Friday, February 29, 2008
That said, everyone needs to head over to Garfield Minus Garfield right now, where some glorious bastard had the bright idea to remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips. The result is a hilarious collection of non-sequiturs and maudlin self reflection as John putters around his house, talking to himself and occasionally going crazy.
Monday, February 25, 2008
So, what have I been up to in the last few weeks? Working, of course. My job is winding down at KTUU, and the fact that I'm now in my last few weeks before the automation robs me of a job may be adding to my general lack of interest in writing. I've been planning a vacation for mid-summer to Tennessee so that Amber can visit her father, and, oh yeah, I gots me a tattoo! Pictures will be forthcoming as soon as I can upload them. Pandora broke my digital camera, and frankly I've entered that unattractive scabbing & peeling period, and I should probably wait until that clears up before I show the world. Amber and I decided that, instead of diamonds on our 6th anniversary, we should get tattoos! It's something I've been pondering since I was 18, but I just finally committed to it. I think it's pretty baddass, and am VERY happy with how it turned out. And for the record, don't listen to anyone who tells you getting a tattoo doesn't hurt, or that it feels good. Those people are masochists. Or sadists who only want to see the surprised look of pain on your face as the needle starts punching holes in your skin. Imagine a continuous bee sting that you can't flinch away from. Still, it was an experience, and after awhile you stop feeling the worst of it.
The other big event that's been eating my time like nobodies business is Stephen King's Dark Tower series. After three tries, and over 15 years, I'm finally finishing the journey. In fact, I'm so close to the end that I'm fighting the urge to turn off the computer and resume the story, but I need to write something today, so here I am. The reason I've tried to read the series three times is basically due to the large gaps between releases. By the time the new books came out, I had forgotten most of the particulars of the earlier entries. It really was a form of self-torture, because I have come to the conclusion that most of those first 4 books are really goddawful. So why read them 2(or 3) times? Well, for the same reason I made myself finish Gregory Maguire's Wicked, or the Da Vinci Code; because no matter how bad it is, I can't turn away from a book(or series) once I've started. I'm in it until the end.
Perhaps it's because I read it in Jr. High, and everything your exposed to at that age holds some charm later in life, but The Gunslinger is still an enjoyable read. It's the next three books that lose me.
The Drawing of the Three, especially by the time I tried reading it for the third time, nearly threw me off the path of the beam forever. I enjoyed the hell out of the first half, where Roland wakes up after the endless night seen at the climax of the previous book, and begins to find doorways into 'our' world, where he draws three people to join in his quest. The first person to be drawn, Eddie Dean, was sometimes an annoying character, but he seemed true. I think that's because Stephen King had enough experience to get inside the head of a 20-something junkie, and was perhaps trying to wrestle with his own addictions through this character. The second character, Odetta Walker, was simply ridiculous. I buy that King can get inside the head of a strung out junkie, but I don't really think he has the life experience or imagination to get inside the head of a young black woman in the mid-sixties. Let alone a double amputee with schizophrenia dealing with racism in the civil rights movement. It's a problem King faces time and again. I get the idea that he really likes black culture, and he really wants to be 'down', but at heart he's an uber-nerdy white guy, which makes his endless attempts to seem hip and with it just sad and mildly amusing at best, and outright racist at worst. His attempts at writing for Black characters always slip into slightly stereotypical jive talk, or he employs the oft-used 'magical black man(or woman)' approach, where the African American characters are there mainly so that the white characters learn important lessons and defeat the baddies. Think of the old lady in The Stand, or Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, or even Halloran in The Shining.
It took me over a year to finish The Drawing of the Three this last time(I put it down for several months, unable to bring myself to jump back in), and then suddenly I was interested again and forced my way to the ending. The next book went quicker, but it took more determination to keep reading, and that's because the entire novel The Waste Lands seems like Stephen King is spinning his wheels. I guess it gets the characters from point A to point B, but so much of the book just goes nowhere, while King is apparently selling by the pound(a point King himself makes in the seventh book). Wizard and Glass is the favorite of many people, and while I enjoy the overall story, and it has a couple satisfying gunfights, it feels a little hollow to me. Probably I'm not used to Stephen King trying to be romantic, and it didn't feel natural. But, again, while this fleshed out Roland's back story, it could have been edited by a couple hundred pages and been stronger for it. And in the end it didn't further the story at all.
So imagine my surprise when I not only liked book five, The Wolves of the Calla, but loved it. Sure, it's a direct homage to Seven Samurai(or Magnificent Seven, take your pick), but it was just an overall fun read, with a quick-paced, intriguing story. The difference here, I think, is that King knew the end was in sight, and so wrote accordingly. The first four books he didn't know where to go, and so cast about aimlessly for awhile, but with the end in sight everything matters, and the books become eminently more readable.
Part of this is personal preference, on top of the aforementioned purposefulness. I'm a big fan of breaking the fourth wall in fiction, and Stephen King not only breaks the fourth wall, he brings it down like the Berlin Wall, putting himself into the story in a move that could seem egotistical(and sometimes does), but really gives the story a sense of weight and urgency. A lot of people cried shenanigans, but I dug it all. There are a few things he did that annoyed me, like naming the robot servants 'Dobbie' models, or 'House Elves' in slang, or calling the mechanical explosive balls 'Sneetches' and 'Harry Potter Models'. We get it, you loved Harry Potter, but naming fictional elements of a fantasy world for characters in that series is just silly. Others are more forgiving of this, because Stephen King has had elements of our world show up in the Dark Tower series from the get-go(the bar in the first novel contained several drunken cowboys singing Hey Jude), but the Harry Potter references were really, really stupid.
But those pale in comparison to his references to 9/11, which crassly imply that the terrorist attacks were real-world manifestations of his novels, or the fact that he name checks the man who ran him over as a servant of evil. I guess I'd be pissed too, but come on, this is a real guy, who made a stupid fucking mistake and had the bad fortune of making it with a world famous author.
I'm still a hundred or so pages from the end of all of this, and King always has trouble keeping his endings on track(remember the Stand? 800 pages of buildup only to have the literal hand of god come down and stop things at the last minute), but I'm hopeful. And if he pulls this off I'll happily reread the series AGAIN when he republishes them in a planned revised format that will eliminate any continuity errors and tie the books together better.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Now, lest I give the wrong impression, it should be noted that Let's Go To Prison is very mean-spirited- at least on the surface- and has plenty of gross-out humor, and is a tad unrealistic at times. So why do I feel so much more comfortable watching this than, say, Epic Movie or Dude Where's My Car? Because, beneath that nasty exterior, the movie is actually very empathetic towards it's main characters. They may get beaten and humiliated in ways meant to amuse us, but the movie is actually attempting to make a point here. It wouldn't work to say that this movie is a realistic portrayal of prison life. I mean, this is no Oz, but neither is it Hogan's Heroes. Sure the humor is played up, but it's more like they viewed the reality of the situation through the lense of humor, rather than tried to force screwball slapstick in between the horrors of toothbrush shivs and prison sex.
As John Lyshitski(Dax Shepard) says: It costs $54 a day to keep a person in prison, which comes out to $75 million a day nationally. That's $28 billion a year. When you think about it, wouldn't it be cheaper just to let us keep your goddamn car stereos?
In the end, I think I came away from this feeling much the same way I did about Idiocracy; wondering why the hell this movie hadn't been treated better by the studio. Although, to be fair, this movie actually got a theatrical release and I did see some ads on television, which is a helluva lot more than Idiocracy got. But in the end, this was a movie that the studio had no idea how to market, with a sense of humor more subtle than I think they were expecting, and some unexpected social commentary, and it kinda got dumped onto a few screens and then quietly forgotten until it came time to release it on DVD.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
This week's entry will likely be a bit short, and it will certainly be lacking in those nice, space-filling illustrations I usually scan. The reason, simply, is because this issue isn't very noteworthy. Yet. It's well written, is the first appearance of a sorta cool new Supervillain(Paragon), and is a cool example of the early writings of Kurt Busiek. Busiek has been a favorite of mine since his Superman miniseries Secret Identity, and was the sole reason I picked this issue up. Secret Identity, along with Tom de Haven's excellent novel It's Superman!, was what got me into reading Superman on a regular basis. From there I've followed Busiek around to his miniseries Arrowsmith(a cool alternate history tale set during World War I, with dragons!), his Aquaman run(which, while certainly the only rational version of Aquaman I've read, was still Aquaman, and kinda lame), and various other projects like Astro City. When it comes to comics I tend to follow writers(and sometimes artists) more than I do characters.
I say that this issue is inessential, so far, and that's mainly due to the fact that nothing introduced in this story carried over to any other title or story in the DC universe. The new villain, Paragon, was never brought back again despite the inclusion of a question mark after the words 'The End' on the last page. It may seem like, after 50+ years of comics history, every minor villain or hero would have been brought back countless times, but there are numerous examples of stories and characters that are ignored or forgotten by the comics companies. Just recently Grant Morrison's work on X-Men was completely ignored(if not written out of continuity entirely) until Joss Whedon ressurected some of his ideas for Astonishing X-Men.
In the beginning of the issue we see Black Canary about to interrupt a mugging, until the victim unleashes some killer kung fu moves on the criminals. She steps in once it looks like the vigilante is going to go to far with his punishment. The vigilante, we will learn shortly, is Paragon. It isn't explained right away what his superpowers(if any) are, but he quickly gains the upper hand in his fight with Black Canary. Luckily, Superman, Green Arrow & Green Lantern were all nearby having lunch, and with Superman's super-hearing they knew Black Canary needed help, and quickly show up to intervene. Superman flies in and delivers a blow that should incapacitate Paragon, but he simply shrugs it off and punches Supes so hard he flies off into the distance from the force of it. By the time Green Arrow & Green Lantern show up, Paragon is long gone.
Back on the JLA satellite, the entire team discusses what to do, and with some fairly convenient deductive reasoning, they narrow their suspects to Nobel Prize winning scientist Joel Cochin. The team sends in the big guns, and everyone heads off to confront Cochin/Paragon at his home, but unfortunately they haven't put much thought into just what powers he might have. Whatever his power is, he makes quick work of the entire team, knocking them unconscious and attaching them to a huge machine in his laboratory. It turns out Paragon has the ability to mimic the superpower of anyone within a certain radius(although only natural abilities, he wouldn't be able to mimic Red Tornado because Red Tornado is a robot). The machine is either going to boost his abilities so he doesn't need to be near a villain/hero, or destroy 80% of humanity. Maybe both. His exposition isn't very clear. Neither is his origin story, where he says his powers were natural, but then implies that he created a machine that gave him his abilities. In the end the team saves the day by having Superman fly away so Paragon loses his strength, and then the above-mentioned Red Tornado distracts him until the other members of the JLA can subdue him.
I'm not really sure why Paragon has never been utilized again since this 1984 issue, since he seems like he'd be a pretty good all-purpose villain. Someone who would be a fitting antagonist to whichever hero you wanted to spotlight. Whatever discrepancies I mentioned in his origin/motives could easily have been fixed or clarified with some simple exposition, and I look forward to this when Paragon makes his return sometime later this year. For anyone looking for a good Kurt Busiek story I can't recommend Arrowsmith or Secret Identity enough. Secret Identity is especially good for someone who doesn't really want to commit to the boy scout morality of an ongoing Superman title, but is open to the idea that the character can shoulder a pretty damned entertaining book.
Also, one final note on that cover, which seems to be designed after a famous image from the 1967 Spiderman issue 'Spiderman No More':
The JLA cover shows Paragon walking out of an alley where a trashcan is stuffed full of the accoutrements of various JLA members. Green Arrows bow(with a broken string), Superman's cape, Red Tornado's torso... and Wonder Womans bra. The most identifiable symbol of Wonder Woman is her bra. Which also means she's out there topless somewhere, which is certainly a thought that will please many a fanboy.