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Archive: May 2004

Linkblogging and site updates

As you can see, our little linkblog has changed. No more sidebar, now the links are integrated into the blog itself, but formated differently. Links now also have their own permalinks and comments threads. The idea for setting up linkblogging this way comes from Matt Mullenweg. This is a neat way of doing it, I think, because it’s more compact and slicker than the sidebar and better integrated into the blog.

You can still see the old links at http://blog.peiratikos.net/archive/goto/.

We’ve also upgraded to WordPress 1.2, which has finally been released! As long as we’re upgrading, we figure we might as well play with the design a bit, so expect quickly changing looks over the next week or so. If you encounter any problems with the site, let us know!

Next project, beating the citations archive into shape. When will do that? Ah, who knows.

Ping-O-Matic

Ping-O-Matic: "If you bookmark the Ping-O-Matic ping results page you can simply load that directly and have fast pinging of almost a dozen services a single click away. Also, you may want to ping when you make an edit a post to update it, and most blog packages are set up to ping only when there's a new post." Also, use http://rpc.pingomatic.com/ to have your blogging tool autoping.

25 May 2004 by Steven | Permalink | One comment »

Troy, The Gabriel Cut

25 May 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

“Don’t you want to inherit the earth?”

So we finally got to read New X-Men:Here Comes Tomorrow, written by Grant Morrison and penciled passably by Marc Silvestri. I don’t have the book to do a close reading now, so I’ll do an impressionistic reading of my own responses to it, I guess.

At the core of the story is the same event in two alternate futures, since the real “present” of the story is the moment of Jean Grey’s death. In the same page repeated twice, Emma Frost, resplendent in one of the worst excesses of Silvestri’s quirky art, tries to bring the grieving Scott Summers away from his wife’s grave and back to the X-Men. “Don’t you want to inherit the earth,” she asks? And so we reach a defining question. Is milquetoast Cyclops meek enough to do just that?

If he says, “Yes, that is what I want,” that’s just standard superhero bravado, and superheroes aren’t supposed to admit they’re saving the earth for themselves. It’s all about the little guy, or in this case the little guys and mutants (and mutants are guys too!) living in harmony. And so if Scott wants to inherit the earth alongside Emma, he can’t do it through meekness. He has to take on a new role leading the school (acting as a surrogate father to atone for the phantom future children Jean’s death means they never had together?) to ensure the survival or success of the X-Men. This move means decisiveness, strength, courage, fortitude are his future, but he’ll be too tired to enjoy any inheritance.

Instead initially he chooses the meek route, denying that he wants any part of a future with his almost-lover or the mutant ties they share. The earth he then inherits is the Tomorrow of the title, and neither Cyclops nor Scott Summers is anywhere to be seen within it. The X-Men of 150 years in the future, who have a remarkable amount of overlap with the New X-Men of today, are fighting for control of a dying world. And Judgment Day is coming in the form of Scott’s former wife, who finally remembers herself only to see her friends destroyed and destroying each other. This is not a future she wants, in which the X-Men are being systematically wiped out, where humans are almost nowhere to be seen, where sentient bacteria with extinction agendas can destroy one of the finest minds of the previous century. What’s more, Scott wouldn’t have wanted it. If he rejected the X-Men, it was because he was tired of death and fighting, unwilling to continue grappling with longing and love and hopeless expectations, frightened of failure and continued loss. He has his time for grief, but being a superhero means instead doing what his wife did, making The Ultimate Sacrifice for the team. Jean’s initial sacrifice is meaningless if Scott’s rejection of the earth and his duty as a steward of it allows everything to be destroyed anyway. And what both of them, all of them really want is not to be meek but meaningful.

Scott can’t see this, can’t see anything beyond himself and his pain and fear as he stands in the cemetery. The sturdy diamond White Queen doesn’t understand the weight of her question, asking it as if it’s rhetorical, but she wears her worry on the outside in the form of her ridiculous breasts (unless she keeps her spine in permanent diamond form to avoid the pain they must cause, in which case I suppose they’re acceptable) and the dead bear of a coat that covers her less important bits. This is the moment of truth for a man who had avoided decisiveness, put off making a real, clear commitment to either of the women in his life, someone who doesn’t realize that the fate of the world is in his hands, as it is all the time. Can he inherit the earth if that means not being meek but being strong enough to hold onto it? Can he bear a suffering greater than his own? Can he take the weight of everything onto his own shoulders even if he doesn’t realize that’s the choice he’s making? And will he choose to carry it alone or share the burden with others, including his snow-white questioner? Scott pauses in both versions of this present, hesitates briefly before giving a steady answer that will change his life and change the world.

But this time around there’s Jean, who’s seen Tomorrow and in a touching, tender flashback to the present, urging Scott on. This raises the question of whether she’s actually kinkier than the White Queen, encouraging her husband to make out with Emma on her own grave and whether this is then an act of selfless love or spite. I’m sure the answer is both and hope to talk later about which is harder to give up, life or love. “Live, Scott, live,” she begs with her last breath, and Scott meekly obeys as best he can.

Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!

David Jones (a.k.a. Latin hedonist extraordinaire Johnny Bacardi) on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill:

Tarantino’s simply making film as collage, passing on the styles he loves- no more, no less. He’s not really aspiring to ART, even though if it happens during the course of the flick that’s just fine with him.

Most certainly! However, I’m not so sure the ‘artistic’ stuff in Kill Bill (the parts that seem to make a ‘statement’) are quite as accidental as David implies. I don’t think Tarantino is aspiring to art, I think he’s aspiring to undermine art. Every scene in which B.B. appears is full of critical commentary on the very revenge flicks Tarantino references incessantly. Bill’s Superman speech is especially perceptive in rejecting exactly the ending which the movie eventually gives us. Superman isn’t really Clark Kent, can’t really be Clark Kent, and Beatrix Kiddo can’t really be Mrs. Tommy Plimpton. Being a Mommy isn’t enough to get you out of the killing life, as Kill Bill so effectively demonstrates in its depiction of the Bride’s bloody revenge—revenge motivated by, how ironical, the loss of her child. Of course, you might aruge that Mommyhood does allow the Bride to escape her killing life, and the reason she goes back to it for her gory revenge is that she has lost her child and thus her ability to escape. But Bill’s argument is that this is a false hope, that maybe Beatrix thinks she can just be a Mommy and a non-assassin civilian, but she’s (ha ha) kidding herself. Besides, her escape into Mommyhood really was only temporary, and ended abruptly when her past arrived to murder her and her new surrogate family in the church. (Besides, being a Mommy redeems you? If that were really the ‘point’ of Kill Bill, what a cloying mess of smarminess it would be!) So the movie seems to go out of its way to point out that Beatrix is kidding herself with this Mommy stuff, but then it comes up with the most cynical possible ending, which is that yay, Beatrix gets to be Mommy and live happily with little B.B.! Tarantino seems to say, “You may think this movie means something, but I’ve made damn sure it doesn’t.”

Which I suppose is part of why I didn’t get a lot out of Kill Bill. I guess I liked it fine, but by the time it’s over Tarantino seems to have flipped right off the deep end of pomo whatever, and I’m not so sure I want to follow him. I much enjoy the collage aesthetic (I usually call it a remix or DJ aesthetic), but I prefer the playful expressiveness of, say, Moulin Rouge to the cynical play of Kill Bill.

ΙΛΙΑΔΟΣ

Oh, and Rose and I saw Troy this weekend. Hector was perfect. Eric Bana’s performance just about makes up for the two horrific bits which I’ll complain about in a bit. Saffron Burrows as Andromache and Diane Kruger as Helen were also excellent. I know some people were disappointed by Helen’s beauty, which they felt might launch at most a few rowboats, but certainly not a thousand ships. I must disagree, and anyway Kruger did a fine job with the part, so I say she passes. Oh, and Peter O’Toole as Priam? Well, we all know Peter O’Toole is the greatest man that ever breathed, and he remains so in Troy. These four characters are just about the only ones whose complexity in The Iliad survives the cinematic translation. I don’t think much of the words are translated directly from The Iliad, but Hector especially captures all the great subtlety, the heroism and ambivalence about his role as warrior that I fondly remember from reading the book in my Greek class. Achilles, on the other hand, loses all his subtlety and ends up sort of too much of a good guy for a lot of what he does to make sense. (Still, although the motivation isn’t clear enough, I much enjoyed the scenes of Achilles dragging Hector’s body back to camp and Priam arriving to beg Achilles to return the body for proper burial.)

Now. I said Eric Bana’s performance just about makes up for the two horrific bits, and here they are! Just wait till you find out how Oddyseus comes up with the Trojan Horse idea. He sees somebody carving a little wooden horse? What the fuck? And then there’s the “we need to reference The Aeneid” scene, which goes something like this:

Paris: “Aeneas, you must go do the stuff in The Aeneid, except instead of carrying around your little statues of household gods, take the Sword of Troy, which is easier to explain to the audience.”
Aeneas: “I will, sir!”

Paris’s dialogue is slightly paraphrased there, but Aeneas’s is word for awful word, directly from the movie. Ack!

The good parts are as good as it gets in swords ‘n’ sandals epic cinema. The bad parts are hilariously egregious in their badness. That’s pretty much what you should expect from a good epic, I think. Actually, a good epic should be four hours long and have an overture, intermission, and entr’acte, but I suppose I have to accept modern Hollywood’s commercial necessecities w/r/t very long movies, alas.

Aye aye, Seaguy!

I got myself a college degree! Go me. I was getting really burnt out this semester and devoted what little energy I had to my schoolwork, which resulted in a serious reduction in blogging. But now I’m free, and I just read Grant Morrison’s Seaguy #1 and New X-Men: Here Comes Tomorrow, which may very well be my favorite of the New X-Men TPBs. (I should also give a ’shout out,’ as the cool kids probably don’t say anymore, to Cameron Stewart and Marc Silvestri, who bring lovely visual life to Morrison’s scripts.) I’m feeling inspired to get back to blogging!

Speaking of Morrison’s collaboration with Stewart and Silvestri… David Fiore has harsh words for those who idealize writer/artists! Consider: if we accept only writer/artists, you know what that means—no Seaguy as the wonderful result of the collaboration of Morrison and Stewart, colorist Peter Doherty and letterer Todd Klein. And a world without Seaguy is not a world I want to live in.

“You’re too young to remember all that nonsense.”

I don’t have time for a real review, but I have to say I’m smitten with Seaguy. For one thing, it may well be the first comic I’ve read that uses the word boustrophedon, always one of my favorites. In fact, I hope it’s a telling plot point. This is a story that’s not going to be told directly, but each turn it takes, each stopping point will require passage back across what came before to continue.

See, Seaguy lives in a world that’s somehow been conquered by The Residents and accordingly commodified into an eyeball-based sideshow where cigars are legal. And because they’re so cool, nobody minds. Or nobody minds because of the seven-second attention spans. I like this world, though. Nice place to visit, yeah, yeah, but it’s a much more fun and palatable (and thus dangerous and interesting) than your average authoritarian dystopia.

There are wonderfully bad puns, though I won’t mind if this is the last “Aye, Aye, Seaguy!” we have to read. I like all the characters, the moon-mad seadog and She-Beard, who seems to be Red Sonja with lower standards but clearly is more both on and beneath the surface, and that lovely gondolier Death, and my new fashion icon Doc Hero. And then of course Wynken, Blynken and Nod themselves, Seaguy and his friend Chubby da Choona, who implausibly seem not to be lovers as well, and a third fellow I’ll leave unnamed.

The art is simple and bright and clear, beautiful and appropriate for such a dark story with a buffed veneer. Everything is disarmingly light and casual, though every bit as depressing as any other story of unemployed ennui. How will I ever manage to wait for more?

One Hell of a Something

If comics publishers went to an iTunes-style distribution, Hellboy Junior would be my first nomination. See, I don’t want the full album. The Hellboy Junior trade has some tracks I really, really love and others that I basically don’t want in my house.

The Hellbaby part is irresistible, a little red fellow in a diaper. I’m sold! But the rest of it has a lot of problems (ok, and so does the Hellbaby stuff, but I’ll get to that) and I can’t resolve them. There’s a certain attitude of Hey, we’re all good-minded liberals, so we can laugh at racist/sexist/homophobic/generally offensive humor because we know better than to mean it, unlike those awful insensitive people! and it bothers me. And unfortunately this means that I’m not at all interested in stories about “Huge Retarded Duck” or “The Ginger Beef Boy,” and so the only non-Hellboy comic I enjoyed was “Squid of Man,” by Bill Wray and Mike Mignola, a dark, inconsequential little story about the ups and downs of love in the home of a mad scientist. Apparently most of these stories take old Harvey comics characters and add in morbid sex jokes, but I’m don’t think knowing the source material would have increased my appreciation. I just don’t think looking at pictures of My Little Ponies having sex is funny, subversive or worth my time. I’m sure in the right context it could be, but I didn’t find that in any of the stories here.

The problem is not necessarily that I prefer my humor to be tasteful. Almost all the comics about Hellboy Junior, whom I prefer to call Hellbaby because it’s as cute as he and doesn’t imply weird paternity issues with Hellboy Senior, prominently feature Adolf Hitler. Idi Amin makes a guest appearance too. Somehow an endless string of tasteless maggot-eating jokes seem palatable to me, and even the story that mocks a transvestite witch redeems itself, but “let’s play shove the retard!” just isn’t funny. I think this is partly because Hellbaby is a recurring character, so it’s funny and poignant to see him try and fail again and again, but also he is a character. He has wants and desires and dislikes (maggots!) and he trusts people when he shouldn’t and then suffers for it. He’s a likeable little guy, gruff and petulant and red and diapered, just what anyone would want in a little devil.

I grabbed Hellboy Junior off the shelf and bought it solely because I’ve been obsessed with Hellbaby for months, and it met my Hellbaby needs all right. I’m just not sure I can recommend it except to people who consider Maakies a bit mild or who have fantasized since childhood about the adventures of “Wheezy the Sick Little Witch.” It’s not really the offensiveness of Hellboy Junior that annoys (more than offends, really) me, but the juvenile pride it seems to take in that offensiveness. If you’re going to revel in your depravity, can’t you do a little better than making incest jokes about poultry? I know from the back of the book that these are supposed to be “some of the funniest and most original comics ever to haunt the shelves,” but I’m not impressed. And I know that they’re only being made so that people like me will say, “Oh, but you can’t joke about that,” which is not quite what I’m saying. You can joke about it all you want, but I’ll be unimpressed and not laugh, unless you somehow manage to be really funny.

But there’s plenty of cutely hideous art with spectacular facial expressions. The Hellbaby stories do manage to get in a Nuremberg joke, which is one of my specialties, as well as a horrible, horrible, excellent Bob Dylan joke I didn’t get until my second read. I think I may just not give the stories I disliked another read, but the ones surrounding them should still hold up fine.

Super-Annoyance

As a public service announcement to anyone else trying to buy Steven a graduation present, DC Direct lies in stating that the Beppo the Super-Monkey plush toy is in stores now. It’s not in mine and they can’t get it! It’s nowhere to be found, not even for ready money. This is truly a tragedy for all monkey lovers, although not, I suppose, those who were wise enough to buy themselves Beppos while the cute little fellows were still in circulation.

Relatedly, this may be a slow week at Peiratikos as I have to attend two graduations and Steven has work to finish to get to his. I hope to write a review of the Hellboy Junior TPB tonight, since I believe that infernal scamp is far, far cuter than Beppo, but that may be it for my contribution for a while.