Archive for May 31, 2009

Comics Time: Invincible Vols. 1-9

May 31, 2009

Photobucket

Invincible Vols. 1-9

Robert Kirkman, writer

Cory Walker, artist, Vols. 1&2

Ryan Ottley, artist, Vols. 2-9

Image, 2003-2008

in the 120-144 page range each

$14.99 each

Buy them from Amazon.com

I don’t know what it says about me that I viewed my re-read of Robert Kirkman’s creator-owned coming-of-age superhero series Invincible largely through the prism of posts by other comics bloggers–probably nothing that isn’t deeply sad–but there you have it. First off, I thought of Tom Spurgeon’s recent post on Kirkman’s other long-running, unlikely-success indie title, the zombie-apocalypse survival-horror opus The Walking Dead, and how reading a massive chunk of it in one go reveals Kirkman’s studious, in-it-for-the-long-haul pacing. There’s certainly more going on set-piece-wise in Invincible than there is in The Walking Dead, but the principle is the same: For example, the titular superhero, teenager Mark Grayson, doesn’t have his series-defining confrontation with a secretly villainous character until the series’ third volume. Meanwhile, Kirkman takes Paul Levitz’s tried and true A/B/C-plot structure and stretches it out like a slow-motion camera filming a hummingbird–major players can spend a dozen or more issues being introduced in one- or two-page snippets before we even have any idea what they have to do with the book’s main character.

Naturally, reading as much of the series as you can in as short a period as possible flatters these aspects of Kirkman’s writing. But moreover, they help mitigate against Kirkman’s major bad habit: His characters either say exactly what they’re thinking/feeling, or they don’t say anything, or say “it’s nothing” when it clearly isn’t. There’s no in between, no subtext–they either come right out and say it or lie about it. To me, his inability to write convincing human interaction in that regard is the thing keeping him from being not just a really good, entertaining writer, but a great one. Which is frustrating, because his storylines and ideas are so engaging and frequently unusual that he’d really be a top dawg if he could master emotional expression. Now, I think this is already less of a problem in Invincible than it is in The Walking Dead, because Walking Dead is relentlessly bleak and serious book whereas Invincible is a much lighter one (albeit with plenty of serious moments); Kirkman’s inability to handle an emotionally charged conversation the way a great writer can has less impact in an action-adventure romp than it does in a character-driven survival-horror story. But (finally getting around to the point) it has even less of an impact when you’re plowing through 47 issues in a row and really letting the slowly unfolding, meticulously planned plotlines drive your reading experience rather than having the one-issue-a-month format dictate that you dwell over every scene. You can see the whole lovely forest without getting stuck on some of the gnarlier trees.

On to another blogospheric touchpoint: In his long series of posts on Kingdom Come and ’90s superhero comics, Tim O’Neil argued that Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come marked the rise of the “momentist” school of superhero writing, which is less concerned with soap opera or traditional plots and more driven by attempts to serve up iconic moments for the characters at regular intervals. His best example of this was from a comic that predated the movement but obviously had a lot of influence on it–Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” and the moment where Superman says “BURN.” and uses his heat vision as a weapon against Mongul. I think O’Neil was right in that this has led to an enormous amount of self-indulgent, hero-worshipping crap. It’s also led to some good stuff–I think Geoff Johns, at his best, does this stuff really well. (One moment I often think of in this regard was the bit in Green Lantern: Rebirth where Green Arrow used Green Lantern’s ring for a second and it totally kicked his ass, giving us new respect for GA and GL all at once.)

Kirkman, by contrast, doesn’t do Momentism at all. Maybe it’s just because these are creator-owned characters he just made up and they don’t have a lengthy history to play off of in constructing iconic moments. But, consciously or no, I think he actually hit upon the fact that iconic moments are a mug’s game for non-legendary superheroes, something pretty much every other indie superhero book misses entirely. Instead, he lets the ideas and the storylines drive the book, usually presenting the action in as flat a fashion as possible, so that he doesn’t distract from the loooooooong game he’s playing. In fact, outside the initial “learning to fly”-type stuff, the book’s big “moments” are almost invariably Invincible being stunned or pwned or both. There are plenty of “BURN.”-style moments where Invincible Finally Lashes Out Against His Enemy, but they almost invariably end in moral or physical disaster for the poor kid. It’s very much not a book about how awesome Invincible is, whereas 90% of corporate superhero comics these days are about how awesome Copyright Man or Team Trademark is. (The problem there is that very few characters actually merit such treatment and very few writers and artists can pull it off.)

Which reminds me: Invincible becomes much more interesting as a character the more he gets his ass kicked. I once wrote, back when the book was young, that the difference between Invincible and other teen superheroes like Spider-Man or the original X-Men or most of the Runaways is that while those kids were all geeks or outcasts, Invincible seemed like the kind of kid who’d pull into the high-school parking lot in his SUV blasting Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” But that was actually giving the character too much credit–he wasn’t a Popular Kid anymore than he was a freak or a geek. He starts out as just sort of Generic Teen: He’s good-looking but apparently never seriously considered approaching girls and never seriously approached by them, he’s smart but doesn’t seem to be considered a geek by anyone, he’s got a crappy job but only because his dad insists he take one to gain a work ethic, he has no brothers or sisters, he reads comics but probably only because he’s a character in a comic book, he’s got one friend who’s sort of like a more high-strung duplicate of him, etc. Even when he finally starts developing the powers he’s waited most of his young adulthood to have, there’s zero angst about it, and nothing illicit either–he knew it was coming, he doesn’t hide it from his mom and dad, he instantly starts fighting crime. The wildest he gets with them is taking his buddy for a flight or two.

Then that series-defining confrontation occurs, and suddenly the superhero aspect of his life is the source of immense emotional pain, while at the same time he realizes that his name is far from accurate. The rest of the series, which by and large corresponds with Mark’s graduation from high school and entry into college, is basically about how fast he’s forced to grow up, the way the stress and danger of superhero life slowly chips away at his attempts to have a normal life, the high stakes of emotional involvement between godlike super-people, and so on. Oddly enough, Invincible is benefited in this regard by an art switch a lot like the one that happened in The Walking Dead. In that book, the clean cartoon line of co-creator Tony Moore gave way after an arc or two to the scratchier, edgier work of Charlie Adlard, just in time for the series to take a definitive turn for the darker. Here, the comparatively minimal. angular look of co-creator Cory Walker’s art is swapped out for the fuller, livelier stylings of Ryan Ottley. Ottley’s stuff is cartoony in a way you just don’t see from the Big Two and their SERIOUS BUSINESS books anymore, outside of books like The Incredible Hercules that manage to dance between the raindrops of the Momentist events and the realists and Image Seven disciples who draw them. But more importantly, it livened the book up in a big way, just as Invincible developed more of an inner life to display.

I think this change really hit home in that aforementioned series-defining confrontation (no, I’m not going to spoil it even though I can’t imagine anyone reading this deep into this review who hasn’t already read the damn book). What had been the sort of light-hearted “let’s make superheroes FUN again!!!” romp you see so many creators attempt, so many bloggers applaud, and so many readers ignore suddenly got ultraviolent. It was a huge tonal shift, one that the series occasionally reproduces, though it does so infrequently enough for the move to retain its ability to shock. (The book even has some meta-style fun with it in one issue, prudely cutting away from multiple sex scenes only to end the ish by depicting a horrendous beating and dismemberment in full, bloody, intestine-ripping detail.)

In these moments Ottley’s good-natured art suddenly feels like it’s being used as a weapon, while Kirkman demonstrates that he’s ready, willing, and able to completely upend the book’s status quo. Following his mutually unsatisfactory sojourn at Marvel, Kirkman would be the first to tell you it’s his total control over the book and its characters that enables him to pull off stuff like that, that enables him to tell you “anything can happen” and mean it and convince you that it’s true. That’s probably the greatest pleasure of reading nearly 50 issues of Invincible in a row: You’ve watched Kirkman grow as a writer, Ottley grow as an artist, and Invincible grow as a character (though you haven’t watched Bill Crabtree grow as a colorist, because he started off awesome and stayed that way–pastels! Brilliant!), so by the time you get to one of those anything-can-happen moments, you’re so attached to the character and the book he stars in that you just race through the pages hoping that whatever happens isn’t so bad.

Carnival of souls

May 29, 2009

* Sean Update: I’ve got a bunch of stuff floating around in hard copy these days. First up: ToyFare #143, featuring the sensational character find of May 2009–BIZARROBAMA!–in Twisted ToyFare Theater, plus brief plugs for Bat for Lashes’ Two Suns, David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, and SubwayNow.com. (What a gig!) Second, the latest issue of Wizard, which features short articles on Ross Campbell’s Wet Moon, Tom Neely & Aaron Turner’s The Wolf (check out Tom’s site for a peak at the article), and a lengthy profile of Fantagraphics that I’m quite proud of. I think we’re just a couple weeks away from a Maxim piece I’m pretty excited about, too.

* AICN has a brief three-page preview of Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin.

* Hostel director and Inglourious Basterds star Eli Roth talks to Empire about his next two movies: a biggish-budget sci-fi picture called Endangered Species and a full-length version of his Grindhouse faux-trailer Thanksgiving. Sure, I’ll eat ’em. (Via STYD.)

* The State of the Beast: Spanish bullfighter Israel Lancho was horribly gored during a bullfight. In related news, bulls are horribly gored during every bullfight. Sorry, I really have nothing becoming to say about this.

* Torture Link of the Day: More on whether or not the Obama-suppressed torture photos show rape.

* And on those up notes, have a wonderful weekend!

Carnival of souls

May 28, 2009

* Tom Spurgeon on how Christopher Handley’s lawyer wove a white flag rather than allowing the CBLDF and other interested parties to fight for Handley’s (and our) First Amendment rights:

I don’t know whether to be furious at the lawyer for pressuring his client into a plea based on an estimate of his own skills to try the case given that he had access to consultants who would throw themselves off a building to stress a case like this can be won, curious as to what the hell Handley was facing that was worse than a 15-year potential jail sentence if the charges had been fought, or just generally dismayed that what should be the fundamental right to spend our private team reading whatever the heck we want that doesn’t harm people in its creation might be decided through decisions like this one.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that along with whatever hideous precedent this might set for the comics world at large, it’s also destroying a specific man’s life for the crime of purchasing comic books. Just a horrible, horrible story.

* Happy 1st Birthday, Top Shelf 2.0! You can see all my meager contributions to Top Shelf’s webcomics portal right here.

* I find Jeff “Doc” Jensen’s Lost ramblings to be like listening to some crazy guy on a street corner scream about the Illuminati, only worse because Jensen doesn’t have insanity as an excuse to wonder (as he does in the column I’m about to link to) whether when the show uses the contraction “can’t” it’s actually a reference to Immanuel Kant. That said, he’s assembled a pretty solid list of 10 mysteries the show really ought to solve on-screen in its final season, with a promise of a longer list to follow. The list is derived from reader submissions and is generally the kind of fan-reaction-media thing the show’s creators appear to pay attention to, so there’s the chance it could do some actual good. He also links to the true origin of a certain notable landscape feature from the show, which was kind of cool to find out. (Via Jason Adams.)

* Maybe They’re remaking Alien, more likely they’re working on a prequel, either way Terminator Salvation has pretty badly soured me on this sort of thing and demonstrated that remakes/reboots/prequels/sequels aren’t worth doing unless you have a crew with vision, which is kind of a “duh” but still.

* B-Sol reviews The Last Man on Earth, the initial, Vincent Price-starring adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, in the context of its status as an antecedent to the “modern” horror era ushered in by Night of the Living Dead. He’s got me intrigued.

* Ryan Kirk’s Shelf Porn may be the most impressive set so far, but I’m saying that in large part because it appears to have the most overlap with my own.

* Normally political comics don’t do a whole lot for me, but I enjoyed this preview of False Witness! The Michele Bachmann Story, an upcoming series about the, shall we say, outspoken conservative Representative from Minnesota. For starters, the sub-Chick-tract look and feel of the thing dovetails neatly with the apocalyptic, conspiratorial rantings of its subject. At the same time, it’s by local writers and artists emphasizing a local angle–arguing that the Minnesota press hasn’t informed the public about Bachmann’s years-long trail of bizarre extremist statements–that I hadn’t heard before, giving the project a unique feel compared to your average national-level broadsides. (Via Talking Points Memo.)

* Torture Link of the Day: Major General Antonio Taguba says the images of prisoner abuse and torture the Obama Administration is attempting to suppress include photos depicting soldiers raping male and female prisoners.

* I’m posting this video discussion of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s debut album God Fodder not because it’s a great video (it really isn’t) nor because I endorse this fellow’s dismissal of Ned’s subsequent albums (CRAZYTALK–Are You Normal? is one of my five or ten desert island discs), but simply because I just never hear anyone talk about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin EVER. Someone should really listen to that lead bass guitar, which is used in a way beyond even what New Order did, and rip that sound off shamelessly. (Via Recidivism.)

Carnival of souls

May 26, 2009

* IGN’s Dan Philips speaks at length with Grant Morrison about Batman and Robin. And so help me god, Morrison cites Crank: High Voltage as an influence:

I went to see Crank: High Voltage when we were in Los Angeles. I had just watched that, and I thought everything else just looks like slow motion, really. I wanted to get that effect into the comics as well. To me that was just a great action film, and every action film after is going to have to try and move at that speed. I really wanted to get that into Batman and Robin.

The only way a “Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely on Batman using Crank and Twin Peaks as influences” could be purer Collins Crack is if it came with a collaborative soundtrack by David Bowie and Underworld.

* Jason Adams gets about one plot-hole into a review of Terminator Salvation before giving up and washing his hands of the whole mess. I’m sympathetic.

* Turns out it’s hella hard to blow up a planet.

The next best thing to being there

May 26, 2009

Tom Spurgeon has posted his annual guide to San Diego’s Comic Con International. This year it’s a shortened version, with a mere one hundred tips and tricks of the trade. To call it a must-read is to woefully understate the case–it’s a looked-forward-to annual event for me nearly on par with Comic Con itself. And in years like this when I’m not going to the Con, it takes on an added bittersweet dimension, like the comics blogging equivalent of “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine. Go and enjoy.

Lost thoughts – flashback edition

May 25, 2009

SPOILER ALERT – I talk about these early episodes as someone who’s seen everything, so if you’re not completely caught up with the end of Season Five, read no further

[Watched 1.1 – Pilot Part 1; 1.2 – Pilot Part 2; 1.3 – Tabula Rasa; 1.4 – Walkabout; 1.5 – White Rabbit]

* After Season Five wrapped up, The Missus and I thought it would be neat to re-watch the entire series from the beginning in the months prior to the sixth and final season. Meanwhile The Missus’s parents, who are in town for Memorial Day, had decided to watch the show for the very first time, plowing all the way through the series so they too could watch the final season. Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, but this was a pretty good excuse to start watching the show from the first episode onward this weekend.

* I’m still amazed at just how involving these first few episodes are. I’ve told the story about how The Missus and I caught the sneak preview of the first episode at San Diego Comic Con 2004 a million times, but seriously, we went in there with less than no expectations and left true believers proselytizing to all and sundry. That whole first sequence with Jack waking up in the middle of the jungle, seeing a labrador retriever, and then running into a horrific plane crash on the beach with shrapnel flying every place and people getting sucked into jet engines–magnificently intense television. The rest of the episode was a balance between further shocks–the giant monster roaring through the jungle, the death of the pilot–and deft little (well, okay, played to the balcony) character moments–Jack asking Kate to stitch him up, the “count to five” story. I half-worried that the show wouldn’t be much fun to watch over again since I know the answers to so many early questions, but it’s still a ton of fun.

* And oh yeah, there’s plenty of death. I remember a big part of my attraction to the show being how it showed people dealing with the plane crash, the dead and the dying. That was actually a big plot driver in these first few episodes, especially by episode four, when the bodies in the fuselage are cremated and Claire leads her memorial service. Yet oddly, it was a much lighter show, too. Action-packed and heavy on carnage, yeah, but not the relentless parade of murder and failure that it’s since become. Back when Charlie, Claire, Boone, Shannon were on the show, it was much younger and funner-seeming, even if all Boone and Shannon did at this point was bitch at each other. It was also a much less dense show, both visually and narratively–during the J.J. Abrams-directed pilot you had shots of fields of stars and sunsets, while in lieu of the non-stop mythology-exploration and multiple timeframes of Season Five you had lengthy sequences of people just climbing up stuff. Everything’s bright: the white of the beach, the blue of the ocean and the sky, the green of the jungle. For pete’s sake, episode three ends with a musical montage in which various pairs of characters do nice things for each other–Sayid tosses Sawyer some fruit, Jin brushes a lock of Sun’s hair, Boone finds Shannon’s sunglasses, Michael brings Walt his dog, etc. It’s bizarre to think that Boone and Shannon won’t last till the middle of Season Two, Michael will murder two people in cold blood and die estranged from his son, and Sawyer will fall in love with a woman who dies in an attempt to never have met him.

* Back then it really did seem like much more of a Lord of the Flies set-up than a science fiction one, even though even at this early stage we knew that Locke had seen the monster and been spared by it, we’d seen a polar bear, and we were catching our first glimpses of ghost-Christian. Debates about what to do with the bodies, figuring out how to get food, arguing with Sawyer over the ethical way to divvy up supplies, all of that presented the island as a lowercase-i “man vs. nature”-type antagonist that would give rise to internal power struggles. I dug that! Though I grant you it might have been difficult to sustain for six seasons. Anyway that seemed to be the implication of Jack’s big “live together; die alone”

* The show also hadn’t quite settled into itself yet. The pilot had a slightly different look to it, The music in the pilot, though composed by Michael Giacchino just like everything else, was much heavier on percussion, from drums to vibraphones; to my ear, the string-heavy sound we’re used to didn’t fully emerge until episode four, while the first recognizable theme didn’t show up until episode five. Ditto the flashback structure: the pilot’s flashbacks were limited to shots of the plane in mid-flight, while Kate’s flashback (in addition to having unusual slow-mo lead-ins) lacked the big revelatory twist, which was instead presented in the island material (she’s a criminal!). Not until that wonderful, wonderful moment in episode four where you learn Locke was in a wheelchair did the Lost flashback come into its own.

* And speaking of Locke, they were rather ambiguous as to whether or not he was a bad guy back then. That musical montage that capped off episode three ended with sinister sounds and a close-up of his scarred face. He was just one of several rather creepy things going on, from the endlessly repeating distress call to the Shining-like apparition of the man in the suit in the distance. It was quite a scary show and still can be from time to time.

* I only caught one Easter Egg: After the Monster’s first run through the jungle that first night, the next morning you hear some of the characters discussing in in the background. You hear Rose (love you Rose!) say that something about it sounded familiar, and then she tells another character she’s from the Bronx. I guess she recognized the taxicab receipt-printing noise the sound guys built into the Monster’s clickings and whirrings. I did, however, dream that Richard Alpert was hanging out among the castaways in the early episodes, but so far that hasn’t panned out.

Gossip Girl thoughts

May 21, 2009

* The first thing you should do is go read Ben Morse’s thoughts on the finale. Seriously, go. I’ll wait.

* Waiting.

* Back? Good. Now you know how flattered I must be that Ben claimed my goofy posts as an inspiration and model for that sucker. He wrote it with the episode much fresher in his mind than it currently is in mine–I watched it last night and then quickly switched over to have my heart destroyed by American Idol and I still haven’t quite recovered from the trauma–so it’s just going to be much, much better than what I’m gonna write. Plus it’s just legitimately excellent, and I hope he makes a regular thing of it next season. Fair warning.

* Anyway, can you believe the stuff with Nate and Madchen Amick, and the fake boyfriend out in the Hamptons, happened this season? It feels like it was on another show! Obviously the breakneck pace of this show has been a running theme in these posts, and I think that in this episode it was clearer than ever. To use the finale’s central storyline as an example, how many times have Blair and Chuck had heart to hearts just in the past few episodes? Hell, they had two or three in the finale alone, with different results each time! To swipe a term from Grant Morrison, Gossip Girl is supercompressed television.

* As I’ve said, this pace has some drawbacks. For one thing, the stories can get repetitive, with the same characters doing the same things with diminishing returns. For another, it can grind up supporting players–their stories move so fast that none of them seem to last longer than a three-episode arc. And of course the latter problem is a major contributor to the former.

* That’s why I’m glad to see the show potentially setting up Georgina, Carter, The Missing Brother, and Eric (finally!) as main characters next season, even though I’m not wild about Georgina or Carter. The show just needs some new blood! And as Ben points out, having Georgina and Carter around will either help soften the loss of perpetually scheming Chuck and Blair to their romance, or force them out of retirement.

* Speaking of Chuck and Blair, Chuck and Blair! Yay! That said, it was spoiled for me by the damn internet, so it lost a little impact. I will say that I thought Blair’s big speech to Chuck when he turned her down was very well written, though–over-the-top and epic in the way that a particularly articulate teenager might actually be, and moving.

* Ben was also right to note that this episode was SEXXXAY, the hottest we’ve had in quite some time. Loved Blair’s striptease, loved the Serena Sideboob Showcase on graduation day and the Serena Cleavage Spectacular on graduation night. Here’s the thing though: Aren’t the ladies and gays in the audience getting royally gypped on the eye-candy front, just in terms of the flesh on display? Penn Badgely, Ed Westwick, and Chase Crawford are all lovely-looking guys, but how ’bout they take their tops off once in a while, huh? Hey Chuck Bass, put ’em on the glass!

* Back to the pace question, I think it was kind of hilarious what this episode allowed to go down off-screen. Nate getting hit on by the deputy mayor could have been a whole storyline! And I suppose they’re saving whatever Georgina did to Poppy for later–perhaps keeping Poppy in reserve as an archenemy, like the role Olivia D’Abo plays for Vincent D’Onofrio on Law & Order: Criminal Intent–but you’d think that might have merited depiction.

* Ben gets at this in his excellent observation about Dan’s peripheral role lately, but I do feel like the episode dropped the ball by not keeping Dan and Serena at least within striking distance of its emotional center. I know that Chuck and Blair are really special characters, but Dan and Serena are Our Hero and Our Heroine, and I think the show really has to watch its step in terms of keeping them interesting, involved, and central to the story. Chuck and Blair are a bit like Ben and Locke on Lost: breakout characters who are actually closer to the central appeal of the show than the leads (the mysteries and mythology in Ben and Locke’s case, sleazy scheming decadence in Chuck and Blair’s case). Gossip Girl will ultimately have to work just as hard to make Dan and Serena matter as Lost does with Jack and Kate.

* NYU: the affordable alternative to Yale! LOL

* In much the same way that Ben wonders if the soft-pedaled, weed-enabled rapprochement between Lily and Rufus (whose music is truly a turtleneck in music form) was done that way because of expectations for the Lily flashback spinoff that’s now not happening (thank god), I’m curious as to whether the sudden season-ending interest in Daddy Van Der Woodsen stems from the character’s apparent role as a villain in the spinoff. As it stood it was a bit random and kind of threw off the balance of the very end of the episode.

* I loved the Nelly Yuki quasi-reveal. I actually think Dan/Nelly would be kind of hot. Fuck it, I’m shippin’ it. Delly is my OTP.

* I really liked that this was a high-school graduation episode, and that so much of it revolved around who would be Queen Bee of the Mean Girls next year. Part of the allure of the show is that it’s about kids who can afford to act like grown-ups, but they’re not actually grown-ups, and all these storylines about corporate intrigue and marriages in Spain and Junior Varsity Eyes Wide Shut and so on kind of obscure that. Letting them drink in ritzy bars without getting carded is one thing, but it all works much much better when the show reminds us that they’re 17 and 18 years old. I mean, that’s why Cruel Intentions is such a fucking scream, you know?

* Maybe having Vanessa go to school with these clowns will make her feel a little less like an afterthought. Don’t forget she’s still a little bit infected with interestingitis courtesy of Chuck’s junk, so maybe they’ll actually pick up on that instead of just throwing it out there alongside Blair being an unclefucker and how our homework was never quite like Dan’s.

* I have to say I had beef with the way the ep handled the Gossip Girl/Serena grudge match. First of all I had The Missus sitting next to me the whole time complaining that what GG did to them during graduation wasn’t actually all that bad, and that normal kids would probably be like “Fuck it, I’m graduating, high school’s over, I don’t have to care about this shit anymore, and I’m never gonna see half these people again anyway.” But mainly, I feel like the show should have shat or gotten off the pot. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they’d continue to use the character and the conceit (and Kristen Bell’s voice) after outing him or her, but I definitely wanted them to out him or her. But of course they couldn’t, so they didn’t, and they ended up having to resolve the storyline in a way that didn’t really make sense. (Serena threatened to out GG unless GG showed up at the bar. Serena didn’t actually know who GG was, but GG didn’t know that–that was the whole point. So why was GG confident enough not only not to show up, but to drive every single other person in the class to the bar instead?) I suppose we won’t find out who GG is until the final episode, and perhaps not even then, but that’s really the only time they could do it–so that should have been the only time they brought it up. This just felt like wasted time.

* That said, I loved how the only people GG mentioned in her graduation-day blast were the main characters. Are we sure Gossip Girl isn’t Jacob, and that text wasn’t another one of his lists?

Carnival of souls

May 21, 2009

* When I first started seeing Emily the Strange merchandise, I thought she was a character I dimly remembered from the children’s book series Nate the Great. But at some point it became apparent that she wasn’t, so I thought I must have been hallucinating that Nate the Great character, because in my mind they were so similar that there was just no way they could be two different things. So it was with great relief that (via Tom Spurgeon) that I discovered that the Nate the Great character I was thinking of, Rosamond, did in fact exist. I’m not losing my mind! On the other hand, the reason I know this is because the company that owns Emily the Strange, caught dead to rights in ripping off Rosamond, is now suing Rosamond/Nate the Great creators Marjori Sharmat and Marc Simont in order to prevent them from saying “we wuz robbed.” This is so loathsome I hardly even know where to begin. I mean, look at this:

Photobucket

Or as writer/illustrator Doc Pop puts it:

Photobucket

The chutzpah of these people! They should be ashamed, and made to feel shame.

* Christopher Handley has pleaded guilty to child pornography charges for possessing manga. Just a horrible, horrible precedent. A drawing of a crime is not a crime. And next time they’ll come for something that “real” comics fans care about.

* Tucker Stone compares the superhero-succession stories in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and a cast of thousands’ Batman and its related titles. Guess which comes out on top? As a separate issue, it turns out Tucker buys Batman comics like Paul O’Brien buys X-Men comics, apparently. That’s interesting to me because if there were a superhero I’d do that sort of thing for, it would be Batman, but I’ve never been remotely interested in doing so. Batman is my favorite superhero by a country mile, yet I’ve spent years as an active comics reader (let alone time away from comics altogether) not buying any books with him in it, and I’ll probably do so again. (Via Kevin Melrose.)

* Bruce Baugh liked the director’s cut of Alex Proyas’s Dark City. I remember liking the film well enough when it came out but haven’t come back to it. I think I was on some level a bit offended by the at times shot-for-shot lifts from Hellraiser. Of course, these days I really like Doomsday, so this isn’t exactly a principled objection.

* This week at Scott Tobias’s New Cult Canon: Brick, Rian Johnson’s high-school noir. That’s the kind of killer idea you see a lot of “new mainstream” comics try to make a go of but never come up with anything remotely as interesting in the execution as the idea itself, so I remember being really delighted that the whole movie was good.

* Thanks to an in-law who hails from Austin, Texas I discovered the joys of Shiner Bohemian Black Lager last summer, but to my dismay the Tri-State area is one of the few remaining regions in the US where you can’t purchase Shiner products. Imagine my delight, then, when I saw McSorley’s Irish Black Lager on sale at Stop and Shop circa St. Patrick’s Day, and ever since. A black lager is a bit like combining the flavor of a porter or stout with the drinkability of a lager–it’s like drinking smoke, and I love it. Anyway, turns out Drew Friedman drew the label. You can’t escape comics even when you’re just trying to get loaded. (Via Eric Reynolds.)

Photobucket

* Torture Links of the Day: President Obama gave a big speech today on national security, civil liberties, treatment of terror suspects and other detainees, and transparency. It seemed mostly designed to smack down and ridicule the current conservative framework for the topic, encapsulated in the high comedy of being lectured on these issues by the grotesque moral moron Dick Cheney and his fellow torturers and torture enthusiasts. Reaction among civil libertarians has focused on pointing out the disconnect between Obama’s words and his actions, which may have the happy effect of pushing the frame for this debate in the direction of long-established norms of human rights and the rule of law.

* Finally, I’m desperate to go see Nine Inch Nails when they play nearby Jones Beach on Sunday, June 7th, in part because it’s so close by, in part because I really like the tight, heavy four-piece configuration they have right now, in part because it’s supposedly NIN’s farewell tour for the foreseeable future, but primarily because their setlists have been absolutely bonkers. During the first three nights of their American tour I believe they played over 40 different songs, including some they’d never before played in concert and old favorites of mine you just never hear (“The Becoming,” “Last”). They’ve also been reviving the covers they’ve done on record (Gary Numan’s “Metal,” Joy Division’s “Dead Souls,” Adam & the Ants’ “Physical (You’re So)”–we can’t be far from Soft Cell’s “Memorabilia”), not to mention Trent Reznor taking lead vocals on the version of “I’m Afraid of Americans” they did with David Bowie. And apparently they’re also doing things like covering the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” with Boots Riley from the Coup and Street Sweeper. ┬íJesus Marimba!

IDOL

May 20, 2009

Photobucket

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

–Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

Photobucket

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth

You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette

The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget

Oh, oh, oh, oh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it

And the clock waits so patiently on your song

You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long

Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road

But the day breaks instead so you hurry home

Don’t let the sun blast your shadow

Don’t let the milk float ride your mind

They’re so natural – religiously unkind

Oh no love, you’re not alone

You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair

You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care

Oh no love, you’re not alone

No matter what or who you’ve been

No matter when or where you’ve seen

All the knives seem to lacerate your brain

I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain

You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone

Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone

Let’s turn on and be not alone

Gimme your hands ’cause you’re wonderful

Gimme your hands ’cause you’re wonderful

Oh, gimme your hands

–David Bowie, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”

Carnival of souls

May 20, 2009

* Like me, my movie buddy Jason Adams tries and fails to review Crank: High Voltage. It’s review-proof if you’re trying not to ruin it for your readers. All I can do is promise that its opening sequence is more entertaining than Terminator Salvation‘s entire duration.

* Speaking of which, Harry Knowles spends most of his hilariously stereotype-fulfilling “review” of Terminator Salvation talking about the movie shitting directly onto his eyeballs, but I actually think he’s onto something in comparing it to the lifeless, insight-free Alien Resurrection, and his line about Bryce Dallas Howard is dead-on.

* I’m going to link to Jason’s post containing some images from and links about Lars Von Trier’s new horror movie Anti-Christ just so I can say I’ve done so. Having seen Dancer in the Dark I believe I’ve plumbed what passes for Von Trier’s depths as much as I need to–I think he’s a phony, I think his misanthropy applies to everyone but himself which is incredibly dull (I mean, just contrast the Von Trier quote Jason reprints with the Roger Ebert quote he reprints and see if Von Trier himself doesn’t give lie to Ebert’s entire point about the film’s “despair”), and just like Jackie Treehorn I think he treats objects like women, man. There’s not much I’ve read, pro or con, about Anti-Christ that makes me feel like I need to reevaluate this. Still, I’m a sucker for beautifully composed shots of severe genital mutilation, so who knows.

* There’s some fun footage from the upcoming remake of V popping up here and there: here are two clips and here’s a longish trailer. I’m catching a Battlestar Galactica vibe here and there, in particular an echo of the Baltar/Six relationship during one of the clips, which is nice; I’m also pretty happy about the casting for reasons that I’m not going to go into here for fear of it coming across as a spoiler for another show, but you’ll probably know what I’m talking about when you see it. This is not to say that there’s no “network TV does alien invasion” hokum in there, because there’s plenty…I dunno, man, it’s lizards under human masks, that’s rad.

* I’m bookmarking Ben Morse’s thoughts on the Gossip Girl season finale until I’ve seen the episode, which should happen tonight in between Adam Lambert fixes.

* Tom Spurgeon’s review of Jason’s Low Moon collection may be the closest thing to a pan I’ve ever seen a Jason book get.

* Torture Link of the Day: The notion that the Guantanamo detainees will waltz out of prisons in the continental U.S. like the Joker from Arkham Asylum is indeed one of the most bizarre and ridiculous contentions to become the default position for the political and media establishment in quite some time.

* A Grant Morrison documentary? Sure, I’ll eat it. (Also, after seeing what they did with Bai Ling in Crank 2 I couldn’t help but chuckle about the subtitles they use to help the viewer decipher Morrison’s accent. I wonder who he considers to be his shiny lunchbox?)

Carnival of souls

May 20, 2009

* I saw Crank: High Voltage on Monday night and Terminator Salvation on Tuesday night; click the links for my take on each.

* Please note that this means I have seen neither the Gossip Girl season finale nor my entirely unironically beloved Adam Lambert’s American Idol finale performances yet. All in good time, my pretties, all in good time.

* Captain Britan and MI 13 has been cancelled. I was enjoying this book more with each subsequent issue, as I got to know better characters with whom I had zero personal history, and as, y’know, Dracula invaded from the Dark Side of the Moon and conquered England. So this is a bummer.

* The ’80s-based Gossip Girl spinoff has been cancelled. This one I’m not so upset about.

* Hail, hail, the gang’s all here except Ivan Reitman: Dan Aykroyd says Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis will be rejoining himself, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson for Ghostbusters III, which is sounding more and more it’s actually going to happen. Ghostbusters remains the best New York movie of all time. (Eat it, Woody and Marty and Spike.)

* Oliver Stone re-adapting Helter Skelter? Sure, I’ll eat it. “Manson beat ya.” “Well, you can’t beat the king.”

* Torture Links of the Day: Meet some of the men we tortured: Dilawar and Habibullah, an Afghan taxi driver and mullah respectively who were tortured to death in Bagram; and Javaid Iqbal, a cable guy and small-business owner from Long Island who was imprisoned and tortured for nine months, in Brooklyn, while guilty of absolutely nothing.

* Tom Kaczynski draws the hell out of a Throbbing Gristle concert! I love writing sentences like that. This reminds me of an old maxim of mine, learned through bitter, bitter experience: People who own Throbbing Gristle albums shouldn’t fish.

Photobucket

The Resistance is futile

May 19, 2009

I’m almost positive I’ve written this exact thing in the past, but even if so, it remains true: You can put up with a lot of plot holes if they’re holes in something otherwise worth preserving. That’s why it almost always feels cheap to kick the crap out of a flick I don’t like for its lapses in logic. Certainly many of Terminator Salvation‘s lapses are built right into the very structure of the Terminator concept, from “Why don’t the Terminators just reach out and crush their targets’ skulls with their enormously powerful metal hands instead of playing them a little chin music first?” on down. These are things you’d be willing to look past in exchange for other compensatory values.

In the first Terminator film, such values abounded. The genius Stan Winston’s unimpeachable T-800 design. Genuinely rich and sad performances from Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton, performances that reward repeat viewings not in that they reveal layer after layer, but in that they offer a sort of warm human comfort each time. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-makingly brutal “performance” as the Terminator. The almost absurdist violence–fists punching all the way through human torsos, post-apocalyptic automated tank treads crushing a field of human skulls, a shootout in a discotheque, a guy killing L.A. housewives he looked up in the phone book. (I’d imagine that last bit resonated on a Richard Ramirez level, by the way.) Brad Fiedel’s wonderful theme music, juxtaposing elegiac synths against clanging percussion just as the Terminator juxtaposes living flesh against a metal skeleton. James Cameron’s rapidly peaking talent for blending action and pathos. But most of all, the terrifying simplicity of the basic concept:

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Terminator 2 has a lot going for it as well. Don’t get me wrong, I saw it a couple years back for the first time in ages, and a lot of it is 100% pure government cheese, the seeds of schmaltz that would eventually blossom into the two hours or so of Titanic that weren’t innocent people plunging to their deaths down the deck of a vertically sinking boat or Kate Winslet’s nude scene. But T2 (the first tentpole film advertised via acronym?) was a true cultural moment–between the morphing and the Guns n’ Roses song it came to define the modern summer blockbuster more than any other film this side of the Tim Burton Batman that kicked off the era–and there’s something to say for being a part of that. And while the process of sanding the weird brutality of the first film down into a glossy studio sheen was already in full effect (best encapsulated in turning the Terminator into the good guy and having him shoot people in the knees) there were memorable moments and images galore: That DePalma-esque slow-motion shootout in the shopping-mall corridor, complete with sly G’n’R visual shout-out. The truck chase down the aqueduct. Danny Furlong’s Public Enemy t-shirt. Linda Hamilton’s survivalist-Ripley transformation, accompanied by guns that put Michelle Obama to shame. (I was also at just the right age for the scene where the orderly licks her seemingly catatonic face to strike all kinds of chords.) The T-1000 itself, dated though it might seem now–the way its head blossomed when Arnold hit it with a shotgun blast, the way it oozed into that helicopter. Robert Patrick’s entire creepy gestalt–the way he’d ask passers-by if they’d seen this boy, the fact that the villain of the piece in this post-Rodney King, post-riots action romp was dressed as an LAPD officer, and that relentless full-tilt run, as courage-sappingly unstoppable in its sleekness as Arnold and his Stan Winston skeleton were in their bulk.

[Terminator 3 I skipped. I understand there was a naked lady?]

What you’ve got in Terminator Salvation, by contrast, is kind of like what you might get if Neil Marshall’s Doomsday had been made not by a bunch of Scots gorehounds who spent most of their budget providing Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell with an all-you-can-eat scenery buffet from the craft services truck everyday, but by a committee of life-imitates-Entourage suits and former Sugar Ray video directors who refer to ideas as “properties.” There’s nothing in here that’s outwardly insulting to your intelligence, nothing that feels like it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator, nothing that demonstrates obvious contempt for the fanboy audience; in short, it’s not a Michael Bay film. It’s simply uninspired. It does what it’s supposed to do, and nothing more.

Knowing its place as the latest iteration of one of the past 25 years’ key works of pop-speculative fiction, the movie hits its genre marks, but mechanically, unsurprisingly. Michael Ironside shows up to make the kinds of people who get really excited about Michael Ironside excited, but that’s essentially all he does. The existence of The Road Warrior is duly noted, while Aliens is pillaged for its mute little girl and its into-the-lion’s-den denouement, The Matrix for a robot design here, a close-quarters shipful of survivors there. A bunch of cool new robots do what you’ve seen them do in the trailers and nothing more. The truly unpleasant, real-world evocative aspects of the holocaust wrought upon humanity by the machines are reduced to cattle-car imagery you’ve seen depicted much more disturbingly by, say, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Speaking of the Tim Burton Players, Helena Bonham-Carter pops up (I’m not spoiling it, you find out in the opening credits and she’s in the first scene) to do exactly what you’d expect Helena Bonham-Carter to do in a movie like this. It has a “humanistic” message in the same way as Disney movies about sports teams who overcome tragedy and win the big game for the Coach. The cornpone quotient of the ending elicited audible snorts and titters of derision from the audience. There’s even the full-on Republic Serial Villain speech your Ozymandias warned you about.

Performance-wise, there’s nothing remotely as interesting as what Schwarzenegger, Biehn, Hamilton, Patrick, or even Furlong brought to the table. Christian Bale commits with the same level of utterly sincere, borderline-homicidal intensity he’s brought to all his recent roles, but you’re left feeling that all that distinguishes his John Connor from his Batman is post-apocalyptic stubble; I liked him better in Reign of Fire. Common and Bryce Dallas Howard look and sound Very Serious. Moon Bloodgood has a legitimately awesome name and showed some spark, but in a thankless role constructed to showcase the bland tan good looks that Hollywood still considers exotic, the kind of part that if better written could have given Maria Conchita Alonso or Jenette Goldstein something to run with. Only Sam Worthington as human-machine hybrid Marcus distinguishes himself, as sort of a slightly less reptilian Dean Winters in a matinee idol’s body, but he’s consistently undercut by undercooked writing that avoids the most interesting aspects of his predicament and leaves his words and actions little more than cliches.

Of course the movie pushes all the franchise-specific buttons you’d expect it to, but in as rote a fashion as it does anything else. The weather-beaten photo of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor makes an appearance, as do her prophetic cassette-tape messages to her son, but they come across as just another reason for Bale to brood. Terminators are defeated in manners that call back to the previous films’ methods of dispatch, only to surmount them this time around because…because it’s the fourth film in the series, I guess. Danny Elfman riffs on the original film’s score in a manner just as forgettable as everything else Elfman has done in a decade. The much ballyhooed Resistance is reduced from the first film’s memorably desperate underground community to an international military committee straight out of the “It’s a Small World” U.N. sequences in Spider-Man and X-Men, a redux of the Nebuchednezzar crew from the Matrix movies, and metonymized groups of fighters gathered around their radios a la Independence Day. Some people cheered for the requisite utterings of “come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back,” but I sure wasn’t one of them. Admittedly, the movie’s hulking, skeletal, soon-to-be outmoded T-600s cut an impressive figure, with the tattered remnants of their human-clothing camouflage attempts lending them a zombified air, and there’s one bona fide moment of genuine wish-fulfillment movie magic–though it’s been spoiled everywhere, and the film (or more accurately its budget) seemingly couldn’t wait for it to end.

But despite all those attempts at fanservice, Terminator Salvation just completely whiffs on the key component of the first two films, their set-up: An implacable killing machine is sent to kill a vulnerable person, and a vastly outmatched protector is sent to stop it. Instead of that relentless chase-movie structure, you have a convoluted morass of constant, bloodless explosions and gunfire, amid which two separate heroic protagonists drive two separate storylines that are artificially grafted together during a completely narratively unnecessary action sequence. (It features the second of the film’s two you-are-there helicopter crashes, for crying out loud.) Moreover, no one is yanked from the everyday world into a nightmare war of man vs. machine, giving you something to ground yourself with–it’s all nightmare all the time, but an indistinct nightmare, like a twelfth-generation copy of more vivid material strewn with shards of rebar at random. There’s no hook, it’s just…there.

So yeah, I could regale you all night with the movie’s logical pitfalls and dropped balls, its “but why didn’t they…?”s and “what was up with…?”s and “shouldn’t he have just…?”s. And honestly, in some cases they’re so glaring I wouldn’t be able to overlook them even in a movie I otherwise loved. (Keep in mind this is no Crank: High Voltage, a film so ludicrous it can begin with its main character plummeting to his death; Terminator Salvation Is Serious Business, and therefore must rise and fall with the Maximum Seriosity of its plot mechanics.) But it’s all small beer compared to the generally dull character of the film itself. I actually came close to getting up and leaving, not because I was so outraged or disgusted, but simply because about two-thirds of the way in, I knew the movie had nothing more to show me. I don’t doubt that everyone involved wanted to make a really good movie, and again, I never felt insulted. But with no compensatory warmth or weirdness to make it feel less like a product and more like the product of someone’s barely controllable imagination, Terminator Salvation does what it’s programmed to, and that’s it. It thinks it’s human, but it had better think again.

“That wasn’t necessary!” “The entire film wasn’t ‘necessary.'”

May 19, 2009

Yesterday evening, in a moviegoing experience that was like the blogger equivalent of the Yalta conference, Jason Adams, Matthew Perpetua, and I saw Crank: High Voltage. I am thisclose to slapping my hands down on the table and saying “Sorry, folks, that’s it, that’s all I got!” I don’t even know where to begin, I honestly don’t. I just wrote a long list of all the amazing, at times almost literally unbelievable things that appear on screen in this film, but deleted it when I realized what a tremendous disservice that would be to you, the readers, who really, really, really need to walk into this movie having as little idea what to expect as possible. Shit, Matthew hadn’t even seen Crank 1! And I’m sure that just made the experience all the more, literally, amazing. Like an unholy cross between Chuck Norris’s Invasion U.S.A., Troma, and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the movie was wildly and needlessly experimental, and was offensive even to me at times, and had no redeeming social value whatsoever except to punch you in the face repeatedly with a fist made of entertainment. I’d be amazed all over again if I see a movie I enjoy more than this one for the rest of the year. I beg you to track it down if it’s still anywhere near you and see for yourself.

Carnival of souls

May 18, 2009

* Bruce Baugh serves up a one-two punch of superhero blogging, reviewing Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel’s House of M and last year’s Iron Man and Incredible Hulk films. It’s interesting to read such reviews from a guy who’s plugged into the genre and its fandom and yet is coming at the specific material in question from a remove of months or years, given how much superhero commentary is aimed at the here and now.

* Tom Spurgeon reviews The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1. I really just love reading Tom on The Walking Dead. I don’t think very many writers who take the book seriously have ever approached it outside the usual zombie-movie framework, myself included, while I don’t think very many of the great writers-on-comics take the book seriously to begin with, making Tom’s reviews a double treat.

* The movie version of Clive Barker’s Book of Blood may get a theatrical release of some kind after all.

* Here’s a synopsis of Gamer, the upcoming 21st-century Running Man-style action flick starring Gerard Butler and directed by Crank impresarios Neveldine & Taylor. Yes please!

* I really need to watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula again.

* Torture Link of the Day: Former Vice President Dick Cheney publicly touted bogus links between Iraq and al-Qaeda “revealed” by detainees whose torture he appears to have authorized specifically to produce such linkage.

* Have you ever heard a more awful sentence than “Daddy ate my eyes”? (Hat tip: Kennyb.)

Songs I want Adam Lambert to sing in the American Idol finale: part 4 of a continuing series

May 18, 2009

Pink Floyd – “The Great Gig in the Sky”

Songs I want Adam Lambert to sing in the American Idol finale: part 3 of a continuing series

May 18, 2009

Queen feat. George Michael – “Somebody to Love”

Songs I want Adam Lambert to sing in the American Idol finale: part 2 of a continuing series

May 17, 2009

Peaches – “Talk to Me”

Songs I want Adam Lambert to sing in the American Idol finale: part 1 of a continuing series

May 15, 2009

Iron Maiden – “The Number of the Beast”

Carnival of souls

May 14, 2009

* Todd Van Der Werff tackles the Lost season finale. He notes something I picked up on as well–resonance with Battlestar Galactica.

* My pal TJ Dietsch weighs in as well, and there’s a pretty lively discussion going on in the comments of my review/recap.

* Here’s a trailer for The Road. They appear to have changed the implied nature of the apocalypse quite a bit, which I’m not super-thrilled about. On the other hand, the cast is nuts, and I’m pretty sure I heard The Gut-Wrenching Scream.

* The latest entry in Scott Tobias’s New Cult Canon series for the A.V. Club is a doozy: The Big Lebowski. It’s weird: I feel like I’ve internalized so much of that movie that Tobias’s quote-heavy take on it doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. But perhaps you’ll get more out of it than I did.

* Finally, I am not a political blogger (thank your lucky stars, believe me and anyone who was around for the comics blogosphere’s early years), but I have been blogging a bit about political issues that touch on the pop-cultural areas that are my usual province. I blog about torture because it’s horrifying, just like I blog occasionally about real-world serial killers or atrocities or animal cruelty or even fun stuff like giant squids and sea monsters and paranormal stuff and suchlike because they’re horror-related, or like I blog occasionally about drug policy because of recreational drugs’ connection to making and enjoying art. (And while we’re on that subject, the new White House Drug Czar says the “war on drugs” is being abandoned as a term and a rubric, which is just wonderful.) But just like I’ve never become a true-crime blog despite the activity of any number of gruesome murderers, and just like I’ve never become an animal-rights blog despite the daily avalanche of pitiless cruelty on both individual and industry levels, and just like I’ve never become a cryptozoology blog despite the rumored presence of any number of weird critters out there, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of anyone to turn every carnival of souls into a collection of links to the latest news about America’s devolution into a torture state under the Bush Administration and the degree to which this will or will not be reversed under the Obama Administration. I already subject The Missus to nightly minutes-long obscenity-laden diatribes on the topic, for one thing, and her pain is your gain; meanwhile it’s impossible for me to separate the issue from my years of cheerleading for the people responsible and my current and overwhelming and perhaps preening self-disgust over that, so I fully trust neither my motives nor my judgment. I also generally don’t feel like talking about it with strangers or stranger-esque people. But most of all, there are any number of vastly better informed sources out there doing actual reporting on this vital matter, rather than simply stealing Glenn Greenwald’s links and calling it a day like I’ve been doing. So if you notice a decrease in posts and links about the less sensational aspects of this soul-destroying story, that’s why. I expect I’ll continue to note the worst parts, though, because that’s me all over.