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Month: June, 2012

New Comics 6/27

It’s hot as sin outside, and I’m stuck in a freezing cold classroom that smells like feet. Comics!!!

Prophet #26 (Writer & Artist: Brandon Graham, w/back-up by Emma Rios)

Prophet has been awesome for so many reasons, but the best has been the rotating roster of amazing artists. In this issue, Graham himself provides the pictures and they are fantastic. His style is quite different than anyone else who has worked on the book. It feels more cold, detached, and clinical (not the disgusting of Simon Roy, certainly). The coloring in this book is fantastic; muted grays, greens, and tans in the beginning; black and bright red in the end. It makes me wish we could get a colored version of King City (which I will be writing about soon). What I think we get here, in the style of DC, is a #0 issue (of sorts). This issue follows a robot model called “Jaxson, one of old man Prophet’s unhatched eggs.” He is awakened on a planet that has been moved (awesome) by the scent of the Earth Empire’s signal. He traverses the landscape to find another Jaxson that he can smell and together, they travel through the Cycolops Rail (man made wormholes connected across the galaxy) to try and awaken John Prophet. To do this, he sends a signal through a creature named Brainrock that is a planet sized creature attempting to turn itself into an actual planet. It’s so stupid in words but so awesome on the page. What I truly love about Prophet so far is that this might be how John Prophet awakens in #21, or it might not. If so, awesome. If not, still awesome.

The Emma Rios short story is up on Graham’s blog too; it’s extremely weird and nasty:
http://royalboiler.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/more-hawk/

Grade: A

The Manhattan Projects #4 (Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Artist: Nick Pitarra)

It’s fitting that The Manhattan Projects and Prophet come out on the same day. Ridiculous sci-fi rules the stands. We finally get an Einstein centric issue and a guide to that weird monolith he’s been staring at since issue 1. Naturally, it’s a door to alternate dimensions and naturally, assumptions are turned upside down. It’s particularly amazing that we are four issues in and a plot hasn’t necessarily developed, yet, each issue is slam packed with stuff. Things are happening; things are being revealed; things are getting killed, but a story isn’t progressing in a normal way. It’s really just accumulating. Hickman can take his damn time so long as each issue is this much fun. And to Nick Pitarra, thank you.

Grade: B+

Batman Incorporated #2 (Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Chris Burnham)

After the full-throttle action of last issue, this is a perhaps too direct explanation of what is going on. Here, we get the New 52 backstory for Talia al-Ghul, head of Leviathan. Lazarus Pits. Damian in a bottle. Batman dressed up like an old lady. Perhaps it isn’t too direct, but it feels a little bit too, “Here’s how we got here, from the baddy’s perspective now!” Maybe this has been earned after a meandering, albeit awesome, pre-52 run. It is still fun, but I think the people who are truly going to enjoy this are the ones who’ve been with Morrison for his entire, epic run on Batman, which I haven’t. I can tell things are being referenced that I should understand, but I just don’t. Someday, I’m going to read this whole monster from start to end and then I’m sure this will stick out. I think the biggest downside of this issue is that Chris Burnham never really gets a chance to go crazy. Sure, he does amazing character work, but after the blood-bath of last issue, I’m left wanting more.

Grade: B-

Fatale #6 (Writer: Ed Brubaker, Artist: Sean Phillips)

Name that movie!

Fatale, the Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips foray into horror (still more noir than horror) starts its new arc by moving forward about twenty years to 1978 Los Angeles. We’ve got low-life actors, cults, snuff films, and bizarro murders. Josephine is still alive and terror just seems to pop up wherever she’s at, whether she ventures out into the world or not. I love this setting for Fatale. There is so much weirdness in 70s Los Angeles for Brubaker to mine from. And Phillips’s art already has a dingy, 70s vibe to it. He could have provided illustrations for The Long Goodbye and it would have worked. This is a fantastic, dense read and I’m anxious to see where this arc goes.

Grade: B+

Mad Men “5G”

S01E05 – “5G”
Writer: Matthew Weiner, Director: Lesli Linka Glatter

While Season 5 was perhaps my favorite Mad Men season, I’ve really missed the inter-office politics and rivalries that were so present at Sterling Cooper. The hierarchies were so much more regimented in the early seasons: Sterling, but particularly Cooper at the top (Don sitting outside his office with his shoes off is a recurring motif), Campbell, Cosgrove, Salvatore, Kinsey, and Crane firmly in the middle, Don somewhere between those two groups, and Peggy at the bottom. This is a fantastic episode for the middle: Cosgrove gets a short story published in the Atlantic Monthly and jealousy reigns! While they are all writers, in some sense, only Cosgrove’s story properly gives him the credit he deserves. Ad campaigns only mention the product, not the author. While all the characters seem at first stunned and subsequently jealous, it is natural that only Pete goes too far.

Pete enlists Trudy to use her connections with a publisher to get his own short story about a talking bear put into print. That connection, though, is Trudy’s first lover. When she says she’s not comfortable, Pete goes totally Campbell: “You don’t want me to have what I want.” While new Trudy would have told him to screw off, newly married Trudy caves and goes to meet the man who promptly proposes an affair. Trudy refuses and the story only makes it to Boy’s Life. When Pete finds out, he’s furious. He claims it was good enough for The New Yorker (critical self-awareness has never been Pete’s strong suit), and when Trudy tells him she could have got it published anywhere, implying sex would have sealed the deal, Pete’s pimpish personality, which won’t fully come to fruition until “The Other Woman”, comes out: “Why didn’t you?” +5 to villain!

I’ve sort of buried the lead, I suppose, but this episode is probably most significant because it verifies that Don Draper is not Don Draper (whoever that is anyways). After a picture of him is published in AdAge for winning some ugly award, Dick Whitman’s brother, Adam, shows up at Sterling Cooper. While initially denying that he’s Dick, he agrees to meet Adam for lunch. It isn’t very productive and Don leaves. That night, his conscience (or something) gets the best of him and he goes into the city to see Adam at his apartment. But instead of reconnecting, which Adam so desperately wants, Don offers him five grand to leave NYC and never return. “I have a life and it’s only going in one direction: forward.” Don’s advice to Adam, who clearly is living in a dead end situation: “Make your own life.”

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Don has always been an avatar for the haunted nature of capitalism. Every step forward comes at a price that can’t easily be forgotten. In episode 8 (which I’ll get to. I’m watching faster than I’m writing), Cooper tells Don to read Ayn Rand, obviously Bert’s hero. Don is “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” made flesh. But while he wants to pretend the past never happened, it haunts him. Adam claims seeing Don’s picture was like seeing a ghost, but it’s really quite the opposite; Adam is the ghost (foreshadowing, m’fers) and Don is haunted. The next couple episodes will provide flashbacks to fill-in that haunted backstory, but the fear he has is also crucial to his personality (again, whatever that might be). That fear drives him and forces him to create the shell that serves him so well in business. While he is terrified of the past, his ability to deal with it makes him who he is. It is only when others encroach on that haunting that things go haywire (his panic attack in Season 4 is the easiest example). Season 5 Don has been so weird (the softening of Don Draper) because that secret no longer exists. He doesn’t have that mystery that made him so enigmatic. There’s no mystery to Don anymore. But Don with his Old Fashioned, which, as my friend Jeff pointed out, we haven’t seen since Season 1, seems to signal a return of that man. Needless to say, when his marriage to Megan comes to an end and Don moves on to other women, Dick Whitman will no longer exist.

Mad Men “New Amsterdam”

S01E04 – “New Amsterdam
Writer: Lisa Albert, Director: Tim Hunter

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Is Pete Campbell a villain?

Or, in a world in which every character straddles the line between good and evil, is Pete Campbell as close to a villain as Mad Men gets?

The first season of the show relies on a few tactics to draw viewers in that latter seasons handle with more grace and subtlety. The sexual politics of the show are much more overt here than they will be. Don Draper’s identity was an initial mystery hook that hasn’t been used since (at least not in the literal sense that it is here). And for the purposes of this episode, the rivalry between Campbell and Don is more direct and tangible than it will become.

This episode spends a lot of time fleshing out Campbell’s character. In the office, Pete undermines Don and pitches his own copy to a client without permission. When Don tries to get Pete fired, Cooper overrides it because Campbell comes from one of the original aristocratic families of New York (hence, the episode’s title). As Pete lingers between Don telling him he’s fired and finding out he gets to keep his job, he gets drunk and lays on his couch, nearly on the verge of tears. It couldn’t have come at a worse time because Pete and Trudy are getting ready to buy an apartment they already can’t afford.

It is the apartment that provides the most insight into Campbell. At his core, Pete struggles to match up with the standards of masculinity that dominated late 50s, early 60s America (not to say they still don’t). This has always been visually represented in Pete’s boyishly blue suits. In addition to his physical size, Pete looks much younger than he is. When Trudy finds an apartment out of their price range, she asks him to get help from his parents, an idea that Pete is understandably hesitant to do. When he finally gives in, we understand why. His father is an ass who straight up refuses to help him out. Before Pete storms out, he puts forth what seems to be his own personal motto, “Why’s it so hard for you people to give me anything?”

Trudy’s parents are more than happy to help out, and although his bride is happy, Pete’s place within the overall family picture is cemented. Pete couldn’t do it himself; he can never do it himself. He’s always reliant on stronger men to get him where he needs to go.

There’s a whole brilliant sub-plot here involving Betty babysitting Glenn that probably deserves a whole post on its own. To sum up: when is it ok for a grown woman to give a lock of her hair to an 8 year old? C’mon, Betty! Whatchu thinkin’?!

New Comics 6/20

Yesterday was a crazy Wednesday. I went to three campuses, including my first foray out to Elkhorn, but I still managed to get to the comic shop. Priorities, ladies and gentlemen, priorities.

Saga #4 (Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist: Fiona Staples)

On the one hand, this issue rules. We see The Will visit the planet Sextillion, a brothel world, and experience all the weirdness that happens there. We learn more about his strange moral code (what freelance assassin doesn’t have a strange moral code?) and see him destroy a pedophile-pimp. But on the other hand, this was a massive tease. The beautiful Fiona Staples cover seems to promise lots of Lying Cat, but he isn’t allowed into the planet, so we are screwed out of the best character the already rich Saga has presented. I freaking love Lying Cat, and this simply is not enough.

This issue feels like a breather before big things. I suppose the first three, packed issues earned this, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Grade: B

Daredevil #14 (Writer: Mark Waid, Artist: Chris Samnee)

I’m generally annoyed by books that don’t maintain a consistent writer/artist team, but Daredevil may be the exception. From Paolo Rivera, to Marcos Martin, to now Chris Samnee, each artist has brought their own unique style to the book while also maintaining a consistent approach. They all look like Mark Waid’s Daredevil. This is Samnee’s second issue. While his first focused on Matt Murdock, here we get full fledged Daredevil. He’s been kidnap-aported to Latveria by the minions of Dr. Doom, who give him a nerve gas that numbs all of his senses. Samnee and colorist Javier Rodriguez just destroy. The book is so bright and cartoony and awesome. While the action scenes are great, the style, alongside Waid’s script, make this a really funny issue with an amazing last page. At this point, there’s not more that can be said for Waid’s run on. If you are even the slightest bit interested in comics, this is the best place to start for current books.

Grade: A-

The Punisher #12 (Writer: Greg Rucka, Artist: Marco Checchetto)

The Punisher is the most primal distillation of comics. Man loses family. Man goes on rampage. Boom. It doesn’t get more basic than that. Yet, the rudimentary nature of the premise also allows creators nearly unbridled freedom. Something so simple can be taken nearly anywhere. What Gregg Rucka and Marco Checchetto’s Punisher has been is a long form origin story for Frank, but told through the character of Rachel Cole-Alves, who was the only survivor of a massacre at her wedding in issue 1. Frank has been a tertiary character. He rarely speaks and in many issues he only appears for 1 or 2 page. Instead, Rucka has focused on the detectives working the wedding day massacre case on Cole-Alves. After the brief detour into The Omega Effect, this issue focuses on Frank and Rachel and whether she can really do what Frank does. Most of it is told without dialogue, and Checchetto is able to carry these moments with his noirish, rain soaked pages. While these past 12 issues have been a slow build, this seems to be a real turning point.

Grade: B+

Batwoman #10 (Writers: J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, Artist: Trevor McCarthy)

Batwoman is the reason I really got sucked into comics. J.H. Williams III is a master, and his art pushed my conception of what the medium could be. You need to find that breakthrough in whatever artform you are interested in. Once you find it, you will be hooked. While this arc, which is more experimental in format, covering 5 or 6 characters at once, hasn’t been my favorite, having Trevor McCarthy replace Amy Reeder was the best decision ever. McCarthy takes up the visual design that has been the signature of Batwoman while also maintaining his own unique style. Reeder’s work was so radically different that it just didn’t work. It was too flat and loose. This storyline will probably be more amazing in collected format because I can’t quite remember all the strands, but on its own, this is the best issue. It has a great mix of big and small moments; crazy action and intimate revelations. Next issue’s conclusion should be interesting.

Grade: B+

Glory #27 (Writer: Joe Keatinge, Artist: Ross Campbell)

GLORIANA GOES BEAST MODE!! Oh man, this is the most disgusting, brutal, hilarious, awesome comic.

Grade: Z+

Extermination #1 (Writer: Simon Spurrier, Artist: Jeffrey Edwards)

I bought this on a lark. It was only $1 for the first issue, and the art/reviews looked promising enough. Expecting nothing, this was actually a ton of fun. It isn’t a revolutionary premise: after a plague of aliens wipe out the planet, only the world’s greatest hero, Nox (Batman meets Midnighter) and its greatest villain, The Red Reaper, survive. Naturally, they team up, but their ideological differences plague them as they fight across a barren landscape. This works because the interaction between the two is genuinely funny and idiosyncratic. Simon Spurrier writes these two beautifully and the story naturally weaves between the present disaster and a past showdown between the two. Edwards art isn’t amazing, particularly his character work, but his monsters and tech are great. I was hooked. We’ll see if it keeps up.


Grade: B+

Overall, one of the best weeks for comics in a long, long time.

The Partners

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In a show that is as beautifully photographed and composed as any in TV history, the above image defines Season 5 of Mad Men. On almost every conceivable level, it shouldn’t work. It is too staged, too moody, too symbolic, too forced. And yet, it sings, and beautifully. As the worker bees of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price (what is it now? Does Campbell get to add his name? Joan?) buzz about below, the Partners contemplate New York City from the new floor a year of steady business has bought them. But even though they collectively own the business, these characters couldn’t be more disconnected.

The show has been accused of being too overt in the presentation of its themes, but I love Matthew Weiner’s chutzpah in these moments. Sure, Glenn is a bit of heavy-handed self-indulgence, but the above image? It is so iconic that it doesn’t matter. It’s a brilliant shot that was earned over the course of 12 episodes.

What is remarkable is that this is followed by two more shots that were equally iconic. The first sees Don walk towards the camera and into darkness as Megan prepares for her commercial shoot. The second, and final shot, has Don alone at a bar, looking up at a beautiful girl with that seemingly forgotten Draper charm.

I understand completely why Weiner finished at the bar; it marks the conclusion of Don’s foray into nuptial exile and beautifully sets up the chaos that I believe Season 6 will bring (it’s 1968!). But the shot of the Partners all in a line is such a beautiful, fitting, contemplative ending to what has been, arguably, Mad Men‘s finest season.

New Comics 6/13 and Film #19: Captain America

Yesterday, Lizz and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. We’ve been together nearly 7 awesome years. Although I had to teach from 10:30-12:45 and work from 5-8, we still managed to have a great day. I got donuts early, which are crucial, and let my class out early so I could get home. Lizz and I went to the zoo to see the baby sea lion, which will hopefully be named Floppy, and had a nice zoo lunch. I spent a lazy evening at work and came home to eat Mother India, watch our wedding videos, and try to decipher the world of Munchkin the card game, Axe Cop edition. All in all, a pretty great anniversary. On to year four!

Lizz is so awesome that she even stopped by the comic shop and picked up my pull for me, even if it was only one book. Although it is a day late,

Batman #10 (Writer: Scott Snyder, Art: Gregg Capula w/back-up by Rafael Albuquerque)

This is the penultimate issue of the Court of Owls story-line and it promised a “shocking final page.” I knew work would be pretty slow, so I brought the previous nine issues with me to read too. Overall, this issue’s twist is halfway something I expected when I read issue 1, but also something unique. I won’t spoil anything here because I know each and every one of you is going to check this out, but I think it’s safe to say that Snyder and Capullo earned their twist. There is more to come in #11, particularly as it relates to the death of Bruce’s parents, but we’ll see if Snyder is willing to toy with that little piece of continuity.

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Capullo does a great job this issue. #9 was his weakest issue, but he really does a nice job here. There aren’t necessarily any pages that leap out at you, but everything carries a gritty, nasty vibe to it that matches the material perfectly. The fact that Capullo is such a beast and has hit every deadline is what’s made this book soar. Almost every other New 52 book has had to see a fill-in artist at some point, which really disrupts the whole flow of the story. If Snyder and Capullo manage this for another epic arc, it will be an amazing accomplishment and a legendary run.

Grade: A-

Film # 19 – Captain America: The First Avenger

Also, in other news, I remembered that we watched Captain America: The First Avenger a couple weeks ago. I think that should tell you all you really need to know about the film. But if it doesn’t, I’ll proceed.

Captain America is easily the weakest of the Marvel Studios films. Looking back on it, I have almost zero distinct memories from watching it. It isn’t funny, save a few Tommy Lee Jones lines, the action isn’t memorable, and the bad guy just feels off. Plus, I just flat-out don’t care about Captain America. He is the least interesting superhero to me and I can’t get into the patriotism thing. It’s just off-putting. Likewise, I don’t think that Chris Evans is particularly engaging. This would be better if they made Bucky Barnes more analogous to the comic books instead of just some dude. Plus, Captain America is more fun when he is trying to kill Nazis. That should have been the whole goal of this film.

For a baddy, the Red Skull just isn’t menacing enough. I know it seems like film-snob blasphemy to ask for more CGI in a film, but a mask does not work for that dude. Hugo Weaving looks like he has his face painted red, not that he has no face. It’s just goofy.

I’m so fuzzy on this film, that I’ve probably said enough. Only The Incredible Hulk to go and we’re all caught up on Marvel Studios.

Mad Men “The Marriage of Figaro”

S01E03 – “The Marriage of Figaro”
Writer: Tom Palmer, Director: Ed Bianchi

It is weird to to look back and realize that one of the original draws of Mad Men was the mystery surrounding Don Draper. Now, we know almost everything about Don, even if we don’t necessarily understand everything. But in episode three, they really open up the core question of the series, “Who is Don Draper?”

It begins with a seemingly innocuous conversation on the train. A man stops as Don examines a new Volkswagen ad and continuously calls him Dick (Whitman). It seems like the man is mistaken, but Don doesn’t correct him. Jon Hamm plays this scene beautifully because we are never quite certain what is happening. On the one hand, Don seems confused by the man. He has this puzzled look as if the man must be crazy. But on the other hand, why doesn’t he correct him? It would be an easy thing to do, but instead, Don partakes in the conversation as if he is Dick. But as soon as it began, Don is in the office and the encounter is just a memory.

Later, after another meeting with Rachel Menken where Don really lays on the charm, Pete tells Crane that he never considered Don that kind of guy (a womanizer). Crane’s response is simple and telling: “Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.” First, it would be amazing if Don was Batman. But more importantly, it is clear that, unlike most other men in the office, Don has made it clear that his life is not a topic of discussion. In the long term, this sequence sets up “The Wheel” and Crane leaving that meeting crying, but in the short term, in simply makes it obvious that everything Don does or says is suspect (and not in a malicious manner, like he’s really a serial killer). Identity, more than anything, gets thrown into question.

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The second half of this episode solidifies this. It is Sally’s birthday and Don and Betty are hosting the neighbors. As they set up the party, Bianchi emphasizes Don’s drinking (something that isn’t really played off, although it builds continuously, until the fourth season). As the party plays up the horrible cattyness of the neighbors in relation to Helen Bishop, Don shrinks into booze and his camera. Finally, he steps outside to drink and Helen joins him. They are an interesting pair, neither really fitting into the setting. When Betty sees them together, she tells Don to go get the cake and he leaves without a word.

But he doesn’t return. As the party waits for the cake, Don is nowhere to be found. A guy at the party assumes that Don is sleeping it off somewhere, but finally we see that he is simply sitting under a bridge smoking. He’s staring through the camera in contemplation, of what, we have no clue. When he returns, he’s brought Sally a dog to make up for missing the party, and that reveals a core truth about who Don is. For all his self-assurance and bravado, he doesn’t have the requisite skills to play himself at all times. In these instances, he has to escape, regardless of the consequences (into the bottle, to California, with women, through a simple nap). That instability seems to me to be the consistent theme of the series and is something that makes Season 5 so amazing, now that he has so few remaining secrets.

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Mad Men “Ladies Room”

S01E02 – “Ladies Room”
Writer: Matthew Weiner, Director: Alan Taylor

The first season of Mad Men deals more explicitly with sexual politics than any other, and this episode deals with the subjugated position of women in the work place and at home through Peggy and Betty.

Peggy gets to avoid the awkward morning after with Pete as he takes his bride to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon, but she still has to deal with the onslaught of men battling for her attention. After an awkward lunch with the boys full of sexual innuendo and flat-out come ons, Peggy returns to the office. The next day, after having given her a friendly tour of the office, Kinsey flat-out kisses her. When she recoils, he asks if she belongs to someone else, to which she responds, “Yes.” He assumes it’s Don, but Peggy must mean Pete. Later, we see that she has stolen a postcard Pete sent from the Falls to the boys and is hiding it in her desk.

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Based on this three fourths of the episode, it seems as if Peggy is simply going to be another sad, predictable receptionist (and possibly creepy). But then, she changes. Early in the episode, Peggy follows Joan into the ladies room and they come upon a fellow secretary crying. Peggy goes to console her, against Joan’s advice. Clearly, the girl has been used by one of the men in the office and can only truly vent in the bathroom. Later, after we see the postcard and after Kinsey’s kiss, Peggy goes back to the bathroom. Again, a woman is seen crying (a different woman). But this time, instead of consoling the woman, Peggy looks back into the mirror, adjusts her scarf, and leaves. Elisabeth Moss does such a fantastic job here. There is just this subtle movement in her eyes that makes it clear that Peggy has made a choice and she isn’t going to turn into that girl. Her ambition goes far beyond the residential homemaker that Joan says she’d be lucky to be.

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In contrast, we are properly introduced to Betty who is living that suburban life. Although things seem wonderful on the surface, there has always been intense sadness in her. We know that Don’s a cheater, but from what we’ve seen, he treats Betty wonderfully and we have no idea whether she knows (presumably she doesn’t). Throughout the episode, though, Betty suffers a bizarre numbness in her hands. Rather than being a physical illness, a psychiatrist is recommended. The triggers for her numbness are interesting: the sight of the neighborhood divorcée, Helen Bishop, and a simple dinner date with Roger and his wife. Clearly, Don is the trigger and her suspicions that their marriage will not last.

Betty is such a fascinating character to me. On the one hand, she’s a very cold, lifeless, and loveless woman; but on the other, she’s given no real reason to be otherwise. She’s never a true equal to Don, which is what makes his new marriage to Megan so fascinating. It is also what, at least for these early episodes, makes Betty such a truly sad character. Her life isn’t what she dreamed of, even when it superficially appears to be perfect. She’s trapped in a world that will ostracize her if she tries to find happiness (symbolized more fully in Helen Bishop), and she doesn’t have the guts to even try, at least not yet. That sadness has only been magnified in her new marriage to Henry. Her little barbs at Megan and Don speak less to her jealousy of Don than to her anger that Don chose to be honest with Megan but not with her. What is it about her that made him so unwilling to open up? Why did she fall into being a housewife when Megan gets to continue her dreams (Betty was a model)? The dark undercurrent of the show really comes forth here.

Thunder Up

Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” is our summer jam. It just feels good to list all the shit you don’t like. The main things I don’t like right now are food poisoning and the Miami Heat.

While my hatred of food poisoning is fairly obvious, the other deserves a little explanation. Soccer and basketball are my two favorite sports, and for me, represent the beauty of what sport can be. I love the way momentum can shift on a dime and how skill overcomes physical talent almost every time. For me, there is also an ethics to how you play the game that supersedes almost everything else. You’ve got to respect the game. The Heat defy almost everything I love about basketball.

Yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder reached the NBA Finals. If we set aside their owner’s shady move from Seattle, the team itself is the embodiment of how wonderful basketball can be. This is a team in the best definition of the term:

Kevin Durant, three time scoring champ, drafted by the team in 2007
Russell Westbrook, drafted by the team in 2008
Serge Ibaka, drafted by the team in 2008
James Harden, Sixth Man of the year and starter on every other NBA team, drafted in 2009
Nick Collison, drafted by the team in 2003.

Other key contributors, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, and Daequan Cook, were picked up in smart trades. Only Derek Fisher is a free agent signing. The core of this team was developed and maintained through brilliant drafts and GM decisions.

None of them have jumped ship, none have demanded trades; instead, they’ve developed their game together, each season gaining experience and going deeper into the playoffs until they finally reached the Finals.

Miami, on the other hand, is a loose collection of mercenaries who thought that the sheer might of their names would earn them an NBA title. Yes, Lebron James is the core reason that everyone should hate the Miami Heat. I’m not even going to post the infamous “not one, not two, not three, not four” video. As a basketball fan, you simply cannot admire a man who had the chance to turn himself into a legend in his home state (godforsaken Ohio) and threw it away for what he assumed would be the easier path in South Beach. It was gutless, cowardly, and disrespectful. The greatest NBA Players are the ones who are so overwhelmed with confidence that they would have never dreamed of such a move: Jordan, Bird, Magic. Bron Bron may be spectacular, but he will never be great, no matter what happens.

And if we set all that aside, we simply have to look at how they play the game. This is no team. This is a collection of individuals playing in the same jerseys. While Lebron’s physical attributes are unquestionable, I don’t admire a 6’7″, 260 lb man bulldozing his way to the rim whenever he gets the ball. And Wade is even worse, having won his NBA Title at the free throw line (he shot nearly 100 free throws in the 2006 Finals). While they are undeniably talented and have an amazing ability to finish at the rim, I can’t stand to watch them play. It is the antithesis of what the sport is at its finest.

I hope the Thunder beat whoever comes out of the East because they deserve it. They play with a passion, fearlessness, and love of the game that is unmatched in the NBA. Spend five minutes watching the Heat. Does it look like they are having fun? Never. That is a joyless bunch of men terrified that they are going to lose and mar their already wrecked reputations. In contrast, remember Durant’s cold-blooded three against the Lakers, Westbrook’s ridiculous 14 foot lay-up plus 1 to seal that series, or Harden’s Game 5 and Game 6 daggers against the Spurs. If you can’t love the Thunder, you can’t love basketball.

New Comics 6/6

Man, I am backlogged on this whole blogging thing. I got disastrously sick on Monday and had a couple things I wanted to get all written up that I haven’t yet. Oh well, I’m ok in time for the new comics, and it is a large DC week.

Dial H #2 (Writer: China Miéville, Artist: Mateus Santolouco)

I wanted to do a quick write up on Dial H #1, but again, sickness. Needless to say, it was probably the best #1 DC has put out since and including the relaunch. I was so excited when I heard China Miéville would be writing a comic. His fiction stuff is astounding and hopefully I’ll get around to re-reading and writing about The City & The City which is hands down my favorite thing I’ve read in years. He has an incredible ability to create abstract worlds in a simple, precise manner that makes the unreality so obvious. Dial H is an old DC property that absolutely shouldn’t work: a magical phonebooth turns the dialer into a random superhero when they dial 4-3-7-6 (H-E-R-O). Incredibly stupid narrative device that Miéville has no business making awesome.

This was insane. Purely insane. Unlike film which is limited by FX budgets and CGI capabilities, comics can truly bring almost any idea to life (or at least to visual), yet very few writers/artists truly push the envelope. Miéville invents and discards bizarro-awesome characters like they are nothing and Santolouco draws the crap out of them. Here, we have a continuation of the basic story from issue 1: Nelson, our overweight, out-of-shape, chain smoking hero, is experimenting with the H-dial. His friend Darren is still in the hospital after his thug partners beat him up last issue. In this issue, we are introduced to our main baddy, the Squid, who kills (I think) Darren and gets into a big fight with Nels, who has transformed into a killer, robotic snail!@ASD Honestly, so many plots open up here that I can’t do them justice. Hopefully the scans give some sense of what makes this awesome. This was brilliant even if I had no idea what was happening. I pray that people catch on to this and it stays around. It is unlike anything else on the shelves.

Grade: A

Secret #2 (Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Artist: Ryan Bodenheim)

I’ve already raved about Manhattan Projects, but Hickman’s other Image book is starting off pretty nicely as well. This is an espionage book that offers up weirdness as well.

And that’s his son…Hickman getting dark.

I think Secret is the comic version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The plot is full of so many twists, turns, and double-crosses that it is hard to keep up. It doesn’t help that we are never fully clear about who anyone is. First names are occasionally used, but problematically, many of the characters look similar. I’m having a really hard time telling people apart. Fortunately, I think this is part of the point. We are thrown into the D.C. based private security organization Steadfast, and it seems as if it is a family owned business. We also learn of the even shadowier organization Kodiak that seems to have murdered on of the their agents. This is a slow burn, I think, where each issue is actually going to make the previous issue better. The aesthetic is so interesting and the world is so up my ally, that I’m anxious to see where it goes.

Grade: B

Earth-2 #2 (Writer: James Robinson, Artist: Nicola Scott)

After one issue, this is what Justice League should have been. It’s sad when the JSA on Earth-2 is the most exciting team book at DC. This issue introduces a gay Alan Scott, which somehow made news waves this past week.

And Alan Scott is indeed gay, and proposing to his partner. But this is Jay Garrick’s issue as Mercury gives him his powers in his last dying moments. The new Flash saves a couple from Apokarats and accidentally runs to Poland. We also meet Mr. Terrific, who somehow got teleported to Earth-2 and there’s some winged woman superhero too. Super fun, traditional comic that makes me feel like the biggest geek to write about. Nicola Scott does a traditional superhero art so well that this book just feels…easy, in a good way.

Grade: B

Swamp Thing #10 (Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Francesco Francavilla)

Francavilla was named as alternating artist on Swampy when it was announced before the reboot, but this is his first issue. He’s a natural fit to this title and I’m anxious to see how he handles it.

Of course, Francavilla kills it, but overall, this feels like a light issue. It serves an important role in the overall Rotworld arc in that it returns Swampy to the Swamp after his fight in the desert. It also, crucially, reintroduces Anton Arcane, classic Swamp Thing nemesis. And Swampy has also replanted the Parliament of Trees, to unknown effect. Arcane is supercreepy and this leaves us with a great cliffhanger. But it just was missing something. Eh. I hope that Francavilla comes back for the next issue, otherwise this feels like a really strange, abrupt interlude.

Grade: B-

Animal Man #10 (Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Steve Pugh)

In opposition to Swamp Thing, this issue feels dense. Lemire has done a fantastic job of creating fascinating and engaging characters. Buddy is continuing his journey to the heart of the Red with the help of the Goat. The Goat is awesome, flat out. And we also run into the soldiers of the Red as they help Buddy and the Goat out of a little scrape. There is also a drop-in by the members of Justice League Dark to try and convince Momma Baker to find the green man, but not Swamp Thing, which is really confusing, and Cliff gets abducted by an agent of the Rot who is taking up Buddy’s body, which necessitates the creation of another Buddy Baker. So convoluted.

Parliament of Meat?

Pugh’s art is great. It’s cleaner than Travel Foreman’s was, but it is equally gross and bloody. The fight sequence in the Red is particularly good and he does much better with Maxine than Foreman was able to. Really, I’m ready for Swamp Thing and Animal Man to get teamed up and start killing baddies.

Grade: B

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