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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

MAD MEN 6.5--"The Flood"

If it's Sunday at ten o'clock, that can only mean it's time once again for Mad Men, our weekly sojourn into the world of 1960's advertising, ennui, sideburns, and horribly patterned jackets. Last week was another thigh-slapper of an episode, featuring Joan giving Harry Crane the DEATH STARE, Harry Crane being an asshole, Don being an cheating asshole, Pete being a repulsive asshole, and Megan looking sad and weepy. Oh, and in an attempt to score the Heinz Ketchup account, SCDP wagered what they had of their business and lost.

 What exciting thing does this week's episode hold? Let's find out!


 "Don't do anything stupid"
 "It's too late--I'm going to Harlem in a tuxedo."

 It looks like things are going to go one way--it's time for the Ad Club of New York's awards ceremony and Megan's up for an Award as is Peggy (and their respective agencies are given a seat somewhere in New Jersey, apparently) and things seem set up for a really ghastly evening full of sublimated tension, when the news drops--Martin Luther King has been shot. Needless to say, this stops the world dead in its tracks (though not so much that Pete can't be an asshole about--some things can't be put on hold.

 Proving how unusual this episode is, Bobby actually gets a subplot to himself (not a big one, but when they remember a Draper child other than Sally, it's well worth noting) wherein he's completely aggravated by an uncertain world and wallpaper that doesn't line up (in what must be said is a rather laboured metaphor for the events of the episode and those promised) but I did get a kick out of he and Don going to see Planet of the Apes. Meanwhile, a whole season after all of this got set up, Ginsburg actually gets a follow-up on his subplot, as his Topol-esque father sets him up on a blind date, and Ginsburg, ever eager not to play to stereotypes, Woody Allens his way through the whole thing. I'm sure these kinds of things endear Ginsburg to some people, but . . .dear Lord, it's like the greatest stereotypes of yesterday and today and there's not much character to it.

 The death of MLK leads to an interesting ripple effect--given most of the characters are trapped in a city that's threatening to blow itself apart (in a country equally close to blowing apart) Pete calls Trudy, and you get a sense that it took the upheaval of an assassination for him to get how badly he screwed thing up with Trudy, but contrition or not, she's not having it (and good on her) Pete looks shattered after she hangs up on him, trapped om a city busy burning itself down. This leads to him getting really pissed off that Harry's main source of upset about the whole business is they're losing TV ads, which gets on Pete's nerves to the extent that he straight-up calls him a racist (which Harry doesn't exactly make a case against--he's now two for two with being an unbearable dicknuts on a weekly basis) and Bert has to keep it from exploding into a straight-up fist-fight.

 Meanwhile, our other "favourite" peripheral characters are happy to get in on the jerk-assery as well--Megan's dad thinks it's splendid news, which Megan summarizes as "I'm so sick of his Marxist bullshit." Betty decides to needle Don about not picking up the kids and forcing him to drive through Harlem because the one thing Betty Draper can not afford to have is a sense of proportion. Also, her with black hair is really weird. But things are going well-ish for her, as this whole thing has really lite a fire under Henry's hard-line conservatism and he's setting his sights on a seat in the state Senate. He also thinks that the MLK thing is as bad as it's going to be. The lesson here is DON'T put a lot of faith in Henry Francis' predictions if you know . . .anything . . .about 1968.

 Oh, before I forget, Roger's prospective client--Randall the insurance agent--was a ray of sunshine in a very bleak episode, as he both acted like he'd wandered in from a David Lynch movie and is completely insane. The scene where Roger, Don, Stan, and Ginsburg have to listen to him rattle off his batshit idea and chant like Tecumseh. Don looked even more exasperated than he did when he and Megan were being scouted for some swinging action. It was sublimely hilarious.

 Oh, and Peggy's appalled that he rental agent would use the race riots as an excuse to try to underbid for her prospective apartment, but not so much that she doesn't try it out anyway. They don't get it, and Abe's not much help, as that would get in the way of his insufferable effete liberalism, and proposes they try for something in the west 80's.

 In the wake of all this and the fact that Don has tried to cope with this by crawling into a bottle and retreating (you can kinda see as he might do, given the last time a major seismic event like this happened--the Kennedy assassination--his life fell apart around him) and he finally tells Megan why--he's not really sure he loves his kids all the time, and hates himself for pretending in the moments in between. Megan looks a little appalled, but given that Betty doesn't seem to love her kids at all (that would, after all, require emotion, and Dr. Soong hasn't installed her chip yet), Don's kind of the least worst parent by default, if nothing else.

 This was a pretty heavy episode, and I was pleased they didn't really beat the MLK event into the ground. This was more about the fractures that happen in the wake of something like that and where they point the characters in the wake of something like this. Don gets pushed inward, Henry gets ambitious, Pete has a macrocosm event that sheds a light on what a mess he made of the microcosm of his home life, and Peggy's just trying to find her way through. Oh, and Randall went utterly batshit crazy.

 Big events change people, and the big events are just getting started.

 And that's all for this week. Join us next week when Roger, Don, and Bert decide to open up a pet store as a front for a ring of burglaries, Joan nets the coveted Johnnie Walker Black account because she ordered it, and Peggy can't stop playing with Tinkertoys. All of these things are guaranteed NOT to happen in seven days in a little tale they're calling "For Immediate Release." It'll be "fun!"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

MAD MEN 6.4--"To Have And To Hold"

 In 1963, a crack advertising firm was sent to New York by a series of economic factors for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from being bought by McCann Advertising and escaped back to Madison Avenue. Today, still sought after by many clients, they survive on clients like Jaguar, 1960s-era angst, and meaning gazes into the middle distance. If you have a problem, if you need something sold, maybe you can hire . . .THE MAD MEN

 [Shame on you, Internet, for not having a Youtube of Mad Men in the style of the "A-Team" intro for me to slot in here. However, feel free to imagine it being here and being totally awesome.]

 Last week was a pretty grim episode, wasn't it? I mean, sure, it has the awesomeness of having Trudy utterly humble Pete in ways that even the Iron Sheik wouldn't unleash on someone, and Don torpedoing Herb the Jagoff's attempt to get all the ads to feature him, but . . .yeah. Bleak stuff, even for Mad Men.

This week, the title of the episode is "To Have and To Hold," which is the title of the soap that Megan's on. Does this mean something? Let's find out.


 "We're sitting here waiting for the phone to ring: this IS high school."

 We open with that rarest of things--a continuing plot thread from last week (this early, it's quite the thing) Pete and Don have a clandestine meeting (in Pete's hellaciously depressing apartment in the city) with the Heinz Ketchup rep from last week--the one that the Bean rep lost his shit about in an epic "If you so much as look at him, I'll kill all three of us" wobbly. They make plans to work in secret on a spec project to woo Heinz to SCDP, and Don puts Stan in a windowless room to work on the campaign, which so far seems to be Don and Stan hitting a joint and debating what a hot dog really wants on it.

 This leads to another baller-move Draper presentation, followed quickly by Peggy's presentation (so much for secrecy) and a wonderful scene where Draper's crew sits with Peggy's crew and learns they've both lost, and even though they're rivals, there's a quiet moment of understanding between the two of them--as small firms, they fight over the scraps.

 Well, right before Ken Cosgrove comes in and tells them their secret project has cost them the Heinz beans. Nothing wagered, nothing gained, but a little wagered and everything's lost.

 That might be important later.

 Meanwhile, Joan gets a visitor--Kate (who I think was her roommate from way back in Season 1? I may be wrong there) She's repping for Mary Kay, but planning to interview with Avon because women competing with women is really rough. This is contrasted with Joan, who's now a partner at SCDP (with all the gnashing of teeth the memory of that entails) and Joan's mom--who, you'll recall spent most of Season 4 punching holes in her boat is actually proud of her, because she has money and power.

 Think on that--we'll come back to it a little later. In the meantime, take a shot of Johnnie Walker.

 Meanwhile, Dawn (Don's secretary that they hired to take the curse off being construed as racist last season) gets a subplot, which is pretty stunning on its own, but more for the knock-on effect. She punches fellow secretary Scarlet's time card so she can skip out on five hours worth of work, and this draws the attention of Joan, who inflicts her DEATH STARE on both of them, forces out the truth, and she fires Scarlet on the spot, threatening to do the same to Dawn.

 Unfortunately, Scarlet's Harry Crane's secretary and fuck-buddy and this touches off Harry Crane's molting from "homunculus with ridiculous sideburns" to "Omega-level asshole" and he storms into a meeting of the partners, demanding a partnership, as he's just dreamed up an  idea to help Dow Chemical (who SCDP DID get it seems) to prop up their sagging image, as it's been suffering given that they're y'know, dumping napalm on people at this time in history. The trouble is, baller moves like that are beyond Harry's ken, and he's not quite smart enough to know that, and continues to run his mouth even after he gets a fat commission check threatening that he's going to fuck off an ply his trade elsewhere. Cooper dismisses his theatrics with laser-guided insults and Roger manages to up even his usual level of withering contempt.

  Joan, meanwhile, is done with this shit, and the only thing you can do when that happens is a girl's night out. So she and Kate go to a single's bar, then another, which primarily consists of drinking and picking up guys, and Joan looks rather OVER the whole damn thing. This culminates in a great scene where, the day after, Joan and Kate are talking about where Joan in and how Kate admires her. Joan, knowing what got her there, doesn't see anything special about what she's done or where she is, but Kate tells her it's there--it's available, and she can take it.

 That might be important later.

 But hey, that soap opera thing with Megan? She's got a big role and a love scene, which weirds Don out a bit, but not as much as when a dinner with Megan's work friends turns into an invitation to an orgy. Don's expression is pretty damn priceless as they stammer out a polite declination, but it's just a hilariously awkward scene. Don doesn't swing that way, it seems.

 It would get in the way of his cheating, after all. He accosts Sylvia in the elevator and hits the "stop" switch (Can you DO that in elevators without getting in trouble? Because they do it on TV all the time) and they make plans for some canoodling. There is an added layer of irony in the fact that Megan is playing at having an affair while Don is having an affair.

 Irony, however, is something that happens to other people, and Don is an asshole about it, all but calling Megan a whore for kissing guys for money . . .and then Don tottles off and bangs Sylvia, who at least gets a pointed shot at Don by saying she prays for him to find peace. Good luck sister--that search has been on for years now.

 This was a pretty good episode, and felt a lot more thematically "together" than most episodes this early in the season. Joan's story was touching and sad and paralleled Don's--like him, it seems she's never happy even when she has what she "wanted." Megan's not happy because she can't make Don happy and the firm can;t be happy with Heinz baked beans, and lose everything when they get greedy.

 Again, that might be important later.

 And that's it for this week. Join us next week when Pete takes up playing with Tinkertoys, Roger can't stop making Devil's Mountain with his mashed potatoes, and Bert Cooper drops acid and insists that everything be bolted down and would you please use the chains this time. All this and more is guaranteed NOT to happen in the next exciting episode, "The Flood." Wear your hip waders!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

MAD MEN 6.3--"The Collaborators"

 It's time once again for Mad Men! One of the most highly-regarded television shows of our time by some, an excuse for good-looking people to look mopey and broody to others and for the person who writes this blog, a handy and reasonably easy excuse to have regular content on Sunday nights. Last week--Betty suggested her husband get in on a little rape, Don thought about Death, went to Hawaii and came home and banged Lindsay Weir and Peggy cracked the whip in an effort to sell headphones and everyone looks hideous because it's 1968 and facial hair and ridiculous jackets stalk our land like two giant stalking things. This week, it's still 1968, and what are our people up to? Let's find out!


 "He's demanding the unreasonable. How does that make him any different from anyone else who walks through that door?"

 Our story begins with Pete and Trudy entertaining the folks back in the suburbs. The guys flirt with Trudy, because despite Community not being invented for nearly 50 years, they know what they like, and they like what they see. Meanwhile, Pete, resplendent in a jacket that makes me think 1868 is the year fashion gave up and went home early, sets up a rendezvous in his apartment in the city.

 This is paid off with a scene with Don making time to go bang Lindsay Weir again. Apparently, the notion that Don and Megan was going to have dinner with the doctor and his wife got his loins in a tizzy, and so he goes to her apartment for a quick tumble.

 This leads to a rather telling moment during their pillow-talk, when Don flashes back to the day his mom dropped him off at a whorehouse (which, this being Depression-era, is about as sexy as dying of scurvy) and the man of the house laying down the law about how it is. It's a small scene, yet explains so much, as does the follow-up scene at the end of the episode. Don is deeply fucked up. In other news--water is wet and fire is hot. Keep breathing.

 During the pillow talk, meanwhile Lindsay (OK, her name's Sylvia, but I only really know her from Freaks & Geeks) and Don grapple with the guilt they feel over what they're doing. Don tries to talk about it in his favourite terms--"It never happened." But unlike before, when drawing a line under the past promised a new beginning and a new outlook, now Don uses it is a blanket excuse to escape and do what he wants to do.

 It's like he's become Bobbie Barrett. He enjoys being bad, then being good when he's home. Lindsay even says he seems to enjoy not only the sex, but the fact he's putting one over on Megan and the doctor guy. 

 The notion of lying and lying to oneself to keep the Jenga tower of lies you build from falling over is further underlined when Megan confesses to Sylvia that she's miscarried, and what's more, given what being on maternity leave could do to her career, she's not all that sorry it went down that. And yet she is. Sylvia tries the whole "you wouldn't be a good person if you didn't feel bad despite how hard you're trying to tell yourself that you don't feel bad" spiel, which only seems to make Megan sadder, and causes her to bow out of the dinner.

 Meanwhile, Peggy fails once again to get the people working under her to do their best work--too much scaring, not enough encouragement. During a phone call with Stan, he explains to her that it's a bit of an ask to expect the people who work under you to like you (best case scenario, they respect you) During their shop-talking, Peggy tells Ted Chaough about something going on with Heinz at SCDP, which let's talk about right now.

 Don and the boys take a meeting with the guy from Heinz beans, who brought along the head of the ketchup branch. This leads to the beans guy throwing the Ketchup guy out and ranting about how much he hates the ketchup guy and makes a veiled threat that he'll burn his bridges at SCDP before he lets them near ketchup.

Stan tells this to Peggy, who mentions it to Chaough, who parlays it into a meeting with the ketchup guy. This puts Peggy in an uncomfortable position, as this is now her actively hurting SCDP. Chaough reminds her that wars are won through the exchange of secrets (as this is all taking place during the Tet Offensive, war is much on everyone's mind) Peggy at least has the good sense to feel icky about the prospect.

But dear readers, none of that compares with what an appalling ass Pete makes of himself. His little afternoon delight wit the neighbour spirals into a nightmare--her husband beats her and sends her to Pete, and the whole mess comes out in front of Trudy, who's finally had enough of this bullshit (she was willing to accept his philandering, but not fouling their own nest) and throws Pete out. Pete replies with his usual wormy bravado. You know . . .you'd think that when his little dalliance last season needed shock therapy to erase Pete from her brain he would take that as a sign. And yet, you would be wrong.

Meanwhile, things are not so rosy with Jaguar. Herb the icky ass Jaguar rep comes in and tries to brace Joan, who drops him with a precision insult and not all the Bactine in the world will salve that SICK BURN. Herb wants the agency to pitch his Jaguar bosses for more local radio spots highlighting his dealership rather than the marque. Don, hating him, hating what it took to get Jaguar, and hating the whole idea does, in what was the one decent thing he did the whole episode, does a shittier job of selling the Jaguar bosses on Herb's idea than Han Solo did trying to convince the guy on the radio everything was fine in the Death Star jail.

 There's a whole current this episode of secrets being destructive, but secrets being power, and secrets being key to winning the war. Chaugh tells Peggy secrets win wars, Doctor guy tells Don they're losing the war, and Don and Roger liken appeasing Herb to the Munich conference. The notion of secrets being part of war also links up the notion that they're also as destructive as any weapon can be.

 Roger mentions to Don, after his performance, that "[Don] had a choice between war or dishonour and chose dishonour. You still might get war." Pete got his war. Don may yet get his.

 And that's all for this week. Join us next week when Don invents robot pants, Roger does his best to beat the world record for Donkey Kong despite the fact that it hasn't been invented yet, Joan builds a TARDIS, and Bert Cooper learns the secrets of Caste Grayskull at last. All of these things are virtually guaranteed not to happen in an episode they just had to call "To Have and To Hold." C'mon. All the cool kids are doing it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Just Sayin--The News Roundup Edition

 Hi all. Just a brief pop-round in-between Mad Men reviews and not having any new comics to talk about that I might highlight some things that spoke to me in the last couple weeks.

In the recently returning Comics of the Weak, the dynamite duo of Tucker and Abhay pondered the issue of the day with regards to the comics and Abhay weighed in on the whole Rick Remender "Alex Summers ain't down with the word 'mutant' tempest in a teacup that raged across the internet for a couple days and just as swiftly stopped, but not before this little gem from Abhay about how fans and pros interact:

 "Remender denies responsibility, and relentlessly blames comic fans: at first the horrible fans misinterpreting his words, and then the horrible fans who spurred him to tweet in a way that was misunderstood. That’s just comic pro SOP. “None of these characters mean anything! Read all about them!” Comic fans didn’t write that speech– comic fans are only for being pissed on. The blame goes to them, regardless.

Elsewhere, Gavok from 4thletter spells out my problems with the new 52 Captain Marvel/Shazam stuff with an elegant, concise, pointed explanation of it:

 "Post-Flashpoint, the character is simply known as Shazam. He doesn’t have his own series yet, but has appeared in the pages of the current Justice League comic. The big change is that teenaged Billy Batson is a tremendous asshole and only got the power because he told the wizard that pure-hearted people don’t exist and the wizard was just like, “Welp, good enough.” While Black Adam is out there, ready to fight him, Captain Marvel and his buddy Freddy Freeman intend to use his newfound abilities for profit. So far it’s pretty great."

 Obviously, we don't see eye to eye about that last part, but in the interest of proving these aren't all just to parrot my views, I'm leaving it in the quote.

Graeme McMillian, like me, wonders why the hell it's 2013 and we are still meant to give a crap about Hank Pym (non clit-punching scene category)

 "Hank has no central personality traits that the creators who handle him can seem to agree on, and that’s plagued him throughout his existence – It’s also, I’d argue, why his hitting Jan has become the defining fact of his character despite numerous attempts to rehabilitate him; at least it’s something unique that people remember about him outside of “he messes with his size a lot and created Ultron.” But even since then: We’ve seen him suicidal and then come to terms with his position in life, then come to terms with it again and reclaim former identities to express that, and then again and again. Is he the (somewhat jerky, infallible) Scientist Supreme, still, or a (sensitive, emotionally aware) teacher at Avengers Academy?"

   And finally, we end as we began, as Abhay, in part a rather great series of reviews, examines some trends he finds maddening in comics.

 "What is all this, do you think, this insistence upon surrender? Why, this persistent message that to do anything but surrender to the status quo makes one a figure of mockery? What makes comics so eager to trumpet fake heroics, phony, ersatz heroics, but so dismissive of protest, of an actual examples of courage from the least powerful among us? Is it just the particulars of the “creative community” involved, a community that never fought for each other, that routinely betrays its greatest artists, a community whose heroes suffocated communal effort in their womb? Why would we expect any better…? Or is it more than that? Maybe it’s just young people, just youth itself and youth’s silly hopes and impractical dreams of a better tomorrow, that comics find so laughable. Comic books: middle-aged men, to the rescue!"

Sunday, April 7, 2013

MAD MEN 6.01-02 "The Doorway"

 And here we shake off the long hibernation of a moribund time trying to pretend to be a comics blog and failing by returning to Witless Prattle's inexplicably popular traffic-generating reviews of the popular show of the day, now beginning it's penultimate season.

 Last season, things got dark and stayed there. For those of you who came in late, Roger dropped acid, Peggy quit and went on to a new job, Don got his tooth pulled and struggled being married to a young Quebecois with the most splendidly assholish parents in history, Pete got the crap beat out of him twice, and Lane, who beat the crap out of Pete, hung himself, and that wasn't even the saddest thing that happened--that was Joan being pimped out for the Jaguar account (though she was smart enough to work it to where she was made full partner in the firm for it)

 Also, Betty got fat for awhile because the show struggles with what to do with her now and this was a desperate flail at keeping her in orbit. 

 That's what got us here. Let's get ramblin'.


 "One day I'll be the man who can't sleep and talks to strangers."

 We pick up on someone looking over someone else, and, one assumes, is having someone checking his vitals. That gets filled in a bit later, but is only one of the cornucopia of morbidity that erupts. While Don and Megan celebrate their anniversary in glorious Hawaii (a  working vacation for Don featuring more Jessica Pare fanservice than you could zou bisou bisou at) and Don's reading Dante's Inferno, because it's gonna be that kind of season, it seems.

 Stricken by late-night angst, Don wanders down to the bar and runs into a solider on leave from Vietnam, who's come to Hawaii for his wedding. As inevitably happens when confronted by poignant reminders of his real past Don is pretty awkward and aloof, but gets roped into standing in at his wedding, despite committing the unforgivable sin of wearing a crazy-ass late '50s jacket with leis in a way that says "I'm gonna throw up."

This has an ironic echo later on.

 Turns out ever since the commercial, Megan's had a decent amount of success--she's got on a soap opera and is popular enough to be badgered for an autograph whilst on location. She comes back to some frustration, however, when she's given a script for one scene upon her return and it seems she's being put on the bus. Things turn around some when she lucks into the role of being a scheming bitch on a soap opera (really seems like it'd be Betty's thing, but who am I to judge?) and seems to thrive in the role.

 Meanwhile, Betty is . . .odd. She gets a ticket for reckless driving, asks Henry if she wants to rape Sally's new friend Sandy (who gets and almost Ginsbergian level of "Hey! Please care about this new character that we're going to spend ten minutes with") and has a tense conversation with her about her future and Betty's past. It's good they can talk, even after the whole rape thing from before. I tell you what, you stop eating whipped cream right out of the can, and you just go crazy, I guess.

 I'd like to think Betty's bitter because with Cersei Lannister on the scene she's no longer TV's #1 bitch. But that's idle speculation. Meanwhile, Sally is following in the footsteps of her mother and eviscerating people with wildfire sarcasm. It's good to see her come into her own.

 Upon hearing that Sandy's headed off to New York City (in a rather squalid corner of the Village--it's rather gone downhill since Midge's days) and I hope no one was having dinner during that part of the episode. Betty gets confronted with the extreme deprivation there and handles it in her usual "you assholes brought this on yourself" kinda way she gets when people don't give her her way. She dyes her hair dark because that's the best way to deal with feeling disconnected with what's going on in the world, of course.

 Meanwhile, Roger's in therapy now--either the LSD had less than the desired effect, or he's moved on to further vistas of self-improvement in the usual Roger way, which means he's performing in his usual vapid, narcissistic, sarcastic sort of way for his shrink while still complaining about his dwindling options. When later confronted with the fact of his long-lived mother's demise, Roger acts about the way you'd expect him to act--bitching about how this will inconvenience him personally.

 This is a set-up for his mother's funeral, which ends as all good funerals should--with Don puking into a garbage can, as he's gotten into a weird, existential drunkenness. Apparently his doorman was the one who collapsed and nearly died and he's kind of fascinated by the notion of dying, having run into the army guy in Hawaii, convinced as he was that married guys live longer. Yeah, ask Greg Harris about that.

 Don's brush with mortality is a lot for him to take, no least because the private's lighter seems to almost follow him, as if it were reminding him that death is not very far away.

 Roger, meanwhile, is grappling with feeling like he's teetering on the abyss. His first wife, Mona, tries to explain to him that people do care about him and he shouldn't disappear up his own backside being so self-centered, and Roger kinda attempts to reconnect, but . . .well, that's a big wall to hurdle. It's not helped by his daughter immediately trying to persuade him to invest in a refrigerated truck scheme.

 Everyone wants something always, it seems.

 Roger finally shatters when he gets one tragedy too many--his shoeshine man dies, and on top of everything and his fears that he's peaked and now his life is only going to be one long series of goodbyes, and everything that's happening seems to be confirming his worst fears.

 Peggy, now in charge at CGC, deals with a crisis--the headphone company she's done a Superbowl ad for, echoing a bit from Julius Caesar, now seems somewhat less than judicious given the war in Vietnam has now given us the indelible image of GI's cutting the ears off Vietcong. To her credit, she's a good deal more diplomatic than she was when Heinz nixed her ad, in that she's not yelling so much, but she hasn't quite mastered veiling her contempt all that much, especially with her almost Don-esque viciousness with her subordinates. Nevertheless, she seems to be thriving in her new job, and that's something to see.

 There's a great moment when, in the throes of crisis mode, Peggy puts it together and comes up with an alternate idea for the headphone ad. Her boss loves it, and speaks glowingly about it.Peggy's really coming into her own, but while she has Don's agility (well, the agility Don usually has) she lacks the wisdom to know when not to drive the help too much. That said, she really did seem to need that career move after all.

 Don, back in his element at the office (now with swank new staircase!) is . . .not in his element anymore. Now he seems a little distant than before, and Pete and the underlings at the office (Good Christ, Stan's beard, Ginsberg's mustache and whatever the hell Harry Crane molted into--late 60's fashion is almost more eerie than Betty's rape-happiness) seem to be more open in their contempt. Given that things seem to be going well for the firm in general (apparently they got Dow chemical after all) the question is was this due to Don or is this kind of thing happening without him and he's drifting into another, more distant, orbit?

 Meanwhile, Don screws up the purpose of his Hawaii trip--the presentation to the client goes rather badly when the ad he suggests doesn't include the hotel and suggests a suicide attempt. Don seems rather flabbergasted that such a thing would occur to anyone, flails about a lot, and even Roger and Pete look on him with withering contempt.

 Given what we discover in the punchline to all this--the relationship with their neighbors, his interest in Dante, and oh yeah, Don's banging his neighbor's wife--they're probably right to be disappointed. Don says he'd like to stop doing this, but feels like he's locked into the things he does.

 As the timeline for this two-hour episode is really fragmented, the episode seems a lot more concerned with asking questions than answering them, which is no great revelation for Mad Men--this early in the season, the writers delight in playing with space, time, and perception. The first act of these seasons always does this kinda thing, then the middle third is short stories featuring the characters before things wrap up by tugging at a few disparate threads. While this may be annoying to folks used to a tightly-plotted arc, Mad Men trusts that you'll be interested enough just seeing the characters interact as things slowly unfold.

 Sometimes it even works.

 And that's all for this week. For you newcomers, I will explain how we do things here--owing to AMC's policy of taking a simple proposition of a "Next time on Mad Men!" and, perhaps in homage to William S. Burroughs or Negativland, cut the thing up into such an incoherent mess as to be utterly opaque. So in general, we just make shit up here as to what happens next week. With that in mind, join us next week as Don declares whoever passes sentence should swing the sword, Pete gets slapped by a midget, and Joan has a lot of names to offer up to the Red God. Join us next week for "The Collaborators." It's a momentary diversion on the road to the grave!