7.31.2008

Meanwhile...at the Emmys

by Doug Smith

Welcome to the inaugural installment of “Meanwhile…”, a semi-regular column that will take a look at things going on in the world of pop culture outside of comic books.

You may expect ranting, especially in this inaugural edition. Why? Because once again, the Emmys snubbed the brilliant HBO show The Wire, and I’m beyond sick of it!

What’s that, you say? You only come here for comic book talk? Well, OK, let’s hear from some guy named Alan Moore…if you’re a comic book fan, you may have heard of him…

“The absolute pinnacle of anything I've seen recently has got to be The Wire. It's the most stunning piece of television that has ever come out of America, possibly the most stunning piece of television full-stop.”

That’s what Mr. Moore had to say in this interview when asked if he watches any TV.

Alan Moore is a very wise man. Hell, his beard is smarter than you or I. It’s certainly smarter than the Emmy voters. Mr. Moore (and his legendary beard) also had this to say:

“Absolutely, that is grown-up television! It's novelistic. You get to find out about all these tiny different aspects of Baltimore, to build up a huge picture of the city with all of its intricacies — from the wharf side, to the kids in the projects, to the power structure with the boardrooms and police department and governor's office. And it's got some great writers: It's got George Pelecanos and David Simon. And so many wonderful characters, Bubbles, Omar. So yeah, everything else looks pretty lame next to The Wire…this is a timeless, prestige program.”

And when asked if he would ever want to write for TV:

“…if I could think of a good enough story, and if it had a chance of being the same caliber as The Wire — then yes, I would perhaps think about it.”

So, the man who wrote the landmark Watchmen, considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time, as well as classics like From Hell and V For Vendetta, aspires to be as good as The Wire. That should tell you something about the quality of this show.

But the Emmy voters probably don’t care what Alan Moore thinks. And apparently, they don’t care what the vast majority of television critics think either, because in the five years that the show was on the air, The Wire never received a single nomination as the best dramatic program. Not. One. Damn. Time! It was nominated for writing Emmys twice, so it wasn’t a complete shutout. Still, you have to wonder, where was the nomination for best drama? Hell, this year they expanded the “best drama” pool from five candidates to six, and still couldn’t find room for The Wire! That’s adding insult to injury right there. One final twist of the knife, because the past season for The Wire was also the last. Emmy had one last chance to get it right, but they screwed the pooch. Again. I’ll refrain from criticizing the shows that were nominated (even though there are at least two nominated shows I strongly disagree with), and instead focus on why The Wire should have been nominated.

The following are just a few of the reviews from throughout the show’s brilliant run:

”…one of the great achievements in television artistry…the breadth and ambition of The Wire are unrivaled…taken cumulatively over the course of a season -- any season -- it's an astonishing display of writing, acting and storytelling that must be considered alongside the best literature and filmmaking in the modern era.” - Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle

The Wire will knock the breath out of you…literary television that broadens the mind and blows the heart open…a beautiful, brave series.” - Virginia Heffernan, New York Times

”A critic for this paper once declared The Wire ‘the greatest dramatic series ever produced for television’ and as the fourth season gets under way Sunday night, there's no reason to quibble with that assessment.” - Verne Gay, Newsday

”The best show on television.” - James Poniewozik, TIME Magazine

If you go to Metacritic and search on the best-reviewed TV shows of all time, The Wire tops the list, with an average score of 98 (out of 100).

And yet, still, the Emmys can’t deem it worthy of a nomination for best drama. Now, I will admit that the fifth and final season was not the best season of The Wire; that would have been the absolutely heartbreaking fourth season, followed closely by the staggeringly ambitious third season. But even the worst…wait, that’s not the right word, because “worst” implies that it was bad, which it most definitely was not…even the least-excellent season of The Wire was better than anything I’ve ever seen on television. But Emmy can’t find its way to at least saying it was one of the half-dozen best dramas on TV? What the hell?

“The best show... of the last twenty years…it is just fucking brilliant.” - Charlie Brooker, BBC Four

”When television history is written, little else will rival The Wire, a series of such extraordinary depth and ambition…one of the most demanding and thought-provoking series ever to grace television.” - Brian Lowry, Variety

"The Wire is not just the best thing on TV -- it's a Homeric epic of modern America.” - Heather Havrilesky, Salon.Com

Just a nomination, that’s all I’m asking for here. Just acknowledge the excellence of the show. Show some respect. If something else wins, that’s OK with me. But to continually ignore the show…despite the reviews, despite the pleas from the critics that turned into rebukes as the insulting snubs continued…it’s just mind-boggling. The Emmy voters could have given a nomination to the show for its final season, and even though the show’s champions would have known that it was a bit of a lifetime achievement award – like Scorsese finally winning for The Departed when it wasn’t his best work – it would have gone a long ways towards making up for past sins of omission. Hey, it’s not like the fifth season, much like The Departed, wasn’t a worthy candidate.

”A classical masterpiece.” - Laura Miller, Salon.com

”TV’s finest hour.” - Aaron Barnhart, Kansas City Star

”This is TV as great modern literature.” - Matt Roush, TV Guide

Still not convinced? Well, here is another guy who knows something about writing, a fellow named Stephen King:

The Wire is a dazzling three-ring circus of interwoven plot threads, and its take on America's drug war makes Miami Vice look like a Saturday-morning cartoon…it has made the final jump from great TV to classic TV — put it right up there with The Prisoner and the first three seasons of The Sopranos. It's the sort of dramatic cycle people will still be writing and thinking about 25 years from now…The Wire is a staggering achievement.”

The television critics at Entertainment Weekly certainly seem to agree with Mr. King:

“The smartest, deepest and most resonant drama on TV…the best series on TV, period." – Gillian Flynn, Entertainment Weekly

”Certainly The Wire was the best show on the air during its five seasons, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest achievements in series television.” - Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly

EW has long been a champion of The Wire. In fact, in a recent article entitled “Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Biggest Emmy Snubs of All Time”, the continued lack of recognition for The Wire ranked # 11, with this comment:

“…a series routinely hailed as one of the best shows ever on television — if not the best — never even garnered a dramatic series nod? Shameful.” – Alynda Wheat

I guess the Emmys could be forgiven if they had never been called out on this before…they could have pled ignorance…but wait…when the 2007 nominations came out, here’s what Entertainment Weekly had to say then

“…not a single nomination for The Wire in any category. Not one. I mean, seriously — cancel the telecast, go home, and hang your freaking heads in shame.” – Mark Harris

And further back, in 2005, people were asking where the Emmy love was. Variety asked and got some answers…anonymously, of course, but this is what they heard from Emmy voters…

• It's so multilayered, so dense, that it's difficult to tune in midway through the season, thereby making it practically impenetrable to new viewers.

• The plot takes place in the drug-infested streets of west Baltimore, and with the vast majority of Emmy voters based in Southern California, there's little connection. The grim surroundings and coarse language also might turn some people off.

• With the series being shot on location, the actors aren't in Los Angeles or New York, being seen around town and helping build publicity for the show. Out of sight, out of mind.

Those are the actual reasons given by Emmy voters for why they didn’t nominate The Wire. People…that is not acceptable! None of those reasons address the quality of the show, other than to suggest that the show is perhaps too good. Yes, it’s a challenging show, but it’s also a rewarding show if you rise to the challenge! But apparently, Emmy voters can’t do that.

Even as far back as 2003, the year after the show debuted, people were asking these same questions, as seen in this CNN article.

Year after year after year…and Emmy never got the hint.

”If you have only one hour a week for television, give it to The Wire.” - Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune

The Wire is as complex a picaresque as one is likely to find this side of Dickens.” - Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

”A vibrant, masterful work of art, HBO’s novelistic urban saga The Wire is the best show on television.” - Robert Abele, LA Weekly

And what does David Simon, the show’s creator and executive producer, think of the snubs?

“I don't give a (expletive) if we ever win one of their little trinkets," Simon told Newsweek. "I don't care if they ever figure out we're here in Baltimore. Secretly, we all know we get more ink for being shut out. So at this point, we wanna be shut out. We wanna go down in flames together, holding hands all the way."

Ouch! Maybe Simon’s less than political comments rubbed Emmy’s voters the wrong way. It’s no secret that if you want to win awards in Hollywood, you have to play the political game. Kiss the right butts, shake the right hands, and say all of the right things to all of the right people. And David Simon certainly doesn’t do that. But despite his denials about caring, there’s some real anger there. But he has even more anger when it comes to defending his cast:

"Let me indict Hollywood as much as I can on this one," Simon said. "We have more working black actors in key roles than pretty much all the other shows on the air. And yet you still hear people claim they can't find good African-American actors. That's why race-neutral shows and movies turn out lily-white."

That’s right, not a single acting nomination from Emmy, in five critically-acclaimed seasons. Another not-so-secret theory about Hollywood awards is that people of color don’t win, at least not until Denzel and Halle broke through at the Oscars. I will say in Emmy’s defense that the cast of The Wire is so large, so rich, so brilliant, it would be damn near impossible to nominate just one or two people for acting awards, no matter how deserving, and any perceived racism about these exclusions (hey, none of the show’s white actors got nominated either) is probably not specific to The Wire, but emblematic of a bigger problem. But the argument about the cast being so deep in talent brings up another question: why in the hell don’t they have Emmy awards for acting ensembles? The best TV shows, both comedy and drama, have almost always featured great ensembles. Why not create new categories to recognize such casts? The Golden Globes do this; why not the Emmys?

"The Wire might be the most authentic epic ever on television…cable that can’t be touched.” - Tom Shales, Washington Post

”…some of the most compelling, provocative drama ever produced for television.” - Charlie McCollum, San Jose Mercury News

”One of the finest TV shows ever made.” - Adam Buckman, New York Post

Just the other day, Seth Gilliam, who played Sergeant Ellis Carver, said in a BBC interview, "The Emmys will in no way validate the quality of the material we put out there. We take a little pride in not being nominated."

That’s fine, and I’m not going to tell Gilliam that he should lose any sleep over the lack of respect by the Emmy voters, but the problem is that the very mission statement of the Emmys states (bold text added for emphasis):

“The New York Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NY NATAS) conducts activities that cultivate, promote and encourage understanding of, appreciation for, and public interest in the arts, crafts and sciences of television. As a professional organization serving the New York area we endeavor to educate and act as a resource to our members and the industry.

We award the Emmy® for talent and ability in composition, creation, and performance of works which strive to improve the quality of television.

We recognize outstanding achievement, we encourage the pursuit of excellence and promote the highest standards of quality in professional, technical and personal achievement in the arts and sciences of television by conferring the industry’s classic, and most coveted peer recognition symbol of distinction, the Emmy®.”


So let me get this straight: the Emmys are supposed to “recognize outstanding achievement” and give awards to shows that “strive to improve the quality of television”, but have somehow managed to overlook the most critically-acclaimed TV show of the past several years…every single time?

Bullshit.

”Brilliant, scathing, sprawling, The Wire has turned our indifference to urban decay into a TV achievement of the highest order.” - Robert Bianco, USA Today

”If there ever was a series that makes HBO a necessity, The Wire is it.” - Melanie McFarland, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

”The best show on television.” - Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News

So has there been any love from other awards? Yes. The Wire was nominated for an Edgar in 2003 from the Edgar Allen Poe Awards, which recognize excellence in writing, and won one in 2007. It was nominated twice for “Outstanding Drama” by the GLAAD Media Awards in 2003 and 2005 (losing both times to Six Feet Under). The NAACP Image Awards nominated it for Outstanding Drama Series after each of its first four seasons, as well as recognizing several individual actors. It was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Drama by the Television Critics Association in 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2008. Earlier this year, the Writers Guild of America recognized it as the Best Drama for its stellar fourth season.

The Wire was also granted a prestigious Peabody Award in 2004. Here is their mission statement:


”The intent of the Peabody Awards is to recognize the most outstanding achievements in electronic media, including radio, television and cable. The competition is also open to entries produced for alternative means of electronic distribution, including corporate video, educational media, home-video release, World Wide Web and CD–ROM. Programs produced and intended for wide theatrical motion picture release are not eligible for a Peabody Award.

The Award is determined by one criterion – "Excellence." Because submissions are accepted from a wide variety of sources and styles, deliberations seek "Excellence On Its Own Terms." Each entry is evaluated on the achievement of standards it establishes within its own contexts. Entries are self-selected by those making submissions and as a result the quality of competing works is extraordinarily high. The Peabody Awards are then presented only to "the best of the best."


Excellence on its own terms. Yep, that certainly describes The Wire.



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7.29.2008

BG Roundtable: Trading Up

by Chris

With trade paperback collections of old comic series becoming all the rage over the last 5 to 10 years, comic fans have seen numerous old series come back into print. Not only does this make it easier to read complete series of old comics without having to hunt down back issues (although some fans live for that kind of thing), but we also get to see the artwork in all its remastered glory. The downside to this is that the remastering is expensive to do. Publishers do not want to shell out their hard earned money on to remaster just any old comic series and then have the trades sitting unwanted on comic store shelves. They must be discerning in their selections. The fan in all of us has a little list tucked away inside their brain of the comic series we’d love to see get the trade treatment. This week, in what may be a recurring roundtable, my fellow Geniouses and I have each submitted one title we think fandom in general deserves to be exposed to in the trade format.

Matt, our resident Alan Davis fanatic, had this to say: The geek in me would love to see some collected Cloak & Dagger and the early Claremont/Trimpe Captain Britain series, but I think I may be the only one interested in those. One of the runs that I am anxiously awaiting to be collected is Alan Davis' second run on Excalibur. Unfortunately, the Classic Excalibur series of trades is now in danger of being discontinued. On the forum at the Marvel Masterworks Resource Page, VP David Gabriel said, "Excalibur, I think we've done all we can for now."

It would be such a travestry that this run may never be collected. I think that Marvel should put out an Alan Davis Excalibur Visionaries (or something like that) series of trades reprinting his second run, without those horrible fill-in issues. His run is fantastic and imaginative. Alan tied up all the loose ends from the early collaboration with Claremont, but also takes threads from his earlier work on Captain Britain with Jamie Delano and Alan Moore. His stories covered why Excalibur was prone to interdimensional visits, what happened to the Technet and Crazy Gang, why the Captain Britain Corps was created, what happened to Jamie Braddock and Sat-r-nyne, what happened to the Warpies, and he also had Rachel take Excalibur to the "Days of Future Past" timeline to stop the Sentinels. He also introduced a bunch of new characters like Micromax, Kylun, Cerise and Feron. It would reprint Excalibur #42-52, 54-56 and 61-67.

Doug, the old wise man of the group, followed with this: One of my favorite series of the 1980s was Whisper by writer Steven Grant. There were a few issues published by Capital Comics, then the series moved to First Comics (where I discovered it) and ran for 37 issues. Among the artists were Norm Breyfogle, Vince Giarrano, and a young guy named Steve Epting, who has made a bit of a name for himself since then. The series was about a young woman named Alexis Devin, who found herself reluctantly pulled into the world of international espionage and shadow politics; it was very much an indictment of the political shenanigans going on with the Reagan administration and the CIA. Even though Alexis dressed like a ninja, she wasn’t one; she was constantly in over her head. Grant experimented with narration and storytelling in ways I had never seen before. There was a recent Whisper one-shot from BOOM! Studios which Grant wrote, but it featured a new character. With so many of the other First Comics properties (Nexus, Grimjack, American Flagg!, Badger, Jon Sable) returning as either new stories or collections of the old stuff, I think Whisper would make a great collection and it’s just as relevant today as it was then. I wonder if Steve Epting would be willing to contribute a new cover?

Brandon, in a shocking turn of events, did not choose something Star Wars or Punisher related: American Flagg! is probably my favorite series of all time. The lack of trades and the just-released, but slow-to-the-presses-for-three-years, hardcover collection of the first twelve issues has been detrimental for the title. I hope the release of this hardcover will spur more interest in making more trades. This title holds up better than most of the "classics" that are heralded over and over again in the fan community. Howard Chaykin was way ahead of his time. It had it all: action, sex, humor, and intrigue. You can see Chaykin’s footprint in many of the best titles today because he helped broaden the vocabulary of comic book writing and drawing. Despite owning all of the singles issues and being a notorious cheapskate, I would buy the collected editions. Who knows? Maybe Chaykin would return to the property for a new miniseries. I can dream.

Mr. O, the sole Brit voice in this particular roundtable installment, picked something a little more recent: Though there have been two trades produced of the Marvel Knights’ Black Panther series, I do believe that this is a series that deserves the attention of the Collected Editions department. A highly intelligent, politically charged series that was, for me, the highlight of the first year of Marvel Knights and one that is suited more to the trade than to the single issue format. With the jumps in time and the nonliniear storytelling, you can, at times, be frustrated with it in its serial form, but read as one piece, you just enjoy the craftwork of Priest and his artist cohorts.

The later issues toned down the nonlinear storytelling, but did bring in the "numbered story arcs" and, for me, this was the first time I had seen them, again a format suited to the collected edition, as we have finite story arc ready for the trade paperback treatment.

A book with beautiful art, great scripting and storytelling, and with enough of a cult following to make it a success, I really think that this run should be sitting on the book shelves of comic shops and books stores around the world.

Unlike my fellow Geniouses, I went with a book that I’ve never read, but have heard great things about. Strikeforce: Morituri was published by Marvel Comics from 1986 to 1989 and ran for 31 issues (followed by a five issue mini-series entitled Electric Undertow. Written by Peter B. Gillis with art by Brent Anderson, it concerned a future Earth where alien invaders had conquered the human race and are in the process of stripping the planet of its natural resources. A method of giving humans superpowers is developed with the one drawback that the process kills the person within a year. Everything I’ve read about this book makes it sound like an amazing sci-fi story with strong themes of humanity, heroism, and sacrifice. When I’ve read posts discussing the book, they were all positive and, at the same time, regretful that it only lasted 31 issues. Because the writer is not a big name in the industry, I have a feeling that it’s unlikely Marvel will ever put this out in trade, meaning I’ll have to hunt down the back issues. If they did put out a trade, though, I’d snatch it up in a heartbeat.

What series do you think needs the trade paperback treatment?

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From Top to Bottom: X-Men Miniseries

by Matt

Welcome to the 14th edition of the weekly "From Top to Bottom" column! Every week I will look at something within the comics industry and give you my opinion on what I think is the best and what I think ranks amongst the bottom-feeders.

Last week, I celebrated the release of Uncanny X-Men #500 by looking at the Top and Bottom of Uncanny X-Men Anniversary Issues. Since I have X-Men on the brain, I figured I would do another X-column. Recently at the San Diego comic convention, Marvel made the announcement of the X-Men: Infernus miniseries, so I thought it would be fun to look at the Top and Bottom of X-Men mini-series.

There have been a TON of X-Men miniseries. When I first looked into this topic, I was shocked at the sheer amount of X-Men miniseries. Almost all of the X-Men themselves have had a miniseries at some point, some of them have had more than one (I would kill for a Jim Krueger written Banshee miniseries) and while some of them have been gems, most were rather plain to absolutely horrible. It is a who's who of the X-Men, Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, Colossus, Wolverine (shocking!), Storm, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Gambit, Cable, Bishop, Nightcrawler, Magneto, Chamber, Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, Archangel and Psylocke have all had a miniseries at some point and I am sure I am forgetting some. Some of the X-Men miniseries were large events or stemmed from a large event. And again, some of those were good, most were not. Here are my Top 3.


3) X-Men/Alpha Flight: The Gift
Written by Chris Claremont with art by Paul Smith. This was probably Smith's finest work on the X-Men. Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor are flying scientists to the Arctic Circle, when their plane is struck by something mysterious. Rachel Summers senses this and the X-Men believe it was an attack from Shaman of Alpha Flight. So the X-Men head to Canada to confront Alpha Flight. Only they find Cyclops and the crew safe and have been changed into powerful beings who vow to change the world. They heal various members of both Alpha Flight and the X-Men, proving how powerful they are. And who is behind it? Loki, the God of Lies. This was a fantastic miniseries, Claremont was at top of his game here. His stories with Loki were some of my all-time favorites.


2) Fantastic Four versus the X-Men
I LOVED this series. So much was happening at the time this came out. The X-Men had just barely survived the Mutant Massacre and they contacted Reed Richards because he had a machine that could save Kitty from fading away. During this time, Dr. Doom had planted a diary of Reed Richard's that told the story of how the Fantastic Four were really formed. Sue discovers the diary and finds out that Reed had done all of this on purpose. This shakes the FF to their core and Reed backs out from helping Shadowcat and Wolverine starts a fight (I loved seeing Wolverine go berserk on Reed). Dr. Doom comes in to save the day and offers his help to cure Shadowcat. Franklin dreams of the death of the X-Men and Fantastic Four and the diary is at the center of it all. If you haven't read this series, do yourself a favor and track this series down! This was written by Chris Claremont with Jon Bogdanove. Bogdanove's art was fantastic, laregly due to Terry Austin's inks.

1) Wolverine
My dad bought this series for me when it was first released as a trade paperback many years ago and Wolverine quickly became one of my favorite characters. This series made Wolverine more than just a guy with claws. One thing that I have noticed is that Wolverine does not get humbled in today's stories as he did back in the old days. Shingen totally humiliates him, not only does he beat him physically but he beats him mentally as well. The perfect example is when they first do battle, Shingen fights him with with wooden swords since he believes that Wolverine is not worthy. Shingen easily bests him. In the rematch, Wolverine proves that he is worthy. Chris Claremont wrote this series as well along with art by Frank Miller.

I wish all X-Men miniseries were like those. Interesting to note that all of my favorites were written by Chris Claremont. You'd think that all of his miniseries would have been as good but that is sadly not the case. He has written a few stinkers as well. Speaking of...


3) X-Men: Black Sun
Ugh. This miniseries was terrible. And what a horrible Banshee cover, it looks like he is belching. I don't remember much about this series but I know that I pawned it off on eBay pretty quickly. I never liked the whole N’Garai concept either. The only thing that I liked is that the return of Magik really turned out to be Amanda Sefton taking over as ruler of Limbo. Even though it made no sense that Kitty didn't figure that out early on. It also featured the return of Pilgrimm. Ugh, why is this not #1?




2) Kitty Pryde: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
This is why. At least Black Sun had something interesting. This series was such a waste of time and money. Kitty Pryde takes an offer from SHIELD to have her work as a technician and she finds out that Ogun has possessed the systems of SHIELD. Wolverine joins the fray (as customary in 90's X-Men titles) and they together battle Ogun. I would go into more details but I just can't force myself to go on any further. You may not know this but I read all of these books again just for these columns and I still have the #1 Bottom book to go.




1) Magneto
Could it get any worse? Yes, it certainly can and this proves it. This was Magneto's first miniseries and I had some high hopes for it since Magneto was my favorite X-villain. This Magneto was really Joseph and the basis of the series was him learning who Magneto was. I expected him to go bad again and what I got was something bad. The art by Kelley Jones was just as out of place and ugly as Peter Milligan's writing. Part of my hatred for this series comes from the Acolytes themselves. I liked the Acolytes when they first appeared and when they died shortly after. The membership of the Acolytes never made sense to me, you had Acolytes that were dead who were actually alive, you had Acolytes like Cortez, who betrayed the team but then came back, and I was plain tired of who was what and why. I would've sold this series on eBay but no one wanted it.

Did I surprise anyone that I didn't list ClanDestine/X-Men on my Top list since Alan Davis is my favorite creator? Surprised that X-men: Deadly Genesis was not on my Bottom list because Banshee was killed in it? (Banshee was a Skrull anyway) For every good miniseries, we got a couple mediocre/bad ones. For the fun Clandestine/X-men miniseries we also got X-Men: Liberators and Archangel & Psylocke: Crimson Dawn. For the cool X-Men versus the Avengers miniseries, we got X-Men: Die by the Sword and X-Men: 198. Do I need to mention the X-Men Icons miniseries that came out around 2000-2001? They could have had their own Bottom entry.

Here is hoping that the new X-Men: Infernus miniseries is one of the good miniseries. Of course, I am such an X-Whore that I will buy them all anyway.
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7.28.2008

Fangirl in a Foreign Land

by Liana

Early this year, fellow BGer Cindy (you’ll remember her fantastic looks at women in comics) said to us, “Guys, I’m thinking of making a change.” Cindy, who has a master’s degree in fine art, has been toiling away at administrative work in the corporate world for years, while trying to break into comics and slowly working on her own semi-autobiographical graphic novel (someday she will finish it and you be blown away by the magnitude of its awesomeness). She tells us that dinner with a friend inspired her to look into becoming a teacher. Well, as soon as we hear this, we know this is Cindy’s destiny and we barrage her with the happy support (that’s right, the BG is taking full credit). A few applications filled out, a couple meetings taken, many frantic phone calls made and soon Cindy is not only enrolled at Pratt, but she’s somehow now going to teach art in South Africa for five weeks. Wow.

I can say so much more about this, but I won’t. My words just wouldn’t do it justice. You can read all about Cindy’s adventures at her blog, Fangirl in a Foreign Land. It’s already filled with stories of frantic puppetry, baboon attacks and the kinds of inspirational things that make you cry. And soon, Cindy will be teaching her students to make their own comic book! If that isn’t the mark of a true Queen Fangirl, I don’t know what is.

We at the Bad Genious are beyond proud of Cindy and encourage you to check out her blog and think about what you would do if a baboon tried to steal your quiche. We also say a prayer every night that Cindy does not get eaten by a wild zebra.
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7.27.2008

X-Files: The Other X-Title (part 3) - I Want To Believe & Wildstorm Special Reviews

by Brandon

The final installment for X-Week's look at The X-Files arrives in fashion with two (yes, two!) X-Files reviews for the just released I Want To Believe and the recently released X-Files comic book from Wildstorm. The critics have been harsh towards the new film, but did it satisfy this fan?

The X-Files: I Want to Believe
(Fox)
If you have been reading what some of the critics have been saying about the second X-Files movie, you might be a bit disheartened. Both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes have amassed numerous negative reviews. The local Charlotte Observer summed up their loathing for the new film by starting out their review be asking, "This is it?" I must admit that I am a bit of a whore when it comes to reading reviews of films. Try as I might, I sometimes get a bit discouraged when I read them. The undercurrent to much of the venom was the fact that this film had very little to do with the myth-arc story of aliens. I think that is what people expect from an X-Files story. If this is indeed what you expect, sorry. They sell fine DVD's at your local entertainment warehouse or via this thing called the World Wide Web.

Despite the critical reviews, I was quite surprised with how well the film played out. I think an important thing to look at here is the balance between audience; were Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz trying to win over converts to the overall concept of The X-Files or was this film aimed at the fans? I think fans will largely be pleased with the result, while the uninitiated may not have the same connection with these characters, and therefore may be left wondering, "What's the big deal?"


What is the deal? A defrocked priest is receiving visions of people being kidnapped and the FBI have to involve ex-agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Much like this summer's Indiana Jones movie, it takes a few minutes to get back into the groove of the characters, but once the actors settle in, the movie hits it stride. The monster of the week portion of the film is a modern day retelling of Frankenstein, but the real thrust of the movie is an exploration of faith and trust. Billy Connoly does a great job playing the pedophile priest that makes Scully and Mulder question the trust of each other and Scully's own faith as a physician and Catholic. It is an interesting theme that is oddly out of place for the summer blockbuster season. I can't Help but think this movie would have played out better if it had been released in the winter, the setting of the actual film. The cold nature of this personal quest of balancing faith, trust, and belief while solving a diabolical series of abductions was a mismatch from the start for the whole affair.

Many of the things that The X-Files did well from the show translated favorably to the screen. The use of music by the original eerie music producer Mark Snow gave a familiar and chilling air to the film. The humor fans were so accustomed to in the show was used to great affect here, lending natural levity to the serious situation around them. And for the liberals in the crowd (full disclosure, myself included) there's a killer George W. Bush joke at the beginning. The theme of believer versus skeptic is also plays out on screen, with Scully reverting back to her role as disbeliever, all the while being faced with the possibility that belief is a matter of perspective.

There are a few odd and clunky aspects to this film that no doubt contributed to the poor reception by the critics. The subplot of Scully trying to help find a cure for a young man is a bit forced and slows the flow of the main plot. Carter and Spotnitz try to tie this in with the pursuit of faith, but it is hampered by the far more interesting abduction/Frankenstein plot. While the removal of all doubt about the relationship between Mulder and Scully is finally laid to rest, once established, the filmmakers dwell on the fact for far too long.

Overall, this film was for the fans of the show who appreciate the monster of the week diversions that made up over three out of every four episodes in the show. It is always hard to return and time always creates fonder memories of cherished characters. Living up to expectations can be a difficult task, one that the filmmakers did not meet or exceed. But few do. Enjoy this film for what it, an exploration in findijng faith in darkest corners of life.


X-Files #0
(Wildstorm)
Wildstorm fortunately brings back The X-Files to the funny book pages with this "zero issue" of a new series. The story focuses on a girl kidnapped in 1991 showing up dead seventeen years later in a murdered man's house having not aged a day. The story deals with the classic X-Files concept of possession. It is written by Spotnitz and features excellent art by Brian Denham.

The ongoing series will be based between seasons 2-5, an interesting choice with the focus of the movie was on the future. It's also an odd statement since this story takes place in 2008. This may have been simply a misprint in the issue, but if you do the math that the murdered girl is abducted in 1991 and is found seventeen years later, this poses a conundrum with X-Files continuity since Agents Mulder and Scully have been out of the FBI for five years and are not reinstated on screen in I Want to Believe (in fact, quite the opposite; they are seen as being far away from the FBI after the credits).

Despite this small complaint, this is a great beginning to the new series. Let's hope Wildstorm avoids some of the legal and editorial issues that plagued the excellent Topps series. The X-Files is a property that is well-suited for comic books, especially given the success of other televised cult properties like Buffy and Angel. But it goes beyond just having a built in audience. Comic books are a great venue for exploring the fantastic. The X-Files works great within the scope of the medium. This issue does what X-Files does best. It tells a compelling, scary story that entertains and asks questions, offering few direct answers, leaving the reader wanting more.
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7.26.2008

Beyond the Big 2: July 2008

by Matt

I love going through the Previews magazine every month. I spend hours going through every page, reading every solicitation and I usually find something that piques my interest. Each month I try to pick up a new book that is NOT part of the "Big 2". Here are a couple of new books that I am giving a try in September from the July 2008 Previews.





SOLOMON KANE #1
By (W)Scott Allie and (A)Mario Guevara
Published by Dark Horse Comics
$2.99
Product Code JUL080016
Robert E. Howard's vengeance-obsessed puritan begins his supernatural adventures in the haunted Black Forest of Germany in this five-issue adaptation of Howard's "The Castle of the Devil." When Solomon Kane stumbles upon the body of a boy hanged from a rickety gallows, he goes after the man responsible--a baron feared by the peasants from miles around. Something far worse than the devilish baron or the terrible, intelligent wolf that prowls the woods lies hidden in the ruined monastery beneath the baron's castle, where a devil-worshipping priest died in chains centuries ago.

My friend Zack is a huge Robert E. Howard fan and he introduced me to the concept of Solomon Kane and I was hooked. I am very interested to see how this goes.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL HC
By Gilbert Hernandez (W/A)
Published by Dark Horse Comics
$19.95
Product Code JUL080023
There's a peeping tom prowling the neighborhood. Eyewitness reports vary, but one thing is agreed upon: he wears a devil mask. This is the story of Val Castillo, a promising gymnast with a strange hobby. She is secretly the neighborhood peeping tom. At first she is alone in this, but when a male friend discovers her doings he joins her into a dark journey of spying and making discoveries about their neighbors that may have been better left alone. Especially secrets that threaten all involved. Like Val spying on her own father and stepmother in their bedroom. This snowballs into a journey darker than even the most cynical would care to endure.

I was going to pick this series in singles but for some reason I decided to skip until it was collected. I heard good reviews of this book and I am really looking forward to reading it. I have never read anything produced by Gilbert Hernandez. It has a Stray Bullets feel to it which is what attracted me to this series.


PROJECT SUPERPOWERS VOL 02 THE SUPREMACY #0
By Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
$1.00
Product Code JUL083862
Project Superpowers was the blockbuster Dynamite Entertainment event of 2007, and the story continues with the all-new Project Superpowers: The Supremacy! Get ready for the excitement with this special Prelude issue, with previews of the superpowered characters Black Terror, Masquerade, and the Death Defying Devil! The future is now as we launch the second chapter of the Project Superpowers saga!

I liked the first Project Superpowers enough to get this next mini-series. Honestly, I was not impressed by the first series as much as I thought I would be, but superheroes from the past is something that I do enjoy, no matter what superhero universe. I will definitely give this series a try.

I get all my comics, trades and hard covers through Mailordercomics.com. Click on the banner below and you visit their site and you can order these books (and anything else from the July Previews) at huge discounts.


Mailordercomics.com


I'll see you next month with some more picks. Make sure you check out my other new column Beyond the Big 2: Preview Review where I will be reviewing picks that I made in earlier columns. Last month I reviewed Freddie & Me: Coming of Age, Charlatan Ball #1 and Fluffy. Next month I will review No Hero #0 and Modern Masters Vol 18: John Romita Jr and hopefully more!

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7.25.2008

X-Files: The Other X-Title (part 2) - Best Of

by Brandon

Aliens versus monsters! No, this isn't a review of Aliens versus Predator ( two word review; shit sandwich). This is my look at the best of The X-Files. The entirety of The X-Files run was a balance between the "myth-arc" alien conspiracy episodes and the "monster of the week" oriented episodes. Here are my top five episodes of each!

Myth-arc/Conspiracy Episodes

"Pilot" 1-1
A more perfect pilot may exist out there, but not for my money. This was the perfect introduction to the series. We meet Agents Mulder and Scully for the first time, as well as one of the central villains of the series, The Cigarette Smoking Man. The mythology of the conspiracy episodes all begin here as Mulder and Scully investigate the strange disappearance and death of some high schoolers.

"The Erlenmeyer Flask" 1-24
This episode is one of the most iconic due to its image of the "alien fetus." I can literally remember seeing this for the first time and having chills run wildly over my body. Creepy. In terms of story, this final episode of the first season really tied up the first season succinctly, more so than any other season finale. The first season paints a picture of paranoia and a web of government lies and betrayal. It was probably the only complete season from beginning to end, as if Chris Carter thought the series may not be picked up for a second season. This episode also introduces Mulder's motto in Deep Throat's dying words; trust no one.

"The Truth" 9-19 & 9-20
The final episode of the series proved to be a great review of the show, and answers some essential questions, though not all. Mulder is put on trial and sentenced to death. The colonization of earth is set and we see the return, and death, of the Cigarette Smoking Man. The episode ends with Scully and Mulder escaping and making it to a hotel. Mulder's last words are, "Maybe there's hope." This is a perfect summation of the show. Despite the mass paranoia and distrust, there is hope.

"Colony/End Game" 2-16 & 2-17
This two-part story introduces the Alien Bounty Hunter concept to the X-Files. Mulder is investigating his sister Samantha's abduction and actually finds her. However, she was a clone! It is revealed that there are many clones of Samantha and that the real Samantha is still alive. The Alien Bounty Hunter would show up periodically throughout the rest of the series in different forms, providing a larger backdrop to a rumored alien invasion. This was the first real proof that live aliens actually exist in The X-Files.


"Nothing Important Happened Today Pt. 1 & 2" 9-01 & 9-02
This is one of the best episodes featuring Agent John Doggett. As a member of The X-Files, Doggett still remains largely skeptical about the investigations he is still partaking in, but is becoming a believer. Doggett is investigation two things this season; Deputy Director Kirsh and finding Fox Mulder. Doggett encounters frustration at every turn with these investigations, which makes him more of a believer than doubter. Viewers see Doggett grow exponentially in these two episodes. The title comes from the great journal entry of King George III on July 4, 1776.


Monster of the Week Episodes

"The Post-Modern Prometheus" 5-05
This is porbably the strangest, yet most satisfying episodes of the show. It starts as a modern day retelling of Frankenstein, a bleak story shot in black and white, but later morphs into a fourth-wall-breaking tale. It has a great comic book connection, with the character Mutato. And... the episode features Cher *and* Jerry Springer! How could it be bad? Mulder asks the comic book writer to write a different ending, which he does. Excellent episode and highly recommended.

"X-COPS" 7-12
X-Files + COPS + a fear eating monster = awesome. This episode is hilarious just due to the camera work, done by actual COPS cameramen. This was a great spoof because it wasn't just a send-up of the COPS format, but it had a solid, scary story of fear.

"Squeeze" & "Tooms" 1-03 & 1-22
Tooms was by far one of the creepiest monsters featured in the X-Files. Tooms could squeeze and stretch his body to reach victims through small shafts. He was a creepy serial killer that gave Mulder and Scully fits, twice no less. He was one of the few characters to show up twice. He needed to eat livers in order to hibernate for another thirty years. See, creepy.

"Irresistible" & "Orison" 2-13 & 1-07
Donnie Pfaster was another one of those characters who appeared twice. And he was scary in his own right; he was a necrophiliac who eventually developed an unhealthy taste for Agent Scully. He would be captured, but escaped to seek Scully once more. Scully proved that she was not a damsel in distress by killing him. I hate to use the word "creepy" again, but it fits Donnie.

"Kill Switch" 5-11
Much like an episode in the first season, this episode deals with an AI technology gaining sentience. This episode is of note because it is written by two science fiction, William Gibson and Tom Maddox. This is a classic example of technology gone wild, trying to kill those that would kill it. This theme was common in the X-Files, but this is the probably the best due to its Class-A writers. They would return to write another great episode in the seventh season called "First person Shooter" that explore the same themes.

Of course, there are more great episodes. There were probably fewer than ten episodes that I didn't enjoy throughout the initial X-Files run.

I'll check in Sunday with a review of the new film, a "monster of the week" extravaganza!

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The Phoenix Should Rise Again Now Please

by Liana

I have been patient. Really. I have put up with that manipulative bimbo being treated like she matters for long enough. But the time has come. Jean Grey must return. From the dead. From the future. From the hell that is writers who cannot handle her awesomeness. From wherever. Just put her back where she belongs. And I do not mean with her dick husband.

Jean Grey is the heart of the X-Men. She is what makes them a family and without her, the team has all the dysfunctional bitterness and little of the love. You know why? Because she treats her teammates with respect. She doesn’t manipulate them. She doesn’t scan their thoughts without their permission. She does what needs to be done for the greater good, even when it means giving her dick husband permission to hook up with his bimbo girlfriend with her dying breath in order to save all humanity.

So maybe Jean Grey is already back and hanging out in the future as an infant being raised by the stepson she herself raised in the future. There’s a sweet paradox in that, isn’t there? Anyway, as much as I’m enjoying Cable, I would kiss it goodbye in a heartbeat to have my Jeannie back.

It wouldn’t even be hard to bring her back. If Marvel decided to finally admit that it is indeed baby Jean hiding out in the future being raised by DaddySon Cable and hunted by Psycho Bishop, just jump her around a little more and age her. Whatever. It’s time travel. It doesn’t make sense to begin with, so no one has to try hard to explain it. And if Marvel decided to wuss out and make the baby just some random mutant and Jean is still dead, well come on, she’s the friggin’ Phoenix. The whole point of the Phoenix is come back from the dead.

And speaking of things that wouldn’t be hard (insert your own impotent Cyclops joke here), I’ve never understood why so many writers relegate Jean to being an emotional buffoon, torn between a short, hairy animal and a tall, arrogant jerk. There are so many men in the Marvel Universe who would be great for Jean, and none of them are living at the X-Mansion (yeah, yeah, I know the X-Men aren’t living there now either, but that’s hardly the point). She’s like the most powerful mutant on the planet. If she isn’t using her wisdom and compassion to teach the next generation of X-Men how to be good and responsible mutants and people (as opposed to the bimbo just teaching them how to be dead), she could be fighting the big threats by the sides of heroes like the Sentry and Thor. Think of how awesome a book with godlike heroes fighting godlike threats could be, especially with our Jeannie batting clean up.

So come on, Marvel. Stop doing this to me. To us. We’re ready for Jean Grey to take her rightful place alive and well in the current Marvel Universe. I promise to even stop calling that lonely fanboy’s wet dream “bimbo” every chance I get.
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Aside from the Spandex and Leather, Are the X-Men Gay? Part Three

by Devin

Today we present the third and final installment of Devin's three-part series. Have you read parts one and two?

In the first issue of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, he has Professor X bring up that the current generation of mutants emerging is different from any that has come before them. While the upcoming generation of gay youths may not have to worry about stranger mutations, they are different from those that have come before them. In the past few years, coming out in high school is almost becoming common in more liberal states, whereas only a little bit before that, a school of a thousand could very well only have a couple of “out” students. While they naturally will face challenges, just like Professor X mentions, they will be of a very different nature than those that have come before them, where the main struggle was in reconciling who you were with who you had to be to socially survive high school.

Morrison also introduces a group known as U-Men, humans who wish to be mutants. In order to make such a hope possible, they kill mutants and then harvest their organs, transplanting the special body parts into themselves. This includes grafting on wings or replacing their eyes for those that shoot lasers. Therefore, while their DNA may still be human, they appear to be mutants. In essence, the U-Men are the X-Universe’s equivalent of metrosexuals. However, in order to be a U-Man, one must kill or terribly maim a real mutant. Could Morrison be remarking that metrosexuality is not the right way to get gays into the mainstream? It merely picks and chooses the aspects of gay culture (or organs) that it wants, but then leaves the rest behind. This leaves gays in a state where they can dress a straight man or be funny on Will and Grace, but still cannot get married in most states or the general respect of a straight couple.

The Queer Eye parallel goes even further. The idea of a mutant subculture permeating the mainstream culture of humankind is one of the main themes of Morrison’s run. In his 41 issues, mutants no longer hide as much as they used to (just like gays nowadays, there are many more “out of the closet”). There are more mutants than ever and, like any minority group, a subculture has begun to form. One such example of this subculture is the existence of a mutant designer, Jumbo Carnation. This character has to his credit such clothing as “tentacle gloves.” A title devoted to the “mutant section” of New York City (almost every major city has a gay neighborhood), District X, ran for a while during this period.

Even the Xavier Institute is now openly a school that exists for mutants to learn in a safe environment. Interestingly, around this same time, controversy was building over the opening of Harvey Milk High School, a school in New York City for LGBT youth who did not feel safe attending their current schools. The Harvey Milk High School received protestors and angry speeches from politicians and people in the press. Similarly, in the issues which first show the school no longer hiding the fact that it’s a mutant school, protestors swarm outside of Xavier’s Institute.

The X-Force reboot that happened around the same time (starting with issue #116) also has much to say about the Queer Eye and Will and Grace phenomena. In this version of the title, gone were the testosterone and angst-filled products of the early ‘90s, such as Cannonball and Sunspot. Instead, Peter Milligan delivered to us a superhero team that was more like the Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls than the Avengers or JLA. They are given intentionally corny names that only marketing majors could think of, like, U-Go Girl (the team’s teleporter) and Mr. Sensitive. One member, Anarchist, complains about the possible joining of the mutant Spike, since he says that there cannot be two black members on the team.

In short, these mutants have been intensely focus-grouped for the sole purpose of being presentable and lovable for the mass of humans not yet ready for the whole of mutant culture. They are young, sexy, and flawless. One character says in the first issue of the run, “I might be a mutant, but I kind of like the members of my team to look at least half human.” This way of thought mirrors many depictions of gays when they appear in mainstream culture. Margaret Cho has even referred to the Queer Eye group as having a “superhero grace.” For the mainstream is not yet ready for such a wide spectrum of gays as it has for heterosexuals. When they appear, they have to be perfect. As Cho notes, “Have you ever seen a gay man on TV be ‘bad’ at something? Not likely. We've not that luxury to fuck up.”

Therefore, in both real life and in the world of X-Force, the current path of assimilation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, this focus-grouped team of minorities is getting them into the mainstream. On the other hand, they are not being given honest exposure. Instead, they are just tools to sell products. One character, Zeitgeist, comments on this in the first issue in his inner monologue during a battle:

Money. Fame. Sex. Cars. Houses. Champagne. Talk shows. Caf├ęs. Limousines. Immortality. Luck. Just the peanuts they throw at us. They’d hate us if we couldn’t do this. They’d fear us.
They adore us now. They know why we’re here, what the point of us is. But I’m still a mutant you idiots. I’m still fourteen years old…I’m a freak. And I hate you all.


Quite frankly (or Frank Quitely), the X-Universe is embarrassing to read nowadays. Whedon followed Morrison’s brilliant run with the least subtle, least controversial, least insightful story that tied gay rights with mutants and then gave the reader eighteen issues that essentially screamed, “I WANT TO BE WRITING THE AVENGERS!” Now, Warren Ellis (a writer I typically like) has succeeded him, premiering with an issue where nobody acts in character, the X-Men are chummily working side by side with the police, and, to add insult to injury, the art is just muddled and confusing. And, of course, one cannot forget the 198 (or however many we’re down to). Last time I checked, there had been no mass exodus to the closet (though that would give me a great excuse for my dating woes). In fact, I’m starting to fear that there are just no heterosexuals left in the world anymore, just like Trask feared would be the fate of humans in New X-Men #114.

I end this post on a low-note. For the moment, I fear that the X-Men have been downsized from a forum for cutting-edge commentary to once again being brainless, spandex clad crime fighters whose main concerns are stopping the earth from being shot by a giant bullet and whatnot. But, as my post has shown, none of these dry spells last forever. Give the gay rights movement (or some other social movement) time to progress or change a bit more, to get more problems, and maybe, hopefully, the X-Men will again be back on track. Till then, I’ll look away elsewhere for my thrills, awaiting the day I can again see Cyclops firing an optic blast at Magneto, and know that there’s a little more going on than there first appears to be.
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