Last column generated the most mail I’ve ever received in four years of Ambidextrous, easily surpassing the previous benchmark that Stop Sayin’ set a few months back. Common thread between the two pieces is pretty obvious, and just when I think mentioning race again is going to inspire a fallen hush across the crowd, ya’ll step up and surprise me. Nearly all the mail was incredibly supportive, which is not to say that people co-signed on every single point, but at the very least, there was some degree of understanding, a sense that people recognized just where I was coming from, and why this isn’t a situation the entirety of fandom can afford to remain silent on. Some of you thought the lengthy rant was too harsh, some even thought it not harsh enough, and I actually expected a little more resistance to the argument, but the outrage was few and far between.
Know that the comments, suggestions, and above all, the encouragement, meant a hell of a lot, and that I still owe a bunch of you personal responses. Having some PC issues that’s cut down on the internet access a bit, but if you were good enough to leave me something, I will be getting back to you, soon as I get that settled. This week though, it’s all about the love…
Told someone recently that I don’t allow myself to like too many things, so I’m likely to engage in somewhat extreme behavior regarding what appears to “make the personal grade.” Because that’s what this is all for right, the constant search for that next piece of entertainment that’ll ultimately become yet another inspiration, or at the very least, a welcome distraction from life’s many miscues. Below, you’ll find a couple of the usual suspects, along with some newcomers, as I give due credit to the things that have been supplying a well-needed dose of good vibes. And where else would we start, but with the one thing I like to point to as my biggest catalyst?
Somebody cue that 20th Century Fox intro, set the mood…
Black Like Me seriously took almost two solid weeks to write. Never worked harder or longer on any single piece, so I needed to decompress a little after all the rewrites and revisions. And you know, seeing that it just happened to be November 1st, and the Episode III DVD just happened to be droppin’ that day, and I just happened to have the entire day off from work, figured I’d make an event out of it. Been intending to do the whole marathon thing anyway, so who was I to ignore such an opportunity? Still, despite a very primal and unyielding love for Star Wars, just the thought of watching all six in a 24-hour period made me exhausted, the attention span not quite what it used to be.
However, shortly before noon, things kicked off with The Phantom Menace, which I’ve begun calling “the movie time rots away.” I’m tempted to stop watching it altogether, so it won’t become any worse, and despite a handful of nice moments, notably the major lightsaber duel, think about 30 mins. could’ve gotten lost in editing without much consequence. Supplied a larger context and everything ultimately benefits, the resultant sum much greater than the parts, and closing the ever-widening gulf between both trilogies. Attack of the Clones was a few more steps in the right direction, but Sith serves as anchor, easily the strongest of the prequels and serving as excellent bridge to the much stronger originals. The connectivity is at its highest point here, and it’s more than just the themes that resonate, but actual events and lines of dialogue repeating themselves, with wildly different effects.
Whether it’s the Emperor commanding a young Skywalker, on the edge between light and dark, to give into his hateful feelings, or Obi-Wan’s apologetic “I have failed you, Anakin…I have failed you,” that Vader repeats a variation of to a hiding Luke in Jedi. Dooku swiping off Anakin’s right arm is something else that kept being important, in one trilogy keeping his scorched body out of a lake of fire, and in the other, serving as the one image that snapped his son out of his vengeance fueled rage. Also, didn’t notice that Anakin’s typical “What do you mean,” response comes out of Vader a couple times during the original trilogy too. But Sith stands as the one piece, that makes them all work somewhat together.
The strength of the storytelling gradually increases as things progress, which is a definite plus, and allows everything to end on the appropriate high note. There is something really cool about watching the movies in rapid succession like this, and though with all my breaks, I didn’t finish Return of the Jedi until about three in the morning, really glad I went ahead and did it. Loved Star Wars from the first moment I laid eyes on it, and despite some weak prequel moments, and a bit of brain crushing dialogue, my marathon didn’t give me anything to change my mind. Take that, haters…
First episode of The Boondocks went off last Sunday night, and I immediately felt this strong, almost overwhelming sense of pride. In this summer’s San Diego column, this is what I said in reference to the comic strip’s transition to fully functioning animated show. “I’m gonna put it out there, and say that The Boondocks will be THE most talked about program to air this fall. And no, I don’t mean “cable” program, I mean program…period. People are going to LOVE this, or hate it with every breath in their body, and I can already see the lines being drawn from here.”
So obviously, I’m incredibly biased on this subject, with the first Boondocks collection (Because I Know You Don’t Read The Newspaper) sitting on the bookshelf, alongside the treasury edition (A Right To Be Hostile), coupled with a desire to support the latest efforts of comic creator Lesean Thomas, who serves as lead character designer…but that doesn’t make these next sentences any less true. You need to watch The Boondocks. Yes, you too.
While translating the exact tone of the strip to a TV show is next to impossible, what clearly isn’t lost is the vibe and overall intent of the source material, Aaron McGruder and company lacing it with something completely different, and turning it into the bizarre, yet beautiful crossing of South Park and Chappelle’s Show. The humor is somewhat topical, somewhat neutral, the kind of observations about race and politics that are funny today, and will still be funny years down the line. It’s also remarkably clever in the way that the incredibly polished animation, and the look of the two main characters, both voiced by Regina King, disarms the audience, until the ever-militant Huey drops that knowledge on you. As expected, Huey is the only one who truly gets it, the young revolutionary surrounded by idiots and apologists, completely outnumbered, with his only defenses reason and biting cynicism.
The initial broadcast episode “Garden Party” is filled from beginning to end with quotable material and subtle flourishes like the quick Malcolm X shot in the first act, to a young George Bush, voiced by Charlie Murphy. There’s really no way that last bit can’t be funny, and the second ep. “The Trial of R. Kelly” promises to send the bar even higher, and without Dave Chappelle to give people a sometimes uncomfortable dose of the truth, The Boondocks is more than adequately equipped to fill that void. Great start to what I knew would be a great show.
Look for an in-depth interview with Lesean Thomas right here in the coming weeks, and check the schedule at www.adultswim.com for times and listings.
Maintaining this theme of animated goodness, I feel obligated to once again point out that Batman: The Animated Series is the purest interpretation of the Dark Knight anyone has ever delivered upon the unsuspecting masses. Not that there exists much competition for that declaration, but Batman Begins in its relative perfection, has inspired much discussion between my best friend and I about the entire character of Batman, and just why nothing will ever jeopardize his standing as the “coolest” superhero of all time. Naturally, our conclusion is justified by the Emmy-Award winning show, unreasonable doubt beaten into absolute submission with the evidence Bruce Timm and his crew assembled over a period of years.
Granted, Tim Burton did pave the way with his revitalization of the concept, cleansing the palate of the camp filled TV series from the sixties, that while certainly a symptom of its times, rendered the entire franchise inert in other media, but the animated series followed through with THE definitive version. The incredible attention to detail on every level, from the stories, to the characterization, to the music, was completely unheard of at the time, and you only have to look at other animated shows that launched during the same time period, to notice the obvious difference. Something like X-Men has aged quite horribly, but after a decade, the look and overall feel of B: TAS still holds up, and I’d like to believe on some level, it’s because the creators and producers on the show could see past the action figures and the tie-in lunchboxes long enough to attempt something really special. A piece of work that started off strong, and only became more so as the series evolved. Referring to it as a “cartoon” actually does the work a slight disservice, the only worthy competitors being shows that followed in its direct wake, and shares many of the same creative voices.
The final DVD collection hits on December 6th, and then we can move on to pressuring Warner to release a few of the other shows in this format, but for the moment, we’ve got the best one, and that’s more than good enough. Just think, for an entire generation of kids, this is what Batman is, and considering that a twelve year old me once had his little pre-teen mind blown over the whole thing… well, that’s a really encouraging thought.
Now, this book reminds me of Transmetropolitan in a lot of ways. Thematically, there are similarities, a journalist trapped behind enemy lines, in a society that’s become highly allergic to the truth, but more than that, my initial reaction to both was almost identical. Transmet was something I had to catch up on, really coming into Ellis’ work through the Stormwatch/Authority stuff and working backwards. But I remember getting my hands on the really small collection of the first three issues, and not immediately connecting with it. Spider was a typical Ellis protagonist, and I mean that with all admiration, in the sense that he was a character with an incredibly distinct viewpoint, speech pattern, and attitude. I didn’t really “get” him until the third issue though, as he’s perched on a rooftop, chronicling the cause and effect of a riot that’s broken out on the street below, for all the wrong reasons. There, in that scene, I saw just why Spider Jerusalem was important from a storytelling perspective, and it was, as they say, all downhill from there.
DMZ got me the same way, though a bit earlier than three issues in. The initial premise is pretty terrifying, but not as remote as it seems, with the country once again split in two over a fundamental ideology. Intern Matthew Roth suddenly finds himself thrown into the middle of it all, his military escort taken down by “insurgent” snipers, and the prize-winning reporter he’s assigned to help chronicle the struggles of people actually living in the “DMZ,” abandoning him. Things become much more interesting from there, but it still wasn’t hitting me, wasn’t giving me the feeling this was the next big series from Vertigo. Until two things happened in the story, and feel free to look away if you’re intent on avoiding spoilers.
First moment occurred when Roth, being escorted to his extraction point by a local, sees a group of tightly wrapped bodies hanging upside down from a nearby fire escape. Instead of the horrified reaction shot that would be customary in a discovery like this, Roth whips out his camera and starts snapping pictures. Excellent little piece of characterization right there, that tells us more about Matty Roth than we’ve learned up to this point.
Other one is the monster, the very last panel on the final page, Matty walking off into the distance with his new friend, after they’ve survived a major bombing attack carried out at the behest of the U.S. government, effectively calling into question everything Roth has been told about this “war” from people that are supposed to know better. His one chance at escape willingly discarded, now the real story can truly begin. Also, the words “WAKE UP” spray painted on a brick wall in the background hammers home creator Brian Wood’s ultimate point…that there’s always someone underneath those bombs, meant to shock and awe a nation on primetime television. And that a lot of them are falling on the heads of folks that have absolutely nothing to do with the fighting. Some of the people just live there.
Boiling down an entire series to one single image is a pretty difficult task, but Wood accomplishes it nicely, and this one moment is more than enough to get me fully onboard for the foreseeable future. Good job man, can’t wait to see what comes next…
That’s all for now people, once again, thanks for the immediate and passionate response to the last column, and there’s still mail coming to a bunch of you. Sure the topic will come up again in the next few months, and good to know there’s a segment out there willing to listen. Intending on keeping with the bi-weekly schedule, but the first issue of All-Star Superman is dropping this Wednesday, so don’t be too surprised if I’m driven to throw a little quick one up about the overall effort. Unless of course, it sucks, which I’m expecting will be the furthest thing from the truth.
We’ll see, I guess. Take care.