Monday, January 31, 2011

That Time Gene Yang Came To My Grad School And Blew Everyone's Mind

So I think I mentioned this once before on the blog, but I just started making my way towards a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing For Children at St. Paul's Hamline University. And when I say "just started" I mean my first contact of any kind with any person or work connected to school was a ten-day intensive residency earlier this month. In fact, "intense" is a pretty good word for the experience as a whole. When I arrived in the Twin Cities, my plan for absolutely no comics work on the week was crushed when Marvel named Axel Alonso Editor-in-Chief. Meanwhile, they were warning us about the cold weather with phrases like "flesh can freeze in seconds."

BUT, one crazy twist to my first residency at Hamline that made me feel right at home was that one of our required readings coming into the workshop week was Gene Yang's American Born Chinese. And – if you couldn't guess by the post title – Yang played guest lecturer to talk about the creation of the book and generally blow the minds of everyone in attendance.

Think of it this way: the crew that works for and attends my Masters program write kids books for a living (or are trying to). That includes classic picture books, chapter books, and novels that range from zany middle grade and tween tales on through some provocative and smart Young Adult stuff. But the majority of these people had ZERO experience with comics before reading Yang's book. So much so that "comics" didn't even break into the vocabulary for a lot of the folks. The writers at the school were introduced to our medium (if they'd been introduced to it at all) through the term and category of "graphic novel" which might not sound like too big a distinction but really stood out as the week went on.

I mean, there were a few comic woks that were familiar to members of the residency – all of them produced and promoted through the lens of the book industry. I heard more than a few people mention David Small's Stitches. Everyone was passingly familiar with what Bone is. Neil Gaiman is a rock star and a half in this world for reasons other than comics, but I think most people knows he wrote them before blowing up as a novelist. But most importantly like I said, anyone at least partially interested in kids book publishing these days understands that graphic novels have spent the past few years as the super hot category. They think of what we do as the "cool new thing" in general and want to know more about it even when they're a bit confused by it.

Being the resident "comics guy" in the group (a position I happily played up perhaps too much by weeks end), I fielded a lot of questions and comments through out the week because of that. Common things I heard:

"I was trying to read this, but some times I was confused on what I was supposed to be looking at. Am I following the pictures? Do I read the text first?"

"So the difference between a comic and a graphic novel, what is that? A comic is silly, but a graphic novel is like a real book, right?"

"I'm really interested in writing a graphic novel myself. How would I go about doing that?"

I don't mention these as a put down to any of the supremely intelligent and creative people who I learned a whole hell of a lot from about writing in those ten days. I just wanted to express how strange it was to be in a position where I'm talking about the thing I spend my entire working day talking about but where I can't assume any of the basic knowledge or terminology I rely on. So it was pretty tough at times for me to try and speak on comics without sounding super jargony or super nerdy or both.

Luckily, Gene Yang is the straight up Jedi Master of talking comics in front of book people. I can't imagine how many times he's had to talk about ABC in front of librarians or school groups or teachers or traditional YA writers, but his behind the scenes breakdown of what cultural and visual influences shaped the book was as engaging and accessible and well rehearsed as any talk on comics I've ever seen (and I've seen art spiegelman speak on comics like four times so I feel pretty confident saying that Yang was on his #%@&!ing GAME).

The real defining moment of the whole experience was Yang's breakdown of Cousin Chin-Kee, the highly over-the-top caricature of Chinese stereotypes who plays a central role in ABC's story. He took a lot of time to explain the cultural references that influenced Chin-Kee's creation from early racist political cartoons about Chinese immigrants and railroad workers to Long Duck Dong on through to the recent response to/debate over the sudden popularity of "American Idol" reject William Hung. Over the days following his speech, I heard several classmates confess that they'd initially been put off by American Born Chinese because they felt uncomfortable with Chin-Kee's role in the story until they heard Yang place the satirical elements of the caricature in context. The act of cartooning as satire and commentary rather than just being broad stereotyped comedy hadn't even occurred to them.

And on a nuts and bolts craft level, there were so many ideas about how comics are made that came out and caught the audience totally by surprise. The idea that Yang would script pages before drawing was revelatory for some. Others asked about why someone else would color his work for him. And even the briefest mention of the punk rock respect comics self-publishers get had people looking around going "Whaaaaaaa?"

[I should note that the kind of "THAT'S how they do it?" experience hit me in the reverse sense later in the week as we discussed the ins and outs of picture book creation. I had to have it explained to me several times that the authors and illustrators of something like 95% of picture books have no creative interaction or collaboration. You write some words, you send it to a publisher, and they get it drawn by someone. In fact, pitching picture books as a writer/artist team is really frowned upon...which is INSANE to me still today. One professor told us a story about a woman who wrote a picture book manuscript meaning for the characters to be two children, but the illustrator decided to make them cats, and that was that. Writers in comics would go apeshit if they experienced that lack of control, which is saying something.]

Finally when Yang read his NY Times Magazine strip turned First Second graphic novel Prime Baby and his incoming Level Up, I began to see people really "get" what comics could offer on their own as a medium. The rhythm of his in-panel jokes, the power his page turns held and the raw emotional information given off by his cartooning had everyone completely pumped by lecture's end. In fact, for the rest of the week I don't think I heard one person refer to Yang without some variation of "And Oh My God...Gene Yang!" being uttered. why the hell am I doing all this anecdotal blathering on my comics blog? I guess partially I just wanted to illustrate for any comics folks out there how big the gulf between what we assume and understand about the medium and what even the most literate and engaged "general audiences" think about comics. Even a decade or so into the graphic novel book store boom, our status amongst readers and publishing professionals is still very new and not at all assured in a long term sense. Just because Comics Project X earned Major Accolade Y recently doesn't mean that the book publishing world will continue to find comics a necessary part of their business model.

And it would be TERRIBLE at this point to lose the interest and resources of that market. Even with book stores in general in rotten shape, the kinds of material that have a chance in those outlets but have such a harder time in the Direct Market can have a fighting chance at big publishers. And while we all know that artists looking to work in that segment of publishing should know how that game is played, I think it's of equal importance for us core comics folk to reach out to traditional book people and open channels of discussion on why comics are rad.

I've been thinking a lot about how to do this lately in terms of my writing about comics here and at CBR as well as my work in the Hamline MFA program. As a first step on the latter front, I put together a suggested reading list for my classmates and profs at the end of residency which included ten comics aimed at the kids-to-YA market and five more from the literary publishing spehere. I won't post all the descriptions and stuff I gave the Hamline crew, but the books I suggested were:

1. Blankets by Craig Thompson
2. The Comics of Hope Larson
3. Owly by Andy Runton
4. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
5. Selections From The TOON Books Line Edited By Francoise Mouly
6. Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
7. Mouse Guard by David Petersen
8. Saltwater Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack And Benny by Matthew Loux
9. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever, Takeshi Miyazawa & David Hahn
10. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona

1. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth by Chris Ware
2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
3. It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken by Seth
4. Wilson by Daniel Clowes
5. Love & Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez

Was there anything I missed? I will say that so far, my playing comics pusherman seems to be working as thanks to the help of my comics-literate classmate Peter Pearson, some of the folks on the staff went right out and bought Blankets, and my advisor for the semester – the super awesome Anne Ursu – got Understanding Comics on my recommendation the week we were at school.

In any event, let me know what you think in general in the comments, and I'm sure we'll swing back around to this topic sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I'm blogging about my grad writing and reviewing a metric ton of kid lit at my Rockopolis blog if you're interested.

[Note: Props to my rad classmate Tracy Pagel Wells for snapping the shots of Yang lecturing at Hamline.]

Why super speed beats flight

If you ask most people what super power they’d like to have, most will say flight. Yes, some pervs will say telepathy and Tim Dillon will say the ability to generate and manipulate ice, but seriously, on the whole, two out of three times, you get flight. Not entirely sure why, but so it goes.

Not me. Hands down the answer has always been super speed.

It’s been this way for me since I was little. I always thought being able to whiz by everybody on the ground seemed much cooler than hovering thousands of feet above them. Perhaps it’s because I crave human companionship and feel flight would be an extremely lonely super power? Maybe it’s that while being in a plane doesn’t fully simulate the experience, it comes closer than, say, a car being able to replicate true super speed? Whatever the initial reason, I dressed up as The Flash when I was five, not Superman.

But of course, there’s the rub: Superman can do more than fly. Really there are very few comic book characters that can only fly because while it seems initially neat, it’s fairly weak in terms of the offensive capabilities it can provide. Guys like Superman or Martian Manhunter or Captain Marvel (either one) or dozens of others have flight as their “showiest” power, but then always have the requisite super strength plus loads of other stuff piled on to make them more formidable.

The traditional “flight only” characters in comics, Hawkman and Angel of the X-Men, even got beefed up when it became evident just being able to kick a guy from slightly higher up wasn’t much of a tactical advantage, getting centuries of weapons training and razor-tipped killer wings in the bargain.

But getting away from super heroics and back to as close to real life as a post like this can get, super speed has it all over flight in the practicality department, and that’s the reason I’ve stuck with it beyond my formative years. There would certainly be a “wow” factor in terms of being able to go up into the clouds the first few times, and no doubt you could elicit some attention from members of the opposite sex (provided you don’t drop them), but once the novelty is gone, you’re going to get bored among the birds, so to say.

However, if you’re incredibly fast, your life will always be better. You will never be late again. You will be able to travel lengthy distances without being bored or inconvenienced. You can acquire awesome gifts and goodies for your friends, loved ones and the objects of your affection in an eye blink.

And that’s just with running!

Per the lame joke I have made many times to groaning response and once for the world to see when I interviewed the Motor City Machine Guns and asked this very question (Alex Shelley said he’d want Jamie Madrox’s powers for similarly convenience-minded reasons—truly a man after my own heart), I would not want to just run fast, but do everything fast, except that one thing (kids, ask your parents). That’s how guys like The Flash have always rolled, and so it would be for me in this fantasy land I have constructed for myself.

My room is dirty? Nope, now it’s clean. I need to do some reading? I just did it. Afternoon of errands to run? It just became five minutes of errands to run (albeit probably having stolen multiple items rather than paid for them).

Unlike flight, super speed makes everything in everyday life easier!

And yes, were I somehow to find myself as an adventurer fighting the good fight, I could punch the bad guy 100 times in a second and he’d be done as opposed to staying two feet above his reach until somebody actually useful came along to help.

To end on a poetic note, if super speed is indeed like a Geoff Johns-written Flash comic, it would be pretty neat to be able to literally dance between the raindrops, watching them each as they slowly fall to the ground and the people around me go by in slow motion; actually, that second part sounds somewhat terrifying, but the first part sounds pretty.

And so concludes one of my nerdiest posts to date. Which says something.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Catfish

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

Half hour or so removed from finishing this and still somewhat wrapping my head around what I thought of it, including to what degree I liked it, so this may be a bit less focused than my typical review (if that's possible). A huge part of my viewing experience mirrors most other people, I wager: I was devoting a great deal of effort to trying to figure out if this was a legitimate documentary or not. At first I did not, then started doubting as it went; according to what I looked up after, the creators claim it's legit, though many folks are dubious. The main reason I thought it was fake was what I chalked up as poor acting from Nev Schulman, but apparently he wasn't acting, so I'm not quite sure how to evaluate it then. Indeed it's hard to really quantify the quality of most aspects of this piece given that it (supposedly) is real; even other documentaries I've seen set out to tackle a subject and put a spin on it, whereas this was a case of two guys apparently having the insight and or lucking out in chronicling a fairly interesting story as it developed and sticking around as it became something much more. The stuff I can judge--the editing, the filming, the visual cues--were all well done, particularly the way they incorporated actual Facebook graphics into cuts. Iit was a job well done and can't find any glaring technical faults. The "story" was extremely engaging and they did a good job walking the line between uncomfortable and touching. However, it didn't strike me as revolutionary and I don't have any strong desire to watch it again despite having probably missed a lot while trying to play detective. Going with my gut, I'll rate this above average but wouldn't go any farther than that.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Linko! LXIX

Ladies and dudes,

We're back to Linko! It's been a while since I had time to do a lot of these because I was dealing with the back-to-back traumas of the holidays and my first residency at school (more on that later!), and my browser kept crashing and losing all the links I'd been saving (I know, I know). Still, before we get into some recent internet goodness, there's two things I can't possibly let slip by even though they are weeks out of date.

* Man, it's a real bummer that Dirk Deppey is no longer blogging for The Comics Journal or anywhere for that matter. My general view is that I want to see more smart and discriminating minds engage the comics industry online rather than less – even when the more in question enjoy taking the time to call me stupid and shitty. Dirk's Journalista blog seems completely down on right now. That can't remain that way forever, can it? Ugh. In any event, best of luck to him, and I hope the TCJ folks have a pretty radical move on tap for the future of that site. Sean has more thoughts on all this.

* Right before New Years, the ComicsAlliance kids did a great job covering the breadth of the digital comics landscape right now, particularly David Brothers. Take some time to read their essays on censorship/price and reader desires as well as interviews with BOOM!'s Chip Mosher, IDW's Jeff Webber, writer Mark Waid, DC's Hank Kanalz and Fantagraphics Eric Reynolds. I think there's a few more interviews they did I'm missing here. Go to the site and search for "Digital December."

* As I was still trying to dig my way out of school-created e-mail hole, my peers were really killing it covering the official demise of the Comics Code Authority. I'm kinda of two minds on this whole thing. I agree and understand that the end of the Code is a noteworthy historical event, but I'm nowhere near the level of jump up and down happiness that some folks seem to have hit (not just that link...I've seen a lot of cheering). I personally think that comics as a whole shook off the whole "Wertham" influence in the past decade and maybe even sooner. It just keeps getting brought up because comic folks as a whole carry their beef around in mylar bags so they can bitch from a position of absolute certainty.

Anyway, there's been some interesting historical digging going on in the wake of all this and even some legitimate news in terms of the state of the organization's archival material. For one, MEGA props to Vaneta Rogers and Newsarama who not only broke Archie's half of the Code dissolution story but also did the lion's share of work in regards to the actual state of the organization and its members. Mark Seifert also did a nice job at Bleeding Cool of tracking down some of the tax records of the Code, Werthaming aside. Finally, Heidi seems on top of the quest for the Code's actual physical records. You'd think if DC was de facto in charge, they'd just issue one release and put all this shit to bed, right?

* And hey...Wizard was cancelled. I'm having a much harder time getting worked up over this than some of my bros, but then again, I expected the magazine to get killed about a year and a half ago. I think I may post a little something on that later this week, but for now you should check out Sean's roundup of responses and his brief follow-up. Also: I thought this remembrance by "before my time" Wizard staffer Doug Goldstein was a good indicator of how one group of editorial employees viewed the company just as my former co-worker and current Dark Horse staffer Jim Gibbon's piece on the Wiz was indicative of how a lot of us felt.

* In other "worthwhile comics reporting" news: Zack Smith's web comic series at Newsarama has been fun. Read his latest with Lucy Knisley here. Shaun Manning did a fine job rounding up the news on Shannon Eric Denton's latest Actionopolis kids initiative. Alex Dueben similarly rocked it in this Jeffrey Brown Change-Bots interview. And hey, if I can talk my own shit up for a moment (it is MY blog), I thought this chat with Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek turned out well (it's about Jack Kirby!), as did this roundup of retailer reactions to the death in this week's Fantastic Four. So there.

* And hey, I don't want to make it seem like I didn't dig on this Graphic Policy interview with David Hine about the response to his French Muslim Batman character, because I did. But the real reason to check it out is to see Hine's official headshot. BAD ASS.

* And hey, I was happy to see Heidi MacDonald (or ANYONE really) taking some time to talk to Ed Catto and then to Steve Rotterdam about their new Bonfire Agency venture. I'm still not quite sure that anyone in the comics reading population gets or cares about this kind of thing, and I'm not 100% that Bonfire looks to be an organization that works much outside the hobby shop establishment of production and promotion...still, good on them for trying something new.

* Dustin Harbin doing interviews? Rad. Dustin Harbin interviewing David King. Yes pleas. (Via Tom!)

* Is it just me, or is it a little crazy that the above is a page from an upcoming Marvel comic book? It's just me? Okay then.

* Love that someone is doing this that's not me: a super in-depth analysis of the history of Tim "Robin" Drake. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Future installments will update at this tag.

* Catch up on the new Tezuka manga coming to the U.S. thanks to Katherine Dacey at Manga Critic.

* EVERY FUCKING YEAR I am reminded that my alma mater of Michigan State University hosts an annual Comics Forum by a random link about a week after it happened. It doesn't help that this year's installment was in January while last year's was in March. Here's the link to the website anyway.

* At least I've still got time to see the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art's comics exhibition tomorrow.

* My buddy Brian Warmoth and his ladyfriend Julia have a new phone app/social initiative in Chicago called Wish State. Looks pretty boss.

* Joseph Gordon Levitt seems like a pretty bright dude. Coulda guessed it, huh?

* William Gibson on modern computer hacking. Autoreblog.

* Carlton Cuse on life after "Lost." Ditto.

* Let's wrap this week with four really interesting (at least to me) info graphics that got forwarded my way this week:

Every actor connection in every Coen Brothers movie.

Every Generation 1 Transformer Autobot.

The 3,400% growth of Foursquare users last year.

Should I work for free?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Icarus"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

We've been off as it's been off, but to celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along.

Holy lord, we never got a chance to post this on the holidays, but after the totally rad "Luthor" episode, there was one more blowout Ben and Kiel chatted up. Catch up below before the latest new episode hits tonight.

Kiel: FIGHTING! This felt like a "mid-season finale" to me, if that makes sense.

Ben: Dude, it totally does. I was understandably skeptical about how this episode would compare to the greatness that was "Luthor," but seriously, it really held up well in a totally different way. It was good shit. And yeah, it really drew a line in the sand about the opening ceremonies being over.

Kiel: Yeah, I think two things really crystalized for me in general in this one: first, that the show is different than something like "Lost" because since a sizable chunk of the audience already knows where this stuff is going (i.e. Darkseid) they can dole out a lot of the key info over several episodes rather than saving it for here...making this finale one big ass beating.

Ben: I get you: this was not an episode about revelations. It was about fucking action.

Kiel: Second, I've gotten to the point where I've just stopped caring about the silly plot holes that jump out at me. I still think the whole "Patriot Act as pure evil" thing makes zero sense practically, but now I'm just kind of enjoying the obviousness of it.

Ben: Agreed on both. It's still a dumb plot, but if the writing, acting, etc. is good enough it doesn't bother me. I can't believe Lois & Clark got engaged in the cold open!

Kiel: OK, well let's talk about that for a minute...did it work for you?

Ben: It did work for me. I love the fact that after nine years of teased out bullshit when it comes to Clark's personal life, this season has been all about an accelerated courtship. It's been a refreshing change of pace. We spent so much of the first half of this season with both of them learning how important the other is to their mutual success and happiness, that I dug the way it just happened and she said yes right away. It made sense to me. We've heard all the reasoning and so have they, so no need to drag it out any more. And they were both so them in the moment.

Kiel: The build up of the whole scene was really cute, and I liked it, but killed me when he actually proposed. I mean, why did Welling put on his "Big Hero Voice" to actually ask? I felt like any moment, some crazy hidden camera show was going to pop out

Ben: Haha. Yeah, that was a fumble. But it was a funny fumble in a well-executed scene.

Kiel: I agree. It was like a strong B+

Ben: They covered it. I have a lot of respect for Tom Welling, but there are certain things he just can't pull off; this was one of those things, so they smartly let Erica Durance and the storytelling carry him. I was cool with it.

Kiel: And I also really liked the Watchtower party scene!

Ben: The Watchtower party scene was great for a number of reasons. First, it was just funny and tender, but second, it didn't shy away from the ridiculousness of Lois having her big heart-to-heart with Stargirl of all people because they're girls and Alison Mack isn't ready to come back yet.

But mostly just the writing and interplay was funny. Green Arrow and Hawkman's banter was tremendous! And I have to give credit that I honestly couldn't tell if Tess was just being a bitch or planning a surprise part at first. Well-played, Cassidy Freeman.

Kiel: Green Arrow and Hawkman in the whole episode was fucking killing it. SO GREAT. In some ways saved Hawkman for me as a whole. I mean, I thought dude was all right before, but he was really great here. And yeah, I didn't see it coming either, which is nice in this show.

Ben: Hawkman was the MVP of an already great episode. I don't know if we want to talk about him now or circle back, because I have plenty to say there.

Kiel: Well, before we get to it, let's start on the hero registration stuff because everything about it was fun for me in that "so bad it's good" way. For one, I almost died when Slade's goon squad showed up, and they were dressed like straight up Nazis. It was some Hitler Youth shit with ZERO pretense.

Ben: And in case we forget later, it NEEDS to be mentioned that Hawkman retconned Darkseid into being responsible for Hitler. You really can't beat that. And the Spanish Inquisition, but mostly Hitler.

Kiel: I love how they've just used the fact that we as an audience know what Darkseid is to let the heroes make ALL the right assumptions about who he is and what he's doing.

But the #2 thing I loved about that whole plot thread was the scene where they shut down the Watchtower. Like, when they had the party scene, I was thinking to myself "Where is Black Canary?" because I thought she was supposed to be showing up around now...And then they had her on the monitor, and I laughed so hard when Clark was like "I'm shutting it down" and BOOM! he pulls the voltage switch with no warning. I imagined here back in her apartment like, "Fucking Comcast dropping my WiFi!"

Ben: HA! That's pretty much word-for-word what I was going to write.

Kiel: Also: side note. Wasn't it sad that when they had the most wanted poster of all the heroes, they had ever JLA member except Cyborg Poor The Famous Jet Jackson.

Ben: And that dude has also never been back since the Justice League episode, so either he's been turning them down or they've got beef.
Either way, I'm not expecting Cyborg to save the day this season. Was Martian Manhunter on there? I just remember seeing Impulse and Aquaman.

Kiel: Oh man, they forgot Jackie Chiles too!

Ben: The lack of Martian Manhunter this season has been a tremendous disappointment. Maybe they're saving Cyborg for the "Raven" series.

Kiel: Well, I have to go back and look at this, but in that funeral scene at the end, it LOOKED like Cyborg was one of the fake guys who was "there" but they didn't show his face. I know I saw Aquaman and Impulse there for sure.

Ben: I've read there were "fakes" in that scene, but I totally missed it. I thought it was Black Canary and Lois up front, Clark and Ollie in the middle, then Stargirl wherever she was and that was it. If it means they need to open in January with Alan Ritchson and the kid from "Nightmare On Elm Street" passed out with everybody else though, I'm game. But yeah, Hawkman's 1940's racism extending to his funeral invitation list is disgusting.

Kiel: HA! Wait...was Beaver from "Veronica Mars" in "Nightmare on Elm Street" too?

Ben: That or "Friday The 13th"...I think I'm mixing them up. One of the big ticket remakes. He was also on "Jack & Bobby." He was on like every show I was watching for a bit.
Kiel: He's become quite the horror movie kid. He's coming up in Kevin Smith's "Red State." Anyway, the third thing I loved about the anti-hero plot was the fight scene where the mob comes after Ollie. It was kind of a standard attack scene until that moment where dude just reaches down and picks up a brick, and then it was like the biggest "Shit Got REAL" moment of the season.

Ben: Yes yes, absolutely. It was a brilliantly paced and choreographed scene. I kinda goofed on the opening scene where there was all of a sudden a curfew that wasn't there the episode before and the heroes had been declared terrorists, but then during that scene I came around to the idea of Metropolis going from being just kind of tense to full-on crazytown that quick was both appropriate and eerie in the right way.

Kiel: Sure. and like I said, I could complain about how the scenes with the lady who interrogated the hero allies were kind of undramatic or how the Cat Grant turn was pretty forced, but the whole time I knew big fun action was coming, and all the rest of that stuff was just there to set that up more, which I could easily go along with.

Ben: Exactly. Though I actually didn't find the Cat turn forced.

Kiel: Really? I didn't think it was poorly acted, but it was just so fast to me.

Ben: I feel like it's been established that she's a lot of bluster with a good heart and felt like Lois' argument was really convincing. Obviously you're not going to devote THAT much screen time to the salvation of Cat Grant, but I think hitting the big point of her being saved by a hero and bringing up her kid felt lime enough.

Kiel: See, I REALLY wanted Lois to say "Remember that time your car exploded? That was the Blur" or some such thing, because the whole "you've been saved before" thing was the one plot hole that did take me out of it,

Ben: And I think Lois appealing to her ego and letting her feel like part of the gang made sense. She seems like the type of girl who just needs to be told "Ok, you can hang out with the cool kids." I feel like she railed against vigilantes as much because everybody else who loved them treated her like a spaz as anything else.

Kiel: I guess I'm just realizing that because of this convo...this is like TV therapy. That's a good point! You're winning me over on this on, Borse!

Ben: With the "The Blur saved you" stuff, again, I felt like Lois kne deep down Cat was fully aware of what happened there--she's not that dumb--she just was holding back admitting it for whatever reason. She didn't need to have it explained to her, she just needed to be forced to acknowledge what she already knew.

Kiel: No yeah, that makes sense. I'm going to have to go back and watch that scene again...and not just to hear Cat's heavenly voice again.

Ben: I can't believe we devoted this much space to Cat Grant for an episode where we have so much else to talk about!

Kiel: Move to what's next on the docket!

Ben: I'll take a second to mention that for an episode that really was all out action, there were some incredibly funny lines.
Pretty much anything with Green Arrow and Hawkman, like we said, especially Hawkman trying to use a computer.

Kiel: And I'll also say that the moment they shared when Hawkman was talking to Ollie about Chloe was not just funny but a great character moment for both dudes. But I also hope that on the "Serious" side of things, we get more on the "We've gone underground" front. That's a great direction to take the heroes in as the Darkseid stuff gets cooler, even though it is an old trope.

Ben: I'm skeptical about "Clark Kent going away" and us not getting scenes on the farm or at the Daily Planet. I just don't see that happening.
I see Ollie going underground with the guest star of the week and Clark checking in on them.

Kiel: That could be cool too! They really are burning down some of their biggest sets this year, which as we've discussed makes it feel more like a final season.

Ben: I think the biggest change will be they just don't use Watchtower. I hope we get X-Force-style black ops variations on their costumes. Though I guess for Smallville that's just like black t-shirts or something. They'll look like emo kids.

Kiel: YES! Sex and Violence!

Ben: Sex + Violence

Kiel: Apologies.

Ben: Forgiven.

Ben: I want to talk Slade and then I want to talk Hawkman.

Kiel: The two coolest elements of the episode, even though they only had one big scene.

Ben: So you feel like Michael Hogan redeemed himself as Slade in this episode?

Kiel: I think he was MUCH better. I don't know that in the end it really makes me think of him as Slade (that's Ron Perlman), but I won't look back on him as a total failure.

Ben: I didn't feel like he did much, to be honest. And what he did didn't wow me. Maybe just because I've never seen BSG so my expectations for him were totally based on hype. But he felt like just another dude.

Kiel: Actually compared to BSG, he was awful. It's so odd how material can lift up actors sometimes It may be that I just felt EVERYTHING was an improvement from last time...good delivery, better dialogue, a cool look to him

Ben: Like anybody with a gravely voice could have played that part. Yeah, he definitely looked cool and I did like his dialogue. In fact, you may hate me for this, but I absolutely fucking loved the "I'm beyond death's stroke" line. I'll admit I totally giggled all giddy.

Kiel: I saw on Facebook that that line was coming and was expecting to hate it, but he pulled it off!

Ben: Yeah, actually his delivery of that line elevates him for me

Kiel: But damn, the fight was cool, right?

Ben: What I didn't love was him explaining the whole Icarus metaphor of him naming his big plan that (and that the episode was called that) and then Hawkman plummeting to the ground with burning wings. It was self-explanatory, dammit! Make your viewers read a fucking book! Yeah, one of the best fights on Smallville period, and it was between Hawkman and Deathstroke!

Kiel: No yeah, they didn't AT ALL need to spell that out, but even though I still think Hawkman's costume looks dopey, when the wings are out it works much better, and the sword Vs. mace thing was well choreographed even before they got to the "holy shit" moment. Shot well the "Smallville" action style but stylized just enough to heighten the better elements.

Ben: I'm actually kinda pissed because Hawkman biting it was spoiled for me before I watched the episode, but the fight still worked for me.

Kiel: oh man! That's so sad! We've been talking about who's up for the chopping block for a while on this last season, but I never expected Carter.

Ben: I think a big bonus as well is we're so used to Clark just hitting dudes or using his powers with all the CGI, that a down and dirty mace vs sword fight with no real effects was a cool change of pace. It worked though, because he was the one guy who really knew the score, who had been through this before, and him getting taken out makes things even more dangerous, but it also gave him the chance to pass the torch to Clark in his last scene, and Michael Shanks had done such a good job all episode that it really meant something when he did that. It really was the Golden Age giving way to the Silver right there. And it didn't feel like Clark losing another father figure, which would have been played out, it felt like his coach or idol going down

Kiel: And I liked how they tied it back to the Lois and Clark relationship at the same time. It really has become a show about both of them as they've moved towards the marriage, and we've discussed before how much I think Superman as a concept works as a partnership story of man and wife.

Ben: Absolutely.. And if there's any other DC hero who can get that, it's Hawkman.

Kiel: I can't recall exactly, did they ever explain when this most recent version of Hawkwoman died?

Ben: I think what I liked most about "Smallville" Hawkman and how Shanks pulled him off was the way he played him so grizzled and honestly sick of it all on the surface, like he was really just ready to fucking die and see his wife already, but you saw that glint in his eye or little smirk and could tell part of him really loved that these kids were picking up a legacy he laid down and he dug being out there with him.

Kiel: Yeah, the gruff stuff didn't play for me earlier on, but he found some depth in the character since the Isis episode, and that got me on board

Ben: I really loved how his death scene was really not a sad moment for him, but a happy one where he both knew he was headed towards a reunion with wife but also that, despite the horrible peril the world was in, he was leaving it in good hands. In short: Hawkman's endorsement meant a lot to me and really gave Clark some cred moving forward. Getting back to your question, if I recall correctly, they established that Hawkgirl was a casualty of the JSA/Checkmate war recapped in the two hour episode last season.

Kiel: So...the ending. What do you think the light means for the heroes next and for the second half of the season?

Ben: I have NO idea. Seriously..Caught me completely off guard.

Kiel: My theory: METRON!!!!!

Ben: WHOA! Would not have thought that at all, but it would be awesome!

Kiel: It would be pretty sick, bro.

Ben: I would love if we get some good guy New Gods to kick off the second half. I was sure we'd go into hiatus on a pensive shot of Clark on a rooftop holding Hawkman's chest symbol or something, so I liked the swerve cliffhanger. But even if Clark just has a quickie spirit vision of New Genesis then they all wake up, that would own.

Kiel: I mean, it really feels like a lot of the issues we've been talking about in this column – the Clark and Lois relationship, the registration act, Clark fighting his darkness – have all been wrapped to SOME extent with this arc. Lex is still hanging out there, but I wouldn't want that to die out. So my hope for the next half is that they really embrace the New Gods shit for a while

Ben: I feel like the way they ramped everything up here to the point of forcing the heroes underground it needs to be all balls to the wall from now until the finale, no more room for one-off gimmick episodes. That said, I'm sure we'll get a few.

Kiel: Clark's never switched bodies with someone in this show!

Ben: Are you joking?

Kiel: Kind of...I'm assuming they've actually done that, but I'm forgetting it because of blandness

Ben: I know Geoff Johns' episode is a Booster Gold/Blue Beetle guest shot, and I'm not quite sure how that will fit in the tapestry.

Kiel: yeah, the Booster stuff will be REALLY interesting to see how it works out. Maybe they'll see a future where "Darkseid Is"?

Ben: Hmm, that would certainly rock. I tell you, Kiel, right now for the first time I'm getting bummed this show is ending! It only took two really good episodes in a row, but I'm there.

Kiel: Yeah, the goal line is in sight, and it's a sad thing. But I kid you now that you owe it to yourself to go back and watch the better parts of the first four seasons.

Ben: I mean, I usually always feel that way when a show I liked is headed toward the finale, but it didn't click in here until now, maybe because I never quite gave Smallville enough credit to realize I'd miss it some day.

Kiel: Jami said to me the other day while I was watching "I miss the old Smallvile where they were in high school" and I found myself agreeing with her even though I like this new iteration.

Ben: Since Megan actually looks forward to the show now, I'm gently trying to nudge her towards some sort of marathon, but I don't see that day coming.

Kiel: But yeah, I feel you. After ten years, we're taking it for granted that we've had a legit superhero show on TV for this long.

Ben: I would like to revisit, but I feel like it would be more fun with somebody who is seeing them fresh. It's true. We really didn't know what we had until it was (almost) gone.

Kiel: Still there's some left! January 28th isn't far away!!!! [Editor's not: it's actually right now, stupid.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

29 Comics I Dig









52 #13



GEN13 #2






100 BULLETS #27





SPIDER-MAN 2099 #1