Tuesday, December 29, 2009


ITEM! Seriously, if there's an Avatar sequel, it's going to have Gargamel in it, right? He wants to skin the N'avi and eat them, naturally.

ITEM! Really, I have a hard time quantifying how little I want to see this movie. I think I long ago passed the point where they could get me in the door with the promise of something just "looking cool" - call me back when I'm eight years old, why don't you. Everything I've seen and read of the movie leads me to believe that it's Dances With Wolves in SPAAAAACE, even down to the representative of the western imperialistic / hegemonic / capitalistic military culture teaching the indigenous peoples how best to preserve their own way of life. It's well-meaning, sure, and the underlying message of "wouldn't it be awesome if Europe had given up on the Americas after Jonestown collapsed?" is certainly unobjectionable, but well-meaning centrist-liberal pap is still pap. Wow, James Cameron, way to make a stand against 300 year old genocide and colonialism. For his next trick: a movie about how awful the Hundred Years' War was, told by talking grasshoppers on Neptune.

ITEM! The most frustrating attribute of international capitalism, as it persists currently bolstered by liberal-centrist ideology, is how easily it metabolizes and subsequently dismisses alternate points of view. It's not that artists and supposedly "leftist" (actually liberal centrist) provocateurs are hypocrites - they're not, anymore than everyone else on the left or the right who makes hay out of deriding the status quo while still making a living from its continued existence. The system is simply too smart for even the most pointed criticism to have any effect - and in any event, crying over fake-ass blue Navajo or whatever sure does a great job of making centrists feel like they achieved something of value while still slapping down cash for their Avatar Happy Meal.

ITEM! Man, Secret Warriors is the most boring comic book in existence. Seriously, how is it that a Nick Fury comic can be so boring? Let me count the ways: It's got a cast of thousands of interchangeable nobodies; every villain has a similar visual design, i.e. busy and muddied; Nick Fury isn't actually in the book very often; the focus on the titular "Secret Warriors" is laughable in the face of the fact that the book is almost a year old and they are still the cipherist ciphers that ever ciphered; the one member of the team who isn't a cipher is Ares' son, but his storyline is so widely divergent from the other plotlines that any attention given it grinds every other plot threat to a screeching halt; considering how "important" the premise of the book is, it hasn't actually had any impact on the larger "Dark Reign" metastory, or really, any other book than itself. The art is muddy (I think I already used the word "muddy" in relation to character designs, which should tell you something) and the storytelling is massively, massively repetitive - when you have to take half an issue to show different characters doing the same things, or having the same things done to different characters, you're making unwise use of your storytelling opportunities. And hey, did you like that one comic where someone tracks down the Silver Samurai to ask hi mabout a magic sword? You'll like this other one. You know, there are other characters in the Marvel Universe who carry swords, many of them nowhere near as boring as the Silver Samurai. The only thing I can really remember from the last issue was a brunette chick with large breasts poring out of a latex one-piece with a Power Girl-esque boob window. If the only memorable attributes your series possesses are brief flashes of third-rate cheesecake, you are in trouble. If I were Abhay I would really go hammer-and-tongs into why this is really such a terrible comic, but I'm lazy. Just take my word: this is a terrible comic.

ITEM! Spider-Woman isn't very good either. It's nice that the women in this book have different faces, which is depressingly rare in the world of superhero comics, but I think they should have stopped the photoreferencing at the faces. Because all the rest of the copious photoreferencing just makes for a static, awkward, visually flat book. Some of the storytelling decisions almost give one the idea that the creators are actively going for a Steranko on S.H.I.E.L.D. vibe, but the gap between conception and execution is so wide and deep you could throw your grandmother into the abyss and never hear her hit the ground. Most damningly: the book walks away from a potentially interesting moral dilemma in favor of unintelligable fisticuffs. The creators actually set up a not entirely unintelligent dilemma: would Spider-Woman kill an imprisoned, defenseless and broken Skrull in cold blood in revenge, or would she try to help one of the creatures who had kidnapped and imprisoned her? That dilemma gets about five seconds play before, surprise, the Skrull just tries to kill her and her ambiguous moral dilemma gets tossed out the window. It is never surprising when superhero comics revert to type, but it is notable that this specific book entertains some very blatant ambitions of surpassing customarily stunted expectations. Surprise Spoiler! It doesn't.

ITEM! As fast as the new creative team on Fantastic Four established a pile of goodwill with a strong first arc, two monstrously poor artistic fill-ins have erased a good deal of that momentum. Here's a hint, Marvel: when you're launching a new creative team for a struggling book, and advance word is positive, don't throw in an unintelligible story about tying up the poorly-received loose-ends from the last high-profile creative team's aborted run, and then follow that up with a not-quite-as-bad-but-still-pretty-poor story about Franklin Richard's birthday party that is transparently just a methodical lining up of expository ducks for the next major storyline. Jeez-Louise, talk about shooting yourselves in the foot.

ITEM! In other news, finally got around to "The Waters of Mars" in anticipation of "The End of the World." The former was fantastic, one of Tennant's best, the latter was thrilling but very empty. Russell T> Davies may love the Doctor, but he's a horrible science-fiction writer. Doctor Who's pseudo-science has always been more pseudo than most, but the way Davies' stories often hinge on absurd borderline magical super-science is just tiresome. I mean, yeah, we're talking about a sci-fi franchise built around the adventures of a 900 year old alien who flies around the universe in a blue police box. But I have a far easier time believing that than the existence of a machine that can rewrite 7 billion people's DNA in a heartbeat. There's pseudo-science, and then there's hand-wavey plot devices. It all seems leftfield and poorly-cobbled in a way that, say, Grant Morrison's similar type of super-science does not. But with that said, you better believe I'm counting the minutes until I can find a torrent of Part 2. "It is the end, but the moment has been prepared for . . ."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rings Around the World

I owe a great deal of my appreciation for Pavement to Violet. Never let it be said that close proximity to someone does not bring you a closer understanding of those things they hold closest to their hearts - I "liked" Pavement before I knew her, but she loves the guys, so it rubbed off significantly from that direction as well. It's also been fun to see that we've come at the question from opposite angles: she's never been to California, so she doesn't really "get" the atmosphere quite the way a native does. But on the other hand, she actually saw Pavement, for realz, back when they were for realz. So I guess she's got me there.

With that in mind, I wrote up a brief blurb for the reissue of Reckoning on Popmatters' best of the year list, you can check it out here if you scan down. I'm happy with how that came out considering spatial limitations: as Martin Brown has pointed out to me in as many words, writing long and windy is easy, writing short and pithy is hard. So I'm not as satisfied with the blurb I did for Yo La Tengo's Popular Songs on their best albums list - I was going for pithy but ended up punchy. Can't win 'em all.

I also contributed some writing to the Factual Opinion's critic's poll on the best singles of 09 - scan down for my words on Dan Deacon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but stick around for the other bits of good writing as well by people who are not me. I am honored to have been invited to participate. These kinds of lists are always a little bit weird for me because it's slightly disconcerting to see where one's own tastes stack up next to supposed peers. Musical taste is particular and individual, and it's sometimes hard not to judge people harshly based on their inability to measure up to your own standards of decency. In other words, anyone who voted for that Lady Gaga song is officially off my Christmas list - Jeez-o, people,I actually like Gaga, but "Bad Romance" sounds like a trip to the dentist. Is she singing on anesthesia with a spit vacuum between her teeth? If you don't agree with me exactly on everything, especially this, you're just not a good person, and you are dead to me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I used to hate Pavement. Or rather, more precisely, I hated what I thought Pavement was. When Pavement was an actual going concern, I didn't have a lot of time for most indie rock. I was into electronic music and all that accompanying, vaguely European utopian futurism. There was something really appealing about the sleek, gleaming, worldly cosmopolitanism communicated by bands like Underworld, Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers that excited me in a similar manner to how superhero comics and science fiction had done once upon a time. It was an alternate universe predicated on different aesthetic principles than those of mid-90s post-Nirvana grunge - and best of all, it was the future. It was where we were going to spend the rest of our lives. At the time even Radiohead's Meeting People Is Easy seemed glamorous, a vision of the future as dense confusion and dystopian signal-to-noise ratios.

But then a funny thing happened: that future did not arrive, or at least, it didn't arrive in the same way we thought it would. You can buy a PC that fits in the palm of your hand and fit a thousand CDs into a little box the size of your wallet, but things are still shabby around the edges. Most of us still live our lives in those edges.

The people I knew who listened to Pavement when the band was first around were, well, I don't know the polite way to say this - burn-outs. They did coke and worked at grocery stores, and the whole vaguely polite smirking indifference and lack of ambition could not have been further apart from my life and experiences. I guess I didn't fit with Gen X. (I never actually sat down and watched My So-Called Life until earlier this year!) Anyway, looking back I realize that I misunderstood the whole thing. I was on some whole other trip. Eventually I learned to stop seeing things in binaries - futurist vs. revanchist, for instance. There was nothing revanchist in Pavement. It took me a while to "get" lo-fi - and I'm not even trying to say that Pavement were lo-fi, except maybe the earliest tracks on Westing By Musket and Sextant - but that whole Sebadoh / Guided By Voices scrappy shambling thing was something I needed to grow older to appreciate.

And now Pavement is one of my favorite bands. The thing that strikes me most about them now is just how quintessentially Californian they are. Of course they're one of the most popular indie bands of all time and not all the people who ever liked them were Californian or even American - but all the same, if you are actually from California, it seems as if there's a whole 'nother layer of inference and meaning that reveals itself. I don't just mean the songs that are obviously about California, like "Unfair" - but damn, if you had any idea how funny that song is for anyone who actually grew up in Northern California!* - but there's this washed out, sprawling enervation of spirit that comes from living anywhere in the state that isn't either the Bay Area or greater Los Angeles. There's a whole lot of nothing from San Bernadino County to Siskyou, and the older I get and the longer it's been since I've lived in California that I am drawn to Pavement for the vicarious thrill of driving through the sun-saturated desert byways of my home state.

I couldn't recognize what was so intrinsically Californian about them until I'd been away from the state for long enough to recognize it as something slightly removed from myself. But now that attitude makes perfect sense. Forget for a moment that all the people who listened to Pavement in the 90s are all aging hipster yuppies by now, and that their forthcoming reunion tour will probably look like American Apparel mugged an iPhone commercial. There's something irreducibly sloppy and aggressively banal about the whole enterprise. California is big - California is huge. Something people who just see the state on a map probably don't realize is just how diverse it is: you've got the hottest spot on the surface of the earth within a couple hours of high ski mountains that stay snow-capped all summer long; you've got rain forest and desolation wilderness; you've got the Sierra Nevada mountains and the San Joaquin Valley. But living in the middle of all this natural splendor sort of makes you jaded. It wasn't until I lived in Oklahoma for a few years that I realized just how awesome it is to actually have mountains on the horizon everywhere you looked. It wasn't until I lived in New England for all these years that I realized how nice it is to have nice wide-open spaces that aren't claustrophobically penned in by midget foothills.

And that's California: sure, there's a small percentage at the top who live Hotel California or even Ritual de lo Habitual, but for most everyone else it's life on the margins of cartoonishly large splendor. You take it for granted, which sounds obscene to anyone else but that's the truth. It's enervating, slightly used, but yet pretty irreplaceable all the same. And that's Pavement.

* Briefly: you can understand in theory that Bakersfield is the pits in the same way that, say, Newark is the pits, but until you've actually spent time in the area Bakersfield you have no idea how funny "I'm not your neighbor, you Bakersfield trash" actually is. Likewise, the constant references to just how much Southern California exploits the North is just one of those things that everyone who lives north of Sacramento knows on a cellular basis (Pavement is from Stockton, yes).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Breef Thots

ITEM! One of the primary reasons for Wonder Woman's consistent unpopularity is the dogged insistence on keeping all of her adventures tied so intimately to her origins in Greek mythology. I don't know why, but DC's interpretation of Greek & Roman mythology is just the most boring thing ever. I know it's crucial to her origin and all, but George Perez's revamped Greek pantheon is just so po-faced that it's dramatically inert, and every attempt to sell me otherwise over the past twenty-odd years has failed miserably. This would be like if every single Captain America story had to be about World War II in some substantial way. The last Wonder Woman stories I can remember actively enjoying were the first year or so of Byrne's run, and in hindsight I realize that was because he made a conscious decision to separate the character from all the accrued mythos and tell some fun action stories. But everyone since has gone back to the mythology well, and it's just about run dry: every single story is about Wonder Woman's hyper-developed sense of responsibility and absolute stoicism in the face of adversity. If I had to pick one word to define her character in 2009, it would be "obligation." Everything she does is defined by obligation. How is that supposed to be fun? Hell, how is that supposed to be any kind of role model for young girls - look at your fictional role model, she's defined by a punishing, rigorously ascetic sense of obligation to powerful authority figures and religious upbringing. Score!!! Order me two of those, plz.

ITEM! Superman's current "New World of Krpyton" storyline is going to eventually be remembered as Superman's Clone Saga. Think about it: sure, it has some vocal defenders, but so did the Clone Saga, up until the very end. It might not be as aggressively bad, but it makes up for that in sheer, stultifying boredom. Just like the Clone Saga it takes the protagonist's unique attributes and spreads them out over a large cast of secondary characters no one cares about, which has the double effect of stripping the main character's unique status and also diluting the reader's patience across a dozen stand-ins. You can make an argument that the profusion of new Kryptonians and Metropolis stand-ins filling "New World of Krypton" are supposed to highlight just how special and unique Superman actually is, just like all the nightmarish clones and freakshow variations were supposed to make Peter Parker stand out - but no, it doesn't work that way. Having a hero fight a bazillion versions of himself is about the worst possible premise for an adventure story possible, and is pretty much an admission that you've run out of stories to tell that don't involve some kind of metatextual admission of just how confused and thematically muddled the franchise has actually become. (Pay attention, Fall of the Hulks!)

ITEM! How the heck did the Supreme Intelligence appear in that Dark Avengers annual? Didn't the Supremor's soul get sucked into Wraith during Annihilation: Conquest? Plus: Marvel Boy is an extra-dimensional Kree, so how did the 616 Supremor know who Noh-Varr was? Is the answer to all the above just "because Bendis"?

ITEM! You know you've taken some wrong turns in life when you regard the return of Top Dog as a totally sincere bit of awesome.

Seriously, Marvel: you want some Top Dog? I'm your man.