Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mirth Without Mischief: Twelve Pleasing Pastimes

Holy cow, is it Christmas?

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Not quite sure what happened to December, but I have briefly (and temporarily) reemerged from work-related things long enough to clean up the apartment, deck a fake tree, and read plok’s dangerously head-swelling post from December 3rd (!) on that enigmatic little triptych of mine. What a Christmas present—bless you, sir!

I had grand ideas for this year’s holiday post, but I’m sufficiently burnt out from term that the follow through just wasn’t in me. Maybe next year. Instead, let me recycle last year’s reflections on a favorite Daredevil Christmas story of mine (I would have found a way to say the same things again in a different form anyway), and offer a few remarks on twelve things that have kept me afloat these last few months and for which I give thanks on these (already in progress) Twelve Days of Christmas.

12. James Bond - Stephen King recently remarked after seeing Casino Royale: “I came out of the theater thinking it was the best Bond since Goldfinger. A subsequent viewing of Goldfinger…has convinced me it’s the best Bond ever.” I couldn’t agree more, but that’s no reason not to give in to the temptation of the 4 vol. James Bond Ultimate Edition collecting the twenty (official) films of James Bond B.C. (Before Craig). I watched many of these films a few years ago during a TBS Bond Marthon (“Superbond on the Superstation”)—over Christmas break, I believe. I was doped up on Sinutab at the time and all the movies sort of bled into each other in an extraordinarily pleasing way.

11. The Wild Wild West - And when you run out of Bond, there’s always West, James West. Please, forget everything you think you know about this series from the dreadful-looking Will Smith/Kevin Kline summer suckfest of the same name (I didn’t see it). Yes, the 1960s TV show is a rip-off of James Bond set in the American West, but it’s a spectacularly entertaining rip-off, and that’s all that matters. Season 1 (currently out on DVD) is in black and white, but don’t let that discourage you. These episodes are perfect '60s mixed genre tales with a little something for everyone: a cowboy/martial artist (!) hero (the usually shirtless Robert Conrad), an affable, resourceful, and long-suffering sidekick (Ross Martin), gorgeous, dangerous women (usually femmes fatales rather than damsels in distress, though often both), scenery chewing villains with world-conquering ambitions played by an array of classic character actors (who later had careers on nighttime soaps in the 1980s), more gothic traps (and trappings) than you could shake a stick at, an endless stream of steampunk sci-fi spy gizmos, and, of course, a seriously pimped out train. The stories—precisely because they were camp to begin with—stand up remarkably well.

10. Birds of Prey - Rarely is a first-tier series that is already running like a finely oiled machine retooled so gracefully. Gail Simone and incredible new find, penciller Nicola Scott (hopefully destined for a long run on the book), are keeping the Birds flying high—possibly even taking them to new, more exhilarating heights with the expansion of the cast to include such unlikely (but delicious) additions as Big Barda, Manhunter (star of another stellar book), a new Spy Smasher, and an unexpectedly appealing fangirl/Batgirl wannabe. Under Simone’s tenure (and with the help of a great group of artists), Birds of Prey has reached a level of storytelling quality, creative energy, and consistency that makes it one of a handful of DC’s unmissable books. It is quite simply the best treatment of a primarily female superhero cast in recent memory, and it is probably the best character-driven book in contemporary comics period.

9. Justice Society of America - And speaking of impressive retoolings of already excellent books… Dale Eaglesham? Geoff Johns? Dawnstar?? Kingdome Come??? The excitement level for this book is off the charts. The relaunch of JSA as the cornerstone book of the new DCU looks simply incredible. I met Eaglesham at a convention this year and learned that, in addition to being a superb artist, he’s also one heck of a nice guy—I couldn’t be happier that he’s the artist on this title. I’m also delighted that Johns will be pouring his energies into this book, since JSA has been, arguably, the strongest and most consistent work of his career so far. (I think it’s time to pass the Teen Titans on to someone else—Marv?) The first issue of Justice Society of America was a winner, stuffed with great new characters, tensions, mysteries, revelations, and teases—all wrapped up in an immediately engrossing story foregrounding the series’s legacy theme, which I love. Time to collect All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc, DC.

8. YouTube - There is much that is (delightfully) ridiculous about the content on You Tube, but occasionally the ridiculous takes a detour through the sublime. Exhibit A: the lo-fi stop-motion mini epic, Tony vs. Paul. Spectacular. Less sublime, but still gratifying is the ubiquitous Live Action Hamster Video Game. And on the subject of YouTube and gaming, is it wrong to be a fan of the elastic-faced Angry Video Game Nerd and his sophomoric profanity? He has an informative rant that attacks sequel numbering fuckups in movies and videogames with a rigor that I appreciate.

7. Andy Goldsworthy - This is who I would like to be, if I were a talented, faintly tortured artistic genius. Goldsworthy’s fleeting and profound art/nature “installations” are a perpetual source of wonder. He provides the best gloss on the significance and power of his art in this clip from Rivers and Tides (the stunning documentary on his work) when he says, “I am so amazed at times that I am actually alive.” Here is a second excerpt from that film. Stefan Beyst has a nice essay on the artist. And here are some photographs of the work.

6. Calvin and Hobbes Snowman Cartoons - I certainly don’t want to encourage the war on Christmas lunatics, but now that the snowman has become the prime signifier of ecumenical winter cheer it’s nice to remember that he need not be as dull as he often seems. This is nice too.

5. George Perez Storyteller - A Christmas gift from a good friend that I tore through on Christmas day. There have been collections on Perez before, usually in the form of interviews, but this is the first time I’ve been walked through his entire career. What a trip. Particularly fascinating for Perez fans will be the middle sections on his post-Titans decline, his mid-career fumbles, and the subsequent rejuvenation of his reputation following his run with Kurt Busiek on the “Heroes Return” Avengers. Perez recounts a priceless convention moment when, after his Avengers work allowed his “discovery” by a new generation of fans, one kid told him that he was such a good artist, he had the potential to be the next Todd McFarlane! Ever-gracious, Perez resisted the cheap shot. An attractive and surprisingly revealing book. (Finally, the cringe-inducing Sachs and Violens at least makes sense.) The Newsarama interview here. And a preview of Storyteller too.

4. Tintin: The Complete Companion - Tintinology 101 by noted Tintinologist Michael Farr. A superb account of Herge’s career and influences, and also a fascinating record of the twentieth century. I received this as a gift from a friend earlier in the year and have been delving into it with enormous delight for the past few months. I have been intending to explore my fixation on Tintin ever since I started this blog, but have always held off—I think for fear of not doing justice to a body of work that means a great deal to me. Working on it…

3. The Office - I’m usually not all that fond of comedies. Cheers, Seinfeld, Fawlty Towers: these are the obvious exceptions. Comedies whose humor seems (almost) timeless. Don’t know if the American version of The Office will stand the test of time or not, but few comedies make me actually ache with laughter, and this one does. Not sure I’ve ever seen such a deft juggling of mockery and sympathy.

2. 52 - Still the first comic I read every week, and always among the most enjoyable. But even when a given issue fails to dazzle, the momentum of the weekly experience carries me through. Watching it unfold is exhilarating for many reasons. Partly, it is the form—the thrilling momentum of weekly seriality as such. Partly it is the brilliant interweaving of high-pleasure comic book staples such as the training of a successor (The Question/Renee Montoya), the “who is behind the mask” mystery (Supernova), and the Romance-Quest (Ralph Dibney). Partly (and this is a big part), it is the focus on secondary characters. But beyond this, it is the sheer line-wide scope of the storytelling, both at the level of plot and in terms of stakes and implications (what is “52”? the “Grant Morrison factor”, etc.). Thrilled to hear that DC plans to revisit this kind of storytelling in the future—it’s the essence of comics, comin’at’cha every seven days. Wonder what Marvel could do with this?

1. Battlestar Galactica - Just watched the miniseries and am starting Season 1. OMFG.

Happy New Year, everyone.


gorjus said...

Happy Holidays, Jim!

Jim Roeg said...

Happy Holidays, guys! I'll attempt something Tintinesque... eventually, but with my current workload and seeminlgy permanent state of brain freeze-up, it's unlikely to happen before next summer! Of course, in the meantime, plok, you have provided as lovely a summary of any (fantasy!) Tintin post I might have written. I mean, "Tintin as a comic series is a work that is built on a tremendous amount of visual delicacy, as well as a (seemingly contradictory) cartoony visual force" sums it up exactly. Ah! (I liked Asterix too, but it always struck me as a little "dry" next to Tintin--too many Centurions. Asterix and the Soothsayer rocked it, however.)

I do have a couple more musings in the works though, and part one of a new feature that is almost finished. Watch for it sometime in the next...year! :)