He Worshipped A Dark and Vengeful God: Jeff Looks At Spidey, Sweeney, and Others.

I'd planned for a longer intro but, wow, work is busting my ass today. Anyway, here's some reviews of comics and not-comics with love from me to you:  

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #544: Is it just me, or does Joe Quesada's art here have a deeply strange nose fixation? Check out that first panel of page three where Peter's well-detailed schnoz utterly throws off the visual line of the storytelling, for example. In fact, the most dramatic page in the story--Peter's webbing of Iron Man--is notable for being the only page except for the first without a nose. Surely that's no accident? The other odd thing about the issue is the cover: between it and the preview of next issue's on the very last page, it's clear the storyline is being positioned as in the grand old tradition of enjoyably melodramatic Spidey stories straight from the Stan Lee mold (check out that "Attention, True Believer! If you should read but one comic this decade, this one's it!" on the last page). And yet, Quesada is doing a very, very bad job of it. It took me a while to realize this issue's cover should have that classic Gil Kane "giant heads o' drama!" look, but because of the arrangement and the garish lettering, it's more like Spidey is so horrified by being web-hentai'd he's pooped the story title on Peter Parker's head. Pretty EH, particularly for the price, but let's see where it goes.


HALLOWEEN: If you couldn't quite figure out how Rob Zombie was going to bring his southern culture on the skids style to his remake of John Carpenter's ur-slasher pic, Halloween, you weren't alone: turns out Zombie couldn't quite figure it out, either. Here, he chops the movie in twain, with the first half recounting Michael Myers' childhood with all the hard luck ugliness you'd expect from watching The Devil's Rejects, and the second half being what Ian Brill rightly calls "the Cliff's Notes version of Carpenter's movie." It's not a bad solution although Carpenter's original, a masterpiece of low-budget moviemaking, touches on the mythic by giving the viewer more questions than answers, while Zombie's solution strips the mythic right out--it's impossible to think of Myers as the possible embodiment of an abstract eternal evil after watching William Forsythe's brilliantly awful white trash boyfriend call him "a fag boy" at the breakfast table. But even with all the additional disquieting trash talking and animal mutilating, Zombie either can't or won't bother to answer some of the really interesting questions: considering the movie shows the initial sessions between Samuel Loomis and Myers, I was disappointed we didn't get some Watchmen-esque scene that would explain why Loomis, a psychiatrist, spends most of the movie talking like a renegade priest. But in the second half of the movie, Loomis and everyone act the way they do pretty much because the original (or established canon) dictates that they do, and the movie's no more or less edifying. It's just longer and gorier.


Despite all that, it's not terrible, and Zombie makes some good choices to cover for his bad ones: although no longer an eerily graceful killer, Michael Myers as played by Tyler Mane is so physically huge and imposing, he's terrifying to look at. And I was impressed that the second half of the film had a very different, less gritty vibe (at least until the killings start)--I can't tell if Zombie was trying to make a point about the sterile safety of modern culture or just decided he couldn't make the movie work as a remake without aping the lovely stillness of Carpenter's original, but I found it heartening Zombie could convincingly create a different tone: everything else I've seen by him has been in a single trash-talk-and-unwashed-underwear mode. And since most of the actors in the second half have very little to work with, it's surprising they create as much sympathy as they do: Scout Taylor-Compton's Laurie Strode has none of Jamie Lee Curtis' teen awkwardness, and probably a tenth the lines, but she's still compelling, and you still feel for her. The original Halloween worked for me in part because Debra Hill did a great job recreating the way teen girls talked and bickered and teased and I could almost believe that was true here, despite them hopping up and down like kids swept away on a sugar high. This version of Halloween isn't going to replace the original--but then, did anyone really think it would?--but I'd say this was at least highly OK. It was certainly a more satisfying remake than that Texas Chainsaw Massacre from a few years back.

JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE, VOL. 4: So there's 67 pages of fighting largely done in the reflection of people's eyeballs, an incredibly creepy fight between a man and a tumor on his arm, and then there's a cliffhanger (literally, of course) with a malevolent, sentient automobile. Pretty much puts the awe back in awesome, in other words. Quite GOOD, if you like high weirdness manga.

THE LAST FANTASTIC FOUR STORY: I love how Stan Lee apparently believes the best Fantastic Four stories are ones where giants in skirts appear so everyone in Manhattan can look up and see ginormous genitalia threatening to blot out their existence. (And maybe he's not wrong?) Also, check out the first two pages where Stan tries his hand at decompressed storytelling by dragging out one sentence for an entire page--to me it underlined that Stan is a bit of an anachronism, out of place in a world he made. And it's kind of sad he has the Fantastic Four retire not because the world is safe (or even rid of Doctor Doom, because he's still there) but because "we can never top what we've already done." (Oh, Stan! Can't you see what your subconscious is clearly trying to tell you?) On the other hand, it's certainly better than what I read of the Jeph Loeb Wolverine arc. Again, for the price, it's barely EH.

SWEENEY TODD: Not a comic, but if you're in San Francisco and thinking of catching this production, make sure you're familiar with how the play is traditionally staged. As you've probably read, this production makes the cast members responsible for the orchestration as well as singing and acting their parts: people will hop from instrument to instrument, some taking over for others in mid-part so the liberated person can step forward and sing their part. Technically, it's astonishing, and it does a great job of bringing back the Brecht/Weill vibe with which the musical was conceived (Really, when you see Mrs. Lovett shake her big old caboose while playing the tuba, you will think of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill), but it makes it, I think, impossible to understand the story if you're a Sweeney newb. And, sadly, some scenes in the new staging make almost no sense whatsover--Sweeney and Lovett's challenge of Pirelli is just a jumble, and the opening to Act II is also badly marred.


The biggest problem with the production, though, is Sweeney himself: although the local critics have raved about his performance, I found David Hess' portrayal of Sweeney to be hugely disappointing. I mean, I know that the role is tricky--you either have to have Sweeney be an insane fiery zealot from word one, or you have to show him as a little man grown powerful in his madness in which case you don't have a lot of text on which to build your arc--but Hess seems small and lost on the stage, his acting maybe better suited for a screen portrayal (what reads to me as awkwardness on the stage may be a mesmerizing stillness on screen), his voice unremarkable (the guy playing Anthony actually blows him away in their later scenes together), and since he's given the least to do of all the cast--I'm not sure but I think he's the only member in the cast who isn't also playing an instrument--he's the least technically impressive overall.


And yet, after two paragraphs of bitching, I fully recommend this production if you're a fan of the musical: not only is Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett really fantastic (and I prefer Lauren Molina's Johanna to the original) but the orchestration of the music is superb--it brings out a suppleness to Sondheim's score I had no idea existed. Even now, almost a week later, I've got the music stuck in my head. If you're a fan of Sondheim and Sweeney Todd, you'll find this production worth your time and (considerable) coin.


Y THE LAST MAN #58: I should get some bonus points for calling the Yorick/355 love thing. On the other hand, WOW, did I not see that final turn of events coming. Clearly, a lot depends on how Vaughan and Guerra use their last two issues so I can't give you a firm rating. In terms of cliffhanger alone, VERY GOOD--but as I said it all depends. Without the cliffhanger and the next two issues, I'd give it a high OK: a lot of the scenes (particularly the Yorick/355 scenes) felt rushed.