Sunday, September 26, 2010

MAD MEN 4.10--"Hands and Knees"

"How is it that some people just walk through life dragging their lies with them destroying everything they touch? . . .No one knows except the honest people, who have to pick up the pieces."

So, last week, in one of the most baffling Mad Men episodes ever in terms of tone, Don and Dr. Faye got it on, Sally showed up to raise hell and be bratty as she's desperate to escape from Betty, Peggy dealt with one of the most obnoxious art-school bohos I have ever met, and Joyce (who I can now refer to by name and not "Peggy's Lesbian Friend," which sounds like the most awkward kid's book ever) ran out the clock with an utterly hamfisted and clumsy metaphor about how men are like soup and women are pots and . . .I'm not picking on the lesbian here, but as with Don's schoolteacher dalliance (and her brother) this show occasionally will take newer characters and give them absolutely dreadful bits of dialogue (I mean, like, Attack of the Clones bad, here) which can't help but piss you off right at the point you're supposed to be establishing some connection with them. I'm sure even lesbians sometimes just talk about whatever bullshit is on their minds, and not every word out of their mouth is a treatise on feminism or a monologue justifying their sexuality. We get it, it's the 60s, this kind of thing is new and scary and people are trying to stumble through blindly despite being ill-equipped for the most tidal social change ever, thank you I got it. Doing that skews this closer to all that Baby Boomer shit you always see in TV shows and documentaries about the 60s, which exalt everything as the Most Important Thing That Ever Happened, And If You Are Younger Than Us, You Will Never Experience Anything As Remotely Cool No Matter What, and that bullshit never fails to rankle me.

God, what a long paragraph. Who do I think I am, Faulkner?

Oh, Joan and Roger got hot and heavy apres-mugging (as you do--random street crime is an aphrodisiac, you know) and Ms. Blankenship died. Hilarity, surprisingly ensued, as did the occasional angsting, which cumulatively registered at 3 Claremonts.

This week, things begin with a bang. Joan is late, and with her asshole rapist husband hopefully pulling a Full Metal Jacket in basic training, that leaves only one possibility. Mind, we had that scene which seemed gratuitous in isolation, but given Joan's apparent history abortions and inability to conceive with her husband and his feelings for Roger . . .well, this bears watching, dunnit?

Meanwhile, Don triggers a screaming fit when he tells Sally she's going to see the Beatles, which Don advises that he will probably wear earplugs for. Yeah, you and another icon of 60's manliness, Don.

Lane, meanwhile, receives a visit from his dad. His wife will take him back, but only if he goes back to London (a callback to a thread from last season--his wife hated HATED New York) In the meantime, he also receives a gift of a Mickey Mouse doll with balloons tied to it, which is probably just a curious thing and in no way implies any potential future plotlines, even though the season finale is called "Tomorrowland." Meanwhile, the oft-courted North American Aviation gets to the table and they hash over some classified thing which everyone's rather excited by, which you consider he was so terrified by NAA's gleeful presentation about the lighter side of nuclear missiles when they were in California, he ran the hell off, leaving Pete to close the deal (a little detail which bites him in the ass this week, as if he didn't have more of that)

Later, Don, Lane, and Lane's father hit the Playboy Club, because the 1960s that why and I realise with a shock that Lane's dad was the Klingon Commandant from that ice planet in Star Trek 6 and I realise I could stand to be a more well read than I am. We also learn that Lane has a taste for brown sugar, and given the evidence, it's not hard to see why.

My hopes soon spike upward and the FBI shows up and Betty's house. Sadly, they're not there to haul Betty away for her ass-tastic parenting, but they are there to confirm with her about Don's potential security clearance vis-a-vis the North American Aviation account. Given what Betty knows about Don this is a pretty intense bit of business, especially when they ask if he "is who he says he is." Betty naturally takes this as an opportunity to have a go at Don and we get a fantastic moment where Don looks like he's going to evacuate his bowels in terror at any moment, and the whole moment when they suddenly decide "Oh shit the phone's being tapped" and suddenly start play-acting like nothing's wrong with roughly the same level of believability as Han Solo talking his way out of the detention block.

Needless to say, Don is in panic mode for the rest of the time--desertion from the Army has no statute of limitations, as he always is when his subterfuge about his identity is about to be found out. Also, unlike the other people who know his secret, he can't force or enlist the government to enable his lie. This leads to more tension with Pete, who was the first person who discovered Don's secret and so employs Pete to help him fix it, or track how far it's gone. It's a telling moment that in their exchange, Don offers to give Peter his share of the agency and run (which has always been Pete's ultimate goal) and Pete is so terrified of the prospect that he demurs almost immediately.

Meanwhile, tension ratchets up quite a lot. It's telling that between Don's problem, and Roger and Joan having their little "Papa Don't Preach" moments, which are deeply unpleasant in their matter-of-fact-ness about how to play out their little lie or abort the child, the idea of Lane having a relationship with the black Playboy Bunny is, if anything, comparatively mild even though that would probably be the most scandalous element, given the time.

Meanwhile, Joan heads to the abortion clinic. The scene between her and the mother of a young girl who's also there for an abortion is awful in it's blunt pain and is a curious parallel to Don's scene with another man as his son Gene was being born. Whereas their conversation was all about how to be a better person, there is a quiet desolation in the scene between Joan and the mother, which is all about how to handle the damage from what they've been forced to do by circumstance.

And because enough anvils have not been quietly dropped this week . . .American Tobacco, the backbone of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is backing out, consolidating their work with another ad agency. Roger hangs in there as best he can, but there is no mistaking that this is Armageddon. Roger actually manages to get Lee Garner Jr to blink (or so we think, Lee's a bit of an opaque asshole) and the upshot is that SCDP has 30 days to win the account. That hissing sound you're hearing is a fuse being lit for a potential explosion.

Meanwhile, Don is freaking the fuck out and explodes into a full-blown panic attack due to a case of mistaken identity. Dr. Faye stays with him, and you get the sense Don really wants to tell her what this is all about, but . . .well, practically that means adding another person into the Don Draper/Dick Whitman conspiracy (not that Dr. Faye, with her mobbed-up relations, might understand more than most) but also since Betty rejected him upon learning the truth, it's not a leap he's quite ready to make again, especially as he's experiencing his own personal Armageddon at the moment.

Lane introduces his father to his new girlfriend, which goes as well as you might expect. Lane asserts he's staying where he is, and his father smacks him with his cane right in the fucking face, and leaves him with an ultimatum that whether he makes his home in London or New York, he's got to stop living in between. Presumably after he picks himself up off the floor.

Things are not going well anywhere else. Pete is full of angst and sullenly delivers this week's quote (mind you, the idea that Pete is one "the honest people" is fucking hilarious) Joan rides home from the abortion, alone and desolate, Roger is desperately calling up clients and trying to keep the ship afloat and Don is near-catatonic. Even though this season began with the self-destruction of Don Draper, it seems positively light by comparison.

And, borrowing a quote from Achewood's Roast Beef: "Ohhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiit." Because Don tells Dr. Faye what he's done with a weary sense of fatalism. But some small ray of hope may be had even in the midst of this bleak, dark, tension-filled episode, because while she's obviously shocked, she doesn't leave (which probably scared Don more than being arrested for desertion) The upshot of this is that provided Pete Campbell ditches North American Aviation, the investigation will go no further. Pete is obviously not happy about being drawn in even tighter to Don's web of lies, and this leads to a tense partner's meeting wherein Pete lies for Don and Don rises to his defence when Roger loses his shit, as he's projecting the loss of American Tobacco on Pete, and Lane leaves for London with a jaunty confidence, saying that the firm's in great shape. If he only knew, huh?

Mad Men has always been, among other things, about the notion that people are imprisoned by lies, and actively collaborate with the lies that imprison them and bring in others to buttress the conspiracy. How many of these conspiracies did you count in this episode? Because holy shit are there lots going on.

Mericfully, at least, Don gets the Beatles tickets, which is the only damn thing that seemed to go right this episode.

Things are not good. Roger's had the heart of the new agency torn out. Don's on the run. Lane may have to sever his ties with SCDP, and Joan has just suffered silently. The heart and soul of SCDP is falling apart, and it's especially worrying because the end of season 3 was all about why these people, and only these people, could do what they did, and they're falling apart right at the point where their two years of working together should have held them together more than this.

So uhm, yeah. Things are getting, getting, getting, kinda hectic.

NEXT TIME: It was alluded to two weeks ago by Dr. Faye, and now is when shit gets real, as we're on Episode 11 (or Disc Four, if you're following this visa DVD) and we're T-minus three episodes until the end. Once again, I'm not gonna play this game and try to read the chicken entrails. Next episode--"Chinese Wall." The history of the galaxy turns another page.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Make Them Implode Slowly--The Roy Thomas Story

Before I get started here in what is sure to be the ultimate for-interests-only post, a shout-out to one of the five readers, Christopher Elam, who in burying me under 1980s Roy Thomas comics planted the seed for the blog entry we both knew I would write, but never truly imagined ever seeing. Thanks!

Roy Thomas was, if you think about it, the prototype for the Geoff Johns and his ilk today. He started as a letterhack and fanzine kid, and rose quickly from ascended fanboy to steering most of the major Marvel books through most of the late 60s and finally, as the decade rolled over, becoming the first Editor-in-Chief after Stan Lee. In addition to all that, he established certain patterns we take as given among fan creators--self-insertion characters (Roy had one at BOTH big comic companies, and some for his wife as well) stories that exist for no great purpose than to tie up random bits of continuity that no one else was really all that bothered by, and an obsession with Making It All Fit that, when in ascendancy, sacrificed storytelling and characterization in the name of plot points. He also wrote his girlfriend into a Conan story, and Conan totally bangs her in the story and then dresses like a pimp, not that these two things are related to each other. Or do they?

Roy Thomas' peccadilloes, one imagines, could give Chris Claremont a run for his money.

This is not the story of his success. No, this is the story of Roy Thomas in the 1980s, where after peaking and getting to play in the sandbox of two companies, a series of decisions made at higher echelons hobbled and finally broke the writer, sending him bouncing from one company, to another, then back to the first one and finally finishing the decade by creating Witless Prattle's patron saint, the little known and even less regarded Oort The Living Comet.

It's not really commonly regarded now, but it was big news at the time that there was a mini-exodus of talent from Marvel at the turn of the 70s. Jim Shooter, widely seen as the Antichrist (and not entirely without reason, but what editor-in-chief can you not say that about?) brought with him a whole raft of changes to the way things were done at the House of Ideas, and so those who didn't like the way things were going packed up and went elsewhere.

One of which--Marv Wolfman--went on to jumpstart New Teen Titans at DC, which totally faded into nothingness and is little remembered today. Roy Thomas, who'd spent a good chunk of the 70s documenting the Golden Age Marvel heroes in Invaders, followed to DC, where, in an ironic (or obvious) twist of fate, he got to do the same thing he'd been doing, only now with DCs huge raft of Golden Age characters.

All-Star Squadron is so perfect for Roy Thomas one wonders had the groundwork for it not been laid by the JSAs cult success in the 70s, he would have invented it out of whole cloth. Whatever the circumstance, this was his hour, and he milked it for all it was worth. Though there are others who would know better than I, a cursory reading of some All-Star issues from the early days are filled with the joie de vivre of someone who is doing exactly what they got into comics to do.

For a book mostly set on an alternate Earth doing stories that can hardly be said to "count," All-Star Squadron does pretty well for itself as a reliable-selling mid-list title (you know, the kind that used to be the backbone of the comics business back when there weren't facebook groups larger than the entire comics buying public) In a way, with its enormous cast (seriously, the Who's Who page for the All-Star Squadron has like 30+ and I'm sure some of them got left out) was like a slightly more retro Legion of Superheroes, and as this was set on Earth-Two, where one was allowed to play around with the status quo a little more, Thomas had a freedom to write pretty much whatever her wanted, because really, who was going to miss the Red Bee?

In the meantime, Thomas penned America vs. The Justice Society, an utterly bizarre mini-series which (SPOILERS!) consists of an elaborate plan by the somewhat long-deceased Earth-2 Batman to have everyone stand around and recount their origins and highlights from Justice Society comics for four issues, until Per Degaton pops up and blows his brains out because he can't handle going back and washing those test tubes like a good fellow one more goddamned time (might that be the most obscure joke in the Prattle's history? I think it might!) It's . . .a rather strange mini-series, is what I'm saying, but as a primer to Earth-2 and all its strange wrinkles and deviations from standard DC history it was kinda cool too.

All-Star was doing so well, in fact, that during DCs mania for taking high-selling titles, slaving them to the Direct Market and putting them on Baxter Paper (for those of you too young to remember, it was a swindle worthy of Marvel's recent kicking of their prices up a whole dollar in the middle of a recession, it fucked up every popular book in ways that they never recovered from. Want to know why New Teen Titans and Legion of Superheroes got irretrievably fucked around the mid-80s? The Baxter thing set the stage for their respective implosions) and since DC wanted to round up every cult audience they could find (since there was no guarantee Thriller was going to take the world by storm. I kid, of course--Thriller was always going to suck) Thomas decided now was the ideal time to create the next generation of Earth-2 superheroes . . .

. . .which meant, in practice, that the first ten issues Infinity Inc guest-starred in its own book while the Justice Society beat the Ultra-Humanite stupid over his plans to enslave people with evil water. No, really.

As the book got rather some identity of its its own, and the incongruity of someone with his feet planted firmly in the past the idea of hiring Roy Thomas to write your team of edgy young whippersnappers (and despite this being Pre-Vertigo, you could get away with a bit more in Baxter comics) was . . .well, about as successful as when Thomas wrote edgy young whippersnappers back in his X-Men days--by which I mean the results are at best, quaint.

And yet, Infinity Inc. was, for me, the shiz-nite. In fact, Infinity Inc. is the first comic callow 9-year old me ever subscribed to.With the massive backstories of the JSA in the background, I had a set of characters (this was before the advent of Wikipedia and shit, when I realized a lot of them were Golden and Silver age homages with the serial numbers filed off) I could kind of get in on the ground floor with and watch develop. You had new characters placed into a milieu wherein there was a ton of history to draw from and riff on and it was still -gasp!- accessible! Plus, given that present-day Earth-2 was a blank slate and Thomas had the keys, you got the Infinitors squaring off against Chroma, a magic pansexual elf who wanted to sing everyone into insanity, Helix, the Infintors' sorta-evil opposites, and their leader, Mister Bones, who managed to be visually amazing, utterly unique in terms of characterization and, as I found out later, Roy Thomas still managed to make him a homage to a Golden Age character.

Oh, and some guy named Todd McFarlane comes on to do art. How naive I seem in retrospect, not realizing that his mania for drawing everyone with HUGE FUCKING CAPES wasn't going to lead to something else one day . . .

So, everything was going fine and they lived happily ever after.

Only they don't.

I am told that even substances as dense and virtually unbreakable as diamond can be broken if you find the appropriate shatterpoint. For Roy Thomas, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the shatterpoint as his tenure as DC's Earth-2 golden boy becomes an almost nightmarish parade of undercutting that you begin to wonder if DC editorial didn't just walk up to him and kick him in the balls every day.

First, no more Earth-2, and specific Earth-2 characters get offed. This leads to one of the most insane moments in any comic I have ever read, when Fury, freaking the good goddamned hell out because the Earth-2 Wonder Woman is being deleted from continuity (as you do, right?) forgets about her two pages later. It could not have been more jarring a moment than if someone had just ripped two pages out of the comic and inserted a crumpled piece of notebook paper whereupon someone had written "Earth Two Wonder Woman Died On The Way To Her Home Planet." It is that nuts, y'all.

Thomas, bless him, still remains optimistic. "Surely," one imagines him thinking. "I can find a way to make this collapsing of multiple Earths into one (ha ha) sensible history work for me. After all I still have the Justice Society to . . ."

I think the distance between the Crisis crossover issues and The Last Days of the Justice Society is like, barely 4 issues. Even more insane than the Fury issue I told you about two paragraphs above, it is notable for being completely batfuck crazy, not really being anyone's "last days," and the book that caused Alexander Ross to close his eyes in agony and whisper "mother."

It was Alex Ross who opened them again, and comics have been stiff and posed ever since.

So with the Justice Society off the table, never to return (ha ha) Roy Thomas, who had always come off as being rather avuncular and excited in his letter columns, starts to show signs of irritation with the whole business. Now having thoroughly been derailed, a certain laboured feeling begins to permeate Infinity and All-Star both get derailed for extended revisions and re-revisions of the characters origin stories (and the occasional Milennium crossover, God help us all) that conform to whatever bewildering edict was handed down from on high. Infinity manages to tell the last real story it had left to tell before everything went kablooey behind the scenes (the curse of the Silver Scarab) and ends with the most bleak four-issue wrap-up ever. All-Star follows it into the bin, long past its glory days, and Roy Thomas tries, in one last-ditch effort, to play in his sandbox, to fix the holes that have punched in his beautiful Golden Age boat, because why not roll the goddamned rock up the hill one more time?

Young All-Stars is, sadly, not the book it needed to be to justify recounting the new history of the Golden Age, as despite a mighty effort on the part of everyone to provide an interesting spin on the 1940s adventures of the JSA by basically doing Infinity Inc in reverse and creating a new generation of 40s heroes, three of which are analogues to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, no one really buys the fact that you can slot a guy in fur briefs (C'mon, this ain't Eternia) named "Flying Fox" into the Batman role in JSA stories, so it never quite works.

It never quite works, and the wheels finally come off the wagon. I was told the final letter columns of Young All-Stars were some of the most pessimistic things to ever be published by a corporate entity and holy cow, they weren't kidding. He is beaten, indifferent, and hopelessly disappointed. By this time the avuncularity of Roy Thomas has been completely wrung out and he has all the enthusiasm of a substitute teacher at 2:45 on a Friday who finally gives up trying to explain to their students the structure of an atom and sits down at their desk, stares into the middle distance, and glumly runs out the clock. For all intents and purposes, this is the finis to Thomas' tenure at DC.

And look! Jim Shooter's just left Marvel, so he goes back . . .and immediately has to clean up John Byrne's mess in Avengers West Coast. In the middle of a story wherein Magneto makes the Scarlet Witch so evil that she tries to give Wonder Man a blowjob in a scene that is bewildering, utterly inexplicable and utterly ruined the Scarlet Witch for all time (as this was the only story anyone cared to remember with her in it, obviously, and so led to . . .this.) I swear, this is all true. In the name of getting all of this over with, Immortus shows up and says that it was all part of some grand plan to mess with everyone's heads and makes the Avengers fight the Legion of the Unliving again, this time with Quicksilver's arch-nemesis, Oort the Living Comet. Despite the fact that the whole affair comes off as an attempt to very quickly brush the whole thing under the rug and move on to more interesting things (Like Ultron using fruit flies to turn people into robots, a giant baby fighting the Avengers or Joesf Mengele being turned into a supervillain--and yes, these things actually happened) the whole deliriousness of it is a treat, and there's such earnestness behind it, that it's hard to square with the Roy Thomas of a year ago who seemed ready and willing to blow his brains out if DC told him to charge Fury's parents around one more damn time.

This was, more or less, the end of Thomas' run in the majors, although he did a Black Knight one-shot for Marvel three years ago which was frankly spectacular and had few of his usual tics dragging the story down, despite Black Knight being an older character who was later purposed to fit in with the larger Marvel Universe. While no one can dispute his legacy, most of which rightly rests on his earlier successes, Thomas' story exemplifies a adage that should never be forgotten among the people who create and those who read superhero comics from the big two, that lesson being "Today's prize pig is tomorrow's bacon."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just Sayin--On The Occasion of the Death of Wildstorm

Well, in news that was shocking only because it came 11 years after everyone assumed it would, Wildstorm Comics is no more.

You may remember Wildstorm as one of the corners of the Image universe at the beginning (back when it was called Homage Studios) and back when WildC.A.T.S. was in its original incarnation of a bunch of fairly transparent knockoffs of other characters, plus a Big Guy (every Image comic had a Big Guy. Liefeld had 20!) which hit big, had a good run for awhile there, then, as the mid-90s crashed caused their fortunes to sag they had Alan Moore come on board to write some books and allowed Warren Ellis to begin laying the groundwork for The Authority by introducing his stock company of characters including Sarcastic Woman Who Is Sarcastic All The Time, Mannish Strong Girl, and Thinly-Disguised Warren Ellis Manque In Black Trenchcoat in a world where everyone's an annoying, effete, douchebag (as the Wildstorm universe consisted pretty much of ciphers up to this point, this was 15% more characterization than they'd had previously), which pointed the way forward in ways that Wynonna Earp just couldn't hope to.

Meanwhile Alan Moore gave birth to the idea of America's Best Comics, which came to him in a flash of inspiration we now call "Fucking Rob Liefeld's check bounced--AGAIN." This leads to a number of well-regarded books for Wildstorm which include stuff like Jonni Future, which has gorgeous Art Adams art and absolutely no shame about layering in salacious stuff that is less "subtext" than "written in 50 foot high letters on fire." Meanwhile, The Authority hums along, with Ellis idyllic vision of a world where everyone's an asshole soon replaced by Millar's vision of a world wherein we are playthings made of offal who dance on the strings of a supreme being whose idea of "being a grown-up" is "age 16." Also, WildC.A.T.S. gets reinvented as something by Joe Casey which I had no interest in (something about corporatzing superheroes, which is not something I could not take seriously in a book featuring characters like "Warblade" and "Voodoo.") and had the upshot of making Joe Casey someone to listen to among the comics intelligentsia for a few years there, which I'm very glad to say is a time long since past.

So, DC bought Wildstorm around the turn of the century. Like when Marvel bought Mailbu comics for their colouring (I have to do a post about how they totally skullfucked the Ultraverse for a brief ugly moment right before they closed it down) their intention was to feast on the carcass of the company in much the same way a school of piranha devours a piece of meat and also as a way of cozying up to Alan Moore, in much the same way a creepy ex boyfriend cozies up to his old girlfriend by moving into the house across the street and shining a spotlight at her. Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed books that made Wildstorm if not a success, then an interesting little side project, began fading fast, culminating with Grant Morrison and Jim Lee collaborating on a relaunch of all their major books, which immediately imploded and the damn things never really ever came out (just like Image used to be!) and Wildstorm petered out into launches, relaunches, bold new directions, more relaunches, new directions, bold launches, new relaunches, and finally settled on "Oh lets just do middling video game and horror comics until Warners remembers they own us and closes us down."

So now, like a zombie, they have been shot in the head, no longer to continue their shambling undead shuffle until DC unearths them for their latest Multiverse spectacular where they will finally kill the holy fuck out of all of them. It's hard to say Wildstorm ever got what it deserved, because it never really seemed to get anything. However, if they are remembered at all (apart from, y'know, all the stuff circa 2000 that people were actually interested in) let them be remembered for teaching us the lesson that, once subsumed into a corporate hydra, you can actually survive fairly comfortably for a time, just like Milton in Office Space. However, just like Milton in Office Space, you will ultimately only be able to communicate in unintelligible gibberish by the end of it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MAD MEN 4.9--"The Beautiful Girls"

This needed two quotes:

"I would have my secretary do it, but she's dead."

"She died as she lived--surrounded by people she answered phones for."

There is a world, just after now, where reality runs a razor thin seam between fact and possibility; where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow and the needs of Lucky Strike and Vick's Chemical. Patrolling these vast offices is a new breed of ad man, filling magazines and TV with ads as they drain cigarette packs and whiskey bottles, they are known simply as ‘Mad Men’… and this is their story…

Okay, so last week, just as we're about to run into double-digits, we got to see Don Draper making a go of getting his life together, Peggy got a taste of power and dropped the hammer on Joey, and Joan told a group of people that when they were dying in Vietnam, they weren't going to die for her because she never liked them, which considering when this is all taking place means she just laid down a savage burn on them equivalent to saying "God hates you and for ten generations, your children will look like Thalidomide babies. How's that taste, you punk bitches?"

This week, we begin with Don moving some furniture by having some ferocious boot-knocking with Dr. Faye. Apparently, he could go a little farther after all. They've apparently been having hot sordid nooners and trying to compare notes (not that Dr. Faye is having it) and joking about their mutual suspicions of each other. Don seems especially concerned about her possibly rifling through his things (not without cause--look what happened with Betty) the phrase "Chinese Wall" is dropped, which in what is sure not to be a coincidence, is an episode title from later this season . . .

Meanwhile, Roger is fulminating over trying to sell his book, which is not going well despite the lascivious details about Don's secretary and Bert Cooper's testes. Joan busts his balls about a few things, as she's feeling cross about her husband being called up to Vietnam, which, if there is a God, He will frag her ass. Feeling bad, Roger arranges for a Swedish massage for Joan, because he's racist, an alcoholic, and fading fast in terms of relevancy, where Joan's concerned, he's kind of a sweetheart.

Peggy, meanwhile meets up with her lesbian art-house friend from "The Rejected" and complains about trying to hire more copywriters (now that Joey's been cut off) and she arranges a meet-cute for Peggy with Abe, a guy from the party that got raided. They talk a bunch of hippy-talk about the coming revolution and how the mass media is keeping the will of the people down and he fails to see that to Peggy, the struggle for civil rights is relative. Why not work for minority and gender equality, right? Needless to say, they don't hit it off, and I find myself missing Paul Kinsey, who formerly kept the "pretentious douche" end up on this show in seasons previous.

And because God knows even "enlightened" dudes can't take the hint any more than the sexist dinosaurs on this show, he shows up later and delivers a dissertation to her that he wants her to read as Don and Co. has a rather ghastly meeting with Fillmore auto parts, which evolves into a bigger crisis when Sally shows up at Don's work, as she's skipped the train and tried to come see him, which evolves into an even larger crisis and Don and Betty yelling at each other, playing up the reason Sally acts like this in the first place--she was already acting up, but now, as the football in the ongoing pissing contest between Don and Betty. Thankfully, Don doesn't have a TV in his office so there's no danger of a Man From U.N.C.L.E. repeat incident.

Peggy, meanwhile, is mightily pissed off--Abe seems to want to use her as an exemplar for a screed he's written indicting big business for the sort of things people wrote manifestos in 1965 about and because multiple collisions and disasters seem to be theme of this episode Don's secretary, the late "queen of perversions" Ida Blankenship drops fucking dead and this episode explodes to balls-out craziness. Joan tries to handle this with aplomb but one doesn't expect "hauling out a dead body" as a skill on the c.v. of even the most capable office manager. Thankfully the Fillmore Auto Parts guys get distracted by a little theatre on the part of Don as they try to get Mrs. Blankenship's body out the office with a minimum of drama and the whole thing rapidly descends into the tensest, darkest farce one can imagine. Yes, even worse than the one where the guy got his foot run over with the lawnmower.

And even though Blankenship was a bit of caricature, she was funny and Roger takes it hard. From listening to Roger's book, we know they had a relationship together, but there's more working on him than that. Having had two heart attacks and come frighteningly close to dying on the job, he's watched his greatest fear be wheeled out under a blanket. And even though his attempt to quid pro quo Joan into being with him failed, his speaking honestly about his pain and their mutual, unspoken fear of morality.

Which leads to a great scene with the two of them talking over what's bugging them. Over and above the fact that Roger's hung up on her sexually (hey, who wouldn't be?) what holds them together is more than that--they're very close, but not quite as friends, not quite lovers. That tension, by the way is what makes their scenes hum with such energy. Good turns to bad, as Roger and Joan then get mugged, and Joan goes apeshit because the mugger takes her wedding ring. But because nothing about this episode follows the normal chain of cause and effect, they end up making out hot and heavy in the middle of the neighborhood they just got mugged in, because really, how likely is it that lightning would strike twice?

Don, meanwhile, is dealing with Sally's unexpected stay, and Sally tries to make up for it by making french toast. Unfortunately, she confuses Ms. Butterworth's with a bottle of rum, in a recipe I am sure to try for breakfast. Meanwhile, Bert and Roger are still aching over the loss of Mrs. Blankenship (from the picture painted in Roger's book, they were contemporaries of a sort, and Roger and Bert fret a lot last season over the feeling of time passing them by) and Roger and Joan have a rather tense confab wherein she reminds them both that they're married . . .and not to each other. Yet she doesn't regret it. Hm. Could be something there, eh?

Meanwhile, Peggy picks a rather thorny time to take a political stand on Fillmore Auto not hiring black people, which goes about as well as you'd expect (really, Pete's experience with trying to sell Admiral on pitching to black customers last year) Meanwhile Sally decides to detonate and refuse to leave and in the service of not causing a scene (which happens anyway), she storms out, falls on the floor and takes a shine to Don's new secretary, Megan. Dr. Faye, meanwhile, nails Don to the wall for setting her up on a test to see how well she handles being with his kids (which I really don't think he did, because Don isn't quite that Machiavellian, at least not when it comes to matters of the heart--far too impulsive for that) Don contemplates going off the wagon (given the day he's having, who could blame him) and Peggy and her gal pal discuss the finer points of feminism and weirdly apt soup metaphors. Peggy, Joan and Faye go to the elevator and this weird-ass puzzle box of an episode draws to an end.

Man, so . . .things happened this week. Not in the more extroverted end-of-season Mad Men way, but in the more low key way that sets up the end-of-season stuff. Characters have had their places in life (and their places in relation to one another) given a good jostle, someone died, and if this episode can be said to have a moral, let it be that "the more you try to keep things from developing into a scene" the more explosive the end result will be when it inevitably ends up as one anyways. There's a lot to unpack for this episode, and I probably missed tons of it, but hey, that's what the "edit" button is for.

NEXT TIME: Well, we're up to Episode 10, which means we're either at the end of Disc 3 or the beginning of Disc 4 if you're following this after the original airdates, which means, in some small way I have perfected a kind of time travel, at least insofar as it is possible to transmit ideas of some immediacy across great gulfs of time. Obviously, I'm ruminating on this as a way of deflecting the question of what in the hell is supposed to happen next week, as really trying to read the tea leaves of AMC's promos are a fool's errand. Suffice it to say--something will happen, and as we'll be 4 episodes until the end, it's time for big things poppin', little thing's stoppin'. Be here next time for the winner of the "Which Mad Men Episode Title Most Sounds Like An Early Prince Song" contest, "Hands and Knees." GONNA BURN SOME MUSCLE!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When East Meets West

For your edification and entertainment this weekend, the management would like to submit the following:

First up, when the first X-Men animated series came to Japan, they decided to give it an into more in tune with what the culture was used to seeing. However, as there are some gaps when trying to merge the two cultures, which means said intro raises more questions than it answers:

The fact that the intro song ends with "CRY FOR THE MOON" obviously implies that the X-Men are werewolves. Obviously.

These questions are completely left unanswered or even much explored outside of this blog post, because later on they did the do another intro, which begins with the X-Men foolishly standing around posing on an active volcano. Things get more inexplicable from there . . .I mean, uhm . . .30 years of X-Men history and you feature friggin' Tusk?

But none of these can compare to the sheer psychotronic insanity of this. Yes, you've heard about it, you never believed it possible, but here it is. Spider-Man. In Japan. With a Speed Racer car, a giant robot named after a leopard, and a song that makes you feel like the 70's just left a clog-shaped boot print in your face:

You know, had this been the end result, I woulda been OK with that whole Mephisto thing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reign of Error 3: Welcome to the Errordome

Concluding our rather painful look at X-Men as a title and a franchise and how it stumbled and fumbled around in the wilderness until Grant Morrison made the scene, we close with the last X-Men book before the big takeover. This is X-Men as it was and never shall be again, this is actually the end of the X-Men's 90's period. This is X-Men #113, the final installment of "Eve of Destruction."

Time has not been kind to Chris Claremont.

Ever since getting kicked off the X-Men in 1991, he'd been stumbling a bit in the field of comics, with really only two main things to his credit: The short-lived Huntsman project at Image, which could be seen as either a clever commentary on Mary Sue-esque characters or him raiding his bag of tricks for the usual cliches and Sovereign Seven which was definitely him raiding his bag of tricks for the usual cliches and was full of Mary Sue characters.

As we learned last time, of course, the X-Men weren't in such great shape either. After Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle leave the books, things solider on with Alan Davis doggedly transcribing editorial's plot dictation and providing competent, yet unspectacular work. After a few months of this, the X-office ramps up for The Twelve, a particularly egregious example of comics about other comics which spins out of one line of dialogue from a book in 1987. It's the kind of book the new editorial regime circa 2001 wished they wouldn't do and, it's implied, wouldn't do. Except when they did.

The big plan, of course, was to bring Chris Claremont back to write the books. While it was greeted with somewhat muted anticipation at the time (Claremont had been in the midst of a not-too-great Fantastic Four run at the time) in the warm light of retrospect, it's clear that he really shouldn't have bothered. By the end of his run in 1991, it was clear he had little left to say with the characters, there had been nearly ten years for the conventional wisdom that Claremont's writing was domination, slavery, mind control, and gladiators all the time, and that put pressure on him to come up with new stuff to thwart expectations.

Unfortunately, his new plan was the Neo, and the less said about that the better. By the time he'd regained his footing and tried for something different, it was too late, and he was gone not even a year after he got on.

Because history repeats itself on a one to one basis, of course, Scott Lobdell came back for a few months to wrap everything up and well . . .he needn't have bothered, either. Because people who'd been driven off the book by Claremont had already gone and everyone else was waiting for Morrison to come on, whereupon he'd fix things. So it really didn't matter what was in the books-so long as he got them out on time, he could have the X-Men pull a train on Jean Grey for four months after taking enough ecstasy to destroy their minds and turn them into drooling sex maniacs (as it stands, they waited until Claremont and Milo Manara could collaborate for that)

Our book today is the conclusion of this little 90's coda. Eve of Destruction was intended to be a "grand finale" of sorts to the 90's style X-Men books that had been the standard of the time. Generally, it's the story of Magneto, who still ruled Genosha about this time--ready to attack the rest of the world with an army mutants. It's up to the X-Men to stop him, only there aren't any to hand because most of them have gone off to the X-Treme X-Men book to bungee jump and slam Mountain Dew.

So it's up to Jean Grey to recruit a team of X-Men to fight Magneto, because apparently no one carries a cel phone, or leaves a forwarding address or any of the other sensible ways that normal people who don't have brain damage stay in touch with each other, especially in case of emergencies, like I don't know, MAGNETO ABOUT TO ATTACK THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD. You'd think they'd wanna stay on top of shit like that.

To say that the team she chooses are scrubs is an insult to actual scrubs. Compared to them, the Cerebro X-Men are like 1980s-era Chicago Bulls in terms of competence. Let's do a roll call on these chumps because I feel like smacking someone:

Phoenix--Jean Grey gets to lead her own team of X-Men and when even she's saying she's not done a great job, you have problems. Phoenix seems to have developed the ability to fart out an enormous amount of thought captions in this issue, because damn if the pages to come aren't littered with tons of them.

Omerta--Jesus Christ, this guy. Omerta is invulnerable loudmouth from Brooklyn, and is Italian (or, at least as close as Lenil Yu can get) Given that the Italian-American Anti-Defamation league once protested the Sopranos because it perpetuated the stereotype that all Italian-Americans are mobbed up the wazoo, having a character act like the worst guido stereotype ever and having named himself after the Mafia's code of silence . . .uhm, isn't that like having a black character named the Mighty Sambo? (NOTE: Someone must have realised this and he's never actually called Omerta in the book, but honestly . . .that's the least of his problems)

Wraith--Wraith sucks, and while that's generally the point of the character, he's a walking example of why you can't have your cake and eat it too when it comes to certain stories. You can't really expect to have a "wacky mutant with useless powers gets caught up the the car-azy world of the X-Men and somehow finds his way" story in the middle of what you're desperately trying to sell as Armageddon. Wraith can turn himself invisible, but only his skin--the rest of him is visible, and he can transmit it to people via touch. His mutant power is, I should add, less useful than someone else grabbing him by the legs and using his body to bludgeon people.

Northstar--God, we're just ticking off boxes now, aren't we? Northstar is gay, and as a homosexual mutant from Montreal who holds hands and kisses other men, joins the X-men because he is not a heterosexual and acts like an asshole because being John Barrowman level camp would be too obvious and can play against Omerta's homophobia because Northstar is gay. Northstar's gayness is the only reason anyone uses the character--it's a cheap way of scoring points and playing up the connection between mutant phobia and homophobia. Have I mentioned that Northstar is gay? Because he is.

Dazzler--Speaking of ticking off, here comes Dazzler to add nothing to the X-Men (again) Dazzler is actually here because he subplot got canned--originally, Eve was going to have the X-Men deal with an X-Baby version of Apocalypse taking over the Mojoverse. I am very glad all this got cut out because there are few things I give less of a shit about than the X-Babies and the Mojoverse. Unfortunately, Dazzler stuck around, to everyone's detriment. Dazzler will also survive this crossover, which is another way it fails. I hate Dazzler, is what I'm trying to say.

Frenzy--When you pick random stereotypes off the street and give the mutant powers is one thing. When you recruit a lifelong back-bencher when 90% of X-Men characters have her same power set is just goddamned lazy. I would like to think the point of forcibly brainwashing Frenzy was so they'd have a person familiar with Magneto's operation on the team, but as we learned later, in another dropped subplot, they already had someone on the inside, so . . .why is she here?

Sunyre--Hey kids! Do you like Sunfire? No? Well, here he is with tits!

As a human depending on the X-Men, this is where I say "we are so screwed."

Anyways, we join the story with everyone yelling at each other and Magneto occasionally doing someone as the X-Men, the world's premiere mutant team with at least one member with decades of experience operating in a team dynamic . . .fight him one at a time. I would complain about this, but instead I'd like to point out that the artist of this book is drawing it like he could barely give a damn, if the ludicrous amounts of crosshatching, distored figures and histrionic expression are any indication. I feel you, man.

So while the X-Men are embarrassing themselves, Wolverine and Cyclops show up. A lot of blatherskite is thrown around about how, now that Cyclops, who used to be dead but then remembered that he wasn't, has come back "changed" and I'm glad the writer reminded me of this because otherwise he'd come across as the same old boring douche he'd always been.

Anyways, Magneto ends up being outmaneuvered by these ad hoc X-Men, who were counting on the fact that with pages to go, he'd spend all of them acting like a fucking idiot. Wolverine stabs him because like me, he's heartily sick of this shit. Xavier makes a speech and everyone leaves Genosha without another word because while the entire country was willing to go to war with the entire planet, no one is willing to do anything now that Magneto's got capped, even though there were like, seven X-Men and at least twice that when the artists remembered to draw a crowd scene. We cut to an allegedly clever epilogue where none of the new X-Men joined up, which plays up their space-filling nature even more and means they were that much more the loser squad.

Obviously, this is not a good book. But what makes it amusing is that, two years later, Grant Morrison uses bits of it (entire scenes in this book are referenced) in the "Planet X" story arc. That's not to say he ripped it off, it's more accurate to say that "Planet X" is a parody of Magneto stories just like this, where he does one bold thing early on, and does nothing in the middle of the story and is undone by own plot-mandated stupidity. If "Planet X" is a comment on the ultimately retrograde nature of the X-Men franchise, it's books like this that set the pattern.

Fortunately, no one will remember this book in a month's time, as Grant Morrison comes along and we start telling interesting stories and playing with the concept for the first time in decades. It lasts for three wonderful years and pretty much everything since then has been Chuck Austen, fixing Chuck Austen's mistakes, and then a whole lot of what amounts to X-Men fanfiction, be it Chris Claremont fanfiction, Grant Morrison fanfiction, or whatever the hell Warren Ellis can dig out of the bin and hastily do a "find and replace" to add in the X-Men.

How far we've come, indeed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Reign Of Error 2: Erratic City, Can't You See . . .

Okay, so the first installment of this series on the complete and utter meltdown of the X-Men franchise in the mid-to-late 90's turned out to be a huge success, so much so that it instantly turned a one-time entry into a sudden trilogy, just like the Matrix. Only hopefully, the next two installments won't be a brutal well of sucktiude that crushes the spirit and makes you forget why you liked the first one.

Last time we had Operation Zero Tolerance kick off a whole new status quo for the X-Men in which they had new members some of the old guard had left, very few of which wanted to be there, all their fancy technology got taken away and clearly, plainly, nothing would ever be the same again.

It lasted roughly twenty issues or so, split between two books, then editorial got cold feet and decided to change their minds. This led to the writers leaving the books, or at least partially heading out the door. They stick around to script the next few issues of editorial's plots, but it's clear they just wanted a sweet little severance cushion, because they're basically willing accomplices to the dismantling of what they wanted to do.

And they do a right awful job of it. Not just because of the obvious--the characters who up and disappear off-panel, or the one who shows up for two pages and basically says "Yeah, I was a scrub, wasn't I? heh heh." Oh, and Colossus, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat join up with the X-Men again for reasons that can be best summed up as "Excalibur just got canceled and we have no place for them in any other book." Gambit will be showing up soon as well, since obviously after Uncanny X-Men #350, where they left him in Antarctica to freeze to fucking death left plenty of wiggle room for a quick return.

But that's next issue. Most of the heavy lifting for this new newer status quo takes place in the following two issues. They also set up a new storyline. They also introduce a new threat and his six minions. This is a lot to do in six issues. They have two double-sized issues. Will they succeed?

Will they hell.

Uncanny X-Men #360 and X-Men #80 are some of the least coherent books I have ever read, and I once read everything Rob Liefeld wrote and drew (I'm not proud, that's just what one did in 1991) They are big double-sized issues that have nice shiny covers, which I believe commemorates the 35th anniversary of the X-Men. There was a mania for this for a while at Marvel--they were forever inventing new occasions to do larger issues. I believe they did one to commemorate the 30th anniversary of when Chris Claremont his his head on the porcelain in his bathroom and had a vision of the Phoenix Force, which is what . . .makes . . .X-Men . . .possible.

The books pivot on a couple plot points left over from Onslaught and Operation Zero Tolerance--namely, Professor X has been out of the book since Onslaught (because of the whole "unleashing a psychic monster on New York who killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four" thing. See, this is what happens when people snitch) and Bastion stripped the mansion of damn near everything during Operation Zero Tolerance (presumably even Wolverine's pile of fap pics of Jean Grey) including, it is assumed, Cerebro, their mutant detecting system that, if it worked would have YELLED that there was mutant attacking them constantly because it happened ALL the damn time.

Okay, now I can finally get to talking about the books, though I will inevitably drift off. Uncanny X-Men #360--there's a new group of X-Men in town, all of whom are recruited by Professor X in very rapid quick-fire vignettes. Let me tell you something, you've never lived until you've seen Chris Bachalo try to get stuff across in tight-grid panels. It's uh, something to behold. Yeah.

Anyways, the curious thing about this group of X-Men is that they are less real characters in their own right than mash-ups of other characters. This proves to be a plot point, sort of, but no real recognition of this point ever happens on the part of the characters or the narration, so you're kinda on your own. But generally, as Mighty Boosh taught us, mash-ups, being a combination of elements from the past and elements from the future coming together to make something not quite as good as either are a bad thing. As are eels.

Ok, so, X-Men roll call!

The Grey King --I keep misreading his name as "Asinine" instead of "Addison." The Grey King has some vague Phoenix esque powers mumble mumble telepathy mumble mumble power dampener. He's the leader of the X-Men and I'm very glad that Professor X tells us that he has "a formidable intellect" because I would have not guessed it considered what a fucking moron he acts like in this issue. He is hated and feared by people who play chess and people who think wearing a ponytail in 1998 is totally stupid (this is, BTW, said by a guy who was wearing a ponytail in 1998)

Rapture --

Rapture is blue, has wings and carries a sword. Practically speaking this gives her all the powers of a human-size pigeon who could shank your ass. Rapture is hated and feared by those who walk beneath her when she's barely continent.

Mercury -- Would 90's comics have survived had Terminator 2 not invented liquid metal? Probably not. Mercury is made of liquid metal. He shoots down the X-Men once and gets sliced open by Wolverine and uh . . .that's it? Weirdly enough, an X-Man will pop up a decade later with the same powers & the same name, but some attempt is made at making an actual character out of them. Mercury is hated and feared by Robert Patrick.

Landslide --Landslide is supposed to be a mash-up of The Blob, Sabretooth, and the Beast, but he doesn't really do anything except stand around and look big, so I can only assume that Landslide has all the superpowers of a big fat guy who wants to beat everyone up. Also, if the opening of the story is to be believed, Landslide is hated and feared by proprietors of "all you can eat" restaurants.

Chaos/Xaos/Kaos/WILL YOU PLEASE DECIDE HOW THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE SPELLED, MARVEL --Seriously, they change his name like twice in as many issues. A mashup of Cyclops and Havok, Daniel Dash is autistic, which means in this case he just says random words and doesn't react to anything (Just like Grandpa!) and along with M, this means Marvel is 0 for 2 in writing credible autistics. Oh, and he can fire Havok's blast out of his eye.

His eye. Singular. Phenomenal destructive power, and he can apparently only shoot it out of one eye.

You know what? I don't often say this, but I could take his punk ass down in a hot second (Yes, I know he's a fictional character, this is not a cry for help) Come on, all you have to do is stay away from that eye that shoots stuff (no big thing, as his depth perception's probably shit) and he can't touch you. You know how easy it is to screw up your eye? This isn't like punching out Thanos or anything--hell, I could take him down with a sharp stick.

Just -POKE- and then I can gloat: "AH HA HA HA CHAOS YOU TOTALLY LOST YOU POWERS YOU PUNK BITCH! WELCOME TO YOUR OWN PERSONAL M-DAY, ASS CLOWN! YOU! ARE! POWERLESS!" And then I would laugh. On into the night. I am a poor winner.

Chaos is hated and feared by the proprietors of airshows, which were probably having a bad year anyway.

Crux --Crux is French and as such has all the powers of being an asshole or a slut, as all French characters in comics must. Despite being named "Cristal," (No she's not a stripper) she is more on the "asshole" side of the range (also, she's underage, which means the other option is off the table, provided Colossus leaves her alone) Crux can project fire and ice from opposite parts of her body, and she is also a figure skater, which means she has all the powers of Brian Boitano.

Crux is hated and feared by French comic fans who wonder when America's going to stop casting them as the team goon already.

They refer to Xavier as "The Founder" which gives me a small hope that they're referring to the Dominion. Alas, this is not to be. Xavier is rendered in show looking all sinister, which is again supposed to be a clue, but really, Bachalo draws everyone that way.

That was a very long roll call. Thankfully, nothing much happens in this issue. The Excalibur expatriates are on a ship which soon gets attacked by the New X-Men, who announce themselves with a huge explosion and the following quote from the Grey King (remember--he has a "formidable intellect")

"HEAR ME! We are POWER and MIGHT, sent to collect the one who can save the FOUNDER. Those set against out mission will PERISH in fire or water."

The following quote is what I'm going to use next time I go to the grocery store:

"HEAR ME, FARM FRESH! I am POWER and MIGHT, sent to collect sodas at 3 for $6 and hamburger meat for .63 cents/lb for my DINNER. Those set against my mission will PERISH when I run them over with my SHOPPING CART!"

The X-Men are after Shadowcat by the way. Naturally, the best way to get her to go with you is to sink the boat and jeopardize a ship full of tourists and threaten to murder everyone when you really didn't have to at all. What else would you do--ask her?

Anyways, while this is going on, the X-Men (the ones who aren't mash-ups) fight their way through sewers to get to the Lincoln Memorial, where Val Cooper tells them they have to go to Cape Citadel (because it's a callback to Uncanny X-Men #1, y'unnerstand. They had to justify shiny double sized issues somehow) and learn that Xavier's missing and . . .uh . . .wow, Steve Seagle is verbose as hell here. I don't know if this intentional or not that one caption seems to sag and hang off as if about to fall from the amount of verbiage, but I like to think they meant to.

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler and Colossus turn up at the X-Mansion which is deserted except for Cecilia Reyes who threatens them with a gun and exposits at them. So obviously, they entrusted the protection of the X-Mansion to Cecilia because they really didn't give a shit what happened to it. Could be worse, I guess--they could have let Maggott look after it. Anyways, they unearth the Blackbird jet (the old one) and because Nightcrawler is an airplane mechanic in his spare time they zoom off to help the other X-Men which they somehow know where they're going to be.

Meanwhile, Kitty is off helping Professor Xavier, who is acting completely weird and unlike himself. Kitty, apparently unfazed by this (seeing as how he's been taken over by aliens, replaced by Skrulls, had his evil side beat the crap of the X-Men while wearing a cape, and turning into Onslaught, what are the odds that that would happen one more time?) sets about trying to help him by vomiting out a lot of technobabble, and upon fixing him (by solving a computer problem--HINT) is captured and thrown in storage. This is supposed to be shocking, but really--as the first time we saw the X-Men they were fighting the other X-Men they were more than willing to kill the living hell out of everyone, so the notion they have some sort of sinister ulterior motive is not all that big a bombshell.

God, this is taking forever. I mean--The X-Men get shot out of their plane and have a big mid-air fight with the other X-Men, then get rescued by the Blackbird, which gets blown up because the X-Men can't have ever have anything nice. Spoiled brats. End Part One, and you'll never know how happy I am to type that.

Part Two, X-Men #80 is a big fight scene and should go faster. The mash-up X-Men let Shadowcat escape because the Grey King is a "formidable intellect," remember? Meanwhile, the X-Men having crash-landed and deciding the whole "flying in a plane thing" is not for them after having two of them destroyed from under them in 6 pages last issue, argue amongst themselves. Rogue is wearing a different costume for God knows what reason. As an aside, I became a Marrow fan for life after these two issue as she spent most every bit of dialogue she got calling them all idiots. She has a point.

The X-Men fight the X-Men over Cape Citadel because the space shuttle is carrying some mutant detecting McGuffin and it's all built up to be this decisive moment in mutant-human relations, but let's call it what it is--the X-Men vs the mash-ups and because the story's almost over, the mash-ups job like little bitches and the X-Men destroy the satellite and save the day. I guess. It's not made terribly clear. Perhaps if I had a "formidable intellect" like the Grey King I could work it out, since he acquits himself like a member of MENSA here.

Oh yeah, the mash-ups are fakes and Xavier is actually Cerebro, which has become sentient because, well why not. The Danger Room will become sentient in an echo of this story many years later. I think the lesson to be learned here is that Charles Xavier always needs the goddamn extended warranty, as X-Tech has a higher failure rate than, say, an X-Box 360. The mash-ups disappear, never to be seen again (more or less--I think they show up one more?) which means we spent two issues fighting fake X-Men who never got built property into real characters, or a credible threat, or much of anything, making the X-Men's victory over them essentially meaningless. And if you're me, you spent $8 to read this thing. Aren't you happy?

Despite the unmerciful epic curb-stomping I gave this story just now, I really do like the "new X-Men" in some strange way, and if given leave to write an X-Book I would probably bring them back but do them as a group of mutant player haters who go around hating on various X-characters.

It would look a bit like this:

But with more spandex.

The funny thing is, this might have worked with a little more space to breathe. You take the original X-Men off the board under mysterious circumstances, add in Professor X recruiting them over the next few issues while the Excalibur folks search for the X-Men and encounter the new X-Men, and then you get the big reveal with Cerebro, and you've set the stage for something with a little more weight behind it.

Instead, they rushed through it with all haste because they wanted Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Shadowcat and Professor X. It all feels a bit artificial really, and if we haven't been reading for years, we're given no compelling reason to care about them--we're just told we should because it's important they're there and they're X-Men, which is exactly the problem with the book now--with a cast of 200 and no set team, it begs the question of just who the X-Men are really supposed to be at the end of the day, because right now it's just Cyclops and Some Guys. If there's no core to build around (like say, a team of seven or so) what do the other hundred and change matter? Unless you have the amount of pages that Shonen Jump has every month, trying to make a 200 character cast work isn't going to, because in trying to make readers give a shit about everyone, they won't give a shit about anyone.

But that's the present. Back in 1998, this will lead to a competent but unexciting run of issues with a few good bits (Magneto getting control of Genosha) and a whole lot of bad bits (The Twelve, good Christ, The Twelve) that culminate with the return of Chris Claremont to the X-books. This goes . . .rather poorly, Chris Claremont's gone in a year and in between Grant Morrison's assumption of control of the book, there's some time to mark and tie up some old business.

And that's where we'll pick up. Join us next time for the X-Men as it was and will never be again, an issue so emblematic of where the book was before Morrison took over, that Morrison used it/parodied it. Next time--X-Men #113, the finale of Eve of Destruction and the end of the X-Men of the 90's. Is there an answer at the end of our nightmare?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

MAD MEN 4.8--"The Summer Man"

First of all, let's give a shout-out (partly because I forgot to the first time I was supposed to because I promised--sorry, D--Work has done in my brain something fierce.) to the illustrious Diana Kingston-Gabai, who will be picking up this show very soon. Quite intrigued to see her thoughts on the show! Naturally, this means AMC will start sending checks to my house any day now because I'm such a good ambassador for this show.

Yeah, that'll happen.

"You need three ingredients for a cocktail. Vodka and Mountain Dew is an emergency."

So last week, despite Anna Draper dying, we left on a hopeful note, which we desperately needed, given that I don't know if I can take 5 more weeks of Don turning himself into a drunken mess. Because Don and Peggy had reconciled and there was the flicker of hope that he might be able to find the kind of unconditional love he had with Anna, and while it wouldn't solve all his problems, it'd at least convince him that solutions might not be located at the bottom of a tumbler full of rye.

Meanwhile, in another place and time, Betty Draper wore a ridiculous hat.

This week, Don narrates the episode, trying to write his way through his drinking problem and taking up swimming laps, which inadvertently (or not) gives us something for the ladies and Joan has to ride herd on the creative types to stop them bashing in a cigarette machine, which ends up causing Joan to come down on her, and while Joan may not be in the place she wants to be in terms of her life, when Joan is in the office and wears the Gold Pen of Ultimate Authority, she is Not To Be Questioned. Joey does him no favours by treating her with naked contempt and alluding (without knowing) of her rape two years ago, which causes Joan to go ballistic and leave for the day.

Sadly, this means she has to deal with the ever-present asshole doctor rapist who is off to basic. Joan raises my hopes when she mentions they use live ammo in basic training, which raises my hopes that he'll get good and fragged, and he does his usual patronising job of trying to allay her fears, and while she's in tears, he tries to make a move on her.

Meanwhile, Don writes. Betty's barred Don from going to baby Gene's birthday and ruminates on the circumstances of Gene's birth and his life. Most of all Don is trying to get a handle on his life--writing about it is a way of exerting control and giving it some kind of perceptible shape and focus.

It's not always easy. Over a meeting about pitching for Mountain Dew (even mentioning the hillbilly who has recently shown up on the Throwback packaging) which, according to Don, requires a re-think requiring Joey's take on it, which runs counter to Joan's plans to fire his sorry ass. Joey really proudly waves his asshole flag, mistaking Harry for trying to come on to him, and disses Joan in such a way that even Peggy tells his ass off for. The reason being is that Peggy, just like us, knows that Lane Pryce and Joan run the machinery of the place, which allows the creative staff to function and make money.

Meanwhile things get ugly and complicated as Don's supernumerary quizzes Don on which member of the Odd Couple he is, which intersects awkwardly with Betty and Henry's dinner date, which goes as well as you might expect. The venom and condescension in Betty's look is so withering if you have a plant close to the TV, it will die. Betty compounds this by giving them the stink-eye all through dinner while Henry's political future is discussed. Betty finally gets called on her bullshit by Henry (and for all I think Henry is a milquetoast, he is the only person who gets to speak truth to power when it comes to Betty) This comes to a rather unpleasant head in the car ride home. Those fights are never fun, are they?

Meanwhile, things are going rather well for Don, as he stars in a very special episode of Taxicab Confessions. It was kind of nice to see him doing well after so many fumbled passes, but he ultimately knows that it's not going anywhere, because Don isolates himself from people to an extent, and he likes to. Over and over we've seen that he's not very good at self-promotion, partly because most of his adult life has been spent keeping a secret about himself and in a sense the role has become the actor--Don Draper Does Not Let People In because he doesn't let them in. At some point, and I think everyone does this, you do something because it's what you've always done, which is a call back to refutation of Dr. Faye's statistical research.

Meanwhile, Joan continues her plan to get Joey fired and get rid of the vending machine. Joey continues to be an asshole, and Peggy's sick of his shit. Curiously, Henry calls Don (who looks just as shocked as everyone else) and gets him to move his stuff (all of which was marked "Draper," and already sick of Betty being so hung up on him, ran his car into them) the day before Gene's birthday party in one of those dick moves that the new boyfriend inevitably pulls on the old one. To compound it, his stuff is left on the curb like that week's trash.

Joey, meanwhile, crosses a line. Joan hits him between the eyes by getting a big speech wherein she basically hopes they all go to Vietnam and all die. Christina Hendricks gives great venom here. Peggy takes up for him with Don, who, after briefly criticizing his compositional style invests Peggy with the power to fire him, which she does after blowing his last chance to keep his job and while she doesn't decimate him as he so richly had coming, it's a Pyrrhic victory, as Joan points out that she inadvertently undermined her authority, being that this is still a man's world, she's highlighted that Joan's just a secretary and Peggy's a humourless bitch. Again, Hendricks gives good venom in this scene and her turning on a dime is just astonishing. This is why you don't fuck with the girl with the golden pen, y'all.

Meanwhile, Don asks Dr. Faye out again and gets shot down again . . .sorta. Meanwhile, on the eve of Baby Gene's birthday party, Betty complains incessantly about Don and Don picks his stuff up and throws it away, despondent about the family that's not his anymore, the place he's not welcome in anymore, and the life that he doesn't have anymore, throws them away. Over dinner with Dr. Faye, he explains where he is and how this struggle with getting control of his life is going. Dr. Faye says she keeps her life in focus by keeping her eye on the future, and explains that "kindness, gentleness, and persuasion win out where force fails," which leads to Don Draper having yet another hot cab ride (no one has had more luck on public transport in the history of the entire apparatus) but restrains himself from closing the deal by just walking her to the door, recognizing he's not quite ready to go any further, and later, Don decides to show up at Baby Gene's birthday party after all because he's the Juggernaut bi--no, wait, he's Don Draper. While Betty and Henry run to the other side of the room, he's able to have one moment of connection with the son he was quite ambivalent about ever having in the first place, and that he's managed to make it through the episode without collapsing into alcohol-soft self-pity, well . . .maybe he's turning the corner.

NEXT TIME: I give up predicting these things, nor even making up crazy things about them. Instead, courtesy of AMC, here's a clip from next time:

OK, it totally wasn't, but trust me, it makes about as much sense as AMC's previews for the show and probably has just as much to do with whatever gibbering madness they edited together to paint a misleading picture of the episode. Next Episode--"The Beautiful Girls." Be there. Aloha.

Friday, September 10, 2010

When Comics and Videogames Clash, Madness Typically Ensues

So, as you may or may not know, in addition to being a comics blog, a Mad Men blog, an SF blog, and whatever-the-hell-else-I-feel like blog, we also occasionally cover video games. However, I have not yet addressed those moments where comics and video games intersect. Now don't worry, this is not gonna be a long rambling dissertation on Arkham Asylum, or Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, because that's not quite my thing and because time and tide have caused me to drift ever so slightly away from the current comics zeitgeist, generally when I bring up comics, they're like 15 years old or whatever.

Besides, where comics and games meeting isn't as interesting to me now as it was back then. You see, for all that we can make Batman games that feel like Batman movies (and that's great, don't get me wrong) or Marvel games where it feels like a whole big universe . . .if I'm honest, I have a soft spot for those moments when they hadn't got it quite right, and earnest good-faith efforts to make games that evoked the brightly colored action and excitement of the comics inevitably got a bit . . .well, strange.

Join me as we part the veiled curtain of yesteryear and take a look at these, won't you? I mean, who doesn't love list threads, right? So, in no particular order, for your delectation, here's 5 Goddamn Insane Comic-Based Video Games.

1-X-Men-- While the games journalists pat themselves on the back because we live in the age of the auteur games creator or similar bullshit, it's worth noting that most of the things that defined video games had more to do with commerce than with creativity. The idea is to get as many of the customer's quarters or tokens in as possible, so you bait him by allowing to continue the game until he finishes. Thus, a fifty cent game becomes worth about five dollars. Couple that with you and your friend and holy shit, now you've made ten dollars in the same amount of time it used to take you to make five.

So when the first Ninja Turtles game hit, I have a feeling someone totally 'gasmed. "Let me see here . . .all four people can play . . .it's a long game . . .and. . .and . . .they'll die a lot . . .but they're still having fun and . . .uh . . .five times four is . . .twenty dollars for a whole play through . . .YYYYEESSSSS!" And so this became the profit model for games for a number of years--the four player paradigm lent itself from the Ninja Turtles, to Battletoads, to the Simpsons, and the X-Men seemed like the most natural thing to do. I mean, you could have all the X-Men everyone gives a shit to play as (plus Dazzler, the Meg Griffith of the X-Men) playing at the same time and . . .yeah, I won't do the 'gasm transcript again. Come back now.

Anyways, so armed with little more than a videotape of Pryde of the X-Men, a whole clutch of Japanese guys got together in a room and tried to make sense out of an American comic book informed by and large by Chris Claremont's narrative obsessions with slavery, mind control, redheads, and the group Steeleye Span.

This is what happened:

Please note Magneto goes cross-eyed immediately after saying "X-Men." Given that he later describes himself as the "Master of Magnet," the following clip isn't all that much of a surprise:

Despite this, the actual game isn't all that bad--it's far too long for its own good, and it gets a bit monotonous two stages in. It's supposed to be--it's designed to take all your money after all. But all this is made up for by the little insane things that pepper it, making no sense and nagging at you even if you've only ever read one X-Men comic, like: Magneto is going to rule the world . . .with mutant-hunting Sentinels? Juggernaut needs a bazooka now? Why does the White Queen have such a mannish laugh and a pimp backhand that can knock you across the room? Why is all Magneto's dialogue done by someone with a brain injury? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Ordinarily, these would be severe drawbacks, but if any comic property deserved to have its various foibles turned into a dadaist parody of itself, god dammit the X-Men sure as hell did.

2-Spider-Man-- Once the floodgates were open for this sort of thing, there was no stopping them (just like in the movie Breakin') so here into this came Sega, who bought the Spider-Man rights in the early 90's and just went nuts there with games for awhile. This one is one of their less well known ones, but damn well deserves to be more well known, because it is dangerously insane.

Back in the day, you see, Spider-Man didn't have four associated characters to allow for co-op play. He was a longer, it was part of his deal. In fact, there was some controversy when he joined the Avengers because of the whole "loner" thing. Now it would be easy as hell to pepper a Spider-Man game with playable characters, but at the time, this was all you had, so you could either have Spider-Man and . . .uh, three other different-coloured Spider-Men and pretend that made any god damned sense (as they did in the Superman arcade game) or you could improvise.

In Sega's case, "Improvise" meant "pull names out of a hat," because in this thrilling game, Spider-Man teams up with Hawkeye, the Black Cat, and . . .the Submariner (because why wouldn't they, really?) to beat the shit out of a New York that has been overrun by mimes:

It's not a bad game by any means--occasionally things zoom out and you do some platforming or fight a King Kong-sized Venom, it's just . . .well, the most bizarre episode of Marvel Team-Up ever is about the most succinct way I can put it. That and this game would be even more awesome if he had his giant robot and Speed Racer car.

3-Captain America and the Avengers-- If you say you hate this game, then sir or madam I tell you that you hate joy and beg you to cast your eyes to the skies again and remember how you felt when your heart was young and the world was new. Avengers is certainly the nadir of this particular period, because holy cow this game positively revels in excess--it's far too long, far too loud, and every speech sample is SHOUTED at you, e.g. "YOU WILL BE THE ONE ESCAPING!" "YOU CAME HERE TO DIE!" and "WHY SHOULD IT GOES WELL!"

The plot, such as it is, is very loosely based on "Acts of Vengeance," and taken as a whole, probably makes more sense than "Acts of Vengeance" ever did. The Red Skull threatens the world with a giant laser, so Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Vision decide to break his fucking television (it's the Chicago way) they are bad enough dudes to whip some ass and throw rocks and soda cans at people.

Hilarity ensues:

This game, for those of you baffled by its previous appearances, was the source for this gag:

Print photo at home

4-X-Men (Genesis)-- I'm not even going to talk about the thing I usually bring up when I think of this game--namely that bullshit about having to reset the Genesis at the end of Mojo's stage is an utterly asinine thing to have included and yeah it may have been a clever break of the fourth wall but fuck you anyways. No, what I'm going to talk about is how none of this game makes any damn sense at all. I mean, what the hell is Apocalypse doing in Excalibur's Lighthouse?

I like to think he needed the john, and I would like to think that his justification went something like this: "Apocalypse required the use of a suction flush commode and a can of Lysol. The tacos I had for lunch were unfit to remain in my colon. The salad, however, is worthy to survive there."

Lord, I hate Apocalypse. What a stupid, stupid character.

5-Marvel Super Heroes -- Well, eventually these multi-player arcade games had to give way to something and that was fighting games, and Capcom fighting games at that. This one is actually pretty well stocked--it had Captain America, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Doom, Thanos . . .

. . .and to be obtuse, someone stuck in Shuma-Gorath, an obscure Doctor Strange villain who ended up being an amazingly effective character, because after the biggies are in, what the hell, fill out the numbers with whoever you want. Let's watch!

So, as you see, if all you look for in the nexus of comics and videogames, you miss out on a hell of a lot of damn fun stuff. Now, before we go, how about a . . .

BONUS ROUND: While you'll never be able to do better than "does whatever a spider can," if it's up to me . . .this is not my first choice for Spider Man game's theme music:

Yes. That was a hair metal band singing a song vaguely related to Spider-Man. You can try to forget, but we both know there is no turning back.