Hello. For your long weekend, here's another boring "capsule" post where I drone on about things I've found interesting in the last couple months, while I'm too exhausted by work to write anything halfway decent or worthwhile.
GARRISON #1 by Jeff Mariotte, Francesco Francavilla, Jeremy Shepherd, Johnny Lowe, Kristy Quinn and Shannon Eric Denton:
This is a new Wildstorm comic about people who sit in dark rooms. Well, I guess the official pitch is that it's about a serial killer in a cowboy-hat, and the federal agent chasing him, or something. I don't know-- nothing about the story caught with me; I bought it to look at Francesco Francavilla's art. If you don't know his work, he's part of a pretty great group art blog; he has an old-school pulp webcomic he also does that's worth a look; LEFT ON MISSION.
I like how he draws, but the way this book is colored-- almost every scene in this comic was people in a dark room with no lamps: characters watching TV screens in the dark, having meetings in the dark, surfing the internet in the dark. The characters are federal agents, not depressive teenage poets-- somebody turn on the fucking lights!
Maybe it's just me-- if I'm at home at night, I have every single light on in my apartment, at all times. Because I'm afraid of shadows? Yes. But shadows are where the Boogeyman lives, so I think I'm being enormously reasonable.
DC's PULP UNIVERSE:
Oh, I made a terrible mistake with these.
I was excited by the idea for this DC pulp sub-imprint, and so I decided to buy all of the comics that they offered for sale. That might not be a mistake for everybody, but it was a huge mistake for me personally. Being feeble of mind and faculties, I always struggle to remember what happened the month before with anything I read, but now what's happened is that when I read FIRST WAVE #2 I became confused by vague memories of the plots of DOC SAVAGE or THE SPIRIT. I kept waiting for there to be a lightning strike in FIRST WAVE-- before realizing, oh, that's the plot of an entirely separate comic.
"Comics punish my enthusiasm for them, episode one billion and nine."
One of my favorite things about Brian Azzarello as a creator is the ways he very intentionally forces his readers to pay attention, to work to keep up with him instead of the other way around. And I think that maybe might have worked for me here, too, if I hadn't picked up the two spin-offs (both of which launched before the second issue of his FIRST WAVE series was released!). But all of the stories have now jumbled together in my head, basically ruining each other. I'm cutting back to FIRST WAVE: mistake made, lesson learned.
I would say "I don't understand why this is how they're reintroducing these characters," but none of the books really seem to be "reintroducing" anything especially. All of these comics seem to assume that I remember who Doc Savage's 20 companions are, or care about them. I don't, particularly. At all. I could, in theory. I care about Doctor Who's new companion, and all it took was a short skirt and some hormones on my part. But Doctor Who also started the news series with a "why you should care about who Doctor Who is and who the companions are" story. Maybe I'm dead-wrong, but I feel like these characters needed an Ultimates-style reintroduction and instead these series have started with a 200 mph mega-crossover.
Howard Porter seems badly miscast on DOC SAVAGE, though I thought Paul Malmont's effort was noticeable in a pleasant way in that first issue. I wouldn't call it altogether successful, but you could at least tell that guy was trying...? That's something. THE SPIRIT has been the only must-buy of the lot, thus far, on account of its back-up features, black and white comics by Denny O'Neil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Harlan Ellison, and Kyle Baker.
That is an all-star run of creators. It's a strange feeling to see creators of that caliber brought together for back-up features for barely-launched new imprints, though. Shouldn't creators of that level of fame, infamy, talent, whatever, shouldn't they be assembled for projects that feel a little disposable? Well, that sounds extreme, but... What a strange world, where the occasion of Harlan Ellison and Kyle Baker working together doesn't conclude with a ticker-tape parade.
More importantly, however, Doctor Who's new companion truly deserves some kind of humanitarian award. From the UN Commission on Boners. Who do I write to, for that to happen?
Oh my god, you guys.
The reason I'm writing these capsule reviews is so I can tell you about this movie. It's some kind of fucking achievement, is what it is because... If you're a sketch comedy fan, it's extremely difficult to get excited by a sketch troupe putting out a feature length movie. You're used to being a little disappointed. Python pulled it off, yes, but past that, in recent memory-- it just hasn't happened. Mr. Show, Kids in the Hall, Whitest Kids You Know, League of Gentlemen, the vast majority of Saturday Night Live features-- I'm not saying there aren't parts. There are parts of Brain Candy that I quite like. I'm still partial to Wayne's World. But mostly, they don't transition to features.
Derrick for the fucking win.
I'd loved their sketches, most of all Girls are Not to Be Trusted, or their new one Thomas Jefferson, but hadn't expected much more than uneven sketches from their feature. They kind of fucking kicked my ass instead. What struck me as so great about it is they didn't fall in the trap other sketch troupe's have so repeatedly fallen into. They didn't make a sketch movie, where none of the scenes add up to anything-- they actually told a story, instead. There's an aspect of it which is really dark and sad, while it's simultaneously hilarious and innocent...? There's a varied emotional tone to it; it's not just trying to be silly-funny ha-ha good times for the entire length. And it's filled with a fine cast of comedy world people (most in a "before they hit it big" capacity but... Matt Walsh: so underutilized by Hollywood, you guys). The credits are the same names over and over-- it feels like this tiny labor of love, but it looks as good as a Hollywood movie.
It's a story I've actually always wanted to see. The premise of the movie is basically "what would Encyclopedia Brown's teen years have been like" and-- I can't explain why, but I've always wanted someone to make that movie. I just didn't expect anyone to do it this well, or to actually find an emotional theme in that idea that worked as well as the one in MYSTERY TEAM.
This is probably the best comedy I'll see this year-- I'll probably see better movies, but it's hard to imagine loving one quite as much, especially now with movies having been ruined by fanboys. (I love you all, but you've ruined movies). I had the great fortune of seeing this in a crowded theatre (it's playing again at the New Beverly tonight, if you're nearby), with an audience that very audibly loved it. If that's not an option for you, it's available now on DVD, On Demand, what have you.
It's a hard-R rated Goonies! Why would you possibly not want to see that?? This really kicked my ass-- I was really shocked how much I enjoyed this. Highly, highly recommended.
I hadn't heard of the whole teen werewolf thing until I saw this video the other day. I'm not hip, not a hip guy, so the teen-werewolves got by me.
We've all thought the same things, I'm sure. We all have probably thought, "How I envy the modern teenager, with their easy access to vast swaths of internet pornography, their adorable ignorance of the days of squinting at scrambled porn, lazy teen days spent watching Lexi Belle perform as Batgirl, et cetera." We're all addicted to pornography in a way that's interfering with our ability to achieve true intimacy, right? That's probably true.
And we've all thought, in turn, well at least, having grown up pathetic losers, that at least in our day, there were no video cameras around, documenting our most embarassing moments for youtube audiences.
But watching this, what I realized, is someday, when I'm old, I'll be taken care of by a generation that sees documenting and publicly sharing shameful moments as being some kind of god given right. And that's terrifying because... I think there are bound to be shameful moments in old age that I'd rather not be on youtube. If I'm in a senior citizen home, crapping into an adult diaper-- I don't want for middle-age werewolves to put that on youtube. Especially if youtube is being beamed directly into people's brains, by that point. Especially now that there's advertising, which is extra annoying-- I don't want me, with a bunch of catheters shoved all in me being the new face of Pepsi, man.
On the other hand, maybe our robot overloads will annihilate the teenage werewolves before that happens. God, I hope so.
SPARTA by David Lapham, Johnny Timmons, Gabe Eltaeb, Wes Abbott, Kristy Quinn and Ben Abernathy #2-3:
I was annoyed by Colin Farrell starring in this book, in the first issue, but stuck with this series, regardless. It's only 6 issues, and I was feeling like I needed to start taking more chances. I'm trying to do that more-- I call it Get Excited About Comics Plan 2010. Try to be more "accepting." Try to be more "enthusiastic." Try to "suck it up." Try to "man it out." Try to "do other things with my time than watch Lexi Belle perform as Batgirl."
This book? I don't know; what do you think? Lapham certainly goes for broke-- I like it more than what I'd read of YOUNG LIARS, at least. There are moments that really are quite creative: a little girl bragging about winning a Junior Mata Hari Award, say, I quite liked. I'm just not sure what exactly I think overall. All of the component parts are the stuff of great comics: football, bigfoots, swordfights, oracular lady assassins, armies of ex-mistresses. It's very much a COMIC BOOK, in capital letters, kind-of in the old Kirby sense of the term. Creativity sometimes feels in short supply right now, so the book is certainly to be applauded in that respect.
But it's ... sometimes it feels like too much of a good thing, I guess. The details are fun, but I'm still not really sure what this book is about, exactly: what anyone is trying to say about anything is kind of eluding me. Since the book is a "mystery" comic, and the mystery of the book is why the world of the book is so crazy and weird-- there's no way of knowing if the details are organic to some organizing principle or just wholly arbitrary. Granted, that same problem didn't stop me from watching LOST for six seasons, but LOST had characters, themes and a terrific visual style. What am I supposed to want SPARTA for? What need is it supposed to fill for me? But ... just the moment to moment pleasure of an idea like the Junior Mata Hari Award may be enough actually.
So, I don't know. It feels like it's at least worth thinking about, this book, maybe, which may be as good a compliment as I'm capable of anymore. Get Excited about Comics Plan 2010 still has a lot of miles left to travel.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: RISE OF ARSENAL #3 by J.T. Krul, Geraldo Borges, Kevin Sharpe, Sergio Arina, Mario Alquiza, John Dell, Rob Clark Jr., Hi-Fi, Greg Horn, Mike Mayhew, Sean Ryan and Brian Cunningham:
So: Brian wasn't exaggerating in his plot synopsis, in the slightest. It's really 100% that.
I didn't really have a very interesting reaction to it, though, other than it really made me feel for Alan Moore. He must think books like this are his "legacy"... They're not but he probably feels that way-- I think I would feel that way if I were him. I stopped halfway through this book, and just thought, "that poor man." People get angry when Alan Moore complains about the state of comics-- "But: has he ever heard of Hellen Jo?!?" But put yourself in his place-- how much would you like comics if you felt responsible for things like this? The shame would be overwhelming.
As for the comic itself, I don't know-- it's a success. I "enjoyed" it quite a bit, even if only in quotation marks. Obviously, if I bought it, it "succeeded" -- it created an accident on the side of the road so horrific that I craned my neck to look at it. And you know: well done. I will now remember JT Krul's name, and if you believe that obscurity is an author's true enemy, well done to him, too. I mean, the low opinion in which I hold numerous other writers in comics certainly hasn't hurt their careers, so well done to him. Well done.
I guess it kind of reminded me of the Wedding DJ video-- I'm sure you've seen it; it's "viral"...
I don't know if that video's "real" or not, but it kind of doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if it's crass or not-- I was entertained by it anyways: "that's entertainment." I mean, the interesting thing about the video to me is that... you know, does the internet make us all "worse" by entertaining us with bad behavior, or does it make us "better" by exposing bad behavior? Does the rising of the Arsenal make things "worse" by hitting what you might feel like is a "new low," or are we "better" for seeing how close that "new low" is to a "regular" run-of-the-mill superhero comic? I don't know-- no idea. Tucker & Marra covered this better than I'm capable of, so go read that if you haven't already instead, I guess.
IRON MAN 2:
I had really enjoyed the first movie, but didn't have much use for the second one. I haven't seen many reviews address my problem with this movie though which is that... I actually don't think African-American men are interchangeable...?
I had a much, much harder time with the fact they changed Rhodey's between IRON MAN 1 and IRON MAN 2 than I thought I would. I'd read the announcements ahead of time, heard the explanations why they were replacing Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle, and all that stuff. I certainly love Don Cheadle. But, when those scenes actually happened-- I just couldn't get past that they switched dudes on us. Don Cheadle just shows up and says "It's me; get over it; suck on it." But, yeah: sorry, no. Here's the thing: they weren't playing two different characters; they were playing the same guy. They COULD have played two different characters-- he could have been Rhodey's brother, or something. But, no: same guy.
I felt like at some level, the filmmakers were maybe inadvertently saying, "We don't believe you can tell them apart anyways." Which: I can. I mean, I'm not going to win the word-jumble on Soul Train anytime soon, I'm not the hippest guy, but I can at least tell Don Cheadle from Terrence Howard. I can tell all of the original Kings of Comedy apart, too. You know: I listened to a Jay-Z album once, and I didn't understand every word he said, but I wanted to...?
So: I couldn't get past that. Also: the story stank, there were too many villains, the demo for the video-game sequel gave me a massive headache which bummed me out because I totally wanted to play it to see Fraction's contributions, and the commercials for other Marvel movies wedged in the middle of this one were super-boring. But also, the race thing.
NEW AVENGERS: FINALE by Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Butch Guice, Andrew Currie, Karl Story, Paul Mounts, Justin Ponsor, Rain Beredo, Chris Eliopoulos, Lauren Sankovitch, Tom Brevoort, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, Alan Fine (with apperances by David Finch, Danny Miki, Frank D'armata, Steve McNiven, Dexter VInes, Morry Hollowell, Olivier Coipiel, John Dell, Mike Deodata Jr., Joe Pimental, Dave Stewart, Leinil Yu, Mark Morales, Laura Martin, Billy Tan, and Matt Banning):
Manners compel me not to talk about SIEGE, but this ... this tangential spin-off finale one-shot (?) was an interesting experience. It was like looking at vacation photos of a family of strangers. I'd picked up all three SIEGE finale comics to have the "total Siege experience". I'd picked up the odd issue of NEW AVENGERS in the past-- once in a while. So, I had some familiarity with going-on's of the book, but not a very complete one.
But then, this comic is a celebration for the entire run, for an entire era of Marvel comics, but one I didn't pay much attention to, or didn't have any emotion connection to when I did pay attention. So, that was fun for me, in a way that felt kind of peculiar.
There's this feeling of triumph to the comic, but it's-- it's a triumphant double-page splash of the time New Avengers fought ninjas, triumph over comics I never read. I've never watched the season finales of a show I don't regularly follow, but I imagine that my experience was close to what it must have been like to watch the LOST finale if you'd only seen two or three episodes prior. It was interesting for me not to able to comprehend the glops of emotion on display, but just instead have to shrug and go "well, this is probably meaningful to someone out there somewhere." I don't think I've ever quite had that experience before.
I guess what was striking was how much it felt like a "finale", with none of it being at all, even remotely final. The new AVENGERS book launched, what, a week or two later, with a near-identical creative team...? It's like they threw their own surprise birthday party.
I was interested in it as symbol of this era of Marvel comics, too. Years from now, people can look back on this comic and say "Aah, that era of comics-- they were very taken with storyboards colored red." The red thing-- how did red become to this era of Marvel comics what teal-orange is for movies? Was that a decision that was made? Do you like the color red? I'm more of a blue guy myself-- I personally like that teal-orange look in blockbuster movies. Instead, with blockbuster comics, all that red.
THE SIGNIFIERS #1 by Michael Neno:
I sent away for this comic over the internet-- by the time it arrived, I'd forgotten how I heard about it or that I'd ordered it. I like having strange comics arrive in the mail, I guess. It's an anthology of three stories, two of which end on "cliffhangers": the Signifiers lead story (a strange Kirby pastiche, with animal-hybrids, science-fiction villains, rockets falling to hip-hop lyrics, etc.), Nellie of Cosmic Brook Farm or Cosmic House on the Prarie (a nonsensical 10-panel grid Rocketman comic), and Landlark the Heat Seeking Dwarf (a Silver-Age Marvel-- but not quite Kirby-ish-- comic about a deranged dwarf who escapes bad guys and falls in with a hippie band).
I don't really know what this comic is-- none of the stories "make sense" strictly-speaking, at least to me, so I'm not really sure what to say about them, how to even describe them. The first story is about ... Yeah, can't do it; it seems to all fit together, at least, though, to its credit.
So, I don't know if I can "recommend it"-- but ... This is just the kind of thing I'm happy exists, I guess. It's one of those things that just looks cool, and it's so far gone that you can just forget about paying attention to what's going on and and enjoy watching one panel turn into the next. That's a very specific kind of fun that may not be for everybody though. That's sort of the level I enjoy POWR MASTERS on (although POWR MASTERS is much better than this, I think). The second story's weak sauce, any which way, though-- that 10 panel grid looks unforgiving and I think it brings Neno down to it instead of the other way around. More of the first story and third story might be better if there are any future issues-- those two fit together more than the second one, despite the super-rad title of that second story. It just doesn't live up to that title, but what could...?
SLEIGH BELLS - "TREATS":
I don't remember the last time I've looked forward to an album as much as this one. I probably have pretty bad taste in music-- I certainly know much less about music than ... oh gosh, an awful lot of people that I know, so take this with that warning.
But, man, every track I've heard on this thing has been exciting for me. I haven't felt this excited for a band since ... I don't know, first time I heard Broken Social Scene...? Maybe that'll sound ridiculous to people who have cool taste in music. I really don't know.
I've heard it referred to as "Jock Jams for Hipsters" (I think it was meant in a bad way, but... I'm not sure that's how I'm taking it). Music criticism, though-- there are people whose work I've enjoyed reading over the years, obviously, but... It seems like with any band now has to deal with a really poisonous environment-- the build-up / tear-down cycle seems severe. This band seemed to simultaneously get such a very overheated build/tear reaction.
I wonder if comics will be like that someday.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION:
(I try not to spoiler this, but if you're hyper-spoiler inclined, you might want to skip this one).
Middle-aged man, pretending to be a cowboy in his free time. That's healthy, right? I'm pretty sure that's normal.
On the other hand, this video game, you guys? I'm not a game expert, but I've never quite played a game with an ending like this one. The writing in the last hour of this game seemed kind of remarkable to me. The last hour builds on themes present through the rest of the game to actually elicit a real feeling of story-motivated dread. Not shitty horror-game dread, with violins, but "where is this story taking me" dread. I don't know of another game I've played where I've experienced that feeling before, and that last hour alone makes it Rockstar Games's finest hour for me. The Grand Theft Auto games are more "gorgeous" to look at, more stuffed with entertainment, more overflowing with content-- music, comedy, dialogue, characters.
I was just more impressed by this game, though. I was struck how they succeeded not only with the action elements but the role-playing elements, as well. I played my version of the main character as a decent man, who always did the right thing, and never committed any crimes, except those he was forced into by circumstance. Someone else could have played their main character in some completely different manner-- and I just think that was more truly the case here than with the Grand Theft Auto games.
Between this and the superbly thought-out mission structure on MASS EFFECT 2 (which Kieron Gillen writes about better, here), maybe this is crazy, or not a well-informed opinion, but I feel like the blockbuster-end of gaming took a giant step forward this year, in terms of writing, finally. Finally.
DAVID CHOE AT THE LAZARIDES GALLERY:
Did anybody make it to this? Choe went fucking balls-out on this gallery show. There was a massive inflatable sea-monster that filled the space (new gallery, used to be the Anthropologie store in Beverly Hills-- tremendous high ceilings), huge paintings, small drawings of naked bat-women tucked away in the back area of the gallery (which resembled a church confessional); the entire foyer was festooned with children's blankets.
Here's a bad iPhone photo of the sea-monster-- you can't see the entirety of the gallery, but there was a back area filled with his work, smaller work that expressed more of a sense of humor than the more dramatic pieces out front:
Hell of a fucking show, just a hell of a fucking show-- he really knocked this one down. I think this closed just recently, unfortunately-- I hope you didn't miss it.
CONAN O'BRIEN AT THE GIBSON AMPHITHEATRE, NIGHT TWO:
I'm so glad I made it to this. If you got overly-worked up by the Leno-Conan incident earlier this year, this show was such a joy. Such a joy-- just 2-3 hours of pure happiness for me, at least. Songs, jokes, funny videos, guest stars. Jim Carrey sang a duet dressed as Kick-Ass, with Conan dressed as Superman. Jonah Hill made a rape joke about Inspector Gadget. Andy Richter-- he's performed pretty constantly in small venues in Los Angeles since he left the old show, so it was great to see him this entire amphteatre laughing along with him.
The craziest thing for me was Reggie Watts-- I used to see Reggie Watts perform in the basement of the Ramada Inn on Vermont, in the haunted W.C. Fields room. The last time I saw him perform, it was 10-20 people in a Ramada basement, every single last one of us thinking "Why isn't this guy on TV or something? How am I getting to see this for free?" Seeing him in an amphitheatre, surrounded by people hanging on his every word, watching an audience of that size trying to figure him out-- that was amazing. Amazing.
And, of course, Mr. Conan O'Brien. All of the years I'd seen him-- there's an aspect of him which you don't appreciate on television that makes him funnier in person: motherfucker is shaped like Abraham Lincoln. He is a weirdly shaped guy-- he looks like he could throw a punch, but ... He's shaped like he should be building a log cabin somewhere. There's just something funny to him physically that even after watching him for years and years, I'd never really seen before.
It felt like getting to see and be a tiny, tiny part, however small, of a happy ending.