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Kaijumax Apreciation Society

1 Jul

kaijumax1-coverThis is just a short post to say how much I’m enjoying Zander Cannon’s delightfully weird new comic Kaijumax. It’s on, I think, it’s third issue now, but it’s only in the last week that I’ve been able to find copies of it at all. To date, I’ve read issues one and three.

If you’re not familiar with the high concept, it’s Kaiju, giant monsters from Creature Double Feature fame, captured and sent to a SuperMax prison that happens to be a Pacific island. I don’t know what I expected– I think a more lurid and shouty version of _Orange is the New Black_, and I guess there’s some of that in here, given the occasional flashbacks to life off the island and the general melancholy mood of lock up.

But the thing that this reminds me of most is Alan Moore’s Top Ten, where Cannon had a part to play as, if I remember right, the backgrounds artist for Gene Ha. The rendering here is different– much more cartoony (Cannon took leads on SMAX, the Top Ten spin-off, but this more rounded and cartoony than even that), but there’s a level of visual density that recalls Top Ten. They aren’t jokes, exactly, but there’s a sense that every element of this world is planned out and consistent that makes for a really appealing reading experience.

There are jokes, and songs, and all kinds of other business that add to the feel of this book, too. It’s quite a fun read, and one that makes me want to revisit Top Ten and reapportion some of the praise for the success of that book.

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lovely in her bones

22 Jun

I know a woman who is unashamed to ask for help– for babysitting, for studio space to write, for help packing up her house for a move. It seems like a semi-regular occurrence for her post something on facebook asking for some kind of help. And when I see these notices, I have to admit that it gives me a weirdly unsettled feeling.

It shouldn’t. I grew up in a culture that at least gave lip service to the idea of valuing community, and the way that we could all work together. HRC’s whole thing about a village raising a child is a punchline for a lot of my friends from the nineties because we all believed it, on some level of other. That’s the dream, in our daily lives, and certainly the promise of something like facebook or other social media. It’s not only about Tahrir Square, but also about childcare, or at least it should be.

But still, it makes me a little nervous when I see it– maybe because it feels like this woman is exposing her values in some way that is a little too revealing– that she’s willing to say that I’d rather be doing one thing more than the other, maybe. Or maybe there’s something even more primal there, this admission that she can’t do it all.

Whatever it is, it pisses off my wife and her female friends. They just can’t stand it. (I should add that this woman hasn’t exactly been a good member of some of the communities she’s been in that overlap with some of my wife’s communities). They will talk about it to each other, to me, and they will shake their heads with scorn at anyone who does come through for this woman and help her out. Dupes, they practically shout, why would you help out her?

It’s a puzzle. Why do you help out someone? What does it take to make you ask for help, and when is it better to just make the sacrifices your life demands than to ask for help, to get the more you know is out there.

Eric Holder, MVP

12 Aug

I would not have guessed this when I heard about his confirmation hearings, where Holder repeatedly disavowed any role in the pardon of Mark Rich. But I think Holder has become the most effective proxy for Barack Obama and the Obama agenda.

I think this mostly because of the way that Holder has been vigilant and even aggressive about defending the voting rights act, but he’s also been important, for example, in the way he has investigated police brutality (see this week’s actions to investigate in Ferguson, MO, just up the street from where I’m writing this), his comments about drug sentencing laws, etc.

(It’s not like Holder has done no wrong. I think at least he mishandled “Fast and Furious” and it’s aftermath. He, like his boss, sometimes gets drawn into conflicts that are a waste of time and energy.)

It occurred to me this morning that maybe the best analog for the partnership between Holder and his boss, between vision and implementation, is Jack and Robert Kennedy.

In the final analysis, when people look back on the Obama presidency and try to figure out what philosophy dominated it– and what kind of conception of the unitary executive and all that prevailed– I think Holder’s role will be seen as crucial in terms of expressing and actually carrying out the ambitions of the Obama executive.

I think everyone has by now seen the Key and Peele sketch about Obama and his angry black side. But you kind of don’t need to, if you just look at a split screen view of Obama and Eric Holder.

Rom, Spaceknight

10 Aug

I’m not usually a nostalgic person, or maybe I just don’t usually allow myself to indulge my nostalgic longings; I’m not sure there’s even a difference between those two options. But lately, I’ve been a little more forgiving of the urge to take a retrospective glance. Last year I more or less deconstructed a jacket the way I would have in high school, and I’ve tried to recreate, or at least to re-enjoy some experiences– like the movie Repo Man— that were important to a younger me.

Ebay makes this kind of thing ridiculously easy, so I went online and bought up a run of issues of the Rom, Spaceknight comic, which I’d read some of when they were first being published– we’re talking 83-84 here; the run I bought covered issue 50 to the final issue, issue 75, missing issue 61 but including annuals two, three, and four. So far, I’ve read issues 50-65, and the second and third annuals. I don’t mean to be too precious, but it’s those issues, written, btw, by Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, that I want to talk about here.

These issues are taken up with three storylines, and the tail-end of one more– issue 50 is the conclusion of an earlier storyline about the final fate of Clairton, WV, where our heroes (Rom, Brandy Clark/ Starshine, and sadsack superhero Vortex) and their enemies (the Dire Wraiths, a group of shapechanging, magic wielding aliens) have come to fight it out. Issue fifty, as I suggested, resolves this storyline which had been building since I don’t know when because I hadn’t been reading those issues– Vortex dies, the Wraiths are routed, sort of, and the comic takes off in another direction.

First, then, the issues I read wage war on the Dire Wraiths, with actual military troops, and Rom shifts, somewhat inelegantly, into being something like a war comic, only one fought at the level of generals and war rooms– there’s a lot of talk about strategy, and the morality of letting earth people know they are under attack. These issues, to me, are kind of the weakest of the bunch, but it’s a short lived run, maybe till about issue #53.

After that, we shift to something more like a horror of the week approach– these issues see Rom and Brandy-Starshine confront the Wraiths in more direct terms, finding them out and trying to discover their plans. Here, the storylines are good– one about an attempt to poison Canadian waters that involves Canada’s finest superteam, Alpha Flight, leads naturally into a short run that included Ant Man as Rom is shrunk down to discover the threat of the Wraith’s poisons, etc.

It’s hard to describe how slightly off-genre these are for superhero comics, because they seem to hew pretty closely to the Kung Fu/ Hulk TV show mold, but when I was first reading these stories, they did feel different than, maybe, Spider-Man, who had a consistent setting and supporting cast. These comics eschew the kind of soap operatics (mostly) that the Marvel Universe thrived on, and replaced them with an appealing sense of dread– what are those Wraiths up to? And Mantlo et al didn’t reveal all quickly or easily; the big tip off even takes a while to come, issues after a young girl, who sees her family slaughtered in front of her realizes, through some complicated plot mechanics, that she shares the thoughts of the Wraiths and therefore knows what they are up to.

The third storyline I read has its own fancy name, Worldmerge, wherein it’s revealed that the Wraith plan, after being severely weakened by the previous storylines, is a last ditch attempt to win the day, by bringing their own world into our solar system where it will displace Earth. Or something. I’m missing the first issue of this storyline (#61) but it’s magic anyhow, so it doesn’t need to make a ton of sense. By the end of this storyline, issue #65, which switches back and forth between the surface of the Earth and orbiting the planet, all the Wraiths will be neutralized. The book as a whole ends ten issues later, with Rom renouncing his spaceknight powers and role; I don’t really remember why it takes ten issues to accomplish that, but I haven’t read those issues yet.

There is so much to say about the fifteen issues I have read that I wanted to lay out these basics, which is already too long, and then I’m going to drop in some additional posts, highlighting what I liked and what challenged me in subsequent posting. So, look out…

summer of lunch

26 Jul

Two things you need to know about me:

First, lunch might be my favorite meal of the day, especially when you’re asking which meal do I want to eat out, with friends.

And second, although my teaching schedule is ridiculously generous in almost every other way, it makes it hard during the school year to meet people for lunch.

So this summer, I had these grand ambitions: there were a bunch of new, or new-to-me, restaurants and food trucks in town, and I had a bunch of friends I never got to see in this context. I’d invite my friends to lunch, and eat out from mid-May to mid-August.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened that way. Other people, it seems, would rather leave town for vacations instead of hanging around to get lunch. Things come up, people get busy or better offers. And until this last week, I don’t think I went out to lunch even once.

But this past week, I’ve made it out twice, at two new places. It’s true both times were with the same person, but you’ve got to start someplace. And this week? Already two lunch dates planned!

Yay. I’m hoping this trend will continue, at least for another couple weeks before I have to report back to school.

Wolf of Wall Street

29 Jun

I finally watched Wolf of Wall Street last night, and I liked it. It’s a funny, energetic, slick piece of movie making.

But I’m not the only one who is a little conflicted about it– after all, shot from a slightly different angle, Jordan Belfort is kind of a monster. And I think that Scorcese, in his direction, certainly allows for you to read the movie as an indictment of Belfort, though there’s also a lot of fun to be had rooting for him, and I can see, sort of, why wall street newbies cheer at Belfort’s excesses. And DiCaprio’s speeches at the offices of Stratton Oakmont are pretty awesome, moving, in a weird, motivational speaker kind of way.

It’s probably because I’ve been reading about screenplays in anticipation of the class I’m teaching in the fall, but I want to dig into the movie a little, to see how it works. First, to take a term from Blake Snyder, I think the movie is almost all “fun and games,” essentially a long second act, with very very modest first and third acts. In fact, I think the screenplay misses out on what Syd Field thinks movies should do in the second act, which is challenge the protagonist, to define him through conflict. There are few challenges to Belfort: on the one hand, I don’t really know what he wants (or why), and on the other hand, it isn’t visible that he struggles to get it, except the moment when he and Jonah Hill are high on lemons, but that struggle feels very of the moment, instead of necessarily relating to theĀ  movie’s core questions.

But I’m interested, too, in the question of whether or not this is a tragedy, which to me is kind of another way of asking, and answering, if this is a satire– in other words, is Belfort someone we should be chastened by, does his downfall serve to purge our emotions in an Aristotelean sense. Is his punishment just?

And here’s what I think makes the movie a challenge to swallow: My understanding of the way Aristotle defines tragedy is that the hero needs to be someone whose goals we recognize. But I don’t think we do that with Belfort; aside from a basic desire to make money, I don’t think we think about wanting to be Belfort, except when he addresses us directly as the head of Oakmont Stratton. And since we don’t identify with him that way, we don’t see his story as a tragedy. This is something that happened to someone, but his life isn’t really related to ours in an emotional way.

I think this is weird, and I think it makes the movie a tough sell. It does a lot of things really well, but as a complete narrative, I don’t think it quite works. But really, it’s not like Scorcese hardly ever works– he’s made a dozen movies in the last fifteen years (I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but my guy tells me it’s close). So this one is a little baggy, but still fun.

eaters anonymous

16 Jun

My wife and I took a week and went back to visit my ancestral homelands, and man, did we eat the fuck out of just about everything that came in front of us!

I think it started when we visited my old college buddy in metro-Albany and she took us to this place she likes, the New World Bistro & Bar. It was good, it was paid for, and under duress (not really) we got desert. Then, the next day, as a treat for my friend, we went to Denny’s where, in the spirit of the trip. I got something like the cinnamon roll pancakes, which were exactly what you’d expect.

And by that point, we were off– desert after almost every meal, drinks on top of drinks (at least as far as drinking goes, I couldn’t keep up with my brother-in-law, so I don’t feel so bad about that). It got to a point, halfway through the trip, where I had to tell myself I wouldn’t be eating like this from now on, that it was only temporary.

It’s not like it’s the end of the world, this binge eating. But it was weird, at least for me, to be eating this much, past the point of the simple sensual pleasure of it. I don’t mean to make too much of this, but I don’t think a single meal I ate was all that glorious, or one I’d have again. Instead, it was just the holiday-making bacchanalia of it, this weird moment of recognition that when you get to a certain age, this is what indulgence is, now. Eat a shit ton, and put it on the credit card.

Thank god, I’m back home now, back at the gym, trying to lost the weight I packed on over those seven days.