Saturday, November 24, 2007

Brief responses to LOST's "Missing Pieces" web season...

I'd like to say that "Missing Pieces" has been hit-or-miss, but that would imply that they're hitting with the same frequency that they're missing. The overriding theme through the first 3 mobisodes, at least, seems rather bland - seemingly self-satisfied Losties don't know just how badly things are about to go. It's dramatic irony played to cheap effect, mostly, though the latest mobisode has a bit more going for it than the others.

1: The Watch
Christian gives Jack the watch this his dad gave him as a wedding gift, though Christian's dad meant it as a sort of curse. Beyond being something of an ambiguous character-moment for Christian - is he sincere when he says he thinks it'll work out for Jack? - not much is happening here. Geoff objected to the attention paid to the watch when we already have an important watch on the island, but I'm fine with it. The show is certainly obsessed with time, counting, and numbers, so it's consistent, at least.

2: Hurley and Frogurt
Frogurt threatens to make a move on Libby if Hurley doesn't first. Aside from the irony, I can't tell why this is necessary at all.

3: King of the Castle
Jack and Ben play chess while chatting about their deal to set Jack free. This is the first really interesting mobisode. The dialogue is painful in letting us in on the main joke - there are references to blowing up the sub, which happens, and to Jack wanting to return, which happens - but the chess game provides some additional interest. It's not immediately obvious - a number of websites, I've noticed, have mistakenly said that Ben wins the game - but Jack puts Ben in check and Ben 'castles' in order to escape. The comment, then, is not on Jack's attempt to escape and Ben foiling it, but rather on Jack seemingly defeating Ben (in the season finale?) and Ben slipping through his fingers (which has yet to happen?). Finally - and this is something I learned through lostpedia - the castling move that Ben uses is actually illegal, since Ben's king has already been moved. I can't imagine that this would be a mistake, but it would seem to imply that, if we can take the symbolism at face-value, Ben will continue to manipulate the rules of the game.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Comic book round-up...

I have two weeks of comics worth to blog about - and an unusually busy two weeks, for me at least - but I've put off making any comment at all until now. (Too busy, and so on and so forth.) So I'll make some brief comments here, which I'll eventually get around to expanding into longer reviews on (Which is, incidentally, where every blog I write about a comic ends up anyway.)

Astonishing X-Men #23 - I've pointed out a number of times that Whedon's individual arcs have largely the same structure. I won't belabor the similarities that I've drawn out in other posts, but there are some more worth mentioning: Cyclops' resurrection after last issue's suicide marks the second time that the Breakworlders have brought an X-Man back to life; more to the point, this is the fourth time in four arcs that Cyclops has either been killed or recovered from being near death, which seems a bit excessive; as well, his break-out and bad-ass pose on the final page bears much familiarity both narratively and visually to the similar "you've taken your best shot, bub..." poses at the end of AXM #10 (Xavier) and AXM #15 (Kitty). Whedon also continues with his habit of borrowing tropes from old X-Men comics, though the "Cyclops actually can access his powers" swerve is less obscure than those he made in the last couple issues. (Jason Powell notes that this turning point is also featured in Uncanny X-Men #134, #150, and #272, to which I also must add also add X-Factor #39.)

Whedon does manage one repetition with a much subtler and cleverer variation to it, though. In the opening scenes of the issue, two of the rebel Breakworlders discuss the likelihood of an X-Men victory against Kruun. One expresses optimism and Aghanne, their leader, suggests that she has been driven mad by the "hope" that the X-Men have brought with them. It's an interesting choice of words - the mutant cure in the first arc was, we should recall, also called "Hope".

The Order #4 - There's something very Lost-ish, I think, about the frame narrative 'interviews' (job interviews? or therapy sessions? we're not entirely sure) that are probably the most distinctive feature of this comic. New books written in total sincerity and full of characters we don't know are a tough sell, and this quirk shoot straight for the heart every time in trying to compel us to like these people. It's probably not working quite as well for me as I would hope: the first issue's interview was able to integrate Apollo seamlessly into the Marvel Universe and cleverly critique Tony Stark at the same time, making the entire notion of the Order feel somewhat discomforting. The subsequent interviews just haven't cut that close to the bone.

I'm also ambivalent about Barry Kitson's art. He's ideal for the interview panels, where his raised eyebrows or smirks are perfectly expressive without ever being too explicit. But his entirely generic face designs are often confusing, making it difficult to tell one character from another, and there's very little dynamism to their movements. (This is my same complaint of Jim Lee, whose characters similarly seem to be posing when they are ostensibly fighting.)

All-Star Superman #9 - All of the comments I've seen from other fans of this series - I tend to not bother reading actual 'reviews' - seem to agree that something is missing from this issue. Perhaps its the heart. Superman seems weak and whiny in this issue, (and the reason for the weakness, which actually leads to his victory in the end, comes from out of nowhere) and the villains' motivations are cliché but without serving any redeeming metatextual purpose. We certainly don't learn anything about these villains as we did about Lex or Zibarro in their issues, nor do we learn anything particularly interesting about Superman.

Even the political commentary (or what passes for a criticism of Superman's seeming apoliticism, anyway) is rather confused and superficial: the Kryptonians criticize Superman for being at the beck and call of the humans while refusing to release the miniaturized inhabitants of Kandor into the sunlight, but nothing more comes of this potential exploration of Superman's alienness. He meets their complaints with some empty-sounding platitudes and we hear nothing more of it.

Scott Pilgrim #4 - Of all these books, I've read the latest Scott Pilgrim most recently and so given it the least thought. It's easily the most melodramatic of the four books, which doesn't immediately strike me as a good thing. One of the pleasures of the early books is that the heavily stylized art, often esoteric (or, rather, geeky) allusions, and ironic tone have affected a comfortable distance for the readers from the characters: the stories have a kind of magical realism (as opposed to superhero stories which, while featuring fantastical elements, are typically aimed at approximating realism) that borders on the absurd, with dialogue that's too self-conscious and, accordingly, characters that are hilariously adept at meeting our expectations of their type. O'Malley seems to have made a habit of delivering more of everything with each new volume, and this one takes a misstep by turning up teen angst (which is particularly bothersome, for me at least, because these characters are very nearly my age): discussions about the 'L-word', the introduction of new-old love interests just for the sake of complicating things, misunderstandings that could easily be cleared up if the characters weren't sometimes idiots...

Perhaps worst of all, I suddenly realized that Ramona is entirely out of Scott's league and I have no idea what she would see in him. (Which is to say that the consequence of humanizing your characters and giving them real emotional problems is that we begin to regard them as real people and question their decisions accordingly. And there's no question in my mind that their relationship makes no sense.) A recurring exchange perhaps illustrates this best of all - Scott makes repeated mentions of how Ramona's age is "unknown", as if she's some sort of villainous 80s wrestler. And despite this being a cute quirk of the book's style, O'Malley turns it into some sign of their communication problems before finally revealing her age at the book's end as a way of patching things up. (Spoiler: She's 24.)

All this said, O'Malley also continues to widen his range of always entertaining geeky references: that Scott's dreamscape resembles a Legend of Zelda game, complete with a "forest elf", is priceless. It's a wonderful escapist moment in a book that, despite its previous successes in eliding flirtations with the mundaneness of too much realism, seems aimed at demystifying precisely what's made it so interesting.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Because i know some LOST fans lurk around my blog...

ABC is going to be posting 2-3 minute 'mobisodes' - which feature individual character flashbacks - over the weeks leading up to the season premiere. The first episode is going on their site this next Monday, but it's already been leaked. You can check it out by clicking here.

Minor Spoilers: I don't have a tremendous amount to say - I suspect that the watch has made an appearance and I just don't recall. I might edit in some more thoughts upon further reflection.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Dallaire! The Musical: On Canada's conflation of Rwanda and Afghanistan

When the Toronto International Film Festival opened this past September, the dramatization of UN force commander Romeo Dallaire's spectacularly failed* peacekeeping mission in Rwanda - titled Shake Hands with the Devil, as it's based on Dallaire's book of the same name - garnered plenty of attention, in Canada at least. Not all of it was good. NOW Toronto gave it a middling review, the critic noting that this was "the third kick at the can" for Dallaire's story, including the original memoirs and a Dallaire-guided documentary - though not including the incorporation of a character based on Dallaire in Hotel Rwanda, nor an earlier documentary that features interviews with him - and closes the the festival guide blurb by sarcastically suggesting next year we'll see Dallaire! The Musical.

The closing comment might be in bad taste, but the joke nonetheless identifies a baffling eagerness to fill Canadian bookshelves, television screens, and movie theatres with the story of this now-iconic hero. It is not a coincidence, I think, that each version seems more successful than the last and that Dallaire has turned into something of a mini-industry as Canada's participation in ostensible 'peacekeeping' missions in Afghanistan lose public support. There's no comparable hero in Afghanistan - General Rick Hillier seems to make more news butting heads with the governing Conservative party than he does through Canadian military action - so Dallaire has been marched out as some symbol of selfless Canadian sacrifice in the name of keeping peace.

I suggested during a class discussion that Dallaire failed in his mission, but quickly came to realize that it was actually something of a success. Not with respect to the estimated 20,000 people that he managed to save, but in a much more ideological sense - his failure to avert disaster but to simultaneously secure some small victory in spite of the odds is itself very consistent with a hegemonically Canadian sense of the nation's self. Appropriating Dallaire for Afghanistan - even if it's never done explicitly - allows Canada to again deny its complicity in neocolonial wars abroad (even if only to its own citizens), to race to innocence where Americans struggle to avoid being saddled with the guilt of a neoimperialist agenda. Dallaire's failure - illustrative as it is about the costs of being a peacekeeper, rather than a conqueror, in a country of 'devils' - allows the government to paint Afghanistan with the same brush - if Canada is failing to maintain order, it's because the 'devils' in Afghanistan are similarly beyond the reason of peace. One would imagine that Dallaire's underdog story can only be milked for so much sympathy - though the incredulous letters that the Dallaire! The Musical joke earned would indicate that it still has some mileage left.

* Granted, his peacekeeping force was reduced to something like 250 soldiers at one point, so he's hardly to blame for failing to stop a civil war in a country with a population numbering in the millions.