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Archive: April 2004

Kill Bill: “My baby shot me down”

The real climax of Kill Bill Vol. 2 comes at the end of the credits. The Bride has found herself a new identity, one that’s not chosen for her but actually chosen. Just because she drives off into the sunset as Mommy doesn’t mean she’ll be Mommy forever, but it is a new start. There’s a liminal moment where this change begins to take hold, in a doorway no less! Gun in hand, Beatrix spins to face the most cunning trap Bill could have set, beatific B.B. holding a toy gun. After a painfully long moment of shock, Mommy falls, in the clearest (and maybe first) display of real emotion in all of Kill Bill.

Of course, Daddy has been a bad Daddy, and not just because he lets B.B. stay up past her bedtime to watch Shogun Assassin. Bill tried to kill Beatrix in what he describes as a fit of agony over lost love, which also included anger and betrayal that he’s lost his favorite toy. Daddy metes out gentle punishment to B.B., firmly discussing the death of her fish and the guilt she feels over her role in it. He hasn’t grown more kind or fair to B.B.’s mommy, whom he shoots again, this time with a dart that gives him the power to extract truth from her against her will. Can this “marriage” be saved?

Beatrix has made a lot of choices in her life, but we don’t get to see them. Her only backstory is a glimpse of what she was with Bill, a lovelorn assassin, and what she is because of Bill, the vengeful Bride. Bill and the Vipers wiped out the wedding party and the hope of a new life, and Beatrix has done in the Vipers, so those two identities have been destroyed. “Beatrix Kiddo” is a name suitable for the sort of jokes it inspires in the movies, and she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to go back to that. But suddenly on the floor of a California mansion she finds an alternative. Her story won’t be over when she kills Bill because now she once again has something to live for!

Beatrix and Bill have been locked in a power struggle for years. Young Beatrix submits to Pai Mei both to prove to Bill that she can (thus proving his warnings wrong) and to make him proud, and indeed it turns out she succeeds more thoroughly than Bill realized at the time. Bill enjoys his control over Beatrix and the Viper Squad disintegrates once that link is lost. Is this mutually destructive bond some Grand Passion or just a standard abusive cycle? And how does little B.B. fit in? Daddy and Mommy both love her very much (or do they?) but they don’t love each other anymore (right?) and so it’s better for everybody if they resolve their disputed custody with a fight to the death! It makes no difference to little B.B. whether Daddy cared for her out of love or for Beatrix or to atone for his violent past (and present) or just because he knew it would make Beatrix more angry. She had a Daddy and she had a life, and now she has a Mommy and a new life. Has anything really changed?

In Westerns, a cowboy heads off into the sunset because he hasn’t been domesticated, hasn’t settled down. If he wanted to complete his Oedipal trajectory, he’d find a nice woman (or make a woman nice) and start a solid life for himself in town or on a homestead. In becoming Mommy, Beatrix is trying to twist this. She’s domesticating herself, switching from murderer to caregiver in a matter of minutes. It may not work this way and may not work for good, since she’s left two little girls half-orphans in a revenge culture, but she’s a determined woman when she puts her mind to a task. She’s still defining herself through her relation to someone else, but that’s what has to happen to some extent if you live in society, and now she has someone who depends on her, has power she can use to do great good. It’s a wide horizon, full of promise, and mother and daugher are heading right in, not looking back.

I hate work-for-hire too.

Tim O’Neil manages to offend the entirety of the comics community in one fell swoop:

Comic books are the playground of the retarded. Whether your particular retardation is social, physical, sexual or mental, if you care enough to read this you are a retard.

Why, you ask? Well, you see…

The comics field is stronger than its been in years, with kids and women reading Manga, “art” and “alternative” comics racking up critical acclaim and respectable sales totally independent of the direct market, online comics coming into their own after a turbulent adolescence, and even the dead newspaper strip showing faint signs of life. But there are still not enough comics readers to support books like “Wildcats 3.0″ and “Stormwatch: Team Achilles.” This tells me that not only is the average mainstream comic reader functionally illiterate, as well as sincerely retarded, but that we have a deeply unhealthy industry.

OK? Got it? You might think Tim’s insults are pretty offensive, but really I think we all know, even if we don’t like to admit it… we really are a bunch of semi-literate retards, aren’t we? It’s why we read comics—we can’t read them, but we can look at the pictures.

Now, maybe you didn’t get Stormwatch: Team Achilles because you were too busy reading other comics you like. Maybe you didn’t get Wildcats Version 3.0 because you have limited funds and can’t afford to buy every superhero comic that’s “critically acclaimed” and you decided to read New X-Men or X-Statix instead. Maybe you just don’t like superhero comics, or you don’t like military science fiction, or you don’t like stories about corporate politics. Maybe you were too busy reading your “art” comics? Too busy with Persepolis to support Stormwatch? Whatever. We’re talking good, critically acclaimed comics here, and they needed your support! Oh, you didn’t think they sounded interesting to you? I guess you’re a retarded illiterate conservative fanboy, huh? I guess you suck?

You know what else I hate? The fact that Powers and Kabuki are guaranteed to quintuple, if not sextuple, their sales when they move from Image to Marvel. Maybe even septuple. There’s nothing I hate more than Marvel Zombies buying good comics. I’d rather see these comics get cancelled for low sales than see people buy them for the wrong reasons!

Stupid fanboys. Everything is your fault.

(Seriously, though, Tim goes so far over the top that he’s probably as tongue-in-cheek as I am here. You never can tell on the Internet, can you?)

(You may wonder how I managed to type all this, being the illiterate retard that I am. Actually, I’m dictating to a friendly monkey dressed as Beppo the Super-Monkey. Thanks, Beppo!)


“I stopped needing to save the world. Saving is what misers do.”

I just lost a really long post about Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which probably won’t teach me to save my work as I write even though it should. Well, here’s a somewhat shortened version.

Here’s the difference between Jack and Boy in a nutshell, from Kissing Mister Quimper:

Boy: “…There’s gotta be more to life than running all the time.”

Jack: “Yeah, that’s gotta be it, ey? I don’t know: I just run ‘cause it’s quicker than walking, me.”

I had an utterly brilliant comparison between Boy’s leaving the Invisibles and Cipher’s trying to get back into the Matrix in The Matrix! Alas, alas. It’s a pretty obvious difference, though: Cipher is an asshole who betrays his crewmates, Boy is the first Invisible to really get an important part of what’s going on. Let’s look at some narration from the last issue of Invisibles:

I’m there at the end of the world that was and the beginning of birth into full understanding—fusion with the supercontext. I am part of “nature.” Every airplane, every power station is a result of “Nature’s” process. We never fell. We were never apart from the world. We lied to ourselves.

That applies to humanity as a whole—we thought we were fallen and reaching up toward God or enlightenment (religious people thought so, anyway), but we’re only a fetus trying to be born. It also applies to the Invisibles specifically, who think they’re separate from the normal world. Jack calls the non-Invisible world the “fucking land of the dead,” but he’s wrong. Running may be quicker than walking, but walking gets you moving forward all the same.

But now we’re being born, fully-grown, like insects, like Athena, the Goddess of Truth. Larval consciousness experiences the introduction of necessary inoculating agents from the supercontext as a form of invasion by hostile, bacterial forces. The inoculation is conceptualized by the developing larva as an invasion of threatening “not-self” material… the confronting and integration of “not-self” being a necessary stage in the development of the maturing larva’s self-awareness—”philogeny recapitulates history.”

This is what Boy figured out: you don’t need to be Invisible to help bring the world to birth. As long as the Invisibles stand apart from the world, they’re as much “not-self” as the Lost Ones and other followers of the Outer Church. You want to integrate with the “not-self”? Go talk to your neighbor. Go have sex and have a baby—genetic metaphor of the synthesis of self and not-self. It’s not that the Invisibles are bad, not that all the Invisibles should be like Boy. It’s just that their purpose is not to save the world from the Outer Church or from itself, but to engage in the process of integration. Mr. Six and some others do it by blurring the distinction between Invisible and Outer Church until the whole thing is a hopeless mess of quadruple agents and nobody knows who’s on what side. Jack does it by eating the Outer Church’s King of the new Aeon. King Mob does it by inventing a video game/drug that turns people into Invisibles. Lord Fanny does it with genderbending. Ragged Robin does it by writing herself into the story. Boy, maybe the most radical Invisible of all, does it by going home and living a little life.

Here’s what superheroes like Neo and Friends in The Matrix never quite figure out: you can’t save the world by treating the people in it like helpless cattle. If they really rely on you to rescue them from the Forces of Darkness and Control, the only thing you accomplish by rescuing them is to set yourself as the new Forces of Darkness and Control. Neo’s going to free all the humans from the Matrix? And what gives him the right to make that decision for the entire species? This is part of what Boy means when she says, “I stopped needing to save the world. Saving is what misers do.”

Tomorrow: Philogeny recapitulates history? Spurious biology, memes, and The Invisibles as critical response to Crisis on Infinite Earths!

Kill Bill Foundations: Audience

I’m still not into the meat of my discussion of Kill Bill, but I have a few comments about the moviegoing experience. I don’t like being in crowds much in general, and I particularly dislike it in movie theaters. It’s possible that I gravitate to non-Hollywood movies in part because there will be fewer people in the audience to make me wonder whether they’re observing me and, if so, what they think. But we were lucky both times to be in fairly sparsely populated theaters, and I’m getting over my awkwardness anyway, so it worked out, although there were tough spots.

What I hadn’t expected was that Kill Bill Vol. 2 would be such a comedy classic, at least if the audience was to be trusted. They thought all the fight scenes were exhilarating and funny and any character mannerisms were hysterical, particularly Pai Mei’s beard toss. I realize I have a stronger than normal response to violence, but I guess I’d hoped people would be more shocked or disturbed than amused by at least some of the fights. Then again, maybe the horrified people were as quiet as I was. On the other hand, the audience seemed at best lukewarm toward the dialogue, shifting awkwardly during any emotional episodes. I was somewhat chagrined by the family behind us, who had brought two elementary school children with them, but I’m sure there are benefits to introducing violent imagery early, at least one of which is that it will keep your kid from growing up like me.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 was a different setup. There was a group of maybe four college-aged guys and another couple there, and that may have been it, so there were two women watching the movie. The more recent crowd had something like a 3:1 ratio, I guess. The first crowd, particularly the guys, laughed some and sort of grunted approvingly during action sequences, but it mostly seemed to be in keeping with what I saw as the tone of the movie. Maybe it was what seemed like a drastic change in tone between the two that made the second audience so rambunctious. All I know is that it took me a long time to settle in because of the ridiculous giggles, and that I probably liked the movie less because of it, but that’s a criticism of myself as a viewer.

The reason I’m writing this at all is because I never got a sense of intended audience for the film. It’s possible the intended audience is just Quentin Tarantino, but I don’t know. I just don’t know if the rest of our audience left wondering whether Bill had loved The Bride and whether he would have been able to stop hurting her, and to what extent her total adoration had made him want to hurt her in the first place. I know one audience is geeks, the kind of people who are excited by the namedropping and the intertextuality, and that’s a valid group. I just wonder whether Kill Bill would have been better served by being less accessible and making viewers work a little harder to enjoy and appreciate it. Should it have attracted the same audience that went to see The Punisher? I guess I was hoping the answer would be no, because I’m so sick of revenge stories glorifying that ideology and am not much of a fan of women-in-peril pieces, though Kill Bill managed to subvert that at least a bit. As with Hellboy, I might have liked it more if it had been targeted at me more closely, but I liked it enough on its own merits. A lot of things would be easier if I were a fanboy, but I’m much happier as is, even if it means silently cursing moviegoers while they laugh and laugh. They should be glad I don’t support revenge!

Kill Bill Foundations: Good and Worthy Death

Here’s more prep work for discussing Kill Bill Vol. 2, the second of my two reflections on Kill Bill Vol. 1. Again, I’ve changed only coding and pronouns.

Originally posted 31 October 2003

Last time, I wrote about why I don’t like the characterization of rapists in Kill Bill. While I still don’t and don’t concede any of my objections, I have a thematic defense for it.

This is a revenge movie, but we don’t know (and perhaps never will) the reason why revenge is necessary. Sure, The Bride is betrayed by her (former?) fellow Assassins and left for dead, a massacre carried out at the word of the father of her unborn baby. But what’s her motivation? I joked that The Bride now has to wipe out all the people who’d seenher whimpering and begging not to be killed to be able to live with her bad-ass self, and in retrospect I think that could be partly true. There’s a pattern of how people die and how they deserve to die. An honorable warrior deserves an honorable death.

Other than giving me Tyrtaeus flashbacks, what does this involve? I’m not entirely sure; I was too caught up in Tyrtaeus. Still, the point is made early in the movie. Vernita and The Bride are evenly matched when sparring with knives and life histories, finding almost a comfortable camaraderie, but this changes when Vernita changes the rules. As quickly as she shoots from behind the symbolic shield of her daughter, she is killed conclusively and bluntly. Against an opponent who fights by whatever code they recognize, The Bride allows the battle to be a contest of skill and athleticism and all sorts of endurance, but those unworthy of such a display are summarily slaughtered.

It’s possible that this is why the rapists are basically caricatures, because without honor and principle, they are nothing more than beasts. They have no humanity, no depth because they are not a part of the world The Bride acknowledges as human, as on her own level. They die bloodily but easily, without fighting back. The dull die quickly.

I’ll go ahead and post this now and then go away for the weekend, part of which will be spent discussing the movie. Maybe I’ll understand more or better on my return.

Kill Bill Foundations: Self-Righteous Indignation

As Steven said, we saw Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 this weekend, and in preparation for saying more, I’m reposting my comments on Vol. 1 from the older version of our blog. I’ve standardized formatting and switched to gendered pronouns from Spivak varient nongendered pronouns.

Originally posted 29 October 2003

Last week was a much-needed vacation not from work but, to a large extent, from the Internet. Now I’m back, refreshed and exhausted and working 10-hour days.

In the interim, though, I saw Kill Bill and I’ve been writing and thinking about it in relation to everything else I run into. It was a very frustrating half-movie, all the more so because I feel unable to critique it fully without recourse to the story’s end. All I’ve got are a bunch of references and reminders and preliminary theories, and they all make me want more. I’m not sure if that means it’s a good movie. I don’t think I’d talk about it in those terms, but it’s compelling to me and I enjoyed watching the later parts, although the first half hour or so (maybe hour, one of the benefits of wearing no watch) left me awkwardly uncomfortable.

I held off posting at first after seeing it because what I was going to say was too personal, and because I thought that most of the failure was my own. It’s not that I’ve changed these views, but just that I don’t see the point of not saying anything just because I’m unable to escape autobiographical criticism.

I have very strong views about rape. It’s an issue that impacts me directly and strongly. I’m interested in theory that surrounds sexual assault and can discuss it intellectually, but that doesn’t mean that I can give up my instinctual emotional impact, either. And Kill Bill really annoyed me on this front. I now have an alternate explanation for the way the scenes went, but I want to talk about my immediate understanding of and annoyance with the scenes involving The Bride and Buck, the hospital worker who sold her body while she was comatose.

First of all, Kill Bill is in many ways a superficial movie that seems basically devoid of social commentary. I mean, it’s not terribly difficult to interpret various stances and arguments into the movie, but, particularly because we don’t have all the data, it’s very difficult to see if there are moral judgments at work or just what Tarantino is doing. I know this.

Still, it seemed to me problematic and cowardly that Tarantino broadly stereotyped the rapists in the film in the way he did. Buck and the hapless redneck whose name I didn’t catch (if it was ever given) are nasty, miserable, ugly people. Both of them die in nasty, bloody ways as The Bride awakens to begin her arc of revenge, taking as spoils Buck’s outrageous “Pussy Wagon.”

The trouble for me is that unlike anyone the Bride kills later (in “real” chronological, not the movie’s narrative, order) they are both just caricatures of brainless hormones, Bad People. Or are we not supposed to read them that way? Are they just pitiful exaggerations of particularly sex-starved “normal” guys, albeit hideous and filthy ones?

The reason I called this depiction cowardly is because it’s easy. I mean, if they’d been black rather than white, it might have raised an outcry about the perils of racial stereotyping. However audiences just rolled with this characterization, laughing a bit in the audience I sat with. What makes this crime different from the others in the movie is that while most of the people in the audience haven’t executed an entire wedding party or disemboweled a man at a bar, a fair portion of what I presume is the target audience has (or knows someone who has) had sex with someone who wasn’t entirely awake or sober or otherwise consenting. To have the characters in the movie who do this be vapid idiots seems to me to allow viewers not to have any thoughts that might indict them or the sorts of things they believe in, since there is no entry for identification with these characters.

I don’t think Tarantino has any responsibility to advance my political views, and I’m not surprised he doesn’t seem do so. I was just troubled by this in the context all the violence toward and between woman, and the audience reactions to all of it. I’m not sure what I’m asking for, which is why I’ve come to different views of the scene, but it was upsetting to me basically because it doesn’t humanize a very human issue and because it lets stupid guys (and I’m stereotyping on gender and many other grounds, I know) go on being stupid guys when there was a clear chance to challenge them. I shouldn’t be looking for verisimilitude in a movie like this, but it’s there to some extent, in a chilling and emotionally compelling scene, and yet it could have been so much more and, for me, made the movie so much less.

Die DDR lebt weiter—auf 79 qm!

(The title means, The German Democratic Republic lives on—in 79 square meters!)

Rose and I saw Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Good Bye Lenin! this weekend. If Good Bye Lenin is playing near you, you should think about seeing it—it’s fun. If you’ve never even heard of it, here’s what the official American web site has to say about it:

October 1989 was a bad time to fall into a coma if you lived in East Germany—and this is precisely what happens to Alex’s proudly socialist mother. Alex has a big problem on his hands when she suddenly awakens eight months later. Her heart is so weak that any shock might kill her. And what could be more shocking as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the triumph of capitalism in her beloved East Germany? To save his mother, Alex transforms the family apartment into an island of the past, a kind of socialist-era museum here his mother is lovingly duped into believing nothing has changed. What begins as a little white lie turns into a major scam as Alex’s sister and selected neighbors are recruited to maintain the elaborate ruse—and keep her believing that Lenin really did win after all!

Good Bye Lenin! has some thematic resonances with The Invisibles, the seventh and final volume of which I recently read. If the movie were a story in Invisibles, probably everybody would end up dosed with Key 23, the jars of pickles labeled Spreewald Pickles would cause them to hallucinate the counterfeit pickles inside as real Spreewald Pickles, and we’d wonder whether a jar of Netherlandish pickles relabeled as East German Spreewald pickles is really a jar of Spreewald pickles.

(A brief note of explanation: Alex’s mother Christiane must have East German food products, since she doesn’t know the East German brands have disappeared from the shelves and been replaced by vastly superior Western brands. Alex is driven to rummage through dumpsters to find old discarded East German-brand jars and boxes, so he can trick his mother by filling them with Western food. Christiane particularly craves Spreewald pickles, and Alex gives her capitalist pickles from Holland disguised as Spreewalds.)

This is an important question in The Invisibles: Key 23 (or Key 64, or Logoplasm) causes you to hallucinate words as the actual objects those words represent. Is seeing a mirror with “Diseased Face” scrawled on it the same as seeing your own diseased face? Is being shot with one of those cartoon guns with a “Pop” flag the same as being shot for real? How do you get a goose out of a bottle without breaking the bottle or killing the goose? “What fucking goose?” is Jack Frost’s answer to the riddle. Elfayed’s more explanatory answer: “There’s no goose, Jack. No bottle. Only words.” What is more real than language, than the stories we tell ourselves and each other? It’s not that there are only words, as Elfayed claims, but that our interaction with the world is mediated by language. (Of course, for Elfayed, there really are only words—his comic-book world is made of words and pictures—the set of pictorial that make up comics is a kind of language.) If you see a tree and you don’t know it’s a “tree” (or “Baum” or whatever), well, you’re not really seeing a tree, are you, but some nameless thing. But what if you don’t know the words “nameless” or “thing”? If you have no language, you can’t even see nothing, because there is no “nothing” for you. As David Fiore notes, this is a recurring theme in Grant Morrison’s work, and recurs also in Jorge Luis Borges’s stories.

Where Morrison and Borges use fantasy and science fictional elements, writer/director Wolfgang Becker relies on good old-fashioned lying. Alex can’t let his mother know the GDR is no more, so he constructs an increasingly elaborate lie. The dominance of language in our conception of reality takes on apocalyptic importance for Morrison and Borges—and it does for Becker, but in a different way. It’s a quiet apocalypse in Good Bye Lenin!, which is maybe surprising for a movie with the fall of the Berlin Wall at its center. It would be easy to put this theme on a global scale in a story about the fall of a Communist government (1984, e.g., although that’s obviously a story about a Communist government not falling), but Becker avoids the global scale by using Christiane’s bedroom as a microcosm. The effect of the juxtaposition of the backgrounded social upheaval in Germany with the foregrounded familial chaos is a story which manages to be low-key and apocalyptic all at once. Alex’s surprise as his lie takes on a life of its own is mixed up with the terror he and his friends and neighbors must feel as the world they knew ends and a new world is born around them. The sense of simultaneous fun and panic as Alex’s fictional GDR gets bigger and bigger is much like the sense you get reading The Invisible Kingdom, the last volume of The Invisibles, as the narrative threatens to spin entirely out of Morrison’s—and the reader’s—control.

Good Bye Lenin! always makes clear the separation between inside, where Alex’s fictional GDR continues strong, and outside, where the GDR has fallen and East and West Germany reunited. Viewed from the outside, East Berlin is unaffected by Alex’s ruse. Viewed from inside the apartment, though, the newly emerging social status quo comes to mean the opposite of what it means on the outside, as Alex seeks to mitigate his mother’s increasing exposure to the onslaught of capitalism by enlisting an amateur filmmaker friend to invent fake newscasts about the fall of West Germany and the triumph of socialism. This is not the Borgesian conception of reality as presented in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”:

How could the world not fall under the sway of Tlön, how could it not yield to the vast and minutely detailed evidence of an ordered planet? It would be futile to reply that reality is also orderly. Perhaps it is, but orderly in accordance with divine laws (read: “inhuman laws”) that we can never quite manage to penetrate. Tlön may well be a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth forged by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

No, in Good Bye Lenin!, it’s easy to penetrate reality—just step outside the apartment. Alex’s mission, then is to keep his mother inside the apartment, and when she finally does step outside, to keep her thinking like she’s still inside.

The safety of inside is OK, but you can’t hide from the outside forever… right? It’s good of Alex to want to protect his mother from death—but who wants life when there’s nothing to life but lying in bed all day? Protecting yourself with your own little stories is fine, but at some point you have to either connect with the Big Story being told by the rest of the world, or admit your own insanity. Christiane’s unwillingness to emerge from inside the story she tells herself is what led to her heart attack in the first place—her husband had escaped East Berlin years ago and expected her to follow with their children, but she fell for the government propaganda, couldn’t bear to risk losing her children in an attempt to gain freedom, and so she abandoned her husband to the West, stayed in East Berlin and pretended she made a difference in the socialist regime by writing letters of petition demanding the state give the people better toasters. Now all she has to do to escape her self-created prison is step outside her apartment and see the new reunited Germany for what it really is, not the triumph of socialism but its defeat, and her son just can’t bear to let her go. Maybe a dose of the Big Story would kill her, but at least she’d be really alive in that Story before she died.

Still, Alex isn’t a bad person. He’s not judged or punished for his lie, but he’s also not successful in his lie. His girlfriend Lara, who thinks his desire to keep his mother locked up in bed is sort of sick (and she’s right about that), finally tells Christiane the truth. But they both value Alex’s good intentions, and they know as we all do the small happiness you can get sometimes from building up a little wall of protection against the scariness of the world—so they decide to give Alex a little protection and let him continue to believe he’s protecting his mother from the truth.

I think I’m going to stop here for now. Definitely more about The Invisibles later! And if you haven’t seen Good Bye Lenin!, see if it’s playing in a theater near you.

Red Right Hand

n.b. This was initally posted Monday evening, when we realized things were going wrong with the blog, and this realization arose from the fact that I don’t believe the post ever arrived in a form visible to people other than me. Now that we’ve settled into our piratical new home, I can revive it. Remember this is Monday Me, far less world-weary and generally weary. I’m not sure I agree with myself anymore.

I had a fun weekend, though not a relaxing one, so most details will have to wait until I’m more alert. I must be getting old; this time change has done me in! But I know you want to hear about Hellboy before I toddle off to bed.

First, though, a message for Rick Geerling. I went ahead and bought the Negative Burn collections for the first and second years. So far so good, but I hope to say more later.

Now, Hellboy! We liked it. I thought it was a lot of fun. I haven’t read many of the Hellboy stories, but I think the movie could have benefited from a certain sort of adherence to their mold. I’m just not especially interested in stories where the fate of the world is at stake. This is an ongoing problem with superhero stories in general and particularly in movies. I just think superhero movies would be more fun for me if they weren’t action movies (and I realize there’s no hope for this coming true) and the same holds for roleplaying games. I prefer smaller stakes because that leaves more room for character development, for personal impact. Then again, this could be linked to my peculiar disdain for property damage in standard Hollywood action sequences, too.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m not a purist who was offended by the love story in Hellboy, but I would much rather have seen more of a Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense slice-of-life story, in which a love story would fit, than the way the love story got manipulated by the Bigger Plot into something more trite than special. A lot of things would fit, like more pamcakes scenes, and there would still be fights. But it would be easier for me to get invested if it were just another day, another monster, none of this threat of eldritch horror from another dimension melodrama shit. And I think if this weren’t set up like a video game with a final confrontation with the biggest baddie maybe other people wouldn’t have minded the special effects or the rather standard way in which the threats are resolved. And maybe if the movie hadn’t been set up to culminate in one big magic moment the creators could have focused instead on expanding the characters to let the audience connect with them.

And I’m saying all this as someone who had a great time at the movie. I’d prefer something different, but that’s how I feel after I see many films. And Hellboy featured excellent performances, allowing for plenty of characterization (at least for the good guys) in a fairly small space, so it wasn’t totally lacking. I’m just curious why this is the way superhero movie stories have to work, since it’s the characters rather than the deeds that keep people coming back, right? I realize Superman’s death sold awfully well, but I don’t think people follow Wolverine for years just because they can’t wait to see who he’ll slice next. Or maybe I’m wrong. I’m not in the target demographic for superhero comics or Hollywood movies, but I sure wouldn’t mind a film that catered to me more. But I know what sells best is big explosions in HDTV surround-sound, and that doesn’t interest me. I’d like more cigar-lighting scenes, more stock heroic poses in moments of pain rather than victory, more pivotal Nick Cave moments (or Leonard Cohen, if applicable) and more pamcakes. Definitely more pamcakes.

At last!

Well, here we are. Here I am, anyway—my neighborhood of the Web has finally learned that is now pointing to a new server. If you’ve been using, you can go back to If you’re using Mozilla, Netscape (maybe Opera, I don’t know), you can use our cool popup menus to the right of your screen. If you’re using Internet Explorer, use the non-popup menu to the right of your screen to navigate to pages with various archive lists and lists of XML feeds. Either way, you’ll want to check out our new citation archives. Want to know what we think of David Fiore or New X-Men? Want to know what mean things we’ve been saying about you? Now it’s easy!

“Woe to people under a ruler without a sense of shame.”

Last night I finished reading Naguib Mahfouz’s book Arabian Nights & Days. It’s a beautiful, brilliant work, a set of interlocking stories about the habitues of the Cafe of the Emirs and what happens to them when stories are set loose among them. The sultan’s wife Sharzhad has just finished telling her famous tales only to find that her life has been spared, that her husband Shahriyar has lost his desire to wed and kill the city’s virgins. But the tales’ lives are not over, as Sindbad suddenly feels an urge to go to sea. And there are treasures and genies and magical rings and plenty of thievery. And assassination and regime change.

In some sense, regime change is at the core of almost all the stories. Various men get various kinds of power and, while thinking themselves good men in good standing with God, they decide (or are coerced) to use their power to bring about what they see as right, which typically results in the death of the governor of the Quarter, not to mention other people involved. Several men serve as police chiefs, and widows and daughters are married off. At the center of this tumult and change are some genies and even an angel, Shahriyar and his immediate family, and the implacable Sheikh Abdullah al-Balkhi. And yes, there’s plenty of creation of self, and self-characterization and self-delusion. It’s not that power corrupts but that people who aren’t used to it don’t know how to wield it, and those who have it can’t survive without.

This is a book they ought to be using in those everybody-reads-the-same-book programs, because the power of an open metaphor is constantly evident. It would be a hit with the antiwar folks because of quotes like the one in my title, though Shariyar’s shame drives him through the looking glass to madness and love. And there are more than enough corrupt officials to be compared to the modern set of the reader’s choosing. There are also men killing for the sake of their understanding of Islam and men who refuse to kill or refuse to die. Women are a subtle, subversive undercurrent, despised and desired but incomprehensible. They know and tell and understand different, hidden stories. There’s romance and violence and magic and religion, and it’s all packed into precise and simple prose. I had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep, or I’d have read it in a night.

Arabian Nights & Days is more than a fairy tale revision, if it’s that at all. It’s an explosion of stories into reality, a picture of the way narratives move and stories change and people change. It’s not clear that Sindbad knew of Sinbad’s adventures when he embarked on his own, but he figured out how to deal with rocs nonetheless. We all know how our stories will end, but this is a clear reminder of the numberless ways to get there, the unexpected jolts in life, out own character development. And after any story ends, another takes its place, but perhaps that means it doesn’t end at all.