Friday, October 23, 2009

Stay Awesome, "Glee"

I love "Glee" so much that I'm already worried about the moment, perhaps inevitable, when it starts to make me crazy. I saw it happen to my friends who got sucked in to "Lost" and "Heroes," and the depth of their disappointment when those shows went off the rails ... well, it was troubling.

So far, the musical bits have been fabulous and the casting is spot on. I don't know how much Fox is paying Jane Lynch to portray cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, but it's probably not enough. The woman is a master of the withering one-liner ("I’ve always thought the desire to procreate showed deep, personal weakness."), and her character is terrifying. Then there is Kurt, glorious Kurt, who cracks me up with the mere arch of an eyebrow. I thought the episode where he came out to his flannel-wearing dad was expertly handled. After Kurt stammered that he was gay, his dad shrugged and said, "I know." That he wasn't thrilled about it but still openly loved his kid seemed realistic — and it was touching.

In fact, that particular episode illustrated what makes "Glee" work so well: its successful combination of absurdity (the football team dancing to "Single Ladies") and poignancy (quarterback Finn's terror of being stuck in his hometown forever because of his girlfriend's pregnancy). And don't even get me started on how effing fabulous Kristin Chenowith was a few weeks ago as a drunken, former glee club star. The show's high goofball factor helps it get away with stereotypes that would otherwise be annoying.

But I'm not completely blinded by devotion. No show is perfect, but sometimes I worry that the things I don't like about "Glee" will start to overwhelm the rest. Like the constant focus on Rachel and Finn's mutual infatuation. I really like Rachel's character, particularly her awareness that her ruthless ambition alienates people. Finn's hunky/dim schtick is adorable. But what initially hooked me was the motley crew of glee club members, and the assumption that they'd all get a chance to shine. I want to know more about Tina, the Asian girl who auditioned with a ridiculously aggressive rendition of "I Kissed a Girl." But she's barely spoken since the pilot. Will Mercedes, the club's budding Aretha, be given more to do than make sassy remarks about her friends' shenanigans? I love the fact that Artie's wheelchair is regularly worked into song-and-dance routines. And the boy is funny. What's his story?

I realize the show hasn't been on that long, and maybe the "Glee" writers are getting to all that. For all I know, Artie and Tina may become an item. But I've been watching television too long to expect the unexpected, even from a really good show. Now that the show has caught on and grabbed the attention of people like Madonna, I fear a parade of Rihanna-esque cameos and repetition of themes that are already starting to wear out their welcome.

Here's hoping I'm wrong. For now, I'm unavailable Wednesday nights from 9 to 10.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Familiar Story, Beautifully Told

Does Geoff Johns sleep? From where I'm sitting, it looks like he's writing roughly 70 percent of the books DC is putting out right now, including event stories like "Blackest Night." He's like the Joyce Carol Oates of comic book writers.

Johns' work rarely disappoints, but I approached his latest project, "Superman: Secret Origin," with trepidation. The Man of Steel's backstory has been told many times in almost every medium, and it was hard to believe that there was anything new to say. But while I'm not a rabid Superman fan, I am a sucker for how-it-all-began tales and Gary Frank's artwork. I'm glad I put my skepticism aside, because "Secret Origin" No. 1 is winning in its simplicity and obvious affection for all the origin tales that preceded it.

In Johns' version, Clark Kent is a teenager who is freaked out by his burgeoning powers. Like all adolescents, he's stuck in a changing, unpredictable body. The difference is that when he kisses his childhood sweetheart, Lana, the embarrassing, involuntary reaction is scorching heat vision. Ma and Pa Kent realize they can't put off The Talk any longer, and as a parent, I found myself wondering how I'd break the news to my kid that he dropped out of the sky in a rocket ship. Their big reveal goes badly, especially after unexpected holographs of Clark's — uh, Kal-El's — Kryptonian birth parents appear near the rocket they've hidden in the barn. Clark goes nuts with anger and confusion, and Pa Kent's loving reassurance ("You are my son.") is so touching that it made me a little teary.

The art in this book is gorgeous. Frank draws Clark exactly like a young Christopher Reeve, who is the gold standard for Superman. There's one panel where teen Lex Luthor's facial expression is so perfectly furious that I kept flipping back to study it. Even if you knew nothing about who Luthor eventually becomes, it would be chilling.

Rarely has my 9-year-old son so entranced by a comic book. As I watched him read "Secret Origin" for the second time, I was struck by how few of my comics I've been able to share with him. Let's face it; once you leave the kids' section, a great many comic books are filled with imagery inappropriate for children under 13. "Secret Origin" isn't a "kids" comic book, but it is accessible in the best possible way. He's antsy for No. 2, and so am I.