Friday, August 27, 2010

It's Official - Wonder Woman #602 / LOSH #3 and more...

Wonder Woman #602

Last time, we were talking about Wonder Woman #600, her new costume, what was cool, what was not so cool, and how the changes would affect her future.  Last month, a lot of our customers were saying they weren't too sure about #601 and the direction the story was going.

I don't know how long the changes will last, or how permanent they'll be, but I'm sooooo IN.  With #602, the story begins to really solidify, and though a few diehard fanboys jumped off after last month's installment, I am not one to stick to the old when the new is just soooo good.

For starters, it feels a lot like Babylon 5.  I loved Babylon 5.  Until Battlestar Galactica came along, I thought Babylon 5 was probably the best TV series ever.  The thing I hate about JM Straczynski is how long he can sometimes take to set up all his pins before really moving the story along.  That's not the case here - after only 3 installments, the wheels are definitely on and the train has left the station.  The things I love best about JMS are his handling of mythologies and his handling of female characters, and here, he is shining so brightly he's like the sun. 

So the question for most of the hardcore fans is: is this Wonder Woman?

I think maybe the true answer is, "Not the Wonder Woman you've known."  But it most certainly is Diana.

The great thing about this is that it's deconstructing the character so that she can be reconstructed with better materials, and hopefully, with better hope for the future.  This Diana is fierce and smart, and we're getting a front row seat into what makes a legend.  She's learning to wear the mantle of leadership and authority that are hers by birthright, and earning her powers in the process.  As a future queen of the Amazons, she's learning that she needs to be strong, she needs to be decisive, and she will have to make painful decisions.  Not only that, but she'll need to know when she has to act contrary to what she's told while she's waiting to be the one calling the shots.  And she does - though she was told that her first priority was to protect herself, because the Amazons' hope rests in her, she risks her life to save them.  She takes on an army, for crying out loud.  That's heroism.

JMS is defining a character that will, I hope, do away with all the previous arguments.  Is she an Amazon Warrior?  Is she an Ambassador of Peace?  Which side of her nature will win?  In this story, we're seeing a coherent, integrated confluence of the two, rather than the fractured and completely unbelievable character we've been seeing before, when every month when you picked up the book, it was a crap shoot as to whether Diana was going to be kicking superhero ass, or kissing it.

The one problem I am having with the book is the outfit.  I really hate those hand things.  The bracers are nice, the trousers are nice.  But the jacket is so dated.  And then she takes it off.  And there they are.  The straps.  Dear God in heaven, what the hell are those?  They look like ballet shoes gone rogue attacked her arms.  How would you fight in that?  Who the hell ties them on her every day?  Come on.

I know the fanboys are crying foul, outraged that Gail Simone is no longer writing and that JMS is doing radical things with their personal icon.  But fanboys alone cannot keep Wonder Woman alive - she, like the Olympian Gods of old, needs more followers to keep her legend alive and her flame burning.  I think this Wonder Woman deserves more than a chance - she deserves your respect.

God, I've been dying to say that for years.  Thanks, JMS, for finally making that possible.

Legion of Super-Heroes #4
I want to like this more than I do so far.  It's beginning to finally start to fire on all thrusters, I think, but there are still some little things about this series that bother me. 

First, I think Paul Levitz is finally finding the characters.  They're beginning to gel at last into recognizable individuals.  That's good.  I'm not a great lover of fictional swear-words, which used to pepper the speech of the Legionnaires.  I don't know if "nass" was one of his, but the last run had one that I don't even remember.  I do remember seeing "florg" in the new Doctor Solar, which Jim Shooter's writing (and which, btw, is quite good, despite that) - dumb.  I did like "grife" and"sprocking", but the others just sort of grated, so if we're not going to say "Grife, Timber Wolf, get your sprocking temper under control!", then I'd rather we didn't say anything.  Levitz has toned some of that down, and that's good.

Second, I think the story is beginning to come together.  But I have to say, it's been a slow build to get here so far.  I have felt like he was trying to do too much with too many characters, too fast.  Finally, though, it seems that he's sowed enough seeds that they're beginning to sprout and twine toward one another, and join up into something that's beginning to make sense.

But I'm still ... I don't know.  I guess it feels a little old school to me.  That being said, I'm a big fan of the Silver Age stuff, and I actually was one of the three or four people who enjoyed the Birnbaums' run on the book (the grown-up Legion).  But I wasn't a huge fan of the 70's stories, or even the 80's for that matter.  And this feels that way to me.  I know comics can be written with a cool retro feel - look at Astro City.  That's a great take on Silver Age books with a very contemporary edge.  Love it.  This Legion, though, feels a little stuck in old times, and not current.  So I guess I like it, but don't love it.

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom #1
Now this is could turn out to be a comic book.  Although the B plot is rather tired (a writer whose creations are coming to life), the main part of the story is terrific.

Doctor Solar is reintroduced into the 21st century with great aplomb by veteran comic honcho, Jim Shooter (former editor in chief of Marvel, Valiant, Defiant, and perhaps, tomorrow, THE WORLD).  The character is vintage and storied, from its beginnings back in the Gold Key days to its Valiant run under Shooter's watchful eye, to its reintroduction here as a Dark Horse property.

Without a lot of annoying exposition, Shooter deftly retells the origin story of Doctor Solar - similar to Dr. Manhattan's, from Watchmen - but adds a couple of little twists or nuances.  First, there's a terrible incident in a nuclear plant, from which Doctor Solar eventually recovers - he wills himself to re-form.  He then realizes he can manipulate energy, even time.  He re-writes an inconvenient 8-seconds, and the resulting ripple creates his first nemesis (the aforementioned writer).  It's a good read, opening a lot of possibilities for future storylines - for example, the corporation who owned the nuclear plant clearly knows more than it's saying.  Did they cause the accident specifically to create a Doctor Solar?  To discover if more could be created?  Or did they know what would happen at all?  Will more happen (there are little "pockets" of weirdness cropping up all over)? 

The artwork is only competent.  While Dennis Calero manages to use color very nicely to illustrate Solar's powers, most of it feels hacked.  There were a couple of panels where I couldn't tell exactly what was going on (I think Doc was levitating), and a few where I felt like he just didn't really have much energy for the project.  I hope that changes - this book needs a more stylized approach than standard super-hero fare, and unless Dennis comes to the party quick. I think people might pass on the book simply because the art just isn't there.

Still...  It's an interesting premise - I've always liked this character, and if I had my druthers, Shooter would still be at Valiant AND Marvel, so having him on the book is a definite plus - although I do wish he would forego the concocted swear-words.  "Florg" just does not have the same ring to it as "frak."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wonder Woman #600, Royal Historian of Oz #1

Wonder Woman #600

Even I was surprised at the number of comments, complaints, praises, and general remarks made about Wonder Woman #600, which of course mostly centered around the redesign of Wonder Woman's so-called "iconic" costume.  I'll get to all that in a moment. 

First, though, I'd like to say what a wonderful issue this was - this truly was what a centennial issue should be like.  After the disappointing Batman #700 and the moderately good Superman #700, WW#600 really pulled out the stops to make this a bang-up read, and succeeded where her more commercially popular partners failed.  There were six stories in the issue, three utterly forgettable, three pretty nice ones, plus an array of pinups done by some really fab artists.  My favorites were Nicola Scott and Adam Hughes, and of course the Phil Jimenez 2-page splash was amazing. 

Now to the stories that mattered - the first was by Gail Simone, one of my favorite WW writers; this was called Valedictorian.  The beginning of the story outlined a huge, epic battle against IVO's Cyber-Sirens, who are able to brainwash and stupefy men, but not women.  So we get almost the entire DCU's roster of female heroes fighting alongside WW, who is leading the charge.  This was nice for me because of the level of reverence and awe the other hero-grrlz have for Wonder Woman; the Question struggling to strike up the courage to ask for an autograph, and Batwoman inviting her out for a drink - it was really really fun.  The second part of the story didn't work as well for me.  WW flies off after the big victory, turns herself into Diana Prince, and attends the college graduation ceremony of Vanessa Kapatelis.  This was mainly a nod to older readers - but I have to say that someone coming into the stories as a newbie would have a tough time figuring out the relationships here.  On top of that, I'm no great fan of George Perez's, as heretical as that may be.  I frankly thought his cover for this issue was not just not really special, but downright ugly.

Still, Simone's skill wins through every time, and the touching interaction between Vanessa and Diana brought a tear to my eye, after all they had been through.  I will miss Gail Simone on this character, as I thought she was finally hitting her stride with WW, and had begun to draw a real and memorable personality for her.  I hope that after JMS completes his run, she'll return to the series and pick it up from there.

The other story worth discussing was the Amanda Conner piece, "Fuzzy Logic" - OMG, this was beautiful!  First off, seeing Conner drawing both Power Girl and Wonder Woman for five whole pages was Swoon City for me.  Conner is a truly great penciller for women, and she nails both of them.  The dialogue was a bit stilted for me, but a little artistic license here is allowable because it made the story play even cuter.  It all centered on a little-used ability of WW's - she can talk to animals.  When PG asks for "relationship help" and WW agrees to mediate the situation, we realize that it's PG's cat that's the problem.  It was cute and funny, and everything a short story should be - a completely satisfying resolution, while still feeling like a Wonder Woman story.

The other stories were entirely forgettable - a mystifying Geoff Johns piece that just seemed to be a recap or retelling of her history - no idea why that was even in there except to serve as a prologue to a prologue, which is what JMS's story ends up being.

OK.  Now to the outfit.  She has pants now.  I like that.  She has a cropped leather jacket, which would be totally bitchen ... in 1990.  Dude, it is sooooo dated!  Designed by Jim Lee, there are more good things about the costume than bad, but that shortie jacket is stupid.  I really am totally over the star-spangled bikini panties, and just generally hate the trend of skimp-wear on female heroes.  I really do appreciate Batwoman, the Question and Cassandra Cain's Batgirl, for that reason.  I mean I know they're skin-tight, but at least they're realistic fighting duds.  Beyond that... so what?  Superheroes change costumes quite often, really.  Look at Batman.  Or Superman.  Or Green Arrow.  Whatever.  None of them are running around in their panties (well, they are, but at least they're also wearing pants under them ;D ).  I just think it's much ado about nothing.

The story itself is the big drama in my mind.  So here's the premise:  WW suddenly steps out of her own life into a completely unfamiliar reality, with no memory of what was.  She is one of the very few survivors of a massacre on Themyscira, raised by Amazons in a shelter someplace beneath New York City (?).  She visits the Oracle, who used to be the Oracle at Delphi or something, but now is a blind goth chick living under a bridge.  The Oracle has knowledge of the other reality, and tells Diana she is "everything and nothing that she was before," and then proceeds to show Diana her vision of the destroyed Paradise Island. 

Here's the good:  JMS has a history of writing tremendous female characters.  His Commander Ivanova, Ambassador Delenn and Lyta Hall (from Babylon 5 - heavenly choirs sing praises, amen) were paragons of strength, compassion, and intelligence, and all while remaining utterly female, mostly not bitchy, etc.  This is, apparently, nearly impossible to achieve, if you look at the way most people - including women - write female characters.  I hate it when stridency, shrillness, and bitchiness are used to represent strength.  I also hate it when female characters take every opportunity to emasculate, castrate, and otherwise render null, all males in their wake, and this is something I've seen far too much of in film, television and comics.  So, I have hope that JMS will be able to fashion a true and real person out of Diana at last.

The bad: How do you explain to the rest of the DCU that Wonder Woman just doesn't exist?  Where did she go?  Do any of them remember her?  I realize the Justice League no longer really involves the Holy Trinity (btw, that's stupid, DC peeps), but seriously?  And this story arc lasts just a year or so - then do we just reset to the status quo?

The ugly:  I am so over the deconstruction and reconstruction of big superheroes.  So now what's going on in the DCU?  Batman is fighting his way back from the dead (decon/recon).  Superman is fighting his way back from New Krypton and The 100 Minute War by walking - not flying - around the country (decon/recon).  And now Wonder Woman is gone, too, and is no longer even the person she used to be.  Her history, her family, her world ... phhhhht (decon/recon).  Notice that I don't say "retcon."  None of her past will be erased, I think.  But still... there certainly is an epidemic of this sort of thing going on in the DCU, and it's hardly original when you think about it.

The pragmatic:  Wonder Woman constantly circulates in numbers just high enough to prevent cancellation - the bottom of the Top 100.  As one of DC's Big Guns, Wonder Woman should be a Top 20 title.  It's all about making the character someone we can care about - someone we can know.  That hasn't happened, in all of her 69 years of history.  Is she a formal / awkward / royal?  Is she a warrior, stoic and silent?  Is she a warm, compassionate woman?  Is she all of these, none of these, some of these?  I've seen her written different ways when different writers take over.  There should be a unified version of the original Warrior Princess - and that's my bone to pick.  I know Xena better than I know Diana, and Diana's got 60 years of history on Xena (well, story-wise, I mean).  If JMS can solidify her character and personality into someone winning and wonderful, then I think that any good writer should be able to come in after the shake-up and take over.  In the meantime, we've had a lot of people who normally do not pick up Wonder Woman getting the issue and reading the story.  There's been a lot of buzz around WW.  That's a good thing.  We don't need to keep on writing to please the fanboys who have just kept WW in circulation - that's not enough.  We need to interest everyone else, and convince them to stick around for the ride.  Let's hope it's a good one.

The Royal Historian of Oz
Slave Labor Graphics has long been a favorite publisher, putting out a small number of really good books each year, most of them graphic novels.  SLG often stays away from serial comics, probably due to the capricious nature of them.  But this book is a winner, I think - written by Tommy Kovac (Stitch, Skelebunnies, Autumn), it's whimsical and atmospheric, just like his art.  Tommy's not pencilling this however, more's the pity.  The art is being handled by Andy Hirsch.  The book's a black & white, no color, and Hirsch's work is fine, even though I think I would enjoy it more had Tommy been able to pencil it himself.

Story-wise, it's super fun.  Jasper Fizzle is obsessed with Oz, and continually writes bad Oz stories.  He is warned repeatedly by the copyright holders to cease and desist, but simply can't.  As luck would have it, Jasper happens upon the Silver Slippers from the original Oz stories, and incredibly, they are no movie prop.  When he puts them on, he is transported to Oz because their magic transcends the Spell of Sealing put on Oz by Glinda the Good Witch - to keep people like Jasper from exploiting the denizens of Oz.  Jasper's son, Frank, is the person telling this story, so we see it all from his perspective.  When Jasper returns from Oz with a flying monkey in tow, then shows Frank the caravan he's brought along to house all of the treasures he has "appropriated" (illegally), it's as if Frank is stepping into some Oz-ian TARDIS - the wagon is much bigger on the inside, and filled to bursting with artifacts, books, and more.  Jasper is delighted because he is sure that now all he needs to do is write down things that really happened, and he'll be a published author, writing about the land he loves.  But back in Oz, Glinda and Ozma are none too happy with Jasper's filching, and are preparing to dispatch their crack team to track him down and take something of value to him in order to persuade him to trade for all he has stolen (his son, of course).  And so, next issue, we'll see The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, accompanied by Scraps, the rag doll, as they begin the hunt for Frank Fizzle, son of the man who fancies himself the Royal Historian of Oz.

It's so great when we get all-ages books worth reading by readers of ALL AGES - not just kiddie books that parents have to endure in order to get their kids involved in comics and reading.  Even though I wish the book were in color, for the sake of involving more children, the story is good enough that if parents will take the time to read along with their kids, I believe all will have a merry time.  And for the bargain price of a buck - yep, this first issue is just ONE DOLLAR, peeps - there's little to lose.  I highly recommend this book.

So, what do you think?  Wonder Woman's outfit?  Great?  Horrible?  Why?  Royal Historian - worth buying? (I think so)  Let me know!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Don't I Review More Marvel?

I've been asked about this, and I know my blog and all of my reviews on our dork show (Metro After Hours, for those of you not watching yet - we do a 10 minute episode every so often and you can see it at www.youtube.com/metrohero ) are very heavily weighted to DC and indie companies - more DC than anything.

The answer is that I talk about what I read, pure and simple.  On After Hours, we have found ourselves talking sadly about Marvel comics, more than anything lately.  And it is kind of a shame - Marvel has some of the most creative minds in the business working for them, yet recently, their books are mostly just not really worth the paper they're printed on.

In my opinion, it's really about glut. Somehow, in Marvel's collective mind, quantity seems to equal quality. They figure if one Deadpool book sells well, they should have... well, they should have this many:

If they were ALL good, that wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?  But they aren't all good.  They aren't all fun.  Some of them are just hack jobs.  The recent Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth was good fun, and a worthwhile, and recommended, read.  These, for the most part, are not.  And they are bizarrely numbered starting at something like #893 - all this to give us an issue #900, presumably to compete with DC's recent Batman and Superman #700 (those, by the way, are legitimate numbers, come by honestly over the past 75 years.  Marvel has only been producing superhero comics since 1963, so they cannot come close to DC's numbering.  They shouldn't try).

The same is true for Avengers.  We have Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers Academy, Avengers Prime, and Avengers: The Origin.

Oh my.

Secret Avengers is actually kind of good.  The rest... meh.

The problem is trying to wade through all the drek to get to the good stuff.  Marvel apparently decided that the average comic fan has unlimited wads of disposable dough and wants to spend it ALL on Marvel comics, and that the Avengers or Deadpool or Spider-Man (or whatever) True Believers will just plop down their cash to make sure their collections are complete, even if it bankrupts them - not a stretch to think it could happen what with Marvel's recent move to a standard cover price of $3.99. 

What they fail to realize is this: the average fan does not have infinite money.  But they're right about one thing: the True Believer must have every issue of Avengers.  Or none at all.  See, what happens is that these guys get overwhelmed.  They feel they can no longer afford to keep up.  Rather than continue to buy just the comics they actually read and like, the True Believer will drop them all, rather than go without some.

It's sad to see, actually.  There are a couple of good books.  Runaways has been quite good.  Secret Avengers.  Spider-Girl.  The Hulk books - there are only 2: Hulk and Incredible Hulk.  And actually, the Hulk books are excellent - one is being written by Jeph Loeb, who is a mixed bag at times for me, but the other is being written by the Hulk's most gifted scribe, Peter David.

But except for these few, most of what Marvel has been doing of late is trying to catch DC's fantastic success with Blackest Night and the relaunch of the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps books (just the 2 titles there, folks), the return of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, and Blackest Night sequel, Brightest Day.

It all just feels a bit desperate.  Instead of simply doing their thing and agreeing that sometimes DC gets lucky and hits on an inspired idea.  Sometimes, Marvel does.  Marvel's own zombie story, Marvel Zombies, was a great, tongue in cheek, but still very exciting and suspenseful story.  House of M was a great story.  Wolverine - The Origin.  NYX.  These were all really interesting, fresh, original stories.  Civil War - it may not have been completely original, but it was still well told.  But instead of continuing in that vein, Marvel has served up Siege - an utterly misbegotten story on an epic scale.  OK.  Everyone craps out once in awhile, no big deal.  But to keep on frantically grasping at straws by just chucking more and more garbage at the wall in hopes that something - anything - sticks... it's not a great plan.

Meanwhile, DC has been planting the seeds for their year-long epic over the course of several years, patiently waiting for the moment when they can let the flower bloom and reveal all the glory inside.  While DC patiently threaded its story through its entire universe, Marvel just began blowing their universe up and re-starting the whole thing.  Now that the misguided Spider-Man story, "One More Day," (Mephisto offers to save Aunt May in exchange for Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane) has resulted in loss of sales and huge tanking all over the world, Marvel plans to rebuild, it seems.  The latest Spider-Man (spoiler here, so just highlight it to see it) shows Spider-Man being killed so that his blood can be used as a sacrifice in order to bring Kraven back from the dead.  Seems that perhaps Spidey will be getting a re-match with Mephisto and seeing about getting his girl back.  Good for him.  Maybe people will care about him once again.

The thing is, the idea was fine - to put Peter Parker back at his beginnings, all alone.  But why is it that writers these days have a hard time just writing the character as he is?  Why the constant need to deconstruct and reconstruct?  It's baffling, and it's become so passe and tiresome.

And DC isn't lily white in this regard either.  The upcoming Superman story, "Grounded," seems to feature a Superman who, once again, has all this angst about being Superman, so he leaves off patrolling and saving the world and stuff, and instead goes on some sort of de-powered walkabout to meet the "real people" and ... oh for heaven's sake.  If it were anyone but Joe Straczynski writing, I would have some pretty scathing things to write here.  But because it's the great JMS (creator of Babylon 5, Rising Stars, and writer extraordinaire), I am willing to wait and see.

But a little advice to Marvel:  you're starting to look a little like a PC next to DC's Mac.  A little dumpy.  A little desperate.  A little late to the party.  And always saying you were there first.  But the truth is, you don't have to arrive first to be the life of the party - just put out good comics again and we'll have lots to talk about.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Echo ... Batman...

Echo 22

Everyone should read Echo.  It's so much more interesting than any other comic book out there right now.  Written by Terry Moore, the writer of Strangers In Paradise, Runaways, and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, it's a huge departure from what I'd come to expect from him.  The most recent installment begins the run-up to the end - it's a limited series, in 30 parts.  This is part 22.

The story begins with a bang - literally.  Julie Martin is recovering from a divorce, out at Moon Lake (a dry lake bed) with her camera when BLAM!  Something explodes in mid-air, pelting her with drops of silvery metal, which will not come off her skin.  Instead, the drops merge into a kind of breastplate, covering most of her upper body and one arm. 

A doctor tries to touch it, and it takes his fingernail off.  Anyone with violent intent toward Julie is either thrown off or killed, all without Julie being able to control what the suit is doing.  And it's growing - the alloy attracts stray droplets of itself, and the more it attracts, the more Julie hears... an echo.

What Julie doesn't know is that the metal is an alloy from a very special suit created by physicist Annie Trotter for the Phi Project.  The big bang Julie witnessed (and is now wearing the fallout from) was Annie testing the suit.  Boom.  But Annie isn't completely gone.  The alloy bonds with the wearer at the quantum level, bonding DNA to itself.  Somehow, the echo of Annie survives, and the more of the alloy Julie wears, the more strongly Annie is able to come through.  And boy, do they need her to come through.

Turns out that the Phi Project, like so many earthly organizations, doesn't know its own strength.  They are committed to running this alloy through their collider (you know, like the Large Hadron Collider at Cern...?).  Annie knows that when they do this, it will be the last act of man - it will create a wormhole, a black hole, that will swallow up the entire earth, the solar system, maybe the universe itself.  So the race is on to stop that collider - Julie is aided by Dillon, Annie's boyfriend, and Ivy Raven, an agent sent to retrieve her, but who switches sides to help Julie. 

Echo is a book that, while I love Terry Moore's clean, elegant line work, would really benefit from color.  The story is complex and it's sometimes hard to tell one character from another at key moments.  It can be figured out without a lot of brain bending or eyestrain, it's just that with color, I think it would just be a bit more organic to follow.

The book is a fascinating read, combining elements of physics, metaphysics and psychology; it's the Dan Brown equivalent of an analysis of religion.  heh heh.  It's also nominated for an Eisner award, so I'm not the only geek who thinks it's worth a look.  Not only that, but Terry Moore's latest creation has caught the attention of Hollywood - Lloyd Levin, producer of the Watchmen, Hellboy, The Rocketeer and others, has optioned the series for a movie.  Check it out.

Batman 700

Batman #700 - that's a LOT of Batman comics, man.  First of all, the cover is amazing.  Beautiful work by David Finch.  The story by Tony Daniel (first half) and Grant Morrison (second half) is uneven, however. 

Still, "Time and the Batman" - cleverly, this is the answer to the riddle/joke that is posed again and again in the story - is an interesting read, using several different artists, among them Frank Quitely and Adam Kubert, to tell a tale of many Batmen.

I liked the way the characterization of Batman-Dick is progressing.  He smiles.  He asks the cop about his child.  He's a kinder, gentler Batman.  I liked the way the characterization of Batman-Damian shows him to be a different man, and a different Batman altogether.  I loved seeing Terry MacGinnis in continuity for the first time (I think it was the first time, anyhow).  Batman past, present and future - it was a great idea, and some of it worked well.

Some of it was a bit obtuse, however (that's Morrison for you).  I got the ending, I guess, but it really felt a bit disjointed and hyper at the end.  I know they were going for a manic feel, especially in the Damian timeline, but it just got very confusing for me, and the artwork was too busy and felt a bit rushed - anniversary issues sell forever, it's not good to rush them.  Overall, I recommend the book, but with the reservation that if you like a good, clean, readable story, this may not fit the bill in all areas.  But where it works, it's very good, and a fun and worthwhile investment.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lost Finale

Since Lost is arguably one of the most influential TV shows of our time, I thought the finale bore mention here. As I said in my first post, I like to talk about pop culture, and this certainly qualifies.

I have mixed feelings about the finale. On one hand, there were elements of it that I loved. Frankly, I loved every minute of it, up to the last ten. Then, I felt my mind screaming, “No. No. Noooooooo!” I wanted to love it, but in the end, it felt a bit hollow to me. It might be deemed a success because of the amount of debate it’s certain to generate, but in my mind, it doesn’t compare to the great endings of Battlestar Galactica (the recent reimagining) or Babylon 5 – despite the problems it had to face to come to an end at all. While those also generated a lot of debate, they were more satisfying overall, and for that reason, I feel that the Lost finale fell a bit short. Nevertheless, let’s examine my thinking.

WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND

The Bad – Such Ado About Nothing

First, I want to talk about the stuff I felt really bitter about, because they weren't explained enough for my liking: The Dharma Initiative, polar bears, the Smoke Monster, all the intensity about fertility and babies, the weirdness around Walt (remember that from Season 1?), the big Tawaret statue and all those hieroglyphics, the temple and Dogen, the episode with Allison Janney that explained the origin of Jacob and his brother, that whole mess with Richard Alpert, the Numbers, for God’s sake, the Pendulum and Eloise Hawking, and the idea that you have to “kill him before he says a word to you. If you let him talk to you, it’s too late.” (which is exactly the way the Man In Black kills Allison Janney in the origin episode). And Seriously ? A literal “plug”? I realize all the fertility hysteria mean something, but I wasn't prepared for it to end up with such an “earthy” depiction, pardon the phrase - but saving the island by jamming a giant, phallic rock into a hole?  Pretty primal there. Not too scientific. Some answers were provided, but many of them, we’re told are “up to your interpretation.” I’m sorry, but that’s lazy storytelling. I didn’t expect every answer to every question. But the answers provided were, in many cases, questionable, and in the end, there were far too many unanswered questions. Did they all die in the crash of Oceanic 815? Or did everything happen? The wreckage shown over the credits felt ominous and final.

What did it all mean? Seriously. If you want to take on the concept that this is all basically from Jack’s point of view, and it’s all about him letting go and being ready to move on to the next spiritual plane, that’s fine. But then, why weave this intricate, complex bunch of ideas about time and space, electromagnetism and mathematics, the wheel, all the scientific stuff you had there? Why this mythology about not allowing the other person (both MIB and Jacob gave the same instructions to people at one time or another) to speak to you before burying a knife in his belly? Why have The Others? What the hell?

I really wanted the ending to tie all of this stuff in somehow – maybe not answer every question I had, but I wanted something a bit more science-fiction-y, I guess. I’ve seen a lot of discussion that says that the way you take the ending depends on how spiritual or religious you are. I disagree. I’m a devout Christian, and I still wanted some science with my faith, here, thank you very much.

The Good – Stuff I Loved

Just because I’m bitching about some parts of the writing being lazy doesn’t mean I felt that way about everything. The filmmaking was breathtaking at times, just beautiful, and nothing lazy about that at all. I loved the resolution each and every character found. I loved the fact that Jack was finally able to "fix" Locke.  I loved seeing Locke smiling, achieving complete redemption after being "UnLocke" all season long. I loved seeing Vincent come to lie down beside Jack, and in this way, thwart the “live together, die alone” portent. I remembered the repetition of the phrase, “What happened happened.” I choose to go with this idea, and believe that everything actually did happen, except for Sideways World, which I believe was a sort of “limbo”, the playing out of some realities for the purpose of final examination and resolution.

The Desmond storyline, depicting Des as wealthy but inwardly empty was great. As he achieves awareness of his “other life”, his love of Penny impels his drive to awaken the others, and this was very compelling. The “reunions” of Charlie and Claire, Ben and the Rousseaus, Sawyer and Juliet were among the most touching moments I’ve seen in a long time. The reunion of Sayid with Shannon was also quite lovely, and I felt that while others complained “why wasn’t it Nadia?” the reason for this was clear to me: Nadia and Sayid were never able to make a really pure connection. The reason for Sideways World was resolution – for some people, it’s hard to admit that having is not always so pleasurable as wanting. With Sayid, Nadia was the love that could never hope to last – it was tainted by her knowledge of his past and his guilt - with her, he could never "let go". But his connection to Shannon was just as real, if more brief, and though he admitted his past to her, she never experienced him as that man, capable of those things. The Sayid she knew had already moved on in that sense, and so the connection to Shannon was Sayid’s way of resolving (letting go of) that tattered past.

So, I’m going to have to choose to believe that the Oceanic crash victims did not die in that crash. I’m going to go with the idea that all of this stuff actually did happen, does exist, is real. That it had a purpose. That “what happened happened.” That the survivors of Oceanic 815 actually lived together on that island for a time. That the Oceanic 6 escaped to the mainland and returned to the island. That the Dharma Initiative was there on the island to investigate and research the effects of that incredible electromagnetic field there, and that Eloise Hawking was a brilliant scientist and the mother of Daniel Faraday – their names alone dictate to me that the science was important, otherwise, why nod to these great men of science. I’m going to believe that Rose and Bernard continued to live on the island, that Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Richard, Miles, and Lapidus returned home and lived for who knows how many years after that. I’m going to say I think Hurley and Ben managed the island for many years – thousands, even. I think what we saw in the end was Jack’s struggle to find the balance between the science he was trained in, and the need to find something more – to balance science with faith. And in the end, he does just that, and saves, not only the island, but the world.

There was all this symbolism to help us see Jack at peace – which I did love. Vincent lying down beside Jack, and Jack’s joyful acceptance of Vincent’s gift (simply being with a person can be the greatest gift you can give at some moments) - it allows Jack, in his final moments of life, to be at peace… with dog. (Get the anagram?  Though a bit heavy-handed, it makes clear that the man of Science finally has made the complete conversion to Faith) Jack’s guide, Christian Shephard, tells him, “There is no “now” here,” and helps finally get Jack to where he is ready to “let go” and move on. So Sideways World really was just the “waiting room” where they all gathered to help Jack move on, and they gathered there after their deaths, which were probably many years after Jack’s. All of them are ready to move on now. Ana Lucia is not there, because as Desmond said earlier, “She’s not ready yet.” Michael and Walt are not there, because the island people are not the ones who are so important to them. Walt and Michael got off the island. Walt probably moved on with his grandmother, while Michael may never move on after murdering Ana Lucia.  But why is Aaron there as a toddler? Why is Libby missing, if Hurley is there? Problematic. More questions.

The imagery was undeniably beautiful in most cases. However…

As much as I can say that I get it, I understand where they ended up (and I believe my analysis proves that), I still have to admit, the ending did not satisfy me. In fact, as the last ten minutes unfolded, I could hear my inner monologue going, “Uh oh.  Uh oh.  No.  No, they wouldn’t go there. That’s too easy. That’s too "first season debate." No. Noo. Nooooooooo!”

It was like, they had a great thing going. The balloon was filling. It was getting fuller, and bigger, and more amazing throughout the entire two hours and twenty minutes, and then, someone just …. Let out the cork. And like a giant balloon would, it all just deflated in a horrid slow motion. Pfffffffffffttttttttt.

It was a letdown.

Why? Because it felt like Twin Peaks redux. Or The X-Files. Or Dallas. It felt to me like they had three years, knowing when they were ending, they had all this time to figure out a great place to end up. And this is it? You’re all dead, and you’ve been witnessing a purgatory-like existence, and now you have come to a place of spiritual enlightenment, and can move on. WTH?

One of the guys I was watching with said, “Well, do you all feel a great disturbance in The Force?” And I said, “Like a billion minds all crying out in pain?” and we laughed.  But it was true.  It was so Star Wars.  So X-Files. So what? In the end, it made all of the great stuff kind of not matter.

Why didn’t they consult with Ray Bradbury for God’s sake, if they wanted this to be as important as they thought it was going to be?  In my opinion, one of Bradbury’s greatest novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, dealt with this exact idea – at the moment that Charles Halloway finds self-acceptance after fighting his self-hatred because of his age, his tiredness, his ordinariness, and is finally content with who and what he is, the evil forces he is fighting are quickly dispelled and the characters all move on. But the way Bradbury examined this idea was so lyrical and transcendant that it didn’t feel simplistic or cheap at all. He’s still alive, you know. You could have at least made the call.

Or me – Jeebus, I think I could have done a little better. I was thinking, Damn, this is awesome, I’ll bet they tie this all together by saying this isn’t an alternate or parallel universe, but rather, it’s a parallel timeline. In finest “Crisis on Infinite Earths” style (you knew I had to bring comics into it somehow), you have to operate on the premise that there can be only one. All of the multiverse must resolve into one cohesive universe. I thought, I’ll bet what they finally do is jolt everyone out of their sleepy, hollow lives and get them to remember the other timeline.

The idea of free will and choice comes into this when each character must decide – will s/he “let go” of all of the pain and wariness, and allow himself to experience the life s/he was meant for, reaching out for help and love, not trying to do it all (and walk) alone – and stay in the Sideways Timeline – or hold on to all the anger, suspicion, isolation, and unbelief, continue to attempt to control or bend life and others to their will – and stay on the island. I felt we were seeing the timelines beginning to merge (the blood on Jack’s neck, the shiner Ben had on the island and in Sideways World). I was sure that, by the end, each of these characters had one final choice to make, and that those who chose to “let go and believe” would end up in Sideways World, retaining the knowledge and memories of the island, and those who chose to hold onto their hate and anger and control issues would remain on the island – which would be at the bottom of the ocean by the end of the episode.

Barring them consulting with the Great Ray Bradbury, or with me for that matter, they could have given us a bone in one key way that they chose not to:  when each of them had their flash of recognition, as each one saw their life on the island and remembered, they could have had Kate, Sawyer and Claire - even if they left out Miles, Lapidus and Alpert - remember the island, yes, but then continue on and remember their whole lives - flashes of Kate getting married (whether to Sawyer or someone else), having children, growing old; flashes of Claire in a psychiatrist's office, with Aaron, as Aaron grew up; and so on.  This would have clued us in that the Ajira flight made it safely home, and that they lived on, and only showed up in the Sideways Land church when Jack was ready to move on - this is a Jack-centric episode.  So all that happened, happened.  And more.  And when it was time, they all showed up for Jack.

And so. The saga of Oceanic Flight 815 comes to an end. Certainly, this will all be debated for years. Undeniably, the show was influential and unique. I just wish that when all was said and done, the writers hadn’t been so lazy and relied so heavily on material we’ve all seen a hundred times since … as someone pointed out to me… Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” back in 1930. I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but Lindecuse could have put this together in a much more inventive way and given us all a better ending. For a show that seemed to be all about resolution, it’s a shame this one wasn’t more complete and satisfying.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Caesura

That's a pause in the proceedings.  Because today is an auspicious and sad day for me, and for all Americans.

The beginning of the end of an era, truly, today. The space shuttle Atlantis lifted off on this brilliant afternoon for its final flight. After that, Discovery will make her final voyage in September, and Endeavour takes her final ride in November or December… and with that, ends the manned space program of the United States of America.

I have been welling up all day, just thinking about the finality. President Obama says he wants to land a human on an asteroid by 2025. WTH? Pardon me, but … WHY? Why cancel the Constellation program, which was to return us to the moon and then go on to Mars with mining expeditions, colonization efforts, etc., paving the way for privatized tourism? In this economy, we're cancelling all of the jobs that program would generate.  Why cancel all of that?  Because we have "more pressing problems at home."  Definitely.  The answers may lie up there, however, and now we're not going to be able to find them.  We have always had problems on Earth to solve, and always will - to quote Jesus Christ Himself, "...you will always have the poor."  That's not just about the poor, by the way.  That was His way of saying, "You're always going to have stuff going on.  That doesn't mean you stop striving for the highest and best you can achieve, even as you are trying to lift those in dire circumstances out of their holes."  And what about all of our hardware up there in orbit?

We have an interest in the International Space Station, at least until 2020 - that’s ten years from now. How do we get there? Obama plans to hitch a ride on a Soyuz with the Russions if necessary. Seriously? We’re putting our nation’s security at risk if you ask me, in a huge and dangerous way. Dig it:

How many satellites does it take to keep the web of connectivity running, the internet, satellite TV, radio, GPS, all that? What would happen if even one of those went down? Was disrupted? And we have no way to get there except for the Russians? I know they’re supposed to be our friends now, but I don’t trust Putin at all. I am old enough to remember Kruschev threatening us on an almost daily basis, promising to bury us, and pointing nukes at us from as long as I can remember. I don’t forget that easily. If I’m a Russian Prime Minister, and I’m in bed with the next great world power (China), why do I care if the US has a hard time tweaking its satellites from Houston? Don’t I secretly love it if that happens?

I love SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and all the other private companies that are coming up with new ways to travel to space that don’t rely on government funding. I know that our hope for the future lies with them.  Frankly, I get sick of people bitching that "to get this economy back on track, America really needs to get manufacturing back.  People should buy products that say Made in USA, and that would put a lot of people to work."  Really? 

Do you want to go to work painting the eyes on little die cast horses?  Or pouring the metal into the molds to make those little die-cast horses?  And do you want to accept the wages that are paid to the people in Mexico and India and Taiwan and China, the people who make them?  Get real. Our past may have relied on American manufacturing, but Unions and plain old practicality make that impossible today: those jobs simply do not pay enough.  Or, conversely, we would have to pay American workers so much more to do those jobs that the items we now obtain cheaply from other nations would skyrocket in price.  Do you want to pay 17.99 for a 2-pack of Hot Wheels?  $3500 for a chair?  Because that's what it would take, people.  That's why our future is NOT in bringing back manufacturing - let that go to other countries.  Get into college, get your degrees, and get better jobs - where?  In pharmaceuticals.  In medicine.  In aerospace, avionics, engineering, robotics, architecture.  Because THAT's where the future is, idiots.  Get yourself to work in a privately funded aerospace company - I have a feeling that the people smart and fortunate enough to do that now will find themselves very glad indeed when it comes to retirement age.  The private space programs are what we're going to have to rely on just to service the satellites we presently have in orbit - not to mention deploying any new ones.

But there is a national point of pride in our space program, in NASA. I … I guess it all goes back to Star Trek, to tell you the truth.

I just … ever since I was old enough to imagine, to read, I’ve always loved stories about going out there. Traveling in outer space. Some of the imaginings and stories were fantastical and wonderful, magical and amazing. Some were scary and honest and real. I loved them all. I believed with all my heart that we were supposed to go on and go out there. I watched Star Trek, I saw Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, just going out there, and my heart sang, “Yes! Yes, that’s right. That’s where we’re going. That’s what it’s going to be like someday. I might live to see it.”  And I just couldn't wait.

But it's not going to happen, at least not now. And that is profoundly depressing to me. To think that, my whole life, I believed and hoped and waited and wanted so damn much to see it all happen. Part of it did. I have my “personal communicator.” Cell phones are so ubiquitous we don’t even think about how much their design, their very existence, was fueled and inspired by kids who watched Star Trek and said, “I want that,” and because they did, they grew up to become engineers and electronics whizzes and scientists, and they did the research and created the technology (a lot of that tech was born in space, by the way – crystals small enough to conduct electricity in a cell phone, for example) and, with apologies to Captain Picard, made it so.

And now, here we are. On the day the last flight of the Atlantis heralds the last flight of each of the remaining shuttles. And no plans to return a citizen of the United States to outer space. None. All that inspiration. All that hope. All those dreams. All that tech. All of that space out there.

And we’re not going.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Great Week for Pop Culture - and Free Comic Book Day is May 1st!

The Brave & The Bold #33
I’ve very much been enjoying The Brave and The Bold for the past couple of years, mainly because it’s a throwback to Silver Age sentiments when superheroes didn’t always just exist in their own microcosms, but instead teamed up occasionally to help one another. The interactions were always fun and some were unexpected.

The first series featured random pairings.  It lasted 5 or 6 years this way, but eventually ended up as a vehicle to team Batman with some other superhero, and that iteration of the book went something like 150 issues. The next idea was to team Green Arrow with the Question, and finally, the Flash and Green Lantern.

But when this newest series was started, it came as a reboot of the original idea of random teamings. It’s been good reading, but this latest issue was particularly notable.  The issue is part of the “Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” arc that’s currently running through the comics.

Written by the excellent J. M. Straczynski, the story is called Ladies’ Night, and it’s a lovely, light story about Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), all going out together, just to kick up their heels and dance the night and their superhero burdens away. Zatanna tells Wonder Woman that she wants to be sure the night is special; they have to practically drag Batgirl away. The story itself is charming, with great emphasis on the characters, and great little details that just make it all so believable. Some examples: Barbara runs off to the restroom to nurse her aching feet because her shoes are terribly uncomfortable, but when Zatanna offers to make them more bearable with an incantation, Barbara waves her off saying that her father caught her admiring them in a magazine and saved for months to buy them as a birthday gift for her. Because of that, she wants them exactly as he gave them to her. Later in the evening, Diana goes missing, so Barbara goes to see if she’s in the restroom – a logical assumption. When she opens the door, she sees Zatanna and Wonder Woman locked in an embrace. She discreetly turns and leaves, saying, “There’s something you don’t see every day.” I chuckled out loud, knowing that couldn’t have been what it looked like, no matter how much I might have wished it were.

The truth turns out to be ever so much more poignant than amusing, and although I began to see where he was going with the story quite a ways before the ending, I still had tears in my eyes when I got there. It was a lovely, unexpected issue of this book, and one of those rare moments in comics that just make wading through the dreck all worth the effort.

The art, by Cliff Chiang, is simple and declarative – not quite animation style, but very stylish and attractive, clean and clear, just the way I like it. There was a clear focal point or direction to each panel or page, and the last panel of the second to last page was terribly touching, drawn with great tenderness.

For me, this was a perfect comic book. It used the art to move the story along, and it didn’t put me to sleep explaining things that I could easily see by simply looking at the excellent illustrations. There was plenty of detail, but not so much that you couldn’t see the story unfolding – and see it is exactly what you did, because there wasn’t so much exposition that you had to sit and slog through it.

I give this issue of Brave and the Bold my highest recommendation, and hope you will seek it out. Even though you need to know a little history of the characters, particularly this Batgirl, it is a true gem.  It’s sold out from DC now – word has gotten around. And watch for J.M. Straczynski to start making serious waves very soon as he begins his run on Superman next month.

Walking Dead #71
The Walking Dead continues to be one of my favorite comics, which is weird, because I really am not a fan of zombie stuff. Issue #71 was on the rack this past week, and as usual, it was a solid issue. Nothing earth-shattering happened in it, but I can feel things moving around in there. Stuff is going on that will shape the story for the next year or so, it’s almost certain.

At this point in time, our little band of 12 or so has run into a guy named Aaron, and this guy has convinced Rick and company to come with him to where he lives – a walled community. It’s just a couple of streets, but several families are living there in relative safety. They’ve been welcomed and assigned jobs (everyone must pull their weight) by Douglas, the leader. But there seems to be an undercurrent of strangeness underneath the pleasant fa├žade. Carl notices it. He tells Rick that he’s afraid they will become soft and weak if they stay, and then they won’t be able to survive outside if they need to any longer. The boy tells his father that he feels everything is “pretend.” Rick wants so badly to believe that they could be safe and leave the madness of the outside world behind that he is willing to go all in. But by the issue’s end, even Andrea has remarked that the place feels fake.

So now my antennae are quivering. I’m sensing that things are going on that we’re not getting. It turns out that this issue with no zombies whatsoever has creeped me out a lot more than some of the gorier ones. Despite the fact that the book is in black and white, it feels a lot creepier and freakier than a lot of more splashy and sensational books – quiet little engine that could.

And because the TV show on AMC is premiering this October, I wanted to highlight this book ahead of time. Obviously, the tv series will be its own entity, separate from the continuity of the book. But writer Robert Kirkman is trying to stay as involved as possible, to keep the tv writers on the straight and narrow, so I have high hopes for it. Apparently, the network has foregone the usual “let’s air a pilot and see how it goes” process, and has simply ordered 6 episodes. There will be at least that many, and it looks pretty good for more to come.

The Doctor … #11
Come on, I couldn’t let this pass. I’m a great fan of   Torchwood and Doctor Who. The passing of the torch from the Tenth Doctor to the Eleventh… I had to have something to say, but I wanted to make my comments as objective as possible.

I say that in the full understanding that David Tennant makes my heart go pitter-pat, because he is just that good. When I knew he would be leaving, I wondered if I would still love the series as much. So let’s talk Doc.

I loved Christopher Eccleston’s dark, edgy energy Ninth Doctor in the first year of the revival series. He was a little crazy, a little tough – he was channeling Tom Baker, so it seems, and probably was cast for his more than passing resemblance, since Baker’s image is seemingly the iconic one, unsurpassed. Until 2005, when David Tennant became the Tenth Doctor. My favorite Eccleston episodes: Rose, The Unquiet Dead, The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances.

From the very beginning, I was captivated by the younger Doctor – his energy was robust, witty, sharp, fun. Like Jennifer Garner in Alias or the lifeguards at Baywatch, Tennant was always running – and that was the genius of him, he was always in motion. Not just on the outside, but also on the inside. You could see the restless intelligence in every gesture, you could see that he had an inner life, and that he embodied the role entirely.

I saw his “Hamlet” the other night, and was very impressed. He gave an interview afterward, and in it, he did not do as I’ve seen countless other actors do – when talking about the role, most actors will say, “Mulder is haunted by all of his demons and I do my best to bring him out,” or “This is a woman trying to work something out.” No. Tennant says, “When I have to see Ophelia being buried, when I realize that it’s Claudius behind everything…” I think that’s the key. Like the great Patrick Stewart (who, incidentally played Claudius in the Tennant version of Hamlet), who says, “I shrug there.” He doesn’t say, “When Claudius shrugs.” He says, “I shrug.” Tennant likewise inhabits his character so fully that it’s not Hamlet who sees poor Ophelia buried, it’s himself. “I see her buried, I love her so much that I go a little crazy…”

And I think it’s that which makes the difference for me. Tennant becomes the Doctor is such a vibrant, immutable way that it’s hard for me to love anyone in the role as much. Favorite episodes of his run: The Girl In the Fireplace, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, Blink (actually nominated for a Nebula award for Best Script), Turn Left and Journey’s End, which was, for me, a perfect end to a perfect run.

The Eleventh Doctor’s arrival was a little less than auspicious – a weak premiere episode left me wondering if my love was about to die. Never fear, though, the second episode in the new Doctor’s run was magnificent. The new companion, Amy Pond, suffers from the worn device of the runaway bride syndrome, however, she’s lovely and perky and smart, so we’ll overlook that for now. Although Matt Smith is a bit odd looking, in the second episode, The Beast Below, he is revealed to be a capable torch-bearer for the franchise. His performance as he realizes the horror being perpetrated on the people of Britain, their Queen, and the marvelous StarWhale they have “captured”, was layered, believable, and entirely wonderful. Companion Amy Pond was no less sensational, as the creepy story peeled back one new layer of weirdness after another.

So after a weak start, the new Doctor seems to be finding his footing. I suspect it will be a little while before he truly settles in, and there are bound to be rough spots, but for now, I will be traveling with the Doctor.

I wish American TV would make up its mind about whether or not to do an American version of Torchwood. Apparently, this is why the BBC is delaying making another series of Torchwood for the UK. Frankly, I’d rather this stayed as a BBC program. It’s hard for me to think Torchwood without Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper. She and Captain Jack are the beating heart of that show, and separated, I’m not sure the show would fly as well. Give up your option, Fox, and let the show go back to the UK!