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Monday, June 30, 2008
Dorian, Finally, Talks About Contemporary Comics Again
ITEM! There were several points during my viewing of the film Wanted that I had a strong urge to get up and leave. You see, there are dumb action movies, and then there are films that are so fundamentally insulting to your intelligence and so massively ill-conceived in theme and structure that you find yourself idly wondering just how good the blow was that the studio executives who green lit the film had to have been snorting. Wanted is an example of the latter. I realized this somewhere between the scene where Angelina Jolie drove a car onto a train and the point where it becomes clear that the theme of the film is yet another variation of "Daddy wasn't there/didn't love me enough, so now I have a shitty job/life and don't know who I am."
As a result of this film, James McAvoy has joined Vincet Cassel and Adam Sandler on my "If Your Name Is In The Credits, I Won't See The Film" list. [Cassel for a film called Sheitan, which I would tell you to see if you doubt his worthiness for being on the list, but honestly, there is no one in the world that I hate enough to ever suggest they see that film, and Sandler for, well, anything he's ever been in.]
On the other hand, Wall E was really quite good.
ITEM! I'm still seeing some complaints about how Final Crisis is "hard to understand." And when I say "some complaints" I mean "people on message boards and also in LiveJournal communities dedicated to stealing comics." And I can't say I'm surprised by any of the complaints, because honestly, super-hero fans love to complain. I'm half convinced at times that very few of them actually like comics, they just want to have something to complain about and something to get into nerd-cock measuring contests with other people about.
I mean, Joyce's Ulysses is hard to understand. Barthelme's Snow White is challenging. Pratchett's Discworld series is easy to understand. And the work of Dan Brown is pablum. Final Crisis so far falls somewhere between Pratchett and Barthelme on the "hard to read" scale, edging more towards the Pratchett end of things. But given that most super-hero comics make Dan Brown's work look intellectually sophisticated, I'm almost prepared to believe that there are some readers out there that are so used to reading bad comics that they actually are thrown by a work that doesn't hold their hands, explain the plot in every detail, spell out character motivations in simple declarative statements, and rely on the same set-piece, namely a big fight, to move the story along in every issue.
A far more likely explanation for the complaints, other than the "nerds just like to have something to complain about" angle, is that the people making the complaint actually aren't reading the comic. And by that, I mean both the folks that are not actually buying it and reading it, though they make like at a few pages or panels on-line, stripped of context and narrative, and basing their statement on that, and I mean the people who are buying it, but not actually reading it, because they're flipping through it, looking at the pictures, and trying to piece together the story that way, because you can with the majority of comics. And they're being thrown by the novelty of actually having to read a comic book.
ITEM! The recent arm-chair quarter-backing a lot of blogs and message boards engaged in was entertaining to watch, but ultimately depressing. What it all boiled down to was a bunch of disgruntled nerds and members of the comic book punditocracy, many of whom had a glaringly obvious axe to grind, none of them people who had ever really worked a creative job in their lives, playing a game of "If I Ran The Zoo" and pretending that anyone in a position of actual power in the comics industry gave a damn about what they thought. It was entertaining, because I kept imagining what the kinds of comic book companies these people were proposing would look like, and all I could picture was some horrible little start-up company that puts out one issue of the most cliche-ridden comic ever in its ten months of existence, before collapsing in an insurmountable debt-hole. And depressing, because I realized that all these people were serious, and they actually thought their ideas were any good.
The conclusion of Steven Moffat's latest two-parter takes advantage of the rather dramatic separation of Donna and the Doctor from last week to tell two parallel stories, one of the Doctor and his dwindling band of astronaut's efforts to survive the attacks of the carnivorous shadows, and Donna's experiences in a strange world in which time moves in leaps and bounds. Structurally it's quite a neat trick Moffat pulls, with revelations doled out between the Doctor and Donna so that neither of them alone quite manages to pull together the complete picture, but the audience can, as the audience shares the omniscient perspective of the mysterious girl from the last episode. Some of the more chilling ideas from the last episode don't really get followed up on very strongly here, with the Vashta Nerada becoming something like just another Who monster, though the Doctor's realization of how they came to infect the library is really quite good touch from Moffat. Surprisingly, the great strength of the episode is Donna's sub-plot detailing her experiences in the other world, as Catherine Tate gives an extraordinary dramatic performance that puts to shame what passes for acting and emotive ability in science-fiction dramas.
It seems almost criminal to even review this episode, given the emphasis on avoiding spoilers that the story has, but it would be a shame to let it go without comment. This has been a strong season for Doctor Who, and this is another excellent episode, which isn't too surprising given that it's another one written by Steven Moffat. Moffat seems determined to turn a generation of British children into neurotic paranoids, and here he manages to come up with a monster that should be even more stunningly familiar to people than statuary or clocks. He also gives us more of his trade-mark exploration of the Doctor's personal and romantic life, this time in the character of River Song, played beautifully by Alex Kingston, a woman who knows far more about the Doctor's future than she should. Add to it some of the best dialogue you're likely to find in a Who episode, and a location so off-kilter that statues with real human faces is one of the least disturbing things on display (and I mean that in all seriousness...the concept of the data ghosts is heart-breaking in the extreme and real for true nightmare fodder), and we've got a really, really special episode.
Plus, we get some more nice eye candy in the role of Proper Dave:
Two things: One, judging by that second panel, Lana forgot to mention the role meth played in her current situation. And two, since when does Silver Age Lois give a damn about anyone but herself? What is this, Bizarro-World?
After last week's...unpleasantness...it was refreshing to get back with another fun, light adventure that showcases the comedic talents of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, which Gareth Roberts' The Unicorn and the Wasp does quite nicely, in addition to being a strongly written episode. And don't make a mistake, this is one of the most deliberately comedic episodes of Doctor Who I can ever recall seeing, and it is to the episode's credit that the comedy comes from a strong sense of the character's and the setting, never devolving into a Murder by Death-lite farce, which a story involving Agatha Christie and a murderous alien wasp was easily in danger of. Instead, we got a story that balanced humor with an appropriate seriousness regarding the events from the characters.
If there's a fault in the episode, it's in the lack of character development in the supporting cast. Fenella Woolgar gives an outstanding performance as Agatha Christie, playing her as a sparklingly intelligent woman, beset by personal doubts and the fear of irrelevance. The rest of the guest cast, however, are left with fairly one-dimensional roles. There aren't any bad performances in the episode, to be sure...though Charlotte Eaton as the mysterious Miss Hart does grate in a few scenes, but slightly more depth to the characters might have made their secrets and fates more affecting.
That I've found this to be one of the most enjoyable episodes of the current series, despite that flaw, isn't surprising. Gareth Roberts also wrote one of the better episodes of last season, The Shakespeare Code, and both episodes share a strong sense of the main character's personalities and crisp dialogue, rich with allusion and wordplay. It was also worth noting that, despite how the new series of Who overall has been very gay-friend and gay-positive, this is the first episode in which we get an explicit gay rights sub-plot, instead of just the casual, matter-of-fact inclusiveness that has characterized almost all the other occurrences of gay characters and themes on the show. It goes without saying, then, that this episode really annoyed a certain type of Doctor Who fan, not to mention those fans who were outraged by the (hey, spoilers) anti-Christian sentiment of the episode that those prone to over-analysis in search of something to be offended by found. I'm just enough of a contrarian to be pleased that something I enjoyed annoyed people I find stupid and unpleasant.
Inter-office romances weren't unusual in the Justice League, especially amongst the characters without regular titles of their own. Zatanna alone worked her way through most of the team at one point. But, before DC editorial selected Green Arrow as Black Canary's most obvious partner, they did briefly experiment with giving her a romance with another Leaguer.
Oh, go cry about it, Dinah. You are? Well, all right then.
"Everyday affairs" is a particularly cruel way of reminding her that she's not from this Earth...has no friends...no job...nothing to live for except monitor duty, really.
Wait, I know this one...Selina! Talia! Vicki! Silver! Dick! Cripes, Bruce has had a lot of "one true loves."
What I like about this panel is that it's almost as if Dick Dillin is daring Roy Lichenstein to swipe it.
And now, Bruce Wayne, Ladies Man:
"With the awkward tenderness of a man?" Really? Because, honestly, what he's most likely thinking in that moment is that he knows twelve ways to cripple her from that position.
And Bruce moves in...GOAL!
And then Dinah remembered her dead husband and Bruce realized that in the time he spent kissing her, the Joker could have escaped from Arkham and killed a half-dozen people. And besides, he can't surrender any of his vital energies while he wages his war on crime...
"Best episode" and "worst episode" is one of those personal preference things that you're unlikely to find more than two Who fans to agree on. For years, I'd say that The Power of Kroll was probably my least favorite episode of the original series, with Tooth and Claw and Gridlock as close ties for least favorite new series episodes. (And yes, that does mean that I'm the one person who doesn't mind either Love and Monsters or Fear Her.) However, that being said, and I really do hate to say it, Stephen Greenhorn's The Doctor's Daughter is easily, bar none, my least favorite episode of both old and new Who combined. And, here's the thing, I can't talk about why I so strongly dislike it without spoiling big chunks of it, so you may want to come back on Saturday to read past the nice fish-man thingie.
Let's get the fanboyish nonsense out of the way first. As appealing an actress as Georgia Moffett is, and as promising a character as Jenny could be, she is not, in fact, the Doctor's daughter. She's just a clone of the Doctor. Here the producers of the show had a chance to do some real meaningful work on the Doctor's back-story, and instead they chicken out and give us a fake-out. It's frustrating, as it's the kind of cop-out that seems calculated to appease both the "the Doctor must never have any kind of a hint of a sex-life" old-school fans and the "Rose is the Doctor's one true and only love" new school fans.
But, even setting all that aside, there are serious flaws in both structure and concept in this episode. The notion of a colony destroyed by warfare is fine, the notion of the war only lasting a short while is fine, but the notion of the war lasting only a short while, and the colonists not realizing this because they're all clones and the original colonists are all dead doesn't hold up. If all the soliders we had seen were in their apparent twenties, but when the leader of the human forces is obviously approaching middle age, he's either deliberately lying about the length of time the war has lasted or no care was taken in the casting. Martha is also completely wasted in this episode, doing little more than providing an excuse for the fish-like Hath to reach the central colony ship at the same time as the humans. The one good thing in this episode is the infectious joy that Georgia Moffett brings to the role of semi-Time Lady Jenny. Watch it for her, and try to blot as much of the rest of the episode from your memory.
Before there was "the internet" comic fans used to share their opinions about stories by writing these things called "letters" and doing this thing called "mailing them" to the editors and publishers of the comics. This was bad, because it meant that it took several months after the publication of a comic to see what other people thought about it. This was good, because it meant that the bug-fuck crazy fans didn't get their letters printed. Also, there was no such thing as scans_daily. So basically the good outweighed the bad.
So, since I alluded to the "Snapper Carr betrays the Justice League to the Joker, because apparently Snapper is the world's biggest idiot" story yesterday, I thought I'd share some period reactions to the story:
I love that idea that it's simply implausible for the Joker to defeat the Justice League. At the time, the team's membership consisted of three aliens and a woman from a parallel reality...but the Joker taking out the League, no, that's straining credibility...