where Demented Wented. (Via Tim Hodler.)
* I greatly enjoy Jon Hastings posts about works we both enjoy, and his recent-vintage reviews of Jason's You Can't Get There From Here and the Wachowski Bros.' Speed Racer are cases in point. Money quotes from each:
Is there something about comics as a medium that encourages so many stories about loneliness and the (often futile) search for companionship? Is it something about cartoonists that they're drawn to tell these kinds of stories? Is there some kind of Harold Bloomian agonistic anxiety of influence working on them so that they're driven to revise and elaborate on Krazy Kat?
If the guiding principle of, say, Sin City is "use CGI to bring Frank Miller's comics to 'life'", the guiding principle of Speed Racer is "use CGI to bring a world of computer-generated images to life".
* Abhay Khosla hated Secret Invasion #6 nearly as much as he loves the sound of his own voice! I dunno, he's probably a wonderful guy, and I don't disagree with him here or on many other things, but whoo, it's grating, I'm not the only one, right?
New Avengers #44
Brian Michael Bendis, writer
Billy Tan, artist
Marvel, August 2008
I've been following Marvel's Secret Invasion event somewhat with the half-hearted interest of someone who mainly wants to know what went wrong. The primary miniseries going under that title has seen six issues come and go, during which time virtually nothing has actually happened that can't be described with the sentence "The Skrulls invade, but not hard enough." Nick Fury and His Howling Characters No One Cares About have been battling the Skrulls' Mighty Marvel Mash-Ups in New York City for what seems like three years, Avengers both New and Mighty gathered in the Savage Land for an inconsequential fight with an entire shipful of head-fake superhero impostors, Reed Richards got captured but now he's free with his de-Skrulling gun that he made on the way back from Outer Space, Thor broke free from J. Michael Straczynski, and Bucky dropped in from a better comic. There you have it! It's sort of the apotheosis of problematic Brian Bendis event comics, with lots of people and lots of people standing around and sounding kind of the same and kind of out of character, a lot of things happening but none of it really mattering, and in general all of it being far less successful than his more focused, solo-character-based superhero work, which treats the superhero idiom like the world's strangest psychological coping mechanism and/or mental breakdown.
The real Secret Invasion action, in terms of enjoyable comics, has mostly come in the primary tie-ins, New Avengers and Mighty Avengers. This particular issue shows Bendis doing what he does best--"going there." I'll tell anyone who'll listen that when big-deal villains show up, they should always majorly fuck up the lives of the heroes they fight, every time. It should be a rule. Granted, the Skrulls we see at work here are doing what they're doing to lab-grown clones of Reed Richards so as to probe his mind for secrets they need for their Invasion to be successful--it's not Richards himself--but man oh man, do they ever show how far they're willing to go in service of their plans. Instead of standing around and talking like the world's most violent Scientologists, or dressing up like random assemblages of other Marvel characters and shooting Human Torch fire or Cyclops lasers outside the borders of their double-page spread, they're systematically creating human life only to torture and destroy it. Now that's the kind of villainy I can get behind! Take it together with the other issues in these ongoing series, which tend to focus on "what's up with So-and-So and how did the Skrulls get to him/not get to him" questions with precision, perverse imagination, and unsparing ugliness, and you have to wonder if some of this material couldn't have been present in the main mini. If you'd shoved aside all the explosions and summary executions, you could have made room for the serious-business character crises that made Bendis the superhero writer to read in the early part of this decade, and still make Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man among my favorite genre titles.
Rick Wright died today. Certainly the moment of his career that leaped out in my mind--and one of my favorite Pink Floyd moments of all--is this song from The Dark Side of the Moon. I've often thought that his piano work on this song is the most overlooked potential sample of all time. Its combination of gentleness and relentlessness, the sense that you're quietly being pushed toward something potentially terrible or at the very least transformative, is haunting and difficult to shake. Of course it is in fact slowly propelling you toward Clare Torry's tear-down-the-sky vocals, as chill-inducing a representation of man's fear of mortality as rock music is likely to produce; but then it's still there as the vocals slowly fades into a quiet, more contemplative mode, each chord reminding you that movement toward that final destination is inevitable, you can put it off for now, the moment has passed, but don't worry, it'll be right over here, waiting, it has all the time in the world.
If you have to be a member of one of the greatest bands ever, and you have to die, you could do a lot worse in terms of leaving behind work to be remembered by, and to remind people why your work mattered in the first place, than to have this song in your repertoire, that's for goddamn sure.
* I want to note that yes, I realize that when I post about movie biz rumors and remakes and so on I tend to say "they're planning" or "they're talking about" or "they're going to make" rather than name the interested parties. This is because I see the kinds of Hollywood people who make these plans as an undifferentiated They--for what it's worth, in my mind They wear jeans and nice shoes and dress shirts with the collar unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up, and they tend to have goatees. They sing along to "Opportunities" by the Pet Shop Boys and mean it.
* Speaking of Them, They have not yet told Edward Norton whether they want him to have anything to do with the Incredible Hulk sequel. He also kinda poo-poos the idea of an Avengers movie. All of this is a shame, because he's good.
* Motions for new trials of the West Memphis Three, based on DNA evidence, have been denied. Accidentally stumbling across the HBO documentary about the case years ago, Paradise Lost, was one of my most memorable "sitting alone late at night at my folks' house flipping through the channels" experiences ever. For those who are unfamiliar, three teenagers were convicted of the murder of three eight-year-old boys based on the "confession" of a kid with an IQ of 72 and rock-solid evidence that the three teenagers liked Aleister Crowley and heavy metal.
* Kevin Melrose spots a treat in Marvel's December solicits: Incognito, a new superhero-noir series from the Criminal and Sleeper team, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Part of me hopes that this isn't some sort of reflection on the nature of the demand for non-superhero genre titles in the Direct Market, but another part of me is just plain excited for another superhero book from the guys who did Criminal.
* Writer J.M DeMatteis blogs about the genesis of my favorite Spider-Man story, Kraven's Last Hunt. It's a pretty overbaked bit of reminiscing, but if you like the story you really oughta read it, if only to see the quirks of fate that prevented it from being a Wonder Man or Batman story. (Via Rick Marshall.)
* Would you like to know why I like He-Man? Here's a for instance: The action figure for Mer-Man looked completely different than how he was depicted on the figure's packaging, so in their new Masters of the Unvierse Classic series, Mattel will be releasing him with an extra head.
Meanwhile, click over to He-Man.org and scroll down to the September 11th post (no permalinks on Eternia!) and you'll find this amazing passage in a post about whether or not the Classic series will retain the original's action features--springing, spinning, extending, and so on:
To elaborate on the action features question, yes obviously Tri-Klops will have a spinning visor, Man-E-Faces will have a spinning head and Rio Blast would have pop out guns. (pending we can get to all of those great characters)
Where you won't see action features is on mechanical features - ie: Snout Spout will likely not spit water, Sy-Klone will likely not have a spinning mechanism, Stinkor will likely not smell and Ram-Man would likely not have a pop out body.
But Extendar would extend, the Rock people would fold up and Scare Glow might even have glow in the dark paint if it works out.
Yes, obviously Tri-Klops will have a spinning visor. People, He-Man is so, so great. I'm not a toy collector anymore, but I have to admit that this MotUC thing, coupled with the existence in my new house of a "rumpus room" dedicated solely to my crap, has me sorely tempted. They go on sale starting this December. (All via Topless Robot.)
* Speaking of Topless Robot, Kevin J. Guhl presents The 8 Biggest Reasons the G.I. Joe Comic Kicks the Cartoon's Ass. I was most definitely a Joe-cartoon kid rather than a Joe-comic one, so if nothing else this is a glimpse at what the comic kids found appealing about the surprisingly long-running series. (12 years! Longer than your childhood!) However, I could guess before getting any further than the headline that one of the reasons would involve making fun of Cobra-La, the crazy Himalayan race of mutant ur-humans, in whose number G.I. Joe: The Movie "revealed" that we could count none other than Cobra Commander. Sure enough, Guhl pisses all over this wonderfully nutso concept in favor of CC's comic-book origin, which is that he was a used car salesman who got fed up with the system. I am totally not kidding. For some reason, this origin is supposed to mesh better with the notion that G.I. JOE IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. Go figure!
* This Space Ghost Coast to Coast segment (via--where else?--Topless Robot) pretty much encapsulates every thought College Sean had about the fundamental nature and awesomeness of Thom Yorke, Björk, Tricky, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
Primus - "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver (Live at Woodstock '94)"
Now that we're somewhat settled into our new home, The Missus and I finally set up our "music room," with all of our CDs neatly arranged in a series of bookshelves. This gave me an excuse to go through them and rip a bunch to mp3, which led to me seriously listening to Primus for the first time in probably half a decade.
The early '90s were a very strange, very wonderful time, insofar as that once Nirvana opened the door for outsider culture, anything and everything was welcomed through. Rockabilly? Great, c'mon in! Industrial? Nice to make your acquaintance! John Waters movies? Happy to have you! Piercings? Yes, please! Spoken word? Where do I sign up? I lived it, I took it for granted, I miss it even now. But of all the bizarre, how the hell did this happen manifestations of freakdom's sudden and inexplicable supremacy during that era, I think that perhaps the strangest is that this band had a platinum, Top 10 record.
In America, in the '90s, you could sing songs astutely chronicling the demimonde of degenerate meth-addicted blue-collar Diane Arbus rejects in a cartoon character voice while slapping your lead fretless bass guitar and repeatedly jerking your leg up and down and become a huge band capable of absolutely killing an audience of thousands and thousands of people.
Fun fact: Since the closest I ever got to the Long Island hardcore scene was making fun of it, it's not like I've got a plethora of scary pit stories to recount, but to the extent that I do, the scariest pit I was ever in was during "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" at the Primus gig at Roseland. Each time he'd say "Go!", it was like that scene in 28 Weeks Later where the infected get into the parking garage.
* Jon Favreau talks to SciFi wire about keeping the Iron Man franchise believable in the face of the Mandarin, Thor, and other perils of Marvel-based moviemaking.
* Jason Adams posts a screencap-laden tribute to Fear(s) of the Dark, the animated horror anthology film featuring Charles Burns, Blutch, Lorenzo Mattotti and more, by way of noting that the movie will start screening in NYC and on demand on October 24th.
* Nick Bertozzi has posted some preview pages from his upcoming graphic novel with Colbert Report writer Glenn Eichler, Stuffed!
* The L.A. Times posts some unused excerpts from their upcoming profile of Lost's perpetually erudite Michael Emerson, aka the best villain on television, Ben Linus. (Via Whitney Matheson.)
* io9 interviews A+D, the mash-up producers and DJs behind indispensable mash-up site/club night/etc. Bootie.
* Yo, I totally agree that "Cobra Commander as disgruntled used car salesman" is as zany an idea in its own way as "Cobra Commander as Himalayan mutant-man." That was my point! I'm just saying that it's a mugs game to try to use something that self-evidently cockamamie as evidence that the G.I. Joe comics were far more mature than the kids'-stuff cartoons, which I've seen people do. (Via Leigh Walton.)
Surely one of the great miracles of living in this, the New Golden Age of Comics, is that one can own in the neighborhood of a dozen different Jason books, in English. Perhaps the single strongest page in this entire collection is the final one, where the covers of nine of the great Scandinavian cartoonist's other available works are arranged in a Watchmen-style grid. It makes you want to declare victory on behalf of comics and go home. Mission accomplished!
In the early days of Jason's translation and introduction into the English-speaking altcomix world, I remember hearing complaints about how Fantagraphics was presenting only one side of a very multifaceted artist--the grim, silent side. Perhaps that was true at the time, but in setting up such an austere (and, lest we forget, extraordinarily impressive) foundation, Fanta only served to heighten the impact of each new release as it strayed into the unexplored territory of genre--comedy, horror, thrillers, science fiction, and more, each with Jason's trademark ruminative, fatalistic edge.
Pocket Full of Rain represents the apotheosis of this trend, dipping into the artist's rich back catalog to dredge up works that expand the boundaries of what constitutes a "Jason comic" not only narratively but artistically. Showcasing a variety of early art styles--realism, funnypages cartooniness, altcomix weirdness--outside of his usual anthropomorphism, it's dazzling in how conclusive an argument it makes that Jason could have gone in any of those directions and been nearly as successful as he is today. The title story, an existential thriller in the mode of Why Are You Doing This? only with humans (and the occasional alien) in lieu of funny animals, sort of makes me wish I could dip into an alternate universe where Jason's career doing Gilbert Hernandez-style magic-realist crime stories using Adrian Tomine-like figurework continues unabated. (The way he plays with the passage of time, metonymizing scenes into single panels, is particularly reminiscent of Los Bros' skills in that area.) A handful of surreal stories about death toward the end of the collection reveal an artist who's equally at home actually doing horror as he is riffing on it in books like The Living and the Dead. A sampling of gag strips involving a prisoner, a cactus, a ghost and other seemingly randomly selected images plucked from Jason's subconscious might have blossomed into a hit webcomic in a different era. Yet despite dating back as long as 15 years ago, it's all of a piece with Jason's familiar and haunting obsession with the capricious nature of life, as represented by sudden violence, the non sequitur intrusion of pop culture icons and tropes, the random collection of moments that taken together constitute love or its loss. Either as an introduction to Jason's work or a reward for those who've followed it all along, this book's a gem.
...The Dark Knight made people forget all about Nicholson’s hammy Joker.
Certainly the last thing we'd want is for a killer clown to be over-the-top!
* Jon Hastings talks about the difference between criticism and "giving notes."
* Like Chris Butcher I'm often baffled as to why it's so hard to convince comics people to do the right thing, but here's as good a reason as any: people often do the wrong thing simply because they don't know what the hell they're doing! In my experience in comics, the worst conduct is usually perpetrated by people in the process of running their businesses (and sometimes the businesses of others) into the ground. That's not a coincidence! Can we at least agree that people who are serial ruiners-of-companies--these nightmarish Bizarro Mariano Rivieras who never fail to close down their own ventures, in the process lying and robbing and sucking up as much cash for themselves and their cronies as they can and leaving others holding the bag--are to be shunned, if not on moral grounds then just from the self-interested perspective of not wanting to do business with proven losers?
* Here's Sir Ben Kingsley pretending to be Ian MacKaye performing the song "Minor Threat." (Via Pitchfork.) You're going to have to turn this opportunity yes.
* Jog reviews Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman #12, while Quitely talks to Newsarama about it. If you were wondering, and here be SPOILERS my first impression of the issue was that it was fine, but not the knockout blow I was hoping for and that Morrison is capable of delivering in his finales (see The Filth #12, Seven Soldiers of Victory #1, Seaguy #3). Maybe if it had ended with Superman inside the sun, I dunno. Maybe the big 2uperman symbol will click emotionally with me soon. I suppose that like Jog I was so convinced that Leo Quintum was Lex Luthor that I turned that last page expecting him to rip off his wig, and when it didn't happen I was perplexed.
Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka, writers
Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano, artists
Marvel, September 2008
Since I last took a Comics Time look at this series, it's remained the least attention-getting of Ed Brubaker's Marvel titles, lacking the sales of Uncanny X-Men and Captain America and the buzz of Immortal Iron Fist and Criminal. In that time it's become a Gotham Central reunion, too, with Greg Rucka joining the Brubaker/Lark/Gaudiano team. And it's taken a big step away from constantly crescendoing turmoil for the life of its main character, which has been the series' M.O. since Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev took it over, if not since Frank Miller established the template. What you've got instead feels more like a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as Daredevil and his private investigator friend Dakota North pull a Stabler & Benson and try to figure out why the FBI is covering up the murder of children while framing a former super-thug. Turns out it's a Lucky Luciano-style deal with one of Marvel's stock gangland figures to keep an eye on the docks he runs, ensuring that no Latverian or Madripoorian terrorists sneak in.
In other words it's nothing you haven't seen before...yet there's something enormously satisfying about that. As much fun as it can be to follow superheroes through a series of interconnected, constantly escalating crises, it can also be pretty exhausting. Stepping back from shadowy masterminds manipulating Matt Murdock's life for pleasure and profit and simply having the guy break the fingers of crooked Feds to spring a character named Big Ben from jail has its own rewards. Meanwhile, if we must get macro about it, finally letting DD settle in to a status quo, however briefly, can only enhance the impact of his next world-turned-upside-down arc. God only knows who or what "Lady Bullseye" is and what or who she'll be doing next issue, but I'm happy to have a potboiler breather before finding out.
* Alan Moore hates Hollywood in general and the Watchmen adaptation in particular. I'm with Tom Spurgeon in that Moore should be applauded for his stance regarding his own shoddy treatment by his former publisher and the way his books have been dumbed down by the studios and filmmakers heretofore in charge of adapting them; moreover, I'd take Moore thumbing his nose at the whole Hollywood game over Mark Millar claiming to star opposite Megan Fox's Lois Lane in the next Superman movie anyday. However, decrying Hollywood filmmaking in general--there's no other way to put this--is ignorant and poseurish, like the people who sit around saying "oh, I don't watch television" in this the New Golden Age of Television. There are plenty of shitty Hollywood movies, but there are plenty of shitty everything. There are plenty of shitty Alan Moore comics, in fact. But I'm not going to throw out the A Small Killing with the Violator anymore than I'm going to throw out, oh I don't know, the Lord of the Rings with the Transformers. Alan Moore's too smart to be as close-minded as he always comes across when he leaps from specifically commenting on his own misfortunes to a poorly thought through institutional critique. (Full disclosure: I liked Dawn of the Dead and 300 so I'm going to assume I'll like Watchmen, too, but I'd say the same thing about Moore's overall stance even if Joel Schumacher were in charge of the movie.)
Captain Britain and MI:13 #5
Paul Cornell, writer
Pat Oliffe, artist
Marvel, September 2008
Hahahahahahaha! What a last page! I can't remember the last time I was that tickled and delighted by the end of a superhero series' monthly installment. Heck, the last time I laughed that hard at a comic, I was reading Tales Designed to Thrizzle. But this is a different kind of laugh, the kind you get from watching Doomsday or something like that--ah, I don't want to spoil it. You should read it for yourself.
Which I suppose is what I want to say about the whole comic. Captain Britain & MI:13 has had an unusual life so far. It's part of Marvel's recent strategy of launching new ongoing series with story arcs that tie in with the event du jour. In this case, Captain Britain, the Black Knight, Spitfire, Pete Wisdom, John the Skrull and some other British heroes repelled a Skrull invasion of the U.K. designed to capture the magic of Avalon to use against humankind. It was a clever enough raison d'etre for a tie-in, reminiscent of the way The Incredible Hercules had a Secret Invasion tie-in arc about gods from Marvel's various pantheons waging war against the Skrull's own deities, but since this was the first glimpse anyone had at the series it was tough to figure out how it would feel when removed from that event-comic "everybody against overwhelming evil for all the marbles" feel. I figured I'd take a look at this issue, the first one outside the SI umbrella, think to myself "eh, well done for what it is, but not for me," and be on my way.
Chances are I'll be sticking around. Writer Paul Cornell is taking a pre-existing, already appealing batch of characters and concepts and putting them together in a solid team concept: a melange of gaudy, famous superheroes, secret Captain America-style black ops guys, and enthusiastic civilian-adventurers are employed to keep the United Kingdom safe from evil supernatural entities freed during the Skrull invasion. Now that I think of it, it's a bit like the full-of-promise Breakout arc of New Avengers, where a varied group of superheroes formed an ad hoc team dedicated to tracking down supercriminals freed during a raid on a supermax prison, and finding whoever was responsible for the breakout. That very quickly got sidetracked by storyarcs explaining who each of the more obscure team members actually were, but it was a swell idea, and hopefully here we'll see it put into practice.
But more than just the nuts and bolts basics of the superconcepts involved (which I'll admit are a big part of it--heck, a part of me thought that even if it was a bad book I'd stick around just to see if and when Union Jack joined the team), Cornell has imbued it with lively, entertaining dialogue, particularly from the sensational character find of the comic, Faisa Hussain. This accidental superheroine--a motormouthed, starstruck, Excalibur-wielding, (oh yeah) Muslim doctor who gained healing powers from a Skrull contraption--is just a cool code name away from being the most unique, and well-realized, new Marvel hero since the Runaways. (Although I guess none of the Runaways' codenames ever really stuck. Oh well.) It's the kind of writing capable of making the arrival of Blade (British-born, you know) actually seem like a big honking deal. Which leads us to that last page...hahahahahahahahaha!
Earlier in the '00s, many of the best superhero comics self-consciously dealt with self-conscious second-string superheroes and supervillains. While the marquee characters were still tied up with fairly old-school superheroics, writers from Brian Michael Bendis to Peter Milligan examined what it might be like to be an extraordinary being who, for whatever reason, wasn't seen as being all that extraordinary by the people of their world. It was an extremely meta idea--after all, it was real-world fans who decided that Spider-Man was a superstar, and the fiction just twisted to reflect that. Eventually it became a reflexive tic of writers to have any characters who weren't members of the Justice League, the Avengers, or the Uncanny X-Men describe themselves as D-listers, and whatever point was being made about celebrity or identity was lost. These days, the most rewarding superhero titles that star characters who aren't on the short list for movie treatment--The Incredible Hercules, The Immortal Iron Fist, Agents of Atlas, Captain Britain--don't comment on that fact, they take advantage of it, using these characters' remove from the Big Events and megateams to carve out their own way of doing superhero comics: incorporating other genres, expanding their mythologies, giving the characters a different goal, adopting a different tone than the current "Lost riff and/or summer popcorn movie" options have to offer. As seen here, it's an engaging, successful strategy.
Should The Wire have been nominated for more than the paltry two Emmy nods it garnered during its five-season run? Of course. It was a really good show, and if it wasn't among the top five dramas each year it ran then shit, I must be missing some pretty excellent dramas. And of course the acting was superb across the board. And Season Two! And Season Four!
(And that's without even going into the notion that it's not simply the best drama in the history of television (which, no), but the best show, inviting apples-to-oranges comparisons with everything from Meet the Press to Monty Python's Flying Circus. Madness.)
One of my favorite things on Earth that I do is a tradition among various current and former Wizard staffers (a lot more former than current at this point!) called the Manly Movie Mamajama. On a more or less quarterly basis, 10-20 of us will get together some night, get a ton of beer and junk food, and watch three macho-ish genre movies in a row while hooting and hollering at the screen. It's kind of like Mystery Science Theater 3000, only with more drunken screaming of the word "YEAH!!!!" for each topless scene and exploding head.
Because I feel like it, here is a rundown of each MMM we've done so far--the themes and the films.
THE MANLY MOVIE MAMAJAMA
MMM1: ROADS AND/OR WARRIORS
1. Road House
2. The Warriors
3. The Road Warrior
MMM2: DYSTOPIAN FUTURES AND/OR KURT RUSSELL
4. The Running Man
5. Escape from New York
6. Big Trouble in Little China
MMM3: VERHOEVEN IN VER-GOSHEN
8. Total Recall
9. Starship Troopers
MMM4: GET WELL, FIDEL
10. Red Dawn
11. Invasion U.S.A.
12. Rambo: First Blood Part II
13. The Monster Squad
15. The Thing
MMM6: FEMININE FILM FEST
16. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
18. The Descent
MMM7: STALLONE IN THE DARK
19. Over the Top
20. Death Race 2000
21. Rocky IV
MMM8: MMMY BUDDY
22. Dead Heat
23. Point Break
24. Tango & Cash
MMM9: NIGHT OF THE LIVING NIGHTS
25. Night of the Comet
26. Night of the Creeps
MMM10: MONSTER MOVIE MAMAJAMA
29. King Kong Lives
30. Reign of Fire
MMM11: SWAYZE FROM THE HEAT, OR "THEY SAVED PATRICK SWAYZE'S PANCREAS: A VERY SPECIAL MMM"
31. Road House
32. Steel Dawn
33. Point Break
MMM12: THE MODERN MANLY MOVIE
There are just so, so many things I enjoy about the MMMs: Drinking like it's a night out at college, then collecting all the empties and photographing them for posterity. Greeting each famous one-liner and infamous groaners like a visit from the Pope. Eating pizza, buffalo wing pretzel bits, sour patch kids, and those store-brand chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms instead of chips that they sell in those plastic containers in the bakery aisle. More or less openly ogling Patrick Swayze's ass (seriously, have you seen that guy in his prime lately? Unbelievable). The ongoing, unofficial contest for "line of the night" from the peanut gallery (my all-time favorite, from Todd Ciolek, after some of us decried the gratuitousness with which that three-breasted hooker gets shot in Total Recall: "Well, to be fair, it had been almost five minutes since a woman was brutally murdered onscreen."). The amazing commemorative T-shirts made by Zach Oat (my faves include a Che-style portrait of Patrick Swayze from Red Dawn for "Get Well, Fidel" and a Hellraiser/Monster Squad mash-up featuring the immortal line "Pinhead Stole My Twinkie" for Schlocktoberfest). The money we raised for pancreatic cancer and cyclone relief in Burma during "Swayze from the Heat" and "The Modern Manly Movie" respectively. The wee-hours viewings of the final film in each marathon, which separate the men from the boys and the caffeinated from the comatose. The email chains leading up to the selection of each line-up, and celebrating the impending festivities ("What do you get when you mess with the Orphans? Is the Lord Humungus a reasonable man? Does pain hurt? The answers to these questions and more in just two hours."). And that's before you even get into the films themselves, the influence of which on my aesthetics of late cannot be exaggerated: great rough-and-tumble warts-and-all affairs, nearly all set in a world where the way to make sense of things is to kill someone. Bloody and profane and glorious--just like, on a good night, the Manly Movie Mamajama itself.
* My post on me and my friends' Manly Movie Mamajama mini-marathons has now spawned more comments than any other post in the history of this blog. Included therein are outside suggestions (usually along incredulous "What, no [film title]?!?!" lines), a veritable highlight reel of golden MMM moments, and the beginnings of the deliberation process for the next MMM line-up.
* Speaking of the MMM, my pal Justin Aclin sheds a little more light into their evolution, and how they've influenced our work together on Twisted ToyFare Theater, at the ToyFare blog.
* Hey, remember every awesome thing that happened on Lost? So does this list of The Top 50 OMGWTF Lost Moments! Even though it occasionally consolidates nominally connected moments that really each deserve their own entries, it still does a phenomenal, even invigorating job of remind you why you are so into this show in the first place. I quite clearly remember being delighted/horrified/both by pretty much every moment on the list, which when you think about it is quite an achievement for the show. (Via Whitney Matheson.)
* Speaking of good television, I'm continuing to defend my skepticism about GOAT claims for The Wire over at Matthew Yglesias's blog.
* Because you demanded it! Ron Rege Jr. converts the cover for his recent collection Against Pain into the political statement several viewers thought he was making in the first place. (Note that the flub can cut both ways, as a co-blogger at cartoonist Sammy Harkham's Family blog recently titled an anti-Palin post "Against Pain.")
* Speaking of Gov. Palin, it's been a while since I posted a "the state of the beast" link: The Humane Society has endorsed the Obama/Biden ticket--their first-ever presidential endorsement--in large part as a response to Palin's political and personal track record of animal cruelty (via Andrew Sullivan):
Gov. Sarah Palin's (R-Alaska) retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation have led to an all-out war on Alaska's wolves and other creatures. Her record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States.
Palin engineered a campaign of shooting predators from airplanes and helicopters, in order to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters. She offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf as an economic incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more of the animals, even though Alaska voters had twice approved a ban on the practice.
* My pal Rick Marshall peels back the curtain on adjusting to MTV's corporate culture with his gig at their comics/movie blog Splash Page. Of particular interest is the section in which he describes trying to carve out a way not to just talk about the subject matter, but say something about it too.
* Speaking of Splash Page, Brett Ratner is a damn fool. Still, I'm sure The Joker: Lethal Protector will go from his lips to God's ears, goddammit.
* Your NERDS ARE SERIOUS BUSINESS update for the day: Jason Adams bemoans the not-very-good, failing superhero TV show Heroes' systematic removal of fun from the superhero idiom. THESE ARE MODERN MYTHS JASON STFU
* Speaking of NERDS ARE SERIOUS BUSINESS, the reaction to this ought to be a hoot: Samuel L. Jackson refers to Frank Miller's upcoming adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit as "Wile E. Coyote with real people." DOUBLEPLUSUNGOODTHINKFUL
* And speaking of Jason Adams, both Jason and his pal Joe Reid damn The Midnight Meat Train with faint praise. Dammit. Between the lukewarm reaction from bloggers I trust and my Missus-mandated current Netflixing of Gossip Girl, seeing this film is slipping lower and lower on my priority list.
* Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You reviews Benjamin Christensen's fascinating-sounding 1922 horror/documentary/meta/surrealist hybrid film Häxan.
* This Tom Spurgeon review of a World of Warcraft comic is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it's always fun to watch Tom flay the hide off a dopey comic, especially one you can picture in your head well enough to know it probably deserves it. Second, he kicks it off with a description of his interest in WoW that maps nearly perfectly to my own:
I generally like fantasy. I even enjoy the multi-player on-line version of fantasy that you get in things like World of Warcraft. The participation of so many people with overlapping motivations and gives that game and others reminiscent of its basic model of play a uniqueness that barrels over the massive, derivative nature of those enterprises as stories. I don't care about the in-game play, but I like to read writers like Bruce Baugh talking about it, and I greatly enjoy when something weird happens during gameplay -- someone cheats, someone does something awful -- that results in a YouTube video.
* Michael Stipe is continuing to answer questions about R.E.M.'s lyrics at Matthew Perpetua's Pop Songs 07-08 blog. It’s only after reading that he writes his lyrics on a computer that I realized my unconscious picture of all songwriters is that they scribble their lyrics on a notepad or torn sheet of paper or napkin or something. Why would I think that?
Everyone loves Yacht Rock, as everyone should, but I think the non-lowercase-yacht-rock-themed "Runnin' with the Devil" may be my favorite episode. This is because even though it's a parody of Van Halen, in parodying the band they capture everything that's actually great about them. Everything that happens from about 3:20 inward in this video is basically a depiction of what made the real-world Van Halen awesome or the appropriate real-world reaction to their awesomeness, maybe slightly exaggerated--actually, more likely slightly understated.
Copies of New Engineering should be automatically sent to any comics artist who draws action for a living, through the mail, courtesy of state or local authorities, in much the same way that Billy Joel's Greatest Hits is issued to all Long Island residents when they reach age 10. It's just something they're going to need if they want to keep up.
Unfettered by plot or character considerations as such, Yokoyama's comics are pure action: combat and construction most memorably, but also travel and some sort of bizarre approximation of automation. With a no-nonsense line Yokoyama follows objects in motion, allowing layout within each panel and on each page to be dictated simply by the inherent length of each action beat rather than any kind of human or emotional component. The result is an always fresh, frequently thrilling approach to choreographing and staging the movement of physical bodies through space.
In battle comics like "Book" and "Model Room," Yokoyama frequently captures his combatants and their weaponry at the vertex of their movement--that moment at the top of the roller coaster where you're about to shift from tilting forward to tilting backward. The view constantly shifts to show us the most exciting possible vantage point, allowing thrown objects (or people!) to guide us to a new vantage point within the space. (Think of that bit in The Fellowship of the Ring where we travel across the chasm with Legolas's arrow and switch our POV when it hits its target, so we now are seeing all the physical space described by the arrow's path.)
Yokoyama's "Engineering" comics, wild onslaughts of strange, seemingly purposeless terraforming of featureless natural landscapes into pre-fab mountains, rivers, forests and so on, do just as much to call our attention to how things move. I particularly like the contrast between the great rolls of astroturf that unfurl off into the distance and the enormous boulders that are dropped from above and thud into their destinations as resolutely as possible. The human workers in these comics are also dynamos, frantically running around performing their tasks and screaming all the way. (You'll have to check the footnotes for the sound effects to pick up on that, though. Yokoyama's art is inseparable from his sound effects, leaving his translators with the unenviable task of figuring out how to tell us what the hell is going on. They opt for a footnote approach so as not to clutter up the art, which I understand, but as always with manga I think a discrete English subtitle beneath each sound cue would go a long way toward legibility.)
I think it's that fast pace, and the screaming, that give us the key to what's going on here. (Or maybe not--the interview and notes included in the supplemental material don't reveal a lot regarding his philosophical intentions, which to be honest is fine with me.) Everything in New Engineering happenshappenshappens and then ENDS, often in the most nonsensical ways--the cataclysmic "Engineering" series in particular tends to end with amusing anticlimaxes, like everyone rushing into the big boulder-thing they just built only to stand still in a small square room. It's a rush to do big out of control things for little discernible purpose, and certainly no regard for their ultimate effects. It all feels eerily familiar.
* Due to her absence from the initial wave of hype about the project's upcoming relief, as well as some cryptic statements on her blog, I thought the great Phoebe Gloeckner was no longer associated with actress Mia Kirshner's book about violence against women and children, I Live Here. However, this interview with Kirshner at PW Comics Week makes it seem like Gloeckner's still aboard. There's really no limit to my enthusiasm for her work and seeing more of it in any form would be the highlight of my comics-reading year, to say nothing of the profound need for more attention to the subject matter--in the case of Gloeckner's contribution to the book, the epidemic slaughter of women and girls in Juarez, Mexico. (Via Chris Mautner.)
* I guess there's something in the air with liberal bloggers and pop culture, because fresh from Matt Yglesias overselling The Wire, Ezra Klein sticks both fists into the Goatse-sized plot holes in Heroes. In discussing that show today I realized that much of my loathing for it stems from how its fandom was a direct offshoot of the "Lost sucks!" movement during early Season Three of that show. Who sucks now, fanboys?
* More political bloggers gone pop: Ta-Nehisi Coates notes the personal cultural crisis he experienced when he realized he didn't really care for current hip-hop anymore. I'm not a black man (I hope you were sitting down!) so I didn't experience things in the intense self-examinging way he did, necessarily, but I'm at least one white boy who fell out of love with the genre's new stuff around the exact same time he did, reverting to listening to old stuff and/or other genres much like he did, so I think it's safe to blame the music for sucking rather than any sort of ethnographic phenomenon.
My buddy Sean T. Collins has a new comic up at Top Shelf 2.0! It is… not for the squeemish. You know what? I'm kind of disturbed that the knowledge that this script came from a friend of mine doesn't worry me in the slightest. I read it and I think, "Yeah, I can see Sean writing this." And I DON'T EVEN FLINCH. Oi.
Carnival of souls: special IMPORTANT "KITCHEN SINK" UPDATE edition
* I'll put up a separate post about this as well, but you know that strip me and Matt Rota did, "Kitchen Sink," that is now up on Top Shelf's website? Due to an error that I'll assume was mine, the version that was initially posted was an early draft, pages 4 and 5 of which were substantially revised in terms of dialogue for the final version. That final version is now up, and I think you'll find it very different and, I hope, much clearer in intent. (Even before this snafu I'd written a comic about why I made the changes I made to this strip, so you'll probably get the story on that eventually if you want to see it.)
* The big news of the day is obviously the shuttering of DC's Minx line of graphic novels for teenage girls. CBR's Andy Khouri broke the story, Tom Spurgeon has a big, well, let's call it a shrugpiece up that's the most thorough and thoughtful thing you'll read about it, and Heidi MacDonald links to reactions.
* The aspect of the story that means the most to me is what it means for the career of Ross Campbell, who published the very weird and very good Water Baby through the line and who Bryan Lee O'Malley points out is, between Minx and Tokyopop, sort of cursed with this sort of thing. Campbell says while there weren't any concrete plans for a Water Baby sequel, he had at least planned it a bit; providing the rights situation is smooth he'll be incorporating some of the book's characters into his series Wet Moon.
* I don't really care about Cloverfield director Matt Reeves (the poor guy who played fourth banana behind J.J. Abrams, Drew Goddard, and the dude behind the camera) remaking a recent Swedish vampire film called Let the Right One In beyond the fact that that's a terrific title and the poster for the original is gorgeous. Eat it, Trajan.
* They're doing a prequel to I Am Legend, which as I've said could be a very good thing if they take to heart the deserved criticism of the original's unscary CGI monsters and forced ending.
* At The House Next Door, Brandon Soderberg pens an excellent post about four very, very affecting M83 singles and videos: "Don't Save Us from the Flames," "Teen Angst," "Graveyard Girl," and "Kim & Jessie." I love these songs and videos so much that everything else I've heard from M83 has left me flat, but Soderberg really gets at how both the audio and video components of each nails the romantic/Romantic teenage experience without idealizing it. About the only thing he doesn't get spot on is the power of the image of the little dog's ghost in "Graveyard Girl," which has made me cry at least twice. Here's a sample quote:
Too often, especially in movies that grossly misread the classic 80s Hughes films—to which all these videos owe a debt—the “outsider” is either a kind of “diamond in the rough” who just needs to meet the right people or a decided outsider who is “better” than those around them. It’s not so simple here, where Frost and Gonzalez expertly illustrate the dark-haired girl’s ennui without totally justifying it. She’s clearly more interesting than the average kid, and there’s something affecting about her biking around in her soccer uniform, but she’s a bit much.
The actress is perfect because she’s pretty enough, but insular and awkward enough too, and that’s what sort of makes her life suck. She’s the kind of girl who after a few years in college or in “the real world” won’t be an outsider at all, but for the time being is weird because she’s quiet and draws pictures and daydreams. It’s more affecting because her life isn’t completely hopeless; she’s not Martha Dumptruck.
* Ron Rege Jr. has been posting some very, very cool text-incorporating art lately.
* Jason Adams touts the T. Rex sequence in Jurassic Park as "one of the finest accomplishments in all of cinema. It's up there with Eisenstein's Odessa Steps as far as I'm concerned." I haven't really ever returned to the movie, but the experience Jason describes having had with the sequence is exactly like how I feel about the attack run on the first Death Star in Star Wars. That is a perfect action sequence. In my experience (and I've had a lot on this score!) if someone walks into a room and it's on, they will stay to watch it through the end, almost guaranteed.
* Finally, remember the other day when I echoed Tom Spurgeon's fondness for Bruce Baugh's writing on World of Warcraft? (phew!) This post is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. What's fascinating isn't just how Bruce makes the game accessible to non-players without really even seeming to try, but what he has to say about why he plays in the first place and what he tries to get out of it when he does so. I don't know about you, but I'm accustomed to thinking of video games, role-playing games, and even sports in terms of winning and losing, trying to do awesome things and trying to avoid sucking, pwning people and getting pwned. All of that can be fun! But Bruce effortlessly points out there's any number of other ways to emotionally engage with a game. He talks about how repetitive actions and dreary landscapes weigh on his moods, how he selects companion creatures in order to maximize the aspects of the game he enjoys and (literally) brighten the day, how he's currently playing to do all the things he always wanted to do but hadn't gotten around to yet. Unsurprisingly the approach is similar to Bruce's attitude toward art, which is generally one of setting out to enjoy things because enjoying things is good for you. I don't know how much of all of this is the child of necessity given Bruce's often dicey health situation and an often literally physical need to have fun rather than be pissed, but god is it refreshing!
In my experience most autobiographical comics come from a place of, if not quite acceptance, than at least understanding. To be really pat about it, they seem to be an artist's way of making sense of their own lives. Not so with T. Edward Bak's Service Industry, which feels less like a reflection upon events and more like a wounded, panicked wail about them. The book's structure--alternating with little warning between present-day ruminations, autobio flashbacks, and dreamlike flights of fancy shot through with atheistic metaphysics and brutal self-deprecation--suggests nothing so much as a man coming apart at the seams. The Bak presented here has been driven to the brink by being a thinking man who's realized he can't think himself out of the problems that demand his mental and emotional attention. He's aware of the pointlessness of his menial job as a dishwasher in the increasingly stratified American class system, which in its way he blames for a tormented family history that includes his mother's abandonment of his infant sister, his military father's abandonment of the whole family (to become a minister), and his own abandonment of his ethnic heritage--but he feels incapable of doing anything about any of it. Certainly he rejects the potential of his comics to make a bit of difference, and in that light his draftsmanship and line--neither as sophisticated as his concepts or layouts, but both adequate--actually reinforce his point through their lack of showiness. (It's easier to bellyfeel that Bak feels like it's all a waste of time than it would be if he could draw like Chris Ware.) It's this conflict between awareness and agency that fuels Service Industry's ever-increasing sense of desperation, and possibly even breakdown. In that way it's a frightening comic. You know how you reach a certain age and notice you're not getting any happier, and instead of being romantic in a teenage-wasteland kind of way, the idea that you'll be battling sadness for the rest of your life now fills you with abject horror?
What We Talk About When We Talk About Gossip Girl, or: How I Haven't Quite Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chuck Bass
The Missus has started us on Netflixing Gossip Girl. It's pretty entertaining so far, one disc in. My observations:
1) We were hoping for a Cruel Intentions level of sleaziness and that's what we're getting.
2) Blake Lively, who is nonetheless pretty and despite being a real teenager in these early episodes, looks like she's had a few trips around the track. The Missus scoffed at what she thought must be her real age before I remembered she'd just had her 21st birthday like a week ago.
3) As Matthew Perpetua pointed out to me, all the actors have better rich-people/soap opera names in real life than they do on the show. Blake Lively (a girl!), Leighton Meester (another girl!), Penn Badgely (that one's a guy).
4) Also, because my only knowledge of Gossip Girl prior to watching it was the fact that the actors are now famous and lead glamorous tabloidy lives IRL, I actually think of them as characters rather than thinking of the characters themselves. When Matthew mentioned the character "Serena" to me, I actually said "Who's that? The only one I know is Blake Lively."
This led to a lot of discussion between me and various friends. First up was some comment/email-thread chat between some members of the Wizard diaspora.
I'm enjoying it so far! I'm not really sure how I feel about the rapey guy, though.
I was talking to a co-worker about Chuck (aka rapey guy) the other day and while they could have done an interesting "redemption" arc with him, I guess, there's really no coming back from attempted rape. Without spoiling anything, they essentially do the equivalent of retconning said attempted rape (in that it's never really mentioned again once it becomes clear the actor is really good and they need to give him screen time and development beyond just that of bad guy) and, truth be told, this is one of those situations where it's probably for the best.
I think it was totally a case of the writers figuring he'd be a stock villain then realizing a bit into the season, "Oh shit, this kid's a good actor and people are gonna like him...too bad we had him try to rape a girl..." and thus in the process of giving him layers just chose to sorta ignore the whole rape thing. It's not the best solution, but with the alternative being some sort of hamfisted "redemption" arc, I'm ok with just pretending it never happened. The show's pace is so oriented towards ADD teens and thus the dynamics shift so frequently, drastically and quickly that if you get caught up you kinda forget about what happened five episodes earlier anyhow.
Yeah, I'm never watching this show. Hahaha...rapist heroes?
No, he's definitely the bad guy, but he's one of those bad guys who outshines the good guys and thus becomes the star. Kind of like The Rock. Or, perhaps more to the point, Ben Linus.
Did Ben ever try raping somebody? I'm genuinely asking.
No, though he has been shown to be lethally possessive regarding people he's interested in sexually. He did however kill dozens of people which is worse than attempting to rape someone.
Spike did though, and it didn't stop me from watching Buffy. Let's be honest: between Lost and most of the FX or HBO or Showtime shows most of us enjoy, we watch some shit starring a lot of murderers, conmen, thieves, etc. in quasi-heroic roles. If you're not watching Gossip Girl because it looks vapid and uninteresting, kudos to you, but if you're claiming to not watch it because of some moral high ground...eh.
To me, rape is one of those things that I just can't get past if I'm supposed to actually like someone. And he would have done it if he wasn't interrupted or she ran out or whatever happened (it's been a year since I've seen the first episode so it's fuzzy). I get that he's supposed to be this reprehensible, but still lovable guy because he can get away with shit you never could, but that's the line that, at least to me, that you can't cross as a writer if you want me to like your character.
You also can't kill/kick/hurt animals.
But kill as many mutherfuckers as you want and I'm still good.
I understand why a person might make this distinction, and I think it boils down to the fact that everybody, and I mean everybody, knows that it's wrong to murder people--the social prohibitions in place for murder are really insurmountable--so there's usually very little worry that the filmmakers and/or audience aren't taking the immorality of murder seriously. (There are exceptions to that, of course, but it's generally true.) However, sexual assault is such a sensitive issue precisely because it's not really treated with the severity it deserves, so watching a character do it and "get away with it" in the sense that he's still constructed to be an enjoyable character has an extra ick factor that, say, watching and enjoying The Sopranos or Lost or whatever else lacks. (Animal cruelty is in the same category.)
This is not to say that you still can't "enjoy" watching the antics of horrible rapists or people who are sexually violent. American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange come to mind. But (and here others disagree with me, but I'm speaking for me here) the tone of moral condemnation is pretty unmistakable in those works. That ain't necessarily so with Gossip Girl, where so far the sexual assault seems to be being treated on the same moral continuum with just the plain-old general backstabbing and debauchery that all the asshole characters indulge in.
To me, when it comes to TV shows you have to take the pilot as a kind
of first draft. I don't often count then as cannon since so much
changes even by episode two if not by the end of the first season
(Example: remember how much of a creepy fuck the doc is in the first
episode of "Deadwood"? I totally thought he was going to be a slimey
weirdo all the time). If Gossip Girl were a novel rather than a serial
TV show, I'm sure that the writer would have gone back and revised the
first chapter to take that bit out once they realized they like the
Also, and maybe this is just me, but I never really grew to like the
character in the way you guys are objecting to. I never root for him,
and I don't identify with him at all. He's just an asshole, and his
general "fuck you" attitude is funny to me from a certain distance, so
even if I was thinking about the rape thing all season, I still
wouldn't be super bothered by it because I don't feel I'm letting the
character off the hook. Gossip Girl isn't a show you watch because you
identify with anyone, actually. It's like watching a slutty cartoon.
Yeah, pretty well put, particularly the second part. I'm never rooting for Chuck to "win" per se, anymore than I rooted for, say, Patrick Bateman in the aforementioned American Psycho, but both are charismatic and entertain me. My point was more along the lines of if you don't wanna watch the show or don't like it, that's fine, but don't feel like you need to use the moral highground as an excuse when we all watch shows and movies with morally deplorable fan favorite characters.
Then I had a separate discussion about it via comments and gmail chat with Matthew Perpetua.
Matthew: the ethical playing field of Gossip Girl is warped enough so that "attempted rape" is bad, but not enough so that you are dramatically more evil than anyone else on the show. Almost everyone on that show does something horrible now and again. It's crazy that way.
me: normally he'd be the character I'd love
the rape thing.
Matthew: he actually does some as-creepy things
me: I've been told.
by The Missus's voice students, who are all excited that we're watching Gossip Girl now.
I like how he's an after-school special version of what peer pressure is like.
"You'd better start doing drugs and having sex and spending money or you're not cool anymore!"
Matthew: I enjoy Gossip Girl in more or less exactly the same way I enjoy a really good unapologetically nuts superhero comic
Matthew: yeah, Gossip Girl is basically an evil show.
it delights in its evil.
me: my brother watches a soap opera on TiVo and it's clear he's getting out of it what I get out of a superhero comic.
I can appreciate that.
to a certain extent.
Matthew: This Is An Evil Generation
because sometimes I'm like "fuck 'em and their law"
go drugs, go teen sex, go all that stuff
and then other times, like when I turn on MTV and see what passes for popular culture, I'm like "hm, maybe we should be thinking a little harder about our rebellion"
Matthew: the severe drinking, plus name-checking specific high-end drinks at every opportunity
me: yes, that's fantastic.
I appreciate that.
Matthew: they totally relish in having Blake Lively order expensive drinks on camera
me: how does it get on television?
Matthew: NO IDEA
the CW just wants that youth market
me: Amy and I keep wondering whether teenagers on the Upper East Side really can/do roll into a bar and order a martini
I need to ask one of my old-money friends what his life was like
Matthew: I like how there are subplots in the show where Blair sets out to fuck some innocent person over, and so she does, and that's it. we're supposed to root for Blair being evil and not pity the victim!
me: it's like The Sopranos that way.
but without the moral indigation of the Sopranos
me: rooting for the Scautino bust-out or something.
I'm going to be curious as to how I react to that absence.
Matthew: Gossip Girl is just giddy evil
Gossip Girl really asks you to relate the most to Blair and Chuck
because the implication is, if you could, you'd totally do what they do. you can't be Serena or Nate or Dan, but you can be Blair, and you can be Chuck.
it's this crazy fallen world stuff
me: right. I can already see that somewhat. You can't be perfect, because, well, look at you, but you can work hard enough to rival the perfect people through concentrated douchebaggery
By the time I get home from work today we'll have two discs full of Gossip Girl waiting for us, so perhaps I'll have more to say, or more to copy and paste at least, by the end of the weekend.
I am normally a major skeptic of zeitgeist readings of films for reasons I've gone into at great length, but watching clips of the Joker from The Dark Knight pop up all over the Internet as a response to our current WTF political and financial situation, I'm tempted to reconsider.
Then again, I was on board with reading the Joker as purposeless chaos and cruelty all along. It's really the political climate that seems to be tailoring itself to the character, not the other way around.
Also, remember that thing I said about politics that one time between 2003 and 2006 or so?
Matthew: maybe I say this because people keep using the word crisis all the time
but I just had this thought "you know, it kinda feels like the United States is in the middle of a big crossover event right now"
Sean: god help us!
but you're right
Matthew: it's that "everything at once" feeling
Sean: it's the Final Crisis model where you've got the main thing, which is the election, and then all these tie-ins
Matthew: "nothing will be the same again!"
Sean: Financial Crisis
Rage of the Red Staters
Matthew: Rove's Revenge
Sean: Palin of 3 Worlds
Matthew: Obama Beyond In 3D
Matthew: McCain R.I.P.
Sean: Right now he's the McCain of Zur-En-Arrh
running around in a costume made of garbage bags, hitting the Senate Majority leader with a baseball bat
"YOU'RE WRONG! MCCAIN AND PALIN WILL NEVER DIE!"
Matthew: who is the Barry Allen of this?
Sean: Dave Letterman
Matthew: in an interstellar burst, Dave is back to save the universe
ha, in retrospect, the run-up to all this was very much like Countdown To Final Crisis, wasn't it?
Sean: Hillary, Mittens, and Rudy are no longer canon
Matthew: Hillary got killed off like four times in a row
and somehow they had to write out the part where Dennis Kucinich in a turtle costume single-handedly defeated McCain
Matthew: wasn't Jimmy Olsen Turtle Boy or something when that happened?
Sean: no, I meant Dennis Kucinich is turtley enough as it is
I've got some friends who aren't artists per se but love comics and are pretty sharp thinkers about how they work, and when they draw, this collection is what they draw like. In that way this is a fun read, as experiencing the enthusiasm of someone who's doing comics not because of a killer set of innate chops but for love of the game is a fun thing to do. Well, at least it is in this case, because unlike the usual soul-destroying genre efforts and aimless self-indulgent autobio/humor things produced with the same impetus, this book is actually drawing from a pretty strong set of influences and is being harnessed by a guy who learned enough tricks about pacing from big-time altcomix people to use some of them himself.
That said, it really is just a collection of small, weirdish doodles and (mostly) half-funny-haha half-funny-strange strips. It's not going to light the world on fire, though to be fair, obviously it's not meant to. There's a thing about cavemen that looks a little like Tom Gauld, a Saved by the Bell parody that looks a little like Esther Pearl Watson, there are a couple of little-weird-dude strips who look a little like Marc Bell, there's a collage-image-type thing that looks a little like Paper Rad, there's a John Porcellino homage that looks a lot like, you guessed it, Hal Foster. (Haha, no, John P.) There are a some longer, not-quite-funny things involving Harry Potter summoning Black Sabbath and a Hollywood hack director trying to ape Werner Herzog by deliberately acting like a crazy person on set. If all this stuff were by one of my friends I'd be like "Hell yeah, awesome!", and even as it stands it makes me want to my hand at doodling some stuff, but that's really not the greatest idea, is it. Still, it's nice to be made to feel that way once in a while, don't you think?
* What a terrific idea for an October horror blogathon: The folks at Not Coming to a Theater Near Youwill be reviewing movies culled sight-unseen from a collection of obscure-ish horror flicks retrieved from the libraries of defunct mom-and-pop video stores--all on VHS, no less!
* So They're saying that Kenneth Branagh is "in talks" to direct the Thor movie. From this I guess they're looking for this to be some sort of Lord of the Rings-y fantasy-adventure movie. Sure, Branagh may have no track record in that department, but hey, he's English and he's been in movies where they talk funny like that! Then again, Peter Jackson's resume included Meet the Feebles. I find Branagh entertaining as a phenomenon. I wonder if he listens to Slayer.
* Here's the new trailer for Frank Miller's The Spirit. (Via Topless Robot.) You know, I actually think I like this one less than the earlier trailers that everyone else hated. This has more of an action-movie feel that does not flatter Miller's distinctly non-action-movie approach to action. It's kind of a weird neither-here-nor-there thing. Well, see for yourself.
I continue to hope that this film really hurts the feelings, on a personal level, of people who want a good ol' nostalgic Spirit movie, a group that seems to include more people than have actually read the old Spirit comics.
* I don't know anything about this seemingly German virus-horror movie Able other than it has a nice-looking poster, and that is so rare in horror these days that it deserves to be mentioned.
* I don't want to do the standard "highlight what you have, underline what you don't want" meme response to Tom Spurgeon's 50 Things That Every Great Comics Collection Needs to Have, because Tom's idea of a great comics collection is very different than mine. This is the kind of pretentious howler that used to make you the prince of the comics blogosphere for a day back in 2003, but for real: I think of myself as a comics reader and not a comics collector. This is not to say that I don't have a shit-ton of comics, because I do, but for me this is done as a means to the end of reading them and, if I like them, having them available to re-read. Nine-tenths of my purchased comics are in bookshelf-friendly hardcover or softcover formats because those formats, in my experience, lend themselves to reading and re-reading--and shelving with an eye to those purposes--better than other formats. The remaining tenth of my current comics purchasing is basically high-end comic-book-format comics from Fantagraphics and so on or minicomics. These I tend to buy at conventions when gripped by Comix Fever and because they will either take forever to reach a book format or won't ever do so. I like getting things like that because it's immediate, but if they were in book format I'd like that too, and probably better; I don't really have much of an attachment to their current formats per se. Point being, if you load a list of 50 Must-Haves with quarter-bin finds and Mad magazines and old issues of Arcade, your list isn't targeted to me as a buyer. And that's fine. To each his own! But Tom's list was still of great interest to me as a reader, because it's as fine a showcase you could ask for of one of the great writers on comics in the world as he holds forth with authority on an astonishingly diverse array of comics, providing a window into what he values in the medium. So it's a must-read even if you're not gonna print it out and hand it to your loved ones as a Christmas list.
* Can somebody explain to me who else besides Tucker Stone thinks the idea of a rainbow of Lantern Corps is a bad idea? Is there anyone who's even the tiniest bit open to the idea of "Green Lantern" who's like "Oh hell no, RED Lantern? Bullshit, that's where I'm drawing the fucking line"? Who is the target audience for anti-Red Lantern snark? I actually want to know.
* The New Yorker's Ben Greenman offers his candidates for the five scariest movies ever. Nice to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on there. (Since you asked: The Blair Witch Project, The Shining, The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and then...I'm not sure. The Ring, Hostel, 28 Days Later, and Lost Highway were all very frightening to me.) (Via Bryan Alexander.)