Sunday, April 29, 2012

MAD MEN 5.7--"At The Codfish Ball"

 Remember when you were young? You shone like the sun. Now there's a look in your eyes, like you realise that it's Sunday and time for yet another inexplicably popular installment of Witless Prattle's coverage of Mad Men. Last week, we had some zany and surprisingly enlightening stuff as Roger dropped acid and hilarity ensued. Let's see what happens this week and see if now that we're past the halfway mark this show can go one episode without a drug trip or dream sequence!


"I've got a lot of rejections, so who knows what I'm full of?"

 Thank heaven that they managed to squeeze Glenn into this show somehow, and how fitting that even though he's off at boarding school, he still functions as the harbinger of doom for this show, as while he;s talking on the telephone with Sally, the elder Mrs. Francis trips and breaks her ankle.

 Glenn Bishop--he's a bit like Sauron, in his way. And Sally proves she's the proverbial chip off the old block when she later blames it on Eugene's toys being in her path. When the show is in it's final season and she's busily murdering everyone on her rise to power, we'll say it started with a phone-cord tripwire. Also: Thanks for showing him without pants, Mad Men. In a weekend where I saw a unicorn brutally gore someone, I think pantsless Glenn is even more disturbing.

 Don, meanwhile, has his own problems--he's meeting the in-laws, and if I had to guess, the only thing worse than meeting your in-laws for the first time is if your in-laws happen to be speaking French (I was bemused that Don was studying a Berlitz book of French--it's bad enough when one is so paranoid they constantly wonder about what's NOT being said, but it's gotta make you even more insecure when they're saying it in a language you can hardly understand) This leads to a certain bit of tension--for one thing Megan's parents are having a lot of infidelity related problems, for another Don feels all weird doing the nasty with Megan while her in-laws are sleeping over (bear in mind this is the same man who fingerbanged a client's wife in a restaurant) for another, there's a lot of things in flux.

 For one thing, Heinz is this close to walking away from SCDP. It's only when Megan, extrapolating on her family's traditions finally cracks it, and she and Don come up with a last-ditch pitch to make Heinz happy. We see the Don of old--the one who sold the Carousel, the one who cracked selling Lucky Strike--pops up again (he'd been, as Bert Cooper sad last week "on love leave") but the mechanics of it are a little different this time. For one thing, it's him and Megan working as a team, and given we've seen them arguing and hate-fucking for most of the season, we really needed a GOOD indication of why they were together that didn't involve cleaning up milkshakes or Zou-bisou bisou, or anything like that.

 Roger, meanwhile, fresh from his LSD trip last week, is approaching things with (he imagines) more clarity and a renewed vigor. He has a  rather animated conversation with his ex-wife Mona about what he took from the acid vision and he does seem to be entered and more determined than we've seen him in awhile. Though now every time I hear John Slattery's ads for Lincoln (15 or so every episode now!) I kind of think they'd be better if he had a head full of acid for those as well. The description of on-board GPS would surely be more interesting.

 Meanwhile, Peggy and Abe are getting serious, much to the dismal of several, I'm sure. There's a great bit that I was happy to see this week when Peggy and Joan get to have a talk about what Abe has in mind (proposing marriage? breaking up?) and it's good to see the two of them together again, partly because they have great chemistry and partly because their relationship was one of the cornerstones of the show and it's kind of lain fallow for a bit.

 I also liked the subtext of Peggy being worried that Joan would be disappointed that Abe and Peggy are shacking up without getting married first. It's a nice subtle reminder of the first phase of their relationship, when Peggy was a naive secretary just out of steno school and Joan ruled Sterling Cooper with an iron fist.

 Contrast this with how Peggy's actual Mom takes the news--namely she punts Peggy out of her life. It's hard to really get on her about this--after all, Peggy's already dumped one illegitimate child on her doorstep, there surely comes a time when you run out of "get out of jail free" cards, especially in a catholic household.

 All of this culminates in Don getting a major award from the American Cancer Society for his take-down of Lucky Strike last season (and no, it's not a lamp shaped like a leg.) Sally decides to dress for the occasion, apparently as Electra Woman. While things are initially going well--Don gets to rub elbows with the movers and shakers of the major industries, Sally and Roger have giggly fun on the sidelines (while Megan's mom flirts with Roger--more on that in a bit) gradually and rapidly--it was amazing how quickly things melted down, especially as the show was ticking down its last few minutes.

 Megan gets shamed by her father, who alludes to something she's in danger of giving up on. Don is told by someone in the know that despite the fact that he'll surely get tons of awards, none of the companies that the board of the American Cancer Society is made up of will ever give him work--his letter was a great piece of theater, sure, but it also said "the person that wrote this is a snake who would surely do the same to me if I fired them."

 Oh, and Sally, who was already a cauldron of mental illness held together by the brittlest shell of sanity, walks in on Roger getting a blowjob from Megan's mom. That kind of thing does sorta spoil the evening, to be honest.

 The brittle nature of a high (or a victory) and how quickly it can fall apart runs through the episode. Megan feels the Heinz thing is big news (and is told as much by Peggy, who tells her to savour it) as it turned a loser into a winnder. Don felt the award was the gateway to higher channels of power and better clients. Roger thought acid-fueled enlightenment would be enough to turn his life around. But the turn of an unfriendly card can sour it just like that.

 And on that rather bleak note, that's all for this week. Join us next week when Ginsberg wonders if he's Jewish enough, Don and Megan go to the state fair and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl, and Joan invents the game Pong on an oscilloscope in a senses-shattering tale we just had to call "Lady Lazarus." I'll see you on the dark side of the moon in seven, y'all. Until then--soupy twist!

Saturday, April 28, 2012


 You know this thing should really be up by now, but I decided to stop in the middle of it and go see Cabin in the Woods (finally) All things being equal, I probably should have stayed here and finished this (short review: Joss Whedon has watched a lot of horror movies and is just . . .unbearably smug about it) because writing about a little-regarded and hardly remembered run of X-Force titles is much more enjoyable.

 You have you priorities, I have mine.

 Anyways, X-Force: Assualt on Graymalkin is an interesting little tome, as much for what happens within this run of issues and what was going on with the X-Books in general at the time. You see, a couple years before this, the X-Books had done a re-launched largely based on the fact that Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (their other shortcomings aside) had been friggin' money-spinners nonparallel and it was decided that sticking that talent on several new number ones would lead to gangbusters sales.

 And it did. The gimmicks helped a little, of course, but by and large it was a serendipitous confluence of events: in the midst of writing comics for 13 year olds full of stuff that 13 year olds wanted to see about the time 13 year olds had money to burn. Shockingly, this made lots of money.

 It made so much money, in fact, that Liefeld and Lee (and a few others) said "Huh. I bet there's more money we're not making. If we just ran everything, wouldn't that, y'know, come to us?" And so they tottled off to found Image and make more money.

 For a while anyways.

 This had the slight problem, from Marvel's perspective, that they were sort of publicly pantsed. Their newly re-launched books, which hadn't exactly been the most focused of runs at the best of times, were now dropped in mid-storyline (several storylines) Liefeld's X-Force was a particularly egregious offender of this, as Liefeld has a marked habit of dropping in stuff just because he thinks it's cool and then trying to sort out the mess later. Then again, when this is going on in your head all the time:

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 . . .it could be said there are larger problems than your plotting not being tight.

 Anyways, in an attempt to get a bit of breathing room, Marvel decided to do the first of their big annual crossovers, with X-Cutioner's Song, a wonderful 4-month interlude basically concerned with taking one of Liefeld's "cool bits" ("Why do Stryfe and Cable look the same?") and convoluting things to the point where the question is not at all answered, except in the immediate "they fell into a hole in time" kinda way (the "non-answer answer" thing ultimately ends up making the X-Books nigh-unreadable, but that's another series) with the added bonus that you got 12 cool trading cards full of stuff from Stryfe's Livejournal..

 I still have mine. I am not proud of this--It just sorta happened.

 Anyways, Assault on Graymalkin (remember that book we were talking about?) takes up precisely after X-Cutioner's So--oh, wait. Not exactly. Before deal with the fallout of that, we have an issue of New Warriors that led to an eternal continuity headache, as Fabian Nicieza decides that the whole Nova Roma (in short "It's Rome, but in Brazil. I guess that means lots of aqueducts and smooth pubic areas. Fucking Chris Claremont, I swear to God")  was all an illusion, which in a roundabout way ends up with Firestar getting a new costume. It's  . . .a bit clumsy, all things being equal, but Firestar's new costume is pretty slick and Darick Robertson's art is top-notch.

 After that, we start in with things good and proper, X-Force #19 is one of my favourite issues of anything ever, as it's generally a very deft "OK, this is what the book is about now" issue that doesn't feel so obvious and clumsy about it. In the wake of Song, X-Force is being held in the X-Manion under what amounts to house arrest, and everyone's trying to work out what to do with them.

 And for the most part it works well. Oh sure, there are some ropey bits, like where Siryn decides that "hanging around with people who are dead inside, like her" means that there's an opportunity for some glorious renewal (it doesn't help she's smushing into some dead leaves at the time) I like Nicieza a lot and cut him an enormous amount of slack, but before he became known as the guy who worked in overly complex MacGuffins, he was the guy who would do purple prose that would put Marv Wolfman to shame.

 But the main point of the issue is to get everyone fairly swanky new costumes and position Cannonball as the leader of X-Force (yes, there was a time when Cannonball was more than The Rookie) and explicitly answer the question "why X-Force." We also have time to blunt this a little as Warpath steals some data (on a big-ass CD-ROM--oh, the 90's) from the X-Men.

 Issues #20-24 are tasked with hastily wrapping up a bunch of flotsam and jetsam from Liefeld's initial run on the book, as X-Force journey's to Cable's old space station Graymalkin (because of course he had a space station with a time machine on it.) and they get in a fight with SHIELD and War Machine. In plot B, Deadpool goes after Copycat, who was masquerading as Domino, and in Plot C, Domino fights off Weapon P.R.I,M.E. and if your response to last was "who?" the answer is "exactly."

 In plot "D" X-Force kicks a whole faceful of dirt on the Externals, another of Liefeld's ideas.

 Hoo-boy. The Externals are one of Liefeld's more obvious cribs, as they're pretty much "what would happen if Highlander met the X-Men" (answer: about six or seven issues of nigh-unreadable shit) X-Force shows up to tell them to back off and utterly clown them, and really, in this case, it's entirely justified.

 While none of these are really earth-shattering plots, nor are they especially original, but they're enjoyable all the same for the brutal efficiency in which they clear the boards so they can do their own thing. One is kind of amused by it.

 Issue #25 is the big Fatal Attractions crossover (yes, we have bounced from crossover to crossover in this volume) wherein Cable returns to the book, exposits for a few more pages so we can be sure we've got all the Liefeld out, and then Exodus shows up, blathers a lot and zaps everyone and then everyone goes back to Graymalkin, except it's now Avalon and Magneto's running the show, and is saying dodgy stuff like he's "the overlord of the fatal attraction." Magneto pulps Cable, and the whole thing ends on something of an anti-climax, but that's pretty much what happened through the entirety of "Fatal Attractions."

 But Greg Capullo draws all of it rather splendidly, so there's that to recommend it.

 So, uhm, if you feel that the 90's were the moment where the Beast walked the Earth unchallenged and left only ruin and blight in its wake with regards to superhero comics, then there is little to convince you otherwise. If, however, you want to see how people made lemonade out of the lemons that ensued from the beginnings of the Image Revolution, then it's worthy in a time capsule sorta sense. In any event, I'd certainly read this one more time than watch Cabin In The Woods again.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

MAD MEN 5.6--"Far Away Places"

 Somewhere between reason and insanity, between fact and breakfast, madness lies, and lies and lies . . . Welcome once again to Witless Prattle's ongoing happy success funtime reviews of the new season of Mad Men. Last week set a new milestone for awesomeness as Lane beat the shit out of Peter, capping off an episode which attempted to do for Pete Campbell what eating cat shit was supposed to signify for Ron Burgundy--his lowest point.

 "Alone, I'm an escaped mental patient. Together, we're a couple of rich perverts."

  This is an episode of things I liked and really hated. Let's start with the positive.

 I liked the interior into Peggy's life--her relationship with Abe isn't going any better than it has with any other guy we've seen her with, but at least she's willing to threaten to pull the plug when he acts like a douchebag (or, given he acts like a douchebag above tolerable levels) We also get a sense that her ascendancy at SCDP has led to a rather crippling OCD, as she spends the first ten minutes wondering where her gum is.

 The remaining minutes are an interesting exercise in putting Peggy through a  montage of Don Draper's greatest moments. . .except with Peggy dropped in, which means we see her fail. The big high concept with Heinz? She totally shits the bed. Standing up to the client a la Don and Jantzen from last season? Pisses off the client to the point she gets canned off the account.Going off the movies for some chemically-aided catharsis? Manages to find a really dweeby guy with weed and ridiculous pants and jacks him off.

 Astoundingly NOT the most questionable use of ecstatogenic substances this week.

 Anyways, because this show delights in needling me at times, we dwell on Ginsberg, because of reasons. Ginsberg is as twitchy and unlikeable as ever, and I'm getting every so slightly tired of him being built up to be a Big Deal despite being well, to date, not.We haven't seen any brilliant ad stuff from him that saved an account yet--his only brush with that caused Don to threaten to throw him into traffic. And yet, here he is, getting a moment to share a story which may or may not be true about him being the child of concentration camp inmates. I feel extraordinarily skeevy about a character using the Holocaust to persuade me to like them.

 Then again, I kinda felt like Peggy calling her boyfriend immediately afterward was even skeevier. Genocide apparently juices her like a cranapple.

 Then things swing back to "fun," in an immediate sense (of more troubling for the long term) as Roger Sterling takes LSD and trips balls for awhile, which leads to him and Jane splitting up. While I do not recommend and cannot imagine, say Dr. Phil, suggesting you drop, given that Jane apparently dragged Roger to the shittiest LSD party of all time with a bunch of pompous bohos wittering on about truth for what felt like five excruciating minutes and then having to be in the same room with them while they're tripping is the kind of chemically fueled nightmare that I'm sure led to the destruction of Syd Barrett's mind.

 Anyhow, while I did enjoy Roger's acid journey, I'm kinda getting tired of these funky trippy dreams/drug trips/whatever. We've had like, three of them, and this is getting so very close to that point where say, Sopranos started believing it's own press and dropping in go-nowhere dream sequences that added nothing to the plot but got rolled out because god dammit, that's what Highly regarded TV shows do.

 I'll explain why this doesn't work done over and over again in a bit. Let's focus on Don and Megan's romantic getaway to a Howard Johnson's (which I admit, gave me a slight twinge of nostalgia, even though I can't remember actually having been to one, as such) This gives them an excellent opportunity to have a wonderful knock-down drag-out fight wherein Megan's annoyance at being yanked off her work with Peggy and the bunch coupled with Don using her as his release valve to escape work and responsibility are superheated into an argument that soars above and beyond their usual bitchy s/m level and into Don roaring off in the car, returning only to find that Megan is gone.

 Don reacts to this in the most insecure, OCD-addled way possible by calling everyone and staking out the HoJos. Possibly the whole time thinking "man, I strangled that woman in my fever dream for this?"

 OK, let's talk about why this doesn't quite work for me: because we've done the "seismic changes happen, but no they don't really" thing so many times this season that (like the Incredibles, wherein if everyone is super no one is) that now everything feels like some fragmented, arty bait and switch so really, why get all that excited about it, because they'll just walk it back.

 This, of course, meant to parallel Roger and Jane's LSD vision (even the shots are the same) and really play into Don's insecurity and fear that Megan will leave him at the first available opportunity, because so much of his happiness is invested in how she sees him and if she thinks he's still sexy, then he's not old. That's been the general theme of the show since its return, but again, because they've hedged so much up to this point that it doesn't have the impact it should.

 Likewise with Bert's lecture to Don to get his priorities straight and stop sneaking off with Megan. While it's nice that it's there, it raises a couple of questions, namely did they ever bother to explain why Cooper un-quit or what he still does there. It's meant to echo a scene from an earlier season where he was able to muscle Don and bring him to heel, but because the rest of the episode felt so. . .off-kilter, trying to do a straight scene at the end just feels like one more crazy scene that may or may not "count."

 So, yeah. This season is rather troubling so far. Not dramatically as much as because it feels so slipshod and self-consciously "arty."

 That's all for this week. Join us next week when Don decides to try culottes, Joan takes up a hot-dog eating contest and makes everyone in the office sterile, and Roger goes bra shopping in a little sumpin'-sumpin' we call "At The Codfish Ball" Until next week--soupy twist!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The New Blogger Layout Is Only Marginally Less Nutty Than This . . .

 Starman's gonna be so pissed off when he finds out Hawkman was fucking with him and there's no such thing as "bird language." Poor dumb clod.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

MAD MEN 5.5--"Signal 30"

Sprawling on the fringes of the city in geometric order, and insulated order, in between the start of the work week and the end of the weekend. It's time once again for our weekly recap of Mad Men, the most-viewed (well, that doesn't involve doing a search for boobs or some euphemism of same) and least-commented on feature here at the blog.

This week, I hope that we do a bit better than we have over the last fortnight, which has featured one too many ropey bits to fully enjoy. On the other hand, last week, Don strangled someone in the nude, which I'm sure made some fetishist or ISIS secretary very happy. As for the rest of us, we wondered if these goofy dream sequences were going to become a thing or not.


"I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?"

Just in case the tenor of this season wasn't grim enough with the nude strangling, broken marriages, cancer scares, and talk of the Richard Speck killings, we open with film of a road accident, as Pete is taking Driver's Ed. Pete proves what a weird simulacrum of a human being he is by laughing at the wreck and trying to make time with a piece of jail-bait on her way to college (or possibly--given that Charles Whitman has just shot up a campus in Texas--yes, we're getting a lot of these, now) that's in doubt. Pete tries to sympathise with her feelings of big changes and chaos in the air, but being that he lacks an emotion chip, these things humans call "feelings" are lost on him.

In fairness to him, apparently he's being driven mad by a dripping tap in his house.

In other news, Lane, who is very much like Pete in that genuine emotions and expressions are painful and awkward to him on a cellular level. This presents a problem because, while he gets Jaguar to sit down and talk about maybe moving over to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, given that Lane is somewhat less smooth than, say a homunculus, he stumbles awkwardly through the first dinner, leaving Roger and Pete to jockey for position in trying to close the deal.

Pete's also entertaining, which gives us a chance for the stories that run through this episode to converge slightly, as Ken Cosgrove's writing career (apparently he writes science fiction . . .and not great SF, either) Don and Megan get dragged to the party despite trying to escape by any means, and Pete gets cockblocked by Don who demonstrates his superior plumbing skills and fixes Pete's sink.

On the plus side, Megan and Don get so hot and heavy they can't even wait until they get home. Apparently plumbers get her wet. No mean feat, considering Don Ken and Pete were wearing sports jackets that Pee Wee Herman would have rejected as dorky as all hell.

The back of the episode concerns itself with Pete acting like a dickmonster to the entire world and trying to make the Jaguar rep happy while being consummate professionals. Amazing when you consider that they're all wearing lobster bibs.

Fortunately, if there's one thing clients love, it's booze and whores, and Roger Sterling knows his whorehouses. Roger gets the rep, himself and Pete laid (Pete's date looking like the chick at Driver's Ed was not lost on me, especially after Driver's Ed girl cockblocks him for Joe College--Pete getting cockblocked by things ) and Pete's overweening obnoxiousness rises to its ascendancy, as he acts like a bitchy little sleazebag to anyone and everyone.

This reaches critical mass when Lane angrily informs them that they've fucked up and lost the account, on account of the fact that the Jaguar rep's wife found chewing gum on his junk. That's Ok--they laughed too. Pete picks this opportunity to act like a son of a bitch to Lane, and while Lane has two speeds--"awkward" and "awkward"--he's taken all the shit he's gonna take from Pete and boxes him, bloodying his nose, and finally laying him out.

Then he kisses Joan, which threatens to go as awkward as when Walter White pulled that shit, but thankfully Joan takes it with aplomb. Possibly because they both are intimately familiar with being estranged from everyone else (not least of which their respective spouses) but also because they really seem like friends.

Lane Price just became one of the most popular members of the whole cast, I think.

Pete, meanwhile, having lost his cocksure attitude thanks to the punishing jabs of Lane Price, finally admits that he has nothing. The house, the family, the work, the attempts to be a big shot--none of it's working, because none of that is going to solve the problem that is Pete Campbell always feeling inadequate and measuring himself and his own happiness against whatever imaginary metric seems convenient.

So this episode was pretty damn good, I thought. The Whitman stuff was a little heavy-handed (been a lot of that about this season) but when things settled down a little and focused on the characters (Cosgrove's writing career aside, this episode benefited a lot from its laserlike focus on the Stygian depths of Pete's soul) and hey--someone took a swing at Pete, which I think is a moment five years in the making. This was the first episode this whole season I really found engaging and not full of annoying tics.

And that's the end of that chapter. Join us next week when Peggy chops someone's arm off with a meat cleaver, Pete has serious doubts about an egg salad sandwich, Don stares pensively into the middle distance, and Roger takes up interpretive dance in a little thing we like to call "Far Away Places"--it's sure to be something, I'm sure. Until next week--soupy twist!

Saturday, April 14, 2012


At long last, I'm free of the backlog that had accumulated (Just in time to get started on possibly more backlog, but we won't dwell on that for now) and finally finishing up our look back at the totality (focused or otherwise) of Kurt Busiek's Avengers run, as Marvel was good enough to put Volume 2 back into print as a trade and spare me from having to drop $70 or whatever for the hardcover (now if you'd just do the same for Infinity Abyss, that'd be swell, guys!) Naturally, as we're doing the second part last, this will doubtless lead to some confusion, but I like to think of that as standard operation procedure, as for a blog that is as sexless as this, 60% of my hits seem to be people doing Google searches for "tits" and "breasts."

It's not an exaggeration, either. I frequently look at the stats and wonder what it all means.

Anyways, when we left off, volume 1 had ended with Wonder Man back in the land of the living and Hawkeye had departed the team. Well, we pick up there in issue #12 as the Avengers find Hawkeye (who's been busy trying to become leader of the Thunderbolts) and a big fight ensues, because, well, why not? They've not long had one in issue 12 of Thunderbolts, and this begins a number of team-ups between the two teams, which seemed poised to become an annual thing, but in practice only happened like, three times, I think.

In any event, it's perfectly serviceable stuff. The Avengers and the Thunderbolts fight and trade quips, and it's kind of fine, but not all it could be. For one thing, the Thunderbolts as a group of villains trying to straight could have some resonance with Justice, who's a convicted murderer himself, but nothing's really made of it and the opportunity was pretty much missed.

On the other hand, this is the issue where Songbird calls the Avengers "Jabronis," which is one of the many reasons Kurt Busiek's in my good books. There will be others, and there are a few in this book.

Since this is a double-sized issue and "two teams fighting over a misunderstanding" isn't enough to cover all that, we also have a villain of the piece in Dominex, who in addition to sounding like a laxative, is yet another agent of Lucifer, a footnote of an Avengers and X-Men villain who gets brought back because anything that happened in the first 100 issues of Avengers or X-Men is gonna show up at least once more time, whether it should or not. There is precious little you need to know about Lucifer, because he's not terribly interesting, unless you consider he's been running a woefully inefficient plan to dominate the Earth for the past 40 years or whatever. Then it's something.

We tie up a few meandering subplots as Hawkeye trundles off to go hang on with the Thunderbolts and give that book's second year some focus and come back in time Avengers next annual, which, in addition to the interesting choice of Leonardo Manco on art (he's not bad, but I can imagine it was a hell of a gear change if you were used to the regular team and/or Carlos Pacheco from last year's book) is a perfectly adequate spot of continuity maintenance that answers the question that was apparently being asked enough to warrant devoting a whole annual to it: Why did the Black Widow disband the Avengers after Onslaught? Well, the answer turns out to be not all that exciting (the real reason would be I expect that at the time Marvel thought that two Avengers books running at the same time would confuse things or dilute the brand. Thank God they learned their lesson, huh?) but it has a few good character bits, some good Manco art, and the Avengers fighting the sphincter-clenching terror that is Fabian Stankowicz, the Mechano Marauder.

Yes indeed, a villain even Lucifer can say "Who, now?!?"

Anyways, back to the title proper, as we get an issue of Triune Understanding fooferaw and Justice and Firestar featured as being caught betwixt and between the New Warriors and the Avengers. For all that this is a thing, Justice is still so far out of character here, it ends up pleasing no one, really, and the advent of Triune bad guy Lord Templar doesn't have the impact it should, partly because he's not terribly interesting, partly because despite 40 issues more or less devoted to it the Triunes are not that interesting, and partly because issue #14 introduces the other, far more interesting, Triune bad guy:


Oh, Pagan is so awesome. I don't know what the thought process behind his creation was, and whether he was intended to be a parody of someone, but oh my lord, Pagan is a hoot and a half. Little more than a big strong guy who walks around yelling and throwing things, Pagan acts and speaks as his font would indicate he lives his life--in 30-point bold Impact. Here's a little bit of the wit and wisdom of Pagan:


It's even funnier when you imagine it being said kinda like this:

This issue also has a bit of fourth-wall breakage as Busiek and Perez show up to explain that what the people really want to see this issue --namely Beast and Wonder Man hanging out and talking about why everyone's hot for the Scarlet Witch (something which I have never understood, especially after trying to read Avengers: The Children's Crusade--sorry Diana, it didn't quite make it there for me. On the other hands, The Legend of Korra was just F'N awesome.) With all due respect to Messrs. Busiek and Perez, I actually came to see PAGAN.

Issue #15 sees the return of Blackrobat--er, Triathlon, sporting a really cool new costume. Despite hating the Triune Understanding subplot and all the connections to the 3-D Man, I really did like Triathlon. Hated that they busted him down to being 3-D Man again for . . .well, reasons, I suppose, but I guess I should stop being shocked that superhero comics are reductionist and frightened of change, shouldn't I?

Anyways, issue #15 is more confusing Triune nonsense, and is thus of little note (except, hey, MORE PAGAN!) except that it teases the big Ultron story . . .which is about three issues away (and hilariously, it's not the only time they do that, which implies that Ultron has a hell of a time shitting or getting off the pot) Issues #16-18 feature Jerry Ordway taking over as writer and artist and . . .they're not all that bad, really (even if I associate Ordway with DC stuff so much it's weird to see him drawing Marvel characters) It's a rather bizarre three-part story wherein the Wrecking Crew take over Polemachus (if you have no idea where that is, don't be too concerned. Remember what i said about pre-100 Avengers stuff coming back, whether it had a good reason to do so or not?) backed with an odd story about the Doomsday Man wanting Ms. Marvel, because of reasons.

It's got some good bits, namely the Wrecking Crew, long a bunch of stupid brutish mooks, getting to act like kings and being exactly as good at it as you'd imagine stupid brutish mooks would be, but the Doomsday Man stuff is just baffling and never really goes anywhere.

But before we can get to "Ultron Unlimited," generally considered the book's high point, we have a little Wizard zero-issue recap of Ultron's (and the Avengers' ) status quo up to now. Stuart Immonen's back to provide art and for the rather slight story it is, does very well with it.

Finally we're on to "Ultron Unlimited" a story which can be boiled down to "Ultron embraces his inner Dalek, and there's a bunch of nonsense about Hank Pym that only succeeds in making you wonder just what the hell sort of doctor is Hank Pym, and why is it that every time they dredge up his history he looks more and more like a shitheel?"

The good thing about all this is that being a very tight four issues, the story doesn't slow down long enough for you to dwell on the weaker bits (Hank Pym, the dunderheaded Freudian underpinnings that are in every Ultron story) that much and does a good job with pushing the stakes higher and higher with every issue, which helps one forgive the ropier story bits, or at least not have time to dwell on them so much. Having re-read it, I still prefer the Kang Dynasty story as it has more scope and the stakes feel much higher, but I do like the focus and intensity in this one as well.

To further confuse the issue, the trade closes with issue #23, which I already covered when this whole thing began with my write-up of Volume 3, which is as good a way as any to close the loop, I suppose. If you're reading this linearly, I suppose I'll finish by pointing you back where we began and leave you to pore through the complete run.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just Sayin'--JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM (2012)

You know, I wonder sometimes if, just like Larry Niven probably wonders if people ever really figured out that "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" was supposed to be a joke, does Grant Morrison ever regret that people apparently took the wrong lesson from the hyper-competent Batman he first wrote in JLA?

I bring this up because this here movie is based on Mark Waid's "Tower of Babel" storyline in JLA and . . .you know, generally I like Morrison, and I like Mark Waid, but uh. . .guys? All that shit with the OMACS and Batman being clever enough to launch a satellite without anyone knowing? This. . .kinda came from that.

I also wanted to say that because I feel bad saying this, but I hope Dwayne McDuffie is remembered more his adaption of "All-Star Superman" than this, because it's . . .well, it has major problems.

The opening fight with the Royal Flush Gang is pretty awesome, and yet . . .no other action set piece after that feels like it has that level of intensity and action to it, and this is a movie wherein the Justice League fights the Legion of Doom and flies to the sun and shit.

Worse still, even thought Batman tried and nearly succeeded in killing the League with his contingencies, he's. . .well, nothing super-bad happens to him. Hell, Superman even says "Oh yeah man, you're probably right. here's that Kryptonite bullet you shot me with! Hang on to it in case you need to shoot me again, dude!" and Batman is all like "OK I will."

And. . .hm. Doesn't so much end as stop, really. Because I kept waiting for something else to happen and it never really did. And no, Cyborg joining the league doesn't count, because it has the same problem as putting him in the Justice League--he just kinda shows up and pitches in entirely accidentally.

While I appreciate that they want to bump him up to the top of the card, and I totally agree it's a worthwhile thing, the problem you have is that he need to do something to justify his presence. Every other member of the JLA got to show up and be all badass without a lot of "what am I doing here" hand-wringing, and it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: they come off as Bad Motherfuckers because they act like Bad Motherfuckers the minute they're on the scene. So treat him like he belongs there and he'll belong there.

Lest you think I totally hated this, however, there are a couple things I liked in this one--there were some unlikely choices for the Legion of Doom, I liked that they used a version of the theme from Crisis on Two Earths, and the disc has a great documentary/tribute to McDuffie, who damn sure deserves his accolades.

So while this wasn't a complete waste of time, it wasn't as good as it could have been either. I can't really recommend it as such, and would suggest Young Justice as an alternative, but it's really spinning its wheels since they've come back on and that's a whole other rant besides.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

MAD MEN 5.4--"Mystery Date"

It's time, it's time it's Vader Time! No, no--silly rabbit, it hasn't been Vader Time since 1998! No, it's time once again for our weekly stop in with the wacky denizens of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as we stop in and wet our beaks in the deep pool that is Mad Men, because the world waits with bated breath to see what a misanthrope who typically writes about comics says about one of the noted TV shows of our time.

Last week, Mad Men decided to kinda waste my time trying to wring sympathy out of the fact that Betty Draper might have cancer only at the 11th hour to say, "Just kidding! She's just a fat bitch!" (That's not me being mean, either--that was pretty much the thrust of the episode) Seven days later, I'm not sure why that was even a thing.

I'd love to tell you this week was different. I would love to be able to tell you that.

"I just wanted to hear the tone of your voice so I could make sure it's not as annoying as it is in everyday life."

"They're more about necrophilia than shoes."

TWO good quotes this week.

We open with Don being sick, possibly from the dreaded lurgi. The tone is immediately set when one of Don's old flames pops in on him and Megan in the elevator, leading to tension, because while Don told her he was Dick Whitman, he apparently didn't go into enough detail about the whole "fucking the entire female population of the tri-state area, ages 23-40."

Meanwhile, Ginsberg, thanks to being twitchy and all-around annoying, possibly because he seems to have no other characteristic short of being ripped whole and bleeding from a Woody Allen movie. He's become easily the most punchable person on this show, and this show is not short on punchable people.He nearly gets fired by Don, which gets my hopes up more than the Betty thing last week, but alas--it's not to be. Neither, sadly is Don's threat to throw him in front of a cab followed up on. Mad Men, you are such a cocktease.

I think it would be an idea to turn Ginsberg's volume down a little. For such a thinly-drawn character, he's getting an alarming, almost Poochie-level amount of face time. Plus I want to punch him like, so hard.

Meanwhile, Joan is welcoming Greg, the ever-present Doctor rapist (in that he is a doctor who is a rapist, not a man who rapes doctors) back from Vietnam to see his (not) son and fuck Joan really a whole lot. Consensually, one assumes. Joan gets all upset when Greg tells her he's been stop-lossed (or whatever the Vietnam equivalent was) because I can see a few more months of dealing with her mom would drive anyone crazy. It's not helped at all when Greg reveals he volunteered to go back to Vietnam (perhaps the wisest thing he's done) This leads to a great big fight wherein Joan doesn't break another vase over his head, but we do once again put a button on what a never-ending disappointment he is.

That button is finally pushed when Joan tells him to stay his ass in Vietnam, and for all some of the other bits of this episode rankled, that was a moment a long time in coming and so very very welcome. Now true, this means Joan has a hard time ahead of her, but thank fucking God she gave that asshole his walking papers. Given how the show seems to be playing with expectations (notice I didn't say "bait and switch." Yet.) this was a welcome step forward for once.

Elsewhere, Roger proves himself the Tyrion Lannister of Mad Men, when he pays Peggy some mad cash to dream up an ad campaign for Mohawk on the fly. It was a great scene watching Peggy shake him down for money, even as Roger tried to use all the usual cards against her, like threatening to fire her. But good on Peggy flexing her badass muscles.

Sally, meanwhile, doesn't get along with Henry's mother any more than she does anyone else, being whiny and pouty when Mrs. Francis makes her eat a tuna salad sandiwch and won't even share the details of a spate of serial killings with her. Mrs. Francis explains that she's just doing this for her own good, and as if to put a button on this, tells a story of her father pump-kicking her into a wall for no reason. I do love it when people on this show relate this kinda stuff as thought it were a character building exercise.

This relationship leaps into surreal territory soon after when Sally, with a head full of serial killer news, can't sleep, so Mrs. Francis, while brandishing a butcher knife, tells her in detail about it, then gives her a Seconal to sleep. She reminds me a bit of Ma Fratelli. Only not quite as nice.

Meanwhile, Don gets stalked by Andrea, who for some reason talks like a porn star, which is not something I would have imagined that copywriter's do. It seems Andrea is stalking him rather a bit and Don, tripping balls on fever is all "Leave me alone, I'm a family man" and she pushes him too hard, and he. . .well, does. Then he strangles her to death (I thought her name was Andrea, not Cheryl/Carol), because that's a natural response to sexual blackmail, really.

Only not, because he kind of dreamed it, which. . .man, really? Are we going to do this shit every episode this season "Oh here's something that you didn't think would happen, except we're walking it back now?" C'mon Mad Men. Don't be that guy.

Oh, and Peggy finds out that Dawn (the new black secretary) is sleeping in Don's office, and they end up bonding, which on Mad Men, means they get shitfaced. This was a pretty fun set of scenes, and my favourite thing this episode.

So this episode on balance was mostly good, but Don's fever dream reminded me too much of that shit with Betty and kinda cast a pall over my enjoyment of it. Nevertheless, I'm sure someone out there wanted to see Don Draper strange someone in the nude, so, well, they've done that now. On the other hand, Joan's kicked Dr. Rapey to the curb, and that's progress.

And that's it for this week! Join us next week when Don tries out his new nunchaku set, Roger tries to jump Snake River Canyon on a rocket bike, and Peggy bakes her famous fritatas as Pete looks a blank sheet of paper for ten whole minutes in "Signal 30." If you can't tell that I've utterly given up on trying to decipher the "next week on Mad Men" teasers, well, you do now, I bet.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Well, I sat on the reviews for this so long, I feared that they'd lose any and all relevancy, but thankfully the comics news cycle made sure I had something to sink my teeth into with the news that Thunderbolts will soon be re-titled Dark Avengers (because of . . .reasons?) and Thunderbolts, as it has several times in its history (They're the superhero Fight Club now! They're Warren Ellis' Suicide Squad: Featuring Bastards Fighting Assholes--that last, care of John Seavey) it's been saddled with a remit that will helpfully cause new readers and old to shun in because it's a new version of something they didn't want, or reheated leftovers, respectively.

Plus, it lays bare that Marvel's one trick now is "you can have it in any colour you like, as long as it's black."

I suppose now, the Thunderbolts will just be what everyone assumes the group Rainbow Dash wants to join is called. Whatever. In any event, to my shock, this may end up being the most profundly insular blog post in the history of the Prattle. One might be tempted to consider this a layer of density on par with Watchmen, or the inevitable result of a very narrow focus on the part of the author. There's no right answer, because it's the latter.

This is pretty ironic, because Thunderbolts actually came around at a time when Marvel was kind of creatively tapped out (not creatively bankrupt, as they are today, just financially so) I talked over the circumstances in previous blog posts--namely, Marvel had made a series of rather dubious decisions and had come to a dead-end, and, desperate to make some money, farmed out the Avengers and the Fantastic Four (and all related characters) off to Beach Ball World where Image guys draw them for a year (or more, because Image lateness was still a thing in 1996) This led to a bit of a bit a problem, as Marvel now needed something to plug the hole in their main continuity. I mean, it's not as if everyone could just twiddle their thumbs for 13 months or something, right?

Enter Thunderbolts, which pulled off one of the most masterful first issue surprises of the era (and there's a rather detailed article in this collection that explains how many times they nearly let it slip) as the rather generic in a pleasing kind of Mark Bagley way superheroes who were nobly standing up to take the place of the Avengers and the FF, who had so recently fallen . . .

. . .were the Masters of Evil, who had very nearly beaten the Avengers before. The whole thing was a charade to earn the trust of a world desperate for heroes and conquer the world.

And there's no one to stop them now, either. Well, yeah, Spider-Man, the Heroes for Hire and a few others, but really now.

At the time, reading these issues I remember how pumped I was for it. Partly because Kurt Busiek was using concepts and continuity elements that had lain fallow for quite awhile (but generally not in such a way to where I was completely lost for not reading 50 years of Marvel comics) and creating an interesting tension in the book--the Thunderbolts are the main characters, but engaged in a despicable long con with pretty horrible consequences if they succeed, but they're also the main characters, so we kinda want them to on one level.

Fortunately, Busiek wasn't content just to let that play out on that level and what we have going on simultaneously is that hey, some of the villains actually like being superheroes--it's a means to more healthy channels of respect than they had when their main ambition was ripping of jewelry stores and all that. And so we have an idea of who's who and where in our little menagerie, let's do a ROLL CALL for old time's sake:

CITIZEN V (BARON ZEMO)--The leader of the group, transformed from the norm by taking a faceplant into a bucket of paste. The Baron has nicked the identity of a forgotten Golden Age Timely Comics hero his father murdered, and sees the whole charade as a means to an end, getting gradually more annoyed when it starts unraveling just when he's about to win.

SONGBIRD (SCREAMING MIMI)--Kurt Busiek will always be in my good books (except when I'm complaining about something) because he had Songbird call someone a "jabroni." Thanks for that one, Mr. Busiek. I had to be told just who Songbird was supposed to be by friend of the Prattle Chris Elam because, well, Songbird doesn't really look a lot like Screaming Mimi, but that's explained away by magic surgery that makes them all look different (and thus, unraveling the whole scheme the minute someone takes fingerprints) Songbird almost became one of the book's breakout characters, but it never came off (she was even in Avengers Forever as a future Avenger) generally because about 1999, Marvel quietly decided Thunderbolts was a book it didn't really want to keep publishing.

Songbird's role in the book is to be essentially rudderless without someone to tell her what to do (as Busiek has said elsewhere, this created some problems because Atlas is working in that same zone, more or less) and over time, she gradually draws on her own reserves of inner strength. Plus, she has a pretty rad look.

MACH-1 (BEETLE)--Nothing says "mid-90s" like MACH-1's ponytail. Tired of being a punchline as the Beetle, MACH-1 is a more Top Gun-inspired version of his Beetle armour (and the similarity between the two looks is one of those things like the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, one of those things you never see at first and then can't help but see every time after) There's some retroactive stuff about how the Beetle got into the whole criminal game to get respect from people, and upon getting it as a Thunderbolt, he becomes the first of the villains to turn (after jeopardizing the whole scheme by committing petty theft on a thief) Gets paired off with Songbird, a relationship that takes some rather convoluted (some would even say "tortured") dimensions as the years go by.

TECHNO (THE FIXER)--Techno, like Dolph Ziggler, lives to show off, and playing at being hero is an ideal chance for him to do that. His tech-pac (not to be confused with "Tupac") allows him to do pretty much whatever the plot requires of him (up to and including resurrecting him from death) and while he doesn't have as involved a character arc as the rest, he gets a few creepy bits after he's died.

METEORITE (MOONSTONE)--Before she became Team Slut and faux-Ms. Marvel (wherein we learned that she killed her parents and shit because in the new Millennium, you have to be like, stupidly evil in ways that make absolutely no logical sense), Moonstone functioned as the unreliable second-in-command, allegedly using her experience as a psychiatrist to better manage the intricacies of the Thunderbolts' public charade. In practise, she's rather more occupied with trying to undermine Zemo's leadership of the team and, if she has a plan at all, it's generally to keep the con going and not get caught. After the first 12 issues she stays with the team, not quite the leader, not quite reformed, and never not stirring the pot in one way or another.

ATLAS (GOLIATH)--Longtime Zemo flunky and man of a dozen identities, Atlas is the team brick, and the fulcrum of a number of the book's conflicts, as he's torn between wanting to be a hero and the fact that he owes Zemo pretty much everything (several times over, as we discover)

Gavok over at 4th Letter! has done a way more in-depth recounting of the early issues, so my analysis of the two volumes (so far) of the Thunderbolts Classic trades (which go up to issue #14) will be a bit lighter on details.

The first trade rather neatly covers the initial arc of the book, including the first appearance of the team from Incredible Hulk (It's . . .something watching Mike Deodato try to handle the Thunderbolts's designs.) and the "getting to know you" story from Tales of the Marvel Universe (in this age of year-long miniseries, sub mini-series and Frontline companion minis, it's amazing there was a time when Marvel rolled out such things in a low-key manner like this) Issue 1 we've already discussed obviously, and Issue #2 sees the Bolts take a major step forward by fighting the Mad Thinker and doing so well they get to move into Four Freedoms Plaza (recently vacated by the FF)

After that, there's an issue of Spider-Man Team-Up (oh man, I'd forgotten about this one) that focuses on MACH-1's history with Spider-Man and features a McGuffin that will come into play a bit later on. It's a bit slight, but I do like how the book's threads flow with such cohesion through even their crossover appearances.

Issue #3 sees them fight a new version of the Masters of Evil (because it would be too irresistible not to) and features the first appearance of the leader of the new masters, the Crimson Cowl (the Cowl's identity eventually becomes an albatross around the book's neck, getting as overlong and confusing as the Triune Understanding plot in Avengers. Well, that and the Citizen V stuff) and has the Bolts running into the Black Widow, who, we are led to beleive, senses something is very wrong with them.

Issue #4 introduces Jolt, the spunky young ingenue who shows up and becomes a permanent impediment to the Baron's plans, as her attitude erodes his ability to keep the other Bolts on task (as he sees it) and the danger of her finding out their secret adds yet another ticking clock to the book. One of the things I really liked about Thunderbolts early on was that while not every issue seemed to advance Zemo's plans, every issue usually complicated them, added some wrinkle previously not known, or otherwise raised the stakes.

We then hop over to the Thunderbolts Annual 97 for some backstory on the Thunderbolts and how Zemo first concocted the plan to impersonate superheroes (actually Atlas did, but . . .) Zemo's utterly hilarious improv about Moonstone's "harmonic convergence" burbles up a couple times because sometimes excuses are so bad they become something wonderful in their ridiculousness.

We hop back to Thunderbolts proper for issue #5, which is my least favourite of the early issues, because it has them fighting the boring-ass Growing Man. This leads to a sequel story later on that involves Henry Pym in a roundabout way and I. Just. Cannot. Be. Arsed.

The first trade concludes with Thunderbolts -1, reminding me once again about Marvel's Flashback Month. The idea was that Marvel would publish origin stories for all their titles, all narrated by Stan Lee. Unfortunately, Thunderbolts being Thunderbolts, these aren't stories that naturally lend themselves to his brand of bombast (possibly only Tomb of Dracula would have been more downbeat), a fact which he pretty much ends up admitting. Steve Epting handles the art chores here, and he's really good, employing a thinner line than his Avengers stuff but not quite his later Captain America style either. I've actually never seen him use this approach again, but it's really rather good.

Trade #2 culminates the first story arc, and it's a humdinger, man. Once again, it also has the advantage of being well-coordinated (in a way that Onslaught wasn't--in fact, this whole run-up to the Heroes Return stuff is handled with a really deft and disciplined hand. No "books coming out in the wrong sequence" here) bringing the "Thunderbolts as heroes" stuff to a head with a three-part story featuring Avengers trivia questions the Elements of Doom, a rather plot-convenient assemblage of bad guys who are sufficient to hold off New York's heroes for three issues, but not really require much character work beyond zapping people, killing people, and/or saying "BAH!" a lot.

Techno gets killed and handles it with a surprising amount of stride (which will ultimately grow to be creepy as hell as things heat up) and Songbird starts getting to be more aggro and Jeff Johnson sits in for the middle issue of this trilogy. Whatever happened to him, anyways? He was a good hand, I thought.

The BIG story, beyond the Elements, and the Bolts linking up with the rest of New York City's superhuman population is that the Thunderbolts have gone against Zemo's orders in fighting the Elements, which is the first hard indication that the Grand Plan is in danger of unraveling.

We briefly stop off with a quick "they meet and fight" crossover in Heroes For Hire (another of my favourite all-but-forgotten books from this era. I know it wouldn't have worked with the Avengers & Co. coming back, but it was fun while it lasted . . .) wherein they fight the Super-Adaptoid. Then it's back to the main title for the finale of the first year, beginning with Black Widow's return (looking entirely different than she did last time, but whatever) as she drops by to tell Songbird and MACH-1 that she knows something's up with the Bolts and relates a untold tale about the Kooky Quartet version of the Avengers (which gives Ron Frenz a chance to do a reasonably good Don Heck impersonation and hint, ever so slightly at Hawkeye's future role with the Thunderbolts) and warns them that they can stop Zemo, or be put down alongside him.

Before they can get going on that, in issue #10, the penny drops--hard. Zemo himself, realising he's losing control, dimes out the Bolts to S.H.I.E.L.D. (Man, G.W. Bridge was the black Nick Fury before black Nick Fury was a thing, wasn't he?) to force them to do things his way. Hawkeye shows up again (the heroes having returned from Beach Ball World by now) and fights Moonstone as they Bolts get chased into space (and blow up Four Freedoms Plaza) From space, Zemo puts his plan into action, having used the bio-modem (oh, 1998, you so crazy) they grabbed in that Spider-Man Team-Up issue (and you thought it was extraneous at the time) to do some mind-taking and conquer the world.

Jolt. meanwhile, manages to talk the rest of the 'Bolts into fighting back against Zemo, and while it looks like the Thunderbolts might get a reprieve from having their asses kicked when the Avengers and the Fantastic Four show up, in a cliffhangers that's almost as impressive as the one for issue #1, as Zemo reveals, nahh, he's actually mind-jacked them already and they're on his side.

Well, shit. It was a hella long month waiting for the wrap-up to this, lemme tell ya.

Issue #12 is the payoff for the entire first year of the book, and it doesn't disappoint. It also manages to play with the idea of villains as heroes (the good 'Bolts vs. Zemo) heroes as villains (the mind-jacked Avengers and F.F., who apparently talk like cut-rate villains under the influence of the bio-modem) and heroes pretending to be villains (part of the Bolts plans involve confusing the mind-jacked heroes with a pointless battle in order to gain their objective, which is really clever in the midst of what is a big big fight.

Fortunately, things wrap up in such a way as that while the immediate crisis is averted, it spins off several lingering plot threads which will sustain the book through it's second year. Unfortunately, before we get to that, we close the second trade with an ill-advised trip to the land of Kosmos, longtime Marvel continuity backwater. Busiek gamely tries to make all of this interesting, but it never quite comes off, and bless him, he wisely pulls the plug on quickly and shuffles us on to more interesting matters.

In all, this is a good run of books, and reads well even now, a decade and change removed from the immediacy of its various twists and turns. I continue to be impressed by Busiek's ability to make odds and sods of Marvel's publishing history work without being slavishly rabbinical continuity points, and managing to build interesting characters out of what were initially little more than things to punch. For all that the standard narrative has been that Marvel did naught but screw everything up until Quesada and Co. arrived to right the sinking ship (a narrative that is so wrong on so many levels . . .) I recommend taking a look at these and trying to see how well you can do when you're willing to play with the toys in the toybox without necessarily breaking them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Once More--The Classics

Like the rest of the Justice Society, Starman loves ragtime and punching people in the face.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

MAD MEN 5.3--"Tea Leaves"

Hey, ho, let's go. On with the show and the show is recapping Mad Men, though this is a pretty full night in any event, given Game of Thrones is also premiering and there's at least two other things in the offing. Never mind trying to avoid everyone on the Internet trying and failing to be a goddamn comedian today.

Nevertheless, I do like keeping my schedule.

Last week, we saw that Don and Megan's married life is a rich pageant of French ye-ye music and a little s/m (which I'm sure made more than a few hearts aflutter), Pete is grappling with not quite being where he wants to and being his usual bratty self about it, Joan feared being mommy-tracked, Lane stole a wallet and got a little creepy, and Roger managed to turn being sidelined into a way to mess with Pete. Meanwhile, another of his practical jokes backfired and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had to make its first diversity hire.

And Bert Cooper's back even though he quit. We're not sure why. Betty Francis (nee Draper) wasn't there, but no one seemed to miss her all that much.

"Everyone's pretty much who you expect them to be."

So this week, some shit gets real, not least because Betty makes up for not being in the first two episodes with a vengeance when we get a little peek into her existence post moving out of the Draper house last season comes to the fore.

Initially, it seems like journeying over some well-worn ground, only worse--as Betty has developed a crippling Bugles addiction and isolating herself. This initially brings her husband Henry's rather formidable mother over to see her and suggests she get some diet pills, figuring as longtime viewers of the show did, that with the final connection to her old life with Don finally severed (and plenty of people watching the show wondering why we should give a shit about her given how much she'd drifted out of the orbit of the rest of the characters) and we think we know where this is going.

Then the doctor finds a lump on Betty's thyroid. Ladies and gentlemen, the "has Betty gotten a written out of the show disease" pool begins now. Betty takes this opportunity to begin nailing herself to the cross because this is Betty Draper, we're talking about here, and while I've grown accustomed to that sort of thing, good lord, that speech from Joyce about "floating out to sea" and then the gypsy showing up was a bit much. Also, the dream sequence--yes, the one when she was giving birth to gene was really good. I'm not sure it was a well that could be gone to twice, especially when it went nowhere . . .

Meanwhile, the Pete vs. Roger pissing contest continues as Pete shackles Roger to Mohawk Airlines, whose having a bad time of things, which is sort of the point. Roger's duty is to take a copywriter to do what few ads they'll have, but more to match drinks with them, which is eminently capable of doing . . .more or less. Roger doesn't immediately bridle against this, perhaps because he's happy he has something to do, at last.

For those of you wondering how the whole "diversity hire" business shook out, Don drew the lucky secretary, who is named Dawn. Don and Dawn both seem to get confused for one another, but they are, in fact, quite different. Any relation to DC Comic's Dove, who was also two people named Don and Dawn is entirely coincidental and just something I interject to fill up a paragraph, as this episode is kinda thin on the ground for things to expound on.

Roger handles it with the amount of sensitivity that someone who put on blackface would be expected to.

But while I'm casting about, let me dwell on this . . .Heinz, in what Roger derisively refers to as a "client idea," wants the Rolling Stones to sing the praises of Heinz beans. Despite this being a daft idea, Don and Harry (who was otherwise occupied with embarrassing himself on every conceivable level) go to court the Stones, which translates to Harry getting fooled (naturally) and Don talking to and toking up with a groupie who weaves a lot of nonsense about Brian Jones. Thankfully, I don't have to focus on that particular bit of "Wonder Years" bullshit, because the whole scene is more about Harry and Don's growing irrelevancy than it is them actually seeing the Stones. As with the business with Betty, this all has a curious tone-deafness that mad Men usually doesn't have, and it was funny to see Harry Crane drowning his sorrows with White Castle. So appropriate, really.

Meanwhile, in another part of town just a few miles away 17 years ago that very same day, Peggy is tasked with hiring a copywriter to help Roger, and manages, using a search criteria I can only speculate on, hiring Michael Ginsberg, a man who sets new standards for rampant douchebaggery on this show (No mean feat, considering Stan's still around) Ginsberg exacerbates things by apparently getting his jacket at the same place Pete got his party jacket last week. Given we get a look at Michael's home life afterwards (he lives with his dad, who is almost comically Jewish) we're supposed to find some kind of sympathy for him. It would go a bit better if he weren't such a dickweasel.

It works far better as another example of Peggy feeling her position under threat. While she should be focusing on the fact that she's getting more of a say in hiring people, she takes it as a threat, as her unique position in SCDP already seems like it's under siege, seeing as how Megan's addition no longer makes her the only woman copywriter at SCDP, and Stan helpfully stokes her paranoia, telling her whoever she hires could be her boss.

I really did hate this episode, and I would like to stop talking about it, so let me go ahead and pull this: April Fools, everyone! Betty's tumour is benign, which kinda negates about 60% of this episode, generally feels like a stunt, and, given how Betty immediately reverts to type and calls Henry's mom fat, was pretty much the Platonic ideal of a journey into pointlessness. I'm not one of those people who thinks Betty necessarily needs to die die die, but for God's sake, did we need all this TV Movie-esque hand-wringing about her just because there's a tendency among people who view her as inessential now that she's not married to Don to ignore her completely? I mean, what was the point of any of this? If you hated Betty, all this did was piss you off more because they didn't write her out. If you sympathised with her, it was just a deflection from her being fat, and if you didn't care, you were probably just hella confused. I was.

Ordinarily, it might be OK, but there was scene after scene this week that just felt . . .bad. Whether one rolled their eyes at Betty's Gypsy encounter, the dream sequence that went nowhere, the dozen speeches about people fretting about their relevancy . . .Jesus, this felt like a shitty parody of Mad Men rather than an actual episode of Mad Men.

Thankfully, there's a good bit at the end to distract me from how much this episode sucked. Pete decides to take credit for Mohawk Airlines in a ceremony that is almost a bacchanalia of shitcockery that humiliates Roger by casting him as Pete's subordinate in front of everyone. One can't exactly blame him for the rather nihilistic point of view he takes about it when Don tries to talk to him about Betty's cancer scare (then again, maybe he read ahead in the script)

God, this episode blew. My overall feeling watching it was "Man, I wish I'd been watching Game of Thrones." There were some good bits--Pete's dickish gambit, Harry's use of White Castle as anti-depressants. The problems in this episode went further than the Betty not-cancer scare--the whole episode felt completely ramshackle, with blatantly manipulative scenes that ultimately went nowhere and lacked Mad Men's typical sense of subtlety and light storytelling touch.

On the other hand, I got to use the phrase "bacchanalia of shitcockery." It's not much, but I have to take these small victories where I find them.

I hope this isn't a trend. Whatever the case, let us never speak of this episode again.

Thank God, that's all for this week. Join us next time when Don is drunk as hell, Peggy blows someone's ass away like she' ringing a bell, Lane and Joan put their foot to the floor while the whiskey is flowing, and Pete has a porn shoot and has to get going. You don't understand--he don't give a damn, because next week's episode is a mystery date with an episode called "Mystery Date." Until next week--soupy twist!