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.
Originally written on February 20th, 2005 for publication by The Comics Journal
This is a sad book. Sad not simply for the passing of its author mere months before its publication, nor for the tragic legacy of hatred it depicts, but rather for the confluence of the two: One of the greatest cartoonists in history felt compelled by circumstance to spend the last years of his long and illustrious life chronicling, in The Plot and its revisionist-Dickensian predecessor Fagin the Jew, vicious calumnies against his ethnicity and religion, slanders and lies that by now should have been exposed, renounced and ridiculed out of public discourse for good.
But we're meeting the new boss now, and he looks familiar. When an English prince feels perfectly comfortable attending a costume party in Nazi drag (and moreover when none of his friends appear to find this objectionable); when the nomenclature of Hitlerism is routinely, provocatively, deliberately (and often exclusively) applied to the descendents of its victims (as when paleocon talking head Pat Buchanan used a thinly veiled Anglicization of "ein volk, ein reich, ein Fuhrer" to lay the blame for the second Iraq war on "Israel, Sharon, Likud"; to say nothing of "Zionazi" and "Jeningrad"); when the progressive magazine AdBusters points out the Jews in a list of influential neoconservatives (they were denoted with dots rather than tiny Stars of David; thank heaven for small favors); when former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, author of the well-received anti-administration tome Imperial Hubris alleges that Americans' support for Israel is the result of "probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man," and suggests that the Holocaust Museum is being used to guilt the United States into support for the Jewish state as part of this program; when the state-run media and state-approved clerics of American "allies" from Egypt to Saudi Arabia routinely recycle the hoariest blood-libel horror stories; when the University of Bielefeld polls Germans to find that over 60% of them are "sick of" hearing about the Holocaust--one can understand Eisner's preoccupation.
For as The Plot demonstrates, anti-Semitism rarely shows its face without hiding behind a nominally political mask. The real and (far more often) imagined crimes of the neocons or Israel are simply the latest societal safety valve for Jew-hatred: the White Russians saw Jews behind the Bolsheviks, the Communists saw Jews behind the capitalists, the capitalists saw Jews behind the Communists, the fascists saw Jews behind Versailles, the Klan saw Jews behind the blacks, and on and on and on. The irrational belief in the nigh-mystically conspiratorial character of Jews throughout history--a belief that found its most infamous articulation in the fraudulent handbook of Jewish world domination, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--is always finding new venues for expression. That legitimate criticism of, say, Israeli intransigence or neocon utopianism and overreach gets caught and drowned in its undertow is simply another of its disastrous consequences.
The fungible nature of the Jewish Conspiracy's particulars is shown from the start by Eisner, who spends a sizeable portion of the book detailing the origins of The Protocols in an anti-Napoleon III tract by writer Maurice Joly. Joly is depicted as a three-time loser, constantly in trouble with the French authorities and all the more assured of his words' power because of it. In an effort to cloak his criticism of the Emperor, he took what he believed to be Napoleon III's cynical, might-makes-right viewpoints into the mouth of Machiavelli and published them in a book entitled The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. It's a rather gross misreading of Old Nick (one of the few political philosophers in history worth a damn), and it certainly doesn't fool the government, which imprisons him. His trial contains one of the finer images in the book: Joly, eyes aflame with righteousness, refusing to admit the book is an attack on the Emperor. It's a more effective image by far than the one on the subsequent page, where in Eisner's trademark pantomime style Joly proclaims, one hand on heart and the other aloft, "IF THE READER SEES A RELATIONSHIP TO THE INFAMY OF THE EMPEROR, AM I TO BLAME?" At moments like these the deadpan clarity of another major recent graphic novel about a bearded radical, Chester Brown's Louis Riel, might have been helpful.
This same critique applies to the writing. Eisner is admittedly crafting a polemic here, and as such is largely unconcerned with a "realistic" portrayal of the conversations that led to the story's key events. But this can play havoc believability, even ones in which Eisner himself plays a role. Is his 2001 argument with a group of anti-Jew student radicals autobiographical or fictional? Their strangely Edward G. Robinson-esque dialogue ("There's a Jew in every major government post of the Western world, see?" "Yeah, their plan is laid out in the "Protocols," see?), and their open and transparent lambasting of "the Jews" (as opposed "Zionists" or "Likudniks" or "neocons," far less problematic for P.R.) makes this unclear. There are a few footnotes to clear up some questions about the historical accuracy of the story's events, but we're not in From Hell or Louis Riel territory here. And obvious fudges, such as the cop who says he arrested Joly on almost a half-dozen occasions, needlessly obscure the fundamental truth of the book.
But Eisner's penchant for broad caricature isn't always a drawback. Rarely if ever has his gift for drawing shlubby schemers has been so deftly applied as it is here, where an almost never-ending succession of shlubby schemers create and perpetuate the Protocols fraud, first by plagiarizing Joly's Dialogue, then by passing it off as an authentic minutes of a meeting of world Jewry and introducing it into the halls of power. These are shitty little men, who spend their shitty little lives in the service of shitty little rulers and ideologies, and who almost in spite of themselves created a fraud that outlived them and their overlords, a fraud whose destructive power is tragically ironic considering the pettiness of its origins.
The ability of central forger Mathieu Golovinski to disregard the truth in the service of his latest boss, whoever that might be, would be hilarious if it weren't so nauseating. Eisner depicts him as being passed almost literally from hand to hand by a string of tsarist apparatchiks as Golovinski and his appointed quest to pin the problems of Russia on the Jews falls in and out of favor; it's a clever conceit that suggests the mutable relationship to truth and loyalty ascribed by The Protocols to the Jews was in fact far more applicable to their enemies. In the end, Eisner reveals, this son of disgraced aristocrats, who created The Protocols in order to dissuade the tsar from liberalizing and had them published through a White Russian court mystic, wound up working for Trotsky. White may turn Red, but Jew-hatred is forever.
The rest of the book follows the journey of The Protocols around the world, from movement to movement, ever ready to adapt itself to a new political viewpoint. This despite being exposed as a transparent forgery as early as 1921. This event is detailed in the book's central and critical passage, where a reporter from The Times of London (the spitting image of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, Eisner's caricature is just a bit too on the nose) receives a side-by-side comparison of Joly's original and Golovinski's forgery from a Russian refugee. Eisner reprints long passages of text to demonstrate just how clear the plagiarism is, and the pages eschew all but the barest of cartooning in favor of getting the point across. Indeed, at the bottom of one page, the refugee asks the reporter incredulously, "Do you mean to go through all the 23 protocols, Graves?" It's overkill, reminiscent of playing a first-person shooter and using the biggest gun in your arsenal to shoot an adversary you could just as easily knock out with a slingshot--but that's Eisner's mission. He wants to destroy this thing. And since he kicks off the passage with an article expressing belief in The Protocols written by no less a personage than Winston Churchill, we afford him that indulgence.
And from the moment the Times debunks it right up until the present-day Russian government certifies its fraudulence, character after character asserts optimistically that The Protocols have been destroyed. But time after time news of its demise is greatly exaggerated. What might be the book's most devastating use of sequential art has almost nothing to do with Eisner himself--it's the appearance, on page after page, of the covers of the latest translations and publications of The Protocols--from Russia, Germany, France, Brazil, Poland, Argentina, Egypt, England, Japan, Syria, Russia again, depicting Jews as spiders, snakes, octopi, faceless hordes, bloody-handed manipulators, partners with Death, Satan himself. In seeming response, when Eisner himself enters the story, we hardly see his face. With his hat pulled low and his back to the reader, he's a man whose personal identity is being lost in the stream of historical hatred. When he confronts members of "an ethnic student association" (it's to his credit that he refused to single out the ethnicity in question) who are handing out copies of The Protocols, he's left standing in a literal fog, shoulders slumped, unable to penetrate their assertion that The Protocols, whatever their provenance, do indeed reflect the nature of the Jew. ("Fake but accurate," some might call them.) It's a mirroring of the image that opens the book: Maurice Joly, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, face down on his desk, gunsmoke rising into the air, a black background providing no anchor for the image and leaving Joly afloat. It's a comparison present in the writing as well, wherein Eisner expresses nearly as much certainty as Joly regarding the power of his book; of course, Eisner is self-aware enough to undercut this certainty not just with the litany of anti-Semitic attacks that closes the book, but by constructing these parallels between himself and Joly in the first place.
Eisner's faith in comics was nearly religious itself. He died optimistic that his final graphic novel would "drive yet another nail into the coffin" of his subject. And yet, in the face of this many-headed monster, even an eternal optimist like Eisner blinked. This is a sad book.
* And the bald shall inherit the earth: ICv2 has released its November sales chart for the direct market. Of particular note is how Brian Bendis and his "give the people what they want" take on event comics, Secret Invasion, took the top slot and five of the top 10, while smug Scottish middlebrow mediocrity Grant Morrison and his utterly incomprehensible abject failure of a fan-rejected event comic, Final Crisis, plummeted all the way to #2 on the charts and took a paltry, embarrassing three of the top 10. Your revolution is over, Mr. Morrison! Condolences! The bums lost!
* Speaking of Final Crisis, the reactions keep rolling in. Tim O'Neil reveals just how angry this comic book made him, which quite frankly is way more angry than any comic that isn't some vile piece of filth, some hideously racist or sexist or homophobic horrorshow, should make anyone. I think there are any number of factual errors and unsupported business and critical assumptions in there, to say nothing of the hyperbolic mischaracterizations of other people's viewpoints and the admitted ad hominems directed against them. Moreover, the main, underlying argument seems simply to be a particularly vehement and event-comic-specific expression of "you got chocolate in my peanut butter," which as I've said before strikes me as odd in this particular case. But the main thing I take away is that it can't possibly be healthy to get that worked up about a comic book, or a comic book creator's interviews, or comic book readers' comments, not when they're not doing anything actively evil. It certainly doesn't lead to Tim's finest hour as a writer, as an overabundance of elaborate fecal analogies, snarky "you know"s, and the rather pot-kettle concluding demand that Grant Morrison "grow the fuck up" would indicate. It's not just my feelings about Final Crisis that make me skeptical about this approach, mind you--I've said for a long time that commentators whose primary mode of interaction with art is based on rage don't do it for me.
* Also on the FC beat, Tucker Stone be-bops and scats all over the thing. Honestly there's a little too much be-bopping and scatting for my taste, but then I don't get these crazy kids and their rock and roll. My main problem with it is that it obscures his actual point, which I believe is that FC had its ups and downs but it's ultimately pretty neat that Morrison did it his way. It's interesting how Tucker seems to come away from the comic sharing many of the reservations that Tim does, but taking the exact opposite positions--Morrison doesn't have contempt for his audience, he has faith in them; there's merit to experimentation regardless of whether it leads to an Ang Lee Hulk situation from a business perspective--than the ones Tim ends up taking. Tucker's takes on recent issues of Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man (of which he is a vocal and frequent proponent) and Ed Brubaker's Captain America and Daredevil are also worth a read, provided you're okay with him working blue.
* ICv2 reports that the Christopher Handley case has been postponed until late March. Handley has been hit with child-pornography charges rooted in his possession of manga. I've discovered continued support among some relatively prominent online comics commentators for the notion that unpleasant speech does not deserve protection; some of that support is so extreme that it seems tailor-made to demonstrate the slippery slope argument in action. This attitude is disturbing and both legally and morally wrong. Support the CBLDF.
* One aspect of the story that Reed is setting up a Chicago comics convention to compete with, and possibly supplant, Wizard World Chicago that I haven't seen noted by anyone but Heidi MacDonald is that Reed's concomitant move of the New York Comic Con to early October starting next year will move the NYC show into closer competition with altcomix shows like SPX and APE. However, given the really embarrassing lack of an alternative and literary comics presence in the programming and exhibitor list for NYCC--a show based in New York freaking City!--I'm not all that worried. If anything, this may simply guarantee that alt/lit publishers avoid NYCC permanently.
* Speaking of Wizard, sorta: Back when I was still with the company and me and the other guys there who like alternative comics got a booth at MoCCA 2007, a few of 'em chatted with Tim Leong of Comic Foundry, who told them that he liked us and liked a lot of stuff we did but kept bashing us because it got him attention. I found that level of open, unabashed duplicity oddly refreshing, so in that sense it's nice to see that he stuck with it till the bitter end.
* Here's a Seattle Post Intelligencer article on my old pal Davey Oil (the other half of my oft-told Blair Witch Project origin story!) and his comics/performance-art project, the Slide Rule Comic Strip Slideshow Players.
* Josiah Leighton, who I am happy to report will be attending the New York Comic Con with me this weekend, does his thing with Nicolas De Crécy's Foligatto.
* I really enjoyed the latest Five for Friday over at Tom Spurgeon's, because it reminds you just how much we're losing as the alternative comic book dies off. And I say that as a big proponent of book-format comics and a pretty big skeptic of the pamphlet format, mind you.
* Speaking of Spurge, his review of Robert Kirkman's Invincible/Astounding Wolfman crossover offers a pretty interesting take on the core idea behind Invincible, the character's equivalent of "With great power comes great responsibility." For my part, I've always felt that the book's success stemmed from a great deal of initial pep, slowly giving way to a meticulously planned roll-out of long-term storylines. That and Bill Crabtree's coloring.
* Bruce Baugh serves up some WoW-blogging odds 'n' sods, including an image of a gigantic sea turtle that's right in my water-monster/immensity wheelhouse. (And don't worry, Bruce, I've got the patience of a saint.)
* Hilzoy and Glenn Greenwald, two commentators who to the best of my knowledge do not carry water for the Obama administration when it comes to torture, civil liberties, and human rights, debunk recent reports, gleefully promulgated by torture enthusiasts, that the administration will be continuing the Bush 43 practice of extraordinary rendition as a backdoor to torture.
* The Eyes Wide Chuck thing was extremely blatant, down almost to the last detail. Having Chuck refer to it as such doesn't make it any less so. What the did the orgies of the rich and powerful look like before Kubrick introduced Venetian carnival masks into them, anyway? Still, points for making Chuck's dad a member of the Illuminati.
* I was all set to complain about how unrealistic the student/teacher affair storyline was, how only a crazy unprofessional nutjob would meet with an opposite-sex student outside of work alone after hours, let alone with the student you've already been publicly accused of having an affair with, let alone on the night of the meeting at which your guilt or innocence in that affair is to be adjudicated. But then they fucked at the end of the episode, which was awesome and hot, and also revealed that she was, in fact, a crazy unprofessional nutjob just beneath the surface all along. So all is forgiven.
* This also means that maybe they can drop the Dan/Serena will they or won't they business for a while. Haven't they gotten together and broken up twice so far during this season alone? Enough already, esp. because doing so always requires one or the other of them to be needlessly shifty and stupid and annoying for the breakup to happen each time. Plus the show has other will they/won't they stuff going on with Chuck & Blair and Lily & Rufus. Teacherfucking instead, please.
In the Flesh: Stories
Koren Shadmi, writer/artist
Villard Books, February 2009
$14.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
I learned something about myself from reading this book, and that is that my phobic reaction to animal cruelty isn't really, or isn't just, a phobia. There's a story in here in which one of Shadmi's many languid, slightly pillowy, sexy brunettes sensuously recounts how she and a childhood crush tortured a cat to death. The second I realized where the story was going I had my usual reaction of needing to look away, needing to put the book down. This time I forced myself to keep reading, and you know what I discovered? Fury, a heart-pouding fury I was frightened to discover in myself. I don't like what it says about me that it's in there.
Anyway, the cat-killing is a pretty small part of the book. That story, and all of the rest of them, is really about sex. And Shadmi's art works fine for that purpose. He's primarily a magazine illustrator--his work here looks familiar enough that I must have seen quite a lot of his work elsewhere--and his elegant line and gently curving bodies are reminiscent of such animator-cartoonists as Robert Goodin and Cyril Pedrosa. (Oddly, there's a panel that seems like almost a straight rip from Dash Shaw's Love Eats Brains, but that's about all he owes to anyone doing "ugly" work.) As I alluded to above, there's a certain sameness to his dark-haired, pale-irised, fleshy femme fatales, but that's an appealing template, admittedly. He pays a lot of attention to backgrounds, which is welcome.
The problem is the subject matter. Basically, the sexual hang-ups of twentysomethings have already been handled by the cream of the altcomix crop, and Shadmi just isn't up to snuff. When he goes in a surreal direction, he's up against (say) Dan Clowes, and Shadmi's visual and narrative metaphors are comparatively facile. A couple spend their first date and sexual encounter with bags on their heads, and everything goes great until the guy takes his bag off and says something that isn't to the lady's liking, and then she says this was a mistake so he puts his bag back on. You know? There's a lot where that came from, and frankly, you got to do better. Even the less fanciful, more slice-of-lifey stuff seems easy-peasy and undergraduate compared to, for example, Adrian Tomine's angry work on the same subject. Expand the age group of the characters when looking for points of comparison and you end up bumping against Black Hole or I Never Liked You...
I don't know, I guess what I'm saying is that while the SVA-trained visuals are immediately impressive, the stories are doughy enough to leave me surprised that this is a debut from a major book publisher. It's fine enough work, I don't begrudge its existence, as minicomics they'd be the belle of SPX, but it's not there yet. And I don't mean to belabor the business with the cat--my basic opinion on the work had already been formed by the time I got to that story--but you've got a lot of work ahead of you if you're gonna draw a sexy lady talking about torturing a cat to death and make it something other than a cheap shot.
* Grant Morrison has cancelled his appearance at this weekend's New York Comic Con due to family issues. I hope all is well. Selfishly, I'm bummed that I won't be able to get him in my Bowie sketchbook (he can draw) and that I won't be able to discover first-hand whether his first post-Final Crisis con appearance would be more like a victory lap or a walk of shame.
* Speaking of NYCC, Tom Spurgeon lists 10 things he'd do if he were there.
* Chris Butcher argues that by raising their minimum order thresholds for Direct Market comic distribution, Diamond is essentially forcing a paradigm shift away from Direct Market distribution toward exclusively digital or print-on-demand distribution, and that since Diamond and the Direct Market are essentially synonymous, this is an odd move to make. I don't know enough about how all this stuff works to offer an informed comic, but I will say that I can't imagine a distribution system that cuts out Crickets and Or Else by necessity is a healthy one in the long term.
* The Onion AV Club speaks with The State's Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver, and David Wain. It is so, so wonderful to hear them refer to The State as a going concern, then see actual evidence for this.
* Stephen King says Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is a lousy writer. This is not a terribly controversial assertion--The Missus loves Twilight to pieces, and even she says author Stephenie Meyer is a lousy writer--but it's interesting to hear King articulate it, since I think he's usually a go along to get along type when it comes to his fellow authors. Case in point: "Jo Rowling is a terrific writer," from the same article. (Via STYD.)
* Ta-Nehisi Coates reports his initial reaction to the opening Battlestar Galactica miniseries, prompting a lengthy comment thread in which various readers recount their equivalent experiences and offer advice as to how best to proceed from there (here's mine).
* I'll admit having said "Yeah, why don't they do that?" about several of the entries on this list of 10 Helpful Suggestions for Terminating John Connor. I also wonder if they ever explained why the T-800 has an Austrian accent. (I bet there's a novel somewhere that does.)
1) The main thing I'm taking away from Lost so far this season is the sense that the creators and crew are having a lot of fun just being Lost. Like last week: There was no reason, strictly speaking, to reveal the birth of Desmond and Penelope's kid in a flashback of undetermined temporal origin, then cut to the present day and show how old the kid is now--it's just fun for the writers to monkey with flashbacks/flashfowards/time like that, so that's how they did it. Similarly, in this episode, they just did a bunch of Lost-ish things because it's fun to do them--having our heroes get shot at by persons unknown, having secondary characters we haven't seen in a long time pop up out of the blue, riffing on aspects of the show (like the light from the Hatch) that we haven't thought of in ages, and so on. The show seems to have a lot of confidence in what it is and what it does well at this point. It's fun to watch.
2) Moreover, there were just a lot of thoughtful, intelligent moments, where they could have played a particular plot point a number of ways but went in just the right direction with it. For example: Of all the moments that the time-displaced castaways could have stumbled upon past or future versions of themselves in the middle of, they have Sawyer come across Kate delivering Claire's baby. It's the perfect moment to use: A) Sawyer loves Kate, so it's heartbreaking to see her; B) Everyone loves the birth of babies, so it's a hugely emotional moment for Sawyer just for that reason; C) Sawyer's not the deepest thinker, and making him the first castaway to find a recognizable moment from the past therefore emphasizes just what a mindfuck it is; D) put it all together and you've got such a mix of intense and bizarre emotions, exactly what you want for the first time you do this on the show.
3) Related: Locke realizing they're in the middle of the night that Boone died (they mentioned him by name! Hooray! I love it when the story acknowledges people who in show-time died just a few weeks before, as it really should) and the night he really came to believe that he was on the Island for a reason. That's a rich moment for Locke to relive.
4) Another smart bit: Having Miles keep his illness on the DL, revealing it only to Daniel, the one character who he thinks might know something about it. Miles's sarcastic personality might make you think he'd make a big screeching deal about it and freak out, but it seems truer and more interesting to make his sarcasm a sort of cloaking device for a more intense desire to be apart from other people. He wouldn't want to be the center of attention, ever.
5) Another smart bit: I like the way they're establishing more of a rapport between Juliet and Sawyer. At the rate Lost takes bad guys, or at least ambiguous guys, and makes them into good guys, the only way the show's relationships work is if they can convincingly create bonds between the characters that emerge from shared adversity. They're doing a good job with these two right now. It helps that the actors are good at bringing out their mama-bear and wounded-puppy sides respectively. It's a little corny, but it's comforting.
6) Still another smart bit: I loved watching Jin wake up on yet another beach filled with yet another group of survivors of yet another wreck, and realize all over again that he doesn't speak the language. I suppose they couldn't have gotten a whole lot more out of having him go through that whole storyline over again beyond the initial No Exit impact of him discovering what's up, so it's good that Rousseau and her babydaddy can speak some English, but it was a great moment.
7) Michael Emerson's line readings get more and more awesome with each passing episode. "He's my lawyer." I don't know if I ever would have come up with a way to say that the way he said it, but the way he said it was so funny and perfect.
8) Kudos to the show for not dragging out certain "deception" elements of the plot--like having Ben come right out and say he's trying to steal Aaron. But boo to continuing this nonsense where Kate and Jack keep refusing to explain to each other why they're doing what they're doing. For chrissakes, it takes 30 seconds to tell someone you care about why you're behaving a particular way. Take the goddamn time. This week's installment of Todd VanDerWerrf's must-read weekly review focuses a lot on that particular point. (Be warned, the review drops some Mad Men and BSG spoilers on you out of the blue, a few sentences into the paragraph about how TV series have to create a sense of false drama.)
9) I still don't know if Sun's kid counts as someone they need to get back to the Island because she was pregnant when she left. It doesn't seem like Ben is approaching it that way. Actually, I'm sort of getting the impression that the kid is dead or missing.
10) Obvs, Miles is Dr. Marvin Candle Jr.
11) I can't figure out who Charlotte is, though. She's too young to be Ben's childhood sweetheart Annie. (I'm pretty sure Penny is Annie, anyway.)
12) Fun to see Rousseau as a fresh-faced youngster with a spring in her step and a song in her heart and a bun in the oven and non-high-waisted trousers on her legs.
* Today I popped up in a couple of interesting places on the Internet. For starters, there's the new comic by me and Matt Rota that I mentioned earlier, now playing at Top Shelf 2.0.
* Next, I'm the subject of this week's installment of Show Us Your Shelf Porn over at Robot 6. Feast your eyes, glut your soul. (God, I feel so naked.)
* While I'm busy talking about myself, I just want to remind everyone that I'll be attending the New York Comic Con tomorrow afternoon and Saturday. You can catch me at the Twisted ToyFare Theater panel on Saturday at 5:30pm in room 1A17. Failing that, you can find me wandering around the floor with such comics-commentary luminaries as Josiah Leighton, Kiel Phegley, Ben Morse, Dave Paggi, TJ Dietsch, Rickey Purdin, Matt Powell and so on. I'm not sure what I'll be wearing, but you shall know me by the David Bowie Sketchbook. (And my hair is bushy right now, unless I shave it overnight, which, who knows.)
* The Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica is going to debut in an uncut/unrated DVD release on April 21 prior to its airing on TV. Weird, but nice, but also just a way to get you to buy it twice.
* Tom Spurgeon sings into the Miracle Machine and blasts the thoughtform of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis into oblivion. While it comes as no surprise that Tom didn't care for the book--a story written by a person who believes in the concepts articulated in an interview like this is unlikely to speak to someone who believes those concepts to be "paper thin." Similarly, it's always tough for me to get much out of Spurgeon superhero criticism when it's predicated on the notion that the superheroes in question have "no juice left at all to thrill or inspire or encourage"; I simply don't see why that's so, because in my experience it's not. (That's not to say I share Morrison's belief in their near-messianic power and appeal; on the contrary, they're just devices, like zombies or gangsters or egomaniacal doctors or sexy librarians or whatever. It's all in the execution.) But Tom's more specific lines of attack are very interesting: unpacking the differences between the use of jump cuts in Final Crisis vs. Jaime Hernandez's "Tear It Up, Terry Downe," critiquing the circular logic of Morrison's notion that Superman and Batman always win because that's what makes them Superman and Batman, noting the more challenging Jack Kirby conception of Anti-Life, and so on. It's my favorite negative review of the book to date.
* Morrison himself still has plenty to say about the series and its tie-ins. The IGN interview with Morrison linked above is the longest so far, a rich blend of Morrison expounding upon his ideas and tooting his own horn; among the juicy tidbits is his clearest statement yet that the series was about DC office politics as much as anything else. Meanwhile, Newsarama has posted the second half of its "exit interview," which is roughly half Morrison yakking in the same vein as the IGN interview and half explaining what happened in the comic to Matt Brady.
* I wasn't going to link to the non-story about how They want Casino Royale director Martin Campbell to direct a prospective Green Lantern movie, but Rob Bricken at Topless Robot explains in a fun fashion why that idea is interesting even if the "news" angle is bullshit. He also points out that Campbell directed GoldenEye, too, which I did not know. That was a fun movie.
* The Onion AV Club's Scott Tobias reviews Velvet Goldmine, a movie that dramatically changed my life, as part of his delightful New Cult Canon series. No matter how angry Christian Bale gets, he'll always be poor, meek Arthur Stewart from the 'Erald to me.
* There are two great things about Kevin Lee's review of Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece Starship Troopers (I don't know what else to call it--that film is freaking inspired): The part where he points out that part of the fun of the film is that it is not embarrassed of or condescending toward proficiency in straightforward genre/action-movie filmmaking, and the lengthy collection of reviews from contemporary critics who completely missed the fact that the film is a satire. (Via The House Next Door.)
McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13
Dave Eggers, series editor
Chris Ware, guest editor
Chris Ware, Gary Panter, E.D. Muenchow, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, David Heatley, Seth, R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Rodolphe Topffer, John McClenan, Bud Fisher, Milt Gross, Louis Beidermann, Kaz, Mark Newgarden, Jim Woodring, Archer Prewitt, Lynda Barry, Charles Schulz, George Herriman, Philip Guston, Mark Beyer, Richard Sala, Art Spiegelman, Kim Deitch, Joe Sacco, David Collier, Chester Brown, Ben Katchor, Richard McGuire, Jeffrey Brown, Julie Doucet, Joe Matt, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Adrian Tomine, David Heatley, Ron Rege Jr., John Porcellino, writers/artists
Ira Glass, Chris Ware, John Updike, Charles M. Schwab, F.W. Seward Jr., Tim Samuelson, Glen David Gold, Michael Chabon, Chip Kidd, writers
McSweeney's Quarterly, 2004 Buy it from McSweeney's Buy it from Amazon.com
The other day I said that most of the big hardcover comics anthologies put out by prose publishers over the past few years draw from a "comics as high art" canon consisting of classic newspaper strips, the undergrounds, RAW, people who were published by Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly during the '90s, and Kramers Ergot. Turns out I really nailed it when it comes to McSweeney's #13: I could be wrong, and correct me if I am, but after taking a closer look at this one I'm pretty sure that every single cartoonist in the book falls into one of those categories. What's more, it pares away the wilder edges: The only underground guys you'll find here are the three most high-falutin', R. Crumb, Kim Deitch, and Art Spiegelman; the Kramers contributors--the ones that aren't covered in any of the other categories, that is--are lo-fi autobio guys like Jeffrey Brown and David Heatley, while (depending how you count one of Ron Rege's most straightforward and topical comics ever) the whole Providence school of noisecomix is nowhere to be found.
In other words, editor Chris Ware is presenting a very, very specific, and familiar, vision of alternative/art/literary comics here. There's the emphasis on artifact and ephemera, with reproductions of a hand colored copy of a Rodolphe Topffer bootleg and bizarre old-timey "comics are good for the sould" advertorials, while sketches or unfinished strips from George Herriman and Charles Schulz presented as their contributions to the book. There's the prominent masturbation humor placed toward the beginning and end of the book so you really can't miss it. There's the de rigeur current-events strip or three. There's the ever-present link to mortifying memories of lonely childhoods in which superhero comics serve as both instigator and mitigator of misery--witness basically all the guest text pieces, particularly those of Chip Kidd and Glen David Gold. There's the plethora of strips about how loveless and thankless and pointless is the life of the artist/thinking man/aesthete in general and the cartoonist in particular. When certain critics trot out their anti-altcomix hobbyhorses, this book is almost certainly the sort of thing that makes them whip those suckers into a gallop.
There are plenty of reasons not to give a damn about that, mind you. Ware, of course, is a genius, and his taste is as respectable and enjoyable as you'd imagine, if a bit narrow. He has a terrific eye for excerpts: the surreal ending of the otherwise realistic passage from Black Hole he includes must be absolutely stunning to people who've never seen it in context, for example, while the chapter he takes from Louis Riel, featuring the execution of a loudmouthed Anglo prisoner, would most likely close out Chester Brown's highlight reel. In both cases a particular skill of the artist is emphasized: With Charles Burns, it's how his inks can subtly shift between sensualism and horror; with Brown, it's his knack for staging, in this case displayed by how the prisoner's censored rantings take on an almost physical presence that absolutely overwhelms the staid characters at which it is directed. Then there's the novel way he handles Los Bros Hernandez, intercutting two unrelated stories by Gilbert and Jaime in order to approximate the experience of reading them in their two (and sometimes three) man anthology series. I think Gilbert's material (the devastating, temporally jumping "Julio's Day") comes off the stronger, but that of course is also one of the pleasures of reading Los Bros.
And that's not all. While not quite the knockout blows listed above, the material from artists like Joe Sacco, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, and Ware himself are also quite strong. Unexpected contributions from John Updike and Philip Guston are roped in. The early section on newspaper strips cleverly arranges contributions from Mark Newgarden, Ivan Brunetti, Clowes, Ware, Crumb, Seth, Kaz and more right up against Mutt and Jeff and the like, making an implicit argument that the strip format holds as much potential as the more traditional graphic-novel or short-story modes. Meanwhile, it's always edifying to read Gary Panter or Mark Beyer, and one of the great comforts of all these big anthologies is that I know I'm never more than 100 or so pages away from some Ben Katchor. Entertainingly, the packaging, as it were, may be the best and most innovative part of the book. Strong minicomics by Ron Rege Jr. and John Porcellino are tucked into the folds of a massive, and massively impressive, cover by Ware. The competing takes on "the history of comics" presented on the front of the cover by Ware, the inside of the cover by Panter, and the endpapers by Brunetti are dazzling, while reproducing images from a 1936 "How to Cartoon" guide by E.D. Muenchow was inspired.
Now, there are the same old problems any anthology has, too. This is likely just a YMMV issue, but the predilection of many anthologizers to place material from Seth and Joe Matt back-to-back merely reminds me that I've never much cared for either; Matt's subject matter is usually dull and offensive, while for some reason I've just never felt comfortable with how Seth's thick, wavy lines sit on the page. I've yet to be sold on Lynda Barry or Richard Sala either. And not all of Ware's selections are as perfect as the ones listed above: Richard McGuire's "ctrl" is lovely to look at, but he handled the subject matter with tons more nuance and sensitivity in "Home"; and just once I'd like to see Ivan Brunetti represented by stuff from Haw! And as far as Ware's editorial presence is concerned, he sometimes lets his enthusiasm get the better of him, as you can see in his text pieces, which are heavy on hyperbolic assertion: "Charlie Brown was a real personality, living on the newspaper page—he wasn't a picture of someone, he was the thing itself…"; "Philip Guston is the first painter, ever, to truly paint a portrait from the inside out." If he was a blogger writing about Final Crisis, other bloggers would be writing about how ridiculous he sounds.
But those last few concerns are all pretty minor in the face of a book full of, let's face it, really good comics by really good creators. I mean, there are only four contributors I don't care for or something like that, right? What's to complain about? Well, it's a lack of imagination, that's what. And I'm as surprised as anyone to here me say that about an effort from Chris freaking Ware. But while there are standout moments to be found here—the cleverly constructed cover materials, the creative editorial layouts of the strip material and the Hernandez Brothers' stuff, the Burns and Brown selection—the primary sensation engendered by reading McSweeney's #13 is "yep, that's exactly what I expected." And that's a real bummer in a way, isn't it? Leading with a bunch of strips about how dull and pathetic it is to be an artist, then segueing into a Crumb strip called "The Unbearable Tediousness of Being" just to hammer the point home; sprinkling it with guest appearances from prominent prose writers who can't shake the melancholy of their six-year-old selves dressing up in towels and underwear and pretending to be Batman; closing with a Brunetti strip about how Kierkegaard intentionally sabotaged his own love life, then died alone, segueing into those adorable "history of cartooning" endpages also by Brunetti, so that what you've just read in the Kierkegaard strip calls into question any pleasure you might get from Brunetti's laser-precision pastiches of Superman, Eustace Tilly, Mr. Peanut, Enid Coleslaw, Fred Flinstone et al...I dunno, is this what comics is? Obviously it is to Ware, and the chances are good it is to a decent chunk of the McSweeney's audience, so maybe this is exactly what they wanted to see. It's just not what I wanted to see, and probably not what I would have chosen to show, either.
* NYCC news, Brian Michael Bendis division, part two: Powers is also being relaunched with a new #1 issue. Bendis blames its erratic shipping schedule, which he was "embarrassed" by, for the move, and says he and artist Michael Avon Oeming are stockpiling issues before restarting it. Powers, too, is a very good comic, but it's hard for it to get traction in your head when it comes out so sporadically. I'd love for it to arrive on a consistent basis so that it gets a little more oomph.
* NYCC news, Brian Michael Bendis division, part three: Powers is headed for a TV adaptation on FX. Of course I've been hearing about live-action Powers adaptations all decade long, so I probably won't be holding my breath, but it would be awfully nice if someone could pull off serialized live-action non-ridiculous superhero storytelling, wouldn't it?
* NYCC news: Geoff Johns is launching a new Adventure Comics series. It will feature the Legion of Super-Heroes--presumably the grown-up versions of the original Legion, whom we've seen in Johns's Action Comics, Justice Society of America, and Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, as well as the Superman villains Lex Luthor, Bizarro, and Brainiac. In other words it's a continuation of Johns's excellent Action Comics run, more or less, so I'm excited about it.
* NYCC news: Kiel Phegley presents the best of the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference. I think the most interesting exchange involves Marvel's Executive VP - Global Digital Media Group Ira Rubenstein and what could charitably be described as a downplaying of fanfiction and, really surprisingly given his job, YouTube.
* B-Sol at the Vault of Horror has once again polled a variety of online horror commentary luminaries to create a list of the Top 20 Foreign Horror Films of All Time. Bucking the trend of the previous lists regarding the age-to-ranking ration, the number one film is also the most recent, Let the Right One In. My guess is that this is simply because it's the one foreign horror film that nearly every horror blogger has seen.
* The one good thing about this Michael Phelps marijuana nonsense is how everyone who isn't the news media or Phelps's sponsors seems to realize that it is, in fact, nonsense. In a political culture given to fits of fact-free stupidity on a daily basis, reefer madness may well be the stupidest of it.
Cry Yourself to Sleep
Jeremy Tinder, writer/artist
Top Shelf Productions, 2006
$7 Buy it from Amazon.com
Originally written on July 23, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Try to contain your surprise: This book from Top Shelf contains cute, anthropomorphized animals! Gee, I hope you were sitting down. Ah, I kid because I love, of course. And while it is true that Top Shelf has returned to that Chunky Rice sweet spot many a time since Craig Thompson knocked one out of the park with it years ago, Jeremy Tinder's Cry Yourself to Sleep distinguishes itself by, well, distinguishing itself. It doesn't go in for the cute-overload of a Spiral-Bound, nor for the tremulous quasi-mysticism of a Pulpatoon Pilgrimage (the AdHouse Books effort that of all post-Chunky "Manimals' Search for Meaning" books feels most like a Craig Thompson cover band). It mainly sets out to be funny, and quite happily, it succeeds.
It's a slight volume with a slight plot: Over the course of a couple of days, three pretty much adorable characters intended as stand-ins for the book's twentysomething target audience--a guy named Andy, a rabbit named Jim, and a robot named The Robot--struggle with three early-life crises--Andy's novel is rejected by a publisher, Jim gets fired from his job, and The Robot realizes he's a soulless jerk. A pair of pages in which three successive, nearly identical panels tie each of the characters' stories together bookend the book. But to his credit, Tinder's emphasis is not on setting up an overly neat 'n' sweet parallel structure, but on the comedic potential of how the individual stories ramble their way to their respective conclusions. Andy's story in particular is peppered with amusing digressions: an interlude in which a little kid sports a fake handlebar moustache in an ill-fated attempt to browse the adult section in the video store where Andy works, another in which Andy's friend Nate (who happens to be a little bear who wears glasses) advises him to spice up his novel by inserting a completely unrelated misadventure experienced by Nate's menopausal mom. Sure, both scenes have that "well, this is my first graphic novel, and these are really funny, so I'm getting them in there come hell or high water" feeling to them--especially the menopause story, which is pitched to Andy for precisely that reason--but Tinder pulls it off with keen pacing and exceptional cartooning (his character designs are easily the strongest funny-animal work being done in this vein today--check out poor hot-flashing Joan Bear's furrowed brow and preposterous hair). The fact that his jokes are actually funny is obviously key. Unemployed rabbit Jim gets the best of them when he's fired from his job at a sandwich shop for getting fur in the subs, complains that the latex gloves he's supposed to wear don't fit him because he doesn't have fingers, then gets reprimanded by his (human) father for "play[ing] the species card." The Robot's got some rock-solid moments as well. His entire quest to become as free as a (literal) bird reads like a good-natured roast of such alternative comics tropes, and in the lachrymose sequence that gives the book its title, you'll notice that there's no tears to be found on his metal face--robots can't cry, duh. An occasional hint of mawkishness creeps may creep through now and then (that by-the-numbers romantic subplot at Andy's video store, for example), but overall the saccharine level is refreshingly low. The goal of Cry is simple: to make you smile. Mission accomplished.
* Plugs 4 Pals part one: Ben Morse will be editing War of Kings: Warriors, a digital comic tying in with Marvel's space-opera event. Ben knows from Marvel's space stuff, so if you're interested in that sort of thing at all, you'd be wise to check it out.
* Plugs 4 Pals part two: Justin Aclin has launched a new blog to promote Hero House, his superhero graphic novel, due from Avatar in September. Justin knows from superhero comedy, so if you're interested in that sort of thing at all, you'd be wise to check it out.
* Tom Spurgeon explains "why Diamond's new minimums policy is wrong, and what they should do about it." Like some other recent efforts of that sort, it recognizes the need to square the circle between what one assumes are Diamond's concerns about getting weighted down with unprofessional product and the rest of the industry's concerns about Diamond's judgement in determining what constitutes "unprofessional product." It also unpacks several business and financial assertions made by and on behalf of Diamond that don't hold much water upon closer examination.
* Speaking of Spurge, in a comment downblog he corrects my mischaracterization of his position regarding Final Crisis and the big superheroes in general: It's not that he thinks they have "no juice left at all to thrill or inspire or encourage," but that Final Crisis would have been a better book had Morrison addressed that question head on rather than taking it as a given. And he's right, you really don't see Morrison questioning his own beliefs in his work all that often. They're more an articulation of those beliefs, in fact; from interviews I've both read and conducted with Morrison, though, I do get the sense that a lot of his darker books arise from unrelated, IRL personal problems he's had. In this case, the implication appears to be that the notion of drab, uninspiring superheroes is one he's confronted behind the scenes rather than on the page.
* Tom also notes, both in that comment and in his original review, that Morrisonian victories just sort of happen. I see what he's saying--the heroes win due to inherent qualities present within them all along rather than using some newly acquired internal strengths to effect their peripeteia (note: I'd been using that word incorrectly for about a decade so I'm breaking it out now that I know that it means "reversal of fortune")--but it still seems kosher to me since it usually takes them a lot of blood, sweat, and tears until they're in a position where they have the confidence, know-how, or freedom to act in this way. It's a lot different than the work of former Morrison protege Mark Millar, wherein the protagonists always just start winning because it's the point in the narrative where that's supposed to happen, and there really wasn't anything stopping them from winning before then aside from Millar's rudimentary knowledge of Robert McKee.
* NYCC news, Brian Michael Bendis division, part four: There's a new Michael Gaydos-drawn Alias miniseries on the way. (Good catch, Kevin Melrose.)
* NYCC news: Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers? I dunno if I'll eat it, but I'll think it's a terrific idea for an image, that's for sure. Wouldn't it be rad if it were actually about animal rights in some semi-serious way? I'll be over here holding my breath.
* Two new series from Naoki Urasawa debut today: Pluto and 20th Century Boys. I'm curious.
* So that's what Mat Brinkman looks like. It's kind of a bummer that we've lost him to the fine art world the way we lost Dave Cooper and Marc Bell, huh?
* Lux Interior died. I'm not going to lie and say I was a big Cramps listener, aside from the healthy appreciation held by anyone who came of age in that weird early-mid-'90s period when suddenly any vaguely outsiderish subculture could get purchase in the national media and suddenly psychobilly and other revivals of '50s trash culture were a visible thing and Beavis and Butt-Head couldn't get over how awesome the title "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns" was. But one deep-seated belief I always had was that "Lux Interior" is the best, funniest nom de rock invented by anyone ever. And now, after seeing clips of the relevant show here and there around the internet, a belief that the band's 1978 gig at California's Napa State Mental Hospital is one of the most inspired and subversive ideas ever had by a rock band is gaining ground fast. I've spent a little more time in mental institutions than I ever anticipated or hoped to spend, and there's this mix of rage and excitement and fear and crazy happiness you feel that is embodied pretty well by sticking a bunch of weirdos in the middle and letting them play down and dirty rock and roll.
* The Obama administration has decided to back the Bush administration's use of extraordinary rendition as a backdoor to torture by officially declaring its belief that a lawsuit regarding the practice is off limits to the courts due to "state secrets." The read seems to be that this is more an matter of the new administration attempting to keep the previous administration from being on the receiving end of legal action than with actually continuing the practice itself, but either way it's scary. Glenn Greenwald has more.
* Finally, if you've never heard the story of the life and loves Genesis P-Orridge, coiner of the terms "industrial music" and "acid house" and one of my childhood heroes--particularly the part of the story about how he's had extensive surgery, including breast implants, to make himself look more like his late wife--this profile of Gen is for you. (Via 33 1/3.)
* I really, really enjoyed this storyline. Like I've said, I was hoping that the discovery of Earth would really reveal major cracks in what's left of the humans' civil society, and this sort of thing was exactly what I meant. Zarek had been a terrorist long ago, but in this episode he seemed to be showing a level of barbarity that surprised even him--that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. It's what I want from Battlestar Galactica.
* I don't get the notion--which to be fair I've only seen expressed by other people who don't get it--that the storyline is pointless and that the resolution we saw last night represents a return to the status quo ante. If Battlestar Galactica does anything well it's showing how long-lasting the consequences of old storylines can be--I mean, half of the lead mutineers here were Pegasus refugees, Gaeta's motivations can be traced back to New Caprica, and his relationship with Baltar is one of the oldest, if quietest, running gags on the show. I can't imagine that at this stage in the game, a briefly successful coup that resulted in the death of virtually the entire government except a President who is herself dying is going to get swept under the rug.
* I like when the show does action and gives its action heroes action hero stuff to do, so seeing Starbuck and Apollo run around with guns like the old days was a real treat.
* On a related note, even though I wish the commercials hadn't spoiled this for weeks, Roslin completely going nuts gave me chills like crazy. It was very very clever of Mary McDonnell to riff on Hillary Clinton's trademark strident vocal pitch, but the way it seemed to vomit out of her, as opposed to Clinton's rather robotic rallying cries, was really frightening. A great, show-defining moment.
* You know one thing that does bother me about the show? It's never ever fleshed out the marines, or made them anything other than thugs. It's a weird dropped ball.
* Attention to detail alert: the little puddles of water and urine beneath the urinals.
* Attention to Freud alert: Starbuck braining a dude as he's draining the lizard.
* The scene between Baltar and Gaeta was one of my favorites in the entire history of the show. It gave James Callis more to do than he's had to do in the season so far. It followed up on a long-established relationship that hadn't been at the fore of the show in a long long time, which is the sort of thing I always appreciate in long-running serialized dramas. It was probably Alessandro Juliani's finest few moments as an actor. I think there was something moving about how these two have sinned against so many people, and each other, and yet in that brief moment managed to forgive themselves and each other and take comfort in one another. As a Deadwood fan, I'm a sucker for when grown men cry because they love each other.
* Maybe even more moving? Zarek managing a smile for Felix, and Felix smiling back. They're human, after all. Somehow, showing that made the show simultaneously more uplifting and more depressing. And again, that's what I want from Battlestar Galactica.
* I suppose that if you held a gun to my head I'd have to tell you I thought that the itch in Gaeta's stump going away right before he gets executed was a little much, but only if you held a gun to my head.
* I know people didn't like the Chief's tunnel-crawling, but I thought the endless nature of it all just showed how far he was willing to go for this. It helps that Aaron Douglas is sort of the heart of the show--it fits that his Chief saved the day.
* Ending the arc with the Chief discovering literal cracks in the heart of Galactica herself--well, that's no accident.
The greatest trick Scott Pilgrim ever pulled was convincing you its conscience didn't exist. For a long time, the series' skeptics criticized the shortcomings of the characters as though their existence was a shortcoming of their creator--as though writer/artist O'Malley was unaware that Scott was kind of shiftless and feckless, or that Ramona Flowers was a little bit cruel and aloof, or that their group of friends was cliquey and catty. I definitely see where such critics are coming from, for a couple of reasons: first, that was pretty much my line of attack when I first read Jaime Hernandez's Locas material (newsflash: Hopey's a jerk and Maggie's a mess!); second, I am now a 30-year-old married homeowner in Levittown, and the further I get from Scott's situation, the harder it gets to relate to, or even in some ways really care about, his plight.
But over the past three volumes, O'Malley has slowly pulled back the operating curtain to reveal the beating heart of the series; if you'll allow me to mix metaphors, what this means is that the chickens have been coming home to roost. It turns out that all those evil ex-boyfriends aren't just plot devices, but people who've had a lasting effect on how Ramona lives. It turns out that Scott's glibness both hurts his relationship(s) and enables him to see their potential when others can no longer do so. It turns out that Knives's lasting crush on Scott isn't just a funny recurring gag, but something that's screwing up her life and causing her to screw up the lives of those around her. It turns out that all the "we suck"isms the band indulges in actually have power in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way. It turns out that supporting players have lives of their own and that they can really grow to dislike how oblivious the main characters are to that fact. And so on and so forth.
At the risk of saying what I say any time a new Scott Pilgrim comes out, the singular achievement of the series is conveying all this stuff through the visual language of video games, action comics, and shonen manga. By all means, let the evil ex-boyfriends whose attack finally splits up Scott and Ramona be Japanese hipster versions of Tomax and Xamot, the creepy Crimson Twins from G.I. Joe. Let the fact that Scott is going to have a very rough time in this volume be foreshadowed by not collecting any loot when he defeats a tiny robot at a party. Let the whole emotional tone of the book be telegraphed in a pair of anecdotes about '80s Chris Claremont X-Men storylines. Let trying to figure out Ramona's big secret be represented by having her inexplicably glow every once in a while--and then let that be conveyed in part through having a foil cover!
I'm not trying to make the case that Scott Pilgrim fleshes out its characters or connects emotionally the way a good Clowes or Burns or Tomine graphic novel about young people trying to form and maintain relationships does, or that addressing such people is completely unprecedented. It doesn't and it obviously isn't. It's still as much or more about screwball comedy and banter and clever visual elements as all that. But it's a really fun book, and a lovely-looking book, and ultimately, surprisingly, a complex book. Pretty sneaky, Scott.
* This sort of thing tickles me pink: Political bloggers Jonah Goldberg, Robert Farley, Spencer Ackerman, Robert Farley again, and Matthew Yglesias discuss recent developments in the world of Battlestar Galactica. There's something really funny about people who normally write about the Middle East policy or the stimulus package addressing in-world politics like dudes in the Android's Dungeon on New Comics Day arguing over whether or not Wolverine would really say that. The second Farley post in particular is gloriously nerdy in that regard. Also, this reminds me that I have a theory regarding the changes in behavior amongst the Cylons that I need to explore here on the blog at some point.
* For me, the appeal of a second Hobbit movie that fleshes out the stuff going on off-page during and after Bilbo Baggins's journey There and Back Again centered largely on the image of the White Council--Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond, and Cirdan, if I'm not mistaken--pulling a Magnificent Seven and kicking Sauron (then still known as the Necromancer) out of his Mirkwood stronghold, Dol Guldur, which is what Gandalf was busy doing for much of the time Bilbo and the Dwarves were mucking about with the Elves, the Lakemen, and Smaug iirc. With that in mind it's a bummer to hear Christopher "Saruman" Lee say that his advanced age would probably prevent him from traveling to New Zealand to take part in the filming, should his character be required. I'm sure he'd like to portray Saruman's last act of benevolence just as much as I'd like to see him do so. Still, maybe they could film him in London, as the interviewer suggests? (Via The One Ring.)
* Kiel Phegley talks to Ed Brubaker about that "Marvels Project" thing I mentioned the other day. Sounds like Bru and artist Steve Epting will more or less be doing exactly what they did with Captain America, only telling the full story of Cap and the Invaders back in the past. Sign me up.
* Becky Cloonan says that Tokyopop is more or less sitting on East Coast Rising Vol. 2. Travesty.
* Eric Reynolds laments Reed's move to make Book Expo America a permanent NYC fixture, since that's hella inconvenient and expensive for non-NYC-based (read: non-corporate) publishers.
* Back when I was at Wizard, one of my favorite tasks was helping to assemble a publication called PosterMania, which was nothing more or less than a collection of pullout poster versions of various covers and occasionally splash pages from various publishers. Comic Books! is essentially the exact same thing in tumblr form. Its taste and mine don't line up perfectly, and it's virtually all Big Two stuff, but frankly there are a lot of cool covers from those companies around, so this was quite a find for me. I'd imagine there are plenty of people reading this blog who would be perfectly happy if there only interaction with these properties were things like this Mark Chiarello Two-Face: Year One cover, for example. (Via Sean B.)
* Ladies and gentlemen, in honor of his uncredited cameo as General Zod in this week's Pablo Raimondi-illustrated issue of Action Comics, a young Ian McShane. Break open the fuckin' canned peaches indeed.
* Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman follow up on disturbing recent moves by the Obama administration regarding state secrets & extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention respectively.
* So, looks like They might have approached the Wachowski Brothers about directing a Superman reboot trilogy. I can't imagine that Warner Bros. is in a "let's put a franchise in the hands of the Wachwoskis" mood after Speed Racer and The Matrix Revolutions, so in general I echo Rob Bricken's call for calm, but for now I'll play along because there's a possibility this could end up being really cool. Speed Racer would be a terrific direction for a more science-fiction/fighting with Brainiac, Bizarro, and Darkseid Superman movie to go in visually, while the aerial battle between Neo and Smith at the end of the third Matrix flick was already the best Superman fight scene ever filmed.
* Something about this sentence cracked me up: "Like so many bloggers, I was a big fan of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's 2004 series Street Angel." Like so many bloggers and so few readers, alas. But it was a great comic and the short live-action film version of it looks pretty great.
* Eve Tushnet waxes enthusiastic about the Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos Alias reunion.
* Bruce Campbell says no to Evil Dead IV. This comes several years after I said no to Evil Dead IV.
* This has already come up this season, but it bears repeating: It's a lot tougher for the show to do "shapeless dread" now that we've met all the Others, and gotten a good look at the Smoke Monster, and learned that the Dharma Initiative was ultimately a bit on the ineffectual side, and discovered that it's all part of some great game between Ben Linus and a British tycoon, and so on and so forth, than it was back in Season One when you had no idea what the fuck was going on. So this episode was an all-out effort to, in the words of "The Battle of Evermore," bring it back. Smoke monster attacks, crazy Rousseau, "the sickness" turning out not to be the time-travel aneurysms at all, brainwashed Frenchmen, Christian/Jacob, the freaking Temple at long last, "This place is death!"...the aim was to freak you out with mystery and terror. It worked pretty well. It still wasn't as scary as the show used to be (remember the hieroglyphics on the countdown clock, or when the pilot got snatched out of the plane, or "we're gonna have to take the boy," or "help...me...")?--but maybe we'll get there this season if and when Jacob starts playing a bigger role.
* In the latest of his unceasingly excellent weekly Lost reviews, Todd VanDerWerff points out that the absence of flashbacks and flashforwards removes some of the intra-episode narrative coherence from how the show tells its story. Instead of having a subplot with a beginning, middle, and ending within the hour even as the larger Island plot rolls on, now it's all plot, which (as I said of the premiere) gives the episodes a slightly overstuffed feel at times. But the pace is so breakneck, and the movement toward a destination seemingly so assured, that it's still really satisfying, I think.
* Gory, wasn't it? Bone shards, fly-ridden corpses, dismembered arms--it was the Geoff Johns episode of Lost. Good for them! Lost at its best is full of pulp thrills.
* This is probably an awful thing to say, but I never found Rebecca "Charlotte" Mader attractive until she went nuts and started dying. Those crazy-eyes! Hubba hubba.
* You know what? I think that's an okay thing to say. The attractiveness of its leads is a big part of Lost's appeal, and not just for dudes--it's the one show I can think of where female fans seem to be randier for the male cast than male fans are for the female cast. But seriously: Evangeline Lily, Elizabeth Mitchell, Emilie De Ravin, Maggie Grace, Yunjin Kim, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Watros, Sonya Walger? Damn. See what I mean? Pulp thrills.
* I chuckled at how in-your-face that cliffhanger ending was.
For all its lo-fi provenance, Jeffrey Brown's art has always felt rounded and tactile and full to me. His figures may have the disproportionately large heads and bendy arms of doodled cartoons, but they move around in environments you feel like you could swing through the panel into and explore; seeing one of his gridlike pages is like being presented with an array of tiny windows that way. Meanwhile there's an emphasis on shading that reinforces the palpability of what he's drawing. There really isn't anything else, including (or perhaps especially) all the young cartoonists you see upon whom Brown is an obvious influence, that looks like it. It works a lot differently than, say, David Heatley's stuff, despite the surface similarities you'd find between two guys who do lo-fi autobio comics with lots of little panels.
Bighead isn't autobio, there aren't a lot of little panels, and it's only barely lo-fi, but all of the above still stands. In the past, this kind of parody work is the closest Brown has come to really showing off his chops, and that trend continues. All those penstroke shading lines frequently accrue into something rather lovely--the robotic arms of the Claw's deathtrap, the darkness of "one of Chicago's famous 'indie rock' shows," the vortext that swallows the Author when he messes with reality a little too much.
Meanwhile the superhero parody gags made me laugh repeatedly, particularly the dialogue. Brown really nails overwrought, superhero house-style banter that makes it seem like its author doesn't quite understand how to write. "This time you've gone too far, The Claw!" "I'm crazy? I'm crazy?! Don't you know who you're talking to? You're talking to me!" There are equally effective sight gags, from the Superboy-like Little Bighead getting so emotional about the Pacifier's rampage that he finally just breaks down and starts sucking on the vigilante's rubber-nipple headgear to the opening splash page of Bighead crashing through a window with a caption reading "HOLY SHIT!" And then there's the tragic tale of Beefy Hipster, driven to supercrime by his inability to fit into his favorite band's American Peril t-shirts.
It's a funny, intelligently drawn superhero humor comic, and usually you can only get one or the other, if anything, so if you want to laugh at superhero comics that actually are intriguing to look at, by all means check this out.
* Infodump! I thought it was pretty elegantly done for all that, though, because they couched it in compelling material. With Ellen, you had her panic and confusion and desperation upon waking up in the Cylon ship, rapidly replaced by an entirely new personality for that character--the real personality for that character, as it turns out. The frisson of this material, plus getting to see her duke it out intellectually with that candy-colored clown they call the sandman, Dean Stockwell, gave her and Cavil's part of the infodump some real charge.
* It did feel a bit like Anders's gunshot-driven revelations could have been better conveyed over a longer period of time, or visually rather than verbally. But I also understand what the show's temporal and financial limitations are at this point, and once they waited this long their choices were few. As I've said a million times, I'm here for the human drama more than I'm here for some complex mythology--after all, when you start watching BSG, the complex mythology doesn't even exist!--so all things considered I'm really glad they've spent this half-season dealing with things like the coup than with mysterious flashbacks to the earth-Cylons' past or what have you. In a way, they tried to bridge that gap in the Anders segments, having his revelations come as a direct result of the wounds he incurred during the coup, and making the main conflict in his half of the episode be "Starbuck and the Cylons want to find out what the hell's going on" vs. "Starbuck wants to help the man she loves." Heh, that's the main schism of Battlestar Galactica fandom in a nutshell!
* I think the best sign of the success of the infodumps here is that my two favorite BSG bloggers, Todd VanDerWerff and Jim Henley, each preferred a different one of the two approaches.
* VanDerWerff also accurately notes that we fans have wanted to know this information for so long that his episode had a lot of goodwill to coast on in order to reach its goal. Even though the mythology isn't necessarily my thing, I can certainly confirm that--I was just so excited to hear the story come together in a way that made sense and had some emotional and thematic heft to it that they practically could have gotten away with having a character sit in front of the camera reading it from a book.
* Part of me is a little iffy about the idea that the Cylon nuclear holocaust wasn't really all the humans' fault in that they built the Cylons. I know you can trace it back thousands of years or whatever, but I'm with Tigh--the Five Cylons are to blame for the depredations of the Seven Known Models at least as much as humankind is, and I'm bummed about that. You lose some of that Frankenstein's monster mojo if that's the case.
* The rot in the bones of the Galactica is maybe the show's most obvious metaphor to date, but this is the time in the series for obvious metaphors as far as I'm concerned.
* Now it can be told: I've joined the Savage Critics! I'm part of a wave of new members that includes Tucker Stone, Dick Hyacinth, David Uzumeri, and Chris Eckert. Should be a pip. Thanks to Brian Hibbs for the opportunity!
* ShockTillYouDrop.com has been speaking to Clive Barker about Hellraiser remake helmer Pascal "Martyrs" Laugier, potential Pinhead redesigns, abandoned plans for a Midnight Meat Train film trilogy, a Hellraiser spanking the censors didn't want you to see, and more.
The first thing you have to do when you read Jeffrey Brown's all-MMA issue of his new one-man anthology title is disabuse yourself of any preconceptions the phrase "86-page fight scene" may engender. I myself was picturing a lengthy Frank Milleresque wordless slobberknocker, a showcase of action choreography. Brown had other ideas, particularly on the "wordless" score: Nearly every panel of the three-round bout between the veteran thinking-man's-fighter Haruki Rabasaku and the charismatic bruiser Eldark Garprub is captioned or ballooned with a breakdown of their thoughts, moves, or both. Instead of dazzling us with pyrotechnics--the closest he ends up getting to that is with the very idea of the book itself--Brown uses the constant narrative jibberjabber to a) impress us with his devotee's understanding of MMA, and b) slow time to a crawl, making each round feel like an hour's worth of battle to the combatants. It's an interesting move that dovetails with the story's occasionally ruminative feel, particularly the abrupt, downbeat ending and the sensitive treatment of the two fighters' slightly cheesy but nevertheless sincerely articulated worldviews. Now that I think of it, the vibe given off is akin to arthouse wire-fu flicks like House of Flying Daggers, not with that level of beauty of course, but in the way physical combat is treated as something both impressive and sad.
* All-time ADDTF hero Clive Barker is making the interview rounds big-time in support of today's DVD release of the still-unseen-by-me Midnight Meat Train. Here's a long one at Shock Till You Drop, another long one at Dread Central, and a slightly shorter but still interesting one at Fearnet.
* Chris Butcher, Tom Spurgeon, Brian Hibbs, and Tom Spurgeon again react to the news that monopoly direct-market comics distributor Diamond is permanently delisting about 1000 manga volumes from their Previews catalog as part of their recently announced cutbacks of low-selling items. The reason I don't talk about business issues much anymore is because I am manifestly unqualified to do so, but I just can't imagine how cutting off 1000 items from North America's biggest comics publisher from a market entirely in thrall to such decisions is good for the long-term health of the industry. I think Tom raises an important point when he says that the way Diamond is sort of dropping these bombshells out there with little or no explanation of the thought process behind them, leaving it up to interested third parties to explain/excuse/defend these moves, is a strange way to go about making decisions that could effect the shape of the Direct Market forever.
* The cast of Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables, which already included Sly, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, and Jason Statham, now includes Eric Roberts...and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is already the greatest movie ever made. Better than Crank, even.
* Dave Ortega talks to Dave Kiersh, a longtime ADDTF fave and faithful chronicler of the teenage wasteland, about his books Dirtbags, Mallchicks & Motorbikes, Never Land, and more, and I really just love a lot of what he says. Honestly, this sounds like I wrote it:
Well, I'm not so much a poetry reader in the traditional sense. I do however enjoy music, of course, which is closely related. My early comics were much shorter and with them, I was more concerned with conveying an emotion; story was not so important to me. Even with my longer stories, I have no aspiration for writing a sort of literary graphic novel. When I think of rock and roll songs I like, sometimes they tell a story. But more often what makes them memorable is that they possess a sort of compact nostalgic thrill. Just like an album has a theme that ties songs together, I wanted to create a book of short stories tied together with a common purpose. That's what works for me now, rather than to write a long novel. It's like asking a rock musician to write a song that is an hour long. In that way, it doesn't make sense for me to make a 100 page novel. It has to be interesting for the reader and in doing so avoid repetition. My new book is five short stories not directly related to one another, but you could also view it as one story through the separate characters....For me, a picture story has to have this perfect balance balance between word and picture: that's what keeps a child's interest. I'm not exactly sure what keeps an adult's interest but its similar to music; how I interpret music. Not like Classical music but like Rock and Roll... something that hits you immediately and hopefully sticks with you.
* Marc-Oliver Frisch reviews Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips' Incognito. He feels that the series so far lacks a certain emotional heft that the pair's previous hardboiled collaborations Sleeper and Criminal had. My feeling is that it's just gonna take some time to get there since you're dealing with bastards, but he's not wrong for the moment.
* Odd blogospheric convergence of the day: Andrew Sullivan reads the, oh, let's call them tea leaves regarding Michael Phelps, millennials, and marijuana through a viewing of the Friday the 13th remake.
Mome Vol. 4: Spring/Summer 2006
Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, editors
David B., R. Kikuo Johnson, Jeffrey Brown, Martin Cendreda, Sophie Crumb, Jonathan Bennett, Paul Hornschemeier, Gabrielle Bell, Anders Nilsen, David Heatley, John Pham, Kurt Wolfgang, writers/artists
$14.95 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
Originally written on July 23, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
I wouldn't want Mome to be any better than it is. See, it's taken me until the anthology's fourth installment to realize this, but a goodly sized chunk of its appeal lies in the uneven quality of its contributors. One of the series' stated goals was to provide readers with a venue in which they could watch a fixed assortment of young cartoonists grow and develop, the implication being that in Mome we could stack up a given creator's contributions against themselves and see what works and what doesn't. Maybe it should have been obvious to me--maybe it was to you--but equally inherent in the project's set-up is the chance it affords us to stack up a given creator's contributions against another's. Pitting the great against the deeply so-so in a regularly scheduled cage match is an excellent way to teach readers what does and doesn't make for good comics--to separate, in other words, a David B. from a Sophie C.
Let's start with the latter end of the spectrum, then. It's not that Sophie Crumb's comics have nothing to recommend them, necessarily; they do have a free-spirited, effortlessly vulgar energy that's rare in the higher echelons of altcomix these days (though not nearly so much if you step away from the big-name tables at an SPX or MoCCA and sniff through the equally undistinguished punk-rawk comics being churned out by kidz at a Kinko's near you). It's just that that's really all they have. In "Be a Bum," Crumb rails against the self-obsessed autobio stereotype--in fact, her cri de Coeur of "Don't spend 10 pages going on and on about taking out the fukin' garbage!" can only be interpreted as a potshot against fellow Mome contributor Jonathan Bennet, whose previous three offerings have followed a Bennett-esque protagonist as he took photographs, fed pigeons, and (yes) went through someone's garbage respectively, and whose contribution to Vol. 4, "I Remember Crowning…" replaced the Bennett figure with a bald middle-aged guy but still reads like a parody of indie navel-gazing, the kind of strawman a guy like Scott Kurtz would construct when he gets upset that he can't follow Jimmy Corrigan. But Crumb lacks the very rudimentary self-awareness necessary to realize that her own endless stories of gutterpunk slumming are just as solipsistic and bereft of larger meaning. Indeed, she touts her own superiority: "I'm too busy having an interesting life, and I don't take enough time to write and draw!! I am not a bored suburbian loser! My life is so weird and crazy, I wouldn't know where to start!!" My goodness, how did this salt-of-the-earth wild-woman got to the head of the altcomix class without any external privileges whatsoever? I couldn't hazard a guess! The pot-kettle comparison is worsened in another of the strips in this volume, where she outdoes Bennett's most quotidian contributions by recounting a pillow-talk conversation with her boyfriend and a bout of flatulence experienced by their dog. And in her "Smone Bean the Premature Teen," which can't seem to decide if it's a lampoon of America's sexualization of tweens or a gross-out incest gag comic, she doesn't even accurately quote Kelis's "Milkshake"! It's maddeningly lackadaisical work, right down to the okay art--say what you will about Bennett, but at least that cat can draw.
But a slick line is no guarantor of success, and if Bennett is exhibit A, then Paul Hornshemeier can close the case. His ongoing "Life with Mr. Dangerous," serialized throughout Mome's volumes, is as beautifully rendered as any of his work, all bulbous curves and soft corners filled with the kind of perfect, muted colors that'll land you a consolation-prize Eisner nomination. But. The. Story. Goes. Nowhere. Since it's about a young woman whose life appears to be going nowhere, maybe that's the point, but when you tackle a boring situation by creating boring art, the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts. Martin Cendreda takes an opposite tact: He peppers his "La Brea Woman," which chronicles a divorced father's run-of-the-mill day with his young son, with captions imbuing every minor character they meet along the way with a meaning-laden backstory. This doesn't work either. "Five years from now," reads the box above the check-out woman at the grocery store, "Valeria's only son is killed in Iraq." Groan. (The moonlit concluding shot of the elephant replica is nice, though.) Somewhere in between is Gabrielle Bell, whose examination of a young woman's lifelong love for a favorite band contains some perceptive moments ("Once I would've liked them. Once they would've made me cringe. Now I liked them again," she says of one group) but overall displays the same static figure work and flat-affect tone that's always left me cold on her comics. In Mome's realist camp, it's only R. Kikuo Johnson's dazzling display of illustrative proficiency (and Louis Riel fandom), "John James Audubon in Pursuit of the Golden Eagle," that makes an impact, as much from cannily eschewing lit-fic in favor of historical comics and examining man's relationship with animals (something I'm noticing comics seem to do well) as from the power of the visuals (goddamn).
In the end it's the surrealists who win the day. They're led by the great David Heatley, whose lo-fi figure work is perfectly suited to the violent and sexual non sequiturs of the dream comics he contributes; I found myself wishing he didn't say they were dream comics, though, as the disclaimer undercuts the power of the imagery. Anders Nilsen chips in a photograph-and-comic installation that, he says, served as a sort of rough draft for his graphic novel Dogs & Water, and it's as alarmingly good as everything I've read from him. As with most of his comics, you don't necessarily know what this collection of blurry landscapes and cut-and-pasted cartoons is about, but you can almost instantly grok what they're about--I certainly challenge you not to feel a little more lonely and hopeless after reading it than you did before, whether or not you can make heads or tails of it. Somewhat less effective in its randomness is John Pham's "221 Sycamore Ave.," another ongoing story being serialized in the anthology. The dreams of its protagonists--a bitter old teacher and his housemate, a ghost of some sort--take the story on a turn for the weird, and while the sharp, blocky shapes that dominate the dream (an underground-manga feel can be detected) provide a memorable contrast with the rest of the tale, the cumulative effect of the two halves is a bit uncertain. More tonally assured is the philosophical horror-comic contribution of Jeffrey Brown, yet another of his hugely rewarding explorations of territory beyond his usual autobio and humor beats. Juxtaposing a Godzilla attack with thought captions like "Everyone is anonymous at the end of things" could be an exercise in irony in other hands, but a few small strokes of Brown's thick, minimalist inks make it work as they evoke accumulated human endeavor swept away by sudden, thoughtless violence.
Violence is also at the heart of "The Veiled Prophet," this issue's contribution from David B. His gifts as a cartoonist and storyteller are so varied and subtle that reading his work is almost an unconscious process. One moment, you're reading an historical account of an Arab religious cult; the next--without a single seam you can point to and say "right there, that's where the change took place" you're reading a horrific fairy tale about tsunami-like armies of corpses and a man whose face no one can look at and live. Throughout, insights into human nature--the link between religious fervor, tyranny, and sexual mania; the sinking feeling that defeat at the hands of such forces is inevitable--shine through like a searing peak through the prophet's veil. B. doesn't so much draw as weave--threading together spears, skeletons, strands of cloth, naked bodies to create panels whose indelibility as stand-alone images (nearly any one of them could have been isolated for the volume's cover) is actually surpassed by their cumulative effect.
Basically, the guy is a genius.
Which is part of why putting B. in the anthology always seemed an odd choice. Not only is he older and from a different linguistic background than most of the other contributors, but he's also so freaking good that putting him amongst up-and-comers (even the really good ones) feels almost like bullying. But perhaps the message sent by his membership in Mome is an important one: Whatever the qualitative differences between a David B. and a Sophie Crumb might be, they are both doing the same thing--making comics. With that in mind, both readers and the creators themselves have every right to demand that the work of the latter class live up to that of the former.
Carnival of souls: special "all over the map" edition
* STC news: Marvel is reviving its What The--?! title as a series of animated action-figure parodies, and I'm going to be helping to write it. But the main man in charge is the great animator and bon vivant Alex Kropinak, who I believe is the sole responsible party for the video below. The way he makes the "Bruce" non sequitur work for him is just killer.
* I've been known to blog about a variety of real-world horror-related topics, from cryptozoology to serial killers. Here are some updates from two of the least pleasant real-world horror subcategories.
After a few minutes, the dispatcher asked if the chimp was still with Herold's friend.
"He's eating her," Herold said.
...or this one...
At first, officers did not see the animal, Conklin said. The chimp returned and tried to get into one of the officer's vehicles. The officer shot him several times at 2-foot range, and all of the shots landed in the animal's upper torso, Larrabee said. One of its teeth was found near the car.
The wounded chimp fled, and police followed a blood trail to the rear of the house, where the animal had returned to its living quarters and died.
Via Bryan Alexander, who notes that the original link hosts an audio file of the 911 call from which its quotes are taken and which I can't bear to listen to.
* Real-life torture porn: Army Spc. Brandon Neely offers first-hand testimony regarding prisoner abuse and torture at Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-Ray. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan respond to this Charlie Savage New York Times piece on disturbing areas of continuity between Bush and Obama policies regarding the rights of detainees. Both argue against taking the most absolute pessimistic stance regarding the Obama administration's actions thus far—I've learned first-hand that in some cases such pessimism stems from "nyah nyah told you so" agitation by the pro-torture right (in whose case it's actually optimism), or by "nothing changes" cynics, or by go-along-to-get-along "centrist" D.C. CW mavens who perhaps believe that Obama's acquiescence in these matters will lessen their own implication in their original Bush-era implementation—but they forcefully encourage vigilance rather than blind trust regarding such issues as rendition, indefinite detention, and state secrets.
* I think people who are upset at how goofy several of the recently released Watchmen clips look and sound are forgetting the fact that there's a lot of goofy-looking and goofy-sounding shit in the original comic. That was sort of the point, in part. The question is whether Zack Snyder is onto that, or whether he's bought into the SUPERHEROES IS SERIOUS BUSINESS mentality of the modern fanboy and is blissfully unaware of his own goofiness. U-DECIDE! Click the link for the footage, and keep in mind I'm the guy who defended The Spirit (but still hasn't seen it--screw you, Loews).
* The one-two punch of 9/11 and The DaVinci Code really did a number on my longstanding love of arcane conspiracy-theory stuff, but apparently that was nothing a crazy old British lady using a Foucault's Pendulum to find a hidden magic island in a secret chamber beneath a church decorated with a painting of Doubting Thomas couldn't fix.
* Speaking of: must be the season of the infodump.
* Recreating the opening of the pilot episode reminded me how brilliant the opening of the pilot episode was. I remember going to a screening of that thing at the San Diego Comic Con simply because Dominic Monaghan was going to be there and The Missus had a crush on him--we had no idea what to expect, and frankly we weren't expecting much. ("From the creator of Alias"--whoopedy-dee). Then bam, a handsome man in a suit wakes up in the jungle, with no clue where he was or how he got there (at least at first). That, of course, is exactly how the audience felt. Sucked in from the get-go.
* Why do they keep having characters ask Ben questions? Nine times out of ten, he's lying, as the show itself pointed out tonight. It's not just a problem for his fellow characters, it's a problem for the viewers, since every thirty-second q&a with Ben is a total waste of time beyond the "it's fun to watch Michael Emerson act" factor (which I admit is pretty high).
* There's something about this episode I can't quite put my finger on, something about the pacing. I want to say...the pacing felt like a series premiere, but the the material felt like a season finale? Like, it was slightly laconic, easing you into what was going on the way an introductory episode was, but everything that was happening had been built up to for a couple years now the way a finale would be? It was an odd viewing experience. I liked it.
* Interesting color scheme at times, too--unusual for Lost. I really liked that blue light on Jack's face in the airport bar, for example.
* There was something profoundly fucked up about all of these people, except Desmond, risking the lives of everyone else on that plane in order to save them and their friends, or give their lives a sense of purpose, or whatever. (Hurley at least tried, but dude, the stewardesses are fucked regardless. And Jack, seems like you asked about the other people on the plane a wee bit too late, considering you were already in the air, dickhead.) There's two ways of looking at this, I suppose: One is that the writers ignored this and want you to ignore it too, except in the very broad "Hurley is good because he cares, Ben is bad because he doesn't, Jack is basically good but kind of a dick because he only sort of cares" strokes they painted it with. The other is that the writers know it and want you to know it too, that they want to convey that all these people are profoundly damaged and selfish.
* Well, how about this, the show coughs up some mysteries we'll have to learn about in flashbacks, Season One style! How did Hurley find out about the flight, why was Sayid under arrest, what happened to Ben down by the docks (okay, that one's not so big a mystery, but they'll still need to fill in the gap), what happened to Aaron, etc. I dig it.
* I also dig Evangeline Lily's tore-up-from-the-floor-up performance in this episode. I definitely believed that whatever happened to her and Aaron was rough. That big open-mouthed kiss was sexy, too, though I kind of think the unexplained disappearance of a child would be a mood-killer for me.
* It's a little wonky to cook up all this pseudoscience with electromagnetism and equations on the one hand, then insist upon something as manifestly unscientific as "recreating the conditions of the original trip to the Island" just by assembling five of the flight's original 128 passengers, plus a dead guy in another dead guy's shoes.
* Seems like the "next week on Lost" blew a little too much information, no? Too much for my tastes anyway.
* Also seems like we're getting some new cast members in the form of Sayid's handler and "my condolences" guy.
* I don't care how easy it was to see Frank Lapidus's return coming, it still put a mile-wide grin on my face.
* Indeed, I found myself chuckling throughout the episode, in honor of a job well done.
"Nick," she said, and smiled. She clasped one of his hands in both of hers. "I wanted to thank you again. No one wants to die all alone, do they?"
He shook his head violently, and she understood that this was not in agreement with her statement but rather in vehement contradiction of its premise.
"Yes I am," she contradicted. "But never mind. There's a dress in that closet, Nick. A white one. You'll know it because of..." A fit of coughing interrupted her. When she had it under control, she finished, "...because of the lace. It's the one I wore on the train when we left for our honeymoon. It still fits...or did. I suppose it will be a little big on me now--I've lost some weight--but it doesn't really matter. I've always loved that dress. John and I went to Lanke Pontchartrain. It was the happiest two weeks of my life. John always made me happy. Will you remember the dress, Nick? It's the one I want to be buried in. You wouldn't be too embarrassed to...to dress me, would you?"
He swallowed hard and shook his head, looking at the coverlet. She must have sensed his mixture of sadness and discomfort, because she didn't mention the dress again. She talked of other things instead--lightly, almost coquettishly. How she had won an elocution contest in high school, had gone on to the Arkansas state finals, and how her half-slip had fallen down and puddled around her shoes just as she reached the ringing climax of Shirley Jackson's "The Daemon Lover." About her sister, who had gone to Viet Nam as part of a Baptist mission group, and had come back with not one or two but three adopted children. About a camping trip she and John had taken three years ago, and how an ill-tempered moose in rut had forced them up a tree and kept them there all day.
"So we sat up there and spooned," she said sleepily, "like a couple of high school kids in a balcony. My goodness, he was in a state when we got down. He was...we were...in love...very much in love...love is what moves the world, I've always thought...it is the only thing which allows men and women to stand in a world where gravity always seems to want to pull them down...bring them low...and make them crawl...we were...so much in love..."
She drowsed off and slept until he wakened her into fresh delirium by moving a curtain or perhaps just by treading on a squeaky board.
"John!" she screamed now, her voice choked with phlegm. "Oh, John, I'll never get the hang of this dad-ratted stick shift! John, you got to help me! You got to help me..."
Her words trailed off in a long, rattling exhalation he could not hear but sensed all the same. A thin trickle of dark blood issued from one nostril. She fell back on the pillow, and her head snapped back and forth once, twice, there times, as if she had made some kind of vital decision and the answer was negative.
Originally written on July 23, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Everything is magical to Ron Regé, Jr. This is his greatest strength as a cartoonist. His trademark line, equally weighted throughout the page and shot through with exclamatory dashes that radiate outward from nearly every character (even inanimate objects, in many cases), gives his work a vibrant, vibratory glow. Each page becomes a miniature epiphany, or at the very least an enjoyable semi-psychedelic experience, like an Ambien hallucination. Over the past few years Regé has employed this singular style to varying effect; its greatest exponent is his graphic novel Skibber Bee-Bye, wherein Regé uses it to elevate and enhance at first whimsy and then horror to almost rhapsodic levels. But in works like Yeast Hoist #11 (centering on a slideshow-esque series of depictions of Regé sleeping in other people's apartments during a road trip) or Regé's mini-comic contribution to McSweeney's #13 (a painfully credulous account of a failed suicide bomber), it's as though the power of his art enables Regé to coast, taking for granted that we too will see the beauty in all things, be they boring or bestial. In other words, everything is magical to Ron Regé, Jr., and this is his greatest weakness as a cartoonist as well.
Thankfully, it's the strength that comes through in The Awake Field. And boy, does it ever. This slim, slick volume (I love its bendable, laminated cover) is perhaps the best argument yet for why Regé belongs at the forefront of the form. There's the format, for starters: You'd have to turn to one of Kevin Huizenga's Or Else issues to find a one-man anthology comic this exquisitely structured, with each strip or vignette leading perfectly to the next like a concept album. Right from the opening chapter, in which a series of bird's-eye-view splash pages draw us through an open bedroom window to soar alongside a family of glowing spritelike beings through an explosion of vegetation and stony architecture beyond, Regé makes clear that his interest is in drawing you in and pushing you along. A handful of collaborations with his bandmate-slash-babymama Becky Stark, especially the perfectly touching "The Hazard Rocks" (adapted from a children's poem by Stark called "The Stranger and the Mouse") imbue the book with the hermetically-sealed, world-of-two joy that lovers who are truly on the same wavelength can produce. This blend of romance and mania is also present in "Finding Privacy in the Hypnotist's Ballroom," a rapturous "dance routine presented as 8 cartoon panels" that contains an unexpected belly laugh (a stand-alone shot of the dancer's boyfriend standing there immobile after the dancer throws a towel on his head) and an homage to Magritte's "Les Amants" (much less ambiguous in tone, of course).
The book draws to a close with a crescendoingly wordy succession of strips and panels centering on Regé and Stark's belief in the imminent "invention" of peace on Earth. It's genuinely moving--not because their recipe, involving as it does phrases like "impulses of consciousness in an infinite field of light," stands much of a chance of success, but because for the duration of this comic Regé gives you a glimpse of what such a world looks like to him. It is, indeed, magical.
* Finally, I'm putting it at the bottom here so you can avoid LOST SPOILERS if you need to: Todd Van Der Werff does his weekly Lost review thing. It's interesting to hear his complaints about making Jack the focal character of the episode where the Oceanic Six Five return to the Island: He argues that since Jack has been dead-set in favor of this since the Season Three finale, it leeches some of the drama from the proceedings. But I think that centering the episode on someone who's completely resigned to returning to the Island, to accepting his fate, is what helped give the episode an appealingly fatalistic air. I think it was a part of that weird, engrossing tonal dissonance I discussed; and though I still don't swallow the idea that he'd ignore the disappearance of Aaron to get his bone on with Kate (I buy Kate using sex to forget, but Jack had nothing to forget yet!), I definitely recognized and appreciated the grim contentment of their breakfast conversation the next morning as the demeanor of people who've just accepted something awful. Focus this episode on someone else and you may have lost that very effective bit.
* Do you think we had enough shots of Bill Adama looking up at the ailing bones of the Galactica with concern in his eyes, or should they have thrown in another dozen or so?
* I don't even know how to describe the dropped ball that is having neither Saul nor Ellen discuss the fact that Saul killed Ellen.
* After crawling through vents for hours to keep the ship from jumping away from President Roslin and the loyalist ships, then singlehandedly saving the ship by discovering the systemic rot in its infrastructure, then accepting the job of Chief once more, Galen just up and decides to abandon it?
* And his step-baby?
* The problem with writing dialogue for mystics is that it's really easy for them to simply sound stupid, which is exactly how Ellen sounded when she said that knocking Caprica Six up is proof that Saul loves her. These people are brilliant machines, but during this moment of crisis they suddenly sound like Chicken Soup for the Soul.
* I'm really unsatisfied with how the Baltar storyline is playing out. If you recall, last half-season we saw Head-Six miraculously manipulate Baltar's physical body in order to prove the existence of God. Then for a while he sounded like a true believer, as one might expect. Then he had that one scene where he ranted about how God owed the people an apology for shitting on them, and were there any consequences from Head-Six? Doesn't seem like it, as in this episode Baltar smarmily "agrees" that God may have abandoned his followers in order to get himself off the hook for doing the same, and then a few scenes later Head-Six is back, helping him reassert control of the group and arm them. So all those great, weird speeches he gave about how God loves us because we're already perfect, and then how God owes us an apology--that was all just really convincing acting? He didn't believe any of it? None of it was Head-Six instructing him in her sincere convictions? He's still just a slightly more altruistic version of the old shifty Gaius? I don't like that at all.
* There's something un-pull-offable about Roslin offending Caprica Six by suggesting her baby only matters in a prophetic sense as opposed to a personal one--this is the same Caprica Six who shut down the defense system and is responsible for the murder of billions, not to mention that baby whose neck she snapped for no reason in the miniseries. I know all the rebel Cylons have grown and changed since then--and I actually think that aspect of the show works, because it stands to reason they'd only start changing their minds about how the world works when they begin meeting people who aren't among the seven completely identical types they've spent their lives with up until that point, so they'd get new input--but has Roslin really changed that much? I mean, Boomer's in the clink, but Caprica's receiving apologies on behalf of the fleet from the President?
* I don't buy Adama giving Gaius weapons, either. I'm not even sure what Gaius's argument for why they need the weapons was.
* I wanna see Lee in a flight suit again.
* When Adama pulled a flask of booze out of his uniform I almost started to think that the show was making a point, but the rest of the episode just made it seem like "character drinks booze" is their fallback signifier for "character is upset," as always.
* The whole tone of the ep was really awkward, don't you think? Like, trying to be funny at times but not pulling it off, and thereby undercutting the serious stuff? And most of the dialogue about people's feelings wasn't clearly delineated enough for us to be able to understand where they were coming from, so combine that with the uncertain dramedy feel and scenes like Caprica's miscarriage, which could have been knockouts, ended up weightless and incoherent.
Please donate to Bide-A-Wee, a truly wonderful organization for people who care about animals. I have no idea if enough donations can stave off shuttering the Wantagh facility--I doubt it--but it's worth a shot, and their other shelters could probably use the help too.
Load up your beer bong and break out your Black Sabbath LPs: You're about to enter the gravitational maw of being a teenager in the 1970s. And as the title of Charles Burns's epic graphic novel suggests, it's deep, it's dark and there's no escape.
Black Hole was originally released in 12 installments that took over a decade to produce. "It was insanely fucking labor intensive to do," Burns says. "Each drawing was really designed and layered and labored over." As a result, it nails the sights and sounds of being young, dumb and full of cum as well as any coming-of-age comic ever has--but with a skin-crawling sci-fi twist.
Black Hole's deeply creepy journey into the Seattle suburbs' heart of darkness stars Chris, a stunning "popular girl," and Keith, Chris's secretly lovestruck lab partner. Amid the dead-on period details (you can practically hear Harvest and Aladdin Sane playing as you read) and gut-wrenching depictions of the high-school caste system, Burns sets loose a sexually transmitted disease that grotesquely mutates its teen sufferers. Chris and Keith catch the bug and are drawn into a community of plague-victim outcasts in the woods outside of town, where amid the Halloween-mask faces, lizard tails and extra orifices, someone's begun killing the kids off.
Teen angst and teen horror may be familiar territory, but Burns' genius lies in colliding these two subgenres in an explosion of drugs, sex, hallucinations and murder. It's all transmitted through Burns' nightmarishly vivid artwork, which is as close to immersing yourself in a blacklight poster as you can get without the use of a Schedule I controlled substance. Simply put, you've never seen a comic like this before.
Darkly funny, steamily erotic and scary as hell--you know, like junior year--Black Hole owns its genre(s) more than any other comic has since Watchmen dissected superheroes 20 years ago. Read it, and like the first time you listened to Led Zeppelin IV, you'll know you've got a masterpiece on your hands. A+
Given that it's a slasher movie set in the unlikely environment of mining, it's appropriate that My Bloody Valentine 3D eventually collapses. Starts off pretty strong, though. You'd have to be pretty square to deny the pleasures of the newspaper-headline opening credits, the laugh-out-loud over-the-top grand guignol gore effects (which start almost right away), and of course the full-frontal nude 3D chase scene, which more than anything else is why I decided to see this movie in the theater. As a manly movie aficionado par excellence, how could I not? All that kind of stuff is what makes MBV3D the perfect manly movie in the early going--it's designed to make you crack up and cheer at the screen, ogle the sessy ladies and guffaw at the carnage.
But before long it taps that vein of trashy gold dry, and starts alternating between increasingly monotonous chase scenes and kills (which occasionally cross some weird lines--killing a pregnant girl? reserving the worst corpse desecration for the completely innocent bit-part Latina housekeeper? menacing a kid for no good reason and never following up on it?) and gritted-teeth dramatic scenes that I promise you the audience is not there to see. Folks, I've sat through enough manly movies to know which ones will end up making a roomful of drunk dudes start nodding off, and after about the first third of this movie, enter sandman. Meanwhile, the film's engaging whodunit storyline, which at first seemed like a promising crossbreeding of the silmilar elements from Scream with a straightforward, non-ironic modern slasher vibe, ends up resorting to a Jeph Loeb-style twist-cum-cheat that leaves you feeling like you wasted your time in trying to figure it out. And the less said about the sequel-whoring ending, the better. (Least scary psychopath ever?)
Finally, I suppose this goes without saying, but this movie in no way manages nor even attempts to truly frighten or horrify. I'm sure no one stumbled into My Bloody Valentine 3D expecting the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, let alone The Exorcist, but yeah, this is your basic amusement-park ride horror movie. And hey, there's a place for that! It's nothing to apologize for! Now, I may not be the target horror-fan audience for it necessarily--unless you count antecedents like Texas Chain Saw, Psycho, and Peeping Tom, which I don't think you should, or things like Scream and American Psycho that are as much satires as slashers (slashtires?), this marks a grand total of four slasher films I've ever seen; the others were Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, neither of which did I care for or find terribly frightening, and Slumber Party Massacre 2 in a Manly Movie Mamajama-mandated, and that's truly one of the worst movies I've ever seen. But I'm certainly open to wall-to-wall slayfests in an action movie format, like Doomsday or Crank or Invasion U.S.A., and I've watched that montage of all the kills from Friday the 13th enough to know that I'm open to the idea of slasher flicks as a rip-roarin' good time at the movies, watching a masked killer hack his way through some naked kids and grizzled old dudes. The thing is that that's what your movie has to deliver, from start to finish, and this one didn't. Would it still be fun to watch in a big drunk group, even if it's naptime after a while? Sure. I'm sure we'd all wake up for the next flick anyway. But I'd kind of like to be kept awake the whole time.
One of my big objections to film as a medium is that it's much too immersive, and I think that it turns us into a population of lazy and unimaginative drones. The absurd lengths that modern cinema and its CGI capabilities will go in order to save the audience the bother of imagining anything themselves is probably having a crippling effect on the mass imagination. You don't have to do anything. With a comic, you're having to do quite a lot. Even though you've got pictures there for you, you're having to fill in all the gaps between the panels, you're having to imagine characters voices. You're having to do quite a lot of work. Not quite as much work as with a straight unillustrated book, but you're still going to do quite a lot of work.
I think the amount of work we contribute to our enjoyment of any piece of art is a huge component of that enjoyment. I think that we like the pieces that engage us, that enter into a kind of dialog with us, whereas with film you sit there in your seat and it washes over you. It tells you everything, and you really don't need to do a great deal of thinking. There are some films that are very, very good and that can engage the viewer in their narrative, in its mysteries, in its kind of misdirections. You can sometimes get films where a lot of it is happening in your head. Those are probably good films, but they're not made very much anymore.
There seems to be an audience that demands everything be explained to them, that everything be easy. And I don't think that's doing us any good as a culture. The ease with which we can accomplish or conjure any possible imaginable scenario through CGI is almost directly proportionate to how uninterested we're becoming in all of this. I can remember Ray Harryhausen's animated skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. I can remember Willis O'Brien's King Kong. I can remember being awed at the artistry that had made those things possible. Yes, I knew how it was done. But it looked so wonderful. These days I can see half a million Orcs coming over a hill and I am bored. I am not impressed at all. Because, frankly, I could have gotten someone, a passerby on the street, who could have gotten the same effect if you'd given them half a million dollars to do it. It removes artistry and imagination and places money in the driver's seat, and I think it's a pretty straight equation—that there is an inverse relationship between money and imagination.
If you haven't got any money, you're going to need lots and lots of imagination. Which is why you'll get brilliant movies by people working upon a shoestring, like the early John Waters movies. People are pushed into innovation by the restrictions of their budget. The opposite is true if they have $100 million, say, pulling a figure out of the air, to spend upon their film, then they somehow don't see the need for giving it a decent story or decent storytelling. It seems like those values just go completely out the window. There's an inverse relationship there.
I wish this weren't so, but those statements are frankly embarrassing. If your dad started talking in this fashion at Thanksgiving dinner you'd get up to use the bathroom. If a fellow commuter started opining in this way on the train, you'd turn your iPod up. Moore has already copped to not watching much of this stuff--including the very adaptations of his comics that tend to set him off on these jeremiads, not that I think he's missing much--but even if these statements were offered after he was handcuffed to Harry Knowles for a year, they're still breathtakingly, willfully ignorant of and dismissive and insulting to everything from the skill required to pull off convincing computer effects, to their utility in telling an engaging and provocative story, to the intelligence or engagement level of the audience for film, to the ability of film to challenge and discomfit as well as dazzle and entertain. (As though the latter two are something to be ashamed of!)
This blog has already hosted some lively debate over Moore's frequently expressed disdain for aspects of culture he admittedly knows little about anymore, from film to television to superheroes and superhero comics to, if what he says above is to be believed, comics in general. Then as now, I want to make it perfectly clear that not only does Moore have every right to be upset about his shoddy treatment at the hands of his publisher, and his work's shoddy treatment at the hands of the studios and filmmakers who've adapted them, he is in fact right to be upset. I don't begrudge him that at all--hell, I cheer him on! It's when he uses this bitterness as a springboard for ill-considered write-offs of entire genres and methods and media that he comes across as a crank, even a fool.
That said, there's a lot of great stuff in that interview about how he's approaching the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and various other projects, so do read the whole thing.
* Equally bizarre and potentially awesome/awful: The Julie Taymor-directed, U2-scored Spider-Man Broadway musical is called Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark. Yes, the comma is part of the title, just like You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And based on the plot synopsis, I smell a Spider-Avatar in our future. This...this is going to be a nightmare, isn't it?
* Finally, I know what you're thinking. "Does the creation of Bowie Loves Beyoncé mean you won't be posting pictures of Bowie or Beyoncé over here anymore?" No it doesn't. Stay tuned for The Best of Bowie Loves Beyoncé, a weekly series starting soon.
I've seen a bunch of critics say that the Owly books more or less defy review by adult critics, and perhaps even appreciation by adult readers. I've never really bought that, because I've always found Andy Runton's line and character designs durable and warm, his use of rebus-like pictogram "dialogue" clever and engrossing, and his stories sweet and funny--that right there is good enough for this grown-up, even barring any other areas of interest. But in reading A Time to Be Brave--the plot: Owly's friend Wormy believes a timid possum he encounters in the forest to be a dragon like the one he just read about in a storybook, while the possum believes Owly will eat him if he tries to join in on Owly & friends' ballgame; emergency circumstances force everyone involved to put their fears aside--I realized that it actually does address two of my most grown-uppiest preoccupations in life and art. First, it's about intellectually anthropomorphized animals, and through that lens it addresses issues of cruelty and predation that speak directly to some of my most deep-seated emotions and ideas on that score. Second, it's about the need for people to intelligently, creatively cooperate in order to do the right thing, and the joy and satisfaction you get from doing so instead of falling back on competition, selfishness, and looking out for number one--a message I love seeing addressed here just as I did in, say, The Wire or Deadwood. So yes, it's a great book for kids, but you'd have to pry it out of my hands first before you could give it to them.
* Reviews of Zack Snyder's Watchmen film are flooding in, mostly from nerd sites. So far the main line of criticism seems to be that Snyder's reach exceeds his grasp in terms of fitting a 12-issue serialized story that bounces back and forth in time, incorporating multiple flashbacks and focalizing characters and voluminous background materials, into the framework of even a very long feature film. You can see a pretty thoughtfully expressed iteration of that general notion here, from comics writer Mark Millar, for example. That gives me some hope, since hey, if you're gonna strike out, you may as well strike out swinging. I was far more concerned about whether the film was just gonna be cheesy, though admittedly the kinds of sources we're seeing reviews from right now are unlikely to detect the sort of cheesiness I suspect Watchmen: The Movie would traffic in should it traffic in cheesiness, if that makes sense.
* They're remaking Clue as "a global thriller and transmedia event" helmed by Gore Verbinski. Oh brother. Now, Verbinski directed one of the all-time great horror films and approximately two very good Pirates of the Caribbean movies spread over three Pirates of the Caribbean movies total, so this may be great. On the other hand, there's something inspired about the how the original recreated a murder-mystery board game as a period piece about Red Scare paranoia and '50s sexual morés. Moreover, it was the first of two Tim Curry vehicles set in a giant Victorian mansion on a rainy night that I've committed to memory during the course of my life, and the combined cleavage of Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren holds a special place in my, oh, let's go with "heart," so I'm pretty attached to it and I can't say I'm super-excited about a do-over. (Via Vulture.)
* Delightful Tidbit of the Day: Here's a great catch by Tim O'Neil about the genesis of the Talking Heads song "The Overload" from the Brian Eno-produced Remain in Light:
During the recording of Remain in Light, the Talking Heads came across a magazine review of a then-obscure late 70s British punk group and were utterly fascinated by the description of the music. They decided to record a song that represented what they thought the band might sound like.
... David's contributions to this song were said to be influenced by things he had read about a British group called Joy Division. He had never actually heard their albums, but he had read about them. ...*
That's just wonderful. And I can hear it, too! (Best of all, Joy Division was originally named Warsaw, after the Eno/Bowie collaboration "Warszawa" from Low, and thus the circle is completed. Sadly, though, this makes me dream of an Eno/Joy Division collaboration that was never to be. Sigh.)
* If I looked up and saw Locke and Lt. Daniels staring at me from across the street, I would not walk, I would RUN in the opposite direction. Those are two scary bald motherfuckers.
* It was wonderful to have an episode devoted almost entirely to putting Terry O'Quinn in front of various other actors and having him act toward them. Man is he good. The suicide scene was marvelously tough to endure.
* I thought it was fun how at first you think Ethnic Guy and Ethnic Lady are some kind of agents, but then it turns out they're just the Jack and Kate of the new group of castaways. (Maybe.) Clever little turnarounds like that are one of the things Lost does so well--and are also a hallmark of season openers for the show, which makes sense because last week's episode felt like a finale (and may have been intended to be one when it was first mapped out back before the strike shortened last season).
* I was hoping for a bwahaha evil smile on Locke's face when he discovered injured Ben at his mercy on the Island. Oh well. "'He's the man who killed me' - cut to black" is pretty awesome too.
* One thing Lost tests is one's ability to read fiction, for want of a better way to put it. That is, when it advances several conflicting theories for what's actually going on with a character, it will eventually depict that character in a way that confirms one of those theories without coming right out and saying it, but at the same time the show's byzantine plots and secrets will make people ignore these obvious context clues in the performance, mise en scene, score, even dialogue, and hunt for what's "really" going on. For example, for a long long time the question among some fans of my acquaintance was "Is Ben telling the truth when he says 'We're the good guys'?" It always seemed obvious to me that he and his cronies could only be "good guys" in the most relative sense of the term, since they were constantly busy with the shooting and the torturing and the kidnapping and the brainwashing and the noggins and the piggins and the frikins, but when you finally got to the episode that revealed Ben to be an actual mass murderer, complete with mass graves and everything, I thought it was beyond debate. Amazingly, even after the events of tonight's episode, in which Ben cold-bloodedly murders the fan-favorite character at his most physically and emotionally helpless, some of these fans are still saying he's probably the good guy. It reminds me a bit of when it became perfectly clear that Aaron was one of the Oceanic Six and yet people were still holding out for some other sixth member because he was still inside Claire when the ship crashed, as though the media would ignore the baby when coming up with a numerical nickname for the miraculous survivors of a plane crash and stint on a deserted island. It strikes me that part of being able to make heads or tails out of a story like Lost is being able to look at hoofprints and think "horse" rather than "zebra."
* They're remaking The Neverending Story and Total Recall. Also, SciFi Wire should really provide links to the trades when it takes stories from them; the fact that the trades never return the favor when stories are broken on the nerd sites is no excuse. And yes, I realize I'm being a fat hypocrite because I was too lazy to use Google News to track down the original articles. I may not get there with you, SciFi Wire, but I've been to the mountaintop and I've seen the netiquette promised land.
* Jog reviews Supermen!, editor Greg Sadowski's new collection of Fletcher Hanks-y supercomics from the Golden Age.
* Finally, I've long harbored what I'm sure some would consider a bizarre case of the hots for a young Patti Smith, who I think was basically sex in a t-shirt. Imagine my delight, then, to discover this picture of her emphatically not in a t-shirt. What she's wearing here's even better!
This collection of Owly shorts features an eight-panel strip commissioned by Wizard for one of its periodical Wizard Edge indie-comics spotlight supplements back when I worked at the magazine. I remember being slightly amazed when it came in at how well Runton was able to boil down his usual themes--the need to be kind and share, obviously; more subtly, the notion that friendship, or just being a good person to others, frequently requires sacrifice, and that that's not so bad; and just in terms of the visuals and basic set-ups, the interaction between "people" and nature--to a handful of panels. That's the pleasure of this Owly book compared to the others: seeing Runton trot his characters and concepts through a succession of scenarios in short order. Maybe it's just the presence of an appendix filled with early Owly sketches and a pair of the earliest Owly strips (in which Runton's art is much more angular; the move to curvilinear forms was a smart one) that makes me think about the collection in this fashion, but it seems like practice would make perfect for a strip like this, and that's what seeing one Owly story after another gives you the sense of--a talented craftsman riffing on a basic idea. The conclusions to several of the strips, like the one where Owly and Wormy meet a family of migrating geese out on a frozen pond, were so cute they made me chuckle and beam; the conclusion of another, about Owly and Wormy's attempt to help a rabbit make a fancy flowerpot to replace the expensive one she'd gotten as a present for her grandpa but broken on the way to delivering it to him, was so sweet and unselfconsciously loving it actually made me tear up. Yep, that's right: I laughed, I cried.
* Much, much, much stronger episode this time, even with the umpteenth imaginary-friend reveal (which to be fair was better than Romo Lampkin's cat). I guess I didn't realize how shaken I was by the lousiness of last week's ep until I sat down to watch this one and discovered I was dreading it. It was entirely possible that with so few episodes to go, last week could have set a tone from which the show would never recover. Fortunately that wasn't the case.
* Before I say anything else, my big "whoa" moment from this episode was Athena's really wrenching and awful cry of despair toward the end of the episode. Holy shit but did Grace Park sell that. Even just watching her underfed form stumble into the briefing room in her underwear, beaten to a pulp--ugh, tough to watch and beautifully performed. Park was just as strong as Boomer, playing the character's singular mix of longing and deceit like a slow-burning fire. I was really impressed with her, particularly considering she was arguably the ensemble's weakest link early on.
* Whereas last week felt like a struggle just to string together a conversation that made sense from one sentence to the next between any two characters, this week felt masterfully controlled by the writers--each of the characters upon whom it focused left the episode with us having a clearer understanding of him or her when than when it started. For Chief, this mainly consisted of establishing a through-line for him that connected both his Herculean efforts to save the ship earlier in the half-season with his 180-degree decision to abandon the fleet last week: He's just badly, badly shaken by the combined emotional assault of discovering he's a Cylon, realizing he wasn't super-in-love with Cally, losing Cally, discovering his kid isn't really his kid, losing Earth, discovering he lived there thousands of years ago, and so on. Unlike, say, Tory, who was instantly gung-ho about being a Cylon, or Tigh, who decided just as instantly that his life as a member of the fleet was the paramount thing to him, the Chief never really had that moment of clarity regarding his life from here on out. This episode showed that in his way, he's just as adrift as Dee or Kara or Gaeta have been shown to be this season.
* The next character we got more of a handle on was Boomer. In this case the ep was, seemingly at least, deceptive. For the longest time it seemed like she was genuinely contrite about her role in the attempted assassination of Adama, the regime on New Caprica, the betrayal of her fellow 8s in the Cylon Civil War and so forth. Not only had she changed her political tune, but on an emotional level she seemed to have come to grips with the fact that much of her behavior had been a reaction to feeling rejected by the Chief way back when. Even after she went buck-wild on Athena and frakked Helo, I figured this was just the behavior of someone who's profoundly fucked up, maybe even crazy at this point, but not evil. And even once she kidnapped Hera, I thought it was some shared plot between her and the Chief to keep the kid safe from all the turmoil in the fleet lately or something. Maybe some of this will still turn out to be true--I feel like quite a bit of it might--but as it turns out, Boomer was once again an enemy agent, there to kidnap Hera for Cavil's side; even freeing Ellen and bringing her to the fleet was a ruse. Suddenly Boomer's behavior makes that much more sense.
* The final character we learned more about, of course, was Starbuck. I guessed that the piano player was all in her head during his first scene and almost had to admire the sheer chutzpah of this show to dip into that particular well yet again, but I thought all that material was so well acted, well lit, and well scored that I didn't even mind. So the theory that Daniel the Missing Cylon was her dad turns out to be correct, making her, what, a Cylon-human hybrid like Hera? That would explain why the show's staff could be so unequivocal in saying "Kara's not a Cylon" despite the fact that doing so rules out all the previously established ways she could possibly have returned from the dead on this show--she's a half-Cylon, and for all we know they can regenerate too. Katee Sackhoff, of course, is the show's big discovery acting-wise; much of her work is simply taking advantage of how she looks on the screen. There's something really physical and present about her big watery eyes, pillowy lips, and curvy body, and that physical presence enhances all three of Starbuck's main personality poles--violent, horny, and melancholy ("drunk" rides shotgun with all three at varying times).
* Speaking of Starbuck's physical presence, that was some shower scene, huh? And despite being glimpsed through the crack in the door of a bathroom stall and the blurry eyes of a concussion victim, the sex scene between Helo and Boomer was hot, surprisingly explicit stuff too. Battlestar Galactica love scenes tend to be pretty memorable, and I'm not sure they get enough credit for that.
* What with all the fine character work, the show was able to elegantly advance the plot to the next stage: Boomer's deception devastated the Chief but it also brought Hera to the enemy and inflicted a terminal injury on the Galactica; the mystery of Kara's situation is if not solved than pretty close to it; Roslin's psychic connection to Hera rears its head again just in time for her cancer to knock her down to the mat for what I assume is the last time. Compare how smoothly all that happened to those weird, stilted conversations last week, or the bizarrely rushed death of Tigh and Caprica Six's baby, or the forced feeling to Ellen's attempts to break the couple up. If anything I'm guessing that the character stuff here was so deft that the plot-fans won't even notice how far downfield the various balls in play got moved.
* Great effects shots toward the end there, as usual. The production value this show gets out of its effects budget is unequaled in television as best I can tell.