Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Comic Book Covers

Uncanny X-Men #251

So - let me get this straight. You're going to take the X-Men, Marvel's flagship title, and totally dismantle it? You're going to have the X-Men die on national television so that the whole world thinks they're dead? Move to the Australian outback? Have the team slowly disnitegrate as they are pulled apart by both external menaces and internal pressures? Even though the world already thinks they're all dead, kill them again, giving them amnesia this time so that not even they know who they are? Make Storm a ten-year old girl? Collosus a gay painter living in the East Village? Have the Mandarin turn Psylocke into a Asian ninja? Have Wolverine crucified in Christ-fashion after being brutally beaten and tortured for multiple issues? Sounds like a plan... er, wait a minute? What was that about the whole Wolverine being crucified in Christ-like fashion? Did Logan die for our sins?

Anyway, how long is this storyline going to run? Sounds like a bit of a downer, probably best not to draw it out for too long. What's that? The better part of five years, you say? Sounds like a plan, let's see how long we can put out the most turgid, depressing and disjointed comics possible before people call us on our shit. What's that, they'll never actually get sick of it? Sales will shoot through the roof? Yippee!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Say What?

If there is any argument to be made in favor of "legacy" strips, continued many years and decades after their original creator has passed, such an argument almost surely would have to focus strongly on Blondie. Sure, it's undoubtedly nowhere near as good as it used to be, as these things go, but it's still consistently funny. I would argue that Blondie is one of the best strips on the comics page, almost solely because whomever is writing the strip these days is a very talented gag writer. It may not have anywhere near the biting social commentary or virtuoso linework of the original Blondie, but it makes me laugh. Which is more than I can say for most everything else on the comics page.

But today's Blondie . . . I don't get it. There are two possible interpretations: one, Dagwood didn't rinse the "toothpaste" from his teeth and has the hiccups; two, Dagwood swallowed his toothpaste and is farting soap bubbles. Neither answer is really adequate in the face of the mental leaps required to get from point A - brushing his teeth with shampoo - to point C - sitting in his office with soap bubble in the air around him. Most people rinse their mouths pretty thoroughly after brushing their teeth, because toothpaste is generally rather nasty, mint be damned. Also, no one in their right mind swallows their toothpaste. You're not supposed to. The best proof of this is the fact that they make children's toothpaste that is OK to swallow - it's not hard to infer that swallowing normal toothpaste is Not OK.

So which is it? Neither answer is satisfactory. Is there a third option - does Dagwood just like blowing bubbles in his cubicle as a means of alleviating the soul-crushing boredom of his cubicle drone existence, and isthe punchline merely a non sequitor intended to mock the audience's gutter-minded expectation of easy fart jokes? This is seriously bugging me here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Casualties of War

I had a week off from work, an event which usually saps my desire to blog. Add to this the fact that I got a serious case of the flu for the first time in many years, and my enthusiasm for blogging was seriously curtailed. Even just cherry-picking a pile of cockshots from the Marvel and DC solicitations was more effort than I really wanted to expend, considering the many hours spent shivering under a blanket on the couch watching the commentary tracks on the Tom Goes To Mayor DVD that constituted a large part of my "vacation".

But, yeah, fanboy homophobia is the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? It's not your father's gay panic, that's for sure. I'd have to say that if there is any particular constituency that loses more than any other out of this weird phenomenon, it's the women whose legitimate resentment towards objectification are supposedly "mirrored" by the concerns of hetero-normative men facing the shocking sight of a superhero with a penis. It's really an interesting inversion on the usual status of sexual repression: in this case, it's the men who force themselves into metaphorical burkas, with every small bulge in a persons' clothing setting off shrieks of Puritanical horror. Anyone who watches team sports sees more in the way of bulges in the form of the standard jock strap protector that professional baseball and football players wear. Hell, even just walking down the street on a sunny day, you're likely to see men in tight shorts or jeans showing off more than just a little bit of the you-know-what. Remember the cucumber joke in Spinal Tap? People did not automatically assume that the rock star was gay for trying to advertise his package as being bigger than it actually was. Really, now.

But the women in the audience are now supposed to believe that the shock and horror of merely seeing a male superhero with an actual primary sexual characteristic (never mind that their entire body is completely covered in fabric and said sexual characteristic is mostly implied) is somehow comparable to the daily onslaught of seeing every single superheroine in the entirety of comics dressed like a tramp every single day, such that not only can you see the outline of their nipples but even, in many cases, a good glimpse of the proverbial cameltoe? Jeezum crow. Off the top of my head I can think of one female superhero who actually gets away with wearing pants on a regular basis - Vixen from the Justice League. I've got the world's smallest violin for all the guys out there cowering in fear at seeing a glimpse of Commander Steel's penis.

I've also got a heaping dose of pity for anyone out there in the wide world of comics who has characterized said penis as "erect" - if you think, based on personal experience, that's the size and shape of an erect penis, I am profoundly sorry.

Skimming through some DC pamphlets released last week, I am really quite amazed at the overall sensation of helplessness radiating throughout the company's line. Has it really been a year since the Infinite Crisis? Wow, seems like just yesterday people were bitching about how late that series was, instead of Civil War. (At the very least we know that if World War Hulk ships late, it's not the artist's fault.) But despite the fact that 52 shaped up to be a much bigger success than anyone could reasonably anticipate, the series' impending ending and fallout is still going to be something of a commercial anticlimax.

The big push coming out of Infinite Crisis was One Year Later, a line-wide jump-ahead that was supposed to build excitement in much the same way (or so it was said in interviews) that the piecemeal franchise relaunches after the first Crisis on Infinite Earths drew readers to the new Superman, Wonder Woman and Justice League books. The problem was that One Year Later tanked pretty hard. Sales across the line barely moved, and the exciting changes that were supposed to inspire fans to sample titles from across the line inspired, at best, confusion from longtime fans, and at worst outrage (evil Batgirl, anyone?). The big franchise relaunches - for the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League lines - have all been plagued by late-shipping books, fill-ins, or both. Just that fact that DC has returned to using fill-ins, practically unheard of in 2007, as an aggressive means to staunch the flow of blood from late-shipping flagship titles is an admission that the problem has metastisized to incredible proportions. So 52, which was initially intended as a supplement for One Year Later, ended up eclipsing the event it was designed to compliment - it would perhaps be excessively polite to call One Year Later a commercial trainwreck.

Which brings us to last week's World War III, a storyline which can probably best be compared to having your mortgage payment due the day after the stock market tanks. You set your interest rate a year ago, it's not your fault that rapid inflation and cratering real estate values have demolished your escrow. So yeah, let's use all the excitement and buzz surrounding 52 to promote the new Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel revamps, which have spent the preceding year tanking like the Exxon Valdez. Let's make sure everyone gets a fresh reminder of all the unpopular story elements that we had to spend the last year undoing, such as Evil Batgirl and Squid-Faced Aquaman. Sure, you can argue that this is exactly what they had to do, because these are the reasons 52 was supposedly created to begin with, and it's best (at least for the readers involved in the storyline and the retailers responsible for selling unpopular stories) they got it out of the way in the least painful manner possible. But the people in charge of 52 at least realized that that would be a really unsatisfying (not to mention unpopular) tack to take, so they focused on a handful of characters who were best positioned to take advantage of the unorthodox format and told their stories to the exclusion of any kind of wider tapestry. This is the only thing they could have reasonably be expected to do, because the fact is that to even an uninterested observer, the tapestry was becoming unraveled even faster than it could be created. Where was the grand, unified cohesion that would have made One Year Later, if not a surefire success, at least less of an embarrassment and more along the lines of what they were probably hoping for at the outset? Nowhere to be seen, because the lynchpin of the line was perpetually stuck fifty-two weeks in the past, surrounded by a haze of failed initiatives and bungled relaunches. I imagine that many retailers, pleasantly surprised by 52's staying power, have been more and more nervous the closer the series has gotten to the actual events of the One Year Later books - along with a fresh reminder to the costumer base of all those things they hated from a year ago.

Will Countdown be able to capitalize on what they've learned from the mistakes of One Year Later? Certainly, you have to believe that at some point things have to start working better than they have, if only because the people involved presumably know what they're doing now better than they did then, and have had a chance to see in great detail what works and what doesn't works in no uncertain terms. On the other hand, there's every reason to believe that DC is suffering from a case of extended event fatigue, with all the of major architects behind 52 sniping either at each other, DC or even their fans in public interviews and message board statements, and other creators voicing their misgivings in the pages of the books themselves. The fact is that despite 52's undisputed success, DC is still so far behind Marvel coming out of Civil War that any new initiatives are going to have to work twice as hard to overcome the dominant stench of flop-sweat. At this point I think DC could do a lot worse than just slapping the "Casualties Of War" banner atop half their line - it wouldn't be false advertising, to judge from sales figures.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Wang Watch 2007

I missed out on celebrating International Record Your Cat Reacting To 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Day (mostly because I have no camera, not because I lack a cat), but to make up for it I'll share this music video with you, which happens to be one of the better 2001 homages I've ever seen. It's not really blatant but if you know the movie in question you should pick up on it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

With Neil Peart As Himself

So yeah, I ventured out into the great wide world this weekend, as you may have expected, to track down the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. That was surprisingly hard, as it was only playing on some 800 or so screens. It made something over three million dollars, but that's pretty good considering it only cost $750,000 to make. Let's see Spider-Man 3 make quadruple its costs on the opening weekend.

It was, as expected, an excellent film. It is probably gibberish to those who aren't intimately familiar with the show - but that's to be expected. Those who know the show were rewarded with exactly what they were expecting, pretty much the equivalent of six episodes strung together, with musical performances from Mastadon and Neil Peart. Just what Neil Peart was doing -- six-inches tall and floating around space in a magic watermelon -- is never explained. And there's a Hold Steady song over the ending credits for no real reason, other than I suppose it's a good Hold Steady song.

One of the big promotional hooks for the film is that the Aqua Teens' origin is supposedly revealed. Well, this happens, sort of, but not really. No less than three origins are suggested, all are mutually contradictory and none of them make any sense at all. A fourth Aqua Teen, a giant chicken nugget voiced by Bruce Campbell, is introduced briefly in a flashback, but considering that his existence is tied in with one of the origin stories that is later cast into doubt, Chicken Bittle has about as much chance of being "real" as anything else. I'm glad they decided not to play the origin straight: anything resembling a solid, consistent mythology for what is ultimately an elaborate non sequitor would be totally besides the point.

So yeah, good fun for the whole family, except for the part about it being a hard "R" film filled with language, gore and really disturbing sexual content. I think they spent a bit too much time with the Plutonians and the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, but I guess nothing's perfect. They at least snuck an MC Pee Pants appearance in there, and if you don't blink you might even catch Willie Nelson (the homicidal onion spider, not the country singer). There was no Happy Time Harry, unfortunately, but I suppose there's only so much cool they can compress into an hour and a half.

One thing I didn't know until just the other day was that the Adult Swim people have been releasing a whole pile of fake "endings" for the movie over on the movie's web site. They're pretty funny, and there's even a Swamp Thing cameo in there (sort of).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Names Have Been Changed To protect The Innocent

This has to be one of the very best rejection letters I've ever got in all my years of getting fun rejection letters:

Dear Tim

Thank you for thinking of us but I am not entirely surprised that you are having difficulty placing a novel featuring a paranoid schizophrenic's delusions, and ending very badly indeed.

We try to publish gorgeously written fiction but we have to sell what we publish.It is my instinct, based on decades of experience, that very few people would purchase the novel you describe.

I am sorry and I wish you luck with it, but it is not right for us.



Wednesday, April 11, 2007

You Can Feel Free To Go Read Something Else

Let's talk about golf.

This last weekend was The Masters. This is the one weekend of the entire year when you can be assured of finding me camped out in front of the TV watching a sporting event. I try to catch the other three majors - the US and British Opens and the PGA Championship - but they can be good or bad depending on a lot of factors. Most of the old Scottish Links courses on the British Open circuit, for instance, live or die on the quality of the weather: wind and fog makes for great golf, clear sunny days turn the Royal & Ancient into a shooting gallery for today's power-hitters. Similarly, a bum course can turn either of the other two American majors into a slog - they can't play Bethpage Black every year, but boy wouldn't it be great if they could.

But the Masters... well, I don't get sentimental about sports. Usually they bore me to tears. Once in a great, great while I'll watch a baseball game, but that's about it. But it's hard not to get sentimental about Augusta. I haven't played a game of golf in almost a decade and I don't really regret that - like I need another time-consuming hobby! - but I'd play again if I could play Augusta. Yeah, even if it just meant duffing around the course, making a fool out of myself and plopping the ball into every water hazard in Georgia, I'd do it, just for the chance to walk down those storied lanes...

Bastion of white male privilege? You bet. But, come on. Give me this one concession.

So I never miss the Masters. Although there are many tougher courses out there, there aren't many courses that are as consistently challenging. By which I mean: Augusta doesn't have a reputation as being a hellaciously tough course. But it is probably one of the most subtle and perpetually interesting courses ever designed. Just about every kind of challenge you can conceive can be found somewhere on that course. You can't play well at Augusta unless every single facet of your game is strong: you have to be able to hit the long fairways, you have to be able to hit with accuracy, you have to be able to place your wedge shots with the utmost delicacy, and you have to know how to putt. Sometimes, some years, it all comes together for one or two golfers and they just get it, and the course opens up like a Chinese puzzle. The fact that they play here year in and year out gives it a familiarity - not just the players but the viewers and spectators as well get to know every nook and cranny. That doesn't make it any easier, but it does give a special satisfaction when someone is able to run the table, so to speak - the golf course has personality. There's really nothing else like it.

And this weekend, a fellow like Zach Johnson won the tournament. And of course it's hard to begrudge anyone from winning the game. One of the very best things about golf is that at no point are any of the competing players every actually in direct competition - it's not like they have to actually fight for the ball. No, even when they're playing side by side their only real direct competitor is the course itself. So while other considerations do come into play (the game is an incredible psychological test), the game is almost entirely a test of individual skill, individual grace under pressure. And this year, Johnson had the skill to pull an upset victory out of an extremely treacherous weekend. Conditions were as harsh as I'd ever seen them at Augusta, a fact which only accentuated the course's difficulty. They even eased off on some of the traditional Sunday pin placements, if you can believe that - a small mercy, certainly, to judge by the numbers being posted.

I must admit that while Jonson played some particularly fine golf, especially on the back nine on Sunday, it's still something of a disappointment. One of the most unpleasant aspects of the game, for me at least, is the endless supply of incredibly boring upper-middle-class WASP scions of privilege, who only seem to multiply with every passing year. Golf is a game of subtle personalities, and these guys don't have anything: frat-boy looking, collar-popping meatheads that could have been popped from a mold. Of course, those who love golf can hardly to expect anything different: golf is not a game with traditional minority appeal, and golf is not a game readily available to the poor. The hopes that Tiger Woods would bring a new generation of diverse players to the game have proven almost entirely unwarranted. There is a lot more diversity in the game than there used to be, but it's mostly international. Golf is very popular in Asia, so we see lots of Japenese and Korean players (the Koreans are proving especially dominant on the womens' tour). Vijay Singh won the Masters in 2000, and he's a native of Fiji - but one brown person hardly counts as a revolution. (Singh is also an inveterate asshole, but for just that reason he makes a great foil for the white-bread likes of Phil Mickelson.)

So, yes, allow Johnson his moment of well-deserved triumph. But will he stick around to become a champion for the ages? Probably not. There's no story here. Nothing to distinguish him from the dozens of punks who pop up on the tour every year. It's almost an anticlimax, because there's nothing there to root for. That's a problem with such an open field - invariably most fans will walk away disappointed that "their" guy didn't win. But sports boils down to stories, and there are lots of players on the tour who carry around extremely interesting stories. Johnson just isn't one of them, and I doubt he ever will be. But there's always next year.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Puny Humans Never Learn" Dept.

You would think, after all these years, that people would remember that trying to get rid of the Hulk by shooting him into space / banishing him to nether realms / sending him to sub-atomic fantasy worlds only ends with the Hulk returning, more pissed off than he already was. You'd think someone would just think to give the Hulk, like, Australia or something. You know, one of those countries no one really ever thinks about.

Whenever I find out someone is from Australia I always feel unaccountably sorry for them. Like, I want to pat their heads and go "oh, I'm so sorry", and treat them like they've got cerebral palsy or something. I know it's not very PC, but there you go.

I've got a friend who has recently got me into Sparks - one of those bands I had heard of, vaguely, but whom I had never felt the need to seek out. I mean, I knew "Number One Song In Heaven", obviously, as an important single in the formative years of electronic pop music, but I think I recall reading a magazine article or book blurb or some point that dismissed the group as something of a novelty act, albeit one with a pedigreed history.

Turns out there's more than initially met my eye. But as much as I am enjoying most of their music, I'm also a little bit skeptical of them... which sounds odd, I know, but the fact is that I am very much skeptical of bands which place such a premium on humor. Wickedly smart, yes, musically talented and downright gifted in places - but bent to ultimately satirical ends. I am reminded, more than is comfortable, of They Might Be Giants - another group I used to hold in high esteem, but who I don't really listen to much at all anymore. I grew out of They Might Be Giants, and it was a frustrating situation, because they really are insanely talented musicians - two of the best pop songwriters of the modern era, bar none - it's just that the pop songs they choose to write seem less and less relevant the older I get, and the more I see that kind of aggressive smart-Aleck as being self-defeating and, frankly, grating. When they want to, They Might Be Giants can write straight-faced, but it's the fact that they choose not too that is so frustrating. I grew up (even if, admittedly, my mental age took some time to properly sync up with my physical age), they regressed. The Flaming Lips are a great example of the opposite phenomenon: they started out weird for weird's sake, became much better musicians, went semi-straight and wrote some great pop music. They backslid in recent years, true, and become a bit too obsessed with whimsy and humor, which accounts for the fact that I didn't buy their last album and haven't listened to Yoshimi or anything after it for years. But The Soft Bulletin is still a great record and I defy anyone to say different.

I don't know what point I was initially trying to make - except, that, listening to Sparks, while I enjoy them, I also am wearied by them. Bands like these seem to demand, by their very nature, a bit more devotion than I am comfortable giving to any band anymore: you're either really into them or you aren't, it's hard to stay on the middle ground. I wonder if that says more about them or me.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Free Idea

For any movie producer or screenwriter reading this blog:

William Shatner and Adam West meet up after they are cast as the title characters in an off-off-Broadway production of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Over the course of rehearsals they share reminiscences about their lives and career, in particular the fact that their respective successes in genre television have kept them from achieving any respect as performers. The film climaxes at a Manhattan comic book / sci-fi convention a week before the play's opening, at which point Shatner and West, surrounded by zombie-like fanboys, become convinced that they are actually trapped in some sort of Stoppard-esque netherworld between the living and the dead, forced to relive the worst parts of the late 60s for the rest of eternity.

Just give me an "Special Thanks" credit, guys.

Over the past few days I've heard the phrase "cannot win and cannot quit" - referring to the conflict in Iraq - repeated a number of times in differing contexts. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to me, because it's essentially true. The war places us in a perfectly conceived "lady and the tiger" trap - it is literally impossible to win the conflict as it stands now, and as bad as that is leaving will only make it worse. This is a self-evident truth that should not obscure the absolute imperative of leaving Iraq. Of course, this isn't something that even the staunchest anti-war pols are likely to mention, but it's the truth. The moment we inevitably leave Iraq is when things become inestimably harder for us, as we're going to be forced to work alongside all the regional powers we've systematically sidelined, the ones who are going to be facing the full brunt of the military and humanitarian crisis caused by the collapse of the vestiges of the Iraqi state. Meaning our ticket out of Iraq is going to come at the heavy cost of subsidizing the Gulf States' containment efforts.

And of course once Iraq officially disintegrates the Kurds in the north will make their bid for an independent Kurdistan, which will bring Turkey and Iran into direct conflict with them. The trade-off for an independent Kurdish state from the international community will be Kurdish recognition of Israel. Israel will welcome a Kurdish state, and either covertly or overtly support the effort, which will probably bring Iran into overt conflict with Israel. Syria has been playing both sides against the middle in terms of allowing Iran to funnel aid to Hezbollah, but the lack of decisive victory in the recent Lebanon war probably did much to shake Damascus' faith in the wisdom of this continued policy, which explains recent overtures to the West. If Iran and Israel start slugging it out for any reason, Syria stands to lose a lot - they've profited from the state of perpetual cold war between the two regional powers for a long time, but if the cold war becomes hot they are going to be left in the cold.

Yeah, we're screwed. But at this point, I'm afraid that "cannot win and cannot quit" is not quite as fatalistic a formulation as the situation demands, and seems more along the lines of a Johnson-esque stalling for time, as in, if we keep throwing men and bombs at the Vietcong maybe the eventual defeat won't be so overwhelmingly bad. I just hope for all our sakes that we get the "good" Iraqis who've helped us these past years out of the country before we go, because the moment we leave the country every "collaborator" will be dead within forty-eight hours, maximum. As it is, even if we can magically sweep up every "collaborator" in country, the bloodshed the day after we leave is still going to be unbelievable, probably of a kind with Rwanda and Cambodia. It's an inevitability at this point. Sucks, don't it? T

The next few decades in the Middle East are going to be pretty brutal: people forget that the reason Europe is so peaceful now is that they had hundreds of years to kill each other, a process which succeeded in creating the roughly homogeneous ethnic and religious zones that define current national borders. The Middle East was protected from the worst of this kinds of spasmodic violence by the stern unifying oppression of the Ottoman Empire and, later, the colonial hierarchy. That's all gone now, and there's a lot more blood to be shed before the region can rest.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

International Photoshop Cat Heads Onto Scenes from EYES WIDE SHUT Day

Better than Boxing Day, don't you know.

Can I has cheezeburger? No you cannot have cheezeburger.