Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vader: Master Of Espionage

I was thinking last night about 'Star Wars' (an always popular topic in my brain) when something interesting clicked in my brain about the movie. We're told, of course, that Vader in the original film was nothing more than a jumped-up thug, a blunt instrument with Tarkin "holding his leash". But what if the opposite was true? What if it was not Tarkin commanding Vader, but Vader playing a deadly and subtle game that involved letting Tarkin think he was in command?

Think about it. The Emperor is planning to dissolve the Imperial Senate and rule directly through his planetary governors. In order to keep the planetary governors from breaking away and forming their own hegemonies, he has the Death Star present as a weapon of last resort. No planetary governor is going to risk retribution on that scale. But then, logically, I asked myself, what's to stop Tarkin from deciding he's just going to cruise this puppy on down to Coruscant and turn the Imperial throneworld into bacon bits? The Emperor might have Force powers, but I don't think they make lightsabers big enough to deflect that laser. No, the Emperor would have to live in constant worry that Tarkin would betray him, unless he had someone on the station keeping him in line...

And that's when it hit me. Vader. He might be doing Tarkin's bidding--in fact, he probably wants to appear as nothing more than Tarkin's obedient dog, to lull any suspicions Tarkin might have--but deep down, he's a Sith apprentice. I'd be willing to bet that if Tarkin did try to foment mutiny and usurp the throne, he would have gotten a cauterized wound through his heart faster than you can say, "I think you underestimate their chances."

And then, of course, at the end of the film, the Emperor's ultimate terror weapon that he plans to use to keep his generals in line...blows up. Very publicly blows up. Perhaps that's why we see Vader, in the next movie, tooling around the galaxy in a Super Star Destroyer throwing his weight around among all the Admirals. He's not just crushing the Rebellion, he's making a statement to anyone who might be thinking about taking advantage of the Empire's weakness.

Friday, June 24, 2011

R I P Gene Colan

I'm glad that I took the time to send him fanmail while it still had the chance of meaning something to him; Gene Colan was one of the legends of Marvel comics, a genuine artist with a distinctive and dreamlike style unlike anyone else in the field, then or now. His art on Doctor Strange and Daredevil was iconic, and his work on Tomb of Dracula remains an unsurpassed milestone of moody horror. He was gracious and generous, and his response to my fanmail was just one of many examples of that.

"Gentleman" Gene Colan, one of the great ones. Rest in peace.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review: Bloodstone, by Nate Kenyon

I found this book on my bookshelf one day a while back. It was in with the unread books (I sort books into two groups, read and unread) but I couldn't remember when I bought it. In fact, not only could I not remember when I bought it, I also couldn't remember where or why. I don't think I bought it based on the back cover blurb; I suspect that I must have read a slightly more detailed synopsis, saw the word "zombies", and decided to pick it up and only just now got back to it.

Having finished it, I don't feel too bad about not getting to it right away. It's not a bad book by any stretch; I've read far worse novels by far more experienced authors. (This is Nate Kenyon's first book.) But it is what it is, a first novel by someone who hasn't yet stepped out of the shadow of his idols Stephen King and Peter Straub to find his own voice as a writer. While I suspect that Kenyon might have some good books ahead of him, maybe even some genuinely great ones, this is the work of a fledgling writer who's still sorting things out.

One of the big things that he needs to sort out is who he is. Right now, this feels like a painter trying to forge the work of an Old Master; the touches are all King, but the inspiration that guides the work is clearly that of someone of lesser skill. A clarifying disclaimer: I'm obviously not saying that Kenyon is plagarizing King, merely that he uses many of King's stylistic touches. There's a Christine-like social outcast who falls under the domineering influence of a possessing ghost, a Shining-esque sequence where a character is tempted to drink by ghosts in a bar that inexplicably appears the way it did where it was new, and one of the death scenes of a minor character feels like it fell out of Salem's Lot and the vampires turned to zombies when it hit the ground. Even the opening sequence, which is attention-grabbing and clever, has more than a little similarity to the opening of Peter Straub's Ghost Story.

And the similarities make the weaknesses of the story compared to King or Straub's work that much more apparent. It's an "ancient evil comes back to haunt small town in Maine" tale (it's not Kenyon's fault that he lives in the same part of the country as King, but it is unfortunate...) But Kenyon hasn't yet learned how to write on the kind of grand tapestry this sort of story requires, where the small New England town becomes a world in microcosm and the intensity builds as the novel moves towards a climax. There's plenty of atmosphere, but nothing actually happens until about page 280 of a 33o-page novel. It's as if Stephen King had to cut IT down to fit the publisher's requirements, and so he took out all the monster attacks and all of the town history sequences.

Despite all this, as I say, the novel is not without promise. The prose flows well, and is not marred by any of the clumsy cliches that plague the horror genre. The zombies and supernatural elements, while underused, aren't bad (although again, too reminiscent of King.) The characters are sympathetic and well-drawn, and there are some interesting choices in their backstory and the dynamic between them. This is a novel that you could maybe look back on and see the potential in...but I don't know if it's worth reading for its own sake.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Half-Hearted Perfunctory DC Complaint

So let's get this straight. DC is making a fresh, young, accessible DC Universe...where Batman has already gone through four Robins, Superboy has already been cloned from Superman, and the entire War of Light has already happened because God forbid Geoff Johns has to erase even a single one of his stories from continuity. Oh, and Hal, Guy, John and Kyle are all Green Lanterns already in this new, more accessible DC. And "The Killing Joke" is in continuity, but Batgirl isn't Oracle.

This isn't even worth making fun of...except for the blurb for Justice League Dark, which is the perfect parody of a crazed talentless manchild fanboy's idea of what the Justice League "should be like" that somehow got made into an actual comic. This isn't like "Crisis on Infinite Earths", where they genuinely tried to start the DC universe over as a single coherent construct and got hamstrung by some lingering pre-reboot continuity. This isn't even like "Infinite Crisis", where they tried to undo "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and go back to the convoluted continuity because they liked it better. This is just plain inept. Seriously, all the analogies I can think of for this reboot, I can't say, because I think that jokes about the mentally challenged are mean-spirited and tasteless.

The only good thing I can say is coming out of this is that they're finally folding the Wildstorm universe into the DC Universe the way they should have six years ago. (And I haven't heard anything about the Authority, which is also good. The Authority are a good stand-alone team, but they've always fit awkwardly at best into a shared fictional universe, and that would only get worse if they had to rub shoulders with Superman and Batman.) But really, once you've decided to bring back Batman, Inc. in a year rather than piss off Grant Morrison, why even bother calling it a reboot? Why not just say, "Fuck continuity, we're changing the backstory whenever we feel like it and you can just fucking cope!"

Oh, right. Because the only reason fans stick around for the bad stories is to find out what effect they'll have on the vast, overcomplicated metastory. My bad.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Body Fascism Is Deeply Disturbing

Last night my wife, who is a frequent and unrepentant knitter, decided to test a theory she had heard about unisex hat patterns. Supposedly, unisex hats are all really made for women and called unisex, and guys just wind up needing to buy a larger size to accommodate their heads. (No, this is not the body fascism of the title. Making men feel as though they have grotesque melon-y heads is not actually body fascism.)

My head came out to be 24 inches in circumference. And I was like "Oh, hey, that's interesting," until someone made a joke about how we just needed to find two people with heads 36 inches around. And then I thought about it. Seriously? That's what's supposed to be attractive in a woman? Having a waist that is literally about the size of my head? That doesn't seem sexy, that seems freakish and disturbing. And oh yeah, deeply deeply unhealthy. I can't imagine what it would take to make your waist that thin (actually, having read some stuff about Vampira, yes I can and oh that poor woman...) But honestly, I can't say I'd even find it attractive.

Please, women of the world. On behalf of my gender, I say...we're really not worth it. Go ahead and have dessert with that.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How 'The Lion King' Should Have Gone

Scar: The future is littered with prizes
And though I'm the main addressee
The point that I must emphasize is
You won't get a sniff without--holy crap, is that lava? Oh my god, this whole place is going up! Run! Run, my hyena minions! Oh, God, no! Sweet merciful mother Earth, we're all going to dieeeeEEEEEEAAAGGHHH!!! (screams drowned out in an unholy explosion of superheated sulfuric gases, pyroclastic ash, and molten rock)

Then the rest would have just been Rafiki hitting people.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Things I Just Got Around To Reading: Burning Chrome

Not just 'Burning Chrome', actually, but William Gibson in general. Not just William Gibson in general, actually, but pretty much cyberpunk as a genre; aside from 'Headcrash' and the stellar cyberpunk pastiche Doctor Who novel 'Transit', I've just missed the genre completely. I was born just a little too young to hit it square on as it happened, and since I knew it would be there whenever I got around to it, I never felt any great hurry to get back to it. But then a very close friend was encouraging me to read it, and I popped it in my luggage for a trip, and then when I got back from the trip after reading "Johnny Mnemonic" I popped it in my book bag to take to work, and now I've finally read it. And what do I think?

Well, there's a lot to admire. Gibson is an unquestionably talented writer; his short stories have amazing prose that is almost like Beat poetry (this is not, of course, a coincidence) and he's a master of storytelling economy. He manages to fill in entire worlds in the gaps between sentences, where lesser writers might have had to insert monologues to explain them. (Actually, in general short stories are a far more challenging art than novels; Stephen King, for example, is a good novelist but a masterful short story writer. It is much harder to say something well in 8,000 words than it is to say it in 800 pages.)

But I will admit that I admired Gibson's stories more than enjoyed them. There was a sense of coldness to them, as though they were saying to me, "Look but don't touch." I spent a lot of the collection trying to figure out where that sensation came from, and I finally came to the conclusion that a lot of it came from his treatment of women.

I'm not going to say that William Gibson is a misogynist. I think that's a very strong word that gets thrown around a lot and tends to shut down discussion a lot more than it starts it. But I do feel like it seemed like Gibson was having some issues with women that came out in his work of the period. Virtually all of his female characters in the collection are manipulative, loveless, ambitious and duplicitous. I realize that some of this came out of the deliberate attempt to pastiche the film noir genre in a different medium and setting, which in turn replicated those writers' very real misogyny (anyone who wants to try to argue that Mickey Spillane wasn't misogynist, good luck to ya...) But when it's a repeated theme, that the lead characters are betrayed by the women in their lives (or in the case of "Dogfight", betray them in a sequence that's uncomfortably close to rape...) it's hard to feel good about what you're reading. It's hard to enjoy it. So I admire but don't enjoy.

But I do admire a whole lot.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

River Song: A Confession

I know this is going to be a bit of a shocker, particularly to fellow Doctor Who fans, me, River Song gets less interesting every time she shows up in the series.

I obviously don't want to give anything away for "A Good Man Goes To War", which hasn't officially aired in North America, but suffice to say that Big Revelations about River are in the offing. And like all the other Big Revelations about River Song, it seems to me to diminish her in my imagination just a little bit more. When we first saw River Song, she was a larger-than-life human able to hang with the Doctor on his own level, a woman who may or may not have been his lover (or even his wife) who has her own tremendous, exciting adventures that only occasionally intersect with those of the Doctor...and those not necessarily in consecutive order at that.

Now? She's that woman who lives in Stormgate Prison and breaks out every once in a while when the Doctor needs her. She's someone who lives life backwards to the Doctor, not sideways and upside-down and at crazy non-Euclidean angles. She's someone who, not to spoil "A Good Man Goes To War", has a specific and finite character arc that we have already seen, in a sense, the beginning and end of. It's hard to see her as an equal to the Doctor in that light. After all, he's a man with an unlimited past and a wide-open future. River is anything but.

I miss the River who wasn't anything but. I miss the River whose story couldn't be told on television because you can't hire an actress to time travel fifteen years into the future to pretend to be her own younger self. I miss the River who might only have lived into her forties (assuming she wasn't from an era where someone could live to be two hundred and still look like they were in their forties...) yet spent those years full of life and adventure, crossing paths with twenty-seven incarnations of the Doctor in her career as archaeologist, smuggler, burglar, professional jailbird, and dozens of other professions in a rich life filled with incident. Like the Star Wars prequels, River fails for me not because of any failings of Steven Moffat, but because the River Song in my head was mine and nobody else's is ever going to be as good.

I know that a lot of people aren't going to agree with this. They like Moffat's River Song, and I don't blame them. But I think if you could meet mine, you'd like her better too.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Hulk Relates the Classics: His Girl Friday

"Hello. Today Hulk tell you about classic screwball comded...commud...funny movie by Howard Hawks, called His Girl Friday. Hulk think Howard Hawks is Bird-Nose, Hulk's old friend, but Hulk not sure. Hulk will ask Bird-Nose next time he sees him what it like in Tinseltown.

"His Girl Friday starts with pretty girl and boring puny man going to say hello to shouty man. Boring puny man thinks shouty man is scary, but shouty man not scary. Hulk could crush shouty man! Shouty man never win Oscar anyway, except for honorary award in 1970! Honorary award sop to actor more famous than good! Hulk hate puny character actors! RRRRRAAAAARGH!

"Where was Hulk? Oh. Right. Shouty man and pretty girl talk too fast about stupid things. Shouty man says he loves pretty girl, but pretty girl is bored with him talking too fast and wants him to go away forever. Shouty man says he will do it if pretty girl goes to talk to puny puny man in jail, but he is lying! Hulk hate lying shouty man! Hulk think 'Arsenic and Old Lace' overrated translation of stage play anyway! Hulk prefer 'High Society' better than 'Philadelphia Story'! GRRRRRRRR!

"Hulk sorry. Hulk better now. So then pretty girl goes to jail to talk to puny puny man, and...puny puny man remind Hulk of Banner! Hulk hate Banner! Hulk hate puny puny man! But Hulk nonetheless finds moral ambiguity of situation fascinating. Puny puny man's insanity defense not genuinely warranted, but pretty girl support it anyway because stupid Mayor want puny puny man put to death. Stupid Mayor deserve to resign in disgrace, but puny puny man merely pawn in vaster game of politics. Hulk love flawed heroes!

"Then puny puny man escapes. Shouty man and pretty girl help him. Boring man not seen for most of movie. This not fair to boring man! Boring man not bad, just boring, and pretty girl dump him for shouty man just because shouty man has big chin! Hulk hate movie where romance presented as superior to long-term stability and emotional compatibility! Hulk hate unrealistic expectations placed on couples based on Hollywood "fiery romances"! Romance easier when couple only stays together until end credits! REARRRRRRGH!

"But before contrived and unrealistic romance plays out, stupid Mayor and stupid policeman try to arrest pretty girl and shouty man and puny puny man. But governor commutes sentence. Stupid Mayor looks stupid in front of everybody! Stupid policeman looks stupid in front of everybody! Contrived and unrealistic romance seems natural because actors have good chemistry. Everyone talks very very fast and boring man goes away. THE END."