Thursday, January 28, 2010

Change of Address.

I blog here now:
Grievances and Ruminations

Submitted for your approval,


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Carver in the Rough

Artist types throw around their "influences" an awful lot, but generally I think they assign that title to the greats of their profession for the sake of an answer. At least, the number of times I've furrowed in my brow in doubt or confusion when reading or hearing of someones influences far outweighs the times I solemnly nod my head in acceptance. For me as a writer, one of the few people who I can undoubtedly call a true influence is minimalist short story writer Raymond Carver.

Before I read Carver, I don't believe I knew how to read like a writer, or at the very least, I couldn't do it as well. As is the minimalist tradition, themes, and often the very plot in his writing, is drastically understated. They exist in minute details, subtext, and symbols. This applies to length, of course as well. I don't know that I even consider it so much a style as much as an example of the level of subtlety every writer should strive for. A number of my stories, most notably The Murder, are directly influenced by his work. Needless to say, his work is important to me.

I recently read on the New York Times website that Library of America will be publishing a volume of all of Carver's work before it was edited by Gordon Lish for publication. It's no secret that Carver's work blossomed in the hands of his editors-- the level of subtlety he achieved cannot be discussed without some attribution to them. Despite my overwhelming curiosity, I can't help but worry about the significance of the transformitive abilities a liberal use of the proverbial scissors. Is it Carver who has helped shape my writing, or someone else entirely?

It's a precarious situation, especially because by the time Carver arrived at his final collection, Cathedral, his writing style was noticeably different. Not bad, far from it-- some consider it his best work-- but the stories become "easier" to read; The intent isn't nearly as shadowed. Will an unearthing of his unedited work reveal more of a direct bridge from one way of working to another? Was it more progressive than a simple early period, middle period, late period? Probably-- and given that my own favorite stories by Carver come from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love-- what would be considered a part of his middle period, it's likely the most significant number of changes will be in these very stories.

I learned as much about writing and reading from Carver than I have from any professor I've ever had, if not more and I certainly have more affection for him than any of them as well. I certainly plan to read the forthcoming publication (at least I will after I read several of his collections as they currently stand. My experience with Carver was with Where I'm Calling From, a 500+ page collection encompassing work from his entire career) and I'm pleased that what Carver deemed finished will finally get published but it remains unnerving. He is a genius regardless, but not necessarily my influential teacher.

P.S. Initial skimming of the comparison link on the Times Page is rather disheartening.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Justice League: Cry for Justice #3

Justice League:Cry for Justice #3
Written by James Robinson
Art by Mauro Cascioli

I read three pages of this and threw the comic down in frustration. That is all I have to say.

My previous reviews of this miniseries, which I desperately hoped would improve, should say everything that needs to be said.

RATING: N/A (Likely, 2 out of 10 for only the artwork).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Disney buys Marvel

I considered giving this blog a somewhat clever or inventive title, but when it comes down to it, I think the news is staggering enough. Early this morning Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for about the sum of 4 Billion dollars. While major news outlets focus on the buy, and what it mean for Disney shareholders, I can't help wondering what it means for Marvel Entertainment.

It's ironic that the buy should happen at the same time Marvel is celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The characters in Marvel Comics are American Icons; perhaps not to the degree of those at DC, but its difficult to doubt the notoriety of the likes of Spider-man, or Wolverine. Disney, in fact, is only about as old as Marvel itself; their first feature film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) hitting theaters the same year Marvel's, then Timely, first comic hit the shelves. This is perhaps the biggest reason the news is difficult to comprehend; both companies seem equally indestructible so the notion that one old fish has swallowed another is perplexing.

This aside, I think the buy means trouble for the Marvel stable. Disney is now notorious for its franchise buy outs: The company now own the rights not only to their own properties, but also to those of the Pixar Properties, the Jim Henson properties, and now those at Marvel. Not to be a negative Nancy, but consider the entertainment presence the Jim Henson characters since the buy out in 2002. The characters, it seems to me, have been exploited for merchandising purposes but have been used for little else. I could be wrong but nothing comes to mind aside from some DVD releases, and some toys.

The major reason I'm concerned is that I believe Marvel understood the success of their properties was dependant on comic sales. While they're not the most economically successful, they're what continues to generate fans, and keeps fans enthusiastic about other media releases. Of course Marvel itself has been doing a thoroughly disgusting job exploiting its material for toys, TV shows, and movies with the intent to move beyond the comics, so perhaps a de-emphasis is inevitable. I'm concerned because Disney-- a company that booted out hand drawn animation because it wasn't selling despite it being the backbone of the company, and that it wasn't selling largely because of the poor artistic decisions being made-- has a strong fiscal focus. You may say, "Well, yeah, they're a cooperation" but what I mean is that their decisions don't seems to be effected by artistic, traditional, or social influences. I wouldn't doubt for a second that their return to 2D animation musicals has been driven by the mixed success of their own (non-Pixar) 3D movies, and the ever building nostalgia for the Disney Renaissance. I think I'm just now waiting for the news that the company that remorselessly threw out their drafting tables will be doing the same to the printing press.

The other concern-- should Disney spare the printed page-- is artistic. Disney of course makes some wonderful material, but it's hard to ignore that even the darkest of material at Disney isn't that dark. Marvel, by contrast, is a very adult in its material. Captain America shot dead, Norman Osborn's usurpation of control, and others are just some of the examples of artistic decisions that would potentially have been hampered with by Disney Execs at the top. While I'm sure control won't be hands on, there is bound to be company mandates. I expect Marvel will very quickly become the "safe" comic company. Remember Disney is a company whose darker properties include Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney won't be interested in older comic readers, but young kids who favor the television shows. The movie properties are likely to suffer this as well: More like Spider-man, less Dark Knight or Iron Man.
I'm hardly trying to "sound the alarm" here-- I'm actually fairly indifferent at present. If and when what I expect to happen does, I imagine the feelings will be different; I grew up on these comics, but the fact is in the face of Marvel's radical story choices and commercialization, I've been moving to DC naturally, anyway.

DC is in fact now more accurately comparable to Marvel. DC is of course owned by Warner Brothers who have-- astoundingly-- been fairly hands off except in the way of movie production. However, I feel Disney has too much of its own agenda and is more focused on lining up a commercially successful pendant for boys to their Princess line for girls. The biggest threat to the Marvel Universe is no longer Dr. Doom; it's Mickey Mouse.

What do you think the acquisition means? Is this what Marvel meant what they told us to accept change? Are the Disney executives, in fact, skrulls?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh Look... An Affair... [A Movie Review]


Opened (U.S.) May 15th 2009

Directed by: Christian Petzold

Written by: Christian Petzold

Thomas (Benno Furmann), a former solider in Afghanistan, is down on his luck; he has no money, no job, and no prospects. On a walk home from the grocery store, he overhears the crash of a passing SUV. This is how Thomas meets Ali (Hilmi Sozer), an ill-tempered drunkard, and the owner of several fast-food-type outlets. After Ali's licence is suspended for drunk driving, he employs Thomas to take him to his various establishments. This also acquaints Thomas with Ali's beautiful wife Laura (Nina Hoss). Here things begin to get complicated. 

Foreign film is generally a very different beast than American film, and that's certainly the case with Jerichow. An American film with this exact same set up would have tight pacing, several major plot reversals, and very likely a character who was bat-shit crazy. It would be heavily suspenseful, with edge of your seat type tension. A thriller. And While Jerichow is billed as a thriller, it is also a foreign film, which means the approach, and the interests are very different. 

Jerichow is a surprisingly slow-paced movie that seems to have no problem taking a pedestrian look at this potentially explosive situation. It seems in many ways oblivious to the fact that it's supposed to entertain audiences. There are of course surprising moments, brutal moments, and a tenuous sense that something is going to happen, but rarely does it feel as though you're watching a movie in the American sense. This is fine until you begin to get tired and bleary-eyed, which is likely to happen to anyone save the diehard foreign film aficionados more accustomed to the pacing.

The film is generally fairly conventional, save for a major turn of events only ten minutes until the end. This aspect of the film, aside of setting the film apart from what you might expect, makes Ali a much more complex, fascinating character. In fact, it makes you question his motives for the entire length of the film. In this respect, the film succeeds. The characters in Jerichow are all fairly well crafted, and move on their own volition. In the case of Thomas and Laura, this might be why the film seems so mundane. 

Despite its better moments, Jerichow is too conventional for too much of the film, and-- seemingly-- too indifferent to its subject matter. Also, the ending, while powerful, feels lazy and doesn't come as a surprise. Hardly bad, hardly exceptional, its the kind of movie that prevents me from renting foreign films blindly. 


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Detective Comics #856

Detective Comics #856


Written by Greg Rucka

Art by J. H. Williams III 

The Question: 

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Cully Hamner 

The thirteen cults of Gotham get ever stranger in Batwoman, as monsters step out into the shadows and complicate the standoff between Kate and Alice. Later, Kate's love life starts to heat up as more supporting characters are introduced into the series. In the Question, Renee fights for her life as the search for Louisa Soliz unfolds into something much worse. 

One of the significant ways in which super-hero comics are unique from other media is that the characters exist in an open-ended universe. Their stories aren't finite. At the same time writers are expected to make stories approachable for readers. With Greg Rucka's Batwoman run on Detective, I've tried to be patient, and I've chaulked a lot up to Kate Kane being a new character, and that her origin-- soon to be explored fully in upcoming issues-- would unfold at its own pace. I assumed that any backstory would at least be covered enough to fill readers in. Three issues in, I'm still pretty clueless as to what is going on. 

To be fair, the title isn't necessarily bad, but when approaching any Bat-title there is a reasonable expectation that it's going to be grounded in reality. Guns, knives, mob bosses and psychopaths as opposed to capes, monsters and alternate dimensions. With this issue there is a shift in tone from the bat-world to something more along the lines of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, or any other title related to the supernatural. As a reader unfamiliar with the character's history before her usurpation of Detective Comics, the shift came as a bit of a shock. When you say "cult" in a Batman comic it still generally means "crazy people." In addition to the unexpected change in tone-- which is an assumption in itself because of this next reason-- I have no idea of how these elements actually play into the characters story. Omissions forgivable at the title's inception are not becoming annoying. On the other side of the coin, I absolutely LOVE that he's continuing to pull characters and events from his run on Gotham Central. 

These problems aside, there's little to criticize the comic for. Rucka delivers a solid plot, and writes his dialog well. I do take issue that he puts both of the lesbian characters in tuxedos-- while certainly a realistic enough choice, it just feels too butch. Perhaps gender roles are simply too firmly ingrained in me, but I don't think so. 

J.H. Williams III panel design continues to be outstanding (though I feel he occasionally over does it), and the work is generally fantastic. Still, something has been bothering me about this run since it began and I believe it's in colorist Dave Stewart. When Kate is featured as Batwoman, the pages are generally very blue/cool palette, except Kate herself, of course, who is stands out with stunning blacks and reds. When Kate is depicted in her everyday life, she's often depicted as very pale-- seemly an attempt to single her out in the everyday, at which point in the comic Stewart uses more of a warm palette. The problem is that Kate looks like a corpse during the day, and the pages never feel right when buttressed up against the stunning Batwoman pages. The only image of Kate out of costume I had ever seen prior to reading the book was a picture of her from 52 in a red dress, and looking like an absolute bomb-shell. My idea of the character from that image turned out to be very different from what the character is actually like-- tuxedos and tattoos-- but I truly believe one of the major things standing in the way of my liking her is that its awful hard to relate to the walking dead. 

The Question continues to play out like a 40s serial-- due in large to the fact that Rucka has begun and ended each segment, more or less, with the character's life in danger. I've made my piece with this, but I've still yet to come to terms with the artwork. As readers will know I hardly ever comment on art, I really feel as though I'm unqualified, but the work of Cully Hamner and colorist Laura Martin feels so distinctly feminine I can't help but feel it's completely out of place in The Question. Renee, of course, is a very different character than Vic Sage, but the style in the 80s Question series was so effectively moody and noir that it's difficult not to compare the two to the female duo's disadvantage.  Hamner and Martin together create a comic that seems far too cartoony for the character. Hamner's figures are also very stiff--at the very least they are during fight scenes, and this certainly doesn't help the over-all effect. 

RATING: 6 out of 10.

Rucka is an entertaining writer, even if the story is a bit confusing for new readers, and the art is a mixed bag. Rucka's run began three issues ago for those looking to start reading but if you're at it you might as well pick up his Gotham Central run and the Crime Bible to help yourself out. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Mighty Avengers #28

Mighty Avengers #28
Plotted by Dan Slott
Scripted by Christos N. Gage
Pencils by Khoi Pham

The Mighty Avengers have been busy since they assembled. Between the unspoken threatening Earth, and a traitor in their midst it doesn't seem like things are going to be slowing down anytime soon. Quite the opposite, really. By all appearances it seems like things are about to boil over; the scarlet witch confronted, cameos abound, and the Earth facing extinction? The heat hasn't broken yet, and it doesn't look to be getting any cooler this Fall.

Gage's script is something of a difficult beast. On one hand, it's impossible to deny that events have moved foreword, and on the other, it seems as nothing was really accomplished in this particular issue of Mighty Avengers. Indeed, the "Scarlet Witch Vs. Young Avengers" promise advertised on the cover (in both image and logo) is little more than a teaser. Largely this issue is a lot of set-up, with little plot pay-off, but Gage at least makes it interesting. The light that's shed on this stories villain makes him exceptionally more interesting, and that alone makes the ride a lot more fun. In addition to this bit of character work, the issue also sets up a new major conflict, proves a few laughs, and delivers a sold fight scene for the action hounds. To be blunt, it makes a run down the checklist "necessary components" but doesn't do too much else. Solid, but unremarkable.

For this reason it's a difficult comic to review. Certainly Gage could likely have made better use of some of his precious comic pages/panels but it's hard to hold it against him. It's with issues like this that a person begins to understand the difference between good writer, and great writer, and that's often a difficult line to uncover. Even with Slott-- A solid plotter, hysterical character writer-- at his side, Gage's issue simply feels on the "good" side of adequate. The kind of comic you didn't hate, but might not pick up again. Money is tight after all.

I'm not one for ambivalence-- generally, I think it indicates ignorance, if not stupidity but tonight all I really can muster to say about this is "It was okay."

RATING: 6 out of 10.
To be redundant, it was everything you'd expect an issue of Mighty Avengers with Slott's name attached to be, but with nothing to write home about. Slott/Gage's Mighty Avengers has been a fun, if obscurely decorated ride and this issue is merely a breather in which characters are moved around for awhile so that the plot can continue. To hook into this title you'll need this issue, and issue 27 at the very least.