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.
Dragon Head Vols. 1-5
Minetaro Mochizuki, writer/artist
232-248 pages each
$9.99 each Buy them from Amazon.com
Originally written on February 21, 2007 for publication in The Comics Journal
First, an admission: If it's the post-apocalypse, I'll eat it.
Second, an assertion: Even discounting my bias, Dragon Head is one of the most compulsively readable manga to reach an appreciable non-otaku audience (or at least this member thereof) in quite some time.
I found this somewhat surprising given DH's shaky start. Its first two volumes focus on an overbaked, if gut-level-gripping, high concept: Three high-school students are the sole survivors of a catastrophic train wreck in a collapsed tunnel deep underground. At this early stage the characters come out of Battle Royale central casting: Older boy Teru tries to do the right thing despite his mounting panic, younger nerd Nobuo bugs out and start doing things with knives and dead bodies, damsel in distress Ako is disarmingly wounded and pretty and ultimately more sensible than her two male companions combined, that sort of thing. Nobuo in particular is played to the cheap seats, going from zero to Lord of the Flies in the space of the first volume. Smart, detail-driven moment, like Ako awakening from a two-day coma to discover she'd gotten her period while she was unconscious and nearly going to pieces because her tampons were lost in the rubble, are few and far between.
By contrast, Mochizuki's cartooning is vivid, memorable, even sensual, and seems to be where he's deriving most of his pleasure here. However weak the psychological underpinnings of Nobuo's freakout may be, Mochizuki renders its end result, the demonic face and body markings the kid gives himself using dead girls' makeup, with graphic glee. Nearly wordless sequences throughout the second volume in which he chases Ako and later strips and paints her unconscious body utilize predatory pacing and intelligent image choices (a sharply turned head, a hand on a breast) to portray adolescent pre-sexuality gone vicious and sour. Mochizuki also evokes the impenetrable with evident relish, be it the walls of stone that hem the survivors in, the darkness that the kids are always trying to stave off with flashlights, lighters, and torched bottles of booze, or the mass of upturned seats, broken glass, torn-up backpacks and mangled limbs that fills the wreckage of the train.
Indeed, Mochizuki's zeal for colossal depictions of the man-versus-nature conflict (a surprisingly rare sight in comics, for some reason) gives rise to a fairly major problem with Tokyopop's translation work: In a world where so much action is the result of massive, indistinguishable walls of steam, stone, water, flame, earth, mud, and/or ash threatening to consume our protagonists, would it really be too much to ask for the publisher to translate the damn sound effects? They don't even have to replace the Japanese characters--just run an English translation in smaller print alongside them and you'd be good to go. As it stands, without a telltale "RRRRUMBLE" or "HISSSSSSSSSSS" or "FWOOOOOSH," the book's many otherwise-silent sequences of natural disaster are extremely difficult to parse. Is that an ominous groan or an imminent collapse we're hearing? Are Ako and Teru being overwhelmed by water or smoke or heat or their own overactive imaginations? All too frequently, if you don't understand the kanji, your guess is as good as mine.
But all is forgiven once the inevitable showdown between sanity and face-painting, darkness-worshipping lunacy is over and the surviving kids finally make it to the surface world. We're not entirely safe from wonky mental breakdowns yet; both Ako and Teru will, at varying points throughout the remaining volumes, weave in and out of catatonia or psychosis without much rhyme or reason. But as soon as they discover that whatever happened to their train tunnel happened to pretty much the entire rest of the world, the backdrop of their story expands exponentially, and their characters feel similarly enlarged. Their existential horror upon realizing that the atmosphere is full of enough soot to choke out the midday sun, their subsequent dazed, fumbling search for food, water, and news of the world, and Mochizuki's you-can-taste-the-ash-in-your-mouth art for the sequence, are just the first signs that the book's comparatively shallow action-thriller days are behind it. Had the book continued in that vein you might have expected the pair to become a cutesy, thrown-together-by-circumstance couple; instead their bond seems deeper and truer, driven by an instinctual need to survive and see that the other survives as well.
Sure enough, the greatest obstacle to their mutual survival turns out to be other people. Once again this could have been a minefield of cliche, but Teru and Ako's dreamily horrifying journey among the human detritus of their dead world is where the book really takes off. A group of similar kids appears friendly, if slightly off, only for our heroes to discover that they blithely worship the "demon" they blame for the apocalypse they've experienced in a hard-to-shake ceremony involving gas masks and fireworks. A middle-aged woman in a motorcycle helmet takes them in, carving out a quiet, stately interlude for characters and reader alike in a refreshingly un-motherly way. Even the inevitable soldiers gone feral largely steer clear of the same old poses--granted, that's how they start out, but soon a pair of them are joined with Ako and Teru more or less as equals, behaving and interacting as unpredictably as one suspects people in the real world would.
Through it all, the spectre of Nobuo hangs over Teru in particular, sometimes all but subliminally (one tremendous four-panel sequence shows Teru lying unconscious in the distance of identical shots of a rubble-filled scene, changing only in the fourth panel when Nobuo appears out of nowhere, mockingly squatting beside the body of his rival). He's far more convincing and frightening an enemy when he's treated as a source of guilt (why couldn't Teru get his act together and save the poor kid, he wonders) than as a source of law-of-the-jungle fear. Mochizuki's attention to detail regarding the headgear of the characters whom Teru and Ako stumble across later (they always seem to be sporting earphones or gas masks or baseball caps or motorcycle helmets or something) echoes Nobuo's self-transformed skull and hints at whatever the title may really mean (by the end of Vol. 5, the only explicit reference is in the mutterings of an apparent lobotomy victim).
The overall effect is a nightmarish picaresque, like a cross between Children of Men and Apocalypse Now. With each volume better than the one before it, the perambulating structure pays off in spades. Get through the tunnel and you'll want to see where the journey ends up.
* My pal Kiel Phegley reviews Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer's Biff Bam Pow! #1. In so doing he explains the process by which indie/alt comics got covered at Wizard, bemoans the dearth of genuine action scenes in modern comics (as opposed to just splash-page fight scenes), acknowledges the sad reality of all-ages comics, recalls how his Wizard interview with Dorkin became one of the ones that got away, and touches on various other topics of interest.
* First things first: April 20th? Way to schedule, CW!
* I think the Missus put it best when it comes to Vanessa-Chuck: "This is what Vanessa needed. Finally, she's interesting! All it took was the magic of Chuck."
* I think I can get behind the Nate-Blair rematch, too. Better than Nate-Vanessa, that's for sure, and you've got to have a good reason to put off Chuck-Blair.
* I only just realized that Poppy Lipton wasn't some real-life NYC socialite making a cameo like Jay McInerney or something. Instead she was just another underbaked Gossip Girl bit part. I don't know why they keep introducing characters just to not use them or develop them.
* Serena's getting a bit annoying. This party story was kind of lackluster and lame for her. However, I did enjoy her getting her comeuppance via Jenny's kegger pals. I can't imagine her getting married in Spain is going to improve things.
* "We're not in need?" "It's all relative." Indeed, Humphreys. Indeed.
* Dan getting a fan letter from his believed-dead half-brother is a bit of a coinkydink even for a show where people routinely bump into their friends while walking around Manhattan.
* I liked the introduction of another Polish servant. That's definitely what Gossip Girl was missing.
* How about an Eric-Jonathan make-out session? Or any kind of physical intimacy whatsoever?
* I feel like I'm complaining a lot but I actually enjoyed this episode. I think it's just that I'm writing this in the middle of America's Next Top Model, which is so bad it has me grumpy about everything.
* I really enjoyed this episode. It threaded a ton of needles with a slew of loose ends, all rather effortlessly I thought. On the Kate side, you found out what Sawyer whispered and got some movement regarding his ex and his daughter. You found out how and why Kate gave up Aaron. You got some resolution for Claire's poor grandma/Christian's poor babymama. And best of all you found out why Kate returned: to find Claire!
* This last part really made me happy because I just tend to like it when shows find a way to make a big deal out of smaller characters. Now one of our core players is on a quest to track down Ms. Stay Away From Me and the Bay-bee Chah-lie. Hopefully this will keep Kate busy enough not to fuck up Sawyer and Juliet and not get dragged into another thing with Jack. It also suggests that Claire's status is going to become more central to the plot, which I appreciate. I do wonder whether this mean's Aaron's all that special after all, whether he'll be back on the Island at some point or whether he's just going to stay with Grandma, but hey.
* Meanwhile, on the Dharma/Others/Island end of things, you obviously see how and why Ben survives Sayid's assassination attempt. You get another callback to the Temple and whatever the hell goes on in there, presumably some supernatural brainwashing process like what Rousseau believed the monster did to her crew. You find out that not only did Ben not remember Sayid, but you also find out why that's the case--I assumed that he did remember but just hid it.
* And finally, of course, you get the big payoff moment between Ben and Locke. The look of panic on Ben's face was almost as priceless as the look of confidence on Locke's. Payback's a bitch, I hope!
* When you think of the sheer number of balls this episode kept in the air, the sheer number of other episodes it referred back to, it's really flabbergasting. Sawyer's whisper, Sawyer's conned ex-girlfriend, the surgery storyline from the part of Season Three that everyone but me hated, Ben's first meeting with Richard, his mother's death in childbirth, the oft-seen scene where Ben tells them they all need to go back, the Christian/Claire/Aaron lineage, the red herring with Mrs. Littleton and Ben's lawyer, presumably Juliet's history with Ben and that "you look just like her" line from the woman whose husband Juliet was schtupping, all the time-travel meta-discussion between Hurley and Miles, some mentions of Ellie and Charles running the show for the Others, Claire giving birth to Aaron, Claire disappearing, the big lie about 815, the fame of the Oceanic Six--if they'd somehow worked in Boone and Shannon, or Eko and Yemi, or the Adam & Eve skeletons and their black and white stones, I wouldn't have been surprised.
* Heck, they even gave us a visual reference to that episode where Kate was married to the Joss Whedon guy by putting her back in a supermarket. Between those two episodes, I don't know what it is about the lighting in grocery stores, but hubba hubba, Kate should go shopping more often.
* They're also answering questions a lot faster than they used to, now that they know that they can. So we find out what happened to Kate and Aaron just a handful of episodes after that first became an issue, just like we learned how Sayid got arrested by big-haired lady, just like I presume we'll find out how Hurley ended up on the plane before the season's out too. But where I felt this the most was when they showed Richard walking into the Temple with Ben, where a couple of seasons ago he'd have just walked off and we'd be left wondering where he took him and what he did with him. I've always enjoyed the show no matter how long they left various mysteries out there, but this new economy of storytelling is pretty satisfying.
* Given the amount of superhero comics I read, this business about whether or not it's right to kill Young Ben/let Young Ben die is the kind of thing I've thought about and talked about more than is perhaps healthy. Yet the show doesn't dwell on it all that much--we're clearly supposed to feel Jack is a dick for washing his hands of the affair, and we're clearly supposed to think Sawyer, Juliet, and Kate are doing the right thing by trying to save his life, even if that means he's going to make their lives a living hell 30 years later and murder dozens of people some time before that. The thing that's tricky about this sort of story is that while the normal, real-world concept of preemptive strikes involves a degree of uncertainty, time-travelers or clairvoyants or whatever actually know what will happen if they don't make their move. Sure, it's cold-blooded to shoot a 12-year-old or leave him to die on an operating table, but it's also cold-blooded to condemn a bunch of hippie scientists in jumpsuits to an agonizing death by chemical weapons--not to mention Ana-Lucia, Libby, the redshirts, everyone on the freighter, etc. When I hear commercials for that Wanted movie say "Kill one, save one thousand" I want to kill myself, but here it's a more ethically dicey situation.
* Do you think we'll ever see that stewardess who joined the Others again? Or the kids? That was kind of a big deal, wasn't it? That image of the Others dragging the teddy bear along?
* I liked it when they cut to commercial on the tableau of everyone in the house after Jack refused to help Young Ben the same way I liked it when they cut to commercial on Sawyer's smiling face after Juliet helped Amy give birth to Aaron: It was something different in terms of what they cut to commercial on. Usually you get a close-up on someone who just said or did (usually said) something shocking, or a close-up on the shocked face of someone who just heard or saw (usually heard) the other person say or do (usually say) something shocking. In the case of the Sawyer Smiles cut, he was reacting to good news, which almost no one ever gets on this show. In the case of this tableau, it was a group reacting, in long shot, to the shocking statement. It just makes me happy when you get a little difference like that--it shows that the people who make the show are still alert and kicking.
Okay, this is actually getting a little weird by now: I've been listening to King Crimson more or less nonstop since I put that mix together a couple of weekends ago. This is putting me in a bizarre, intense headspace. So many of Crimso's songs rely on mechanistic repetition and build that listening to them almost demands repetition itself--I can't count how many times I've listened to "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II" over the past couple of days, for example--and the overall effect is similar to standing with your face a few inches away from some horrible giant industrial machine that could fly apart at any moment.
I've been tapping into YouTube to dig up what live versions I can find, and unfortunately a pretty tremendous Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford-era version of "Larks'...Part II" I'd planned on posting got disappeared due to copyright infringement in the time it took me to get home from work last night. However, this gives me an excuse to post this cover version by students from Utah's Paul Green School of Rock. While the Belew-centric version by KC themselves pushed the song into the crystalline post-punk sound of the band in that time, these kids just go metal on its ass, bringing out the proto-Alice in Chains skronk from the original. What it must be like to be a proud parent in the audience!
* Here's quite an array of artcomix badassery: Frank Santoro, Lauren Weinstein, Dan Nadel, CF, Yuichi Yokoyama. (Via Comics Comics.)
* A leaked email from Magnolia Pictures reveals the studio's sentiment regarding the blog-generated kerfuffle over the subtitles for Let the Right One In: STFU. Look, it's entirely possible that this is much ado about nothing, all the from the side-by-sides I've seen the theatrical subtitles seem demonstrably superior. (The email claims the DVD subs are more literal translations; who knows?) But the blogs this email bashes are the same blogs that told all and sundry that Let the Right One In was the best horror movie of the year, if not the best movie period. (Via Jason Adams.)
All of this is a lot of rambling preamble to say that “Whatever Happened, Happened,” written by series masterminds Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse and directed by Bobby Roth, was another solid hour in what’s shaping up to be a very well-done middle run of episodes for this show’s fifth season. It’s rare to have a show have a creative renaissance this late in its life, but Lost, most likely reinvigorated by knowing where it’s ending and roughly where it’s going, is crackling along like it never has before. Here’s a measure of just how much fun I had with “Whatever Happened, Happened”: Basically nothing HAPPENED in the episode, but I still was completely engaged throughout. And, after all of my complaining about how boring and useless such episodes were earlier this season, this was a KATE (Evangeline Lilly) episode that not only managed to tell a compelling story but also utilized flashbacks to Kate’s off-Island life about as well as they can be used. I haven’t looked into it all that thoroughly, but I daresay this was the best Kate episode of them all. Granted, it’s kind of a low bar, but the show took an awfully big step over that bar.
Comics Time: Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941
Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941
Greg Sadowski, editor
Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, George E. Brenner, Ken Fitch, Fred Guardineer, Bill Everett, Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Dick Briefer, Jack Kirby, Fletcher Hanks, Irv Novick, Jack Cole, Al Bryant, Ogden Whitney, Gardner Fox, Mart Bailey, Basil Wolverton, Joe Simon, writers/artists
$24.99 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
Looked at strictly as an archival project, this Greg Sadowski-edited and designed anthology of early superhero comics is, like Paul Karasik's Fletcher Hanks collection and DC's Jack Kirby omnibuses before it, a real "here's how it's done" moment. Entertaining, left-field subject matter; eye-pleasing design; tactile paper stock; color technique and reproduction values that neither hide the material behind the haze of nostalgia nor try to mask its primitive origins with out-of-place high-gloss modernity; manageable length and heft; art presented at a powerful but not brobdingnagian size. The ongoing efforts of the aforementioned editors and publishers, along with the likes of Dan Nadel and Craig Yoe, truly have us living in the Golden Age of Reprints.
But how does the thing read? Well, generally speaking. I have to admit I don't feel that the book is quite the revelation that, say, Jog argues it to be. Taken as a whole the early superhero comics reproduced here lack both the transcendent artistry and metaphorical/philosophical vision of Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus and the eerie, obsessive-compulsive, barely checked madness of Hanks's I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! Meanwhile, though the wordy foreword by Jonathan Lethem makes much of how these protean efforts present an array of paths not taken by the more codified superhero stories that followed, those of us who've put a lot of time into reading modern superhero comics and nearly as much into arguing on their behalf are used to hunting down fruitfully unusual avenues of expression in that genre from past and present alike. Moreover, for all their occasional flashes of genuine sophistication or bracing weirdness, most of these stories are overwhelmed by their rudimentary plots, wooden dialogue, omnipresent narration, and the sense that for all their high-pitched violence, the actual emotional and physical stakes for the one-dimensional "characters" involved are vanishingly small. Read a couple at a time, the stories are entertainingly zesty; stretched one after the other, you're gonna need to put the book down.
But even if the book isn't the "reverse-neutron bomb" Lethem makes it out to be, who said it needed to be one? There's enough pleasure to be had in recognizing the plug-ugly goons, heavy-lidded dames, and even the earliest traces of Kirbytech in the former Jacob Kurtzberg's contributions; or seeing just how much sharper was Jack Cole than his contemporaries in terms of comedy and layout. I'll take any excuse to look at comics by Fletcher Hanks, with his neurotically repeated figures and forms; placing them in close proximity with, say, Al Bryant's "Fero the Planet Detective" sharpens our appreciation for the latter's comically capricious violence and memorably hideous villains. Soon to be a star outside the genre, Basil Wolverton crafts a sci-fi adventure with character and costume designs that alternately prefigure the undergrounds and Chris Ware and a comparatively complex story that evokes the macho codes of honor and friendship often found in its pulp-prose forebears. Will Einser and Lou Fine turn in a tremendous, print-it-as-a-poster-and-hang-it-up cover for "Samson," and give us one of the great simple pleasures in superhero comics--a bold, attractively streamlined costume--in the red-and-yellow person of the Flame.
As you might expect, any number of panels and word balloons are internet-meme-worthy--just flipping through at random I came across one of my favorite, a scene from a Bill Everett "Sub-Zero" comic in which the villain takes the time to fix up some foamy shaving cream, the better to fit the captured hero's head for the electric chair's skullcap. But there are moments of weird beauty, too: Eisner and Fine's Flame standing like a Greek god as he speaks with a beautiful woman; Wolverton's armored spacemen colliding in battle; Fred Guardineer bringing a statue of George Washington to uncanny life; Kirby's proto-Roger Dean Martian landscape. And while the variety of approaches on display here may not necessarily blow minds, they should at least open some eyes. In a time when the major superhero companies seem dead-set on creating the most uniform tone possible across their lines--black-ops badasses in spandex at Marvel, a hyperviolent pantheon at DC--evidence that superheroes can behave in any number of ways against any number of threats is indeed liberating, perhaps even necessary. Forget the turgid prose--focus on the weird beauty. That's what I did.
It also looks like I'll be interviewing Josh for The Comics Journal, so look out for that.
* A new Abstract Comics blog in preparation for the Andrei Molotiu-edited anthology coming soon from Fantagraphics? This one literally made me pump my fists in the air with glee. This is like pure pleasure for me.
* Torture part one: Here's an update on the ACLU's efforts to get the Obama Justice Department to release the Bush Justice Department's memos giving torture the green light.
* Boy, recent events sure have exposed the lurid eschatological delusions of significant segments of the political and opinion establishment, huh? And only two months into the new administration! It's not a good look. I've seen enough comparisons to the Joker and references to the mustachioed dictator hall of fame that I'm left wondering where they'll go when he tries to pass climate change legislation or institute universal healthcare. Darkseid and Elizabeth Bathory? I've learned from bitter, bitter experience that politics are not the place to apply the lessons you think you've been taught by heroic fantasy, or by the aspects of history that most closely resemble heroic fantasy.
Marijuana is neither evil nor dangerous. Scientists have proven its medical uses. It has spared millions from anguish. But the casual pleasure marijuana has delivered is orders of magnitude greater than the pain it has assuaged, and pleasure matters too. That’s probably why Barack Obama smoked up the second and third times: because he liked it. That’s why tens of millions of Americans regularly take a puff, despite the misconceived laws meant to save us from our own wickedness.
As a policy wonk, I think marijuana should be legal, but should be regulated, heavily taxed, and subjected to various restrictions on advertising, age, etc. That said, I think it's important to say that it shouldn't just be legal for reasons of profit but for reasons of pleasure. It's a public good for people to derive enjoyment and relaxation from a harmless and private pursuit.
In my case, Will stands in for the numerous friends we all have who either were or are recreational drug users – mostly marijuana smokers but also dabblers in other drugs – who, today, lead perfectly “productive” lives, as conventional society measures productive. It’s a great evil to waste untold billions of dollars and ruin millions of lives, and end numberless thousands of others around the globe, in the name of a futile war based on lies.
I've learned that last part from bitter, bitter experience too.
* After spending the '80s in struggling new wave bands called Freur and Underworld (the group's original, more traditional iteration), then taking time off to work with the art and design collective Tomato with whom they are still affiliated, musicians Karl Hyde and Rick Smith hooked up with a much younger DJ named Darren Emerson. Together they created some dance singles under the names Lemon Interrput and Steppin' Razor, selling them out of the back of a van at gigs. By 1993 they were releasing singles as Underworld again, leading up to their re-debut, 1994's Dubnobasswithmyheadman.
* Emerson eventually left the band, leaving Hyde and Smith to continue as a duo beginning with 2002's A Hundred Days Off. After the completion of their most recent album, Oblivion with Bells, DJ and frequent Underworld remixer Darren Price joined the group for their live performances, which are heavily improvisatory. I guess they like Darrens.
* Hyde, the band's singer, assembles his lyrics in large part from snippets of overheard conversations.
* Perhaps in part because of the prominence of the songs "Born Slippy.NUXX" and "Dark Train" in the film Trainspotting, "cinematic" is an adjective frequently used to describe Underworld's fairly epic form of dance music.
* "Pink Floyd with beats" is a phrase I'll use to describe them in a pinch.
* Underworld's music is very, very good as an accompaniment for travel by train or car. I interviewed them once and they told me everyone tells them this. Maybe it's because of the warmly propulsive beats, maybe it's because Hyde's lyrics themselves are often recorded during travel.
* Their music feels blue to me, whatever that means.
* They're the best live act I've ever seen by a comfortable margin.
* "Born Slippy" is that "shouting lager, lager, lager" song.
I got to know Underworld during my first semester of college, thanks to the Trainspotting soundtrack and the "electronica" boomlet. I think they are my first post-adolescent band in that regard. I've listened to them more or less constantly since then. Normally this is where the whole "soundtrack of my life" tag would go, and not without good reason, but I think referring to Underworld's music as "cinematic" gets it all wrong. While it is indeed dramatic, frequently anthemic, it doesn't help craft your life into a story of some kind, a narrative with beginning, middle, and end, playing out on the screen of your mind--it emphasizes and heightens the emotional content of this moment, whether you're dancing to it at a concert or listening to it while staring out the window of a train or playing it behind the closed door of your bedroom, with someone or without someone. Underworld is an utterly immediate band.
This two-part mix is pretty simply a collection of many of my favorite songs of theirs, with one or two additions or subtractions for cohesiveness' sake. If you'd like more, two excellent, wide-ranging collections are already out there: Everything, Everything, a live album from the final tour of the Hyde/Smith/Emerson era, and Underworld 1992-2002, a two-disc greatest-hits-type compilation of all the singles from that decade. I'd also recommend their latest album, Oblivion with Bells--if you liked Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion and thought "I want more of this," that's a record for you.
Originally written on April 8, 2007 for publication in The Comics Journal
Over the past decade, the most innovative and entertaining examples of action cinema have gone in one of two directions. Some have used a stylized combination of wire work and digital tomfoolery to make it all look easy--wuxia movies, The Matrix (wuxia gone Western), 300 (wuxia's Western equivalent), Kill Bill Volume One. Others have gone for a lived-in, beat-down, de-glamorized vibe that makes it look damn hard--Casino Royale, the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings, Kill Bill Volume Two.
Given Paul Pope's futurist bent and Japanese influences, you might think his epic science-fiction alternate-future Bat-book would head in the former direction. Not so! From the thrilling opening sequence of Batman Year 100 onward, Pope makes it clear that he's going to make his hero seem super by making everything he does seem as down-to-earth, and difficult, as possible. Frank Miller's interior-monologue litanies of broken ribs and paralyzed nerve clusters notwithstanding, there's never been a better depiction of the extremely physical nature of dressing up like a bat, running around city rooftops and picking fights with people. And in the hands of an action choreographer and stylist like Pope, that alone makes for a hell of a comic.
Pope's obsession with the man half of the Batman--evident even in the antiquated, hyphenated way he frequently spells "the Bat-Man of Gotham"'s moniker itself--was apparently a preeminent concern of the writer/artist's from the get-go. The book's copious extra features include an initial sketch sent to editor Bob Schreck, accompanied by a laundry list of handwritten questions pertaining not to where the character keeps his kryptonite ring or whether he and Catwoman are still an item, but his height, his build, what material his mask is made of, whether he can wear "square trunks like an Olympic swimmer" and which joints his costume might gather at. In notes written for the collection, Pope explains his fixation:
"My preference is to work on stories where I am free to completely design a fictional world--literally from the ground up. Take Batman's boots for example. This guy would need a good, sturdy pair of boots...It's long been a pet peeve of mine when you come across comic book artists who insist on drawing generic, featureless boot-like shapes beneath the ankles of their superheroes, as if boots were just vague, foot-shaped stumps molded out of colorful plastic blobs, resembling something you'd get out of a toy box at a dentist's office..."
There's a lot more where that came from--and that's just the costume design. Perhaps that's to be expected from Pope, who as an artist has frequently dallied in the world of fashion and is attuned to the dovetailing of form and function, style and substance with any well-dressed individual, superheroes included. But the "concealed human vulnerability" conveyed in his clunky clodhoppers and wrinkly elbows is concealed no longer the second Pope puts him through his action-adventure paces. The book opens with Batman being doggedly pursued by, well, dogs, across the familiar rooftop landscape of Gotham's vigilante clique. This Batman doesn't just toss a few Batarangs, launch a grappling hook and swing away to brood atop a gargoyle another day. When he jumps a 25-foot gap between roofs, trailing blood from a wound in his side, he actually has to pause to catch his breath and give his aching bones and muscles a chance to recuperate. (And to smirk at his frustrated canine pursuers, admittedly.) When he hides from a SWAT team in a child's apartment, it's with a sense of genuine peril should the kid rat him out--in his weakened state, he'd clearly get his ass handed to him. And when he finally turns the tables on the federal goons by attacking them in a stairwell, it's clear he's relying far more on the element of surprise and pure costumed bluster than on flawless martial artistry. This Batman could lose, and that's what makes his adventures so much fun to follow.
The choice even makes thematic sense. The semi-dystopian setting of Year 100 is one of Pope's now-trademark libertarian nightmare scenarios, a world where surveillance cameras are surgically grafted into the eyeballs of police dogs and the fact that Batman wears a mask and therefore can't be identified presents a far more visceral threat to his governmental enemies than the fact that he's suspected of murdering a federal agent. In the same way that Orwell's free-thinking Winston is told by his torturers that he is the last human being, Pope's Batman is memorable not because of any dazzling gadgets or superhuman displays of physical prowess, but because he eats, sleeps, keeps protein bars in his utility belt, wears a shirt that's a size too small, talks with a speech impediment when he wears scary fake fangs to freak out federal goons, gets his ass thoroughly kicked every time he sees action, and requires a small support team consisting of a doctor, a tech expert and a motorcycle mechanic to help him get anything done at all. With each of the aforementioned acts he reasserts his irreducible humanity in a world classified and documented and categorized and bureaucratized to within an inch of its life. It's all enhanced by Pope's familiar stylistic tics--meaty and careworn faces, bee-stung lips, heavy brows, hair that hasn't seen shampoo for a fortnight, clothes that bulge and bag and buckle, characters who clamber and carom down creaky stairs and through grimy alleys and around telephone wires. He's not a number, he's a free man. The physical is political.
And much to this fanboy's delight, the Bat-portion of "Bat-Man" doesn't go ignored. I wish I could remember the name of the online wit who pointed out the true ridiculousness of Batman's outfit: Like an old Star Wars Halloween costume with the character's picture plastered on the chest, the Bat-costume's central motif is a freaking drawing of the animal it's supposed to transform its wearer into. What kind of sissy-ass criminal would be scared of that? But to this Batman of the year 2039, the key to striking terror isn't the animal itself, but the unfamiliarity it represents. Fighting against platoons of jackbooted federales with animalistic nicknames like the Wolves and the Panthers, Batman takes advantage of his sui generis state--none of these professional ass-kickers have ever seen anything like him--and uses it to scare the crap out of them. His mask is designed to distort his facial features into inhuman unrecognizability. He uses sonic enhancements to emit growls. He wears a set of porcelain vampire teeth. Put it all together and, as captured in a searingly intense panel depicting a motion-captured close-up from a surveillance camera, it's the scariest Batman has ever looked and acted, even if his sleeves are too short. (Colorist Jose Villarubia nails that Blair Witch by way of One Night in Paris screen; he's at his best with the neons and glows of the tech-y end of Pope's world, rather than the Vertigo-style greens that sully the down-and-dirty stuff.)
If I'm lingering on business rather than story, that's because the story itself doesn't cohere nearly as well as the ideas and images behind its lead character. In a plot drawing heavily from post-9/11 fears of governmental intrusion and terrorist brutality--Pope being perhaps the only major comics artist (not counting Red-Meat Miller) to give the taboo against taking the latter as seriously as the former the middle finger it deserves--Batman, his little band of helpers, and Capt. Jim Gordon (presented here as a quid pro quo political appointee) uncover a small but serious conspiracy within the federal ranks to hijack a terrorist-developed doomsday virus for their own ends. Or something. To be honest, it's kind of hard to follow, existing mainly as a platform upon which Pope's characters declaim didactically about the wisdom of trusting the government, the depths of depravity to which terrorists have no problem sinking, the healing power of open-source information streams, and so on. It makes for a cute ending--one where Batman and crew avert the apocalypse not by kicking the Joker's ass but by the counterintelligence equivalent of uploading a video to YouTube--and insofar as it relies on fulfilling relatable tasks (climbing up ropes, locating lost computer disks, remembering stuff), it's refreshing. But in terms of presenting readers with a compelling and solvable mystery, one wishes Pope had taken as much time making it as solid and singular as Batman's trunks. Toward the end, even the action starts to slip away, with a motorcycle chase that's tough to parse and too death-defying by half. How about giving the Bat-cycle a flat tire?
But the book is redeemed by its final pages, where Pope makes the seemingly counterintuitive, extremely unorthodox choice to keep Batman's secret identity a secret from both his enemies--and us. Is he, somehow, the same Bruce Wayne who cooked up the heroic identity way back in 1939? Is he a descendent who took up the mantle? Is he (most likely) just some guy who thinks privacy and decency need a human avatar in this crazy mixed-up world? He's not telling, and neither is Pope, who leaves us with a final panel that brings us full circle by showing Batman frantically running away from pursuers who will never catch him. The specifics may get a little wonky, but that indelible wish to remain unfettered, unclassifiable and untouchable--even if you get the snot beat out of you from time to time for your troubles--is as good a reason as any to dress up in a costume, or read a book about a guy who does so.
* Remember that bitchy email from the studio behind Let the Right One In regarding the iffy subtitles for the film's DVD release? Turns out it wasn't an internal communication, but an actual email to a concerned citizen! That makes it even weirder and more annoying. (Via The House Next Door.)
* Tom Spurgeon's gigantic Sunday posts are virutally always worth your time. This week's installment spotlights ten different kinds of out-of-print works you can find and puchase cheaply online. I think Tom intended the post to be seen as an eye-opener in terms of the economics involved, but for me, the avenues he advocates--involving strips, gag cartoons, editorial cartoons, children's books, art books, "cartooning," and other non-"comic book/graphic novel" areas--is inspiring and intriguing more in terms of the content than the cost. I've been a story-focused comics reader for as long as I've been reading comics, and investing time and energy (money notwithstanding) in nice fat cheap old collections of, say, a New Yorker guy exercises a very different part of my comics-reading brain than does an altcomix graphic novel or a superhero serial. I'm starting to feel like enough of a grown-up that I wouldn't feel like I was wasting money by grabbing a few books just to look at the pretty pictures and marvel at the execution rather than get a rewarding beginning/middle/end read out of them.
* As a bonus, there's an undeniable pleasure to be had in tracking down images that pressed themselves on your brain as a child long before you had the ability to contextualize them, and then looking at them again knowing what you know now. The closest experience I've had to a lot of what Tom talks about is when I bought the Scary Stories Omnibus at Borders for $10 a few years ago. Those watery Stephen Gammell illustrations are still among the scariest visuals I've ever seen, and the frisson of experiencing them all over again, of being able to pick up that hardcover off the bookshelf in my own home and flip through it at my leisure, was delightful.
* Wolverine co-creator Len Wein, who basically invented the X-Men franchise as we know it and also edited Watchmen, has suffered a catastrophic house fire that destroyed many of his possessions and took the life of one of his dogs. This is just awful. The long and the short is that there's nothing for fans of Wein's work to do about it just yet. Robot 6 and Tom Spurgeon have comprehensive link round-ups.
* The Eisner Award nominees have been announced. It's nice to see them get rid of a bunch of categories, like the "Best Single Issue" one that enables Brad Meltzer to be referred to as an Eisner Award-winning writer, but then again this forces all the nominations for Acme Novelty Library #19 to be shunted into categories for Chris Ware specifically rather than for the book itself, and a world where Acme #19 can't win an Eisner as Best Something isn't so hot a world, although hey, that's a lot of nominations for Chris Ware, which is terrific. Anyway, I look forward to Sammy Harkham's concession speech when Dark Horse MySpace Presents wins Best Anthology.
* I'm going to jump on the bandwagon with Jog and Spurge by saying that Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings is a rigorously observed, beautifully drawn, painfully angry book that you should buy now that it's coming out in softcover tomorrow.
Imagine how different the genre would be if fans told filmmakers that every time they were going to kill a bunch of people, they should have a dramatically and intellectually convincing reason to do so.
* Helena Bonham Carter is apparently in the upcoming Terminator sequel. Jimmy crack corn and I don't care, but I loved HBC back before this serial homewrecker became the muse of Tim "phoning in the goth nonsense" Burton and she looks not unlike the Missus, so I thought Arrow in the Headl's choice of photo to illustrate their latest story on this was equal parts hilarious and delightful.
* This isn't the sort of thing I get to say every day, but in the past 24 hours I've come across three very funny examinations of murder. First up: A recent episode of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which worked some pretty rough chuckles in an episode-long chronicle of the fall of the Cinco Brothers, the snake-oil salesmen/inventors responsible for all of the horrible products featured in the show's spoof ads. A lot of it is the usual ridiculous Tim & Eric lo-fi/surreal nonsense, but there are also some pretty spot-onsend-ups of post-Scorsese/Tarantino tough-guy rise-and-fall crime movies, and some vicious jabs at the unthinking, violence-tinged misogyny of the media. Hiring shock-jock Tom Leykis to play and/or parody himself in an episode centered around the murders of a trophy wife and a prostitute was particularly inspired.
* Next: "Don't Murder Your Friends," a routine from comedian Jen Kirkman in which she muses on how the difference between murderers and normal people is that they a) don't check the impulse to kill when it occurs to them and b) if they're lucky, they don't come to regret it either. From there she segues into a pretty horrifying urban legend that isn't any less creepy for the fact that she's picking apart how unrealistic it really is. (Via Said the Gramophone.)
1) I would happily play this game--and guess what, I can!;
2) the piece slowly ratchets up the horror from pistols that blow a comparatively neat hole in the target's face to shotgun blasts that split their skulls in two like smashing a watermelon, but it's not until they present an interlude where animals are the targets that the gruesome hilarity of it all becomes almost unbearable. If the sight of a realistic, adorable horse's face being blown in half doesn't get you, the way the ostrich's tubular neck sways and swivels like a firehose as blood spurts out after it's decapitated by a close-range blast will.
To be honest, I've been a little bit soured on the Onion since I spent a little time working for them and saw how the sausage gets made--comics fans, if you think your average Marvel or DC deal is unfavorable, you ain't seen nothing yet--but I think this bit is not just funny, but profound.
* I'm late on this, but I'm sure you're already aware that there was a horrible spree of mass shootings over the past few days. Vietnamese immigrant Jiverly Wong, frustrated by the loss of his job and feeling like a fish out of water, killed 13 people in Binghamton, NY before killing himself. Richard Poplawski, motivated by racist, anti-Semitic, and (for lack of a better term) "gun-nut" far-right conspiracy theories regarding the Obama Administration and the government in general, killed three police officers in Pittsburgh, PA before surrendering. And James Harrison, distraught after discovering his wife with another man for whom she announced she was leaving him, killed his five children (aged 7 to 16) and himself in Graham, WA.
Based on statements by 14 prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda and were moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006, Red Cross investigators concluded that medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls, the report said.
Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.”
In my experience most cartoonists trafficking in this kind of material (most filmmakers and writers too) can't help but convey that as awful as it is, it's also kinda hilarious. The gore, violence, sexual brutality, humiliation, torture, animal cruelty--there could be some kind of serious point being made somewhere in there, but just as importantly, that shit is kinda cool! It's fun to scare the straights, it's a hoot to "go there." And indeed there are elements in Simmons's fantasy-world minicomic In the Land of Magic that could, at first glance, make you think that's what he's doing as well. His characters have always been on the cartoony, comical side, and when you're drawing stereotypical elf-folk and wizards straight out of Patton Oswalt's RPGer parody character on Reno 911, it's not like they're going to get less silly. Silliness is in fact the point when it comes to their Stan Lee's Thor faux-olde fashioned dialogue ("Lothar--What fore dost thou lookest at, my love?"). And when the elf couple Lothar and Hester journey beyond the borders of their magic land to start exploring the Dark Forest beyond, there's a page consisting almost solely visual double entendres that make it look like they're 69ing or fisting each other. It's funny!
Then Lothar does battle with Arachnad the Terrible, a battle that ends with Lothar saying the following to his fallen foe:
Poor little baby...Baby done got a broken neck, isn't he? Can't move, can you? Awww....poor little guy JESUS CHRIST I HAVE THE BIGGEST FUCKING HARD-ON!!
From there, Lothar strips naked, cuts a hole through the underside of Arachnad's chin, bashes out Arachnad's teeth, and fucks the wound so that the head of his penis repeatedly thrusts out through Arachnad's gaping mouth until he ejaculates.
You know, even then, you could probably think that maybe this is all an exercise in seeing just how far we can go with this sort of thing. But I think the end of the book tells the tale, when Lothar forces the horrified Hester to hold his hands and endure his lovey-dovey blandishments, insisting that she have sex with him even as his once-again hardening cock drips Arachnad's blood. "I-I've never seen you like this before," she stammers before he forces her out of the hiding place she'd retreated to. I think that's what Simmons's work is about: terror that this is inside him, and an inability to do anything about it other than put it on display.
What makes Simmons's brand of taboo-shattering impossible to write off, or shake off, is that behind the transgression there's no smile. No smile at all.
* The new issue of ToyFare Magazine is out, and with it a new Twisted ToyFare Theater containing the debut of maybe my favorite TTT character ever, Golden Age Spider-Man. I think this was the most fun I've ever had writing a TTT.
* This video interview with Paul Pope encapsulates a lot of the things I love about Paul, most of which have to do with the fact that he's stylish (which is to say he cares about style) in a way that isn't very stylish in altcircles these days.
I was in the Kmart in Penn Station trying to buy batteries but all the registers went down, so tensions were running high in the line. This big burly middle aged Noo Yawkuh guy started getting into it with this youngish kid in his 20s and the girl he was with, I guess maybe because they both tried to get on line at once. Clearly the older guy was being an unnecessarily belligerent dick, trying to intimidate them. Eventually the older guy yelled "faggot" at the kid. I look at him and say "classy." He goes "what, are you one too?" Suddenly I hear "I absolutely am, sir" coming out of my mouth. He says "Sorry," kind of shocked-like, and he repeats it a couple other times as I turn away--it sounded like he wanted it to come out sarcastic but that he was also kind of sorry that he called someone a faggot in front of an actual faggot. Eventually he manages to add "Kiss him and make it better, I don't know what to tell ya," to which I just reply "awesome" and roll my eyes. Then he threatened to hit the other kid, and there were all these cashiers and managers circulating--I thought they were going to get security but they might have just been trying to figure out what to do about all the busted registers. Finally I gave up on trying to buy the batteries and left.
What I WISH I had said to him instead of my awesome final reply of "awesome" was "Your revolution's over, sir. Condolences! The bums lost!" As gross and ugly as it was to have this dickhead call someone a faggot and then continue to crack wise about it even after I "came out," I just felt so, so good and so sure that his time is coming to an end, and it's just a matter of time.
* I feel bad for last night's episode because I'd allowed my expectations to be super super super high. It was gonna be a Ben episode, indeed a Ben and Locke episode. It was co-written by Brian K. Vaughan and Deadwood vet Elizabeth Sarnoff. The Monster was gonna be involved somehow. We were gonna get some flashbacks to Ben's past on the Island. Probably a lot of mythology stuff would be revealed, probably something involving the Temple. The two best actors on the show were going to get a showcase. You'd get payoff for Ben's murder of Locke. And on and on and on. In the words of Todd Van Der Werff last week, "If that is not the greatest episode in the history of television, it will be a letdown."
* And so, contra Todd this week, I think it was a letdown. Not a huge one or anything--it just wasn't THE BEST EPISODE EVAR, nor even the best episode of the season, nor in my view even one of the best episodes of the season. It was just good, very good at times but not at all times.
* The big problem, for me, is Ben. Listen, I think Ben is one of the all-time great television characters, and I think Michael Emerson is serving up one of the all-time great television performances. As I've said in the past, compare and contrast the mid-season-two emergence of Emerson's Ben as the show's Big Bad with that of Kenneth Welsh's Windom Earle in Twin Peaks and you can see how the former show basically became what it was to become with the character/actor/antagonist's introduction while the latter gave up the ghost.
But I think you run into difficult, dangerous territory as storytellers when one of your main characters lies about everything all the time.
It's not just that Ben takes "unreliable narrator" to soaring new heights when it comes to doling out information about the Island/Others mythology, both because he's the show's primary source on that score and because he just lies his ass off constantly. It actually starts to become an impediment just in basic character-based drama terms. In his post this week, Van Der Werff points out how difficult a task Emerson has in that he himself likely has no clue whether or not he's telling the truth at any given time, because the writers often haven't decided yet, so he therefore has to say everything as though he could be full of shit or perfectly sincere. That's rough enough on our ability to process a narrative when it's just a question of whether or not, I dunno, the Temple is half mile inside the walls, but it really plays havoc on our ability to get a handle on the emotional center of the character, and by extension, sometimes that of the story.
In this particular episode we saw that take place in Ben's separate conversations regarding Locke's death and resurrection. To Locke, he says that he believed Locke would rise again--he wasn't sure, he couldn't be until he saw it happen (like Doubting Thomas--callback!), but he had faith that it would happen and he was glad that it did. To Sun, he says he had no idea Locke would come back from the dead--he'd never seen anything like that happen, and the fact that it had scared the shit out of him. Naturally, given the nature of Ben and the nature of the writing done for Ben per Van Der Werff's observation, he says both these contradictory things with his trademark blend of utter sincerity and unctuous weaseliness. Which one is true? Who the fuck knows? That's undoubtedly part of the pleasure of Ben, but without enough context clues for us to figure out which is real and which is bull, it becomes extremely difficult for us to figure out how Ben is feeling when various things happen to him later on.
Case in point: Ben's final scene with the Smoke Monster and "Alex." It seems to me that we're probably supposed to feel like Ben really does feel terrible about his role in his daughter's death, particularly his Peter-style denying of her. Certainly that's what the flashback material involving his kidnapping of Alex from Rousseau years ago would imply. Therefore it's reasonable to believe that he's genuinely traumatized when the Alex simulacrum shows up, slams him around, and tells him to tuck his tail between his legs and jump whenever Locke says "frog"--it's not just that he resents no longer being King Shit of Turd Island, it's that having the message delivered in the form of the daughter he failed and betrayed really did devastate him.
However, we're so accustomed to seeing Ben pretend to care about someone, only to immediately turn around and choke them to death or whatever, that I spent the whole sequence feeling like 90% of his reaction was a put-on. Obviously inside the smoke monster he's got no audience to play to, and it's reasonable to assume that some part of him really does feel bad that he got his daughter killed. But before he falls into Smokey's chamber and he's telling Locke that he's here to be judged for his role in Alex's death, and after his "this is your life" routine inside Smokey ends and "Alex" shows up and he's all walking toward her crying and apologizing like Norman Osborn taking off his Green Goblin mask and thanking God for Peter Parker's intervention in that weird scene at the end of the first Spider-Man movie--it felt like he was bullshitting. And if he wasn't, that's a problem for the creators of the show, because it's precisely at moments like these that the audience really does require some kind of certainty, some kind of true north, in order for the emotional impact of such scenes to really come through.
I mean, what was the point of Ben telling Caesar that Locke was forcing him to go on the boat ride if he was just going to turn around and kill the guy the second he tried to stop them from leaving, which is precisely what the lie about Locke coercing Ben would lead him to do? Unless Ben was deliberately trying to provoke a confrontation and give himself an excuse to plug another potential alpha male, which I admit is well within the realm of possibility, it was just lying for lying's sake. And I can't be the only person who had this sort of exchange in mind later on in the episode when trying to figure out whether or not I should feel bad for Ben's heartbreak when his dead daughter smacks him around.
My point (and taking this long to get to it is going to be kind of ironic to you when you see what it is) is that in narrative terms, Ben's dialogue is a waste of time. We can't trust a word he says, so it's useless to us in terms of both the emotional and plot-based information it conveys. Sure, it establishes that Ben is a manipulative liar who can't be trusted, but, uh, duh. At a certain point it becomes a character-sized version of the liar paradox: Ben Linus is false. Where can we go from there?
* That said, this episode still had much to recommend it. I particularly enjoyed Locke's newfound devil-may-care confidence, something he gets to display maybe every other season or so--my hope is that he won't get fooled again and this smiling, cocksure Resurrected Locke has learned his lessons and finally knows he's the real deal. Kind of like Gandalf the White versus Gandalf the Grey, if you will.
* There were also some lovely images, as almost always. I was rather smitten with that long shot of Ben and Locke walking on the main Island's dock. Again, it's not the kind of shot the show usually goes for.
* The editing during Ben's confrontation with Desmond and Penny was genuinely thrilling, wasn't it? The urgency of it all made Ben's reasoning sound all the more childish and absurd: He just matter-of-factly plugged a guy carrying groceries and is about to execute an innocent woman who has nothing to do with his actual enemy because "your father is a terrible human being"? It seemed to me that the brutal beating Desmond inflicted on him was just a physical embodiment of Ben's own realization that he was behaving in a completely unsupportable and terrible fashion. Plus, it was a satisfying twist on our expectations for Ben not to have killed Penny, which I think everyone assumed happen and moreover everyone assumed to be the reason for what everyone assumed would be Desmond's return to the Island. On the other hand, of all the things Ben could have chosen to tell Sun to apologize for on his behalf, I feel like not actually killing someone would have been pretty low on the totem pole.
* So (if Ben can be believed, which, see above) he really didn't remember the presence of the castaways back in the '70s. This raises a question about Richard, who has no such Temple-healing-based memory loss, doesn't it? It seems like he's the power behind the throne no matter who's nominally in charge, maneuvering Ben to dethrone Widmore and doing the same thing with Locke and Ben years later. So will the "you knew all along???" confrontation I once expected to take place between the castaways and Ben now happen between Ben and Richard?
* I'm kicking myself for giving so much mental and blog airtime to the "we're in an alternate timeline because there's still Dharma stuff hanging up in New Otherton" theorizing. It's not something I ever would have given any thought to if I hadn't read it on the Internet, and if I'm being honest I think I did remember still seeing plenty of Dharma logos amid all the Others' buildings in the past, so hunting for a zebra based on those hoofprints has me feeling the fool. Oh well, you win some, you lose some, and some get disrupted by the smoke monster.
* Was it me or did Ben recognize Christian's name, and presumably the import of that name?
* I liked how in the brief time Lapidus spent away from the new castaways, some new kind of crazy alliance with its own inscrutable catchphrases popped up. That shit happens all the time around here!
* I also really liked that Caesar has already gone the way of the dodo. I don't care how many times Lost introduces major characters only to kill them off--I fall for it every time!
* So do you think the last shot of the season is going to be "meet Jacob" or what?
* Chris Mautner talks to Drawn & Quarterly's Peggy Burns about the new Diamond minimums and how they've affected the company's titles like Or Else and Crickets. I think this is the first time I've heard that Gabrielle Bell's Lucky has also been canceled. I also think it's the first time I've heard an unimpeachable alternative-comics big like Peggy push back quite this forcefully against the notion that there's something uniquely terrible about the death of the alternative comic book given the inevitable print-publishing apocalypse generally.
* Tom Spurgeon reviews Jeffrey Brown's Funny Misshapen Body, a sentence which will sound funny each and every time I write or read a variation on it. I got this book in the mail yesterday and put it down on the couch, and the next thing I knew the Missus was three quarters of the way through it. She said it's very, very personal, even for Jeff, which is saying something.
* I enjoyed Curt Purcell's post on how genre fans come to appreciate even the crappy parts of their favorite genres because they associate them with the good parts, as well as CRwM's down-comment response that the problem is subsequent artists appropriating good and crappy parts indiscriminately as fanservice.
There's just no way to properly talk about this book without explicitly describing some of the things that happen in it so take that as a spoiler alert please
You know how in Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, we get introduced to Joe Pesci's character with that whole hilarious "What do you mean I'm funny?" exchange, but in Casino, we get introduced to Joe Pesci's character with him stabbing some guy repeatedly in the neck with a pen and then mocking him as he lies on the ground whimpering? You know how that difference kind of gets across the overall variation in tone between the two films? Josh Simmons's In the Land of Magic has a bright yellow cover and starts with a fantasy parody sequence. Cockbone has a crumpled, grease-stained brown paper bag for a cover and stars like this.
"You pansy little bitch."
"Kill the dog."
"Kill the dog, faggot."
Then--spoiler alert--the faggot kills the dog.
It's safe to say that this comic contains the most extreme material I've ever actually come across in a comic. Imagine if the rape-murder sequence in Poison River were the length of an entire story and depicted with all the graphicness of Phoebe Gloeckner's diagrammatic blowjob illustrations (where do you think the title comes from?), but with none of the clean, cool reserve of either. Even the blood splatter is angular and angry.
Cockbone is a non-stop litany of incest, animal cruelty, genital mutilation, murder, saturation bombing, homophobia, racism, and sexual depravity designed to make you as uncomfortable as possible, over and over again. The second you get over seeing a howling dog getting shot repeatedly until its ribcage explodes outward in jagged shards, you've got the main character's brothers and mother repeatedly sucking him off to extract his hallucinogenic semen. Get a handle on the sight of a man's wart-covered penis splitting apart and revealing a fishbone-like spine, and you've immediately got to deal with three guys peeling each other's skin off as the beat each other to death, and then jetplanes bombing a city with little stick-figure people literally exploding from the heat. There's just no respite, ever. And in the comic's most memorable, haunting effect, it doesn't so much end as give up--rather than actually showing what happens in the last two panels, Simmons superimposes simple caption boxes over the visuals that sum up their hidden contents in one or two words, as though the main character, Simmons, the world couldn't bear to endure the real thing.
Simmons looks into the heart of humanity and what he sees comes wrapped in a grease-stained brown paper bag.
What impressed me most about Rumbling, Kevin Huizenga's adaptation of a dystopian/post-apocalyptic short story by Italian writer Giorgio Manganelli, is how effectively it conveys that whole Handmaid's Tale/The Road things-fall-apart vibe while still residing squarely in Huizenga's wheelhouse of formal play and finely observed transcendence-through-the-mundane detail. So you get a very effective vignette in which this alternate-future Glenn Ganges, an irreligious foreigner stranded in a country torn apart by a religious civil war, overhears a mother tell her kid it's impolite to stare at Glenn, that the reason he wasn't praying when the bells rang is because God doesn't talk to him like He does to us; or, following that, a sequence where Glenn is picked up by a local to be driven to his boss the ambassador's safehouse in the country and starts wondering if the man is going to do him harm, but then is slowly lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the passing countryside. Excellent dystopian stuff in both cases, but moreover, they both end up showcasing Huizenga's preexisting strengths: I loved how the little boy's confused/fascinated torrent of thoughts upon being introduced to the idea of an irreligious man were conveyed by an explosion of thought balloons cut off by the panel borders, and how Glenn's long ride into the country was depicted by two panels featuring the pick-up truck's sideview mirror jutting into the passing scenery, reflecting Glenn's weary and then sleeping face. Meanwhile the wide array of warring factions gives Huizenga ample opportunity to design more of the kinds of symbols and logos that seem to burst out of his comics like automatic writing, and there's a funny recurring bit that takes a Chris Ware-style enlargement of key words in a narrative caption to splash-page extremes. In other words it's a comic that succeeds on a lot of levels all at once.
I actually think this material comes across better in the story's current delivery mode, a standalone self-published minicomic, than it did in Or Else #5, the final issue of Huizenga's Drawn & Quarterly one-man anthology, in which Rumbling's first chapter appeared. There it was surrounded by short pieces that were in some cases related enough to the main story to feel like a full-fledged part of it but in other cases really had nothing to do with it; the lingering feeling that all this stuff was connected served to mute the first chapter's impact and hinder its momentum. In Rumbling Chapter Two, Rumbling's all you get, and the comic's the better for it.
* Yesterday it was discovered by the Internet at large that Amazon had somehow and for some reason tagged pretty much any book touching on homosexuality in any way as "adult" and therefore removed it from all-important sales rankings, a blow in terms of both searchability and marketability, not to mention common decency. Instantly I saw people posting about how they were canceling their Amazon accounts and stripping links from their sites, but it seemed to me so clearly a case of either a technical or personnel fuck-up rather than a conscious decision to smear the queer at a company level that I figured publicizing its ridiculousness was all it was appropriate to do. (The initial reports of customer service reps more or less defending the move struck me as the actions of employees who didn't really know what was up and offered an explanation based on what they assumed must have been happening as though it were a conscious decision on a company level.) Sure enough, today we've seen Amazon begin relisting a lot of the books, and various conflicting but convincing explanations emerge regarding how coding glitches, hackers, "let's you and him fight" meta-trolls, and/or bureaucracy are more likely culprits for the move than Jeff Bezos catching a bad case of the Maggie Gallaghers. Gawker has one theory, while Patrick Nielsen Hayden and his collection of relevant links have more.
* Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman call out the Obama Administration's attempts to preserve, if not expand, certain Bush Administration policies regarding such issues as state secrets and indefinite detention, particularly at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan. One of the theories that Greenwald notes--that in order to preserve some vestige of inter-partisan comity the new administration is doing whatever it can to prevent investigations and prosecutions of the past administration even if that means giving its active and ongoing imprimatur to that administration's practices--is to me a) the best explanation and b) a terrible excuse.
* Trent Reznor is interviewed by Digg founder Kevin Rose using the top 10 reader-submitted questions as voted for by Digg's users. Lots of interesting stuff in there about navigating competing and emerging business models as an artist in a time of uncertainty and technological transition; I think the insights are useful whether you're in Nine Inch Nails or doing comics.
Bonus ? Comics
Kevin Huizenga, writer/artist
USS Catastrophe, 2009
free with a copy of Rumbling Chapter Two, as far as I can gather Buy it from the Catastrophe Shop
This thing's cute: Two guys (previously seen at the end of Or Else #5, having a conversation told in illegible scrawls of differing lengths) sit across from each other, pondering a big question--or at least a big question mark, which hovers in between them. The man on the left pulls it down onto the table, cuts it into tiny pieces that are the shape of miniature question marks, tries to answer each constituent part with the help of some books, until finally all the little question marks snap right back into the big question mark. The guy on the right just grabs the little dot from the bottom of the question mark and shoves it into the hole formed by the circular part of the question mark. This apparently answers the question, which disappears. The guy on the right smokes a cigarette in celebration. "End." The formal stuff is fun, the punchline panel made me chuckle, and I think maybe there's even a lesson to be learned about not making simple problems more complex by way of trying to solve them. I think in an ideal world all our great cartoonists would knock out little unimpeachable one-sheeters like this all the time during their morning coffee.
* First of all, the Ewoks do not suck. "The Ewoks suck" is the kind of thing Star Wars nerds who are insecure about being Star Wars nerds and feel like they have to be tough guys about it--the worst, most insufferable kind of Star Wars nerds--say in lieu of whipping their dicks out and measuring them and yelling "see?!?!" The Ewoks are awesome. They look like teddy bears and fight like the Viet Cong. If given the choice between living among humans for the rest of my life and living among Ewoks, the choice would be it's not even a choice. Ewoks every time. What I'm saying is that the Ewoks are better than you.
* Second of all, fun episode. I like Miles--he brings a different tone to the show in terms of how his character works, something a little harder to get a handle on thanks to both how he's written and how Ken Leung performs him. For example, like every single other character on the entire show and approximately 90% of all the characters in nerd-centric fiction, he has daddy issues, but he doesn't play them in the hard-exterior-surrounds-wounded-puppy manner everyone else does, not even after an entire episode dedicated to pushing him into that place. My read on him is that the combination of not having a father/being told his father rejected him and his mother with being able to hear the thoughts of dead people makes him has just made him think life is all some big cosmic joke, so why bother? Leung plays this like he honestly could say "fuck this" and walk right off the show at any moment. It's intriguing.
* I think his best moment in this episode was when he returned his money to the grieving father, not to do the right thing by the guy, but to lay down the hard truth on him. He didn't seem to derive any schadenfreude or pleasure from it, which is what saved it from being too on the nose--he just sort of spat it out and split, like his own internal hardness forced him to do it but he couldn't contemplate deriving any kind of satisfaction from it (either out of cruelty or out of being a better person and returning the stolen cash). I didn't anticipate the scene working out that way, and it was a pleasure.
* In his Lost recap this week, Todd Van Der Werff points out that this episode felt like it came from an earlier season. We have a first-time flashbacker for the first time in a while, and the forward movement on any of the show's mysteries is pretty minimal. Back in Season Two or so, having an episode where one of the biggest revelations is that some redshirt got killed by electromagnetism would be par for the course, but nowadays everything's jam-packed. I kind of liked that throwback feel.
* The other revelation this episode, besides the kinda non-revelation that Daniel was in Michigan, is that one of the dudes from the new set of plane-crash castaways is somehow in on the mysteries and working against Widmore and his forces, and is also using the "what lies in the shadow of the statue" catchphrase. I assumed this means he's working for Ben, but a lot of my friends (and a lot of Internet speculation) argue that there's a third party at work here. I'm not sure why that conclusion's being drawn--but during the show I complained that whoever that guy was, him and his cronies should have just killed Miles if they wanted to make sure he didn't go to work for Widmore, and now that the third-party theory has been suggested to me I think that's the best available evidence that he isn't working with Ben. Ben's dudes would have shot Miles from across the street.
* Also, Ilyana is another "shadow of the statue" catch-phraser, and she claims to be working for the family of one of Sayid's victims, and what do we really know about them that we didn't learn from Ben? So maybe the third-party theory is correct. On the other hand, remember the blonde German lady Sayid dated for a while before they mutually betrayed and shot each other? I'm pretty sure she really was working for Widmore, no?
* I think the Kate/Roger sequence of events was surprisingly rich. On the one hand, Roger is right--Kate was involved with everything that's happened to poor little Ben. But on the other hand, he's kind of accidentally right--that is the kind of thing that only a paranoid drunk who believes the worst of everyone (including his own kid, when he hasn't been shot and kidnapped) would think about a lady who gave blood to save his son's life then tried to comfort the dad when the kid went missing. And on a third hand that I've grown for the purposes of this paragraph, it's another instance of Sawyer's caution and Juliet's pessimism proving out over Kate's "we've got to DO SOMETHING"ism--she could have simply kept her head down and let Sawyer run the show as he saw fit, but instead she's pretty much fucked them without even trying. It's downright Jackish, is what it is.
* Oh yeah, Dr. Marvin Candle/Pierre Chang is Miles's father, duh. At least they made the reveal funny: "That douche is my dad" takes away a bit of the anti-climax sting.
* Is it just me or is Hurley becoming less of the common-sense audience stand-in and more of the "I'm too slow to follow this show" audience stand-in?
You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him. [content redacted] [...] In addition to using the confinement boxes alone, you also would like to introduce an insect into one of the boxes with Zubaydah. As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar. If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain. If, however, you were to place the insect in the box without informing him that you are doing so, then, in order not to commit a predicate act, you should not affirmatively lead him to believe that any insect is present which has a sting that could produce severe pain or suffering or even cause his death. [content redacted] so long as you take either of the approaches we have described, the insect's placement in the box would not constitute a threat of severe physical pain or suffering to a reasonable person in his positioin. An individual placed in a box, even an individual with a fear of insects, would not reasonably feel threatened with severe physical pain or suffering if a caterpillar was placed in the box.
At each stage of his imprisonment he had known, or seemed to know, whereabouts he was in the windowless building. Possibly there were slight differences in the air pressure. The cells where the guards had beaten him were below ground level. The room where he had been interrogated by O'Brien was high up near the roof. This place was many metres underground, as deep down as it was possible to go.
It was bigger than most of the cells he had been in. But he hardly noticed his surroundings. All he noticed was that there were two small tables straight in front of him, each covered with green baize. One was only a metre or two from him, the other was further away, near the door. He was strapped upright in a chair, so tightly that he could move nothing, not even his head. A sort of pad gripped his head from behind, forcing him to look straight in front of him.
For a moment he was alone, then the door opened and O'Brien came in.
'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, 'what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.'
The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O'Brien was standing. Winston could not see what the thing was.
'The worst thing in the world,' said O'Brien, 'varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.'
He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four metres away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.
'In your case,' said O'Brien, 'the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.'
A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water.
'You can't do that!' he cried out in a high cracked voice. 'You couldn't, you couldn't! It's impossible.'
'Do you remember,' said O'Brien, 'the moment of panic that used to occur in your dreams? There was a wall of blackness in front of you, and a roaring sound in your ears. There was something terrible on the other side of the wall. You knew that you knew what it was, but you dared not drag it into the open. It was the rats that were on the other side of the wall.'
'O'Brien!' said Winston, making an effort to control his voice. 'You know this is not necessary. What is it that you want me to do?'
O'Brien made no direct answer. When he spoke it was in the schoolmasterish manner that he sometimes affected. He looked thoughtfully into the distance, as though he were addressing an audience somewhere behind Winston's back.
'By itself,' he said, 'pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable - something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.'
I'd been thinking a bit about Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation (original review here) over the past week in a very particular way, and a chance to see the movie again last night with a friend who hadn't seen it at all yet sort of reinforced what I was thinking.
Basically, take The Godfather--not as an adaptation, because I don't think Mario Puzo's novel was nearly as highly regarded in its field as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen was in comics, but as a gangster movie. My understanding from reading about Francis Ford Coppola's film (and the last time I did that was years ago, so my memory could be fuzzy) is that prior to its release, gangster pictures were considered strictly b-movie territory. But nowadays, you'd be very, very hard pressed to find someone who'd say something like "Well, The Godfather Part II was pretty good for a gangster movie" or "as far as mafia stuff goes, The Sopranos was great." Thanks to the first Godfather film, great art about mobsters--from Coppola, Scorsese, Chase, whoever--kind of gets considered as "great art" first and "about mobsters" second.
Longtime readers of this blog know what a skeptic I am regarding the notion of "transcending the genre," but in this kind of case I can understand the utility of the term. The idea isn't that The Godfather transcended the limitations of the the gangster genre--it's obviously just as much of a gangster picture as anything, and it doesn't make sense to claim the genre is limited if a movie like this can be constructed out of its component parts, since then you're pretty much saying a genre movie can't be a great movie without no longer being a genre movie. The idea is that The Godfather transcended the appeal of the gangster genre, for want of a better word. You don't need to be someone who just loves him some tommy-gun-toting greaseball action to really get a whole hell of a lot out of The Godfather; if you're a critic, the presence of tommy-gun-toting greaseballs won't put you off the film, most likely.*
In that light, it seems safe to say that Moore & Gibbons's Watchmen was the Godfather of superhero comics. It also seem safe to say that Zack Snyder's Watchmen was NOT the Godfather of superhero movies. I think many fans and critics expected or hoped it would be, I think Zack Snyder may have thought it was, but it wasn't. It was more like, I don't know, The Warriors, or maybe Tim Burton's Batman--a zesty, creative, exciting, violent, funny, sometimes lovely, and deeply, deeply weird genre movie. Its pleasures are really firmly rooted in the pleasures of genre movies. As much as it monkeyed with the usual superhero-movie tropes, as much as I think it put a lot of things on screen that no one had seen in a superhero movie before, I don't think it transcended the traditional appeal of the superhero movie so much as it pushed the existing appeal of superhero movies in a bizarre direction that people who appreciate the bizarre could appreciate.
Now, I really enjoy stuff like The Warriors and Batman. Off-kilter genre pictures are my bread and butter. That's why when I watch and think about the movie I don't dwell on Snyder's overall stylistic and tonal differences from the comic--as Tom Spurgeon has said, Peter Jackson made the boy's-adventure version of The Lord of the Rings, and Zack Snyder made the weirdo-edgy-action version of Watchmen, and that's fine with me. Instead, what bugs me are the "unforced errors," simple changes that add nothing and detract from what could have been (and often what was, in the comic). Stuff like turning Ozymandias from a chiseled, beatific all-American captain of industry into a hawk-faced, preening gay Nazi; having Dan and Laurie do so much lethal damage to their would-be muggers that Rorschach's sui generis status as the ultraviolent vigilante is lost in the shuffle; cutting the flashback where Laurie angrily confronts the Comedian after reading Hollis Mason's book, so that her devastation upon realizing he's her father would have more impact; not having a reaction shot of Doctor Manhattan's face when he has his eureka moment regarding the miracle of human life; not casting better actors for Laurie or the child killer who Rorschach murders; cutting some of my favorite lines ("Somebody EXPLAIN it to me"); and so on. Of course, a lot of movies I like a lot are lousy with flubs of that magnitude, and that doesn't stop me from liking them a lot any more than I like this one a lot. As I said, I'm pretty much fine and dandy dandy and fine with a Watchmen movie that's more like, uh, Aliens than 2001, even if the source material could have brought you in a 2001 direction had the filmmakers so chosen and been so able.
As I've mused before, would it have been interesting to see Watchmen in the hands of a realist rather than a stylist, someone who could have muted the material's more outre aspects instead of heightening them, someone who could have crafted the Godfather of superhero movies? Absolutely, though I think in that case it would work better as a 12-part HBO miniseries, say, than a feature film. A lot of the lurid melodrama, groany puns, and other stuff that people decried in the movie is right there in the comic, and I think that if you're going to diffuse that you need time to let dialogue and performance breathe in lieu of that overheated directness, more time than even a really long feature would give you. I think we can all fantasize about David Simon's Watchmen, just like I know Tolkien fans who fantasize about a lengthy, serious BBC adaptation of The Lord of the Rings regardless of whether or not they liked Peter Jackson's blockbuster version. (Which, now that I think about it, straddled that line between transcending its genre label so that people who'd never give elves the time of day get a lot out of it and making a just-plain bugfuck adventure/horror/war genre movie with trolls and ents and whatnot about as well as anything has done.) But I'm perfectly happy with what we got.
* To use a more recent and perhaps even more directly applicable example in terms of its place under the fantastic-fiction umbrella, Cormac McCarthy's The Road is the Godfather of post-apocalyptic fiction. Maybe Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is the Godfather of horror films, or perhaps it's something by David Lynch. You get the picture.
* Topless Robot's Rob Bricken, who I like to think is the Topless Robot, notes two momentous releases today. First up is the DVD premiere of Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prequel pilot/movie. I'm obviously going to watch this and am looking forward to doing so, though I may hold off on purchasing it until they release a complete first season DVD set, given how they previously duped me into double-dipping on the original BSG miniseries and Razor and will likely attempt to do so again with The Plan.
* Next up is the RiffTrax for Twilight, the latest film to be mocked by the MST3K crew of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. The Missus is a major, though self-aware, Twilight fan--I believe the preferred term for such people is "Twatlighter," to give you some idea of how they view themselves. And she's also a big big fan of RiffTrax--we listened to the Road House RiffTrax for like the fourth time this weekend and did The Two Towers the weekend before that. So we've been looking forward to this from the moment the DVD was announced and we realized a RiffTrax was virtually guaranteed. It should be a hoot.
* Also from Topless Robot, The 12 Coolest Masters of the Universe Action Features. Holy smokes I remember these all so vividly. What's great about the list is that it doesn't just stop at "Hey, remember Ram-Man? He was awesome, right?"--it actually unpacks each feature it discusses in terms of how and why it clicked with kids.
* Frank Miller's The Spirit: the movie so nice Jog reviewed it twice! Also, Mike Sterling liked it, and given Jog's distaste for the likes of 300, Sin City, and Watchmen, all of which I enjoyed a great deal and to all of which he favorably compares The Spirit even if he can't quite bring himself to say the latter is actually good, this is very much starting to sound like the sort of thing I'll like a lot. And every time I catch myself kicking myself for buying the hype and not making a point of seeing this in the theater, I remind myself that I didn't buy the hype and did make a point of seeing it in the theater, but the projection was so shitty that I left and demanded a refund, and by the time my next chance to see it rolled around the movie had disappeared.
Despite the 'industry trend' of cancelling comic books to focus on graphic novels, Buenaventura Press boldly plans to release half a dozen actual comics over the coming year. We love the serial format that gave us masterpieces such as Eightball, Frank, Acme Novelty Library, Optic Nerve, Yummy Fur, Zap, Dirty Plotte, Palookaville, and Love & Rockets--and we want to keep alive the stapled marvel that is the comic book.
As part of this mission, Buenaventura Press is excited to announce the first in a new series: The BP Comics Revival Economic Stimulus 3-Pak! This Diamond exclusive is a throw-back to the ol' drugstore shrink-wrapped 3-packs, but with all new comics. Offered in the June 2009 Previews at $11.95, the first Pak includes two new series--Aviatrix #1 by Eric Haven and I Want You #1 by Lisa Hanawalt--plus the return of Ted May's Injury, with the brand new issue #3.
Working with Diamond's Jenny Christopher, a staunch supporter of independent comics and new cartoonists, we are offering the Economic Stimulus 3-Pak at a discount price. Diamond's distribution system allows us to maintain significant print runs that keep the price affordable. The comics will also be available individually at the BP webshop, Last Gasp, and select retailers. Issues will be priced at $4.95 each, making the 3-Pak a 3 dollar savings!
Stay tuned to Buenaventurapress.com for information on forthcoming comics, such as Matt Furie's Boy's Club #3, and more news from The Comics Revival!
* In this single episode alone, Serena got together with a guy, broke up with him, pretended to go out with another guy, "broke up" with him, got back together with the first guy, and got betrayed by him. In one episode! Similarly, Blair agreed to try to dupe Nate, decided against it, got snitched on, got dumped, and got back together with him. I don't think Lost's entire five-season Jack-Kate-Juliet love triangle was this eventful.
* Speaking of Lost, the whole unnecessary-secret-keeping thing was taken to ridiculous new heights during that seder scene. I definitely felt Wallace Shawn's frustration. Dan lied to his dad about working as a seder cater waiter (LOL), Lily lied to Rufus about why she brought him along, Serena lied to her mom about getting married, Serena lied to whatsisname about Dan being her boyfriend, Serena lied to Blair's mom about why she was there...did I miss anything? And other than Serena not wanting to tell her mom about getting married, did any of it make sense? Less of that kind of ridiculousness, please.
* Wow, I did not expect them to address Chuck's sexual assault on Jenny ever again. I really did believe it was akin to Batman shooting criminals to death in his early adventures, something that happened before the writers really had a handle on the character, which they'd chalk up to experience and simply move past. (Following that little righting-the-scales gag in season one where Jenny stranded Chuck on the roof in his underwear. Well, that takes care of that!) Bringing it up again is a very tricky thing. Obviously they still have to gloss over the severity of what occurred, and just how upset one would expect Jenny and her friends and family to rightfully still be, or the show wouldn't work anymore. But nor can they make it some horrifying Rihanna/Chris Brown situation. What they seem to be doing is using it to help establish just how emotionally isolated Chuck is under his billionaire playboy exterior, which actually is kind of an interesting thing to do with a post-Blair Chuck, certainly more interesting than the My First Eyes Wide Shut storyline was. Now, is it just me, or did I detect some groundwork being laid for a Chuck/Jenny romance, though? Is that possible? Is Gossip Girl on some Comedian/Silk Spectre shit?
* I still feel like the show is pretty clumsy at introducing new viable non-Wallace Shawn characters. This clown Serena banged in Spain doesn't seem to have much to offer personality-wise, and no, making him some kind of double-agent for Poppy, who is also underdeveloped, doesn't help. Meanwhile Nate's cousin still seems destined to disappear. I guess maybe they'll try to do something with Jenny's Monopoly buddy and his sister? I don't understand why they don't just make Eric a full-fledged cast member and build some more stories around him for crying out loud. (Admittedly I want to see some all-male make-outs on this show.)
* And hey, I didn't realize until I wrote that last paragraph that Vanessa wasn't even in this episode. She wasn't missed!
* This was actually an oddly heartwarming episode of Gossip Girl, when you think about it. Serena made up with her mom. Serena made up with Gideon(?) (even if he's a fink and a phony). Blair rejected Nate's grandfather's scheme. Nate seemed to have made up with his grandfather, at least a little. Blair made up with Nate. Nate made up with Chuck. (If only Nate made out with Chuck.) Blair and Serena snuggled. (See previous note.) Chuck apologized to Jenny. Rufus ended up in a pretty good place. Dorota is apparently in love (and royalty). Not even a bible-thumping Michelle Trachtenberg can take this moment away from us, friends.
From I guess Music for the Masses onward, the message of Depeche Mode's music is that sex is the only thing cool enough to temporarily disrupt depression. That's kind of an adolescent approach to these subjects, but also a mightily entertaining one.
* I interviewed The Stand: American Nightmares artist Mike Perkins about the Stephen King adaptation's upcoming all-Larry-in-the-Lincoln-Tunnel issue for Marvel.com. This is maybe my favorite Stand thing I've done, as it presented me with the opportunity to talk to Perkins about various horror-comic issues I've been thinking about for a long time. I hope you enjoy it.
* Speaking of Bowie, Matthew Perpetua did a great little piece for New York on why it's tough to love Lady Gaga. Unsurprisingly, I've given a lot of thought to Lady Gaga, and my take is basically the same as Matthew's: She's admirable, but the music's not there. In many ways she's comparable to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, sans Bowie's already extensive artistic past at that point (but complete with affinity for lightning-bolt face paint): a self-consciously arty weirdo trying to be subversive but also, equally importantly, determined to make giant hit records for the kids. Which is great! But the difference is, if you played "Hang On to Yourself" or "Moonage Daydream" to a theoretical me who didn't know who recorded them and told me it was the Bay City Rollers, I'd still be interested, whereas if you took a Lady Gaga song and told me it was by Britney Spears, i'd get about halfway through and then be like "Okay, that's enough." I mean, they're fine, but it's her that makes them interesting, not the music itself.
Something about the way the groove, the lyrics, and Zombie's voice interact in this particular song has always hooked me. It's confident, sexy, and a bit unpleasant at the same time. The way he says "living dead girl" is halfway between sneering condescension and mortal terror.
I'm really happy for Elbow's success and don't begrudge them for it one bit, especially since they're really awfully good at the uplift for which they have rightly won renown, but I do wish they'd kept sinister in their repertoire. They were really awfully good at that too.
* Just a couple more thoughts about the passing of Bea Arthur: The Golden Girls' Dorothy Zbornak is one of the all-time great sitcom characters. Her staunch, iconoclastic personal and political progressivism undercut by her actual lived experience, she was easily embarrassed by her own mistakes and shortcomings but never less than passionately proud of the person she had become--and her potential to become something even more--despite them. Her ability to acknowledge her flaws but power past them made her the perfect foil for Rose's naivete, Blanch's narcissism, and Sofia's provincialism, all of which she parried with her own trademark characteristic: bullshit-deflating sarcasm. As The Missus put it last night while we were discussing Dorothy, "They took the 'straight-man' character and made her funny.'" It was a brilliant maneuver brilliantly handled by Arthur, and I don't think any sitcom has done it as deftly. There's more value in a single Bea Arthur Golden Girls reaction shot than in entire episodes of How I Met Your Mother. She was the real deal.
The biggest challenge [of working on 52] was actually, wisely, kept from us by Steve [Wacker, the series' editor]. EIC Dan Didio, who first championed the concept, hated what we were doing. H-A-T-E-D 52. Would storm up and down the halls telling everyone how much he hated it. And Steve, God bless him, kept us out of the loop on that particular drama. [Subsequent editor Michael] Siglain, having less seniority, was less able to do so, and there's one issue of 52 near the end that was written almost totally by Dan and Keith Giffen because none of the writers could plot it to Dan's satisfaction. Which was and is his prerogative as EIC, but man, there's little more demoralizing than taking the ball down to the one-yard line and then being benched by the guy who kept referring to COUNTDOWN as "52 done right."
Place your bets on which issue that was. I've got a hunch myself.
* I feel like this is related too, somehow: Dan Nadel mulls over the life and career of Rocketeer creator and Bettie Page cultural archaeologist Dave Stevens. Dan's read of Stevens's aborted autobiography-cum-art book is that Stevens died disappointed that his output failed to live up to his ambitions; Dan then argues that those ambitions were inherently proscribed by Stevens's own artistic and aesthetic self-limitations, primarily driven by nostalgia for an outmoded illustration tradition, and further, that those limitations were ignored and their ramifications actively celebrated by Stevens's subcultural fellow travelers. It's a depressing series of thoughts. But you know what? I still see it playing out today. Creators who act as though they know better continue to play squarely within the aesthetic and financial playing field of the direct market's clients, despite any number of other options available at this point in the medium's history. And new order cutoffs be damned, Previews will still be crammed full of work by writers and artists who you just wish would take their brains and think bigger thoughts with them.
* They're remaking Videodrome. Oddly, I'm...kind of intrigued by the prospect of a thoroughly Hollywoodized versions of David Cronenberg's orificetravaganza. The world could use a little more high-gloss perversion.
* Finally, a very happy birthday to TheOneRing.net, an amazing 10 years old today. That's an uncountably long time in Internet years. And gosh, I actually remember checking the site out back when Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies were first announced in 1999, from the computer lab on Old Campus where I had to go to use the Internet because our ramshackle off-campus house didn't have it. TORn was a trailblazer for franchise-specific fansites, becoming a genuine industry powerhouse as far as all things Rings are concerned without ever devolving into attention-whoring or the meanspirited aspects of fandom in the process. I'm grateful for it and wish them 10 more years of success.
* Another illustration of the breakneck pace that makes Gossip Girl so satisfying a serialized-narrative experience despite having so much less going on than Lost, let alone your great HBO show of choice: Amount of screentime that passed between learning Gabriel was a double-agent last episode and having Chuck and Blair discover it in this episode? One segment. They didn't even let a commercial break pass this ep before Blair snapped Gabriel and Poppy canoodling on her cellphone. When they keep things moving at that rate you feel like you're getting your money's worth.
* Of course that also necessitates hitting certain beats over and over and over again, just because you need something to do. So by the end of the hour I was wondering if Nate and Blair would almost break up in every single episode.
* But back in the plus column, it means that predictable plotlines move along so quickly they don't have time to get too annoying. It was easy to see that poor, well-meaning, ineffectual Rufus was gonna get rooked by Gabriel and further fuck up Dan's chances at getting into Yale and his own ability to hang on to his art-gallery dreams, but I imagine all those cards will be on the table before the next episode is halfway over.
* I liked Georgina's return, which surprised me! I thought they'd play it for too-easy laughs more than they did, but her conversion was treated semi-sincerely, and she actually articulated a rationale for her newfound faith that made sense given what her experiences were. Plus it makes her essentially a new character, and it should be funny to see where she ends up.
* The cast-wide team-up against an archnemesis teased in the promo for next week's ep must mean we're getting close to the end of the season, huh?
* What was in that six-pack Dan and Vanessa split that laid them both out like that, grain alcohol?
* Oh, there's another case in point about the show's speed: Vanessa coughed up the truth about her Chuckfucking right quick.
* Speaking of Chuck, Ed Westwick had some priceless reaction shots in this episode. I particularly liked when he orchestrated the big Gabriel-Serena-Poppy confrontation, then sat down on the bed to watch the show. But he hasn't said "I'm Chuck Bass" in a long time, has he? I guess they don't want to overdo it. He's the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice.
* "Serena getting changed" scenes could fit alongside "Blair wears lingerie" scenes quite nicely. I'm just sayin'. Now we just need to add "Nate and Chuck finally make out" scenes to the mix.
"Or more precisely, why is the belief that the torture of captured combatants is wrong compatible with anything other than some form of pacifism? I mean this an actual question, not as a passive-aggressive assertion." ~Jim Manzi
One of the things that has kept me from saying much over the last week or so is my sheer amazement that there are people who seriously pose such questions and expect to be answered with something other than expressions of bafflement and moral horror. Something else that has kept me from writing much on this recently is the profoundly dispiriting realization (really, it is just a reminder) that it is torture and aggressive war that today’s mainstream right will go to the wall to defend, while any and every other view can be negotiated, debated, compromised or abandoned. I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time.
* Here's a bunch of information on Grant Morrison's upcoming seven-issue series Multiversity, ripped from the pages of Wizard in what strikes me as a little less than fair-use fashion. There will be a Fawcett issue doing Captain Marvel in an All Star Superman style, a Charlton issue using the original Charlton heroes in lieu of their Watchmen analogues, the whole thing will be one of those "stand-alone issues that introduce a whole new world but interlock to tell a non-linear story" Seven Soldiers deals that will be full of amazing ideas that no one at DC will ever use again, etc. (Via JK Parkin.)
* Tom Devlin talks up Marc Bell's upcoming 272-page art book Hot Potatoe. I'll be honest, I'd be a lot more excited about this if there were more comics content and fewer pages 85% comprised of doodled curlicues, but I guess I understand where the money's at for the guys who straddle the fine-art/comics border. I mean, shit, Shrimpy & Paul and Worn Tuff Elbow were tremendous.
* I thought this episode was simultaneously one of the more predictable and well-acted eps this season. On the predictable front, I was pretty sure from the jump that Widmore was Daniel's dad, and it wasn't tough to guess that Eloise was grooming Daniel to his death all along in order to set other events in motion. And "predictable" isn't the right word for this, but the heavy-handed "I'm putting personality-warping pressure on you, my child, because that's what parents do on this show" scene between Eloise and piano-playing Tiny Daniel was straight outta similar earlier encounters between young Charlie and his parents, young Jack and his dad, young Miles and his mom, young Ben and his dad, young Sun and her dad, young Sayid and his dad, and on and on and on.
* But on the acting front, Jeremy Davies is yet another one of the show's richly enjoyable performance discoveries, and he's given more to do here than ever before. I was particularly impressed by the painful way he displayed his post-experiment mental disabilities in the flashbacks. He also made for a convincing long-haired science weirdo in the "guy in Val Kilmer's closet in Real Genius" mode. His death was well played as well, with a great "I shoulda known" vibe overlaid upon his grief.
* I was also impressed by Elizabeth Mitchell's work here. Her fatalism ever since the return of the Oceanic, uh, Four has been a lovely note for the show to play, and having all her fears confirmed in this dramatic fashion enabled her to do a lot with it. I love how she can flip an internal switch to make her beatific (okay, and botoxed) face segue from serene to devastated by intensifying the look in her eyes and twitching the edges of that ducklike mouth just so.
* This is down to the writing as well, but I was really grateful for the degree to which Sawyer went out of his way to apologize to her and comfort her. Mitchell and Josh Holloway have real, loving-couple chemistry in addition to the in-story connection between their characters, and I hope the show's writers realize what a mistake it would be to re-involve them with Jack or Kate again.
* Regarding the central development of the episode as expressed in its title, "The Variable," I'm of two minds regarding the newly advanced notion that maybe we can change the past. (Well, more or less "newly advanced"--Daniel's implication in sending Desmond on his mission to find Eloise was that Desmond, at least, is able to operate freely in time, independent from the "whatever happened, happened" constraint.) On the one hand, I think Lost's great achievement in dealing with time travel is coming up with such a thematically elegant counter to the time travel paradox.
Back when I first watched The Terminator, it occurred to me that if Skynet sent a terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, there wouldn't have been time for adult John Connor to send Kyle Reese back in time to stop the terminator: barring Kyle Reese's involvement, the terminator would have had no problem killing Sarah, which would have wiped John Connor from the existence, which means he wouldn't have been able to discover Skynet's plot and send Kyle back in time hot on the terminator's heels. Then I was like "Whoa, wait a minute--if that's how it worked, Skynet would never have needed to send a terminator back in time in the first place, because John Connor would never be born and there'd never be a resistance to send a terminator back in time to prevent." And this is all without even getting into the idea that John sent Kyle back in time to be his own dad, or that Skynet in essence did the same thing by sending the terminator back in time only to have his design and circuitry inspire the creation of Skynet in the first place. Basically, in order to even have a story to tell with time travel working as it does in the James Cameron Terminator movies, you sorta just have to arbitrarily declare a cut-off point after which you're not going to worry about the ramifications--you're just going to tell the story, even though its own events dictate that the story could never be told.
By contrast, Lost argues that whatever time travelers do in the past is fixed. Nothing can change as a result of what they do, because what they do is more accurately described as what they did--by the time they were sent back in time, their actions while time travelling were already 30 years in the past. There's one timestream, and in it, whatever happened, happened. The elegance comes in how that euphonious bit of sci-fi exposition resonates as philosophy, as a theme for a show that has long concerned itself with questions of fate, destiny, and free will.
So in that light, I'm hesitant to believe that this diktat is going to go out the window, and (as the message board types are theorizing) season six will be some kind of "everything has changed!!!!" Heroes/"Days of Future Past" scenario--not just because the creators have said they wanted to establish firm ground rules for time travel to avoid confusion, but also because it's such a narratively and thematically satisfying approach.
On the other hand, it's easy to picture the show wanting to make some kind of point about how we're free, how we can break out of the roles imposed upon us by cruel fate or sinister puppetmasters or the relentlessness of space-time and change the world for the better. Just because the show hasn't come out and done that so far--just because it's been pretty rigorous in refusing to give characters like Jack, Locke, and Desmond an out from their destinies, frequently to their detriment--doesn't mean it won't, particularly as the finale nears.
* Okay, enough of that. Now some short but sweet observations:
* Eloise seems a little old compared to Daniel to be his mom, no? I mean, she was at the very least in her late teens in 1954--how old is Daniel supposed to be? I'm sure that Gregg Nations has the dates written down, but it looks weird.
* If, as it seems, Li'l Miles and his mom and Li'l Charlotte and her mom flee in advance of the Incident, does this mean that all the children do so, and does that mean that we'll finally see Li'l Ben's doll-making girlfriend Annie again? And would that also mean that the Incident has something to do with the Island's infertility problem and its inhabitants inability to successfully reproduce afterwards?
* Radzinksy's a great annoying bad guy. It's too bad we know he lives to hang out with Inman in the Hatch and then kill himself, because I would like to see someone ice him.
* It sure was nice to see the whole gang get back together even if they immediately broke apart. I'm not quite sure why Hurley wouldn't have gone with Jack and Kate, though.
* I bought Miles needing to explain the fact that the characters are all currently living in their own present to Hurley, because Hurley's the audience-indentification character and therefore the writers have to make him stupid. But Jack is a very smart guy, so having him not be able to grasp how their journeys through time work and needing Miles to explain it to him (i.e. to us) rang false.