Monday, September 30, 2013

Haven 4.03: "Bad Blood"

Not much time tonight, folks, so this is gonna be a quick one.  Mainly, just a formality, in the sense of "what's the minimum amount of time I can spend writing a Haven review that still feels like a Haven review of SOME sort?"

So be it.

The Trouble of the Week this time was a decent idea: there's this dude, see, and if he accidentally spills any of his own blood, that blood takes on a life of its own and begins seeking out the man's worst enemy, which it will then kill.  In this case, that's Nathan, who the man hates because he prevented the Troubles from ending.

Problem is, several other people get killed over the course of the episode, too, and despite having watched the entire thing, I do not recall there being an explanation as to why that happens.  Is my memory at fault, or is the screenplay at fault?  This must remain a mystery for the time being.




This is, according to Wikipedia, at least the fourteenth episode of a television series to be named "Bad Blood."  Others include True Blood (makes sense), Grey's Anatomy, Prison Break, Degrassi High (!), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

But I will only ever think of the episode of The X-Files from its fifth season that bears that title.  Written by Vince Gilligan and co-starring Luke Wilson, this tale of trailer-park-dwelling vampires is arguably one of the best -- and funniest -- episodes of that entire series.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Half-Measures Availed Us Nothing: A Review of "Doctor Sleep"

First: have no fear.  There will be no spoilers in this review.  Not even itsy-bitsy ones.  I have every intention of writing a gloves-off review, but I think I'll give it a week or so, and let a few more people play catch-up with me.  (The interim seems like an excellent time to bounce back over to You Only Blog Twice and hammer out a review of Licence to Kill.)  But for now, if you've merely come here looking for a thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down from me, that's exactly what you'll get from this.

But first, time for me to be self-indulgent and write about myself for a while.  Sorry about that, but it's what self-involved people do, and so it's what I'm going to do tonight.  Not at length, though; and if you want to just skip to the opinionating, scroll down until you find the photos, and start reading from there.

There was a time when I wasn't as zealous a King fan as I am today.  These days, what happens when a new King book comes out is this: when I found out the release date, I put in for PTO (that's Paid Time Off, for those of you who might not know) for that day, and typically for a day or two afterward.  On occasion, I end up not getting to take the time off (that happened with Joyland), but typically, I do.  So, when the release day rolls around, I will get up in the morning -- I say "morning," but since I am nocturnal, it sometimes turns into afternoon -- and go to Barnes & Noble or Target or (shudder) Walmart, wherever seems most convenient to the day at hand, and buy a copy.  Then, I'll go home, start reading, and generally continue reading until I can't keep my eyes open.  
  
I'll squeeze a meal or two in there somewhere, and probably a shower, and probably a few brief internet sessions.  Last night, I interrupted things for over an hour so as to watch the series premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC.  (It was a little on the underwhelming side, by the way; not so much so that I won't be back next week, but underwhelming nevertheless.)  My cats love it when this happens.  Reading time is PRIME lap-time for cats, and so King-release days always equal hours of lap-time.

It hasn't always been like that.  I've been trying to mentally track the evolution of what seems like mildly -- and you can possibly scratch the "mildly" -- compulsive behavior, and I can't quite figure out its genesis.  Now, just so we're clear, when I indicate that I feel it is compulsive behavior, I'm not claiming to have OCD in any sort of clinical sense.  I don't.  At least, I don't think I do.  Either way, I don't see it as a problem.  Fannish behavior of that nature is often looked at askance by people who don't quite get it.  These are often the same sort of people who insist that their lawn be mowed once a week whether it (strictly speaking) needs it or not, or who insist that everything in the house get dusted once per week.  Or who will put life on pause when their favorite football team is playing.  Why do they do those things?

Because doing those things makes them happy.  The reasons for that being the case are their own, and maybe they care about the specifics and maybe they don't, and maybe we care about them and maybe we don't...but in the end, I think that's always what it amount to.  Such things happen because they are happiness-generators.

My stance is this: Stephen King is my favorite writer.  He has released a lot of books, and I've read all of them, and I can count on maybe the number of fingers Roland has left after meeting the lobstrosities the number of those books that I didn't enjoy reading.  And even those, I enjoyed at least a little bit.  The rest of them, I enjoyed quite a lot.  So when a new Stephen King book comes out, why on Earth would I not want to start reading it immediately?

But in trying to trace the history of it becoming a formalized thing as it has, I can't quite figure out the when of it.  I think I can say with reasonable certainty that I was buying and reading them on release day as early as Dreamcatcher, but I think it might go back even a bit farther than that.  Either way, I know definitively where it wasn't happening: Hearts In Atlantis was released in September of 1999, and I did not read it until Christmas of that year.  I can't remember why that would be the case, but 1999 was not a good year for me, so it almost certainly had to do with the reasons why that was the case.  (I'm being vague here, and that's because there's no need for this post to devolve in melodrama.)

And now, a suspicion begins to present itself, one which looking back on 1999 helps to clarify.  King released three books that year: the screenplay of Storm of the Century came out in February, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon in April, and Hearts In Atlantis in September.  The first, I got (and read) more or less immediately upon release; I got the Book-of-the-Month Club edition, the only hardback version to be published.  The second, I picked up somewhere locally, and I believe I remember reading it more or less immediately upon release, too.

A lot happened between those releases and Hearts In Atlantis, though.  I had some melodrama, and King himself had some flat-out drama, nearly losing his life in the process.  I can remember being upset by that accident, but I also remember being too preoccupied with my own garbage to get really upset about it.  Or, it seems, to read the new book when it came out late that summer.

Casting my mind back to Christmas of 1999, I begin to dimly remember that that Christmas -- spent at my grandparents' house -- took on an air of me returning to myself.  I'd gotten over most of the melodrama, to the extent I ever would; and I'd gotten away from it proximity-wise, in any case.  I'd taken Hearts In Atlantis with me, and I remember sitting awake with it while everyone else in the house was asleep and reading by Christmas-tree light, munching on peanut brittle, feeling more myself than I'd felt in months.

So...is that it?  Did that few days bring home in some way a fact: that when I'm reading a Stephen King book, I am, in some odd but essential way, more in some way?  I think that could be it.

But lest that sound weird, consider that it's possibly the same for the guy who wants to get Grand Theft Auto V the day it comes out and play it for hours on end; or for the guy who has a specific date that we wants to take the tarp off the pool every spring and refill it; or for someone who goes to the grocery store every Thursday afternoon like clockwork.

It's an addiction, see.

But not all addictions are bad.  Some of them, I think, are pretty great.





Doctor Sleep is all about some of the less beneficial forms of addiction.  I don't think it's a spoiler to inform you that the novel is about Danny Torrance, who is now all grown up.  Dan Torrance is the result of that aging process, and Dan Torrance has some of the same problems his father, Jack, had.  And as it turns out, the shining doesn't do a whole hell of a lot to help with that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 6: The Night Has Come"

We're nearing the end of our walkthrough of Marvel's The Stand, and as the series of reviews has progressed, I've had less and less to say.  That's not because there's nothing to say about The Stand as it reaches its conclusion; certainly not.

Instead, it's probably a sign of a certain amount of ambivalence on my part toward the adaptation.  I stand by my assessment that it is a solid adaptation, but I've got a less made-up mind on the subject of whether I should recommend the comics to fans of the novel.  That question has been lurking in the background of these reviews, and I've avoided answering it.  But here, close to the end, I think there's no need.  If you've read the reviews, I think you've probably made your mind up one way or the other.  What need is there for me to add to that?




art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin


Why Marvel would opt to use that Trashcan Man image for the cover of this graphic novel is something I will never, ever understand.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 5: No Man's Land"

We're two-thirds of the way through our look at the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Stand, and the takeaway from the posts seems to largely be that I think the art is bad.

I do.  And I don't.  I think it works well frequently, and works really well typically at least once per issue.  Does that counterbalance the numerous times I feel the art fails?  For me, it doesn't quite manage to do so; but it gets maybe two-thirds of the way there, which means that while I do feel quite a bit of antipathy toward the art, I also feel nearly as much fondness for it.  Combine that with the fact that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's scripts are a generally strong adaptation, and I think your math would indicate that I am more positive than negative.

The fact is, though, that the negative is easier to write about for me in many cases.  Not always; I think I've made numerous good points about things in the comics that work really well.  But for whatever reason, the further into the series we get, the less inclined I seem to be to keep the scales balanced.  My review of Hardcases -- which is arguably my favorite volume of the series! -- was much more negative than I expected it to be.

But hey, it is what it is.  When it comes to writing these posts, I tend to just sort of start writing and see where it leads me.  Sometimes that's more fruitful than it is at other times, but either way, it serves its purpose for me, because I am (as much as anything else) simply curious to see where my mind wants to go.

What's the result of that going to be this time around?

Let's find out.


premiere hardback, art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin



Haven 4.02: "Survivors"

This week on Haven: Lexie continues to not know she's Audrey Parker (or whoever Audrey actually is), and -- this will surprise you -- someone in Haven is Troubled.  With Audrey not around, it falls to Nathan to be the guy to try and solve the Trouble of the Week.

Yawn.

One of my problems with Haven is that the Trouble of the Week episodes are almost always boring.  There have been occasional exceptions, but they have been few and far between, and what we mostly get instead is something that feels like a fifth-rate mash-up of The X-Files with X-Men.  So this week, what we get is a fireman who is inadvertently burning people to a crisp...but, for an extra wrinkle, only after people congratulate him on being a hero, thereby setting off a guilt complex.  It's simultaneously simplistic and overly complicated, and it comes with the typical Haven problem of having weak actors cast in the guest-star roles.

Meanwhile, Duke is continuing to try to help Jennifer feel at home in Haven, and is also trying to get his brother to pack up and go back home.  Some of that stuff is okay, because I like Eric Balfour, and because Emma Lahana is extremely attractive.  She's eased back on the throttle as regards Jennifer's quirkiness this week, too, which is good.  I think.  It didn't bother me in her first episode, but it probably would have begun to grate if stretched over the long haul.

Elsewhere, Audrey is still in the same bar, still talking to Colin Ferguson.  Let's discuss that.




First of all, this conversation between Lexie and Colin "Eureka" Ferguson has lasted, now, for the entirety of two episodes.  Is this just weird editing, or should we begin to wonder if their plotline is somehow taking place outside of the normal timestream in some way?  Neither answer would surprise me, and neither would bother me -- a little time-shift cheating in editing doesn't bother me -- but either way, I suspect we'll get an answer next week.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 4: Hardcases"

The second half of Marvel's adaptation of The Stand kicks off with "Hardcases," which is ostensibly focused more on the villainous side of things than has been the case so far.  Is that actually the case?  Yeah; sort of.  Not entirely, but sort of.

Let's get to it!


premiere hardback, art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

premiere hardcover, art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

The shard-eyed among you will have noticed that there is a new name in the mix: Tomm Coker stepped in as the primary cover artist on the series starting with Hardcases #1, replacing Lee Bermejo.  Bermejo did some unquestionably great work on the first three arcs, but don't be dismayed; Coker proved to be a more than adequate replacement, and he did quite a few of my favorite covers of the entire series.  We'll see a few of those in this very post, in fact.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 3: Soul Survivors"

Links to the first two parts of this series: Captain Trips and American Nightmares.

And now, with no further ado, Vol. 3, Soul Survivors:


premiere hardback, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

The title, obviously, is a bit of a sole/soul pun.  I don't dislike this as much as I dislike American Nightmares as a title, but it's close; I'm definitely not a fan.  But does it matter?  No, it doesn't.  Not much, at least, even to me.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 2: American Nightmares"

For those of you joining us late, here is a link to the review of Vol. 1 of the comics.  But I mean, like, you don't have to go read that one first.  Look, I'm just glad you're here, so if you don't want to read that post, it's cool.  *kicks rocks and looks at the ground*



hardcover edition, cover art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

the premiere hardback was released on January 5, 2010


First, a confession: I am sick and fucking tired of titles which begin with the word "American."  As far as I'm concerned, American Graffiti gets a pass because it was awesome, but everything else is suspect at best and annoying at worst: you've got your American Psycho, American Idol, American Gladiators, American Horror Story, American History X, American Pie, American Beauty, American Gangster, American Me, and coming soon, American Sniper and American Hustle.  Flippin' 'eck, you Yanks; sod off with that barmy rubbish.  If I had the ability to do so, I'd write a movie called American Americans, and put the whole business to bed.  (Sidebar: I'd also like to launch a low-rent exploitation studio to produce knockoffs of these titles.  They'd be called, like, Mexican Horror Story and Samoan Psycho and Norwegian Pie and whatnot.  Damn...I'd actually really like to see Samoan Psycho now...)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Under the Dome 1.13: "Curtains"

"Curtains" was the first-season finale of Under the Dome (he said, stating the obvious, but doing so anyways due to not quite being sure how to begin the review), and for the most part, I thought it was a solid hour of television.  There were the standard gaps in logic, but they were counterbalanced capably by big story advancements and by crisp pacing.

And then, it all fell apart at the end.

Look...I get the desire to do a big cliffhanger for the season finale.  The goal, I suppose, would be to go out on a note that will leave people talking for the next seven months or so, and have them champing at the bit for the second season to begin.  But there's a right way to do that, and there's a wrong way, and I'm afraid that what we got in this episode was the wrong way.

In order to contextualize what I mean, let's consider a season finales that got it right: the season-finale cliffhanger gold standard, "The Best of Both World" (Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3).  Captain Picard has been assimilated by the Borg, and Riker, having no other choice, orders the Enterprise to fire its new weapon at the Borg vessel.  The episode had, with ruthless efficiency, established a new dynamic that viewers at the time could -- take it from someone who was there -- easily assume would be the new dynamic in the next season if Picard was killed.  This episode made it seem actually possible.

Whereas I can envision no scenario in which Barbie actually gets killed.  Maybe I'll be proven wrong, but I do not expect to be.  And even if I am eventually proven wrong, that won't make this a more satisfying cliffhanger, because currently, there is no tension.  If there is no tension, a cliffhanger doesn't work.  Period.

A devil's advocate somewhere is currently insisting that it's the "how" that might end up being important: i.e., what I should be interested in is not whether Barbie lives or dies, but how he ends up being rescued.  Well, fair enough.  If this was the sort of series where the how of things was frequently done well, maybe I'd buy that pitch.  It isn't, so I don't.  But I can cite for you an example of a series that does do the how of things -- as well as the why of things -- well: yes, Breaking Bad, which ended its third season by having Jesse pull the trigger of a gun he was holding up in front of the face of Gale Boetticher, a cook whose very existence made Walt and Jesse expendable.  The episode hedged its bets a bit by not actually showing Gale get shot, but anyone watching the series by that point had to know that Walt and Jesse could continue to live only by means of Gale's death.  The focus of the resolution would undoubtedly be the fallout; what effect would this have on Jesse?  How would Gus -- Gale's employer -- react?

Sure enough, that proved to be the case.

I can formulate no scenario in which the "how" of Barbie's eventual escape/release will be anything except deus ex machina.  (Series producer Brian K. Vaughan wrote a comic-book series called Ex Machina, so maybe this should be no surprise.)  Who can save Barbie?  Julia?  She's nowhere near.  Angie, Joe, and Norrie?  No way.  Junior?  He could...but that would go so far against the grain of the Junior/Jim scenes in "Curtains" that it would be complete bullshit.  Phil?  Unlikely, as Phil still thinks Barbie killed Dodee.  Carolyn?  Yeah, right; fat chance.

There are, as I see it, two options.  One: Big Jim lets him go.  That would be dumb.  Two: the Dome does something to cause Barbie's escape or release.

A third option might involve Annie Wilkes showing up and yelling "He DIDN'T get OUT of the COCKaDOOdie CAAR!" at everyone.

Some of my problem here has to do with the editing, which was great throughout most of the episode, but felt off in some sort of way during the final shot.  We see the black of the dome begin go away, but instead of turning clear again it turns some sort of milky color.  But just as we begin to be able to focus on what that is and what it might mean, cut to commercial.  Except, because of the way CBS structures its shows, I was unsure as to whether this was the end of the episode, or if there was more after the break.

Whatever.  It just didn't work.  It fell flat, and it wounded an episode that up until that point had done a lot to restore my interest -- if not my faith -- in a series that had what I can only characterize as a weak freshman season.




Now, all that said, there were things I liked about the episode, and some of it did indeed help to restore my interest to at least a minimal level.  I'll talk about some of that below in the form of bullet-points, but first, this:

Monday, September 16, 2013

When Is TV Too Scary for Children?

That's not me asking the question, you understand.  Instead, it is a question answered by Stephen King in the June 13-19, 1981 issue of TV Guide, for which the author wrote a short essay titled the same thing as the title of this post.




"Read the story synopsis below and ask yourself if it would make the sort of film you'd want your kids watching on the Friday- or Saturday-night movie," after which he described the tale of a man who, as the result of "inflation, recession and his second wife's fondness for overusing his credit cards," is on the brink of financial ruin.  His wife concocts a scheme to get them out of this mess: they will kill the two children, make it look like an accident, and collect the insurance money.

King continues the synopsis, and we come to realize eventually that he is describing the tale of "Hansel and Gretel," but modernizing it so as to emphasize the gruesome and horrific elements.  King says that children get exposed to numerous such stories, ranging from "Hansel and Gretel" to the legend of Bluebeard to "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Snow White."  His point, obviously, is that we've been inundating children with the spooky, bizarre, and morbid for years, to such an extent that many of us have to be pushed toward recognizing it.  So with that in mind, is violent television automatically something to worry about?


illustration by Daniel Maffia


"Three of my books have been made into films," says King, "and at this writing two of them have been shown on TV.  In the case of Salem's Lot, a made-for-TV movie, there was never a question of allowing my kids to watch it on its first run on CBS; it began at 9 o'clock in our time zone, and all three children go to bed earlier than that.  Even on a weekend, and even for the oldest, an 11 o'clock bedtime is just not negotiable.  A previous TV Guide article about children and frightening programs mentioned a 3-year-old who watched Lot and consequently suffered night terrors.  I have no wish to question any responsible parent's judgment -- all parents raise their children in different ways -- but it did strike me as passingly odd  that a 3-year-old should have been allowed to stay up that late to get scared."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ron Howard gives an update on "The Dark Tower" (hint: keep holding your breath)

Ron Howard appeared on this week's episode of The Empire Film Podcast to promote his new film, Rush (which is getting brilliant reviews and seems destined to figure into the Oscar race next spring).  


Ron Howard filming Rush

  
Among other topics, Howard spoke a bit about the status of The Dark Tower.  I put my transcription skills to use, and here you have the results:

Empire:  We said at the beginning that you might not have been here had this been a Grand Prix Sunday, but also, equally you might not have been here if The Dark Tower happened for you.  What's the latest with that?

Haven 4.01: "Fallout"

So, like, I've been doing these weekly reviews of each new episode of Under the Dome after it airs, right?  And that seems to be going relatively well.  I've been wondering whether or not I'll feel motivated enough to do similar reviews of new episodes of Haven; the jury is still out on that, as far as it being on an ongoing basis goes.

But I just got around to watching Friday's season-four premiere, and I figured hey, what the hell.  Let's do this thing.

I typed out a few vague notes while the episode aired, mainly to remind myself of key points I might want to touch on.

I now present to you those notes, in all their unintelligible glory:

  • Duke falls through wormhole or some shit inside The Barn, turns up in Boston inside an aquarium tank, getting laughed at by fieldtripping kiddies; he has been dead for six months, according to Haven PD, whom Boston PD has helpfully phoned as per Duke
  • in Haven, some shop has its windows bust in for no apparent reason; there are some spinner racks with what looks like nothing but Hard Case Crime books
  • Jennifer Mason: stereotypical eccentric -- Bryant likey; Bryant is ashame
  • Nathan has a beard and is letting bikers punch him in the face; one scene later, he has stubble instead of a beard, meaning that he shaves almost the second Duke shows up -- WTF
  • Dwight is the new sheriff
  • Audrey is now named Lexi, works in a bar, wants to fuck the dude from Eureka
  • The Guard wants to kill Nathan on account of some shit
  • a tornado shows up in Haven; did the Dome send it?
  • Eureka seems to know something; fake Paul Dano shows up, sketchy as fuck; Eureka whoops his ass
  • Marion Dax returns; she's making Natecicles and whatnot
  • Duke's brother -- (who?!?) -- is running the Grey Gull
  • Eureka tells Lexi she isn't really Lexi, and if they can't figure out who she is A Lot Of People Will Die

Ladies and gentlemen: my brain at work.

I thought this was a fairly decent season premiere.  I enjoyed the third season of Haven when it aired last year, which was a bit surprising, considering how much I'd mostly not enjoyed the first two seasons.  Season three ended on a fairly massive cliffhanger, with Audrey seemingly -- spoilers, lol! -- disappearing into The Barn, and Duke seemingly disappearing after her, and The Barn seemingly getting destroyed.  So -- seemingly -- Audrey and Duke both died, right?

Well, we get a bit of a glimpse inside The Barn at the top of this episode, and there seem to be isolated womrholes or something opening up.  Duke falls through one, and finds himself in Boston six months later; in police custody, too, on account of how he was found inside a tank at an aquarium.  This is vaguely reminiscent of Spock swimming inside the whale tank and mind-melding with Gracie the whale in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ("Gracie is pregnant"), except with fewer whales and Vulcans.  As he's being led out of the aquarium by the po-po, he is besieged -- somewhat implausibly -- by news cameras, and starts hollering -- somewhat implausibly -- about Audrey Parker.

Later, in the hospital, a woman shows up who claims to have heard voices talking about The Barn; the voices of Audrey Parker and Agent Howard, she says, though she has no idea who they are.  Her name is Jennifer Mason; she is played by Emma Lahana, who's wearing a furry coat and an army hat and is doing a fairly adorable -- though standard -- eccentric-chick routine.  I am okay with this.


Emma Lahana as Jennifer Mason

A bit of research on Emma Lahana informs me that she was once a Yellow Ranger on Power Rangers: Dino Thunder.  I stopped my research there, because really, why continue?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #39

I just stared at the screen for what I'd estimate to be two minutes, and couldn't think of a way to begin this column.  Me brain, he no be good with the working today.  I (unexpectedly) had to get up incredibly early for work yesterday, and opted to play the stay-up-all-night-rather-than-only-get-two-hours-of-sleep card.  That would have been fine if I had only had to go to work for two or three hours, like I expected; instead, that turned into a ten-hour day, after which I gibbered and gamboled a bit -- that's what you do when you go crazy, right? -- and then went home and collapsed into bed.  (NOTE: in this instance, "gibbered and gamboled" consisted of going and buying my new comics for the week, and then eating an especially delicious cheeseburger from Five Guys.)

Well, now I'm up again, and the old brain is trying to get a fire going, but all it's got is a couple of pieces of wood.  The friction hasn't produced many sparks yet, but it may yet happen.

Anyways, the first thing I did after getting out of bed was to go take a leak.  The second thing I did was to read the new issue of Locke & Key.

I'd have done it in the opposite order, but it seemed like a bad idea.




As we discussed a bit in our review of The Stand Vol. 1: Captain Trips, reading a sequential-art adaptation of a novel on a month-by-month basis is perhaps not the optimal way to enjoy it.  I found Marvel's adaptation of The Stand to be much more satisfying when read all at once (over the course of a few days) than spread out a month at a time over the course of several years.

I suspect much the same will end up being true of Locke & Key.  It isn't an adaptation of a novel, but as heavily serialized as the story is, it may as well be.  And in some ways, keeping the story fresh in mind from one issue to the next has been even more challenging (for me) than it was with The Stand: heck, at least The Stand appeared more or less like clockwork every month; the previous issue of Locke & Key came out at the beginning of June, which was three months ago.  The issue previous to that had been two months prior; and I suspect the second issue of Alpha (which will be the series finale) won't be out until Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Sure, there's an ad in Alpha #1 that says October...but I'll believe it when I see it.

To be clear, this is fine by me.  I do not want Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez to rush things just for the sake of getting the comic out "on time," whatever that means.  Get it right, then put it out.  How much better off would Hollywood be if the movie industry followed the same approach on a regular basis?  Significantly, I'd day.

So it's no problem that the release pattern on Omega/Alpha has been such that it looks like it's going to have taken a year when it's all said and done.  But it has meant that reading each issue as it came out has been perhaps a bit of a lessened experience.

And that is good, good news for those of you who have waited to read it all at once.  Because if it reads even better in collected form than what it has read like in single-issue form, you are in for a treat.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Under the Dome 1.12: "Exigent Circumstances"

I am a fair person.  And in order to prove it, I am going to do something unexpected: I am going to trash-talk Breaking Bad.

You might recall that in my Under the Dome review last week, I began by describing a scene from the previous night's episode of Breaking Bad, in an attempt to demonstrate how to properly film a suspense scene.  I'd found Under the Dome to be egregiously guilty of failure in that regard last week, so in order to contextualize its failings, I thought comparison to a wild success was a good strategy.

So, this week, let me tell you about how last night's episode of Breaking Bad dropped the ball.  Massively, in my opinion...although I have yet to read a review that seems annoyed with it at all.  It appears to be me against the world.  And I'm okay with that.

Let me set the scene, and try to have as few spoilers as possible for those of you who have foolishly opted to not hop on the Breaking Bad bandwagon:

In the New Mexican desert, two DEA agents come face-to-face with about half a dozen well-armed neo-Nazi mercenaries.  The scene is tense, partly because of the fact that the preceding forty or so minutes of the episode have been incredibly tense, full of massive plot advancements and brimming with drama.  This climax to the episode has been telegraphed; you know it's coming.  It isn't the type of scene that hinges on plot twist; it's the kind that hinges on the emotion resultant from the inevitable.  Six million or so people are hanging on the edge of their seats watching this.  I am fully expecting the episode to fade to black, and for resolution to have to wait for seven days.

Instead, the shootout begins!

And all of a sudden, none of these people can hit a thing.  Two DEA agents, at least six badass mercenaries (who have been used in highly badass capacity a mere two or three weeks ago), and for no reason I can fathom, they all become roughly as shitty at shooting weapons as your average Stormtrooper in a Star Wars movie.  It's also reminiscent of how, in the G.I. Joe cartoons from the eighties, the Joes and the Cobras were constantly in shootouts but nobody ever got hit.  Amazingly awful marksmanship.

I don't expect that from Breaking Bad.  Depending on how the scene resolves next week -- it ends with everyone continuing to just miss each other -- then I will be able to let it slide on the grounds that it was for dramatic effect, to amp up the beginning of the next episode.  But if it has a poor -- i.e., unbelievable -- resolution, then I'm going to call major bullshit on this episode.

I say that for two reasons: first, to prove that I'm not merely a slavish Breaking Bad fanboy; and second, to bring me to a place where I can make my next point.

Which is this: the only reason I am willing and able to cut Breaking Bad some slack is because it has earned it.  It hasn't been immune to a bit of ball-dropping here and there, but those fumbles have been exceptionally rare.  So until I know they've dropped it, they get the benefit of my trust in them.

Under the Dome has lost every bit of that trust.  It lost it a long time ago, frankly.  But there were several scenes in tonight's episode that really brought home for me the fact that this is a series I simply do not trust.

And yet, I kind of enjoyed the episode!  We'll come back to that, but before we do, I've got to get the complaining out of my system.




One of the major plot point of "Exigent Circumstances" involves Barbie enlisting Angie's aid in helping him sneak into the clinic and save Julia from what he (correctly) assumes will be a potentially murderous situation.  Now, as far as plans go on really dumb televisions shows like this one, Barbie's plan is a decent one.  And it works!  Not entirely without a hitch; Barbie has to whoop Junior's ass in order to make a getaway.  But whoop that ass he does, and he and Angie are able to get Julia loaded into the amublance, ready to make their getaway.

Which, of course, means it is the perfect time for Barbie to take a time-out and tell Julia -- who, you may recall, is comatose and presumably unable to hear him -- that he loves her.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Review of "Save Yourself" [by Kelly Braffet]

Taking one of our semi-regular trips outside the strict bounds of this blog's mission statement, tonight I've got a brief review of Save Yourself, the recently-published novel by Kelly Braffet.

Braffet, in case you didn't already know this, is Owen King's wife, which makes her the daughter-in-law of Stephen and Tabitha King, and the sister-in-law of Joe Hill.  I confess, that's why I read Save Yourself: curiosity based on the fact that her husband and in-laws are awesome writers.

The next time I read a Kelly Braffet book, however, I'll be reading it because she is an awesome writer.  And that won't be long from now, either; I've got her first two books, Last Seen Leaving and Josie and Jack, and one of them is liable to be the next thing I pick up.
  





  
Save Yourself is the story of Patrick Cusimano, a guy in his mid-twenties who still lives at home, but not with his parents: his mother is dead, and his father is in jail for having drunkenly run over and killed a little boy.  Patrick lives with his brother, Mike, and Mike's girlfriend, Caro.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Review of "The Stand Vol. 1: Captain Trips"

When the time rolled around to blog about The Stand, my initial plan was to cover first the novel, then the miniseries, and finally the comics; and  that seemed like a good plan.  However, I found the novel to be too daunting to deal with in the way I wished, at least for now; my plan was to cover the entire thing, chapter by chapter, and if I had pursued those intentions, I'd still be working on it.  The result would have been a book about The Stand.  It's a great idea, and I think I could, in theory, do a good job with it.  But I think I need a bit more discipline before tackling it; so it's been shoved to the back burner, and there it will sit for what will probably end up being several more years.
  
However, I figured that while I was still in the vicinity of the novel (having reread it earlier this summer), it would make sense to go ahead and plow through the retrospectives on the miniseries and the comics.  I did the posts on the miniseries a few weeks ago: they can be found here, here, here, here, and, sort of, here.
    
And so, here we are, launching the reviews of the comic-book adaption.  I've been looking forward to doing these; I read the series issue-by-issue when it came out, and occasionally found myself extremely frustrated by the pace, which (I thought) didn't work well on a month-by-month basis.  As a result, my enthusiasm for the series was extremely muted, and when it concluded I felt more or less indifferent to the whole thing.  But by that time, I had launched this blog (the first version of it, at least), and I knew that at some point in time, I'd sit down and reread the entire series.  I wondered if the compressed time-span would make a difference.

The answer to that question is yes.  I still have problems with some of it (almost entirely focused on certain aspects of the art), but overall, I found it to be a very enjoyable piece of work.  It hangs together quite well, both as an adaptation of the novel and as a series of comics.  And frankly, the fact that Marvel was able to finish the series using the same writer, artist, and color artist on every single issue is amazing.  Compare this to the fact that this year, over at Vertigo, editorial was unable to keep a creative team together for a mere seven issues of their Django Unchained adaptation.  They made some horrendous decisions in terms of who to bring in a fill-in artists, and it (for my money) ruined that adaptation.  Comparatively, on The Stand, Marvel kept the same core trio for THIRTY-ONE consecutive issues (the entire run)!

Even if I didn't like the adaptation, I'd be impressed and gratified by the consistency.  I thought that was well worth praising a bit right here at the outset, in case I forget to mention it later and end up taking it for granted.  It definitely should not be taken for granted.

So, let's dive in and start the dissection.  The format is going to be like this: one post for each of the six collections (or graphic novels, if you prefer), plus one concluding post for the Omnibus edition.  Within each post, I'm going to cover the issues that are collected in that particular edition, complete with cover galleries and synopses; I think I'll give you a complete rundown of what the issues contained on a page-by-page basis.  That strikes me as being a valuable reference tool.  The synopses/summaries won't be overly detailed; I assume most people reading this already know the story.  Giving the basics as a point of reference seems okay-ish to me, though.

Either way, after summarizing each issue I'll turn to the graphic novel itself and we'll just see what happens.  I'll think my thinks and tell you about them, and where we go is wherever we go.

Sound good?  Well, then, let's hit the road; Vegas is a-waitin'...


cover to the premiere hardback edition, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin



I'm not a fan of that cover, to be honest.  It's bound to make people think that Randall Flagg IS Captain Trips, unless they already know better.  And while I like the middle image of Flagg, I don't really know what the two on either side are trying to communicate.

Speaking of the perils of communication, what do we think about Captain Trips as a title for Vol. 1?  Personally, I'm not a fan of that, either.  Then again, I'm not a fan of "Captain Trips" being used as a moniker for the superflu; so maybe I'm just biased, but I can't quite grasp why anyone in-story would call the superflu by that name.  If I understand the nickname correctly, "Captain Trips" is a designation you give to someone who is really, really high, possibly on a regular basis.  I mean, drooling-on-themselves, unresponsive, semi-catatonic high.  Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was either an origin point for this, or was so commonly in that state of affairs that he was given the nickname and it stuck.  Dude has a biography titled after it.  (I'm tempted to buy a used copy, just to see if it sheds any light on this issue.)  I don't see any Garcia connection; maybe there's some sort of a Grateful Dead pun that I'm missing out on.  But it seems more likely that the idea has to be that the superflu has knocked people on their ass the way a super-duper jolt of LSD might do.  Except for all the snot and the tube-neck and whatnot.  I don't know; it doesn't quite make sense to me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Under the Dumb 1.11: "Speak of the Devil"

Damn, I love Breaking Bad.  It's a terrific show.  I'm not saying it's perfect; the only perfect things in life are...uh, wait, hold on, I'll remember in a second...oh yeah!...no such thing.  Maybe equations or some malarkey like that.  Anyways, my point: while not perfect, Breaking Bad is nevertheless a tremendous television series.

At the tail end of last week's episode -- (mild) spoilers, lol! -- Jesse broke into Mr. White's home and began furiously pouring gasoline all over everything.  Fade to black.  This week's episode -- last night's episode, in fact -- begins with Walter arriving home, seeing Jesse's car parked irregularly in the driveway.  He sneaks into his own home through the back door, gun drawn; he notices the pungent smell of gasoline, thick in the air.  He calls out for Jesse; he receives no reply.  He searches the rooms.  All the doors are closed; he proceeds methodically, until finally, only one door remains.  He goes inside; the camera does not follow.

A few moments later, he emerges.  Jesse is nowhere to be found.

He calls and has a crack team of probably-not-entirely-above-board carpet cleaners come over, and concocts a plan for how to lie his way out of this mess vis-a-vis his wife and son.  And by gum if he doesn't pull it off.  (Well...mostly.)

Later, the episode flashes back to Jesse.  We once again see him in his car, debating what to do.  We once again see him get out and begin furiously giving the White living room a gasoline bath.  This time, the scene continues.  We see him grab a magazine, roll it up tightly, and produce a cigarette lighter.  
  
He begins trying to strike it.

If you are with the show -- and if you watch the show, I find it hard to imagine you not being with it -- then you are probably aghast with tension right now.  You were aghast with tension earlier, too, when Walter was searching his own house for Jesse.  This despite the fact that you know (literally) that Walter survives.

But as you watch Jesse trying...trying...trying...to get that lighter to strike, you're almost certainly wondering what is going to cause him to stop for a moment, reflect on his actions, and decide to abandon his plan to torch the house.  What interior emotion causes this?  What crisis of confidence?  What pang of regret?  What better angel sings Jesse off of the diving board and back to the ground?

And of course, it is a voice, speaking to him.  The voice of Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), who has been following Jesse.  We don't know that he's been following Jesse; all we know is that in last week's episode, when a colleague questions Hank as to why a detail of DEA agents had been tasked with following young master Pinkman, Hank was unable to admit the reason, and had no choice but to pull the detail.

This is the crucial point: the writers of Breaking Bad assume that viewers will put two and two together and successfully make it equal four.  Imagine if there had, earlier in the episode (or even in last week's episode), been a scene in which we see Hank decide to begin tailing Jesse on his own time.  That would have drained both of the wannabe-firebug-Jesse scenes of all their tension.  We'd have known exactly what was going to happen.

As is, though, the scenes retain their tension.  And, as a bonus, the logic of it all holds together in airtight manner.




Couldn't find an actual screencap from the relevant scene of the episode, so this publicity image'll have to do.

Right about now, Domeheads might be thinking, "Hey, why is this jackanapes rattling on about Breaking Bad?  I came here to read about Under the Dome, dagnabbit!"

Fair question.  Here's a fair answer: because I felt like I had to talk about something good for a while before allowing myself to be hurled into the asp-filled chamber that my review of tonight's episode is going to be.  Yes; that was a Raiders of the Ark reference.  One in which I, oddly, am Marion Ravenwood.  Let's not dwell on that.

Instead, let's see if we can bust through a wall and get out of here.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It Had Been Inevitable: A Review of "Here There Be Tygers"

Originally published in the same issue of Ubris (spring 1968) that contained "Cain Rose Up," "Here There Be Tygers" is a memorable little tale, and while I doubt that a great number of people would list it near the top of his short-story output, I think it's got its charms.

The story is simple: a third-grader, Charles, needs to go take a leak, gets sent to the bathroom by his hag of a teacher, and finds that there is a tiger trapped inside by the toilets.  An incredulous classmate gets devoured, and then the teacher comes to investigate, whereupon Charles goes back to class.


art by J.K. Potter from the Scream Press limited edition of Skeleton Crew


I don't know whether King intended the story this way or not, but "Here There Be Tygers" strikes me as being very close to qualifying as a story for children.  I say that as a positive, by the way; no maligning of the story is intended.  Instead, I think it makes the story both fun and oddly touching, and I certainly think that a great many kids would enjoy reading it.  It functions on a childlike level of logic that would appeal to younger readers, even though their parents might not approve of a few of the words King uses.