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.
The key sequence in the comic Dan Clowes serialized through The New York Times' Funny Pages section a couple years back (!!!) comes in its October 28th. 2007 installment. Up to that point, and afterwards in fact, you could fairly comfortably play the theme song to Curb Your Enthusiasm in the background while reading and get roughly the right effect. The titular character, a graying sad sack named Marshall, is so self-obsessed in a self-deprecating manner that it's almost a mental illness. In a series of one-page sequences he waits for a blind date he's increasingly sure will never arrive, mentally lashing out at himself and his fellow coffee-shop patrons in a torrent of caption boxes that superimpose themselves on action and dialogue alike. Clowes's comedic pacing is drum-tight, his portraiture hilariously scathing, able to capture the pleading vulnerabilites of a human face and then exploit them ruthlessly. You're left wondering if this will ultimately be as biting a portrait of a pathetic, bitter guy as was The Death-Ray (only, you know, with no ray guns).
Things don't exactly improve when Marshall's blind date, a lovely if seemingly scatterbrained woman just shy of 40 named Natalie, actually shows up. Marshall, who at this point is half-drunk, immediately begins constructing elaborate fantasies of their happy life together, basically calling her the most perfect person who ever existed--the better to preemptively excoriate himself for blowing it with every fumbled word or body-language cue. Most of what she says to him is obscured by his interior-monlogue captions: Immediately after thinking to himself, "O.K., Marshall -- now's the perfect time to show what a sympathetic and attentive listener you are -- eye contact, Marshall! Concentrate!", he interrupts a word balloon containing the story of her failed marriage with a giant block of narration beginning "So here's the basic gist:". It's smart cartooning, as you'd expect from Daniel effing Clowes, and it's nasty and funny, as you'd also expect.
Then something unexpected, and subsequently unremarked-upon, happens. Marshall relates to us the story of Natalie's common-law marriage, a 15-year relationship that began in grad school and ended when she could no longer forgive her boyfriend's laughing dismissal of her worry that their lack of an actual marriage or children meant he was ashamed of her. It's just a four-panel sequence, but it's done in these lovely glacial blues, and there's this gut-wrenching effect Clowes uses to convey the idea that "every time she went into that room, the laugh was there": A large, three dimensional, yellow block-letter "HA HA," first sitting on the kitchen table, then towering over the whole room like a monument.
It's not made explicit, but here's the thing: This isn't Natalie's memory of the disintegration of her relationship. This is Marshall's mental reconstruction of Natalie's story, pitched to us with the same no-bull neurosis as everything else he's told us so far. Only it's beautiful, it's thoughtful, it's sad and crushing. For these four panels only, all traces of Marshall's compulsive self-absorption and solipsism are gone. Whatever he thinks of himself in the moment, we know he really did empathize with Natalie, he really did listen attentively, he really does care about her not as an idealized ticket out of his miserable lonely life, but as a person with a story all her own. For all the Larry David humor and brutal caricature in here, that's the beating heart of the story, hidden under all the black. I think it's worth remembering the next time you hear someone dismiss Clowes as a misanthropic self-loathing crank. Mister Wonderful is a story about the need to cling to one another in the face of not just the world's awfulness but also your own, because what else are you gonna do? It doesn't skimp on the awfulness, but the clinging's the point.
* Sylvester Stallone is 99% sure he won't make a fifth Rambo movie. I'm fine with that. More fine if he was gonna go in the "Rambo vs. genetically engineered soldier-monster" direction he'd mooted, less fine if he was gonna go in the "Rambo vs. Juarez" direction, but basically fine either way because how do you top the last one?
* I've got something to say: Go buy Henry & Glenn Forever, the new collection of romantic gag strips starring Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig by Tom Neely and his Igloo Tornado compatriots. Don't think about it--do it!
"It's so funny because when the economy first started collapsing, everyone was freaking out and asking when comics would be hit, but now that things have really taken a toll on sales, no one is saying shit about it."
Zak's thesis, which I take it is derived from a considerable body of thought and writing on RPGs, is that between a full-fledegd railroad and its opposite, a "sandbox" in which anything the players want to do goes, there are infinite gradations. Thinking back on my one glorious D&D campaign, I'm not sure how to characterize it using Zak's terminology, because what my DM--the great Bill DeFranza, who I'm told is now professionally writing RPG material so look out, suckers--did was, over the course of months and I think even years (before I joined the campaign), deceive the players as to what was going on via a non-player character who was secretly a total bastard. Essentially, our ragtag group hooked up at some point with a mindflayer named Oolitek who, despite what we knew of his race's proclivities, seemed to be a stand-up guy. In addition to helping us out of jams and giving us advice, he would actually say emotionally involving and moving things to us about issues in our characters' lives. Seriously, I loved this dude. Alas, it turned out he was manipulating us all along to slowly eliminate major monsters, magic users, and power centers so that he and his cohorts could apocalyptically blot out the sun and unleash the Underdark upon the surface world, which is precisely what ended up happening. Now, were we steered toward this conclusion? Without a doubt. Once we took down the last major obstacle for Oolitek's plot--a beholder, iirc--could we have stopped it no matter what we did? I sort of think not; I had some sort of disintegrator ray-gun I stole from an off-world spaceship that had crashed (leading to a lot of confusion for my medieval-level mind), and even though I missed when I blasted the big doomsday device Oolitek's pals had constructed, I sort of doubt Bill would have let me gum up the works in the end. But none of us minded, because it was such a great story, and moreover one that was totally contingent on our group's desire to Do Good in the wake of a variety of lousy personal choices each of us had made in the past. Plus, we could have avoided it all along if we'd, you know, never trusted a fucking mindflayer.
Anyway. Personally, I think you can apply many of Zak's lessons about railroading directly to fiction writing. Sure, your characters don't have the autonomy that real-live player characters in a role-playing game have--but wouldn't you like it to feel like they do?
* The San Diego Comic-Con is raising the price of extra exhibitor badges from $75 to $200? That's a massive year-to-year increase, that's for sure, though I know so little about the economics of the Big Show that I hardly feel equipped to comment. My first instinct is that yes, this is a way to price out smaller exhibitors to make more room for the big guns given the lack of elbow room the show now has, but I'd be happy to be persuaded otherwise as I find the show a generally admirable organization in terms of its attempts to balance art and commerce and the needs of a wide variety of media and fandoms. (Via Kevin Melrose.)
* The strange thing about episodes at this stage is that you can't really be shocked by any deaths, because you only have four episodes to go including tonight's and this show being what it is you know some major characters are going to die, while moreover there are only so many left to kill. It's not like early on where every death was a stunner because whoa, they killed a main character; it's not like later where you knew what they were capable of but never were quite sure when or on whom the ax would fall. Now the only question is, like, will Kate's bullet wound be fatal, or will Sawyer's charge of the Light Brigade give him the blaze of glory we've all be reasonably sure he's been heading for.
* Turns out the answer in both cases is no, which I'm glad for; I didn't expect Sawyer or Kate to die this early, not really, but nor did I expect Jin and Sun to die at all. That strikes me as a real gutpunch to the show's own emotional core. Jin and Sun episodes were as constant as the sunrise.
* What I'm really glad about is the final scene with the castaways, where you finally have them react to loss the way people in the real world react, which is to cry. When Hurley broke down...yeah, that was a toughie.
* I'm glad Sayid was redeemed in the end, via one of the show's favorite paths to redemption, volunteering to take the brunt of a bomb blast. It was good to have old, calm, expert Sayid back one last time. Plus, "It's going to be you, Jack." Nice and cryptic.
* I felt bad for Jin and Sun's kid. I spent most of that scene figuring Sun would finally say "you have to live for Ji Yeon" and Jin would reluctantly swim to safety. As it turns out they didn't appear to be thinking about Ji Yeon. Sorry, kid.
* Jack being right about the bomb was a step in the redemption direction for a character that fans and fellow characters alike have written off as a habitual fuck-up, so of course I liked that.
* I figure Lapidus will live to quip another day. Or not, I don't really care, he was kind of a waste of time all told. It's nice that he was genre-y, but so what.
* I know that the flashsideways material should feel like an afterthought or an also-ran in an episode like this, but it didn't. Those right there are your two central characters hashing some major things out. That scene in the hospital hallway at the end, where John laughs at the notion of letting go, is one of my favorites in the whole history of the show.
* I was also very happy, for some reason, to see Jack meet Helen. Somehow that makes Locke's happiness more real...?
* Did you notice the editing that suggested Jack was dreaming of his flashsideways self?
* Glad to get rid of the miscast dougy scientist Widmorian. (Widmoron?)
* So how long has the MIB's plan been in effect? Just recently, or was he trying to get other people to kill off the Candidates, or get them to kill each other, all along? Maybe he needed to bump off Jacob first and only then was it worth going after the Candidates. I suppose that makes sense.
* Where was Widmore during the various fracases?
* I wonder if we won't get the big "here's the secret history of the Island and Jacob and the MIB" until the "two-part series finale," i.e. not next episode but the episode after that.
All apologies to Ken Parille, but I don't think the kaleidoscopic array of styles in which Daniel Clowes drew Wilson says much of anything. I think that's the gag. And I mean this aside from the fact that these are all styles you saw Clowes employ (and no duh--as with Ware, it's almost boring at this point to mention that the guy is an absolute titan of craft) with full shock-of-the-new force in Eightball #22/Ice Haven, where the Sunday-funnies format made their import a lot clearer. Here, it's like Thirty Two Short Films About Some Dickhead, or that guy who pointed out that all New Yorker cartoons are funny if you caption them with "Christ, what an asshole." Draw it how you will: Wilson's always there, in medium close-up more often than not, a wide-eyed and open-mouthed expression of guileless wonder on his face more often than not, saying something fucking horrible almost constantly. No matter how you shake and dance, the last two drops go in your pants; no matter whether he's detailed or abstracted or realistic or cartoony or full-color or two-tone or black-and-white or whatever the hell, Wilson is a massive, massive tool.
Wilson is sort of like the refined, sharpened, weaponized version of Mister Wonderful. Marshall is self-absorbed, Wilson is self-absorbed and cruel. Each single-page unit of Mister Wonderful is paced like a gag strip; the same is true of Wilson, only there are four times as many of them, and they're at someone's expense. There's hope for Marshall; Wilson ends on a note akin to The Godfather Part II. Mister Wonderful is funny; Wilson is hilarious--I read this on the train and was embarrassingly vocal in my enjoyment of it. The second I got to a computer I made "PROPERTY OF SIR D.A.D.D.Y. BIG-DICK" my Google Chat status, I emailed my friends the entirety of Wilson's disquisition on The Dark Knight, and even now I can't think of "Hey, it talks!" without laughing out loud. Marshall is preoccupied with making a connection with someone outside himself, even if he's constantly hamstringing his attempts to do so; the only times Wilson appears able to take that step is when death has rendered it too little, too late. This book is utterly mean and hilarious, and I loved every page.
Some time during, oh, the fourth Saw flick or so, this much should have been clear to even the most ardent horror defender: we’re the ones who are really being tortured. We slog through so much garbage and for what? To find that rare diamond in a rough like back in the VHS days? To see just how far cinema will go to freak us out and make us squirm? To actually freak out and squirm? Because being smarter than garbage beats being dumber than art? I don't know really what the point is (probably a little from each of the presented scenarios), but I know that I'm a gleeful masochist.
"Because being smarter than garbage beats being dumber than art"--friends, is that a tagline for all of nerd culture?
In addition to the usual enlightening back-and-forth, in this week's Lost thoughts comment thread you fan find a couple of observations from me regarding last night's episode that occurred to me since I wrote the original post last night. They're on the meatier side, and normally I'd have created a second full-fledged post for them, but I didn't want to derail the discussion. Check them out, and please weigh in if you'd like.
* Seriously, read Matt Zoller Seitz's anti-superhero-movie piece in Salon. It's no secret what an admirer of Seitz's I am, but I hope you'll believe me any way that it's a cut above the screeds you've seen along these lines from, I don't know, Roger Ebert or Ron Rosenbaum, or a Comics Journal message board user in 2002, or whatever. It's the kind of thing where you can disagree with several of his specific assessments of superhero movies--I love Burton's Batman and hate Spider-Man 2, just for example--and still agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion. For me, the prosecution could present the Fantastic Four movies as Exhibit A in The People vs. Superhero Movies and rest their case immediately--you have access to the definitive work of one of the greatest visual thinkers in any medium of the entire 20th century, and that's what you come up with? Anyway, I talk a bit more about Seitz's piece on Robot 6. Suffice it to say I've been thinking and chatting a lot about the goonish conservatism of nerd culture for the past few days--ever since Wilson came out, I believe--so this piece was a nice bit of synchronicity.
* Despite its lack of anything from The Wizard of Oz (flying monkeys!!!), this list of disturbing moments in kids' movies from Topless Robot's Ethan Kaye has a strong blend of iconic horrors (Willy Wonka's tunnel is the predictable and deserving #1, you've got the Child Catcher and Bambi's mom) with offbeat and personal choices (the clown nightmare instead of Large Marge in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, also-ran animated features like Scruffy and The Black Cauldron, which reminds me I wanna reread the Prydain Chronicles).
I just got very, very upset--like, I had to fast-forward--by a commercial for (I think) AT&T wireless because it was using the song "From the Morning" by Nick Drake. I just couldn't bear to hear a song like that in a commercial. Then I realized that this must be exactly how all the people who already listened to Nick Drake before that Volkswagon commercial that used "Pink Moon" came out--which is how I first heard of Nick Drake.
Most of the minicomics I've read have one overriding, primary purpose: They're an art object, they're a formal exercise, they're a concise storytelling or visual statement. L. Nichols's Jumbly Junkery has a purpose, I think, but instead of a well-placed sniper's bullet, it's a shotgun blast. The goal of her one-woman anthology minicomics series appears to be nothing more or less than creating a vehicle for the unfiltered self-expression of a cartoonist with a massively prodigious work ethic. It's a conveyor belt from the artist's brain to the reader's.
Most of the strips in these two issues, based on my unscientific survey, are little autobiographical sketches. They're the sort of comic where
each new phrase
is separated out from the others
and captions each new panel
for an effect that is at once staccato
Which is not my favorite writing style in the world, admittedly. But in Nichols' case it doesn't come across like the comics-as-poetry nightmare you might be picturing, because it's so clearly tied to her compulsion to create. It's like she can't help but draw a new panel for every phrase and clause. The two issues are peppered with strips where she either contemplates her constant drawing or perseverates on the worrying feeling that, you know, this is all there is, occasionally combining as she fears that what she's doing is an insufficient means of transcending both her own inadequacies and those of humanity in general. In all three cases, there's a sense of obsession that goes a long way toward undercutting any potential cutesiness in the art or execution. Throw in the repeated motif of mathematical formulae, derived from her own studies IRL and serving the same purpose as those spotted mandalas in Blankets, and you can understand what she's going through even you're not quite ready to go along with her.
Nichols works primarily in a pleasantly cartoony style best exemplified by her self-caricature as a stuffed doll with x'd-out button eyes and a mohawk. Again, there's the danger of twee, but it's undercut by genuinely deft gray shading, the doll's unsettling featurelessness, and an overall attention to craft. Moreover, issue #9 displays a wide array of styles, from a wiry, scratchy, more recognizably "altcomix" philosophical comic to an abstract comic with Mondrian-style squares to a cleaner, slicker "comic strip" style complete with zipatone to an almost xkcd-ish bit on the white noise of technology to a funny-animal thing that feels like a Matt Furie comic drawn by someone who does kids comics for First Second. And since most of the stories in both issues are just one or two pages long, there's a pleasant idea churn. Don't like this strip? Don't worry, there's a new one on the next page. All told, Jumbly Junkery is a fine example of a minicomic as a means to an end, a record of and venue for a cartoonist's progress rather than a discreet declaration.
* A He-Man & the Masters of the Universe art show featuring Matt Furie, Nick Gazin, Brandon Graham, Corey Lewis, Angie Wang, and that Adrian Riemann guy who did those awesome Hipsters of the Universe fashion illos a while back? Floating World, you have made me burn with desire.
* Mike Mignola talks to Kiel Phegley about Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain and the Mignola/Arcudi Hellboy/BPRD folklore/pulp divide. A regular interview series about the Mignolaverse is a real mitzvah.
* Speaking of Douglas and Techland, it was quite fortuitous that his piece on how the common-sense-defying policies of the Big Two comics publishers regarding same-day digital delivery of their products came out on the exact same day as Tom Spurgeon's lengthy, meaty interview with retailer Brian Hibbs, in which Hibbs expresses as his overriding, number-one wish regarding digital comics that the Big Two publishers avoid same-day digital delivery. Simply put, I think that if Marvel and DC ever really get involved in digital comics, Brian doesn't have a prayer of his wish coming true. In the wake of the iPad I wouldn't be surprised at all if you see moves in that direction this year, in fact. And not a moment too soon. You just can't expect publishers to throw money away forever, not when there's a demonstrated demand for doing things a certain way that's already being met by pirates. And I agree with Douglas that, contra Brian, it's very much the "gotta read it by Wednesday afternoon!" crowd that will fire digital sales, not civilians looking for perennials. They'll be part of it, but once they're provided with an easy way to follow things as they come out, that's what they'll do, same as they do with TV shows and movies and music and whatever else.
I think that Chris Sims's piece on "the racial politics of regressive storytelling"--by which he means the way that resurrecting the original versions of characters like Green Lantern, the Atom, the Legion of Super-Heroes and so on has the unintended but unavoidable effect of re-whitening these franchises--ignores a lot of important details and thus badly misdiagnoses the source of this problem. But I'll start by pointing out its strengths: Yeah, you know what, it is weird that concepts like the Flash and the Legion are so nostalgic despite being literally about forward motion and the future, as Sims points out on his own blog (though I like Geoff Johns's takes on those characters anyway). Also, this isn't exactly news, but it is indeed silly the way so many ethnic characters have nationality-or-stereotype-based powers (though as Sims notes, that's true of plenty of nominally "white" European characters as well--Banshee, anyone?). And in general, it's certainly not healthy for the superhero genre to be so inward-looking; as Sims notes, we're a long way from Frank Miller and Alan Moore, whose successes stemmed in part from bringing in outside influences and from their restless desire to do things that hadn't been done with these characters and concepts before. Finally, Sims is quite right to point out the grotesque undercurrent of majoritarian whinging you occasionally detect from fans, marginalizing non-white characters like John Stewart as "Black Lantern" and bitching about Idris Elba and Michael Clarke Duncan getting cast in movies and so on.
But while Sims's central argument can't really be denied--obviously, replacing (say) the Asian-American Atom or African-American Firestorm with their Caucasian forerunners does indeed make the DC line-up that much whiter--I think blaming it, as he does, on blinkered and compulsive nostalgia-mongering is misleading.
First of all, I've always thought the "legacy" concept, by which older characters are replaced by younger ones who inherit their basic costume-and-power-set concept, is one of the weirdest and lamest things about superhero comics. If Lost introduced a new doctor character with short hair and daddy issues and called him Jack, would it be "galling" or "regressive" for the audience, or subsequent writers, to want to bring the original guy back? Perhaps once upon a time, in its original form, when then-defunct Golden Age characters were replaced by Silver Age characters who were like totally different things, giving an old character's name to a new one was the sort of forward-thinking freshmaker that Douglas Wolk has argued it is. But that's very different from the "legacy" concept we know today--as I've said before, they're all about new characters' compulsion to live up to their forebears, no more forward-thinking than my college buddy's dad naming him William Howard Taft V.
Secondly, I'm frankly not convinced that very many of these characters are such great losses beyond the surface value of their, uh, surfaces. Ryan Choi and Jason Rusch, the most recent Atom and Firestorm, are the stars of canceled series with no evident fanbase. At any rate, they're still around and useable, and in fact they've both starred in big-deal event comics lately (Ryan in Cry for Justice, Jason in the ongoing Brightest Day where he shares the Firestorm powers with his white forerunner Ronnie Raymond). I also think it's a stretch for Sims to rope newer Flash Wally West into the argument because his wife is...Korean-American, I guess, though you'd never know it from looking at any of the pictures I've ever seen of her. Ditto newer Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, who apparently and hilariously was retconned into being Latino. If you have to cite Yolanda Montez to shore up your argument, you're grasping. ("Who?" Exactly.) As for the Legion, even semi-seriously citing that green skins/blue skins/black skins line is indicative of how goofy this is. And the less said Sims's likening of the creation of an alternate Earth for more recent iterations of old superhero concepts to "the unintentional building of a cosmic-scale meta-textual ghetto," the better.
In a nutshell, I think Sims's argument is DC-based by necessity, since that's the universe where the most prominent non-white characters have tended to be revamps of preexisting superhero mantles previously held by white dudes. If you look at most of the better, longest-lasting, most prominent superheroes who aren't white--Storm, Luke Cage, Black Panther--they're their own thing, not substitutes for previous characters. To filter it through a more familiar lens, I think it's widely accepted that superheroines are considered lame is that so many of them are obvious, borderline creepy knock-off versions of the male characters like She-Hulk, Spider-Woman. (I think Supergirl and Batgirl clicked because they're more like sidekicks.) Again, the ones who really work--Wonder Woman, Jean Grey, the Invisible Woman, Storm again--tend to be their own thing.
Moreover, and contra the likes of the DC characters mentioned above, the big Marvel non-white characters are associated with influential, acclaimed runs by important creators: Storm's from the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-Men, Luke Cage was rescued from obscurity by peak-of-his-powers Brian Michael Bendis for Alias and then placed at the forefront of the company-defining New Avengers, Black Panther is a goddamn Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four castmember. I know plenty of '90s-era comics readers who are fond of Kyle or Wally and his wife Linda, and there are any number of superhero blogs who could tell you how much they enjoyed the low-double-digit runs of the recent Blue Beetle or Firestorm comics, but we're clearly on a different level here.
Now, I know that the "one true versions" of Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), the Flash (Barry Allen), the Atom (Ray Palmer) et al who have recently been resurrected were all themselves replacements for earlier superheroes with those names. But there were many other variables in play here. For starters, the previous holders of those titles were, for the most part, predecessors in name only: The concepts for the original Green Lantern and Atom were very different, for example. They'd also been pretty much out of commission for quite some time before their publishers decided to reinvigorate their IP by coming up with new characters for those monikers. As Franklin Harris notes, this means the earlier versions didn't have to be killed off or otherwise forcibly marginalized to make room for their replacements, which isn't true for guys like Hal and Barry and Ray; I'd imagine that Harris is right to say that this is the source of a lot of lingering desire to bring back the previous versions.
This is getting into personal preference now, but of the suite of non-white heroes currently flying around the DCU, I'm not surprised to discover that my favorites--though not originals like Storm and Cage and the Panther--tend not to follow the usual model of copycatting a previous template as closely as their shunted-to-the-side counterparts. African-American Green Lantern John Stewart works for the same reason that white Green Lantern Guy Gardner works: They fit in as fellow members of the Green Lantern Corps, a concept that can allow for multiple people with the same power set, rather than as direct replacements for a slain Hal Jordan as was the apparently Mexican-American Kyle Rayner. Steel shares a name with some previous DC hero I don't have the first clue about, but he's also a can't-miss combination of Iron Man with Superman's cape, Thor's hammer, and an iconic African-American legend's name (John Henry Irons = AWESOME secret identity), all of which I'm reasonably sure didn't apply to the last guy. Jaime Reyes is a direct replacement of the previous, murdered Blue Beetle, yeah, but he's so different in identity (suburban teenager vs. grown-man billionaire inventor) and power set (magic alien artifact vs. basic eccentric tech stuff) that he feels less like a sub and more like what Hal Jordan was to Alan Scott. Plus, he's in a very popular cartoon series, which is really the bottom line: The characters with the most purchase in the minds of fans and in pop-culture at large tend to be the ones who win out in the end, which is why the Green Lantern who originated the modern concept and starred in decades of stories and Super Friends beats the Green Lantern who gave us "women in refrigerators," the crab mask, and relative obscurity.
My point is that if you don't like the whitening of the DCU as it's playing out through the return of Silver Age whitebread heroes, don't blame Geoff Johns's Rebirth comics or the fans who buy them--blame the people who thought the best way to diversify the DCU was to stick new guys in the old guys' laundry.
Henry & Glenn Forever
Tom Neely, Scott Nobles, Gin Stevens, [anonymous], writers/artists
Igloo Tornado/Cantankerous Titles, April 2010
$5 Buy it from Microcosm Publishing
When I was a teenager, even though I didn't much care for their music, I was at the very least entertained by Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig purely on a "who'd win in a fight?" level. This was the early '90s, and the concept of broadly defined alternative musicians with actual visible muscles was something of a mindblower, to say nothing of the superhero levels to which these two guys took it. Although spitballing which of the two would come out on top in hand-to-hand comeback has since been largely rendered moot, I'd imagine Henry & Glenn remain associated with one another in the minds of many lo these many years later by dint of their toyetic physiques (and their equally genre-art-badass mutual love of black clothing), quite aside from their shared role at the roots of hardcore. In that light it's no surprise that in one of this book's sixty or so one-page gags on the idea of Rollins and Danzig as a committed couple, they're simply drawn as Colossus and Wolverine respectively, without further comment. If either man has spent any time in your ideaspace, no explanation is necessary.
Produced by The Blot's Tom Neely and his compatriots in the Igloo Tornado collective (the fourth member of which appears to wish to remain anonymous for the purposes of this project), Henry & Glenn Forever is an email your friends, hey-you-gotta-see-this meme in minicomic form for one simple reason: It takes hardcore's two most self-consciously self-styled tough guys and casts them as lovers, not fighters. It helps if you're familiar with some of their music, since there are a handful of gags (particularly Neely's) based on Black Flag or Misfits lyrics--including the outrageously tumblriffic image I stuck at the top of this review, as well as another that's both one of the comics' few gross-out gags and almost completely indecipherable unless you know the line that comes after the line Glenn utters in the panel. But in general, all you need do is, y'know, look at how Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins look, and then sit back and enjoy how funny it is to think of them as a sweet romantic couple who wish they could spend more time together, hate themselves for arguing, write about their Hot Topic shopping sprees in their diaries, fret about whether their fishnets will still fit them if they go see Rocky Horror at the Nuart, and so on.
Lest you worry it's a one-note project, a goodly number of the jokes go in different directions. Some preserve Henry & Glenn's machismo but take it to ridiculous levels: In one panel they've replaced their hands with guns and knives, in another they've sprouted the black horns of a "unicorn of death." There's a subplot involving their nextdoor neighbors Darryl Hall and John Oates, cast here as very polite Satanists. And there are plenty of jokes directly at the expense of werewolf-loving, Hitler-studying, occult-dabbling Danzig that would work whether or not he and Henry Rollins were in love. Rollins, who in my day became something of a poster child for alt-culture elitism, is roasted a couple of times on those grounds, but he's generally the straight man here. So to speak. In a world where Oates's mustache is the star of its own animated series, the jokes about those two yachtrockers fall a little flat, but I laughed a lot at pretty much everything. (And okay, seeing the two of them say "Oh, I can't go for that!" "No can do!" as Henry and Glenn erect an anti-Prop 8 sign on their front yard made me laugh too.)
If you're looking for a gorgeous art showcase, you'll probably wanna look elsewhere: Of the four Igloo Tornado guys, Neely's the only real cartoonist in the bunch. I love the visual shorthand he developed for the pair: Rollins is a towering, barefooted, squint-eyed, unibrowed, flattopped ogre, Danzig a tiny, doughy imp with Annie Warbucks's eyes and Veronica Lodge's hair. The rest of the gang cartoons just well enough to get their gags across, and honestly that's part of the charm--Neely's chops aside, this thing looks and reads like a book you and your friends could have put together after drunkenly stumbling across the idea, cracking up the whole while. Which, as I understand, is exactly what Neely & Company did. Sometimes, it pays to heed the words of a wise man: "Don't think about--do it!"
* Tom Spurgeon joins Matt Zoller Seitz in kicking superhero movies around, more or less, and like Seitz he does so from the position of someone who'd like to see something that even remotely approximates Jack Kirby on his worst day. Where Spurge diverges from Seitz, if I'm reading him correctly, is in saying that the tendency of the better superhero movies to be seen (even rightly seen) as such based on the strength of a single strong performance or small number of visually memorable moments is a feature, not a bug. This despite the fact that I believe Spurgeon has much less use for superheroes overall than does Seitz, though my hoped-for Sean/Spurge/Seitz slumber party has yet to materialize for me to gauge this first-hand. Spurgeon docks points for Seitz's theoretical wider range for the genre, which Tom sees as crazytalk given not just Hollywood's tried-and-true template for making money from superheroes, but the shallowness of the genre itself.
* I particularly liked this bit:
I think Iron Man 2's step back from record opening box office and the mediocre US box-office performance for Kick-Ass indicate the end of the genre's initial, immense grace period, a new act in their development that was probably instigated by the 1-2 punch of the first Iron Man movie and Dark Knight. Those two movies were immense pleasures for their respective, gigantic audiences; it's hard to imagine success for too many movies that don't provide at least a rough equivalent of their thrills -- or movies that don't seem to work that way not being viewed as something most people can see six months later at home.
In other words, we've reached Peak Nerd. My personal spin on this is that given the failure of Watchmen to convincingly carve out a space in the superhero movie genre akin to what The Godfather did for gangster movies--a failure of both interest and ability on Zack Snyder's part--The Dark Knight and Iron Man 1 are going to be seen to be as good as it gets--the perfect excuse not to go see some movie you're interested in but suspect will offer you diminishing returns by comparison. (For what it's worth, no, I haven't seen Iron Man 2 yet, but it's family circumstances that are to blame, not a lack of interest--though given the choice I'd probably first go see an entirely different movie about an iron person, the restored Metropolis.)
* I already linked to this, but you really should take whatever amount of time it takes you to read Tom Spurgeon's interview with Brian Hibbs. Even aside from the subjective but/and/and-therefore fascinating portrait it paints of comics retail circa 2010, I just think that in general, more people should agree to do interviews in which the stated goal of one of the participants is to cordially poke holes in the positions of the other. This is particularly true in comics, where that virtually never happens. Good on Brian and Tom both for doing this.
* Grant Morrison, Batman, interview, you know the drill. I have to say, I re-read the last six issues of Batman and Robin this morning for an assignment, and they are simply delightful--a buoyantly, brightly dark series of mysteries filled with weird villains and exciting action scenes. It's the ongoing Batman comic you always wanted to read if you ever were interested in reading an ongoing Batman comic.
I love the first Burton Batman movie; I think it's a great movie, a for-the-ages movie. I think the second one's alright but sort of a warning sign on the road to Burton's Hot Topic hackdom today; it also always bothered me that it took Batman's two primary sane antagonists and made them crazy. Schumacher's Batman movies are very dumb. I think all the X-Men movies are rarely less than okay and rarely more than good, I think I like the third one best in terms of the visuals and that hotsy-totsy scene with Jean Grey and Wolverine, but I have no desire to re-watch any of them. I thought the first two Spider-Man movies were absolutely miserable, utterly self-serious twaddle, though there were some good Doctor Octopus fight scenes in the second one like that one on the side of the building; I liked my airplane viewing of the third one, especially the jazz dance, but don't care if I never see that one again. I enjoy the Daredevil movie despite its leaden leads, it's got good fight scenes that get what superhero fight scenes are supposed to be about. I haven't seen the Fantastic Four movies or Ghost Rider or Elektra or the Punisher movies or the Blade movies. I never saw any of the ersatz superhero things that a lot of guys slightly younger than me watched back in the day, your Meteor Mans and Blankmans and so on. I remember enjoying Darkman a TON as a kid, it was sort of the grimngritty superhero comic come to lurid life, but I haven't seen it in ages. Batman Begins is one of the worst films I've ever seen. I like Iron Man and Incredible Hulk and (despite its inert Batman) The Dark Knight and have seen them all more than once. I haven't seen Iron Man 2 yet. I enjoyed Watchmen as a sort of The Warriors for superhero movies; I saw it twice in the theater (one time for free) but don't have the DVD yet because the studio seemed intent on ripping me off. I have no desire to see Kick-Ass. Superman Returns is dull as dishwater, Ang Lee's Hulk seems to have no idea why it's a movie about the Hulk. The Incredibles struck me as not very funny and not very exciting and not very interesting--talk about a beneficiary from the low bar set by other superhero movies. Unbreakable's a great time, my second favorite superhero movie after Batman. I love Zod, Ursa, and Non from Superman II, but beyond that those Superman movies sure are lame from what I can recall. I haven't seen Steel.
* Frazetta is an artist whose work never really clicked for me. I think that given my interests and enthusiasms, most people would be shocked to learn how little fantasy, particularly fantasy of the guys-with-swords variety, I've actually read aside from Tolkien. That aesthetic of shirtless men and topless women meatily coiling around one another while fighting giant crocodile-ape-bats was always alien to me. It didn't help that (I'm guessing; I don't recall for sure) my first exposure to Frazetta probably came right alongside my first exposure to his imitators, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell and Olivia and suchlike, all of whom I'm pretty sure I encountered for the first time in a comic shop in my mid-teens. Though now I see how his trailblazing and chops and personal interests elevate his work above theirs, it wasn't possible for me then, nor was it something I would have been interested in trying.
* Moreover, having now read every actual Robert E. Howard Conan story and totally loved them, I feel as though Frazetta's take on the character is akin to what the Rolling Stones' ubiquitous radio staples are to the Rolling Stones' overall oeuvre: An immediately appealing but ultimately distorting and misleading lens through which to gauge the reality of the whole, and one past which few people are ever interested in looking, to the long-term detriment of the work's hidden strengths. In much the same way that it took a trusted friend's enthusiastic and specific endorsement of that four-album run from Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street to get me to stop going "Sure, 'Start Me Up' is fun, but that's as much of that as I need" and expose myself to songs like "Jigsaw Puzzle" or "I Just Want to See His Face" or "Midnight Mile," I came to Conan in spite of Frazetta's horn-helmed bodybuilders, weird-in-the-Weird-Tales-sense rainbow-in-an-oil-slick colors, and action-in-a-void compositions, not because of them.
* That said, I could always intuitively understand what Tom describes about Frazetta's role in nascent nerd culture, how his work provided a look at a world that promised, well, promise--a world of danger and excitement, where being a grown-up seemed potentially worth it, where even the horror and death was still head and shoulders above the dreary apocalypse that this world's button-pushers in suits and uniforms were prepared to unleash on us all. Plus, that slippy mishmash of fantasy and science fiction and horror and heroics in which Frazetta specialized was to become hugely influential on things that did mean something to me, from the He-Man cartoons and action figures of my childhood to the "new action" artcomics of today.
The challenge of reviewing a shitty comic by a friend is obvious; the challenge of reviewing a good comic by a friend less so and thus perhaps more pernicious. Indeed many people find the whole enterprise suspect and distasteful, and I can hardly blame them. I think that rather than gushing about the gestalt of the project it behooves me to talk about what my pal Shawn Cheng's The Numbers of the Beast does well as specifically as possible. Scales, for one thing: The reptilian hide of the Hydra, used to illustrate the number 9 in Cheng's Greek-myth-based take on a child's counting book, is a gorgeous multiplicity of little semicircular panels; I'm particularly taken with the tangent lines between two of the beast's overlapping necks. The curly hair of the Chimera (#4), Geryon (#6), and Pan (#7) is handled with similar precision, as are the stippled dots that denote the gray stone of the Basilisk's victims (#8) or the Colossus's legs (#10). Cheng takes necessary detail and doubles it as ornamentation. His creature designs, meanwhile, are probably the most accessible in a career filled with critters, nearly all of them seem based on simple circles or ovals, dovetailing with Cheng's never-smoother line and befitting a book dedicated to Cheng's toddler daughter. The shiny ivory cover stock alone makes the comic worth a peek. Fans of Fantagraphics' Beasts! books, here's one for your SPX shopping list.
* I'd like to get this part out of the way so that I never, ever have to think about it again: I'd imagine that episode is really going to upset the portion of the audience that wants SERIOUS ANSWERS. Of course, the answer to anything supernatural is ultimately "because magic." But for people to whom this show is a code to be cracked or a puzzle to be solved, any explanation for its various supernatural phenomena that uses phrases like "life, death, rebirth, the source, the heart of the Island" can't possibly be good enough, because it doesn't allow you to put the puzzle down, secure in the knowledge that you've solved it. Not to get on one of my nerd-culture hobbyhorses again, but to me that's a way in which the preference for worldbuilding has trumped storytelling. People don't want ideas, they want rules. Oh well, more's the pity for them.
* Me? I was a little thrown at first, when the lady from The West Wing showed up in a Jesus Christ Superstar costume and started speaking in American-accented Latin. But once she murdered a woman who'd just given birth, bang, I was right back into it and never left. I think this struck just the right mythic, grandiose, creation-legend tone while still remaining in the show's usual wheelhouse (rimshot!) of family neuroses, unabashed genre staples, and brutal violence. I really enjoyed it.
* I liked the Lord of the Flies allusions, in part because they called to mind what I thought the show would be about back in the day, with Jack as Ralph and Locke as Jack.
* Titus Welliver, man. He sold it. That cocked-head "it's not fair!" rage, all the worse because he's right, it really isn't fair.
* Fucking magnets; how do they work?
* So the Man in Black really is pure evil, because he's not a man at all.
* This explains how Jacob can be seen as the good guy despite all his murderous manipulation, and how the MIB can be seen as the bad guy despite not really seeming all that bad compared to Jacob (prior to the last episode, that is) and seeming like he really does legitimately just want to be free of Jacob and the Island--that's not really him plaintively pleading to be let go, that's the plea of the dead man he's wearing.
* Wow, that's creepy, putting it like that.
* What's at the heart of the Island? Murder! Violence, always violence on this show. Regardless of how things pan out, I think the creators may have already told us which man they believe is right.
* Siege wrapped up today. The thing that bothers me about the series is that it really should have taken the commonly understood definition of its title as the blueprint for its action. What happened was a bunch of villains and army guys breezed in and attacked Asgard, zapping at things and messing things up; then a bunch of heroes breezed in and attacked the villains, zapping at things and messing things up; then a big giant strong villain knocked the city out of the sky, then a big giant strong hero knocked the big giant strong villain out of the sky and then threw him into the sun. So that's one way to go about this. The other way would be to take, say, the Helm's Deep sequence in Peter Jackson's film of The Two Towers and model your four-issue fight scene after that. So instead of fighter jets and Ares and Moonstone and the U-Foes basically walking right up to the Asgardians of their choice and zapping at them, as though they may as well have been fighting in a soccer field instead of a giant fortified city of the gods, actually map out those fortifications like you're a Dungeon Master, then methodically show the characters attempting to break through those fortifications and hold what they've taken against both the defending Asgardians and the cavalry of Avengers who show up afterwards. Instead of a bunch of splash pages and double-page spreads where you have a lot of characters punching and stabbing and zapping lasers in all directions, with really no sense of where any of them are in relation to one another and certainly no sense of what would happen to the fortunes of the overall battle were this or that character to win or lose each particular fight--you know, do the opposite of that. A rigorously choreographed four-issue battle could have been the mintest thing ever. "Remember when Ares took the Rainbow Bridge? Remember when Iron Man and Bucky dislodged Venom and his HAMMER troops from the tower? Remember when Hawkeye hit just the right cornerstone for that fortress to collapse right on top of Norman Osborn?" Bendis did this once, in the breakout sequence from the first few issues of New Avengers, and there's no reason it would have had to eat up more real estate than the action we got, so you'd still have plenty of room to hit whatever beats you wanted about Norman losing it and the Avengers getting the band back together and so on. It would have been cool.
* I think this Alan Sepinwall interview with Lost honchos Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (spoilers for this week's episode abound, so if you haven't seen it yet, don't read this) marks the precise moment at which "fan backlash over the final episodes of our series" went from being something the pair anticipated and studied and prepared for via other shows like The Sopranos and Seinfeld and Battlestar Galactica to something they're currently experiencing and have realized they will continue to experience for the rest of their lives. Even though you're bound to find some of their answers frustrating, and there are a couple of turns of phrase I'm sure they wish they could take back, I actually think they're handling themselves much better than the characteristically uncharitable representatives of Lost fandom who show up in the comments are giving them credit for. Of course, I don't share their complaints about the show right now, either. (Via Todd VanDerWerff.)
Today's installment of Insurmountable Conflict of Interest Theater is brought to you by my friend and collaborator Matt Wiegle's latest one-dollar humor minicomic. This one's campaign literature, essentially, as Wiegle announces his intention to run for the neglected but pivotal office of New York's official State Tarzan. The key image is Matt wearing nothing but a necktie and a leopard-skin loincloth, which is as far as you might expect this gag to go. But his strength as a humor cartoonist has been his off-angle take on his simple concepts--the foodie specificity of the beast-based dishes in Monsters and Condiments, for example. So here, instead of just the basic idea of Tarzan existing alongside Governor and Attorney General and County Executive as a political office, you have the position's origins following the Hobson Shirt Company's "Loose Lion Incident" of 1919; you have the career-politician behavior of the incumbent, who "has barely touched a vine in 20 years!"; you have "ill-equipped" first responders like mustachioed firefighters handling "Tarzan-related crises" like an attack by anthropomorphized ant-people; you have "social networking" listed as one of Wiegle's proposed transformational goals for the office, as depicted by a man tweeting for help as he gets sucked into quicksand, and so on. I'm spoiling gag after gag, I know, but I've read this thing a few times now and I'm still chuckling out loud, so you ought to be alright. At any rate, they all click harder thanks to his art, honed at this point through countless panels drawn for adapting literary greats for Barnes & Noble's SparkNotes to a really sturdy combination of realism and cartoony brio, perhaps best exemplified here by the dead-eyed stare of a necktie-clad giant-cobra lobbyist. Wiegle gets my vote, that's all I'm saying.
* Chris Mautner interviews Dan Nadel about Art in Time, his new collection of off-the-beaten-path old comics with genuine personal style. I think the most interesting part of the interview is Dan's argument that, for all intents and purposes, a lot of this old material will only get one shot at being anthologized or collected, so it matters whether those collections are any good.
They don't make 'em like this anymore. Time was, a fella could stand in the aisle of one of your better comic book shops and watch one-man staple-spined anthology series like what Mike Bertino's Trigger #1 augurs roam the countryside in huge horizon-spanning herds, from the halcyon days of Eightball and Optic Nerve to outliers like Rubber Necker and Uptight. Now, Buenaventura Press's quixotic damn-the-torpedoes efforts aside, the format is the provience of minicomics and micro-publishers. And bless 'em, because as seen here, it's a useful format.
Bertino puts himself through the paces with three comics done in three different tonal and artistic styles. First up there's a literary-fiction young-professional thing about a teacher's first day with a new class. You've got your white-guy class'n'race issues, the ominpresence of alcohol, and a sexual politics sideswipe--the material suggests Tomine, while the straightforward, oval-eyed art reads to me like part-Jessica Abel, part-Hope Larson. Then there's the funny middle section, which seems to use the fact that flannel is in again to tell a very '90s altcomix-style story about a drunken debacle in a dive bar. Shit jokes, cusswords, crude and emasculating romantic mishaps, an anthropomorphized unicorn named Buttface abound, the story unfolds with a charming well-paced "one bad night" logic, and Bertino flips his style around to a rubbery Johnny Ryan/John Kerschbaum kinda thing. Finally, in a story of the sort that would likely find the most purchase in other alternative-comics anthologies today, a young man comes to terms with his abuse-scarred past via a series of might-be-visions, might-be-hallucinations. Here the art is at its most delicate and loveliest, like a thinner-lined Gabrielle Bell or a sturdier Anders Nilsen; the visions are done in a melty Mat Brinkmany freakout mode, with flame effects that reminded me of Jesse Moynihan. As a bonus, there's the multicolored art-noise cover and equally messy/melty/monstrous/indecipherably fonted endpages, a sort of Providence-school cameo appearance.
Sandwiched together as they can only be in the solo anthology model, the disparate stories and styles provide a snapshot of Bertino's range of interests and abilities; moreover, the whole product takes on an invigoratingly restless feel, as reader and artist alike appear not to know which way he'll head with the next story. I suppose all the name-dropping above indicates that it comes across as a sort of greatest-hits package for the past decade and a half of alternative comics, and that it does, but I'm not complaining! After all, Bertino appears to know exactly which style to employ to achieve each of his desired effects, which is smart cartooning. Besides, the point of one of these one-man shows is to have room to explore, experiment, dabble, pastiche, parody, imitate, whatever, whether in service of a fully formed statement down the road or just for the love of the game.
* Speaking of strategically illustrated reviews, you've gotta check out Noah Berlatsky's piece on Junji Ito's Uzumaki. He takes the Men, Women and Chainsaws stuff a little far for my tastes--I guess it shouldn't surprise longtime readers of mine that I might feel that way--but any art-heavy close reading of that unbelievably creepy snail sequence is worth your time. (Via Brigid Alverson.)
* I know the feeling Tom Spurgeon's talking about in his piece on the coming Big Two digital-comics apocalypse. I've got an interest in following superhero comics on a monthly basis but very little in buying them in serialized installments, so timely digital release of the weekly books with a subsequent release in trade paperback would siphon money out of me without breaking a sweat. I'm sure I get way too caught up in "Why haven't they put their comics for sale online yet? Don't they see what happened to the music industry???" and pay way too little attention to "For all its flaws, the Direct Market is what keeps the industry afloat--I sure hope the advent of digital comics doesn't wipe it out!!!"
* Elsewhere, Tom reviews the Alex Ross art book Rough Justice. It's a good review to read if, like Tom, you're sort of on the outside of the Alex Ross Phenomenon looking in, or if you like books named after surprisingly good late-period Rolling Stones songs.
Smash the control images, smash the control machine
Honestly? I made a point of going to see the restored, virtually complete edition of Fritz Lang's Expressionist science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis at least in part because I saw freaking Clash of the Titans in the theater. It always bothers me when I come across a comics blogger of obvious talent and intelligence who nevertheless limits himself to writing exclusively about new genre releases from mainstream publishers; why should I settle for being that comics blogger's cinematic equivalent? Iron Man 2 can wait; Iron Maria calls.
I'm glad I went. This thing's a hoot and a half. After watching its two and a half hours' worth of dystopian retro-future allegory, I'm at a loss to tell you how many of its seminal images I'd half-remembered from seeing the truncated version back in college versus how many of them had simply been passed down through films and film buffs across the decades like tablets from on high. It strikes me that the achievement of Lang, writer Thea von Harbou, cinematographers Karl Freund, Gunter Rittau, and Walter Ruttman, and a small army of designers and special effects technicians is not at all dissimilar from the mad inventor Rotwang whose mechanical seductress brings the stratified society of the titular city to collapse, or from the ancient builders of Babel whose titanic Tower serves as the movie's allegory-within-an-allegory. Not that Lang and company's creation lead to disaster, of course, but simply that they used all the tools at their disposal to bring a product of imagination to life. Metropolis is nothing if not a monument to imagination.
There's an almost Kirbyesque quality to the images here, a carved-from-the-heavens-themselves feel that gives you a frisson of awe and familiarity when you see the most memorable of the lot. The back-and-forth movement of the workers at their posts. The vision of the factory as a pagan idol devouring human sacrifices. That unforgettably pointless-looking task of frantically moving the hands of the giant dial to and fro. A frightening tableau of the Seven Deadly Sins, with Death at the center, staring the camera down. The unmistakably feminine Machine-Man rising from her pentagram-bedecked slab, her hips swaying erotically. My personal favorite this time: The nightmarish vision of an underground city illuminated solely by gigantic banks of florescent lights in what passes for its sky--as relatable and horrible a vision of a workaday hell as you could likely conceive. It's the kind of stuff that doesn't even feel like the countless filmmakers and artists who've subsequently referenced it are ripping it off--they seem like transmissions from the collective unconscious. It shows you things you've never seen before, even if you've seen them a million times.
I think a lot of credit also must be given to the actors. That's sort of a weird thing to say of silent cinema, where generally speaking we sort of overlook the dated, hammy acting style in favor of the image, or the message, or what Film X says about Weimar Germany or what have you. But Metropolis is at its most alive when the frame is filled with lead actress Brigitte Helm in her dual role as a saintlike activist and her sinister, leering robot doppelganger. In the former role, her fundamental goodness is driven home by the sort of unselfconscious close-ups no one really does of actresses anymore except maybe David Lynch; it's easier than you'd think to believe that one look at her as she crashes the upper class's private Garden of Eden with the children of the proletariat is enough to send scion of privilege Freder head over heels and love and cause him to upend his entire heretofore unexamined worldview. But it's as the robot Maria that she really lights the screen on fire: She's a winking, grinning, laughing, writhing, clutching, oozing, convulsing parody of female sexuality at its most wanton. Whether she's vamping it up in pasties for a hilariously horndog audience of aristocrats or going the full Mrs. Carmody and whipping the enraged workers into a killcrazy frenzy, you can't take your eyes off her--and indeed, the film frequently depicts her audience as nothing but a sea of swaying eyes, riveted on her every wriggle. It's some for-the-ages stuff.
Gustav Frohlich's Freder has a tough act to follow in that regard, and he's more what you might expect if you've seen any silent movies, but I think his fits of ecstasy and agony--that's basically the only two settings he's got--properly convey that he's a good soul caught up in a corrupt system and genuinely, if naively, wants to change it. His father, played by Alfred Abel, is far more fascinating a figure than you might expect: He does the steely captain of industry thing, but there's something sad-eyed about him, as though his inhumane system has seeped into his pores and slowly poisoned him; he looks like a cross between Peter Cushing and Nestor Carbonell.
In terms of the added material, recognizable by its scratchier grain and smaller aperture, the standout stuff is the addition of a pair of subplots. The first involves Georgy, the worker with whom Freder, changes places in order to gain entry into the world of the workers; and the Thin Man, a strikingly lupine spy/enforcer sent by Freder's father, city honcho Joh Fredersen, to keep Freder under wraps. Though it never really matters much in the grand scheme of things, Georgy's abandonment of Freder for the lure of the red-light district available to the rich and the Thin Man's menacing treatment of Freder's confidant Josaphat add a further look at the decadence of Metropolis's ruling class and another entry in the film's series of standout performances via actor Fritz Rasp respectively.
The second added subplot gives an almost Lost-like wrinkle to the partnership-cum-rivalry between Fredersen and Rotwang. When Fredersen visits Rotwang's lair to suss out his workers' potential plans for revolt, he stumbles across an eerie shrine to his own late wife Hel. Rotwang believes Fredersen stole her away from him and resents him for siring the son, Freder, whose birth caused Hel's death; in the end, Maria's rampage, whatever its allegorical significance in terms of Fredersen's desire to create an agent provocateur as a pretext for moving against the workers, was really an attempt by Rotwang to double-cross Fredersen and bring the whole city crashing down--revenge writ large. Some of this material was present in the original version, but the Hel statue and its attendant dialogue give it new force. The subplot further drives home the movie's repeated motif of how the sins of the parents are visited upon the children, from the decadent Club of the Sons where the patriarchs' spoiled trust-fund babies make sport to the climactic flood that almost wipes out the children of the absent, rioting workers.
That big flood climax gets a lot of added material in the restoration too, and that's actually a shame; the most striking visual there, that of saintlike activist Maria rallying the children to her as the flood waters surround them, was already present, so most of what you're getting here is just extra shots that drag out a fairly quotidian action spectacle. It's not until things get mano a mano again--the workers capture the false Maria and she's burned at the stake, laughing all the while; Rotwang captures the real Maria and forcers her up the stairs of a cathedral bell tower, where her attempt to escape leads to a run-in with the giant bell far above the ground that I found frightening even today; and Freder and Rotwang duke it out on the roof of the cathedral as his now-repentant father looks on in horror--that the film recaptures its mythopoetic mojo. Even if the ending is infamously idealistic and unrealstic--which it is, eliciting chuckles from pretty much any given audience--it too feels like something told around a campfire rather than whipped up to boost UFA's bottom line.
And none of this is to say that the film's self-serious. It takes itself seriously, yes, but it's also very funny. You have to love the way the Maria-bot ends up being used: "Okay, we've created this lifelike simulacrum of our enemy in order to replace her with it and destroy her cause forever--but first, ROBOT STRIPTEASE!" I'd imagine Freder's insouciance and Mariabot's vampiness were funny to the audiences of the day just as they are to us. And even though the workers' characterization as a barely controlled force of nature is unflattering to their half of the Marxist equation just as the upper crust's characterization as the "Head" is unnecessarily complimentary, it's still darkly entertaining to watch them rage, revel, and then rend their garments in despair at regular intervals.
You shrug off the slow parts and revel in the grandeur, to the sounds of a score by Gottfried Huppertz that references everything from Dies Irae to the Marseillaise. It's a big, beautiful, intoxicating movie.
[Noah Berlatsky:] I basically agree that saying, "Well, Clowes' character shouldn't talk about Dark Knight because Clowes was involved in a lousy movie," seems ridiculous. I do have some sympathy with the irritation Abhay expresses. Which is, there's a default stance in certain regions of lit comics land which is basically: "life sucks and people are awful." Which I think is glib and overdone and tedious, a, and which, b, can be made even more irritating by the fact that the people promulgating it are, you know, fairly successful, and (what with various autobiographical elements thrown in) the result often looks like a lot of self-pity over not very much.
So...I'm wondering how strongly you would push back against that characterization of lit comics in general...and also whether you feel it is or is not ever appropriate to think about a creator's biography in relation to his or her work in that way.
[Tom Spurgeon:] At this point I wouldn't push back at all against the stance that says the default mode in lit comics land is basically "life sucks and people are awful" because it's no longer an argument I take seriously. I don't think it's true by any reasonable measure and I'm done with entertaining the notion until someone presents the argument in a much more effective or compelling fashion than what always sounds to me like some angry, lonely, re-written Usenet post from 1997.
* and three art-heavy reviews I liked a lot. Hmm, I wonder what it says that I liked these reviews in large part because of their well-chosen art, but virtually never include art in my own reviews. I think it mostly says that scanning is time-consuming and there are no scanners on the Long Island Rail Road.
* Hey, it's a movie about a British Cold War-era submarine getting attacked by a giant squid. Apparently. It's all rather oblique. Still, you know me and sea monsters. (Via Topless Robot.)
* This was pretty much the episode that the people who didn't like last week's episode wanted instead: Following the various bands of characters around as they drop exposition on one another on their way to getting where they need to be, physically and mentally, for the finale. Indeed, I've already seen a couple of things from nerd-friendly mainstream-media people that indicate, in spoiler-free fashion of course, that this was a whoo-boy episode for them.
* Me? Other than voicing my sinking suspicion that I'm never gonna see Walt again goddammit, I don't have a ton of stuff to say about this episode. As a discreet, hour-long unit of television, I prefer last week's intensely acted, emotionally violent, "Long ago there were two sons" creation fable. Now, obviously at this point in the show, and for several earlier seasons besides, none of these episodes are really just a discreet, hour-long unit of television, so that's probably neither the fairest nor the most germane standard to hold it to. Still, that's where I'm at.
* So what did I like about it? The violence, mainly. Not ashamed to say it! I've written about the appeal of violence on the show before--I remember mentioning it in my thing a few things back about how I like this show as a narrative genre drama, and all that entails, rather than as some kind of elaborate crossword puzzle. But I think it was last week's episode that really crystalized that this is a show about violence as much as anything this side of Deadwood. With a few exceptions, it's about how the Island took people who'd made choices that hurt people emotionally, or fallen victim to choices that hurt them emotionally, and gave them choices that could lead them to hurt people or be hurt physically. It's about murder as much as a superhero comic is about the big fight with the supervillain. In this case the supervillain is the Monster, and watching him murder his way through Richard and Zoe in no-nonsense split-second fashion now has all the weight of that shot of the Man in Black gripping his game box in the middle of his leveled village and seething with insane rage.
* Plus, Ben finally gave Widmore his comeuppance. Because this show is rivaled only by Gossip Girl in its infatuation with characters who lie all the time, I've got no idea whether we can believe a word Widmore said in this episode regarding turning babyface, but I did at least think he and Ben would forge a tenuous alliance. I thought so right up until the moment Ben apologized to Widmore for leading the Monster to him--I really assumed Ben had quickly conspired with Widmore to lead Fake Locke into a trap and blow him up with the C4 or something. Anyway, I think the presence of the Monster sort of distracted from the potentially epic feel of a final Ben/Widmore showdown, but in a way, that's probably how it should be. Ben's not an epic-confrontation kind of guy. He's more a "shoot him repeatedly when he's not looking" kind of guy. As with Widmore's supposed switch to the side of the angels, I have no idea if Ben's (presumably final) heel turn is for real or a ruse, but that's certainly the fun thing about Ben.
* Well, it was Jacob's cave, how about that.
* Hey, wait a minute, Fake Locke got Ben on board (maybe, at least in theory) by promising him the Island. But our cliffhanger ending was Fake Locke telling Ben he's going to destroy the Island. If I were Ben I'd get nervous at this point, especially standing right next to that well.
* One thing I'll say for all the chess-piece movements in this episode is that the final confrontation ought to be fairly clear-cut at this point, simply because there are so few people left. You've got Ben and the Monster, you've got Jack and company, and Miles and Desmond and Claire are out there someplace. I suppose there are still Widmorian scientists on Hydra Island, but I can't see that making much of a difference.
* Sinister Sideways Omniscient Desmond is a scream. Man, he took Dr. Linus down like wo. It was nice of him to involve Ana-Lucia, although I was hoping for Mr. Eko.
* Sideways Rousseau cleaned up good! Love her love connection with Ben.
* I wanted to write out a couple of things here because I can't remember if in the past I'd only written them in comment threads. First, everyone convinced me last week that I was wrong about the Monster's origin--it's not just some independent Monster mimicking the Man in Black, it's the Man in Black trapped in Monster form. That was confirmed by Jacob last night, so good call, everyone.
* Second and most importantly, I no longer think that the flashsideways characters will have to choose to sacrifice their happy lives in order to stop the Monster in the real reality. I think their happy lives are their reward for having stopped the Monster in the real reality. The flashsidewayses are the show's happy ending. Sideways Desmond's mad scheme to show everyone the other reality isn't an attempt to get them to relinquish the sideways reality, it's a way of drawing their memories of their Island-influenced lives into their current lives, so that all of that will still matter, but now they'll be able to move past it.
* Why could no one on the Island have babies? Why was Walt a big deal? Why did the Others act like murderous assholes all the time if they were working for semi-benevolent Jacob? Why did Ben and Widmore have their falling-out? What was up with the Cabin, the Temple, Dogen, the ash, and other apparent Monster-containment devices? Will the elusive #108 ever show up, or was that just Desmond all along? What were the rules that bound Jacob and the Monster, or Ben and Widmore, and were they really rules that couldn't be broken, or were they more of a guideline than a rule in the grand Venkman tradition? See you Sunday!
Part theater of cruelty, part joyous liberating revolution, Jim Woodring's freakishly beautiful Weathercraft is at once the most direct and most elliptical of his Frank comics that I can remember reading. In its pages, Manhog, the half-human half-pig character who's the Frank-verse's avatar for the physical side of the id in the same way that funny-animal Frank represents consequences-be-damned curiosity and leisure, is made to physically suffer like you've seen few comic-book characters suffer before. Yet due to circumstances just as beyond his control as the passion he's put through, this trauma leads him to an enlightenment that defies the spacetime continuum as he channels his newfound understanding into righting wrongs small and large. Yes, the cosmic reset button is hit at the end--this is a Frank comic after all, and it needs must remain static just as the Krazy/Ignatz/Offisa Pup triangle does. But until then, you've got a comic that's both so confrontationally visceral and brutal that I almost put it down a couple of times, and one that's such a visual and narrative strange-geometry dodecahedron that I compulsively read all the jacket copy upon finishing the comic just to make sure I had the first clue what the hell had just happened.
I think perhaps the most underrated weapon in Woodring's artistic arsenal--certainly the one that had the greatest and most unexpected impact on me in this book--is, of all things, his panel borders. As you picture a Woodring Frank comic in your head, you're probably seeing those wavy, buzzy lines that comprise his backgrounds, looking like a mosquito in your ear sounds; or perhaps those overripe plant-animal-mushroom-deity hybrid visuals, which explode the narrative at regular intervals. Unless you were paying specific attention to them, my guess is that if you were asked to describe Woodring's panels, you'd say they were wavy themselves, maybe even prone to the baroque. But lo and behold, they are rigorously ruled rectangles and squares; on any given page, their borders are the thickest line to be found. I know I've written in the past that the presence of panel borders makes it difficult for comic horror to infect your nightmares; I still think that's true, but in the moment, they can have--as they do here--an almost subliminal effect on your reading experience. No matter how woozily psychedelic each image here is, those big thick blocks tell you that something heavy is happening, something scary and indelible. Even in a Frank story; even in a Frank story where the characters' nemesis Whim--that evil grinning guy who looks like a cross between Old Scratch and the moon-faced guy from those old McDonald's commercials--reveals his all-powerful true self like the Sentry in Siege #3 and melts the reality of his enemies; hell, even in a Frank story in which a pair of new characters who look like something out of Stephen King's Dark Tower series play Dark Tower-style games with the very fabric of their fictional world's reality--even in stories like those, those panel borders communicate "Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story!" It makes Manhog's torment all the more awful, and his triumph, however fleeting, all the more awesome.
Back by popular demand! SPOILERS for Monday's season finale, so watch out.
* I stopped writing about Gossip Girl after it returned for its third season's back half because, frankly, I was a lot less entertained by it. First off, I hate to be one of those people who turns against a show when it's not even on, but I think that endless hiatus between the two halves of the season really hurt the show's momentum in and hold on my mind, if not the larger pop-cultural hivemind too. The thing about Gossip Girl is that it works in, what, three-episode arcs? So unless you're super-invested in whatever cliffhangers you have before a hiatus, it's not like there's some over-arching narrative that will pull you back in when it comes back.
* My biggest problem with this season is easy to pinpoint: The constant, purposeless lying by everyone to everyone about everything. Who slept where, who's going to what party, who's applying to what school, who's sick, who's healthy, who's having an affair, who's in town, who's out of town, who's a long-lost parent, everything, all the time. And since every lie is inevitably exposed within two episodes of its initial utterance, it's all so pointless! I joked to a friend that you could replace pretty much every script this season with the sentence "Look, I was gonna tell you..." It's simply impossible to get very invested in characters who lie all the time, to the people they love, about things they easily could have--and ought to have--told the truth, with ultimately no payoff for having lied.
* It didn't help that in service to this constant-lying pattern, Serena and Jenny in particular became almost unwatchable. I don't think it's a coincidence that the two of them were put in more and more revealing clothing as the season went on: Without Blake Lively's thighs and Taylor Momsen's jailbait cleavage, I think most viewers would have just checked their email every time those two amoral idiots were on screen. It's not so much the amoral part that irks--on a show starring Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf, how could it be--it's the idiocy. The dopey duo's backing of Serena's evil deadbeat dad's play to break up Lily and Rufus was the icing on the cake of a season's worth of moronic decisions that constantly hurt the people they cared about for no good reason.
* A related problem is how repetitive the show got. When your M.O. is "Have Character A lie to their significant other Character B about Life-Goal X," that's bound to happen. But even in terms of the specifics, this season saw two long-lost parents return to the lives of two characters, only for them to discover they had ulterior motives, only for us to discover these people had hearts of gold way down deep anyway, only for them to leave Manhattan. That's an awfully weird well to draw from twice in one season.
* But I have to give the finale props, since it basically dropped a neutron bomb on the unsatisfactory status quo. Serena breaks up with Nate, and good riddance because she doesn't deserve him. (Look at that guy, he's a god walking among mortals.) Jenny's reign of dumb terror is over and she's off to the sticks, Serena's sophomore year style. Dan's ready to ditch the insufferable Vanessa and their joyless relationship, which started in a threesome with a movie star and quickly devolved into constant attempts to undermine one another's college career, for another shot at being Serena's human legwarmer. Nate's playing Dick Grayson to Chuck's time-lost Bruce Wayne, inheriting the Mantle of the Bass. Blair and Serena are off in Paris, mutually free of commitments for the first time, which really is just as cool as they seem to think it is. Lily and Rufus seem okay, and I'm glad because enough drama between those two already. Georgina and her amazing changing haircolor are pregnant, probably not with Dan's lovechild but whatever, we can play along for the episode and a half tops it'll take them to reveal he's not the daddy. Chuck gets gunned down in Crime Alley, surely soon to be born again as the billionaire crimefighter he already more or less became this episode. Eric remains adorable and decent, and because he's a young gay man he's never going to get any on-screen action.
* So, I guess the whole sexual-assault thing is forgiven and forgotten, huh, Jenny? I'm actually a little disappointed in Chuck's deflowering of Jenny. I know they were both supposed to be totally depressed and miserable at the time, but it would have been extra-delightfully perverse if they'd, you know, enjoyed it.
* That and the bogus gunshot/pregnancy cliffhanger's aside, it was a fine clearing of the decks, with some fun, intense, ultra-dramatic confrontations and hook-ups and break-ups. It's sort of like Gossip Girl Season Three Part Two was "Dark Reign," the finale was Siege (with better fight choreography), and now hopefully Season Four will be the Heroic Age.
* Now that's shelf porn. I think the most entertaining shelf porn is the sort where you can't imagine living the life that would lead you to compile this particular shelf-porn configuration but find it hugely impressive nonetheless; that's certainly the case for me here.
* I can't really imagine that anyone reading this blog has any interest in the music of Eric Whitacre, and it's not like I'm gonna front and say I know a whole lot about contemporary choral music--my knowledge and fandom begins and ends with Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen--but the guy is stupid talented and makes the most heartrendingly beautiful music I've ever heard. He's forming his own ensemble and recording a complete choral works album with them, which is terrific news and will serve as a great gateway into his stuff for interested parties beginning this autumn. In the meantime, I think you can listen to everything he ever wrote on his site; start with "Lux Aurumque."
* Speaking of music, boy, did I ever need this new Underworld song.
I tend to only read comics written by friends or people I've known. And I'm not a great comic reader. I get a bunch of DC stuff sent in a box every month, and I've got a friend in town who runs a store, and he gives me stuff every now and again. But I'm not a big comic reader, so I tend to read people like Warren Ellis or Alan Moore. People I'm familiar with, or that I've met, or that I'm friendly with. Like Mark Millar or whoever. It's more on the basis of who I know rather than who I like.
* It'd be relatively easy to believe that the notion that comic shops with creepy stuff on display or creepy people in their employ are a barrier to female readers was some kind of Comic Shop Guy-style self-loathing comics-community stereotype, but no, it's true, they're a barrier to female readers as Hope Larson's survey of some of them confirms. My wife and I haven't gone to many comic shops together, but I can tell you that the creepy one--the defunct Village Comics--is the only one she ever talks about. Bad impressions last, and a few topless Nazi women in a display case at the checkout counter can go a long way toward making someone never want to visit any comic shop again. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)
* Topless Robot's Merrill Hagan returns to the Disturbing Moments in Kids' Movies well with predictably unsettling results. Points of interest: The Flying Monkeys get their due; "Remember me, Eddie? When I killed your brother?" beats the death of the squeaky shoe; at least one moment cited is genuinely emotionally devastating rather than just scary ("Arthax, you're sinking!"); and Jesus Christ, that scene from Superman III where the lady gets sucked into the computer and turned into a cyborg is like something out of Hellbound: Hellraiser II. That scene scared me so badly as a little kid I wouldn't go into the TV room alone in case the TV switched on by itself and showed me that scene again.
Comics Time: The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange #1
The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange #1
Keiron Gillen, Peter Milligan, Ted McKeever, Mike Carey, writers
Frazer Irving, Frank Brunner, Ted McKeever, Marcos Martin, artists
Marvel, March 2010
I've read enough Hellblazer to understand the appeal of an anthology-style series of self-contained stories about a sorcerer jumping ugly with the dark supernatural and coming out on top, but at a price. John Constantine himself, though, is not for me. The spiked hair and stubble and cigarettes, the rumpled trenchcoat and English curses...obviously that's cool with a capital C for many people, but it's just not a set of character descriptors I can get terribly invested in. I think my favorite Hellblazer stuff I've ever read was a Jamie Delano thing back when he had longish wavy hair and spent the arc in jeans and a clean white t-shirt.
Doctor Strange, on the other hand? Oh yes indeed. People like NeilAlien and Tom Spurgeon have made much more convincing cases on behalf of the once and (hopefully) future Master of the Mystic Arts than I could ever do, but I'll simply say that he's a collection of images and ideas that I really like when they're all smushed together. I like his big high-collared cloak, the Eye of Agamotto, his goatee/gray-temples combo, his Steve Ditko hands and Steve Ditko psychedelic vistas, his Greenwich Village lair that's got more mysterious rooms than you'd find in its official floorplan, his pal Wong, his origin as the world's biggest dickhead who suddenly realizes what a worthless tool he is when his hands get broken in a car wreck and he can no longer be a hot-shit surgeon, his vision quest in the Himalayas, his gorgeously designed enemies like Dormammu and the Mindless Ones, the idea that he's constantly fighting against so many massive threats that neither the other heroes nor civilians could ever possibly appreciate the magnitude of his gig, all those great gibberish names and epithets Stan Lee cooked up for him to invoke, his highfalutin speech pattern derived from years of study of the most esoteric subjects imaginable, and on and on and on. I understand why the strictures of Marvel's publishing model with respect to its superheroes probably prevents this, but a largely continuity-free solo Doctor Strange series in the vein of Hellblazer? I bet a small but loyal audience would be there for every issue, in large part because a large and loyal number of writers would love to sweep in for an issue or an arc and tell the one Doctor Strange story they'd always dreamed of telling, and an equal number of artists would wanna give their Ditko chops a major workout. I'd be there with 'em.
And lookee here! One of a series of pulpy '70s-style black-and-white one-shot anthologies featuring stories about some of Marvel's rough'n'readier characters (we've also seen War Machine and Ares), The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange is (wait for it) just what the Doctor ordered. I was entertained as the dickens by all four tales contained herein, for all the reasons I enumerated above.
I think my favorite take on Strange here comes from Kieron Gillen in the story that kicks off the book. Sure, it doesn't hurt that he's working with the awe-inspiring Frazer Irving, who was born to draw Doctor Strange's world. (He was also born to work in color, and you can feel him wanting to--for god's sake it's a Doctor Strange story set in the hippie era--but I'll take what I can get.) But I was intrigued by Gillen's conception of magic as a sort of cosmic whodunit, where when something's going down, the Doc must figure out who had the means, motive, and opportunity to do it...in an arena where none of the rules of cause and effect, physics, or human behavior with which we are familiar are necessarily operative. In both the Gillen/Irving and Milligan/Brunner stories, there's a final twist that emphasizes Strange's self-martyrdom, his willingness, whether through necessity or weakness, to do some bad thing that will hurt him to get the job done. It's really only he who gets hurt in the process, though, which is what separates him from your run-of-the-mill anti-heroes. When the Sorcerer Supreme crosses a line, he's the only collateral damage. That's what makes him the Sorcerer freakin' Supreme, you know?
While the first two stories are period pieces set in the same timeframe as the publication of Marvel's original black-and-white magazines, the second two are different. Ted McKeever's one-man showcase of scratchy, angular blacks and weirdo creature designs--yep, that's our Ted!--is a timeless tale, in which a devastated Doctor Strange roaming around on an alcoholic bender nevertheless encounters a demon and a benevolent spirit and learns an important lesson about his sorcery...which is exactly the kind of thing that should happen to a Sorcerer Supreme on an alcoholic bender. (I like to believe he's discovering hidden knowledge when he's on the shitter, even.) The final story is a short prose piece by Mike Carey in the style of an early 20th century weird adventure, featuring an impressively evocative Frazetta Death Dealer-style antagonist, a simplistic but effective take on mind over matter, a grin-inducing tease of Doc's archenemy, and a pair of killer spot illos from Marcos Martin, including one that's almost Paul Pope-ish in its riotous kinetic energy.
All told, it's as an effective a disquisition on what makes Doctor Strange worth making comics about since Martin and Brian K. Vaughan's memorable miniseries The Oath--perhaps even moreso, since while that series was clearly an attempt to say "See? Doctor Strange still works!", this one-shot feels like it was constructed with that basic proposition never once in doubt. I got from it precisely the modest but indubitably pleasurable pleasure I wanted. More like this, please.
* Okay Internet, you're definitely right about this one.
* Finally, this is your last chance ever to join our weekly Lost thoughts discussion and speculate about what might happen next; after Sunday night, there are no more nexts. Please stop by then, too, and we'll hash out the whole damn series together!
* Hmmm, I dunno. Honestly I had to take my cat to the emergency vet tonight and that situation is far from resolved so I don't know if my head's in the game, really. I do have two major thoughts.
* I think the main thing I haven't wrapped my head around just yet is the disconnect between the flashsideways and its resolution and anything having to do with the Island. I mean, yeah, on a certain level that stained glass window is telling us that the Island is connected with whatever spiritual whatsit is in charge of whatever afterlife they went to. But it's not a specific connection as best I can tell. It's sort of like, I don't know, if at the end of...I don't know, Road House? If Dalton defeated Wesley and saves the town and avenges Wade Garrett and all that stuff, and then also he goes to Heaven. Like, the actual resolution of the show doesn't really have anything to do with the resolution of the plot. So I'm gonna have to wrestle with that some.
* I don't really mind, in the end, all the loose ends. I never thought I'd mind the various dotted-I crossed-T loose ends like who shot at the kayak. And I'll live without some of the "we thought this was gonna be a big deal in the early seasons but then we went in a different direction" loose ends like WAAAAAAAAALT!!!!! I'm not thrilled, but I'll live. But what I'm really okay with is just how much is an out-and-out mystery. Why did Ben and Widmore have their falling out? Why was Dogen so important? How did the Monster swoop in to manipulate the Others without Jacob stopping it> When the hell did the Island get overrun by Egyptian architects? How long was Mother around? Et cetera et cetera et cetera. I am pretty much fine with not having any idea but what I myself can deduce and infer and other words of that nature. I totally don't mind looking at the show like you looked at the Star Wars franchise after Return of the Jedi. What were the Clone Wars? How did Yoda train Obi-Wan? Why did Darth Vader turn on the Jedi? Where'd the Emperor come from? What was up with Boba Fett? Folks, are you better off knowing those answers?
How I love little arty morality plays. Hot-shit illustrator Nora Krug follows up her ambitious Red Riding Hood Redux project--probably my big find for MoCCA 2009--with this short, achingly lovely to look at story of weather and murder. Like Red Riding Hood, Snow Time hides some rough stuff beneath its pretty surface, this time around telling the story of a man whose mother's suicide has left him with dangerous abandonment issues. None of this is made clear until the middle of the story, after which the man's apparent delight and attention to the snowman he's built in his front yard in the middle of a weeks-long spate of snowstorms takes on a new (albeit only implied) punchline quality, and it's a refreshingly chilling one. (Pun intended, but seriously, the image it implies through one quick panel of the snowman melting is sticking with me.) Snow Time is also an exercise in getting rich, sumptuous green-blues and manila-yellows to not just sit on a page, but radiate off of it, the way you can feel cold coming off of something metal. It ends with a tableau of grim discovery that reminds me of Taxi Driver of all things. It was worth the coin.
A spoilery comparison of Lost and Battlestar Galactica
SPOILER ALERT FOR BOTH SHOWS, SO UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN ALL OF BOTH OF THEM, STAY AWAY IF YOU KNOW WHAT'S GOOD FOR YOU
Okay, you knew this had to happen once you saw what went on in the Lost finale. I came thisclose to promising a separate post on this topic in my Lost thoughts last night, and when I woke up this morning multiple people had already asked me to do so. Like I said, you knew it had to happen.
I think there are two big differences between the two finales, both of which were a mainline hit of mysticism.
First, the mysticism of the Battlestar Galactica finale tied in directly to the show's central driving conflict and overarching mythology. The "God" we hear about here was the one responsible for such major mystical mysteries as Gaius Baltar's visions of Six (and Caprica Six's visions of Gaius Baltar) and Kara Thrace's strange resurrection, and is the "truth" behind the bowdlerized judgmental monotheism of the Cylons and the more humanistic but still off-model polytheism of the Colonists. In Lost's case, while it does seem like the Island is the world's most direct manifestation of the force for good behind the flashsideways afterlife, that's a link in a much more general sense. It seems like any group of people who were tied together by anything would have ended up in much the same place; moreover, the Island plot is resolved without requiring any knowledge of the show's conception of the afterlife, if that makes sense. The afterlife ties things together emotionally, not narratively, whereas in BSG, it's linked directly to the big plot questions.
The second and more damning thing for Lost is that its conception of spirituality as articulated in that final sequence is awfully banal: The afterlife is a place generated by the force of goodness behind all major religions where you reunite with your loved ones, atone for your sins and shortcomings, and find true happiness before achieving literal enlightenment. Generic New-Age self-help stuff--whoopedy doo! By contrast, the "God" of Battlestar Galactica embraces its own sneer quotes and acts in morally dubious fashion in order to push humanity and cylonity (?) through a series of cycles of genocide and rapprochement for reasons still unknown. The God of BSG is a weird thing whose role in the finale is still haunting and challenging me today, whereas the creators of Lost could have just mailed every viewer a copy of The Celestine Prophecy and been done with it.
Actually, now that I think of it, the God of BSG is a bit like what we thought about "the Island" when we believed it was the source of all the manipulative goings on, before Jacob and the Man in Black entered the picture--a near-omnipotent force that's probably ultimately a force for what we'd consider "good" but which on the way there does all sorts of heinous shit for reasons we can't begin to comprehend in the moment.
Finally, I've always found it super-stupid to object to genre fiction simply because you discover its conception of the supernatural doesn't jibe with your own: I read people saying things like "The Exorcist isn't scary to me because I'm not Catholic" and simply can't fathom how crazy that is. You don't find many mackerel-snappers more lapsed than me but I still get the chills when they chant "The power of Christ compels you!" So it's not like I've got beef with Lost for having a relatively upbeat view on spirituality whereas I tend not to. But I do tend not to. I find the atheist/anti-mysticism apoplexy over Lost's finale--seriously, people were losing their shit on Twitter--as silly and funny and pathetic and small-minded as I did when it happened at the end of BSG; that said, my hunch is that if there is a God then he's a lot more like the vast and cool and unsympathetic entity running the show in the BSG universe, or like "the Island" or like a one-man Jacob/Man in Black mash-up. I figured I might as well cop to that.
* In less than twelve hours, my post on the Lost finale became the most commented-on post in the history of this blog by a comfortable margin. There are over 50 posts in there, and I claim about one-fiftieth of the credit: The regular crew of Lost watchers who've been good enough to do their thing in those Lost thoughts threads week in and week out have created a conversation about the show a million times better than anything I'd ever hoped to find online. Thank you so much, all you participants--and if you haven't joined in, what better time than now?
* In the sense that last night saw the conclusion of a serialized genre drama I'd been heavily emotionally invested in for almost six years, I couldn't help but think of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the future installments of which I'll be waiting for with the proverbial bated breath. Turns out I'm not alone: this is spoilery for the series so be warned, but the GRRM fan site The Tower of the Hand is asking its readers if they'd be okay with a certain loose end remaining forever untied.
I'll tell you what, I wish I could find a link at which you could buy this comic, because if you enjoy the rough-edged alt-art-horror comics I talk about on this blog all the time? Dude, run, don't walk.
Stechschulte's art is rough in the extreme, a scribbled mess of thick blacks that nonetheless coheres into something palpable and easy to parse. It reminds me a bit of when I was a kid and I'd scribble one continuous line on a page for a long time, and then go back and highlight the figures and shapes I'd unwittingly drawn in the process. It's not that manic, but that's the general idea. It's a great way to convey claustrophobia and barely contained desperation, which is what our main character experiences as he anticipates and then experiences what is apparently a monthly encounter with a sinister, supernatural visitor--a doppelganger carved from shadow itself. It's a cool little story, a dark fairy tale or a lost piece of Poe, distinguished by a strong fight sequence, complicating details like the place a body gets stuffed, and a convincing air of inevitability and despair. I wish someone would put together an anthology of horror comics like this. I'd read the shit out of it, and if you care about horror in comics, you would too.
Carnival of souls: Special "noteworthy posts" edition
* There are three things I've written recently that have generated some fun discussion so I wanted to make sure to call them all out again, in case you'd like to chip in your two cents:
* On Robot 6 I asked what comics arguments people would like to here more often, in place of the ones we're all sick of. My suggestion was "Why do superhero comics so dominate the online discussion of comics?" And I'm talking even well-rounded readers/writers who are perfectly capable of talking about other things just as often.
* Also on Robot 6, I asked whether you need to like a character to like the comic about him or her. This stems from Dan Clowes's Wilson and the focus on the titular jerk's unlikability. In the comments I start wondering if maybe Wilson's better seen in the context of comic character-constructions like Laurel & Hardy or Tim & Eric as opposed to your basic fully-fledged well-rounded psychologically complex literary character.
* Finally, here's a working link to my third post on the Lost finale, which I flubbed yesterday. The discussion is still going strong, which isn't surprising if the way my own thoughts on the episode fluctuate from day to day and hour to hour is at all indicative of a broader reaction.
* Tom Spurgeon disagrees with Tom Brevoort about the potential risks of the four-dollar monthly comic. Looking at the post in question, I think the Hindenburg comparison is cutting those sentiments a little slack, actually.
Big Questions #14: Title and Deed
Anders Nilsen, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, May 2010
Buy it from Drawn & Quarterly
You know how on The Sopranos, it was always the penultimate episode of the season that had the big climax? This is the penultimate issue of Big Questions.
I know I've got Lost on the brain this week, and it's largely with that show in mind that I re-read all 14 issues of Nilsen's anthropomorphized allegorical avian opus to date. Much more so than do the Vertigo-type series with which you'll see the occasional facile comparison, Big Questions serves up a similarly intoxicating, dread-tinged cocktail. Flawed characters are buffeted by forces beyond their comprehension, who in turn have just as little control over their own destinies. Violence is ever-present, shocking and exciting when it erupts, devastating in its aftermath. Story seeds planted years ago (Big Questions has been running since 1998!) suddenly blossom, entangle, and collide, in this issue most of all. Of course the "big questions"--about the limits of our understanding, about the point of being here at all--are asked, if rarely answered. An overall high-quality visual presentation makes it all the more inviting, while individual images, like the one that graces this issue's cover and the constituent parts of the harrowing sequence that precedes it, burn with the fire of the surreal and stick in the memory, giving your thoughts on the overall series something to coalesce around like coral. You'll laugh, you'll cry. Only instead of an attractive multinational cast, this one has birds.
My hunch is that when the fifteenth and final issue arrives, Big Questions will be looked at like Black Hole or the Jimmy Corrigan issues of Acme Novelty Library, both for the magnitude of the undertaking and the magnificence of its execution from top to bottom. I read a lot of good comics; this is a great comic.
Although that little jpg might get the idea across, you really need to hold the cardstock covers of Closed Caption Comics member Mr. Freibert's latest horror-comic throwback to see how beautifully screenprinted those colors are. It seriously looks like he sat there and did it by hand with pastel colored pencils. The thinness and shakiness and uniform weight of his linework only further reemphasizes that Mr. Cellar's Attic was an act of drawing, something that came out of the tip of a pencil or pen held by a person. Which, now that I think of it, is maybe how Freibert is able to reclaim the hoary EC Comics/Edgar Allen Poe/"Colour Out of Space" proto-body-horror tropes he's working with out of the realm of cliche and make them feel like a force to be reckoned with again. In addition to the cool, clever wordplay of the title, Freibert's pacing keeps things feeling fresh and lively and present, if you will. There's an uneasy sense of discovery as Freibert's guilty-conscienced narrator recounts his ill-fated decision to rent out his attic room to an elderly grotesque, whose personal hygiene and mysterious conduct gets worse and worse until the story culminates with the narrator's inspection of the room he rented...and the smaller room he built inside it. That's a great, weird image, and what is found inside that room doesn't disappoint either. The thing ends with a gorgeously colored shot that all but demands Vincent Price be resurrected to provide his trademark cackle as its soundtrack. If you want a comic that utilizes the tools of today's artcomix aesthetic to evoke the sensation you got when you were a kid looking at the awesomely hideous masks in the grown-up section of the Halloween store, you know where to look.
Carnival of souls: Special "The Most Eventful Memorial Day Weekend in Nerd History" edition
* Guillermo del Toro is no longer directing the two Hobbit movies due to its ongoing MGM-related delays playing havoc with his schedule. I'm pretty glad about this, since I thought both Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth were bad in just the sort of unimaginatively dingy way that would be really problematic for The Hobbit. (Click the links for my reviews if you want.) But del Toro's still co-writing the movie with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, which I guess I'm okay with since Tolkien's original should mitigate against del Toro's tendency toward lackadaisical plotting. What I really wonder is how much of his art direction will survive into the final product--as you might have guessed, I think his creature work is overrated. Jackson says he'll step in to direct the movies himself if push comes to shove (via The One Ring), but only then, and he sounds less than thrilled by the idea. Neill Blomkamp, call your agent.
* Here's the new trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
I know Michael Cera comes in for a lot of criticism just for being Michael Cera, but it's Mary Elizabeth Winstead's flat-affect Ramona Flowers that's throwing me for a bit of a loop here. Oh well, it's just a trailer, I'm sure it'll be at least pretty good. (Via Shaggy Erwin.)
* Deadspin's "Dead Wrestler of the Week" series by its anonymous wrestling reporter is just plain magnificent. A couple of the earliest installments are a bit rough, but the pieces on Andre the Giant, the Junkyard Dog, and Miss Elizabeth are bleakly insightful elegies, exploring the strange and shady world of pro wrestling and their iconic roles in it. Even a piece on a borderline jobber like Dino Bravo is memorable for what it reveals about how wrestling changed in our lifetimes. And dig this passage from the article on the Ultimate Warrior Is Dead rumor:
As an insurgent, the Ultimate Warrior was irrepressible, but as a champion he was dull. The eccentricity that once made him stand out made him seem dark and bizarre in comparison to the shining light of Hulkamania. When Hogan rallied his little Hulkamaniacs to his cause, it seemed a joyous army; when the Warrior spoke to his "little warriors," he seemed to be preaching to a cult. If Hogan was the wrestling Billy Graham (the evangelist, that is, not the actual wrestler), the Warrior was Jim Jones.