Sunday, August 18, 2013


 While I have little to no interest in seeing Man of Steel . . .ever (Zack Snyder is not exactly a come-on to get me in a theater and after three movies worth of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer's glum self-seriousness, I need a break from them as well) the one upshot to them getting to make their bland, joyless, dour Superman movie is that it meant DC went into their backlist and pulled out these strange issues.

 Back in the early 80's, after Steve Gerber had his cantankerous falling out with Marvel, he walked across the street to DC for a bit to ply his trade there (he wasn't alone in that--a lot of DC's early 80's boost came from that infusion of Marvel people) and give us a four-issue mini-series (one of the first, actually) called Phantom Zone, and the short answer is: If you liked Steve Gerber's cockeyed view on superheroes from books like the Defenders (and I did, if you remember), then this will be right in your wheelhouse.

 Phantom Zone is less a Superman story than a Steve Gerber story that occasionally has Superman in it. It has the requisite whammo-blammo stuff, but in it's four issues it also manages to work in a Gerber-esque beleagured everyman (with a twist) an extended homage to Dante's Inferno, and some cutting social commentary. I was and am still amazed by how much he crammed into these four issues.

 Right. So, Phantom Zone. Being the story of low-level paste-up (it's 1982, Indesign is decades away) schmuck Charle Kweskill, whose weird nightmares about the history of Krypton's system of capital punishment seems a very improbable thing for a human to have. Through him we get a brief recounting of the crimes of all the biggie Phantom Zone villains--Zod, Jax-Ur, Faora, etc--and, eventually, the revelation than Kweskill is actually Quex-Ul (but brainwiped and depowered) and the villains of the Zone have manipulated him into freeing them and imprisoning Superman and Kweskill in the Zone.

 The Zoners react about how they always do--RAAAAAAMPAAAAAAGE--and get busy wrecking shit in wholesale fashion--trashing the Fortress of solitude, throwing the Justice League Satellite out of the solar system, destroying all communication satellites and triggering a nuclear attack (which, in a cool subversion of expectations is thwarted by Supergirl and Wonder Woman, who get to be totally badass here) and beating the shit out of Green Lantern, which isn't really that hard.

 Meanwhile, Kweskill and Superman decide the only way out of the Phantom Zone is deeper in and the further they go, the more we learn about the Zone. For one thing, it's the border of another universe. For another, the universe on the other side is alive, Named Aethyr, and seems to be really pissed off all of the time. Superman and Kweskill get totured by it for a bit while the Zoners are making a big-ass gun to blast the Earth into the Phantom Zone.

 There's also a brief and perfectly Gerber touch near the end where we discover Metropolis has a punk movement called "Bizarro" that asserts that anyone born after 1961 is an imperfect duplicate (and if you have to ask what means, you were probably born before 1961) and are treated to a performance by Wendy Y Bother and the Nouns.

 (It's probably funnier if you;re old enough to get the reference . . .This doesn't really blunt that whole "DC makes comics for 45 year olds" thing, unfortunately.)

 Anyways, Kweskill sacrifices himself to get Superman out of the Zone and Superman returns, grim and incredibly pissed off by being sidelined and eventually the Zoners are returned to the Zone and everything's back to normal, mostly (lasting changes in Superman continuity didn't exactly stick during this time, so it was sorta benignly ignored, barring one exception we'll get to in a minute.

 None of which detracts from the fact that this is a really good story. Gerber does a great job of humanising Kweskil, so much that even when it's revealed he's Quex-Ul and a former bad guy you're still kind of on his side and his everyman's perspective really plays up the unreality of the trek through the Zone and deals with the all-too-common problem of Superman stories during this time (that Superman is unreleatable) while delivering the effects of loosing a horde of super-powered lunatics on the Earth. I'm really amazed by the scope of these four issues and part of me kinda wonders what might have happened had Gerber got to reinvent Superman post-Crisis rather than Byrne.

 I should also mention the art is by Gene Colan, who brings the right amount of darkness and surrealism to the story without sacrificing power and dynamism. Speaking of folks I would have loved to see have one more shot at drawing Superman, Colan's definitely one of them.

 The final issue of this collection is the first one I read (though I didn;t really have the clearest idea of what's going on): DC Comics Presents #97, which, even by the "let's burn everything to the ground" mania that final issues tend to have just goes fucking nuts. Advertised as "an untold tale of the pre-Crisis universe," it's actually Gerber's end-chapter for his Phantom Zone concept and it is just balls-out crazy.

 Looking back now, it reads like some read "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" while shrooming. Thanks to stupid-ass Jor-El creating the technology to shift into the Phantom Zone, Aethyr gets pissed off by someone intruding on the fringes of his reality, and his rage is compounded soon after when tons of criminals start being dumped into the Zone, which makes it more and more insane (apparently, the people inside the Zone and the sentience within the zone have a kind of symbiosis) and starts forcing Aethyr through into our reality.

 Things get worse from there. Aethyr engineers the destruction of the Bizarro World, which to them is the best thing ever (of course,) and merged his mind into Mxyzptlk, which makes Mxy more powerful and drives Aethyr a little more 'round the bend (it's also supposed to kill Mxy, but we're nearly done here) Mxyzptlk then drops Argo City onto Metropolis, dumping tons of Kryptonite (and hundreds of kryptonite-poisoned corpses) all over the city as the Phantom Zone finally ceases to exist and (once again) dumps all the Zone criminals out for another rampage.

 But it's pretty short-lived as Mxyzptlk asserts control of the collective consciousness that Aethyr and the Zoners have become (it's . . .a little confusing) and resolves to torture the memories of the Zone criminals in his mind for eternity and then return to pay Superman back . . .if the Argo kryptonite hasn't killed him first.

 Superman doesn't really get what it's all about, I sorta know how he feels.

 It's not quite as deep as the four issue mini-series that preceded it (or it doesn't have the right number of pages to get where it wants to go before it gets to the endpoint where it needs to be at) but I really find myself liking the sheer audacity of the story (to say nothing of the idea of using a little-loved team-up book to tie up continuity points from a story published 4 years before in a DC Universe that no longer exists) If Alan Moore's last Superman story was a well-intentioned homage, Gerber's seems to be determined to pitch a burning garbage can through it's window because the world's ending and nothing matters anyway.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I Read This--IRON MAN 2020

 Is there any greater friend for lovers of rare backlist comic issues than a tie-in movie? When the first movie comes out you get all the universally agreed upon "great" stuff collected because it usually ties in directly with the movie. If you're lucky and you get a second movie, some much less likely stuff comes out, especially if it relates to an ancillary character.

 By the third movie, all the good stuff has been put in print, and all the vaguely relevant stuff has been published, so if you're a superhero without a very deep "bench" of classic stories to draw from . . .the pickings get a bit slim.

 It is under those circumstances, that I find myself reviewing Iron Man 2020, the damnedest crazy-quit collection of stories put under one trade paperback cover in some time.

 Iron Man 2020 (or Arno Stark if you're nasty) is an odd character. Conceived initially in the early 80's as "What if Iron Man were a huge bastard and had a nasty mustache IN THE FUTURE" he's survived as a very minor footnote in Iron Man history largely because he looks really fucking cool, and existed as a sort of cautionary fable for how Iron Man the hero of now could be corrupted later on when it's passed to the younger generation and the world's all gone a bit Blade Runner.

 The problem is, is that Iron Man 2020 is pretty much only a cool costume with nothing in it. Given that Iron Man's default characterisation is "raging asshole," the notion that he'll eventually mutate into a bastard seven years from now really isn't that big a deal, and so we're left with a cool suit of armour (that no one save the person who designed it seems overly fussed about getting on-model) and a future Stark whose mustache is 50 percent John Waters, and 50 Percent Salvador Dali, with a little Neil Peart from 1970s Rush in there somewhere.

 It's an amazing 'tache, people.

 There's no point in talking much about Iron Man 2020's character--he doesn't really have one apart from "Tony Stark, but more of a dick, and also he's a bigot against robots" and he whipsaws from conception to conception and motivation to motivation through the stories in this volume, and seeing as how I've blathered on so much we're half a page down, let's just dive right n.

 The book begins with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #20, and if you're all like "whaaat," my response is "exactly." Iron Man 2020 (referred to as 2020 from here on in) returns from the future to find a kid who will blow up everything 30 years hence. Spider-Man shows up and misunderstands, thinking that present-day Iron Man has gone rogue (something 2020 never bothers to correct him about by talking to him and also by cold-bloodily vaporizing the Blizzard. Don't worry, they got another. Several, actually.) 2020 fails spectacularly in this because the whole thing pivots on an ontological paradox (2020 causes the problem he solves by getting the kid injured on account of being a jackass) Oh, and also, 2020 built a doomsday bomb out of used pinball machine parts and y'know, I'm really not sure why Spider-Man was even in this story.

 Mark Beachum draws this issue, and as you'd expect, it's full of ass shots. The man knows what he likes and works in in liberally. You may be more surprised to know that most of the ass shots are of Spider-Man, which is frankly more of a twist than the story he's illustrating.

 Also: Spidey could apparently crack walnuts between his mighty glutes.

 We go from there to 2020's first appearance (no, seriously, that's how the book is laid out) 1984's Machine Man #1-4. Man, what an odd book this is. Machine Man gets rebuilt in the far-flung future of seven years from now, when apparently living in THE FUTURE has made everyone look ri-goddamned-diculous. Sunset Bain, frequent also-ran villainess hires 2020 to fight Machine man and help break up this hacker group that found and rebuilt Machine Man.

 It's all a bit thin, story-wise. On the plus side, it looks friggin' great, with the unlikely duo of Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith doing something quite far outside their comfort zones. However ropey the whole thing is, at four issues it's sufficiently briskly paced that one has little time to dwell on how little impression it makes before it's over and done with. And yes, BWS is the only one who seems to be able to draw 2020's armour consistently correct.

 Slight as it is, though, this is the high point of the collection. Everything after . . .well, it gets weird.

 Our next stop is Death's Head #10,  featuring the first of quite a few Simon Furman written stories in this book, with art by Bryan Hitch, still in his "Alan Davis understudy" phase. It's a typical story of Death's Head fighting 2020 for a bit and then they team up, but Furman plays it as completely ridiculous, and that really makes this story the most enjoyable in the book, believe it or not.

 The next book is an odd duck. The not quite one-shot/not quite graphic novel Iron Man 2020, written by Walt Simonson and drawn by Bob Wiacek and William Rosado was kinda dropped into stories in the early 90's with no fanfare to speak of and . . .yeah, I don't get it at all. It attempts to try to create a kind of redemptive arc for 2020, who, it is revealed over the course of a hostage rescue that turns into a typical early 90's race to stop the most dangerous computer virus in all creation, is being manipulated by a still-alive Tony Stark into being slightly less of a shithead.

 It's . . .well, kind of mediocre, really. But not due to the fault of the the creators--it's written clearly enough and drawn well enough, the problem is . . .well, everyone's the same kind of asshole in the story and it's not really possible to find anyone to invest any emotion in, never mind root for. It's a problem comics struggle with today, as so much seems to be bastards fighting assholes, that really, who gives a shit?

 Anyways, we again whipsaw through publication dates with a five-part story from Astonishing Tales (which I believe premiered digitally first before being collected as a book ) "The Endless Stolen Sky": which features 2020 (resplendent in a newer version of his armour which has some good bits to it, but seems to be one of those designs that looks good from one angle only) trying to launch another lucrative business venture (apparently helicarrier tech is gonna be huge in the next decade) and someone else is after him for revenge and at the end of it 2020 decides he's gonna put his REAL PLAN into operation . . .yeah. If it feels a bit familiar, that's because THIS SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY STORY ANYONE CAN TELL WITH HIM and after three or four variations on this theme, it starts to feel a bit punishing.

 Again--it's OK. It occasionally has some cool wrinkles (Jessica Drew being head of SHIELD, 2020's army of Extremis-enhanced babies in jars) the art's good and the whole thing moves at a pretty fast clip, but after you've read this particular tale THREE TIMES . . .one might be too numb to appreciate it all properly.

 Thankfully, the button at the end of this collection is a pretty good one that brings us full-circle and is substantially different than what we've just seen. What If #53 asks the question "What If Iron Man 2020 was stranded in the past?" after the events of the Amazing Spider-Man annual. It's a pretty decent story that tied in with events in Iron Man's book circa issue #290--2020 gets roped in with Morgan Stark (Tony's no-good cousin who occasionally pops up when people remember Tony Stark has a no-good cousin) and they make a power play for Stark's company and kill War Machine, because no What If issue is a proper What If issue without a body count of some sort. It's a thin story and kinda rushes through itself, but it has a decent twist and isn't that bad really.

 It's written by Simon Furman and drawn by Manny Galan, and yes, I'm pretty stunned this isn't a Transformers issue myself, actually.

 In all, I don't regret buying the book--if anyone's liable to buy 400 pages of Iron Man continuity backwaters it's probably me--but I can't pretend it's for anyone other than the most die-hard completist. Looking over these stories it's plain to see that 2020 was really never meant to be anything more than a one-shot character done as a lark, but was brought back based on having a cool visual hook. The trouble is, I don't think they ever managed to give him much beyond that,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

MAD MEN 6.13--"In Care Of"

Well, it's come to this. twelve weeks, a few b12 shots, a bullet in the eye, a burglary, various infidelities, Planet of the Apes, Rosemary's Baby, a merger, visions, flashbacks, THE 60S, and I don't know how many words written later, we've come to the end of another season of Mad Men. Last week, we got in position for the finale, featuring Don being alternately distant and an asshole, Peggy calling him on it, and Pete finally solving the Bob Benson problem . . .or rather, getting it handled. What awaits us this week? Let's find out!


 "You know what they say about Detroit--it's all fun & games until someone shoots you in the face."
 It's a dark time. Nixon's president, and as Thanksgiving is just around the corner, things are not great. Don is trying to set new records for prodigious metabolisation of ethanol, either that or he's coping with Sally's painful hostility (Sally's courting contempt of court charges by refusing to return to New York and testify about the burglary) by drinking a lot, and punching men of the cloth who tend to proselytize to drunks.

 Stan sees great opportunity in packing up and moving to L.A. for the Sunkist account, even if it's a demotion--the notion of getting out and going somewhere new appeals to him. Unfortunately he makes the mistake of telling Don this who, in an effort to cover for his drunken assininity, decides to offer himself up to go to L.A. so he can run the Sunkist account. He sells this to Megan as being a fresh start where they were happy and Megan, being Megan, believes him (leaving aside that, as when he shipped Sally off to boarding school this is all about putting the maximum amount of distance possible between the piles of poo he leaves everywhere). This annoys the partners and enrages Stan, who calls him on his bullshit. Between this and how he handled Peggy, Stan has become one of my favourite guys.

 Not that anyone else is doing much better--Peggy and Ted are now separated completely, Pete's mom fell off a ship and is presumed lost at sea (because of course Pete incurs the most ridiculous misery) Meanwhile, Roger comes down hard on Bob and Joan's friendship because he's not connecting with his own family and he's closed off from Joan.

 Things get worse for Pete as he finally makes it out to Detroit (after shouting at Bob--apparently before she took a tumble off the ship, she married her nurse Manolo, who seems resolved to play the pleasant Baldrick to his Blackadder) Pete is immediately undone because he can't drive a stick and comes straight back home. Oh Pete, your whole life is one long sad trombone.

 Peggy decides to use the power of cleavage to force the issue with Ted, and it works (because of course it does) Ted insists he's going to leave his wife, though seems a bit ambivalent about the whole thing, and Peggy insists she'll wait for him and doesn't want a scandal, but considering that they apparently went at it like a horny couple of Hottentots, I don't put a lot of faith in their self-restraint.

 And Ted doesn't have any faith in it, as he begs Don to let him go to California, away from Peggy, so the temptations of the flesh won't ruin him (as it did with Don, a fact that Don is all too aware of.)  Don tells him there's no way he can change his plans, only . . .

 . . .Don loses his mind, and starts spilling the beans about his early life in a whorehouse . . .in the middle of a pitch to Hershey's. It's one of the most astoundingly excruciating bits of overshare in the history of overshare and he tells Ted he's going to California instead of Don. Then again, there is a strong probability that Don has finally gone insane, as he seems to be acting completely sideways.

 And the partners have had enough of that, pretty much, as they politely (as much as is possible) put Don on the bus. Yes, my people, Don Draper finally acted irrationally enough to force even his closest allies to get him out the door, with the upshot that is it's PETE of all people who gets to go to California (with Ted--I guess they have more people to spare than they thought) Don's future is uncertain in all ways (Megan storms out after quitting her job on account of his exit strategy) and well . . .I'm trying to see a plan in all of this, but damn if I can.

 In any event, we get a BIT of a happy ending among the ruins of all this. Pete has one last moment with his child and Trudy tells him to look on this as being free--No senile mom to look after, no family to be responsible for and let down, he can have a fresh start. If he can just let go of being an asshole, there's a way forward where he might possibly be happy. Roger has a odd (but kinda pleasant) Thanksgiving with Joan and Bob (resplendent in apron--that'll make a fellow viewer of the show happy) and if he can just let go of feeling like he has a claim on Joan, there's a chance he could be happy too.

 And Don? Well, Don takes his kids to the ruins of the whorehouse he grew up in, in an effort to reconnect with them. Maybe if Don can actually be honest with the people in his life who love him (and doesn't punish them for having the bad taste to love him) and doesn't run away when things don;t go his way there's a way he might be happy too.


 This was . . .well, an interesting episode, and probably one that works more in a marathon viewing where you can see the threads that brought us here. It kinda meanders and goes off strange tangents before focusing up at about the 45 minute degree mark, but then, every episode has kinda felt that way this season. I was quite impressed with the final few minutes of people trying to go after what they need instead of what they want. It was more thoughtful than just having a BIG EVENT people react to.

 I liked it.

 And that's it both for the week and the season. Join us next season for the final season of Mad Men, wherein we will no doubt explore the world that's coming, the world of the 1970s. Perhaps we'll get grosser jackets, or why every appliance was avocado or squash coloured, and the sideburns situation, can only probably get worse. Somehow, I doubt very much that any of these things will even be addressed, but it's something to look forward to, at least. See you next year!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


 We like trilogies, don't we? It seems like a movie isn't considered a success unless it can immediately have a trilogy built around it (whether there's three movies in it or not). Of course, with our love for trilogies comes a certain knowledge that the third part is always a bit crap--I don't know whether it's the fact that once you get all the answers to something they're not as exciting as having all the questions being asked in the first place. Maybe it's just by the third part, things are feeling a little bit laboured or too familiar, or maybe things just feel a bit navel-gazey by this time. Many times we've seen a third installment that seems like it should be strong--all the things that you like in the first two are there--but for some reason, all you can see is the decline and rot setting in.

 I bring this up, because The New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 3 is a great example of a third installment that shows both decline and rot. If the first Ominbus showed the book in its first spurt of creative ferment and the second Omnibus showed the book at its creative peak, the third Omnibus shows us a book settling into diminishing returns and decline, a book perfectly happy to cannbalise its own history over and over and ride the horse the long way 'round to the glue factory.

 There are creative reasons for why this is in evidence, and business, reasons, and I've mentioned both before, and as they're actually happening at this point in the title's history, I'll be able to illustrate it as we go.

 We start this Omnibus by going back a bit, and picking up an issue that was excised from its place in the second Omnibus. "Who Is Donna Troy?" is considered one of the best Titans stories (even if it was all soon invalidated) and is quite a striking story in that there's not a single fistfight in the whole thing. It's just as detective story--Robin's trying to untangle Donna Troy's origins (no mean feat, considering even then she was a mistake that ended up being a character. Despite the somewhat overly sentimental tone and the near-toxic levels of Terry Long, it's a very affecting story, and justified, in a sense, that these were characters first and superheroes second, and when that's handled properly, that's just fine.

 The last part of that statement is rather important.

 Anyways, that detour set aside, we return to the book's "present." Tales of the Teen Titans #45-47 features the Titans going up against the H.I.V.E. once and for all (in revenge for the whole Terra thing) Aqualad and Aquagirl guest star, because they were victims of the H.I.V.E.'s vaguely batshit plan to kill everyone in Atlantis for . . .well, we're not sure what reason.Meanwhile, Wally West shows up to fret over things because we haven't quite figured out what to do with him, Changeling's getting all grim and gritty because Terra showed him up, and Raven's turning evil again because  . . .well, more on that in a bit.

 Art this time is by George Perez and Mike DeCarlo (though it's obvious that Perez is only doing breakdowns on this, as a lot of DeCarlo's "sheen" that he gives pencils he works with is in evidence more than Perez's level of detail.) Given what Perez is working on in this time-frame, that he even has this much presence on Tales at this point is pretty impressive.

 Issue #48 is a done-in-one featuring the Titans fighting the RECOMbatants (who are totally not the DNAgents, except they totes are) It's . . .all right, but the big feature this issue is the guest artist--Steve Rude drawing the Titans is something to see, for sure. Issue #49 features the return of Dr. Light and guest pencils by Carmine Infantino, who, thanks to Decarlo's inking, looks a lot less sketchy and shakey compared to how his stuff on Flash looked at the time.

 Tales #50 is a milestone, in more ways than one. For all intents and purposes, this is the end of Tales of the Teen Titans' new material, as there's now enough of a lead time for the "hardcover/softcover" thing to start (more on that in a bit) It's the wedding of Donna Troy and Terry Long and while it's the least romantic wedding I can imagine, George Perez goes all-out on the art side of things and book fully commits itself to its soap-opera side for this long double-size issue. While it definitely feels like a moment long in coming, the overall experience seems a little empty, as Wolfman has never written a convincing reason for why Troy and Long are together (short of having characters lecture at the reader a whole bunch of informed attributes) and if you don't buy into that, the whole thing might seem more than a little self-indulgent.

 So, sic transit The New Teen Titans. After 50 issues, New Teen Titans leaves the newsstand more or less, and the "hardcover/softcover" format is upon us as last. For those who missed the explanation in previous reviews, DC had this idea in the early 80's--take their most popular books at the time (Titans, Legion of Superheroes, The Outsiders) and relaunch them as direct sales only titles, with fancier paper, offset printing, better colour and (most importantly) a higher price. The newsstand issues would then, a year later, reprint the deluxe issues with shitty Flexographic printing that would make any artistic gains utterly muddled and gently punish those plebeians who didn't have comic stories for . . .not having comic stores, which if you remember the early 80's, was most of the country.

 It had one good point, and that point is evident in the next arc we're looking at--it gave artists a bigger canvas to work on and get more elaborate. Whatever the issue with the story, New Teen Titans Vol. 2 #1-5 looks great, with Perez experimenting with un-inked pencils, spot colouring and breaking out of the standard panel borders in expansive and adventurous ways . . .it looks fantastic. So if you had great artists doing great work, the Deluxe format comics were beautiful things (and even though Perez will soon be gone, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Eduardo Barreto are pretty good, as consolation prizes go)

 If you didn't, well, it made shit work look even more awful. Sure, the Flexographic printing made everything even uglier, but set the bar any lower and we'll be in the Earth's mantle.

 Story-wise, it accelerated a process that was going on over in Uncanny X-Men at the time as well--namely, a writer who had stayed on too long was running thin on new directions to take things in and either repeated himself, worked in as many of his own private obsessions as he felt he could get away with, or, in the case of Marv Wolfman, both.

 And this brings us to the story half of  New Teen Titans Vol. 2 #1-5: Oh Dear, Raven's Gone Bad. Again. There's a foreword from Wolfman that prefaces this Omnibus (reprinted from a previous collection) that talks about Raven being a compelling character and all of that, and while I don't dispute she has some uses in the team dynamic . . .she's really NOT that great a character, at least at this point, because Wolfman only seems to have one story he runs featuring her: She gets possessed by Trigon and turns evil. It happened in the original series, it happens here, and it'll happen 100 issues hence in New Titans #100. She's forever turning evil or being possessed or otherwise acting with no agency of her own. The rest of the time she skulks around being remote and trying to discover "what it means to be human" or some Star Trek bullshit like that.

 Raven's inherently passive role is illustrated by the structure of the story: Raven finally loses her shit and turns evil, summoning Trigon and talking like Dark Phoenix for a couple issues. Trigon shows up and bellows that he will enslave the world and etc. etc.  . . .and then takes a nap for two issues (no, really!) while the Titans fight manifestations of their inner evil and self-doubt (not the only time we got to that well . . .not even in this book!) and then the evil Titans show up and kill Raven (and obviously that's gonna stick, right?) then Lilith and Raven's mom put Raven's promise rings back on and she turns into Raven the White and fixes everything and Trigon is killed absolutely for realsies this time.

 I should mention, by the way, that in the first five issues of this book, the Titans utterly fail to notice Raven's been going nutty for at least a year of continuity, immediately get sidelined by her initial attacks, turn evil and murder Raven, and then can't even kill Trigon and win the day in their own book.


 This would, it seems to me, be a red flag of some sort, and that portraying your team of superheroes as screw-ups who fail to pull together at the critical moment and mope about it the rest of the time is not the sort of thing that long-running books are made of. Mind you, the Titans had made mistakes before and suffered reversals born of their own oversights and arrogance, but had previous to this, always pulled together at the critical time and been heroic.

 Not anymore, not in this book, anyways. There starts to emerge a persistent thread of failure and obsession with failure that really starts to strangle the book. Most of the rest of the stories in this book concern Nightwing constantly grappling with his relationship with Batman and his attempts to become his own man (even though he'd kinda already done that, he has to do it eight or nine more times for it to stick, I guess?) It becomes a real problem and one that sets the book on a course of navel-gazing and spinning its wheels that becomes so pervasive that the whole books becomes this oppressive culture of failure (really, the same thing happened with Claremont's X-Men, it's just happening faster here) that got so bad, for the last 25 issues leading up to #100, they tried damn near everything to scour the Earth and get back to their roots.

 But we can't deal with that now. After a "catch our breath" issue in the wake of the Trigon attack, we skip ahead (four whole years and a title change to New Titans) to Issue #50, which is Ground Zero for why Donna Troy was (and possibly still is) such a continuity nightmare for "Who is Wonder Girl?" a four-part epic that is not really all that epic and replaces a rather elegant solution to a continuity problem with enough nightmarishly intricate gobbledegook that it could almost be, say, Cable's origin.

 It's also about the time Danny Chase showed up. I talked about Danny Chase back when I wrote up Games. The short version for those of you who missed it--bad as Terry Long was, he's nowhere near the utter shit that Danny Chase was--a pet character that was portrayed as being relentlessly unlikeable and obnoxious and was pushed down everyone's throats. I would say Danny Chase has X-Pac Heat, but it's more accurate to say that he IS X-Pac Heat, incarnate: Just seeing him makes you wish he would go away forever.

 Anyways, to the extent that any of this makes any damn sense at all, let's see if I can make this at all coherent: Donny Troy is a child of the Titans of Myth (who are good guys now, I guess?) who decamped to outer space and raised aliens to be New Gods (but not those New Gods) only one of the godlings has gone crazy so now Donny Troy (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the Titans) must go and save them, except they leave Danny Chase behind, ostensibly to protect him, but more, I think because they can't stand him either.

 So they faff off to outer space and fight aliens and it goes about as well as you'd expect, in that the Titans get the crap kicked out of them pretty consistently and things get worse because it's just that sort of book, innit? Eventually Donna and the rest of the godlings kill the mad godling (it is nice that the main character of the story gets to have some of her own agency, I will say that, even if you don't really give a crap who the rest of the godlings are because they pop up out of nowhere and never show up again) and everything's OK and Donna has a brand new origin that people will immediately begin to ignore and snarl up even moreso.

 This is a lead-in to the next issue, where Donna Troy debuts her Troia look and . . .well, not unlike her new origin (now with 100% more space aliens and confusion) people begin trying to tweak the costume almost immediately, possibly because the damn thing looks very hard to draw correctly. Meanwhile, in Subplot Theatre, Danny Chase tells Nightwing that Jason Todd's been killed with all the taste and conscientiousness you would expect from young master Chase. Nightwing almost beats the crap out of him and throws him out of the Titans (though he still sticks around because Marv Wolfman will MAKE YOU LIKE HIM if it's the last thing he does.) Nightwing goes to commiserate with Batman about Jason dying and Batman punches him in the face because Batman just rolls like that.

 The book gets slightly flabby and shapeless after that, as issue #56 tells the thrilling tale of Gnarrk post-Crisis, and if you're first response was "wait, who?" the answers are "exactly," and "congratulations, you're not crazy?" I would spend more time on this and Lilith's weird mental sex-thing with him, but it's 2013 and neither you nor I should be spending the brief, precious time we have on this planet thinking about stupid fucking Gnarrk.

 Issue #57 features the return of the Wildebeest, perhaps the most frightening of his breed since Gary Gnu. Wildebeest is interesting because initially they did a good job of working around the whole "a cool costume with no one in it" idea because the Wildebeest was always a different guy each time. This time, the Wildebeest is Cyborg, who's been sidelined since they went to outer-space and is being mind-controlled (again, by some weird sex thing! Man, does Claremont know they're biting on all his shit?)

 Also, Jericho's mighty blonde Afro is now an afro-mullet thing. Also he's polyamouous. Wolfman really wanted to sell that as an example of Titan's progressive sexual politics, because dammit, if anyone's going to lead the vanguard of open sexual lifestyles, or, indeed, progressiveness of any kind, well it DAMN WELL BETTER be corporate superhero comics, right? 

 Meanwhile, Danny Chase does stupid shit no one cares about.

 The stuff with the Wildebeest and Cyborg's crazy dreams of electric sex grind on until #59, where, after nearly killing the team and being mind controlled and now bed-ridden, Nightwing makes him leader of the Titans because Nightwing used to be a born leader who made careful decisions, but hes got to nip over to Batman for a few months for a crossover and just can't be hassled with this crap because hey, people actually read Batman.

 But hey, this is about the time Tom Grummet starts working on the book, and he's pretty good--not Perez like, but his fine sense of detail serves him in good stead on this book.

 The Batman crossover "A Lonely Place of Dying," lasted 6 parts and went through both Batman and New Titans. Only the two parts, both of them the New Titans portions, are reprinted here, to annoy you and generally make things needlessly baroque and complicated. It's all rather pointless, as none of the Titans really have much to do with any of it and it's pretty much Nightwing going solo for a bit and fretting about where he is in relation to Batman, then teaming up with Batman and being there when Tim Drake hits the scene. It didn't really need to be six parts, as "Batman turns into a grumpy asshole without a Robin to function a stablising influence" is not really a thing which needs to be drawn out very long to make that point (that said, they've been doing great in making it seem longer and more interminable when they revisit it later) and . ..yeah. "Titans Hunt" could only have helped this book.

 Rather than provide any attempt at closure, we detour to Secret Origins Annual #3, which ostensibly features the post-Crisis origin of the Titans, but what it actually features is Nightwing having bad dreams about how bad he thinks he sucks. I kinda wish that was just me exaggerating for comic effect, but unfortunately, I'm not. 

 We end with neither a bang, nor a whimper, but a "wahaa--?" with New Titans #66 and 67, featuring Raven falling in love with a robot, more or less. If this seems strangely familiar to you, it's because they've done this story before, only it's usually Starfire who ends up dating someone who's evil/a a robot/doomed/all three. It is completely bewildering and serves no purpose--Raven still doesn't have much of a character and her only contact is Jericho, who can't talk, so the whole thing feels a bit empty, really.

 And with that, we're done. The Wolfman/Perez era of New Teen Titans is well and truly done, and this is the story of how it ended. Perhaps had Perez stuck around longer (no sooner was he working on the relaunched book than he was working on Crisis on Infinite Earths, then Wonder Woman) there would have been more of a balance, because as Wolfman, as with Claremont on the other big book had more leeway to follow his interests, the book become more insular and more broken and just plain duller. I can't imagine DC squeezing another Omnibus out of this run, as by this time, Perez is pretty much long gone and while Titans Hunt would be interesting to read again in a more or less complete form, it's not really part of this era and it's kind of a clusterfuck (three or four crossovers break out in the middle of it) and doesn't really succeed in its remit to revitsalise the book in a long-term sort of way.

 So the trilogy ends in the way a lot of trilogies (and long-running superhero comics that have seen better days) seem to end. Not with any sense of finality or closure, but merely a shrug and a slow slide into complacency.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

MAD MEN 6.12--"The Quality of Mercy"

 Well, as things wind down, things can be said to have heated up, yes? Welcome one and all to Witless Prattle's dubious yet strangely popular coverage of Mad Men. Last week, some major shit went down as Sally actually saw Don banging Sylvia (because we will never be done with that plotline until someone dies, it seems) and Don seemed to weather the storm well enough. But given the title of this episode and the implications of same, will he continue to get away scot free? Let's find out!


 "He just disappeared one day with an electric pencil sharpener and the company Christmas card list.."

 So, uh, Cosgrove got his eye shot out.

 Then the episode got weird.

 Don has reacted to the whole fallout of the Sally thing in his usual style--acting hurt, drinking a lot, and generally retreating into himself. Sally's elected not to visit him anymore and is considering going to boarding school (Don eagerly offers to pay for all of it, because he's never averse to situations that involve him pushing people away with money in a way that seems to him like he's doing them a favour) and he's been telling everyone he's got a horrible cold.

 To cheer him up in the midst of all this grinding angst, Megan takes him to see Rosemary's baby, which is a method of coping with things, I hadn't realised was a thing. While they're, they see Ted and Peggy chilling out in the same theatre, which Megan immediately twigs as something salacious going on (though given what Peggy gets up to in movie theatres, it's not an unfair assumption) and Don, perhaps reminded of his own infidelity, gets annoyed when Megan won't drop it.

 Meanwhile, Pete, who is always the guy you go to for expressions of profound humanity, inveigles into Ken's spot after he finally decides he's had enough of Chevy and their crazy-ass bullshit. This seems for a moment to be a return to grace for him--after being marginalised for so long, here he is at the head of the firm's biggest account.

 The he discovers he has to work with Bob, and it seems much less like a triumph, especially when Ted nails him to the floor by telling him that he knows Pete's trying to get rid of him because he made a pass at him. Ted tell him he misunderstood, then advises him that he better be careful what he says to people with the quiet gentility Patrick Bateman expressed right before he hacked up someone with an ax.

 What follows is a game of chess, and if I'm honest, Bob kinda kicks Pete's ass around the woodpile. Pete tries to use Duck to get him a better job elsewhere, Bob uses Pete's mother's relationship with Manolo to get at him. Pete fumes and acts like a jackass because that's his default response to stimuli.

 This little thread takes a hard right turn into crazy-town when Duck reveals that Bob Benson . . .is not at all who he claims to be. Yes, SC & P has fallen yet again for another man without a past (even Duck is pretty flabbergasted they didn't bother to check him out)  Pete's able to use this to bring Bob to heel in a way he was never able to with Don.

 Meanwhile, during Sally's boarding-school overnight, she calls up Glen (because of course she does) so she can impress the students. This leads to Glen being her white knight, which she actually liked, and yeah, I'm calling bullshit on that and moving on.

 Meanwhile, Peggy and Ted are rapidly approaching power couple status, as he's constantly putting her on the vanguard of new accounts and runs with her idea for a commercial for children's aspirin based on Rosemary's Baby (thank God they didn't go see Night of the Living Dead) Don is pretty troubled by this, though whether it's because Peggy's a stranger to him more than ever or because Ted can fuck around and get away with it and he's jealous.

 It's probably the latter, because it finally comes out that after torpedoing Ocean Spray (which Peggy was working on) and the aspirin ad (in the ugliest, most vicious way possible) and lambastes Ted for being indiscreet with Peggy (under the guise of doing him a favour, because Don LOVES punishing others for crimes he's committed) Peggy sees through it, of course, and rips Don a new asshole, calling him a "monster." And because Don's coping skills are like Pete's, he immediately curls up into a ball and goes all woe is me while the fucking Monkees play us out.

 This was one of those episodes where you kinda hate everyone on this show as they're all doing really hideous shit to each other and clothing themselves in the vestments of self-righteousness. I'm with Peggy--Don's completed his molt into full monsterhood and he's finally managed to piss away the last bit of potential that this merger offered him personally and professionally. It's a good episode, but holy shit, its heart is as black as midnight in a coal mine. If the season finale goes all Red Wedding . . .it wouldn't be like they didn't have it coming.

 And that's it for this week. Join us next week for the season finale, when Peggy finds her dragons and frees the slaves, Roger violates the rules of hospitality and stabs everyone, and Bert gets his junk cut off again. All of these things happened on another show, but surely won't happen on this one, when we meet in seven days for a little chunk of finality they're calling "In Care Of." Who will survive?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

MAD MEN 6.11--"Favours"

 So, last week on Mad Men, we got a rather problematic episode that nevertheless managed to get some plot legwork done--SCDPCGC had a new name "Sterling Cooper & Partners," or SC& P for short. Behind the scenes, it seems Cutler is playing a long game to take over, Don almost drowned because he's a terrible hash-head, and Pete took a rip of his first joint. It was, as I said, a rather problematic episode. Fortunately, not many folks were watching as they were busy losing their shit over the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones.

 What will happen this week as we begin the final lap for this season? Well, there's no time like the present to find out, is there?


 "Like everything else in this country, Diplomacy Club's just another excuse to make out"

 We begin on a succession of awkward notes--Peggy has an awkward encounter with Pte's painfully senile mother who blabs about having a child, mistakes her for Trudy, and confesses that she's having a physical thing with the nurse that Bob Benson got her a few episodes back. Pete and Peggy have a grim, awkward, and finally cathartic laugh about it soon after, which is a great little bit of business--they haven't really had a scene that's not been tense or guarded and when you add Ted to the mix (Pete can see he's crazy about her and considers Peggy one of the few people who really knows him, as Don told her a couple seasons back) It's a great scene because it shows that Ted, unlike Cutler, really wants to fit in here and some of the long-term members of our gang are happy to let him in.

 Sorta. More on that later.

 Less successfully, there's a bit with Don getting involved with helping Sylvia's son avoid the draft, thus forming a perfect combination of two things I haven't liked this season--THE SIXTIES horning in on the story in more blatant and thuddingly obvious ways at the expense of the story, and the dreadful Sylvia Rosen subplot that refuses to end even though we had the damn ending a few episodes back. Don makes some effort to help his kid (who is a real dolt) and I can see why they thought it made sense to do it (Don deserted, so putting him in the position to defend the war is dramatic irony) but . . .I kinda recall this show being subtler than this before.

 Ted,  though he likes working with Peggy and Pete and building relationships with them, is also in a hell-for-leather competition with Don (even though they're part of the same firm now, that need to prove oneself is a fire that is never quieted) and even more exasperating, Don's so disengaged he doesn't even see it, which only makes Ted even more exasperated. Though thanks to Don's clumsy attempts to feel out how the well-to-do at Chevy handle getting their kids deferred, it seems he has a sign of weakness, and Ted, who is actually paying attention at work, might actually do something with that knowledge.

 The two things dovetail, however--it turns out that Ted has a resource that can get Sylvia's kid in with the Air National Guard, and he offers to set it up if Don will stop fighting him and work with him. Don acts like he didn't even realise that he was doing it (thought considering how out to lunch he's been, that's entirely possible) and if this gets him on the same page, it might even be worth this rather leaden plot. Unfortunately, the main upshot seems to be Don and Sylvia canoodling some more and shit, I've seen enough of that by now.

 But I'm not the only one. Because, due to circumstances WAY too convoluted to go into here, Sally walks in on Don and Sylvia in flagrante dilecto. Don reacts like you'd think he would--as if the world were but a few seconds from ending and the Earth was about to swallow him whole. But while he goes on a bender and prepares himself for imminent doom it turns out that things aren't so bad--the kid may get his deferment and Sally hasn't told anyone anything (yet) and Don tries his best to defuse the situation. I can't say I rate his chances high.

 Meanwhile, Peggy is freaked out by the rats in her apartment, to the point where she tempts Stan with sexual favours to get him to come clear out the rat traps. Honestly, there has to be a better way to handle these crises than getting horizontal in the name of rodent extermination.In other news, Pete is grossed out by his mom's crush on his nurse and lays down the law to Bob, who (not so) subtly outs himself, and Pete responds with the usual withering irritated disgust which was summed up best by his senile mom in a moment of clarity when she called him unlovable.

 Well, I knew that whole draft-dodging plot would end in disaster and sure enough it did, as now Don's thinking with his Dick Whitman has led to a slow-motion explosion. Given we have but two episodes left, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I can't really call it a good episode as of yet--it's probably one that will work better in the context of the whole season. We shall see.

 And that's all for this week. Join us next week when Cutler decides to eat a whole pallet of margarine on a dare, Ted Chaough is deeply fascinated by a single Lego brick, and Don becomes the Beastmaster. All of these things plus the revelation of who's going to play Doctor Who next have a likelihood of not happening on the order of "metaphysical certitude"in a funky penultimate little kind of thing we're gonna call "The Quality of Mercy" (a title which, given the circumstances and people involved of this episode, feels a touch dodgy) Join us then, won't you?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

MAD MEN 6.10--"A Tale Of Two Cities"

 Some people think Sunday is the end of the week, and some think it's the beginning of the week. All we know is that if it's Sunday it's time year again for another trip 55 years (give or take) back in time to review Mad Men--exactly the kind of show you wouldn't expect someone writing about comics on a blog somewhere to be writing about, and yet, you would be wrong. This may or may not be what is considered a "black swan event." I myself am not sure.

 Last week, Abe got stabbed by Peggy, thus making last week the Greatest Episode of Mad Men ever. Well, not so much, but there was a lot of people realising they couldn't exist either in the place they used to or the place they wanted to. What waits for us this week? Let's find out!


 "SCDCC sounds like a stutter and looks like a typo"

 We begin by foregrounding this week's major 1960's Event, which is rolled out in a somewhat clumsy fashion: This, dear readers, shall be the episode about the 1968 Democratic Convention. Thankfully it fades into the background, more or less and becomes an occasional level for conflict more than having people talk about The Big Historical Events That Will Reverberate For All Time . . .mostly. When it doesn't it reaches Wonder Years-level navel contemplation, sadly. At least when they did the Kennedy Assassination it felt a little more natural.

 There's plenty of internal friction, in any case--after a notable period of time, the agency grapples with trying to name itself. This is a look under the hood at some internecine strife, as Cutler is rather annoyed that there's so many of SCDP's people still in key positions, but Ted recognizes (as Don doesn't) that there aren't two sides--they're one side, and they have to get along together (which was the whole point of the merger in the first place, you'll recall) Cutler seems to make an effort to do that by getting Bob from accounts to babysit Ginsburg who's being an ass.

 Or so it seems, because the whole thing ends up being a somewhat complicated gambit to lose one of Roger's clients as a means of centralising some power on their end. That this costs them a lot of money and some bad word of mouth is immaterial, as Cutler's still playing the power game, which Ted warns him about again.

 Meanwhile, the episode draws a contrast between Roger, Harry and Don going to woo the Carnation people. They're pretty arrogant and lazy about the whole thing, assuming the Carnation people are going to be country mice, completely wowed by the hoity-toity New York City folk. They get a rude surprise when they learn that the Carnation people have their own views of the city mice and take a hard line with them. It doesn't work.

 Meanwhile, we spend a bit of time at a 1960's Hollywood party. I'm not gonna spend too much on it, because dear God it was pretty embarrassing.  Thought it was something of a surprise that Danny from Season 4 (he of the crappy 'The cure for the common ______" ad pitches) shows up and when he's finally tired of Roger's short jokes, punches him in the nuts. Don takes a rip from a hookah full of hashish and nearly drowns. Given Roger is an experienced LSD pilot, obviously Don is a lightweight by comparison.

 Joan lucks into something by arranging a meeting with Avon's ad rep (this is, one assumes, the payoff to the girl's night out with her friend a couple episodes) and feels a bit all at sea when she detects that this could be new business. She tells Peggy, who blanches a bit when Joan immediately suggests Don. Things seem a bit better when Ted suggests that Joan take Peggy along, but then it's Joan's turn to blanche when Pete gets the call to woo the client.

 So Joan doesn't invite him.While this seems like a good idea because nothing brings a business dinner down like having Pete there is a definite baller move on Joan's part (who's been struggling this season about trying to get out of the perception people have of her as the Eternal Secretary) and she and Peggy actually do a decent job of wooing the client, even though they don't quite work as smoothly as Roger and Don (possibly because they're doing something Peggy knows they probably shouldn't) Joan sees it as a necessary power move to get herself seen as something other than The Girl Who Slept With Jaguar The Hutt which she wants to be even less than the Eternal Secretary, and unfortunately Peggy throws it right in her face. It's . . .well, kinda mean.

 That said, I hope it works. Given Peggy's grave warnings about going her own way, I hope Joan doesn't have Lane Pryce's punishment for overreach in her future. It's not quite that bad--Pete reads her the riot act for the thing with Avon, but Peggy--bless her--covers for Joan, even if it's a temporary respite.

 So this all culminates with a new name at last: Sterling Cooper & Partners. It's a concrete example of Ted trying to make peace and unify everyone and Don seems to grudgingly see the need for it. Pete freaks out and smokes a joint so powerful it makes The 60's happen right in front of him.

  This was a pretty muddled episode, and for all the good bits, there was just so much "Look! The 60's! Mini-skirts! Janis Joplin! It was a time that happened!" It got a bit wearing. And the whole business with constantly playing the whole "two cities" motif felt a bit obvious and lacked Mad Men's usual light touch. Though if I remember right, they pretty much have an episode that's not quite as complete before things speed up for the final drive. Here's hoping they've got all the nonsense out of their system now.

 And that'll do it for this week. Join us next week when Sally invents a time machine out of baking soda and a refrigerator box, Harry Crane becomes a cyborg, Pete develops a mad posh for cuchi fritos, and Peggy perfects the Weirding Way. All these things and more guaranteed to have an utterly negligible chance of happening when we meet back here in seven, for a little somethin-somethin' called "Favors"It's bound to be a real thigh-slapper!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

MAD MEN 6.9--"The Better Half"

Look, I KNOW you all feel the darkness right now, but I want you to know we're going to get through this, and it'll be brilliant. Yes, it is once again time for another weekly installment of Witless Prattle's inexplicably popular Mad Men reviews, proof positive that, as always, the least likely is the most dangerous (or, y'know, something) Last week . . .man, last week was something wasn't it? Everyone shot full of meth, acting crazy as hell, tap-dancing for God knows what reason and even with all that going on, they found time to have a break-in at Don't apartment. Oh, and I finally twigged that the guy who plays Cutler was Perseus in the old Clash of the Titans movie. Perhaps I need a B12 shot as well. What sort of madness awaits us this week as we enter the home stretch for the season? Let's find out!


 "We're all a little out of context right now"

The theme for this episode is "duality," the ongoing conflict between Ted Chaough and Don Draper, and those trapped in between, and where one belongs at what point in time.

 Don is well aware that Peggy prefers Ted to him (how much, one imagines he doesn't know) and parades her through the room in an effort to force the issue. Peggy doesn't want to play this bullshit and tells him off for making it a contest and point out--not incorrectly--that if they just worked together and didn't make it a horse race they'd get a lot more done. But since Don has too much fun being a miserable asshole, the lesson slides off his back.

 Meanwhile Pete is feeling a bit all at sea, having burned his bridges, lost a shitload of business on account of being Pete Campbell and having a mom now mightily into her Crazy Cat Lady years and no good option on how to deal with that and having a window seat among the partners post-merger, consults a head-hunter, who is Duck Phillips, a man who, given the levels of dissipation we've seen him go through must be able to perpetually reincarnate himself. Duck accurately diagnoses his problem that his personality is toxic and priorities are like crazy paving, but like with Don, Pete's far too much of an asshole to take helpful advice like that on-board.

 He's not the only one. Roger, fresh off of failing at being a Cool Grandad with his grandson (apparently Don's advice about taking the kids to see Planet of the Apes is not something that's consistent across all lines. Then again, if you're taking parenting lessons from Don, you've already lost) tries to bond with Joan and their child in the most awkward way possible, doubly so because we drop in on the reality that Bob and Joan are a thing. Joan tries to handle it as diplomatically as possible and poor Roger looks crushed (and given how annoying Bob is, seeing him with Joan probably crushed a lot of people)

 Because one can never fight only ONE war on this show, Peggy finally has enough of Abe's liberal white guilt bullshit and says she's selling their west-80's place. It's good to see her finally stand up against that crap--I mean, he's been pulling since they met, giving her shit for working for THE MAN. And to his credit, Abe backs down in a moment of clarity.

 Then Peggy stabs him, on accident, and Abe breaks it off with her because working in advertising "means she's always the enemy." Peggy, to her credit, doesn't stab him again, because that kind of assholism should really be punishable by death.

 Meanwhile, Don goes to see Bobby at summer camp and runs into Betty, which I'm sure is a meaty story thread and not at all just an excuse to give Betty something to do. Mind you, she's already had a rather troubling moment earlier when one of Henry's buddies at the fundraiser offers her some coffee and sex (sand coffee) and Betty actually doesn't rule the idea out immediately. Henry is kind of a jerk about it, but it turns out he's just kinda turned on by the idea, and then, because this wasn't icky enough, Betty and Don knock boots because of course they do. Is Don on some kind of "have sex with every woman he used to have sex with as some sort of exit interview" process after Sylvia? It seems . . .and odd way to deal with a breakup.

 That said, for all the crap I give Betty and for all that I wonder why she's on the show at moments, the afterglow scene is actually pretty good, as she diagnoses Don's problem pretty succinctly--anyone who loves him, he really treats like shit. Even more amazing, Don readily admits that he has some kind of disconnect that means he can't do that (which reaches back to that scene about Bobby after they went to see Planet of the Apes) It all gets a rather poignant button when Don wakes up alone the next day and sees Betty having a grand old time with Henry. There doesn't seem to be a place for him in the past, present, or future, does there? 

 While this is going on, Megan gets the make put on her by Arlene, which Megan rebuffs in a rather assholish way and Arlene gets all catty about it. While I laud Megan for being the person with the most fidelity in this entire cast of characters, "letting her down easy" is not one of her virtues. Though it does lead to her having a heart-to-heart with Don about how he's been disconnected from her and Don admits to it. It's a neat parallel to Sylvia's dream two episodes ago about telling her husband she was back home. Whether Don means it for keeps or not remains to be seen--there's another month's worth of episodes for him to screw it up.

 Meanwhile, the fallout from the Abe breakup gives Peggy a perfect opportunity to formally hook up with ted, but Ted rebuffs it (again) and poor Peggy is left adrift between Don and Ted--repelled by the former's contempt and antagonism and the disinterest of another (and ironically, Don is in a similar position)

 While this wasn't an episode with everyone tap-dancing or otherwise tripping balls, it was quite incisive and elegantly tied up a whole lot of things. Plus Abe got stabbed--I've been waiting I dunno HOW many years for that. Even the whole Betty thing, which usually feels like just an excuse to keep her on the show served the story and really brought a lot of stuff out. It was quite good.

And that'll do it for this week. You know, after the dope-fueled mayhem of last week, me putting irrational stuff here in the teaser for next week doesn't seem that far out now. That said, join us next week when Don starts a commemorative spoon collection, Bobby regenerates into Colin Baker, and Joan lives a life of danger for the FBI. These three things and whatever other batshit nonsense I dream up is mostly probably guaranteed not to happen in next week episode, "A Sale of Two Titties"--err, I mean "A Tale of Two Cities." Be there. Aloha!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mad Men 6.8--"The Crash"

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But . . .there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place just as real but not as brightly lit . . . a DARKSIDE. Hello and welcome once again to Witless Prattle's inexplicably consistent, determinedly swift (even when my cable goes out, as it did last week) coverage for Mad Men. Last week was a somewhat grim episode that was so bleak Robert Kennedy's assassination seemed like an afterthought. Let's see if we get back to the rollicking thigh-slapping comedy that Mad Men is known for this week


 "Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse."

 Appropriate to the overall theme of the episode, we begin with some real Hunter Thompson shit, as Ken Cosgrove, driving an Impala, crashes because he's apparently picked up a group of authentic lunatics to ride around with. This is a bit of a microcosm of what is proving to be Firm Yet To Be Named's overall problem--while GM pays their bills, they're not running any of their work--they have to prepare stuff on a very rigorous schedule, but it's not getting out and has to go through such a torturous approval process that it seems to be bleeding FYTBN white.

 Not that Don is really doing terribly well. The whole business with Sylvia giving the old heave-ho has led to him contracting a case of mildly stalking her. It nearly blows everything wide open, and Don is absolutely furious when Sylvia tells him to knock it the hell off and he starts flashing back to when he had a real bad chest cold during his youth in the whorehouse and he was nursed back to health and also got his first lay (this has not been my experience recuperating when I was sick. That's . . .not something I feel like I missed out on). He's feeling bad.

 With the death of Gleason (the guy who'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer) and the creative drain Chevy's putting on everyone, really everyone is either sick or their energy flags. This leads Cutler to suggest everyone go up and get a B12 shot in the ass, which causes two things to happen--one, everyone gets a shot in the ass and two, the entire episode gets really effing crazy and almost defies my ability to review it, as just when I think that I may have some notion of what's going on, Culter and Stan are having a footrace, Cosgrove tap-dances for little adequately explored reason, and Stan is letting people throw pencils into his arm.

  Man, I can't wait for the 80's when everyone mellows out on calming, blissful cocaine.

    It was quite nice of the writers to reference The Prisoner episode "Free For All," wherein No. 6 is drugged to the point of insanity and the whole episode gets so crazy and baroque it makes terrifyingly little sense just to make it plain what we'd be up to tonight.

 Meanwhile, Don is getting crazier, Sally's reading Rosemary's Baby and stumbling upon someone breaking into the apartment Sally, proving she probably wasn't the right person to be invested with loco parentis after all (Megan had to go to a play and Don is still buzzed out of his mind) Bobby's not much help when he discovers the person breaking in, which . . .well, that's not the stupidest thing that happens this episode.

Do you know, I think I might actually be high right now writing this. I'm not sure anymore.

 That would be this: Don, meanwhile has been busy . . .coming up with the perfect way to woo Sylvia back, even though that wasn't what he got the shot for or what he was supposed to be working on, and everyone's so buzzed on the same shot they can't recognise how crackheaded his logic is. Peggy looks exasperated by all this and finally goes home. She has a point.

 Thankfully there is a kernel of insight to be gained by all this--in the wake of the flashback with Don and Amee the whore, we get a bit of insight into Don: namely that after his first sexual experience, Amee got kicked out and he got the shit thrashed out of him with a wooden spoon, and in the immortal words of Lana Kane "A WHOLE lot of shit just made sense."

 Man, this was a . . .confounding episode. It was never boring, I'll give it that. I guess after the "Roger takes LSD" episode they just decided "Hell with it, let's do the WHOLE EPISODE like that and see what people make of it." I can't say it was bad--lord knows it wasn't mediocre or boring.

 And that's it for this week. Join us next week When Betty decides to dye her hair pink and try out for Gerry Anderson's UFO, Harry Crane's sideburns join into a full and yet somehow infinitely more nasty beard, and Don can't stop rubbing hamburgers all over his naked body. All of these things guaranteed to never happen (unless the doctor hands out more B12 shots) but in the sickest imaginings of Mad Men reviewers looking for a way to button their reviews and tease for next week. Join us next time for "The Better Half!"

Monday, May 13, 2013

Meanwhile, Elsewhere in Kazekage's Web "Empire" . . .

It's that time again!

  GUNMETAL BLACK has just completed a new update!

 Included in this update is:

 4 new short stories in the "Stories" section:

 -"Downtown Train"

 -"Snakes and Arrows"

 -"Poison in Power"


 -10 new pics from me in the Gallery

 -14 new fanarts

 -1 new pic in the Mecha section.

 I'm making a positive effort to make sure updates come at a faster clip than they have been. I certainly hope you stop by and like what you see.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MAD MEN 6.7--"Man With A Plan"

A city built upon delusions: New York. There, many ad execs who believe that angst is power, fight battles that happen entirely in a one (and occasionally two) hour block every Sunday night for about 13 weeks at a time. They are the Advertising Sentai: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough and their story isn't over yet!

 Man, last week was pretty eventful, wasn't it? Fresh off burning Jaguar and alienating everyone then going after Chevrolet and merging his agency with Ted Chaough's just to get it. Of course, this is all in pursuit of advertising the Chevy Vega, so it's pretty much still a poisoned chalice, but as I said last week--Mad Men doesn't usually jump ahead like this until the end of the season, so let's see what the fallout is likely to be from last week!


 "It took 40 minutes to find out no one knows shit about margarine."

So in the wake of the SCDP/CGC merger, there are a lot of growing pains--even with two floors, moving two agencies together is causing no end of friction. Not that everyone's coming along for the ride--Bert Peterson gets fired yet again (and Roger takes a right sadistic pleasure in it--not the ONLY time I'll say this tonight) and everything's getting shuffled around.It's a troubled marriage already--cliques are being formed and new dynamics are causing some friction (Ted Chaough runs the creative side of things with a lighter touch than Don--getting them together to brainstorm about margarine, for God's sake.) Peggy's still not sure where she fits in--she doesn't seem to like the effect that Don's drunken brainstorming session has on Ted and there's a definite difference in approach between the two of them--Ted likes things rigorously systematized and Don likes for sudden bursts of innovation to happen.

 Their relationship--confounding and confusing, is a microcosm of what's going on as the merger keeps on--Ted feels like Don's sizing him up more than they're actually doing any work. It's not helped that Ted's tolerance for getting his drank is dwarfed by Don. Peggy gives Don shit for trying to turn Ted into another one of him and they fall into a not-encouraging, yet familiar pattern.

 On the plus side, Roger and Cutler are Accounts Bros now. They're getting along great.

 Oh, and Ted is a pilot. Given the title of the next episode, this is a worrying association.

 Meanwhile, Pete has discovered that it can always get worse. In the wake of losing Vicks thanks to being an utter dicknuts. This has the knock-on effect of marginalizing him at the office to the point where he can't even get a chair at a meeting. To add injury to insult, his mother's going senile and has apparently gone well down the path of getting into "crazy cat lady" territory. Pete handles this with the sensitivity you would think he would--he's an unbearable asshole to her and confounds her willingly. I suppose one could say it's an unpleasant reminder for him that his life is disconnecting around him and he no longer has any place within it, but I think it's more than he's a massive douche who is getting what he deserves. If you scorch the Earth in every direction it's a bit difficult to hang onto much of anything, seeing as how you've already burned it to the ground.

 Meanwhile Joan is sick, and it seems like it could be some serious shit--recurring pain, throwing up in her office. This led to some alarming speculation, but apparently it was just an ovarian cyst. The more important news was that Bob, the Phantom of Accounts, actually did something of import to the plot in ensuring she got to the hospital. Joan assumes it's because he was fretting over his job since the axe is swinging in all directions, but her mother's not so sure. In return for her yeoman work, Joan covertly saves Bob's job.

 Here's to new alliances, I guess.

 The Don and Sylvia thing also sees some motion this week in that she and Don embark on what could only be described as a continuing s/m relationship with Don laying down the law to her and holing her up in a hotel room. This isn't really news--hes been doing this kinda thing off and on as far back as Bobbie Barrett, but it's the first time he's been this overt about it. One wonders if this isn't an attempt to assume some control over some facet of his life given all the tumult with the merger.

 In any event, this doesn't work out all that well, as after a few days of being humiliated, Sylvia's Catholic guilt and shame reasserts itself and she breaks it off. Don looks astonished that this could be a thing that is happening to him ("why" is a question that strains the limits of human credibility) and puts up a brave front and tries to go back to Megan and pretend everything's great. He does somewhat less of a sterling job in that regard.

 And then Robert Kennedy gets shot and things get worse. So, the answer to the question I was pondering since last week is that the merger doesn't fix very much--it rattles some cages, causes the dynamic to wobble dramatically, and seems to lead to everyone simmering in their own resentments more than a bit. I wondered elsewhere if the notion of putting CGC and SCDP in the same boat was getting the ship righted or putting two sinking ships into a bigger sinking ship. It's not looking good so far.

  And that's it for this week! Join us next week when Harry Crane's sideburns take on a malevolent sentience, Pete tells the world that if he could have only one food the rest of his life it would be cherry-flavoured Pez, and Don develops a fetish for Belgian waffles. All this and so much more is absolutely guaranteed not to happen in the next thrilling episode of Mad Men, entitled, "The Crash."  With a title like that, it's sure to be the feel-good hit of the season!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

MAD MEN 6.6--"For Immediate Release"

 MAD MEN--A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Don Draper, a sexy, inscrutable womanizer stricken with permanent ennui in a world of social and political upheaval. He also doesn't have a talking car (alas) and this this where my homage falls apart. Anyways--welcome once again to the halfway point of our coverage of Mad Men's penultimate season. Last week, we crossed a a major threshold into 1968 as our gang dealt with the fallout of the assassination of Martin Luther King (which, among other things, gave us another splendid moment of perfect assholery--seasoned with indirect racism-- by Harry Crane) Henry Francis explored the notion of running for state Senate, Don and Bobby fucked off from the main plot to take in Planet of the Apes, and Peggy contemplated buying an apartment. What awaits us this week? There's no time like the present to learn about the past!


 "It was mutually-assured destruction"

 The big news of the week is helpfully in the first scene--apparently Pete and Joan are scheming to take SCDP public, which would net them quite a huge amount of cash for their shares, but before that happens, they have to get Don on board (who's being kept in the dark, not unlike how they froze him out of the Jaguar thing) Pete, in his usual irritating douchebag way, is acting like his conquered the world already, even though it's far from a done deal and tries to use that confidence to get back in with Trudy on one of his rare visits home, in a way that allows him to be both creepy and an asshole. Plus, I have to look at Pete in his boxer shorts. Thanks for that, Mad Men.

 There's all sorts of stuff swirling around however, that could screw this IPO thing up--for one thing, there's an ominous meeting with Jaguar that is sure to involve the fallout from Don intentionally blowing up Herb the Jagoff's plan to get the ad money funneled his way. This comes to a head at a ghastly dinner with Ghastly herb and his ghastly wife (leavened only by Marie viciously tearing them down in French--at last, her passive-aggressive viciousness is actually used for good) Don, however, decides to be more overt and when Herb springs his next idea on him (planting one of his guys in on creative so they can better pivot SCDP's efforts in his direction) Don burns the whole thing down by telling Herb to shove it. Whole Herb does have a point that the customer is always right, Don can't see past the utter awfulness that was done to get Jaguar and has (one gets the impression) looking for an excuse to scorch the earth between them.

 This has the side effect of torpedoing the IPO and Don incurs he wrath if Pete (because he stole his thunder and ruined his Big Moment) and Joan, who speaks truth to Draper (as Peggy did) that he always thinks of himself first and everyone else . . .well, never, and  that his asshole grandstanding meant what she did, she did for nothing.

 But as the Chinese say, in crisis there is opportunity as well, and Roger has been diligently working to secure a new client, and that client is Chevrolet (which CGC is also trying for, but more on that later)  who has a new car they're trying to launch to compete with Ford's Mustang.  Being that it's more important than ever that they get it (and it's only going to get worse) Don manfully steps up to the plate to secure it.

 Then things get worse. Owing to seeing his father-in-law in the same whorehouse HE frequents, His father-in-law cuts Vick's Chemical out of SCDP, and when Pete goes to confront him, he utterly eviscerates Pete for being unworthy of his daughter and just a real shitheel. He's uh, not wrong. His father in law implores him to do the right thing, and Pete, being Pete, dimes out his father-in-law to Trudy because Pete wouldn't know the right thing if he woke up in bed with it.

Meanwhile, Abe's dream of living in a hip multicultural part of town is going as well as you'd expect one of Abe's ideas to go--people defaecate on the stairs up to their apartment and Abe is incapable of hammering a nail without causing himself injury. Peggy seems to be in a permanent state of quiet exasperation.Peggy's hallucinating getting all up ons Ted Chaough, which may or may not be the paint fumes, or the tipping point with Abe (who says 1968 is going to be hunky-dory for here on in, proving that left or right, NO ONE is really good at seeing the face of 1968 to come) Peggy liked Ted a lot because he's not Don, who she's worked for and liked it so much she moved over to CGC. Peggy will have a sudden attack of irony in a bit.

 OK, back to CGC and the Chevrolet thing. They're tying themselves in knots over it and we meet the other third of the Cutler, Gleason and Chaough partnership--Cutler, who's suffering from pancreatic cancer (I don;t know why you say "hello," I saw "goodbye") Cashing Cutler out will cripple their company if they don't have Chevy's car (having thrown Alfa Romeo overboard to get it) CGC and SCDP are very much in parallel positions--everything is balanced on a hair, and given that CGC and SCDP are both small agencies fighting it out with the big guys (see the Heinz thing earlier this season) More on that . . .right now.
 Thing is, when everything's balanced on a hair, and there's nothing left to lose, there are two choices. You blow everything up (as Pete did with his family, Dr. Rosen quitting his job, and Don did with Jaguar) or, seized with a crazy idea that just might work, you roll the hard six.

 Just as Don did at the end of Season 3, when he didn't want to work for McCann, he springs an idea at a despondent Ted Chaough. They're both tired of being small fry agencies, manipulated by the bigger agencies to get their creative so they can give it to larger firms.

 Don has an idea--why don't they merge?

 And they do. They get Chevrolet, they merge and two former rivals are now side by side and Peggy's back with Don, which may or may not be a good thing. Peggy's reaction to the news is utter shock, as you might imagine. Draper kept his word that he'd spend the rest of his life trying to hire her, and Peggy's attempt to get away from him has drawn her back in.

 There's hope and fear, because while they scored a big win and did something extraordinary . . .things are still uncertain and they're still hanging on the abyss . . .there's just some more company, and a lot more days in a very perilous year yet to come.

 There was a LOT to unpack in this episode. The notion of destruction--due to pride, or fear, or anger, or spite--the idea of tearing people apart and setting people against people on the one hand, the idea of making peace with your perpetual rivals to stave off imminent destruction on the other, and the idea of getting back in bed with the people you've been desperate to flee. I'm kinda shocked this didn't get held back for a season finale, so much heavy-gravity stuff happened. I now have no idea how things are gonna play out for the remaining seven episodes.

  And that's all for this week. Join us next week when Peggy makes a playhouse in a refrigerator box, Joan can't stop making Japanese lanterns, Roger is endlessly fascinated with a spinning button on a string, and Pete won't stop huffing mucilage. None of this arts and crafts mania straight from the World Book's "Make and Do" volume is likely to happen in our next thrilling episode, entitled: "Man with a Plan." It's sure to be a tasteful mix of the 60's, 70's, 80's and today!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

IRON MAN WEEK #9--Iron Man 3 (2013)

 The good news is it's much better than Iron Man 2, which was a muddled mess that pretended most of the first movie never happened. The plot's clearer and easier to follow, the action is actually pretty well-realized, and while I dreaded having three Iron Man comic refs in the movie that I utterly hate (Extremis! The Mandarin! The woefully stupid Iron Patriot!) it didn't grate on me too bad.

 The bad news is, it's not very good, and indeed, barely an Iron Man film.  Trying to build a movie around the importance of Tony Stark and Pepper's Potts' relationship is never going to work, because they have the phoniest love affair in a movie brimming with phony shit (I believed in the notion of the genetic whatever stuff they injected you with that let you grow back limbs and burn people or whatever more than any of their scenes together) and despite the movie trying mightily to sell me on how theirs is a True Love, I didn't buy it any more here than I did in the other movies they've been in.

 I'd be willing to let that slide if the movie moved along a little more briskly, but then there's that interlude in Tennessee with the cute kid, which stops the movie totally dead and it never quite gets its momentum back. The movie seems to want to have this come across as very emotional even if it's kidding it at every opportunity, but since it never commits one way or another, it feels more like they're just killing time.Plus, the kid is pretty much just a ball of "cute kid" cliches and never really becomes his own character.

 The villains are a mixed bag. I know a lot of people have whined about the twist with the Mandarin, but in all honesty, I loved that part--the Mandarin totally sucks and was used appropriately. The other two bad guys don't make much of an impression (mostly because the movie is too busy trying to set up a big third-act reveal to give them the requisite amount of character for it to be the SHOCKING SWERVE it's supposed to be) but I'm sure the brief for the third movie was "look, do whatever, just make sure it's not another guy in an Iron man-like suit again this time," and in that, it succeeded.

 The final battle with the multiple armour suits is OK in theory, but it never quite opens up and becomes as awesome as it should be and soon devolved into "Stark fights a guy, suit gets damaged, he hops into another suit, lather, rinse, repeat." The out of armour action sequences are actually pretty good and have some really clever bits in there, but the movie doesn't seem all that determined to apply the same sort of imagination to the armour combat sequences.

 So in all, it doesn't make the mistakes Iron Man 2 did, but makes a whole bunch of new ones instead, plus it's an Iron Man movie which is trying really hard to be something other than an Iron Man movie, so while it wasn't wrong footed enough for me to hate it, I can;t say I'm any any hurry to re-watch it again.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Sometimes, just when you think you have nothing to say and you're plotting your exit strategy from writing about comics, a hardcover sale happens and there comes to be something you wanted to talk about after all.

This is one of those times.

"Now let my ensuing explosion rock both heaven and hell . . .both yesterday and tomorrow."

 Looked at more than 20 years later, X-Cutioner's Song is one of the more favourably remembered of the big X-Crossovers (Age of Apocalypse being the other) and is also, more or less, the first of a new generation of crossovers across the X-line.

 Not that there hadn't been X-crossovers before--there had been since 1987 at least, every summer. But those were usually spearheaded by one writer or one lead writer and not necessarily shaped by editorial. X-Cutioner's Song is like them, only very different, because X-Cutioner's Song has the fingerprints of editorial all over it. This is unapologetically a comic planned by committee to run as efficiently as is humanly possible.

 So far who cares,I hear you asking. Well X-Cutioner's Song is worth looking at because of it's place in history. Y'see, X-Cutioner's Song is the final recovery of a fumble Marvel had been suffering under since most of their star X-Men artists decamped to Image.

 For those of you who came in late: About a year before this time, there'd been this big re-alignment of the X-Books, which coincided with Jim lee and Rob Liefeld et al being at their peak of popularity. They all got re-launched books with brand-spanking new variant covers that pumped up the sales numbers and while they were pretty much all shallow spectacle, they sold like golden hotcakes, and they could literally write their own ticket at Marvel.

 Then they found out they could write another, bigger, ticket at Image, and them Marvel was left holding the bag with four titles, three of which didn't have big artists to draw (no pun intended) anymore, and since they'd been writing the books (*ahem* sorta . . .) as well, the books were now pretty well cut adrift.

 Essentially, Marvel had been pantsed, especially as they'd just been thumping their chests about the big summer crossover that they had in the works called "Sins of the Father." No one knew what it was about, but given that they three biggest artists in comics were working on it, it was going to be huge.

 Until of course, they weren't and it wasn't. Scrambling desperately for something to fill that block of time, they moved like lighting and so, X-Cutioner's Song was born, and quickly.

 "Let their wills be forged in the stoking flames of Armageddon."

 It was decided they'd use this forced course-correction as a way to wind up some rogue subplots banging around from the big line-wide shakeup last year, specifically a throwaway bit Rob Liefeld did in New Mutants #100 wherein it was revealed that under his ridiculous helmet, armoured bad guy Stryfe looked exactly like unarmoured good guy Cable. I doubt very much Liefeld had an explanation for it--it was just a cool way to button a series and hype people up for X-Force, but Marvel never met a continuity backwater it wouldn't strip-mine, so there it is. Cable, for his part, also had a few loose plot threads to tie up--namely, it had been heavily suggested he was Cyclops' son sent forward into the future to battle Apocalypse, because Cyclops is an awful, awful human being and fails miserably at the sort of thing you and I succeed at casually.

 That was the plan. anyway.

 Taking the field to make this twelve-issue (four issues per month for three months) were Scott Lobdell (who'd managed to be the last person standing after 4-5 people flaked out before him) and Brandon Peterson on Uncanny X-Men, Peter David and Jae Lee on X-Factor, and, side by side with Greg Capullo on X-Force and Andy Kubert on X-Men, and writing prose so purple it could have been a damn Prince album, Fabian Nicieza.

 "I hold the shiny silver quarter. It catches the devil's light just so."

X-Cutioner's Song doesn't need to be 12 issues--it really doesn't. But it doesn't drag either, because there's usually a lot of frenetic action in every single issue so there's never really a moment when people are sitting around for a whole issue waiting for something to happen. This rather schizophrenic melange means that some things don't quite make a lot of sense, like the whole point of the story.

 The plot is this: Stryfe. who looks like Cable, shoots Professor X, which then frames Cable and X-Force for the crime. Meanwhile, Apocalypse's flunkies kidnap Cyclops and Marvel Girl, but it's not Apocalypse, it's Mister Sinister (one notes with some amusement that X-Cutioner's Song could easily have been retitled "Three Villains With Unclear Motivations Do Stuff That Makes Little To No Sense For Twelve Issues.") After fighting each other for awhile, X-Force teams up with X-Factor and the X-Men and they fight the Mutant Liberation Front (the job guys of the X-Men universe for the past 2 years) Stryfe stuff baby food down Cyclops' throat and gets all emo with him and Marvel Girl, then suddenly decides to go beat the tar out of Apocalypse in a way that's supposed to explain everything but doesn't, Apocalypse cures Professor X, then everyone goes to the moon to fight Stryfe, and it all boils down to Cable punching Stryfe through a hole in space-time because even Cable was sick of Stryfe being emo.

 The payoff for the whole thing was supposed to have been this: Stryfe was Cyclops' son, sent to the future and raised by Apocalypse, who subsequently went renegade and rebelled against Apocalypse and came back in time because of reasons. Cable was his clone who also fought against Apocalypse like Stryfe but for different reasons, and came back in time to stop Stryfe, because of reasons the writers never really seemed to be all that good about staying clear on.

 All would be revealed, they promised, and of course, they backpedaled on it. Cable couldn't be the clone. partly because having a franchise character be a clone would just be stupid and not the kind of thing Marvel would ever do, and mostly because Cable was getting his own book that fall.

 Plus, the idea of Stryfe torturing his own mother and father (more or less) for a few issues might have been too dark for the early 90's That, and the fact that whoever Cyclops' son was, one of them was going to be a clone created from someone who born from Cyclops and another clone and at some point it just becomes this ridiculous Russian doll situation, doesn't it?

 So yeah, by the end of all this, the actual payoff that was promised never comes--with things turned around, nothing Stryfe does makes any sense at all, and at best this only muddles Cable's origins to the point where he'd The Continuity Headache That Walks Like A Man, Cylcops looks like even more of an ineffectual asshole, and hey guys--there's Havok! So the whole ending, even with Stryfe's parting gift of Mutant AIDS (no, really--that's not a joke) the whole thing collapses five minutes after you close the book.

 And in this way would set the tone for all the 90's crossovers to come--promising beginning, competent middle, bait and switch ending.  Whether it be "Bloodties," "Age of Apocalypse," "Phalanx Covenant," "Onslaught," or "Operation: Zero Tolerance," one could be sure that the destination was never quite the one promised when you struck out on the trip.

 "Let the final moves be made. Let time determine the righteousness of my path."

 But I come not to bury X-Cutioner's Song, but to praise it. Despite it's muddled finish and air of general cacophany, it has tremendous energy and everyone does a great job with their parts. Brandon Peterson provides some slick page layouts full of crisp detail, Andy Kubert makes people look completely feral when fighting for their lives, Jae Lee does some interesting things with shadow and negative space in the X-Factor issues that give the rare quiet bits some moody introspection, and Greg Capullo's action scenes are so kinetic they flip the comic from portrait to landscape. It has the courage of it's "crazy action movie" convictions, and thus, I find it difficult to reject it our of hand.

 The real winner for me, and (in my copy of the HC) the crown jewel is the gimmicks. When shipped to stores, every issue of X-Cutioner's Song came with a card featuring some of the main characters of the crossover (and stumblebums like the MLF and the Dark Riders) with text on the back that supposedly came from Stryfe, written in character (and, had this been published ten years after it was published, could have been excerpts from his Livejournal) and they are glorious. You may have noticed I've been using bits from them to transition topis in this essay.

 I'm sure Fabian Nicieza (who I figure wrote all of these) meant that this supplementary material would help flesh out Stryfe's motivations a bit. It doesn't. It does, however, give him even more opportunities to be utterly drama-queeny:

 "The final move. White king against black king. Yet here, nothing but grey reigns supreme.Shades of grey, of uncertainty, confusion, anger, love and hate.

 Shades of me.

Shades of you.

Shades of them."

  Stryfe? BIG Linkin Park fan, I'm guessing. He was from the future, y'know.

 The cards even got their own comic. Stryfe's Strike File was published a little while after and for those of us who hadn't gotten enough goofy purple prose from the original cards got all that, plus a couple of teasers for plot developments to come, plus two characters (Holocaust and Threnody) who didn't debut for another two years and when they did, were completely different to how they were portrayed here.

 It's pretty zany, and like X-Cutioner's Song, is an ideal slice of early 90's kitsch--a brief little moment of Peak Comics before the dark times came along and everyone spent the next fifteen years acting like this kind of stuff didn't happen and we were all very embarrassed when forced to admit it.

 X-Cutioner's Song is an almost real-time account of the great post-Image course correction over at Marvel. rather than depend on "hot" artists to move books, they would instead, enter a state of permanent crossover, wherein if they weren't in the middle of a multi-part crossover, they were building to the next one post-haste. In short, sell the story, not the storytellers, and sell the story in multiple profitable bits and pieces to keep the money rolling in.

 Naturally, being wiser after the event and far more mature and considerate of our audience, they don't do that sort of purely mercenary nonsense anymore.