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Saturday, November 29, 2008
Paperback Book Club
X-Men: Prisoner X, 1998, Ann Nocenti This year, I was thankful that the 90s are well and truly over.
As many of you are probably already aware, Carla Hoffman and her husband Lance were badly injured in the most recent fires to hit Santa Barbara. Doctors are optimistic that both Carla and Lance will make full recoveries, but in the meantime their home was completely destroyed. Carla is a friend of mine, a terrific writer, and the sort of enthusiastic front-lines type that the comic industry needs. If you would like to help her and her family out, there is a Facebook group where you can stay updated, and a fund has been set up at one of the local banks. You can send your donations to: The Lance and Carla Burn Fund Santa Barbara Bank & Trust 1483 East Valley Road Montecito, CA 93108-1248
"Say, Mike, if I were to show you this two-page spread in this catalog, what would you say about it?"
"Well, Dorian, I'd say that nerds, especially in Japan, like themselves the sexy lady statues." "And what if I told you that I could instantly make the layout I just showed you the most appalling thing you've seen all day?" "I'd be very surprised."
Aw, man...I've managed to blow through all the books in print by the authors I'm currently reading. I am bookless. I gotta find something to read. I know, I'll swing by the Local Chain Bookstore on my way home from work and pick something up. Take a look around, find something new. Yeah, that'll work. How hard can it be to find something worth reading in a store with millions of books on the shelves?
Okay, let's start here in the mystery section.
Sasha Trueblood is a plucky young FBI agent who has just been handed the case of her career. A serial killer is stalking super-models and leaving their corpses in fashion magazine lobbies. Becoming his bait by walking the runway, will she find him before he finds her?
Okay. That's...that's maybe a little too high concept for me. And a setting I don't really care about. Let's look for something on the next shelf.
Miranda Delamorte is a plucky young forensic investigator who just landed the case of her career. Called to the scene of a bloody serial killing, she must use her expertise as a botanical analyst to-
Ugh, no, no tech-porn
Helen Punnaname is a plucky young-
Christ, are there any other adjectives for female mystery protagonists? Let's go in a different direction for the mysteries and check out the trade sized books with the fancy-dancy lettering
Philip Sicizer is a rookie cop assigned to the Chicago World's Fair when he stumbles upon a charnal house in a local hotel. With the help of his adopted Native American son, he must unravel a mystery connected to an unspeakable secret at the fair.
Oh, well, that's only been done about a dozen times now. What else is here?
Henry O'Malley is a rookie cop who has just discovered a body in the foundations of Ellis Island. With his adopted Chinese son, he must unravel a trans-Atlantic conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of European and American politics!
Okay, was there some wave of single-male adoptions in the 1900s that never got covered in history class? Okay, forget it, moving on...
An art historian must unravel a religious secret hidden in late Renaissance murals before the Vatican's secret assassins catch up to him.
An archaeologist must unravel an occult conspiracy hidden in Etruscan pottery before the Vatican's secret assassins catch up to him.
A grad student must unravel a Royal conspiracy hidden in Elizabethan poetry before the Crown's secret assassins catch up to her.
Dan Brown has much to answer for.
Okay, it's clear that I'm not going to find anything in the mystery section. Let's try fantasy and sci-fi.
In a techno-retro past where steam-powered technology rules the day, a humble inventor must risk his life to expose a conspiracy that reaches to the highest level of society.
Well, at least no one's plucky.
In Part the Second of the "Deathwing of the Skies" Pentology, Rehyvar the Red Rogue and his unwilling bond-mate Hhaarriiaa must seek the aid of the Ulaiora, beautiful immortal beings who are not at all anything like Elves, before the Black Wizards of Notnilc and Isolep can carry out their murderous plot against the High Tetrarch of Raqari. And, far away, the sinister forces of the Undead Lich Lord of Undeath is marshalling his armies beyond the reaches of the Black Swamps of Un'unt'uh.
Are they seriously still making books like this?
Amy Alicia is a plucky girl working at the cosmetics counter at a run-down department store. While walking home one night she's attacked, only to be rescued by the mysterious Braun, a sexy and dashing man that Amy finds herself mysteriously drawn to. As she learns more about Braun, she is drawn deeper into his world of night-creatures, as she comes face to face with the greatest secret of the ages: vampires live amongst us!
Gyah! No! Kill it! Kill it with fire!
Marv Purvis is a military man from a long history of military men. Rocketed to the stars to fight an invading horde of aliens, he must bond together with the other men in his unit as they learn about their amazing new weapons, the strange loves of alien women, and the unholy savages bent on the destruction of Earth and their way of life in a way that is not at all intended to be an allegory for contemporary American politics at all.
Ah. Gun porn. Fortunately, I have no anxieties over the size of my penis, and don't need to read stuff like this.
Well, this is a bust. Let's look at horror.
The second cousin of acclaimed horror author Dean Koontz brings you a shattering journey into terror that is remarkably similar to Koontz's books but distinct enough to avoid copy-right issues!
Wow...there's like two whole shelves of books by relatives of better horror writers! When did this turn into a distinct sub-genre?
A haunted radio-
A demon-possessed guitar-
God, no! Holy Christ, there's like six shelves of zombie books!
A pre-historic shark-
NO! No, no, no! Isn't there one single fucking book in this entire damn store that speaks to me as a reader?
Fucked up shit goes down on an island. Dudes get messed up, hard. The actual Devil may be involved, or crazy dudes just think it's the Devil.
So, let's get this out of the way first: I'm not a Star Trek fan. In fact, I dislike Star Trek more than I dislike Star Wars. To further put that into perspective, I'm a Doctor Who fan who will hash out seeming continuity errors with friends for fun, and I still think that people who like Star Trek have an unhealthy attachment to the show.
Recently, some footage from the upcoming reboot of the franchise, directed by J.J. Abrams, was shown in London, and Empire had a spoiler-heavy post about it up.
But, let's look to see how the Trek fans responded:
References are no good if they're misplaced and misused. Kirk entering the Academy AFTER Uhura? Chekov serving with Pike? I've seen better fanfic stories with better consistency, AND THEY'RE SPENDING OVER A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS ON THIS IDIOCY!?! It's not honoring canon, it's meaningless pandering by hacks who haven't got a clue what they're doing.
"I agree with Capt April that they're not following canon but then that would be extremely limiting in what the filmmakers do..."
Shouldn't that be one of the reasons these jokers get paid more than the average 7/11 slurpee monkey, who could come up with a story just as good as this?
Yes, it's limiting. The skill and talent to work WITHIN those limits are the mark of creative professionals.
Interestingly, the only other place I've seen this particular point articulated in this fashion is in defense of super-hero fan-fiction...
But maybe I'm not being fair to the Trek fans...let's take a look at what those masters of reasoned and rational debate at Ain't It Cool News have to say:
Who the hell is he making this movie for? It can't be the old school Trekkies who've kept the franchise going for 40 years with their support and money. Call me a basement dwelling contnuity nerd all you want, but the Enterprise built in Iowa on Earth? Chekov on Pikes Enterprise as a member of the bridge crew? Kirk as a malcontent badboy? This isn't a just a re-imagining, it's a big FU to anyone over 30 who's followed Trek at all over the years. It's teen angst Trek aimed at grabbing a different demographic than the increasingly older audience that has made Paramount over a billion dollars. If you're new to Trek you may love it, but it sure won't be my Star Trek.
I fail to see how any of that is a bad thing. I can't imagine this mindset. I can't imagine loving something so much that you want to see it die from lack of interest. Again, I'm a Who fan, and I'm ecstatic that the show is successful and popular again, and if the price I have to pay for that are Rose/Ten 'ship sites and no resolution over Ace's fate, that's a price I'm willing to pay.
Finding myself with an excess of time on my hands over the weekend, I used it to sit down and watch some "under $5" DVDs I'd purchased recently, of films that I felt deserved to be in my collection, Alien and An American Werewolf in London. They're both good films (for varying degrees of "good") that I enjoy, but I'd never really placed them highly on my list of favorites. Taking the opportunity to watch them again, after not seeing either in probably at least ten years, offered a chance to reappraise them.
Now, I probably would have to say that Werewolf is the better film of the two. It has flaws, to be certain. It's better as a horror film with some darkly comic moments than as a comedy with some horrific moments. In retrospect, the inclusion of the continually decaying Griffin Dunne as the undead Jack never really works. I can see that it's a gag that writer/director Landis thought was unique and clever, but it just doesn't gell in the final film. Supernatural horror is tricky enough to pull off, and while a back-packing American turning into a werewolf just about falls into "suspension of disbelief" range, to have him haunted by zombies as well is just pushing things too far.
But apart from that, the film largely works. Most of the comedy comes believably from the characters reacting to their situations, and the horrific parts are suitably frightening. David Naughton gives a particularly good performance as a young man, cut off from his family and friends, in an unfamiliar place, who has suffered great trauma and is not quite sure if what he suspects is happening to him is really happening of if he's losing his mind. The film also features one truly masterful sequence. And while the absolute carnage that takes place in Piccadilly Circus is thrilling and proof, as if any is needed, that one doesn't need hordes of monsters to create a serious and credible threat to a large number of people, it's the stalking of the commuter in the subway station where the film truly is most successful in creating a sense of terror and dread and unease.
Somehow I had managed to see this film in theaters upon it's initial release. I'm still not sure how I managed that. My parents were fairly lax about letting me see R rated films, with horror films being the particular exception to that rule. I know I did see horror films as a child (Jaws is the first film I have memory of seeing in a theater), mostly with my father, but all I can think is that my dad heard of John Landis's involvement with this film and assumed it would be more in line with something like Blues Brothers or Animal House, and that the adult jokes would simply go over my head. Also, in seeing the film as an adult, I think I've pinpointed this as the moment werewolves became my supernatural monster of choice. Granted, as an adult the symbolism of werewolves appeals to me more than that of vampires or ghosts or witches, but as a pre-gay kid, I strongly suspect that the frequent nudity of David Naughton in this film helped cement the appeal for me.
A film I most definitely was not allowed to see in the theater was Alien. Watching it now, it's both better and worse than I remembered it being. It's better, in that it takes a lot of those elements that I tend to associate with the auteur-influenced methods of film-making popularized in the seventies; shots that are held for a prolonged period, a very slow and deliberately paced plot, naturalistic dialogue and acting, and a biting and somewhat cynical world view, and applies them to the science-fiction genre. And as a science-fiction film, Alien is definitely one of the classics. As a horror film, it's a bit of a mess. Partly that's because a creature we don't know anything about or understand killing off people with little to no personality one by one isn't particularly scary or terrible. It's just about half of a plot. But still, it's the only good film in the Alien series, and far and away better than the jingoistic militarism of Aliens.
Another thing that becomes more noticeable about Alien upon rewatching is that, despite Sigourney Weaver's Lt. Ripley frequently being cited as the premier strong female lead so often cited as lacking in action, sci-fi and horror films...she's not. Not really. Ripley is a strong character, absolutely, but she feels like a stronger woman than she really is because the only other female character in the film is the prone to hysterics Lambert. Apart from going back to save the cat, a remarkably human moment for a character that up to now has been portrayed as being preoccupied with rules and regulations (as evidenced by her willingness to leave Kane on the surface of the planet rather than break quarantine and her head-butting with Ash over protocol violations), Ripley is largely indistinguishable from her male co-workers. She's pretty much of the "man with breasts" school of "strong" female characters, an impression heightened when you consider that screen-writer Dan O'Bannon allegedly wrote the roles in the film as unisex. That still didn't prevent Ridley Scott from devoting an extended sequence in the film to watching Ripley strip. Still, given that most sci-fi/horror/fantasy fans are of the types that see something like Buffy as a deep feminist statement, maybe Ripley isn't so bad at that.
Always Forgive Your Enemies; Nothing Annoys Them So Much
Now that the unpleasantness of the election season is over, let's look at the slightly less despair-inducing lunacy of Diamond Previews, shall we?
Dark Horse has a new edition of CLAMP's long out of print title Clover, making Dark Horse the collective's fourth US publisher. I really wouldn't mind if Dark Horse picked up the rest of the CLAMP titles TokyoPop published in English, either.
I was vaguely interested in the set of Turok cards until I realized that they were recreations of the covers by Pete Von Sholly and not the actual covers originally published by Dell. Hell, the covers were frequently the only half-way decent art on the Dell/Gold Key adventure comics, and I wouldn't mind a nice collection of those. But a recreation? That just seems pointless, especially as there really aren't that many Turok fans left out there. UPDATE: Apparently these are all new pieces of art inspired by the original covers, and not recreations. Which, given that what it says in Previews is: "Veteran illustrator and dinosaur expert Pete Von Sholly has created an absolutely stunning series of trading cards depicting the weirdest and most mysterious covers, with scientifically accurate dinosaurs, effective updating this classic genre work.", it is strongly implied that these are re-dos of the original covers.
DC is putting out the fourth volume of their Diana Prince: Wonder Woman series, which finally reprints the issues written by Samuel Delany.
I like to think of him as "black, gay Santa Claus."
DC also has a new series based on the upcoming Brave and the Bold cartoon, with the fantastic, blocky, retro character designs. Imagine...a fun Batman cartoon. It's been decades since we had one of those.
If you can't love that, there is no joy in your heart. Or you write reviews for Comics Buyers Guide. Which is pretty much the same thing.
I enjoyed the first volume of Fabien Nury and John Cassaday series I Am Legion when Humanoids published it through DC. In fact, I was enjoying almost all the Humanoids books that were published through DC. The price and format for the line were perfect for me. I don't need a six-issue mini of I Am Legion at $3.50 a pop, though.
Viz has the first volumes of two Naoki Urasawa manga titles, 20th Century Boys and Pluto, the re-imagined Astro Boy. 20thC. Boys should fill the hole left by Monster well, but I'm still not sold on Pluto. Oh, and I notice that Viz is using this opportunity to creep their prices up, at least on their "mature" titles.
I am strangely intrigued by this. And we definitely need more manga for kids. (And adults. And less of the already glutted teen girl aimed products. But that's a rant for a different day.)
Oh, man! The DC Superhero Figurine Collectionfinally gets listed in Previews...and it's for six figures and a seventh "deluxe" figure, total SRP of $110. I...I still think I want them. But, fuck, seriously? Seven in one go? And at a $2 mark-up over the Marvel figures? I mean, I realise that Marvel was desperate for licensing money at the time those started coming out and that Eaglemoss probably got a really good deal on the license, and that DC pays creators royalties on licensed products, but still... (Also dampening my enthusiasm, the first wave of figures is Superman, Batman, Joker, Spectre, Creeper, Darkseid and...Donna Troy. Really? Donna Troy?)
A "Death" hoodie. Because Goths get cold ears, too.
I'm fairly ambivalent to the prospect of a Flash Gordon, 80s movie version, action figure:
Now, the planned PlayGirl variant? I might not mind that. (You really have no one to blame but yourself if you click that link, by the way.)
So what do we think is going on in this ad?
Masturbating samurai? Really bad case of crabs? And why is it in regular Previews instead of Adult Previews? I mean, pretty much everything in the "statues" section of Previews is calculated to get you labeled the neighborhood weirdo by anyone who comes into your house, but this seems beyond the pale even by Diamond's standards.