REVIEW [Comics]: Hello, Again

25 07 2009

The past may not be buried as deep as William once thought.

The past may not be buried as deep as William once thought.

Our ugliest mistakes return unbidden when we least expect them to do so. Such is the case for William, the middle-aged and guilt-ridden protagonist of Max EstesHello Again.

William is the superintendent of his apartment building, and a reluctant one at that: he corrects another character when she refers to him as a “landlord.” He is unmotivated to improve his lot in life and satisfied to maintain an affair with Delia (his friend Aaron’s fiancée).

He lies to his mother when she asks if there are “any young women in [his] life,” and feigns interest when Aaron invites him to dinner with Delia. Even after William meets a woman from his building, he recalls Delia’s (not too) subtle bedroom coaxing: “Enough about Aaron, let’s talk about William.”

All things conspire against William becoming self-satisfied, until, that is, he stumbles across a hole in the ground. An adequate metaphor, to be sure, and one seen elsewhere in literature (how’s about Alice in Wonderland for starters?) Instead of beginning a quest for self-discovery, though, William has his quest thrust upon him in the form of Oliver, a bearded manifestation of William’s “conscience” (think Jiminy Cricket).

Oliver represents not only William’s (largely ignored) “conscience”, but also his (deeply buried) subconscious, and William’s struggle emerges as one between sustaining his tired existence or confronting his childhood fears.

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Estes presents the relationship of William and Oliver as one that adheres (albeit loosely) to the Jungian concept of synchronicity, an event in which two (or more) events are linked more by philosophical meaning and less by causality (this just means that William and Oliver have their fates intertwined, so to speak). If this sounds too heady, then that’s because it is; William is not overtly troubled by his decisions, but rather challenged by Oliver to account for mistakes. (Think of the ghost of Bob Marley from A Christmas Carol).

At one point, Oliver warns, “I’m here to break this cycle, Willy. The next messenger may not be so pleasant.” Is Estes claiming that self-reflection is inevitable? Is Oliver even necessary or would William have confronted his mistakes sooner or later?

If Hello, Again works anywhere, then it is in its simple layout: four panels to every page, many without dialogue. William is loosely sketched (think: the Elongated Man), noodle-ly and capable of stretching to accommodate his morally wayward behavior. Oliver resembles a garden gnome: obstinate and flat-footed. (I imagine him sounding quite gruff; the character is a seaman, after all).

The narrative runs over 150 pages, and concludes within the final twenty (or so): too rushed, I think, to give full weight to the decision(s) that William must make and the consequence(s) that he must face. And for someone who behaves as wantonly as William does, it seems unfair that he should land on his feet.

Hello, Again is available from Top Shelf Productions ($10).

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PURVIEW: “Archie Marries Veronica”

24 07 2009

So. You may have heard about this story elsewhere. (If so, why?) Moreover, it means I’m late to this party. Not that I was invited. And not that I wanted to go, but, you know, I would have, if I’d been invited.

I haven’t read an Archie comic since I was a kid (then again, who didn’t read Archie comics when they were younger?), so this news, sadly, was lost among the other items that have recently claimed my attention (namely, this whole “mess“).

So it was with mild shock that I discovered Archie will soon be married. To Veronica. Almost fifteen years ago, Archie found himself involved in another relationship quandary; that time, Archie needed to determine whether he was best suited for Veronica, Betty, or Cheryl Blossom(!), an old “flame.”

This time around, Archie will select Veronica Lodge, “comics’ favorite rich girl” as his “blushing” (wasn’t she with Reggie for all those years?) bride. The six-part story begins in Archie #600 (to be published in August) and will be written by Michael Uslan (acclaimed producer of Batman [1989], National Treasure [2004], and The Dark Knight [2008]) and illustrated by Stan Goldberg (who began his career in the 1940s with Timely Comics).

The announcement has garnered extraordinary attention from fanboys and Muggles alike: CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times. But what does it really mean? Extra issues sold, I suppose. The same thing happened when Captain America was killed in April 2007.

So I started to think back on comic book weddings, because I’ve nothing better to occupy my time (until school resumes in the fall). So, a (not)comprehensive list of funny book nuptials:

Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards + Invisible Woman/Sue Storm: Dr. Doom, in a fit of jealous rage, tries to interrupt the ceremony by dispatching a group of hired goons.

Spider-Man/Peter Parker + Mary Jane Watson: After a momentary bout with a case of cold feet, and an extended sequence with Electro, Peter and Mary Jane are married by M.J.’s uncle, a judge, Spenser Watson. The event  occurred simultaneously in the daily comic strip.

Cyclops/Scott Summers + Marvel Girl/Jean Grey: Having rebuffed Scott several times, Jean finally relents. Shortly thereafter, they travel to the future to raise Scott’s son, Nathan. Because that’s one way to avoid the messiness of conception and the inconvenience of childbirth.

Superman/Clark Kent + Lois Lane: Nearly every living artist who had previously worked on a Superman book did so for this one-shot. Clark is without his powers in the issue (the consequence of a comic book crossover).

Green Arrow/Oliver Queen + Black Canary/Dinah Lance: Before the ink on the wedding certificate has had a chance to dry, Dinah stabs Oliver in the neck with one of his arrows, apparently killing him. It’s later revealed that the villain Everyman replaced Oliver sometime after the ceremony.





PURVIEW: Brüno

21 07 2009
poster

Borat was so 2006.

So. I saw “Brüno” the other night. Does the film test the limits of good taste? Certainly so. Does Sacha Baron Cohen prove capable of sustaining his outrageous cult of personality? Maybe. Does his movie expand the boundaries of comedy? Not really. All in all, declining returns.

Time.com supposes that “Brüno” may have been adversely impacted by Twitter, the latest interweb distraction. Although it drew the top spot of the domestic box office (with slightly over $30 million), it endured a staggering 40% dropoff in attendence from Friday to Saturday, according to Variety.com.

If Time’s assessment is correct, then this severly shifts the dynamic of movie marketing. What used to take several days to circulate among friends by word-of-mouth, is now distributed immediately. How does a studio protect itself against such a threat?

The answer(s) for now: It doesn’t because it can’t. I had read (and heard) of instances of audiences walking out on Brüno. With the emergence of Twitter, moviegoers may restain themselves from purchasing a ticket in the first place.

I’m willing to laugh even at the most ridiculous images, and “Brüno” has these in abundance. Indeed, some of its most graphic scenes arrive within the opening minutes.

interview

Brüno employs not-too-subtle interview techniques.

Unlike its predecessor “Borat,” “Brüno” possesses a mean-spirited jag that didn’t sit quite right with me. Whereas Borat was played as largely unaware and naïve, Cohen uses Brüno to poke at people until they react; it’s as if Cohen is either impatient or unwilling to permit jokes to sufficiently gestate: the comedic equivalent of bothering a hornet’s nest with a stick.

One scene depicts Brüno (and his woefully unprepared agent) screening a pilot before an audience of about a half-dozen middle-aged men (and one woman). After his footage is universally panned, Brüno enters the screening room to confront them (to their credit, none of them retract their criticism).

What does Cohen hope to achieve by doing this? He embarrasses his agent by claiming that the most offensive pieces (no pun intended) were his agent’s idea; he insults the test audience by claiming that they don’t recognize “art” when they see it; and he forces the plot of the film by drawing upon the comment cards provided by the screeners (after he’s told them they know nothing).

“Brüno” will not change minds (or hearts), because Cohen often insults others on-screen. Rather than give interviewees “enough rope with which to hang themselves,” Cohen attempts to elicit inappropriately humorous replies. In one scene, Brüno offers that the man across from him (a Southern pastor attempting to “convert” Brüno from homosexuality) has perfect “blow job lips.”

Will this movie hurt or help a homosexual agenda? Closed-minded persons can rest (relatively) easy, because “Brüno” employs such a cartoonish characterization of homosexuality that most viewers will either dismiss or deride it.

But what do I know? Queerty.com posts:

“Bruno doesn’t need to be a finely tuned teaching moment; that’s asking too much of mainstream cinema fare. But the film let’s us laugh with and at stereotypes. It’s a pornographic enterprise into America’s remaining taboos. If the film starts even one conversation about “how wrong” all of that is, it’s a success — and, dare we suggest, something we should support.”

And Out editor Aaron Hicklin stated on CNN:

“You’d really have to be quite dense and idiotic to think this is was in any way an accurate reflection of the way gay men live their lives.”

Of course, Out‘s most recent issue interviews Cohen as Brüno, which raises the question of journalistic intent. Does Out mean to participate in the marketing and cultural distribution of “Brüno?” Or does the magazine hope to introduce, and possibly advance, a legitimate dialogue concerning homophobia (as depicted in the movie)?

My opinion is that Cohen’s act is purposefully stereotypical but not maliciously so. Of course, one assumes (including Cohen) that the audience is “in” on the joke, and, as seen in “Brüno” itself, not everyone is. One should view “Brüno” with a measure of self-awareness and restraint; if you can watch it without becoming naseous or taking offense, then you’re probably okay.





REVIEW [Comics]: Flinch

20 07 2009

"A collection of stories to inspire wonder...and question the darkness within us all."

"A collection of stories to inspire wonder...and question the darkness within us all."

Sometimes I’ll purchase a graphic novel for its cover (stark, expressive, surprising), and other times I’ll purchase one for its price. In this case I did neither.

Instead, I picked Flinch from the shelf because a publisher with whom I am unfamiliar produced it: Gestalt Comics, based near Perth, Australia. Indeed, I’m wholly ignorant of the Australian comics scene, such as it is.

After following a trail of links from their website, I discovered an online newspaper (The Australian, natch) that featured Gestalt in “The Arts.” Apparently, Australia has been relatively slow to realize the comic book as art form:

“Unlike Europe, the US and Japan, which have an adult market for graphic novels going back to World War II, Australian book sellers and most of the reading public, until recently, have seen comics as ephemeral and disposable, juvenilia that you’re supposed to grow out of. Yet for generations who grew up with a visual education learned through TV, films and animated computer games, the graphic novel makes perfect sense.”

Most of the creators featured within Flinch (an anthology, I forgot to mention) are Australian, but don’t hold that against them. The work is beautiful, if not beautifully arranged, because there seems little thematic confluence; instead, each piece is placed to satisfy editorial juxtaposition.

But I’m wrong in this assumption. A second reading revealed thematic tissues that connected the works; tissues such as regret, salvation, desire, frailty. Perhaps this was the intention of Flinch, to force a (re)consideration of our reflexive literary interpretations, as such, and take a protracted, patient look at what we read (and do).

Of course, each story within Flinch is simply a playful interpretation of that word, which, by the way, means:

–verb (used without object) 1. to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant; 2. to shrink under pain, wince

The stand-out story among them, easily, is the lead, “Withheld.” It accounts for nearly forty pages of narrative (whereas most others run between eight and twelve). Written and illustrated by Bobby.N, it concerns the final day of a thirty years-long incarceration for Jim, an elderly man without regrets, he says, except for “leaving [his] friends behind [in prison].”

Jim’s personal narration is revealed to be a letter that he leaves behind (to be found by a guard); a letter that, when paired with the events of the conclusion, feels (almost) bittersweet.

“Daemon Street Ghost-Trap,” by Terry Dowling (acclaimed Australian fantasist) and Skye Ogden, is another story worth mentioning. The piece borders on the (overly) talkative (imagine Ghostbusters as filtered through Nova), but its final plot “twist” makes up for this.

Jack Obern (a university student “in [his] honours year”) and Jarvis Henry (Jack’s mentor professor) explore the rumors of a haunting at the Crane family mansion on Daemon (get it?) Street. Soon (but not quickly enough for my taste), they realize that all is not at it seems (or should seem), as the last remaining occupant of the mansion reveals. A charming ghost story: one sufficient to satisfy the interpretation of “flinch.”

“The Ride Home,” by Anton McKay was a great commentary on our current voyeuristic culture.

“96,000m” featured artwork by Tom Bonin that reminded me of J. M. DeMatteis’ effort on Justice League International from the early 1990s.

“Twain” was the most frightening of the bunch, as it plunged the depths of fraternal love during the first millenium.

Flinch, although uneven in its narrative product, succeeded in introducing me to the world of Australian comics (and their creators), a world I’ll be sure to revisit.

Flinch is available from Gestalt Publishing ($11.95).





PURVIEW: Green Lantern

17 07 2009
The future looks bright for Green Lantern fans.

The future looks bright for Green Lantern fans.

It’s a good time to be a Green Lantern fan. Just this week it was announced that Ryan Reynolds will be donning spandex as Hal Jordan in the live-action adaptation set to begin production next January. In two weeks, an animated film, produced by Bruce Timm (the guy who delivered Batman: The Animated Series from 1992 to 1995), is set to be released. And this past Wednesday saw the publication of Blackest Night, the eight-issue crossover event from DC Comics that features the Emerald Knight.

Although I can’t say that I’m breathless with excitement (I’m no pubescent Twilight fan after all), I am anticipating good things in the months to come.

In addition to Ryan Reynolds starring, it has been reported (at Variety.com and elsewhere on the web) that Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye) will direct. The dude’s rebooted the James Bond franchise twice; I think he’s more than suited to the task of translating Green Lantern to film.

Marc Guggenheim and Michael Green have been assigned the duty (privilege?) of scripting the movie. Neither is unfamiliar with comic book narrative: Guggenheim currently writes Amazing Spider-Man; Green is a regular contributor to Superman/Batman.

Moreover, neither is unfamiliar with film narrative: Green is the creator of Kings, a modern-day interpretation of the Biblical story of King David (although NBC has recently cancelled it). Guggenheim is the co-creator of Eli Stone along with Greg Berlanti (a producer on Green Lantern).

It’s too early to spread rumors or cast aspersions, but that won’t stop fanboys. Empire Online posits potential casting for Carol Ferris, Jordan’s boss and love interest: Rose Byrne, an Australian actress (28 Weeks Later). It even presupposes a villain: Hector Hammond, a former consultant to Ferris who (after exposure to cosmic radiation, natch) turns into a telepathic terror.

The animated film is much more simply summarized (it’s already complete), and is what you’d expect: an origin story. Jordan is recruited into the Green Lantern Corps and placed under the supervision of Sinestro, an esteemed member of the Corps. When Jordan discovers that Sinestro might be involved in conspiratorial shenanigans, he must act quickly to restore justice to the galaxy.

Green Lantern: First Flight is the latest (fifth!) in the series of direct-to-video features produced by Warner Premiere (a subsidiary of Warner Bros), and is directed by Lauren Montgomery, who also helmed the preceding feature, Wonder Woman.

Blackest Night is the crossover event of the summer, which means nothing to most people, but much to fanboys. The story (whose plot elements have been building for several months) concerns the emergence of William Hand (formerly a minor villain among Green Lantern’s rogues gallery) as the herald of Death. Given powers to resurrect the dead and warp their desires to match his, Hand leads (predictably) the Black Lantern Corps.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Silver Age Green Lantern, an occasion to be celebrated at Comic-Con International in San Diego next weekend. Yours truly will not be attending, for it has sold out. Nevertheless, my spirits remain high for my favorite superhero, but my expectations are guarded.

[update] GamesBeat is reporting that an official video game tie-in has been greenlit (no pun intended). Double Helix is producing the game (the first to feature Green Lantern). The studio (a division of Foundation 9) is no stranger to adapting film properties; it has recently released games based on The Golden Compass, The Matrix, The DaVinci Code, and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Blackest Night #1 is available now ($3.99).

Green Lantern: First Flight is scheduled to be released on 28 July 2009

Green Lantern is scheduled to be released on 17 June 2011.





PURVIEW: The Price Is Right

15 07 2009

"My" episode airs 20 OCT 2009. Set your TiVos.

"My" episode airs 20 OCT 2009. Set your TiVos.

So. I attended a taping of The Price Is Right yesterday with my friend Kelly, her friend Sunny, and Sunny’s aunt Donna (still with me?).

The show is produced at CBS Studios in Beverly Hills (actually, it’s adjacent to The Grove, a (very) high-end shopping center; naturally, parking is not validated by the studio and we ended up fronting a bill for the daily maximum ($24).

We meant to arrive at 9 a.m. and were about thirty minutes late: too late, it seems, for the first taping of the day (12:30 p.m.). Kelly had arranged for “guaranteed” seats, but this was for naught as one of the CBS pages (adorned in a maroon blazer) informed us that the taping was “full.”

Indeed, each of the pages wore a similar “uniform” and none was older (it seemed) than 22. As to why anyone would desire to become a CBS page is beyond conjecture, but suffice it to say that there are (probably) less interesting ways to spend one’s summer.

In any case, we were told to return at 12:30 for the afternoon taping (4 p.m.) and our group was added to a list of intended returnees.

After some time spent window-shopping (with coffees, natch) at The Farmer’s Market (which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year), we made our way back to the studio. This renewed effort was rewarded with a spot in the audience.

Each of us was assigned a name tag and a number (yours truly was given #133) upon presentation of photo i.d. and proof of possession of a Social Security number (this, we were told, was necessary in the event that we won something as a contestant).

"The Waiting Game"

"The Waiting Game"

Much of the day was wasted with waiting for the taping to begin. We waited for our group to be called. We waited to be seen (and interviewed!) by the show’s producers (namely, Stan Blits). We waited to be seated in the studio. All in all, we were there for a little over eight-and-a-half hours (if our parking ticket was any indication).

First, the studio was much smaller than expected (about 300 guests fit comfortably). Second, despite some recent retooling of stages, the decor is as garish as anything from the 1970s (although the show debuted in 1956.

All the games you remember (and love) are there: “It’s In the Bag,” “Lucky Seven,” “Safe Crackers.”

In addition to cameras and crew members, there were three twenty-something(?) interns whose sole job (it seems) was to whip the audience into a frenzy. One guy in particular gesticulated at every opportunity, exhorting us to shout prices and advice to each contestant; yours truly made sure always to exclaim, “One dollar!”

The taping moved ploddingly: as the next game was assembled (behind curtains, natch) host Drew Carey engaged contestants: “Where are you from?”; “What do you do for a living?”; “Why are you here?” Drew made a consistent effort to suggest local eateries (In-N-Out, Pink’s, and Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles were among his favorites).

When a woman from our section was called (seated two rows behind yours truly), I knew then that I had a slim chance of being called “down.” For the record, she ended up bidding on the showcase featured at the end of the episode.

Nothing shouts classy like rubber daisies and blinking lights.

Nothing shouts classy like rubber daisies and blinking lights.

Her competitor, a cement mixer on legs, won not only a new car during his game but also landed $1 on the Big Wheel, thus claiming a $1000 prize. He went on to win the showcase showdown as well, netting nearly $60,000 in prizes (another new car among them).

A suggestion, then, reader if you want to be called as contestant, is that you should fulfill one of the following archetypes: attractive female college student; elderly (presumably feisty) woman; or, rugged and bearded behemoth.

Was I disappointed at not being called? Hardly. I almost didn’t stay for the second taping; when we were rebuffed upon arrival I intimated my desire to return home, but reconsidered. When else was I going to view a taping of one of the most venerated and consistent games shows in American television history?





REVIEW [Comics]: Power Up

15 07 2009
What if life came with power ups?

What if life came with power ups?

From the creator of Earthworm Jim comes this [autobio]graphic[al?] novel about the life of lowly retail employee Hugh [Randolph] and his dream of creating “the world’s greatest video-game!”

Hugh is frustrated with complacency, but reluctant to take chances and possibly improve his situation. His best friend and co-worker, Doyle, on the other hand, is content to trot along the path of least resistance, or, as Doyle’s boss puts it, “Doyle … will never advance.”

Moreover, Doyle’s deranged: as the duo drive to work, he pretends to consume pedestrians with his “Pac-Man hand” (“wocka-wocka-wocka”).

So what draws together this unevenly matched pair? Their love of playing and designing video-games, of course! And, in only a minor contrivance, Hugh stumbles across an antiquated game system at a yard sale. Soon, he discovers that the game is capable of bestowing powers upon him: “invisible shields,” a “continue flag,” and “boots of speed” (among others that any gamer/reader will surely recognize and appreciate).

As Hugh begins to activate such powers and improve his life (and, he hopes, the lives of his wife and son), he discovers that he should have been careful about his reach exceeding his grasp.

The story’s strongest elements belong to Hugh, who experiences his powers as would any other developing superhero: by trial-and-error, often with humorous results (Hugh’s thwarting of an attempted armed robbery is particularly funny).

Unfortunately, a sub-plot concerning Hugh’s strained relationship with his son is never really resolved and the plot’s conclusion is a literary “cheat” in the mode of many stories concerning wish fulfillment (but I’ve probably said too much already).

From a technical standpoint, TenNapel’s work is solid: each page possesses a simple layout, which serves the artist’s bold line-art and precise comic timing. Barker’s lettering is a great complement to the work as it functions in both a dynamic and loose way (the sound effects are particularly evocative).

Power Up is available from Image Comics, Inc. ($12.99)