Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thoughts On Random Comics

A few thoughts about comics purchased over the last two weeks:

1. Did Tom Tresser/Nemesis seriously turn down Wonder Woman's offer to mend fences during "a long hot shower?(Issue No. 35)" I've been reading "Wonder Woman" off and on since 1977, and I have never seen her make a proposal quite like that. Not that I'm hating, because I've written before about how previous writers tiptoed around the sexuality of arguably the sexiest character in the D.C. universe. Some readers howled when Diana began her relationship with Metahuman Affairs Agent Tresser, but I thought Gail Simone developed their Amazonian courtship nicely. And when he found out that her original motive was just to keep her bloodline going ... ouch. Diana's attempt to make up Teddy Pendergrass-style was totally unexpected, as was Tresser's "We're through" response. Yeah, like that would really happen.

2. I can't believe I fell for the "Archie proposes to Veronica" gimmick, but like a chump, I bought Archie No. 600, the first of SIX issues devoted to this storyline. There is so much wrong with this comic, including the idea that all the major players would stick around after graduation to attend "State University" in Riverdale. Wouldn't Dilton at least have gotten a full ride at an Ivy League school? Spoilers ahead! So upon college graduation, Archie — despite having no job — blows a check from his parents on a ring for Veronica. Betty (now a New York City career woman) and Jughead just happen to be walking past the jewelry store when Archie pops the question. She's devastated, but can someone explain to me why she wants him to begin with? Again, Archie is unemployed, so Mr. Lodge swoops in to give him a bullshit position at Lodge Enterprises. Meanwhile, Veronica begins planning what is sure to be a tacky production devoted to her ego, complete with 22 bridesmaids. The issue ends with her asking (No, she didn't!) Betty to be her maid of honor, and Betty simultaneously declaring, "You won." There is a genuinely funny panel where Veronica tells her wedding planner that the event can't be "a low-key" affair like the Obama inauguration ball.

3. "Red Robin" started out with promise, but a few things are starting to bug me. It's really not like Tim Drake, even in grief, to run off to Europe on a wild goose chase. I can understand him being pissed off about Dick Grayson's insistence on bringing Damian Wayne into the Bat-fold, but I can't see him cutting ties completely. He and Dick (and Alfred) are awfully close, and why would he give Damian the satisfaction of leaving? Plus, the art in this issue was particularly awful. In some panels, Tim looks like a wiry teenager, which makes sense. In others, he looks like a 30-year-old, which is nuts. I'm giving this title one more chance, and only because I am so fond of the character.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Geeking Out On "Batman and Robin"

My friend S., a fellow comic book geek, refuses to buy Grant Morrison's sublime "Batman and Robin" because, well, he's still smarting from "Final Crisis." I think S. has reached the end of his tolerance for the author's ambitious brand of storytelling, which sometimes comes across as the result of marathon Sharpie-huffing. I admit that there are entire issues of "Final Crisis" that made no sense to me, even after repeat readings.

But "Batman and Robin" is a completely different animal, and it's great stuff. It's only three issues old, but next to "Secret Six," it's become the book I look forward to most each month — even ahead of (gasp) "Wonder Woman." The combination of Morrison's writing and Frank Quitely's art has been just about perfect, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about what happens when Philip Tan steps into the artist's role in issue No. 4. But so far, this book has hit its marks every time. S., are you listening? We'll talk.

This should be obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of Morrison's work, but "Batman & Robin" is not for the children. My 9-year-old son desperately wants to read it, but the just-concluded Professor Pyg storyline — in which a pig-masked nutcase tries to unleash disease-carrying "Dollotrons" throughout Gotham City — is the stuff of effed-up nightmares. Pyg isn't just villanous; he's sick. (Spoiler alert!) There's a series of panels involving an briefly abducted Damian Wayne (Robin), who becomes an audience of one for the professor's creepy cabaret dance. Seriously, at one point, old boy is dropping it like it's hot and ripping off his shirt ("I want to be sick in public!"), which is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen in a mainstream comic book. But Damian — having been raised by assassins and all — is pretty unflappable, and once he gets free and starts kicking everyone's ass, it's clear that the boy can handle himself in extreme situations.

I'm very curious to see how Damian's relationship with Batman/Dick Grayson (swoon!) gels over the months, because their dynamic is different from any previous Batman-and-Robin pairing. There are moments of playfulness (Damian suggests they go by "Robin and Batman"), but there is nothing happy-go-lucky about Bruce Wayne's son. Remember; this is the kid who beheaded a criminal in "Batman and Son" and tried to kill Robin III, Tim Drake. He's a handful for Dick and Alfred, and I suspect Morrison has some big plans for this character's development.

Mr. Tan, good luck to you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bumper Sticker Of The Week

I just happened to have my good camera in the car when I spotted this in front of me on Park Avenue last week. It's sort of clever, but I'm not a fan of advertising your relationship status and mate requirements via bumper sticker. I do wonder what the liberal version of this would be, though.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Giving Away The Skim Milk For Free

Done well, a film trailer can be almost as satisfying as full-length film. Ideally, it captures your attention while giving away just enough information to leave you wanting more. In the case of a flick like "Watchmen," the trailer was apparently far better than the movie it was attached to.

My issues with the average romantic comedy have been well documented here, but I'm always surprised by how bad the trailers are. You'd think the studios would be at least savvy enough to not give the entire plot away. The first time I noticed this was when the trailer for "No Reservations" — the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Aaron Eckhart chefs-in-love movie — aired in 2007. She's a hard-charging chef caring for her dead sister's adorable daughter! He's the fun-loving, hot new guy in the kitchen! Their styles clash, but will he be the one who shows her how to embrace life — and love? Gee, do you think? Unless you're a big fan of either actor, why would you pay 8 bucks or more to see it when the trailer tells you exactly what's going to happen?

Not to harp on Eckhart, who really is an appealing actor, but he's starring in another movie ("Love Happens") that's guilty of giving away most of its milk for free via trailer. He's a successful self-help expert in pain. Enter the beautiful florist who has sworn off men. Can these two wounded souls find love again ... together? For real?

In the same week, I saw the trailer for "All About Steve," in which Sandra Bullock's wacky, unlucky-in-love character stalks a TV cameraman played by Bradley Cooper. OK. I can see stalking Bradley Cooper, and Thomas Haden Church automatically elevates any movie. But I hate it when a trailer indicates that a morally ambiguous character is going to redeem him/herself, and is inspired to do so because of some potential love interest who "isn't like anyone I've ever met." No. Also, major points off for the use of Sara Bareilles "Love Song," which is just insulting.

Maybe the real problem is my suspicion that neither of these movies are going to be very good. Sure, there were some expected moments in the "Sex and the City" movie (Did anyone doubt that Carrie and Big would get back together?), but the journey was satisfying and too complex to be reduced to a two-minute trailer. Give me something to look forward to.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Can't We Be Friends?

When my husband J. and I were dating, he had a great friendship with a single, female co-worker, a woman I liked very much and never thought of as threatening. I also had several good male friends at the time, and one of them routinely hung out with me to watch "Party of Five" or just gab over dinner. If J. thought that was a problem, he never said anything — and he isn't really the type to brood quietly. Come to think of it, we both still have pals of the opposite sex, and our basic attitude remains, "Whatever."

According to comedian Steve Harvey, now a relationship expert/correspondent for "Good Morning America," we are idiots. He is of the opinion that these "outside relationships" are nothing but trouble, and that men and women can't be friends. Period. Occasionally, I've worked with guys who've said that their wives/significant others would not be happy to see them having lunch or coffee (in broad daylight) with a female colleague, and that baffles me. I mean, I think my husband is sexy and fun to be with, but I don't assume that the other women in his life are all trying to get in his boxer briefs. Plus, I'd like to give him a little credit for having these things called boundaries and self-control (Unless the friend in question is Mila Kunis, in which case I've been warned that things could get murky.)

I've always thought that friendship is a form of attraction, and obviously, there are relationships between married people and their "friends" of the opposite sex that end up on a mattress (Hello, Gov. Sanford!). But that doesn't just happen out of the blue, either. Assuming that a) the spouse isn't a lying asshole; b) the marriage isn't already in trouble; c) s/he is conducting the friendship in a respectful, open way; and d) the parties involved aren't fooling themselves about their feelings, I can't buy Harvey's theory. I've known too many great guys to believe that they see women only as potential conquests. When I went through a crummy breakup in college, one of the first people I called was my childhood friend, B., who gave me the kind of no-bullshit analysis men are so good at ("Move on; he has.") We've been friends for more than 30 years and we adore each other's spouses — and we are so not interested in each other that way.

However, if you spot J. having a drink with Mila Kunis, a heads-up would be nice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Seriously. Enough.

I realize that vampires had their fans long before "Twilight," and if I owned a store with any vampire-themed wares, I'd be promoting the heck out of them right now. I totally get it. OK?

But when I walked into Borders this weekend and saw a huge display dedicated to the Gen Y vampires of "Twilight," "Blue Bloods," etc., I was overcome with exhaustion. Maybe it's because, for the umpteenth time this year, the cover of my beloved Entertainment Weekly is devoted to some permutation of the "Twilight" saga — this time, the "New Moon" sequel. Or maybe it's because I can't walk through a checkout aisle without a publication telling me that Robert Pattinson (Edward) and Kristen Stewart (Bella) are in love/breaking up/just pals/totally doing it. And didn't I just see a commercial for the CW's new teen drama "The Vampire Diaries?"

Again, I understand that Stephanie Meyer is but one of several writers who happened to write a series of books about vampires. Hers is the biggest, and she's certainly doing her part to help keep food on booksellers' tables. (And to be fair, when the "Harry Potter" books were at their peak, bookstores were pimping every children's series that looked like JK Rowling might have had something to do with it). "New Moon" will probably be a huge hit this fall, and as I've admitted, I haven't exactly been immune to Pattinson's charms as Edward Cullen. HBO's "True Blood" seems like the kind of show I would love, and I'm looking forward to renting the DVDs and getting acclimated. But for the love of God. I feel we're at the beginning some cosmic shark-jumping moment that will end in a Disney vampire musical featuring songs by Demi Lovato.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thanks For The Memories, John

For all the memorable quotes and scenes in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," one of my favorite parts of the movie is the wordless montage at the Art Institute of Chicago. The main trio takes in the paintings, holds hands with a group of kids on a field trip, and sweethearts Ferris and Sloane share a tender kiss. It's just a sweet and magical moment, the kind that director John Hughes executed so well in the 1980s. I remember seeing that movie and thinking it must have been made by someone who knew that, underneath the snark and assholery, teenagers were human beings. (OK, I was 16, so I was mostly thinking, "Matthew Broderick is so cute!" But you know what I mean.)

Hughes' teen-themed movies could be uneven, and not all of them aged as well as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." But he almost always gave you The Moment, the one that made up for Judd Nelson's scenery chewing or the wrongness of Long Duk Dong. I am also grateful for his hand in making a star out of Molly Ringwald, who helped broaden the teen cinema standard of pretty. She was not a typical Breck girl, and some of us really appreciated that.

One of these days when my kids are older, we'll "Pretty in Pink" together, and they'll laugh at the clothes, roll their eyes at some of the plot points and wonder why Andie is so hung up on Blane (Because he's played by Andrew McCarthy! Hello?). But I also bet that, deep down, they'll kind of dig it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

R.I.P., John Hughes

I can't even form a coherent blog post right now. The Summer of Gen X-Related Death continues.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Of The Month: "Whatever Happened To the Man Of Tomorrow?"

Though I accept that Alan Moore is an exceptional and groundbreaking writer, I’ve often found his work difficult to love. However, when Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” stories were reissued in trade form, I went directly to the comics shop and bought the book. This volume is delightful, and it’s a great read whether you’re a hardcore comics lover or a casual reader with only basic knowledge of Superman.

Written in the 1980s as the final chapter for the Silver Age Superman, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” is touching, haunting and playful in all the right places — and in a way, it highlights the problem with the lack of an expiration date on iconic comic book characters. No one stays dead (or missing) in comic books anymore, and it is harder to care when you know that a the story of a character’s life has no real end. As wonderful as Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” story was — and it was plenty wonderful — it was undermined a little by the knowledge that Bruce Wayne isn’t really gone for good.

Of course, this makes perfect sense from a business standpoint, and new readers keep discovering (and rediscovering) these titles. My point is that the level of poignancy that Moore achieved here is rare because the medium doesn’t often allow for it. A character like Superman is so much more compelling when he is ultimately defeated by something, whether it’s mortality or a changing world. Superman was rebooted in 1986 with “The Man of Steel” arc, but Moore’s story represents the end of a long and storied era. You should read it.