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Friday, May 21, 2004
New 70s Marvel Essentials!

I don't know about anyone else, but I love Marvel's Essentials line of black and white phonebook-sized reprints. They provide a great chance for young whipper-snappers like me to read 20-25 issues of an older comic series for dirt cheap.

Some would argue that you get what you pay for, and that the newsprint quality paper and the poor reproduction quality of certain issues (a lot of the reprints are shot from the actual comics, and then the color is removed, and there is occasionally ink-smearing or fuzzy word baloons) makes the entire package worthless. For me, though, I love that I can actually read the stories which I have previously only read about in the old Marvel Saga and Marvel Handbook series' from the mid-80s, without having to pay a grippe for the back issues.

Let's face it, many of these stories probably aren't worth the price that back issue dealers charge for them, but knowing that doesn't really lessen my desire to read the comics from just prior to my childhood (I started reading/collecting comics seriously in about 1983). For what ends up being less than a buck an issue (more like $0.75 in most cases), it's worth it to me just to be able to read the stories. And every once in a while, you find that some of art by the classic Marvel artists (I'm looking at you, Gene Colon) looks even better in black and white than it did in color.

If Marvel would release their whole catalog prior to 1990 in this format, I'd probably buy them all eventually. From what I know of Marvel (and I grew up a Marvel Zombie until Infinity, Inc and the Giffen/DeMatties/Maguire Justice League opened up whole new worlds to me), there are probably very few pre-1990 comics that I wouldn't spend a buck on; there are even fewer pre-1980, I suspect. In fact, I sometimes find myself lamenting the fact that a lot of Marvel books post-Malibu purchase just won't hold up to Essentials-style reprints, because the colorist is called on to do so much of the artwork, and there are proably a fair number of books from the 90s that I would read if I didn't have to pay more than a buck an issue.

Unfortunately, for a few years there, even while Marvel was producing collections of seemingly everything they put out, they had pretty much given up on reproducing anything from their past that didn't have a current superstar's name (Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane or Frank Miller) attached to it. The Essentials had all but dried up, and they appeared to have stopped producing collections of less-popular creator's work (up till fairly recently, there was only one volume each of Byrne's FF and Simonson's Thor).

I'm happy to see that they've turned around again, and the Essentials have been goosed back into production. In the last eight months, we've seen Essential volumes for The Tomb of Dracula (2 vols since October!), Daredevil (v. 2), The Punisher, and the Human Torch (allegedly collecting the last of Marvel's 60s hero series', though I thought that the Thing had his own feature for a while around the same time as the Torch's feature), and we've already seen solicits for new volumes for Spider-man (v. 6), X-Men (v. 5), and the Avengers (v. 4). And there appears to be more to come.

This morning, while browsing Amazon trying to decide what to purchase with a GC, I came across some very exciting listings. If you click over to these, keep in mind that Amazon's release date is often several months after the direct market (for instance, Essential ToD v. 2 is still listed as "not yet released," even though it came out to comic shops in April):

*Essential Iron Fist (I believe this will be solicited in Previews for release in August)

*Essential Super-villain Team-up (I assume this reprints the entire series, which ran for 19 issues, I believe)

*Essential Defenders (this one is the most exciting to me of all, though I hope they release subsequent volumes as the Gerber issues seem to be the most well-regarded, and he didn't start writing it until sometime in the 30s or 40s, I think)

I call this a fantastic start in what I hope will be a renaissance for Marvel reprints. While I'm still holding out for an Essential Uncanny X-Men v. 2 (and maybe even a v. 3 collecting the Neal Adams issues and some sporadic appearances, like the Beast's short solo run in Bizarre Adventures (?), while X-Men was in reprints) and Essential FF v. 4-5 (to finish out the Jack/Stan run), I'm really hoping to see collections of some of the Bronze Age books that are too expensive (or too hard to find) for me to pay back issue prices for. Even though I said that I'd probably buy all of these books, the ones that I'm really hoping they produce are:

*Essential Master of Kung Fu (I hope legal rights issues don't prevent this one)
*Essential Marvel Team-up V. 2-6 (I love this series, and the Claremont/Byrne issues are a particular highlight)
*Essential Man-Thing (or Giant Size Man-Thing for the juveniles in the house, either way, I always enjoy Gerber's stuff, and he wrote most of the run)
*Essential Ghost Rider (especially the Ploog issues)
*Essential Power-Man and Iron Fist (the series is something of a joke now, but I've only ever read the last 5-6 issues, and for some reason I'm very interested in reading the rest)
*More horror titles (House of Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night)
*Essential Marvel Two-in-One
*Essential Cloak and Dagger (I know they're 80s, but I've always liked them for some reason)
*Any of the series' that Kirby worked on when he returned to Marvel (Black Panther, Eternals, Cap, 2001/Machine Man)

I don't know why I'm more interested in obscure series' than I am in the long running ones, but I'm just not that interested in most of the Iron Man, Thor, FF (after Lee/Kirby), Cap or Hulk material from that time period. It may be good, but it's lower on my list of "must read" than some of these other books.

Thursday, May 20, 2004
Ruminations on the "Angel" Finale and the future of the Whedon-verse

Between fighting off a migraine and the resultant lack of sleep, I'm really just not feeling particularly creative and/or thoughtful this week. Nonetheless, I'm going to try to pull together some thoughts on last night's Angel finale, and where I think they can/should go from here with the Whedon-verse.

If that's not your thing, that's cool, feel free to skip on over to Bruce Sato's for discussions about prog rock and Andy Kauffman's triumphant return to . . . a blog(?!?), or The Daily Burger for some funny (though too Justin Timberlake-centric for my tastes) old school Sports Guy-esque Ramblings. Also, those of you who grew up in the eighties and the nineties will almost certainly appreciate my good friend Indy's thoughts on the music, movies and TV shows of "The Second Greatest Generation" over at his new blog (but wait, if he named the dog Indiana, why do I call him Indy?). Enjoy.

On to Angel then. And there will most definitely be SPOILERS ahead, so look out.

I've mentioned before that I've been slowly re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD starting with episode 1 of season 1. What has stood out for me the most is that, in the beginning, BtVS had a point (monsters as metaphor for growing up) and they drove it home with a stake through the heart, believably entertaining characters and a joie de vivre that neither show really captured after they split in 1999. Oh sure, both shows had their moments, and I may find more of them as I get to the later seasons (I'm on the last disc of Buffy season 3 at the moment), but I'm struck by how morose these shows have been, especially in the last two years, and how often I've found myself wondering what happened to the multiple layers on which Joss Whedon founded his mini-universe of Buffy and Angel.

Don't get me wrong, this season of Angel has had some of the best episodes that the show has ever had, most notably the one with the masked Mexican wrestlers and the Angel-puppet episode, and it's also become an extraordinarily character focused show (well, for a network show. It's no Sopranos). But what is the point? We've almost completely lost the "struggle for redemption" angle that was showcased in some of Angel's best moments (Darla's sacrifice for her son, Angel allowing himself to be lowered to the bottom of the sea as penance for allowing his son to be raised in a hell-dimension, pretty much any time Eliza Dushku's Faith has shown up), and what we have left is The Practice with monsters. Again, that's not inherently bad, it's just that I don't watch The Practice.

And so, the finale. Although the last few episodes have seemed a little rushed, they've done a pretty good job wrapping up all of the loose ends for the characters. Gunn may have found peace about his role in Fred's death a little too quickly for my liking; Spike may have agreed to stay on with the Fang Gang a little too easily, especially after he realized that the only person who was nice to him (Fred) wasn't coming back (I did laugh out loud when he raised his hand volunteering to be the one to betray Angel when Angel gave his Garden of Gethsemene speech last night); and Angel may have been a little too quick to agree to let Spike stay in LA after Fred's death, but I can't really complain too much, as they had a show to wrap up. Before going into some of the character specific moments, I'd like to go on record that the Butch and Sundance homage ending went off so much better for Angel than the Spike prevents the apocalypse ending of BtVS. They know they took a one way ticket into that alley, but they aren't going without a fight (and yes, I know that Angel, Spike or Illyria could survive, so it's a perfect open-ended ending for future stories).

Much as I loathed him throughout the end of season 3 and all of season 4 (I don't know that a character on a TV show that I willingly watched has ever been so annoying), it was nice to see the "new" more laid back Conner, both at the coffee shop with his pop and joining Angel in final battle with Hamilton. If Conner had been played closer to this during his time as a regular, I wouldn't have spent so many episodes calling for his head. Did they mention what happened to him between the end of the battle with Hamilton and Angel going to the alley? I'm assuming Angel sent him home, but given his eagerness to help prevent the apocalypse and the way Angel demonstrates his love for his son, it wouldn't surprise me if Angel had to knock him out and leave him somewhere.

Very sad to see Wesley bite it, as he was far and away the most complex character on Angel, and maybe ever in the Whedon-verse. Alexis Denisof portrayed Wesley's maturation from oafish watcher wannabe, to rogue to demon-hunter, to valuable part of the Fang Gang amazingly well throughout the series. His turn in exile at the beginning of season four, when he was sleeping with Lila, whom he loathed, and spending his nights searching for Angel, was note-perfect and among the most gut-wrenching periods in the series. [side note: by the end of season 4, it was by far my least favorite season but it started out as one of the best. Rifts had developed throughout the Fang Gang, people had departed to parts unknown, others had "ascended" and still others continued fighting the good fight, despite barely being able to stand the sight of each other.] To an extent, you almost knew that Wes had to go; despite his book-smarts, he never could have been a match for any elder demon, and I think Angel knew that. I suspect that Angel knowingly sent Wesley to his death, so that Wes could be with Fred again, or at least so that he wouldn't have to live in such abject depression like he had been ever since she died, and that's what that final look between the two of them was as Wesley left the war room. One question though: Did they ever reveal who sent the dad-bot after Wes early on this season? Are we to assume it was the senior partners, or was it someone else?

Despite the fact that I think Gunn got over his role in Fred's death too quickly (and who am I to judge how long he spent in that hell dimension being tortured? Doesn't time move differently in hell dimensions?), I like how his character went out. He started out as a badass vamp-killer, he went out as a bad-ass vamp killer. I also appreciate that he was the one to rally the troops back to Angel's cause after they found Illyria; I think it was in season 3 when Gunn revealed that even though he worked with Angel, he could ever trust Angel wholeheartedly. I always liked that about him.

Lorne, well, what can I say? They haven't known what to do with him pretty much ever since he joined the credited cast. He's not a fighter; in fact, he's a bit of a coward. A great character, and played with much aplomb by Andy Hallett almost from the beginning, but I think he would've fit in better with a less serious group of demon-fighters. His disgust at killing Lyndsey, my favorite villain since the mayor of Sunnydale, was palpable in every scene he was in since receiving his assignment. He's a lover, not a fighter, and it's completely in character for him to leave the gang after performing his part.

Finally, Angel and Spike. After a season of bickering about who the vampire with a soul is in the prophecy, Angel signs away any rights he might have had to getting his soul back in order to achieve a short-term victory over the senior partners. This is very much in keeping with Angel's martyr complex that he's had since pretty much the beginning, and plays into my idea that the series as a whole (Buffy 2-7 and Angel 5) can be viewed as Spike's story, as he is the character who goes through the most changes throughout. He's also the only major character who has a heroic destiny as a result of his personal choices as a result of a prophecy. And through it all, though, he remains the same at heart: bad poet, loyal to a fault (though he'd never admit it), and the best character for snarky asides that Whedon ever created. The battle against the forces of the Senior Partners isn't Spike's battle, but he fights it willingly; the battle against the Senior Partners is Angel's battle, and perhaps his ultimate heroic destiny, but we know that he's signed his soul away and (without Gunn to find the escape clause), he'll never get the redemption he so richly deserves.

So, where do they go from here? In a lot of ways, I think maybe this should be the end of the Buffyverse; Whedon certainly appears to have the talent and the creativity to create other Whedon-verses to continue exploring (witness Firefly/Serendipity). Both shows lost the joie de vivre that made the Buffyverse so entertaining to this fan (though I'd forgotten about it until recently, and I kept watching), and I don't know that any of the surviving characters from either show are interesting or entertaining enough to build a show around. Let's take a quick look at the prospects:

*Spike seems to be the likeliest prospect, but I think he works best in small doses: it allows his character to develop, and his snarky humor could (and has in Spike-centric eps) get old if it were given center-stage. I do think there's room for him in a supporting role in a spin-off with any other characters, though.

*There's been talk of a Ripper/Giles series for a few years now, and it honestly might work. The key would be in who they keep around to support him. Personally, I think an entirely new cast, with personalities as varied as in the Scoobies and the Fang Gang, would be the way to go, with maybe one holdover in a small recurring role. I also think the show should take advantage of a British setting and bring a distinctly British (as opposed to Californian) feel to the stories.

*Faith could work; she really could. A show that combines the snarky humor of Buffy with the striving for redemption of Angel. Only problem is, a Faith spin-off would succeed or fail on the strength of the supporting cast, and I can't think of a single reason that Faith would actually work with a "gang" regularly. That, and I think Dushku's pretty much done with the character, in favor of her new Fox series.

*Willow could support her own show, but I think Alyson Hannigan would rather be on the big-screen these days (ditto SMG and DB for the record).

*Anyone else? Xander would make a good supporting character in just about any spin-off, but he certainly couldn't hold his own show. Andrew? No way could he hold his own show, nor do I think he'd make for a good foil to Giles in a Ripper show (especially the way he's been portrayed in his two appearances on Angel this season). Illyria? While Amy Acker is certainly a good enough actress to have her own show, Illyria herself is too much of a cypher at this stage and, like Faith she would need a strong supporting cast to make the show work, but the character has no need for a supporting cast.

So who could have supported their own show? Wes, certainly, had the depth of character to spin him off in a show, maybe with Illyria, as they traveled the world in search of knowledge and kicking demon butt. Gunn, maybe, but the inner city demon fighter with a law degree thing would get old fast, and I'm not sure there's anything else unique enough about his character to build a show on (plus, Illyria said that he had been mortally wounded so, there's that). Personally, I would have liked to see Christian Kane's Lyndsey spun off into his own show, hunted by the good guys and bad guys alike, sort of a demon-fighting version of the Hulk, only with the protagonist having no powers of his own. Maybe even have Spike along as a "mentor" in the ways of redemption (that could have proven very interesting!).

If they must do a spin-off (and I'm not saying that they must), I suggest they go with a fringe character like Lorne or Oz, who has a high likability factor and a need to surround themselves with other interesting people. Picture a spinoff with Lorne and his gang dealing with demons in Vegas, or Oz and his band traveling the country in his van, fighting evil and rocking out (I actually like this idea, but they'd have to pull Seth Green away from the big screen, which seems to be where he's settled). They could go another direction entirely, and create a new character to hang a show around. Maybe let one of the actors who wants to still be involved in the franchise (from what I'm hearing, that's really only Spike, Xander and Andrew) hang around to lend continuity.

Or, they could hang the franchise up entirely, and maybe someone will pick it up again in twenty years (a la Star Trek) to create a whole new universe of demons, slayers and vampires with souls to do battle.

What I do know is that I'd hate to see Whedon and the rest of the Mutant Enemy writers go the way of Chris Carter and 10:13 productions (i.e. vanish of the face of the planet after a successful franchise). Whedon and his writers have a way of creating and developing interesting characters that is unlike any other show on TV, and their dialogue is so good (and unique) that the WB has made a cottage industry out of trying to replicate it on other shows (Dawson's Creek, Gilmore Girls, and even bits of Seventh Heaven to name a few). Whatever Whedon and his writers do next, I'll be watching.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Weak become heroes

Original Pirate Material, the debut album by the "BritRap" band (actually just one guy) The Streets, was one of my favorite CDs of 2002. The music is only marginally more complex than the late Wesley Willis' infamous Casio keyboard preprogrammed beats (in fact, I think I heard that most of the music on the record is sampled from video games); the guy can't really sing or rap, and his thick accent seems to put off many American listeners; but the lyrics really pull it together. The Streets' "auteur" Mike Skinner raps about everything from trying to pick up girls at the pub to comparing a lazy, pot-smoking lad with a drunk, football-loving lout. His wit shines through in almost every song, making the album funny, catchy and oddly real. To me, as an Anglophilic American, The Streets represent everything I remember from my year in the UK about being young and British.

When I saw on Icebox's online CD release listing that The Streets second album, a grand don't come for free, was released in the US yesterday, I didn't waste any time heading out to try to find a copy. The first stop was the local independent record store. The owner confirmed that the CD was due out on May 18, but unfortunately he hadn't ordered any copies, though he'd be happy to special order it for me. Since I am rarely one to special order something unless I absolutely can't find it locally, I thanked him and headed out to another local music store. This time, I was informed that the CD wasn't due out in the US until July and that I shouldn't believe everything I read on the Internet. The clerk looked knowingly at another employee and the two laughed that "the Internet" had fooled another record buyer. A little frustrating, I'll admit, as I'm not one who enjoys being laughed at, but hey, there's a Best Buy just down the street, so I'll check that one last place.

At Best Buy, there was no sign of the CD on their New Release table, and the somewhat friendly employee suggested I go back and ask the (less-friendly) fellow working at the computer look-up. On the way back, I walked through the S's just to make certain it hadn't already been shelved; they had a few copies of Original Pirate Material, but that was all. Nonetheless, I waited in line (there were initially two people ahead of me) to see if maybe I did have the release date wrong. As the person directly in front of me was being helped, a middle-aged woman walked up to the clerk who was clearly helping another customer and started to ask him a question. When he (surprisingly) politely pointed out that he was with another customer and pointed her to the line, she got a very annoyed look on her face and started "puffing" at him ("puffing" is a behavior that I identified in my dog, though I've seen children do it too, where one forcefully blows air out of one's mouth, making a puffing sound, until one gets one's way. This is distinctly different than sighing, which is more of a forceful exhale than actual blowing). As a result, the clerk went ahead and helped her before any of the rest of us who were waiting (who says you can't get your way simply by being obnoxious?).

Finally, it was my turn. I told the clerk what I was looking for; he looked at me dubiously, as if he didn't believe that there was a band called "The Streets," and asked me if I'd seen the CD in their Sunday circular or on their web site. I replied that I hadn't, but it was on Icebox's online list of new releases for 5/18. He rolled his eyes at that, but nevertheless allegedly looked it in their computer (I say allegedly because he body-blocked me from watching what he did). When he got the results of his search, he informed me that they've never carried anything by a band called simply "The Streets" or "Streets", and had nothing on order. I tried to point out to him that, at the very least, the carried the band's first CD, because there were three copies of it on the shelf, and it even had it's name on a placeholder. That didn't seem to matter to him (and really shouldn't have mattered to me), and I was summarily dismissed.

Dejected, I started home, but on a whim I stopped at Barnes & Noble. I looked the CD up on their computer, which revealed that not only was the CD released in the US on May 18, but they had one copy in the store! I walked over to the S's and there it was, prominently displayed on the top rack, and it was even cheaper than CDs at B&N usually are. I made my purchase from the polite clerk, and happily returned home.

What did I take away from this experience? Well, for one thing, I shouldn't have to go to four frickin' stores just to find one CD, no matter how "obscure" the musician is; I think I'll start with B&N from now on when I'm looking for a non-mainstream CD. For another thing, people who work at music stores generally don't like being told that you heard a CD was out "on the Internet," even if "the Internet" is right and they're wrong. I understand that it really doesn't matter how they respond if they don't have the CD (clearly, if they had it, it would show up in their computer system, right?), but I don't like being condescended to when I actually know what I'm talking about.

Oh, and for the record, a grand don't come for free is pretty good, and it even feels a little more musical than Original Pirate Material.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004
I got plenty o' nuttin'

Didn't sleep so well last night, which resulted in me getting up later than usual, which resulted in not having time to write an in-depth post for today. That said, one of my goals for this here Coffee Shop is to write something every weekday, and I don't want to miss a day, because it's just a slippery-slope after that, so here's some this'n'that bullets:

* Rejoice! Bill Simmons, writer of the only sports column I have ever cared about, has been freed from the Jimmy Kimmel Show to concentrate on his sports writing for ESPN's Page 2. For those of you non-sports fans, I'd say his is a sports column that even non-sports fans can enjoy. Let's hope this announcement will also mean a return to thrice weekly columns, including semi-regular Ramblings, Mailbags, Vegas Diaries and more Doug Christie jokes than you can shake a stick at. Soccer fans, though, are still SOL.

* This week's episode of On the Record with Bob Costas features a fifteen-minute round table discussion about the movie Airplane with Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves and David Zucker. It's easy to forget in this modern world of so-called gag-a-minute "comedies" by the Farellys and others that Airplane pretty much pioneered that type of movie, and is still the best. Of particular interest is that David Letterman read for the part of Stryker. Much as I loved his deadpan acting in the classic Cabin Boy, I think Robert Hayes did a much better job than Dave would have. Though the whole discussion is interesting (and funny), my favorite bit was when they discussed how to they made bits like Captain Over's coming onto a little boy funny rather than gross (Zucker said he's never received one harsh letter about that bit). If you have HBO, this one's definitely worth a watch.

* Who wouldn't want their very own Cheat Commandos?

* I saw Troy over the weekend, and, well, about the best I can say is that it's a summer blockbuster (very loosely) based on Homer's the Iliad. If you like to see Brad Pitt's gluts, this is the movie for you. If you'd like to see Hollywood show that upstart Homer that he don't know nuthin' about storytelling or drama, by all means go spend your $8.50 on Troy. If you want a majestic, interesting, detailed retelling of the Trojan War, read Eric Shanower's epic graphic series The Age of Bronze (the first two volumes are available now from finer bookstores everywhere). Or you could just stick with the classic Greek epic. I honestly don't understand how they can spend $200 million on a movie about the Trojan War and somehow never get an epic feel, but they did it.

*According to the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, personal favorite Tom Waits is currently in Mississippi recording a "rootsy - and likely kinda twisted - blues CD," called "Real Gone," for fall release. My ears started salivating at the thought.

*Speaking of CD releases, I thought I had read in EW that U2's new CD, "Solar" was due out in April. April's over, and no word on an actual release. Does anyone reading this know anything more?

And . . . that's a wrap.

EDIT: I initially forgot the link to the Cheat Commandos, now it's in.

Monday, May 17, 2004
Monday's Dreaded Deadwood Discussion

In case this is your first time visiting, or you haven't watched last night's episode of Deadwood, there will be SPOILERS ahead, and in the comments.

Right then, lots to discuss. Let's jump right in to the meat of the episode: the convening of a council of concerned citizens to form a "government," or a group to facilitate bribing federal officials when the Black Hills territories (including Deadwood) are annexed by the U.S. Though it makes sense that Swearengen would convene the meeting, as he's got the most to lose (i.e. control of the town) if the U.S. were to come in and install their own government, I heartily enjoyed seeing him out of his element, walking around town with his coffee cup rounding up not simply the local business owners, but those people who he wanted to be on the council. Make no mistake, Swearengen doesn't want to lose control of the town to anyone, so he made sure not to invite anyone who might try to wrest control from him. I suspect Utter wasn't initially invited both because Swearengen was pissed at him for stepping in and taking over the post/shipping business and because of his ties to Hickok, the only person who Swearengen saw as a threat to his town. I suspect that underestimating Bullock, who is every bit as capable as Hickok at enforcing order, will ultimately prove to be Swearengen's undoing, but in the interim, I'm loving their uneasy alliance. Then again, I don't know how much it is underestimating Bullock, as it is keeping his enemies close . . .

. . . And his friends closer. My question from last week about how Farnum became mayor was quickly answered: he volunteered and was unanimously approved because, really, who else wanted it? I wish I could remember the exact line, but Farnum's line equating the need for a government with the need for someone to decide how much money to collect from the citizens was priceless. Almost as funny was Farnum getting his rocks off with a whore in plain site while Swearengen discussed the need for the piano with Dority. Again, having Farnum act as mayor works to Swearengen's benefit, while Farnum in his poorly stitched up jacket deludes himself into thinking he now has power.

Bullock, well, I just asked last week what the deal was with his family and now we know. So, I suppose his feelings for the widow Garrett are meant to be legitimized by the fact that *his* wife and son are actually his brother's (anyone know if that's historically accurate, or if it's been added to the show for dramatic effect?). And he puts off becoming Sheriff yet again in favor of becoming health inspector (anyone else wish they had seen Doc Cochran give his grave robbing excuses?). I admit that part of the tension in Bullock's character comes from seeing so many other movies (especially Westerns) where the "good man" moves somewhere with the intention of settling down and putting his law-enforcement career behind him only to be forced into the role of law-bringer by the lawless actions (usually involving the killing of someone close to him) of others. It's only a matter of time, now what will be the event that pushes him back to law enforcement?

As for Bullock's partner, I'm becoming very interested to see how the slowly evolving triangle between Sol Star, Trixie and Swearengen plays out, especially given the complexity of the Swearengen/Trixie relationship. I somehow think it won't end up well, though my prediction is that Trixie may be the casualty, since the historic Star and Swearengen both stay in Deadwood through at least the 1879 fire. Maybe the killing of Trixie will be what pushes Bullock back into law enforcement?

Doc Cochran had some great interactions this week, with Jane (whom I still despise) and his attempts at a caring intervention and with Rev. Smith. The Doc is firmly established as a man of science, as the stories of grave-robbing show, and it's almost heart-breaking to see him struggle under the knowledge that he may be able to help the Reverend, if only he could convince him that God isn't testing him. Speaking of the Reverend, knowing what we know about the historic Rev. Smith, does anyone else wonder if they won't have him shot by the Jane or Cochran, essentially to put him out of his misery?

Meanwhile, at the Bella Union, the ostensibly upper-class tavern, things are falling apart. Tolliver, a man who clearly prides himself on being in control, is losing control of his lieutenants due to his actions with the young couple last episode (everyone saw the gruesome reminder of them in the pigpen, right?). Eddie, Tolliver's right hand and head (?) of his gambling operation, still hasn't dealt with what he saw his friend/boss do and it's putting not only their relationship, but also Tolliver's standing in the community at risk. Meanwhile, Joanie honestly believes that Tolliver will not only let her open her own whorehouse, but will also bankroll her venture. This is another relationship that can't end well, not least because none of the three of them seem overly important to the history of Deadwood. It's worth noting that Tolliver seems to be losing control of himself as well, with his usually perfectly coiffed hair hanging down in his face throughout much of the episode and his instigation of a shouting match with Eddie on the floor of the saloon, in which dirty laundry such as Eddie's predilection for young boys, Tolliver's ruthless actions last week, and Tolliver's general feelings towards his clientele were aired for all to hear. The Tolliver of episodes 3-7 would never have let himself appear so out of control. [by the by, does anyone reading this have any information on the historical basis for Tolliver, Eddie or Joanie? If you do, please post it (with attribution) in the comments thread. Thanks!]

Finally, I just want to mention that I laughed out loud at Burns when he asked Swearengen if he could tell Dority about his new responsibilities in front of Dority, to which Swearengen said "no." Then, when Dority asked Burns what his responsibilities were Burns just turned away, even though he'd already said them where Dority could hear. Classic.

Sunday, May 16, 2004
Some back-pedalling, an apology and some clarification

Ugh. I somehow knew things would get ugly when I didn't let Friday's post simmer long enough before posting it up for the world to see. To begin with, I'm sorry. I should not written last Friday's comic journalism post in such a way that one could leave with the idea that I think current comics journalists are doing less than their best in their presentation of comics news and commentary. Any feelings that I have regarding the quality of comics-related web sites or columns are purely my own, and if I perceive them to have changed over the last few years, it more likely reflects a change in my own attitudes and interests over a change in the quality or content of said web sites, magazines or columns.

Almost everyone writing about comics today does so out of love for the characters, creators or medium; there is no significant financial remuneration in comics commentary and journalism. People like Heidi MacDonald, Jen Contino and their cohorts at The Pulse, Matt Brady and his contributors at Newsarama, Jonah Weiland and his columnists and newshawks at CBR, Randy Lander and Don McPherson at The Fourth Rail and others too numerous to mention here work their asses off to entertain, amuse and inform about the world of comics.

Specifically, I need to say that Rich Johnston does not spike stories due to pressure from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, or any company, nor does he favor stories about Avatar over any other company. The former implication was my own fabrication based on a single story which he chose not to publish (I would have done the same thing in his shoes) and has not, to my knowledge, happened again before or since. The latter was simply my faulty memory, and a quick search through his recent archives shows that not only does Avatar not show up more frequently than any other company, he mentions it far less often than he does Marvel, DC, Image or CrossGen, companies who appear pretty much every week. Rich does still break stories that others can't, as evidenced by his confirmation of Micah Wright's current status at DC, and the status of his latest projects. Rich is also one of the only comics columnists to regularly take publishers to task for non-payment or other mistreatment of freelancers. Oh, and Nick Barucci of Dynamic Forces is not Rich's "boss;" I misspoke. Rich writes his column for Dynamic Forces on a freelance basis.

What I meant to get across in my post was simply that there is room for improvement in what's out there, perhaps in a middle ground comics magazine that Post-Modern Barney and GutterNinja among others have been talking about. Since we're in a position where much of what is currently considered to be news in the comics field is controlled by the comics companies, we need to reconsider our expectations of comics journalism; my suggestions to be added to the pot were in-depth analyses of graphic novels (or even runs of comics which have never been collected -cough- Morrison's Doom Patrol -cough-) and in-depth interviews with creators who have no agenda (such as pimping a new book, not that there's anything wrong with that). The types of interviews I'd like to see are career-spanning ones, a la Eddie Campbell's Alan Moore interview in his Egomania magazine or Gary Groth's Will Elder interview in TCJ, and interviews with creators who may be mid-career, but who are in a transitional period where they can look back on what they've done with a critical eye and discuss what's next. I'm thinking of Tom Spurgeon's recent Joe Casey interview in TCJ as an example of the latter. Implicit in my argument was also that we need more middle ground journalists, who not only cover both superheroes (or those who create primarily superhero comics) and art comix (the Fantagraphics/Drawn & Quarterly crowd), but also the in-between comics and creators who work for companies like AiT-PlanetLar, Oni Press, or Slave Labor (what are these comics called? "indy" or "alt-comics?"). [For the record, I'd probably count Vertigo and Top Shelf in with the latter, but that's just me].

What I didn't mention Friday, but will now, is that I'd like to see large scale behind-the-scenes features like the fascinating Life of Reilly, an overview of the Spider-Clone saga co-written by Andrew Goletz (a journalist) and Glenn Greenberg (an editor at Marvel during the Spider-Clone Saga), and columns by pros who have been in the industry for a while and still have something to say (I'm thinking of Peter David, Tony Isabella-, Fred Hembeck-, Mark Evanier-types, rather than bitter old cranks who just want to bash other creators, editors or simply the way things are today).

To any current comics journalists who happened across my post from Friday, please know that I meant no specific offense. Without you, the comics community would be even more fractured than it already is.

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