Sunday, April 30, 2006

On Nonendings: My Collection of Mini-Apocalypses, from Daytime Soaps to DC’s Infinite Crises

I am obsessed with endings.

When I was in junior high, I used to tape Days of Our Lives on our new VCR and watch it after school. Usually, the show ended in the way that all soaps of the time ended: a close-up on someone’s face, swelling background music, fade-to-black. Then the famous Days hourglass sitting in a Daliesque nowhere of blue sky and clouds would come on, the music would change abruptly to the show’s antique theme song, and the full credits would roll for a couple of minutes. The end.

But there was a brief period back then, in the mid-eighties, when every once in awhile, a particularly dramatic episode of the show would end with the special freeze-frame treatment. Rather than the usual fade-to-black, the final close-up would freeze as the music continued uninterrupted in the background. That frozen frame would command the screen for a few long seconds and then, with exquisite slowness, the words “Days of Our Lives” would materialize in yellow, superimposed over the stilled image. As the music played, the words would crawl up the screen and a small pyramid of text would come into view: A Corday Pictures Presentation in Association with… Then the screen would cut to the Columbia Pictures Television lady, her torch throwing off stylized radiance, and the show would be over.

Even more rarely—and these were the endings I really waited for—the scrolling text over the frozen frame would be longer and more elaborate. These longer versions generally included a complete run-down of the executive producers, writers, and director, always ending with the technical director (J. C. Reilly? Tim O’Neil?). More rarely still, the full credits—including the actors—would roll over that frozen image, extending its life to as long as 60 or 90 seconds. And then, finally, that center-justified pyramid of text. And then the Columbia Pictures lady. The end.

Because they were on tape, I could collect them, recording over each show that finished with one of the standard, unsatisfying, fade-to-blacks, until I had a tape of six full-length episodes that all concluded with the freeze-frame fanfare that had become a sort of weird adolescent fetish for me. Needless to say, I would rewind these ornate, absurdly overproduced endings and watch them over and over. There was something inexpressibly thrilling about that precise moment when Victor Kiriakis would throw his snifter of brandy into the fireplace, grind his teeth in frustration, look just to the left of the camera…and freeze. Or when his old lover, matriarch and fishmonger Caroline Brady, would reach into her purse, retrieve a pistol, cock it, preparing to shoot him…and freeze. The arrested image, set to that twanging, sinister background music that every Days of Our Lives fan of that era will remember. The slow crawl of yellow text up the screen. Death. But also a strange reprieve in those few lingering moments of sound and movement. Only then the lady. The torch. The end.

The glass shattering in the fireplace. The gun emerging from the purse. Freeze it, but keep playing.

Oh, and tune in tomorrow.

Endings that are not really endings so much as deferrals of an ending—and the promise of another beginning. Endings that tell us something important about the nature of all endings: that they are provisional, fictitious, arbitrary, ultimately illusory. The image freezes, but the music keeps playing, the text keeps rolling, like a ghost-image of the narrative movement that’s just been stopped. Anticipations of the movement that will resume tomorrow or next week. In short: nonendings.

The American deconstructionist critic J. Hillis Miller describes something very much like a nonending when he writes about the strange, contradictory way in which endings have conventionally been conceptualized by novelists and critics as both a “tying up” of the plot’s “loose threads” and, conversely, as a denouement (literally the “untying of a knot”). Here’s Miller on the paradox of endings—on how all endings, it seems, are always (or at least always potentially) nonendings:

The aporia of ending arises from the fact that it is impossible ever to tell whether a given narrative is complete. If the ending is thought of as a tying up in a careful knot, this knot could always be untied again by the narrator or by future events, disentangled or explicated again. If the ending is thought of as an unraveling, a straightening of threads, this act clearly leaves not one loose thread but a multitude, side by side, all capable of being knotted once more. If marriage, the tying of the marriage bond, is a cessation of the story, it is also the beginning of another cycle in the endless sequence of generations. “Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending,” says George Eliot in Middlemarch. Death, seemingly a definitive end, always leaves behind some musing or bewildered survivor, reader of the inscription on a gravestone, as in Wordsworth’s “The Boy of Winander,” or in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, or in that mute contemplation of a distant black flag, sign of Tess’s execution, by Angel Clare and ‘Liza-Lu at the end of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Death is the most enigmatic, the most open-ended ending of all. It is the best dramatization of the way an ending, in the sense of a clarifying telos, law or ground of the whole story, always recedes, escapes, vanishes. The best one can have, writer or reader, is what Frank Kermode, in his admirable phrase, calls “the sense of an ending.”

Knotted, unknotted—there is no way to decide between these images. The novelist and the critic of novels needs them both at once, in an interminable oscillation.
Of course, Miller is writing about the novel, a genre whose materiality—it is literally an object you hold in your hands—requires an ending. But when he speaks of how the endings of novels can be re-opened or “untied” (as they often are by later writers who pick up the story where the original novel leaves off), and when he explains how the persistence of survivor-witnesses to a dead protagonist or the implied future children of the hero and heroine undermine the very sense of closure that such conventional endings are meant to produce, Miller is also describing a structure of nonending that serial genres like soap operas and comic books explicitly cultivate and literally embody as a matter of course. Miller is describing, in other words, a very specific form of narrative pleasure to which soap and comic fans are drawn (literally) over and over again. Nonendings: “endings” suspended between knotting and unknotting, raveling and unraveling, freeze-frame and moving text, image and music. Apocalypses—in a minor key.

Most mainstream comics exploit the nonending in some fashion. But comic book crisis-narratives are nonendings writ large. They thematize nonendings in stories that promise both endings and beginnings. That is, they promise apocalypse in the strictest sense—not simply the end of the world (as popular usage would have it) but a “revelation,” an “unveiling,” an ending that is not really an ending so much as a cosmic rebooting: the dawn of a new age. And in comics, there isn’t ever just one apocalypse but infinite apocalypses, infinite crises.

That stunning moment in Watchmen #12 when Dr. Manhattan contradicts Adrian Veidt’s pathetic Ozymandian claim that “It all worked out in the end” by reminding him that “nothing ever ends” summed up my early sense of what I loved about apocalyptic nonendings but also about the medium itself.

No wonder I’m relishing DC’s latest mini-apocalypse so thoroughly.

The first Crisis was literally an apocalypse. “Worlds will die!” the adverts screamed. And they did, giving birth to a new earth in the process—the perfect nonending. The fact that Marv, George, and Jerry’s original nonending produced a passel of messy historical paradoxes and temporal hiccups hardly mattered—was, in fact, part of the fun. The sense of a nonending (to bastardize Frank Kermode, who also wrote famously about the relation between fictional endings and apocalypse) requires precisely these sorts of narrative incompletions and inconsistencies to produce its unique effect of nonclosure. That the current Crisis actually unravels the fairy-tale “ending” of the first Crisis to weave its own narrative is a beautiful development of the original story’s own peculiar status as an ending/beginning.

For connoisseurs of nonendings like yours truly, the current Crisis is turning out to be not just a banquet but a multicourse meal in a five star restaurant and—fittingly—it isn’t even over yet. Cynics will sneer that I’m just a victim of clever marketing (guilty!), but the infinite spinoffs of the current Crisis tap into something genuine at the core of the medium itself: the awesome sense of suspension—literally a kind of acute breathlessness—that inheres in the masterfully orchestrated, infinitely deferred nonending that is comic book seriality.

Even just on its own, Infinite Crisis is turning out to be an immensely satisfying (or should that be deliberately dissatisfying?) nonending. On the one hand, it is a bang-up resolution of the Countdown that has been going on both in the official pre-Crisis minis and in most of DC’s regular books for (in some cases) the past couple of years. Revelations, catastrophes, dramatic deaths, and heroic sacrifices—a tying up of many colored threads. On the other hand, when issue #7 hits comic stores this week, there will undoubtedly be many loose threads that are not tied off very tightly, or at all, and many more that will have been deliberately “straightened” or “unraveled,” leaving “not one loose thread but a multitude, side by side, all capable of being knotted once more,” as J. Hillis Miller so eloquently put it.

In a sense, Infinite Crisis has been a massive unknotting of the DCU, an untying and straightening of the violently tied knots of continuity of the past twenty years. A narrative process that is one of untangling rather than of tying up, a process designed to restore the possibility of future knots, perhaps more delicately tied. I am thinking mainly of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman—a braided knot that has proven especially challenging to storytellers in the past decade or so. Crisis is in a sense rebooting these characters without actually retconning them—a process that is nicely described, I think, by the metaphor of untying. (Untying a knot preserves the stresses and strains on the thread from that original knot, while making it possible to tie off new knots using the same thread. This method of untying and reknotting has become the specialty of Geoff Johns, the DC boy-scout and master continuity-synthesizer who has become famous for rejuvenating characters without erasing old stories.)

The status of Infinite Crisis as nonending—a story that ties and unties in the same gesture—is beautifully illustrated by its ironic treatment of the apocalyptic theme of a dying multiverse from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. That first Crisis, as I mentioned before, was a nonending too. But it took the idea of dying worlds more seriously than the current series does. What we have in Infinite Crisis is a set of mock-endings and virtual apocalypses in which Alexander Luther destroys worlds that have been custom-made for the story and for all intents and purposes never “really” existed in any fan’s heart, clever though many of them are. (By the way, WTF is going on on Earth-154??) The simulation of apocalypse in its more conventional end-of-the-world sense is a suggestive symbol for the series as a whole, for a simulated apocalypse in its conventional sense is just another form of nonending: an ending that does not really signify a conclusion (or tragedy) at all since, from the perspective of reader-affect, nothing has “really” happened. So, when Alex Luther smashes together earths from the newly splintered multiverse in his “Petri dish” in search of the perfect earth, all we can do is shrug because we know the story is going to continue, just as the ending that Crisis will provide to two-years worth of great DC stories will not really be an ending either.

So, yeah. I’m digging Infinite Crisis.

But the really crazy thing about the nonending of Crisis is that it sets the stage for the unbelievable genius of One Year Later and 52. If One Year Later is indeed a new beginning for DC (and what a brilliant beginning—to start in medias res), then 52 must be the nonending that precipitates it. I honestly can’t remember when I’ve been this excited about mainstream comics, and this is why: with 52, Johns and Co. have engineered a nonending on a more massive scale than has ever been seen in mainstream comics. This is that rarest of rarities: the Days of Our Lives freeze-frame ending where the credits just scroll on and on and on. Sixty seconds, ninety seconds, two weeks, two months, three months, a year… The ending that defers its own end—infinitely. (Well, almost!)

52 is going to be an irresistible event, not simply because of its wonderful gimmick or because of the talent behind it, but because it literalizes and extends the structural principle of the nonending that most comic readers love. Moreover, by releasing One Year Later and 52 simultaneously, DC allows us to enjoy beginnings and endings simultaneously at another level as well—giving DC fans a sort of composite, line-wide experience of nonending produced by the time lag between 52 and its regular books.

Are all of DC’s OYL books unqualified creative successes? No—but many are spectacular and in some cases it’s premature to judge. I’ll put in my two cents about some of the ones I’m reading and enjoying in a future post. Will 52 be a mainstream masterpiece of pulpy goodness? I certainly hope so. But even if it stumbles, it’s a thrilling experiment. For me, nonendings are the most sublime feature of “high” and “popular” art alike, and we’re all about to start reading one of the most ambitious nonendings in comic book history. This is what the medium was made for.

21 comments:

zack soto said...

You made it!!!!!!!

now I have to read it.

David Golding said...

So-called "commercial television" (and not just because it had ads) was difficult to come by in rural Australia, but easier than comics. I remember watching Days Of Our Lives during my school holidays... it had that great quality that you could not watch it for months, come back, and just find your place. When we moved regions in '88, the series jumped ahead two years, but it didn't present any problem. That was my real introduction to fragments, nonendings, dynamic stasis, etc.

Reading your post I can just imagine stories I haven't even seen. Thanks!

Tom Bondurant said...

Glad to have you back, Jim!

So, when you watch Close Encounters, how many times do you replay the "Days" segment?

Mark Fossen said...

Fascinating, Jim.

While it's easy to take potshots at the nonendings of mainstream superhero comics, you've made a brilliant argument that it's an essential part of the artform. I need to bookmark this, and use it often.

Shane Bailey said...

Wow, when you come back, you come back. Excellent post!

Peter Hensel said...

I'm always taken aback by what you say, Jim. I can try to comment, but it'd look like everyone else's compliments. At the very least, you've crystalized why I'm excited about 52 as well. I'm constantly engroosed by comic's (and serial fiction in general's) ability to extend past the traditional ending of a novel, and you've just given form to my thought. Thanks a lot. I hope I don't look too much like a drooling dog.

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks for sticking around and keeping the faith everyone--it feels good to be back! (And even better to be finished marking essays.)

zack - no one was more surprised than me.

david - I had heard about the crazy time-lag for American soaps shown in Australia from a friend of mine who spent a year of high school there. I've since wondered if the knowledge that you're watching an "old" serial adversely affects the experience of dynamic stasis, nonendings, etc. I find, with old comics, for instance, that it takes me quite awhile to get into the comic enough to recapture that sought-after sense of suspense.

And about Days: I actually find it unbearable at the moment, but it's a very strange show. Having watched it on and off for more years than I care to admit, I'd say that it goes through brief periods of incredible creative daring followed by much longer periods of utterly boring drivel. Days is at its best when it's at its most outlandish (it only really works as camp), unlike some other daytime soaps--Y&R, for example, which is not just camp but a popular masterpiece whose complicated aesthetic achievement has yet to be acknowledged, much less intelligently explored. (No lie--but such a judgement depends on one's having watched it for many, many years, and then you are subject to the charge that you've lost your objectivity. In truth, though, I never really had any.)

tom - thank you!--and thanks for the Close Encounters tip. I've apparently been too busy watching soaps to see one of the landmark SF films of the seventies. Now that I know that it contains a Days scene--I'm there!

mark - thanks! And if you're ever interested in reading the whole J. Hillis Miller article, it's in Nineteenth-Century Fiction 33.1 (1978): 3-7.

shane - thank you--and thanks again for the prompt last week!

peter - just to confirm that I really am a formalist deep down, I keep thinking back to how much fun I was able to wring out of the (actually pretty lame) Action Comics Weekly back in the early 90s (late 80s?), just on the basis of its being a weekly; so as far as I'm concerned, 52 is going to rock whether it's perfect or not! Thanks for the very, very kind review!

plok said...

Nice post, Jim! Anytime you get into making theoretical silk purses out of four-colour sow's ears, I am so THERE! The soap opera thing really strikes a chord, too: when I was younger I used to tape Another World, and then when the tape got filled up I'd start recording over it from the beginning. Except I always used to leave a gap of about a half a second each time, as a leader, and so eventually the tape was completely filled up with the first half-seconds of each soapy teaser before the titles. Since soap operas tend to spend most of each episode reiterating what has gone before anyway, this turned into a pretty cool viewing experience: blip-blip-blip-blip, someone looking stern, a door closing, (as you say) smashed glasses in the fireplace, a gasp, a gun...a workplace scene, the rich family's house, two people stranded in a car by the side of the road, dinner by candlelight, the meeting of long-lost twins, someone in a coma at the hospital, someone making a toast...what can I say, I can't recommend this device highly enough!

Also (now that you mention it), I too had heard about the Australian time-lag, which excited the hell out of me because when I began watching AW it was just in the middle of a protracted "good" storyline (and by that I think I mean "aggressively comic-book-like storyline"), and I had just missed all the setup for it! Huh, echoes upon echoes...I dreamed of getting my hands on copies of these episodes, but of course I never did, which was probably a good thing. Reminds me strongly not just of this post but of your "On Choosing" complex as well -- one of my most-anticipated comics purchases of all time was the conclusion to the Englehart/Milgrom run on Captain Marvel, but at the time when it came out I somehow missed picking it up...maddening, but then when I finally got it, after years of searching, I found that it had actually been written by Chris Claremont, filling-in for Englehart, and it fell flat. Likewise with the Holy Grails of my missing comics stack, Avengers #100 and whatever it was that was the conclusion of the Avengers/Defenders War...sometimes these things are better left as tantalizing cover-pictures on the rack that you just can't afford at the time. Stories without stories. One of the first Avengers comics I ever owned began with a splash page of the Avengers and the FF shaking hands on the roof of Avengers mansion, with everybody saying "that's the most bizarre wedding I've ever been to, how 'bout you? Well, gotta go now..." Reading the comic they had all just came back from somehow was never as good as not having read it.

And then, just one more thing to say about this, when I was a kid part of the pleasure of getting comics was in how no grocery store ever had the same selection. If we took a family holiday in the summertime, we might end up miles up the coast from Vancouver, putt-putting down a long inlet looking for a place to gas up the boat, and then...whammo!, a general store tucked away at the end of it, with comic books in it I had never seen before, that I didn't even know existed...Hulk vs. Thor, e.g. So I was always moving through different zones of story-acquisition and time-lapse, along with everything else that was unfamiliar about the physical territory of the holiday.

I suppose for kids today it's a very different experience, what with the big comic shops and everything...

Sorry, I've wandered from the point, I guess! Still, it seemed relevant: this is what your post sparked off in my head, and I can't help linking it up with the other posts you've made before that sparked the same thoughts. And it all makes me think that you're going to have to revisit Infinite Crisis a couple more times, Jim, because it seems like a rich vein for you, an opportunity to explore the interrelation of your own posting-themes even more than you've already done to date. Since you choose to end here with the statement that "this is what the medium was made for", I can't help but think you're trying to tell yourself something...forgive the presumption, but I could read another few thousand words by you on this, without complaint.

Stellar as always! Now I have to go find something intelligent of my own to say, damn you!

Nobody said...

The parallel-narratives device has only been done on a small scale before (two hours for a movie like Memento) so I'm eager to see if DC is able to sustain it successfully for twelve whole months, with 52 going from point A to M while regular titles go from N to Z.

All of my favorite stories (such as the Odyssey, Paradise Lost) use double time schemes and play with beginnings and ending throughout their often nonchronological narratives, so I really enjoyed your reflective analysis.

joncormier said...

Jim, glad you're back. I hope the break was relaxing it was at least deserved!

I too am looking forward to 52. At first I was a bit unsure about the whole thing since I'm still waiting for more issues of Fear Agent and figured there was no possible way a weekly would be on time for more than a couple of months.

That being said I was also struck by a nifty notion. This is basically a prequel done right. It's not about going back before an already established narrative exists but simply filling in gaps that were intentionally left out. We find out how things got to where they are instead of going back to witness Galactic Senates deliberate...

Filipe said...

Great post. You get on a lot of what I like about monthly comic books and why Infinite Crisis has being mostly satisfying. In this Bendis-era where every two-issue story is turned in a six-part TPB, it's really cool to read something like IC that does feel like a monthly book (hell, it's almost bi-weekly when one counts the mini specials) with lots of stuff happening (even, if I'm not that crazy about everything that happened). It's also interesting that 20 years later, in a very different comic book industry, with a very different writer sensibility at helm, I'm going to IC#7 with the same big question that I had with COIE#12: "What they gonna do to solve the Kal-L problem?"

Jim Roeg said...

plok - Another World was awesome, no question. Marley/Victoria as played by Ellen Wheeler and then by Anne Heche before she was Anne Heche? Carl Hutchins? Cass and Kathleen? Crazy! I wasn't a regular watcher, but it was the NBC soap on immediately after Days back then, so I watched during summer holidays. The coolest thing about it for me was that it ended with a freeze-frame EVERY EPISODE. The only downside was that it didn't overlay the frozen image with any sort of credits the way Days sometimes did; it just kind of faded to black. Still, it was very cool, and the neat thing about it was that the director or producer (or whoever was responsible for making the decision to freeze it) would often make extremely surprising (and to my mind, aesthetically daring) choices: freezing the image at a moment of sudden and unexpected movement, for instance. And since daytime soaps tend to be very static visually--lots of closeups, very little action, etc.--this created a shocking, weird effect that I loved. (Glad I'm not the only one with chronic soap-taping habits in my past around here!)

when I finally got it, after years of searching, I found that it had actually been written by Chris Claremont, filling-in for Englehart, and it fell flat

This has happened to me too--too many times to count! I think it's one of the reasons I've been such a half-hearted collector of back-issues. I was particularly crushed when the concluding issue of a big storyline that I missed turned out to have been drawn by a fill-in artist. This happened in The Defenders at some point and I'm still bitter. Grr.

when I was a kid part of the pleasure of getting comics was in how no grocery store ever had the same selection

Yes, exactly! I have pondered this before and have occasionally thought of writing something about it. I'd love to hear more on your recollections about these places and their different zones of story-selection! (A future Trout entry, perhaps?) In my case, the strange selection was always in rural places too: you'd get Spider-Man (but often it was one of those weird reprint titles with art from another decade) and some obscure thing that you'd be forced to try for the first time. I still have a bunch of those at the family cottage. I picked up a lot of great Charlton monster comics that way!

Thanks for that incredibly thoughtful set of reflections, plok--as always! (And fear not, I'm unlikely to shut up about Crisis anytime soon.)

Nobody - I loved Memento--not surprisingly! Another great movie that plays with time (beginnings/endings) in this way is Don't Look Now--the most incredible film that most people have never seen. It features that famous love-scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland where shots of the couple making love are intercut with shots of them dressing afterward--the beautiful, melancholy effect is staggering. Great to hear your thoughts!

jon - thanks and glad to be back--though, ironically, THIS blog entry marks the start of my "break" (or at least slowing things down a bit). "Relaxing" is not the word I'd use to characterize the last two months! Btw: excellent point about the "prequel done right." I've always hated prequels because they seem so static (Star Wars, anyone?), but the plan for 52/OYL gives us the best of both worlds: a story that begins in medias res, and a prequel that actually matters! And yeah, what ever happened to Fear Agent anyway?

filipe - thanks for responding, and I agree wholeheartedly with this:

it's really cool to read something like IC that does feel like a monthly book (hell, it's almost bi-weekly when one counts the mini specials) with lots of stuff happening (even, if I'm not that crazy about everything that happened)

I don't love everything about IC either--in fact I had a number of gripes that I ended up taking out of that post because they were tangential to my main point. I'll revist them some day though. Good point about the Kal-L redux too--I guess we'll find out tomorrow!

plok said...

Okay, well I'm going to comment again, here, since you know the AW period I'm referring to -- how about this, the episode I came in on was the episode after the famous one where Carl Hutchins dresses up like an old Indian -- in other words, right at the two-thirds mark of the Tomb Dust storyline, just at the very tail end of the Cass and Kathleen story, and just after Victoria and Jake moved to Bay City from...oh crap, Riverdale or Riverton or something. Imaginative place-names they've got in the soap opera things. So as you can see, there was a lot going on, just out of my reach. But not out of hearing, if you will. I remember being very surprised by the quality of the acting -- Ellen Wheeler, particularly.

Another soap I ended up watching for a while, a little while later, was Santa Barbara, where I was lucky enough to come in just as the soap opera writer's strike was starting. This led to some amazing fill-in stories by management, mostly because they did the unheard-of, the unimaginable...they finished storylines off! Tons of 'em, and I'm talking about the super long-running ones too: they had father reconcile with son, couple that will never be together getting married, just everything. They even had a minor apocalypse, in the form of a kidnapped child whose life can only be saved by the self-sacrifice of a main character...all the characters come together and help, but in the end it's only one of them who can accomplish the miracle, at the cost of his own life...I always wondered if that was just to leave the returning writers in the worst spot possible, but anyway it was very fortunate for me, because in a way I got to see the show's ultimate climax and finale -- a rare bird indeed in soap opera cicrles.

And then the writers came back, but of course it was never the same after that. All the cool stuff that changed got undone in the reboot, Santa Barbara went "back to basics", and my interest waned as a result. The problem was (I guess) that if they'd continued on from where they were, it wouldn't quite have been a soap opera anymore, but something more ambitious...

A comic book, maybe?

Santa Barbara also impressed with its acting, particularly A. Martinez, who played the show's near-superheroic sheriff (couldn't save the kid, though: even Superman was powerless, in this instance), and Lane...dammit, Lane...something, who played the strangest damn soap character I've ever seen, he was the evil patriarch's eldest son, a brusque, amoral lawyer who was also a tormented genius with mother issues and a long-suffering girlfriend...yes, you've guessed correctly, he was the one who had to be sacrificed, just as he completely abandoned his "evil" side and reconciled with dear old Dad...

Very weird stuff. Anyway, there you go, another nonending.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Just have to add my love of Another World, especially the Anne Heche Marley/Victoria. They were the best twin duo in soaps at the time, and I always found myself pulling for Victoria even though Marley was supposed to be the "good" one. AW back then was far and away my favorite soap, although I have a certain fondness for early episodes of "Passions" as well.

Oh yeah, and I'm looking forward to 52 as well.

Great to have you back.

Jim Roeg said...

WHAT HATH I WROUGHT?!? Um...comic-soap fans unite!

Two quick things:

plok - This is so crazy--you and I must have started watching AW at almost exactly the same time (perhaps it coincided with the beginning of summer holidays?). Like you, I missed most of the really neat stuff with Carl Hutchins and his (many) disguises--my first memory of AW is of Cass and Cathleen running along a beach. And about Santa Barbara, you're thinking of Lane Davies who played Mason Capwell (f$%*ing GREAT character)--he and Julia (Nancy Lee Grahn, who's on General Hospital now) were a very weird thing indeed: a smart, dare I even say intellectual, super-couple. Their dialogue was something pretty exceptional for daytime. (And both are great actors too.) And yeah, wow, I'd completely forgotten about the writer's strike! Sort of like an extended version of Marvel's old "Assistant Editor's Month"!

fortress keeper - Thanks for commenting! I'm with you on preferring "evil twin" Victoria over "good twin" Marley, and so, apparently, were the writers. This is such a fascinating issue that repeats itself on nearly every twin storyline that sustains itself beyond the initial plot. In soaps, it has to do I think with the fact that "the bitch" (if I may use that category) is an inherently more interesting character than the goody two-shoes because she can grow over time in a way that her "good" double can't: she can be (partially) reformed and become a flawed heroine (other notably examples are Sammi Brady on Days and Phyllis on Y&R). (The process doesn't work as well in reverse, or at least isn't as sustainable; good characters who go bad usually become psychotic and die in some horrible way--see below). It's no accident that by the time the (brilliant) Anne Heche had taken over the role from (also brilliant) Ellen Wheeler, the focus had already shifted to Vicki, and when Jensen Buchannan later took over the dual role from Heche, Marley was removed from the canvas altogether and Jake ended up with Vicky. There was also a wacky period there where Ellen Wheeler actually returned playing Marley to Buchannan's Victoria--no more split-screen camera tricks. But they had to come up with a plastic surgery story to explain why the twins were no longer identical, even though they were both being played by actresses who had played both roles! I might be misremembering this, but I think that by this point the twins had completely reversed their good/evil status: Vicky was practically wholesome and Marley had become insane and homicidal, illustrating the point above about how "good" twins who go bad go REALLY bad. Ah, AW. Did I say I only watched that show on-and-off? Hmm...

Is this still a comics blog?
:)

Thomas said...

Days of Our Lives must have really been rocking in the late eighties, because I too have memories of video taped episodes. I was too young to work a VCR, but my sister who is five years older than me taped them religously for a while. I have vague memories of Jack and Jen being my favorite characters and of Hope disappearing on a crazy magical island or something. I also remember her boyfriend, Bo, being introduced in a cool scene where he rides in on a motorcycle and beats the crap out of someone with a two by four.

I wonder if there is some sort of spiritual implication playing into these infinite apocolypses of yours, Jim. I think there is something comforting about the comfirmation that "nothing ever ends" which allows an aethiest to experience a sort of vicarious religious experience. One is able to fight off the fear of death by holding on to the belief that nothing ever ends, while at the same time never actually having to subsribe to any one faith system.

To acknowledge that stories really can have an end is to acknowledge that our own story will someonday end. A scary thing to comprehend.

David Golding said...

Everyone knew that Days was a few years ahead in America, but that really didn't affect us. For starters, unlike comics, television has control of your time - you have to sit through the episode, during which you can't help but fall prey to the tension. You want to know what happened to someone after last episode, but, of course, it's likely that "what happened" will be drawn out over several episodes. (I love the more-than Real Time thing about Days, where 24 hours of episodes could potentially cover much less than 24 hours of elapsed time in-series.) Also this was before the internet and TV Soap magazine... we had no idea about what was happening in America, so there were no "spoilers".

One of my favourite storylines in the late 90s (or was it early 2000s?) had (I'm afraid I've forgotten all of the names) someone trapping someone else down a derelict cellar by the docks. It kept promising to end, but then something else happens. The captor is going to leave, so could let the captive free, but she doesn't; then she repents and goes to ring someone, but a truck sideswipes her; she's going to tell on the hospital bed, but falls unconscious (dies?); someone else manages to find the captive, but then the buildings on top of them are demolished... these deferrals were very satisfying. Ultimately I don't even know what happened! I haven't had the opportunity to watch the show since then.

(ob New Star Wars Trilogy defense: see my blog's sidebar)

plok said...

Completely off-topic, but...

Those little link-buttons really are kind of cool once you start using them, aren't they? Jim, I thought you maybe had gone a bit nuts, but...

They are, aren't they? Just wish I'd chosen a blog template that had my favourite colour on it...

Jim Roeg said...

thomas - when you're right, you're right! In a lot of ways, this blog in its entirety is an athetist's meditation of death and mortality. That's how it feels to write it most of the time anyway. It is weird, though, that I've been collecting these infinite apocalypses of mine since about the age of, I dunno...6? I always was a serious little guy deep down, but really! The point is, for me anyway, that the attraction to art forms that never really end is only in part a personal consolation--a way of getting the emotional payoff of believing in an afterlife withough actually having to believe in one, if you see what I mean. (The "religious" impulse is there, in most of us, I think, and very hard to shake off emotionally, even if we repudiate it intellectually and morally. For Wordsworthian types, it manifests itself in a kind of Romantic "natural religion"; for geeks, in comics; for geeky Wordsworthians like me, both!) So, no question: there is an emotional or ("religious") payoff in thinking endlessly about (non)endings. But the "goal" of the process (if I can be so crude) is to wrestle with that, to wrestle with the angel of mortality (if I can be so melodramatic, and if I can insert a religious metaphor at such an inopportune moment) in order to really come to terms with the fact of one's death and the ethical and emotional dimensions associated with that knowledge. That has been a leitmotif of the blog for me. That--and "Comics Rock!" of course.
:)

On a lighter note: Days was on fire in the late eighties--probably one of its best periods, creatively. (Jack and Jen were great--and Jack, an improbably reformed rapist--he raped Kayla Brady--was a fascinating character.) Your comment about Hope disappearing on some crazy magical island made me howl--is there any Days character that HASN'T disappeared on some crazy magical island? (I would not be even remotely surprised to learn that some of the creators of Lost were at one point Days fanatics. I keep expecting Stephano DiMera to be revealed as the evil mastermind behind the goings-on on that show!)

david - it's so interesting to hear about the Australian viewing experience (which no doubt applies to many other places too), and I love your point about the "more-than Real Time" phenomenon "where 24 hours of episodes could potentially cover much less than 24 hours of elapsed time in-series." This is of course because many of the scenes that we watch in succession are actually happening "simultaneously" in Salem, but the slow-down effect is nifty. Oh--and I think that you're thinking of the time that Vivien Alamain (who had "gone crazy") buried Kate Roberts alive--I recall it being a quite heavily promoted event at the time--even getting a few primetime commercials in the States. Good times! (Kate made it out alright and Viven's insanity was only temporary--like many villainous characters, she got redeemed "in the end"...)

I will read your Star Wars defense! (I in fact just had a conversation with a friend last night about which Star Wars film was our favorite and he shocked me--SHOCKED ME--by saying The Phantom Menace. What's going on?? Your defense is uncannily timely!)

plok - you're right on both counts. I did go a bit nuts and they are kinda cool! Just to confirm that my insanity was not of the temporary Vivien Alamain sort, I've been looking at them with dissatisfaction lately and imagining how I could redo them all and improve them. The only wrinkle is that you always have to be making more--there are a ton of new blogs in my "blogs to add" file. Soon, soon...

Leigh Walton said...

Plok is onto something.

I've decided to turn my response into a Livejournal entry, and I'll link you when I finish.

Jim Roeg said...

leigh - that plok, he's always onto something! Nice post Leigh--I look forward to hearing more!