Archive for January, 2012
* Links to new pages of comics on What Things Do don’t really work, but I assure you that Jordan Crane’s morbid, masterful Keeping Two updated this week.
* Woof–this page by Leiji Matsumoto explains why Ryan Cecil Smith was moved to do an Emeraldas tribute comic.
* Tom Spurgeon lobbies for his Eisner Hall of Fame picks this year: Bill Blackbeard, Jesse Marsh, Mort Meskin and Gilbert Shelton.
* Ta-Nehisi Coates continues his crowdsourced debunking of claims that the Civil War could have been avoided, this time focusing on other anti-slavery wars.
* America: We’re #47! (Scroll down.) This post also contains this quote, which should be tattooed on my forehead: “Convincing well-intentioned people to support a war in order to depose a wretched tyrant is an easy thing to do — alas, it’s probably too easy to do, since it’s usually what leads to great mischief, human suffering, and even more tyranny under a new name.”
* I assure you, Nitsuh Abebe, there are those of us who have not forgotten Hooverphonic. The North Remembers.
* Finally, my friend and collaborator Matt Rota has a show coming up: It will contain art that looks like this.
Over on my A Song of Ice and Fire blog All Leather Must Be Boiled, I posted some SPOILERY thoughts on the sample chapter from The Winds of Winter that George R.R. Martin posted last month.
I’ve now seen up through Season Three, Episode Seven. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
* Normally I like to proceed in chronological order with these thoughts posts. This time around this plan was shot to hell by the accidental deletion of my notes, which, arrrgh. But I was already going to abandon that plan anyway, because
* JESUS CHRIST, THAT PARKING-LOT SHOOTOUT.
* By a comfortable margin, that was the tensest, most exciting five minutes of television I’ve seen since…well, let’s just call it “that fight from Deadwood” and leave it at that. People, you should have seen me watching this thing. As you know I do most of my Netflixing on the train to and from work, which gives my more vocal or physical responses to what I’m watching the added kick of coming at the expense of tacitly agreed-upon norms of demonstrative behavior on a commuter rail car. This time around I’m pretty sure I looked like I was being administered low-voltage electric shocks. I had my hands on my head and face and mouth when they weren’t simply flailing around; I was squirming and rocking in my seat; I was gasping and taking the Lord’s name in vain. I was totally beside myself. It was amazing.
* There are a couple of reasons why my outsized reaction was a bit ironic. For one thing, as I watched Hank leave the DEA office — waiting for the elevator, crying on Marie’s shoulder once inside, pulling it together in time for them to leave the building, and later walking through the parking lot with flowers in hand assuring Marie over the phone that everything was going to be alright — I pretty much knew Los Bros Salamanca would be waiting for him at some point or other. And I wondered why the show had chosen to go that route, to telegraph Hank’s appointment in
Juarez Samarra instead of allowing it to emerge from nowhere and truly shock the shit out of us. As it turned out the answer was clear: to get a head start at building the suspense and tension it would ratchet up to literally physically unbearable levels during the shootout itself. If they’d sprung things on us by not opening with the Brothers’ origin story, or by not giving us all these long portentous but otherwise dramatically inconsequential shots of Hank obliviously going about his day, or even if they’d skipped the warning phonecall by whoever-it-was who placed it, we’d have been surprised, sure, and the scene would still have been effective, sure. But by priming the pump, by tuning us in to the at-any-moment arrival of death, the filmmakers made the sequence that much more effective. It played notes we were already practicing.
* The other reason is that just last night, I was chatting with a friend about spoilers, specifically in the context of this show (I knew where Jane was headed; I’m pretty sure I know where at least one other supporting character is headed too, unfortunately — thanks a lot, social media). He cited that study that went around to the effect that spoilers make fiction more enjoyable for most people, not less. While we both agreed that there are any number of cases where we still enjoyed spoiled work a great deal — Game of Thrones was a case in point for both of us — we both remained adamant that going into a story with little to no idea of where it’s headed is our preference, because those moments of surprise are basically a grown-up’s Christmas morning, one of the great pleasures of partaking in fiction in the first place. With the parking-lot shootout, though the show telegraphed its intention to stage it, I in no way knew how it would turn out. Still don’t! For all I know Hank will die on the way to the hospital. Or he’ll make a full recovery, his suspension will be lifted, and he’ll be named chief of the bureau for his bravery, with all its resources now committed to what is clearly a very important case he’d been working on. The point is that if I’d known either way, or if I’d known whether he lived or died in the shootout itself, or if the Brother who told Hank “too easy” when he had him dead to rights was going to go get an axe to kill him messier rather than simply walking away and coming back for him another day like I initially thought he was doing — if I’d known any of that for sure, it would simply have been a less effective viewing experience for me. And that’s why I hate spoilers so much. I don’t want to miss moments like these.
* Now that I’ve gushed about the damn thing for so long, I suppose I ought to mention a few of the things that made it so effective in the moment. The phone call, for one thing — the eeriness of it, the genre-ness of it (“Pop quiz, hotshot!”), the way it dovetailed so perfectly with Hank’s ever-growing panic and paranoia (including its quite justifiable phone-based manifestation, following Saul Goodman’s extravagantly shitty hoax/diversion). I might add that this is another example of the show’s admirable and intelligent use of television’s aural dimension.
* The sense of space and environment, for another thing. At all times, you knew where Hank and the two brothers were in relation to one another — unless they happened not to be aware at that moment, in which case you often weren’t allowed to be either. At all times, each physical beat of the shootout had an immediate consequence you could understand — when a bullet was fired, you saw where it went and what it did when it got there; when a car was moved, you saw where it started and where it ended up and what happened to the things it hit. And the specifics of the staging — the use of rear- and side-view mirrors, front and rear windshields, the rows of parked cars, trees and obstructions on the islands between rows, the presence of passers-by and bystanders, the use of wheels and bumpers and trunks — were all unique to that setting and that setting only. I harp on this sort of thing when I talk about action and violence in film and television because I am a comics person, and the amount of sloppy, lazy, generic fight scenes I’ve read even or especially in genres centered on fight scenes could turn you white. I can’t tell you how much it means for a writer or an artist or a director to think about these things, and use them thoughtfully.
* And though without watching the scene over again (which I can’t do because the disc is on its way to Netflix HQ) this is a bit harder to recall, especially since I was so transported in the moment, but I remember it being a beautifully shot, beautifully edited, beautifully paced sequence as well. In particular, when the surviving brother was approaching Hank, both at first with his gun and then again with his axe, I recall that being just marvelously well put together, alternating our points of view between Hank, the Brother, and the eye-view of their weapons. It was kinetic but not chaotic. Just thrilling.
* Phew, I’m exhausted all over again!
* The asskicker about all this was that it’s another demonstration, as if we needed one at this point, of just how good Hank is at his job. That’s his comedy and tragedy all rolled into one: For all his bluster, his casual jocular racism, his obliviousness to some of the Drug War’s excesses, his macho silliness, and, eventually, his growing terror, Hank is a great cop. Sure, he’s using the Heisenberg/Blue Meth/RV case as a retreat from a return to El Paso. But his instincts and his deductions are almost always correct both in the general sense — that this case is the tip of a truly massive iceberg, no pun intended — and in the particular — that the “Heisenberg” that the ABQPD arrested was a ringer, that the real Heisenberg realized he was for shit at running his own operation and hooked up with an out-of-state bigwig, that Heisenberg would start cooking again, that the “M” name provided by the meth-head they collared would pan out, that the ATM security camera would pan out, that the RV lead would pan out, that the way the RV rode high on its axles meant it had a meth lab inside rather than the usual fixtures, that sitting on Jesse long enough would pan out, that there’s a significance to the fact that his personal phone number and wife’s name were used to lure him away…He had the whole thing nailed. And despite the emotional toll that his brushes with death are taking on him, he’s acquitting himself breathtakingly in each of them, holding his own against professional killers and keeping himself and, to the extent he can, others alive. Finally and most importantly, he truly was devastated by what he did to Jesse, disappointed in and disgusted with himself for doing it. “I’m supposed to be better than that,” he tells Marie, apparently quite sincerely and brooking no consoling “you’re a good man and he’s a lowlife so don’t be so hard on yourself” bromides from her or his fellow agents. More than anything else that seems to be what led him to the conclusion that he’s not cut out to be a cop anymore — and that’s what shows you he was a good cop. I truly felt awful for him well before the bullets started flying.
* A bonus feature of this episode: Showing us at long last what’s in it for Hank and Marie as a couple. I don’t think I’ve ever really bought them, until now, until those honest and caring interactions in the elevator, in the bedroom on the morning of Hank’s hearing with the investigators, and on the phone in the parking lot. I blame the writers, frankly, for up till this point still failing to flesh Marie out. But putting aside my complaints about the shallowness of her character and basing things simply on a non-judgmental assessment of her and Hank’s personalities and goals in life, I had a real hard time seeing what the emotional, romantic, physical, or familial bond between them really was. Now I at least have an entry point.
* But with that mystery on its way to being solved, another remains: What’s in it for Gus? That is, why bother becoming a kingpin if you can’t live like a kingpin? I understand the need for a secret identity, and I understand the value of running a criminal enterprise in a low-key, businesslike fashion. But the dude doesn’t just front like the owner of a regional fast-food chain — he works the goddamn counter! He shows managers how to operate new machinery and asks customers if they’d like fries with that! If that’s how he has to live to maintain the business that brought him millions, what good are those millions? Can he use them at all? To do so would be to violate the secret identity, right? I assume we’ll learn a lot more about him just as we’ve learned more about the Salamancas and perhaps this mystery will be solved, but for now it’s hard for me to swallow.
* But now that I think of it, it’s possible he’s just in it for the power, and that the money is incidental. I’m suddenly reminded of the BTK killer, who obviously couldn’t drop his workaday façade any more than Gus could but had the added handicap of not making any money from his crimes. He was just a mild-mannered middle-aged guy with glasses who happened to occasionally murder people. Perhaps that’s the frame through which to view Gus as well. (I don’t even think his claim to Mr. Fix-It that he doesn’t believe fear to be “an effective motivator” is dispositive in this regard. “It is not enough to obey him. You must love him.”)
* One last thing about the shootout: I don’t know whether to blame the Postal Service or Netflix, but it used to be that I popped a disc in the mail on Monday and had a new one by Wednesday. This week, I mailed it in on Monday and have been informed this morning that I won’t get it till tomorrow, meaning I won’t be able to watch it till next Monday. In other words, I’ve got a genuine cliffhanger on my hands. So allow me to do some post-cliffhanger theorizing: My guess is that Gus tipped Hank off to the impending hit, most likely via his and Saul’s mutual Mr. Fix-It. Gus is the only person I can think of who’d have a bead on both the Brothers and Hank simultaneously, and who’d know what each of them was up to. It was a win-win situation for Gus, pretty much: If the Brothers were successful, it’s not like the hit could be traced back to him, since they weren’t a part of his organization, but still, that kind of heat can’t be good for business. Meanwhile, the Brothers had proven themselves to be loose cannons who didn’t respect Gus’s authority (and by accepting his permission to kill a DEA agent, they showed they didn’t respect their own boss’s authority either); if they failed and Hank got the better of them, Gus’s problem with them is solved, and again in a way that can’t be traced back to him, since there’s no way they told their boss that Gus gave them the go-ahead to kill a DEA agent. I know it was Gus who sicced the Brothers on Hank in the first place, but pointing them in the direction of a trained law enforcement professional rather than a chemistry teacher recovering from cancer protected Gus’s investment in Walt and bought him a fighting chance to see the Brothers go down in the attempt as well. Better to tip Hank off to his approaching date with destiny and let the chips fall where they may than to do nothing.
* So let’s rewind to episode four, the earliest in this stretch of eps I watched, and the big question it raises: Did the plane crash drive Walt insane? Okay, so it doesn’t raise this in so many words, and at every turn it offers alternate explanations for Walt’s dive off the deep end — Skyler leaving him, Skyler’s affair with Ted, losing touch with his kids, the brush with death in the form of cancer. Certainly that last bit is what motivates Skyler to contemplate letting Walt back in her and the kids’ lives once Marie mentions Hank’s analogous circumstances. But it’s important, I think, that the final scene of the episode, when Gus’s right-hand man tosses Walt his “half” of Jesse’s payment, begins with Walt frantically changing the channel on his car radio when he hears that Jane’s dad shot himself — just as it’s important that the second season ended not with Skyler’s departure, but with the plane crash itself. A lot of terrible things happened to Walt in close enough proximity to one another that it’s difficult if not impossible to pinpoint any one of them as the cause of what seems an awful lot, in this episode at least, like a mental breakdown (zoning out in class, blithely hitting on Carmen, trying to attack Ted, his overall bizarro demeanor around Skyler). But I think his guilt over Jane, her father, and the plane crash is ultimately what pushed him over the edge — more than the cancer, more than his previous killings, more even than the loss of his family.
* Once again the show leapfrogged over an expected moment in a refreshing way: We never see Walt and Skyler hash it out over Ted, we never even see Walt’s internal debate over whether or not to do so, we just hear it after the fact over Saul’s bug. I like being kept on my toes like that.
* Gale the lab assistant rang a little false to me, gotta be honest with you. Not because he’s over the top in his genial, perfect nerdiness, necessarily — this is a show with near-mute near-twin brother assassins, after all, so who am I to complain about being over the top — but just because, I dunno, the writing and performance felt a bit broad. I’m familiar with the actor really only through, like, Verizon commercials, and there were notes and beats in his performance that felt stagey to me. That said, I still felt awful for him when it became clear that Walt was looking for a pretext to hang him out to dry and bring Jesse aboard in order to get him off Hank’s back. I hate unfairness.
* Jesse was magnificent in telling Walt off at last. How many times had you thought to yourself “Jeez, bumping into Walt during that bust was the absolute worst thing that could possibly have happened to Jesse?” He was blackmailed into the partnership to begin, and it was all downhill from there: He lost his family, his house, his previous partner (probably not a bad thing given that the guy was a snitch, but still), the life of one of his best friends, the life of the woman he loved, his sobriety, another house, and, via all the kill or be killed situations he was placed in, his innocence. Aaron Paul had to convey all of that horror and anguish through a face full of makeup and succeeded well enough to make me recoil from the computer. I was horrified that he eventually gave in and re-joined Walt, because Christ, was he ever right about the guy.
* Heh, I like how the shootout knocked me so flat on my ass that I’d all but forgotten about the previous episode’s dilemma, with Walt and Jesse locked inside their mobile meth lab with Hank sitting outside and literally talking to Jesse through the door. Sometime’s this show’s a Houdini act: okay, how are they gonna get out of this one? And again, remaining spoiler-free helps make that work. Fingers crossed that what I think I know about what’s to come won’t take that away.
The latest installment of my interview column for The Comics Journal features Julia Gfrörer, author of Too Dark to See, one of the ten best comics of 2011.
* Sparkplug has announced that Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse is to be their first new comic. Best of luck to both halves of this arrangement.
* It took me a while to find it, but Zack Soto and Milo George’s relaunched Study Group website has a blog component with its own RSS feed that you should certainly consider subscribing too. Highlights thus far include a Noah Butkus spotlight (Jesus Christ, “Forces”!) and an interview with cartoonist Maré Odomo, who cites writer and ADDXSTC fave Kevin Fanning as an influence, which was unexpected and exciting to see. Odomo also cites the influence of Blaise Larmee and Aidan Koch, but in terms of the beauty of their pencil art rather than any of Larmee’s theory trolling, which until relatively recently was rarely made manifest in his comics themselves.
* John Mejias draws our attention to an upcoming Shawn Cheng art show. He’s a printmaking master, and he’s doing stuff you don’t see any other cartoonist/printmakers doing, I don’t think.
* At a certain point pulling art from Michael DeForge’s Ant Comic in order to show you how horrible and beautiful it is becomes a waste of time: Surely you already know how horrible and beautiful it is. At any rate, here’s the latest Ant Comic.
* Rickey Purdin has been posting nightmarish little sketches unlike any art I’ve seen from him before. This one’s called “All the Weapons You Needed Were Over Here.”
* The Ashcan All-Stars group art blog, staffed mostly by interesting mainstream/genre artists, is doing a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe week, and it’s been pretty glorious. Below are contributions from Nick Pitarra and Aaron Kuder.
* It’s The Best of Zak Smith/Sabbath’s Playing D&D with Porn Stars! I can barely conceive of what a timesuck following all those links would be.
* Real Life Horror galore today, and I didn’t even watch the Republican presidential debates! (I understand the Golden Rule was booed.) This represents a couple weeks’ worth of pertinent political links and thoughts, and once again I’m segregating them from the rest of my posts so that people who remember that I am a proven fool about such matters may better ignore it all.
* Despite pushback I saw in various quarters, some politically motivated and some not, the New York Times’ Public Editor really was unsure whether it’s appropriate for reporters to shoot down incorrect “facts” asserted by the people it covers rather than simply providing a platform for them — the sneer-quoted term “truth vigilantes” made this clear, and the Times’ own Executive Editor had no problem deducing so in her rebuttal to the piece — and this really was as depressing and disconcerting as it seemed at first glance.
* I don’t really have a pithy summary of this Glenn Greenwald piece on how outwardly directed violence via war and human rights violations has a disproportionate impact on minorities, the poor, and the otherwise disenfranchised here at home, so you should certainly read the whole thing. I think Greenwald remains too sanguine about Ron Paul, not only in terms of his hideous newsletter but how the policies he endorses to this day about pretty much everything but war, drug policy, and civil liberties would be devastating to the social contract and, yes, civil liberties, just in different ways and for different groups than those targeted by our current policies. That said, he quotes extensively from Martin Luther King Jr. about the necessity of opposition to war as a prerequisite for social justice, which is always welcome. And he notes that the range of views considered disqualifying for higher office should probably be broadened to include many of the policies more or less shamefacedly but still robustly embraced by the current President and his party, to say nothing of the atavistic brutality with which they’ve been embraced by his potential opponents and their party. It’s more or less impossible to vote for someone who isn’t totally disgraceful.
* Greenwald also links to Jonathan Turley’s excellent, Facebook-it-so-your-parents-can-read-it list of 10 reasons the United States isn’t really a free country anymore; freedom is a privilege afforded you by virtue of being non-Muslim and by grace of the Commander-in-Chief.
* Still on the Greenwald beat, this piece and this piece combined make for a particularly nauseating case study of sham American justice and jurisprudence, immunizing the powerful for their crimes and reducing victims and accused criminals to legal nonpersons. I find the insistence that those targeted for death must personally challenge the government’s right to do this, at which point they can then be more easily targeted and killed, particularly deliciously nauseating.
* And back on the Ron Paul beat, Ta-Nehisi Coates is slowly but surely crunching numbers and citing primary sources to debunk the easy claims made by Paul, Howard Zinn, and others on both the left and the right (though let’s be honest, mostly on the right) that the American Civil War need not have been fought because a non-violent solution, perhaps one aided by buyouts of slave owners for their human property, could have been reached. The answer is basically “you’ve got to be kidding me.” Part one; part two; part three; more to come. You’d do well to read them all from start to finish, I think. For one thing, I don’t need to tell you how pernicious the myths about the Civil War and its causes have become for America, how pernicious they’ve been for a century and a half in fact. For another, I welcome the challenge to my newfound, might as well say it, pacifism. It won’t do to wave things away with platitudes and bullshit. The rubber must needs meet the road.
* The oral history of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the cancerous tumor that made America break bad.
I’m three episodes into the third season. SPOILERS HO!
* Almost more than I like how the show is getting heavier as it goes on, I like how it’s getting weirder as it goes on. Weirdness, by which I mean pretty much anything that’s a little bit stranger and more sinister than is strictly called for by the demands of conveying a narrative and realistically depicting the world in which it operates, is very important to me. Even if you were to ignore the fifth season of The Wire which I absolutely hated, it’s why I feel less warmly disposed and super-excited when I think back on that show (with the possible exception of Omar) than I do about most any of the other shows I’ve gotten really into over the years. With Breaking Bad, we’re now at the point where the show can start a season with a bunch of people crawling on their bellies toward a death shrine with music that fairly explicitly references the industrial score of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or have an even more infernal scene involving two mute brother assassins communicating via Ouija board with a demonic old man and his accursed tell-tale bell, and yet it still feels like the show you were watching from the start. That’s a good place for a show to be, for me. I don’t want all the pieces of the puzzle to fit. I want some of the pieces to feel like they’re from some game that hasn’t been revealed yet, a game being played a few layers away from the one at hand.
* I was also really pleased to see that the emotional intensity of the Season Two climax was, perhaps even improbably given what happened during that climax, maintained in these first few episodes, particular the premiere. I felt close to tears the entire time. When you think back on the early episodes and how broad and loud it all was, the amount of silence in the S3 premiere, the amount of time spent with Walt, and also Jesse, just sitting or standing someplace and not speaking…well, it speaks volumes about the growing sophistication of the show and its willingness to leave you alone with your thoughts about it.
* On that note, and this is becoming a laundry list of things I really liked but what the hey: I really liked NuJesse. This has come up a few times both in these posts and in the comments, but both Jesse and actor Aaron Paul always seemed to come alive when something triggered him to momentarily drop the Slim Shady routine and interact with the world in a more direct and intense and less posed way. That appears to be his only interaction with the world anymore. He probably hasn’t said more than a dozen sentences yet, but what he has said have been among the best Jesse moments the show’s seen, from “I’m the bad guy” on down.
* Great eyes, he has, too. Never really saw it before, but now that he’s gone all crystalline and cauterized inside they’re quite piercing and haunting.
* I think a sign that a show is developing a real head of steam is when they inject Story Growth Hormone into the plot and get to something we didn’t think was coming for another half a season or so almost right away. In this case, we had Skyler confronting Walter about being a drug dealer, and Walter in turn revealing his drug of choice, within the first episode of the season. Given that this didn’t happen when she left him, I figured we’d spend most of this season watching her put it all together. Instead the moment we’d been waiting for since the very beginning was dropped on us in the middle of the first episode of a season. Obviously this will free up some real estate they can now spend on other things instead of building up once again to an inevitable moment of discovery, which they’ve already done several times now (the cancer, the money, etc.), but beyond that it shows that the filmmakers are confident enough in their abilities to toss a readymade multi-episode arc out the window.
* Glad to see the show take “contempt of cop” violations seriously rather than have Walt be humorously tasered or something like that. The whole sequence of events of him getting pissed off at the cop, the cop threatening to essentially assault Walt for being rude, and that final jump cut to Walt’s inflamed, tear- and snot-strewn face as he howls in misery when he’s thrown into the cop car was probably the show’s best evocation of police power, perhaps because that wasn’t really the point the way it was with, say, the kindly janitor whose life is destroyed when he takes the fall for Walt’s stolen chemistry equipment. It was less didactic and more effective.
* I was trying to put my finger on why Walt’s bullying of his way back into Skyler’s house and life felt so ugly, ugly, ugly. Some of it’s obvious: For the first time he couldn’t use “I’m doing this for Skyler’s own good” as a justification, since she’d made quite clear what her own good would be. Beyond that, though, this was the first time we saw his cutthroat, bullying nature used against Skyler the way he’d previously used it against, say, Tuco when he threatened to suicide-bomb his HQ, or the dudes at the Home Depot he confronts about infringing on his territory when he catches them ineptly buying cooking equipment, or god help us Jane when he leaves her to die. He has Skyler over a barrel and knows it, and exploits it shamelessly and ruthlessly despite all his aw-shucks posing. Every time he said “Now son, don’t make your mother the bad guy” was more unbearable than the last, since he’d quite deliberately made it impossible for Walt Jr. to see her as anything but. What a creep.
* But the final element of Walt’s ugliness in these episodes was that more so than ever before, he wasn’t our focal point. In several key instances, we are walked into a crucial Walt scene not by following Walt, but by following someone else watching Walt. Saul and Gus’s anonymous Mr. Fix-It watches him break into his own house — then watches the Salamanca Brothers show up to kill him. During the moments when Walt comes closer to death than ever before, he doesn’t even know it — only the Brothers, the characters whose POV we’ve been sharing as they make their way through his house, know what’s about to happen. Once Walt does finally ensconce himself in the house, we pull up with Skyler and share in her shock as she finds him there. When she tries to have him thrown out, we stay with her during her interview with the police, and like her we only overhear Walt’s interrogation. Later we come home from work with her to discover, and be disgusted by, his crass emotional manipulations as he fixes an elaborate dinner for Walt Jr. and one of his friends in order to prevent her from making any kind of scene. Walt has essentially been made a guest star, or better yet an antagonist, seen through the eyes of others, his own thoughts and emotions opaque. I think that’s a big part of why I found him so repulsive in these episodes: In a very real way he’s an alien presence.
* In addition to making my way through The Great Post-Millennial Television Dramas, I also watch the CBS soaps every day. Though the degree of subtlety and skill involved varies considerably, most soap storytelling involves one person or group of people with knowledge that another person or group of people (which may include the audience) wants or needs or ought to know but doesn’t. The moments of catharsis come when the people who’d been in the dark finally find out; depending on the nature of the storyline this could be because they’ve found it out themselves, or some pivotal go-between has revealed it, or, if it’s information that can be used to hurt the person who didn’t know it, because one of their enemies has finally thrown it in their face. So perhaps this explains why I fucking cheered when Skyler came home to Walt’s horrific family-man parody and said “I fucked Ted.” Eat it, you emotionally abusive creep! I’m very curious to see if Skyler continues to respond to the enormous shit sandwich Walt’s forcing her to eat by serving him some of her own, knowing he has as little choice to dig in as she does.
At lunch on Friday I was talking about a recent realization I had with regards to television. Right now I’m on my way through Breaking Bad. After that I’m doing Downtown Abbey. After that I think I’m probably going to start with the Eccleston Doctor Who revival and go all the way through today. Then maybe that Sherlock show that the Doctor Who guy is doing. Then who knows—a friend just recommended the hell out of Friday Night Lights, for example. I really could keep doing this sort of thing for at least a year, I would guess, without a pause.
So I realized that we may now be at the point, post-Sopranos, where TV is like literature, in that you can pretty much just keep watching good-to-great television series from start to finish for the rest of your life. That wasn’t true ten years ago. Probably not even five. And we’re at the point where if you wanted, you could probably put off the crown jewel HBO/AMC shows and still never insult your own intelligence with the shows you choose to watch. That’s a pretty amazing turnaround in a very short period of time. Not to mention all the technology that didn’t exist as recently as the ’90s that now makes doing this sort of thing possible: DVDs, Netflix, streaming, DVRs. It’s an amazing time for long-form fiction because of all this. I mean, obviously television is still a young medium with a very high price of admission for artists compared to literature, so the supply isn’t inexhaustible like the supply of great books is. But you can now make good-to-great television a consistent part of your life on your own terms for pretty much as long as you want.
Who wants to talk comics? Tweet me a book or name or creator or critic or topic or whatever and I’ll tell you what I think. #tgif
* Dang, Ken Parille’s Comics Journal year-in-review piece tackles Habibi, 1-800-MICE, Holy Terror, Optic Nerve #12, The Death-Ray, Mister Wonderful, Crack Comics #63, and Ganges #4 as well as any individual review of any of them has done. (And I say that as a person who wrote about 5/8 of those books for the Journal myself.) Parille’s writing is like a really delicious sampler platter — you get the sense he just picked the tastiest morsels of insight on any given book and presented them to you for your delectation, but that there’s a whole lot more where that came from.
* Wonderful piece on Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12 by Tim Hodler. I like what he says about the unique characteristics of structuring a longer story as a series of funnypages-style strips, and this: “his storytelling displays a subtlety so far beyond most of what’s being published at the current moment.” Ayup. As alternative comics has begun looking less like RAW and more like Heavy Metal, we’ve lost something in exchange.
* I don’t know why, but a day or two ago the feed for Jessica Abel & Matt Madden’s Drawing Words and Writing Pictures blog dumped like half a dozen posts on me all at once, and there were gems galore in there: Rundowns of their Best American Comics series’s 2010 Notables and 2011 Notables (aka honorable mentions/bigger-picture selections), and notes on Asterios Polyp and Ice Haven.
* Not that I’m opposed to all the Heavy Metal stuff. Duh. I mean, Lane Milburn, holy shit, look at his next book Mors Ultima Ratio:
* On a similar note I suppose, I just happened to really like the drawing of what looks to me like Grendel and Beowulf by Thomas Yeates that Tom Spurgeon selected for his birthday post on the artist. I am a sucker for big monsters in the Hulk/Rawhead Rex vein, admittedly.
* Still on that same note, Sam Bosma reminds me of a lesson I once learned the hard way: Never trust a Mindflayer.
* Ta-Nehisi Coates lets Jay-Z off the hook for his avowed intention to continue using the word “bitch” in his lyrics. While Coates is correct in saying that the context of the use of the b-word in rap is part of the problem, he’s wrong to say “Rap’s ‘bitch’ problem has never been about the word itself” — of course it is. It’s about that among other things, but it’s certainly still about that. Coates does that sort of thing throughout the post: “There is a whole school of thought that holds racism is impossible unless attended by the word ‘nigger.’ And there are plenty of ways to regard a women as bitches, without ever saying the word.” Certainly. But just because Newt Gingrich can go on national television and receive standing ovations and become the presidential frontrunner for a major political party by saying enormously racist things without using period-piece movie-villain epithets doesn’t mean you should ignore it when people do use them. And just because hip-hop and pop culture generally’s misogyny runs deeper than calling women bitches, you still shouldn’t do it. The way to disprove that “bitch” is problematic in and of itself would be to provide examples of a non-problematic, non-sexist way to use it in hip-hop. Coates goes straight for the strawman of “I have never wanted a world where white people were forever banned from using the word nigger,” but of course no one’s actually arguing for expurgating hip-hop’s theoretical equivalent of Huck Finn, because the difference between saying these words and using them is crystal-clear. I guess the closest Jay-Z has come to that sort of thing is “That’s My Bitch,” but for me that isn’t close enough. The long and short of it for me is that there’s no need for bitch as an insult when “asshole” exists, and even less of a need for it as a simple term for “woman” when “woman” exists; continuing to use it despite these genderless equivalents indicates a problem with that gender. I’d be interested to hear of cases where this didn’t hold.
* Tom Ewing and Matthew Perpetua on Lana Del Rey and the issue of “authenticity” in art. Man, are sneer-quotes ever called for there. I thought that most of the controversy around Del Rey centered on whether or not she was any good, and whether or not her sexual politics were retrograde, and the degree to which a major record label was involved in her initial burst of ostensibly organic/viral/indie success. Those are rubrics I can understand: hype vs. talent, and anti-sexism, and not wanting to be lied to by a giant corporation. But I was quite aghast to learn that apparently some people were holding it against her that she used to perform under a different name with a different sound and look and vibe. A world where artists must emerge fully formed in their teens or early twenties with their first quasi-professionally recorded work and then remain preserved in amber for all eternity is a scary, scary world. A Bowie-free, Beatles-free, Dr. Dre-free, Underworld-free, P-Funk-free, Ministry-free, Gaga-free world! Not to compare LDR to any of those artists on a qualitative basis, mind you — see the three aforementioned potential issues with her work — but all I can tell you is rejecting the notion of the authentic self is one of the top five best things ever to happen to me, not just as a consumer and sometimes maker of art, but as a person. By all means try on personae like clothes in a dressing room until you find one that fits you, and take it off and put on new ones whenever you feel like it. What on earth is the harm in that?
(Related: I can’t help but wonder if the backlash against LDR specifically is tied to the phenomenon Scott Plagenhoef addresses in online music culture’s quest to be the first to seize upon a new artist within very narrow, inoffensive aesthetic parameters. If that’s the filter for your interaction with music, a person who radically changes very early on in her career, and changes into a very divisive mode of presentation, is anathema.)
* Chris Ware, Building Stories, Pantheon, Fall 2012. Start clearing out that #1 slot on your year-ender list.
* Game of Thrones Season Two, HBO, April 1 2012. Start clearing out that Sunday night slot on your DVR.
* Whoa: Zack Soto’s StudyGroupComics.com has launched with a gorgeous line-up of mostly alt-fantasy strips, including previous ADDXSTC faves The Mourning Star by Kazimir Strzepek, Doppelganger by Tom Neely, and Danger Country by Levon Jihanian; strips from Press Gang co-founders Soto, Jason Leivian, and Francois Vigneault; UTU by Malachi Ward (below) and more. Ambitious and impressive.
…so I’m happy to pitch into the Kickstarter for his next book, Afterschool Special. $20 puts you down as a pre-order for the finished product.
* The Pizza Island comics studio is calling it a day. Lots of good comics came out of that outfit, as did many funny tweets.
* I have very little experience with or interest in any of the cartoonists covered in this post (okay, maybe I’m interested in Manara), but I was still totally fascinated with Dan Nadel’s seemingly off-the-cuff post on high-end genre cartoonists Milo Manara, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, and Richard Sala — that’s how good Dan is at what he does.
* Gabrielle Bell’s latest strip concludes, with a weirdo rhythm and tone all its own.
* Robert Beatty: the sensational character find of Kramers Ergot 8! (Via Sammy Harkham, appropriately enough.)
* A collection of Bruce Timm’s good girl art? Don’t mind as I do.
* Tim O’Neil has strong words for the militarized superhero. The pop sociology books-about-comics from 30 years from now truly write themselves. It’s to the point where Warren Ellis can funnel his contempt for the genre and its audience into a wink-wink-nudge-nudge endorsement of torture by Captain freaking America in a recent Secret Avengers issue and no one in a position to know better and ask for something different from him even notices. On the scale of cosmic injustice it’s not as bad as mistreating Jack Kirby and his family, but that’s a low bar to clear.
Kramers Ergot 8
Robert Beatty, Gabrielle Bell, Chris Cilla, Anya Davidson, Ron Embleton, C.F., Sammy Harkham, Tim Hensley, Kevin Huizenga, Ben Jones, Frederic Mullalley, Takeshi Murata, Gary Panter, Johnny Ryan, Leon Sadler, Frank Santoro, Dash Shaw, Ian Svenonius, writers/artists
Sammy Harkham, editor
PictureBox, January 2012
232 pages, hardcover
Buy it from PictureBox
Buy it from Amazon.com
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Breaking Bad thoughts: Season Two finale
* Well well well, look what we have here: a show about my favorite and most dreaded subject in fiction, mistakes from which we can never ever recover or atone.
* I mean, Christ Jesus, talk about upping the ante this season, and in this episode alone. The relentless focus on Jesse’s grief and Jane’s father’s grief was almost unbearable at times. Major, major kudos are due to Aaron Paul for sobbing as well as I’ve ever seen it done, just for example. And cutting from that poor sweet man talking about what a lovely dress he picked out for his dead daughter’s funeral to the infant daughter of the man who murdered her? Sticking the knife in and twisting.
* But the plane crash itself — that’s the big one. I don’t just mean in terms of the planning involved, since I’m past the point where “Wow, they had this all planned out from the beginning!” is anything but a trivia item. I mean the reliance on the power of imagery to make thematic connections that aren’t strictly tethered to the demands of the plot. Could anything that directly happened to or because of Walt personally been a more powerful indictment of his moral rot? Could some personal plot twist he understood as a ramification of his actions said more about where he is as a person and what his actions have set in motion than his look of abject horror as two planes collided in the sky and rained debris and death around him? For all I know Jane’s dad becomes a regular cast member and half of season three is dedicated to Walt and Jesse dealing with the fallout of their involvement in her death and her death’s involvement in the death of everyone on those planes. But it doesn’t matter at all if he does or if they do, any more than it matters for us to ever see Saul’s Mister Fix-It again to understand what his appearance in this episode says about Saul, Walter, Jesse, their world, the world. The images and the ideas make the point on their own.
* Wow: Fantagraphics is publishing two books about Love and Rockets this year. One’s a companion volume with interviews, unpublished art, character guides, family trees, and so forth; one’s a Love and Rockets Reader with essays by Marc Sobel. Pretty great timing given that the series is getting as much attention now in its 30th year as it ever has, because it’s as good as it ever was.
* Marvel beat DC in dollar share and market share in the direct market in December. Think for a moment about everything that changed not just at DC but across the entire industry — some for the good, some for the bad, some for the “jury’s still out” — in the name of what amounted to a three-month sales goose. Same-day digital pretty much industry-wide, new continuity, new costumes, all the redundancies and obsolescences created by same in everything from licensing to ongoing storylines to planned and abandoned storylines to licensing images to the recently launched DC MMORPG, a new business model in terms of release schedules for DC, a competing new business model in terms of release schedules for Marvel, a new way of working with talent, new internal procedures for editing and trafficking books, various controversies over race and gender and sex, hirings and firings of creative personnel, new baselines for page count and price point, big-name writers carving out little bubbles of continuity-independence for their books, major media pushes, a shaky retail sector adjusting on the fly to all of the above…and Marvel beat DC in December. Really, really, really remarkable. Tom Spurgeon has more analysis, including the always welcome remonstrance that publishers who complain about the inaccuracy of publicly available sales estimates have it within their power to provide more accurate numbers in seconds, and on a basis more comprehensive than crowing about sellouts when it suits them.
* Speaking of Spurge, I enjoyed quite a few of his final “holiday” posts, including his interviews with Laura Hudson and Chester Brown and his New Year’s resolutions, at least two of which can be summed up with “Don’t be an asshole.”
* I have a pretty low tolerance for other people’s opinions on David Bowie’s songs — through no fault of its own there are few things I’d rather read less than that one blog that’s writing about every single Bowie song in order — but I sure did enjoy Matthew Perpetua’s take on “TVC-15.”
* Michael DeForge’s latest Ant Comic manages to be the most awful one yet.
* Plenty of interesting work being discussed in Kevin Czap’s fifth and final BCGF haul roundup.
* Panels of 2011 is an accurately named and visually compelling new tumblr.
* I’m historically not the biggest fan of the writer doing the adaptation, but the coming Conan comic being illustrated by Becky Cloonan will at least look as good as Conan comics have ever looked.
* Man did I like that one At the Drive-In record, a pretty peerless effort in terms of coming up with lyrics that demand to be shouted. DANCING ON THE CORPSES’ ASHES!!! Glad they’re getting back together.
* Real Life Horror: When is terrorism not terrorism? Related: I wish I’d bookmarked the post where he first made this connection, but in light of the apparent secret campaign of orchestrated murder against Iranian scientists it’s worth reiterating Greenwald’s contention that the wall of state secrecy behind which the United States hides violent overseas acts like these assassinations and our multinational drone wars is in every important way equivalent to the more voluble propaganda to which our despotic enemy regimes subject their populace, propaganda which we never fail to decry when we see it in others. The North Korean who believes the birds are crying over the death of internationally revered statesman Kim Jong-Il is not a world apart from the American who doesn’t know about all the children slaughtered by our army of flying killer robots.
* Finally, behold the awesome power of Pizza Boomerang.
I have just one episode to go in Season Two. SPOILERS AHEAD.
* It’s been an eventful four or five episodes since last we talked, but in terms of Walter and Jesse’s business, the noteworthy thing for quite a long stretch there was how uneventful it was. Up until (let’s say) Jesse hired Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete to work for him, our dynamic duo’s career really was, as I’ve said before, pretty much just a series of calamities flowing from Walter’s initial request to do a ride-along with Hank. But once Jesse and Walter go into business for themselves, you finally start seeing what I thought the show would be all along: a status quo for the science teacher-cum-meth dealer. There are bumps in the road, to put it mildly, but for the most part they’re no longer stumbling into kill-or-be-killed situations within half an hour of meeting someone else in the game. Skinny Pete getting mugged and Badger getting pinched really were just the cost of doing business, as Jesse always put it. Even “death by ATM” could have gone a lot worse for Jesse, and for a while at least it actually made his and Walter’s lives easier. (I’m not convinced it won’t come back to bite them if someone thinks to trace the bills from the machine, but we’ll table that for now.) A season and a half into the show, we finally got to find out what “business as usual” would look like.
* I think this is why the bottle episode in which Walter and Jesse get stranded out in the desert, as enjoyable as it was in the moment, felt so much like a throwback to the in-retrospect less-interesting first season. For one thing, it was in miniature what the whole series had largely been: Walter and Jesse careening from one catastrophe to the next. For another it required the two of them to drop down several levels in the competence they’d begun to display. (Although perhaps this was necessary to help set us up for Jesse’s drug-induced flameout of self-pity and resentment of Walter later in the season.)
* Though the show looks like it’s gonna slowfoot any involvement with the cartel, they gave the concept a big enough introduction to enable themselves to pay it off at any point down the line more or less at their leisure. A full narcocorrido music video (I thought I’d accidentally skipped to a bonus feature) threatening “Heisenberg”‘s murder followed by the memorably Boschian image of Danny Trejo’s severed head attached to a tortoise rigged with explosives is more than enough to establish the outfit’s deadly bonafides. The bomb sequence in particularly was beautifully shot, edited, and recorded — truly like hell on earth.
* And once again you have to grudgingly respect Hank, who despite his twin poles of bluster and panic had the presence of mind to run back into the fray, whip off his belt, and use it as a tourniquet to save his fellow agent’s life. It’s perverse that he’s so good in these life and death situations that are making him sick.
* Took me a while to get used to seeing Bob Odenkirk in a drama, even if he’s the comic relief. I kept waiting for him to sing the praises of Cinco’s new bowel-irritating gel or whatever. But he’s perfectly ridiculous in that role, and he’ll forever make me wonder if any of the ambulance-chasers whose commercials I see during episodes of Judge Judy are secretly some gangster wannabe’s consigliere.
* Shoulda seen Skyler’s storyline coming, I suppose. I mean, I guess I did — you knew the moment she asked to see Ted Beneke that she and this guy had some kind of history, and that her present circumstances might lead to history repeating itself. But I didn’t anticipate some of the particulars, like that history being a) sexual harassment, and b) a secret she kept from Walt all these years, which makes me wonder if c) it wasn’t sexual harassment at all, although d) you’d think it would have been addressed in one of their private conversations if it had been a fling and the harassment story was just a bowdlerized version Sky told her sister. At any rate, it’s the details that stick out here: Skyler’s quiet but unmissable reliance on a cleavage-centric wardrobe; the fact that Ted actually does seem like a prototypical “nice boss”; the excruciating “Happy Birthday, Mister President” song at Ted’s birthday; Ted watching Skyler walk back across the parking lot after she decides to stick it out with him despite his tax evasion. And of course, as it turns out, Hank’s not the only one in the family who’s pretty good at their job of ferreting out wrongdoing.
* As awkward as Skyler’s birthday serenade was, the sequence leading up to Combo’s murder was tense. I haven’t felt that way watching TV in a long time, that sickening dread when you know at any moment someone’s going to pop up and shoot someone. I’m easily spooked enough by loud noises to turn down the volume in situations like that so that when the inevitable gunshot rings out I don’t jump in my chair. The weird thing? I love feeling this way.
* Despite how awful Walter has become in many ways, I still beamed and clapped and “yesss!”ed when he got the good news about his cancer. Didn’t you?
* After more or less stopping for a third of the season or so, those ominous black-and-white opening flashfowards hinting at an unspecified, explosive disaster at Casa White returned with a vengeance — and two body bags — in the very same episode where Walt starts tinkering with the water heater and the floorboards. Clever of the show to tease us with a possible “way out” of these grim prophecies that doesn’t involve a meth-lab explosion or an attack by a psychotic rival. Extra high-school English class points for the “something’s rotten in the Whites’ foundation” metaphor, too.
* Jane was a toughie for me. For the longest time, she just rang a bit false. There were some too-writerly bits there — the tattoo artist who refuses to get any tattoos because it’s too big a commitment is like something out of a lousy Vertigo comic — but mainly the problem was this: What on earth would this lovely, sardonic, canny person see in a goofball loser like Jesse? Only the tackiness of her tattoo design gave us any indication that she’d ever give Jesse the time of day.
* It was only as time went on, not even when we find out she was recovering addict but only after she fully relapses and becomes a real cutthroat junkie, did it become apparent that her attraction to Jesse was at least in part her addict self’s compulsion for self-destruction. On some level this was a deeply unhappy person just aching to fall back off the wagon. Renting to Jesse, befriending Jesse, sleeping with Jesse — all stepping stones to the inevitable other side.
* A little too inevitable for me, alas and alack. Basically, I did a full-on Lando Calrissian “Hello, what have we here?” when I laid eyes on Krysten Ritter (I’ve mentioned my thing for pale dark-haired girls, right?) and couldn’t resist looking her up on the Internet. So I ended up spoiling her eventual fate for myself. It wasn’t so bad, though. I mean, it was clear that that would have been a distinct possibility the moment she turned back around from the door of Jesse’s apartment and joined him for a smoke in his bedroom. Plus, it gave her dad Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s decision to give her till tomorrow, and his conversation about daughters with Walt in the bar later that night, an absolutely crushing weight of sadness. (I’m almost worried to watch the finale because I don’t want to find out how the poor man takes it.)
* But the big thing is that fortunately (? if that’s the right word for this), I didn’t know anything about Walter’s involvement in her death. That still hit me like a bus. Once again, I sat on the train watching the show on my laptop, utterly, physically aghast. It was a brilliantly acted scene: When he sees that she’s choking, Walter instinctively runs over to her side. But then we watch as he weighs the life of this girl who’d been awful to him against the lives of Jesse, his daughter, his son, his wife, and, yes, himself. Simply thinking about the decision was a decision, in this case.
* The filmmakers expertly toyed with our sympathies throughout the whole episode leading up to Jane’s death, too. She’d been a pretty sympathetic character, and a crushable one too, but her drug use brought out a really ugly side, and by the time she was on the phone with Walt threatening to burn his life to the ground, those crime-drama “aaaah! kill her!” audience instincts kicked in. But between Walt’s affection for his daughter and Jane’s Dad’s affection for Jane, it became impossible to root for her demise for every long, even after she choose to taunt Walt when he drops the money off instead of joining a contrite Jesse in assuring Walt that no further blackmail is forthcoming. And the way she died ended up being one of the most horrendously intimate death scenes I’ve ever seen. It’d be tough to root for Tuco going out like that, let alone Apology Girl. And it was next to impossible to root for Walt standing there and letting it happen.
* By the end of the scene I realized that Walt and I had had the exact same physical reaction to what he’d done: we both watched it unfold slackjawed, hands over our gaping mouths.
* Everyone else noticed that Jane said she was gonna kick tomorrow, right? She don’t mean no harm, she just don’t know what else to do about it.
Here’s a six-page profile of Fantagraphics I wrote for Wizard a few years back, tracing it all the way from Gary Groth’s dorm room to its post-Peanuts, post-graphic-novel-boom salad days and featuring appearances by Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, Daniel Clowes, Jaime Hernandez, Paul Hornschemeier, Brian K. Vaughan, and lots and lots of guns. Click the images below to read, or download the whole thing as a PDF. Enjoy!
Episode 04 of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour, my A Song of Ice and Fire podcast, has been posted. This week Stefan Sasse and I take a look at the role of religion in Westeros.
SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT
* I took a break from Breaking Bad during the holidays — my train-commute viewing time was no longer a going concern, after all. Looking back, I think I skipped out on writing about the last episode I saw prior to the break, S02E04. From what I recall you had some pretty intense rock-bottom character work in that: Jesse gets thrown out of his aunt’s house and ends up crying on the floor of the RV, literally covered in shit. Walt lies to Skyler just about as brutally as he possibly could — lying about having no idea what he’s supposed to have been lying about; those living-room confrontations are pretty much always dynamite. And Skyler smokes a cigarette while pregnant, testing our tolerance for bad behavior even on a show like this (it’s pretty amazing what audiences will and won’t forgive) and exercising a shitty form of control over one of the few aspects of her life left for her to control.
* But even with all of that filed away in my brain, I was unprepared for how disorientingly good the show was right away upon returning to it a couple days ago with episode 5. (This is the episode where Walt and Jesse decide to go into business for themselves, while Hank has a panic attack following his promotion to the El Paso bureau.) And I think “disorienting” is the word that occurred to me because of the actual filmmaking, the way in which the show took images and abstracted them. The overhead shot of the river as two immigrants swim across it and a shot swooping down the hospital exterior as Walt exits following his last round of chemo were the most dramatic examples at first.
* But throughout the episode, inanimate objects became near-abstract containers of information, a la this David Bordwell essay. Lingering close-ups on the glass cube with the teeth inside, on the endlessly long bill printed out at the cancer clinic, on the pack of cigarettes Walter retrieves from the toilet, on the “hope is the best medicine” button he receives, on the food prepared by both Skyler and Jesse in separate attempts to pass off an abnormal situation as anything but — all of these items mean something to the narrative simply by existing, and all the show needs to do is show them for us to understand what that meaning is. Thoughtful and fun filmmaking.
* Nice character bits in this one too, of course. I really loved the question mark added by Walt when he says “thank you?” to the woman behind the counter at the clinic after she wishes him well, for example. And I loved “Jesse Comes Alive,” which is how I mentally referred to his competent, enthusiastic, clear-eyed behavior at the meeting with his meth friends when he directs them in the logistics of the new operation, in contrast to how pro forma all the “word up, yo” talk between all of them felt beforehand.
* But then.
* I want to be clear here: I was not IN ANY WAY prepared for that poor little boy to appear in the next episode, when Jesse raided the meth-heads’ house to get his money and meth back. Not in any way. I can’t recall the last time a show so dramatically raised its stakes, transforming a really well-done crime thriller into a brutally depressing meditation on the central crime’s effects at the drop of a hat.
* Oh wait, yes I can: “University” from Season Three of The Sopranos. Seriously, that wasn’t a rhetorical device just then — I realized at this very moment that really was the last time I felt the ground open up beneath a crime show that completely. Not even the best moments of Boardwalk Empire season two pulled it off like this, because those moments felt personal, not directed at, more or less, all of humanity like that beautiful little red-headed boy covered in filth did.
* The fact that he looked a bit like my daughter in terms of his facial features? I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have anything to do with how knocked out I was by this episode. By the end, as Jesse raced to round up his money, call 911, and rescue the little boy before the cops came, I had my hands in my hair, staring bug-eyed and slackjawed like a Brian Bolland drawing of the Joker. That was enormously powerful television. The business with Walt unleashing decades of fury at Gretchen was just icing, as was the fact that he’d essentially ordered a pair of murders the episode before. Suddenly the show proved itself willing to look something very, very ugly right in the face. Thrilling.
* Chris Mautner lists “The Six Most Criminally Ignored Books of 2011.” Shame on me for not having read Pure Pajamas yet, that’s for damn sure. (Noel Freibert’s Weird, too.)
* Fantagraphics is showing off covers for R. Crumb’s The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat and Jaime Hernandez’s God & Science: Return of the Ti-Girls. (I think my favorite thing about Jaime’s superhero team is how fans would no doubt debate how to properly pronounce their team name, a la Magneeto/Magnetto, Naymor/Nahmor, etc.)
* It wasn’t until I grabbed the jpg of Gabrielle Bell’s latest comic in order to drag it to my desktop and crop out a panel for posting here that I saw just how lovely the background colors look in relation to one another. See what I mean?
* Finally, Monster Brains has unleashed the Furie with a beautiful Matt Furie gallery and a spiffy new Furie-designed logo.