“What Happened To Shame?” TELEVISION! Sometimes I Just Veg Out In front Of The Tube!

So I was going to write about some comics but I just wasn’t feeling it. Being a big Elvis fan I am all too aware that you should never force it, so I wrote about some television instead. I hear people like television.  photo chrisheadB_zpsa78959ed.jpg

Anyway, this… TURKS & CAICOS Written & Directed by David Hare Starring: Christopher (“The ICE! is gownna BRICK!”) Walken, Bill Nighy, Winona Ryder, Hansel Piper, Dylan Baker, James Naughton, Zach Grenier, Julie Hewlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves, Sally Greenwood, Ewen Bremner, Malik Yoba, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Meredith Eaton and special sexy guest appearance by Ralph Fiennes (BBC2, 2014)

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I don’t know if you’ve seen Turks and Caicos because I don’t know who you are or where you live. But if you were watching BBC2 at 21:00 hours on Thursday 20th March 2014 you were probably watching this programme. Turks and Caicos is a prestige high production value TV series clearly intended to be attractive to overseas purchasers. It’s from the BBC which as a pedigree still carries some classy clout so it is not just a posh thriller but the second in a trilogy of political dramas. It’s by David (Plenty, Damage, The Hours) Hare who is a highly regarded screenwriter, but I watched it because Christopher (The Dead Zone, Seven Psycopaths) Walken was in it. I am downright incorrigibly plebeian, ain’t I just? Bill (Still Crazy, Shaun of the Dead) Nighy’s also in it doing that weird acting thing he does that makes you suspect he hasn’t fully recovered from a long illness or something. Bill Nighy’s okay but he isn’t The Walken. The Walken plays a CIA (or is he? Yes. Yes he is.) Agent who blends into the sedate and monied surroundings of the titular island setting about as unobtrusively as a man on fire at a children’s party. He’s great, obviously. The Walken’s acting has now evolved to the point where it is all concentrated in his head and his body has become surplus to his thespian requirements. He maybe moved one hand and walked all of two yards throughout but still conveyed so much menacing energy I considered contacting the local constabulary.

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Anyway, I didn’t watch the first in this trilogy of political dramas (Page Eight (2011)) because it didn’t have The Walken in it, but it’s easy enough to pick up the gist of this stuff. What we have here is at root a revenge fantasy for elderly liberals. It’s an Oxbridge One Tough Bastard, basically. So, instead of a man with bad hair and the acting chops of a foot solving all his problems by shooting them in the face here Bill Nighy uses manners, decency, decorum and a belief in Trust to, over three episodes (there’s a concluding one later), bring down a Prime Minister. A Prime Minister who is in no way, shape or form to be taken as a fictional version of Tony Blair; wherever you got that idea from you should put it back sharpish. So it’s complete wish fulfilment of course; a nice fantasy, but we all know that if some decent old dude started kicking up a fuss about the dirt under the government’s fingernails it would all end tragically very quickly indeed, not that that’s ever happened. In a casting masterstroke Not-Tony Blair is played by Ralph (In Bruges, The Grand Budapest Hotel) Fiennes who is so rewarding a screen presence I don’t mind his real-life inability to pronounce his own name correctly. The Fiennes looms magnificently in the background like a sexy but sour cloud of condensed lies and sleazy self-interest for a whole thirty seconds, but he works each one of those seconds like it’s a school leaver on a Zero Hours contract.

So, you know, it could just basically have been ninety or so minutes of The Walken shelling peas with The Fiennes ambling past in the background and I’d have been fine. Even better though, as I said, Turks and Caicos was also a liberal humanist version of all those violent movies I used to watch from the video shop but now with manners instead of magnums and instead of a Colombian drug dealer as the End of Level Boss it’s The Prime Minister of Great Britain. There’s a veneer of complexity with a follow-the-dirty-money-plot generously larded with shout outs for “The War On Terror”, the recession and all that business those pesky liberals get all worked up about over a cheeky little red in their converted barns. It’s intelligently done stuff although the juxtaposition between the humble decency of the poor and the sociopathy of the rich errs on the simplistic, but this being a polemic in dramatic drag that’s fair enough. It’s all sold as right smart stuff and presented with a high brow disdain for the vulgarity of action theatrics but it’s still genre thrills. For all its deadpan airs and graces it’s all quite silly and everything’s resolved terribly , terribly conveniently; largely through bad people just deciding to suddenly start telling the truth because Bill Nighy is a nice man who is kind to children and people who aren’t as edjumacated as what he is. Compassion is contagious, on Television at least. And why not; even Guardian readers need to believe everything's okay every now and again. Much like the second outing in the children’s entertainment trilogy Star Wars this episode ends on a low note, with Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter going on the run and living from day to day and from hand to mouth. The trailer for the concluding episode (Salting the Battlefield; Thursday 27th March 2014) shows our dispossessed pair somewhere like Scotland drinking lattes. I guess for Helena Bonham Carter that is actually probably akin to living like a hunted animal. Only a dizzy don would mistake Turks and Caicos for high art or anything but it is intelligently written, its heart is in the right place and the acting by all (by both known and unknown) is a pleasure in and of itself. As TV goes it was GOOD! Turns out we elderly liberals like a good revenge fantasy as much as the next person; go for his lying eyes Bill Nighy!

This post has been restored following its deletion by persons unnamed and so may not reflect your memory of it exactly.

All over the map: Hibbs' 11/7

Comics, TV, and a movie, after the jump.

Comics, first? OK with me!


FUCK ALAN MOORE BEFORE WATCHMEN: MOLOCH #1: Much like MINUTEMEN, this would be one of the FAMBW books that I was at least curious about -- we don't really know a lot about Moloch, and he's arguably a principal... well, "catalyst", at least, if not "character". And I was hopeful because, hell, Eduardo Risso is drawing it, and that cat can fuckin' draw, y'know? Sadly, though, it has all the subtlety of any other comic that J. Michael Straczynski has written recently, that is: slim-to-none, and the result is just a cliched horrible mess -- Moloch's bad because he's ugly (no explanation for the bat ears is given), and because all women are horrible predatory whores. Yay!

Even Better is how this was hastily solicited to fill in a massive scheduling hole, where, suddenly, they seem to have lost an entire month's worth of FAMBW titles -- going from weekly to skipping five week's worth of issues is a kick in the gut on momentum on this series which was pretty strongly selling to a specific group of customers who are buying the entire project (not specific minis, like I thought in advance) -- well, damn, it makes DC suddenly look like Marvel in terms of schedule.

Either way, I know this isn't aimed at me, but we continue with "Exceptionally pretty, but emotionally bankrupt", which the closest on the Critic scale is, I think, EH.


DEADPOOL #1:  Brian Posehn (!), Gerry Duggan, and Tony Moore do the Marvel NOW! relaunch of  "the Merc with the mouth", and he's pretty much a character that I've never really cared one teensy bit about ever -- to the point where I don't believe (from the tags) that we've ever once reviewed a straight Deadpool comic on the site ever! -- and, hey, guess what, I thought it was reasonably entertaining! I can't say I'd personally add it to my monthly reading stack, but there was some charm and wisecracking, and an imaginatively funny series of antagonists, and it's almost certainly modestly GOOD.

What's funny for me, as a retailer guy, is just how much better this is selling right now then the next book (about 250% of that figure), as well as outselling it's previous incarnation, handily (for now at least) -- I went long on this #1, chasing that fat 70% discount, and I'm confident they'll eventually go (week 15, or 16, I'm guessing), while the next book I can already tell I'll never ever sell them all. *sigh*


IRON MAN #1: is that next book, and, in many significant ways for this retailer, my real litmus test for the commercial viability of MarvelNOW! as a branding exercise for Marvel.

I'm sure that in a month or two I'll write a post-mortum on the launches for TILTING AT WINDMILLS, but going into this my feeling was that Marvel comics are a significantly more popular "brand" than DC, and have a MUCH larger number of "lapsed" readers. The "New 52" launch succeeded by any dream of avarice I might have had, where even books where it was clear that they WOULD be cancelled within a year (HAWK & DOVE, anyone?) still sold 70-80% more copies than I ever thought they possibly could have, and the "big books" totally dominated fourth quarter sales charts.

Now, to me, IRON MAN is the modern quintessential Marvel comic -- two hit movies, lead role in the AVENGERS film, can't HELP but benefit from a big wide "push". DC reboots sold like 500%+ their previous issues, I didn't feel at all shaky going 300% of "current" IM sales, scored the extra discount on the first issue, at least (as I did with most, but not all, NOW! books)

So far? I've sold precisely one FEWER copy of #1 than I have of #522 in the same time period (day #6). Uh? What? The? Fuck? Again: I'm sure that will pick up eventually, but, damn, that's the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.

The big problem is that I can't actually push the comic very hard on the strength of its contents -- I'm no real fan of Greg Land's stiff-and-lightboxed art, and Kieron Gillan's script, despite being one of the "Yeah, that makes sense!" names attached to NOW!, gives us a story whose premise is essentially that of "Armor Wars". I've read "Armor Wars". God help me, I've even read "Armor Wars II", this isn't what I want to read as the Big Relaunch.

I mean, it isn't terrible, or anything, but it's also not much better than OK, and for a $4 asking price, am I really going to suggest people buy this over, say, STUMPTOWN or even the next book, this week? Yeah, didn't think so.

This week is going to be the real test of it, I think (with 6 NOW! books), but I'm starting to feel like MarvelNOW! is going to be as big of a miss as New52 was a hit, and that's truly terrifying if that's playing out in the rest of the world the same way.


DIAL H #6: A beautiful, beautiful done-in-one story essentially ruminating on the stupidity and banality of some characters, and just how hard it is to "fight crime", and the real selling point for me was that the issue was drawn by David Lapham, who, of course, isn't even cover billed. Yeah, this was a truly great issue of this series -- I thought it was VERY GOOD.


How about some TV? Sure, can do!


ARROW: much to my disconcertion and surprise, I thought this was kind of non-shitty.  I was expecting more "Smallville" (ew), but instead it's kind of about as close to "Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters" (well, or more properly, the monthly book by Grell & Hannigan just AFTER that mini-series) as you're likely to find -- there's a structured mystery, and plan, and it seems like it is playing out alright, and while it's a version of Green Arrow from Earth-TV (Speedy is his sister, Deathstroke is some sort of army torturer, or something, the probably-some-day Black Canary is named "Laurel", rather than "Dinah", so on, so forth) it has an interesting continuing flashback structure -- yeah, I don't love it (I'd never have watched it if I didn't own a comic book store), but I like it very fine. Marc Guggenheim has managed to make a very solid little weekly vigilante TV show.

Two notes: first: man, the budget on this thing seems loooooow, to me -- they're constantly setting scenes in "night clubs" which are fairly clearly a soundstage, with a curtain hanging in the background with colored lights playing against it, and like two silhouettes dancing behind it -- yet they sell it pretty damn well.

Second: this Arrow (oddly called "hood" by most characters IN the show) is a STRAIGHT-UP killer. Some episodes the body counts top a score. And it's all very kind of sub-rosa -- I mean, yes, the cops are after him, but one gets the sense it's more from being a vigilante, rather than being a KILLER vigilante. You'd think that "Laurel", as written, would be appalled by Arrow's actions, but, yeah, kind of not.  It is odd.

Anyway, I think this show is watchable, and surprisingly OK.


THE WALKING DEAD: So far, season 3 has been going swimmingly (I'm a week behind, I think?) -- this has been going breakneck speed, and shock follows shock pretty much every week. What I'm liking the best is that all of the same pieces are in play from the comic, but things come in different order, at different times that you can't really second guess it much. I mean, clearly, we have the prison, we have the Governor, but other than that, "anything can happen". I'm finding this a real thrill this season, and some of the acting this go round is getting downright good -- especially a recent reaction to something that happened involving Rick -- that was some raw-ass human emotion there. This really has been VERY GOOD, with only memories of the first "half" of Season 2 keeping me from wholly embracing it.


What, and a film, too? Sure! (though this has to go faster than I thought, since I just got the call that the truck with this week's comics will be here in a few minutes!)


SKYFALL: The latest James bond film was, I thought, one of the better ones -- it's actually ABOUT something, and when viewed with CASINO ROYALE (skip out on QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I think), it really projects a lot of new possibilities for the character -- but the last act of the film, while emotionally connective, was almost terrifyingly "small" in scope and range for a Bond movie, where you expect it to get bigger and bigger and ludicrous.  There's a crazy villain, however, and bi-sexual flirting (!), and a surprising denouement there at the end, and it even had what I thought were the best credit sequence of the entire series (seriously, it was almost entirely nude woman free, AND relevant to the actual movie, for once). You have to go far to beat MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in my heart (and SPY WHO LOVED ME / MOONRAKER in my memory, though, watching those again with Ben, I didn't care for either much), and this didn't beat those heights, but, yeah, I thought it was terrific and thoughtful in most ways. It's a very strong GOOD.


Whew! Gotta bounce! How about you? What did YOU think?



NOT-COMICS: Why Abhay Loves The Shadow Line, and Why You Should Too.

This is about a television show sorta in the crime-conspiracy thriller genre, that aired on the BBC between May 5, 2011 to June 16, 2011. For those of you who do not have access to the BBC, this may not be helpful for you unless you're one of those people who somehow watch television shows from other countries on some sort of magical appliance found in your home and/or office, and do not have any moral qualm in using said appliance to do so.

* * *

First, let me start by saying Gatehouse.

I am going to try not to spoil THE SHADOW LINE, but it's going to be very difficult for me not to. Here's the most non-spoiler-y bit I can do: I absolutely LOVED the SHADOW LINE, and you might too. After I'd finished watching, I spent a night doing nothing else but writing emails to a wide variety of people I've known in my life, and begged them-- begged them-- to watch it.

This is me writing to you. I recommend you stop here and just go watch it as fresh as possible-- it's only 7 episodes, it's summertime, why spoil any bit of a mystery show for yourself-- why not watch it completely unspoiled, and there ain't barely shit else on TV...


THE SHADOW LINE starts with a simple high-concept premise: a mobster has been murdered, and both the police and his fellow mobsters begin to investigate whodunit. Chiwetel Ejiofor investigates on behalf of the police; Christopher Eccleston investigates on behalf of the gangsters.

But: THE SHADOW LINE is not a mystery show.

What is it? Well, for starters, due warning-- it is SLOW. It takes its time, with every single scene, starting right from the opening scene where two beyond-minor characters spend nearly SEVEN minutes standing over a dead body, talking. Seven minutes is an exceptionally long time for a television show to spend on any one scene-- that it's spent with two total non-entities announces THE SHADOW LINE's intentions from the start: the show will be moving at its own pace; it will sometimes be cryptic; it will not be following the "rules." Everything will be careful and deliberate-- oh, but with one exception. The violence. There are moments of violence in the show that will happen before you're ready for them, and will be over before you completely processed what you're seeing-- maybe too much like life.

If I had to describe the experience of watching THE SHADOW LINE, the description I would use is "dawning horror." The sometimes of it (not every time but at least sometimes...): I wouldn't always understand what was going on at first, until slowly, slowly, slowly, oh no, oh no, and... finally WHAM. (Well: way more than one WHAM on some of these episodes).

It's got cops, it's got gangsters, but for me...? It's a horror show.

"I imagined Edward Hopper painting a crimescene."

-- THE SHADOW LINE creator Hugo Blick.

The mistake I've seen in other reviews is to compare the SHADOW LINE to THE WIRE. "Cops, gangsters-- got it, THE WIRE." No. No. The reason THE WIRE was the best show of all time (and I'm one of the people for who it is)... Watching THE WIRE, I never have any doubt that it's showing me a very accurate depiction of how a segment of the world actually operates.  THE WIRE was set in a world crafted by journalists, motivated to explain the world they'd reported on to the audience. And even if you disagree with what THE WIRE was saying, for me, it's just been a helpful show. When numbers are cited by officials, when politicians point to this index or that, I understand what's happening in a different way having seen THE WIRE, and I think better way thanks especially to the idea from THE WIRE of "juking the stats." (Heck: even comics-- what are crossovers and spoilers in newspapers and Deaths of Fake Spidermans but juking the stats?). THE WIRE has a villain and that villian was institutions, bureaucracy.

That is not THE SHADOW LINE because THE SHADOW LINE is not trying to be journalistic, it is not trying to accurately capture a sample of world for its audience's edification, and its lessons are not "helpful"-- they're not lessons at all, more warnings, omens, sighs of resignation.  No, for me, it's a horror show, just one without vampires or zombies or Jim Belushi. It's more like the worst kind of nightmare-- the kind that seems real. Our lives are slow, and the show is slow, so you want to believe what's happening is "realistic"-- but what's real slips away little by little with THE SHADOW LINE, and everything becomes menace, decay, disease, death.  Lots of that last one.

There's this constant poetry to everything in the show: drug dealers hide their drugs in flowers, the lead detective has a name like Jonah Gabriel on him, Satan himself is dressed like a "fucking vicar," etc., etc. To miss that poetry is to not have seen the show-- which was the case with some negative reviews the show got, from reviewers applying criteria of how much the show matched their dull reality, a criteria that I think the show itself didn't invite and isn't the right frame to place around it.  (Uh: it got good ones too; opinions have varied). But it's an easy error because the monster of the show-- and I very much use the word monster instead of villain on purpose to distinguish it from THE WIRE... That monster is very real and very much a part of our world-- the monster is corruption.

This image flitted around the internet the other day. That's about all that happens, though-- images float around, temporarily. Oh, I had another thing I liked, an article called "Why Cops Aren't Whistleblowers." Here's the story: a DEA agent gets into a car accident with another man, so he beats him to the point of having brain-damage. So the Kansas City PD does their very best to cover it up-- except for one cop, who refuses to go along with the cover-up, Max Seifert. What happens next? Max Seifert is forced to take early retirement, loses his pension and loses his retirement health insurance. How about the cops involved in the cover-up (at least according to this article)?

  • Ronald Miller, Kansas City’s police chief, is now the police chief in Topeka.
  • Steven Culp, then Kansas City’s deputy police chief, is now executive director of the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training.
  • Officer Robert Lane was a councilman for the town of Edwardsville-- well, until he got convicted of participating in a ticket-fixing scheme.

Bad guys win; good guys lose; evil will prevail, and trying to pretend otherwise is either a sucker's bet or a con.  When in doubt, do the wrong thing and prosper.  Every character in THE SHADOW LINE-- cop, journalist, gangster, mother, whoever-- all of them are tested by corruption; all of them try their damnedest to find a different way to live in a corrupt world.  Aww, man, and the show's answer to the whodunit is so perfectly attuned to that-- I don't want to spoil it, but... It's a show that just invites unpacking for me days later-- "Oh, when that guy said THAT, he didn't realize that meant he ALSO shouldn't have trusted SO-AND-SO, and ho'damn."

So many small lines pay-off, so many of the themes work themselves out in so many different little ways in an episode. The terrible bits of getting old, the value of truth (and rarity thereof), generational conflict, the intersection of work and morality... The actual plotty-crime bits get lost in all of these big themes sometimes. Honestly, there are parts of the plot I couldn't possibly hope to explain to anyone, that I totally don't understand-- big mysteries of the show, even. There's a couple very jolting ellipses in the final episode in particular that I had to stop and rewind for. But I guess I was a very sympathetic audience to the show's themes, and didn't really care about those particular details by that point...

(Though the show did have one thing that grated incredibly, of at least one character saying the words "The Shadow Line" out loud...?  I hate when a character in a movie says the title of the movie out loud.  I always just want them to turn to the camera and scream "Get it?  GET IT?"  So lame!)

"If there is one thing that I constantly revisit, it's isolation. And how obsession becomes about heroism, and how questionable that heroism can be."

-- creator Hugo Blick.

It's a very writer-y show-- long, long fuck-off long dialogue scenes,  5 zillion minor characters, and my favorite-- slow "let's just watch these methodical characters do horrible things in a very methodical way" scenes. (If you don't love that first half hour of HARD EIGHT or heist movies or the bits of Joe Mantegna explaining a con in HOUSE OF GAMES, Ed O'Neill's scene in THE SPANISH PRISONER, you may not get the same charge out of that kind of thing that I do but... I love that kinda "here's how you do the wrong thing in step-by-step detail" shit).

But I should also note what a goddamn fun cast this show has. Chris Eccleston, always so likeable though I couldn't say what it is that he does that makes him that way, exactly;  Rafe Spall, chewing scenery like he's competing with Heath Ledger-- a lot of fun, Spall; Chiwetel Ejiofor, with big passionate monologues; and oh, Stephen Rae, oh man! Also: the show is damn pretty, in that way that it's still weird to me how pretty TV can be now, and... and...

"It starts as a police procedural, quite quickly gets rid of that - our interest was not of the police side - it quickly develops into a crime drama and then it evolves further into a spy thriller or a conspiracy thriller. It's constantly changing and the tools we use to keep the audience's attention with gripping ideas change as well. It wasn't something where we just said, this is a crime thriller."

-- creator Hugo Blick.

And I just really, really enjoyed it so... Look: I may be overstating my case-- I've maybe overhyped and oversold this show.  It's not the best show I've ever seen or anything-- THE WIRE is still THE WIRE, the king stays the king, and there are other shows I care about more.  It's got its negatives-- some lines of dialogue truly land with a thud; at least one action sequence is from an entirely different universe than the rest of the show; there's one actor I didn't particularly like much.  THE SHADOW LINE is a show that sometimes is so ... so into what it's doing that ... There are moments where I maybe would just have to smile at how big and gaudy and ostentatious and portentious it was all getting. But oh, there were enough moments that wiped that grin right the fuck off my face that I wanted to write this. Look: my precious, precious MAD MEN's not on, and I just haven't gotten into your HBO/AMC shows about witches on broomsticks and skeksis and whatever else you guys are into now.  I tend to be very comedy oriented when I watch TV, so I haven't watched a good drama series in a while-- so I maybe reacted strongly to this in a way that people who have been consuming a steadier diet of television drama than I have wouldn't get. But... it just really, really hit with me, so here's me recommending something as my pudgy little fingers can recommend something, I guess.

(NOTE:  if you haven't seen the show and any of this has been convincing to you, please don't read the comment section, in case anyone puts anything in there that spoils the show for you anymore than I already have. It's a suspense thriller show-- please don't ruin that for yourself-- I would hate to think that I somehow would be responsible for that. I will delete any comment that seems too spoiler-y-- I totally will do that-- but I'm not by a computer 24 hours a day. Please be careful).

Thus, in conclusion, and as a final point, Gatehouse.

Geeks on Film

I'll get back to print in the next day or so, but I wanted to dive into a few things-on-film for a moment.  

(I quite imagine there will be SPOILERS here, so be careful, kiddo!)


THOR: Saw an advance screening on Saturday morning (10 am, what an odd time for a preview screening!), and yeah, pretty decent film. My reaction could possibly be the result of low expectations -- I mean, seriously, did anyone ever think there could possibly be a Thor movie based on the comic, prior to 3-5 years ago? Let alone a good one?


It largely kept my attention, and it has some astonishing design on display -- I particularly liked their interpretation of the Rainbow bridge -- but while it won't win an Oscar or anything, it will keep you chewing through your popcorn just fine. I'll call it an easy GOOD.


It has problems, to be sure. For the first thing, I couldn't figure out Loki or his motivations AT ALL. Loki *should* be the master trickster and manipulator, but as on display here he was far more capricious than clever, actually telling his family about his betrayals, rather than playing it off. Plus the denouement was a PHYSICAL FIGHT between Loki and Thor which is... well, that's just stupid, isn't it?


I also think that most of the earth-based stuff really didn't work -- part of that stemming from the SHIELD-centric nature of the earth stuff, part of that from giving Jane Foster a comedy-intended sidekick -- but mostly going off the Odin arc.


Odin, as we all know, sends Thor to earth to learn humility. In the comic, Odin does so by binding Thor to a mortal man, where here he just depowers Thor entirely. The thing of it is, when Thor eventually regains his powers, I can't see HOW he learned humility? There's a thing that happens that I think is meant to be "ultimate humility", but it really isn't. Let's try this for a strained metaphor: it's like I take you to a batting cage, but put you in handcuffs. Yes, sure, you will then learn "I need to use my arms in order to hit a ball", but you still aren't even a single step closer to learn HOW to hit a ball.


Then there's the whole Big Kiss at the end, and, again, I was thinking "where the hell did THAT come from?" -- it's not like there's ANY reason for Thor to be majorly into Jane like that was presented on the screen. And, anyway, he should have a thing for Lady Sif, shouldn't he?


I mean, I guess if felt to me like the movie was still getting rewritten up to the very moment they shot it, or something. Or maybe a bunch of stuff ended up on the cutting room floor, or something? If you know the story that already exists, in terms of Loki's motivations, Odin's or Jane's actions, whatever, then you see that they "got to where they should be", but what's ACTUALLY UP ON THE SCREEN doesn't really support any of that happening.


I also thought it a smidge unusual that there was much taken from THE ULTIMATES, rather than Stan & Jack proper -- particularly  that interrogation sequence, and the implication that Thor is just nuts (except that the audience, in this case, KNOWS he's who he says he is, so it kinda doesn't work), and the look of "Hawkeye" (who I don't think is actually called that in the film -- just "Barton")


But despite all of that, I still liked it fine -- and seven year old Ben who I was with proclaimed it EXCELLENT! which is maybe all that matters?


Last note: because of the preview nature, and wanting to sit in our 4-person group, rather than scattering in the theater, we ended up in the first row, which is normally just fine, but in this case, made the 3-D nearly unwatchable. It was 100% fine in any dialogue scene, but once things switched to heavy action, with shaky zooming cameras and all of that usual modern film trickery, it was nearly impossible to tell at all what was going on. I imagine it was better if you were in the "sweet spot" of the middle of the theater, but, based on my experience, I absolutely suggest trying to find a non-3-D showing.



BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: Not any particular episode, really, but this whole new season has been pretty batshit insane, so far. Absolutely embracing the Morrison-thought that every Batman story is true, we've had utter insanity like adaptations of the Bat-Manga, Bat-Boy and Rubin, and Scooby Doo team-ups; we've had a joker-POV episode (including changing the opening titles to be "The Joker: The Vile and the Villainous") where, among other things, he entirely explodes Kamandi's future; we've had mummy-Batman, and Aqua-Batman, and a really really fucked up episode where Batman becomes a Vampire and kills all of the JLA; hell we've even had an episode with (cowboy) Vigilante breaking out a git-tar and singing about the legend of the blue and the gray.


This show is OFF THE CHARTS CRAZY, and in an utterly great way. I'm horrifically disturbed it hasn't been picked up for more, because this is everything you want in a Batman cartoon (that isn't TAS) -- this is KITCHEN SINK BATMAN. I truly hope they put out a complete series boxed set at some point, because this is just way too good of a show to not preserve. I love this show, and will give it an overall EXCELLENT rating.



A GAME OF THRONES: I love love love love love the books (even if I'm afeared JJM is going to croak before he finishes all seven), which I would liken to the same kind of thril you get from WALKING DEAD -- that is, NO CHARACTER, even the leads, ARE NOT SAFE, and the most crazy fucked up shit happens to these people. I was pretty nervous about the show, but, so far (I've seen the first two), I'm thinking its doing a really good of adaptation of the books.  Adaptations are always hard, and usually butchered, but they got the gist pretty close here.


If you've seen the show, but not read the books, then I really urge you to pick up the books; and if you've done neither, then, yeah, pick up the books. EXCELLENT stuff there.


I'll give the show a VERY GOOD, mostly because I don't care for how they framed a few shots (the finding of the direwolves was pretty weak), and I'm largely unsure if the actress playing Daenerys has half of the chops needed to make it work -- her thread in the novels is my favorite, and so far my lest favorite in the TV show. Peter Dinklage is AWESOME as Tyrion, though.



ACTION #900: I'm putting this in the "television" column mostly because of the crazy coverage the news media put on this. When I read the comic (before the story of Superman's citizenship broke) I thought "Man, is that a poorly phrased way of putting that" because OF COURSE Superman isn't a US Citizen -- he's a citizen of the world, and always has been.


SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, anyone? Here: from wikiquotes:

***** Superman: Madam Chairman, I don't represent any one particular country, but I'd like to address the delegates. U.N. Chairwoman: Well, in that case, you will need a sponsor. [ALL delegates raise their hands] I believe that will do. Please.


Superman is not an American, per se, and hasn't been for at least 24 years (and I'm certain I've read 60s era comics espousing the same principle, so probably more like 40+ years)


Either way, "Superman" couldn't possibly be a citizen of anything -- it's an assumed name!


Anyway, what did YOU think?



Away from the Shop #3: Jeff Talks Inception, Golgo 13, and (Mostly) Non-Comics

Here's another post from me about stuff I have not picked up at the comic book shop recently: a movie, an album, a dvd, and a TV series.  (Man, there's got to be a way I can wrangle a video game review in here, too.)  Since I recently spent over two thousand words writing about two comic books, I tried to make this quick, but...well, blabbity-blab happens, you know? (Blabbity-blab behind the cut.)

INCEPTION:  I'm from the icy formalist school myself, so it's not surprising I dug this. (Though I'm both surprised and pleased so many other audience members at my screening did as well.) Rather than bore you with any of my theories about the flick--I have a lot of 'em but I think they're well-covered pretty much everywhere else on the Net--I'll just mention how it's kind of a drag it took eleven years for someone to make a movie that feels like a legitimate response to The Matrix.  While everyone and their smaller-budgeted brother ripped off the bullet time, the tag lines, the soundtrack, and the fight scenes, this and Aaronofsky's The Fountain are the only movies I can think of that feel like they're engaging in a discussion with the Wachowski Brothers flick, or using that movie's underlying thematic concerns as a departure point for their own.


By contrast, I feel like I can sit down and watch Solaris, Silent Running, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Dark Star, good ol' apeshit Zardoz, Alien, and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and see where the filmmakers are using the ideas of 2001 as a touching-off point for their own speculations about human nature and how it will fit into the larger pattern of the cosmos.  And all of these films came out in the same span of time--eleven years--as that between The Matrix and Inception.

Maybe I'm leaving out tons of examples and god knows, it's not like The Matrix didn't leak, like a canister of toxic waste buried in somebody's backyard, into every corner of pop culture. But clearly, Nolan took up the challenge of an action-movie-that-continually-points-outside-its-own-frame and I don't think it's just because he was the only one who wanted to do so--it was because he'd just made Warner Brothers a stupendous shitload of money and he had a highly bankable star that wanted to be in it...and the number of people in that particular position are very, very small.  Hollywood is now the kind of place where dozens of iterations can be squeezed out but none of those iterations can really comment on one another and I don't know why.  Is it because they're not so much variations on a theme as they are a bunch of people trying to rip off the same tune, and I guess commenting on a theme would be tacky?

Or maybe I'm old and really unable to think of good examples. I dunno. Anyway, I quite liked the flick:  seeing it and reading Scott Pilgrim v6 within 48 hours of each other gave me a very optimistic feeling about the state of nerd culture 2010 overall.


GOLGO 13 v1 DVD: You might remember me going on and on about each of Viz's "best of" collection that gave us a handful of adventures of Taiko Saito's tight-lipped assassin.  So it's not surprising that once I found out about this thirteen episode collection of a 2008 series by animation company Tokyo TV, I was all over it.

What is surprising is that I found out about it at all:  if I hadn't added the RSS feed for Japanator on an impulse two weeks before the press release, I never would've known. And once I did find out, that didn't help me much: the distributor Section23 films has had this as their incredibly unhelpful website for some time now. (Sometimes I think we should classify entertainment media the way we classify stars--anime is teetering right on the edge of brown dwarf status in this country, capable of keeping objects in its orbit but not emitting anything like visible light.) Instead of just forgetting about the DVD set after getting nothing but the same press releases over and over, I eventually realized I could pre-order a copy from Amazon.

So. This DVD set.  It's two bare-bone discs, the animation is cheap-bordering-on-shoddy, and the voice cast is decent but overworked. (Here's a tip for voiceover directors: if in the course of thirteen episodes, you let a voice actor do his Jimmy Stewart imitation for two entirely different characters? They are being overworked.) It's a little pricey, considering what you get.

And yet, that said, you'd have to hire an emotionless Japanese sniper to shoot this collection out of my hands. Each episode is brief, between 22 to 25 minutes tops, but from what  I can tell the stories are compact, faithful adaptations of classic Golgo 13 manga stories.  In fact, the very second episode in the set, Room No. 909, is an adaptation of "The Impossible Hit," the very first Golgo 13 story I ever read, hot on the heels of playing the awesome Nintendo game.


(And Jesus, if either of those two links ring a bell and you haven't read it already, check out Jog's amazing two part look at the character and his infiltration of America that the big J wrote back Two Thousand and fucking Five. As always, Jog is on the money, to the point where his idle speculations as to what stories might be adapted for this series are, if the coming attractions at the end of this set are anything to go by, very likely dead-on.)

Golgo 13 stories can go several different ways, and the time limitations on each episode here keep them away from the densely researched, ultra-wonk political stories (that ended up in the print collection) and keep them focused on more basic "who's Golgo got to kill now/how's he gonna do it" with a special emphasis on the "...and how is he gonna get away with it?" episodes.  I'm a big fan of the latter, probably because "The Impossible Hit" is just such a story--a savvy investigator realizes G-13 is the assassin he's after but he has only has so much time to prove it.  Three of the thirteen episodes on this disc are variations of this story and I found each one utterly satisfying. Golgo 13 is less like James Bond (although that's clearly a huge piece of his inspiration) and more like Batman--he's always prepared and he always wins--and the satisfaction of the story comes from seeing how, exactly, he's going to win even as the odds pile up against him.

Unlike Batman, you never, ever get inside Golgo-13's head, even when you follow the character in a story from beginning to end.  He gives up nothing, has no affiliations other than professional. Since the Golgo 13 series was created for, and avidly read by, Japanese salarymen, it's not hard to see G-13 as a specific idealized fantasy of the Japanese businessman--in this set, the template for each episode usually has the character fly somewhere (jumbo jets are to Golgo-13 what rain-slickened gargoyles are to Batman), get offered millions of dollars and begged for his services, dispatch his job with calm detachment, and then fly away after sticking it to the dudes at customs. (Because the episodes run a little tight, there's not always time to have him meet a woman and immediately bed her, but the producers are sensible enough to put that scenario in both the opening and ending credit scenarios.)  When put like that, it's pretty easy to see why Golgo 13 is so appealing to his target demographic. It's also pretty hard to see why any of the rest of us wouldn't find his stories unbelievably dull.

But they're not dull, for two reasons: first, the amount of research and funky technical twists give each story little surprises for the reader outside of the fomula. Second--and maybe this is really why Golgo 13 works for me, as opposed to Jog or Tim Leong or somebody--Golgo 13 is so devoid of personality, it's easier to see him as a force of nature or, more precisely, as the personification of death.  G-13 is like Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men--a hit man, a foreigner, a bit odd, and a few steps ahead of everyone.  If a half-hour TV show where you'd watch Anton Chigurh bump off somebody new each week sounds pleasingly perverse to you, then you get a fraction of the appeal this set holds for me.

Golgo also reminds me a bit of Michael Myers from John Carpenter's Halloween, which was refreshingly free of the teen morality of slasher films that followed in its wake. In Halloween, Michael Myers becomes obsessed with Laurie Strode just because he sees her at his old house.  All that shit that goes on to happen to her happens only because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  (That's also the reason for everything that happens in Assault on Precinct 13, which I also love.)  A few episodes on this disc pick another standard direction for a G-13 story--the person who hires Golgo 13 for a hit but tries to cheat him in some way--but that's as close as the stories get to a traditional "poetic justice" angle.  Really, the "point" of a G-13 story, again and again, is that Golgo 13 always kills somebody, whether they deserve it or not, and then gets away with it. Part of the stories' dramatic tension come from their continual bucking of the traditional "and in the end, the good guys win or at least justice is served" arc common in most of our pop culture.

In this way, good ol' Golgo 13 embodies the Nietzschean conception of the übermensch in a lot of different ways--he really is beyond good and evil--and so is a certain kind of boogie man for middle-aged guys like me (and maybe those Japanese salarymen) who've spent the majority of our lives coloring within the lines. Just as horny teens find some relief in having a masked figurant uphold and avenge their childish puritanism and sexual squeamishness by jamming a pitchfork through a couple rutting in a tool shed, so too does Golgo 13 offer guys like me a world outside morality without the accompanying terror of total nihilism


Anyway, if that's the kind of thing you like to think about while people get neat little bullet holes right in the center of their forehead, this is the anime set for you. The Anime Network has the first episode up for non-subscribers to watch (probably U.S. only), although I should warn you it's not my favorite. (In fact, it's probably my least favorite, after the one with the mafia mistress.) But it'll give you a little bit of the flavor.  Believe me though, the one where Golgo 13 has to commit the hit in a crowded stadium filled with police and somehow get away, or the one where a counter-sniper is hired to prevent his hit, or the violin string episode, are much, much better.  GOOD stuff.

WEEDS, SEASONS 1-4: Edi and I had the first two seasons lent to us and figured, ehh, why not?  (I've already resigned myself to going to my grave before she gives the thumb's-up on Deadwood.) This show drives me crazy because it is madly uneven--I don't think ever watched a show that could deliver so many interesting little bits of character and nuance and then just flush it all away with a flat bit of stupid shtick--and kinda crazily ambitious:  there are eight core characters, jammed into episodes that run under half an hour.  (The first season, in fact, has episodes that average 22 minutes, which is just insane with a cast like that.)

What I thought was cool about the first half of the first season is how its set-up mirrors the superhero template perfectly:  newly widowed mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) turns to dealing pot as a way to keep her and her kids in the expensive sheltered community of Agrestic, and her attempts to balance her secret identity as a pot dealer and her life as a full-time mom/member of the community is very much in the Peter Parker/Clark Kent vein. Fortunately, we don't get an origin story for *how* Nancy gets into pot dealing, so the show starts at a spry clip. And underneath all the light quick-moving scenes is a really terrific performance from Parker, who manages to make the contradictions of the character work--the first season is at its best when it seems to be a portrait of someone processing grief in very odd ways, someone more likely to laugh in shock rather than cry and possibly driven by guilt to manufacture her own self-destruction.

Spider-Man as a middle-aged drug dealing mom?  I'd watch the shit out of that.  Unfortunately, the show not only burns through the secret identity thing pretty quickly--I think nearly everyone knows what she's up to two-thirds of the way through the first season--it also ditches any of the ideas it sets up about the suffocating existence of life in a suburban community where everyone needs to have a private life, whether they want one or not. The rest of the season spends as much if not more time with Elizabeth Perkins' character  and her plight (she's a controlling ultra-bitch who gets cancer) that feels like Jenji Kohan, the show's creator, never expected to get her pilot approved and had to recycle material from her old ultra-bitch-mom-gets-cancer  screenplay.

Additionally, as the seasons go on, the creators decide toy with darker and darker comedy with shakier and shakier results--rather than using Weeds as a light empowerment fantasy, the show insists on having Nancy come up against harsher and harsher realities of the drug trade which would be fine if: (a) those realities didn't always end up turning into goofy fantasies themselves; and (b) if Nancy had more to bring to the game than her beauty and sexuality. I'm a little disturbed and bummed that a show created by a woman with a female protagonist has that protagonist get out of most of her problems by turning most of her enemies into gooey, protective doofuses if she just gets the chance to blink her big doe eyes at them for long enough.  (And I won't spoil the fourth season finale for you, but let's just say it takes that concept one unfortunate step further.)  It reminds me of the problem I'm having with the Buffy Season Eight Twilight story (the last time I checked in on it) where the fate of humanity appears to hinge on who Buffy chooses as a mate.  We have more genuine opportunities for female heroes and protagonists than ever before, but for some reason their ultimate destinies keep leading right back to their ovaries.  It bums me out.

PLASTIC BEACH: I only downloaded this recently so admittedly I'm at the height of my love affair with this album--not only is it a concept album, it's a concept album that's a sequel to another concept album, the Gorillaz' previous release, Demon Days.  Maybe there's someone else who's done that and succeeded (I'm sure someone will try to tell me either The Kinks or The Who in which case I should just say now:  No.) but it's news to me.

The thing I appreciate is Demon Days, also a fave of mine, did a pretty good job in its fabular, conceptual way, of pointing out what an amazingly good job our culture has done of flushing the world down the toilet.  Plastic Beach actually has the courage to not let that be the last word on the subject, and return to a trash-filled, culture-strangled world and see what's left--unsurprisingly, the first third of the album is mostly hip-hop and frontman/producer Damon Albarn crooning about how his love's eyes are like "factories far away." The plastic beach is both literal--all the trash and detritus threatening to choke the world--and figurative, pop culture itself, of which Albarn & Co. are aware of themselves as  producers and consumers ("Superfast Jellyfish" is this stellar song about the crap passed off as instant food but also about the crap of instant culture.)


But the most amazing thing about Plastic Beach--well, right after "Some Kind of Nature," that somehow works as both a terrific Lou Reed song and a terrific Gorillaz song--is that Albarn doesn't leave things bleak.  The album ends on a note that has faith in nature to evolve and process all the plastic, to find a new way to live and grow.  Unlike Demon Days, where I'd finish each listen of the album nodding my head to the music and depressed as hell, Plastic Beach gives me something like hope, and not in the pre-packaged easy-to-unwrap way.  It feels like something that's been earned, by both the people making the music and the people listening to it, and that's an achievement that feels way too rare these days.

Reviews? What are those? Hibbs Hibbses On

Let's start with TV! Hm, I think I'm going to go on and on and on, so let's hide it behind a jump to keep the "front page" cleanish...

LOST: "The End":

So, yeah, I was pretty unhappy with the end of LOST.

It's not that every metaphysical question didn't get answered -- I no more needed to know what the island "was" that I needed to know what was in Marcus' briefcase in PULP FICTION. A McGuffin can certainly be a McGuffin. I'm cool with, say, not telling us how the OtherMother got on the island or shit like that, because that's sort of beyond the point.

But there were a few mysteries that needed to be revealed in a lot clearer than they were -- mysteries central to previous seasons like "what was up with Fertility on the Island?" or "Why was Walt 'special' and what did that mean anyhow?" and "Yeah, while I get that Dharma was 'exploring the island' or whatever, why did they build the things they did in the manner in which they did?" -- I'm thinking of shit like the 108 minute timer flipping over to hieroglyphics at the end. WHY did that kind of shit happen? because those aren't Mysteries of God, they are Mysteries of Men.

I'm also OK with some relatively ambiguous things that can spawn further questions -- like given that Jack was sprawled out like (the unnamed bother) after encountering The Light, are we meant to infer that he becomes the new "smokey"?, that kind of thing. I like things that can make us ask questions about what it meant.

But I don't like having my time wasted; and I don't like sloppiness.

I commented several times this season to Matt in our weekly deconstructions at the store that I thought LOST was having a lot of problems this year with Needing a Second Draft. Individual scenes of dialogue, or conceptual underpinnings that were *almost* "there", but were off for one reason or another. One example might be Sun and Jin's final scene -- where neither of them even mention their child! A Second Draft would have helped immeasurably in fixing those kinds of glaring gaffes.

Ultimately this season was pretty half-baked -- close to half the run time of the season was devoted to the flashes to what we now know was (presumably far "future") Limbo, and it seemed like the first third of the year was devoted to such not-importants as The Temple and a bunch of characters who didn't actually have anything to do with the conclusion (including Widmore's people -- did Jacob have any point in getting them to the island, except to be slaughtered?)!

Ugh, and all of the slow-motion flashbacks in the finale -- by the second or third one I was horribly, horrifically sick of them, and they kept coming and coming between it seemed like every character, ugh!

When I watch a "mystery based" show, I want the "mystery" to be "fair" -- no, I'm probably not wired to solve it myself, but when there's an explanation, I want it to make sense, for me to go "Hah, yeah, right, that's perfect!"

But now I no longer think that TV can actually do that kind of novelistic twisty storytelling. I've been burned twice now in the conclusion -- and that's not counting the various shows along the way that started off, but never actually made it to the "conclusion" due to cancellation -- between this and BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA, and I'll be damned if I'll sit for it a third time.

Some people have said "Well, it's really about the characters!", which makes this ending even more kind of weak and maudlin -- like how is there any sacrifice or loss from Sun & Jin if they all go off happily ever after with everyone else?

Emotionally, the ending "worked", but not in the context of the shape of the season -- frankly, I think 2.5 hours of Nothing-But-Limbo *could* very well have worked as the Finale, and probably would have blown people's minds incredibly, but the long-slow build-up to Limbo all season long wasn't "playing fair" with the concepts of the show.

Here's the thing: The show wasn't suddenly canceled. They knew TWO YEARS (or was it three?) in advance that the ending was coming, and exactly when, so to take that kind of a weird non-sequitur swerve in the last season is not only cheap, but it's a frickin' cop-out.

I wanted explanation -- take "the rules" that Jacob and Smokey were operating under. How did that work? By this I mean: how was it that Jacob could, seemingly, freely leave the island, but Smokey couldn't? How could Jacob seemingly deflect the destinies of scores of people with a simple touch? When Jack becomes "just like me", there doesn't seem to be any kind of a importation of knowledge or power -- Jack is meandering around the island without any real clue, just guesses, about what is going on.

Why isn't there any conversation about what a horrific douche bag Jacob was? I mean, as I read it, he's brought at least one plane full of people (and, it is implied many many more) to the island, mostly to die in horrible and unhelpful ways. He's clearly lied to his most faithful lieutenants -- Richard and that Ilana chick, not to mention Locke. If Smokey had been forced to "stay in Christian's Body" how would have the ended parsed any differently? And, really, wouldn't it have been kind of thematically better with Jack's Daddy issues that would have happened? Jacob was pretty much wrong about everything -- in fact, Smokey HAD to manipulate the Losties to "turn off" the "Vending Machine" so that he COULD be defeated. That's pretty much the opposite of what Jacob was saying all along, isn't it?

I didn't actually think that they'd "get it right" in the end, but at least they could have tried a LITTLE harder -- and it really wouldn't have taken much. 15-20 minutes of exposition, maybe? Though, apparently there's going to be an "extra" 15-20 minutes on the DVD, which, sort of, pisses me off more than almost anything else -- that's a real "double dip" "FUCK YOU" to people who have already invested their time into this series.

But, like I said, I didn't really think they'd resolve it all in the end -- it was clear from the first couple of years that they were making shit up as they went along, and it is human nature to try to impose order on an irrational world. At least it wasn't QUITE as bad as BATTLESTAR where EVERY EPISODE said "they had a plan", and that "plan" turned out to be "A Wizard Did It". At least LOST never *promised* us some sort of rational resolution; we just inferred it.

I resent that 120-ish hours of my life were "wasted" with this show. While I "enjoyed" the ride, that enjoyment as predicated on it meaning something, anything, and in the end, it didn't.

LOST was, as the Bard would put it, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

And that makes it CRAP, sorry.

Because A Wizard Did It.


What about comics, then?

Some quick and nasty thoughts on recent stuff (because I seem to have shot most of my wad above)

From last week:

AGE OF HEROES #1 and ENTER THE HEROIC AGE #1: Mostly these seem to me to be Blatant Cash Grabs trading off to whatever Good Will you might possibly have to SIEGE or the AVENGERS relaunches (do you have any?) -- AGE OF HEROES is sort of 2/3rds CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE, focusing on DOCTOR VOODOO and CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13, if you were desperate for some sort of Coda to those two series, with a one-page filler Spidey story and what I thought was a really misguided misfire of a JJJ tale -- JJJ isn't a power-mad opportunist, is he? I always thought he'd do ANYthing to sell papers, but not because he wanted to exploit tragedy. ENTER THE HEROIC AGE is a semi "issue #0" intro to the new Status Quos of ATLAS, THUNDERBOLTS, AVENGERS ACADEMY and so on.

Neither one was bad, per se, but at $4 a throw, I need more than "not bad" -- and these were pretty EH

ATLAS #1: I really kind of don't get Marvel. In the last 16 months this will make the FOURTH try with a new #1 to get people to buy into ATLAS. What's funny is that issue of WHAT IF? with the "50s Avengers", and being one of the very few "What If?" stories that actually happened, is one of my favorites, but trying to fit these characters into the modern age has been a very awkward fit. But, it seems clear to me that the audience really isn't that interested in these characters, and I wouldn't say that it seems logical that they have any real spin-off potential (ie, movies, rides, whatever). So why keep trying? And MORE IMPORTANTLY, why keep trying four times in 16 months? Why keep launching books that are almost certainly going to get canceled before issue #12? All they're doing is to make people more skittish about trying new books... This was OK, at best.

AVENGERS #1:  It suffers from the usual Bendis-isms, and I don't think JRJR is the best suited artist for "big brightly colored action", but I'm a little tickled with the "old school" nature of this book -- it's refreshing after the last 5-7 years to actually read an Avengers comic where they're heroes being heroic above board. Solidly OK, I guess.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1:  I dunno. I was a massive Levitz Legion fan, but it's almost like too much has passed for me to re-engage with these characters as they were back then. I'm more than willing to give it a couple of issues, however (though I'm utterly underwhelmed by the idea of TWO LSH books running side-by-side -- it would have been smarter to have put ADVENTURE on hiatus for a while to confirm this redo is "working", but what do us retailers know?). I also think DC was dunderheadly stupid to have not to attached a LSH ring to this comic.

Really my biggest problem with this book is the art -- it's pretty "DC House Style", and I think LSH either needs to look super-clean and super-sleek (Give me Chris Sprouse, and I probably would have loved this), or super-hyper detailed (Can you imagine Ryp drawing LSH? That would be keen...), and, instead, it is just kind of... there. I don't know, I'm going to go with a very low GOOD, but that my be my nostalgia talking more than anything else...

ZATANNA #1: Hey, nice, pretty, and reasonably fun. Z is maybe a touch too insanely powerful and in control, but I can totally see following this book to see where it might lead. My biggest complaint? Petty, but it feels like "movie" San Francisco, rather than the real one. That's just cuz I live here. Anyway, i thought it was pretty GOOD.

From two weeks ago:

HULK #22: just under 2 years worth of issues to get to the reveal, sigh. But riddle me this: where does the mustache go when he's hulked-out? EH.

TITANS VILLAINS FOR HIRE SPECIAL #1: Jesus, fuck, what a horrible comic book. I expect my TITANS sales to drop to subs-only within 3 months now. Who wants to read about these characters? And who wants the kind of bullshit hacked out death that appears here? Completely CRAP.

I'm hoping I'm back up to speed tomorrow, and I'll start in on THIS week's books...

As always, what did YOU think?


Turning it off: Hibbs is done with HEROES

Oh, I know I should have done it before -- really, at the end of the first season -- but I've finally deleted HEROES from my DVR recording schedule.

Oddly, it wasn't the inanity of the plots: between this week's scenes of the "bad ass" fed trying to turn super-powered people into suicide bombers (Ut? why would anyone, anywhere, draw a line between an explosives vest and the powers?), and the Sylar-finds-his-dad-then-doesn't-DO-anything, I would certainly have been justified.

No, it is the comics shop scenes.

I let the first one pass without comment ("Oog! A Gurl!?!? We don't get any of those in here!") because I was hoping it was a momentary lack of reason, and it would never be mentioned again, but this week they decided that Claire should work at the comics store, and they packed it full of sweaty nervous uber-geeks, panting and drooling over her.

To quote my sainted Irish mother: Nigga, PLEASE!

I've been in a whole god-damn lot of comics shops in my life, and, sure, there have been a few monumentally shitty ones, but the overwhelming majority of what I've seen have been locations that were open and inviting to all people of any shape size creed color or sex.

Here's the thing that really gets me: as an LA-produced show, the staff of HEROES has no shortage of excellent comics shops. Just off the top of my head: Earth-2, Meltdown, Golden Apple, Secret Headquarters, Brave New Worlds -- these are all world-class stores run by world-class retailers.

I'm going to assume that the HEROES staff shops at some of these stores, which makes this decision even more head-scratchingly fucked up.

I'd probably be a lousy comics shop in LA because I have a low-bullshit threshold, but I have got to say that if it was MY store that the staff was shopping in, I'd be telling them this week to take their business somewhere else.

You don't shit where you eat, you don't bite the hand that feeds you, and you don't insult your core constituency.

So, on behalf of every comics store that gives a fuck, that tries hard to be clean and diverse, that actively seeks to appeal to any person that walks in off the street: fuck you HEROES.

Fuck you very much.


On the Shark (and over again)

At the conclusion of last season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, I had thought there was something wrong. I wasn't entirely sure what, precisely, the mistake was, but I felt there was one going on.

I've watched all of this season's BATTLESTAR, and I'm fairly certain I didn't really enjoy almost any episode. Moments from episodes, yes, some clever bits of plotting or little twist on characterization, or whatever -- but not a whole entire episode from start to finish.

As I was was taking my shower tonight (washing my birthday suit, as Tzipora put it, har), I think I figured out what it was.

[Clearly, there's going to be SPOILERS at some point after this, and, though I haven't yet typed it, I'm fairly certain I am going to COMPLETELY SPOIL the end of this season of BATTLESTAR. Please turn away now)

After 9/11, they declared irony dead. And, I think that a lot of people, even if they didn't actually agree with that, at least understood it. The wound was too fresh, too near.

But allegory never dies, and what was that first season or two of BATTLESTAR except allegory-a-go-go?

This is the beauty thing about Science Fiction -- it can help us sort out how we feel about Today's Burning Issues, with out actually directly confronting them. Heck, a lot of the time I'm not even fully certain that SF writers fully even understand themselves what they're talking about, y'know?

Much like STAR TREK before it (in most every incarnation... well, maybe not VOYAGER), BATTLESTAR has confronted a lot of our own feelings and concerns -- mostly about war, and the inhumanity it can engender -- and it usually succeeded the best at that when it did it at right angles. How to you feel about terrorism and suicide bombing when "you" are the repressed people, that kind of thing, right?

Its a show that made you think, and made you feel, and, once it was the best show on television.

But this entire season... well it (largely) stopped being about Allegory, and stopped being about Survival, really -- and started being about the Mythology of the show instead.

From the moment that the (nearly) Final Four were revealed that's pretty much became what the show was ABOUT -- what will they do? Will they help or hinder getting to Earth? What will the other Cylons do? and so on. We've had Civil War among the Cylons, but over things largely sub rosa to the audience -- I'm not at all sure why this group went this direction and that group went that way.

And maybe that's intended as Allegory, I don't know -- certainly Iraq has broken into Civil War -- but if so it doesn't work for Four Words that are in the opening title sequence each and every week: They. Have. A. Plan. "They" implies a certain amount of collective imperative amongst the Cylons, and certainly the various factions in Iraq don't seem to have the same thing.

I've been wondering about this "plan" for a real long time, because it hasn't seemed to be in play for a while. Sure they have 12 or 16 episodes (or whatever) left to try and massage it all together, and lord knows that LOST makes it look like plan-less seasons can be hand-waved away.

At the end of the day, I'm not at all sure if I care one way or another if they find Earth on BATTLESTAR -- or who is alive or in what configuration when they get there; what I was loving was the Allegory and the Mystery of "The Plan" (Much in the same way on LOST, I could really give fuck all about Jack and Sawyer and Kate, really -- what I'm watching for is a good reason for the Polar Bears and Smokey and all of that) -- so to have episode after episode after episode this season to be not about either the Allegory OR the Mystery, but instead to be about Mythology, its lost my interest almost entirely.

See, that's the thing about Science Fiction (whether it is fantastic like STAR TREK, or mundane like X-FILES), most of the time episodes that are "about the show" fail miserably, because that isn't what we watch for. Each show is a little different, of course, some are more about the Allegory as I noted, while others really are about the Characters (think X-FILES, or maybe TWIN PEAKS?); some are about the Situation, while others are about the Science Fiction itself (something I think NEXT GENERATION tended to excel at when it was on-game), but most of the time, really, it isn't the Universe Building that makes you watch. No, in fact, Universe Building should be seamless and background and you shouldn't even realize that's what you're seeing until much later.

I can immediately think of only one partial exception to that "rule", and that's the later sections of DS9, with the Dominion War, but I think that's because 1) the novelty of Universe Building in what had previously been a very Ad Hoc Universe for 20+ years was intriguing, and 2) There was more than one TREK show on at the time, so it didn't seem like that was ALL they were doing.

So that's why I think that BATTLESTAR has "jumped the shark" -- it stopped playing to the strengths that it had, and has become about the Show Itself. As soon as the Cylons were Significant and Important Characters, it gutted much of my interest -- what was intriguing about them is they were anonymous, that they were infinitely replaceable; what kept me watching week after week was the notion that the Cylons DID have a plan, and that all of those endless scenes of Six and Baltar actually were going to add up to something interesting and coherent.

I watched the final episode (for now), and was pretty appalled, because with the revelation that Earth is dead, and everyone Cylon and Human alike being blindsided by this strongly indicates there weren't no plan, or if there was, it was a really stupid plan.

And if that's the case, then why have I been watching all along?

Plus, ugh that last episode just had a badly structured ending. I can't be the only person who, amongst all of the cheering and sobbing with joy, and all of that, thought "Um, not going to send a Raptor down or something?" and I KNEW the place was a wasteland because it just went on and on and on. That last shot of virtually every character wandering around the wreckage looking stricken and stunned was really impressive to look at (made me think of Hitchcock's ROPE, sort of), but it also made me think of, dunno, a photo shoot for a fold out in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or something.

I want to love the show, but I think I don't really care anymore, and that makes me sad.

What do YOU think?


Oh, Jeph!

Jeph Loeb is an odd writer -- he knows his fanboy moments, he's good at spinning out big wacky ideas, and he writes a lot of commercially successful books. Yet (regardless of positions on WIZARD's "hot list") he's barely the kind of writer that people specifically seek out -- it's far more fair to say that he manages to work with some of the best ARTISTS in the business, and so he has "heat by association" -- and, as a general rule, I find that (unlike, say, another "Big Idea" generator like a Grant Morrison) he seldom knows how to end his stories or to find something PAST that "big idea". (Your mileage, as they say, may vary)

On the other hand, I think he's an extremely nice guy, and everytime we've ever run into each other at a convention or something, he's always been extremely gracious and friendly, even if I've recently panned something he's written.

Let us hope that continues after today, for I come not to praise Caesar...

ULTIMATES 3 #1: seems to me to suffer from a somewhat normal "post-Millar" syndrome. Millar is, above all else, a showman who tries to come up with the biggest boldest ideas he can. I'd say we've seen this somewhat before, with THE AUTHORITY. What on EARTH can you follow Millar's run with? Basically, you can't. The stuff is so big, so apeshit, there's nowhere else to run with it.

People with really long memories can remember my thoughts on the end of Millar's first ULTIMATES arc (I said something like "Right, well, that's it, can't top that as a superhero extravaganza", which got me a semi-nasty "are you kidding me?" email from Mark Waid), and I still think that's pretty true -- in making a story so big and "contemporary", there really isn't a lot of places that are left to go.

In fact, I tend to think that both THE AUTHORITY (both Ellis' and Millar's runs) as well as THE ULTIMATES were very much "of their time", and trying to continue on, in the same vein, is almost certainly a doomed proposition. That's not to say it couldn't possibly be done -- anything is possible -- but that it probably makes more sense to come up with something else than to try and follow those acts.

But Jeph largely just follows what Millar established in ULTIMATES in ULTIMATES 3, without a whole lot of new ideas thrown in. Yep, these are pretty loathsome, amoral characters, but it's reasonably easy to overlook that as long as their foes are even worse, and there's enough 'splody to distract you.

In U3, there doesn't really appear to be any especial threat, other than the characters own amorality. Oh sure, someone gets shot, and there's a not-particularly-conforming-to-ULTIMATE-SPIDER-MAN-Venom attack that goes nowhere, but other than that it looks like a team full of death-seekers, libertines, junkies, and incest participants casting around waiting for a threat to emerge.

Structurally, there's not much in this first issue to bring me back for another.

Joe Madureira is another mystery to me -- I never really got the appeal of his body of work, and his, shall we say, lackadaisical approach to production always grated me the wrong way. I can't say, based on the work here that I would have necessarily even have guessed this was Joe Mad -- it doesn't look a whole lot like BATTLE CHASERS, really. What I wonder is how much of the art is actually the colorist, Christian Lichtner (who really really likes earth tones)?

It's been selling well enough, so far (though way below the last Millar/Hitch issue for us), and, of course, we're hoping and praying that enough of this is actually completed so that all five issues will come out when they should (The Ultimate Universe CAN'T afford another scheduling fiasco like U-2 became. Or even UltPOWER or UltVISION or the dreaded UltWOLVERINE/HULK) But what I really came away from this work feeling was that the Ulti-verse really feels like it is past its expiration date here. It hasn't gone sour quite yet, but there really isn't anything unique or compelling about it any longer.

Overall, I'd have to say EH, which is far less than you'd want for your Big Tentpole Comic.


Meanwhile, in things that Aren't Comics, I really have to comment on the conclusion of the second series of HEROES, and this seems like a good enough place to do it because the final episode said "written by Jeph Loeb" on it.

All of the goodwill I had for this series coming out of the first season (despite its very weak ending) has pretty much evaporated as the show made a series of increasingly poor decisions over these 11 episodes.

(there's definitely SPOILERS here if you haven't watched these yet [Jeff Lester])

First off, in a world-building environment, one of the key things which kicks out the legs of dramatic tension are things that are "too powerful" -- good examples are the powersets of Peter or Sylar, who can basically "do anything" to the point where it seems to me the only possible things that can stop either is each other (and even that seems sorta iffy). I thought it was a really good move to have them both depowered at the start of the season, but since then they're back more powerful than ever. I don't judge that this is going to yield any kind of compelling story for all of the REST of the characters -- what good is being able to talk to computers, or shoot lightning or mimic Jackie Chan if the guy in front of you has all of those powers, plus 9 more?

The other bad storytelling idea they added was cheap and easy resurrection. Yow, talk about sucking the air out of the room. This is a terrible terrible idea, and one they need to jettison first chance next season (if there is one) -- have the resurrectees gain something horrifically debilitating, as the "super blood" takes over their natural blood or something. Because otherwise, there aren't any cliffhangers any longer -- Nathan can be up and around in about 90 seconds, since Peter has BOTH the Claire- and Adam-strains of immortality now.

But above and beyond the "outside" elements which will render this world as something you can't care about, the biggest sin this season has laid out is False Jeopardy, both of the physical and emotional kind. "Such-and-such is dead!" followed 10 minutes later by "Ha! They're not!" sucks as storytelling. Spending so so much time on Claire's emotional traumas when they too are resolved away (through one of the death's), or appear to act contrary to the arc already established (ie Flying Boy's apparently complete reversal of his motivations -- "Robot or Alien?") is completely sloppy and lazy.

I mean, when a quarter of your penultimate episode is "oh no, I've lost my backpack!", followed up by a fake-death cliffhanger than a 4-year old could write their way out of (Duh, Jessica is back), you've gone seriously off the rails.

I also completely resent the plothammering going on here -- which works even less in a movie image than it does on a comics page. Like, for example, why in God's name is Peter completely ignoring Hiro when Hiro has proven himself to Peter already? Even if he feels like he HAS to, why is he trying to use TK to rip open the safe wall, when he has BOTH DL's intangibility power (remember they established him using it to break Adam out of "jail" in the first place) and Hiro's teleporting power? Other than the fact that the writers needed to get Adam into the room too?

Or, why would shooting Nathan change a thing when both Peter and Parkman have the SAME information? In fact, wouldn't the live-on-TV shooting give even MORE weight to there being a Shadowy Conspiracy? It isn't like Peter can't prove pretty definitively he has flashy powers (Parkman's are "less visible", fair enough) -- in fact, wouldn't his first action to be to scoop his brother up and FLY to the nearest hospital? I can't possibly see how the shooting could solve a single solitary thing for The Company.

Or Sylar in the alley. While they get "cute points" for the Popeye callout, if the first 30 seconds of the next episode isn't him soaring back to Mohinder's office and slaughtering the cripple, the little girl, the chick that everyone hates, and Dr. Emo, I'm going to be screaming in frustration.

But I have to say that the dumbest bit of plothammering of all probably had to be Hiro's "revenge" on Adam. Oh sure, clever little image, except for the fact that he's DESECRATING HIS OWN FATHER'S GRAVE DOING SO. If it was some trailer park American trash, then maybe I could let that slide, but with the importance they established, and the Japanese cultural imperatives, that makes NO sense, none, zero, zilch. 'sides Hiro, of all people, should know that you have to actually kill the badguy for it to work -- clearly Adam will eventually get out of there, even if it takes 100 years. He's apparently got nothing but time. If Uma Thurman can dig herself out of her own grave (and you KNOW Hiro was at KILL BILL on opening day...), then surely Vandal Savage can do so as well...

This has been an AWFUL season, with a completely CRAP final episode. To the point where I very much doubt if I'd bother to watch a third season at this particular moment in time.

And I'm the goddamn Target Audience!

What did YOU think?


Just For One Day

I generally don't like reading comics on the web, so I read maybe half of the webcomics based on the HEROES television show before my eyes started melting. So, I was pretty happy to see the HEROES HC come out last week -- getting to read these stories in a format that didn't give me a headache, didn't have an interminable wait for them to download, and didn't have car ads plastered all over them was pretty nice.

This might also point to the way to handle the web/print divide -- the HEROES HC is a lovingly-designed book, a "fetish object" if you like, including not only the web comics, but all of the Tim Sale paintings for the series (presented as comics covers), a little smidge of exclusive content (interviews and stuff), and a great design aesthetic that invokes the love of old comics.

Content-wise, some of the material is pretty forgettable -- really, it comes down to how much you want to see Jessica's heist, or Mohinder's getting a job at the cab company, but by the end of the book the stories become longer and delve into stuff that the series can't/won't show. Chief among those are the arc of the "Wireless" character that appeared in maybe three episodes of the show (and disappeared without anyone ever mentioning her again), and the first meeting of Linderman and Petrelli, Sr. None of it is essential, but I found that material pretty engaging, overall.

Curiously, there's an implication that Petrelli, Sr. was "normal", and last night's episode I think strongly implied that Angela Petrelli is the one with powers (she seems to be able to persuade people to do stuff they wouldn't naturally do -- and I think, further, reading between the lines, that she was the reason Petrelli, Sr. committed suicide, actually)

Last night's episode seems to be steering the show close to on track, though I'd sorta be happy if we never see "Capote y Daga" again, really -- they're pretty uninteresting, one-note characters. The big problem for me is What IS "The Company's" motivation and plan, and how are the things they're doing acting in its service? I mean, in season 1, they were hardcore to get Dawnstar, I mean Molly, but in season 2, they seem perfectly happy to leave her with Mohinder and Parkman. Plus, they seem to be acting rather stupid w/r/t to Peter (who should, in fact, have Molly's powers -- he has DL's powers, and DL and Molly were right next to each other in Kirby Plaza). PLus, how does he NOT have the Haitian's powers, too? He clearly has Livewire's powers, despite being "suppressed", and he uses DL's powers without ever seeing DL do his thing. All of this complex mind-fuckery doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me.

Plus, how DID DL get killed? He phased pretty unconsciously when LA Scumbag tried to punch him... why not the gun? (they probably should have staged it better so Micah was directly behind him -- THAT I would have bought), and howcum Jessica didn't fly out of her box that moment, and eviscerate LA Scumbag?

Why do they care about Claire if Adam is the leader of "The Company", and has the exact same power? Or, for that matter, Peter. Plus, why didn't Peter's double dose of regen kick in until Adam told him to? Why does no one suspect the Haitian is a double agent? I mean, really? Where did the box come from, either way?

Anyway, none of that has anything to do with the reason I started writing this -- the HEROES HC is a really pretty book, with several incredibly well illustrated chapters (as well as several horrible ones), that adds just enough to the mythos to be worth the price of purchase. The real star here, however, is the elegant design. which made me really happy. A really really strong OK, from this reader.

Hm, I wonder if there are any Season 2 comics up?

What did YOU think?


Gerber, Gerber everywhere, and not a drop to drink (and more TV)

On the original schedule, THREE new takes of made-Famous-by-Steve-Gerber titles were to have shipped last week -- the new version of FOOLKILLER didn't make it -- but even the fact that two of them came out makes me feel a little odd. OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #1: Given how much of the plot (and dialog!) of this first issue is Straight-Outta-Gerber, it's pretty hard to judge at this point just what Jonathan Lethem is actually bringing to the proceedings. What I did very much love was Farel Dalrymple's art (and lettering). It is a fine looking book, but not something that I expect the "typical" Marvel fan would have much interest in whatsoever. The DYI aesthetic is appealing to me, but we're an "alternative friendly" comics shop. How would this "play in Peoria"? Moreso, I kinda don't see this as attracting much of an audience in serialization -- over the course of 10 issues, this will wind up at $30, and there's just not enough here to make that attractive.

In fact, more generally, I tend to suspect that, without some heavy modifications in how they are put together and collected, the mini-series is rapidly becoming a dead format -- I'll imagine that the eventual (SC) collection of this will top out at no more than $25 (in fact, I'd suspect a "DC model" on this... $25 HC, followed by a $15-20 SC) -- so what is in it that is compelling that you have to get it NOW? I thought this was highly OK, but not OK enough that I'd follow the serialization.

HOWARD THE DUCK #1: I was pretty surprised how well Ty Templeton captured the "feel" of a HTD comic -- making him, I think, the first person to ever successfully do that. In fact, this is the first post-Gerber attempt at the character which has seemed even close to Gerber. Too bad the character now appears to be a chicken, rather than a duck. Juan Bobilla's is nice, as always, but, seriously, what's with the chicken look? (other than, I suspect, "trying to avoid a lawsuit"). I'd give this a low GOOD, I think, though its possibly from the expectation that this isn't going to sell well enough to get that eventual trade...

Hrm, planned to write more, but the B&T order just showed up, and I had to take a 30 minute break to count in the big pile of stuff -- got BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007 in, as well as FRANK FRAZETTA ROUGH WORK, WILL EISNER'S LIFE IN PICTURES HC, and ALBION ORIGINS. Oh, and still MORE copies of HEROES OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES, that's been selling briskly for us.

Only a few minutes until the Diamond shipment is meant to show, so, quickly back to TV, I think...

REAPER: Liked the second episode better than the first, but I'm slightly concerned the lead is already "comfortable/competent" at his job, would have expected more of a Learning Curve. This might be suffering a smidge from being 60 minutes -- 30 minutes could have been a better length. A low GOOD

PUSHING DAISIES: *loved* that first episode. But I have a pretty hard time seeing how it is going to be sustainable over the life of a Series. I could see this quickly wearing on me, after about Hour 3, so I hope they have this figured out. But, I thought the pilot was EXCELLENT.

MOONLIGHT: I've never done this before -- I turned it off at the first commercial break, and deleted it from the DVR. My wife made it to the second commercial break. Ow. AWFUL.

HEROES: I'd be digging this a bit more if they weren't wasting so much time showing us the same thing week after week after week. Yes, we get how "Encubra y Daga"'s powers work (hope my Spanish translation is right there), for example. I also kinda can't believe that this early in the proceedings they're already falling back on Hoary Cliches like Amnesia; or Going Back In Time To Become Who You're There To Help. I was amused by Sylar and Princess Projectra this week, however (did the original actress want too much money to come back?). For all of that, the show is teetering on the OK line.

JOURNEYMAN: Not a good show, no, but I'm somewhat intrigued by the portrayal of the marriage, added to the cross time relationship. Just will take one episode to get me to quit, but I'm still watching for the nonce. Last night's Earthquake episode was HYSTERICAL. Earthquake's don't make streets EXPLODE like that. Very EH, but amusing to me.

OK, gots to go, I should be back tomorrow or Thursday with some thoughts on THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007 (which I've had a review copy for more than a week)

What did YOU think?


The Return of the Retarded -- Hibbs on TV

The real problem for me of the NewSavageCritic is when Jog and Abhay and Lester all post these wonderful, thoughtful essays that really get to the core of things, and make you think wise and deep thoughts, and then I have to post something, and I just know it is going to sound like "Dur dur! DUH! Dur dur dur!" I'm still kind of adjusting to the demands of working Every Weekday -- oh, I know, "Poor poor miserable you!", but I spent more than a decade there with a schedule that was, shall we say, relaxed, so to get back into the 5-days-a-week Grind has been an adjustment. Ultimately, its better for the store, to, y'know, have the owner actually in his store behind the counter, but figuring out what work goes when has been tricky for me.

I've still got to finish this month's order form, but I got through the Marvel books, so I'm down to "the back half of PREVIEWS", and I should be able to polish that tomorrow... but then Carissa (AKA The New Girl) dropped me an email saying a friend of hers died and she needed the weekend off to go to the funeral back east, and suddenly I've got to work Sunday this week too, so I guess I can finish the order form then, which means (he said, having run-on sentence after run-on sentence), that I can chill a little bit today, and do some darn writing.

The New TV season just started, so I've been Mr. Vegetable Man every day after work, doing the full-on Zone Out in front of the glass teat, which, naturally, lowers my IQ even further than the plain exhaustion of working every day, plus it has been beastly hot (for San Francisco) here the last few nights, so it's not like I'm getting a full 8 hours each night now. And I'm even more toast-like today since Anina Bennett asked us for help in moving her from one apartment to another this morning, which means I got maybe 5 hours sleep, then had to haul boxes up a two floor walkup, but the things you do for friends, right?

Which is my vastly long-winded way of saying "Hi, I'm tired and feeling retarded, so let's talk about television!"

THE BIONIC WOMAN: I was never exactly what you might call a fan of the original series -- heck as a boy, I'd lose my card if I hadn't preferred Major Steve Austin, Astronaut, a Man Barely Alive, Etc. to Jamie Summers, who, ferchristsakes, had a parachute accident -- but I figured I should check out the first episode at least.

Sorry I did, really.

I'm too lazy to look up the cast, but, man, what a bland-ass actress they picked for the lead. She's pretty enough, but I didn't feel the slightest amount of empathy for her or her situation, because she's just not engaging. At least Lindsey Wagner had a spark of some kind, right?

"Bionic" here seems to mean some sort of nano-robotic thing or something? They're not exactly clear, really, except that her legs are all glowy (and then they aren't)

The best thing about the show is certainly Katee Sackoff (probably spelled that wrong), but one doesn't get the sense that she's going to be in every episode or anything. And, even if she was, I wouldn't watch just for that. The vague set-up (like who ARE these people, and what are their motivations?) is, I think, supposed to be a "tantalizing mystery", but I needed something more to come back next week, and I didn't find it.

One note, however: the show is supposedly set in San Francisco (at least, that's what the title bar said), but San Francisco doesn't have "fall". That is to say, you're fairly unlikely to find trees that have half of their leaves falling off them. Which you do in virtually every street scene here. I guess this is somewhere in Canada... but why set a show in SF if you're not going to use any exteriors, or try to get the "feel" of the town right at all? AWFUL.

JOURNEYMAN: Had the opposite problem -- much like Gaiman and JRjr's ETERNALS series, there's "too much" San Francisco. I know it is a little hard to believe, but, really, in 90% of The City, you probably can't see either the Golden Gate bridge OR a Cable Car.

If it was like how BULLIT is for a SF person ("wait, how did he get from THAT side of the side to THIS one in under 15 seconds?!?!"), that would be one thing, but they decided to DIGITALLY INSERT the GG bridge into shots that make absolutely no sense. Like the scene where he wakes up in "Golden Gate Park", with the bridge LOOMing over him? No, sir -- just because they both have "Golden Gate" in the title doesn't make it so! (All they had to do was say it was The Presidio, and then it could have scanned just fine) I'm pretty certain there's no spot in the Park where you can see the Bridge, except maybe as a little speck in the distance. Really, just go look at a map!

Anyway, the show itself? I dunno, I liked QUANTUM LEAP quite a bit, so I'm going to give it at least one more episode, but I can't say I was especially grabbed by the pilot. With this kind of a Time Travel show, there needs to be Rules, and I don't get the sense that they've figured them out yet themselves. There's something vaguely clever about having his ex-girlfriend ALSO being a Time Traveller, but they need to at least outline The Rules of how this Works really fast, or I'll be moving on just as fast. EH

CHUCK: Yuck.

HEROES: If there was a show I was looking forward to this season, its definitely the second season of HEROES. So I was pretty disappointed to watch it and think "EH". Part of it was dropping us back in "four months later" without a lot of clarity on what was going on, and with some seeming contradictions -- like, why is Claire in "hiding" in California, while Parkman and Cerebrette are still in NYC, living under Parkman's Real Name? WTH happened with the Petrellis? No one seems to be concerned that Sylar's body vanished? Where's the rest of the cast? And so forth.

I thought the cliffhanger with Hiro last year was very cool -- but in this opening, I was ITCHING to get him back into "the present", because the most probable way that story is going to play out (Hiro *becomes* Kensai, or whatever his name is) is... well, played out already.

Either way, they get 3-4 issu... I mean episodes! of grace, since the first season started off pretty badly, too, but that wasn't what I wanted at all. OK

DEXTER: No, not new, but new to me, since I don't have Showtime. We've got DirecTV, and their "version" of "OnDemand", kinda, is channel 101, where they're showing 2 eps a night of the series. They're clearly hacked to pieces -- all of the swearing is overdubbed like "That mother-lovin' piece of spit is a real ashbowl!", and I'm guessing they cut out all of the titties, and a fair amount of penetrative violence, but, regardless, I'm REALLY enjoying this show. I hope the last two episodes tonigth wrap up things in a satisfying way. I've even ordered the novel the show is based upon from the library because I liked the show so much. VERY GOOD.

One last thing, apropos of nothing at all, other than that whole "retail intelligence" thing: After 18 years, I decided to cancel our Yellow Pages display ad this year, and see what happens. Given that the #1 question we get asked on a phone call is "What are your hours?", #2 "Where are you located?" and #3 is "Do you buy comics?", all of which are clearly in our display ad; and given that I tend to answer "Who ELSE buys comics" with "look in the yellow pages and call one after another", and that that usually gets a blank stare in return, I'm no longer convinced that America 2007 even knows that they HAVE a Yellow Pages any longer.

Right, that's my Retarded Ramblings.... what did YOU think?


See and be Seen: Jeff Looks at Buffy The Vampire Slayer seasons 1-8.

Back in late April, I bought the Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection boxed set off Amazon for a pretty good price. In early May, Edi and I started watching the show (I had seen most of the show when it was first aired, Edi hadn't seen anything) at the rate of an episode or two (almost) every night, and a few weeks ago we finally came to the end. It happened the same day I read the abridged print version of Joss Whedon's interview with the Onion A.V. Club, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer #5, and it occurred to me I was pretty well situated to talk about the new comic in relation to the show, and maybe kick around some thoughts about both the show and Whedon generally. I cannot guarantee at the outset I'll get anywhere interesting with it. It'll include spoilers of the series, and require that you be familiar with the show: I tried writing a sensible overview of the whole phenomena and it couldn't have been duller or more imbecilic. Also, you'll notice this essay neatly detours around the significant influence of the other talented writers on BTVS the show, and the writers-to-come for BTVS: Season Eight. Although I think there's some very interesting material to be explored there, it'll have to wait for another time. This damn thing is big enough as it is. As you know, I'm usually most interested in the crunchy subtext, and BTVS is a particularly interesting show for that. In part, this is because Whedon and crew were particularly facile with metaphor and subtext; there's the initial conceit of the show, of course--high school as a horror movie--but also the subtextual stuff going on in particular stories and arcs, such as the genius twist of Season Two's "Innocence" where Angel turns evil after sleeping with Buffy. But BTVS is also particularly interesting because that initial conceit gets thrown out after four years, and the show goes on for another three with an official eighth season now turning up in print. Whedon has said in the past he intended to start BTVS, get it established, leave it in capable hands, and then go off and do other stuff. Yet, he continues to return to the character. And why is that? Is it because as long as people are interested in the Buffyverse and willing to be milked of their hard-earned cash, Whedon is interested in showing up every morning with the milking pail?

Well, sure. Whedon is always swinging for the fences of pop culture fame, and I have no doubt he wants Buffy on t-shirts, and lunch boxes, and action figures, and in cartoons. He wants that because he strongly believes Buffy represents a special turning point for the roles of women in heroic literature, and it would be a great thing to have little girls have a strong ass-kicking hero they believe in. He also wants that because, like any other individual who works in Hollywood, he is well and truly aware of how much money those sorts of things make, and how much power is conferred to someone who reaps that cash harvest.

But, interestingly, Whedon is one of those artists for whom material considerations and limitations tend to improve rather than impair his work: If Seth Green wants to leave to pursue movies, it'll turn out to be the perfect time to move Willow in a completely new direction for her relationships. If Cordelia has to leave to be part of Angel, they'll bring back Anya. Although he's complained against needless and stupid changes made by others to his screenplays, Whedon will happily change his own stories in the crafting, break and bend the rules of his own mythology, and the joy he takes in doing so more often than not is experienced by his audience. (I previously wrote very briefly about this ability, which Graeme had quite correctly referred to as cockiness, here.) And although he's happy to break his own rules, he's exceptionally faithful to certain storytelling precepts, such as giving the viewers a strongly defined conclusion. One of the things that struck me watching the seasons one after the other is that with the exception of Season Four (the Adam/Initiative arc) and maybe Season Six, one could stop watching after the end of the season and feel satisfied. In the first season, Buffy owns her power. At the end of the second season, Buffy learns the cost of having that power (and runs from it). In the third season, she and the gang graduate from high school. And although I disliked a great chunk of Season Five, I admired the moxie of the ending being both definitive and open-ended. (Considering my memories of seasons six and seven, I was tempted to tell Edi, "Hey, you know, let's just pretend that was the end of the series." I'm glad I didn't.) In some ways, it was this desire to give Buffy a complete arc each season that made it harder and harder to do more things with the character as time went on, and force other characters into the spotlight more and more.

So the idea of Buffy: Season Eight in comics can stem from both Whedon's desire to make more cash, to give the brand that much more power, and his desire to tell a story, to have something to say that he can best say with Buffy and the characters of the Buffyverse. Or rather, the idea that Season Eight might be a bit of a cash grab won't stop him from developing a story with something meaningful to say. What should be interesting is seeing if we can tell from the first five issues of Buffy: Season Eight what Whedon might want to say, or what he might end up saying.

As I mentioned, BTVS was built around the "high school as horror movie" conceit it abandoned after three years (although I think the "college is hell" conceit for Season Four works pretty well, too). These conceits are successful in part because the same fears of powerlessness (and, also, a corresponding fear of power) that fuel horror movies are part and parcel of teenage life. As the series goes on, Whedon becomes more interested in that fear of power, and the cost of power, than the fear of powerlessness. Being the Slayer is a terrible responsibility for Buffy: the early seasons show her complaining about how it screws up her chance for a normal life, and the later seasons show exactly how it screws her up. A lot of what I found thought was careless plot hammering in later seasons the first time I watched became clearer on rewatching--even though it bites her on the ass time and time again, Buffy keeps secrets from her friends; she struggles with feelings of superiority and callousness that come from her power; she equates sex with danger; and she is too quick to accept responsibility for things that happen, to the point of defensiveness. Buffy learns lessons and moves forward with each season's arc, but she doesn't always become a better person or learn the right lesson--for most of Season Seven, for example, she's an insufferable ass (although what part of that is weaknesses in Sarah Michelle Gellar's portrayal--she clearly is ready to leave the show by this point--and what part of that are strident speeches made by Whedon on the price of being a leader, I leave for a smarter viewer than I to suss out). One nice trick in BTVS the TV show is the use of history (the school subject) continually being used as a metaphor for, well, History: at the beginning of the show, it's the subject Buffy has the most trouble with but as time goes on, her relationship to the subject grows more complex: sometimes people talk as if she's a natural at the subject, other times the nuances of it elude her. But it's never a topic she can dismiss: in Whedon's universe (and in the Whedonverse), history is inescapable. No matter how she tries to run, or what she tries to hide, the history of the Slayer lineage (or what she's done, or who she's slept with, or how she's fighting) is always inescapable.

I suspect, in fact, this is the reason Whedon was never able to break away from Buffy. The struggles of Buffy, one of a long line of vampire slayers, to accept that lineage is something that perhaps struck close to home with Whedon, a third-generation TV writer. Despite his attempts to be a screenwriter and filmmaker, Whedon was through all of Buffy the TV show, only successful in the medium of his father and his grandfather. Like Buffy, he couldn't escape his lineage and, like Buffy, Whedon grew most powerful embracing it and using the resulting power to exert control over it. (Now that I think about it, like Slayers, television writers are vitally dependent on their watchers. To what extent might Buffy's complex relationship with the Watchers' Council--she's fond of hers, but dismissive of the power the others try to exert on Slayers--mirror Whedon's relationship with the people who it possible for him to make a living?) I wonder if all the frustration and ambivalence and outright fear Buffy expresses of her power and responsibility are echoes of what Whedon went through during the making of the show (and Angel, and Firefly)--the frustration, ambivalence, and fear of an artist saying: "Yes, this is what I can do well. But is this all I'm going to be able to do?"

In the first four issues of Season Eight--the equivalent of one TV episode--Buffy is the leader of a worldwide group of Slayers, and she's more comfortable in her power. Xander is the Nick Fury-like organizer of the group, Willow is her powerful back-up, and Giles is her recruiter and diplomat in the supernatural world. In issue five, The Chain, a Buffy decoy dies trying to carry on Buffy's name, saying, "There is a chain between each and every one of us. And like the man said, you either feel its tug or you ignore it." Because the Buffy decoy does so, she takes solace even as she dies, saying "You don't even know who I am. But I do." While this suggests Whedon is more comfortable with the idea of one's place in history being irrelevant as long as you know who you are and where you come from, the use of the chain--a symbol of bondage, slavery and oppression--as the connector points to continuing ambivalence. (Or maybe I'm wrong, and the bondage Whedon talks about is his connection to Buffy and the Buffyverse, the possibility of being "the Buffy guy" for the rest of his career?)

In any event, Season Eight suggests that Buffy is more comfortable in her roles as leader and as Slayer, and Whedon more comfortable in his role as "the Buffy guy" and these are both comforts that couldn't be conveyed on TV, since in this medium Buffy is free of Gellar's "get me the hell out of here" airs and Whedon is free of his "what the hell am I doing still working in TV?" frustrations. In fact, free seems to be word of the day for Season Eight. Whedon is free of the concerns of a show's budget and he can deliver visuals as big as he can think of: the first four issues of Buffy have had magical battles, dream sequences, an army of zombies fighting an army of Slayers, dragons, castle raids...the list goes on.

And yet, this freedom may prove to be Season Eight's biggest weakness: all those scenes in the TV show of Buffy and crew in the library or the magic shop researching their enemy was a clever way to have the characters be proactive without spending more precious money on new sets, new effects, new fights--but it's also where Whedon and his writers were better able to make us care about the characters. (As I mentioned above, Whedon is one of those artists whose work apparently gets better under material considerations and restrictions.) At five issues in, I can give you a rough idea about what's happening with all of the above characters, but I can't recall reading a scene from the books that actually would have made me care in its own right--the emotional impact comes only from the affection I already have for the characters. Whedon points out in that Onion AV interview it's going to be harder for him to create what he calls "juice"--to create a character in the comics that has any of the appeal of someone on the show--but I think even more challenging may be taking a creator who's always drawn tremendous amounts of inspiration from his actors (what would BTVS had been like if James Marsters had never read for Spike, originally a one-off villain?) and giving him nothing to bounce off of but his ideas, his editor, and the book's art. The work on Season Eight so far has been pretty and competent, but more than occasionally rushed and never particularly inspired. Finally, there's been talk about Season Eight taking place over fifty or sixty issues, which is four to five years of real time. That's certainly plenty of time to craft a sweeping mega-epic, but is it possibly too much time? (If Season Five had lasted five years, I would've bailed and never come back long ago...) In fact, the last three seasons might've fared better at twelve or thirteen episodes each instead of twenty-two. Unless Season Eight has well-planned plateaus--areas that feel like climaxes even if they aren't the arc's ultimate one--it could take far too long (and cost far too much) for the audience to stay interested.

I think Whedon's idea for the arc (Buffy may have found peace, but the U.S. military--and maybe the world--is clearly still quite afraid of her power, and, I'm guessing, but just as Season Seven had the uber-vamp, Season Eight will have a Slayer-Slayer) and his enthusiasm for the comics medium will make his run worth reading. I certainly have enough affection for his characters that knowing what's happening to them next is tremendously appealing. But if Season Eight hits none of the remarkable high notes of the TV series, maybe that shouldn't be a tremendous surprise: lineage or no, it took Whedon a lot of time to become a master of the TV format. It might be naive to think, despite his considerable talents, he'll be able to do as much with the comics medium in a much shorter (and yet, thanks to the miracle of publication schedules, much longer) time. Ultimately, what may serve Whedon best may be what he'll least want to do--take some huge risks with the Buffy characters and the comics medium in the hopes of coming up with something new. If nothing else, taking such risks might help him identify again with the fear of powerlessness, and bring his relationship with Buffy full circle.

I guess like any good set of Watchers, We'll just have to wait and see.

Not comics: Hibbs on TV

Missed my last night deadline, but I got some potentially exciting news (or maybe exciting potential news... or maybe even exciting news, potentially) that focused me on that during my (ha ha) "free time" last night. So today I'm going to shoot for TWO posts -- one now, one tonight. We'll see if that works.

It’s not comics, no, but I've been wanting to make a television post for a while. Up until last year I was maybe watching 4 hours of TV a week, but I've been sucked in by the glass teat this season a lot. Modern TV is so strange -- there's almost barely things like traditional "seasons" any more; shows start and stop more or less willy nilly, it seems. And the advent of boxed set makes that a really superior way to watch a lot of shows. I'll be skipping our box set adventures (like, say THE SHIELD), for stuff I've been watching "live"

There will probably be some spoilers in here (especially on some shows, like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), which makes this a post a number of you (= Jeff Lester) can't read... because YOU're waiting for the boxed sets. Funny.

In more or less alphabetical order, here's what I've been watching lately:

24: I really loved the first season, because the idea itself was so fresh -- "real time TV". I pretty much hated the second season, with its "we have no idea how to stretch this" scenes of Kim-in-Peril. I watched maybe 3 episodes of season 3, and decided I no longer cared. Totally skipped season 4. But something drew me back for season 5 -- maybe it was the Nukes. All of the problems the show has are still very much on display here: it is really really hard to break a story into twenty-four satisfying chunks without stretching dumb things out dumbly. We're what? halfway through this day? And my attention is flagging again. I don't think I am going to make it all the way through this season. It's been very very EH. At best.

30 ROCK: The single non-animated sitcom I watch these days, and its getting better and better with each episode, becoming more topical, and more adventurous in its storylines. I quite like it, and think it is consistently GOOD.

AMAZING RACE: Every man is allowed one thing that they KNOW is shit, and that they watch it BECAUSE its shit, and THE AMAZING RACE is my one main "I have no excuses" show. I was a real early adopter of reality shows -- *I* was the one who turned all of the CE's onto SURVIVOR, for example (stopped watching that around season 5, I think?) -- and this is my sole reality show left. It's very very not "real". Really, I'd like to see all of the extra footage where a producer has to intervene with the police; or where a contestant is delayed because the cameraman trips getting out of a car, or things like that. Still, I keep being entertained by Ugly Americans running all over creation and being the fools they can be -- I especially love how Charla and Mirna affect this weird spanish-tinged accent everytime they talk to anyone whose primary language isn't english. I do wish the show had a few more metrics as it was running -- a clock or miles traveled or something, but I can see how that would be an editing nightmare. I suppose what I like about the show is that it isn't hermetically sealed in a house or an island or something like that. There's a SENSE that "anything could happen", because there's only so much you can stage manage the WORLD. Its the one reality show that I'd like to watch a documentary about the making of it, and of what happens "backstage". Plus, watching Rob and "Ambuh" getting thier asses kicked by the midget and her idiot cousin? Pure Television gold. In any objective reality, the RACE is merely OK< but I like to fool myself that it is GOOD.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: I love this show, I really do. And, in fact, I've even got Tzipora (who HATES all things Sci-Fi or Fantasy related) hooked on it. She's a season and a half behind, because I REFUSE to buy separate 2.0 and 2.5 box sets, and the library hasn't gotten 2.5 in yet. But it is everything you want SF to be -- thought-provoking, action-packed, twisty, human-driven.

Up until a point, at least.

I'm probably one of the few people who actually went "Hm, maybe not" when they announced a full 22 eps for Season 4; because I'm pretty unconvinced at this point that they actually have more than 12-13 viable stories each season -- because, let's face it, a really significant chunk of Season 3 was "filler" that neither moved the mythology forward, nor focused on areas that I cared too much about. When the show is "on", it is ON, but when it's not? Well, it's still some of the best TV on the air, but I don't care that much.

The season finale bugged me a lot -- not just because we have to wait until January (wtf?) to find out what happens next. I was especially annoyed by the "All ALong The Watchtower" use (that's like the Steppenwolf in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, yeah?), and the reveal of 4 of the final 5. Especially Tigh. And that between Tyrol & Boomer and Kara & jock resistance guy (I'm blanking), there's too much Cylon-on-Cylon action going on. I'm pretty unconvinced they can make either Tyrol or Tigh "work" as Cylons, but the show has certainly given enough reason to offer them the Benefit of the Doubt. But, man, January? There are certain episodes within the season that I'd call VERY GOOD or EXCELLENT (the finale itself probably even rates a GOOD), but over all I'd give Season 3 a strong OK, which is a prodigious drop from s1 & 2.

BLACK DONNELEYS: Probably going to drop this in the next week or two. The structural conceit of this being a flashback told by an unreliable narrator is kind of grinding, and the characters are kind of all too young & pretty for me. Basically, it's (Irish) SOPRANOS Jr., and while there's an appealing denseness to the episodes (esp for network TV), I'm not finding any of the characters memorable enough to care about them as characters. Its OK, though.

THE DAILY SHOW: OUr DVR (not TiVO) via the DISH network is funny with THE DAILY SHOW -- we can't set up "record series", or it attempts to tape every broadcast of each episode. Its the only show we tape that acts like that. So, we've got to manually set the episodes each week. Fairly annoying, and sometimes I forget. A lot of time I don't watch daily -- I'll watch 2-3 at a go, but there's a lot of things to genuinely love about the show. Not only is it (usually) very very funny indeed, but I especially like the way they book authors of political or cultural books that would be lucky to break 5k copies, and give them a chance to engage in an often substantiative dialogue in front of millions of people. You don't get the sense they're booking these people because they *can't* get the a-listers, but because they truly believe its good to expose people to other points of view. So damn good for them. and damn GOOD, even at its worst no-news days, and plug-a-movie interviews.

DAYBREAK: Didn't even make its full season on the air, so I guess no one liked the GROUNDHOG'S DAY-meets-THE-FUGITIVE show. And, yeah, the execution wasn't stellar, but I liked the concept enough that I actually went and watched the unbroadcast episodes on ABC.com. Took me a while to get through them because I don't like watching TV at the computer, but all in all, I thought they did an OK job. Bonus points to ABC for actually putting the second half of the season on-line, for free. That's pretty classy, really.

HEROES: I'm ready for it to come back, already. If they can pull off the endgame as well as they handled their middle section, this is going to be one of those shows you're still talking about in 10 years. It took a while to get going, and there were definitely some stumbles in the early episodes, but, pretty much around the time we met Sylar, and the "save the cheerleader" plot got started, this became one of the most fun serialized shows on TV. Largely because they seem to have a clear end for this story planned, and it's THIS season, not strung out indefinitely like BSG or LOST (that's also what I liked about DAYBREAK). I like most of the characters (except for Mohinder, yeesh, he's the worst Prof X-type ever), and it just zips along with multiple cliffhangers, and more importantly, revelations, every issue. Based on where we're at so far, this is an easy GOOD, and, depending on how well they resolve it all, it could be VERY GOOD.

LOST: This show, on the other hand, drives me fucking bugshit crazy most weeks, where things move along glacially (if that), and the "mystery of the island" is CLEARLY being made up as it goes along. I also can't really stand most of the "others", and think the show jumped the rails when it started to be ABOUT them, rather than "our" survivors. If, next week, Locke were to find a button, and, upon pushing it all of the others seized up with black smoke pouring from their ears saying "norman, coordinate", I'd be happy with that I think. Each week this season I've been muttering, "man, I should stop wasting my time with this crap", but then I'm all whining to myself "but I've already invested 40+ hours in this, I don't want to walk away after that!" Thankfully, this week's episode, with Nikki & Paulo made me glad that I've stuck around. Yeah, it is kind of the definition of "filler", but it was nice to see seom actual suspense on the show again, and to have something introduced AND resolved in one go. Plus, all of the cameos were cool (I wonder how much of that was "leftover" footage from previous seasons, and how much was freshly shot?) -- it was basically the best episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT ever shot. I'm always a fan of ironic justice. So, most of this season: anywhere from AWFUL to OK (probably EH on the balance); this week's episode? VERY GOOD.

THE RICHES: 3 eps in, and the contrivances are starting to creak (and the sooner they resolve the Traveller boss thread, the better -- what a 2-d character and story there), but Izzard and Driver make this show very watchable, and I'm in for at least a dozen. Overall, I'll go with a GOOD.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: When I was a kid in the 70s, I would beg my parents to let me stay up late for SNL, and growing up into an adult, it's a habit at this point. There were years, decades maybe, where you could watch SNL on "Fast Forward", taking maybe 20-30 minutes to get through the whole show. This season has been markedly better though -- I'm probably up to 40-45 minutes of actual watching, and they've been taking more chances (not a lot, but some) of doing more surreal humor, or tinkering with rhythms. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on new ideas, rather than relying solely on a character being endlessly repeated into the ground. Overall, the show seems to have found a new stride this year, and while there still LOTS of not-funny, the ratio seems to e getting better. Overall: OK

THE SIMPSONS: Two weeks ago I think they reached the bottom of the bucket. The plot was Granpa marries Selma (or Patty, whatever), and that was pretty much it. No act 1 leads to a radically different act 2 leads to a radically different act 3 -- just a straight line through on a very unfunny premise, that probably should have had a laugh track attached to it. I didn't even bother to watch last week's ep. I think they may have finally cured me of this particular habit -- I'm having a hard time remembering the last genuinely funny episode I've seen. (probably last year). Very very very depressingly EH.

SOUTH PARK: When its about the kids being kids, the show is honest and often very wise... but frequently dull. I mean, lice? But when they comment of celebrity or politics or just the dopiness of mankind, it always has the potential of hitting the home run. I'm sometimes amazed just how precisely topical they can be on waht would seem to be an impossible time frame -- there's times they appear to be writing, animating, and voicing an entire show in a matter of days. SO far this season has been a bit weak (I mean, seriously, lice?), but it is never less than very very OK.

That's what I'm watching, at least. What do YOU think?