Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reaction to the Lost Finale: Leon Takes Us Outside

I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this.  You see, I never really got into Lost, having been made to endure the first season a few years back on DVD.  By endure I don’t mean that it was a wholly unpleasant experience, however with all of the build up that was heaped upon the show I was left with a very “meh” feeling after.  It should also be said that I was made to watch it all over a two day period having spent three days on the road from Los Angeles for Christmas holiday.  It’s possible that tainted my experience.
In any case, it’s kind of surprising the show didn’t hook me.  It had elements that would have drawn me in otherwise.  First, you had average people in extraordinary circumstances.  Second, there were the oh so mysterious mysteries.  Third, there was Terry O’Quinn who I loved in Chris Carter’s other TV show (no, not Harsh Realm), Millennium.  None of these things helped me overcome the inertia I felt for the show.  Even later when I dropped in for a few minutes with various episodes, I caught glimpses of things that probably should have piqued my curiosity but didn’t really do anything for me,  “Oh, look, why is he turning that thing and why did the island just disappear?”
Now I’m immersed in the zeitgeist over the shows finale as familiar names are flung around, mingled with others that mean little to nothing to me.  Is this the final straw?  The one that makes me run out and buy/rent/borrow the multiple seasons that are available on Blu-Ray or DVD?  Not just yet.  I’m thinking that at some point in the future I might give this show a shot.  Once all of the smoke has cleared and the ashes have settled to the ground, and everyone has stopped talking about it, I’ll quietly sit down and give it a go.  Maybe then I can find myself Lost.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reaction to the LOST Finale: The Stages of Loss

Consider my Complete Series boxed set pre-ordered.

I am a little surprised by the negative feedback this super-sized episode is receiving in the forums, because for my money ($0, granted) the Lost series finale was every bit as emotionally and intellectually satisfying as I could have hoped, perhaps even more so. It was also frequently thrilling on a visceral level, as with that insanely epic showdown between Jack and Locke on the cliff face. I watched the finale as part of a 9-person group, which was an extremely enjoyable and enriching viewing experience, and we all lost our shit as Jack advanced on Locke, leaping into the air to deliver a knockout punch. We also exalted with nerd glee over pretty much everything Lapidus (!) said, including, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm a pilot."

But action-adventure and laughs aside, what really makes this show special is the ideas that it provokes, the discussions it fosters and the communal experience it creates. Lost is without a doubt an anomaly on network television. It is a singularly weird, creator-driven show that completely denies passive viewing and yet somehow became hugely popular. As such, it has transformed even the most conventional of TV viewers into dedicated followers. The images of Jimmy Kimmel and his audience watching the final moments of the show, tears streaming down their rapt faces, were surprisingly poignant and indicative of this odd shared human experience. I've experienced little in my pop culture life quite like the minute-plus of complete, reverent silence among my previously jovial viewing group after the final image of Jack's closing eye. Nor have I experienced much like the hour-plus of spirited discussion that emerged when the dust settled. And in response to this season's critical battle between character and mythology, we definitely weren't discussing food drops and Hurley birds.

I, of course, don't mean to discount the fun of getting lost in Dharma history and contemplating time paradoxes, but these ancillary diversions were always secondary to, and deepened by Lost's emphasis on character. This is a lesson that ABC has failed to learn as it scrambles to replace Lost, evidenced by the trail of cardboard mystery shows it has left in its wake. What seems to be infuriating finale viewers the most - the lack of a concrete explanation of the Island's power - is one of the things I liked most about the finale, and ultimately the series. It is infinitely more intriguing to think that anyone who could even approach understanding the source of the Island's ancient power is long, long dead, and the various characters who have stumbled across it over the millennia (from Jacob to the Dharma Initiative to Jack) are acting on guesswork and pure faith. The Island is in many ways an existential Rorschach blot, and the methods by which the individual characters attempt to interpret its mysteries are far more valuable than any rote "answer" Lindelof and Cuse could have provided as to where "The Light" comes from and who built "The Cork."

The controversial Flash-Sideways storyline follows through on the show's promise of a character emphasis. Just as the Flashbacks at the start of the series fleshed out these characters and hinted at their importance to one another, and the Flashforwards of mid-series emphasized just how much their experience on the island impacted their lives, the Flash-Sideways was an unexpected, moving and thoroughly appropriate coda illustrating the "Live Together, Die Alone" motto so prevalent from the start. Some are arguing that the "purgatory" aspect of the Sideways universe renders the Island reality meaningless. I disagree. As Christian tells Jack, everything that happened to him on the Island is real, and everything matters. So I still don't know why Walt was special. And I don't know who built the statue. I'm happy to theorize. We see the universe of Lost through the characters' eyes, and therefore we can only understand it as they do. And right now, as a fan, in the moment, I have no complaints. The show wasn't perfect, though it very frequently came close. But it didn't have to be perfect, it just had to feel like Lost. And all that really matters to me is that poor John Locke, eternally hopeful and just-as-eternally beaten down by the world, finally found peace. And Jack Shepherd, so emotionally-repressed and frustrated by his unfulfilled need for empiricism, finally let go. I could go on forever. And Vincent... You know, speaking purely as a dog lover, this show gave me everything I could ever want.

Reaction to the LOST Finale: A TV TWEETS Special

Well, I just got home from a little Lost party and, other than the three other people I watched it with, haven't heard any other people's reactions as of yet. We all seemed a bit unsure if we completely liked it, but no one was outraged either. At this moment, roughly half of an hour after the wreckage on the beach rolled with the credits, I think I liked it. Here's why.
For me, Lost hasn't been about the puzzles or the monsters or the fantastic impossibilities for a while. Probably been two, maybe three years since I gave a shit about what those damn numbers meant. But I continued watching more out of just habit and water cooler sustainability. I wanted to see if Desmond was ever going to get to be with Penny. If Jin would ever get to meet his daughter. If Sayid could ever forgive himself. If Jack would stop trying to fix everything. And why were these people doing these crazy things in the first place?

Well, we learned last week that Jacob picked this group (excuse the paraphrasing) because they were flawed, lonely people. And what does Christian explain to Jack in that penultimate scene? That he will be with his fellow castaways, the people he loves, presumably forever in the afterlife. The journey they went on together forged deep bonds of friendship and love, the kind of relationships none of them had prior to crashing on that island. The group became greater than the sum of it's broken individual parts. And they got to be together, forever.

I'm sure there's a mountain of hate and nitpicking going on right now across the interwebs. But, in this moment, I like "The End." A lot. Chalk it up to the memory of that magical first season or my iPod striking a chord while very coincidentally playing Billy Bragg and Wilco's "Hesitating Beauty" on my trip home from that viewing party (key lines for me being: "By the stars and clouds above/We could spend our lives in love"), but in my book it was a fine ending. Certainly not perfect or as grand as we might have dreamed in 2005, but still satisfactory.

I think only the truly depraved amongst us wouldn't want to spend eternity with the most beloved people in our lives. Ultimately, what else is there?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Longbox

The Avengers
issue: 1
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: John Romita Jr.
publisher: Marvel
Siege is over after what seems like four long months of event and tie-in books.  Now Marvel begins what it calls The Heroic Age with a relaunch of one of its core titles, The Avengers.  This first book in the series does not give the heroes much time to breathe before their first big threat is thrown at them.
The book starts out with a strong two pages as we see Immortus taken down by a group of heroes that bear an uncanny resemblance to the youngsters from the Next Avengers animated movie.  Elsewhere/when, Steve Rogers, having taken over the position vacated by Norman Osborn and Tony Stark before him, is assembling a team of Avengers once again to protect and inspire the world.  It isn’t long though before a super villain shows up to crash the party, namely Kang the Conqueror.  It seems that Kang’s lifeline and all of reality are in jeopardy because the children of The Avengers (guess it really is the Next Avengers team) are wielding some kind of ultimate power.  Kang charges the new team with building a time machine and stopping their offspring before all is lost.
I’m not as familiar as some are in regards to Avengers history, I’ve mainly been an X-Reader when it comes to Marvel books.  Having said that, I found this new Avengers book to be instantly accessible and invoking a feeling of grand adventure that calls back to days gone by.  There’s also that cool factor of having so many A-list heroes in the same room, on the same team.  Bendis skillfully blends his brand of chummy super hero dialogue with some really great moments (the Spider-Man/Hawkeye exchange is pretty nice).  Thor’s response to Kang’s arrival reminds us just what level of hero this team is on.
Here’s where I’ll probably get murdered by fanboys, but I’m just not a big fan of John Romita Jr. when he’s doing these kinds of super hero books.  I love it when he handles more street level kinds of characters, like Daredevil, but with something like this, I’d prefer the talents of a George Perez or an Oliver Coipel Both of whom are just amazing at rendering heroes and action.  Also, I’ve always thought Romita’s women look funny.
In the end, I liked how this book sets up not one, not two, but three different possible threats for the new team right out of the gate without it feeling strained or rushed.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the other new Avengers titles bring to the table this month.  Also, I might just have to check out Next Avengers.

Here is Jon's review of Next Avengers from last year.

TV Tweets: April 26 - May 22

Well, maybe NOW I'm back in the saddle again since the last time didn't go so smoothly. It appears my technical issues are behind me with my new computer from Best Buy (always buy the service plan, boys and girls). Without further ado, away we go...

April 29th [The Pacific]
I've watched 7 eps of #ThePacific and still the most exciting part each week is the charcoal pencil getting splintered apart in the intro.
Having finished this miniseries now, I need to make a slight addendum to that statement. Yes, I was incredibly dulled by this show. I could not understand why the perspective was constantly jumping from different groups of characters when I hadn't been given a chance to care about any of them. Then during the show's final installment, a bio for each character was flashed up. Somehow I had forgotten that these were all real people and the events were entirely based on historical record. Then the pieces came together. If it were a pure work of fiction, The Pacific would have been a colossal failure. I still don't think it was great, but at least I can understand why the story followed its course in the manner it did.
However, I really was most enthralled by that charcoal pencil during the opening credits. As well put together as the battle effects were done, they simply did not pull me closer to the characters as those first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan did so many years ago. The Pacific is well-made, but certainly not a must-see.

April 30th [Party Down, Happy Town]
Man, I forgot how good #PartyDown can be.
A really great comedy that pretty much no one is watching. Martin Starr's Roman is the man, and my True Blood crush on Lizzy Caplan has become as big as they come for a totally different skill set she unleashes on Party Down. A third season is a pretty remote possibility, so I'm gonna enjoy this great little show while it lasts.
After the jump, you'll find if Happy Town measures up to Twin Peaks, one of the worst situations to watch The Office in, and how Lost spoiled the end of The West Wing for me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Longbox Special: Under Siege: The Finale

Here we are at the end my friends.  The end of Marvel’s latest super hero epic.  No longer will we be
I’m going to break with my usual format this time around and just go ahead and talk about this weeks final five books interchangeably.  Where to start though?  Let’s start with how much of a fizzle I felt Siege #4 was.  Up until this point, Bendis had been ratcheting things up with each issue and giving us a little bit of pay off each time.  This issue should have been the big pay off, the last boss battle, the part of the story that should have hit us hard in the face and make us want more after.  It didn’t really deliver that feeling, it felt more like a disjointed sequence of events that didn’t really mesh well.
Opening with Loki’s plea to his dead father to help the heroes overcome the Void seemed to play against what Loki had been working towards all this time.  The argument can be made that he didn’t think it would get as bad as all this but I have to ask just why would it matter to him?  From what we’ve seen in the Siege: Loki one shot, he wanted to be free from all that Asgard represented.  Doesn’t its fall mark the biggest freedom he could get from it?  I can understand a desire to save his fellow Asgardians but he decides to power up the assembled heroes, leaving his brothers and sisters to simply stand by and watch.
Once the heroes are powered up, things really don’t improve much, mainly because there isn’t much difference in how they appear.  We get little snippets of pretty cliche dialogue telling us things like Iron Man’s batteries are charged and his systems are online.  Great.  Iron Man is on par with my car.  The battle itself is underwhelming with the heroes taking shots at the Void until the Void destroys the Norn stones and Loki along with them.  Then a non-suped up Thor proceeds to essentially hit the Void until it doesn’t move anymore.  Why didn’t he just do this in the first place when he had more power at his disposal?  Finally, he kills Bob and whisks his body off to a burial in the sun which lacks any kind of emotional weight.
This lack of emotional weight carries over in The Sentry: Fallen Sun where heroes gather to remember The Sentry.  The book plods along and is fairly unremarkable as a memorial or farewell to the character.  Of course there are the hints that he’ll be back.  Also, apparently he and rogue hooked up.  Great.
Siege: Embedded also managed to fall flat for me.  It was a lot of Ben Urich just watching stuff happen and reminding us how small normal people are in the face of an event of this magnitude.  The problem was that the book just didn’t feel big enough and I wasn’t sold on Ben’s sense of awe.  It does give us a bit more Volstaag, which has always been enjoyable in this book.
Finally, there are two books that wrap up their runs along side the final installment of Siege; Dark Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative.  Of the two, Avengers: The Initiative is arguable the weakest.  It attempts to tie up all of the loose ends of the three stories it’s been weaving throughout the past few months.  It also tries to set things up for the book set to replace it, Avengers Academy (or whatever they’re calling it).  I really liked this book when it was focused on Taskmaster simply because he seemed like such an unlikely protagonist for the story.  Things got bogged down when they started putting focus on fairly uninteresting side stories.
Dark Avengers was the one book that gave a really good send off to itself.  It’s also been the only book to really portray Norman Osborn in something that resembles a sympathetic light.  The coda that Osborn gets at the end of the book is some really fantastic writing from Bendis.  I wonder where that kind of writing was for the last issue of Siege?  If I haven’t mentioned it before, Victoria Hand was also an up point of this book.  I’m happy to see that she made it through this and will be around for what follows.
So that’s it, the end, fin, I’ve got no more to say really.  I had considered throwing The New Avengers Finale into this week’s article but it technically isn’t part of Siege.  Also, it was pretty lacking too.  Siege built itself up pretty nicely as did some of the tie-in books but in the end it didn’t feel like it delivered the goods.  Sure, things are set up for Marvel’s Heroic Age and all that, but it would have been nice to have a better end to Osborn’s Dark Reign.  In any case, it was fun doing these pieces even though it pulled me away from doing proper comic book reviews (if one can call my reviews proper).  Maybe we’ll do this again sometime.  Maybe I’ll just drink myself into a stupor instead.  Take care and be well...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Longbox

issue: 1
writer: Jonathan Hickman
artist: Dustin Weaver
publisher: Marvel
I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Hickman’s work since I was introduced to Pax Romana a few years back by fellow LBM contributor Jon.  He has a way of working together text heavy segments with visual storytelling to produce a dense piece of graphic literature.  S.H.I.E.L.D. is another departure from that style, one that he started moving away from with Marvel in the pages of Secret Warriors.
S.H.I.E.L.D. opens with the enlistment of an ordinary yet strange young man named Leonid by a pair of agents we are led to assume are Howard Stark and Nathaniel Richards in 1953.  Leonid is led to The Immortal City, an ancient city buried beyond deep underneath Rome.  Here Leonid is brought before the High Council of the Shield where he learns a secret history of the world and its secret protectors.
Leonid is told that it all started with Imhotep at the dawn of civilization when he repelled a Brood invasion that threatened to take the Earth.  He was the first and from him the organization and its eagle crest are taken from his shield.  It is then that the council reveals to Leonid that he, like other great minds before him, will stand in the gap to defend humanity.  However, Leonid’s father, the Night Machine, intervenes and sets Leonid on the path of finding his own destiny.  A destiny that seems to be tied to that of Leonardo Da Vinci: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While I love Hickman for his wordy books, this one does not suffer for the shift away from text heavy pages.  This book does benefit greatly from what seems to be a fascination Hickman has for secret societies, history, and Rome.  He skillfully puts together an issue that teases and satisfies at the same time.  Questions are answered that only open up larger questions that you need to know the answers to.  Who is this Leonid?  Agents Stark and Richards? Night Machine?  How is it then that the world ends?
Hickman’s story is deftly illustrated by Dustin Weaver whose lines and sense of pacing and action are spot on.  He creates iconic panels and splash pages that punctuate and resonate with Hickman’s words.  The image of Galileo preparing to divert a certain devourer of worlds is just fantastic.
While this is supposed to be an ongoing series, I sadly don’t see this going beyond five issues like other well done series of late (Doctor Voodoo, I’m looking in your direction).  I can only hope to be proven wrong and that this title will at least see a year with this creative team.  This book works in so many ways for me.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Longbox Special: Under Siege

It does seem like forever since I last posted something here, don’t it?  It’s been a busy few weeks and things had been a bit quiet on the Siege front, which seems to have changed for this week.  Also, there was the Pittsburgh ComiCon last weekend and I’ve been busy with federal job testing and buying a new car.  I completely spaced on the God Of War III/Clash Of The Titans reviews that didn’t get much further than a sentence, something I’d like to remedy here in the next few days.  Anyway, without any further ado, here is this week’s
This time around I’ll be looking at six, that’s right six, books covering pre-siege, siege, and post-siege stories.  One book wraps itself up, another gets ready for its last issue, while another is set to have its status quo shaken up... again.  First, let’s tackle the one shots.
Siege: Spider-Man #1 is a brawl book that takes place during the siege before Sentry knocks Asgard out of the sky.  The action focuses around Spider-Man musing about his place in the Avengers while taking down Venom on the streets of Broxton.  Also, Ms. Marvel of the Carol Danvers variety shows up to lend a hand.  Oh, and of course a secret is revealed.
For the past few months, Mac Gargan has been posing as Spider-Man on Osborn’s team of Avengers and Peter Parker has been wanting to have a crack at him.  He gets his chance as the two engage in Asgard only to have their fight make its way out of the Norse city and into the human one.  Ms. Marvel shows up to lend  hand by pulling Mac out of the symbiote and winding up an inadvertent host.
In typical good-guy-absorbed-by-bad-guy tradition, Spider-Man must now try to smack the holy hell out of Venom while trying not to do any damage to Marvel.  And of course, a way is found to free her only to have Mac Gargan become Venom again to continue the fight.  Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel are able to send Venom flying back to Asgard to continue the fight away from civilians.
While it’s a pretty straight up action piece, the best parts of this book are the humor.  Brian Reed delivers great dialogue and pulls from some Dark Reign material without making the story dependent  on having full knowledge of what Venom has been up to.  Also, he opens up Spider-Man’s doubts as he questions what a street level hero like him is doing in a situation like this.  Ms. Marvel lets him know that she appreciates him on the team and that it’s entirely possible she has a super hero crush on him.  Great.
Siege: Secret Warriors #1 puts its focus mostly on Phobos and how he reacts to the death of his father, Ares.  We also get to see Nick Fury let Osborn know that is minutes are numbered as he and the Steve Rogers Captain America prep their counteroffensive.
Following news reports of the death of Ares at the hands of Sentry, Phobos moves to carry out what could be considered his father’s last wishes should he ever be killed.  These wishes carry the young god of fear to the White House where he cuts through a seemingly endless supply of Secret Service officers in an attempt to get to the president.  A target he ultimately doesn’t reach but leaves a clear message for.  Meanwhile in Asgard, there is some flavor bits as Nick gets chummy with Cap in the middle of a fight.
Jonathan Hickman delivers the kind of dialogue that makes his stuff a joy to read.  His characterizations are pretty spot on and while he doesn’t get to draw on history too much, his love of it does pop in here and there.  I’m hoping some of this stuff carries over into the regular Secret Warriors title.
Thunderbolts #143 brings a conclusion to this book’s involvement with the event to a close and sets it up for what’s going to be coming after Siege.  The issue picks up with Iron Man taking down Norman Osborn and Osborn’s attempt to get the Spear of Odin to hopefully win the day.  Turns in the loyalties of team members are made and the Mighty Avengers continue in their attempt to stop the Thunderbolts.
Scourge, leader of the Thunderbolts, has possession of the Spear of Odin and is ready to deliver it to Norman in a last ditch effort to turn the battle.  However, it seems that Paladin has had a change of loyalty in an extreme, shoot you in the face, sort of fashion.  He pits himself and Ant Man against the remaining loyal Thunderbolts.  Also, the Mighty Avengers are there to add more to the mix and ultimately provide the conclusion to the fight when Quicksilver shows up and reminds us just how badass he can be.  In the end, the current team, minus Paladin and Ant Man, are taken into custody and those that aren’t are left to move their lives in new directions.  The issue wraps up with the book pointing itself in a new direction as well as Luke Cage is shown preparing to take the helm of the Thunderbolts.
While the first part of these tie-ins was weak, the last two issues really pulled things up.  It became less about the mission for the spear and more about the characters setting their own directions.  Even though I’m still not so familiar with the characters, I found them to be humanized pretty well.  Hopefully the book will carry on in a strong way with its new direction.
New Avengers #64 is another side piece that offers insight into the events in the main book.  This time, Bendis focuses on The Hood and where he’s headed in the aftermath of the event.
The issue starts with a flashback to Avengers Tower and a meeting between Osborn and Parker.  Osborn is interested in how Loki assisted Parker with the Norn stones.  It’s the kind of back-room dealing that cost Osborn his initial cabal, but that he sees as a way of maintaining control of the situation.  Things move back to the siege itself and Parker’s loss of power as Loki takes the stones back to power the heroes in their effort against Void.  This leaves The Hood and Madame Masque in need to get as far away as possible.  The fate of Mockingbird is also resolved as the fight shifts after the fall of Asgard.
This issue felt a bit like a hodge-podge of background material and last minute resolutions.  I have to wonder at just how Bendis is going to wrap up this title next month.  Maybe I’ll tackle that one even though it’s not a Siege tie-in.
Thor #609 continues to follow the Asgardians as opposed to the titular character, which doesn’t really harm the book much.  I’m just glad that they left the Ragnarok character behind for now.
The issue opens with Kelda prepared to turn herself over to H.A.M.M.E.R until Asgard falls from the sky at which time the agents open fire on her.  In Asgard, the troops begin to rally as Tyr is shown to be very much alive and Loki does his thing in an attempt to save his own hide.  Back in Broxton, Bill’s family acts to protect Kelda by putting themselves in the line of fire.  Kelda acts to protect them all and Volstagg cleans up the troops that decided to make a run for it before heading off to Asgard himself to deliver justice.  Balder and Loki have words and Loki is exiled from Asgard.
This was another book that was sort of all over the place but not in a bad way.  It’s been progressing the three stories of Volstagg, Kelda, and the Asgardians fairly well in during the tie-in without becoming too lost.  I’m just glad that the book’s role is done and can hopefully get back to focusing on Thor.
Mighty Avengers #36 sees an end to the book and the current storyline, which is still somewhat confusing as to what it has to do with the event book.  It’s Pym vs. Ultron Pym and his army of brides.  There are flashes to the Mighty Avengers and what’s going on in Asgard but it’s mostly material transplanted from Thunderbolts #143.
Hank explains to Ace and One-Eyed Jacquie (agents of G.R.A.M.P.A) that the infinite mansion was constructed as a harness to maintain Jan’s form in Underspace and the Jocasta bodies were used to maintain her brain functions.  This doesn’t sit well with Jocasta but the conflict with Ultron, now calling himself Ultron Pym, takes priority.  Okay, things really start to break down as the whole situation is dealt with by Jocasta marrying Ultron and Hank using a ploy from an issue back to fool Ultron.
This book lost me at that point and the rest of it just seemed like a tacked on ending that felt uncomfortable.  I can’t say this is the best way for a book to end but at least it’s over.  I still can’t see why they bothered to include this title in the tie-in other than for the last few pages where the Mighty Avengers finally come back together in the eleventh hour of the conflict.  I’m just glad the book is over.
And that’s it for this week!  That was more tiring than I thought it would be.  There’s only five more books in the Siege Checklist so soon I’ll be done with this and might be able to get back to talking about other stuff.  Till the next...