Friday, December 24, 2010

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

It has been quite a while since I have seen any Star Wars.  I saw the movies as a child but never got into it as much as many of my friends did.  As a result, I have a very small amount of knowledge when it comes to Star Wars.  I decided to rectify this by rewatching the films in chronological order with my adult eyes and seeing what I see.

Of course, The Phantom Menace is probably one of the most controversial movies in film history.  16 years had past since the original trilogy had ended and there was therefore a lot of hype surrounding the movie.  Many people were disappointed by the result.  It seems that these days, you cannot be a true Star Wars fan without hating the prequel trilogy or at least Episode I.  However, while their are many flaws with the Phantom Menace, I believe that there are also many good things to say about it.  So without further ado, here we go.

The biggest problem with The Phantom Menace is that Lucas couldn't decide what story he wanted to tell.  Is The Phantom Menace supposed to be about corruption and bureaucracy in government, the story of a slave boy who gets the opportunity to explore his destiny, or the story of an annoying rabbit-man that somehow manages to ruin every scene he is in?  Of course, a film can explore many different ideas and be successful.  However, in order for a film to do this and be successful, it must have a heart, a center.  The Phantom Menace has no center. Anakin, the supposed protagonist doesn't even appear until well into the movie.  Qui-gon is the closest thing the movie has to a central figure, but even he fails to bridge the gap between all of the movie's disparate elements.

Personally, I feel that the important story in The Phantom Menace is the story of Anakin.  The fact that he is destined to become one of the most powerful and evil men in the galaxy makes his origin story inherently interesting to me.  Here is a unique opportunity to explore so many things.  Are people born evil?  Is it something that happens to them, or do they choose it?  And if they do choose it, what makes them do so?  What circumstances can lead a good person to become a bad person?  These questions are all very interesting to me, and if I was Lucas, that's what I would make the center of this movie.  Unfortunately, these issues get very little attention in the Phantom Menace, despite being set up very well.  They are discussed briefly, mostly through the Jedi Council's reluctance to allow Anakin to be trained as a Jedi.  In particular, the following exchange is clear foreshadowing.

Ki-Adu-Mundi:  Your thoughts dwell on your mother.
Anakin:  I miss her.
Yoda:  Afraid to lose her, I think, hmmm?
Anakin:  What has that got to do with anything?
Yoda:  Everything!  Fear is the path to the dark side!  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.  I sense much fear in you.

It is obvious that these are issues to be explored in future movies, and while I am thankful that they acknowledge them here, it seems a waste to not explore the ideas that, to me, are clearly the most interesting.

The story largely centers around the Trade Federation's blockade of the planet Naboo and the Galactic Senate's inability to do anything about it: an elaborate ploy set up by Senator Palpatine in order to become Chancellor.  This is a fine story, but lacks the focus required to really make me care about it.  I feel that the most interesting aspect of this story is Palpatine.  Here we have an evil man who is seeking total control.  We know that eventually, Anakin will be not dissimilar from this man.  In this story is the perfect opportunity to explore those above ideas.  How could the boy Anakin grow up to be similar to Palpatine?  What is it that they share?  Unfortunately, these ideas are unexplored and Palpatine remains a shadowy figure in the film, orchestrating events from behind the scenes as Darth Sidious.  At the end of The Phantom Menace, we cannot be said to really know Palpatine.  We know his intentions, but we do not know his motivations.  Why does he want total control so badly?  Why has he chosen the path of the sith?  Does it stem from fear, as Yoda says?  What is Palpatine afraid of?  We don't get to know Palpatine in any significant sense in The Phantom Menace, and he therefore makes a fairly weak villain.

The other main antagonist is of course Darth Maul, who, despite having only a small amount of actual screen time, is one of the most memorable characters in the film.  Unfortunately, he is an even weaker villain than Palpatine in that he has no personality to speak of whatsoever.  The only character trait he posses is concentrated badass, which, while impressive and memorable, doesn't lead to great storytelling.  His only purpose in the film is to provide a sense of danger for the otherwise nearly invincible Jedi Knights and to ultimately kill Qui-gon.  Once he has done that, he his quickly dispatched by Obi-wan, and we never learn anything about his motivations or character.

Between Maul and Palpatine, the film doesn't have a very strong set of antagonists and I would say that this is another problem with it.

The pacing of the movie is also very odd.  As I mentioned earlier, Anakin isn't introduced until well into the movie, after a very long and belabored sequence with Qui-gon and Obi-wan on Naboo that I can't help but feel could have been severely trimmed.  The entire underwater sequence with the monstrous fish in particular seemed a waste of time.  The story becomes stagnant again when we arrive on Tatooine, where the minutes drag by.  The characterization here is not interesting enough to justify all of the time spent on Tatooine and again, it seemed as though Lucas just didn't feel like cutting anything.  There are some very odd scenes that were intended to introduce us to the characters that only ended up being confusing.  The scene with Padmé and Anakin was particularly bewildering with his "Are you an angel?" line.  I couldn't decide if they were already setting up the future romance between these two (in which case, that's kind of ew.  He's nine)  or show that Anakin is a nice little kid who wants to get away from his crapsack life.  Either way they failed and the scene just come across as awkward, out of place, and a little creepy.  The final battle was also very strange, with the intercutting between all of the different places becoming very emotionally disorienting.  I especially feel that Qui-gon's death was very oddly placed and that it would have been much better for the audience not to have to flit back and forth between the Darth Maul battle, the Queen/Viceroy battle, the Anakin space battle, and the Gungan ground battle.


Another odd thing I couldn't get past was the extremely awkward transitions between scenes.  The screen wiped after every scene.  It looked as though the editors were using Windows Movie Maker.  It just seemed so out of place and odd that it took me out of the movie every single time it happened, which was quite frequently.  Is this a common practice in all the Star Wars movies?  I don't remember it being, but maybe I was even less attentive as a child than I thought.  I really hope it's not, because that was the most annoying thing about the movie for me.  Well... second most annoying...


Jar-Jar Binks.  Ugh.  Just ugh.  Clearly, Lucas was afraid that kids would not be interested in the political drama or the ideas of good versus evil, so he decided to create a character specially designed to annoy every single person on earth.  His slapstick comedy is so forced and out of place that I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a very different and much worse movie every time he was on screen.  The slapstick humor was meant to be amusing but only came off as out of place, weird, and annoying.  The Gungan ground battle could have been easily cut out.  In fact, I think the movie would have benefited from cutting the Gungans completely as they really added very little to the story or its themes.


No review of The Phantom Menace would be adequate without mentioning midichlorians.  I can understand the fan reaction against them, but I don't really mind them.  I think that it is a mistake to think that just because something is explained that it loses it's mysticism.  Just because there is an explanation to how people connect with The Force doesn't make The Force any less awesome or magical.  The Force is what it is regardless of whether it is the result of a symbiotic relationship with microscopic organisms or is just plain magic.


I feel like I have ragged on the film a lot more than I intended to.  I want it to be clear that, despite all of the problems I have with it, I really enjoyed The Phantom Menace.  There is a reason that Star Wars is so popular; it is such a grand, imaginative story that speaks to the sense of wonder in all of us.  This film is no exception.  The visual effects in The Phantom Menace are very impressive and do wonders in bringing this world to life in ways that had never been seen before.  The pod race, in particular, was very impressive.  The action sequences as well were top notch, with the final fight with Darth Maul being some of the best fight choreography I've ever seen.  The film also had a fairly respectable emotional component as well.  In particular, I was affected by Anakin saying goodbye to his mother and Qui-gon's death.  Both scenes were very well done.


So, maybe The Phantom Menace wasn't the best film ever made, or even anywhere close to the best Star wars film.  Maybe it had some problems with pacing, characterization, and focus, but there was also plenty of good there too, and it sets up the next film very well, which I look forward to rewatching soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Recognize an Alien

We all need to be prepared for certain things in life: debt, pain, stress, the last piece of cheesecake in the cafeteria, and alien invasion.  We will all have to deal with these things at some point.  However, I am afraid that people are woefully unprepared for a secret alien invasion.  I plan to correct that now.

First, allow me to clarify the kind of alien invasion I am talking about.  I am not speaking of the kind of obvious attack you so often see in films.  The military and everything are going to do their best to combat that; there is little you, as a private citizen, can offer as far as aid.  Let them do their thing.  They have the big guns.  However, there may very well come a day when the invasion is here, under our nose, and the military and the government don't even realize it.  This day might be tomorrow, thirty years from now, or it may even have already happened.  This has been the subject of several notable science fiction stories.  The point is, in the event of an alien invasion through subterfuge, you must be on your guard and ready to spot the aliens and thus bring them to the attention of the world at large.  Only then will we have a fighting chance.

So, for your convenience -- and I hope you treat this seriously -- I have assembled a small list of tips and tricks for you to begin to apply in your daily life.  Remember: they are out there, they might be among us, and it might be you that needs to stop them.

They may be able to take human form.
In fact, they probably will be able to.  You cannot expect to see any physical signs of their true nature.  They will undoubtedly look completely different from us in their true forms.  Therefore, they will have some way of disguising their true nature, either through a cloaking device, shapeshifting abilities, or any number of technological methods.  You will not know them by sight.  They could be anyone, even your best friend.  Paranoia is very healthy in this situation.

They will be unfamiliar with human culture and mannerisms.
As a result of being from a different planet, they will not be able to pass completely as human.  As a species, we have developed many things, such as body language, that are second nature to us, but will be very difficult for aliens to pick up on and imitate.  Expect aliens to be socially awkward or to react oddly to certain situations.  They will often have body language that feels forced or oddly controlled.  You will pick up on this subconsciously.  Listen to your instincts!  A big tip off will be laughter.  Laughter is a very human trait, and an alien who tries to imitate it is very likely to not get it quite right.  Pay attention to people's laughs.  Are they very forced?  Do they only have one or two laughs that they ever use, as though they have practiced them?  Do they take a second to laugh after everyone else has started laughing?

Note:  Be careful.  There are certain disorders among humans that can cause these signs.  People with autism or asperger syndrome can often behave much as I just described.  So be aware of this.  However, do not dismiss someone completely as an alien if they reveal to have a disorder like this.  It could, in fact, be a perfect cover for an alien not completely confident in its ability to blend in socially.

They may give things away in conversation.
When conversing with someone you suspect to be an extraterrestrial, try to get them to admit something. Don't do it so obviously that they see what you're doing, and if they do slip, act as though you don't notice.  There are several questions you can ask that might cause a momentary slip in the alien's disguise if you catch them at the right time.  For example:  "What planets do you like?"  "Do you think it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light?"  "So... Roswell was pretty weird, huh?"  "Can you help me with this extremely advanced physics homework I have?  Specifically, I need to calculate the best route to take from Alpha Centauri to Sirius B, taking into account... um... everything."

These three tips should get you started.  Remember: Trust No One.  Do not inform your friends or family of your suspicions of a suspected alien.  They may sell you out to win favor with the alien race.  Once you are certain of the extraterrestrial nature of the person, inform the CIA.  If you do not have a direct line to the CIA, I suggest calling random flower shops or bakeries and informing them of your situation.  Chances are that one of them is a front.  They'll get the message.

Be safe and have fun!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Defense of Superman

There has been sentiment among the public at large that Superman is "lame."  I've often heard people taking shots at him for being a "goody-good" or "overpowered" or "boring."  I'm here to defend the Man of Steel and hopefully change some minds about him.

I haven't ever been a huge DC fan; I'm more of a Marvel guy.  Nevertheless, I have a certain amount of respect for DC, although I am less familiar with the DCU than with the Marvel Universe.  My experience with the DCU has been limited to just a few comics and movie treatments of its characters.  Most of my experience with Superman was in the form of the old Christopher Reeve films in my childhood, which I remember enjoying.  This recent crusade in favor of Superman, though, has been brought on by having recently read the first volume of All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and penciled by Frank Quitely.  I thought it was fantastic, and it is mostly what has inspired this post.

One of the most common complaints of Superman is that he is too good, and thus boring.  I respectfully disagree.  Superman is indeed an idealistic hero, especially compared to characters like Batman (specifically the Chris Nolan version) or Wolverine.  Superman believes in truth and justice and doing the right thing.  Where some people see this as boring, I see it as admirable and even compelling.  A superhero doesn't need to be dark to be interesting and can have character drama and personality without having to do something morally ambiguous every other day.
Some thoughtful readers might pick up on an inconsistency here.  I have said before that I am not very interested in characters as nothing more than symbols, and much prefer fleshed-out, multi-dimensional characters.  How, then, can I like Superman so much?  I don't feel that Superman is a symbol at the expense of an interesting character, I feel that he is a symbol because he is an interesting character.  To understand what I mean, we need to ask the question: who is Superman?
Similar to Batman, Superman has three faces, with only one being his true identity.  With Batman, there is Bruce Wayne: billionaire playboy, Batman: masked avenger, and Bruce Wayne: a man haunted by his past.  Superman isn't just Superman.  He is Superman: the Man of Steel, hero to Metropolis and the world, Clark Kent: doofy, hapless reporter for the Daily Planet, and Clark Kent: small-town farm boy raised on good, old-fashioned family values.  The Clark Kent from Smallville is the "real" Clark Kent.  A human (okay, Kryptonian, but we're straw-picking here) with feelings, emotions, conflicts, and flaws, who is ultimately a hero.  This is a direct result of his upbringing.  From All Star Superman, Issue 6: Funeral in Smallville:
"Jonathan Kent taught me that the strong have to stand up for the weak and that bullies don't like being bullied back.  He taught me that a good heart is worth more than all the money in the bank.  He taught me about life and death.  He showed me by example how to be tough, and how to be kind, and how to dream of a better world.  Thanks, pa.  He taught me that the measure of a man lies not in what he says, but in what he does.  Those are lessons I'll never forget."
Superman isn't who he is because he is a symbol; he is a symbol because he is who is, thanks to his adoptive parents and the search for his own identity in the face of a strange background.  Superman works because he is an idealistic hero.  Superman is the best of all of us.  That is not to say that Superman is perfect.  I would agree that a flawless hero is uninteresting.  The great thing about Superman is that he works to overcome his flaws.  He might be jealous, selfish, even vain, but at the end of the day he wants to do the right thing.  I am going to quote Angel now, because I feel it is very applicable.  From 4x01: Deep Down:
"I did get time to think. About us, about the world. - Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. - It's harsh, and cruel. - But that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world was what it should be, to show it what it can be."
This sums up what I love about Superman.  He is a champion.  He fights for the world he loves, in the hope that there will come a day that they won't need him to.  He doesn't just save people, he tries to show them what they can be.  He therefore becomes a symbol of perfection, something for everyone to aspire to be.  This is, of course, why he is the very definition of a superhero: a person who everyone respects and wants to be.  That's the whole point.  

An idealistic hero needs an idealistic villain: someone to reject and oppose every core belief the hero has.  Enter Lex Luthor, one of the greatest supervillains in all of comic book history.  The great thing about Lex is that he has no superpowers.  The superhero with by far the greatest power set has a nemesis with none at all.  Lex Luthor works as a villain not because he can beat Superman in a fight, but because he argues against everything Superman believes in.  To quote Lex in All Star Superman, Issue 5: The Gospel According to Lex Luthor:
"We all fall short of that sickening, inhuman perfection: that impossible ideal.  Feel that, Kent.  Real muscles, not like his.  Go on, feel!  It's easy to be strong when you just happen to come from the planet Krypton!  This takes hard work!"
Lex thinks that people cannot be as good and noble as Superman, and do force them to try is wrong.  Lex doesn't just want to destroy Superman, he wants to destroy everything he represents.  Lex believes that Superman is a genuine threat to the lives of the people of the world.  He believes that Superman's perfection makes everyone less so simply by his existence.  

It's easy to side with Luthor: to forget that Superman is a man like the rest of us.  He is, though.  His desire to protect is not born from superiority, but from love.  He loves this world and the people in it: his parents, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen.  His love of this world means that he will always be there when it needs him, not just to protect their lives, but to uphold their ideals.  To quote Angel again (people make a lot of comparisons between Angel and Batman because of the dark past, but there are quite a few similarities to be made between Angel and Ol' Supes as well.)  From Doyle in 1x01: City Of:
"It’s not all about fighting and gadgets and stuff. It’s about reaching out to people, showing them that there’s love and hope still left in the world.  It’s about letting them into your heart. It’s not about saving lives; it’s about saving souls. Hey, possibly your own in the process."
 A new Superman film is apparently in the works from Warner Brothers.  I fear that, with the success of The Dark Knight, they are going to try and imitate Chris Nolan's work on Batman.  They said of the film, "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the character allows it."  While I love the Nolan Batman films, I think that this is completely the wrong direction to come at a Superman film.  What works for Batman doesn't work at all for Superman.  This trend of trying to make superhero films "dark and edgy" is forebodingly similar to what happened during the Dark Age of Comics about 15-20 years ago and ended up giving us some of the worst comic book stories in history.  So, from my tiny corner of the internet, I am issuing my plea:  don't butcher everything that is great about Superman.  If they are true to the character and honest to his story, they will make a good movie.  If they try to force him into a role he doesn't fit, I guarantee the movie will be a disaster, and probably only increase the strange dislike the public already has for Superman.

I hope that I have made you consider the merits that Superman has as a character, and maybe made you appreciate him more than you did before.  He is not my favorite Superhero by any means, but, in a world increasingly dominated by stories that feel the need to be dark and morally ambiguous, it's nice to have a superhero who can be counted on, who will do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, defend us in our time of need, and show us that there is still hope left in this world.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Buffy Season 8 #37

Last Gleaming Part 2


I always feel weird about talking about a single issue in a larger arc.  In the modern age of comics, and especially with Buffy, it seems more and more like the stories are meant to be told in terms of arcs with individual issues being just smaller pieces.  In that sense, I feel like the arcs have been equivalent to episodes of the show, while the issues have been acts in those episodes.

With that in mind, I am going to put forth my two cents about the latest issue.

Obviously, spoilers follow for anything and everything in Season 8 so far.

Buffy:  

It is clear that Buffy has been through quite a bit this season.  I think her story has been mostly a story of having trouble dealing with a changed world.  She misses a lot of things from her old life.  Despite the fact that there are many slayers with her, she feels as alone as ever.  I think that is why she is so obsessed with sex in this issue, as well as in previous issues.  I am unclear as to her relationship with Angel.  Are they "back together?"  Or will things settle down when the effects of the space-frak leave?  It is clear that she still has feelings for Spike here, considering her distracting level of attraction towards him in their scene together.  My question is: where is all of this coming from?  Is Buffy still under the influence of the crazy-universe-stuff from the previous arc, or is she acting of her own volition now?  I will reserve judgment on Buffy until the story is finished and everything is (hopefully) put into better perspective.


Angel:  

Hmm.  Lots of issues here.  Many fans feel as though Angel has been "ruined" by his presence in this story.  I don't know about that, but I do think his character isn't as consistent as maybe he should be.  Angel had always been a puppet of some higher power; something was always controlling Angel:  Darla, Buffy, The Powers that Be, and ultimately Wolfram & Hart.  In Not Fade Away (AtS 5x22), Angel took a very clear stand against the things controlling his life.  By taking out the Circle of the Black Thorn, Angel took control over his own life and his own destiny for really the first time in his life.  Of course, this didn't end the best, and Angel ended up regretting his actions when LA was sent to hell as a result.  However, he came to the conclusion that he is not defined by the bad choices he has made: he is defined by what he does about them.  So at the end of After the Fall, we have a very clear-cut version of Angel:  someone who has done bad things, but has control over his own destiny and the desire to do good.  I have a hard time believing that this same Angel would fall in line with this "baby-universe" and do everything it tells him, especially if that meant hurting Buffy, killing hundreds of innocent people, and dressing up like a complete tool.  Angel at the end of Season Five was done playing by everyone else's rules, and I don't think he would do all the things he has done in Season Eight.

However, it is definitely possible, and Angel has made mistakes before.  This issue shows Angel attempting to make up for the horrible things he has done recently, and I think it does a fine job of it.  Of course, it's not exactly new ground for Angel.  In a lot of ways, this is the exact same story as After the Fall:  Angel making a choice and regretting it.  Except we don't know how this one ends.  I, for my part, doubt that Angel is going to listen to the Griffin thing (what the hell?).

Dawn/Xander:

I had a hard time warming up to these two, but I'll admit that they are cute in this issue.  It is clear that both of them just want to get away.  They are tired of all the horrible things they have to see everyday and just want to find some peace.  Xander has been through a lot of pain.  Anya's death, then Renee's death.  I can sympathize with him just wanting to be happy.  At the same time, I am still struggling to understand why Xander and Dawn are together at all.  It seems like not enough time has been devoted to them to really give us a reason.  Their relationship really happened behind the scenes.  I'm interested to see where it goes, and I think it has a lot of potential, but I'm not quite ready to get behind it just yet.  However, it very well might be cut short considering the apocolypsey nature of the story and the ample amount of foreshadowing of Dawn's death.

Giles/Faith:

I have to say that I love this pairing.  Giles and Faith make such a great team, and I really wish we had gotten to see more of them this season.  Their scene together was one of the most genuine parts of the issue.  It was just a moment, but it seemed as though Giles was very sorry that Faith had to be put back into a situation where she has to be violent.  I really hope neither of these characters die, because I really want to see their relationship explored further in Season 9.

Overall, I think it was a solid issue.  I think the rest of the arc needs to happen before I judge, though.  There are definitely a few flaws: Xander and Dawns relationship being poorly justified, Angel's inconsistent character, and Buffy's lack of solid characterization, but these problems may all be rectified in the final issues.

Closing thoughts:


  • I really like the panel with Faith's reflection in the window and the panel with Xander and Dawn's forehead's touching.
  • I appreciate Xander's insistence on being a part of this whole thing:  "It's Sunnydale.  You can't leave me out of this.  Take us home."
  • The Master didn't get a whole lot of page time, which is frustrating.  Unless he does something uber-important next issue, I am going to chalk up his appearance to fanservice, and nonsensical fanservice at that, considering he is supposed to be dead.
  • It really seems to me that they are setting up Willow as the betrayer, considering the whole death-of-magic thing.  I think it would be very interesting to see Willow choose to destroy magic, and I hope she ends up not being the betrayer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Homestar Runner - Any Time Now

In 2005, I was introduced to a website that changed my life.  That sounds kind of dramatic, I admit, but it's true.  A website that I would visit every so often, with increasing regularity, that would always take my mind off of my troubles.  No matter how I was feeling or what problems I had in my life, this site would always and without fail, lift my spirits.  It didn't do this by being inspirational or encouraging, it did it through humor: simple, beautiful comedy.  This site was called www.homestarrunner.com.

The greatest thing about homestar is its simplicity.  The animation, the stories, the characters, everything is simple.  I realize that this is a bit out of character for me.  For the most part, I enjoy deep character drama, even in my comedy.  Homestar somehow gets a pass on this.  It is just so charming.  Fun.  Really the perfect escape, which is probably why I love it so much.

Homestar Runner was created by Mike and Matt Chapman (The Brothers Chaps (TBC)).  Since 2000, they have been bringing laughter and joy to the hearts of their many fans through regular (usually weekly) updates to the site.  Strong Bad emails, in particular, have enjoyed success, totaling at over 200 cartoons and bringing to life many internet memes including Trogdor the Burninator and Teen Girl Squad.  The legendary 200th email was particularly extravegant, with They Might Be Giants joining in the fun.  (They Might Be Giants and TBC have collaborated many times in the past, with TBC even making the music video for their song: Experimental Film.)

Recently, updates to the site have stopped cold.  The Brothers Chaps have had hiatuses before, but never for this long.  The last real update to the site was on November 10th, 2009.  They did a small update on April 1st, 2010, but it was just a small April Fools Day toon.  We have never gone this long without an update to Homestar Runner.  Many explanations have been given for the hiatus.  In December, Matt had his second child.  There are also rumors that Mike and Craig Zobel are working on a stop-motion film for the Jim Henson company.  A lot of fans simply think that TBC don't really feel that compelled to do the site anymore and are just calling it quits.

October, though, is a pivotal month.  Since the site's inception, TBC have made a halloween cartoon every single year.  Halloween is on the horizon, and homestar fans everywhere are waiting, growing more tense with every day that passes.  The question we all find ourselves asking:  will TBC return for Halloween?

I can say that I will be among the many to check Homestar on halloween, waiting with baited breath to see if Homestar Runner will once again return triumphantly for the 10th Halloween cartoon.  If there's no toon, I can honestly saw that I will cry.  There will be tears.

But it will be alright, in the end, even if they never return.  It will be the end of an era, to be sure, but all of those hours of entertainment will still be there for us to revisit again and again.  I like my no-armed white dude, and even if TBC never make another toon ever again, he'll still be there, mispronouncing his awws.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sandwiches

I love sandwiches.  They are possibly the greatest food item ever invented.  Think about it.  So simple, yet so beautiful.  Two slices of bread.  That's the only rule.  You can put whatever you want in-between.  It is the ultimate in customizable foodstuffs.  Sandwiches are the Open-Source Food Item.

Okay.  Example time.  I've been currently having a secret love affair with avocado and turkey.  Without the sandwich, how would I combine these two items?  I can assure you, it would be gross.  Trying to spread avocado all over a whole turkey (the sliced lunchmeat industry would surely be nonexistent without sandwiches) would really suck.  Yet the sandwich gives us the perfect excuse to combine the two flavors without hassle.

And here we come to another main point.  Combinations.  Sandwiches are all about combinations.  What sorts of things would go good together?  What tastes will combine most effectively in our mouths to create maximum enjoyment?  These are the questions that every good sandwich maker must ask themselves.  How much mayonnaise is too much?  Salami or no salami?  Questions like these are of the utmost importance in sandwich preparation.

The incredible diversity in sandwiches is both beautiful and overwhelming.  As in music, the possibilities are endless.  In fact, I'm going to carry on the music metaphor just a little bit longer, to show you how much I love sandwiches.  A sandwich is a grand symphony.  All the different parts come together to create a truly beautiful complete piece.  Sure, you might love listening to a cellist, and you might love eating roast beef.  But when the violins join in with the cellos, the highs and lows contrast each other, dance around each other even, like a delicious slice of roast beef combined with a fresh, ripe tomato.  Then you have the second violins, the violas, the basses, the brass, the winds:  all coming together to create something much more magnificent and awe-inspiring than any of them would be solo.  The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.  That's how I feel about sandwiches.

So, next time you eat a burger, a meatball sub, an egg salad sandwich, a peanut butter and jelly, a BLT, a grilled-cheese, or any of an infinite number of sandwich possibilities, stop for a minute and think.  Would Harrison enjoy this sandwich more?  The answer is, of course, yes.  Go find and give me the sandwich.

Final Thoughs:

  • I really do like the analogy to open source software.  You can really do whatever you want with it, with no corporation or governing body to tell you what to do.  Sandwiches are the ultimate way to stick it to the man.
  • Interestingly, I don't like bacon by itself.  I've tried many times to like it.  I know that it's normal to like bacon.  I just don't like it.  Yet, when it's on a sandwich, it's one of my favorite things.  Isn't that weird?
  • I wonder who invented the sandwich.  There's probably a story there.  Anyone who feels like finding out the history of the sandwich should feel free to post it in the comment section.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lorne - Not Easy Being Green

Angel was always a pretty dark series.  From the very first episode, it established an entirely different tone than Buffy, sometimes to the point where it felt like they didn't even exist in the same universe anymore.  (Something I'm sure I will talk more about later.)  Buffy, in it's darkest moments, never reached the level of Angel's status quo of dark.  The tragic final episodes of season three particularly come to mind.

In a world that seemed so gloomy so much of the time, there needed to be something to lighten the mood every once in a while.  Lorne, of course.  Almost always bright and cheerful, Lorne gave a perfect amount of lightness to a show that, for the most part, was pretty dreary.

Of course, Lorne's story wasn't always handled well, and I feel like his character took quite a few misteps.  It really seems as though the writers honestly didn't know what to do with him.  He was too popular to get rid of, and yet too odd to really fit into the story they were making.  But I'll get to that in a moment.  First, let's start with his introduction.

Lorne is first introduced as the host of a demon-karaoke bar, Caritas (latin for charity) in the first episode of Season Two.  He plays a very interesting role in this season, and I honestly feel like Season Two is his strongest season.  He is essentially a plot device, there to keep Angel on his path.  By reading his aura, Lorne can tell whether Angel is doing what he should be doing, according to the Powers that Be.  This is extremely important in this season, as the main plot arc is about Angel abandoning the ideals and principles he's always stood for, and very much going off his path.  In his single minded obsession with destroying Wolfram & Hart and evil in general, Angel forgets what really matters: helping the helpless.  He spirals out of control in a self destructive vendetta, that ultimately leads nowhere, because, as Holland Manners points out, evil endures and can never be truly destroyed.

Lorne, then, has a very clear purpose in Season Two.  His job is point out that Angel is going about things the wrong way and is definitely not on the right path.  Many times throughout the beginning of the season, Lorne warns Angel that if he keeps doing things the way he's doing them, some bad stuff is going to go down.  Of course, Angel ignores his advice and ultimately ends up regretting his actions.  Lorne essentially gives us a way to examine Angel's actions and is someone who is very able to point out what he is doing wrong.  This is, in my opinion, a brilliant way to highlight exactly why Angel's vendetta is a bad thing.

The other simple fact is the Lorne is such a fun character to watch.  He and Angel have fantastic chemistry together, and their interaction is definitely the high point of Happy Anniversary (2x13), an otherwise forgettable episode.  His charming antics are very disarming of Angel, and are a perfect way to lighten up an otherwise dark storyline.

Because Lorne's character was so charming, he was bound to become more than a bit player in the show.  By giving him such an important role and such a great personality, the writers basically made him a recurring character.  Unfortunately, he didn't have a lot of depth.  For most of the season, Lorne is little more than a device for conveying the idea that Angel has lost his way.  This is a fine place for a bit character to be.  But as Lorne gets more and more screen time, the less justification there can be for his two-dimensionality.  So the writers were faced with a choice: get rid of Lorne or develop him into a character that is more than a simple device.  Because of his popularity, they went with the second option.  Thus we have his very close ties to the Pylea arc.

The Pylea arc isn't just about Lorne.  It is one of my favorite parts of the series for the reason that it is very reflective of the ideas of the season it closes.  Through the world of Pylea, we can examine Angel, Wesley, Cordelia, and Gunn all in a new light, and give new perspective on the rest of Season Two.  However, it also serves the function of really developing Lorne into a full fledged character, by giving him an interesting back story and a family life.

As a result of the Pylea story, we learn quite a lot about Lorne.  Unlike the rest of his family and species, Lorne is peace-loving.  He loves music and hates violence, the exact opposite of everyone he ever grew up with.  However, he isn't a coward, and believes in doing the right thing, but would much rather live and let live than fight.  Unlike his Pylean brethren, he's a lover, not a fighter.  He doesn't belong in Pylea. He belongs in our world, where he can be who he wants to be: a peaceful person.  As Lorne says at the conclusion of the Pylea story:
My psychic friend told me I had to come back here.  I didn't believe her.  Then I realized I did have to come back here, because - I really always thought I had to come back here, deep down inside, you know?  I had to come back here to find out I didn't have to come back here.  I don't belong here.  I hate it here.  You know where I belong?  LA.  You know why?  Nobody belongs there.  It's the perfect place for guys like us.
So now Lorne has some character.  He keeps a fairly predominant role in Season Three, although not a whole lot is done with him.  Unfortunately, Caritas is destroyed at the end of Season Two, and his efforts at reconstruction are constantly ruined by Angel and co.  This actually saddens me quite a bit.  I think that Caritas was probably the best place for Lorne to be.  He got to do all of the things that he loved: helping people find their path in life, sing, and drink.  He was happy there.  Part of me wishes he'd remained at Caritas, but alas, the fates (writers) stepped in and dragged him into the epic battle between good and evil that is constantly waged by the Fang Gang.  In the process, he loses a lot of the nuance and great qualities of Season Two Lorne.  As fun as his character is to watch, he feels aimless and purposeless without Caritas.  The grand battles and epic showdowns of Seasons Three and Four really don't suit him, and it's very obvious he is out of place.  However, as I said in the beginning, his presence is still very welcome, simply for the fact that he brings such an upbeat quality to the dark happenings, and also because he is so much fun to watch.

One of the things that saddens me most about this is the missed opportunities.  They could have done so much with Lorne.  It's clear that Caritas is where he belonged.  Without it, he is clearly aimless.  The thing is, though, they could have made a story out of that.  A man who sets people on his path yet has lost his path himself.  I feel like there is loads of potential in that.  Yet they ignored it.  Instead, they have Lorne stick around for little to no reason at all, and essentially use him as a cheap plot device whenever they need to know something.  He goes from being a person who helps people find their purpose in life to little more than a human (well, demon) lie detector.  It's disappointing, really.

Then we come to Season Five.  I have to admit, the writers tried.  They really tried to make Lorne fit in.  Essentially, Season Five of AtS was a brand new show.  So they had a perfect opportunity to finally find an interesting place for Lorne.  Unfortunately, I would say that, for the most part, they failed.  For most of the Season, Lorne just seems to be useless.  They set him up as head of Wolfram & Hart's entertainment division, and I struggle to care about anything he does for much of the season.  It is very clear that the writers are far more interested in Spike, Gunn, and Wesley than they are in Lorne.  While I love those characters, I can't help but feel like Lorne kind of gets a little shafted.  Especially considering that Season Two Lorne would NOT be doing any of this.  It is very clear that Wolfram & Hart is the wrong place for them all, and it is no doubt not what The Powers want.  So why doesn't Lorne speak up during all of this.  Angel is having a crisis of faith that rivals his Season Two crisis, and this time Lorne isn't there to tell him he's not on his path anymore.  Cordelia eventually puts him on his path, not Lorne.  This all would be fine if they justified it: if they explained WHY Lorne isn't on his path anymore, or at least called attention to it.  But for most of Season Five, these issues are mostly ignored.

However, they finally started to address these problems at the end of the season.  When Fred is killed, Lorne is very shaken, perhaps moreso than anyone besides Wesley.  He starts drinking quite a lot and is just generally not his happy-go-lucky self much after that, even going so far as to threaten Eve.  By the final episode, he has realized that he isn't where he needs to be.  This has been true for several seasons at this point, but I'm glad that they finally acknowledge it here.  The way he chooses to spend his last day on earth breaks my heart.  He sings about how beautiful the world would be if he ruled it, and you can just see how lost he is in that scene.  As late as this revelation is, I'm so glad it happened, and it really is quite moving.  Here is a man who has only ever wanted peace: to live in the world and let others live and be happy.  Yet, he has seen far more violence and felt far more pain than he deserved.  As Lorne says in the final episode:
Hey, Angel, uh, I'll do this last thing for you--for us--but then I'm out, and you won't find me in the alley afterwards.  Hell, you won't find me at all.  Do me a favor.  Don't try.
Angel asks Lorne to kill Lindsey, and I honestly hate Angel for asking.  What a horrible thing to ask of him.  Lorne doesn't deserve that, and he shouldn't have to be a murderer.  Out of all the characters on Angel, I think Lorne got the most tragic ending.  I realize that people will cry out about Wesley and how tragic his death his.  I agree, Wesley's death is tragic.  But Lorne ends the series a hollow shell of the man he once was.  Everything he believes in is gone and he has been forced to do things he should never have had to do.  He was a peaceful man, and didn't deserve to be placed in such a horrible position.  Wesley lost his life, but Lorne lost his spirit.

LINDSEY: You really done with them?
LORNE: It isn't my kind of work anymore. It's unsavory.
LINDSEY: Gee, I think it's just getting interesting.
LORNE: Yeah, I bet you do.
LINDSEY: You don't trust me. You don't think a man can change?
LORNE: It's not about what I think. This was Angel's plan. 
LINDSEY: Come on. I could sing for you.
LORNE: I've heard you sing. (takes out a gun with a silencer and shoots Lindsey twice in the chest)
LINDSEY: (stumbling back, looking at his wounds, then at Lorne) Why—why did you...
LORNE: One last job. You're not part of the solution, Lindsey. You never will be.
LINDSEY: You kill me? A flunky?! I'm not just... Angel...kills me. You don't... Angel... (his rapid breathing comes to an end as his body goes limp)
LORNE: Good night, folks. (drops gun on floor as he walks out)
Thankfully, for us and for Lorne, the story doesn't end there.  The official continuation of AtS, Angel: After the Fall, brings Lorne back.  Beautifully written by Brian Lynch, I gladly accept it as canon (I can speak less for the Post-AtF stories.)

In Angel: After the Fall, Lorne plays a small but important part.  When Los Angeles is sent to hell, Lorne walks the streets, miserable and lost after killing Lindsey.  But when he comes across a group of humans fighting back against the demons, he is inspired and decides to help them.  He then become Lord of Silverlake, the only happy place in Hell-A.  With his influence, Silverlake is peaceful and free of the horrible things that are happening in the rest of the city.  He is happy again.  He has essentially created another Caritas and is finally where he belongs: a happy place, free from violence and pain, where he can help people.

Of course, Lorne doesn't stay uninvolved for long.  Angel is working hard to free Los Angeles from the grip of Wolfram & Hart, and he's going to need help from everyone.  For his part, Angel doesn't come to Lorne.  He respects that Lorne doesn't deserve to be mixed up in all of that.  Instead, Lorne sends for Angel, and manages to help him out in a critical time.

So Lorne's story ends happily.  He has found his path.

Final Thought:

  • Andy Hallet.  What can be said?  His heartfelt and beautiful performance as Lorne is what drew me to the character and I always enjoyed him.  He brought so much fantastic energy to the show, and it was clear from his first episode that he would become a fan favorite.  His subtle performance in the final episode was very affecting for me, and, as much as I feel the writers didn't know what to do with his character, I can't imagine the show without him.  From all accounts, he was a very kind and generous person.  He will be missed.  RIP

Friday, September 24, 2010

Paul Ballard - Deconstructing the Hero

One of the predominant themes of Dollhouse is the idea that everyone uses people.  We all use other people to achieve our goals or to make us feel better about ourselves.  Everyone has a fantasy, something they need to survive, and most people will walk over other people to get it.  The interesting thing about this idea is that it is not necessarily something we do maliciously or even consciously.  The human mind, for the most part, is simply designed to think of the self first.  We don't do it out of evil or any idea of worthiness.  It's just how we're programmed.  We all use people, whether we mean to or not and whether we realize it or not.

So, in a world where people are ultimately selfish and acting toward their own agendas more or less constantly, how can there be a hero who, by definition, should be selfless?  Can there even be a hero in this kind of world?  The answer to this question is the character of Paul Ballard.

The idea of a flawed hero is not new.  For quite some time now, the standard hero in fiction has been someone deeply flawed, who manages to overcome those flaws in the name of the greater good, the idea of justice, or any one of a number of lofty ideals.  Paul Ballard, though, is something different.  He's not just flawed; he's completely f**ed up! And he doesn't so much overcome his flaws as his flaws overcome him.

In the very first episode, it is made very clear that Ballard is the 'hero' of the story.  His goal is to bring down the Dollhouse, because he believes that using people is wrong.  He sees the Dollhouse as nothing more than high tech slavery.  For the most part, the audience tends to agree.  (Although, as our perspective is much broader than Paul's, we are able to see the nuance of subtlety that throws the Dollhouse into much grayer territory than Paul realizes.)  But for the most part, it's pretty standard stuff.  Few would disagree that slavery is bad.  Paul looks at the Dollhouse and sees something to be stopped.  The good guy trying to do the right thing.

Except... is he really?  Why does he want to destroy the Dollhouse?  Is it a selfless desire to do the right thing no matter the cost to him (as we've come to expect from our heroes)?  Or is it something more sinister?  Maybe Paul wants to destroy the Dollhouse, not for any selfless reason, but because of an ultimately selfish desire.  Is he the hero because he wants to do the right thing, or does he do the right thing because he wants to be the hero?

Enter Caroline.  The girl Paul doesn't even know.  He takes it upon himself to save her, no matter what.  But he doesn't want to save her because it's the right thing to do.  He wants to save her because he needs to be a hero.  He becomes obsessed with Caroline.  Not the real Caroline, he doesn't know her.  He becomes obsessed with what she represents.  She is the damsel in distress and he is the white knight who will save her.  So ultimately, saving Caroline and being a hero is Ballard's fantasy.  The single-minded obsession that drives every one of his actions.  Of course he tells himself that this isn't the case.  He lies to himself and says that his intentions are good.  But underneath his selfless exterior is hidden a selfish fantasy.  In this way, he is no different than any of the Dollhouse's clients that he considers his enemies.

Man on the Street (1x06) is a pivotal episode in this regard.  In that episode, there is a very telling conversation that takes place between Paul and Joel Myner (Patton Oswalt), a Dollhouse client, where Joel basically says that Paul is no better than he is and might even be worse.
Mynor: No, no, you have a fantasy. We all do. We need it to survive, and I think your fantasy is about my Rebecca. 
Paul: Her name is Caroline.
Mynor: Right.
Paul: A few years ago, she was a student, and then she had her identity ripped from her so she could play love slave to every loser with a wad of cash.
Mynor: But then the brave little FBI agent whisked her away from the cash-wielding losers and restored her true identity, and she fell in love with him.
Paul: It doesn't go like that.
Mynor: I saw how you were with her. It was-- it was almost cute.
Paul: We're not here to talk about me.
Mynor: Hey, I don't have to be here at all. I mean, you're not going to arrest me. Pretty sure you're not going to kill me, so... if we're going to talk, we're both going to talk. I mean, she, she changed things for you. So you're the head of this FBI task force to uncover the Dollhouse, and you're working hard, you're chasing leads, you're cracking skulls, but it's just work. And then you meet this girl or you... you see her somewhere, huh? Caroline? And suddenly... it gets personal. Tell me you haven't thought about it. You know, her, her grateful tears, her, her welcoming embrace, her warm breath. Are you married?
Paul: Was.
Mynor: Oh, that's... Is there someone in your life right now?
Paul: This is getting old.
Mynor: Of course not. No, there's no room for a real girl, is there, when you can feel Caroline beckoning? You know, I have to say.  I think your fantasy is even sadder than mine.
Of course, Mynor is completely right about Paul.  Paul isn't a hero.  He is a sad man who has a sad fantasy about saving a girl he's never even met, and he is in complete denial of that fact.  Yet, something about what Mynor says strikes a chord.  So Paul feels the need to prove him wrong.  Prove that he does have a life outside of his fantasy.  So what does he do?  He goes immediately home and sleeps with Mellie.  By sleeping with Mellie he thinks that he is proving Mynor wrong, proving that he does leave in the real world.  And yet, in trying to prove him wrong, he ends up proving him right.  He doesn't love Mellie.  He uses her, as we all use people, to fulfill a need he has.  Specifically, the need to be righteous. He doesn't want to accept that he isn't after the Dollhouse in the name of justice and the greater good of all mankind, but instead because he needs to play the part of the hero.

So the ultimate question that is posed by Paul Ballard is whether a true hero can really exist in a world as overwhelmingly self motivated as ours?  Or are our heroes doomed to be deeply flawed glory seekers, desperate to fulfill some pathetic need to be good?  Does it even matter why a hero is a hero?  Perhaps the mere fact that they do good things makes them a hero, regardless of whether that desire arises from a place of selfishness or selflessness.  Maybe to expect selflessness is too much, and we should settle for positive-minded selfishness.

Of course, Paul Ballard's story isn't over in Season One.  In a way, it is only the beginning of his character's journey.  At the end of Season One, Paul infiltrates the Dollhouse, and he spends much of Season Two being forced to adjust his worldview according to what he learns in the belly of the beast  (Much like Angel in Season 5 of AtS).  But, seeing as I don't have Season Two on DVD yet, and am not confident in my ability to remember it in any kind of ordered manner, I will not discuss Season Two yet.  But when I feel like it, I will no doubt write a follow up to this.

Closing Thoughts:

  • I love that Mellie turns out to be a doll.  It puts Paul's using of her into much sharper relief.  One of my favorite moments in the series is when he knows she's a doll and sleeps with her anyway.  Afterwards, he is in the shower and she asks if he is going to go looking for more Dollhouse clients.  He says, in a moment of beautiful self-realization, "I've found one."
  • One of the major problems with Season One of Dollhouse, narratively, is Paul's story.  Because we, the audience, know so much more about the Dollhouse than Paul does, his search for it tends to become pretty dull at times.  This is very unfortunate, as thematically, his story is one of my favorite parts of season one.  It's disappointing that this couldn't work equally well thematically and narratively.  Of course, it does finally pick up pace at the end (who could ever forget the buddy-cop duo of Alpha and Paul?)
  • As great a character he was, Paul was never a very good FBI agent.  For one thing, he sucked at making people like him.  Even I was put off by him at first.  He seemed to have one friend at work, and even she didn't seem very enthused whenever he came to her for help.  Considering how early they had him get fired from the FBI, part of me wonders why they even bothered having him work there at all.  Of course, without that, we would never have gotten all of those amazing moments with Mark Shephard.
  • Speaking of Paul being fired from the FBI, did anyone else think it was really funny how often he claimed he was from the FBI after that?  It was almost a running gag.  He was essentially a vigilante, but he kept flashing a badge and seeming all official.  I just thought that was funny.
  • I really like Tahmoh Penikett.  I think he was one of the better actors on the show.  (Not as good as Enver Gjokaj, but comparing anyone to Enver is unfair.)  I look forward to seeing him in Battlestar Galactica whenever I get around to watching it.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hammocks

I've had a recent realization about myself.  Profound and interesting, I think.  For whatever reason, in my mind, I equate hammocks with happiness.

I'm not entirely sure why this would be.  All I know is that I have had this mental association since I was a small child.  Part of me honestly believes that I will never be truly happy until I have a hammock.  So my entire life thus far has been pre-hammock.  That's why it has been so up and down in terms of quality.  But once I have a hammock, things will even out; life will be good.

This is actually a little stressful for me (a shining example of me being overly high-strung.)  In addition to the part of my brain that is awaiting the happy life of hammock enjoyment, there is another part of my brain that is terrified that having a hammock won't be all it's cracked up to be.  What if I am disappointed in the hammock-lifestyle?  I have built it up quite a bit in my brain.  What if it's just alright, but doesn't live up to my high expectations?  Could I continue on, knowing that my one concept of happiness is a lie?

So, I've decided that I am not just going to go out and get a hammock.  (Sounds tempting, though.)  Instead, I am going to wait for my life to become really awesome and THEN get a hammock.  And I will retroactively attribute the awesomeness of my life to the hammock.  This sounds like a good plan.  There is only one flaw.  What if my life doesn't ever become really awesome?  I don't have an answer for this.  It might not.  But I think it is a lot better to go through life hoping for an awesome-hammock-life than to have no hope at all.  So there we are.

PS.  I've recently realized another deeply held belief of mine.  For whatever reason, when anybody in a movie or TV show introduces themselves as being from Scotland Yard, I immediately trust them.  I don't know why, but it feels like a childhood thing.  It might be the accent combined with the air of authority.  Part of me kind of wants to start introducing myself as Harrison Cooper, Scotland Yard.  Actually... I might just start doing that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

V for Vendetta

"Remember, remember
The fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
why the gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot." 
I have just recently begun reading V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and pencilled by David Lloyd.  I'm going to admit right now that I have broken one of my rules: always read the source material before seeing any adaptations.  I regret to say that I have already seen the movie version.  However, it was a while ago and I don't remember it too well.  I am trying to clear it from my mind as I read, but it seems that the more I read, the more of the movie comes back to me.  We will see how that goes.
Again, I have only just started reading V for Vendetta, and haven't gotten too into it yet.  Before I get into my thoughts about the beginning, however, I want to explain my position before reading.

I have ambivalent feelings towards Alan Moore.  I admit that he is a brilliant storyteller (if a little crazy), but I also kind of hold him partially responsible for bringing on the dark age of comics.  Watchmen, an admittedly brilliant deconstruction of the superhero comic, was really one of the main catalysts that brought about a new era in superhero comics that, in my humble opinion, sucked hard.  The idea that to be a superhero, you had to be dark and edgy for no real interesting reason, carry a gun bigger than your head, kill people without a second thought, and have random crazy sex with everyone.  Okay, I'll admit that after typing that all out, it does sound kind of cool.  But it really, really wasn't.  Comic book writers after Moore took the only thing that was easily imitated about Watchmen (the dark tone), and didn't bother to justify the dark tone with the intelligent and thought-provoking story that Watchmen had.  So instead they created scores of useless, two-dimensional characters that were frankly an abomination against superheroes, comic books, and good storytelling.  (Although, I suppose it wasn't a complete waste.  The Dark Age did give us Deadpool.)

I realize it's unfair to blame the entirety of The Dark Age on Alan Moore.  After all, he was a prominent figure at the time, but he wasn't the only one.  Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is also commonly cited as particularly influential in beginning The Dark Age.  Also, whatever his work eventually led to in the larger world of comic books, he still told amazing stories.  So, I'm probably just a bit too hard on Alan Moore.  But he's a creepy recluse, so I'm sure he doesn't mind.

Up until now, the only work I have read by Alan Moore is Watchmen, which I admit is brilliant.  Potentially overrated, but still a very good book.  I don't think that Watchmen represents the be-all-end-all of comic books.  Yet I still enjoyed it very much and am therefore excited to read V.  However, V for Vendetta was written quite some time before Watchmen, and I am therefore interested to see how Moore changed as a storyteller between his two (arguably) most influential books.

So, unfortunately, I am not reading V in a vacuum.  I am both remembering the film version and comparing it to Watchmen.  So, with that in mind, here we go.

My immediate reaction is the similarities between the character of V and the character of Rorschach from Watchmen.  Both are men who hide behind a mask, not to conceal a civilian identity so much as to become something more than themselves.  By wearing masks, both V and Rorschach cease to be human and become something larger: a symbol.  (I seem to remember that V is horribly disfigured under there, so obviously there is a more practical reason for the mask, but that is of course not the entire reason.)  The difference in masks is telling.  V wears a Guy Fawkes mask, while Rorschach's mask is a flowing inkblot.  The Guy Fawkes mask is of course a symbol of rebellion and anarchy, while the Rorschach mask is more reflective; different people see different things.  So there are definite similarities between these two characters.  I have a feeling that Moore really likes the idea of a mask becoming someone's true face.

Rorschach's story, though, seems to be that a man cannot be a true symbol.  Eventually, the mask will come off, and the human flaws and horrific memories underneath will be exposed.  We live in a world where things are not black in white.  In such a world, a symbol will always be torn down, because people who try to hold up specific ideals and values always turn out to be fallible and weak in the end.  Rorschach himself is a symbol that gets torn down at the end of Watchmen.  He believes so strongly in this system of warped ideals he has constructed that he must act, even when he knows it is hopeless and possibly even the wrong thing to do.  So he commits suicide-by-Manhattan.  Rorschach can't bear to live in a world that isn't black and white, and as soon as he sees that his ideals don't fit every situation in a simple matter, he self-destructs.

Whether this idea will come up in V, I can't say.  I see the beginnings of that idea, but it seems that this will tell a different story.  However, it is just as preoccupied with the idea of people-as-symbols as Watchmen is.  In fact, V's terrorist actions are very symbolic.  His kidnapping of Lewis Prothero is more than just a personal vendetta.  Prothero is a symbol.  As The Voice of Fate, he represents the idea that the government is something to put your faith in, no matter what.  So when V destroys Prothero (in a very awesome sequence, drawn beautifully by David Lloyd), he is tearing down the idea of an infallible government.  This is, as Mr. Finch points out, what makes V so dangerous.  He is an icon that acts as an iconoclast.

Closing Comments:

  • Another thing that is prevalent in both V for Vendetta and Watchmen is the idea of a nuclear apocalypse.  The setting of V for Vendetta is directly after a nuclear winter-type-scenario, while the plot of Watchmen is primarily concerned with impending nuclear annihilation of the human race.  The Cold War was obviously on Alan Moore's mind.
  • I have thus far enjoyed Dan Lloyd's artwork.  Some of his panels are stunning, specifically in those moments where he particularly captures the dark horror of New Britain.  The first scene with Evey in the alley and the scene of V's attack of the train car both come to mind as great examples. He is able to create the perfect atmosphere for this story.  I am also struck by how cool V's Shadow Gallery is, especially in contrast with almost every other location in the story.
  • One bit of bleed through from the movie:  As V blows up the houses of Parliament at the beginning, he mentions an overture.  He is speaking metaphorically, but I can't help but remember how that scene in the movie actually had him rig the PA system to play some triumphant overture (I don't remember what the music actually was.)  That was a fantastic moment, and one you really can't do in a comic book.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Welcome

Well, here I am.  I have now stooped down to the level of blogging.  I suppose it was inevitable.  After all, I have so many random thoughts every day and I am JUST egotistical enough to assume that people will care enough to read them.  (Which is optimistic at best, considering that my friends don't even have the patience to listen to me ramble most days.)

So, on to the title of this blog.  The Hummus Offensive.  If you recognize this title, then that's great.  You are my target audience.  This is a quote from the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my favorite show of all time, and created by Joss Whedon, my hero.  I expect that many of the things I post on this site will have something to do with Joss or one of his many works.  (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, etc.)

However, this will not solely be a Whedon-based blog.  There are already plenty of those out there.  And my brain is too scattered to stay on one subject for long.  I have many other passions and I am a fan of many other things.  This blog will likely stray into the exciting world of comic books, LOST, music, and geekdom at large.  Also there will likely be many posts that don't seem to be related to anything much at all.  So buckle your seatbelts, kids.  This is going to be a wild ride (maybe).