Preorder MIRROR MIRROR II

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Mirror Mirror II, the comics and art anthology I’m coediting with Julia Gfrörer, is now available for preorder on Amazon. The book contains new and unpublished work from Lala Albert, Clive Barker Heather Benjamin, Apolo Cacho, Sean Christensen, Nicole Claveloux, Al Columbia, Dame Darcy, Noel Freibert, Renee French, Meaghan Garvey, Julia Gfrörer (with Claude Paradin), Simon Hanselmann (with Sean T. Collins), Aidan Koch, Laura Lannes, Céline Loup, Uno Moralez, Mou, Jonny Negron, Chloe Piene, Josh Simmons, Carol Swain, and Trungles, with an introduction by Gretchen Felker-Martin.

But you don’t have to take my word for it:

“A thought-provoking, richly entertaining collection from some of the most exciting comic artists working today.  A must read for fans of the horrific and perverse.” —Bryan Cogman, co-executive producer/writer, Game of Thrones

Editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer have assembled an exquisitely creepy and seductive new collection of comics with Mirror Mirror II. From Uno Moralez’s pixilated noirs to Dame Darcy’s ornate Gothic ghost stories, the wide range of horror here is fantastic, as characters creep and fuck in the shadows of unimaginable darkness throughout. It’s certainly the perfect, freaky anthology for you, your lover, and all the demons in your mind.” —Hazel Cills, MTV News

Order yours today!

The 25 Greatest ‘Game of Thrones’ Moments

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10. The Kiss on the Wall

Season 3, Episode 6: “The Climb”
To paraphrase David Bowie, let’s remember Jon Snow and Ygritte standing on the Wall, where they kissed as though nothing could fall. The star-crossed couple’s big moment came after a pulse-pounding sequence in which their raiding party scaled the treacherous icy obstacle, nearly dying in the process, so their mere survival was cathartic enough. But the future Lord Commander and his wildling lover seized the moment – and the stunning, sunlit view – and locked lips in the series’ single most romantic shot to date. Game of Thrones so rarely gives us reasons to simply be happy; these two crazy kids never got one again.

I ranked and wrote about the 25 Greatest Game of Thrones Moments for Rolling Stone. If you like my writing about this show at all, I think what you like about it probably comes through very strongly in the nature, order, and explanation of my selections. I hope you enjoy them.

“Westworld” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Contrapasso”

Granted, Logan has no redeeming qualities in any capacity, so his behavior toward his colleague shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it speaks to the fundamental misapprehension Westworld has about what makes a compelling workplace drama. You need tension and conflict and even the occasional full-fledged feud. But neither the show nor the fictional business it portrays will come together if that’s all you’re getting. Both Mad Men and Sterling Cooper would have collapsed had Don Draper not been a charming companion and a surprisingly good mentor in addition to everything else. The Wire would have had no story if McNulty and Daniels, or Stringer and Avon, had always been at each other’s throats. Halt and Catch Fire, AMC’s little-watched but much-admired series about the dawn of the Internet age, spent an entire season with its main characters screaming at each other, before realizing show would seem less grating if they worked together.

Unless and until Westworld realizes the same thing, it’s always going to feel like a fraction of the series it could be. Yes, you get your requisite gory violence and copious nudity, including HBO’s second clinical close-up of a black man’s penis this year after The Night Of (and a ridiculous robot orgy soundtracked by a chamber-music version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have”). You get all the guessing games about multiple time frames and hidden programming, the doppelgangers of Dolores and Lawrence, and the truth about the late great Arnold. All of this will only get you so far. To quote George Costanza, “We live in a society!” even if the employees’ role in it is to create a lawless version thereof. People need to work together, at least sometimes, for that society to function. The humans on the show need to acting like humans for us humans on the other side of the screen to truly care.

I reviewed this week’s Westworld for Rolling Stone, ignoring the clues and theories in favor of talking about a far more fundamental problem. We’re all free to do this kind of thing! Nothing says we have to “solve” a show constructed as a puzzle box.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 55!

Forecasting The Winds of Winter, Part 3: The South

We’ve tackled the North and the lands of Essos. Now our popular series of podcasts predicting the events of The Winds of Winter returns with a look at what Northern partisans such as ourselves would call “the South” — aka the rest(eros) of Westeros! With our usual emphasis on thematic and narrative resonance — and our usual caveat that this is all just fun speculation — we’re offering our theories on the fates of every major player and region. What does Book Six hold in store for our POV characters Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jon Connington, Arianne Martell, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, Areo Hotah (hey, blame George), Samwell Tarly, and Aeron “the Damphair” Greyjoy? What about key supporting cast members like Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the Tyrells, the Faith Militant, Doran Martell, the Sand Snakes, (f)Aegon Targaryen, Varys, Catelyn “Lady Stoneheart” Stark, Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully, Tommen and Myrcella Lannister, Walder Frey, and so on? What fates will befall King’s Landing, Oldtown, Highgarden, Storm’s End, Sunspear, and Casterly Rock? And of course, where and when will the Others and the dragons strike first? We’re taking our best guesses. See what you think!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 55

Additional links:

Forecasting The Winds of Winter, Part 1: The North

Forecasting The Winds of Winter, Part 2: Essos

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

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Podcast RSS feed.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

STC on Inkstuds

I’m the guest on the latest episode of the venerable comics podcast Inkstuds, hosted by Robin McConnell. I talk about comics, TV, criticism, my history with all three, the Greatest Graphic Novels list I recently did, goth, the anthology @doopliss and I are doing, and more. Check it out!

“Westworld” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Dissonance Theory”

The point is this: Given what happens to every character who tries to solve the puzzle, perhaps it’s best to just enjoy things as they unfold, if you can indeed “enjoy” a story this grim.

Unfortunately, the majority of the show isn’t making this easy. While the horror elements pack a jolt and the “conversations” between robots remain enthralling, everything else is shooting blanks. The human characters are still a major flaw: Aside from Ford and his lunatic zeal, everyone who works at the park is utterly joyless and unpleasant. When Bernard and Theresa smile at each other in his bedroom, it almost feels like a continuity glitch.

In particular, the loathsome black-hat Logan is all but unwatchable in his clichéd obnoxiousness; “You’re gonna grow to love me, I promise,” he says to his dully good-hearted companion William, but we have our doubts. In some clunky exposition, he also raises the idea that the two of them are part of the family that owns the park, which means they’ll be even more important to the story as it progresses. Great.

Perhaps to compensate for the undercooked dialogue, the score is omnipresent and obnoxious, telegraphing every emotion we’re supposed to have during every scene: ominous hums in the production facility, lugubrious strings during Dolores’ touching moments with the menfolk, jangly Mexicana when the bad guys and bandits are on the scene, the ironic use of “La Habanera” for a slow-mo massacre. Hey, Westworld: Have some faith in your players – ahem, viewers. We can figure this out ourselves.

I reviewed last weekend’s Westworld for Rolling Stone. Amazingly, Ramin Djawadi does the music for this show, and the difference in quality between the theme and score here and that of Game of Thrones is just night and day.

The Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time

11. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby

They call Jack Kirby the King of Comics, and for good reason. As a precocious young artist, he co-created Captain America with writer-artist Joe Simon; his star-spangled superhero socked Hitler on the jaw a few years before Kirby himself helped liberate a satellite concentration camp during the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II. After returning to the States, Kirby would pioneer both romance and monster comics in the ’50s before work for which he is best remembered: the early-’60s co-creation of the Marvel Universe with his frenemy Stan Lee and fellow artist Steve Ditko. The dynamism of his artwork was miles away from the staid, square-jawed superheroics of Superman, Batman et al, and as the co-writer (and often primary writer) of Fantastic Four and other Marvel mainstays, Kirby gave birth to characters and concepts that essentially preserved the comics industry in North America after the censorious ’50s.

Kirby’s true masterwork came when, fed up with Lee’s spotlight-hogging and his own lack of creative control, he decamped to rival publisher DC and was given carte blanche to create his own line of superheroes. In genuinely prophetic fashion, the four titles that resulted — New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Jimmy Olsen — told one massive interlocking story about a war between rival deities, the evil half of which were led by a granite-faced embodiment of evil called Darkseid, whose son was secretly raised by the forces of good. (Sound familiar, Star Wars fans?) It’s not simply the scope of Kirby’s ambition nor the cataclysmic psychedelia of his artwork (drawn completely drug-free) that makes the Fourth World Saga, collected in four omnibus editions by DC, so compelling. No, it’s this World War II veteran’s Vietnam-era conviction that the true source of “Anti-Life” is violence itself, no matter how righteous the cause. Sadly, the epic was cut short by the publisher before Kirby could reach its proper conclusion. Several great superhero works would eventually follow (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and Guy Davis’ Hellboy/B.P.R.D. saga), but they all labor in the humanistic, explosively creative shadow of the King.

10. Gast by Carol Swain

A work of such profound empathy that it almost feels like a hole in the world, Gast is a gentle yet ultimately unforgiving look at the ways in which the world can break down those who cannot quite bring themselves to fit in. It follows an 11-year-old girl named Helen on a trip to the Welsh countryside, during which she discovers she can talk with the wild and domesticated animals that populate its rolling landscape — all of whom speak to her of the death of a “rare bird” who lived near by. This turns out to be a farmer named Emrys, whose gender dysphoria (he wore women’s clothing and ostentatiously dyed his hair, but kept to himself out of fear of reprisal and continued to identify as male) and failing fortunes led him to suicide. Gast functions like a murder mystery with no real killer and no real victim; the investigation itself is the point, as Helen learns about this sad and secretly much-loved person’s life, and about life and death themselves in the process. Swain’s soft charcoal artwork, the unusual and descriptive angles of her drawings, and her willingness to take things slowly make for an utterly unique reading experience.

Well, this is it: I selected and wrote about the 33 Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time for Thrillist.

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

9. The Descent (2005)

Years before he redefined TV action with his work on Game of Thrones, British director Neil Marshall earned his place in the horror pantheon with this merciless survival-horror story. One year after a car accident shatters their bonds, a group of women go spelunking in a remote Appalachian cavern and unearth far more than they bargained for. The claustrophobic setting is intense and the creature effects genuinely disturbing, but the film’s greatness lies in its use of its main character’s raw, red grief as emotional kindling for the catastrophe that follows. Few of even the greatest genre movies dare to go places this deep.

Alongside a murderers’ row of critics, I wrote about some of the best horror films of the new millennium for Rolling Stone. (For the record, I was on the “Mulholland Drive IS a horror movie” side of the argument referenced in the intro.)

“Westworld” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “The Stray”

Three episodes deep into Westworld, it’s become clear that there’s a problem with the user interface. Theoretically, our deepest interest in this increasingly dark sci-fi parable should be with the characters best capable of sustaining it: the humans. After all, the guests and the staff of the theme park are the ones with actual, honest-to-god (or honest-to-Darwin) consciousness. They’ve lead real lives with real experiences, instead of having fake memories uploaded into their brains. Their emotions can’t be switched off with a command. Their bodies can’t heal from fatal wounds after a quick overnight trip to maintenance. They’re people, damn it.

So why do they feel like lines of computer code, stuck in a loop?

I reviewed this week’s Westworld for Rolling Stone. The human characters are faltering while the robot “characters” are fascinating.

“Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Cupid Kills”

The most striking thing so far about Season 3 of “Empire” is just how insufferable Lucious has become, not just to Cookie but to everyone else. In this episode he shows up at Tiana’s performance solely to bust the chops of his family. First he goes after Cookie for dating Angelo. Seconds later he taunts Jamal for falling for a ruse Lucious concocted involving Freda Gatz. Is there a single character on the show who wouldn’t be better off if Lucious were dead? The “anti” in his antiheroic persona has been cranked up too high for story lines involving him to work; you know he’ll undermine his family to get what he wants every time, which makes him pretty uninteresting.

I reviewed this week’s Empire, ghost threesomes and all, for the New York Times.

STC/JEG/CXC

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Just a reminder that Julia Gfrörer and I will be attending Cartoon Crossroads Columbus tomorrow through Sunday, where Julia will be a special guest and where we’ll both be hosting the Sunday night afterparty. We hope to see you there!

Q&A: ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Showrunners Are Ready to Level Up

OBSERVER: How quickly did you find out that the show was gonna be renewed for a final season?

Chris Cantwell: We found out that afternoon, actually. The network called us and said, “Are you available for a conference call in four minutes?” They couldn’t find Chris, so I actually had to call Chris’s wife, which I try to never do for work. We got him on the phone, and they gave us they news, and they told us to call the cast, so we had to quickly call all the cast, and then they put the press release out like 45 minutes after that. They run a tight ship at AMC! They do it quickly.

This may be a stupid question, but how did that feel?

Chris Rogers: I mean, we were elated to get to do another season of the show. Somehow there’s gonna be 40 of these! You catch us on a nostalgic morning when we’re looking back on when we wrote this, and when it got picked up — when we thought it would never get picked up…To say there’s gonna be 40 episodes would’ve been beyond a dream at that time. You immediately register that, and the elation of getting to go back to Atlanta with this family we’ve built: the cast, the crew, the editors. We know their kids’ names, you know? So that is a thrill.

On another level, it’s bittersweet to see the end in sight. But it’s also kind of a creative gift, just to know that that’s what you’re writing to. We try to end each season like it could be the end of the series, but this year is gonna be different. Maybe it gives us the ammunition to top this third season, which frankly we kinda put everything we could into. So, a lot of emotions. We’re feeling all the feelings tonight.

I interviewed Halt and Catch Fire co-creators and showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers about the end of Season 3 and the “gift” of Season 4 for the New York Observer.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episodes Nine and Ten: “Nim” and “NeXT”

“I’m so sick of hearing about the future,” says Cameron Howe-Rendon. “What isthat? The future is just another crappy version of the present. It’s some…it’s some bribe people offer you to make you do what they want instead of what you want.”

“This future can be different,” Joe MacMillan.

For Halt and Catch Fire, the future is now. Leaping forward into the ‘90s for the final two episodes of its masterful third season, “NIM” and “NeXT,” Halt pulled the time jump from the prestige-TV toolkit and utilized it as well as any show since Battlestar Galactica and Lost, the two series that pioneered the practice, and Mad Men, its direct precursor and the show to which it has more than earned direct comparison this season. Mad Men incorporated time jumps directly into its architecture, with the time frame of each new season and the status-quo shifts that took place between every finale and premiere becoming one of its main attractions and driving concerns. Halt took a different, more unpredictable tact: It fast-forwarded into the era of the World Wide Web in the middle of its most tumultuous, dramatically engaging, and all-around excellent episodes to date. The move makes sense for audience engagement, sure: “www,” “http,” and “html” are far more recognizable tech terms than anything on which the show had been focused so far. But it could easily have backfired in every other conceivable way — cutting off the mounting tension between the characters at the knees, setting them adrift and forcing us to find them again at a moment when they’d never been quite so individualized, so recognizable, so real. That the time jump not only worked, but worked spectacularly, is a testament to what showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers and their cast and crew have accomplished together this season. We may have skipped forward into a new decade, a new age, a new period in the lives of our heroes, a new alignment of the relationships between them. But they remain the people we’ve come to know, and their story remains the one we’ve come to eagerly anticipate each week as among the very best being told on television today.

I reviewed the bold, beautiful two-part season finale of Halt and Catch Fire, at this point one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, for the New York Observer.

“Luke Cage” thoughts, Season One, Episodes 11, 12, and 13: “Now You’re Mine,” “Soliloquy of Chaos,” and “You Know My Steez”

You could cut fully five hours of fat from Luke Cage without losing a single story beat or worthwhile idiosyncrasy. Seriously, it’d be possible to preserve every major plot point and every successful bit of local color, every musical performance and every smackdown, yet still delete enough dead air, aimless conversation, redundant dialogue, over-scored soundtracking, and endless scenes of people walking from place to place to create a version of the show that’s essentially as-is, but tighter and quicker and, frankly, better.

I reviewed the final three episodes of Luke Cage Season One for the New York Observer.

“Westworld” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Chestnut”

“I know you think that you have a handle on what this is gonna be: guns and tits and all that mindless shit that I usually enjoy. You have no idea.” When Logan, a handsome, sleazy young veteran of multiple trips to Westworld, says this to his milquetoast first-timer companion William, he’s ostensibly referring to misconceptions about the park. But for all his subsequent blather about the place helping you find “who you really are,” who Logan really is turns out to be a guy who enjoys, well, guns and tits and mindless shit. He indulges in multiple male and female partners twice in his first day of vacation, pulls out a gun in a restaurant to test whether a fellow diner is real or an android, and brutally stabs an elderly “host” he finds annoying. Despite what he told his coworker, this creep’s robot-resort experience lives down to expectations.

But the real target of his words is quite clearly us, the audience. In Westworld‘s second episode – “Chestnut” – co-creators/co-writers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy continue to take an “as below, so above” approach to their material. The same ethical dilemmas posed to the park’s visitors – the gratuitous violence, the literally dehumanizing sex, the freedom to indulge in absolute cruelty with complete invincibility – are the same ones set forth by the show to its viewers. The implicit promise is precisely the one Logan makes to William: There’s more to this onslaught of nudity and brutality than meets the eye, even if for the time being we mostly have to take their word for it.

I reviewed this past weekend’s Westworld for Rolling Stone.

“Luke Cage” thoughts, Season One, Episodes Eight, Nine, and Ten: “Blowin’ Up the Spot,” “DWYCK,” and “Take It Personal”

Erik LaRay Harvey is one of my favorite television actors of all time. As Dunn Purnsley, the silver-tongued, snake-eyed underling of Michael K. Williams’ crime-boss character Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, he took what could have been an exceedingly minor character and made him an absolutely mesmerizing presence every time he appeared on screen. Watching him slide from one side to another in the various gang wars that rocked Atlantic City was riveting, as was simply listening to him, since like many performers on that show he developed a voice that was a period-appropriate pleasure to listen to. Purnsley radiated the sense that he was more than the sum of his parts; when his bosses noticed this, so did you.

Now he’s playing Willis “Diamondback” Stryker, the prime mover of all of Luke Cage’s misfortunes and the show’s Big Bad, and yet he isn’t being given anything half as interesting to do.

I reviewed episodes eight, nine, and ten of Luke Cage, i.e. the part where the show loses steam pretty much exactly where you thought it would, for the New York Observer.

“Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “What Remains Is Bestial”

Life meets art in an vastly more spectacular fashion when Cookie makes tries to coax her son Jamal, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, back into recording and performing. to that end, she books him a duet with a pop diva named Kitty, who bears an uncanny resemblance in real life to Mariah Carey, the superstar performer who just so happens to be playing her. (It’s hard to understand why real-world musicians who cameo on this show as musicians with identical looks and sounds don’t simply play themselves, but I’m sure Mimi knows best.)

Carey is a multimedia extravaganza in and of herself: Her character need only extend her hands and beefy assistants help her up and down the stage, and her outfits play more games of peekaboo than an overstimulated one-year-old. But when Kitty and Jamal finally get together in the recording booth, their collaboration (enabled though it may have been by all the pain pills he’s popping to get him past his anxiety) is a delight. “I mean, I’m surprised,” says an awe-struck Lucious, who was convinced the kid would tank his big chance, “but happy.” It’s a rare moment of unguarded sincerity and pride from the notoriously narcissistic mogul.

I reviewed this week’s Empire, Mariah Carey cameo and all, for the New York Times.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “You Are Not Safe”

It took a while, longer perhaps than for any other character, but Halt and Catch Firef ound a voice for Joe MacMillan. That voice is soft, sincere, thoughtful, emotionally direct. Actor Lee Pace gives that voice a tone that could be used to read bedtime stories to children, or to communicate deeply held beliefs or long-hidden secrets to a loved one who can be trusted with them. It’s a voice that sounds like Joe himself now looks: eyes made owlish by round Lennonesque glasses, face softened by a brown beard, hair lush and loose, clothes selected for autumnal comfort rather than boardroom barbarity. One of the many tragedies of “You Are Not Safe,” this week’s quietly shocking episode, is that this voice does him no good. He can’t use it to help his friend Gordon move forward with their grand plans. He can’t use it to save his friend Ryan’s life. He’s finally the man he truly is deep down, and it doesn’t matter. Everything turns to shit around him anyway.

I reviewed this week’s very sad Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer.

“Luke Cage” thoughts, Season One, Episodes Five, Six, and Seven: “Just to Get a Rep,” “Suckers Need Bodyguards,” and “Manifest”

But that doesn’t stop this section of Luke’s first season from continuing to make the case for the series as one of the better live-action Marvel projects to date. As was the case with Daredevil — first with Wilson Fisk and his confidants Wesley and Vanessa, then with rival vigilantes the Punisher and Elektra — and in stark contrast to Jessica Jones, Cage takes the time and effort to complicate its villains. This starts with Detective Scarfe, played with sleazeball desperation by Frank Whaley. Yes, he’s snide and insufferable every time we see him with his criminal associates. But as his partner Misty Knight explains at length during the manhunt for him when he goes missing after a gun deal gone bad with Cottonmouth, Scarfe really did look out for her, mentor her, and support her when no one else on the force would. What’s more, he lost his son to a gun accident caused by his own carelessness. In the end, he confesses his crimes and dies trying to flee to safety at One Police Plaza, where he plans to turn himself in and testify against Cottonmouth and his army of crooked cops. Dies in the arms of a sobbing Misty, whose repeated cries of “No!” echo those of Luke himself when Pop died in his arms just a couple episodes back. In this way, the show deliberately makes a connection between the man it’s held up as secular saint and a crooked murderer, implicitly arguing that life has some inherent value no matter what you’ve done with it.

I reviewed the fifth, sixth, and seventh episodes of Luke Cage — spending a lot of time not just on Scarfe but on Cottonmouth and Mariah, who reach serious turning points, to say the least — for the New York Observer. Very happy with the direction the show has taken with its antagonists.

“Fear the Walking Dead” thoughts, Season Two, Episodes 14 & 15: “Wrath” and “North”

Not that any single fucking thing on this show matters, because we know what the outcome and the moral will be every single fucking time. Kindness is always weakness, brutality is always morality, outsiders are always animals, and at a certain point everyone will try to kill everyone else, so you’re never wrong to kill first.

Fear the Walking Dead is fascist.

I reviewed the season finale of Fear the Walking Dead for Decider. This franchise has way bigger problems than lousy cliffhangers and superfluous spinoffs. It’s hugely popular and deeply toxic. It should be talked about.