Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper Merges with The Infinite

On my way home the other day I was listening to a story about how a modern art museum in LA was retrofitting itself under new leadership, and that their first new exhibit would be the work of Dennis Hopper. Actor, director, writer and visual artist.

And then I saw this afternoon that Hopper had passed.

My first memory of Hopper is from seeing "Hoosiers", the Gene Hackman Indiana high school basketball flick. But I also very much recall that during the post-Platoon surge of Vietnam movies, The Admiral decided we should really see "Apocalypse Now".

Apparently I'd seen him previously in "My Science Project", a movie now forgotten and collecting dust or in landfills on VHS. I'd also see him circa 1989 when I rented "River's Edge". But, of course, Hopper was just sort of omnipresent, and you didn't know when he'd pop up, from "Rebel Without A Cause" as a rental, to "Space Truckers" when you were watching TV on a Saturday morning. "Cool Hand Luke", of course.

Of course I watched "Easy Rider", too.

Anyway, I was shocked to see that Hopper had passed. 74 seems young these days. 202 acting credits on IMDB seems almost impossible.

Vaya con dios, sir.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Four Dollars for a Comic?

I don't know how much comics cost when I started buying them, but I remember that when I first started collecting, comics were $0.75. A few months back, Marvel comics moved the price point of several of their titles from $2.99 to $3.99 for a 32 page comic. And now DC Comics is following suit. Not on all titles, but the shift to $3.99 has started (I have to partially blame the fact that titles like "Blackest Night", which were priced higher, sold just fine).

In recent years, as DC and Marvel have pushed their mega-narratives to company-wide cross-over events (see DC's "Blackest Night" and Marvel's "Siege"), I had to make a conscious choice to quit following Marvel comics.

This wasn't based upon any Marvel vs. DC complaint, as I had followed Captain America, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Black Panther and many other titles since the mid-80's (I have a continuous run of Uncanny X-men from issue 168-320, for chrissake). Even prior to Marvel raising its prices, the sheer volume of comics a buyer had to pick up to follow a storyline went through the roof, and not for a short summer event. These events lasted the better part of a year.

So around issue #3 of Marvel's "Secret Invasion", I realized I was both (a) not terribly interested in the story and (b) did not want to spend the money to follow the storyline.

So Monday night I began sorting through several months of comics and discovered that of a stack of comics that was quite literally 2 - 2.5 feet high, I had purchased 2 "floppies" from Marvel during that time. Yes, I had purchased Captain America collections, but the bottom line appears to be that rising costs and the "event" driven nature of the Big 2 of the past few years meant I gave up on one of the companies.

I'm wondering if I'm not the only one.

But now, looking at an increase of 33% in the cost of a single, 32 page comic (most of which have 22 pages of content and 10 of ads, etc...)? It's hard enough to justify the number of comics I read at this point, and I do buy comics from other publishers (it's always been easier to swallow higher prices from smaller publishers as its clear how quickly they can go under). At any rate, as of this month, I'll be dropping another handful of DC titles that have only partially captured my interest. And its that much less likely I'll pick up any new titles from either DC or Marvel.

I have to wonder, exactly, what DC and Marvel think they're doing. I can buy a novel for under $15. Buy a DVD for $8. Download an album for $10 or cheaper. Play a video game for hours and hours for $20 - $50. And I can certainly go look online for illegal scans of comics for no direct cost (although I have serious issues with the practice and don't do it myself). But buying 3 comics shouldn't cost me $12. Or, more accurately, buying material supported by advertising for, really, roughly 22 pages of comics per... its $12 for about 60 pages of material, depending on how many splash pages they toss in.

The price point says nothing healthy about the industry, and demonstrates that DC is unable to think of better cost-cutting measures before passing their costs along to consumers. But with something you read so quickly, and often only once, how to rationalize the cost? And, it seems, the cost of comics is rising faster than almost any known product out there.

The announcement that DC would move to a $4 price point is, for me, problematic...

I'll be reviewing my titles this month. This, alone, could mean I go to trades with Batman books, drop Booster Gold, Doom Patrol and others. And not because I wasn't enjoying them, but they were on my "B" list. I'll not pick up the new "Emerald Warriors" series from DC at all, at least I'll never own it in a floppy format.

I'm absolutely not married to the higher quality paper and technical techniques that both companies switched to in the 90's, and what I suspect are probably overvalued by most in the business. I'd gladly begin looking at digital comics from DC at a lowered price point, and if the entry into an iPad weren't so damn steep.

Yes, I'll continue to pick up Superman comics. That's my thing. But I'd prefer that it not be my only thing. I have a pretty darn considerable collection of Batman and Detective comics, too, and the thought of ending that due to price point is more than a little depressing.

At the end of the day, $3 was high, and $3.50 had been pushing it. At $4... I found my threshold and I'll need to re-evaluate.

Weekly Watch Wind 05/28/2010

Movies/ DC Comics: I got so excited reading that Superman will be coming to theaters for the Holidays in 2012 and that WB execs are talking about movies featuring The Flash and Wonder Woman, I kind of threw up a little.

Superman on the big screen. I am kind of freaking out.

and, seriously... A Flash movie could be crazy fun.

Also, there's an amazing song and dance number after the second jump. Its performed by action figures of superheroes and discusses the status of movies from Marvel and DC.

Randy/ Links: Randy has promoted himself to Chief Link-Meister of the Signal Corps and ChronSnob. We are terribly excited about following Randy's input, and have made a home for his work over in the "Legion" links on the left. I also suggest adding his site to your RSS reader.

Television/ DC Comics: I don't watch Fox TV's "Fringe" (Steanso does, and says nice things about it), but I guess the season finale featured several alternate universe covers from classic DC Comics. You will either get these or you won't.

Music: Willie Nelson cut his hair. I'll be dipped.

Music: Just yesterday I was wondering when the hell Arcade Fire's next album would arrive. August 2.

Weird/ Why?: Teen Wolves! Apparently teenagers are now telling folks that they're werewolves. In San Antonio (where I think being a were-coyote or were-scrappy-neighborhood-dog makes infinitely more sense). Anyway, I am very glad I am not a high-schooler.

Superman/ Television: You may recall the "Smallville" related item about the commercial celebrating Chloe/ Allison Mack. The final product is just kind of weird and awkard (and the choice of music, which sounded like a classic NES score, wasn't helping).

Classic/ Comics: Flash Gordon returns to comics at Dynamite! Entertainment. Also, Mandrake.

Superheroes/ Events: Great event or GREATEST event? The good people of Melbourne, Australia will try to set a world record for most people assembled dressed as superheroes. I would so attend this event, cape flapping in the wind.

Superman/ Wrong: Dean Haspiel discusses Lois Lane #106, the eye-brow raising issue where Lois Lane uses Super Science to become black for a day or so. Its one of those well-meaning, but ill-executed attempts to discuss social issues in a superhero/ romance comic.

Yes, I own a copy of this comic.

WTF?/ Autoracing: Formula One racing? Why, that's more of a Shelbyville idea...!

Way, way out of scope for this blog, but it came over the wire on Tuesday night that Austin will supposedly host Formula One racing starting in 2012. The deal was apparently made without a single public announcement or bit of consideration. Which is fairly typical of what happens when someone from the big city comes to town (I live in Austin) and starts waving around money.

While I am curious about the spectacle of Formula One, this is not a motor sports kind of town, and the infrastructure isn't going to handle this kind of event without causing some serious problems. Not to mention, part of the deal is building an all-new track, which likely means somebody is getting a Formula One track in their backyard. Not to mention the likelihood that tax dollars will be redirected to the track that nobody asked for.

City of Austin, prepare to see an infuriated populace. And certainly raises questions about the common concept that any money coming to town is what the citizens want. Not to mention, F1 seems to have flamed out in several cities when it was no longer financially viable.

Sadly, I hope this effort fails.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Super Bored

I've been in a lousy mood for days. Between coming off of vacation, some cognitive dissonance, North Korea acting crazy, the BP oil spill, and my inability to basically have enough hours in a day... I'm a little down, which makes it tough to find FUN things to talk about. And, dammit, I'm here for fun.

So, I apologize if this week has seemed a tad off.

This evening I decide to shake off the blues.

Anyway, I had nothing in particular to write about, so I thought I'd share an evening at home at The Watch Tower.

Ah. An evening to myself in the Justice Lounge. SuperTed and I decide to kick back with some fine reading.

Just settled in, Scout surprised me with a request.

Puppies like comics. These two were intent on having comics read aloud to them while they looked at pictures.

Afterward, they insisted on playing "Legion of Super Pets". Lucy wanted to be "Proty II". Scout wanted to be SuperScout. Jeff the Cat was cast as "Stupid Cat", and was chased.

Ryan S. sez: Comics are good for the physical and mental development of all puppies. Read comics to your puppies every day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This is so you...

For going on 7 years, Randy has shared links with Ransom and myself, often with the subject line "This is so (insert either Ryan or Ransom)".

He's now turned that link service into a blog!

This Is So You aka: Links for Ransom and Ryan S..

Computer Status, Television, Books

Maintenance: So, my job had assigned me a very nice laptop computer. When stepping out of my car about a week and a half ago, I dropped the computer, completely ruining the display. I basically have no laptop, which means I'm currently having to retreat to my office to blog, which is not SOP here at The Signal Watch.

I am unsure if the work computer will be replaced, but I do know its making it a bit of an effort to actually write anything at the moment as I've been forced into having to sit at my desktop computer like its 1995 or something.

Television: My cable package is as ever-changing as the T-1000, and so I was surprised to see a new channel added to my HD line-up this evening, "CI". I believe its "Crime and Investigation", which seems to translate to cop shows in re-runs, such as "Crossing Jordan". But it also includes "Twin Peaks". So, I spent a part of the evening watching episodes of "Twin Peaks".

In the week when "Lost" and all of its mysteries went off the air, free of its own will, and with its own producer-determined conclusion, it was interesting to see "Twin Peaks" at its height, with Leland Palmer/ BOB revealed as the murderer, and to ponder that had Season 2 not gone so horrendously off the rails, at some point "Twin Peaks" would have had to come to some conclusion, and let's be honest... wrapping things up was never David Lynch's style. Would the audience have been dissatisfied had the writers not explained The Black Lodge other than in the magical abstract? Or given a life history of BOB? Explained who, exactly, Cooper's Diane might be, and was she actually receiving the tapes?

But, ah... Sherilyn Fenn...

I've been a bit surprised at the flack "Lost" took on Facebook as the switch has flipped and the audience seems to feel gypped by the entire sixth season. Perhaps my aforementioned "casual observer" status had me preset to just accept whatever "Lost" put on the table, but I have to also wonder: seriously, what did the audience who felt the finale let them down expect? I have no idea.

Books: I'm currently reading "The Man with the Getaway Face". It's aces. And I am going to go off and finish it now, if you don't mind.

Day or Two Off

Still not entirely back from vacation, mentally, anyway.

Here's Jamie from our hotel balcony shortly after we woke up on Saturday and had some hotel room coffee. We immediately headed down and did some swimming in the ocean.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So, that was "Lost"

Editor's note: It's late. I came back from a weekend excursion to Galveston and have literally done nothing but watch "Lost" and think about "Lost" since our arrival. I am very tired. This thing is riddled with spoilers.

I started writing this before ever seeing the finale. If I have to come down on a "yay" or "nay" vote, I'll vote "yay". Read at your own peril.


So. That was a whole lot of time to wind up sitting on the sofa. (spoiler: you can probably skip the Jimmy Kimmel thing if its sitting on your DVR. It was confusing filler.)

I recently said to Steanso "I'm watching the last season of Lost with the same interest I watch a baseball game when the Cubs or Astros aren't playing. Its kind of interesting, and I want to see what happens, but I don't feel invested, and its kind of dragging." The endless sea of commercials aside, at least the finale kept moving.

At some point in any story, I suppose I want for them to cut to the chase. Once we knew the show would finish, I suppose I became a bit impatient. At least the time-bomb of "here's my theory" I planted with Steanso a few months ago was way off, so the show kept me guessing right up until the conclusion (at best, I was ten minutes ahead of revealed plot points).

There's a certain charm to knowing that the metaphysical beings in your story aren't going to ever really explain things down to the midichlorian level, but in the final episodes of the final season of "Lost", we came darn close. But it almost seemed like because the "answers" weren't a jack-in-the-box single, unifying answer that rewarded some a priori knowledge one might have coming to the show (ie: oh, this was always just an allegory for "Paradise Lost", etc...), the answers at the end of the show were going to feel a bit off to some part of the audience.

I read a LOT of fiction with made-from-whole-cloth mythologies that reflect real mythologies or allude to real events or Bibilical stories, but are their own thing. I haven't really known what people meant by "they won't answer everything" since the episode when they did Richard Alpert's back story and pretty much explained exactly what was going on.

Of one thing I am certain: we can look forward to a day or two on Facebook of our friends loudly decrying the ending of "Lost". They will have painted an emotional beat in their head that the show should hit, and as the ending will not have been that ending, prepare for griping. But short of the ending of "Newhart", has anyone been happy with how any series ended? This is why networks would rather run a series into the ground than give it a conclusion. As an audience, I wonder if we're trained to accept the ending of serial narratives.

The closest I've seen is in comics, of course. Series like Neil Gaiman's Sandman also ended on an interpretive note, with some storylines and characters left to dangle, and with an oddly off key tone. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Preacher ends tidily, but its tough to paint it as a happy ending for all involved. Or Alan Moore and JH Williams III's Promethea, like Sandman, hits a somewhat abstract note as the series wraps, knowing that we're not just ending a character arc or a particular event in a hero's life, but a world is having to be shut down, a world in which not just the audience has a stake, but most certainly where the creators have a stake, and need to mourn the death of the world they'd created.

DC Comics has said good-bye to its two flagship characters in Superman and Batman, while managing to still not say good bye in odd, requiem-like stories in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?". Both stories are almost painful to read as the reader is asked to say good-bye to characters who most of us cannot recall a time when we didn't know the names of the characters. Just as the original "Crisis on Infinite Earths" shut the doors on the DCU that many knew and loved... it takes about ten issues before you hit the emotional beats, but its there as well as Marv Wolfman and Perez set the stage and are given the heavy task of writing the death scene for a world. You can skip most of "COIE", but those last couple of chapters are a bit heartbreaking.

Perhaps in these larger serial works, there's simply too many characters, each who found their own voice. There are too many plots, some explored and with the arcs known and done, but not all. There's too many characters who have moved in and out, too many locations seen, too much of a world that's been made to possibly put a bow on things the same way you'd do at the end of a novel that arrived in one piece rather than in exploratory episodic storytelling bits. And doesn't a movie have the advantage when its 2 hours in and out, and if you didn't like it, what did you really invest?

But the world ending... it just seems much harder. And if it were difficult for the cast, crew and audience of "Lost", imagine these soaps that have run for 70 years that are just now closing the curtain.

So if the ending of Lost sought to put the characters in a better place, then I can't help but forgive the producers. And if the audience couldn't make that last leap of faith with the writers and producers and see how this whole ball of wax tied together? Well, the show was imperfect, but so are expectations. I think its safe to say the show stayed on course and remained true to what it was from the first season (even if I wanted for the show to remain a show about ghostly radio signals and science gone awry). If the producers always knew what they wanted to do for a finale, and wrote towards it (and all indications are that they did know), then what can you say?

In my opinion, the producers made some serious mistakes.

1) They should have revealed all this Jacob back story in Season 4. This also would have meant that the audience would have quit building up how terrific the "answers" were going to be, and worry more about what the characters, because that's certainly what the producers were worried about at this point.

2) I kind of think the scale of the whole thing seemed to actually get smaller and smaller as the show went along instead of bigger and bigger as the show focused on a few key characters, dismissed key problems like life and death, where to get food, etc... that made the show kind of interesting to begin with. But the show seems to have sort of turned into a domestic drama in its final season, which could be perceived as an odd way to end a show which used to have haunting numeric frequencies, exploding hatches, donkey wheels moving islands in time and space, etc... At some point, the characters became so well loved that the scale of things got... lost.

During the 2-hour build up, they kept insisting the show was "character driven", which I wasn't sure I agreed with. I've always felt it was fairly plot driven. Aside from Jack, it seemed all of the characters were fungible bits to the A Plot. That isn't to say that good actinga nd clever writing didn't provide great moments and neat ideas, but...

3) They gave up Elizabeth Mitchell to "V". While I am pleased to know that Elizabeth Mitchell is lighting cigars with $100 bills on her TV star salary, I have to say the promise of Juliet in an episode got me through some pretty hacky storylines.

4) They should have kept the show about an island that had been a sort of haunted house where a science experiment went seriously wrong. Once the show went magical... well, its hard to complain about magical glowing golden lights when your answer can always be "unicorns" or "Doug Henning".

It does seem that my detachment from most any drama series keeps me from having any particular emotional reaction to failed expectations. "X-Files" sort of ruined me for series television (although Season 4 of "Friday Night Lights" is on track, and "Treme" is bringing me back around).

In the end, I suspected a tear-jerker ending for the series. For being a fantasy/ sci-fi show, they did find the right beats from Charlie's death to the birth of Claire's baby, and they knew they could pull it off. I just wasn't sure how, or what they'd choose to do.

I suspect that those expecting an ending with the main cast landing in LA and finding love and life will be sadly disappointed. For those expecting something else (I'm not sure what? A lightsaber duel between Smokey and Jacob?), the pseudo-spiritual ending to the thing, and the explanation of the side-ways shifts will be less than what they wanted. But given the closing delta of the show's scope and its propensity for softly lit, romantically scored scenes, and the absolute need for an all-hands closing shot (come on... think of all those lingering shots of the cast at the end of those early episodes), this was about what I was expecting.

But, as I said here at the beginning, I've been watching with detached interest since walking away from the show around Season 2 and coming back around mid-way through Season 3.

The question now must be: what next for television? And what next for audiences?

Since Lost's premier drew in viewers in the 10's of millions, TV has tried to inject mythologies into shows from the first episode. Almost all of those shows have failed that didn't rely on camp or soap opera. And if fan reaction is overwhelmingly negative, killing reruns and DVD sales, will execs decide it just isn't worth it and add on another hour of dating or dancing reality shows?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gundam Calling


Lost Finale Night

Lost's most complex character?

We at the Signal Watch have been continuous, if not always enthusiastic viewers of ABC's "Lost". In our hearts, we sort said good-bye to the show when Elizabeth Mitchell was announced as the star of ABC's (now known to be embarrassing) re-tread of "V", the 80's pop culture phenomenon, and we knew we'd lost Juliet forever.

So tonight, we're joining Troubles herself on the sofa and watching the whole finale.

Good night, Island.

Good night, Dharma Shark.

Good night, Hurley.

Good night, John Locke.

Good night, Smokey and Jacob.

Good night, Juliet. We will miss you most of all.

Oh, Juliet. We'll miss you and your clingy island apparel.