Saturday, September 6, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #51

It's only been a couple of days since we last did this, but I had some stuff I couldn't fit into the last post; so here ya, go, leftovers!
  
Let's take a sideways step from the wide world of Stephen King into the somewhat less-wide (but steadily growing) world of Joe Hill, where we've got three hardbacks I want to mention.  The first is:
  
  
  
  
This lovely 136-page book serves as a showcase for the covers created for the series by artist Gabriel Rodriguez.  There are covers, variant covers, pencil sketches, ink sketches, and so forth.  
  
I suspect that most Locke & Key fans would probably be interested in this.  To sweeten the deal ever so slightly, Joe Hill has provided a two-page introduction.  And a good one it is, too; it reminds me more than a bit of some of the better introductions Hill's father Steve King has written, and if you ever needed a forceful reminder that Joe is his father's son, then this intro ought to do the trick.  More than that, though, it is a lovely reminder of what a comic artist's work must sometimes mean to the writer.
 
The real reason to get this book is the art, though, which is fantastic.
  
  
  
  
We'll return to Rodriguez momentarily, but first, this:
  
  
  
  
That's the special edition hardback of Locke & Key Vol. 3, "Crown of Shadows."  IDW has been putting these out one per summer for the past few years, and while it's pained me financially to pay the $100 for each of them, I've felt the need to do so.  Not merely because they are gorgeous, treasury-sized hardbacks that really amplify the impact of the art, but also because they include the scripts for each issue by Hill.
  
Anyways, they look great on my shelf and I'm thrilled to have them and luckily for me I kind of like Ramen noodles.
  
While I was picking that up, I got this, too, which I'd held off on for a while:
  
  
Note that while this is the cover art, the hardback I have is slightly different: rather than saying "DELUXE EDITION" toward the bottom, that's moved up top, and replaced with the credits "Hill * Ciaramella * Howard * Daniel."
  
  
This hardback collects the miniseries adaptation of The Cape, plus the prequel miniseries The Cape: 1969, and tosses in a few other goodies as well, such as an art gallery and a reproduction of the original short story along with Jason Ciaramella's handwritten notes.
  
I've seen this edition referred to as "oversized" in some places, and while that's true, it's not that true: it's about three-quarters of an inch taller than most graphic novels.  Not exactly treasury-sized.
  
I was on the fence about the comics version of The Cape, and that only deepened with the prequel.  This edition has taken the slightly unorthodox stance of placing The Cape: 1969 before the adaptation proper, which irks me a bit.  It may irk you less.
  
Now, let's return for a bit to the art of Gabriel Rodriguez, who recently had a new series begin at IDW:
  
  
  
  
  
I don't generally buy comics based on the artist; I'm more of a writer-follower, personally.  However, Locke & Key made a strong enough impression on me that I felt like I owed Rodriguez at least one issue on his new book, and here we are.
  
I have zero personal history with Winsor McCay's classic cartoon strip Little Nemo.  It's one of those titles I've been hearing my whole life, so I know it's a big deal, and that it would probably be well worth my time to track it down and read it at some point.
  
But that point has not arrived as yet, and so I feel automatically at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to this "return" to the land McCay created.  Writer Eric Shanower seems to have taken folks like me into account, though; I didn't feel lost or anything while reading this first issue.  There were undoubtedly things I missed, but on the whole, I followed along just fine.
  
Rather than try to give you any salient thoughts on the subject, I'm going to simply show you the first five pages:
  
  




  
  
What I'll say is this: it didn't knock my socks off or anything, but I enjoyed it well enough to buy a second issue.  Shanower was already on my radar due to his comics which adapt the Oz books of L. Frank Baum; I'm even more interested in those now than I already was.
  
As for the art by Rodriguez, it is both similar to Locke & Key and different from it, which speaks well of both his versatility and his continuity of style.  He's obviously a guy who's going to be well worth following.
   

Let's next dive in to the most recent issue of Brian K. Vaughan's and Fiona Staples' Saga.  Vaughan, like Rodriguez, is a guy who is well worth keeping up with.




I won't go too heavy on the spoilers when discussing non-Dark Tower comics, but if you've got a phobia about such things, you'd probably want to read the comic first.

Saga, hands down, has been the comic I've most looked forward to reading each month ever since, oh, its second issue or so.  There might have been a few times in there where Locke & Key would have taken the crown instead, but otherwise, Saga wins in a cakewalk.

Here's one of the many reasons why:




That's the first page of Saga #22.

Let's contemplate that for a moment.  It's a bit of a tradition for the first page of each comic to present a bizarre, provocative image that is sometimes horrible, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes both.  #22's example is by no means the most notable in series history, but it's a good example of the sort of thing Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples try to do multiple times per year.

So, pretending we have no idea what happens next (as some of you may well not), what do we suppose an image of this kind might portend?  My first thought was that it was an actor in an Open Circuit broadcast, but my second thought was that it might well be an actual thing happening within the story.  Would it surprise me to have Vaughan and Staples present the Big Bang as an event in which a roller-skating alien in a miniskirt farted out all of existence?

Nope.  Wouldn't surprise me, offend me, disgust me, or confuse me.

Which means that by all rights, I probably ought to have been disappointed to learn that this was in fact Izabel in costume, playing a game -- "debating the origins of the universe," as she puts it -- with teeny little Hazel.




I'm with you, Hazel: farts are funny.  It's the lowest of lowbrow humor, and that's okay with me.  It's also very much in keeping that this would be Izabel's idea of nannying.  Add a sleeping walrus into the mix, and shit, man, what can be said about that other than good things?

Elsewhere, the story continues to focus on Alana's growing drug problem, Marko's growing (potential) infidelity problem, and the strain the two things are putting on their marriage.  I'm not entirely persuaded by some of this.  It just doesn't feel like the marital discord has been entirely earned; I feel less as if we have seen that happen than that we've been told it happened.  It's not a dealbreaker for me, but it is a rare false note in a series that has had virtually none of them.

You also get a scene in which Prince Robot IV returns home and meets with his father, King Robot.




I want to show you what happens next.  I really do.  But I also want to not show you, and that urge is winning, despite my new spoiler-friendly policy.  All I will say is, it is glorious.

The issue ends with Dengo showing up:




If your assumption upon seeing this is to assume that it is followed by a bit of ultraviolence, well, give yourself tonight's No-Prize.

The last thing I want to mention from Saga #22 isn't anything to do with the issue itself.  Instead, I want to show you the advertisement from the inside back cover:




Well, Image, I've got to give you a weirded-out slow-clap for that one.
 

Next up, let's have a gander at issue #3 of IDW's Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever.


gorgeous Juan Ortiz regular cover

gorgeous Paul Shipper subscription cover


I've been impressed by the first two issues of this miniseries, and #3 is in keeping with them.  The art is strong, Harlan Ellison's vision comes through clearly, and what we're seeing is a fascinating glimpse into a version of Star Trek that was not to be.

The second issue ended with Kirk and Spock being confronted by an angry mob on the streets of old Earth, and let's take a look at the first couple of pages of this issue, which pick up immediately after our redoubtable duo have made their escape:





What the fuck is this shit?

Bear in mind, this is all drawn directly from Ellison's original teleplay.  There are, of course, ideas here which blatantly contradict established Star Trek canon.  I'm speaking specifically of the apparent fact that in Ellison's mind, Earth made it to the stars prior to Vulcan.  But I'm also speaking of Spock's relative hot-headedness and Kirk's willingness to go toe-to-toe with him in that regard.  These things simply do not work when held up to what I think of as Star Trek.

It's worth remembering, however, that when Ellison wrote this teleplay, "Star Trek" did not exist.  I'm not sure what sort of materials would have been available to Ellison, but it is entirely possible that they did not include any sort of detail on the non-emotional nature of Vulcans and their prizing of logic above all other modes of thought.  So, yes, Spock here is inconsistent with the character we think of as Spock; but that version of Spock seemingly did not exist at the time Ellison wrote "The City on The Edge of Forever," so we can hardly blame him, can we?

But to my mind, that means we can also hardly blame Gene Roddenberry for rewriting Ellison so severely.  If he had accepted some of what Ellison is doing here, it would have (potentially) had major ramifications for the rest of the series.  Nobody at the time, I'm sure, was thinking about the possibility of there being Star Trek of one sort or another for the next fifty years, but if Ellison had had his way, how much of that might be different?  Would Star Trek even exist?  Would it be three times as popular as it is now?  Either scenario is equally possible.

But, in this universe, we can't get a glimpse of the future that might have been.  All we can do is speculate, and this miniseries is at least providing us with a new means of doing so.

As Spock might -- or might not, in other circumstances -- say: fascinating.

The rest of the issue involves tricorder problems and the introduction of Edith Keeler into the story, which we may as well glance at:






The art by J.K. Woodward is good throughout, but I'm a little surprised at how well he fared with replicating the likeness of Joan Collins as Keeler.

One of the problems with the as-filmed version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" is that the romance between Kirk and Keeler is stuck in the mode of old-Hollywood romance: the two are in love practically from the moment they see each other.  If you were hoping Ellison's original teleplay somehow avoided that trap, then your hope has been in vain: he did not.

You'd have to be a massive grump to worry about that too much, though.  Would the story be told that way in 2014?  Probably not.  Guess what?  This was not 2014, and while the mid-to-late sixties were beginning to start playing by different rules, the changeover had not quite happened yet.  So "The City on the Edge of Forever" must itself forever be a product of its time.

I see no problem with that.

And on that note of defiance, we bring Bryant Has Issues #51 to a close.  See you again in thirty(ish).

12 comments:

  1. Wow! You weren't kidding about "out of character". My more or less exact thoughts about that "Barbarians" line, "Spock, when have you or any other Vulcan ever thought of another race or species as "barbaric"? Also, didn't they start out as war-like and then slowly overcome all that?

    In another sense, however, whether or not this makes sense, I can't help but think that dialogue highlights what "might" be one of the minor drawbacks of a lot of the Trek series, not just TOS. The simple truth, from what I've observed and read, is that the Trek series is, basically, one big treatise on race relations. There's nothing wrong with that, I guess. My only question is whether or not it doesn't, in any of it's lesser moments (take your pick from any series) run the risk of a kind of smug condescension of sorts. Like the kind that lords it over anyone they think is wrong or they may happen to disagree with. I don't know if that makes any sense, really. I just know that as I watched some of Trek, I found myself wondering if some of ST's sociology might be a bit outdated. I'm not about to pretend the race problem is entirely solved, by any means. However as I've gone on, I have found reason enough to think that in some sense the nonsense of racism is so obvious that most people are willing to not even bother about race. It's from "that" perspective that I wonder if certain aspects of Trek (albeit well meaning) are outmoded.

    ChrisC

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    1. It's a very, very thorny issue, but one that is fairly easy to backtrack and summarize: the viewpoint of TOS is the viewpoint of Gene Roddenberry, namely that mankind has a future among the stars and that mankind also has a future wherein it will have (essentially) figured out how not to be such assholes and fuckups. Not merely on the subject of racism, but on all the other various problems that plague us.

      Which is fine and dandy in theory. It's a beautifully simple idea, and a simply beautiful one. The problem is, it's -- in TOS, at least -- very much coming from the perspective of somebody who did not entirely have his own shit worked out, and so you get occasional issues of chauvinism and unintentional racism and so forth. Occasionally, those things can seem incongruous with the stated/perceived aims of the series.

      The problem is compounded by having so many collaborators work on the show; some of whom obvious are on the same wavelength as Roddenberry (Gene Coon, for example), but many of whom definitely were not. Harlan Ellison falls into that latter category, but he's hardly the only one.

      The movies are plagued with issues of this nature. I, for one, cannot stand certain aspects of "The Undiscovered Country," which takes Kirk and some of his fellow crewmen and turns them into raging anti-Klingon racists. That's not my Captain Kirk, mister.

      It's (pardon the pun) fascinating to track the franchise as it develops to assess how closely it hews to the core principles Roddenberry tried to instill in it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't; sometimes the new producers stray, sometimes they don't.

      It's part of what makes Trek as a whole so interesting, and also so frustrating at times.

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    2. I agree with Bryant's assessment re: race in Trek.

      Each era can't help but project its own idealism and its own failures and its own prejudices on things. Witness nowadays where it's acceptable for the AV Club to assess Tuvok as "half-black, half-Vulcan" and actually consider this assessment as coming from a progressive p.o.v., i.e. that endless conceit of evaluating "those other white people's representations of The Other" rather than simply being racist-as-shit.

      I try to give Trek as wide a berth as possible and proceed from the premise that the characters I'm watching simply wouldn't understand our own problems with these things. Like Abe Lincoln and Uhura in the Savage Curtain - the prejudices of my own era assumed offense where none was meant, etc. (Paraphrased.)

      Of course when the writing's off, it's off, and it's fair game. Maybe it's all fair game.

      I'm more offended, actually, by the absurd idea (collectively, it's just too much after awhile) that every other humanoid species has similar ideas of architecture, royalty, government, etc. Often this is a harder disbelief to suspend! But, I like Trek enough to do the legwork myself.

      This City series is okay. I don't know... having read Harlan's original screenplay and its revisions a few times, I still am totally on the side of DC Fontana and the Genes. Harlan's scripts so often just don't work for me. He has a singular idea of what works for him and bless him for it, but it's rare when I don't feel he concentrated on the wrong things in his own story or just added characters that didn't need to be there.

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    3. Aside from the fact that Roddenberry wasn't as much of a saint as some fans like to paint him is the fact that TOS came out during one of the most contentious eras of U.S. history, the sixties. With that in mind, it's sort of only makes sense that the show would be used as a mouthpiece. The problem is showrunners afterwards seem to forget that the goal was to progress from that point on.

      That observation about how other intergalactic culture can only conceive architecture on a basically human model just goes to highlight the great conceit of ALL sci-fi. The truth is, since most of the genre stories (even the best) were written by humans, it therefore stands to reason that no matter how well you dress another species, they will never truly "not" be human, as that's the only filter so far through which sci-fi stories have been written. Even the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise are basically slasher stalkers in elaborate costumes when you get right down to it.

      As for that Onion article. It really just makes me more convinced it's best to move beyond the concept of race, as it just seems to do no one any good.

      ChrisC

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    4. What a marvelously thorny topic! But also one so thoroughly worth continuing to discuss.

      I'll give you an example. On Facebook this weekend, the official "Star Trek" page ran a photo of Benjamin Sisko, and asked people to describe Sisko in one word.

      You probably see where this is going.

      I sort of looked at it for a second, then looked down at the thing that shows how many comments there are on the post. There were a few hundred of them, and I thought, God almighty, I betcha anything there are people who say "black" and sure enough, I didn't have to go more than a few comments in before that's exactly what happened.

      Now, to be fair, Avery Books IS black. However, if that's THE word you choose to describe Sisko, you've got problems. I would suggest "badass" as a viable option. I would suggest many things before I got to "black."

      Bear in mind the way Facebook works. In order to see that post in your feed, you have to identify yourself -- via "like" -- as a Star Trek fan. You have to, by your own admission, be a fan of what Gene Roddenberry created. I cannot imagine how horrified Gene Roddenberry would be for someone who claimed to be a fan of Trek to, given the opportunity to select a single word out of all the words in existence, choose "black" to describe a person.

      So while the dream of being post-racial is a good and valid dream to dream, it is currently ONLY a dream. One likes to think it gets a bit closer to being reality every year, but I'm not convinced that's actually the case.

      On the subject of Trek consistently assuming that alien cultures will share more or less the same theories of architecture and government and whatnot, I'd say this: it is a valid criticism. It also appears to be the case that everyone from Earth speaks English hundreds of years from now, which is equally problematic. But these are pills one simply has to swallow when watching Trek, and if you can bear in mind -- without letting it distract you -- that all Trek is really about the process of America trying to be the best America it can possibly be, then the pills go down pretty easily.

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    5. I didn't know what to make of the Sisko thing. Seemed a little too something-something to me... or that it was just a predictable faux-outrage to what was probably just some kids stirring up shit. I mean, provoking people over race via the internet is like winding up old folks about being old. Or something even more troublesome: I know people who pretend to be racists online simply so they can then attack racism. It's truly weird and disturbingly more and more common - but it's more or less the same thing as the AV Club approach. Sometimes in order to be seen as anti-racist, one must drum up the racism one's self, and the need to be seen as anti-racist is all but engineered/ re-enforced at every level of media from the 90s on. All part of some plan to cultivate Narcissism At Any Price, it seems to me, if I'm going for "larger umbrella mega-statements."

      But who knows. Not me, anyway, this is just one man riffin'.

      Yeah, you're right on the things you've just go to shrug off re: sci-fi/ Trek. I just meant I'm less bothered by things you can't really escape (i.e. if the people of the middle ages had been able to imagine the people of the Renaissance without their own hang-ups, unavoidable biases, projections, conceptions, etc. they would have actually been the people of the Renaissance, yet many charming and idealistic and wonderful medieval stories were created that speak to all ages and eras) then things that seem like lazy writing, not just with Trek specifically but in general. I like the way you put it: when you keep in mind the overall positive effect/ approach of Trek, the pills go down pretty easily.

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    6. Yeah, you might be right; the Sisko thing might have been trolling. Still, it bothered me big-time.

      As a friend of mine pointed out, though, if the pic had been of Janeway instead of Sisko, she might have come in for even worse treatment.

      Which is why I tend to not even bother looking at the comments on stuff like that. I assume they are always going to be frustrating at best, and infuriating at worst. Speaking of which, one person's one-word description of Sisko was this:

      "over acting"

      Being who I am, I was even more infuriated by that than I was by "black." Not sure what that says about me, but it's true.

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    7. That's funny. I'm not the hugest Avery Brooks fan, but I wouldn't say "over-acting" is why. But... I can kind of see that, actually. He's got a style that's just not for everyone. But over-acting isn't the right word.

      I'm convinced half the trolling is just people-winding-others-up (crank-callers of the 21st century) or people trying to drive traffic to their site. i.e. when I see outrage over "misogynist comments," I assume it's Jezebel-dot-com staff writers/ interns (or their equivalents elsewhere) until it's proven otherwise.

      All of which is to say: 2014 is freaking ridiculous on so many complex levels...!

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    8. Heh. Well, actually, what I meant was more that when asked to contribute one word, somebody came up with "over acting," which is demonstrably two words. Add in that hyphen, as you did, and it's one; otherwise, two.

      With or without the hyphen, I can see how somebody would accuse Brooks of it. I wouldn't; I'd accuse him of having tics and mannerisms, which is hardly the same thing. I like him either way; he's not my favorite captain, but that's a damn high bar to clear.

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    9. Janeway. Uh-oh. He said the "J Word"!

      Actually, to speak of elephant in the Trek hall of fame (and not the actress, Kate Mulgrew, who plays her), I'm not sure. The only thing that bothers me about her is how she seems to constantly enforce her ideas on others in a way that doesn't strike me as perhaps particularly Trek worthy.

      Blogger Charles Sonnenberg actually wrote a critique detailing everything he found wrong about Janeway, and in particular he uses the phrase Mary-Sue to sum her up.

      http://sfdebris.com/blog/index.php?entry=entry131209-095553

      I don't know whether he's right or not. I just thought some of her actions seemed a bit wonky to me, is all.

      ChrisC

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    10. I love Janeway! She's written poorly at times, I guess, but what Trek Captain is that not true of?

      She's actually my third-favorite behind Picard and Kirk.

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    11. To be fair, that notice of her actions is "perplexing, only. I don't know what that was all about, but I do know that I can't say I let it bother me all that much. To be eve more fair, who knows, maybe one idea that was pitched, half-carried out, yet never got far off the ground was the idea to add a few shades of grey to the character. If so, then I can't say that would have been a problem, as it fits in with that progression.

      They may even have hit on the idea of Jeri Ryan's being a foil to this retooling of Janeway. Granted this is all just speculation, and I don't know of anything from official sources that would validate it.

      ChrisC

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