Friday, May 16, 2008

The Torture Continues (with tiny, dim flashes of respite)

Hello, gang. It's time once again for my monthy hissy fit.

Well, it was better than the first issue, for whatever that's worth. We get the reintroduction of a weakened Trigon, a bit of warmed over team banter, more of the awful awful new version of Raven (Geoff Johns's worst idea ever), and a reveal about (spoilers) Trigon's other child.

The best parts of the issue (if you could somehow mentally block out Raven's painful dialogue and costume) were the scenes revealing Trigon as a sort of Ozymandias figure, languishing in a desert realm where he is recovering from wounds inflicted by "a thousand armies." This may have something to do with the forthcoming Reign in Hell event, or it may not. Either way, it looked nice, thanks to guest artist Joe Benitez.

If only he drew the Titans themselves as well as he drew Trigon. Visually, what we have in this issue is a strange mash-up of almost Vertigoesque fanatsy art in the Trigon sequences and the kind of Image comics-inspired take on superhero firgures that leaves me cold. It's really beyond me why TPTB insist on pitching what is essentially a nostalgia book for 35-year-old fans to a much younger demographic by assigning flashy artists that kids today seem, for some reason, to dig. Bah!

(That creak you just heard? My rocking chair. Or was it my artificial hip? Oop! Mind the oxygen tank, young whippersnappers!)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On Reading Out of Time

So, I was sitting in Tim Horton's this morning reading a paperback copy of Mordecai Richler's Cocksure.

It was a new Tim Horton's for me, in a different part of the city, because I had taken the kid for a long walk to let his mother sleep. I like Tim Horton's, whatever one might say about the coffee. And--if you're a self-involved, slightly full-of-himself new dad on the a.m. stroller circuit who expects the entire world to fall on its knees to pay homage to the kid as you pass because, obviously, it's never seen a grown man with a baby before--Tim Horton's is a fun place to go. The counter staff always seem genuinely interested in checking the kid for cuteness, unlike Starbucks, where 90% of the employees look grim, or too cool for this shiz, and won't even smile at you, much less at your carriage.

So, yes, I'm sitting in Tim Horton's, reading Cocksure, enjoying hot black coffee in a paper cup, with the kid (my kid!) beside me, aware that I will probably only make it through about two of Richler's very short chapters before his nibs tires of the beautiful expensive baby toy that was a gift from his grandparents and needs me to furnish him a rice cookie or a bottle or a funny face, any of which--all of which--I would and do, willingly, immediately, gratefully. And that's how many chapters I get though, too. Exactly two--the first two--on this beautiful perfect sundazzled morning.

And, while I'm putting my book away, in the diaper bag, and pulling out a package of Baby Mum-Mums that I opened yesterday, in a different coffee shop, somewhere else in the city, because it still has half a cookie in it, and handing it to this little boy who is sitting in the stroller beside me, his arms taut and quivering with excitement about the rice cookie that I'm placing in his hands, I think: this is the most fun I've had reading a book in quite a long while.

It isn't that Cocksure is such a great novel. It's entertaining. It does the Richler thing, but with a little extra weirdness, which I appreciate. The reason I enjoyed those two chapters so thoroughly had more to do with the snug fit between that particular book and the little fatherly reverie I had going in Tim Horton's there. It mattered, it occurred to me, that I was reading an old paperback copy of the novel. This one:

The third printing of the Bantam Edition (1969, twice; 1976) of a novel originally published in 1968. Just look at that cover. And those puffs! This isn't a book, it's a time machine. I loved it before I even cracked the spine. The page edges are yellow of course. You know how they smell. And the size. It's literally a "pocket" book--which is the size that all fiction should be. Little wonder that, reading a book published shortly before I was born, in an edition published shortly after I was born, in a coffee shop with an attitude that feels like 1972, sitting now with my son, soaking it all in, I would find so much pleasure in the old, dirty pocketbook. This is what it feels like to dwell, for a little while, out of time.

And on my way home, after the kid had been fed, and cuddled, and cooed over (this last, by the ladies behind the counter), I got to thinking. When, exactly, did the old pocketbook die?

Whoever masterminded the publishing industry's shift from pocketbooks to trade paperbacks has a lot to answer for. Why on earth would I want to read an ugly oversized copy of a novel and pay twice the price for my trouble? McClelland & Stewart's New Canadian Library--which for years has been one of the holdouts, publishing attractive, cheap, pocketbook-sized editions of classic Canadian works--has just this year begun to shift into publishing trade-sized books and charging double what they used to.

Yes, yes, I know why it happened--or some version of the story, anyway. No one was buying books, the internets attacked, or videogames did, or tv, or something, and how could the industry save itself except by charging us double and turning every paperback on the shelves into a dreary-looking Oprah's Book Club clone with a photo cover of daisies, or food, or a soft focus picture of a human figure running through a field?

Sometimes, when I'm desperate, or forget how it is, I walk into Coles and just stare at the wall of fiction, searching vainly for something that I won't feel embarassed to pick up, something that doesn't look like it's been processed by Martha Stewart's marketing hacks. And, yes, I realize that there is a terribly gendered dichotomy emerging in my little rant, here, which makes it doubly atrocious that Cocksure is my example of the lost greatness of the pocket paperback.

But it's too late to go back and start over now. Sometimes, the chips just have to fall where they fall, and if that means running a "shocking, disgusting, scatological, dirty, clever, near-pornographic, funny, embarrassing, nauseating, bewildering, cynical, uninhibited, unruly, unabashed, and very interesting" bit of macho late-sixties provocation up the flagpole to flip the bird to the crummy state of today's precious trade-dress for popular fiction, well, sometimes that's just what it means, true believers.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Alpha Flight: The Movie

Here I was, all ready to get some real work done, and then, who comes along, but that insidious tempter and ne'er-do-well plok!

Never one to back down from a challenge, I've assembled the players (all have signed on for three films, 'natch). Yes, there was some arm-twisting involved, but Canucks Fillion and Polley were gung-ho and gave a hard-sell to some of the holdouts (you can guess who they were). The first film would obviously be some radically abbreviated version of Byrne's first twelve or fifteen issues, culminating in Mac's death and hinting at Heather's assumption of his role as team leader. Because there are so many characters to introduce and assemble, and so much conflict internal to the team already, the villainy in the first film would have to be minimal, and probably linked in some way to nefarious doings at Department H. (Tundra: the government's secret plan to transform the fabled Canadian wilderness into a megaweapon to protect Canadian interests in the north?) The second and third films... Well, there's a lot to play with in this toybox, isn't there?

Guardian (James Hudson) - Nathan Fillion

Who else? Already a Captain, my Captain. And dig the red scarf!

Heather McNeil
- Sarah Polley

The most difficult role to cast, since she must be both sexy and nerdy, a background player and also a lead. Yoiks! Polley could do it, though.

Sasquatch (Walter Langkowski) - Russell Crowe

Crowe has already played the brainy/hunky scientist role with aplomb. Bonus: no special effects needed for the Sasquatch "transformation." His romance with Liv Tyler's Aurora would rival the Jackman/Janssen chemistry in the X-Men films.

Snowbird (Narya/Anne McKenzie) - Tilda Swinton

To my mind, the only other actor in the running is Uma Thurman, but I like Swinton's unearthly beauty better for Inuit demi-goddess, Snowbird.

Puck (Eugene Judd) - Peter Dinklage

Dinklage broke out in The Station Agent; as Puck, he'd become a household name. And an action figure.

Shaman (Michael Twoyoungmen) - Michael Spears

This Dances With Wolves actor certainly has the look of a First Nations superhero. A bit young to be Talisman's father, but's the movies.

Talisman (Elizabeth Twoyoungmen) - Q'Orianka Kilcher

The New World star Kilcher (she played Pocahontas opposite Colin Farrell) would make a great Talisman, I think. Only a minor role in this film, but would become a bigger player in future installments of the series.

Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier) - Gaspard Ulliel

My criteria were: French pretty-boy who looks like an elf. Success, no?

Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier) - Liv Tyler

Okay, so she's not French, but she's gorgeous enough to fake it. Picture her as the stern Jeanne-Marie, hair up in a bun, librarian glasses. Then... Um, moving on.

Marrina (Marrina Smallwood) - Christina Ricci

I was really stumped by Marrina until I found this picture of Ricci. The round face and big eyes have it, I think. A little yellow-tinting and CGI'd gills, and there you have it.


Duh. And how could I forget? Special appearance by...

Wolverine - Hugh Jackman

Friday, May 02, 2008

Carey's X-Men, Claremont's Legacy

Is it wrong to be enjoying X:Men: Legacy so much? Mike Carey is doing a great job of capturing the classic (good) Claremont feel of the X-Men, minus the mannered dialogue. Scot Eaton is a good regular penciler for the series. And if you squint, you can imagine what those supplementary pages by Gred Land would look like if they had been drawn by, say, John Romita Jr. Two outta three ain't bad, folks!

Sure, X-Men: Legacy #3 was a bit thin on story from one perspective, but Xavier's defeat (or escape from) Exodus's psychic guilt-trip hit all the right buttons--especially on that last page where Xavier walks away from Eric and Karima (and us) speaking with melancholy optimism about failure and second chances--a moral which felt like it had been beamed directly out of Claremont's brain sometime in the mid-eighties.

And then, for a treat, Carey gives us two epilogues--an ominous one featuring the Hellfire Club and another featuring Rogue, riding into the Australian desert. Why is it that the X-Men always head for the desert? And why does it feel so good when they do? Something about frontiers and outlaws, I suppose. The wonderful thing about the X-Men, when it's good, is how generically malleable it is. It plays as a Western--it really does. And as science fiction. And as Regency Gothic, etc. I'm dying to see where this book goes and hoping, fervently, that it sticks with its premise of examining the interconnections of X-past and X-present for a long time to come.

Now, can we please just dispense with Greg Land and his writhing, airbrushed ladies?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Teaser Wall Showdown