LOVELY RITA: a short explanation
NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: Neil Gaiman, gunrunners, cover challenges, sci fi TV and American TV comedy
TWO FOR THE ROAD: a couple quick graphic novel reviews
Though I live in Las Vegas, which has had warm (but not terribly warm, for here), dry weather for weeks (until today, anyway; still warm but raining a bit), I’m a secondary victim and I’m passing it on to you. See, I’ve always liked the little guy ISPs; they always seem to be the best blend of service and cost. The big guys like AOL, MSN and Earthlink all seem obsessed with sticking their nose into the process, trying to anticipate – demographically, it seems – what their customers will want to see, and somehow just making it harder in general to get to any of it. For a lot of money. Little ISPs don’t have the money to worry about any of that, and end up giving me the most of what I really want from them: invisibility. I can just dial in, use all my own programs (currently Firefox, Thundebird and X-News. (I usually don’t chat or instant message or anything like that.) A few months back the service I used and usually recommended was abruptly bought up by Earthlink, which immediately proceeded to try to get me to load their “special software” to make my web experience “easier and more fun,” and before they knew it I had switched to Sysmatrix, which I haven’t had a smidgen of trouble with.
Until now, and it’s not their fault.
Like I said, Sysmatrix is a small, full-service ISP. Located in Texas. Southeastern Texas, apparently. Somewhere between Beaumont and Houston. Where all the power’s down.
Which fits nicely with my other personal disaster of the week: huge computer problems. Basically a non-working computer. So I’m working on borrowed time on a borrowed computer with borrowed Internet access this week, and the clock is ticking.
The short version of this is: a short short Permanent Damage this week. Good thing there’s not a lot going on in comics or politics at the moment. (Though I notice the administration re-hired former pony show reject and displaced FEMA head Michael Brown to investigate himself… though history shows you usually get the desired results that way…) I keep thinking one of these days we’ll get back to normal, but maybe this is normal now…
Neil Gaiman’s picture suddenly popping up on the net for a variety of reasons like his forthcoming ETERNALS series from Marvel prompts the question: did he hire a hair stylist, or what? Man, he looked moussed to the gills these days…
Wow. How about this weird new run of variations on “The Nigerian Letter” popping up in spam? You’ve probably received “The Nigerian Letter” or something like it: someone claims to have access to a fortune left without an owner in the wake of political tumult somewhere, and is willing to give you a large chunk of the fortune in exchange for your help in getting it out of his country. It usually involves handing over your banking information so you can receive the money, allowing the scammer to electronically rob you blind. In the old ones, the hint of the unsavory was always glossed over, but the new ones are downright criminal, and invite the recipient to engage in outright criminal behavior. A Russian mobster has stolen a fortune from his compatriots and needs your help to hide the money. An Italian mafioso specializing in hacking and electronic bank fraud needs to cover his tracks, and you can be his new “bank.” My favorite is the South American gunrunner’s widow who doesn’t want her ill-got money going to any governments for wicked purposes. Either someone out there’s having great fun making these things up, or more utter idiots in the world than even I imagined. I can just see them telling the police, “I was trying to help them commit a crime, but it turned out they just wanted to steal my money.”
Week before last, I forgot to mention that Jim Drew won that week’s cover challenge. Last week I mentioned it, but never mentioned what he was plugging. So here it is:
“I would like to push American Veteran’s for Equal Rights. This is a group dedicated to overcoming “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and other restrictions in the military which prevent gay and lesbian Americans from serving their country in the military in an open and proud manner.
Tuesday, October 11, is National Coming Out Day, which encourages gay men and lesbians to examine ways that they can “come out” (even when they already are “out”). Piggybacking on that is “National Veterans Coming Out Day”, encouraging those who are already out of the service to come out, both to enact change from the government and to increase respect for all veterans, whether or not they are gay or lesbian.
There will be a number of fundraising and action/visibility events around the country on that date. Here in Seattle, my partner (who is a discharged veteran) will be hosting an event at the bar C.C. Attle’s on Capitol Hill, starting at 8:00 pm.”
In last week’s cover challenge, all the comics listed had robots, androids or computers as villains. The winner, Alonso Nunez, never wrote me with his push, though. Or did I never tell him he won? The whole month’s been like that. (No, I emailed him. You can still push something, Alonso. Just let me know.)
This week’s cover challenge is a tricky one. For those who came in late: seven covers from the history of comics, one theme to bind them. The theme may involve the covers, or the comics they come from. The first one to e-mail me the correct theme can promote the website of their choice, as above. (Permanent Damage reserves the right to refuse the selection, though it hasn’t been an issue so far.) Most weeks I hide a clue in the column to help you along, but even if you find the clue you don’t have to take it literally. Good luck.
For those who haven’t been watching, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (SciFi Channel, Fridays 10P, though it’s off until January, though they’ll inevitably run a must-see marathon) had become the most intelligent, insidious drama on television. When STAR TREK wanted to show a fascist parallel Federation, they did it by having the evil Kirk and Spock of another dimension (you could tell they were evil ’cause they had goatees) cross over. The final episode of BG‘s current “season” (they’re splitting it in two, the way SOUTH PARK does) is far creepier and striking, as a lost Battlestar commanded by an officer who outranks Adama appears as a meditation on how easily a civilization can slide into fascism. There are a lot of moments in it: the extremely brutal torture (for information, of course) of captured enemy prisoners, the demand for unquestioning obedience, Forbes’ character’s casual dismissal of civilian authority, and the single best scene by the terrific James Callis to appear all season. There wasn’t a misstep in the show, including Commander Adama’s quick slide to “good German.” It’s easy enough to figure how it must play out, but it doesn’t take easy positions. The arrival of Forbes’ stormtroopers (they arrive in a formal display of military regalia) doesn’t, as the STAR TREK episode did, highlight how dissimilar the regular characters are from their “evil twins,” but, in the context of a season where martial law was declared, the civilian president temporarily deposed, a captured enemy combatant murdered to applause and widespread delight, and anti-Cylon racism (however justified) shown to be widely and casually accepted among the fleet, just how tiny a step it would be for Adama and his crew to be Forbes and hers. It’s a daring, sophisticated move, setting up a question that has to inform the series from here on in: when you’re out to save humanity, what idea of humanity are you out to save? Good job.
On the other hand, finally watched my tape of the premiere of THRESHOLD (CBS, Fridays 9P) and despite very enjoyable acting by people like Carla Gugina and Peter Dinklage, and some interesting scientific gobblygook, the show’s hampered by two things: the first hour was one of the most plodding in recent memory, with some incredibly clunky-dull dialogue, and, when it comes down to it, with some alien force reprogramming humans into their agents, it’s really another INVADERS rehash. Two little twists at the end are supposed to be “ooooh” moments but play like warmed over X-FILES. I like the actors enough that I wouldn’t mind warming up to this show, but right now I just can’t.
The word is out that sitcoms are back again, but you couldn’t prove it by JOEY (NBC, Thursdays 8P) or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (CBS, Mondays 8:30P), though the latter has been roundly praised by critics. The best thing about it is the narrative gimmick of a father 25 years from now torturing his kids with the story. Unfortunately, he’s torturing us too. I’m not sure what everyone’s on about; the staff has obviously studied the British COUPLING because they’ve nicked the cast structure, narrative tricks, and pacing (too bad the American COUPLING didn’t) but underneath it’s a standard mushy romantic sitcom predicated on ludicrous notions like “the olive test” (compatibility of couples measured by one liking olives and one not, so there’s never any fighting about olives. Yeah. Right. It’s okay, which isn’t enough to go out of your way for. Which is more than can be said for JOEY. NBC’s been ranting about how they’ve “fixed” the show and it’s so much better now, but the hour season premiere last week, despite one good laugh, a somnambulistic appearance by Kevin Smith, and the debut of a new sidekick, was just more of the same. It’s a show adrift.
But here’s the problem with TV comedy: it’s all a matter of rhythm. Comedy is the result of the unexpected, of broken rhythms. Most TV comedies today have the same rhythms, and they’re all familiar. It’s the TV school approach to comedy, making sure this beat comes here, that one there, the hook comes here, the reverse there. Which is why most of it feels mechanical. Whatever you can say about THE SIMPSONS, the show made a career out of breaking rhythm as often as possible. Most comedies are more concerned with having likable (or likeably obnoxious, more often than not) characters than in actually being funny. They quickly settle into their own rhythms, which are everyone else’s rhythms, with no eye on left field. Are networks enforcing the steady rhythms, on the premise that audiences are soothed by having things familiar and expected? The expected is the enemy of comedy. And that’s why comedy on American TV is all but dead. (I haven’t seen EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS yet… and there’s always ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT…)
My two books – a collection of essays on comics, creativity, modern culture and the freelance life called TOTALLY OBVIOUS: the complete Master Of The Obvious (~300 pgs), and a collection of political essays covering the Terror Years (2001-2005) called IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years, Vol. 1 (~250 pgs) – are available in pdf e-format at The Paper Movies Store. $5.95@. But because the response was so good, I’m once again offering both for a combined price of $10.95, a whopping savings of a buck! Consider the offer permanent now.
A children’s book with a strikingly adult sensibility. It’s a simple story – as a young girl grows up, she sporadically plays in the woods with an imaginary (?) salamander playmate – but while simple in visuals and light on words, there are volumes in it about innocent sensuality and the mythic power of imagination, without being prosaically obvious about any of it. It’s an amazingly haunting little work.
TOZZER 2 SPECIAL EDITION by Rob Dunlop & Peter Lumby, 128 pg color trade paperback (Ablaze Media;$14.95)
For months I’ve been giving TOZZER 2 in its comics incarnation negative reviews, and for months Rob Dunlop has been telling me it gets better. And whaddayaknow? It does! Not that it’s a work of genius or anything, but Dunlop and Lumby wisely opted to forego comics publication of the final chapters and just go for book form, and, as a result, it reads smoother, the jokes (many set up long range) make more sense. The story of a young aspiring magician attending a crazy drama school, the series takes MAD-style shots at everyone from Michael Jackson to Michael Moore, shamelessly “references” a slew of movies like PHONE BOOTH, THE MATRIX and INCREDIBLE HULK, and somehow by the end it all kind of makes sense as a story. You’ve got to have a lot of stomach for fairly low-level parody but final verdict? It’s not bad…
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
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