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.
MOME Vol. 13: Winter 2009
Eric Reynolds, Gary Groth, editors
David Greenberger, Tim Hensley, Dash Shaw, Conor O'Keefe, Gilbert Shelton, Pic, Josh Simmons, T. Ott, Kurt Wolfgang, Nate Neal, Laura Park, Sara Edward-Corbett, Derek Van Gieson, Kaela Graham, Adam Grano, Henry Huntington, Casey Jarman, writers/artists
Fantagraphics, November 2008
$14.99 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
Something about this volume of MOME makes it my least favorite in a while. It's entirely possible that it just caught me on an off day, or that I'm all anthologied out. But while there's always a tension in MOME between the best material it contains and the lesser stuff, and while that's always been a big part of why I enjoy the series so much, I feel like we're starting to see those two qualitative groups coalesce around two separate ways of doing comics. It's almost like MOME is becoming two anthologies at once, and my problem with that is I'm not sure which one will win out in the end.
On the one hand, you have experimental takes on genre. In this volume, that school is represented by Dash Shaw's dystopian science fiction, Tim Hensley's continuing riff on Archie comics "Wally Gropius," Derek Van Gieson's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-type fable, a wordless journey into space with T. Ott, and Josh Simmons's latest savage horror comic. It probably doesn't surprise anyone that this is where my sympathies lie. Shaw's "Satellite CMYK" comes first, telling the story of a Battlestar Galactica-esque satellite colony of survivors that has become so rigidly stratified that the mere existence of other levels of the structure is the subject of 1984-Brotherhood-style subversive conspiracies. Shaw conveys this idea by using a different color for each level. It's not quite successful--the sameness of Shaw's faces makes it harder to follow than it ought to be, and the power of the final reveal image is undercut by needless captions--but it's as ambitious, imaginative, and emotionally rooted a bit of SF worldbuilding as any of Shaw's work in this area. Hensley's "Gropius" stuff continues to fascinate me with its angular character designs, kinetic non-action, and subtext of high-capitalist violence. (Riverdale this ain't.) Van Gieson's strip took me a couple reads to figure out that it was, in fact, a strip and not a series of discrete vignettes, but once I grokked what was going on, I really dug (no pun intended) that final graveside kicker, and the Gorey/L'Autrec/Alvin Schwartz watercolor visuals. Simmons, finally, can seemingly do no wrong anymore. I'm having a hard time coming up with any cartoonist whose work is as angry as Simmons's has been lately. House, Jessica Farm, "Batman," "Night of the Jibblers," and this issue's "Jesus Christ" (!) are breathtaking in their brutal nihilism--it's horror that aims to punish, to tear down. In this case that's literally the plot: a gigantic centaur-like Messiah descends from the heavens simply to wreak havoc on the tiny inhabitants of the endless city in which he lands. He's too big for them to comprehend, physically or mentally, and their lives couldn't matter less to him. It's Lovecraft's cosmic horror by way of the undergrounds' hyper-detailed art (those buildings! that smoke! that bravura sequence when Jesus regurgitates a flaming sword!), taboo-shattering violence, and full-frontal nudity. Follow it with an equally bleak scratchboard science-fiction parable by Thomas Ott and you've got a heck of a one-two punch.
But then. The other pole is whimsy, and here's where MOME loses me. This issue's David B./Jim Woodring-style guest star is underground stalwart Gilbert Shelton, who serves up a limp, laughless story about his shitty recurring rock band Not Quite Dead being secretly sent by the government to overthrow the government of a banana republic. Sure, he draws the living shit out of it, but the whole thing feels so far past its sell-by date--a Grateful Dead spoof with jokes about hot-button cultural touchstones Elvis Presley and Madonna? Rock 'n' roll using its awesome power to subvert civil authority?--that it doesn't make a difference. Underground-indebted MOME regular serves up a strange story about a folk singer named Minnie, drawn to look a lot like Phoebe Gloeckner's similarly named stand-in character for no discernible reason; it's a story about bein' down n' out and just wantin' to play th' blooz and it sucks that Greenwich Village is filled with yuppie scum now and blah, blah, blah. It's nice-looking enough, but I don't come away from it feeling or thinking anything new. Conor O'Keefe's McKay-like figurework and Sara Edward-Corbett's sharp Partyka-bred line (as well as her "Rabbithead"-indebted tiered narrative) cut through the ugly-cute clutter, as does Laura Park's suite of strips about things she's done at night (look at that quilt!), so it's not as though the lighter/zanier material is completely undistinguished...I don't know, I guess I just wasn't in the mood. I definitely don't know why we needed page after page of David Greenberger listing album titles according to the number of syllables they contain, you know? And that kind of decision makes me nervous for the future of the anthology.
* When I think about my "favorite movies," I have a whole lot, and I tend to separate them out into groups. For example, some of my favorite movies are millions of people's favorite movies: The Godfather Parts I & II, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. Then there are horror movies: The Shining, The Exorcist, Hellraiser, The Blair Witch Project and so on. I'm not sure that either list is all that unique to me. That's the job of my "Idiosyncratic Favorites" list, consisting of movies that are uniquely my bag in a big way. Three of those movies, Heavenly Creatures, Velvet Goldmine, and Eyes Wide Shut, are the subject of recent installments in Scott Tobias's New Cult Canon series at the Onion AV Club. (The others, if you were wondering, are Lost Highway, Barton Fink, and Casino. Actually I'd probably throw Hellraiser on there as well.) Go read all three please.
* I've got a fever! And the only prescription! Is more Kate Winslet!
* Which reminds me: As promised, here's the first installment of The Best of Bowie Loves Beyoncé. I've come across a lot of wonderful images during my first week and a half of running this tumblelog, but I think this is my favorite pair of all:
Beyoncé and her team are not here to win news cycles, they're here to win the election.
And of course, if you're not in it for the clever juxtapositions, it is of course a blog containing nothing but pictures of two human beings who look like this:
I've kept my eye on Dave Kiersh's work since coming across it in Jordan Crane's seminal NON anthologies, where his simple line and design sensibility and poetic writing style coupled with his aching, romantic subject matter to suggest John Porcellino gone Young Romance. In the years that followed he's drifted from more straightforward pseudo-autobio tone poems toward a more targeted examination of love, lust, and emotional turmoil among suburban adolescents, frequently filtered through the sensibilities of late '70s and '80s afterschool specials, young adult novels, and teen sex comedies. It's an unusual pursuit, that's for sure, and I think Tom Spurgeon said it's a shallow pool for a cartoonist of Kiersh's obvious talents to swim in, let alone spend a Xeric Grant on, but I don't think Tom's right. For whatever reason, that kind of material has a lot of power. The mirror it held up to the actual experience of suburban American adolescence may have simultaneously sensationalized and simplified that experience, but the reflection was recognizable nonetheless; artists as wide-ranging as Charles Burns, Judd Apatow, Richard Kelly, and M83's Anthony Gonzalez have recorded their observations of that reflection, to memorable effect. Why not Kiersh?
Dirtbags, Mallchicks & Motorbikes, as you can probably guess from the title, sees Kiersh continuing to explore and refine his interpretation of the teenage-wasteland's aesthetic and emotional milieux. It's a collection of short stories, none of which feature any kind of resolution, not even the usual non-resolution resolutions you see in other short comics about young people and relationships; they just kind of end. It's a bold choice, and it's what prevents several of the more knowingly pastiche-driven stories--the boy who falls for his invalid mother's sexy live-in nurse; the girl whose hotsy-totsy friend convinces her to shoplift a push-up bra--from feeling paint-by-numbers. Other well-worn types get zig when they should zag: The kid who winds up lonely in the crowd when he throws a party while his parents are away is the star quarterback; the beautiful tennis player with the loser admirer doesn't slowly discover the man of her dreams beneath his grubby exterior, she simply fucks him in the stands just to see what life is like when you don't care. The stories themselves twist and turn rewardingly before they expire; I was particularly taken with an interlude between the thoughtful quarterback and a drunk cheerleader who throws herself at him in the bathroom, which he escapes by promising to take a shower with her but climbing through the shower window before she can climb in with him, and by the way a story on teen pregnancy is constantly shifting the ground between the main character (the father-to-be) and everyone he encounters (the mother of his baby, his boss, his customer, his friend, his mother, the notional baby itself) in terms of values like responsibility and caring. Kiersh's art is less fancifcul here than in his old work or his recent book Never Land, rooted firmly in emotions inspired by the everyday rather than daydreams. His thick round line is reminiscent of Keith Haring's, particularly in the suburbiascape endpages, but Kiersh uses those chunky delineations to connote isolation rather than cohesion and community. This strikes me as very thoughtful, considered, personal work. If you like the Donnie Darko soundtrack school of wistfully emotional '80s pop, or modern-day approximations thereof, I think you'll get a lot out of this.
Watchmen movie review time, or "I even enjoyed the My Chemical Romance cover of 'Desolation Row'"
I liked it a lot!
Foremost, I think it got all the characters across in all their lovable fucked-uppedness. They are lovable, at least to me, even if most of them are sociopathic creeps. I'm fond of them, and the movie reminded me of why. Jon is unnerving and sad, Dan is adorable and a little off in a nutty-professor way, Laurie's a sexy mess, Sally's a formerly sexy mess, Rorschach is extravagantly over the top (a lot of his journal's more outré pronouncements became laugh lines, something the character's admirers in fandom may not be prepared for), and (my biggest pre-screening worry) Ozymandias is basically David Bowie crossed with Lex Luthor. No complaints on any score.
Second, you may have noticed the legend at the bottom of my blogroll reading "KEEP COMICS EVIL." With that in mind, I have to admit that I'm simply chuffed that there's a full-fledged superhero movie out there now with a hard-R rating. And man, is it ever hard! Unbelievably graphic violence for a superhero action movie--I think that's important to keep in mind when reading criticism of the violence in this movie, just that it's never been shown to be like this before. To the extent that the violence is glorified or fetishized, well, isn't that what the superheroes are doing? Literally, in Dan and Laurie's case? Speaking of, there's a pretty graphic sex scene between the two of them. There's boobs, tons of man-ass, a little woman-ass, and of course, Lower Manhattan. (Which was not nearly as distracting as it's been made out to be, by the way--the movie had a way of cutting away from it when it might become so, and rumors of its kinship with Dirk Diggler's claim to fame have been greatly exaggerated.) Sex, dismemberment, and superheroes...I mean, look at my movie-review sidebar, obviously this is delightful to me in someway.
Maybe my favorite aspect of the movie is how it riffed not just on superhero conventions, but on '80s sci-fi action dystopia movies, too. I think it was Harry Knowles or Moriarty who pointed out that the score was designed to evoke the likes of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and John Carpenter--it's not super heavy-handed at it, nor is it as obvious as, say, "Machine Gun" by Portishead, but it's there. Meanwhile, during the sex scene, the flick uses a super-duper-conspicuous romantic pop song (Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," getting a big laugh from the audience), in much the same way that basically every '80s movie starring Tom Cruise did. The Road Warrior and that 1984 Macintosh Super Bowl ad figure prominently on Ozymandias's TV screens toward the end. It's cleverly done.
Speaking of '80s movie connections (and even The Road Warrior, given that the snippet we see is of the masked Lord Humungus shooting his big gun), the movie made explicit something I noticed upon my last re-read, which is that Rorschach's design owes as much to masked killers like Michael, Jason, and Leatherface as it does to the Question or Mr. A. How does it do this? By changing around the climax of the sequence where Rorschach "becomes Rorschach" in a way I won't spoil, but suffice it to say is a pretty direct link to slasher films. (Not to mention less of a ripoff of the climax of the original Mad Max, just to bring things full circle.)
But it's very much a superhero movie--the costume tweaks, the action sequences, the glory shots, Big Figure--and that's totally fine by me. I think it's easy to forget that for all its distrust of the genre, for all its deconstruction of the genre, for all of Moore and Gibbons's formal achievements in it, and for all of Moore's later ambition and achievements outside the genre, Watchmen is not Eightball #23. It's very, very much a superhero comic, and much of its pleasure derives from how effectively it can deploy that aspect of itself in contrast to the other things it's doing. The movie isn't wall-to-wall X-2 or anything, it saves the most superheroey stuff for after Dan and Laurie get back into costume and start kicking ass again (Patrick Wilson plays the transformation beautifully, going from sad-sack to Batman seamlessly), but it's there, and good!
Everything that was cut could afford to be cut and everything that was changed made sense in its new version. Yeah, you may notice the absence your favorite detail or line what have you. I wish Comedian's close-up "Somebody EXPLAIN it to me" plea during his drunken confession to Moloch had stayed in; ditto "The light is taking me to pieces." But I didn't exactly miss any of it, nor did I miss the ancillary characters, or having Captain Metropolis head up the ill-fated "Crimebusters" meeting, nor did I care that they called the non-existent group the Watchmen instead of the Crimebusters--what difference does it make what you call a team that never existed? The ending is the biggest change, obviously, and while I am a passionate defender of the shaggy-dog-joke punchline of the original, this solution is far more elegant and, honestly, the kind of thing Moore would totally do. I think it helps sell Dr. Manhattan's decision at the end, too.
I had a lot of fun and would happily see it again. I imagine that if you suspect you won't like it, you're not gonna like it, it's not gonna change your mind. But as I always said, my Watchmen calculation was simple arithmetic: I love Watchmen the comic, I really liked Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake and 300 adaptation, so I'd probably like Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation. Sure enough!
Best known as a hidden track on Nine Inch Nails' Broken EP, "Suck" actually started life, sounding very differently, on the debut album from Martin Atkins's industrial supergroup Pigface; here's Trent Reznor singing the song with Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre during a P-face tour. The arrangement is basically the NIN version, though, complete with "Funky Stuff" bassline. Happier times for the industrial world, that's for sure. Two of the band members you see here, Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven and Ministry guitarist William Tucker, are now dead.
* Look, I'm a person who likes Lost a whole lot, I think I've been up front about that. And I liked this episode a whole hell of a lot. Several moments had me laughing and cheering with delight, sitting there on my couch with my cat: The glimpse of the Statue, the revelation that Sawyer is a Dharma Initiative bigwig, and of course the Sawyer/Juliet hook-up. Woo!
* On that last point, I can't stress enough how happy hooking Juliet and Sawyer up makes me. That's a goddamn stroke of genius is what that is: "Hey, how about we take the two romantic leads you could actually stand to be around for longer than 30 seconds and put them together?" By all means, Lost writers! I have a bad, bad feeling that Sawyer's 100 Days in Heaven with Kate are going to trump his three years with Juliet, unfortunately, but I'll take what I can get. (Particularly if it means we get to watch Elizabeth Mitchell lazily roll around in bed with her shirt off. Sigh.)
* So for that reason, and just the kick of seeing our heroes in Dharma jumpsuits rubbing elbows with poor doomed Horace and the rest of the gang, I really like how this three-year jump has been handled. Plus, as my pal Matthew Perpetua pointed out to me, this was a way to invest the Dharma/Others War backstory with a sense of urgency, instead of relegating it to flashbacks or infodumps.
* That said, my big concern about this move is something that always happens on TV, especially on Lost, which is that the writers and audience alike tend to conflate screen time with actual time. So while Sawyer's relationships with Juliet, Miles, Daniel, Jin, and even some Dharma people should probably be more intense and important to him than his relationships with Hurley, Jack, Sun, and even Kate, they're not going to be treated that way because those years together happened off screen, while his 100 days with the castaways took place over the space of four seasons in the real, non-fictional world. It's a bit like how the characters rarely seem to think about the deaths of Boone or Shannon or Ana-Lucia or Libby (let alone Nikki, Paulo, or any of the redshirts) even though they happened just a few weeks ago in screen time, because those episodes were written, shot, and aired years ago in some cases in actual time. (Though it seems to me that Terry O'Quinn seems to keep Boone in mind when appropriate even though it's not explicitly called for in the script, simply because he's a talented and intelligent actor.) I mean, this whole thing is sort of a quibble, and I admit it's entirely possible for brief but intense relationships to trump long-term but less traumatically engendered ones, but it's still gonna irk me a bit.
* But who knows, maybe Sawyer will be like "hey, nice to see you, but don't fuck things up for my pal Horace." Maybe someone will have gone native, so to speak, and genuinely feel allegiance to and affinity for Dharma. It's a surprising show, and stranger things have happened.
* I'm glad to see more Dharma stuff in general. I'd always felt like they'd ended up getting short shrift--having the origin of their use of the Numbers and our only solid glimpse of Alvar Hanso relegated to the not-quite-canon Lost Experience ARG, having Ben and the Others kill them and take their shit D&D-style, simply revealing that they had little or nothing to do with anything that was happening to the castaways. But I was always still interested in who they were and how they came to be, to quote Batman--how did they find the Island? What were they really trying to achieve there? Were they the hippie-science commune they seemed to be, or were they sinister in some way, as implied by the deception in many of "Dr. Marvin Candle"'s orientation films? How do they tie in to Widmore and/or Paik? What's the source of their conflict with the Others? Is it merely their presence on the Island, or something more? What happened during Ben's years with them that we haven't seen? What caused characters like Charlotte's mother and Annie to leave? I'm hoping we see a lot of this go down.
* Speaking of Ben, where are he and his dad during Sawyer et al's sojourn among Dharma? Are they there yet? Have they already left? Are Sawyer and the gang simply ignoring them? Surely it'd be tempting for Sawyer just to wring the little bastard's neck, no? Does Daniel persuade him not to? Whatever happened, happened, right?
* This show is uniformly great at casting villains. Terry O'Quinn initially, William Mapother, M.C. Gainey, Michael Emerson, Alan Dale, Elizabeth Mitchell initially, Andrew Divoff, Lance Reddick, and most notably in this episode, Nestor Carbonell. God, what an unnerving guy. And a handsome devil! Just a quiet, sensual menace. I'm glad he became a big deal and didn't get dropped after one episode like Diana Scarwid's Isabel.
* Unrelated theory I've been mulling over for the past week and that other, smarter people already probably beat me to long ago: I think Libby worked for Charles Widmore. I didn't put it together until after Matthew Abaddon told Locke that his job was to get people where they needed to be, but of course that's exactly what Libby did with Desmond, and presumably that's why she was watching Hurley inside the asylum.
* I wonder if the presence of various '04 castaways back here in the '70s is what gave rise to the various "lists" that the Others referenced a couple seasons back. Perhaps they were on the lookout for these specific people to come back.
* Who do you think Amy and Horace's baby is? Anyone we know? If he was born in '77 or so, that would make him a little older than me--who matches that description? Charlie, Boone? Maybe Hurley (too young?) or Daniel (too old? already has a mother but she could have adopted him?)? And of course time travel complicates things further. I wonder.
The word "regret" implies several things: pain over your past, contrition over your role in it, and the wish that you could go back and make sure it never happened. As a vocalist, as a melodist, as a lyricist, Brian Molko's gift is conveying a kind of "regret," or maybe a whole new word is needed, where you feel that pain and contrition but just can't bring yourself to want to have done things any differently. In some ways that's even sadder.
This video, which I hadn't seen before now, takes a lovely, sexy idea and executes it beautifully, and Molko never looked better. Pretty perfect.
Agreed! And I'm the last kind of person to say that because I tend not to really care about the devil-may-care badasses with the hearts of gold. I love Han Solo like I love all Star Wars characters, but I'm not a "HAN ROOLZ LUKE DROOLZ" type. Ditto Batman and Superman. Megaditto Jack and Sawyer. But something about the way Sawyer is written, and about the way Holloway portrays him, imbues him with an approachability that many such stock characters lack. It's perfectly believable that he'd be friends with Hurley, for example, you know? He wouldn't be posing during the times they hang out, either, he'd just wanna have a nice time with him. That's what I like about the character, and Holloway.
After the [love] triangle resolved itself, though, he retreated into the background simply because the show wasn’t quite sure what to do with him anymore. He was too much a leader now to simply go back to playing a foil to Jack, but he also didn’t really have a credible idea of what the castaways should DO to counterpoint Jack’s fervor to get off the Island and Locke’s fervor to stay on.
Yep. That's why it's so much fun to see him come into his own, and why it's disheartening to see Kate and Jack come back and start the love quadrangle dynamics up again.
Lost, of course, makes a big deal out of names....A lot of this is just silly spot-the-reference gaming, like you might see on, say, Family Guy, but Sawyer’s voyage has had as much to do with the idea that he takes on different names to suit different occasions as anything else. When he was just Sawyer, the agreeably Han Solo-esque rapscallion, he was a pretty basic riff on the con man with a heart of gold. Once his real name came out as James Ford, however, the show felt safe in giving him a few inches of vulnerability. And now he’s Jim LaFleur, and he’s essentially become a respected member of society. He’s got a stable relationship with a loving live-in girlfriend and a great job (head of security for DHARMA).
Totally, and wow. Well done. (BTW, I couldn't help but think that his pseudonymous surname is a relatively meaningless reference to Myron LaFleur from The Mist by Lost-writer fave Stephen King.)
While I thought “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” was one of the series’ better efforts, the last two episodes have both had a crippling failing in doling out lots of exposition in the clumsiest way possible (i.e., just handing giant speeches to people pretty good with exposition and hoping for the best). “LaFleur,” written by Elizabeth Sarnoff and Kyle Pennington and directed by Mark Goldman, however, handled exposition in the best way possible: It dropped the characters right in the middle of it.
Matthew Perpetua, call your lawyer.
DHARMA (or, as I like to call it, the Television Character Actor Economic Recovery Plan) has always been one of the bigger mysteries on Lost (somewhere up there with questions on the Island itself, the smoke monster and the Others), and its abandoned facilities lent a nice haunted house quality to much of season two, which is easily the show’s SPOOKIEST season, if nothing else. There’s something about out-of-date technology and abandoned research facilities wasting away in the middle of a tropical paradise that gives the show that extra level of intrigue (think of those oddly unsettling training films, for instance)...
Agreed on all counts. That's one aspect of the show I really miss. Remember when the countdown clock revealed those hieroglyphics? Remember when you first heard "SYSTEM FAILURE"? Remember when "Walt" said hello on that ancient computer?
Sawyer and the others have gone through a lot of pain in the past while, so to see him having a moment of happiness at the successful delivery of Amy’s (Reiko Aylesworth, late and much-lamented of 24) child by Juliet, who had to overcome her professional jitters, was nice...
And the show obviously knew it, which is why they risked the loss of a cliffhanger or a big dramatic moment by cutting to commercial on Sawyer's grin. It was worth it.
I figured pairing off Sawyer and Juliet was inevitable, but I didn’t think it would work as well as it did here. Their relationship has a maturity that Sawyer’s pairing with Kate (based as it is on adolescent crush-level dramatics) just DOESN’T have. This being TV, where adolescent crush-level dramatics hold sway, I expect this will turn into a wacky love quadrangle, but I also sort of hope Sawyer and Juliet just jilt Jack and Kate and say, “Thanks, but we’re much happier now.”
Oh, indeed! In fact I think that the show has painted itself into a bit of a corner here, since Jack and Kate have been shown to be such selfish sad-sacks while Sawyer and Juliet are running around rescuing people and caring about people and saving babies and drunks and creating a happy life for themselves. The show needs to hope that the collective energy of Skater and Jacket shippers formed over the course of three to five seasons can overwhelm the goodwill engendered by whatever they're calling the Juliet/Sawyer pairing in the space of one episode. As far as I'm concerned that's an uphill climb!
Really liked that scene where those left behind anxiously discussed their fates around the small table in DHARMA village, particularly the way the image of young Charlotte disappearing off into the darkness with her mother was shot. That whole moment could have been unbearable, but it just wasn’t, thanks to some interesting directorial choices.
That scene was really well done, wasn't it? The sandwiches and milk, the outdoor lights illuminating the early summer evening as children run inside--really evocative of eating dinner on your porch on a lovely summer night. They didn't have to set the scene in that environment, but they did, and it made it all the stronger.
* My pal Zach Oat at Television Without Pity is the reason why I was able to see Watchmen the other night in the first place, and many of the points I make in my review were first aired in conversation with him after the screening, so perhaps it's no surprise that his review of the film is my favorite so far. I thought this was a clever point:
...while many reviewers might disagree with me, the film version of Watchmen is not your standard superhero movie. True, it has guys in costumes fighting street-level thugs -- and, later, other costume types -- with the same martial-arts moves you'd see in any of the Batman flicks. But the big difference is that this isn't an origin tale, like Batman Begins or Iron Man or most other superhero films. It's the opposite of an origin, where the heroes are out of the spotlight on the other side, slowly dying and being forgotten about as they reflect on their lives.
Watchmen is a Lutheran reformation text knocking on the door of the Catholic establishment by a devout believer. Or something like that. And why I think scholars of comics don’t really enjoy it because they aren’t superhero fans. The text is an indictment of the form, the laws, by a believer in the form. I don’t know if anyone who wasn’t a “true believer” to start with really “gets” the full impact of the text. It’s like a Muslim saying he doesn’t enjoy the New Testament.
That's exactly right, and exactly what I've been saying: No matter what Moore himself says today, Watchmen is not Eightball #23.
Ultimate Spider-Man #131
Brian Michael Bendis, writer
Stuart Immonen, artist
Marvel, February 2009
The problems with Marvel's Ultimate line were easy to spot from the start. Its appeal stemmed from its freshness: You didn't need to be conversant with decades of continuity to understand it, you could get a thrill out of seeing familiar characters and concepts appear and behave in entertainingly new ways, and because the series were all brand new the writers could tie them to their cultural and political moment much more tightly than could writers of characters whose first appearances involved atomic testing or the Vietnam War. In all three cases, eventual obsolescence was, if not planned, then at least inherent: After a few years the books would develop convoluted continuity of their own, the novelty of the tweaks would wear off, the writers would run out of A-listers and start introducing lesser characters to dwindling returns, and the cultural and political environment would shift even as the characters would be stuck in corporate-superhero aging limbo. What's more, and this was harder to anticipate, the mainline Marvel Universe would itself become Ultimatized, as Ultimate writers Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar were hired to apply their "realistic," paramilitary spin on superheroes to the company's flagship titles.
So it was inevitable that each of the Ultimate books would reach its sell-by date sooner or later. For me, Ultimate X-Men navigated strong runs by Millar, Bendis, and Brian K. Vaughan but was undone by a combination of Robert Kirkman's "I Love the '90s" nostalgia and a slow drift from depicting the characters, particularly Wolverine (who now looks exactly the same as his Marvel U. counterpart), as teenagers, which was part of what made it work. Ultimates lost steam in its second volume, which featured the introduction of magical antagonists in a way that didn't jibe with the basic premise of the book and also suffered from writer Millar's usual tics (self-impressed dialogue, lack of earned peripeteia). Ultimate Fantastic Four, originally a collaboration between Millar and Bendis, unimaginatively recast the FF as kids to no discernible benefit, then handed the reins to Warren Ellis for dreary and unscary reimaginings of their two best villains, Dr. Doom and (in spin-offs) "Gah Lak Tus." The less said about miniseries like Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra, Ultimate Vision, and (remember this?) Ultimate Adventures, to say nothing of Loeb's Ultimates 3, the better.
The one lasting highlight? Ultimate Spider-Man, Brian Bendis's starmaking series and the line's heart, if not its flagship (that would be Ultimates). Cooked up by Marvel's then-President Bill Jemas as a reaction to a mainline Peter Parker who seemed hopelessly old and square (I think Jemas once compared him to late-period Billy Joel), the series stars a teen version of the Wall-Crawler and is the closest thing superhero comics have ever served up (completely unintentionally as best I can tell) to shonen manga. The length of its run (well over 100 issues at this point, a virtually singular accomplishment among non-creator owned superhero comics today), the big-eyed art of longtime penciller Mark Bagley, the age of its protagonists, and Bendis's never less than deft combination of genuinely kick-ass superhero combat and intrigue with teen romance and angst all evoke Japan's bread-and-butter boys' adventure series. A brief slump in the upper-double-digit issues gave way to strong arcs wrapping up long-running storylines, while a recent, seamless transition from Bagley to Stuart Immonen gave the book a more polished look and a more faithful window into teen fashion and physical comportment. Of the four for-the-ages superhero titles that made me a Bendis believer and a regular superhero-comic reader in the early part of this decade--the others were Daredevil, since handed by Bendis and Alex Maleev to the equally capable Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark; Alias, the mature-readers super-private-eye collaboration with Michael Gaydos (starring best-new-female-character-in-years Jessica Jones), preemptively shuttered by Bendis, who subsequently picked up its plot threads in less satisfactory fashion in his mainstream-Marvel titles The Pulse and New Avengers; Powers, Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's creator-owned cops-and-capes procedural, hampered by erratic scheduling ever since its move from Image to Marvel's Icon imprint--Ultimate Spider-Man is the only one still going strong.
So it pains me some to see it gamely playing along with Loeb's reboot, which doesn't seem like half the book USM is at its worst--but fortunately, the USM tie-in issues, of which this is one, are FAR from USM at its worst. Indeed, this is exactly how big event crossovers should be done. Bendis takes the simultaneously goofy and gruesome conceit at the heart of Loeb's series--Magneto steals Thor's hammer and uses it to drown Manhattan in a tsunami, killing millions--and treats it completely seriously, casting Spider-Man's heroism against a genuinely traumatic and tragic backdrop. Bendis also takes the opportunity to shake up the supporting cast: Just before the flood hits, Aunt May is arrested under suspicion that she knows Spidey's identity; during the flood, J. Jonah Jameson spots Spider-Man trying to help people while JJJ himself heads for the hills, and realizing everything he'd said about Spidey was bullshit, completely changes his tune; Spider-Woman, here interpreted as a clone of Peter, returns (presumably to take the reins after the reboot). Bendis makes great use of the definitive event trope--crossover appearances by other characters--by dodging the fight/team-up binary: Daredevil, who in the Ultimate Universe is kind of an asshole to Spider-Man, shows up but only as a dead body, a pretty traumatic thing for Peter to discover; the Hulk shows up too, alternating between his old-school childlike monster persona and the destructive weapon of mass destruction approach, which means you get both the classic Spidey-Hulk vibe you remember from your childhood and the raw terror of Spidey fleeing from his life from the Cloverfield monster in purple pants that the Ultimate Universe version of that relationship could be expected to provide. For his part, Immonen's figurework is loose yet clearly thought-through--it's very appealing, particularly his floppy, blocky hairstyles--and he has a knack for whacked-out visuals like J. Jonah Jameson's picture windows revealing the fact that the Daily Planet building is almost totally underwater.
I have no idea where Ultimatum will leave Ultimate Spider-Man, and no particular desire to find out where it will leave the rest of the Ultimate line. But for now, it's providing Bendis and Immonen an opportunity to do Spider-Man vs. the Apocalypse, and they're seizing that opportunity with gusto. Good for them. I hope there are 131 more issues.
* Not a whole lot to recommend this episode, I don't think. That's unfortunate. There aren't a lot to go!
* Things I liked: Fine little acting moments from actors that the show has pretty much abandoned, Jamie Bamber, Tamoh Penikett, and the still prominent but underused James Callis. Apollo shouting "Gaius Baltar?!?" in disbelief when one of the members of the new quorum asks what everyone's favorite former scientific genius and collaborationist president turned sex-cult leader and paramilitary commander (?!?) thought of the potential abandonment of the Galactica was a hilarious moment of exasperation, not least because it mirrors my own at the notion that anyone cares what Baltar thinks in the world of the show.
* Penikett played Helo's begging for permission to search for his daughter with just the right mix of sorrow, desperation, hope, and barely concealed rage at Adama's obstinacy (and hypocrisy--he's the admiral of the fleet and he abandoned everyone so he could sit around in a raptor and wait for the President to show up, remember?). And
* Baltar's brief encounter with Caprica Six was one of the few emotionally true moments that character's been granted in quite some time, since it sidestepped the season-long guessing game regarding his sincerity about his religious proclamations and dove right into something we know to be legit, his ever-present emotional turmoil regarding what happened between him and Caprica Six before the Cylon attack.
* I did wish that Head Baltar showed up for Six, though--was the implication that he doesn't do so anymore?
* And since Baltar's thought process during his cult-leader storyline has been opaque, it was impossible to figure out just why the fuck he outed Starbuck as some kind of revenant in front of the whole frakking fleet. Is it because he really believes what he's saying about angels and wants to prove it to the world? Is it because he doesn't really believe what he's saying about angels and wants to convince himself that he's not crazy or the victim of a Cylon brain-implant? Is it because he doesn't really believe what he's saying, and doesn't want to convince himself, and simply wants to increase his sway over the hoi polloi for his own selfish reasons? We have very little way of knowing.
* I did like that he didn't even remember who Starbuck was despite fooling around with her a few years back. That's the Baltar we know!
* We've seen Adama start doing something, then get more and more frantic about it, then totally flip out, then crash and cry, a few too many times for it to retain much power.
* I kind of liked turning Sam into a hybrid. Led to some nice visuals at any rate.
* The thing about the show's shift of focus from "life during wartime" to "what's up with the Cylons" is that it went from, well, a show about life during wartime to the kind of "sci-fi musings on the nature of consciousness and life and mortality and what makes us human and so on" that we've been seeing for nearly a century now. This morning when I woke up I flipped on the TV and there was an episode of The Twilight Zone on involving Jack Klugman as the captain of a spaceship that lands on some planet and finds the crashed remains of his own spaceship, and he and the crew start wondering whether they're already dead or what. Sound familiar? Don't get me wrong, that kind of thing can be very appealing, but it would have been just as easy for Battlestar Galactica never to go down that route, and since its execution of that kind of material has on the whole been less successful than its execution of the war material, there's a bit of a let-down inherent in having the final episodes focus on that.
Seanmix • Leaving Hope: A Personal Best of Nine Inch Nails
Recently I decided to steal an idea from my pal Matthew Perpetua and upload an occasional mix for your listening pleasure. First up is this assortment of some of my favorite Nine Inch Nails songs.
Leaving Hope: A Personal Best of Nine Inch Nails
Pinion / 2 Ghosts I / Wish / 12 Ghosts II / 13 Ghosts II / The Fragile / Just Like You Imagined / The Becoming / Happiness in Slavery / Something I Can Never Have [edited and extended] / 10 Miles High (Version) / Burn / In This Twilight / 36 Ghosts IV / The Fragile [Still] / The Becoming [Still] / Gave Up / In This Twilight (Fennesz Remix) / Leaving Hope
This particular mix leans heavily on textured instrumentals, quiet haunted-house piano, abrasive guitars, and alternately melancholy or nihilistic lyrics--occasionally all at the same time. These happen to be among my favorite NIN songs, so that's the main reason I selected them, but Trent Reznor is a pretty deeply unfashionable character at this point among smart-music circles, so I wanted to put together a mix that displayed some of his ambition, range, and skill as a composer and arranger. There's another mix coming that showcases a completely different side of the band, so please stay tuned.
Comics Time: The Exterminators Vol. 1: Bug Brothers
The Exterminators Vol. 1: Bug Brothers
Simon Oliver, writer
Tony Moore, artist
$9.99 Buy it from Amazon.com
Originally written on November 2, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Conspiracy theory has long been the hallmark of a certain strain of DC-subimprint storytelling. From Grant Morrison's The Invisibles to Warren Ellis's Planetary, the edgier edges of Time Warner's sequential art empire are rife with tales of beautiful badasses whose proficiency in matters of philosophy, style and killing people enable them to thwart the world's secret chiefs and revel in knowledge withheld from the blissfully ignorant masses. The Exterminators is almost a willful antithesis to such books: Here, the people who unearth the true world order are an assortment of creepy working stiffs who kill bugs for a living.
If anything, first-time comics writer Simon Oliver actually goes overboard in serving up steaming piles of anti-glamour in this opening chapter of what augurs to be an apocalyptic conflict between humanity and an army of nature-run-amok creature-feature "smart roaches." If Oliver had one Direct Market retailer order for every time one of his characters says "motherfucker," he'd be well clear of the cancellation threshold. Meanwhile, the (self-conscious) sexiness of the Illuminatus!-inspired work delivered by his UK-based counterparts is transmogrified here into a sordid vibe that borders on misogyny whenever sexuality is broached. The archvillain of the piece is a lesbian corporate overlord who inducts new recruits (like lead character and ex-con Henry James's restless girlfriend Laura) into her sinister enterprise by fucking them; future installments of the series introduce a new prostitute love interest for Henry who dresses up like famous literary figures for her johns, and an obese researcher who obliviously bangs a shady scientist who all but wears an "I'm a Fugitive Khmer Rouge War Criminal" T-shirt. Aside from the single angelic Hispanic mother whose horrific roach infestation serves as the central plot of this volume (and it's not like that cliched character does much to ameliorate the other ones), women in The Exterminators haven't yet proven to be a whole lot more than whores.
But based on this volume, I'm willing to give Oliver time to fix that problem. There's something enormously refreshing about Henry, a character who genuinely enjoys the break he's making from his criminal past and the hard but rewarding work he's doing at the Bug-Bee-Gone company, run by his step-father Nils. Even as he's slowly drawn into the mysteries of Egyptian bug gods, super-roaches and sci-fi biological weapons (developed by the corporation at which Laura is exploring her lipstick-lesbian side), he never cops a "look how cool I am" attitude nor a working class anti-hero pose--Oliver's delightful scripting shows him attacking each problem like it's a particularly frightening and yet potentially surmountable obstacle in a 9-to-5 job. He's aided tremendously in this by the effortlessly pleasant cartooning of Tony Moore. His oblong faces and expressive eyes give each of his characters the kind of air that, were they real people, would make you come home from a day at work and say to your significant other, "You know such-and-such? Man, there's just something about that guy I really like." Moore broke out by helping to launch Robert Kirkman's hit zombie epic The Walking Dead, and he's just as proficient with horror-genre tropes here as he was there, from bug-ridden corpses to armies of the bugs themselves.
Overall Bug Brothers is skeevy fun, which is probably exactly what it set out to be, and the bargain price DC slapped it with will hopefully go a long way toward encouraging readers to pick up one of Vertigo's most unique offerings. It's not a series I want to see go legs-up anytime soon.
* I thought it might be nice to round up some of the Watchmen reviews I've gotten something out of, both positive and negative ones. This gives me an excuse to pointedly ignore the critics who used the film as an occasion to flaunt their ignorance of and antipathy toward "graphic novels." (To quote Trent Reznor, you know who you fucking are.)
* For starters, here's my review, if you missed it or avoided it before seeing the movie yourself.
* Of all the major critics, Roger Ebert is the most unabashedly bullish about the film. He's followed up his initial review with a second, lengthier one based on a second, IMAX-derived screening. The latter is less a review than a rumination on Dr. Manhattan and a life lived by way of quantum physics. The pure geekiness of that, the "half-stoned and chugging Diet Coke at 3 in the morning debating the ending of Lost Highway with your college roommates"ness of it, is really delightful, and precisely the kind of response I was hoping a Watchmen movie would be capable of provoking. In terms of Watchmen's eventual status in the pantheon, which I care a whole lot less about, Ebert's imprimatur is interesting in that he's become sort of a patron saint of film fans who come at the medium from either a geek or buff perspective, rather than a cineaste/scholar perspective, if you will.
* Even more effusive than Ebert is the young-ish liberal national-security blogger Spencer Ackerman. "Watchmen is a great film," he says, which is not a statement I'm seeing made that straightforwardly even in receptive quarters (like this blog, for example). However, he serves up three quibbles involving three characters that I for one agree with: Ozymandias is too obviously sinister and his twisted altruism is too insufficiently developed; Laurie's backstory is truncated and de-complicated, right down to the disappearance of her real, ethnic last name; Rorschach's rightist, or perhaps fascist, politics are downplayed, except as the tics of a sociopath. I think Ackerman's perspective is worth taking a gander at in that he represents a pretty common breed of geek: A guy who's extremely smart, savvy, well-read, and cutting-edge in a variety of areas (politics, punk rock) but is pretty strictly superhero-based when it comes to comics.
* I haven't been tracking the conservative political blogs for their responses, nor have I kept an eye out for which critic, Right or Left, comes up with the most hamfisted allegorical read regarding the film ("Obama and Ozymandias--they're both effete liberals whose names start with an O, and they're both destroying the world in order to rebuild it in their egomaniacal image," that sort of thing. I'm sure Dana Stevens managed to compare the Comedian to Dick Cheney or something equally revelatory). But Andrew Sullivan says he thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I for one hope he posts about why. I guarantee you the letters he gets in response will be just as entertaining, no matter what he says.
* My longtime companion Jason Adams says something I've been thinking to myself while reading several negative reviews of the movie, which is that the massive planned Director's Cut will likely fill out a lot of lacunae that people who didn't like the film have been calling out; for Jason, this means giving fleshing out the vox populi in the persons of the newsstand owner and his comics-reading hanger-on. I also like Jason's review because he says Rorschach's last stand tugged a tear out of him even where the book itself didn't--it did, for me, during my last read--and because he makes fun of the critics who didn't grok that the airship sex scene was cheesy on purpose.
* Tim O'Neil basically calls it a bad movie he enjoyed. He echoes the pretty oft-voiced problem with the development of Ozymandias, says that the film's Laurie Jupiter "looks like she's made out of the same plastic as her costume" (killer line), and beefs with the super-ness of the non-super characters' action scenes.
* Contra critics like Tim, who reference the film's extraordinary fealty to Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' original comics (whether for good or ill), Joe "Jog" McCulloch, who did not care for the film at all, argues that the movie is in fact nothing like the comic, particularly in how it translates Gibbons's visuals, character design, and grid-based pacing. I think he makes some rock-solid points in his treatment of such diverse "lost in translation" moments as the bloodstain on the Comedian's smiley-face button, the damage incurred by the Comedian during his murder, and (most especially) the way the film reverse's the book's juxtaposition of largely bloodless run-up to extraordinarily splatteriffic climax; I don't think that I'd even noticed the lack of bodies in the streets at the end until reading Jog's review. (Elsewhere, he imagines Watchmen: A Film by Peter Greenaway.)
* Tom Spurgeon, the Perry Cox to my John Dorian, disliked the movie too. I really enjoy the way he calls out the lack of cohesion among the performances; how the increased violence in the "Dan & Laurie vs. knot-top muggers" kneecaps our ability to see Rorschach as uniquely dangerous and crazy; and the glossed-over fact that the climax's megadeaths were caused by an American weapon. On the flipside, he also tips his hat insightfully, if that can be done, to the acting choices of Billy Crudup and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
* In his pan, Leigh Walton, my editor at Top Shelf, has a great line: "Snyder et al adapted Watchmen more or less exactly as they would have adapted Kraven’s Last Hunt or Emerald Twilight or Secret Wars II. 'Here’s a great comic book story, and we’ll bring it to life on the big screen.'" The thing is, I really like Kraven's Last Hunt.
* Over at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, one of my favorite (if in this case inaccurately named) film blogs, Victoria Large calls Watchmen an "intoxicating, messy, tough-to-shake movie. It’s a film to think about, worry about, fight about, and I’m grateful for that. So love it. Or hate it. Or do a little bit of both. But please don’t dismiss it." I'm not quite on board with the last few bits, but I have to say that otherwise this tracks pretty closely to my own level of appreciation for the flick. In a waym this doesn't surprise me. My favorite film of 2008 was Rambo. Granted, I didn't see any of the Oscar-bait efforts that year, and very few of the more legit critical darlings (Let the Right One In is probably the big exception). And granted, Rambo is in some ways a deeply stupid movie, and in others a deeply problematic, even troubling one. But it surprised, entertained, thrilled, horrified, and haunted me. I think Watchmen is Rambo with costumes.
The new U2 album, No Line on the Horizon, is pretty good I guess. It's okay. My first-listen reaction is that it's better than How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and much better than career-worst All That You Can't Leave Behind. The lyrics get pretty dire, as you'd expect these days--Bono needs to ban the word "beautiful" from his repertoire for a while, just like there was a period where the band agreed they weren't allowed to use "streets"--and the Edge's rockin'-out riffs are kind of forced and gutless. Regardless, "Get On Your Boots" is stuck in my head pretty frequently.
Anyway I write this because I have a bad feeling that some people are going to refer to certain tracks on the record as "experimental," particularly in light of the comparatively straightforward songs on the past two albums. Let's not forget that we know what actually experimental U2 actually sounds like, from back when the lead singer of the biggest band in the world dressed in platform heels, gold lamé suits, devil horns, and kabuki make-up and called himself "MacPhisto."
"Lemon" is my favorite U2 song. Interestingly, I really loved it and the rest of Zooropa from the moment it came out, way before I listened to electronic or dance music generally. I think that even then I was excited to see the band try something so very different, and even then I was excited to see them do it well. I also contextualized Zooropa as the Magical Mystery Tour to Achtung Baby's Sgt. Pepper--a denser, deeper, weirder, braver exploration of the territory they'd just opened up an album ago.
As a song, with its techno shimmer (when I first started hearing electronic dance music I called all of it "techno" and it's tough to shake) and falsetto vocals that most rock fans instantly associate with disco, "Lemon" is superficially quite confrontational versus the rest of the band's catalog--the aural equivalent of what the names Pop and "Discoteque" and the Village People costumes they wore in the video were a few years later. But like all the best of their '90s material, "Lemon"'s addresses the same kind of spiritual, capital-R Romantic yearning that the band's big rock hits did, only fed through filters of uncertainty and self-consciousness. So, the lemon itself, the symbol that represents the magical mystery woman du jour, is big and bright and juicy and natural as one might expect, but it's also sour and maybe a little blinding and associated with the sterile advert artifice of "lemon fresh" sloganeering.
The song describes man's attempts to create art as guilelessly self-obsessed, his attempts at transcendence ultimately self-reflexive and driven by the usual preoccupations:
A man makes a picture
A moving picture
Through the light projected
He can see himself up close
A man captures colour
A man likes to stare
He turns his money into light to look for her
The motif is repeated:
A man builds a city
With banks and cathedrals
A man melts the sand so he can
See the world outside
A man makes a car
And builds roads to run them on
A man dreams of leaving
But he always stays behind
In both cases, the question seems to be whether the creative act is even necessary, whether we're introducing unnecessary intermediaries into an observational process that's really as simple as opening our eyes.
Meanwhile, despair ("I feel like I'm drifting, drifting, drifting from the shore"; "these are the days when our world has come asunder") yields to hope of respite ("I feel like I'm swimming out to her"; "these are the days when we look for something other"); indeed, the latter is not possible without the former. This is perhaps best expressed by the epigrammatic "chorus" of the song: "Midnight is where the day begins." The music itself ebbs and flows in a similar fashion, with the uplift of the chorus's piano-plunking drifting back down into melancholy cello. But our final glimpse of the enigmatic "she" reveals that "she is the dreamer, she's imagination/She had heaven, she wore lemon," so maybe we're right to try; maybe everything doesn't collapse in upon itself, and there is something great out there waiting to be captured.
* I'm sick of Photobucket's bullshit. Can anyone recommend a better image-hosting site that won't yank Jim Rugg drawings of Doctor Manhattan because you can see his genitals? (Doc's, not Rugg's.) I don't want to use my Flickr account as a random image depository.
* A few residual Watchmen review links first:
* Jim Emerson compares and contrasts the film with The Dark Knight, which in restrospect is the "visually realistic take on superheroes" film that a Watchmen adaptation had the potential to be in other hands but ended up emphatically not being; Emerson argues that that's to Watchmen's betterment.
* Adrian de la Touche at The House Next Door praises the movie for aspects other critics have used to lambaste it--the on-the-nose music choices, that sex scene--and refers to Zack Snyder as "a talented—fuck it, I’ll bite—visionary filmmaker." I kind of think so too! The Paul Verhoeven of the '00s?
Snake 'n' Bacon's Cartoon Cabaret
Michael Kupperman, writer/artist
Harper Entertainment, 2000
$14 Buy it from Amazon.com
Hmm, what's my "in" here? I could start by saying that Kupperman is a kindred spirit to Terry Gilliam: Gilliam's animation work for Monty Python repurposed the imagery of Victorian and Edwardian England for surrealist humor and sexual satire, while Kupperman similarly works with visuals from the pulp and adventure publications of pre- and post-War America for surrealist humor (again) and riffs on the absurdity and violence of that culture. I could also say that he draws everything much, much better than he needs to--it's like if Charles Burns did a book full of super-dense gag strips. I could point out that unlike most of the funnies, these comics truly work as comics, with visuals and text constantly trading off in terms of what's doing the heavy lifting in getting the jokes across. I could elaborate by saying he'll go both elaborate and direct with both components--for example, the visual gag at the heart of "Dead End Alley" is unanticipatable and complex, while the punchline panel of "The Cowboy in the Dinner Roll" is exactly what you think it's gonna be and hammers the laff home with the subtlety of Mjolnir; meanwhile, you get text-heavy pieces like "Murder Makes My Head Hurt" and "From 'Lives of the Cartoonists'" that take a full page to unspool and reach their pinnacle, but you also get instant-crackup juxtapositions like "Swamp Blanket Bingo," "Sex Blimps," "Sherlockules," and "I Am a Gamera." I could say that the work he's doing in Tales Designed to Thrizzle, despite simply being a continuation of everything you're seeing here, is better overall, but somehow that only makes this book more fun as it becomes rewarding to see how he refines his approach and execution in the later books. But I think I'll call Michael Kupperman a comic (and comics) genius and leave it at that.
Cold Heat #5/6
BJ & Frank Santoro, writers/artists
$20 (limited edition of 100 copies) Buy it from PictureBox
Cold Heat was truly tailor-made for my enjoyment. Combining genre storytelling with avant garde art and layout, minimalist linework with maximalist psychedelia, shoegazey atmosphere with cotton-candy colors with Kurt Cobain and Ziggy Stardust references with teen-angsty sex, drugs, and violence...basically, even if Cold Heat didn't exist, it would be necessary for me to invent it. I never thought I'd get the chance to hold a new single issue of Cold Heat in my hands again, so on that level alone, the existence of this comic book (a double-issue, technically, but who's counting) is cause for rejoicing, regardless of the execution.
Fortunately, the execution is killer. I think the standout story element in this installment is just how far Jones and Santoro are willing to take the Senator Wastmor character in terms of making him an embodiment of elite-political culture at its most loathsome, a sort of fever dream of naked cruelty, avarice, rapaciousness, and hypocrisy, complete with Uzis, orgies, and shitting on prisoners. It's reminiscent of C.F.'s Powr Mastrs in terms of imagining Power and those who master it as corrupt, violent, and disgusting.
Visually, the changes here are subtle but important. The introduction of purples to the pink/blue color scheme to flesh out and darken the world a bit. The replacement of the swirling motif with one of diamond-like patterns imposes a new level and form of visual power on the world of the comic. "There's no turning back" reads a Castle thought-caption at the bottom of a page where this geometric device is at its most prominent, and such is its impact that we absolutely believe her.
This is not to say that it's all gruesome abuse and overwhelming visuals. Wastmor and his schemes and depredations are an over-the-top goof, at varying times referencing classic abuse-of-authority touchstones from Salo to Illuminatus! to Twin Peaks to Eyes Wide Shut to Revenge of the Nerds; he conducts his final Uzi-toting rampage clad only in thong underwear. Meanwhile there's a laugh-out-loud dialogue exchange between Castle and her martial-arts instructor, in which they fill each other in on their respective adventures, that revels in the story's deadplan implausibility in a fashion reminiscent of a similar recent scene in Lost. Like Scott Pilgrim on haphazardly mixed cold meds and anti-depressants, Cold Heat is a true trip, a visionary experience in a medium that should be providing them by the bucketload. Please read it.
* Look, normally I wouldn't mind if They remade Stephen King's It, because Tim Curry's performance and make-up as Pennywise was literally the only thing the 1990 TV miniseries version got right. But then you hear that the new movie version is going to consolidate the 1958-to-1985 flashback/flashforward structure and all the ensuing and awesome period detail into the present day, and it's like, fuck, why not just remake Killer Klowns from Outer Space instead? One day someone's gonna take one of Stephen King's really good books and make an HBO maxiseries out of it, complete with subterranean tween gangbang, and we can all be happy. Until then I'm going to want to throw my computer through the window on a regular basis.
But yeah, if you liked Watchmen, you might want to try some of the books that are like whatever the heck you liked about Watchmen, and DC has certainly published some of those books.
* In light of the Battlestar Galactica series finale, part one of which airs tonight, this has got to be the quote of the day:
On March 17, there will be a "Battlestar" retrospective at the U.N. in New York and a panel discussion of how the show examined issues such as "human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith," according to Sci Fi.
Actually, no, wait: This is the quote of the day:
The panel will be moderated by "Battlestar" fan Whoopi Goldberg.
I FORGOT TO ADD THE SPOILER WARNING LAST WEEK, BUT I REMEMBERED THIS WEEK
I thought that was a strong episode, a very strong episode in fact. I didn't see the flashbacks coming at all, and it was a very smart idea, tying these characters back to all they'd lost. Not that they were all note-perfect, mind you--again, we've gone to the bottomless grief reservoir quite a few times so seeing Roslin fall apart in a public fountain lacked the impact it might have otherwise; Anders's ode to physics seemed a bit on the nose, even if it is the kind of thing I can picture a smart jock saying in an interview with a female reporter while reclining naked in a tub. But seeing Roslin with family, and seeing Zack Adama again, and especially seeing Baltar with his father and all the levels of discomfort and embarrassment that that meeting exposed in Gaius and Julius and Six...wonderful stuff.
Speaking of Gaius, his long, weirdly underdeveloped religious-cult storyline finally felt like it had a point, which was that Gaius was spending that time falling bass-ackwards into power once again. He kept it up because it got him laid, it got him attention, he's good at it, it was some kind of emotional outlet, and Head Six wanted him to, but in the end it was all leading to this pivotal juncture where he ends up basically the most powerful person in the fleet as everyone else goes off on the rescue mission. Callis, who over the years became one of the show's great pleasures, played the entire episode with a look of "what the fuck, man?" in his eyes. I'm a little concerned that without an antagonist still in the fleet his storyline might feel flat, but we'll see.
Which leads us to what will apparently be the series finale's big leap of faith, which is that the Admiral and President and stand-in President of the fleet would allow however many hundreds of key military and political personnel to take however many military assets they need and fly off on a suicide mission into Cylon Central in the middle of an asteroid field right next to a black hole. On a narrative level, this is Gandalf's gambit at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where he, and all the surviving members of the Fellowship who could give the game away if captured and tortured, and the King of Gondor and the King of Rohan and most of the leadership class, strolled up to the Black Gates to be slaughtered because they believed that something very important and transcendent required them to do so. The thing is, that's a lot easier for the characters and the audience alike to swallow in a fantasy narrative than it is in a science fiction allegory where people drive cars and smoke cigarettes and pretty much behave like normal people except for a few fantastic elements. What the story is asking us to do is believe that at this point, the fantastic elements in these characters' lives are, perhaps, all they have left to cling to, that all these hundreds of people are going to risk it all because to not do so will just mean floating around aimlessly in space for a few more decades until they die out. If Hera means something, they mean something, so they're going for broke. It's a gamble on the show's part, and if I were coming to it cold I don't know if I'd buy it, but the show has earned a lot of goodwill from me by being one of the highlights of my life for a few years now, so gods-speed, gang.
Seanmix - Let's Go Dancing (On the Backs of the Bruised): Nine Inch Nails Dance Music
As promised last week, here's a very different "best of Nine Inch Nails" mix. The inspiration here was a comment I remember Trent Reznor making regarding the song "Only," which is a great big bass-slappin' monster of a dance song--he said something to the effect that he had to work really hard to overcome being embarrassed about releasing a disco song. I instantly thought, "But you've recorded TONS of them! And they're GOOD!" So here's a collection of Trent at his toe-tapping, head-nodding, floor-filling, ass-shaking best. (Titular parentheses courtesy of Matthew Perpetua.)
Originally I'd planned on including either more or perhaps different examples of his groove-oriented work--I was thinking of slower almost-funk songs like "Into the Void," "Where Is Everybody?", "The Only Time," "The Big Comedown," "Capital G" and so on--but I couldn't figure how to make it all work together, so I dropped that stuff with the exception of "Closer" (because, c'mon, it's "Closer"). Also, I could have included a lot of remixes, but I decided to stick with internally produced work, so the only non-Trent-produced song on here is the DFA remix of "The Hand That Feeds" (because, c'mon, it's the DFA).
I hope you like this side of Nine Inch Nails as much as these folks did!
* Your first must-read of the day: Tom Spurgeon presents the best comics of 2008. It's interesting to see how much emphasis Tom places on the importance of weighing works qualitatively against one another as a goal of criticism--I suppose that goes without saying when it comes to a year-end ranking, but even in that case, I tend not to place so much importance on qualitative distinctions myself. And again, it makes me wish I'd read as much about Acme Novelty Library #19 as I have about Final Crisis (which I liked!). Tom also takes his fellow critics to task for their lack of engagement with books like What It Is and Kramers Ergot 7, a bit unfairly if I recall correctly, but hey, it takes different strokes to move the world.
* Todd VanDerWerff all but takes a mulligan on critically evaluating the penultimate episode of Battlestar Galactica until he sees its concluding episode this week. Which, wow, that's going to take some getting used to. Anyway, he tentatively likes what he saw this week, as did I. He also takes the time to unpack why Baltar's cult/conversion storyline has been so frustrating, perhaps my biggest pet peeve of the show's final two half-seasons.
* Speaking of torture porn: Take some time, if you're not some phony 24 tough guy and you don't mind having your soul kicked repeatedly in its kidneys for a while, to read the International Committee for the Red Cross's report on torture at America's network of terror-war prison sites. It's the involvement of doctors whose job it was to ensure that everyone was tortured just enough to not die (they weren't always successful) that will be haunting me to my grave. And of course, the repulsive likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah--real-life horror stories themselves--never deserved the emotional martyrdom that their treatment now forces us to grant them.
SPOILER WARNING--DON'T LET ME RUIN THE SHOW'S ELABORATE MYTHOLOGY FOR YOU
* Weaksauce. That episode felt like a contest to see which storyline could be the most boring.
* First of all, you return from this ungodly long hiatus, and your first episode back is the school play episode? Besides feeling ridiculous in that every character is required to perform in the school play, I just sort of liked it better when they did Hair on Head of the Class.
* Age of Innocence, yes, we get it.
* I don't care if the pretentious artsy-fartsy director character was intended as the show's self-parody of the pretentious artsy-fartsy visual artist from earlier in the season, he was still intolerable. During that conversation at lunch I actually had a Dr. Cox from Scrubs moment where I burst out yelling "OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE MOST BORING SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF RECORDED MEDIA." The Missus turned to me and said, "Oh, I haven't even been paying attention. Too long; didn't read."
* Also, you could see the stupid drama critic misinterpreting the crash-and-burning of the show, and the annoying director guy claiming it was deliberate, a MILE away.
* I did kind of like the nervous lesbian stage manager, though.
* When it finally cut over to Chuck I said "Meanwhile, on a better show..." but I'd forgotten that he was in the middle of a student production of his own, Eyes Wide Shut Jr., which ended as randomly and pointlessly and unimaginatively as it began.
* Was it me or did they keep on implying Dorota was leaking to Gossip Girl? Was that just a red herring? They seemed to resolve all that stuff by pinning it on Rachel. (I still think Dorota IS Gossip Girl.)
* Speaking of Rachel, the one bright spot in the show was the hotness of the Hot for Teacher storyline. Something about the girl they cast in that role is really realistically adorable, which makes it even hotter. I totally called "they're gonna do it in the costume closet," btw. Of course they then had to go and write her out of the show, when they easily could have begun a Blair/Rachel romance, goddamn them.
* Seeing the teaser for next week's episode, I'm starting to wonder whether the show's rapid cycling and recycling through all the possible main-cast pairings is actually the major structural problem we've all kind of joked that it might be. The more you mix and match Dan, Serena, Chuck, Blair, Nate, and Vanessa, and sometimes Jenny, the less rewarding it gets. (Unless you did something nutso like Chuck/Serena or Dan/Blair, which I would support fully and which I assume we'll get to eventually.) Meanwhile, the show's attempts to bring aboard outside love interests have been three-eps-and-done affairs from the get-go, whether lame (that horrible artist guy) or kinda awesome (Madchen Amick, Hot for Teacher). The outsiders can't bring the weight that the main cast does, but the main cast can't sustain the novelty that the outsiders bring, and around and around we go.
* Real-world water monster update: Meet Predator X, a 50-foot prehistoric sea monster with four times the biting power of Tyrannosaurus rex--the most powerful jaws of any animal in the history of the planet.
The basis for this difference of experience comes down to different patterns of directing attention. Attention--both what it's focused on and what is filtered out of it--makes all the difference. Where I, a fan, see a werewolf in a Paul Naschy movie, non-fans see a bad actor in bad makeup. Well, he is a bad actor in bad makeup, and I'm not surprised that's where most people's attention comes to focus. If I see him as a werewolf in these movies, it's not because I think he's a great actor in amazing makeup. And I haven't adopted some weird critical standard whereby I pay the same attention as non-fans to his bad acting and cheap makeup, and declare it awesome anyway. What I do is focus my attention much more intensely than most on the werewolf he's trying to depict, and filter out or disregard as much as I can of anything that would compromise or spoil that experience.
To what extent do you offer a work you like the benefit of the doubt? To what extent does offering it the benefit of the doubt determine whether or not you like it to begin with? That seems to be the chicken-and-egg question with which Curt and his interlocutor here, CRwM, appear to be grappling.
Originally written on November 22, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Cold Heat is a terrific comic for people who don't think of their adolescence as having been particularly adolescent. That is to say, the prevailing approach toward reminiscing about one's teenage years seems to be one of cringing embarrassment--no, actually, more one of condescension: "Ugh, what a little idiot I was then, I can't believe I listened to Stone Temple Pilots," etc. Writer-artists BJ (aka Ben Jones, he of those dog comics) and Frank Santoro say "fuck that noise" and instead choose to emphasize the rapturous beauty that adolescence's grandiose melodrama and edge-of-disaster emotion constantly infuses into everyday life, particularly where music and romance are concerned. In doing so they craft a comic that is impossible not to compare to both arenas. Cold Heat's wispy, barely-there linework, the visual leitmotif of swirling and the rock-centric storyline--the events of the first issue revolve around our heroine Castle's reaction to the fatal overdose of Joel Cannon, beloved lead singer of the noise band Chocolate Gun--don't so much suggest as demand references to the blindingly happysad guitar maelstroms of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and M83. Moreover, readers of a certain age will no doubt remember the whirlwind of emotion they were caught up in upon the death of Kurt Cobain, the likely inspiration here. I still remember storming away from the dinner table when my dad dared to agree with Andy Rooney's "good riddance" assessment of Kurt's passing; Cold Heat is a little like remembering that incident in comic book form. But the romance angle is important too. The book starts out with an almost anti-romantic vignette--Castle is callously informed by the CEO of the company at which she is an intern that the outfit has gone belly-up after just having had sex with him. "I forgot my CD player there," she realizes after she leaves--one more regret. But soon the wide-eyed, upturned-face beauty of Jones and Santoro's portraiture of Castle takes hold, suggesting a lo-fi--or more accurately, doodled-during-math-class--approximation of romance-era John Romita Sr. The simplistic pink, white and blue color scheme adds to the "just hadda get it down on paper before study hall ended" feel so effectively that you might not notice the subtlety with which a sort of crayon shading is used to evoke smoke-filled, drug-addled parties and the lonely, scary darkness of suburban nightfall. And the hints of craziness--a murder mystery, a potential World War III, a minotaur carrying a severed head--somehow combine to evoke teenagedom much more accurately than a strict slice-of-life comic would. Add in the slick cover stock, a letters page (called "Heat Waves!"), a letter from editor Dan Nadel that reads like liner notes from that old Temple of the Dog CD you've been meaning to rip to your iTunes and a short prose story by Timothy Hodler about falling in love with the office superhero fan, and you've got a comic that feels like a cable from a world where the only thing that exists is a dimly lit bedroom in which you're wearing ripped jeans and you just keep listening to and rewinding "Teen Age Riot" over and over again. Outstanding.
SPOILER ALERT - SORRY I FORGOT TO ADD IT LAST WEEK BUT I IMAGINE YOU ALL KNOW THE DRILL AT THIS POINT
* Another delightful episode. It literally filled me with delight. I can't remember exactly when--I think it was when Sawyer told Jack, Kate, and Hurley "It's 1977"--but at one point I just leaned back and laughed, I was having such a swell time.
* With that in mind, I wish the episode were twice as long as it was. As it stood, it was an unusual episode in that there were no big revelations or dramatic reversals or other big moments. It was more a series of necessary conversations and events to bring various characters up to speed and establish a new status quo among the various groups. What happens to Jack/Kate/Hurley? What happened to Sayid? How did the Ajira plane land? Where did Frank and Sun go? How did Ben get injured? How do Sawyer and Juliet react to the return of their previous love interests? How does Jin find out about Sun's return, and what does he do about it? How does Miles handle it? Now we know the answers to all those questions and we can move on from there.
* The episode also threw in a bonus answer or semi-answer here and there for questions we weren't expecting the answers to just yet. For example, we learn that Horace and Amy's baby is everyone's favorite doctor-slash-killing-machine, Ethan. This led to maybe one of the greatest moments in the history of the show, where Juliet finds this out and her "aww wook at the widdle baby" facial expression curdles as though she just realized she's holding the world's most adorable giant maggot.
* We also get some more hints as to the origin of the uber-important Pearl station, as the long-rumored Radzinsky (who made the blacklight map on the blast door in the Pearl hatch) appears and is revealed as a bit of a paranoid who is apparently responsible for designing the Pearl in the first place.
* And we also discover that Young Ben Linus is in fact roaming around Dharma Village during Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, and Daniel's back-in-time sojourn there--though that then raises the question of how the time-displaced characters have been handling that bit of awkwardness.
* And oh yeah, where's Daniel at?
* This episode also deftly managed multiple tonal shifts. You had the light '70s-spoof comedy that happens any time we go back to the Dharma days. You had the interpersonal drama of Our Heroes and Heroines meeting up once again. You had the Season Two/Three capture-and-interrogation throwback storyline with Sayid and Jin. You had the Season One throwback storyline with the new castaways in the present day (one assumes). You had Frank's pulse-pounding and heroic Sully Sullenberger moment. You had some really creepy moments in abandoned New Otherton with Jack's ghostly dad. You had Scheming Sun, which gave me another favorite moment--Sun braining Ben with a paddle in a long-overdue act of comeuppance. (I always love it when Ben gets caught with his pants down.) This show can do a lot of things well.
* As far as false notes go, the only one that stuck out to me was Sawyer's sudden upbraiding of Jack during their brief conversation at the Sawyer/Juliet residence that night. I know Jack is overbearing (to say the least!), and I know his comment about reading a book was out of line, and I know that the two have a history of pissing contests, but a) we've just established that Sawyer is a much more mature and content guy, and seeing him revert to form so quickly felt wrong; b) poor Jack just went from pill-popping, banned-from-the-hospital mess to desperate rescue-mission organizer to time-traveling Dharma janitor in the space of a few days--cut him some slack, James!
* As far as I'm concerned, the Castaways straight-up murdered that co-pilot. They all got on the plane knowing what could happen, and his blood is on their hands. I hope the show directly addresses how many people have died so that these clowns could have their little adventures, and does so in a way where there are actual emotional consequences for that, rather than a lecture from a bad-guy character that can be quickly shaken off and forgotten.
* I hope we don't see a whole lot of "John Connor sending his own father back in time to conceive him"-style time travel paradoxes, but after reading Todd VanDerWerff's excellent-as-always review/recap, I wonder if Ben and the Others were building that runway in Season Three specifically so Frank could land on it in the future.
* Actually, he does say one thing that strikes me as being some serious horror blogosphere-bait:
Wired.com: Like continuity, is crisis itself becoming obsolete? Disaster scenarios seem to just get heavier and more mind-blowing, but they also are becoming more ubiquitous. Are we too inured to apocalypse and crisis these days to be scared of it anymore?
Morrison: I don't know if we're so much inured to apocalypse as almost sexually obsessed by it. We could only love apocalypse more if it had 4 liters of silicone in each tit. Think of all those videogames where the Earth's overrun by insect-aliens or there's been an atomic war and we're stumbling in the ruins with a gun we stole from a zombie. We should be grateful that we live in a culture so insulated from true horror it can afford to play with fear as entertainment.
That's a rather egregious misreading of the role and provenance of horror art and entertainment, no?
Check back with CBR News on Friday for a new interview with Grant Morrison, where he discusses “Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye,” and some other projects he’s currently writing for DC Comics including one book about the Multiverse and a second in the vein of “Watchmen” featuring the heroes of Earth-Four, who are all former Charlton Comics characters.
Emphasis mine. The war of No-Beard against All-Beard continues!
* Speaking of Alan Moore, read this conversation between Carl Wilson and Peli Grietzer about Gossip Girl. (Seriously, it has something to do with Alan Moore, I promise. The thesis they tease out is that much of the "trash culture" you see enthusiastically consumed by, oh I don't know, ex-Ivy League pop-culture bloggers--from Gossip Girl to Britney Spears' recent albums--is actually produced with precisely that audience in mind, often by creators who come from that demographic themselves. Given my ambivalent feelings toward "poptimism," this quote from Grietzer stuck me:
i guess my general thought here is that so much of what's taken to be literati\hipsters\whatever breaking beyond taste-barriers [some but not all of what 'poptism' delineates] is more about a certain generation taking over the production of popular culture and catering to its own tastes rather than a generation shifting its tastes towards 'the people'.
...as did this from Wilson:
There's research on the reasons for the "omnivorism" shift among elite consumers, some of which credit it to globalization and multiculturalism - that in the post-industrial economic order, it's more important to demonstrate your code-switching skills, and not to seem married to a single set of cultural markers.
I resemble that remark! This is part of why I was so taken aback by Alan Moore's dismissive comments about Hollywood filmmaking, superhero comics, and the like--the bulk of my cultural consumption and conversation takes place in a space where the more voracious a polyglot you are, and the lower your barriers to low culture, the better. (Via Matthew Perpetua.)
* And speaking of Gossip Girl, I have my problems with Terry Richardson, but this is not one of them.
* Tim O'Neil continues slouching toward a Kingdom Come review, this time by pinpointing the rise of Alex Ross as the moment where DC in particular began drinking the "heroes as icons" Kool-Aid. I think you continue to see that play out everywhere from Kurt Busiek's approach to the Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman trifecta in Trinity to the company-wise fixation on "legacy heroes."
Originally written I don't remember when for WizardUniverse.com's Thursday Morning Quarterback feature
COLD HEAT #2
The deliberately crude art style of this indier-than-indie miniseries will no doubt turn many readers of Big Two comics off. That’s a damn shame, because BJ and Santoro have created a unique and addictive hybrid of thrilling sci-fi murder mystery and drugged-up punk-rock coming-of-age tale. Continuing the story of a high school girl named Castle who’s reeling from the death of the lead singer of her favorite band and from getting dumped and fired simultaneously by the CEO of the company she was interning at, this issue introduces the man who’ll doubtlessly be the series’ big bad: Senator Wastmor. In his crazed search for the ‘killer’ of his dirtbag son—i.e. whoever provided him the drugs he O.D.’d on, at a party where Castle was the last person to see him alive—he’s the perfect portrait of the power-crazed politician: He mouths platitudes about how ‘the war on illegal drugs and underage drinking is now at its own D-Day’ on TV, while spewing obscenities and violent threats against the kids of Castle’s hometown when the camera’s off. Meanwhile, the pink-and-blue art nails the feeling of being really, really messed up as Castle takes way too many pills and gets embroiled ever deeper in the strange events befalling her town. If you can put aside your preconceptions and track down this comic, you’re in for a treat.
COLD HEAT #4
Like a 6-year-old trying to describe the awesomeness of Space Mountain at Disney World, this indie tale of sex, drugs, rock, conspiracies and alien abductions draws its strength from the contrast between the epic nature of its subject matter and the childlike way it’s presented. With its simple pink and blue color scheme and deliberately lo-fi linework, this issue’s revelation of presumed-dead rock singer Joel Cannon’s ‘2001’-style contact with extraterrestrial beings has a purity that makes up for its lack of detail, making its mystical vistas as powerful as those of any mainstream artist.
During an email discussion with some friends about the most recent episode of Lost, someone brought up Rose, Bernard, and the rest of the surviving castaways, and how they've disappeared, and what happened to them. Some of my friends basically just said "jimmy crack corn and I don't care." Others said that their disappearance matters to them, because it ought to matter to the main characters. My pal Kiel Phegley put it like this:
...if Lindelof, Cuse and the rest want me to think that Jack and company are doing something of worth and are worth my support and investment, then I can't just accept that the only people it's important for them to save are the ones they've either slept with or who have mind powers.
This is really interesting to me.
Back in Season One, as it became apparent that of the 48 castaways we'd only ever be focusing on about a dozen or so, and as it became apparent that there was something really weird about the Island, and as certain characters like Locke argued that they were "meant to be here," the question of why it was the above-the-credits cast that mattered and not the extras, aka redshirts, first popped into my head. Obviously, the real answer here is "because that's how TV works," but what diegetic explanation would the show concoct? The first time this was addressed in-show was with Dr. Arzt, who complained to Hurley or Charlie or whoever it was about the main characters' "adventure club" or whatever he called it. I was fascinated that characters within the show's world had realized that some of them were more important than others. At that point, though, we still didn't really know why this was, or even IF it was actually true.
As the seasons progressed, the show began to reinforce the notion that these characters we're following were in fact the most important ones, using various plot points to make this argument. They were the characters who had to press the button. They were the character's on the list given to Michael. They were the characters giving birth to babies, or who had children with special powers. They were the characters on "Jacob's list." And so on and so forth. The reason we were following them rather than Scott, Steve, Frogurt and the other randies really WAS because they were more important, or at least seen as being more important by the Others and/or the Island itself.
By the time we've reached where we are now, that's been taken even further. These are the characters who comprise the Oceanic Six. They're the characters that Ben, Christian, and by extension Jacob INSIST must return to the Island in order to save it. They're the only characters even CAPABLE of returning to the Island. They're the characters that traveled through time and are therefore having double the impact on the Island's history. By comparison, the redshirts mean less and less.
But here's the thing. As we learn that they really don't mean anything to the Island, they mean less and less within the world of the show; that is to say they mean less and less to the plot, they mean less and less as plot drivers. And therefore, the creators of the show seem to believe they mean less and less in terms of the audience's emotional investment in them versus our emotional investment in the main characters, simply given the amount of relative screentime and story importance each group has been given.
However, main characters, and the audience, are NOT the Island. Whatever the redshirts' lack of importance may be in terms of the Island and what its powers mean for those who try to harness them and for the world at large, we the audience understand on some level that they're supposed to be actual, full human beings. We may not have seen Kate go swimming with them or Sawyer play golf with them or Jack treat their headaches and splinters and so on, but presumably that happened. Presumably they had campfire singalongs with Charlie, presumably they traded some notes with Hurley about who the hell Desmond and Juliet were, presumably they wondered whether Boone and Shannon were doing it and asked other characters if they thought they had a shot, and so on and so forth. And most importantly, presumably the recent actions of Locke, Jack, and Sawyer were intended to save these anonymous souls along with the main characters--heck, it seems like Sawyer spent three years organizing grid-pattern searches of the Island just to track them down.
Here's my point: The Island is a harsh mistress and doesn't care about any of that. It seems as though the show is training us not to care about it all that much either. But sometimes we can't help but do so, and when that happens, it becomes weird to realize that the main characters apparently don't. They're supposed to be full human beings too.
Carnival of souls: special "the fruit's at the bottom" edition
* Here's that follow-up Grant Morrison interview mentioned yesterday, and here's what it says about his project with the Charlton characters, the same ones that inspired Watchmen:
I’ve just been doing an Earth Four book, which is the Charlton characters but I've decided to write it like 'Watchmen.' [laughs] So it's written backwards and sideways and filled with all kinds of symbolism and because of that it's taking quite a long time to write.
It sounds like it's not a standalone book at all, but part of a larger series about the DC Multiverse. And that's about the extent of what he says about the project--the interview is mostly about Seaguy Vol. 2...of which he says "This is my 'Watchmen,' really." Sometimes I wonder why he doesn't just build a house in Alan Moore's backyard and make rude gestures at him over the fence.
* Also at that link there's some info on DC's next weekly comic, a 12-issue summer project called Wednesday Comics that will serialize 15 stories by various prominent creators one page per newsprint-broadsheet issue. On the one hand this is a really neat idea, especially since it's going to contain a Paul Pope comic and that ridonkulously good-looking Kyle Baker Hawkman project, but on the other hand I remember how much I hate newspaper comic books--they're chintzy and unpleasant to look at and touch. I can't imagine collecting a book that looks like the Comic Shop News.
* Ed Brubaker is leaving Daredevil with issue #500; Andy Diggle is taking over. This robs the weekly comics reviewers of the world of the opportunity to call the book "solid" or "boring" once a month. (I was definitely on the "solid" side.) Brubaker seems to be paring down his projects somewhat--he obviously left Immortal Iron Fist a while ago and even before that Matt Fraction was really scripting it, he's leaving Daredevil, and since I haven't cared for his Uncanny X-Men work I haven't been following it but I think he handed that book off to Fraction too. But man--Captain America, Daredevil, Immortal Iron Fist, and Criminal? That was a solid line-up, the best since Bendis's Alias/Powers/Daredevil/Ultimate Spider-Man halcyon days.
* In a mind-meld of wildly talented curmudgeons, Tom Spurgeon says he's tempted to agree with Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that the comics industry is a lost cause. I think that this stems at least in part from some disagreeable "Where has it gone, the beautiful music of our grandparents?" sentiments on the aesthetic end, and I've expounded upon that in the past to pretty much everyone's chagrin, but Tom mainly focuses on the business end: How corporate executives essentially loot the creative legacies of an army of craftsmen and geniuses and are applauded for it, while striving to maximize short-term profits in a way that may have already sown the seeds of future irrelevancy or insolvency.
Since I returned to comics blogging I've tried to steer clear of these kinds of arguments, because I really don't know what I'm talking about and lack the access and intelligence to learn. As a result, while I occasionally agitate about ethical matters and business matters that pertain directly to ease of access to good comics, it's really that last point--access to good comics--that is all that matters to me. I tend to believe, for whatever reason, that good comics will continue to come out and I will continue to be able to read them.
However, looking around me right now, I see that we're probably witnessing the death of the newspaper, and with it two historically prominent forms of comics: the funnies and editorial cartoons. This hasn't fazed me all that much, because I haven't read the funnies with any regularity ever, and not even semi-regularity since the end of The Far Side, really the only strip that was even close to "appointment reading" for me. Meanwhile, I actively dislike editorial cartooning as a discipline; I think it inherently dumbs down complex issues into strident preach-to-the-choir imagery in a way that is very bad for overall political intelligence, like Glenn Beck with crosshatching, and I think there have been maybe half a dozen consistent exceptions to that rule in the form's entire history. But comic books and graphic novels are things I do care about. Now I see that something that once seemed untouchable can in fact be lost, and comic books haven't seemed untouchable for decades. I don't want to wake up one day and realize "wow, comics really were a lost cause, and now we've lost them."
* Curt Purcell continues his own series of posts on superhero comics, this one examining the notion that deconstructionist superhero comics like Watchmen and Brat Pack take the genre to its "logical conclusions." The thing is, I usually understand the use of that term in that context to refer to the in-story ramifications of the existence of superhumans, costumed vigilantes, super-science and the like. How would a group like the Justice League deal with quotidian social and political crises? How would godlike beings and scientific geniuses interact with the military or the automotive industry? So, you get books like Squadron Supreme and The Authority where the heroes just say "fuck it" and take over the world; you get books like Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan singlehandedly creates a viable electric-car industry. The ideas are what's been taken to their "logical conclusions." I think where people go wrong--creators and critics alike--is by conflating those conclusions with the idea that the genre itself reaches its "conclusion" with such stories. I believe the idea is that once we see what superheroes would "really" do, we can never go back; in reality, I think most readers made their peace with the idea that superheroes are an impossibility just like vampires or zombie apocalypses or alien invasions, so following the logical ramifications of their existence further down the track than we usually go doesn't do anything that the standard suspension of disbelief we employ when we read superhero stories can't undo the next time we want to read a more traditional super-tale. Of course, the big difference between superheroes and other fantastic fiction is that superheroes require a certain suspsension of disbelief not just in terms of what's physically possible, but in terms of basic human behavior. There's really nothing preventing someone from becoming Batman, for example, and yet nothing like that has ever happened in the entire course of human history. But generally speaking, that's not what the books that take superheroes to their "logical conclusions" are usually addressing. Sometimes they take to task the kinds of personality traits that might lead one to wear a mask and assault strangers, but that's not saying anything we don't already know about people in positions of authority who use violence as part of their jobs--if you were to directly address the implausibility of the kind of costumed one-man-war-on-crime represented by Batman, you couldn't actually do the comic.
* A while ago I wondered aloud whether the final act of the show would end up having been about what happens to a society when it gives up. Turns out I was right, but not in the way I expected. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, I think.
* In general I think the show went with the ballsiest possible "out" for each of its central conundrums. The Colonials' "Earth" wasn't our "Earth"! They really were angels! Kara just disappears! The inevitable rapprochement between humans, rebel Cylons, and hardline Cylons is scuttled because of freaking Cally! Hera is only kinda sorta the key to survival, all the visions about the opera house were really just set-up to make sure that a bunch of people saved this kid's life...but then as it turns out, she's Eve! Tack on a good old-fashioned thought-provoking science-fiction ending and I'm sound as a pound.
* It was a very, very good decision to spend so much of the end focusing on Gaius, my favorite character and my favorite performance in the series. I found myself wishing a bit that he was given as much close-up time as he was during that episode a few seasons back where Adama tortured him, which was where I really fell in love with him, but what he did with what he had was just lovely. When he said "I know about farming" and cried, that's when I finally teared up. I love that poor man.
* Other things I liked: Tory getting her comeuppance and the Chief's lonely denouement in Scotland. Tigh saying if someone had done that to Ellen, he'd have done the same thing Chief did, when of course someone DID do that to Ellen--Tigh himself. (Ellen seemed to notice.) All the climactic battle stuff, particularly the fate of Racetrack and Skulls and the Centurion-on-Centurion violence. The whole cockamamie plan for the attack. Cavil's last word. Anders's fate. Apollo finally getting something of weight to do once again: a) guide the human and Cylon civilizations into a new dawn; b) see Kara off. Laura getting laid (HOT). Kara and Lee nearly doing it (also HOT, and also a callback to the fact that those two were never meant to wind up together, godsdammit). Seeing Bulldog (I think???) among the Marines boarding the Cylon Colony. Admiral Hoshi and President Lampkin, no matter how ridiculous that might have been. The fact that the Baltar Army subplot went nowhere except as a headfake. The randomness and camaraderie of the Apollo/Doc Cottle/Baltar/Hoshi/Tigh/Adama scouting party. Giving the last words to Head Six and Head Baltar.
* Unsolved mysteries: What happens to the hardline skinjob Cylons? What happens to the freed Centurions?
* And of course, "You know it doesn't like that name."
* Oh, Battlestar Galactica, I will miss you very much.
Seanmix - Cigarettes, Ice Cream, Figurines of the Virgin Mary: A Personal Best of King Crimson
Emphasis on "personal best" this time, most definitely. This is by no means anything close to an authoritative Crimso mix--it simply contains songs from the four albums I own: In the Court of the Crimson King, which is the debut with the famous album cover everyone's seen and features Greg Lake on vocals with lyrics by Peter Sinfield; and Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, the three 1972-1974 albums featuring several configurations of musicians but all including the core lineup of KC mastermind Robert Fripp on vocals and keyboards, John Wetton on bass and vocals, and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion, with lyricist Richard Palmer-James and violinist David Cross. But while my overall knowledge of King Crimson may run an inch wide, my affection for this material is a mile deep. I listen to the tracks on this mix more than pretty much any other heavy guitar-based music I own. For some reason, when I'm feeling particularly charged up (especially with creative energy), this music is exactly what I want to hear. I think this is a solid (and brief--under an hour!) introduction to what makes the band's material from this era so dynamic, intelligent, and lacerating.
Ojingogo reminds me of the immersive, action-intensive creature comics of Fort Thunder alums Brian Ralph and Mat Brinkman released by Highwater Books earlier this decade, books like Cave-In and Teratoid Heights. Heck, you could lump Brian Chippendale's Maggots in there too if you wanted. Little critter guys wander around meeting other weird critters who grow or shrink or try to eat them in various configurations. There's some video game logic to it, some children's book overtones too. It's a fun template.
But where Matthew Forsythe falls short of the Fort Thunder gang is in creating interpretable, continuous environments in which these adventures take place. Teratoid Heights, for example, was rigorously laid out from panel to panel; no matter how odd the protagonists or how nightmarish or isolated the space in which they moved, you could easily see the continuity from one panel to the next, to the point where he could cut to another character for panels or pages at a time and the second he returned you to the original character you still knew where you were. In Cave-In, Ralph's sumptuous, textural backgrounds provided a sense that you were moving through a concrete, cohesive space. Maggots's frequently blacked-out backgrounds removed that tool from Chippendale's continuity-of-action arsenal but provided a strange sense of unity all their own, while his intuitive Chutes 'n' Ladders layouts literally forced you to increase your concentration on continuity.
Ojingogo offers no such aid. Cuts between characters are frequent and sudden, with little to indicate why we're switching viewpoints or where we're switching our viewpoint to. This in turn makes it difficult to string together behavioral causes-and-effects for the characters and what they do. I was frequently at a loss as to why characters who seemed friendly were now fighting or vice versa, or why characters who were together were now separate, and so on. And when you have that much trouble figuring out basic things like the relationships between the protagonists, the creature-feature flights of fancy--growing, shrinking, transforming, etc.--become even more difficult to contextualize. By the end of the book I was just kind of turning the pages and looking at the pictures as much as I was reading the comic. There are certainly pleasures to be had in reading the book that way: Forsythe's Koreana (is there such a word?) character designs are delightful, his line and use of graytones are pretty much perfect for this kind of comic, he has a real knack for body language (there was one sequence in which a Brinkman-esque giant squatted down to take a look at something that really strcuk me), and there are occasional moments of humor that made me chuckle (like when a pair of characters set up one of those box/stick/string traps to try and capture another creature, but it turns out he's now like five times as big as they are, and he bounds past them, and as they stand there stunned, the box-trap falls shut on nothing). But with so little in the way of continuity of action or imagery, it's a lot like reading little vignettes at random--you just couldn't immerse yourself in it if you wanted to. Maybe this is a function of the book's original life as a webcomic, but it makes for a frustrating read as a graphic novel, because you know how well it could work.
* Here's a link to that promo for Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, the Jane Espenson-written (boo), Edward James Olmos-directed (yay) BSG movie that will air sometime this fall. It's about what was going on with the Cylons all this time. Amusingly it doesn't seem to feature Lucy Lawless as D'Anna/Three, which should be funny to see them try to explain. I wonder what it will reveal.
* Unless they work it in during post, apparently it won't really address Daniel, the mysterious 7th Cylon model whom Ellen revealed to have been destroyed by Cavil: Ron Moore says that was just a throwaway bit of backstory to give Cavil some Cain/Abel mojo, and that he was taken aback to see speculation take off that Daniel was Starbuck's deadbeat musician father or something. Obviously, if you were counting on getting an explicit resolution to that plot point in the finale, you were disappointed. But even before I read this interview, I just assumed Daniel was, in fact, Starbuck's dad, making Starbuck, in fact, a hybrid (or "hylon," in the parlance of our times), and that this was never going to be explicitly confirmed, just like in Revenge of the Sith (in another opera house scene, amusingly) when the Emperor implies that he was responsible for Anakin's immaculate conception but never comes right out and says it, yet that's obviously what we're supposed to take away from it. We're grown-ups, we can handle that. I still may prefer believing that to not believing it, I dunno. I read a really interesting interview with Harley Peyton, one of the writers for Twin Peaks, along those lines, where he was like (paraphrasing here) "oh, we never had a master plan that led up to that final image, we came up with that sitting in the writers' room working on the final episode, but by all means concoct a master plan based on what ended up on the screen--that's the important thing, not what we were or weren't thinking all along."
* You can read some post-finale interviews with Ron Moore at SciFi Wire and with the Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan, probably the biggest BSG blogger around. Her interview is just one part of a massive post-finale post including some details about which episodes will be expanded in the DVDs, additional interview snippets with various cast and crew members, and her own thoughts.
* I've continued to think about--you might almost say "dwell on"--the finale, and the more I do so the more impressed I get. I don't think even the Sopranos finale made me feel this way. What's really sticking in my gut is trying to get there from here, trying to mentally and emotionally link the early episodes where there were terrorist attacks in restaurants and arguments about abortion and rigged elections and such with a finale where the two warring societies essentially give up, disperse, and fade away into history, becoming barely a memory to anyone. Talk about a finale that makes you reevaluate the entire series! It's just about as gutsy as I've seen television get.
In the end, both cultures collapse and their bearers don't resist it. This is a hard pill to swallow because we've been acculturated (ha!) to believe there's a transcendental value in cultural continuity, that a cultural collapse is by nature apocalyptic, and that it won't happen to us, but none of these things are necessarily true.
In much the same way that Starbuck's greatest fear was to be forgotten, our greatest fear as a culture is the same thing. We cling to the narrative of human progress that shows a steady build toward knowledge and freedom from the Stone Age to the present day, ignoring any number of separate strains and cultural-evolution cul-de-sacs along the way, even within Western culture (we barely made it out of ancient Christianity's dark-age deathgrip!). Our great collective horror story is the apocalypse, brought about by any number of factors--nuclear war, biological weapons, disease, climate change, aliens, technology run amok, zombies, you name it--but always with the same result: the story of humanity coming to an abrupt end. We care about the survivors of such stories at least as much for whether or not they survive to continue telling that story as we do for their survival in and of itself. Naturally we saw Battlestar Galactica in that same light, and so did the show's characters, desperately attempting to perpetuate the social and political institutions that characterized their lives before the fall. For them to say "enough" and willingly fade away...that is a hard, hard pill to ask your audience to swallow, but I'm glad I've been respected enough by the creators to be asked to do so. It's certainly made me re-think things a lot more than a traditional truce or victorious ending would have. This was a truce and a victory in its own unique way.
* And now for some barely coherent musings on "God" and Its role in the finale.
* It's interesting to see how different people's expectation for the show's ending was from what the show had been basically promising to deliver all along, which was a heaping helping of honest-to-gods mysticism. I think you'll see several different cultural forces converge in terms of people who vocally don't like "God"'s direct involvement in the finale in the persons of Head Six, Head Baltar, and Kara:
* First, there's your basic internet-fandom contingent, which insists that everything must be SERIOUS BUSINESS and have logical explanations that can be "solved" like a puzzle; to the extent that "God" is a supernatural force, it is less serious and less solvable than, say, a science-based explanation like hallucinations or brain implants from the Final Five. These folks appear to have believed that all the god-talk all along was a fake-out, that the show didn't really mean it. For a lot of them, having the "divine" play a role in the finale, any finale, is automatically a deus ex machina in the pejorative sense--you see that phrase everywhere.
* Second, I believe there's a goodly chunk of hardcore SF buffs to whom the word "angel" is automatically STUPID in all caps. The Tor.com roundtable on the episode has to be the ne plus ultra of this particular subgenre--the very thought of how the Head characters and Starbucks resurrection were explained seems to have sent them into caps-locked apoplexy. Seriously, you really have to see it. Again, an active role for the divine is an automatic deus ex machina. NB: Please forgive me if I'm mischaracterizing the participants in the Tor roundtable as serious science fiction experts--I really don't know, I'm just assuming given the site. Maybe they're like AICN talkbackers, I dunno. Certainly the fact that many of them watched it in a group, screaming at the screen all the while, reminds me more of Internet fandom than people who read Foundation a lot. Also NB: Not all serious SF fans are like that. For example, Jim Henley, for whom speculative fiction is but one of many many topics about which he is much much smarter than I am, liked that aspect of the finale, and by extension the entire series, better than pretty much any others. He also locates it in a rich tradition of SF literature about humanity, divinity, and the spirit.
* Third, there are people who misinterpret a lot of what was actually said and depicted in the finale and base their most vehement criticism on that. For example, there's a popular notion that the episode was explicitly Luddite, with the Fleet's survivors reject all technology, not just jettisoning their ships. This was demonstrably untrue.
* Another example: People who felt like the closing montage of increasingly sophisticated humanoid robots here on present-day Earth (well, "Earth") meant that the whole point of the show was that Ron Moore is warning us against making robots. (I think someone said exactly that in the Tor.com roundtable.) To me, it's pretty obvious that the robots here were used the same way the Cylons were used all along: as symbolic shorthand for everything the human and Cylon cultures did wrong, not just "technology run amok," let alone "don't make androids, they'll kill you."
* Another example, and perhaps the most fundamentally mistaken: Over religiosizing/spiritualizing "God" and "the angels" as presented in the finale. To hear some people talk about it, you'd think Jesus of Nazareth entered "All Along the Watchtower" into the nav computer and jumped the ship, or that human and Cylon reached a truce by proclaiming their shared belief that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet. But the "God" posited by Battlestar Galactica is a very, very weird one, far both the Biblical/Koranical God of our understanding and the gods of the Colonials and the One True God of the Cylon Centurions and skinjobs. In his speech in the CIC, Gaius Baltar argues that "God" is "beyond good and evil--we invented those." Head Baltar later tells Head Six that "God" "doesn't like that name," implying that It is something very different than the deities worshipped by Colonials, Cylons, and Earthlings alike--perhaps even another physical species, albeit one so advanced that its doings look like magic to us. Meanwhile, take the behavior of the "angels" themselves. We never saw what Head Baltar and Caprica Six got up to, but Head Six's primary angelic activity was giving Gaius Baltar handjobs and encouraging him to save his own bacon by getting other people killed (and occasionally saving their lives, but only when it suited her). The two Head characters were both pretty smarmy and sinister, even at the end. And Kara? She was an "angel" who had no idea that she was an angel, and was pretty miserable--borderline crazy--over it. These are not traditional Gabriel or Christ figures by any stretch of the imagination, and it's both reductive and incorrect to imagine them as such.
Battlestar has always had a weird strain of Gnosticism running through it (particularly in Baltar’s sermons), so the notion of God as a sometimes altruistic and sometimes destructive force that operates independently and can never be fully comprehended by our characters managed to plug into the series mythos fairly well.
I think I literally cheered and smacked my head when I read that. Why? Because one of the hardest parts of the last two half-seasons to swallow was Baltar's religious...whatever you'd call it. Conversion? Hucksterism? You couldn't even tell. At times he seemed utterly, even frighteningly sincere, and then next time you saw him he'd be his old scheming cowardly manwhore self. You'd see invisible Head Six feeding him his lines, even physically manipulating his body to get him to rise up after a beating from a Marine in one episode, and then she'd disappear for half a season. But most importantly, you'd get mixed messages in his sermons themselves. The two that really hit home with me were the one from last half-season where he told his followers that God loved them because they were all perfect--a total absolution of responsibility, really some breathtaking theology--and then the one after the discovery of the ruined Earth where he says we're right to be angry with God, that God in fact owes us an apology. Discovering that God is really "God"--some inscrutable force that isn't the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity we know, but is instead "beyond good and evil," "sometimes altruistic and sometimes destructive" as VanDerWerff puts it--squares the circle with all this contradictory information and makes the Cult of Baltar finally make sense.
* The final group of naysayers that I can see at work don't really have an underlying philosophical or aesthetic program in terms of their objections: They just don't like all the coincidences and "fate" stuff that added up to create what happened in the finale. Racetrack's dead hand hitting the button to nuke the Colony...Starbuck using the music to enter the right coordinates...a second Earth...Hera as mitochondrial Eve...Baltar's speech being enough for sociopathic Cavil to change his mind, and Adama and the rest of the gang buying that change...the Chief/Cally/Tory storyline bubbling up again just in time to destroy the truce and ignite the final confrontation...Starbuck being resurrected to get the fleet to Earth-1 and Earth-2 and then just disappearing...the opera house visions perfectly syncing up to the chase for Hera in the Galactica...it's all just a bit too much for these folks to swallow. I think I have the least beef with this objection than with any of the other. Battlestar Galactica has never been the most subtle of shows, but up until now its bluntness has generally been in the service of entropy, atrocity, catastrophe, depression, disillusion, failure, things falling apart. All of a sudden you're required to be okay with everything lining up just so to create...a happy ending?
* Now, don't get me wrong, I think this is simplifying it too much. The "happy ending" that would have been easiest for the show to do would have been the truce between the Fleet and Cavil's Cylons actually working out--they get the resurrection technology, we get left alone, everyone goes their separate ways, the end. The show complicated that by having Chief fuck it all up, straight-up murdering Tory for straight-up murdering Cally, who I'm given to understand is one of fandom's least favorite characters. Then there's all the complicating details about the role of the divine and the approach to technology that I listed above. Then there's the fact that the "happy ending" can only be understood as such if you put aside cultural conditioning regarding the importance of cultural continuity. So it really isn't just a bunch of too-neat, sledgehammer-subtle coincidences forcing us where the show wants us to go.
* In fact, the biggest risk the show takes in the finale is sending us in so different a direction in the first place. The audience of Battlestar Galactica has been trained to expect the worst--and now, in the finale, we're required to accept the best, however briefly it ends up lasting. In fact I've seen many complaints about that alone--that it's too happy an ending, that it's like kumbaya or something, that not enough non-"evil" characters die, and so on. I think that's the toughest thing for many people to swallow: Not only must you accept the coincidences or fate or whatever you call it, but you must accept them on behalf of an ending as emotionally wide-open and optimistic as those vistas of our unspoiled planet. You're either in the mood to resign yourself to hope, or you're not. I am.
* I report this out of a sense of obligation rather than any actual interest, but Sam Raimi says he still wants to do Evil Dead 4 and says he'd drag Bruce Campbell with him. Typically, MTV Movies Blog oversells this by blaring EXCLUSIVE and headlining it "Raimi insists Bruce Campbell and he will be back for a fourth ED film" when Raimin in fact does no such thing. This is annoying, and perhaps actively misleading given how firmly Campbell recently came out against the prospect of doing ED4. Please stop doing stuff like that, MTV Movies Blog.
* This ep was something of a return to form, no? Right down to the old-school Gossip Girl nature of the central shenanigans: Nate being rich, Vanessa being insufferably bohemian, Blair wearing lingerie and wrecking shop, Chuck oozing in and out of Serena's room while making gross comments, Lily the Former Nine Inch Nails Groupie and Rufus the Human Turtleneck being bad at romance, etc. It felt much more like Gossip Girl than that unfortunate school play/secret sex society tag-team last week.
* And yet I still find I don't have much to talk about. I mean, we're not exactly in "series finale of Battlestar Galactica territory here." God, how funny would that be? Still, "All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again" is a pretty good mantra for Gossip Girl.
* Once again, with that grifter guy already back off the show after just two episodes, you see how fast GG burns through storylines, particularly ones that involve guest stars. I wonder how long Grandfather and Cousin Trip will last.
* The thing I enjoyed the most about last night's episode was that Nate's family estate was filmed at Old Westbury Gardens, a lovely lovely old mansion with enormous and elaborate gardens here on Long Island that the Missus and I visit fairly frequently. She recognized it immediately.
* I also like how Serena slapped Dan for having sex with a teacher in the costume closet during the school play, then immediately thought the whole thing was hilarious, because that's what I thought!
To me, "Lick My Love Pump" is the single funniest gag in This Is Spinal Tap, because it's just so very, very, very, very, very, very stupid. The other night I came across it on the Internet and laughed so hard my stomach muscles got sore and I hurt my throat, and this is after seeing it however many times in the past.
* Eve Tushnet reviews the bloody blue bejesus out of Zack Snyder's Watchmenhere and here. (That second link is weird, but it should show you four separate posts on the movie.)
* Speaking of Watchmen, Curt Purcell continues to insist, Linda Richmon-like, that the "logical conclusions" of the superhero genre are neither logical nor conclusions. Discuss. Actually, I agree with Curt that "logical conclusion" is overstating the case a bit, since as he points out with a clever comparison of Dr. Manhattan to the Squadron Supreme's Hyperion, there are any number of ways "what would superheroes really do?" can be taken. But I think he brushes it all off a bit too completely. Most the the superhero stories we're discussing are self-contained; they can't take place in the corporate shared universes that exist, like DC or Marvel's, because they upset the delicate balancing act required by those universes. For example, Marvel prides itself on being a more "realistic" universe than DC's, so you can't have a President Nighthawk and you can't have Reed Richards phase out fossil fuels by having us fill our tanks with Kirby Krackle instead. DC has a set hierarchy in terms of which superheroes are the biggest deals, so you can't have a godlike supervillain like Black Adam just walk up to Batman and pull his head off, nor can you have Golden Age Flash be more popular than Wally West even though, as Tom Spurgeon once put it, that would sort of be like Babe Ruth coming out of retirement but people are still more interested in Derek Jeter. What the superhero stories that purport to take the genre to their "logical conclusions" do is take certain ideas inherent to the genre much, much further than the shared-universe structure could ever allow them to do without falling apart at the seams. In that sense they really would be "concluding" stories for those universes as we know them--which is why many of them are literally apocalyptic or Ragnarokian in nature even when removed from those universes. So there's definitely something more to such stories than simply being "a tour-de-force that takes superheroes remarkably far in a relatively unusual direction"--in many cases, certainly in the better cases, they really would break the average superhero comic if they were attempted in that context. But of course that's because of the various business considerations and weird historical quirks that led to the creation of the Marvel Universe and the ad hoc assembly of the DC Universe, and thence what was considered by superhero creators and fans to be "normal," not anything inherent to the genre per se.
An extraordinarily easy book to read, Asterios Polyp is, I'm finding, a nearly equally extraordinarily difficult book to talk about. Frankly I think I just feel out of my depth. For example, cartoonist David Mazzucchelli has a long history of making art comics in Europe, and I've flipped through a few in the store or off my buddy Josiah's shelf, but the only Mazzucchelli comics I've read from start to finish prior to this book are Batman Year One, Daredevil: Born Again, and that little comic with the spilled jar of ink he did for The Comics Journal Special Edition: Cartoonists on Cartooning. But hey, fine, I can fake it, I can certainly locate Asterios Polyp within the tradition of alternative comics. For exaple, it uses color and, to a certain extent, character design like a Dash Shaw webcomic or MOME contribution; it mixes imagery with external narrating text like Chris Ware, only with several orders of magnitude more room to breathe on the page, like Ware filmed in slow motion. That, I get.
What I'm having harder time with, where I feel really out of my depth, is in trying to locate the book's story content. Asterios Polyp is a highly lauded, award-winning "paper architect," i.e. a guy whose designs are awesome but have never actually been built, who divides his time between Manhattan and the Ithaca, NY university where he is a professor. We join his story already in progress, as a fire consumes his ratty, messy, porn(?)-soundtracked bachelor pad. Asterios does not pass Go, does not collect $200, proceeds directly from fleeing his apartment in the rain with his wallet and a handful of knicknacks and watching the fire department fight the fire down into the subway and back up and out at the Port Authority, where he takes a bus to the middle of nowhere and gets the first job he can find (as an auto mechanic) and crashpad he can find (renting a room from his boss at the auto shop). From there we bounce back and forth between revelatory events in the present day and key events in the life that led him there, mostly having to do with his ill-fated relationship with the talented but somewhat timid sculptor he was once married to.
In other words, it's very Woody Allen, very Philip Roth, very New Yorker. A sophisticated urban aesthete unsuccessfully balances the life of the mind with the life of his weiner and then wonders where it all went wrong; his life is contrasted with that of the spirited younger woman he can never quite get a handle on and various other sophisticated urban aesthetes whose arrogance and eccentricity he deplores yet cannot see within himself. And there's my problem: I know enough about that stuff to recognize the template, but I don't know enough of it to know if it goes beyond using the template into wholesale swiping and/or rote recapitulation. The best I can do is say "Well, this reminds me somewhat of the Woody/Alan Alda bits in Crimes & Misdemeanors." I'm simply not well-read enough in this area to comment beyond that. Ask me to speak authoritatively about the next Neil Marshall movie and I can probably handle that, but this? Donnie, you're out of your element.
What I can say with confidence, however, is that I enjoyed that story immensely. And a big part of that is because this isn't a Woody Allen film or a Philip Roth novel--it's a comic, and there's no mistaking it. Yeah, the basic story could be told in other ways, but if you wanted an illustration of that old saw that you should be able to look at a comic and determine why it's a comic and not a movie pitch or a short story, look no further. Mazzucchelli clearly had a blast drawing this thing.
My favorite ambitious graphic novels of recent vintage have been pretty manic and information-heavy in terms of the visual approach--Theo Ellsworth's Capacity and Josh Cotter's Skyscrapers of the Midwest spring to mind, and even Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button feels dense and claustrophobic compared much of his other recent work, if only for the lack of color. Asterios Polyp, on the other hand, is airy and light from start to finish, like giving your eyeballs a breath of fresh air. There are all kinds of panel layouts, splash pages, and stand-alone images here, popping right off the big white pages, and the CMYK colors are just a pleasure to look at.
Meanwhile, it's almost unspeakably clever. Mazzucchelli gives each major character and setting its own color scheme, that's apparent from the start--Asterios is bright blue, while his wife Hana is bright pink. But oh, the places Mazzucchelli goes with that! By the time Asterios takes Hana to meet his mother and invalid father, he's wearing a pink checkered jacket, while she has on a blue shirt. In a passage meant to illustrate how our memories slowly refine our original experiences "because every memory is a re-creation, not a playback," Asterios's remembered Hana slowly morphs from having a pink shirt on against a white background to wearing a blue shirt against a blue background. And in a much later scene which I'm going to try hard not to spoil, where the two encounter each other long after their divorce and after myriad transformative experiences, the color scheme is totally different--all oranges and greens. Meanwhile, "neutral zones" in both dreaming and waking life are yellow and purple. And let me assure you that as far as the use of color goes, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Then there are the countless clever references to the history and art of cartooning. Given our hero's occupation and preoccupations, there are quite a few mini-essays on architecture, philosophy, design, music...and they're drawn and lettered like something out of Understanding Comics. A Latina chef swats flies on the ceiling and looks like she could have gotten off the plane from Palomar yesterday, while her band's drummer sports a "Los Bros" sticker on his drumkit. Asterios's dapper in-his-youth father looks like he stepped out of a Seth comic. The Midwesterners who take Asterios in--Stiff Major and his zaftig wife Ursula, and no, Mazzucchelli is clearly not above having some Vonneguttian fun with names--could be thrown up on the screen in a Disney/Pixar production tomorrow. Hana I can't quite put my finger on, but she's got a distinct '50s/'60s illustration vibe, part Charles Addams part something else I'm too slow to pick up. Asterios himself is given to standing in profile and holding a cigarette like Eustace Tilley holds his monocle. His teaching career reads like Art School Confidential from the professor's perspective. (Student: "I'm thinking about adding fenestration to this planar surface...?" Asterios: "How about just putting a couple of windows in that wall?")
None of this would matter, or at least it would matter very little, if the comic weren't a series of emotional hooks and twists and high points and explosions, which it is. The dream sequences are uniformly strong, with one involving a flooded subway station-cum-dock so evocatively drawn--thick washes of purple ink, rough crosshatching for one of the first times in the whole book--that I could practically hear the echoing slosh of the water in the tunnels. Asterios's unique, virtually constant headshape (how have I not talked about this until now?) essentially requires him to be drawn in profile, so the few times we see him turn toward us (again in a dream sequence, notably!) are stop-and-pay-attention moments. The book's bravura sequence (you'll hear about this a lot) condenses the couple's entire life together into a series of snapshot images of Hana's various movements and bodily secretions; here's one case where my familiarity with this technique bred nothing but admiration for seeing it so well done. The ending...I'll say I imagine it will be controversial and leave it at that, but I got a kick out of it.
The real knockout moment for me, though, came during the pivotal argument that stories like this inevitably include, the storm that built for years yet ultimately came out of nowhere and nothing was the same after that. You spend the build-up to it noticing that something is awry, something in the way Hana has been drawn, something in the way there seem to be two or three things going on at once in the interactions between Hana, Asterios, and the other characters involved (including a memorable little imp named Willy Ilium in the book's Clare Quilty role). Once it gets going, once the pink-and-blue color scheme starts shifting appropriately and the linework and coloring get scratchier and choppier and angrier, you're rooting for Hana all the way, you think that finally the beef you've been accumulating on her behalf is going to get the apocalyptic airing it deserves. And then...and then...BAM, a line you just did not see coming at all, making it all the more devastating, because after all, neither did Asterios. I think this particular exchange may open the book up to charges that it embraces the same sexism it nominally deplores in its characters, but to me it's the human element that comes through, not the gendered one. I read this scene and said "My God" out loud on the train. (You really need to read the book to get what I'm talking about, I suppose, and it doesn't come out until June so unless you somehow ended up with a review copy months ago like I did I guess that's difficult, but do me a favor, bookmark this and come back later and see if you think I'm right, okay?)
I may not know ahhht, is I suppose what I'm saying, but I know what I like. And I like Asterios Polyp a lot. It's certainly a book to savor. I suspect it's a book to treasure. I guess it wasn't that hard to talk about after all.
* I don't have any idea why, but apparently I never linked to my friend Kiel Phegley's epic interview with Art Spiegelman. Done and done. Say what you will about Spiegelman's blend of self-effacement and ego--saying nobody wanted what he was doing in Breakdowns with one breath, taking credit for Chris Ware, Richard Maguire, Alan Moore, and Scott McCloud with the next--but I just plain found it refreshing to hear a titan of comics say things like "I didn't know much about manga at the time [I did Maus]." It happens! And this quote is a killer:
My experience with therapy is that it’s more like vomiting stuff up, finding things and just throwing them out. The process of making a work is like if you ran a movie of someone vomiting in reverse, you take the chunks and internalize them.
And so is this, holy moses is it ever:
My friend Tom DeHaven put it well. He’s a writer who did a novel called The Funny Papers – the Wizard audience might’ve seen his Superman novel. At some point he said, “Well, a writer is someone who enjoys having written,” and that seemed about right to me.
* I'm starting to think Tim O'Neil's promise to review Kingdom Come is an elaborate hoax, like Joaquin Phoenix's hip-hop career. But this latest installment actually comes pretty close, discussing among other things the character of Magog, his design, and his modus operandi versus that of other traditional and '90s-era heroes and anti-heroes. Tim's post also raises one of the classic corporate-superhero questions--"Why doesn't Batman or some Gotham cop kill the Joker?"--that lead to the "logical conclusions" superhero-comic subgenre we were discussing yesterday. Speaking of, Curt Purcell continues to question the utility of that label in the comments.
* One of my favorite Lost-fandom running gags is whenever anyone talks about what a badass Sayid is, I give a quick rundown of every time this supposed badass has gotten his ass handed to him. Locke brained him when it looked like he'd fixed the radio, he got captured by Rousseau, the Others snuck past him and attacked the boat, he got captured by the Iraqi expat married to the woman he tortured in one of his flashbacks, he got captured by the Others in New Otherton, he got captured by the Others on the beach, he got captured by Locke in New Otherton, he got shot by his girlfriend who was Widmore's double agent, he got shot by the mystery thugs who were chasing him and Sayid, he got captured by Jin and Radzinsky, and now, finally, he got captured by the bounty hunter lady with the big hair. So when an entire episode centers on the notion that being a ruthlessly efficient killing machine is the only thing Sayid is good at, I'm just like, "compared to what?"
* That said, I thought it was a fairly meaty episode, giving Sayid some explicit worldweariness that we haven't seen from him in a while. It actually makes his relative profligacy with the ladies make a bit more sense. (For someone obsessed with the love of his life for years, he's sure gotten a lotta tail before and since; in sheer numerical terms he's slept with as many women on the show as Sawyer has.) It also makes perfect sense that he'd take this opportunity to kill young Ben, and that he'd feel both justified and totally disgusted about it.
* I assume "the Island isn't done with Ben yet" and he'll pull a Locke/Wolverine in short order. Otherwise we'll have some Marty McFly-style fading out of existence to do for some of the character.s
* Yo, the promo for this week's episode totally doctored Juliet's line to Kate so it made it sound like she was telling Kate to stay away instead of making fun of the idea that she'd tell Kate to stay away! Dirty pool! And a much less interesting exchange than what we actually saw. Yay for the show, boo for the network promo people.
* I liked the idea that Ann Arbor, of all places, is the seat of a sinister conspiracy. When do you suppose is the last time a person namedropped "Ann Arbor" in order to intimidate someone?
* And when was the last time E.B. Farnum intimidated someone? Other than Richardson, I mean.
* So, I was entertained, but there were also some pretty rote bits. The bait-and-switch with the two Iraqi kids was something you could see coming a mile away (and something they already did with Eko and Yemi, but more powerfully and disturbingly and convincingly since they had to kill a person, not a chicken). So was the bit with Horace and the wirecutters and the handcuffs, which I'm pretty sure this show has done before but which you could also trace to the creepy Nazi's clothes hanger in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Meanwhile, the source of Ben and Sayid's falling-out was that Ben ran out of people for Sayid to kill? That was the big betrayal that made Sayid realize Ben was evil and manipulative all along? Also, some random bounty hunter from Guam can keep Sayid under wraps long enough to get him through airport security and on a plane? Pretty undercooked.
* The thing I appreciated the most was when Sawyer really did risk Sayid's life, or at the very least his comfort and freedom, in order to preserve his own life with Juliet and the Dharma Bums. That's precisely the right balance for his "100 days with the castaways/three years with Horace" life story to lead him to, and good for the show for acknowledging that in this way.
* Well, this is interesting. Normally I suppose I'd be up in arms over the news that Battlestar Galactica mastermind Ronald D. Moore's script for the prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing is getting a rewrite. But look who's doing the rewriting: Eric Heisserer, whom longtime readers of ADDTF's horrorblog incarnation may recognize as the author of the brilliantly frightening webfiction project Dionaea House. Obviously Heisserer hasn't led the shuttering of a proposed Dionaea House film adaptation hold him down--he's apparently also done some work on the remake/reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
* Kiel Phegley speaks to incoming Daredevil writer Andy Diggle. The interview is short on details about the project, as you'd expect from PR for a book that hasn't even begun yet, but I'm still interested insofar as Daredevil has somewhat improbably become Marvel's benchmark of quality over the past few decades, and I'm hoping that Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker's excellent runs are followed up by something equally entertaining.
* Todd VanDerWerff's weekly Lost review is worth a read as always; this time around he discusses something I surely noticed but hadn't quite articulated for myself regarding the structure of last night's episode. something that may have made it feel a bit less fresh than its immediate predecessors.
* Your quote of the day:
If I could ask any of the 3 most recent presidents just one question, the question would be:
“It’s well known that you tried illegal drugs at some point in your life. Would the world be a better place if you had gone to prison and gotten a permanent black mark on your record for that youthful experimentation? If not, then why are you so determined to send young men and women to prison for the same mistakes that you yourself made and then moved past?”
Alfred, Capucine, Jerome d'Aviau, Virginie Augustin, Vince, Rica, Olivier Vatine, Cyril Pedrosa, Dominique Bertail, Dave McKean, artists
108 pages, hardcover
$19.95 Buy it from NBM/Eurotica Buy it from Amazon.com
Gloria Leonard said that the difference between pornography and erotica is lighting; it stands to reason that in comics, the difference between pornography and erotica is linework. First Time, then, is definitely erotica. This collection of sexually graphic vignettes features high-class, high-quality European artists whose styles will be instantly familiar to readers of alt/art/lit comics here in the States, even if the artists themselves (most of them pseudonymous, I think) are not. But best of all, a couple of them are familiar. Yep, "Cyril Pedrosa" is indeed Three Shadows Cyril Pedrosa! And Dave McKean is indeed "Neil Gaiman" Dave McKean! Maybe it's just me, but I think seeing cartoonists whose mainstream work you know and admire get smutty is one of life's simple pleasures, like discovering the lovely but respectable actor you're crushing on did an extensive nude scene back when everything was at its youngest and most pert.
Indeed, the reclamation of the erotic as something respectable comics creators can depict and respectable comics readers can discuss is something of a hobbyhorse of mine. Shouldn't sex be something we tackle at least as often and as directly and with at least as much sophistication as we deal with violence and misery? Heck, shouldn't it be something we tackle independently from violence in misery? This is a pretty terrific step in all those directions. In addition to bonafide critics' darlings Pedrosa and McKean, every artist looks like they could have stepped out of a Petit Livre from Drawn & Quarterly or one of Fantagraphics' Blab! storybooks or MOME guest spots.
Writer Sibylline seems to have either tailored the material to her collaborators or picked them to suit the material. "First Time," a sweet story of a girl's deflowering that comes with a funny twist ending, has an appropriately Top Shelf-ish vibe courtesy of the angular cartooning of artist Alfred, while the more self-indulgent topic matter of "Sex Shop" and "Fantasy" earn the more voluptuous, outwardly sexy curved lines of Capucine and Jerome d'Aviau respectively. "1+1"'s story of a first-time girl-on-girl hook-up and the subsequent disappointment it engenders in one of its participants gets an animated look from artist Virginie Augustin, which nicely supports its initial whimsy and free-spiritedness and eventual heartbreak. "2+1", with its tangle of bodies in a cramped apartment, slowly evolves from Tim Sale to Aeon Flux courtesy of artist Vince. Rica's "Nobody," the most Robin Bougie-ish of the stories what with its sex-doll subject matter, also boasts the most Robin Bougie-ish art, while Olivier Vatine's "Club," appropriately enough, reminds me of that New X-Men issue where Chris Bachalo helped reimagine the Hellfire Club as a strip joint in a tip of the hat to its NYC namesake. For those who've read the sweet, sensitive Three Paradoxes, Pedrosa's aptly titled "Submission" may come as a shock, what with all the deep-throating and spanking and following orders to go look in the mirror with a mouth full of semen, but then again I think it was clear from that graphic novel's bold visuals that Pedrosa could pull off pretty much anything. Dominique Bertail's "Sodomy" has the most traditional sex comix look, I think, but its gender-reversal subject matter is strong enough that matter-of-factness is an apt stylilstic choice. Finally, McKean's "X-Rated" combines manipulated film stills with cubist kama-sutra positioning for something that wouldn't have looked out of place in a deleted Arkham Asylum scene where the Joker watched Batman get it on with Poison Ivy over the closed-circuit cameras. The whole project is a bit undercut by slightly wooden translation work from Joe Johnson, but only a bit. Overall it made me wish that more work like this was being produced. If you like your smut smart and your art sexy, seek this out.
* I haven't talked about this yet I don't think, but over the past little while a lot of my friends at Wizard lost their jobs. This includes the whole staff of Anime Insider, and over at the Wiz proper it includes David Paggi and Rachel Molino, the two remaining altcomix-interested staffers. This is all a bummer for various obvious reasons. My pal Rob Bricken has a nice eulogy for AI. On a similar note, I liked Douglas Wolk's post on Blender, which was canceled the same day as Anime Insider.
* Tim O'Neil concludes his review-of-Kingdom-Come-by-way-of-a-bunch-of-different-posts by explaining "momentism" as a school of superhero writing. This is pretty goddamn dead on. During my years at Wizard, the search for iconic/badass/jaw-dropping moments in superhero comics, splash pages or action beats or lines of dialogue that functioned not just in getting across something necessary to the story but also in encapsulating just what makes Superhero So-and-So so cool/tragic/scary/inspiring/whatever, was absolutely paramount for writers and readers alike.
Sleep / Displaced / Rise / November / For the Sake of the Song / No Sings of Pain / Trees Keep Growing / Favorite Cities / The Drinks We Drank Last Night / Just a Faint Line / These White Lights Will Bend to Make Blue / Raining in Athens / Rest Your Eyes / Hold On Love / Other Than This World
Azure Ray are/were one of my all-time favorite bands. Among artists who were still a going concern this decade they actually are my favorite, them and Underworld. Azure Ray is/was singers/songwriters Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, with production assists by Andy LeMaster. Taylor and Fink split up a few years back to pursue solo projects that I'd also recommend and songs from which I nearly included in this mix; happily, they recently announced that they're writing and playing together again in hopes of putting the group back together, so if you like what you hear here and exhaust their four releases--Azure Ray, Burn and Shiver, November, and Hold On Love--there will hopefully be more in store.
When my love for a particular band is very intense it gets difficult for me to describe exactly what it is I love so much about it. That's not the case for movies or comics or anything else, just music. I can say that Azure Ray play largely acoustic music with an electronic veneer, kind of folk-y, lots of delicate girl-girl harmonies, a touch of Southern gothic, lyrics about memory and longing. I think the best way to put it is that if I were a glass and Azure Ray were a tuning fork, the frequency of their emotional content would shatter me.
The first thing I thought during my initial flip-through of Jin & Jam was "Boy, this person sure likes Taiyo Matsumoto." Then I started reading from the beginning and the first thing I saw was an epigraph from Black & White, aka Tekkon Kinkreet, by Taiyo Matsumoto. So it's not like Hellen Jo is trying to hide the influence, which emerges not just in the wiry art and leering character designs but in the plot itself, involving various paired-off tweenage characters gettin' in trouble and stickin' it to the man. But we're not in Matsumoto's sprawling dystopian future cityscape, we're in a cramped, just-left-of-normal version of San Jose, California. And that's where I start to detect another, subtler influence: Jaime Hernandez and the Locas of Love & Rockets. As we watch Jam, Hank, Jin, Ting, and Terng do the shiftless-layabout teenage-wasteland thing, we observe little details about their California culture: the junk-food diets, the bike-riding cops with bike helmets and short-shorts, the angry Korean Presbyterian preachers and so on. Meanwhile, the fact that the title of the book is Jin & Jam even though when we meet Jam she's already paired off with Hank indicates that there will be some kind of emotional shift taking place, breaking up or truncating one friendship as another blossoms. We even start to see it happen by the end of the book: As Jin and Jam take a fantastical ride on a swing set under the stars, the faces of their "friends" literally vanish, leaving Jin & Jam as the only real people in the book's final splash page. Is this Tekkon Kinkreet or Wigwam Bam or just a jack of both trades but master of neither? Too soon to tell, but are you not entertained regardless?
I've been thinking a lot about what's happening on Lost these days. You can't know for sure until the show wraps up, but right now it seems like the actions of the characters--Sayid shooting Young Ben, for example, or Daniel's disappearance, or the presence of Horace "I built Jacob's cabin" Goodspeed--are edging closer and closer toward impacting the show's central mysteries--the nature of the power struggle between the Hostiles/Others and the Dharma Initiative, the nature of the time fluctuations, the role of Jacob and so on. That's gotten me in more of a theorizing mentality than I've been with the show in years. Actually, "theorizing" is too strong a word--speculating is more like it.
Anyway, my brother Ryan and I recently had a brief exchange about the show along these lines, and we thought people might get something out of it. We also continue making fun of Sayid, which is always a good time.
1) One of my blog commenters, Dustin Harbin, postulated that perhaps the time frame that Sun, Ben, Lapidus, and the new castaways from the Ajira flight--the one with the run-down "Others Village" with all the Dharma stuff still up but decaying--is an alternate timeline created when Sayid shot Young Ben. If Ben is dead, the Others never conquer the Dharma Initiative, which means Dharma signs and photos and stuff would still be intact--they must have died out some other way. I think that's a pretty interesting theory, but I tend to believe Daniel when he says that you can't change the timestream because by definition, whatever happened already happened. The one exception might be Desmond, who Daniel says is "special." So if Dez had assassinated Li'l Ben I'd have an easier time swallowing this theory.
2) Here's my theory, well, more of an idea than a theory: I wonder if Daniel is Jacob. He seems to have disappeared, he obviously knows a lot about the Island, he's kind of a tragic case at this point (hence the one line we've heard directly from Jacob: "Help me"), and he has a beard.
I just had a similar conversation with one of my co-workers.
Until they confirm that Ben is dead on screen, I don't believe he is dead. Sayid should have put one in his head when he is standing over him. Like, how retarded is that?
But it's odd that when Sun and Frank go to the barracks, it still has Dharma Initiative stuff all over. When Ben wiped out Dharma, he took over the barracks, and there were never any signs of the Dharma processing center when the Others were living there. When Christian Shephard goes to one of the buildings, there are pictures on the walls, still hanging, of all the new recruits every year for Dharma. You think Ben left that shit up? So I think the future was somehow altered by whatever is going on now in 1977. But we don't know for sure. It could just be that we never saw that building.
So I do not believe that Sayid killed Ben. However, I also picked up on the fact that the barracks have been altered. No way Ben leaves Dharma Initiative photos up on the walls, etc.
Something has altered the future. I am assuming that you are right about Desmond being the one that finishes off Ben for good. A few reasons - I think it is safe to believe that Ben killed Penny prior to boarding the Ajira flight. He calls Jack from the LA docks (Penny and Desmond travel the world on a boat) and is covered in blood and looks like he has been in a huge struggle. Before that scene, he told Jack he was attending to business. A promise he had to keep with an old friend (could that line sound any more like Luke to R2?).
Desmond - Eloise told Desmond that his dealings with the Island were not over, i.e. You are going to have to kill Ben, Desmond. This happened when Desmond stormed out of the Dharma station in LA.
I think you are spot on with your theory that Desmond is the one that kills Ben. Thus altering the future. This confirms Daniel saying that Desmond was special. Also, if Desmond is "special," are you to assume that it is a coincidence that he is Daniel's constant? Perhaps your theory about Daniel being Jacob is also correct. That I am not sure of yet however.
Agreed about Sayid not getting in a few headshots when Li'l Ben is just lying there on the ground. Sayid can't even kill a 12-year-old properly.
Does making fun of geek culture make you more or less of a geek yourself? I think the answer is pretty obviously "more." The following two projects of mine that went live over the past 24 hours are ample evidence.
First up, here's the official, giant-sized debut episode of Marvel Superheroes: What The--?!, Marvel.com's new stop-motion animated action-figure comedy series, which I co-wrote. It's loaded with friends and former co-workers of mine: Animator and head writer Alex Kropinak, co-writer Jon Gutierrez, voice actors Ben Morse and Ryan Penagos. Also, MODOK throws up. (Spoiler alert!)
* David Cronenberg is working on a sequel to Eastern Promises. I totally sympathize with the folks who want Dave to go back to gonzo body-horror, but it turns out he's a terrific director of crackling, grim, violent (comparatively straightforward) thrillers who also seems intent on providing Viggo Mortensen with material that's his equal, so I'm not complaining. (Hey Hollywood: If you must remake The Long Good Friday, there are better choices out there than Paul W.S. Anderson.)
* When it comes to the trailer for Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, I'm with Carles.
* Douglas Wolk prophesies the coming of the Celestial Jukebox, the "any song, in any order, available instantly anywhere" online music repository of our collective dreams--he says it's inevitable, that its constituent parts are already here, and the question is simply whether it will be legal or not.
I am a 25 year old married man, college graduate, eventual grad school student. Got a good/stable job working with my father, active in my Church and all around nice guy. I also enjoy marijuana in moderation. It does not make me lazy. I do not have to have it. I only do it on one or two nights a week. But I enjoy it. It makes the nights I do it all the more enjoyable. It adds zest to life. I am a lover of film and music and it makes my viewing/listening all the more life affirming.
My husband and I often muse, while smoking pot, that the only thing we are doing wrong is breaking the law. If that is the only wrong you are committing it seems clear that it's not your behavior that needs to be re-evaluated, but the law itself.
* Quote of the day #3:
"Let's start with a premise that I don't think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have five percent of the world's population; we have 25 percent of the world's known prison population. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice."