The Shadow #7-9

It’s that time again. Grab your dapper hats, blue coal, and other such prewar paraphernalia. Gather ’round the standing radio and pretend you’re listening while you read a comic book because damnit it’s 2013 and stop living in the past…

Not really. Do what you want. God knows I will. It really is that occasion again though. This is the first issue of the Shadow ongoing not to feature Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell, having been replaced with a new pairing of Victor Gischler and Jack Herbert. They’ve got a big pair (quartet?) of shoes to fill, but if their freshman effort is any indication I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

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It’s a self-contained yarn, but one which contains the thread of an arc to come. The basic hook is an interesting one: What if the Shadow’s powers began to fail him mysteriously? It gives us the opportunity to explore the Shadow’s mythology and to see him forced to rely on his own mortal faculties. Essentially the question is what defines the Shadow’s identity. In order to find out Lamont Cranston teams up with Miles Crofton, cantankerous one-eyed Great War pilot and occasional sidekick from the pulps. Together they head to Nepal to consult with the Shadow’s mystic teachers. Once there however he finds that they have been slain by the Red Raja, a crime lord with abilities like Cranston’s own. It falls to the Shadow to end the Raja’s reign of terror and avenge his former masters while contending with his crippled powers. The Red Raja feels like an updated (and moderately less offensive) version of classic Shadow villain Shiwan Khan, and for the brevity of the issue he provides a fascinating foil for Cranston. The climax between two evenly classed adversaries, resolved through cunning, almost feels more satisfying than the resolution of the Ennis arc. Gischler and Herbert do a lot of leg work in little space, and the noir impression of the storytelling is a perfect fit. If I must have criticism I’d say Cranston’s voice was a little inconsistent and that i wish there were more opportunity for Red Raja appearing in the future. That’s… pretty much it though.

The teaser for the next installment suggests the action will be moving to war-torn Spain, which is a period of history not often explored but kind of a favorite of mine. Honestly between this and the Warlord Period setting of the previous story it’s like this series is being written specifically for me. Dropping the Shadow into the middle of those events will I’m certain be a particular treat. I will endeavor to make sure my enthusiasm is adequately conveyed.

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This episode promises the beginning of a new four part serial set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Like the Sino-Japanese War featured in the last serial, the Spanish Civil War is considered by many to have been a prologue to World War Two. Rebel fascists backed by Italy and Nazi Germany attempted to overthrow the republican-socialist government backed by the Soviet Union. Volunteers from around the world flocked to the fighting, and the ultimately doomed cause of the loyalists would become the mythology of a lost generation. Despite this, the war is often a footnote in history, eclipsed by the much larger conflict it presaged. Today it is best remembered mainly through the writings of Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell (whom we’ll come back to shortly).

Before we get there though we catch up with the Shadow in France. He and Miles Crofton are slowly making their way homeward from Nepal, following his increasingly fickle psychic instincts. The murder of an innocent couple sets the Shadow down a treacherous road into Spain’s divided politics, ultimately crossing paths with Esmeralda Aguilar; a femme fatale of the oldest and best stripe. They spar with great verbal flare, and a sordid tryst is all but inevitable. Nary a thought is given to Margo Lane in this whole situation, but we’ve established before that Lamont Cranston isn’t on anyone’s list for man of the year. The mysteries only deepen as Aguilar’s trail leads into the chaos of war and into the orbit of a young George Orwell.

Needless to say I like where this is going. Gischler definitely has a handle on the period and the personalities at least as good as Garth Ennis, and Aaron Campbell returns to lend the artwork some quality grit. Every now and then Cranston will drop some bit of modern phrasing or slang that feels a little off (a holdover of my lone criticism from the previous issue), but otherwise his verbosity and mordancy are big draws to the dialog. The Shadow has a certain theatrical venom that makes other heroic voices seem oddly lifeless. Cranston by the same token feels like an old school film star in the vein of Clark Gable; an irredeemable jerk that you just can’t help but want a strong drink with. If I wasn’t already sold on this story, the next installment has biplanes…

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Admit it, that cover is awesome. We pick up where we left off with Lamont Cranston and George Orwell giving the audience much of the background for this arc; useful for readers who aren’t familiar with this part of history. Cranston is certain that Orwell plays a part in whatever forces brought him to Spain, but with his mystical insight failing him he cannot be certain of his destiny. More sanguine is Crofton, who feels like he’s starting to enter his own as a character. Back on the trail of the murderers and smugglers that brought him here, the Shadow makes an unusual acquaintance in the Black Sparrow. Whether she is an ally or an adversary is appropriately ambiguous, though what is clear is that she is Esmeralda Aguilar in disguise. Thankfully this fact is equally obvious to the Shadow and they don’t waste any time with the pretense. The biplane chase and dogfight that follows is a little anachronistic , but not unexplainable, and if we’re being honest that’s precisely the way we like it. The Shadow and Black Sparrow spar as adeptly as Cranston and Aguilar (in this case literally). She’s overall an interesting and welcome addition to the story, even if she is a little on-the-nose as a Catwoman to his Batman. Also introduced in the closing panels is a properly operatic masked antagonist in the imperious El Rey, glimpsing what appears to be an exciting clash in the next two issues.

I can’t really say that this series has had any low points for me. It was pretty stellar to start with and has really only gotten better. This book is right now probably my favorite ongoing from any publisher. If I was forced to give up all but a single series (first world problems) I’d very likely cleave to this one. It’s certainly probably that I’m a little biased. Given my well established predisposition towards the property there’s little question that I am this book’s target audience. That said, I feel like the story is set up in such a way that you don’t need a primer to really get involved. If you’re giving some thought to diversifying your comics portfolio you can do a heck of a lot worse than adding this to your pull.

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Godzilla: Half Century War #4

I’m beginning to understand the “sorry I haven’t updated” complex that seems to plague bloggers. By and large I’ve just been letting myself be carried along by the daily routine. Winter hasn’t helped either, as some of you may recall from my moderately disaffected postings this time last year (has it really been that long?). So, Happy Valentines… ish! In order that we might properly honor this feast of Christian martyrdom I will be bringing you a number of updates over the course of the next weeks.

Now where were we?

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There we go. In this the penultimate episode of Godzilla: Half Century War, we creep ever closer to the present day or something resembling it. Accordingly, the King of Monsters is facing one of his more esoteric adversaries from the modern era; the dreaded Spacegodzilla!

No seriously, that’s its name.

This issue is a little incoherent at parts, but maintains a forward momentum throughout that carries it from start to finish pretty smoothly. The year is 1987, India. Godzilla is doing battle with the new young guard of the Anti-Megalosaurus Force and their increasingly advanced weaponry. One of these new toys is the long-awaited appearance of Mechagodzilla! (also its actual name) Looking on enviously at the technological titan is an aged and haggard Ota Murakami. Now in full-on old soldier mode with a mustache and everything, Murakami and the long-suffering Kentaro have been largely relegated to the rear echelons, saved from being put to pasture entirely by using their experienced kaiju tracking skills as “glorified weather watchers.” While on one of his trope-mandated chain smoking breaks, Murakami spots AMF nemesis Deverich in the fleeing crowd and sets out after him in a last attempt at revenge. There’s a bit of a teaser for the fans in the depiction of Deverich’s shadowy new masters, who bear a passing resemblance to the (slightly goofy) aliens periodically popping into the Godzilla mythos. Murakami puts the fists to Deverich, with a good pistol whip to grow on, but discovers too late that the transmitter Deverich has built in Mumbai is much larger and more powerful than anything he has made before. The device has summoned not only Godzilla, but something else from the distant eldritch depths of the cosmos.

Conveniently, that something else crashes to Earth pretty much immediately after this discovery, which is a little odd being as it would have basically already been entering the atmosphere, but whatever. The thing in question is precisely what you see on the cover; the crystalline incubator of Spacegodzilla. There isn’t really any explanation given for the extraterrestrial kaiju’s existence, which leaves the question of why it so resembles Godzilla kind of hanging. Then again, if we’re already allowing for the other shenanigans inherent to the setting we might as well just let it go. When the alien incursor starts wiping the streets with Godzilla the AMF is in a bit of a bind. Do they take advantage of Godzilla’s weakness to finish their longtime foe once and for all? Or do they help the devil they know rather than take their chances with the one they don’t? Murakami doesn’t let us down, hopping in the cockpit of the downed Mechagodzilla and tag-teaming the cosmic monster with his old adversary. The wounded Godzilla escapes once more as the dust settles  while Murakami has his moment of ambivalent respect. Its really the only way it could have gone down, but in the end that’s okay. The final ominous panel portends that Deverich’s legacy may yet bear menace, and promises a potentially epic showdown in the next issue’s conclusion.

I’ve lauded James Stokoe’s sense of place before, but in this issue we really start to feel a sense of time. The characters all exude exhaustion, and despite only being four installments in we can feel the years that have passed for Murakami. Moreover, the changing of the guard is evident. The colorful cast of the Showa era has given way to the stark lines of the Heisei. Murakami and Kentaro feel like relics, with a foot in both worlds but at home in neither. This coincides with a tonal shift in the films themselves, moving away from the bombastic trumpets and whizz-bang sensibility of the 60’s and 70’s into the more grim and gritty aesthetic of the 80’s, 90’s, and onward. There’s really not anything I would change about this series, except maybe to make it longer and not deprive us of it so soon. It is a comic book that is very much unashamed to be a comic book. It isn’t trying to be heady or edgy, and that’s okay. It’s fun.

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Earth Two VI, VII, and VIII

Time to vainly attempt to get caught up on these. The fact that I’ve let these slide is really kind of unfortunate because despite Earth Two’s frustratingly up-and-down quality the last several issues have been getting better pretty steadily. I apologize if the voice of these individual reviews is hard to follow. I wrote them separately over the last couple of months and I can’t promise a whole lot of continuity.

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This issue seems to contain the actual resolution to the current story arc that I called a little prematurely a few months ago. It’s a better turn than the former scenario would have been, but given how good the last issue was I’m a little disappointed with the follow up. We get a decent spread of the fighting, and Grundy feels surprisingly apocalyptic as a villain, but the end still feels kind of rushed (despite now being six issues in) and a little deus ex machina. Alan Scott shakes off the apparition of his dead lover without much of the conflict I was hoping it would arouse. He then has an epiphany (somehow) about the way to defeat Grundy and blasts off with the beast in tow. After he does this, the Atom almost robotically reverts to trying to capture Flash and Hawkgirl (seriously it takes like two panels) despite the threat not yet being neutralized. It’s a turn that doesn’t really make sense. Scott deposits the avatar of death on the surface of the moon (an innovative yet kind of silver age solution that I’m actually okay with) and dismisses Terry Sloane’s incoming nuclear strike through his newly mastered use of energy constructs. Being disconnected with the planet drains his energy though and he plummets back to earth before being saved by Hawkgirl (another interesting setup i thought could have used a little more tension in the execution). On the ground, Scott further pushes the boundaries of his abilities and uses his connection with the earth to revitalize the planet, undoing Grundy’s damage. This also apparently turns him into a huge douchebag, because immediately afterward he tells Hawkgirl and Flash that he doesn’t need them and flies off to go be a jerk somewhere.

The issue just feels kind of uneven. There’s things to like, but more things to criticize than I prefer. Jay Garrick’s heartfelt polemics are slightly less saccharine, but still a little too “gee golly” for me. Again, maybe I’m still too attached to the older Jay’s more salty moralizing, but I remain undecided on the current incarnation. Also, the book’s use of the term “wonder” as a shorthand for super-powers is still awkward in conversation. It just feels artificial and breaks the flow of dialog whenever it appears. If nothing else, we’re on to a new story arc now, and with it hopefully new opportunities for growth.

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This issue is more or less a breather following the climax of the first big stretch. Its all about the aftermath. The world is registering some legitimate slack-jawed surprise at the recent clash of physics-defying titans in 80’s glam. It seems like its trying to bring things back down to earth, to let the reader get their bearings. A surprisingly good scene illustrates Alan Scott’s self-destructive grief in the wake of his fiance’s death. It’s nice (in a weird way) to see them going back to this, since the character had seemingly been solely introduced to promote the book and then be immediately fridged. It also, when considered in full, may give us some insight into Scott’s irrational behavior in the previous issue and continued reluctance to join forces with the other characters, as an extension of his desire not to catch any more innocent bystanders in his collateral damage. At least I hope that’s where its going (Robinson don’t let me down).

Contrary to the image above, there is no “fight to the death.” That is a fib. There isn’t even really a fight. Just some heated words and an isolated demonstration of violent intent to prove a rhetorical point. Then again, all that is a little wordy for a cover blurb. After Green Lantern gets his angst-beard and Hawkgirl goes and Batmans all over the place, we check in on Terry Sloan and Cmdr. Khan. Politics suffuses these scenes, the two each progressively trying to outmaneuver the other. Khan’s skulduggery allows us to see more of the one-and-only Wesley Dodds, Sandman. Literally any appearance he has in anything improves it immeasurably in my estimation, but I’m fanboying.

He isn’t the only cameo in this issue though. Dodds and his (now plural) Sandmen discover the long-suffering Mister Terrific, off the radar for quite a while now. Seemingly being mind-controlled by Sloan, Terrific begins taking apart the team sent to rescue him before being dropped by Wesley Dodds (like a boss). Exactly what role Micheal Holt is to play remains to be seen, but seeing more of him is always a good thing.

This issue finally does what I’ve been asking the series to do all along. Take a breath, let things unfold organically, and give the plot some room to get its feet under it. James Robinson has been giving flashes and glimmers of why I was excited to have him on this book, and its good to see him devote basically an entire issue to the character beats that really make his stuff work. Nikola Scott continues to deliver the goods as well, illustrating a talent for low-key scenes in addition to big action set pieces. For what is essentially an intermission, this is actually a great time to grab a seat for the second act.

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I’ve mentioned before how I like that Earth Two is separated from the main DC continuity. It allows it to play in its own sandbox however it really wants. It gets to make its own rules and its own history, without worrying about fitting neatly into the claustrophobic world of the mainstream universe. We’re beginning to see the payoff to that premise in this issue.

Its a side story, still simmering in the causatum of the first arc, and seemingly setting up for the second. The action follows the Apokoliptian warrior Steppenwolf, who had a brief appearance in the inaugural issue, taking refuge in Dherain, apparently the Earth Two stand-in for Markovia, itself a moderately obscure central European stand-in that ducks in and out of DC geo-politics. Steppenwolf, now stranded on earth after the defeat of his extraterrestrial invasion, appears to be building himself up as the main antagonist of the next arc. This is an interesting choice. Steppenwolf, though a visible character, has never really been a starring player in either the front line DCU or Jack Kirby’s New Gods mythos where he originated. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity, with more space for development than recycling one of the usual suspects. Also of interest is the introduction of new(ish) character Fury. The costumed identity of Fury is not unknown in prior iterations of Earth Two and its entourage, but here as with much else it has been reimagined somewhat. This version of Fury is actually the daughter of Wonder Woman (an angle that hasn’t really been explored in some time), an Amazon stolen by Steppenwolf to be raised on Apokalips (also a potentially interesting hook). Given, its pretty much foregone that Fury will eventually undergo a tormented and dramatic heel-face-turn, but with the set up in place I think it’ll be a lot of fun getting there.

There really isn’t a whole lot that happens in this issue besides Steppenwolf and Fury taking over Dherain in a two person coup de tat. That’s honestly less interesting than it sounds though, and it really only serves as a device to acquaint the reader with the two characters. It works, though. Robinson is taking time to case the stage before the next act starts, kicking the dust and checking sight lines. Yildiray Cinar subs in for Nicola Scott on pencils and brings us some interesting fare, juxtaposing the distinctive Kirby-inspired designs for Steppenwolf and Fury with the power-armor and mecha designs of the Dherain. The next installment teases the introduction of another new-old character and I have to say I’m looking forward to it.

Now, to maybe not wait two months between updates…

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Holiday Historiography

Two months is entirely too long to go without an update. I acknowledge that. I’m a bad person and I should feel bad. Combination of work, family obligations, and illness have just killed my motivation over the last few weeks. As of now though I’m going to do my best to return you faithful to your regularly scheduled programming.

So, good holidays for everyone? See any heartwarming Christmas movies? I did. Specifically the one starring Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz called Django Unchained.

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Discussing this movie in the same sentence as controversy isn’t exactly breaking news (my own fault for letting this go so long), but I think its worth looking at it in a slightly larger context. Django is actually the third major film released this year to deal with the Civil War and Antebellum time period. The others have ranged in tone from the rather serious, to the rather less-so. I’d say Django falls somewhere in between the two poles, but all three are bound together by a peculiar common thread. All three movies, Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and Django Unchained are staunchly and stridently anti-revisionist. This is not to say that they don’t engage in a degree of their own revisionism, but rather that their version of events makes a statement about the dilution of history. Specifically, each constitutes and attack on the “Lost Cause” of Civil War cinema.

The “Lost Cause” broadly constitutes the school of pop history in literature and film which portrays the Civil War primarily as a contest for the preservation of Southern culture. The antebellum South and the Confederate States are treated as a kind of golden age of chivalry, gentility, and agrarian values destroyed after a valiant struggle by the aggressive industrial power of the North. This will sometimes co-opt related but distinct themes like national tragedy and reconciliation into its narrative, but always conspicuous in its absence or subdual is the question of slavery. The inherent racism of these narratives, invested as they are in the historical rehabilitation of racist institutions, is sometimes comparatively benign (though no less insidious), such as in Gone With the Wind or the more recent Gods and Generals. At other times though it has been startlingly overt, as in the prototype of Lost Cause film, D. W. Griffith’s (in)famous Birth of a Nation. Now in recent years there has been some progress against this strain of thought, Glory and Confederate States of America being excellent examples, but they are fighting against over a century of ingrained Lost Cause mythology in our culture.

To say that even today discussion can be complicated when it comes to the Civil War would be a titanic understatement. It is difficult to reconcile bravery with an unjust movement, and given the strong ties of place and ancestry we still attach to the War no one wants to have been “in the wrong.” At the end of the day though ignoring painful truths does a greater disservice to memory than acknowledging and engaging with them. Lincoln, ALVH, and Django all attack the underpinnings of Lost Cause revisionism, whether it be through satire, the forced discussion of uncomfortable facts, or a combination of both. Their refusal to buy into our accepted legends is what lends these films uncommon merit as works of entertainment.

In Django Unchained this attack is probably the most self-conscious, due to director Quentin Tarrantino’s particularly cinematic sensibility. The plantation scenes use the soft focus and saturated color palette of “classic” filmmaking to evoke Gone With the Wind‘s idyllic presentation of the antebellum. It then brings that silver lens to bear on the sickening foundations of that vision and splatters the screen with the technicolor blood of its perpetrators. The hooded outlaws who attempt to lynch the protagonists parallel the “heroic” Klansmen in Birth of a Nation, and are portrayed in this as ruffian morons. The character of the genteel southern aristocrat is here the film’s moral nadir, a walking ethical vacuum and distillation of everything loathsome about Lost Cause mythology. By contrast the black protagonist, so often a passive role in Civil War narratives, is here a participatory agent of rare energy and complexity.

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Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is less self-aware in its mission, but it gets the job done. It’s preferred method of subversion is satire. Here the heroes of Lost Cause culture are cast as literal parasites, sucking the blood from the their black slaves to sustain their decadent old world lifestyles. Its a pretty blunt metaphor, but it drives the point home. Such a stark reflection in the form of insensate, supernatural evil calls into the question the supposed righteousness of the Lost Cause, albeit perhaps not as effectively as Django, which lets the horror of slavery stand on its own mortal basis. Turning Abraham Lincoln into an axe-wielding avenger of inhuman injustice is an appropriate call for our greatest president, though it does flirt with the aforementioned trap of making black characters passive agents in a story that is really about them.

Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln on the other hand takes the most down to earth approach to deconstructing and defeating the Lost Cause. While the least “action packed” of the three, it is probably the most heartfelt. The film’s title is appropriate in that Lincoln is the central protagonist, but its not really the biopic you might expect. Rather than act as a filmic telling of Lincoln’s life or a war film, it chooses to center on the constitutional elimination of slavery. This brings the story back around to the singularly important issue that the Lost Cause is determined to ignore: the abolition of human bondage and the removal of its stain from the American promise. This is not to say the issue is portrayed without nuance or complexity, but its moral casting is unambiguous and sets itself up to take on all challengers.

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As I mentioned previously, this is not to say that these films don’t have a form of revisionism in their narrative. Rather, they serve as a counter point against a school of revisionism which has steadily infiltrated and co-opted our understanding of this moment in American history. Chances are that if you really think on it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The iconography of the Lost Cause is so pervasive that its almost invisible if you aren’t actively looking for it. This is important because most Americans are exposed to history through its expression in our popular culture. If one takes a hard look at the way that history has been written, it isn’t difficult to say that the South has already long since “risen again.” This isn’t accusing anyone personally of being racist if they happen to enjoy the films of the Lost Cause canon (except for Birth of a Nation, with it’s blackface and Klansman and all that, ’cause that’s pretty racist).  As a people we are loathe to part with the comforting fallacies of myth and memory, conflating them all too easily with truth, but the challenging of myths and memory is essential to the discovery of history. The myths of the Lost Cause are particularly poisonous in this respect, and are overdue indeed for a sweeping from our consciousness. That each of these movies should have been released so close to one another and done as well as they have may give one some glimmer of hope for the future. What has been must not necessarily always be, and the American desire for pop history may not be mutually exclusive with history that is both true and just.

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Coming Soon to a Galaxy Far Far Away

So the Star Wars thing happened. Even if you aren’t a nerd you know what I’m talking about, and chances are you know it’s a big deal. How are fans reacting? Well… it’s complicated. It would be pointless to try and survey the full spectrum of of responses, as improbably vast as the mythology it’s attached to, so instead I’m going to try and articulate my own reaction and put it in context with what others have said.

First off, the acquisition itself. Like it or not, merchandising has always been the powerhouse strength of the franchise. The Kenner action figures of your misspent childhood and the ironic Cafepress t-shirt of your misspent adulthood are linked together in supporting art through the forces of capitalism. Merchandising ‘made’ Star Wars, and nobody merchandises like Disney.

What will this terrible  convergence wright though? Thing is, Disney is increasingly a diverse entertainment company looking to appeal to demographics from the cradle to the grave, so fears of “cheapening” or “kid-ifying” Star Wars are largely unfounded (in so much as Star Wars was ever a “mature” franchise in the first place). Moreover, Disney seems to have realized that franchises are most profitable when they appeal equally to general audiences and hardcore fans. There was much hand wringing a few years ago when Disney acquired Marvel in a similar fashion. You know what they gave us though? The Avengers. Let me repeat that for emphasis. The Avengers. The most ambitious fanboy dream project ever, something no one would have even believed feasible a decade ago, let alone the highest grossing film of all time, came equal parts from the House of Ideas and the House of Mouse. Then there’s Wreck-It Ralph. A movie aimed at kids way too young to get all the references, cameos, and shout outs to old video games in it, but still possessed of enough narrative gravity to keep older audiences engaged.

This brings us around to the thing itself though. Episode VII. Which is happening. Just saying the words seems heavy and portentous. What will it contain? Fans will be quick to point out that there is a wealth of material in the “Expanded Universe” dealing with the time period post-Return of the Jedi. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t really hold out hope for these works to be used or even really referenced. For one, the time frame for the ages of the central characters doesn’t really fit with the ages of the actors who played them (presuming the original cast would even return). Moreover, the actual quality of the material in question is honestly kind of variable. Some is great, for certain. Some would make you long for The Phantom Menace though. Finally, at the end of the day they’re just not canon. Not really. Star Wars has always been pretty cavalier with it’s own legitimate catechisms, let alone the glut of what could at best be called apocrypha.

Many fans will be turned off by this. Fans who are projecting the same unfulfillable expectations onto these films they did onto the prequels a decade ago. Relax though, guys. Like it or not retcons are a part of fandom, and believe it or not they aren’t always bad. Anybody here a Star Trek fan? Of course you are. Anybody like the Klingons? Sure you do. What you probably like about the Klingons is their portrayal from the Next Generation onward, with the whole space-viking-samurai thing going on. Did you know they weren’t always written that way though? Although not discussed much onscreen in the original series, the background culture of Klingons as written in magazines and official guides was almost totally different from what fans are today familiar with. That’s okay too, because honestly the “new” background is better. Star Trek is a really good example of our discussion in general. Prior to three years ago Trek was almost an ex-franchise. Being strangled to death by its own bloated continuity without room to grow and lacking in a real sense of currency. The new film was a radical departure and a serious gamble, but one which has effectively resurrected the brand. All these things are today true of Star Wars as well. It desperately needs something new, truly new, and sometimes the only to do that is by clearing away the old.

At this point I’m pretty much over this whole argument of artistic purity. Reboots, remakes, and sequels are not inherently bad. Would you say of a broadway stage revival “Why bother when the original was so good?”

Throughout our history art has been in a perpetual state of reinterpretation and reinvention. Everything old is new again and enriches us all the more for it. To even the staunchest naysayer I ask: aren’t you the least bit excited? In your blackest fan-heart aren’t you the teensiest bit stoked? Did you even think a feeling like that was possible five years ago? we are not so jaded that we don’t ‘want’ this to be good, and honestly I think we are more likely than not to get exactly that.

Until next time, the force will be with you… Always…

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The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to Chick Flicks – Episode 1

In honor of Election Day +1… I give you something totally apolitical! This has been on the back burner for a while scribbled out in my notebook. I’m just really bad about sitting down and transcribing. Enjoy!

Ignoring for a moment the needlessly gendered language of the term “chick flick,” namely the implication that only humans with a double X chromosome can enjoy a good romance, let’s talk about the genre.

Let’s face it, they’re mostly shit. Written by the out of touch, produced and directed by the clueless, then acted by the plastic and consumed by masses hungry for reaffirmation of safe mores. This is true of most cinema regardless, but for some reason film romance always seems particularly hackneyed. I’ll be upfront, this isn’t some “best of” romance list. There are plenty of good romance movies that still just don’t do it for me (The Notebook may be objectively good, but I also objectively hate it). Rather, this is a convenient reference for those cozy movie nights when you feel like being thoughtful ‘and’ brilliant. These are movies to scratch that romantic itch (not an STD I swear) without needing to tune out or turn off. This is also a far cry from an exhaustive list. If there’s something you think should be on here, let me know! I’ll check it out. Similarly, if you didn’t like one of my movies on the list, let me know and I’ll punch you in the sacral chakra offer a mostly sincere apology. Now, follow me if you would…

Casablanca

The granddaddy of them all. Don’t roll your eyes at me young man! Casablanca is probably the most famous movie you’ve never watched. It’s considered one of the great romantic movies of all time, and it deserves the praise. There’s nothing gushy or saccharine about it. If anything, it’s tragic. A love story about hardened, adult decisions. It’s also got shooting, gangsters, spies, dudes in fezzes, and best of all, Nazis. This movie was made before Pearl Harbor, and it’s pretty much about how we needed to kick Hitler’s ass at a time when that wasn’t a winning proposition. By the time it’s over, you’ll want to kick his dead ass too. This scene alone…

Besides that, it’s also got that rapid fire acerbic dialog that you only seem to find in period pictures. Humphrey Bogart and Claude Raines spar with old fashioned machismo that’s really just a treat to watch. Something else you might notice with keen observation, Casablanca is pretty much the source of every pop culture reference ever. You will hear so many lines that have been quoted over and over without ever knowing where they came from and watch so many scenes that have been parodied, homaged, or referenced in a hundred other works. There is nothing about this movie that is bad, and as a “chick flick” goes you can’t really do better.

The Decoy Bride

At its heart this is the well-worn story of the small town girl and the city boy. What’s different about this one? Well first off it’s in Scotland…

That’s a bigger sell than it sounds like at first. An American actress and her Scottish writer fiance are desperately attempting to marry away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi, escaping to the rural Isle of Hegg. When the paparazzi track them down though the bride to be goes AWOL, leading her desperate entourage to stage a fake wedding to draw off the reporters. A local girl with her own share of relationship baggage is recruited to stand in for missing bride, and things really only spiral downhill from there. The subjects of our star-crossed shenanigans are played by David Tennant (better known most from Doctor Who) and Kelly Macdonald (of recent success as the heroine of Pixar’s Brave). They have great chemistry and it’s just a lot of fun to see two cult favorites hamming it up in an indy jaunt. Really the whole cast are standouts though. Supporting performances by Alice Eve, Federico Castelluccio, and Dylan Moran really make the whole thing stand out as a joyful and uncommonly heartwarming experience. If either you or your significant have a thing for humor from across the pond (and what American doesn’t?), this is a “chick flick” for you.

Saving Face

This is probably the most off beat entry on this list, but it’s not just one of my favorite romantic movies, it’s one of my favorite movies period. Describing the pitch is always difficult, but here’s my best attempt. Michelle Krusiec plays Wilhemina, a young, successful Chinese-American woman constantly fending off the attempts of her widowed mother, portrayed by storied actress Joan Chen, to set her up with men. This is because she is a lesbian, still a complicated subject in the conservative community she comes from. Her efforts at dodging this minefield are complicated by a new love interest Vivian, played by Lynn Chen and who also happens to be her boss’s daughter. Still more wrinkles are introduced when Wil’s mother shows up on her doorstep, having been ostracized by the community for becoming mysteriously pregnant! Her mother refuses to talk about the baby or its father, leaving Wil to deal with her mercurial and increasingly hormonal mother while concealing her relationship with Vivian. As if it even needed to be said, hijinks ensue.

The characters are very much trapped between worlds, and the dialog alternates rapidly between English and subtitled Mandarin. I might be biased in that I can actually understand some of the Chinese being spoken, which makes it that much funnier, but everyone I’ve introduced to it has loved it so I can’t imagine the language barrier is that significant.

I don’t know if it really conforms to all the traditional definitions of a “chick flick,” but it’s definitely a great romantic comedy. It’s hilarious, sweet, and even a little insightful. Order some Asian food this Friday and curl up on the couch for this one.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

We’re going to round this out with a good tear-jerker. There will be tissues needed, so I’d suggest having them handy. Don’t give me that stoic crap. Those saline ducts work just as well as every other homo sapiens’.

The thing that really separates it from the pack is… well it’s in the title. Time travel. Eric Bana’s protagonist is unstuck in time, prone to unpredictable temporal shifts, leading to him effectively living the events of his life out of order. It’s an interesting concept to watch play out, particularly as they take care to make sure that all events pretty much line up. As the title might suggest though, this isn’t really his story. The real pathos comes from Rachel McAdams as his titular soul mate who has to ‘deal’ with his constant entrances into and exits from her life. It’s easy to empathize with their conflicts and struggles, the seemingly fantastical impetus thinly disguising cues familiar to anyone who has ever failed at a relationship. Also, it’s sad. Like, really really sad. In a way though it still comes across as strangely cathartic after the credits have rolled and you’ve written off your stock of kleenex. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, either by the drama or by the fascinating plot devices.

So concludes this our first expedition into the harrowing realm of “cinema you and your Y chromosome aren’t supposed to enjoy.” Hopefully it’s been an informative little detour. Feel free to respond in the comment section with your own suggestions and recommendations.

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Shadow Annual and #6

Gentle readers young and old! We’re coming up on almost twelve months of blogging here at Roll For Relevance! That in mind we’re going to ring out the month of October with a dynamic duo of plus-sized posts! First up, a double helping of The Shadow!

So Dynamite’s scheduling is a bit off (surprising approximately no people) and we actually got Shadow Annual before Shadow #6, so before we continue our thrilling serial we have a slight digression for an additional umbral adventure. Despite another fantastic cover by Alex Ross it looks like this sidebar is coming to us courtesy the team of Tom Sniegoski and Dennis Calero. Much as I’m still swooning over the Ennis/Campbell combination on the main title I’m not opposed to seeing someone else tackle the fedora and scarf. Let’s check it out!

This avenging tale is taking place in the Shadow’s home stomping grounds of New York City. Considering the oriental inclination of the regular series this is a change of pace, though we do have an early scene in Tibet with a wayward missionary unleashing some terrible ancient evil. You know, like you do. There’s something of a mystery afoot in the Shadow’s city, and when it involves the intersection of organized crime and apparent mentalism there’s really nobody better for the case. The investigation itself is pretty linear and the who-done-it isn’t really even concealed but the book’s additional length affords it some time to simmer.

Margo Lane, bless her heart, ends up getting used as bait  to draw out the extradimensional antagonists. Really breaking the mold there, fellas. What were we honestly expecting though? To her credit, Margo doesn’t take it completely sitting down either. Ultimately while there’s some tension in the resolution its outcome is never really in doubt, but creepy children will never lose their effectiveness as a plot device. The nature of this particular foe is a little more grandiose than the Shadow typically combats, but it’s portrayed in such a way that it feels more or less at home in his universe.  I’m honestly a little constrained in that since the story has a mystery structure I’d feel a bit awkward spoiling it, even if it is pretty straight forward.

Taken together it’s a nice diversion before moving on the final act of the central Shadow storyline, and while Ennis still has the character pretty much on lock I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what Sniegoski could get into with a longer narrative. Calero’s art has this almost surreal impressionist quality to it at times, and I think it sets the mood for this kind of caper just about perfectly.

That brings us around to our main feature, the final installment of the Shadow’s first story arc! Things pick up where we left them, with General Akamatsu about to commit seppuku, an act which will salvage the honor of his mission’s apparent failure. Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, and Agent Finnegan watch from a nearby hideaway while Cranston explains the proceedings for the other two and for the audience. The scene itself is actually rather graphic but it drives the point home. Before Taro Kondo, acting as Akamatsu’s second, can decapitate him though he whispers a terrible revelation in his ear. The minerals were not fake, rather Kondo forged the test. Now with no one the wiser he will sell them to the highest bidder. After a few more unsavory words Kondo kills him, having completed his role as an apparent pawn in Kondo’s scheme. The double crosses in this book are getting dizzying. Kondo then begins the return trip with his soldiers and treasure in tow, suspecting he is being tailed by the others after recovering the Shadow’s .45 slugs from Buffalo Wong’s body. Of course he is correct, and Cranston plans an ambush of Kondo’s men over Finnegan’s increasingly vain protests. Cranston finally puts the blowhard in his place with some inspired acidity and goes about making the final play.

Kondo’s men are stopped along the night road by the Shadow, whom Kondo recognizes as his former underworld brother Kent Allard. The Shadow draws the soldiers into a close charge and springs the trap, attacking them with the same mines they used to sink the American marine vessel previously. Only Kondo escapes alive, the Shadow permitting his flight unpursued. With the minerals safely in hand, revealed subsequently to be Uranium-235, the three make their way to British India and safety. The epilogue reveals Kondo’s fate, seen through the Shadow’s prescience, and how he is ultimately reunited with the Uranium he spilled so much blood for.

It’s a pretty satisfying ending, but I can’t deny having a couple of hangups with it. By this point Finnegan just seems like a kind of strawman, an intellectual punching bag for Cranston to show how smart he is. He has no depth, and as much as we’re meant to dislike him it’s hard not to feel like he’s starting with a handicap. Margo also had very little to do in this arc, but her portrayal has been nuanced enough to make me hopeful for things to come.  Then there’s the climax of the conflict. There’s really no reason for the soldiers to have charged the Shadow rather than, you know, shooting him. With their guns. You can argue that the Shadow’s provocation combined with his powers of suggestion overrode their better judgment, but we don’t get a real clue of that in the story itself. Also, let’s talk about that provocation a little bit. Cranston’s language discussing the Japanese in this issue (and a couple previous ones as well) is kind of inflammatory, even bordering on racist. Condemning the writing on this though is complicated by a couple of factors. The first is that the Japanese ‘were’ responsible for abominable atrocities during the war, particularly in China. Not saying this makes prejudiced speech justified, but it is important to understand the context of characters’ words and actions. The second wrinkle is that these kinds of racist attitudes were commonplace in the time period, even among students of Asian culture like Lamont Cranston. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make everything alright, but it’s another important piece of context to comprehend. My only concern is that this context might not be adequately clear to readers not already familiar with its background. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know, what do you think?

In sum total the series is still awesome. All the hagiography I’ve laid on it before is still valid. Pick it up etcetera and so forth.

This concludes your first two-fisted Roll For Relevance! Before I go I figured I’d drop this little Halloween gem on you. I’m the one on the right…

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