Short takes on comics, TV, other stuff.
This is a house of illness this week, as Julie and I continue our annual fall tradition of catching whatever horrible plague is circulating around the school district. We are both tottering around the house honking and wheezing like some steam-driven, turn-of-the-century monstrosity Professor Potts assembled out of leftover bits from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (You can Google it, young people.)
Nevertheless, I do have some bits and pieces this week– nothing to make a whole column, but there are a few column-ettes here I can stitch together for you.
From the Review Pile: Tom Green at Titan Books continues to send me really cool stuff. For example, just yesterday– on World James Bond Day, no less!– the fourth James Bond Omnibus arrived.
These reprint the James Bond newspaper strips by Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak. Since this is the fourth volume, they are finished with the Fleming adaptations, it’s all original stories.
The nine stories included are Trouble Spot, Isle of Condors, The League of Vampires, Die With My Boots On, The Girl Machine, Beware of Butterflies, The Nevsky Nude, The Phoenix Project and The Black Ruby Caper.
I like these strips a lot and the Omnibus is a handsome volume. It’s also a much better deal at $19.99 for 270 pages of good stuff than Titan’s previous Bond reprint trades were at $17.95 each for a mere 120 pages or so. The only downside is that you lose the introductions from people like Martine Beswick and Kingsley Amis and so forth that Titan had in the front of the books of the previous run, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker. Especially considering that you get more than double the content for an additional two bucks, and the books themselves are much better constructed, they’re built like those art-book, almost-hardcover trade paperbacks– in fact, I mistook mine for a hardcover at first. Recommended.
Also in the mail was the latest offering from Tom Pomplun and the wonderful folks at Graphic Classics, the delightful Halloween Classics. I’ve talked before about how great these books are and I’m not going to go through it all again– this series is simply the best take on the Classics Illustrated idea anyone’s ever done, I appreciate them both as a comics fan AND as an educator.
But what I love about this one is that in addition to adapting genuinely classic works into accessible and fun comics for all ages, for this volume Mr. Pomplun and his crew have also created a sly EC tribute book as well.
There’s a framing story done in the EC style by Mort Castle and Kevin Atkinson introducing each story in the book that left me grinning from ear to ear, and the stories chosen for adaptation this time out are very cool. Those stories are Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Ben Avery and Shepherd Hendrix, H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” by Rod Lott and Craig Wilson, Mark Twain’s “A Curious Dream” by Antonella Caputo and Nick Miller, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lot No. 249” illustrated by Simon Gane.
My favorite, though, has to be “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, adapted from the original screenplay with art by Matt Howarth. Strongly recommended.
And finally, Fernando Pinto sent along his graphic novel, Warped: The Adventures of Sandy and Angus.
We get a LOT of indie, small-press PDF stuff here to review, and though we do try to get to everything people send, the truth of the matter is that some of it gets by us because there’s just so much, and honestly a lot of it’s pretty bad. I don’t have the heart to beat up on small-press indie people though, so my rule is to just not mention it unless I liked it.
All of which is by way of saying that, against all expectations, I did in fact enjoy Warped a lot. This is a raucous comedy about a rocker girl and her robot companion trying to make the rent on their space ship. Now, normally I’m too stuffy and middlebrow to really go for this sort of thing– and make no mistake, the comedy here is pretty broad and in-your-face– but Mr. Pinto won me over right away with the disclaimer at the front of the book.
Angus and Sandy’s various misadventures are entertaining fun, but what I love about this book is the drawing. This is one of those cases where the art sold me. I have a huge soft spot for guys that are doing traditional cartooning and caricature, and Mr. Pinto has a great eye for faces and facial expressions. He can exaggerate emotion without ever losing track of what his various characters actually look like, which is not as easy as it sounds.
So, it’s a funny story told with a sure hand. If you don’t mind raunchy– and it is, believe me– then I’d encourage you to give it a look. You can find Warped from the fine folks at 215ink, here. Hey, if I can climb out of my superhero/pulp adventure box every so often, you can too.
On the TeeVee Box: This isn’t really about comics, but people keep asking me what I think about Elementary and Revolution.
The first is because most folks know I am as much of a Sherlock Holmes guy as I am a comics guy, and the second is because…. I don’t know, because it’s sort of science fiction and I’m the SF nerd they happen to know. So here’s my two-episodes-in, hipshot verdict on each, for what it’s worth.
Revolution is a show I want to like. It’s got moderately interesting character stuff and really bitchin’ swordfight scenes.
But I keep tripping over the truly idiotic mistakes and flawed logic of the premise. The idea is that for whatever as-yet-unrevealed reason, the human race has lost all electric power. No batteries, no generators, nothing. It’s not an option. Electricity does not work any more.
Okay, fine. That doesn’t bother me. I’m okay with ‘one gimme’ science fiction– interstellar travel, alien races, telepathy, whatever, the first one’s free. That’s totally fair play in SF.
My problem is all the extrapolating the show’s writers failed to do after that. See, they posit that after fifteen years of no power, the United States has fallen and the country is now governed by these various feudal lords and militias, who fight with muskets and crossbows and swords. Everything is very feral and back-to-nature, living off the land, etc., etc.
No. Sorry, but no. It’s a great idea but they can’t sell it. It doesn’t make sense. We had an industrial society long before there was electric power and running water to every home– decades before. I can’t buy that in fifteen years, no one’s sussed out how to put together a steam engine. Or gaslight. Or, hell, any of the stuff that was common throughout the late 1800s. Sure, for the first two years of the electricity failure it’d be all camping and crossbows. Maybe even the first five.
But fifteen years? No one in the continental United States has thought to look this stuff up in a library by then? All the engineers and factory workers and construction guys forgot everything they ever knew? No way. That’s ridiculous. Put aside for the moment that I don’t really believe that the human race is so horrible that we’d all go Lord of the Flies savage on our neighbors the second we ran out of canned ham– because the fact is that even cynics and bullies probably would rather have indoor plumbing and motorized transport. Give them a decade and a half and they’d come up with something.
I can’t get into Revolution because I keep exploding with comments like, “Oh hell no!” This stuff wouldn’t pass the laugh test with anyone who actually knows how science fiction is supposed to work.
I wouldn’t be so hard on the show (after all, I have a fondness for many of the television SF shows from Irwin Allen, which are worse) but Revolution is so damn Serious and Dramatic and Struggling With The Implications For Society all the time. If you want to get that serious with me about your future society, put some work into the writing. I can’t pay any attention to your philosophy when I’m so constantly annoyed with your clear ignorance of both physics and basic human nature. And apart from all that, I’m not crazy about yet another Lost-style show where a group including a tough cynic, a plucky girl, an earth mother, and a comic-relief nerd are thrown into a strange environment where they learn to survive by recalling Life Lessons from their former lives, mostly because that formula wore out its welcome with me during Lost in the first place.
Elementary failed with me too, but on a completely different level. This is what studio cynicism looks like.
Leaving aside the elephant in the room that is the BBC’s Sherlock— which is hard to do when Elementary is copping so many riffs from it, and really hard to do when you know that CBS went to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffitt about doing a U.S. version of Sherlock first, before it dawned on them that Holmes was public domain– the show just isn’t very good. And if you’ve seen Sherlock, then it becomes unwatchable.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell– Elementary is a copy of a copy. It’s diminishing returns. This happens on American TV a lot– you get something fresh and interesting, which is copied by a bunch of people, the copies that are done with wit and style are then themselves copied… and so on. Elementary is not a “modern updating of Sherlock Holmes,” as CBS would have you believe. Over on the BBC, Sherlock absolutely vibrates with reverence for the Conan Doyle originals. Gatiss and Moffitt clearly have put great thought into exactly how Doyle built his characters and world, and work hard at finding modern analogues for those things that make sense. That is a ‘modern update’ of a classic.
On the other hand, I’m not at all sure that anyone involved with Elementary has ever actually read a Conan Doyle Holmes story, to be honest. The show feels like they just looked at the BBC effort and thought, “Let’s do that, except with all the challenging parts taken out so we can market it to people who like The Mentalist.” It looks like it came off an assembly line. One of this, two of that. The actors are trying really hard, and bless them for that, but this is a scab effort at trying to replace/replicate something that’s genuinely good. Save time and just Netflix Sherlock instead, if you haven’t already.
So there you go. My two-episode verdict. Truthfully, our big new find this fall is Last Resort on ABC which is just frigging awesome.
I gather that for real submariners and other Naval personnel, this show is as annoyingly implausible as Revolution was to me. But the difference is that this one’s worth the ride. It’s a tough cool layered conspiracy story that gets me right in my Ian Fleming-Robert Ludlum-Kyle Mills-loving heart, and there’s submarines and shooting. We would love it if more people watched it since it’s on Thursdays and ABC will probably kill it after a month of it getting pounded in the ratings– it’s up against The Big Bang Theory on CBS. Probably destined to be another to add to our DVD library of one-season wonders like Quark and Firefly and The Middleman.
Of course, the one that comic book people are all wondering about is Arrow on the CW in a few days.
I was inclined to dismiss it as yet another soapy CW show with hot young Vancouver actors taking their shirts off and posing, but my old friend (and archery coach) Jim MacQuarrie has been talking to them about the archery stuff and saw the pilot. He says it’s good. Which suggests to me that if the writers are taking the time to look things up about archery, they might be taking more care with the bigger stuff as well. One hopes, anyway.
And that’s all I’ve got this time out. Back to bed for me, and I’ll see you here next week.
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