Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Off with the top of their heads!

It's been awhile since I've actually looked forward to checking out a bunch of shows on tv. While some of my off-season USA shows are done with their cycle (Psych, Monk, and Burn Notice), the new season has started with Smallville, Supernatural, House (and Criminal Minds and CSI in the background to catch when I can). Fringe has debuted, I hope to catch My Own Worst Enemy and 11th Hour (the latter a definite re-working of a British mini, while the former sounds similar to BBC's Jekyll while I will pass on America's version of Worst Week of My Life... it was painful the first time around).

As I had planned to talk to my gal Monday, we taped Heroes, and I watched it on Tuesday along with House and Fringe. Which made for an odd day of television watching as each show featured a bit of brain surgery/probing. It was a wise move to kick off the season of Heroes with a recap special as the show is so continuity heavy and it has been a long while thanks to the extended hiatus due to the writer's strike. Plus, I had apparently missed the final episode as much of what they covered from the end of the series was unfamiliar to me.

The continuity is going to kill this show though. Much as J.J. Abrams realized when watching a random episode of his own Alias, the show is so dense in its own story, it is impenetrable to a casual or new viewer. The show is too much about its own insular mega story, that everyone is part of one big story. It's sorta like how the X-Files tended to get bogged down at the end in trying to tie everything together as part of one tapestry of conspiracies. It starts feeding on itself instead of realizing that there are thousands of stories out there. This gelled for me when we see Hiro adrift because after saving the world, he has no quest and no destiny until it comes looking for him. There are still crimes and all out there, lives to be saved and helped. However, the writers have lost sight of the fact that there are hundreds and thousands of stories out there that can be told with these people with superpowers, because they are too focused on the One story to be told that the various characters share.

Just as they missed the boat with Sylar. He should have been killed off and stayed dead or at the very least, put away for a long time. By not actually resolving his storyline satisfactorily, it wears on viewers' patience. Most great villains are used sparingly. And, by writing him out of the storyline, it frees up the characters for a really new story. Instead, there is a feeling that it keeps going back to the same well for its inspirations, until its creatively dry. Thus, we have a shocking ending that is more tiring than anything else, it's so deliberate and contrived for shock value.

Mohinder's transformation was an interesting choice. One of the things I like about the show is the balance between those with powers against those without. Ando is my favorite character and I wished they had kept the female detective. I thought earlier scenes, it looked as if Mohinder wasn't quite as scrawny looking as before, it appears as if he's been hitting the gym in preparation for his "Fly" transformations. Kristen Bell's character was growing on me as well.

Although, doesn't Adrian Pasdar look like he'd be perfect as Lamont Cranston/the Shadow?

With the surprising death of a character last season and what looks like the departure of Dr. Wilson this season, House is interesting in that it seems to be forcing a little more inspection and possibly introspection with Dr. House and his misanthropy. The Wilson character was a nice guy and as such, I feel sorry for what he went through and will miss him when he's gone. However, from a story angle, it's needed. For his friendship with House really was one-sided and his personality wasn't strong enough to really stand up against House's. In a sense, it's the story of his leaving that we finally get a sense of what House really gets from the relationship beyond an enabler. Although, it's not as if House would admit this, so we get it from the point of view and exposition by a private detective that House has hired.

What's really cool that struck me at the episode's end where it's revealed the p.i. will be back for at least another show, we have gotten a truer skewed reflection of the Holmes-Watson relationship: that of the doctor and the private detective.

Fringe is still a new show, exploring its niche. By J.J. Abrams, it sets out to mimic X-Files in that while there is an over-arcing story, the individual episodes are to be largely self contained. Well, that's the desire anyway. In actuality, while the plots of the episodes center around different cases, they still all tie together. Federal agent Olivia Dunham investigates bizarre events that make use of impossible science that higher ups and others have deemed the pattern. Each of these events make so far make use of science and experiments that Dr. Walter Bishop came up with years ago before he was committed to an insane asylum. With the aide of his son Peter (who my brother and I surmise is his clone) who helps keep ole Dad focused, Dunham tries to find those who are behind it all and the ties they have to a super mega company founded by Dr. Bishop's one time partner. A decent show, but things haven't really come together yet, the show is still trying to find its grounding. I'm reminded of the first season of Smallville with each episode being about some hapless person of the week with powers due to kryptonite. It took a little while for the show to get comfortable with expanding the scope of its storytelling. Hopefully, we'll see that soon here too. For it is a well-done show with air of menace as well as some humorous dialogue between Dr. Walter and his son. Like Heroes, it just needs to realize it can be about more than it's One Story.

Comic News

Have you seen the new previews for Solomon Kane? Kane is an interesting Howard creation. He's intense and fanatical in ways that would make Batman take notice. A soldier, swordsman, monster-killer, and yet a devout puritan. Interesting contradictions there (there are contradictions in everybody, some just keep them better hidden than others). One cannot say he's insane, because the monsters and all do exist, his violence is a logical and possibly even noble response. A little girl is kidnapped by pirates, he will do all in his power to rescue her, even if he must go Old Testament. He's Ditko's Question placed in a barbaric and horrific world.

The pencils are great in their sketchiness, give off some kind of weird Kaluta/BWS vibe. The backgrounds with the coloring tend to look as if they are from a Renaissance painting. It all falls apart when it comes to the inking and coloring of the characters, least in the scenes revealed so far. The figures have no weight and they are all colored with the same pastel density and no variation. The skin tones are all pale with tinges of purple like day-old dead grubs. Kane looks more like Dracula than someone flesh and blood.

Dynamite has announced it's releasing both a Black Terror and The Death-Defying Devil comic. I want to be excited. Really, I do. Superpowers has been such a let-down with the arbitrary changes, it's hard to muster interest. We have gotten precious little in the main series to even give us a reason to want the individual comics. The ' Devil is to bridge the stories between the current Superpowers book and the next one and explore a little more about the urn that kept them in suspended animation and corrupted them (and the Fighting Yank spiritually). Except, shouldn't that really have been a big part of the plot of the first Superpowers mini? After all, the whole plot and mystery of it is set up there. And, yet, the scope of the comic has been so far beyond Krueger that it's been all but ignored. The fact that Joe Casey off the pointlessly out of focus The Last Defenders is writing it doesn't really bode well either. Lastly, someone should point out the fact to them that as a superhero name and comicbook title "the Death-Defying Devil" sucks eggs. It's a moniker for a circus acrobat but not an actual code name. Do what DC has done for ages with Captain Marvel. They didn't rename him just because Marvel had locked up the trademark, they just came up with an appropriate name for the book. Since, most GA characters appeared in books under names not their own, it'd even be in keeping with the spirit. The one positive, Daredevil's costume is such a classic and so iconic, it's great to just see him in print again regardless.


I enjoy the Harry Dresden books (along with Salvatore's fantasy novels, the Harry Potter books, various and sundry pulp books) and television shows like Buffy, Angel and the original Nightstalker. Like Heroes, they are very much comicbook/super-character stories with some different window dressing. And, as comics, they almost uniformly don't live up to the potential of their original medium.

We are seeing an explosion of comics based on works from other media. Roy Thomas has a whole classics line at Marvel, various sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers are seeing their works adapted. And, I cannot say I try them all or even interested in it. Direct adaptations don't interest me much because the pacing and all is all wrong, even for books that were written to be action stories. Horror is hard to pull off because so much is dependent on playing with the mind whether it's the author's skill with language or the tv/movie having the extra range to play with to control the viewer through sound and pacing of the film (it's why horror movies don't work as well on tv, especially with commercials, that pacing and immersion into the environment is lost outside a darkened theatre). The other problem with the adaptations is one can be reasonably sure the status quo will be maintained. Not much significant is going to happen to Dresden in the comic because he still is appearing in books. The few Buffy and Angel comics I've tried have been ok, but they don't capture the creativity of the shows which is strange considering they have the original writer overseeing it all and there's the benefit of no special effects budget.

I've been getting Moonstone's Kolchak comics, based on the original tv series not the new one that turned him into a young-good looking type. It was Kolchak that got me into journalism in the first place. The plotting has been decent and some good old-fashioned styled horror stories in there. The art is largely uneven, partly with the struggle to maintain character likenesses. The most recent issue, the artist spends a good amount of time putting the character into shadows. I imagine the writer must look a bit like Darrin McGavin as each story that comes along has him being somehow oddly attracting the attention of a beautiful young woman and usually bedding them. Now, Kolchak did have a kind of crusty charm about him, but he wasn't a ladies man by a long shot. The books are decent enough though and have lasted longer than I would have expected.

Captain Britain and MI:13: Pat Oliffe does a fine job on the pencils; it's good to see him on a title after the end of The All-New Atom. He doesn't have to stretch himself as much as an artist as he did there, but he is capable of drawing almost anything well that a writer throws at him with a good command of storytelling. You don't have to backtrack to try and interpret what he's trying to get across.

Wish the writer was as clear. Last issue we saw the formation of the team to be similar to the Avengers or Thomas' WWII All-Star Squadron, a calling together of all of the UK heroes to come under one banner with Government clearance and resources to fight incredible threats but with no killing says ole Captain Britain. The Skrulls were a special case because it was War but that war is now over as far as Britain is concerned.

That was last issue. This issue we have all of that amended somewhat. We get the an obligatory appearance by Union Jack explaining why he is NOT a member of this team, he works for a different branch of the government (though one would imagine if this was an order...). We get a different mission statement saying that the team comprises public heroes because England needs to see them, it's good for morale, but the public wouldn't be aware of just how nasty the buggers are they are going up against, including all those mystical threats that have been released on England which takes precedence over the global war against the Skrulls. And, somehow, despite the statement against killing (which frankly, Captain Britain may not have had the authority to make anyway), the whole thing about public heroes in costumes and their first real recruit is NOT Union Jack who was part the Knights of the Pendragon, has been fighting vampires for some time AND is a patriotic costumed hero with a history with the government BUT Blade. Blade who has been in America so long that only the hardest core fans would know he's not from there. Blade who doesn't wear a costume, whose SOLE mission is to kill his opponents.

I'm not against the character or even against the character appearing in the comic. What I'm against is the shoddy ill-thought out way it's done. The comic reads as if the writer is making things up as he goes along without really thinking anything through. It's full of incongruities and contradictions, but it's not written in a way that suggests these are deliberate and setting up story conflicts and character tensions but that the writer doesn't really know what this team is supposed to be about and keeps changing it from issue to issue (to be honest, this could also be due to editorial interference, but unless we know otherwise, the blame falls mainly on the person said to be responsible for the story. The editor is to be blamed for not holding the writer's feet to the fire and have it make better sense).

If the team is a government op, then Captain Britain doesn't have the authority to call for "no-kill" clauses before the team even meets, there should be all sorts of ramifications for the Black Knight joining. After all, the point of Civil War was that all American heroes had to register and be accountable to the laws and government. Furthermore, Dane Whitman was a member of the Avengers and thus privy to all sorts of cutting edge technology and state secrets. It's inconceivable that all of the characters treat his joining a foreign government's spy organization as such a simple matter of him just happening to be there already fighting the Skrulls.

The one thing the story does handle well is the meeting between Faiza, Dane Whitman and her parents. While one might wonder just how much of Dane's history and backstory is such common knowledge, it makes for some great exchanges between the characters.

Sadly, the coloring falls down on the job. Dane, Faiza and her parents are a colored with the same skin tones, and all the midtones from their faces to the backgrounds are too rich intense and dark. This is so common it seems, I wonder how much of the coloring is done for what looks good on the computer but not taking into account what happens when it prints?

Guardians of the Galaxy: The issues have been getting better. Thankfully, none of the interviews with Counsellor Troi, excuse me, Mantis this issue. The main plots are skyjacked by crossover-itis but still some nice moments as we see the Guardians are not completely trusted on their floating Celestial head and we see a bit of the inner political workings. There could be a lot of interesting stuff played up. We see a different Starhawk this time out, a female version. She makes cryptic remarks about time anomalies and vanishes. And, we learn just who the Skrull traitor is. But, given the nature of this book, there might be a little more to it than what's readily apparent. After all, the Guardians don't have much to do with Earth right now and the station is full of aliens from other worlds. Drax starts off as going John McClane on the space station but his solution to rooting out the Skrulls is a little more final than any would like.

Not sure if I'll continue with this as the previews of upcoming issues have the book tying into yet another crossover event. Part of the reason I dropped so many books.

Secret Invasion: Thor: Yet I'm getting another crossover book. Remember what I said about us all having our inconsistancies up above? The one good thing with this book and Guardians is that you really don't have to be getting any of the other Secret Invasion books. Plus, this is a really good Thor story. It's a story that would really be hard to do with another character. It is the type of story that JMS wishes he could write. There are great character moments all the way around from the epic heroes to the very humans on the outskirts of the war. The art manages to capture the chaotic epic scope of the battles and the quiet more human dramas and have it all work well together. Forget the SI tag, if you like Thor, you should enjoy this book. The cover is slightly misleading as the Thor in action of this comic is Beta Ray Bill, Thor is busy being somewhat heroic in his Don Blake identity. Still, fun stuff.

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