Recommended daily reading – 27 December (Christmas clearance edition)

A few items from before and after the holiday:

Via freepress on Twitter is a link to this Visual Guide to the Open Internet. Helps to clarify the issues at stake in the net neutrality conversation.

On the same topic, via David Brothers and Ragnell on Twitter, is a link to this piece on copyright and piracy and the Atomic Robo blog by Brian Clevinger. Clevinger makes an argument about the importance of goodwill between creators and fans/users, and the  desire to both access content and support those who make it.

Finally, is this post at Panels on Pages asking after the best comics to be turned into TV shows after the success of The Walking Dead. I would like to see more comics to television projects, TV and comic books have more in common as storytelling media than do comics and film in many ways, and I have often thought that B.P.R.D. would be a great foundation for a television series. So, I second that suggestion.

2010 contributions to PopMatters

PopMatters is on its annual publishing break, so here is a compilation of my contributions from the year:

DVD reviews:

Metropia (2009), 17 November, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/133436-metropia/

Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect (2007), 22 September, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/131069-rem-koolhaas-a-kind-of-architect/

A Town Called Panic (2009), 19 July, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/128344-a-town-called-panic/

Uncertainty (2009), 1 June, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/126249-uncertainty

Arizona Dream (1993), 30 April, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/124507-arizona-dream-warner-archive-collection

Blood Ties: The Complete Series (2007), 23 April, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/124137-blood-ties-the-complete-series

Examined Life (2008), 26 February, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/120778-examined-life/

Sita Sings the Blues (2009), 11 January, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/118090-sita-sings-the-blues/

“Worlds in Panels”:

“A case for comics in College”, 3 February, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/119402-teaching-with-comics/

“Creator: various”, 10 March, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/120569-comics-authorship-reaching-the-limits-of-singular-genius/

“Egads! Comics! In the library!”, 7 April 2010, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/123371-my-ten-year-old-is-reading-what-the-meaning-of-the-comics-section-at/

“Comics: it’s such a big small world”, 6 May 2010, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/124633-between-big-and-small-what-conventions-tell-us-about-american-comics/

“Freeze frame: how best to capture film in a comic book?”, 8 June, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/126368-the-art-of-making-moving-images-still/

“Almost lifelike: drawing out reality in comics art”, 26 July, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/127397-comics-art-referencing-the-real-drawing-out-reality/

“The danger of ‘Girl Comics'”, 16 August, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/128969-thinking-beyond-this-years-women-of-marvel/

“‘Scott Pilgrim’ and what movies means to comics”, 30 August, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/130258-scott-pilgrim-and-what-movies-mean-to-comics/

“Strange tales and mainstreams: when all superheroes are uncanny”, 5 October 2010, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/131215-strange-tales-and-mainstreams/

“From pin-ups to ass-kickers: girls in comics go through transitions”, 16 November, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/132715-comics-gender-gap/

“The year in review: the best comics of 2010”, 14 December, http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/134160-the-most-interesting-comics-i-read-in-2010-trade-paperback-edition/

Recommended daily reading – 22 December

A few interesting links before I begin working on a new “Worlds in Panels”:

Marguerite Reardon, yesterday on cnet, has a good overview of the new FCC rules regarding net neutrality. In the end, this looks like one of those political compromises that can be cast as the ‘right’ solution because no one is happy with it, but, in fact, no one is happy because the decision makes little sense as an approach to the problem at hand.

At The Unofficial Apple Weblog is speculation as to whether Apple will be a target of “Anonymous” now that the company has pulled the WikiLeaks app from the store. I am disappointed that this choice was made, but have long given up the illusion that just because I like their tech and design sensibilities that Apple is anything other than a profit-maximizing, risk-averse corporation.

In the cities and design realm, on Lost Remote, I saw this piece about interactive bus shelters in San Francisco. The article is really just a ‘teaser’ about the project, but I am certainly intrigued by the possibilities of using public space like this for social interaction and play.

In comics movie news:

  • At The Wild Hunt, Jason delivers the best response I have read to the racist furor over Idris Elba having been cast as Heimdall in the upcoming Thor movie (link via Ragnell on Twitter).
  • And this casting news, from MTV’s Splash Page, is something I like.

Finally, a Christmas memory from Kate Beaton.

Early thoughts on Marvel’s “Fear Itself”

Via Robot 6 today, I learned of Marvel’s big event for 2011, “Fear Itself”, a universe spanning crossover. I am abivalent about this news.

These kinds of multi-title storylines continually pose challenges to my enjoyment of books from DC and Marvel. Currently, servicing the “Wolverine Goes to Hell” mini-event has hamstrung the just starting X-23 ongoing, for example. In other cases, I have had trade collections of titles like Manhunter and Birds of Prey upended by something going on in the larger DCU that I did not really understand or care about.

On the other hand, once I began seriously reading comics again “Civil War” was my re-entry into superhero books, albeit after it hall been spun out and collected into trade paperbacks.

I have tended to focus my reading from the major publishers on marginal characters and titles, the kind least likely to be at the heart of major goings on, but I have tried to get back into the X-Men, including the mainstream. Now that “Second Coming” is done, I kind of feel like I am getting my bearings again. What “Fear Itself” will do to that feeling, I don’t know. Maybe I will end up retreating further into the most obscure and independent of Marvel books, ones like X-Men Forever, that run outside of or parallel to mainline continuity. Or maybe it won’t end up mattering much.

My first thought is to resist Marvel’s attempt to get me to buy a bunch of books I don’t normally have much interest in. But I give the Powers that Be credit, putting Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen on the core mini is bound to make any current reader of superhero comics pause and think about how they want to approach this new event.

Buy or trade/wait? That would be the question.

Recommended daily reading – 20 December (emptying out the archive edition)

Been neglecting this part of the blog lately:

First, the most topical item. Via the freepress Save The Internet blog, bad news about the FCC and Net Neutrality. If you care about access to the internet, do what you can to forestall this action.

In other political news, but late-ish now, on Written World, Ragnell has a well-argued reponse to former DC President Paul Leyritz’s comment to the effect that superhero stories ‘fundamentally’ appeal to boys more than girls. Ragnell smartly hones in on the essentialism of this statement as the underlying problem with Leyritz’s perspective on the genre.

IFC has been promoting their new original series, Portlandia, premiering in January. The show will satirize life in my hometown, Portland, Oregon, particularly as the city boomed with ‘creatives’ starting in the 1990s. Looking forward to checking it out, and curious as to how people who don’t really know Portland will respond to the series.

From the world of webcomics:

(Sidenote: the links I collected for this post are the first from Pinboard. I made the switch from delicious over the weekend. Here’s why – assuming you don’t already know.)

November comics

I’ve decided to start these posts after I get my single issues read each month, which still puts me about a week late, but this way I will have some actual content when I provide the lists.

From tfaw in November:

Monthly comics:

Action Comics #894 (DC).

I am not a regular reader of this title, and I almost did not order this issue, but once it registered that Paul Cornell was the writer, I thought it would be worth checking out. For most of the story, Cornell makes it seem like Lex Luthor has been dropped into The Sandman universe, and I found that part of the narrative to be compelling. The final few pages, where it reads more like Death being brought into the mainstream DCU, I found less compelling because I only vaguely understand what Luthor is talking about. I am also left feeling unsure about the resolution in terms of Death paying a visit to someone who isn’t dead, or even near death. That seems like a big liberty to be taking with the character.

Pete Woods’s and Brad Anderson’s version of death is also mixed for me. In close-up the art is often quite lovely, but when drawn from wider angles, her body goes through some weird changes in shape and proportion. I do think that the wide belt is a nice touch for updating the character, but without changing anything fundamental about her look.

The backup with Jimmy Olsen … all I can say about that is aliens who get drunk on oxygen seem entirely like something Nick Spencer would write. The retro futuristic look and feel of the art by RB Silva et al is fun, too, but I did not understand much of the context for this story.

Angel #38 and #39 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande appears to be the leading house artist, and that’s a good thing. Other than that, some wrapping up and a new start. Really just playing out the string with this book.

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #1 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner use the first issue of this mini to review Illyria’s biography and set up the story. Most importantly, they get her voice right, which isn’t easy. Few writers in these Angelverse comics have been able to get her cadence, and off kilter thinking, just right, but I think this issue is pretty close. More Elena Casagrande pencils, and I appreciate her ability, and inker Walter Trono’s ability, to render the characters in ways that look like the live action referents, but still making figures that look like comic art, and not bad photographs or something.

Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #1 (Red 5)

All I will say this month is, “Atomic Robo, yaye!”, and that I am looking forward to the book getting back to a longer story arc.

Avengers Academy #6 (Marvel)

Again, I get this for A, but enjoy reading, too. That being said, weakest issue of the series so far for me. Probably because he is the ‘nice guy’ on the team, Reptil does not come across as the most interesting character.

Birds of Prey #6 (DC)

Also a weak outing. I was looking forward to a Huntress-centered issue, but Helena’s voice seems off (“Drippypants”, really?). While the art seems more setlled than it has in other post-Ed Benes issues, I am not liking the blow up doll lips on everyone, and some of the posing is overly softcore. On the other hand, Gail Simone’s reintroduction of Shiva, which I think most readers knew was coming at some point, is spot on.

Black Widow #7 (Marvel)

Most of what’s wrong with this title right now is summed up by the bottom panel in page 3. I also don’t understand why the basic plotline of the the first arc is being recycled here. Is the whole series going to be about Natasha being framed? I don’t doubt this is a problem for her, but still, there has to be more. The uncredited cover is pretty cool, though.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #4 (Dark Horse)

I feel the need to hold off on writing too much about this issue, as it is the penultimate in the kick off for the reconstituted B.P.R.D. title, but the way the Wendigo reappeared in full view of Abe is worth noting and very interesting.

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Oracle (one-shot) (DC)

Ironically, of the two single issue ‘event comics’ I got in this shipment, the one that was easiest for me to follow is the one in the ongoing series. As much as I realize that ‘one-shot’ only promises to resolve a particular story, something in the way these were marketed, led me to think it would be easy enough to read despite not really following the main Bat books. I was wrong. In any event, I took chance because Oracle + Marc Andreyko seemed promising, not because I am interested in the Bruce Wayne storyline. My mistake.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #38 (Last Gleaming Part Three)

Angel embraces the Twilight thing and starts punching people. Yeah, I know what happens next.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #5 (Wildstorm)

This issue might put the telling good stories about minor characters device a little too far, but still recommend the series to fans of the show.

Generation Hope #1 (Marvel)

Start of a new series, new mutants. Interesting enough kick off, and a nice prelude in the back.

Ghost Projekt #5 (Oni Press)

I started this subscription because I have become very interested in how the Cold War is being reassessed in pop culture, but I’m not sure that there is much unique or especially deep here, although I do appreciate that Joe Harris and Steve Rolston make the reader work to understand how the story ends. Probably need to go back through all five issues together for a real evaulation.

Hellboy/Beasts of Burden (one-shot) (Dark Horse)

Lovely. Sad. Maybe the best book I read this month. I only wish I knew more about the Beasts of Burden. Waiting for trade to come out for that series.

Hot Wire: Deep Cut #2 (Radical Comics)

This comic is the only reason I hesitated on whether the above is the best thing I read this month or not. Cracklingly fun. Full of smarts and action. I don’t know what the actual working relationship between Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis is on this title, but it has some of Ellis’s signatures, especially a fascination with science and the culture of scientists. Love it.

I, Zombie #7 (DC/Vertigo)

A new story arc starts. Lots of characters with their own threads. Starting to feel like more of an ensemble book right now. A and I continue to enjoy together. Thanks, Chris Roberson and Michael Allred for creating book I can read with my twelve year-old, even on Vertigo.

Mystery Society #4 (IDW)

I am beginning to feel as if the narrative is starting to spin its wheels without going anywhere. The Poe skull seems like a throwaway right now, but we’ll see. Would still buy just for Fiona Staples’s art.

Scarlet #3 (Marvel Icon)

The issue I am having with this series right now is the kind of corruption that Bendis and Maleev are exploring here does not seem to fit the setting. Portland has problems with police use of force, and racial tensions, but the drug money, dirty cops kind of corruption that Scarlet is fighting back against, not so much. This is weird because Bendis otherwise seems to get his adopted city pretty well in other respects.

Spider-Girl #1 (Marvel)

Very strong debut for this series. I am not entirely what the significance of Red Hulk is supposed to be at the end, but up to that point, I thought that Paul Tobin paced the story well and introduced the character in an effective way through a variety of settings and relationships. Clayton Henry draws Anya as a sensible and athletic teen girl. A nice change from some of the other art this month.

Spike #3 (IDW)

Still more fun and sharper than Angel right now. Still setting itself up, fwtw.

Uncanny X-Men #529 (Marvel)

Moving along the Emma, Shaw, Kitty story, pushing Hope forward. If I were more ambitious, I would go back to the previous issues and see if inks and colors were done by new people because Whilce Portacio’s pencils seem somewhat less irritating, better differentiation between characters, Emma less hag-y.

X-23 #3 (Marvel)

Well, I am entirely confused about the direction this title is going in. Write now the narratives are changing on a dime. This does not seem like Marjorie Liu’s fault, but is rather a result of editorial decisions requiring the book to service crossover stories. Making me wish she (and Daniel Acuna) were still on Black Widow.

TPBs:

CBGB (BOOM!)

Fun, works very hard to get the spirit of the subject right. Even though it took the most oblique approach to the club, on first reading, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Chuck BB’s quiet story stood out for me, but I also think the opening stories by Kieron Gillen and Marc Ellerby and Sam Humphries and Rob G set the tone of the collection well. I am thinking of devoting a future “Worlds in Panels” to this book.

Daredevil Bendis & Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 3 (Marvel)

The middle book of these giant collections took a more conventional turn, but here Bendis and Maleev are back to deconstructing their subject, attempting to explore what it would mean for someone to be superpowered and to take the law in their own hands, how different people might react to those individuals. The fact that Bendis is willing to be so open about this, the Hell’s Kitchen support group, to work into the narrative makes this even better reading. The opening arc that mixes art styles is lovely work by Maleev and Dave Stewart. I even found myself compelled by the “Ultimate” backups.

Duncan the Wonder Dog Vol. 1 (AdHouse)

See my Favorite Comics of 2010 for my thoughts on this title.

Kill Shakespeare Vol. 1 (IDW)

This book did not take off for me until Hamlet falls in with Falstaff and Juliette. I am glad that writers Conor McCreery, Athony McCall and penciler/inker Andy Belanger made Juliette as a counterpoint to Lady McBeth. While the latter is certainly made in the spirit of the original text, she also is a familiar female villain (dark, red, sexy, evil). Juliette, in the position of rebel leader, is not only less familiar, but has been given a very interesting story arc post-Romeo.

Koko Be Good (First Second)

Jen Wang writes and draws an engaging story about two very different people who nonetheless build a friendship. Koko is especially well rendered in a dynamic way, almost liquid, in how she moves and changes facial expressions. Jon, appropriately, is more grounded and staid. The open expressiveness of her characters is another admirable quality of the book.

Red Mass for Mars Vol. 1 (Image)

Yeah – still need to think about this one.

Saga of Rex (Image)

Wow. So delightful. I only have three of the Flight books, so this collection of Michel Gagne’s creation is wonderful to have. Gagne’s universe is beautiful and complex, but what really makes the story work is the expressiveness of his characters, vitally important to a book with no dialogue, and only ocassional narration.

X-Men: Nation X (Marvel)

I got this to fill in some of the gaps in my reading of X-Men: Legacy and Uncanny X-Men, but the real pleasure in the collection is the collected Nation X issues written and drawn by a variety of independent creators, Mike Allred, Becky Cloonan, and Marvel regulars who tend to work the margins of the publisher’s universe, like Christopher Yost. What makes these stories so refreshing is how free they are, free to explore characters without having to worry so much about servicing the larger narrative and selling issues of the adjacent X-title. I will also say that I find Greg Land’s style to be offputting. In all of the Uncanny X-Men issues featuring his pencils, the characters look like airbrushed models and actors. Who really wants that, especially when dealing with this cast of characters?

Thinking about BOARDWALK EMPIRE and the significance of cinematic gestures on TV

After watching the series premiere of Boardwalk Empire, I was struck by how cinematic it felt. Not just in its production design or narrative form, but in the way that it was shot and edited. A number of the examples I had in mind right after that episode have exited my brain, but the one that has stuck with me is the slow, wordless, and artfully framed mob hit in Chicago that follows the big meeting in Atlantic City.

It is rare in series television to have a sequence like this, where so much time and effort is devoted to crafting a moment for visual effect. Most of what happens in this scene has no narrative purpose, and it centers on a character about which the audience knows little and who, by virtue of being killed in the first episode, is at most a footnote in the series. I thought a lot about this in the week between episodes, but did not fully trust my thinking because, like just about everyone who watched the pilot episode, I knew that Martin Scorsese directed and that Thelma Schoonmaker edited. Maybe I was being unduly influenced by that knowledge.

For the most part the first season of the show settled into a more familiar set of rhythms for a TV drama, but the finale, which Anne-Marie and I watched last night, returned to a cinematic presentation, and I began thinking again about what kinds of visual and narrative codes work across the two media and which are more difficult to transpose.

For me, a cinematic gesture that did not work in the finale is Margaret finding the rag in the barnbrack cake. Film has a different narrative economy than series television, and within that economy, this kind of broad signification can be effective because you get so little time with the characters and stories often need to be moved forward with efficiency.

In the context of Boardwalk Empire, however, this moment seems cheap and unnecessary. We already know what the stakes are in the choices that Margaret has to make about staying or not staying in Atlantic City and with Nucky. Margaret is a complicated, smart character and even the implication that she would be moved by pulling the rag undermines her and what the audience has learned of her during the show’s twelve episodes. The rag is an anvil here. In a film, it may have worked as shorthand for Margaret’s dilemma.

At the same time, the companion moment where Nan finds the ring does work. There is a difference in mode of address, straight versus ironic, but also as much as we have come to know Margaret, we know little about Nan. We know that she harbors romantic fantasies about Warren Harding and the White House, fantasies that are belied by her being shuttled off to Atlantic City as Harding seeks the presidency. This lack of knowledge gives weight, and even a poignancy, to her finding the ring. I also think that Nan’s situation works well in conjunction with Anabelle’s, showing both sides of the fantasy and the fragility of life for women, especially the young and unmarried, in this time and place. Notably, these two characters never actually meet (or if they do, only in passing). Rather, they are woven together in the narrative over multiple episodes, culminating in Nan finding the ring and Anabelle finding George Baxter.

After these examples, are the cinematic gestures that I am still processing.

One of these is from the musical montage at the close of the finale. After conspiring with the Commodore and Eli, Jimmy is seen, smoking, on the beach, first in close-up profile and then in a long shot from the back. These shots reference the opening credits, supplanting Jimmy for Nucky. This moment is at once obvious and subtle, mostly for the way it appears to visually signify the outcome of the conversation at the Commodore’s.

What I can’t help thinking, though, is that the impact of these shots, especially the long shot, is mitigated by having been made for television. How different would my reaction be if I had originally seen this moment in a darkened theater and on the big screen, amplifying the power of the image (on the other hand, I’m not sure that these particular shots can be read effectively out of the context of the opening credits, credits that the audience will have had twelve occasions to view and think over before seeing Jimmy on the beach)?

The murdering of the D’Alessio brothers while Nucky holds forth in front of the press is an explicitly cinematic gesture as it directly references the baptism sequence from The Godfather and, maybe more obliquely, Jimmy Conway’s killing spree in Goodfellas. Each murder is given its own time, each is done in a particular style and with a particular kind of flair, and the sequence ends with a return to the site of each killing, now artfully adorned with pools and splatters of blood.

As with the hit from the premiere, the extension of this scene does not serve any obvious narrative purpose. There have already been multiple opportunities to see how cold blooded Jimmy, Capone, and Richard Harrow can be, but I think each of these characters has also been presented as more complicated than just that. Just in the finale alone is a conversation between Angela and Jimmy about his PTSD, and a reminder of Al’s decision to ‘grow up’ (I was glad that he grabbed the apple from the shopping bag after doing his part of the killing; that was an effective way to show that simply deciding to mature does not make it so, especially not when one is engaged in an illicit way of life). By contrast, the assassins in The Godfather are largely anonymous or background characters whose primary reason for being is to service their principal scene, and De Niro’s Jimmy is a psychopath (and, significantly, in Goodfellas, you get shots of bodies, not murders).

Scenes such as this, and the shots of Jimmy on the beach, at the moment, to me, seem out of place. In fact, the murders and press conference montage seems to want to situate Boardwalk Empire within film, and not TV, history. But is that a good or bad thing? What do I want from television? What do I want from film? What makes for visually arresting TV? And how does it look different from what works on film?

I think we all know that the experience of watching a movie made for the big screen on a television, especially at home, is a very different experience from the one intended. I suspect that this also means that attempting to make a TV series as if it were a film, while an interesting exercise, is something that won’t quite work either.

Which is not to suggest that Boardwalk Empire, taken as a whole, does not work as compelling television. It does, and I am already looking forward to a second season. But I am also interested to see how the series develops its visual and narrative style over time. Right now my thinking is that it will be more interesting to see less borrowing and quoting from film(s) and more of an attempt to do what the creators want to do in ways that seem more adapted, or ‘native’, to television. And yet I have to admit that I don’t really know what might look like.