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Wednesday, June 16, 2004
TV: Deadwood Season Finale

Okay, I've been avoiding talking about it for a couple of days now, but since Johnny B. called me out this morning and started the discussion, I figure I better put up a Deadwood review. Bear with me because I was trying to pack while watching the show (multi-tasking is never a good prospect for me, unless the other task is playing Tetris on my Gameboy, something I do pretty much whenever I watch TV or DVDs) and I kept getting phone calls from my friends at the Rush concert wanting me to share their joy. Hopefully, the comments section will be lively enough to cover anything I missed. And now, on with the show . . .

Wait, what's that? Look! Over there! it's SPOILERS AHEAD!

Sunday night saw the season finale of HBO's Deadwood, certainly my favorite HBO drama since Band of Brothers (I tried to like Six Feet Under, The Wire and Carnivale, I really did, but in the end Six Feet was too soapy for me, The Wire too complex and Carnivale too much style over substance). Mr. Bacardi suggests that the finale asked two new questions for every one that it answered, but I felt like it answered most of the significant questions from the season, at least enough for the season to stand on it's own if there isn't a second season (I'm pretty sure it's been renewed, though I can't remember reading about it anywhere), without feeling quite as wrapped in a bow as the recent Sopranos season. Going character by character, then, because that's how I tend to think about these things:

I loved the comedy pieces with Mayor Farnum and Con Stapleton, the screw-up first sheriff. The idea that these simpletons could ever be the prevailing power in town is comical to be sure, but the producers certainly cast the right actor for Farnum in William Sanderson. As Larry on Newhart he played a simpleton, and as Farnum he takes that simpleton persona and makes it almost deliciously malevolent, or at least that's how Farnum would have himself be perceived (anyone other than me want to see Sanderson put on a hundred pounds and play Falstaff?). The transparency of his actions, all of which are self-serving, is a delight to watch, as is his ability to turn on a dime from self-important "power player" to Swearengen's stooge. The only person in camp who doesn't know Farnum is expendable is Farnum, and I hope they keep him around for many seasons to come.

This episode also allowed Brad Dourif to shine in his role as the gruff, but caring Doc Cochran. Dourif is a wonderful actor who is all too often saddled with roles which are beneath his ability, but luckily Cochran isn't one of those roles. There's not a person in camp that Cochran will bow down to, and he's about the only person in Deadwood who's man enough to demand a favor of Swearengen. One has to wonder, though, if he didn't know what he was asking Swearengen to do when he asked him to take Rev. Smith in and make him comfortable in his final days. Cochran doesn't wander around with his eyes closed: he knows what Swearengen does, what he's capable of, and has probably seen the compassion in his eyes when it came to Rev. Smith. I suspect that, even though he denied it when Al asked him, Cochran was actually asking Al to take care of the reverend in the one way he couldn't: putting him out of his misery. Cochran's heartfelt prayer where he practically screamed at God to relieve the reverend of his pain (which reminded him of the soldiers he had seen on the battlefield) was perhaps one of the most moving scenes in the show, and one of the more true-to-life scenes of honest prayer I've ever seen on TV. Oddly enough, it was also moving to see the Doc, drunk as a result of his inability to do anything for Smith, close the season by dancing with Jewell, one local unfortunate whom he had been able to help.

Speaking of Rev. Smith, while Ray McKinnon didn't have as much to do in this episode as he has the last few weeks, he certainly served as the catalyst for the most honest emotion we've seen yet from Al Swearengen. I defy anyone to watch the scene where Swearengen takes the reverend in his arms, smothering him with his handkerchief, and not to feel anything. As I said last week, Swearengen is one of the most complex characters on the show, honest with himself and reasonably forthright with everyone in camp, but most of his honesty comes from the double meaning in his words (everyone knows what he means, but he doesn't actually have to say it); when he says "You can go now, brother," as he gently lowers Smith's head back to his pillow, his sadness is palatable and genuine, and you know he means it.

Contrast that scene with the very next Swearengen scene, where he deals with the problem of the magistrate and the outstanding warrant for his arrest (and I'm certain the producers meant us to contrast the two scenes), which shows Swearengen at his most calculating. He is in complete control on the situation, from forcing the magistrate to admit that he had the papers on him (and that he had fallen out of favor with the cavalry), to forcing Adams to cut the magistrate's throat (thus proving his loyalty, and ensuring his complicity in the affair), to maintaining control of the entire situation by keeping the magistrate and Adams under the watchful guns of the loyal Dority at all times. This is why Swearengen is the power player in the camp, and why I'm virtually certain that Tolliver's planned expansion into the Chinese section of town will go poorly for him (and why it doesn't seem to concern Swearengen all that much): when anything happens in Chinatown, Wu comes running to Al for "justice." It doesn't seem like there's much chance Tolliver will succeed in his endeavor.

Speaking of Tolliver, the dealings of him and his associates, Joanie and Eddy, were the most glaring areas not wrapped up in the finale (okay, there was no resolution to the Sol/Trixie/Al triangle, either, which surprised me as I thought sure Trixie wouldn't make it through the season alive). In fact, unless I missed it, there was no mention of Eddy stealing money from Cy and no mention of Joanie's brothel, other than the brief scene where she had breakfast with Utter. I expected her to open her brothel by the end of the season, at the very least. We did get a little forward momentum regarding Tolliver's planned expansion into Chinatown (which hadn't been mentioned since the plague episode, when he announced that he had purchased some property at the end of the Chinese alley), and that ultimately served to drive the Cavalry out of town, but things were eerily quiet at the Bella Union in the finale . . .

. . . Except, of course, for Bullock's brutal beating of Otis Russell on the casino floor. In fact, this was a fantastic episode for Timothy Olyphant's Seth Bullock, showing just how fine an actor he is, and just how complex Bullock is. Johnny B says that he "can't get a handle on where [Bullock]'s coming from ... he errs on the side of the angels as often as Al Swearengen errs on the slightly less virtuous." My take on Bullock is still that he is the moral center of the show based on the pure fact that he knows the difference between right and wrong, even though he doesn't always choose right, whereas Swearengen plays the more Machiavellian political pragmatist (it wouldn't surprise me one bit to learn that Swearengen had actually read Machiavelli). For Swearengen, right is whatever benefits him. For Bullock, right is right, and wrong is wrong, but he, like all of us, often finds himself making choices from a bit of a moral quagmire, and some of them are in the made for personal gain rather than justice or righteousness.

Bullock chooses to pursue McCall on his own because he felt like justice was not served at the trial. Or was it because he wanted to avenge his friend's death? Since he didn't kill McCall, we can assume the former, but did he satiate his bloodlust by killing the Native American several days earlier? He chooses to continue to pursue Alma Garrett's interests in her husband's gold stake and in the camp because he believes that she needs protecting from the wicked men like Swearengen and his stooge Farnum, and it's the right thing to do. Or does he do it because he wants to get in her skirt? The tension between them in the last few episodes, culminating in the brutal beating of her father and his subsequent bedding of her seem to indicate that his interest in her is more than simply preserving justice, doesn't it? After all, as he reminded her just before they started removing their clothes, he is a married man. In his anger at Swearengen, he lets slip that Sol is having an unpaid rendezvous with Trixie, right? Or is it because of his own self-righteous feelings of superiority over Sol, who is trysting with a whore? Or does he let slip out of anger that Sol is able to consummate his romantic attraction, while Bullock must repress his own due to his marriage to his brother's widow? Throughout this season, Bullock is shown making choices and, while he always knows what the right choice is, he doesn't always make that choice, and he often beats himself up over his poor decisions. Notice this week how, after he has beaten Otis Russell and all but asked Dan Dority to "take care of him," he cools off and asks the cavalry to protect Russell from danger, which may even be coming from himself.

I think the reason that he didn't want to be sheriff is because he didn't want to be forced to choose between "right" and his own baser desires for vengeance or personal gain, and he honestly believed that as a simple hardware store owner, he could stay out of it. Unfortunately, as events of this season proved, his sense of justice, coupled with his feelings of moral superiority (he tries to suppress these, but they're glaringly obvious), and his natural leadership ability have shown that he cannot stay out of a position of power in the camp. I'll be watching with great fascination how his character develops as the series progresses.

Looking back at the season, I find it interesting how Deadwood developed. Like many HBO shows, it was a bit of a slow burn. In fact, the first episode was so complex and introduced so many characters that I almost gave up on it. It wasn't until I was able to watch the first three episodes all in a row that I saw how artfully creator David Milch had crafted his show. I liken it to other, similarly character-driven HBO dramas like The Sopranos and Band of Brothers, which were also slow burns for me, and took several episodes to get into. In trying to put my finger on what shows like Deadwood and The Sopranos have for me that shows like Carnivale (and I watched every episode of the first season of that) are missing. Maybe it's that there are less self-conscious in their artfulness (excepting the dream sequences and the overbearing bear imagery in The Sopranos, which are my least favorite parts of this last season). They used the "gateway" characters of Hickok and Calamity Jane to hook people in with characters that they had heard of, but it's the characters most of us hadn't heard of before who kept us hooked.

Here's hoping that Milch and his compatriots don't take as long between seasons as David Chase does with The Sopranos.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Comics: Marvel by the Numbers

Courtesy of Fanboy Rampage, I found what appear to be Marvel's September solicits on Millarworld. To be honest, there's only two books on the list that I would say I'm excited for: The Essential Super-Villain Team-Up and The Ultimates v. 1 HC. Even those, I'm not as excited as I might be because buzz on the second half of The Ultimates was kind of lukewarm (I'm hoping that was just people's grumpiness at the extremely late shipping) and I really don't know what to expect from the Super-villain Team-up, other than cheesy Marvel 70s stories (anyone know why issue 15 isn't included?). Compared to my relative excitement at DCs solicits which I scanned last night, and this avowed Marvel fanboy is afraid he's slipping to the dark side.

While I know these solicits are unofficial, and they may change between now and the time Previews comes out, I still thought it might be fun to keep a few tallies as I read through them, just to take stock of where Marvel is at the moment (or will be in September). For the purposes of these numbers, I'm only looking at the 81 monthly books (or minis/one-shots), not the collections.

Price:
$1.75 - 2 (new Marvel Age books)
$2.25 - 18
$2.95 - 1 (Powers, just being difficult)
$2.99 - 54
$3.50 - 3
$3.99 - 2
$4.99 - 1
Average - $2.86/issue

Ongoing Series - 51 (including some I'm not sure about like Strange, NYX, X-Force, Warlock)
-First issues of new series - 7 (Jubilee, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Strange, Marvel Age Spidey Team-up, Marvel Age Hulk, Warlock)
Miniseries/One-shots - 24 (including 5 MK 2099 one-shots and books which I think are minis like Dr. Spectrum, Guardians, Kabuki)
-First issues of new miniseries - 6 (11, if you count the MK 2099 books)
Books shipping more than one issue - 6

Age:
Books over one year (12 issues) old - 19 (23 if you count books which were cancelled, then relaunched almost immediately: Punisher, Pulse (Alias), Powers, New X-men (New Mutants))
Ongoing books with six or fewer issues out by September - 24

Line:
[Note: I counted some books as part of two lines. e.g. MK Spider-man is in MK and Spidey; District X is in MK and X-Men]
Marvel Knights - 16
X-Men - 25
Ultimate Marvel - 5
Spider-man - 13
Marvel Age - 7
Avengers Disassemble - 7 (FF is listed here, but I'm not positive how it ties in)
Marvel Heroes - 9
MAX - 2
Icon - 2

Characters:
Spider-man - 16 (including The Pulse, Powerless, and Mary Jane)
Wolverine - 11 (including Powerless and MK Spidey, which features the X-Men)
Daredevil - 7 (including Powerless, Bullseye and Ultimate Elektra)
Fantastic Four - 4
Elektra - 4
Thor - 4 (including Avengers, which I assume he'll be in)
Captain America - 4 (including Avengers and Spectacular Spider-man)

Books not solicited:
Thanos - probably been quietly cancelled
Iron Fist - ditto
Venom - ditto
X-Statix - no official announcement of cancellation, though Mike Allred said it was through with 26
Runaways - "on hiatus" until v. 2
Hulk - "on hiatus," pending relaunch
Supreme Power - "on hiatus," though Dr. Spectrum continues the story
[here's a related question. Does Marvel have any obligation, either to the fans or the retailers, to announce a book's cancellation? It appears as if they've recently just stopped soliciting books with no word as to the status, though it's pretty safe to assume that they've been cancelled.]

Hmm. Like I said, I'm an avowed Marvel fanboy from way back (despite the fact that they get less of my comics budget than DC these days), but looking at these numbers, it's hard to avoid the thought that they've been pumping out a lot of books over the last few months, most of which seem to star their hot movie properties (does anyone think that they need three Thor books?). As I see it, there's really three questions: 1) can the market support all these books, 2) do they each fulfill a more or less unique role (okay, they're all superheroes, but you know what I mean), and 3) are they any good? Without having more time to blog at the moment, I can give you my short answers based on what I know about each book, having tried at least one issue of most of them, and Marvel's apparent current philosophy.

1) I don't know, but I'm inclined to think that all they're doing is spreading the sales for their current books even thinner. The two areas that I think they're doing okay in are the Ultimate line, which seems to be making decent inroads into the bookstore market and attracting movie fans, and the Marvel Age line, which seems to be a legitimate attempt to make comics aimed at kids. The rest of their books honestly seem to be catering to different, but specific, areas of the existing fan market, many (if not most) of whom have a limited budget that they spend each month on comics. While I may pick up the new Nightcrawler book because I like the character, chances are I'll drop another Marvel book in order to pick it up.

2) I know I'm in the minority of people who talk about comics online, but I really believe that Marvel's heart is in the right place within the boundaries that they've set for themselves. They know where their cash cows are (X-Men, Spider-man, Hulk, Daredevil, Wolverine, maybe the FF, if the movie succeeds), and they're pretty firmly committed to staying within the superhero milleu as a company (and why not, it's what they do best after all), and within those boundaries I think they’re doing their best to ensure that each book has it's own raison d'etre. If they have to put out a new Spider-man book for $2.99 in order to make enough money to justify books like X-Statix, She-Hulk or Thor: Vikings, it doesn't bother me one bit.

Maybe I'll do a line by line analysis later this week or after I move, but to look at Spider-man, for example, you have Marvel Age Spidey (and Team-up, maybe) for the kids, Ultimate Spidey for the fans of the movies who want a continuing story about young Spidey (I may be wrong, but I'm thinking the Marvel Age books don't have much in the way of continuity), Amazing Spidey for the continuing adventures of the wall-crawler as an adult (the uber-continuity book, if you will), Spectacular Spidey for longish stories about Spidey versus his most nefarious villains (this is the arc book, and a good one to give someone who wants the ultimate Spidey/Doc Ock fight or something like that), and MK Spidey for the fan of the character who demands a little more realism from their superheroics. I realize that these may work to greater or lesser degrees, but at least Marvel seems to be trying to differentiate the books. The one area where I don’t think they have clear definitions for each book is the main X-Men books, which may just be too new for me to see their differences (aside from obvious tone and cast differences).

3) I know conventional wisdom is that most of what Marvel puts out is crap, but I happen to think that they have a higher than average ratio of decent books, though their number of Truly Great Works of graphic literature is probably smaller than DC's. If 95% of everything is crap then the more books Marvel puts out, the more crap they put out. But, the more books they put out, the higher the probability that they'll put out something worthwhile. And it certainly appears as if they're trying to put out good books by hiring award-winning writers from other fields (not that there aren't good comic book writers like, oh, say Roger Stern, who I wouldn't rather see working in comics) and getting some of the best artists in the industry (Cassaday, Hitch, Immonen, JR jr). This brings up the question of what if Mattel put out a Barbie comic book by Alan Moore drawn by Bryan Hitch, would I read it?

Quality is too subjective to cover in the time I have at my disposal right now, but I can say that I personally will accept that Marvel may have to put out 50 crap titles in order to put out one book like Morrison's X-Men, Bendis' DD and Ultimate Spidey, District X, or Priest's Black Panther. Maybe it's just the fanboy in me who is willing to accept mediocrity, but if they put out more great books, I'd probably have to buy more of their books and go over my comics budget, so I'm glad they don't!

Monday, June 14, 2004
Music: No Rush

One thing I didn't do over the weekend was go see Rush, like my friends J. and Bruce Sato did. It's probably been 10 years since I last saw the very first band I was ever really into (as opposed to just buying a tape because I liked a single on the radio), and even though I rarely listen to them anymore, I wish I could catch them on their thirtieth anniversary tour this summer.

Unfortunately, they aren't in Milwaukee till July, and their show in Dallas is next Tuesday, two days before we arrive. I'm afraid the only way I'll be able to experience this tour is through the really helpful voicemails from the show that the guys left for me last night (seriously guys, that stuff never works. All I heard were three four-minute long voicemails of people cheering and maybe some music in the background).

Bruce has a good writeup of the show, though he doesn't include the set-list (I can complain about that because I didn't go to the show; had I gone, there's no way in hell I would have been able to remember the setlist).

Luckily, I have several of their live CDs and a few bootlegs to satisfy my live Rush fix (currently in the CD player: 1988's A Show of Hands).

TV: Buffy Season 3

I finally finished watching Buffy season 3 on Friday night (if you've been stopping by for awhile, you may recall that I'm working my way through watching Buffy and Angel all the way through). While I had missed fewer first-run episodes of this season than 1 or 2, I never fail to be surprised by my faulty memory. I had remembered Faith having a much larger role in the season and, while she's around starting with episode 3 or 4, she actually appears in only about half of the episodes. I suspect that it's a tribute to Eliza Dushku's performance that I remember her having a much bigger role. Mayor Wilkins is every bit as good a big bad as I remember him being (he's far and away my favorite "Big Bad"); his personality quirks, such as his aversion to germs and his insistence on politeness and civility at all times, really lend to his charm and all around evil nature.

Season 3 also had some real standout episodes in it gems in it, possibly more really good episodes than any other season. A few of my favorites are:

The Zeppo - This Xander-centric episode, which features the only non-season finale apocalypse that the gang prevents during the entire run, deserves it's fan-favorite status. Everyone is on in this one, and it all works together to form a cohesive whole.

Bad Candy - The one where all the adults in town start acting like children. This one is perhaps most famous for it's portrayal of rebellious Giles (who sleeps with Buffy's mom!), but it's wannabe Principal Snyder who steals this episode for me.

Lover's Walk - The only third season appearance of Spike uses him to advance several subplots (the growing attraction between Willow and Xander, the "where are we going" of Buffy/Angel) to great effect. I firmly believe that Spike works best in small doses, and he works really well here, facilitating the action in a role that only he could fill. One question, though: if Spike only appears once in the season, why does he get his face on one of the DVDs, and not even the one that his episode is on? Seems like an unnecessary slight to Anthony Head's Giles, Charisma Carpenter's Cordelia, and Seth Green's Oz, all series regulars who don't get their faces plastered on one of the six DVDs.

The Wish/Dopplegangland - Both feature evil vampire Willow, which Alyson Hannigan embodies with a flourish, and introduce/feature another of my favorite minor characters (at least, she was when they could figure out what to do with her) Anya. According to the Joss Whedon interview included on the DVD, Anya was meant to be a one-off, but they liked Emma Caulfield's performance so much that they kept bringing her back. Both of these are great episodes, with The Wish being the one where Cordelia goes to a world where Buffy never came to Sunnydale, and Dopplegangland being the one where evil Willow is brought back from that world into the real world.

Gingerbread - the murder of two unknown children (Hansel and Gretel, naturally) leads the town to go on a literal witch hunt for Buffy, Willow and Amy. A good episode, which I barely remembered, save for the running joke about the rat-Amy for the rest of season 3, 4 and 5 (she turned human again in season 6, if memory serves).

Season 3 also saw the introduction of Wesley Wyndham Price, who I liked considerably more now that I've seen his character arc through the end of Angel. I "got" the comedy bits more, and enjoyed watching him try to interact with Cordelia (I wonder how early the producers knew they would be bringing him over to Angel, along with Angel and Cordelia?)

Good times all around, and the best season of one of my all-time favorite shows. In fact, this season is one of the reasons I like Buffy so much. Once they got out of high school, I think the show kind of meandered a bit searching for direction, but I'll give my impressions on those seasons as I watch them.

Movies: In America and The Battle of Shaker Heights

While packing on Saturday night, or preparations for packing (you know, like those little things that you have to sort before you can pack), the missus and I watched two movies: In America and The Battle of Shaker Heights. In America was another fantastic film by Jim Sheridan (The Boxer, My Left Foot) about an Irish family who illegally immigrates to New York City to try to get a fresh start after the death of one of their children. Filled with powerful performances by the entire cast, Paddy Considine, as the father, an aspiring actor who can't let himself feel after his son's death, and Djimon Hounsou, as the rage-filled artist/neighbor, were particular standouts. Also of note is that most movies these days tend to be told either from the adults' point of view, where the kids are simply window-dressing or there to contrast the adults' behavior, or the kids' point of view, where the adults exist either as obstacles to overcome or as virtually non-existent authority figures. In America somehow is able to develop it's picture of the family without giving short-shrift to any of the family members, somehow being told from both the adults and the kids' perspective at the same time.

I've been thinking about what I can say about this film for the last couple of days, and I just don't think I can do it justice. Yes, it pulls on your heartstrings in all the right places (complete with little girl narrator who thinks her deceased brother is granting her three wishes), but it somehow manages to feel more "real" than just about any other heartpuller (I hesitate to say tear-jerker, but I did have a little dust in my eye by the end, which may have caused me eyes to water a but) I've seen in recent years. I highly recommend this movie.

As for The Battle of Shaker Heights, well, the less said the better I'm afraid. If you've heard of this movie at all, it's probably because it was the film from season 2 of HBO's Project Greenlight (which I didn't watch) and if you've seen it in the video store, you probably thought it starred Screech based on the picture on the cover of the box. While it doesn't star Screech, it does star Shia LaBeouf, who also starred in last summer's overlooked but nonetheless excellent kids' movie Holes, as a teen growing up in Shaker Heights (a suburb? small town?), OH.

LaBeouf's performance as Kelly, the war-obsessed child of an artist and a recovering heroin addict (played with dismal blandness by the usually enjoyable William Sadler, who will always get a free pass from me because he played Death, the best part of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey) is, unfortunately, the best thing about this movie. Kelly is picked on at school, ignored at home, and loved from afar by Sarah (Shiri Appleby, from TV's Roswell, in the only other decent performance), the night clerk at the grocery store where he works as a night stocker. Kelly is befriended by rich kid Bart (Eldon Henson), gets sort of "adopted" by Bart's family because of his ability to tell people what he thinks they want to hear, and puts the moves on Bart's 22 year-old sister (Road Trip's Amy Smart) three days before her wedding.

The problem is, while LaBeouf does a pretty good job with the material, I never really bought his relationships with anyone in the movie other than Appleby's Shiri; the central friendship with Bart made no sense, and he and Kelly seemed more like two guys who had to hang out together once or twice a year because their parents were friends than actual friends. All the other relationships seemed similarly forced or somehow off, and unfortunately that made it hard to "buy" the movie. Granted, Kelly's relationships with his parents was supposed to be off, but the distance was such that I didn't believe that these people cared about the others enough to love them or hate them.

Maybe I'd enjoy this first movie by directors Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin if I had watched Project Greenlight, but it's not really an auspicious beginning. If you're tempted by this movie, do yourself a favor and rent Holes instead.

Comics: McSweeney's #13 - Buy this Now!

If you haven't picked up a copy of the new McSweeney's #13, set down your coffee, click over to Amazon and do so right now (hmm, Amazon says that it hasn't been released yet. I wonder what I'm looking at over to the right of my desk which calls itself McSweeney's #13?). For those not in the know, McSweeney's is Dave Eggers' literary periodical (it started as a quarterly magazine, but at least the last two editions have been neither quarterly nor magazines). McSweeney's apparently started out as a venue for Eggers and his friends to publish their short fiction, but it's somewhat morphed over the last year or so.

Number 12 was paperback book-sized, sub-titled "McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales," and featured pulp-style short stories by folks like Michael Chabon, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Elmore Leonard, Nick Hornby, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman and others. I really enjoyed reading this collection of mostly throwaway, but fun tales last summer. Then again, I loves the pulps, so that probably shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me. If you like fun, plot-based short stories, I recommend you track this one down, too.

McSweeny's # 13, which I picked up at Barnes and Noble after our HBP excursion, is a handsome hardcover with a focus on comics, guest edited and designed by Chris Ware of Jimmy Corrigan fame. Purely as an objet d'art, I don't know that I've ever seen a better-looking book (the dustjacket unfolds to form a four page tabloid comic by Ware himself), nor have I seen a more impressive lineup of comic book greats throughout the ages (R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, Charles Schultz, Chester Brown, Los Bros Hernandez and many many more) in a single volume. As if that isn't enough, it features essays on comics by folks like John Updike, Michael Chabon, Ira Glass, Chip Kidd and others.

Once I've read it, I'll give it a more thorough review, but based on the design, the contributors and my initial dozen flip-throughs, my expectations are running pretty high. At $24 for 260 pages of comics and essays this is a steal, and should be on the bookshelf of every comics fan, and probably some of you who claim not to like comics, too! Seriously, buy this book. Now. Go. Geez, seriously, what does it take? Go pre-order it.

Comics: Trips to HPB and Some Short Reviews

Okay, Monday morning usually brings lots of hits to Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe, probably from worker bees needing their caffeine fix before descending into their workday of cubicle hell (hey, after one more week of working from home bliss, I'm right there with you), so gotta put up some less geeky content than what I posted on Saturday. Unfortunately, I don't know that I have much non-geeky to talk about after the weekend, since it was mostly spent around the apartment preparing for our upcoming move. (if you're stopping by for the weekly Deadwood discussion, I'll be posting a season 1 post mortem either tonight or tomorrow morning)

As a part of the packing process, the missus and I went through our multitudinous books to see if there were any that we could take to Half Price Books for credit. We ended up with a small box of about 17-18 books (much fewer than we had hoped) for which we got a whopping $8 credit. That's the problem with bringing them general paperback fiction: unless it's out of print or in very high demand, they just don't pay you much on it. No visit to HPB would be complete without a check of their comics section, just to make sure that they didn't have any that I couldn't live without. Wouldn't you know that this would be my first visit in about three weeks where they had any comics that I wanted?
And so, here's what I picked up, and some reviews:

*Maus v. 1 in paperback and v. 2 in hardback. Normally this would offend my sensibilities to have each volume in a different format, but I just couldn't pass up buying both volumes of the seminal graphic novel for less than $15. I'm hoping that I like them better than I did when I was in college, when I thought they were just "okay;" if I don't, it'll be back to HPB for them.

*Marvel Graphic Novel # 7: Killraven. Recently made Johnny Bacardi's top comics of the 80s, and it's got gorgeous P. Craig Russell art, so when I saw it for $2, I couldn't pass it up. I haven't read it yet, but you can be sure I'll let you know what I think.

*Superman vs. the Hulk. Roger Stern and Steve Rude doing the kind of old-school superheroics that I love. I actually read this one as soon as I got home and loved every bit of it. The only thing that threw me out of the story was when Lois called Clark on his cell phone to let him know that "the Hulk" had captured Betty Banner. I know that they were trying to make the setting as modern as possible, but it just didn't feel right to me that the story took place during the era of cell phones.

*The Tick: The Naked City (reprints the color issues of the Tick 1-6). I was a huge fan of the animated series, and really enjoyed the live action series, but surprisingly (even to me) had never read a single Tick comic. I had always though that there was no way the comic could be as funny as the cartoon, and you know what? I was wrong. The comic is every bit as funny as I would expect it to be, though I was surprised at how full of comic in-jokes it was. I don't think you'd have to be a fan of comics to enjoy this book, but it would certainly help.

*Four more DC Tangent comics (Tangent 97: The Joker, Doom Patrol; Tangent 98: Batman, The Joker's Wild). I think I've mentioned before that I've enjoyed reading these two series of DC's "fifth week event" books, where Dan Jurgens and friends reimagine a world which has characters who share the names with existing DC heroes, but everything else is different. In all, I think I like the first wave of Tangent books better than the second wave, perhaps because they were given a little more room in each issue (each Tangent 97 issues had 38 pages of story, Tangent 98 only had 22). Particular standouts in the line are the Doom Patrol (which has a bit of a 12 Monkeys feel to it), the Atom (which has the air of a family tragedy) and the Green Lantern (which harkened back to DC's old horror anthologies, with GL playing the role of Cain or Abel). The second wave just didn't work as well for me, especially the ones where they recreated DCs big guns like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the JLA. I'm just not sure that the ideas behind these books worked for me.

Needless to say, Mrs. Coffee Shop wasn't entirely pleased that a trip to get rid of books resulted in me buying more books, but what can I say? I just can't pass up bargain comics.

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