Les Miserables

January 13, 2013

Les Miserables:

So: I had a general awareness of the plot beforehand – I’d been hearing about it for a while even before the film, and seen a few reviews recently. I didn’t have a prior attachment to the book or the musical, and I’ll probably be reading the book at some point, but more on that story later. I expect the book’s and the stage’s versions are far more complicated, and so I entirely bow to any beliefs that the plot was butchered, but, proceeding from only what I know:

I really enjoyed it. Musical film, like silent film, is generally forthright and simple; think of the plot of The Artist for example. The old reliable methods of dramatic film in conveying plot immediately are off-limits, and so all feeling is expressed directly through song. With that simplicity as a drive, the film’s two hours forty-five minutes layers simple-but-effective storytelling into a larger narrative, one where the pace never abates due to the flow of song.

It is inherently different from a stage production, I have to stress that. You don’t have to sing loud enough for the cheap seats – in fact, you can’t do that; the camera is right beside you and stage singing would come off as scenery chewing in an enclosed space. Makeup, hair, clothing – everything is different due to the viewer. This format changes the essential nature of the acting, and that might be part of the push-back on Jackman in the reviews – this isn’t a stage musical.

I honestly enjoyed his dramatic performance and believed his character.Overall it was refreshing to have a character make his main mistakes early on, change, find a new system of belief and hold to it throughout, rather than the usual try-succeed-fail-rise-succeed structure. I’m probably oversimplifying immensely, but it was a pleasant jolt to realise that Valjean confessing his identity wasn’t a dream to be dismissed but an admirable reality. Again, the medium of song simplifies things, and this even extends to his accepting a potential son-in-law he hasn’t met yet – barely met, in the case of his daughter. The stunts are interesting – all swiftly done, with the underemphasis associated with the limitations in action necessary on a stage.

I think stage direction is probably the biggest issue; while generally well handled, sometimes marvellously so, occassionally people were walking back and forth in a way that in stage space I suspect would be handled in a spotlight-aside, nullifying the already tenuous reality of the stage backdrop. On film, that is a lot harder to do, and can hardly be done all the way through. Second largest are the scene transitions – a flash of carriage wheels and you are in Paris! This is a both legacy of the stage production and a necessity of the film’s length.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine – a tragic character, all the more so because of how relatively brief her role is. However, the character gets excellent innings for the time she gets and Hathaway plays them to the hilt. The terror, and rage, and despair, and loneliness and hopelessness are all so strong. The forthrightness of song is what stops you from feeling cheated by the short span – Fantine’s songs are Fantine’s songs, and she can sing them by and for herself if she has to. Her reappearance is appropriately the climax of stage mutability in the film.

Russell Crowe definitely leans more on the dramatic rather than the operatic. He is the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others in this equation of actors. In terms of prominent characters, Javert is the character one can get away with to play and sound so stiff and unyielding. As to whether that is the best way to play him, I leave entirely to those far more knowledgeable than I regarding this character. Amanda Seyfried was great, for what she got to do, which was very little, apart from ‘being in love’. I actually found kid-Cosette more interesting, but only slightly so.

Redmayne as Marius, the other half of the instant-mutual-unspoken-love-at-first-sight plot with Cosette, at least gets to be a revolutionary. Not having seen the Marilyn Monroe film that launched him to fame, I am unfamiliar with his work, but he did well. Plenty of love songs, plenty of revolution songs, and a nice acappella reprise regarding the death of his friends. I’m equally unfamiliar with ‘I’d Do Anything’ winner Samantha Barks, but I really liked Eponine, given that she’d known Marius for more than five minutes when forming an attachment and actually appeared to have grown emotionally since childhood. Finding out the nature of that growth is a main reason I’ll be reading the book. Also, she gets to do stuff. She is mostly just heartsick over a guy, but at least she has something going on, personality wise, as problematic as that is. I was somewhat disappointed at the abrupt disconnect from her parent’s subplot without apparent repercussion.

I’ll be blunt; I dislike the whole insta-love concept between Marius and Cosette. I’ll be interested to learn if that is an artifact from the book or a product of plot pressure. Either way, it has that saccharine-sweetness of Moulin Rouge, of characters singing to one another about how great being in love is without the slightest expression or manifestation of what that feeling is between the two or why it is so great. At least Sweeney Todd made it quite clear how creepy Anthony was and how messed up Johanna was when indulging in first-sight romance. Speaking of which, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter could pretty much have been playing their characters from Sweeney Todd if they were married, down to putting all sorts of things in the meat grinder. Comedy in the film, due to tone and pace, is nearly non-existent, so the Thenardiers are a massive release for all that pent-up emotion, and the layers of quiet physical comedy only film can be afforded via cuts and transitions are so much fun.

The revolutionaries in general were good. Enjolras and Gavroche in particular combined utter cynicism and idealism in a way that made them interesting to watch. Their time in a sharp-start in comparison to the woven histories of the others, and there is a risk of making the revolution just the setting for the denounement rather than part of it. I think they succeeded in tying it in through song, though even then they needed the last scene to send the message home. The barricade and the revolutionaries do look small for a screen production, as opposed to the centrepiece status I understand it has in the stage production. Again I bow to the experienced, but for me it emphasised how limited this revolution is and how badly it has failed when they’re the last barricade standing. The more cinematic barricade in the final scene is just that – cinematic, impressive, inspirational and awesome. The grubby cull of the revolutionaries in reality is reflected in their small barricade and small buildings – all the more sad.

The only problem I had with the fight scenes were the red-paint-equals death nature of the injuries. I understand that this also could be an artifact of the stage, but it primarily seems like a bid to chase the 12A rating. Historical violence is a tricky issue in that respect – however, long scenes with prostitution as their focus, on the other hand, really seems like it should be rated a great deal higher. There actually were twelve year olds in the showing I attended, and there were plenty of whispered explanations in that scene – the one to the child in front of me consisting of ‘She is crying because that man stole her money’. Yes. Nudity and sex are also tricky matters, and the grim reality sex work shouldn’t be excised from education but I’m fairly sure that graphic prostitution should bump the film up at least a grade from 12A. That, however, is simply my opinion.

The ending is quick which, given that it is a sugar-spun confection of Cosette-Marius sweetness, is good. It gets us to the resolution of Valjean, Fantine, Eponine and all the other beloved dead in the film. I don’t particular care for Cosette and Marius, as you may have guessed, but if this is the mandated happy-ending, it is thankfully an aside to the journey of the rest of the characters. It is a work of art in the most basic sense – it is flawed, but I want to learn so much more about what it is and where it came from and depth of the whole Les Miserables works when put into their various format, temporal, historical, authorial contexts. I don’t understand Les Miserables yet – I think any fan of it couldn’t have read this review and mistake that I do – but I do understand that it is important now, and I will seek out ways to learn about it and to know it better.

For anyone not at all interested in any of the above but who comes across it anyway: play a game matching up Valjean to Nolanverse Batman and Javert to Talia Al Ghul, and Fantine, obviously, as Catwoman. Extra points go to matching Liam Neeson’s Ras Al Ghul to Valjean in the 1998 film.


Terminator Salvation – Spoilers

August 6, 2012

First of all, the plot, on reflection, I simply do not understand. The purpose of the cyborg Marcus was to lure John Connor to a Skynet base? Okay, apart from the basic coincidences and unlikely scenarios in that equation – of which, I feel, there are many. MANY. But still, apart from those: there are still at least three central problems with that, unless I am missing something:

1. The only reason John Connor follows Marcus to the Skynet base is because Kyle Reese is there. The only reason he knows Kyle Reese is there is because Marcus found Kyle in Los Angeles. If that was supposed to be Marcus’ programming, if that wasn’t coincidence, why didn’t Skynet just capture Kyle? It isn’t the element of surprise – they’ve already played their hand that they know who Kyle is by putting him on that kill list. So either the plan was for Marcus to randomly find Kyle and bring him to them OR he was programmed to find him and bring him to Skynet by the most dangerous and roundabout route possible.

2. The plan was to get John to a Skynet base to be killed. Okay. Not quite clear why he had to go to Skynet base – they don’t seem to have any intent to harvest his body and memories to turn him into an anti-Resistance hope-killer cyborg, like Marcus. That would make sense, but they never imply they are going to do it. But okay – he has to be gotten to a Skynet base, where he can be killed. The film STARTS with John Connor in a Skynet base that explodes – exploding exactly after he leaves it. They know he is there, the base is disposable to them and packed with Terminators. When he arrives at the base later? They send one Terminator. They don’t even give it a gun.

3. Finally – Okay, why kill John Connor? Why is he important? For a start, you literally have his father in your posession. The whole plot of the first movie was that you thought it was a good idea to kill his mother before John was even conceived, and, even if that failed then, this film takes place before the time travel of the first film, so you clearly think that is how time travel works. Why not kill Kyle, right then? I don’t know how you know who Kyle is, given that the events of the first film haven’t happened yet, but, if I’m to buy into your bullroar, this is the setup. Also, why kill John Connor anyway? In this universe, HE IS A USELESS IDIOT.

Let me expand on that.

We’re supposed to like Marcus. We, generally, do like Marcus. He is the amnesiac atoner wandering the post apocalyptic wasteland with a grab bag of extremely useful skills, extreme martial prowess and everyone wants on his team within moments of meeting him. He has all of the Terminator’s strengths, few of their weaknesses, and he is on our side. He is Jason Bourne meets Wolverine meets Tallahasse meets Blade meets Roland Deschain. He is, in short, the everyman mixed with male fantasy incarnate, the summation of that famous Snow Crash quote. It is so easy for one to place one’s self in his carefully vague heroic archetype. Also, he is the cyborg who silently desires to be human again which, like any Pinnochio-plot, flatters our vanity as humans as the aspired-to species. Sorta like how we like Ariel in Little Mermaid. Yeah, I went there.

In fact, why is Marcus a pre-apocalypse convict who gave his body to science? There are hundreds of captive humans ready to be experimented upon. Humans who people recognise, who have memories of key Resistance personnel, of this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Is it so things can be explained to Marcus? I think a whole-body brain transplant would explain amnesia. If you wanted him to be able to redeem himself, you could still have him be a survivor who made cold decisions prior to cyberisation. I honestly do not understand this motivation except that we could not like Marcus if he wasn’t from our period.

We even like his scrappy band. We like them less than Marcus, and they are rife with the worst type of stereotypes, but compared to Team Connor, they’re brilliant. We like Kyle because this is an origin story for him, and seeing his character grow knowing where it’ll go and his bittersweet ending. We like Star. Yes, she is the magical African-American mute, who lost her voice and gained a machine-sensing ability in her trauma. But the actor gives it her all, and she is rocking that sheriff’s star hat.

We even like Blair, who has perfect makeup and long flowing hair after a plane crash, who apparently can only walk a mile in uninhabited wasteland before her character is obligated to be a victim of attempted rape and to be rescued. Blair, who turns on the Resistance on a dime for a cyborg whose very nature implies dissimulation, and who gets really boring after she is recaptured.

Apparently McG cut a topless scene with her in the final edit, and believes that this makes a strong female character. A strong female character in Terminator is Linda Hamilton doing one-arm pull-ups and putting on the muscle. A strong female character is Sarah Connor using an attempted molestation to escape the psych ward. Blair Williams is not this. But yeah, we like her, compared to …

Team Connor: Kate Connor; This is the same character from Rise of the Machines. She is also Connor’s wife. I totally missed the former and barely picked up on the latter. I honestly … have nothing here. She exposits a bit about what Marcus is, and she has to do that transplant at the end, but I honestly felt nothing from her regarding her experiences with these machines, I felt nothing between these two romantically, and I felt nothing regarding her continued presence in the film. I honestly don’t know why they returned this character, beyond a continuity cameo, if they had absolutely nothing for her, for these actors to work with.

Then there is Barnes. He is Connor’s right hand man. We know this because John tells him to do stuff. Also, he lost his brother to Skynet at the start of the film, so, clearly, he is best person to leave with the captured cyborg. So he can torture it. Again, he has nothing else. Then there is Michael Ironside’s Head-of-the-Resistance character. We know he is supposed to be totally unreasonable because he doesn’t love John Connor. Still, the plot steam rolls right over that by having him tell John anything John wants to know, and not really trying to stop John when John does anything the Resistance does not want John to do.

I am sorry, I am truly sorry. I am being sarcastic here, and that isn’t really fair to the fans of this film and this franchise. But this the fourth rewrite of the last two paragraphs I’ve tried to write and that is all that is coming out. I really, really dislike how inelegantly they’re trying to manipulate me into cheering for these cardboard cutouts called the Resistance. And, as we come to John Connor himself, it only gets worse.

Christian Bale has proven, through his work with Christopher Nolan and others, that he is one of the finest damn all-round actors around. Drama, action, romance or tragedy, mystery, science fiction, crime or thriller – Bale can do it, and he can make it look effortless. I believe him, no matter what he does. So, I want to be clear that that is entirely separate from I’m talking about here. Here, in Terminator Salvation, Bale is trying, but has scant-to-nothing to work with. Y’know that male fantasy I spoke about regarding Marcus? John Connor is when that fantasy is fulfilled by a very basically unsympathetic character. Wesley Gibson in Wanted.

John Connor is the foretold son of the uprising, the destined leader of the Revolution. And he knows this. And everyone who gives HIM orders? That person is jealous, uninformed or shortly proven wrong – often in a way that John had no certain way to be right about. John has orders in a Skynet base – okay, but he has to look up this stuff first. He gets extracted from the destroyed base? Well, he has to be debriefed by Resistance command themselves, and he’ll jump out of a carrier and make them take him on board, even though the whole plot eventually centres around the risk posed to command if their base is discovered. Sometimes a film about a hero before he is a hero plays up how inadequate he or she is – Terminator, for example. This wasn’t that. This is assuming we all feel that John is the saviour of humanity. By his own admission, Skynet has outstripped where they were, technologically, when John was still relevant in the timestream. This version of John has been made redundant from destiny, and he still going on regardless.

And it goes on like that. Everyone who doesn’t worship the legend of Connor is wrong and everyone else worships him beyond reason. Even the radio transmissions are self indulgent. Firstly, again, the whole plot of the film eventually revolves around Resistance bases being tracked down by broadcasts. If Skynet wants to kill him, target that base when he broadcasts. Secondly, he may say that he is making everyone the Resistance, but he isn’t. He is making himself the voice and the story of the Resistance, and arbiter of who is and who is not Resistance. He doesn’t tell the stories of all the unsung heroes of the Resistance that he has known, and how you can be like them too – he talks about he knows about the machines and about he was always right about them and the fact that they’re going to make humaniform Terminators.

So, when he says for the Resistance fighters to hold off, he doesn’t do so because he doesn’t think the signal will work, or because he is that concerned about the human hostages (that isn’t what seals his decision) but because his dad, and therefore himself, is at risk. And, therefore, the itself Resistance is at risk. Forget the fact that he could be working on info from a cyborg who could have easily, easily, could have been programmed to lie about Kyle’s existence, location, and continued being-alive-ness. Forget the self-indulgent strategy of going in by himself, trailing after Marcus, which works because this is a trap, more than anything else. Forget even what the escape plan was supposed to be. This is John Connor being essential to everything and everything and everyone else radiating outwards from that premise. And it doesn’t sell it.

Apparently this was supposed to end with John Connor’s flesh being grafted onto Marcus’ metal skeleton, continuing the myth, and that it was changed after fan outcry after a leak. In terms of PR I think if this had been made after Avatar’s release, with the added cache of Sam Worthington’s name, it might have changed the game. Still, that, in execution, is too heavy-handed. The film made the point that most people knew Connor by his voice. We know vocal reproduction is well within the range of some Terminators. Marcus takes on John’s voice. Easy-peasey. Still wouldn’t have made this film great. They would really have to dig into the plot of this film to fix it. Essentially? I have no clue of, no door into who John Connor is and what he is to others. I see worship and command and enmity, but I don’t see what it is built around. Pricking the mystique of who John Connor is, a central mystery to the first film’s temporally immacculate conception of the future’s hero, required a great plot to justify. This was not that plot. This was pretty tepid.

I think the central failure is that this is a movie set in a war for humanity’s survival, but this is not a war movie. This is an action movie. It isn’t on the scale of a war, it doesn’t have the stakes of a war and it doesn’t have the cast of a war. This film rotates around two characters who decide everything. This is supposed to be a world resistance; I am struggling to think of a scene where more than five people speak. Skynet central looks to be about the size of factory, and is a day-or-two’s travel from a resistance base. If this was supposed to evoke something bigger than World War II, it utterly failed. If WII was on this scale the whole Axis-Allies conflict would have take place in North America, and Winston Churchill, in Downing Street, could have mooned Adolf Hitler across the road in the Reichstag. Kill Resistance command? You could do it while boiling an egg – twice. No military strategy, no corps camaraderie, no exploration of resource issues, no exploration of population issues, no battles, no surgical strikes, no training, no damn casualties that mean anything. And yet the action movie plot doesn’t satisfy either. Resistance can’t win because the war can’t be over before a Terminator is sent back in time – we know this, so there can be no tension, in either the Resistance’s possibility of success or in the possibility of their total destruction. Because neither side has an achievable goal, neither can win out over the destiny of John Connor.

Also: nobody is smart. Everyone is an idiot, not just John. Resistance Command: apart from all my other criticisms; don’t broadcast the kill signal from your location. You apparently have many transmitters, given DJ Connor’s broadcasts. Skynet: apart from all my other criticisms; don’t make the control chip on your cyborg easily removable from the base of his skull. Resistance fighters: John Connor has been telling you for years about how Skynet will create robots that can impersonate humans. You know what you don’t do? You don’t follow the easily fakeable voice on the radio telling you to stand down when your superiors are telling you that you have one chance to end this war. Skynet and Resistance seem to have survived through mutual incompetence rather than competing brilliance. In terms of Michael Ironside battle-mentors, Starship Troopers outranks Terminator Salvation.

Finally: The reason I think this film is so wedded to being an action movie rather than a war movie is because that was what the original Terminators were. This outing has fundamentally changed the makeup of the classic Terminator attempt to stop Judgement Day by having had Judgement Day occur – but it still wants to use the same format as those films for a fundamentally different, dissonant story. If it wanted to create a new trilogy that side of Judgement Day, a trilogy where John Connor’s mystique is carefully unpacked, then they needed to choose a different format than befriend-a-stranger-against-Terminators, have a fight in a factory, blow up a thingy. That, and the references. They spent time putting a Terminator guarding a human in a truck evading a Terminator on a motorbike because it was the reverse of the scene in the second movie. They spent time saying ‘Come with me if you want to live’ and ‘I’ll be back’ for reference value alone. They spent time putting in a naked CGI Arnold trying to kill a Connor to refer to the first film. And then they game the reference by having it functional after doused in molten lava. ‘Cause it is serious now!

And, quite frankly, Skynet forces were only mildly visually interesting. Arrested in the Terminator model as ultimate predator, all we get are a few variations on motorcycles, troop carriers, insects and giant Terminators as a supposedly scary scale of Skynet warfare.

Like the Matrix sequels, the inability to change format when the story revealed a larger theatre of human involvement, instead continuing with an individual’s destiny and decision themes in a film where we’re all supposed to be at war against the machines and not a moment of it feels convincing due to out-of-place repetitions of and winking references to previous films which had fundamental story differences to this sequel. Who knows – maybe this timeline will be erased too?


Scott Pilgrim; Volumes 2-6 & The Film

March 12, 2011

The Books

So: I liked this.

Indie Music? I -maybe- hear what is hot on Today FM’s Pet Sounds and Last Splash. That is the totality of my out-there music. My use of the word ‘hot’ should signal how ‘hip’ I’m with ‘da kids’.

Vintage Video Games? I know Sonic more from his cartoons, Mario more from the strange film. I thought the green-capped long-hair on the ‘Legend of Zelda’ games was the titular Zelda. Seriously.

Scott Pilgrim? Pretty jerky. Dating a 17-year-old, whom he dumps for the literal-girl-of-his-dreams – but not before asking out and making out with said LGOHD. And he is pretty ok with ending people.

So: I liked this.

The art style is tricky – occasionally I will have to re-read a scene and deduce who exactly this is; the faces and eyes are pretty interchangeable, particularly on the female characters. The hair is often destinctive, but given how often this can change, it can be confusing. The compact black and white palette compounds this – although coloured, widescreen comics can become subject to this too: (Runaways, volume 3 so far, I’m looking at you – remember; Minoru is Asian, Chase shouldn’t resemble Fred from Scooby-Doo and Klara is NOT in her teens!) The name-tag/fact-bar are really quite necessary – I’d find it near impossible to recognise a minor recurring character. As with Runaways, I’m reminded why most comic book characters wear uniforms.

That said – the art for this builds the world. A truly original universe. There is the basic level – basic, in terms of colour, shading, complexity – yet so well done it there is no disconnect for the reader. Onto this framework is built stunning sequences of action – the basic frame bringing a video game to mind, but the action, emotion and expression involving us with the characters. This is a world of video game imagery we can be entertained by and has story that we can engage with. This is a world where line music streams across the bottom of the page, where group-cooking a vegan meal is half cooking show, half documentary. It isn’t that it never becomes cartoonish, it is that the events are funny because we know the characters, like an old 25-minute Bugs Bunny.

The writing is also tricky. Also, I’ll admit, there were some ideas I was playing catch-up with; The head-bump that locks one in one’s own mind – would have liked a little more on that. Also, the Ramona getting stuck in a freezer with six other of Gideon’s exs? Aside from these – and I these are really minor for me – this work has a great ability to be comfortable while writing away from its ostensible central premise, while still adding subtle things to that premise. In many ways the simple cartoon premise – beat seven bosses, win the girl – makes such a straight line that even when you take detour you can still see the main road all the time. Its a complex plot, but it is complex about mundanities and emotions rather than geodesic puzzles and swift surprises.

The writing makes the world. Death is serious – but not that serious? Save points, extra lives, hyperspace doors and hammerspace handbags? Super-powered vegans, cyborg drummers, demon hipster chicks, chubby half-ninjas, self-drying psychics and the power of love. There is the dream-logic, game-logic, song-logic of the storytelling that guides through an impossible, mundane world – where not only can people perform incredible feats through practicing combos, but that these abilities can be totally apart from the person themselves – that the greatest fighter in the province can also be sharing a futon in a bomb shelter-looking apartment with his roomate. A world where past events can be expressed as taking up ‘pages’ and where people are told to ‘read volume one’ without irony. It is a world of dreams, onto which we can project problems and complexities for satisfaction.

The cast of characters, apart from the above-mentioned problems with recognition, compliment the complexity. In the main cast, the afforementioned Scott-being-jerk a la Peter Pan aside, these seem like … people you could meet. Or have met. Or were at that party that one time. Apart from the whole vegan superpowers and battle robots, which are really just other ways for one to grind exp., they are all caught up in the mix of intrigues, projects, moving days, lies and lunacy of the rest of us. They have their own adventures prior to, in parallel with and probably after Scott’s time with them. Ramona certainly has a septology’s worth of adventures from her pre-Scott era. Stephen Stills has an almost certainly as-interesting revelation about his own career, recurring relationship with Julie and his own sexuality. Kim Pine even had a few strips of her own regarding her jerky roommates. Wallace clearly requires his own tv show.

I’ve heard about the idea that all this, on one level or another, is taking place in Scott’s head. Given the events of the books, I’d pretty much take that as an assumption. The only addition I’d make is that all the other stories that are happening in all the other heads are equally awesome.

Oh, they’re all jerks, like Scott. Apart from their comedy-sociopath reaction to repeated murder attempts on Scott, the following; Ramona makes out with her ninja ex-girlfriend after inaccurately-accusing Scott of doing the same. Wallace is pretty relieved Scott has a girlfriend, as Scott won’t be homeless when Wallace moves out. Kim Pine tells Scott off for dating high schooler Knives Chau … then drunkenly makes out with Knives. Knives dates Young Neil just to get close to Scott again. Young Neil calls Stephen Stills ‘Capt Homo’ which, when we find out what was going on in that period, is quite cruel. And so on. And this insn’t the slightest reason no to read it, just a slight underlining to warn you that if you can’t take the occassionally jerky behaviour, stay out of the vegan-friendly kitchen.

As for the rest of the cast: People move in and out of the range of the story, the way people do. A host of villains, partygoers, one-night-stands, movie stars, barristas and samurai dads. Legendary.

The Film:

So yeah, I generally liked this.

The filmography – not the first place I’d usually go, but, like the art in the book, this builds the world. The special effects, the camera angles, the set and costume design, the stunts and, of course, the music – however you’d like refer to these cement this as a cult classic for a considerable fraction of all time. None of it was … ‘clunky’. It didn’t get in the way of what we know must happen. Hollywood has insanely pandered to our desire to see the villain not just fail, but be captured. This carried it farther, onto the realms of unconscious expression, where they all explode into coins. Its imagery was never constricted by contemporary mores or iconography. They used these mores and images, sure, but I never got the feeling that in ten years nobody is going to have a damned idea what is going on here, or have to read the books to get it.

Story: The dialogue is the book verbatim – just in different places. Only when re-reading the books did I realise just how much of it had come from them, albeit in different contexts. And it worked. With Watchmen there was a scene or two in the end that felt really weird, with Laurie ‘quoting’ something Dr Manhattan ‘would have said’ to get that line in without the original scene. I appreciated the changes yes, but some of it was done was really odd. As for the other changes – largely they were cuts, and largely I liked them. Yes, I missed the Kim Pine story – the thing that was closest to “*could* have been kept in for plot relevance” – but overall these largely practical cuts. Making the band plot a ‘battle of the bands/signing deal plot’ did work to parallel the main plot. I still had perhaps two major issues with the story overall (they are somewhat related).

Firstly, the time-compression. A year becomes a week. There was some loss of Scott’s other ways to grow outside of his romantic relationship – which was ptherwise a great message in this film – and said relationship is now only a week-wide. Still, I’m not that vehement about this point. It does make it more palatable for a single sitting, and, more importantly, it really contributes to the end aesop that the Power of Love is all very well, but that that of Self-Respect has a much, much cooler sword. This film single-handed goes a great ways to undo some of the damage the film-shorthand ‘power-of-love-saves-the-day’ has done over the years. By keeping the relationship relatively short so far, it underlines why Scott should be fighting for himself rather than Ramona. Which, alas, brings me onto my big gripe.

Ramona and Knives. A little fact I learned later that explained a lot:
Apparently, at the time of filming, Scott was going to hook up with Knives at the end of the books. Now, just let me say: This, while a little weird, wouldn’t have put me off too much as the book’s ending. By the last book, Knives has become a wonderful young woman who is so much further on from where she started out. She got over her first love, got past dating guys to make that crush jealous, got over her first beloved band, got over getting punched out by the drummer of her adored band and is off to have her own, awesome life. And is 18. I feel I should stress that. In the film however, this means a crazy Knives, who is still attacking Ramona for Scott’s mistakes, is supposed to be the love interest. Thankfully, this didn’t happen, and the ending was changed as the O’Malley decided Ramona made the better story.

And Ramona did make a great story. After spending a year with the ‘nicest guy she has ever dated’ and dealing with her seven evil exes teaming up to destroy said nicest guy, she ran off – which is significant, as she manages to escape the two classic traps of either hooking up with the villain or getting put in his dungeon. Running off was immature of her, but it put strides ahead of many a love interest. She is messed up, but going away on her own terms – and, most particularly – coming back on her own, and her on own terms, AND driving the evil, evil stalker Gideon from her head on her own terms was wonderful. It prompts Scott’s own revelation about the chain of dumped and dumping and sets up their tag-team deathmatch to destroy Graves. Film-Ramona goes back to Graves, has a chip on her neck, gets rescued, gets to knee him in the balls then get kicked down the stairs. Which is a real slap in the face after the great hammer/stand-on-my-shoes fight.

I whine and whine about poor stories for female characters, but the book is the stuff that reminds they can be done well. The fallout from this is the following: Knives clearly is underlined as the love interest in the end – from the ‘Knives-Scott tag-team’, ton ‘wow, yeah, wow’, to the ‘you make a good team’ bit, it is clear which way it was being pushed, even in the final cut. The deleted scenes version makes it really explicit. And so in the Ramona/Scott is the rescued girl who Scott has only know for a week and with whom he appears to leave everything for. The alternate ending with Knives/Scott is worse – Scott goes back to dating the crazy 17 year old and Ramona walks through a door (which, gives the absolute midnight behind it, looks sort of like death – not something we wanna associate with her not having a guy. Not having a guy is a fine end for her, but for god’s sake, have HER walk into the sunrise then, not this inky spectre of death stuff).

So, rant over. In short: I actually preferred the bit when Scott died, with him rerunning everything. Really drove home the growth. And was awesome. The whole subspace/memory-editing thing was so weird that even in the context of all other ninja-mystic weirdness that was around it, it was weird – and so would have been difficult to adapt without several minutes of pure exposition. I was ticked off at how the whole plot for Ramona was reduced to chip-on-neck stuff, but still, I see how hard that would be to adapt.

Casting wise, I really want to see Kieran Culkin in more films from now on. It was eerie seeing not-MacCauley’s features on a a screen, but he is a wonderful actor. Anna Kendrick shows us all why she has been nominated best supporting actress in the biz (best part of the Twilight films’ school scenes, without a doubt), and I kinda want to see the film she got nominated for now. Michael Cera rightfully remains a leader in the particular typecasting subset that of quirky-young-heroes-with-idiosyncratic-critically-acclaimed-stories that Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Long, Aaron Johnson, Jason Schwartzman occupy. Speaking of, Schwartzmann was a great villain. A little light on backstory, but a real sonnova-bleep. Elizabeth Mary Winstead was great. She had excellent villain-chops in Sky High and, to be honest, kept thinking of this as Sue Tenny grown up – c’mon; mysteriously left America, had several super-powered evil boyfriends in high school, has access to high technology, has dabbled in being a bitch. Ah, conspiracy theories. But seriously, I hadn’t clicked with me that she’d been in Die Hard 4, or Deathproof (I’ve seen trailers). A quick google image search and I realised that depending on her hairstyle, I’m probably going to mistake her for Emma Stone, Jennifer Garner, Anna Friel and/or Katy Perry. The dyed hair really made her stand out in my mind by comparison. Girl needs a duelling scar, is what I’m saying. And Alison Pill – oh, Alison Pill. That Kim Pine voice and that Kim hair and Kim Pine drums. The two takes on her reaction to Scott’s entrance to Gideon’s club were equally genius. Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, etc – great. The exes – magnificent.

Ultimately? I read the books before I saw the film, burt I saw the trailer before I read the books, so these are the voices I hear when I read the books, the faces I impose on the drawings. And I’m cool with that.

I hope it does well on the DVDs. There isn’t any terrible compulsion, of course – there isn’t any more of this individual story to tell, everyone involved has a career afterwards and appear to have plenty of work. But genre-busting off-kilter adaptations of indie stuff should be encouraged. It shouldn’t be the only thing on the screem, but it shouldn’t be once-in-a-decade stuff. Ah well. More particularly, I shall, again, have to widen my reading horizons to see what I’m missing in the OEL Manga / Oni-Press stakes. And that is 2,500 words.


Reviews: Anna Mercury (1st miniseries, part of second) and Astro City (Various)

August 19, 2010

Anna Mercury:

I’ve read the first first 5-issue miniseries and a little of the second miniseries. Codename Anna Mercury (aka Anna Britton) is a cat-suited, red-headed, thigh-high-booted top operative for the British government, indulging in spying, espionage and outright heroing. Which would have me banging my forehead against the keyboard in annoyance right there. Ridiculous costumes and impractical premises are, to my mind, the author’s way of saying that, when engaging a female lead, their readers have a mental age of about twelve – that, either this is the only thing I could imagine a female character being and doing, or I simply wouldn’t read one who didn’t. It isn’t even just a gender issue – though it is a significant one at that – but also a simple rule of thumb of how good, or bad, the rest of the book is going to be.

So, uphill struggle there. And yet, Ellis delivers.

Partly, it is the rest of the premise: In the middle of the twentieth century, nine imaginary worlds were discovered in ‘orbit’ around the Earth – invisible to external observation, yet the pocket universes they exist in (some only 500 miles across) could be reached by electromagnetically ‘shunting’ agents into them. All persons and things moved from the Earth to an orbiting world, or vice versa, return – it varies, but the maximum is two hours – and while inorganic matter returns harmlessly, organics explode on return. By ‘crash-loading’ power into a compact ‘anchor’ system on the moment of transit, the agent can stay fourteen hours maximum – but the power for all their superhuman feats comes off of the same system, so the more they do, the less time they have. With no power at all, the agent will inevitably return and die.

Also, all of these imaginary worlds are diverse in design and imagery – impossible blends of history, invention and cultural blending. Of the two worlds we’ve seen so far, one is where the ship from the Philadelphia Experiment crash-landed, simultaneously the first discovery of the imaginary worlds by the Earth and creation of the religion of the electro-magnetic miracle on that imaginary world, totally warping the society around electro-magnetic principles (Ellis has a thing about electromagnetism as religion – see the religious isue of Transmetropolitan), and one with equal parts lineage from a specific Asian, African and Caucasian historical group, blending into something that is one part all of the above and one part Krypton from the old Superman comics. Also – the Viking motif of the second series invaders is cool.

Lastly, though, it is Mercury’s character. She is crazy. And hilarious. And has the idiosyncratic swearing vocabulary of cockney sailor who read Heinlein. And it is true to her universe. This is a British sci fi spy comic – they have to tap the national grid to power her anchor device, and her mission is all a matter of how much power she has and what she can get done before it runs out. At the same time, she is believeable in the spy world of Atraxia, with everything having changed in just the week she was away, and with her death-defying stunts & impossible costume inspiring people, by sheer audacity, against the extremely dictatorial society they’re stuck in – and doing it because that world was warped by the intrusion from Earth, and because if that world creates and weaponises shifting technology, Earth’ll nuke it.

And, while it is still early on, and may be explained, there are still major problems.

First off are the twists. First issue is presented with a cold open in alien-looking Atraxia, with no indications of the modern day. On the last page we learn about Mercury being an agent from Earth. And pretty much every issue ends with some class of twist in this vein – the supergun is the size of a city, Anna actually looks fairly ordinary out of her costume, etc. While interesting, I already knew most of them from just trying to find out enough about the book to get a copy. Therefore, maybe these didn’t have the proper effect on me, but I felt as if I was going ‘okay’ where I was supposed to being ‘omg’. The pacing overall reads a little like crash-loading itself – there is a lot being set up here and that is good, but, given that it is going to be probably a year between volumes, it seems off-beat for something this slow.

In particular, there is one agent who survived returning without an anchor, one world where the agency’s cover isn’t partially blown. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be that much general knowledge about the worlds in orbit. The second series is set in ‘one of the constellation worlds we haven’t mapped yet’. How many of the nine are unmapped? True, Ellis makes the point that they’ve being perfecting the technology since the forties to this point – still, though, they’ve UAVs, and each of the G8 nations has a group of agents. Yes, the world that got screwed up by the Philadelphia Experiment did need attention – but this just seems like mystery for mystery’s sake. Also, in the second series, the African-Asian-Caucasian world finds a way to send things permanently to Earth – breaking an early rule already, and for what seems like shock-change’s sake.

Then, there is Anna’s costume. Yes, I know – as bad as Sigourney Weaver’s character on Galaxy Quest getting asked, essentially, about her boobs and how they fit in her costume – but as it would have been what turned me off the book, I think it is important. Initially I assumed the costume had a utilitarian use – that it was related to her stunts & powers. That it was half her madness, half her attempt at inspiration was charming – but the thing doesn’t seem particularly tough or insulated. Sending an agent out in it seems to make the agency oddly informal. The powers themselves are even more confusing – through the all purpose magic of electromagnetism, Anna can defy gravity, induce electro-magnetic pulses, become superstrong, control minds, teleport – mall of which have traces of relation to unified field theory but are never explained. I expect better from Ellis.

So: fun read, but if you read it now with an eye to the long-term functions of the series, it may be painful.

 

Astro City:

Somewhat shorter than the Mercury review, because I’ve already gushed in this blog about the essential thing I love about Astro City; It isn’t that the A-plot is the superheroes, B-plot is the drama, as it is in maney comics, or vice versa, as it is in some comics, but that superheroes are the context of a wonderful world-set of stories. Particular reminders of this I’ve been reading recently are:

Volume 1; 1-6

1:

So, this was the opening to Astro City Universe. And it is good. My dear heavens yes. First story is a day in life of the Samaritan, the Superman analogue. Sure, we’ve seen a day-in-the-life stuff with Superman. Old Supes goes into work as Clark Kent, has to step out of his office occassionally as Supes, does stuff we don’t usually see. We feel for the fellow, cause he doesn’t get the slack due him-

Yeah, this isn’t that. Or it is, but turned up to eleven. Samaritan wakes up – its his emergency warning system. His alarm clock has never woken him up, because he is ALWAYS called early. Stops a tsunami before breakfast, gets into work just on time. He isn’t a time-consuming reporter – he is a fact-checker, a task his warning-computer can take care of as every second – literally – is taken up by his daily duties. Remember that scene in the first Superman film where he gets the cat out of tree for the little girl, after foiling all those robbries and saving that airplane? Exact same scene happens here – ending with the Samaritan resolving never to slow down, enough for someone to see him, like that again; the extra seconds almost cost a man his life in Boston. The important thing is he will rescue the cat again – he just won’t slow down enough for the girl to understand what has happened, or for him to be thanked. Indeed, he only goes to the award ceremonies in his honour because people thought he was cold – and always leaves early.

And as for Asa Martin, the fact checker alter ego? Nonentity. Busiek notes in a later story – Dinner At Eight – that information technology has progressed far beyond the point where the Samaritan needs a job at a major newspaper to stay informed. The Martin-side is the Samaritan gripping at a human connection by his fingernails. The Samaritan knows – categorically – that in the time it would take for him to crack a joke with ‘Jimmy Olsen’ or flirt with ‘Lois Lane’, people will die. There is nothing more that the Samaritan likes than to fly – and at the end of the day his many super-speed flights total up to a few seconds – which is a ‘good’ day because that is the most time he has flown in a day all year. Still, he gets to fly longer – in his dreams.

2:

The Scoop is the story of what actually be like to be a reporter in a world filled with superheroes; nothing can be confirmed because they have no publicists, no evidence can be got because their fights can happen in other universes, in other times, can have never happened at all. The young reporter in the story sees a group of heroes save the world against an apocalyptic being – and the only thing he can prove was that when was dumped back into the universe in a subway station, the shark that landed there with him stopped a train in its tracks. Perhaps this inadequately conveys how much I love this story, but let me say – for a comic that is ostensibly about a mild-mannered reporter, Superman has, in the admmittedly very little I’ve read, often used the newspaper as a framing device rather than a legitimate, consistent mindset. Maybe not all that troubling when Supes is duking it out with Brainiac – but when Superman is agonizing about how his superpowers can’t stop Luthor becoming president, when two American presidents have been impeached by the work of reporters, not superhumans, it is really annoying. Apart from instances in ‘Birthright’, I find this angle lacking in DC – and dealt well with here.

5:

Skipping on – Mister Bridwell, that nice old codger-lodger upstairs? Alien shapechanger. Sent here to assess Earth’s superhumans. True, he has been dragging his feet in sending off his final report – Yes, the old bit about our alien assessor interested enough in us enough to not report us – but not necessarily in a good way. Decides to stake the whole thing on one superhero’s day – and unluckily for the Earth, it is Crackerjack, the most self-serving, obnoxious, rude, idiot hero on offer. And, rather than discovering some hidden charitable streak in Crackerjack, we find only low-grade narcissm. Crackerjack is still a hero – just one who loves himself so much he lies even to himself about how idiotic his stunts & preening are. Still Bridwell realises why he paused; his race were once the scum of the galaxy – a species-wide Crackerjack if you will, as a shapeshifter race might well be – and became great. Perhaps they should be spared- except, when one of Crackerjack’s civilian identities is exposed, people start praising that identity, and pretending they always did – angering Bridwell to call on the invasion of the Earth. Particularly favourite due to the setup for the ‘Confession’ arc, from the alien invaders, to Crackerjack, to the Confessor himself.

6:

Dinner at Eight is, basically, Superman & Wonderwoman actually trying to date. This involves pretty much every other hero in the series picking up the saving-slack that night. Remember the bit in the first issue about the Samaritan? Multiply by two. And such repetition would kill this piece, except with what Busiek chooses to do with it. Basically, we find out the Samaritan’s origin – emigre from a far-flung future of a dessicated Earth that he stopes from ever being by completing his mission (Lily’s fake back story from Soon I Will Be Invincible). We find out about ‘Wonderwoman’s’ (Winged Victory) daily life, running a series of once-shelters, now schools, for the empowerment of women, which she gets labelled as a ‘lesbian-terrorist/cult-leader’ for promoting. This storytelling is then used in a very natural way to expose two types of superhero perspective – there is Samaritan, who has lost everything he identified with as normal before getting his powers, desperately trying to keep otherwise-needless connections with the world alive – and there is Winged Victory, surrounded with the world as it was before she got her powers, who has connections with her old life that she never revisits, staying in her Winged Victory almost all the time, with no alter ego. And yeah, they fight about that when it is presented to each other by each other. But they’re also smart characters. When they do work it out, on the stroke of midnight, all the distractions end, just for a moment – his warning system has no news, her transformative-amulet has no images – and they kiss, in a rare quiet moment. And then they’re called away. But it is very sweet.

Yeah, I’d like a little more about Winged Victory’s backstory. I can see that her daily life is far more appropriate to contrast against Samaritan’s past in this story – but I’d really like to see a story of her own. This is in no small part because of the Wonderwoman equivalency, and I would love to see the internal consistency Busiek brings to the Superman mythos brought to the Wonderwoman mythos – particularly given how inconsistent it is, even compared to other comics and given how major the character is. Oh, I want to find out about the N-forcer, MPH, Cleopatra, Quarrel II, etc – but the concept of a hero independant of the major organisation – the Honour Guard – making a systematic political, cultural and gendered contribution to society is a mindset I prefer over punch-out-the-lava-monster.

Local Heroes;

1:

Newcomers is a story told from the perspective of a hotel doorman who moved to Astro City a couple of decades ago. Originally when he got there, Pete couldn’t wait to get out – it was a crazy place. Still is, as we follow three groups Pete gives advice to on how to survive the city – a television exec who wants to pitch a tv series to Samaritan, and is swelled on self-importance on how this will go, a crime lord who wants to negotiate with some Astro City villains for turf in the town, and a small family who’d like to see the sights, and maybe a hero or two. Well, the exec gets embarassed -a real Lois Lane would never wear a skirt, even though the one in the animated series always did-, the crimelord gets terrified -supervillains and superheroes fighting are way out of the league of a guy just in from quiet little Chicago- and the family gets to help save some trapped visitors in the midst of an attack on the museum they were. Pete knows as soon as he sees them which of the three sets will be back, one day. And why not? It is why he stayed. We get treated to the time when, many years ago, just before Pete would have had enough money to leave this crazy place, an extremely crazy superbattle happened outside his hotel. And when a large stone hand was about to crush a little girl, Pete gets her top safety. The look on his face as he hands the kid back to her mother, then looks up at the heroes desperately trying to save the day above, and the smile he gets then, that is all I really have to say about the superb art for this story. And as for the superb story for this story, all I can say is: we learn that the teenage girl that Pete looked upon appraisingly at the start of the story (new boyfriend, but better than the last one) is the one saved. She walks past there every day. He doesn’t know her name – their little bit never made the papers. He doesn’t know her – never talked to her, never will. But remembers that day – he remembers it. He lives in Astro City – and he wears a uniform too. Stupid book! Only UP is allowed to make me feel like that.

 

2:

Shining Armour is: remember in the old days when Lois Lane would try to expose Superman’s secret identity, and Superman would screw around with the means of exposure, to make her look silly/crazy/wrong? This is that, only with an internal consistency with the fact that both of these people are persons we should greatly admire. In this frame are placed Irene and Atomicus – she the 1960s era of up-and-coming mayoral aide, he the newborn fully-grown atomic superhero with knowledge, but no memory of who or what he was before the accident gave him life. I think the greatest compliment I can pay to Irene’s character is that rather tag on spunky-girl-politician and be done with it, Irene’s story of how she got into the mayor’s office was not only one of the best backstories I’ve read of female civilian character, but also one of my favourite parts of te story – and this important later. Anyway; set on getting the perfect man along with the perfect job (and that is the core of Irene’s character flaw here) she pursues the then-recent hero Atomicus. She works out what is happening, he beats the bad guys up – but he can’t quite propose.

Suddenly, Adam Peterson (‘Atom’ and ‘son of Petrov’, as Irene works out early on, and good on her!) starts working at the mayor’s office. Irene takes this as the task Atomicus has set her – prove my secret identity, prove your worth and I’ll marry you. And so start the antics, with the ‘this-only-weakens-Atomicus!’ device and the ‘arrange-for-Adam-and-Atomicus-to-be-in-the-same-place’. And he seems to play back – he diddles the anti-Atomicus device to affect everyone a little bit, and uses ‘Atomic-duplicates’ to be in two places at once. Except he isn’t playing. He is running. He wants an alter ego to learn how to be human because he isn’t. He wants her to teach how to be human – and given how smarmy he can be in outwitting her latest attempt to expose him, he really does need the education. But, in the end, he flies off into space, forever, in frustration, and she gets fired for losing the world a superhero.

The whole story is told by Irene in her older years, to her daughter. We agree with the daughter – the tragedy isn’t what happened, it is that Irene thought she needed a guy to shore her up, when she was so obviously awesome so early on in the story. Both Irene and Atomicus were crazy – one due to the imposition of social mores, one due to the total lack of them. The daughter, Samantha, is a lesbian – a part of her life she is open about with her mother – is ironically having to hide the fact that she is the new Flying Fox. Irene was pretty much all the intellectual & investigative hard-working parts of a superhero team in her day – only her daughter realises that that means not waiting around for someone else. As with The Scoop, I’ve been waiting for this story. The thing that gets on my nerves is the idea that Superman and Lex Luthor are analogues to one another – Superman greatest among superhumans, Lex greatest among humans – Not how I see it.

To my mind, Lex Luthor is the villainous analogue to Lois Lane. They are the smartest humans on the planet (and I like it when Lois is smart), and they are both well-informed enough to be cynical. Lex never believes Superman is as good as he claims to be, or is deluded if he actually is. Lois, despite being systematically cynical about everything in life, can still hope, and believe – such as that a man with unparalleled superhuman powers would use them for good – and yet is still smart enough to realise what an exceptional person that superhuman would have to be. Way I see it, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor are warring patiently for no less than Superman’s immortal soul, representing both the best and worst ways of humanity. So, yeah, I’d it known that she’s someone we’d write stories about even if there weren’t a Superman. This idea has been touched on before – in Hancock, the villain has chosen to use his great powers of charisma for evil, and Ray, the PR guy of the superhero, has dedicated his life to using his charisma and vision for good. Explicitly so. Hancock has no PR powers. It is why Ray is the one to cut the villain’s other hand off in the climax.

Also, I like it when the female leads work out the secret identity – being the intelligent, incisive people they are, with the ability to believe in the male lead’s to actually step up to the hero’ing plate, if they’d the chance. Y’know, healthy relationships that aren’t perpetuated on tension. My favourite recent representations of this were in Justice League, New Frontier (also set around the same period) with the different reactions of the partners of Superman, Flash & Green Lantern to their lives. Whether Lois knows if Superman is Clark Kent is unclear, because the Clark persona isn’t in the film, but the implication is clear – she knows who Superman is because, in this take on the character, Kent is the mask, Superman is the real person, and that is who she is in love with. And they can both both care about each other and allow each other to get on with each other’s careers – all of which we succinctly see in the scenes where Supes thinks Lois is in danger, and in the one where Lois thinks Supes is dead.

This is differently true with Barry & Iris – Barry is the real personality, and Iris sees this, working out who he is (she is a reporter after all!). And at the start he talks up her career when she’s feeling blue, and in the last scene together, she convinces the guy who stops jewel-thieves and talking gorrillas that he can save the world. As for Carol and Hal – the Green Lantern is just something Jordan’s character lets him do at the end. The secret identity in that relationship is the person most people think Hal is and who he actually is. Carol knows – and as for how awesome she is as an independant woman, just see the scene where they kiss, and she clutches her pillbox hat to her head, while standing in the blowback from the space-age rocket her multi-million dollar company designed and built. Superman Doomsday was probably the most in parallel Shining Armour – Lois knows Clark is Superman, but waits until he is ready to admit rather forcing him.

Wow, way longer than I meant and rabbiting on about representations of women and Superman again. Also, all my comparisons being drawn from the animated universe, for all I know this angle has been totally hashed out in the comics. If you know of any mainstream DC comics that go this deep with the issue, please tell me about them. Skipping on-

 

5-6:

Knock Wood is what life would be like for a lawyer in a superhero world. The lawyer-protagonist exploits unheard of defences based in the facts of a superhuman world. Afterall, if a superhero can get a pardon for crimes committed while under mind control, or possesed by an ethereal energy being, or by a shape-changing alien, or brainwashed clone-duplicate, or an evil double from another universe, why can’t someone else claim that? If heroes can be declared dead by accredited coroners, then get off the slab themselves, or if evidence of superhuman events can be wiped by temporal distortion – how reliable is forensic science. The lawyer gets a cold-blooded murder off – and is going to be recruited permanently as the mob’s lawyer. He flees, of course, and the mob pursues him in great number.

Also, up to this point, the lawyer has been having dreams about the vigilante criminal-killer called the Blue Knight. Particularly, he dreams the crimes as they happen. And this stuff annoys the hell out of me. I disliked it when Supergirl dreamed from Galatea’s POV view in Justice League Unlimited. I disliked it when Bryan ‘the Ninja’ Klauser dreamed from his Family’s POV in Scott Sigler’s Nocturnals. I didn’t hate them because they didn’t come up after they were used. They didn’t come up after they were used because in those continuities neither character had proper psychic powers – but apparently could get telepathic dreams for no better reason than a POV take and an exposition. I generally genuinely hate ‘magic-dreams’ as much as I hate ‘weather=emotions’ and ‘incompetent=endearing’.

As with the two above examples, this dream-viewing was vaguely hand-waved with the semi-mystical nature of the Blue Knight – but it is cheap cover. I like dream-viewing when it conforms, even expands the internal rules of that universe – such as how Harry’s glimpses into Voldemort’s mind were slowly built into a major plot point. While the fact that the lawyer knew the cop in the Blue Knight mask, and the cop’s dead son whose soul may or may not be posssessing the cop father is a slight gesture to reality, it felt very weak, and I would have preferred if Busiek had tried something else. The supersticious imagery Busiek used to portray the dance between the letter and the spirit of the law was far more engaging. I much preferred the Blue Knight as a product of law and society being out of sync than the dream-weaver.

Most of all, I liked the portrayal of the lawyer who gets the murderer off as being sympathetic. He does it for selfish, reasons, but he does give the client the best defence he can – and that that is his job. The police and prosecution drop the ball in assuming the case is open and shut, not getting all the evidence they could, not devising the necessary counter-arguments – and naturally so, because they had never come up before. The lawyer makes the point that the law soon adapted to his arguments, sealing shut a way out, making the system work better. So I liked this portrayal of the law in comic books as much as I did politics in Shining Armour or reporting in The Scoop. I also liked the setup for both the Dark Age miniseries and the Silver Agent series. Busiek really uses this framed-flashback format in a thoughtful, clever way, reflecting those times through pulp print as he does today.

 

Tarnished Angel;

Marv, from Sin City. Pretty much. The Steel-Jacketed Man, aka Steeljack, aka Carlie Donewicz, is on parole after serving twenty years in Biro Island Penitentiary. He could’ve busted out in all that time, but chose to stay, to not be who he’d been because who he’d been was someone who fought with heroes -angels- to pay off his body mods. He can’t be a dishwasher because dishwashers with steel hands don’t last long. He can’t be anything else because his steel face is the most recognisable in the city. He doesn’t want to be thug anymore. What he gets is hired to figure out who is killing the Black Masks from that part of town. He isn’t a detective. He isn’t particularly smart, or informed, or subtle. He really just won’t stop. And he is doing it for the money, and he goes on long after the money. To the end in fact.

Busiek looks at the shadow economy in superhero story – who are these desperate mad scientists, superhuman goons and oddly dressed minions? They all try to reinvest their ill-gotten gains in improving their gear, setting up bigger schemes, or just blow it, and get caught before hey can make something to retire on. It is the same story every time and it is supposed. Steeljack is surrounded by cycles he can’t stop, even for himself. Even the rich heroes at this level have it bad – El Hombre paid Assemblyman to make a robot El Hombre could fight so he could re-win the fame he once had – it killed innocents, was out of Hombre’s control and Assemblyman squealed the scheme upon capture. The steady tragedy and fall from grace gives that Sin City feel – except with forces instead of faces keeping the protagonists down.

And yeah, Jack isn’t all that smart. Except he organises the low-level bad guys to save Mock Turtle (a nerdy Iron Man) from a rival gang of powered-armour chessmen. And Jack works out who Conquistador and Bravo are, just by tone of tragic voice. And where a teenager burgular is going to break into. And how to escape a prison cruiser designed to suppress his strength, but not his weight. And how to walk along the floor of a bay. And how to get a jetpack on the promise of a non-existant 10% cut and some connections. And how to break into the Honour Guard’s flying saucer, to warn them about the Conquistador’s plan. And, when the Honour Guard don’t look like they’re going to look into the mask-killer case, breaking out again by first working out that the HG, whom he’s never fought, don’t know how strong he is, and then ferociously powering through their defence. And comandeering a crop duster to get back inside the city. And working out where the Conquistador’s base was. Like Marv, Steeljack just works things out solidly, thinking about he was beat and working out a simple solution, getting recruited by the guy who recruited all the murdered men, and simply not getting killed by not being a threat.

Then at the end, powering through a fight a guy who thinks Steeljack, not being an innocent, is worthless, Steeljack is as much a hero as anything I’ve burbled on about above. True, it is a hero of and for his neighbourhood, but he just won’t give up. When he realises Conquistador is going to kill the villains he recruited, Steeljack utters the least ridiculously long Noooo I’ve read in comics. Then the Honour Guard arrive the moment Steeljacks wins, falling with a busted rib. His face as he watches the heroes he has always admired descending around his prone form like angels … then landing around the other guy. ‘Cause he used to be a hero. And when they’re telling Steeljack that there was an ambulance on the way, then as they all pick up Conquistador and bearing him away to the clouds. Like Pete’s face from Newcomers, in slow, sad reverse, with that beautiful steel-reflection effect to show us what he sees as he watches it. The cops drop the charges, Steeljack is respected in his neighbourhood & finally puts an angel on his mother’s gravestone. I’ll be frank – so far, Steeljack is right up there with Junkman in my favourite Astro City technically-villains and, despite how long I wax on about the heroes, I love the villains.


Cranford, Holiday Films & Re-reading

December 28, 2009

My apologies for my absence – the Slide-Junta’s of OtherLondon bear curious fruit in our universe, some of it red-leafed & man-eating. The metal-plated spider-tiger tanks of the Grey Nobility are as sharp as their political intrigues.

Also, a lot of that was Christmas.

So:

Cranford: it is like the dr. who of the period drama realm; a longer two-parter at Christmas rather than a full season, lots of quiet romance & anyone can die. Really. Disease, violence & train crashes. Also, Judi Dench apparently GM’s D&D for her grandchildren, revealed when she & Vin Diesel shared their love of it on the Chronicles of Riddick set.

Holiday Films: Over the Hedge, Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Carribbean etc: Nostalgia for Capt. Planet & Thundercats acknowledged, but the plots alone I bow to the new generation of children’s film writers. Not all of them: I don’t approve of the happy use depiction of the Internet. “The Holiday” is an adult example: two strangers meet online, & on the basis of that, elect to switch houses & cars over Christmas. In reality, this is where one house looted & the other turns out to be a derelict squat. Worse in children’s fiction. *sigh* …

Principally: Due to spring-cleaning in the physical & the mechanical shuffling my books & reminding me of podcasts I’ve been re-reading the favourites – How To Succeed in Evil, The Seanachai, Red Panda Adventures, Soon I Will Be Invincible, Sandman series, Watchmen, etc.

And that is 250 words exactly.


Waters of Mars, Jonathan Strange And Mister Norell & Yu-gi-oh: The Abridged Series

November 21, 2009

Well of course I was away for 3 weeks. The mole people are a worthy race, and one does not enter and leave the 2-miles deep shaft under the south pole in less than a fortnight and a half.

Quickly:

Waters of Mars; I really liked him going mad. Free from emo, he shall die in rockstar flames.

Jonathan Strange; one of the greatest books I’ve read this year. As if Austen/Dickens themselves wrote magical comedy of manners.

Yu-gi-oh Abridged; short & funny, unlike the original I understand. Also – britishy, the guy what does it.

And that is 100 words.


‘UP’, ‘Unseen Academicals’ & ‘And Another Thing …’

October 31, 2009

Did you ever have one of those fortnights where rage-infected monkeys were set loose on a voodoo zombie summoning just as satellite returning from deep space comes into alignment with Mars?

No?

Not even when, later all corpses of the long and recently dead return to macabre half lives in a pack mentality of diverse almost-intelligent revenants, furious-feral undead and mystical ghost monkeys?

No?

Not even when the brave new world populated by  pathologically post-traumatic stress-disordered survivalists in a society sent insane miraculosly produces an antidote spread throughout the undead population to restore them to life and sanity?

No?

Not even when the antidote wipes the immediate memories of the post-zombies, freeing them from the recall of the time in flesh-eating ranks of the cannibal mob, thus leaving them with no memory of the outbreak and this is never mentioned to them lest they remember and destroy themselves in an orgy of self-loathing?

No?

Why, of course not … no such thing as a zombie apocalypse … Auntie Nibbs? … oh you ate- … she went away. To Spain. But don’t worry, there is a little Nibb in … some of us.

‘And Another Thing’:

Best Hitchhikers fanfiction ever, including the film.

It tries hard, having Adams written all over it where Colfer isn’t. Apart from everyone not being dead at the end, situations, characters and relationships remain the same. Few new characters – mostly a patrol of old friends & their entourages. It is fun – Zaphod, Ford, even Hiller’s god interviews.

‘Unseen Academicals’:

Hilarious. Genius. Not his best.

Fair is fair – the problem is primarily in the denouement. And, while one’s first impression of the discworld novels is one of laid back genial humour, there hasn’t been a novel in – almost ever, in fact – where the entire fate of Ankh Morpork, The Circle Sea, the discworld or the universe did not hang upon the outcome of an endpiece. Kept expecting the goblin army to descend out of the mountains for a game of football, or the Braseneck vs Unseen match, etc.

In the face of that anti-climax: it seems like goodbye. Goodbye to the wizard’s stories (excepting ‘I shall wear midnight’, with possibly of Esk returning) goodbye to vetinari stories (excepting ‘raising taxes’) and particularly goodbye to the household gods & dungeon dimensions stories, which seems to have lapsed into silence before the end of this story. In the face of Pratchett’s illness, the sewing up of the universe is no doubt possible.

Ah screw it. Drumknott got a girl! Woo hoo!

‘UP’:

And then there was up. Unmitigated success. Wonderous delight. Profound reward.

Essentially, the experience is not dissimilar to my watching of Serenity: Some people shuffled in, apparently just learning ‘for f**ks sake’ recently, given their gratuity of  its use.

Then Up started.

At some point, I was vaguely aware that the ushers were watching them.

But Up was on.

Then, they were being escorted out, swearing away.

But Up was on …

Nothing ruined this movie, could do so or should try. Pixar displays again that silence can be golden, and does excellent dialogue anyway. Beautiful images. The square old man, his balloon shaped wife, the Asian child who wasn’t asian as a plot point – and Dug, a glimpse of canine psyche. The fantastic of the balloons, the birds and dogs never removes one from the story, the tragedy in parts of the story never tarnishes the view.

It is a love story that spreads throughout the genres and between all those involved in its production and watching.

Hurrah!