Friday, May 31, 2002

A couple of runs of comics:

Justice League Europe, #1-11 (1989-90) - At the time I loved Keith Giffen's broad comic take on Ambush Bug and the Legion of Substitute Heroes but this series appeared just after I stopped paying attention to comics. Since then, I'd heard good things and picked them up cheap. Giffen tosses in some decent ideas like European resistence to a group composed mainly of Americans and the characters' awareness of being second-tier heroes but he often seems hedged in. The characters are usually marked with one or two primary traits so there's an uneasiness between such rudimentary construction and attempts at more open storytelling. The series isn't helped by the weak art and poor printing common to so many comics from these years. Still, it definitely improves and always manages to stay mildly interesting so maybe someday I'll get to the remaining issues.

Fantastic Four, volume 3, #39-49 (2001-2) - As usual, the FF seems burdened by stories so broadly cosmic that they're kind of goofy but the art certainly looks nice. The first arc finds most of the team trapped in the Negative Zone fending off poachers--a promising idea that's too opaquely handled though the parallel story about Johnny forming another team on Earth works much better. (There's a nice one-page meeting with Spider-Man that hints at the potential of putting comics history in the service of conventional notions of characterization.) The second arc shows the problems inherent in cosmic conflict when a being named after an old Santana album decides to destroy, well, Everything Everywhere and Everywhen. For one thing, there's hardly a way to present any plausible motive for such an action; sure this could work as a confrontation with the essential mystery of the universe or some such (& despite all the SF trappings creatures like Abraxas and Galactus are basically gods so the religious tone is appropriate) but this rarely makes for stories of any interest. Second, it's a bit hard to care much about entire realities being destroyed because that's too abstract and more than a bit silly. Third, narrative structure tends to be quite arbitrary. Why is the location to an ultimate weapon hidden in three different realities? Just because. Even worse for this arc is that the ending resolution comes out of nowhere: Gosh who woulda thought that so and so would have a hidden power to do, er, something that doesn't make a bit of sense but apparently saves Everything Etc. Maybe if I'd read the past 20 years of FF this might have worked but even so in terms of this story it's a cheat to bring in material completely unmentioned earlier and still not have it work out sensibly. By the way, there are three credited writers! Just a few tweaks and these issues could have been much better (the alternate realities are for once kinda fun--in one Reed is a Doc Savage figure--and might have been worth expanding) or at least the letters page on the later issues could have filled in background like the earlier ones did. Would be a better use of the space than letting people whine about what they didn't like.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

I finished a game of Civilization III that had been started about five or six weeks ago but had to put aside. The delay meant that I'd forgotten some of my plans (I didn't remember to change to a democracy until the 1860s). Most of the earier games I'd played using a cultural strategy where I would absorb other cities or be first with the technology. This time I decided to try a military strategy and chose to play as Germans (that culture has a military emphasis). However it turned out that my neighboring Romans were culturally weak so I was absorbing their cities and didn't focus on anything military until fairly late in the game. This was also the first time I'd played on a huge map ("huge" is one of the size choices) which I'd hoped would give me time to establish my civilization before conflicting with others. Unfortunately the size meant that each civ was so large that it pretty much had most of the needed resources and luxuries, limiting the opportunities for trading (or need to go to war to gain control). Next time on that size map I'll increase the number of civilizations so that it'll be a bit more interesting.

A problem with Civ3 that I don't remember with Civ2 is that there are now some serious slow spots in the game, usually in the middle after all the initial exploration and basic research has been done but before the endgame space race. The tech tree seems to have been simplified a bit so that now after the first quarter of the game every culture is pretty much researching the same thing. It would have been much more interesting if even into the early 20th century there was a strong possibility of pursuing different research paths so that say one culture might go after strong military technology but another more advanced commercial institutions (there are potential play balance problems but shouldn't be anything crippling). There are also too many spots where cities have been developed as far as possible leaving you again with no real choices and each city being different only in the effects of its placement (admittedly a potentially strong difference: one city might be a poduction powerhouse and another otherwise identical city a weak one due to the terrain).

I'm surprised that nobody has yet--as far as I know--explored the politics embedded in the Civilization games. There's plenty here: about how different cultures are considered to work (such as the military advantages for Germans), winning conditions, control of the environment, how the game rewards physically large civilizations or those with lots of cities, the effects of religion, etc. These aren't necessarily negatives even if some of them seem dubious.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Lies (Jang Sun-Woo 1999) - The only other Jang film I've been able to see is the corrosive A Petal though Lies is the only one to get a US release, due to the subject matter probably. Based on his Director's Statement, Jang was apparently trying to head into Bataille territory but this is instead mostly tedious and while it might be revolutionary in Korea or Jang's head, hardly anybody else will care.


The Time review of the new Insomnia barely mentions the original in passing towards the end of the review. Now maybe that first film is possibly irrelevant to the remake (though would a remake of High Noon fail to get reviews barely noticing the original?) but you can imagine the editorial staff thinking "Norweigan film" was something of a joke. If they didn't and decided to downplay it anyway then they're worse journalists and practically incompetant critics.


Andrew Hussey The Game of War: The Life and Death of Guy Debord (2001) - Well it's hardly news that Debord was an unpleasant control freak which may be why I probably shouldn't have been surprised that he was also a wannabe aristocrat, justifying his leeching off the wealthy to support a high-class lifestyle by claiming it was anti- (or at least non-) capitalist. That's not entirely untrue--patronage does predate capitalism by centuries--but still there's something a bit creepy about it. Hussey does effectively capture a sense of adventure and conflict but also a kind of sadness for somebody who seemed so fundamentally out of time. No doubt some Situationist buff will attack the bio for slighting Debord's writing/thought or otherwise denying his applicability to whatever year is on the calendar but this placing into history has its own value.

Monday, May 27, 2002

Just returned from my parents' where I got to watch TV, an unusual idea. (I don't have cable and can only occasionally pick up a couple of local channels.) Watched an episode of Friends that's the only one from this current season I've seen and one of their worst. This show invariably falls flat on its face when trying to be "serious." Doesn't help that only one of the actors (Kudrow) can handle that.

There was a jaw-dropping episode of Frasier where Frasier's assistant is temporarily replaced by a black woman who is a full-blown trash-talking stereotype. It couldn't be any more blatant if they'd given her an Aunt Jemima kerchief and a bucket of fried chicken; heck that might have been better because you'd know what's going on and not suspect the writers actually believed the stereotype. In some sense this may not be too important: For centuries comedy has thrived on stock figures and people who most complain about stereotypes would instead prefer "role models" which are just different names for the same thing. But on a show that otherwise does have carefully delineated--if necessarily broad--characters this is a stupefying lapse, especially since the show focuses on Frasier's reluctance to criticize her because she's black. At the end she absolves Frasier of his white guilt and takes a job prepared by Mr. Deus Machina.

A History Channel documentary on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart spent significant amount of time on a theory that she'd been misdirected and captured by Japanese intelligence officers at the Emperor's request. But the documentary didn't offer a single piece of evidence for this and the only report by another Japanese officer is presented third-hand. Why not just say Earhart was captured by UFOs if the filmmakers obviously don't care about reality? Especially when they criticze the perfectly reasonable and quite likely idea that she simply crashed into the oceans as lacking in "evidence." The documentary spends most of the opening on the testimony of an island woman who claims Earhart was held prisoner and later executed but again she's so blatantly lying that it's hard to put any faith into filmmakers who don't bother to point out any of her discrepancies.

A Learning Channel show on the Loch Ness monster did mostly focus on the reasons that there's certainly no such animal but still felt it necessary to illustrate stories with false recreations.


Star Wars: Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (Lucas 2002) - Too bad they couldn't clone Samuel L. and have him play every role.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Will Eisner Comics & Sequential Art (1985) - Eisner has done more thinking about comics than almost anybody else but he's done that thinking in the form of comics. So while this is certainly fascinating reading and an intriguing explication of some of the elements of the comics medium, it's also in many ways fairly superficial. The prose sections are blunt and obvious but still feel padded out. Some of it--especially towards the end--are far too brief to be of any help. But the book's illustrations and numerous full-length stories are the real key, especially with Eisner as a guide to some of their highlights. You might still be better off carefully reading and re-reading a volume of The Spirit Archives but this certainly doesn't hurt.


For years I've been meaning to read Sainte-Beuve and today decided to see what's in my library. The good news was four entire shelves, three of primary works (including multiple volumes of correspondence) and one of secondary. The bad news is that except for three biographies it was all in French. You'd think a library planning to aquire that much would have bothered to also find something in English.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Meet the Surveillance Camera Players: Coming soon to a video monitor near you.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

The series finale of The X-Files looked like it was tossed together from outtakes of other episodes. Truly worthy of MST3K.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Theo's Century of Movies is a quasi-journal devoted to a genuine film buff's viewing. It's nice to poke through something like this and see movies I've never even heard about and with good mini-reviews so they're not just titles floating lose in your memory.


This week's Puritanical Creeps Award goes to the Center for Science in the Public Interest who as usual point out the obvious (pizza apparently contains fat according to their May 17th press release) with a condenscending tone that says you'll be dead soon unless you do exactly what they say. Like many such groups they're in love with scare tactics and deceptive statements (the fat content of a single meal is mostly irrelevant: it's only when taken in context of a full diet that it can be properly evaulated).

Friday, May 17, 2002

Neil Gaiman The Books of Magic (Vertigo) - I don't know for sure whether this collection of the four-issue mini-series was intended as a set-up for the series which I understand didn't follow immediately afterwards. But it's hard not to think that DC was at least testing the waters because The Books of Magic really doesn't do much other than establish the background for a potential series. Each of the four issues has a different artist and features a different magical character taking young Timothy Hunter on a journey (quite reminiscent of and possibly deliberately modelled on A Christmas Carol) while he decides whether he wants to follow the path of magic. The whole tpb is a tour of DC's magical universe but doesn't try to tie anything together or resolve any real continuity issues and much (most?) of this will be nearly incomprehensible to anybody who hasn't read decades of DC history. In fact there's not much of a story at all, the first issue being particularly unfocused. The question of Hunter's decision is pretty irrelevant because he's not much of a character but more an observer and most of the supposed high stakes are left unspecified so not many readers will care one way or the other. This deliberate ambiguity seems less mysterious than merely lazy plotting and the references to a conflict between Order and Chaos are dull if not outright intellectually dishonest. Still, when Gaiman isn't falling prey to his worst instincts (as American Gods does almost from the first sentence) The Books of Magic moves moderately well.

Thursday, May 16, 2002,6000,709070,00.html

Snide and condenscending piece on book clubs: probably true but still... What's interesting is that one of the items mentioned for "people who really, actually read" is an honest-to-Eisner comic book but not IDed as such.


Lost in the mysteries of genetics or the American educational process is the origin of my unrestrainable list-o-philia. Give me a list, Best Eastern European Poetry for instance or Best Movies Unreleased in the US (both real ones), and I'll start checking off items, sometimes even trying to add more. So the Guardian's collection of Top 10s is irresistable if only to expose the gaps in my reading (the intellectual's equivalent of a memento mori?). Almost every list has at least one book I've read but the highest are eight from Richard Grant's "My favourite comic SF novels" (the two of his own are the exceptions), seven from Kate Atkinson's Top 10, and six each off Jenny Colgan's "My favourite comic novels," Mike Phillips' "My favourite crime novels" and Norman Spinrad's "My favourite novels." Now isn't this much better than describing what I see in inkblobs?


Classification of the Week: From the library catalog listing for Ali Smith's Hotel World - "Hotel cleaning personnel--Fiction."

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Haggard Allan Quatermain (1885) - A real disappointment after King Solomon's Mines. This sequel slogs through a series of mostly random events until I could only hope the rest of the book was filled with the footnotes (it was an Oxford Classics edition where the editor felt he needed to earn his money by footnoting the most obvious references). Instead of the previous book's reasonable story mechanism this time the characters head off into the wilds of Africa just because they're bored and have nothing better to do. The rest plays out like a tedious travelogue which might be interesting if I could place more faith in the truth of the material about Africa. But the pages and pages about the hidden civilization are not only pointless (there's no payoff in the story or atmosphere or texture) but unlike a utopian text don't even offer contrast to our society (in fact a good bit of it sounds suspiciously like Victorian England). There's a battle with Masai tossed in only for a bit of excitement since it never comes up again in the story.


Fury (Marvel) - Garth Ennis might be an interesting writer when he grows up. Then again maybe not considering how much he relies on adolescent shock value. Preacher: Gone to Texas was aimed at 17-year-olds and wouldn't much interest anybody older. Fury seems mostly for 19-year-olds and might offer something for other ages. (At this rate, Ennis should get to mature work about three Presidential administrations from now.) The hook for Fury was clearly the "freedom" allowed by Max (Marvel's supposed mature readers line) though it's hard not to think the book would have been stronger even under the Comics Code. The best Ennis could come up with is a stream of endless and endlessly dull cursing alongside his typical grotesque violence (one moment lifted direct from Story of Ricky). OK so Nick Fury is a crusty old soldier; we already knew that. Even the idea that Fury is a deluded, amoral, murderous thug has its own charms. But portraying him as a no-nonsense man of action who cuts through the bureaucracy is as unrealistic and worse boring as any superhero cliche, bordering on right-wing fantasy. I don't really care that in "real life" such a person would have been courtmartialed a few pages into the story (wouldn't that have made an interesting book in the hands of somebody who would respect that material) but it does matter that there's little narrative conflict. Fury mostly comes, sees, conquers. Yay? Fury at least maintains a level of momentum (before the story degenerates into a hand-to-hand brawl the interesting part is how Fury tries to prevent a UN-sanctioned bombing) but more importantly tiptoes around the edge of a darkness in the character that Ennis seems reluctant to explore further. Fury didn't need to be Journey to the End of the Night but ultimately it stands as sloppy, timid work.


Composition 8865: Find somebody that you don't know in the street. Have them count to 74.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Today was bootleg remix day. Ken Freedman's show on WFMU was composed almost entirely of such b-mixes (with a tad of tooth-shattering J-pop) and that sent me to the proper Internet sources (no file trading, Web & FTP only). As the man never said, "Pop done ate itself." Stuck in mental repeat: New Order's "Blue Monday" beneath Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head." B-mixes will be even more interesting once the source material starts expanding. I'm waiting for Nusrat vs. Black Flag, Mahler vs. Billie Holiday, Tuvan third stream, bebop babies and the usual not-usual stuff.


Jay-Z The Blueprint (Rockafella) - The first Jay-Z album to connect with me straight from the gate. How could it fail: tinkling R&B piano, hard-as-nails Doors riff, Timbaland, laugh-out-loud jokes, faux multicultural moves, a rewrite of Leporello's catalog aria, Eminem cameo, a dressing down of Nas that gets into royalties statements.

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

You can't help but think of evil with a human face in the story of the San Fernando Valley school district that won't allow high school graduates to participate in their own graduation ceremonies without proof of future plans. By denying these students any choice over their own lives, the school administrators have proven that they could have capably or at least enthusiastically run Dachau. You can also only hurl ridicule at the reporter who passes along administrator claims that this policy is a success because 90-95% of the students now have plans despite noting that many students will lie about this. It's clear the administrators only care about furthering their careers by increasing statistics while dehumanizing the students.


Error-ridden article of the week comes from columnist Malcolm Johnson. It's syndicated so you can find it many places bearing a number of different titles; Johnson's own title "A Grand Parade Of Super Heroes And The American Way" deserves only sneers.

But oh let's count the mistakes:

First, Stan Lee was not the sole creator of Spider-Man. This was done in collaboration with Steve Ditko who also wrote many of the stories. Lee admits this in interviews and it's clearly stated in the film credits. Giving Lee credit as having "sired the Marvel gang" also ignores the equal input of people like Jack Kirby; Thor for instance is clearly much more a Kirby creation than Lee.

Second, this movie is not the "first live-action manifestation" of Spider-Man. That distinction goes to the 1977 TV movie The Amazing Spider-Man. (There have also been earlier live-action Spider-Man films in Japan and Turkey but they often just, er, borrowed the name.)

Third, "No follow-up to Blade II is on the drawing boards yet" is not correct. Writer David Goyer and director Guillermo del Toro have been working on Blade III since before the second film premiered as stated in numerous articles including one from Variety. There's also no mention that del Toro is currently in pre-production on another comics adaptation, Hellboy.

Fourth, the 1941 Captain Marvel serial was not based on a Marvel Comics character. That Captain Marvel was published by Fawcett and is now owned by DC Comics. Marvel's Captain Marvel came three decades later and has no relation to the earlier character.

Fifth, Superman did not inspire "the first wave of pulp gods and goddesses with dual identities." It was the other way around with pulp characters like The Shadow and Doc Savage inspiring superheroes.

Monday, May 6, 2002

Am I too bourgeois? Reading a biography of Guy Debord and the Mension memoir I sometimes wonder if those are actually some fantasy or at least magical realist (lit crit way of saying "fantasy") novels. Who can live for months without jobs, hanging out in dives, sponging off "friends" and wandering the streets? If this is the revolution I'm not looking forward to it. Maybe the real inspiration is that any of them ever managed to do anything of worth (several didn't--Mension for example); ten years either way and perhaps they'd be competely forgotten today. That after all is part of the Situationist point: You can't copy them. In 2002 hanging out in a drunken stupor is not revolutionary (it wasn't in 1954 either but that wasn't the destination).


American Pimp (The Hughes Brothers 1999) - Just mind-boggling.


A Nick Fury movie? Yep, a 1998 TV effort starring David Hasselhoff in a masterstroke of inappropriate casting. What were they thinking?

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Spider-Man (Sam Raimi 2002) - Just imagine what it would have been like with a couple of Hong Kong stuntmen in the costumes. CGI on movies just released already looks as creaky as anything from a 50s or 60s b-movie; even Darkman was more convincing. (Not that fx necessarily need to look like something out of real life--whatever that might be for somebody swinging through NYC on thin cords--but they shouldn't damage the integrity of the movie.)


Uberzone Faith in the Future (Astralwerks) - Bad band name (if this is a band) but a bit above-average electronica (remember when this stuff was supposed to take over the world?). Plenty of overlapping samples, Vocoders, synths, electro beats, reggae vocals, etc which in the end still only makes it unusually busy background music.


The new TV Guide lists the "50 Greatest Shows of All Time." Out of these there are 19 that I've never seen a complete episode but 12 that I've seen reasonably close to the entire run. The latter includes: Seinfeld, The Honeymooners, The Sopranos, The Simpsons, Cheers, Friends, MASH, The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Naturally, they didn't bother to indicate that this is only American TV or else their list would be quite different (or should be, who would expect TV Guide to get anything right?). Still, I would have added Babylon 5 which at times I think is the greatest TV show ever.

Saturday, May 4, 2002

Composition 312: Place an unsliced loaf of bread on the counter. Listen. The piece is finished when the bread can no longer decay.


Black Panther: The Client (Marvel) - Now this is my kinda book. It's narrated by a State Department functionary who had been assigned to escort the Black Panther (king of an African nation) on an US visit. The catch is that the functionary is constantly interrupted by his boss and keeps wanting to get to the exciting parts so the whole thing comes off in a maze of fragments, sight gags, digressions, back story and critical musings on duty, the concept of superheroes & other serious stuff. (Tarrantino is referenced but this actually doesn't seem inspired by Tarrantino at all or if it was then the effect is quite different.) Writer Christopher Priest decided to tackle the whole idea of the Black Panther head on, creating a multi-layered subtext (if that's possible) on the construction of ethnicity, not as a fact but as a conception, something people react to. The narrator initially wonders whether the Panther will stay at the Avengers mansion and order ribs, apparently what he thinks American blacks do; faced with the displayed royalty of the Panther and his entourage, the narrator is then surprised by the Panther's insistence on staying at a run-down housing project rather than the planned fancy hotel. This is far different from the usual preaching that most comics--heck most books, TV or movies--use to approach this idea. The Panther comes across with his own dignity but also the full campiness of a king who dresses in a "kitty-cat" costume and fights small-time drug dealers with his two lightly dressed babe bodyguard/companions. The Client is laugh-aloud funny but also grounded enough that it's not a parody.

Friday, May 3, 2002

The Punisher: Welcome Home, Frank (Marvel) - I've heard this is some sort of updating for The Punisher but wouldn't know, having read little of his other exploits. Mainly that's because he's been some sort of right-wing icon, a vision of what Batman would have been like if he was a psychopathic gun nut. Putting a compulsive mass murderer at the center of a book certainly has its black comedy aspects but those never arose in any of the little I've read before: supposedly since he kills only criminals that makes him a "hero." This tpb collects the twelve issues written by Garth Ennis who never seems to know exactly what to do with the character. The dark humor comes through on occasion (though unfortunately Ennis' idea of the grotesque is too close to slightly matured Nickelodeon--Marilyn Manson say--and not any real surrealist/Rabelais/Lynch unsettling subversion or assault) and the bits about The Punisher's daily life have an amusing if somber interest. But there's not much of an overall story which only dilutes any impact. Supposedly The Punisher is trying to bring down a mob family but since he can wade through the swarming thugs and do pretty much anything he wants why doesn't he just end the whole thing in the second issue? In the introduction (which I read last as usual) Ennis claims he's making simple "entertainment" which is a honorable goal but hardly an excuse. He invokes John Woo apparently not noticing that Woo's protagonists tend to end up destroyed both mentally and physically.


Sentence of the Week: "My own study investigates the very different way in which Run Lola Run interrogates multiple performance of identity, suggesting a reading of Tykwer's film as a modern day manifestation of Lola incorporating significant elements of the Pandora myth; in Tykwer's film, Pandora is portrayed as a redeemer associated with life and hope, rather than as a destroyer or sacrifice, linked with degradation, death and despair, as in Berg's opera and other earlier works." (

Why spend the money on grad school when it's easier to learn to write like an academic than it is to learn to think? Toss in buzzwords (interrogate, suggest, reading), jam separate sentences together with a semi-colon, pretend you've proven something you haven't (such as, er, suggesting Lola is something like Pandora and then discussing the film's portrayal of Pandora--which does not actually exist), etc.

Thursday, May 2, 2002

Time to reveal my hidden contribution to our culture. Check out the WFMU web site. Currently all the slogans below the picture (a different one each time you reload) are mine. Many of the recent polls are from ideas I submitted; if you're bored try to guess which ones.


Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron 2001) - "And we saw the farmers and poets and children of the earth / Running loose, wildly in circles / With concrete under their feet and the sun at their back and tears in their eyes"


There's a fascinating "online exchange" with Greil Marcus at Particularly interesting is his description of teaching recently at Berkeley and Princeton and mentions of what he would add to an updated suggested listening for Stranded (since the actual reissue simply reprinted the original; when I discovered this in 1980 it was a major map).

Worthwhile quotes:

That's what movies are for--for people who think they understand each other to disagree about.

People who trust government agencies to support free and autonomous art are fools.

I think the best songwriters are less afraid of words than poets can afford to be.

No one has an obligation to bother with what I have to say. Name calling usually sounds like the frustration of people who seem to think more people should be listening to them.

He [Bob Dylan] is from somewhere else. He not only speaks in riddles, he lives in them.


Captain America #1 - Meaning the 2002 issue which is the third Captain America #1 in the past four or five years; Marvel really needs to get its act together about this stuff. Still you probably would be better off with either of the other two since this new one is truly bad: not just inept or dull but completely non-intelligent and anti-human. Like J. Michael Straczynski's Spider-Man #36 this is ostensibly a response to the WTC attack but while it was no surprise that eternal blowhard Straczynski produced a silly issue both insulting and embarassing, this new Captain America might have turned out differently. Writer John Ney Rieber has a solid reputation but any of thousands of nitwits could have produced this issue. Your jaw will drop at a story that would warm the hearts of any propagandist, where racists are immediately converted to warm, caring individuals by the application of American patriotic images, where the reader is constantly told how to feel, where the characters have less depth than anything from Flatland (excepting Nick Fury). A truly atrocious botch.