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More Cowbell: Jeff on Things and Stuff.

Jeff Lester

At first, I was just going to write about Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Gingerbread Girl, but I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to say about it.  (Uh, things?  And, uh, stuff?)

So, after the jump, Gingerbread Girl, X-Men: First Class (the movie), Star Wars Omnibus (Vol. 3), and more…things and stuff.

(oh, and don’t forget to scroll down for the shipping list…and John’s reviews…and Graeme’s reviews?!  Holy shit. We need to learn how to pace ourselves.)

GINGERBREAD GIRL GN:  In an age where comics are taking their cue from movie and cinema, it’s delightful to read Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Gingerbread Girl, a graphic novel about a mysterious twenty-something in Portland, OR and her odd affliction:  it’s comics shot through with a big ol’ dose of live theater, as every character breaks the fourth wall to address the reader about what they know about Annah Billips.  (I’m not much of a live theater guy at all, but more than once I was reminded of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker (basis for Hello, Dolly?  I did not know that.  Thanks, Wikipedia!).)  Tobin’s speeches are shot through with high-end whimsy — “But of course that’s all we really we want from someone,” Annah’s reluctantly smitten date says at one point, “Destroy a lover’s mystery and they’re less glimmering.  Throw breadcrumbs at pigeons and they’ll flock to you in droves.  Throw a bread loaf at them and they’ll scatter.  Crumbs of a mystique are just right. A loaf of explanation is too much.” — but they’ve still got nothing on Coover’s delicious art, able to invest seemingly anyone and anything with charm and clarity.

Gingerbread Girl is a mystery of sorts, with the lead character believing she has a twin created from her own stripped away Penfield Homunculus, and everyone else trying to figure out if she’s crazy or not.  As the above speech suggests, the graphic novel decides not to solve that mystery, but rather leave us tantalized on the edge of realization.  It’s a fun choice, but one that left me feeling more than a little cheated.  I’m sure the idea is to make me look from the book’s plot to its possible theme — I’ll take “narratives about narrative strategies” for $500, Alex! — but I can’t help but feel we could’ve gotten that and a more traditional nod toward conventional narrative climax.  One of the things this gorgeous looking book repeatedly reminds us about its main  character is that she’s a tease.  It’s a reminder the reader would do well to take to heart about Gingerbread Girl itself. Being teased is much more fun when there’s little to lose, and $12.95 doesn’t exactly grow on trees these days.  GOOD stuff,  I think?  Or maybe just at the very highest end of OK?  I still can’t decide.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS:  The last thing I expected from this movie was to be reminded of Mario Bava, and yet as the film hit hour 35 of lovely visuals, paper-thin characters and a boredom that teetered on the edge of hypnotic, it was the reference point I came back to.  Of course, I expected a movie about a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Something-Or-Other-Because He’s-Still-Magneto-To-Me (Michael Fassbender) recruiting mutants to fight Sebastian Shaw’s Hellfire Club to have more than a dash of Brian Singeresque touches to it, so I figured there would be the usual queer subtext (tearful speeches by young teenagers about how they wish they could be like everyone else, young men with full lips and big eyes rubbing their bare arms).  But Matthew Vaughn turns X-Men: First Class into a sensual free-for-all, with ladies walking about in excessively cumbersome lingerie, diamond girls being tied to beds by the rails of the bed itself, excessively nude exploding female mannequins, and I’m not even getting into the whole Xavier/Magneto/Mystique triangle.

More than that, though, Vaughn’s tremendous sense of visual flair and attention to detail makes the movie just visually sensuous: it sounds goofy, but there’s a scene where Magneto plucks a submarine out of the water, and the way the droplets spun off the propellers had me transfixed. There were at least a dozen more moments like that and I savored each one of them.

Unfortunately, the movie has just too much fucking stuff in it — it’s sodden, is what it is — showing us not just the opening of the first X-Men movie where a young Erik pries at the gates of Auschwitz, but also the scene that comes after that, as well as what Charles Xavier was doing at that point.  We not only get their meeting in mid-action scene, but the CIA’s decision to help them recruit mutants, a long recruitment sequence, Hank McCoy as both versions of the Beast, a long sequence introducing the Hellfire Club…none of it is bad, exactly (except for January Jones, who in her inability to smile, talk, drink or even walk convincingly I now believe to be the genuine embodiment of  the Martian Spy Girl from Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!) but there’s just no fucking room for anything to breathe.  It’s three good movies jammed into one exasperatingly long and dull one, with every dramatic conflict boiled down so much they might as well been bullet points on a Powerpoint presentation.

I think if I’d seen this movie while hopped up on prescription pain medication, I would’ve loved its horny languor. (If it turns out that Vaughn knocked up January Jones as the rumors have it, it won’t be surprising at all.  In fact, what would be surprising would be if he didn’t also impregnate the script girl, Zoe Kravitz, Rose Byrne’s slip, and that kid who played The Beast.) But it was a slog and a chore to make it to the end of this movie and it really didn’t have to be.  Somewhere between EH and AWFUL.

STAR WARS OMNIBUS, VOL. 3:  At Graeme’s suggestion, I picked up a copy of this from the library way-too-long ago and have been poking through it at the rate of a few stories a week.  These are the Marvel comics from the early ’80s reprinted, covering the period immediately following The Empire Strikes Back.  As I told Graeme on the podcast, the ESB is exactly where I jumped off the Star Wars comic wagon, in no small part because it became obvious that none of it really mattered:  nothing says “we’ve told the creators of our licensed product nothing” like a romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia and the infamous “Luke, I am your father” speech.

Did I say “nothing”?  That is a lie, I admit it — what really says “we’ve told the creators of our licensed product nothing” is reading this volume in light of the events of Return of the Jedi.  The subtitle for this volume is “A Long Time Ago…” but it really should’ve been “George Lucas’ Galactic Twincest Follies.” There are no less than half-a-dozen disquieting scenes where Luke and Leia almost kiss or spend quiet moments pondering their unspoken, but strongly felt feelings for one another.  If only V.C. Andrews could’ve written that “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” sequel!

But Graeme is right in a lot of ways — these stories, the majority of them by David Michelinie and Walt Simonson, with Simonson plotting and doing layouts with Tom Palmer doing heavy finishes, are a lot like watching the original trilogy over and over again.  Curiously, even though this takes place after Empire, the only real bits the talent take from that movie are Lando and the idea of a rebellion always on the run from a seemingly all-powerful Empire. Otherwise, it’s a lot of impervious imperial bases that need exploding, blasters that need blasting, feelings that need trusting, and possible romantic triangles where two of the participants are siblings.  There’s probably a good reason why Marvel’s creative teams continued to treat Luke Skywalker as the untarnishable focal point — my guess is Luke, young and orphaned and full of questions and potential, was much closer to the ’70s Marvel hero archetype than awesome, dashing (kinda assholey) Han Solo — even as Lucas threw a whole bunch of cold water on the idea of Luke as hero in Empire.

Ultimately, the story I enjoyed the best was the weirdest one — the two-parter by Chris Claremont, Simonson and Carmine Infantino where an inventoried John Carter of Mars story is shoehorned into a Star Wars story.  I’ve always enjoyed Claremont’s infrequent work on Star Wars (pre-teen Jeff would’ve told you that his favorite Marvel Star Wars issues were #17, co-plotted by Claremont, Star Wars Annual #1 with art by Mike Vosburg…and also Star Wars #38 with that awesome Michael Golden art, Claremont be damned) and here he gets a chance to let his ham actor instincts dig into a story in which Princess Leia crash-lands on a world suspiciously like Barsoom, and the swashbuckling hero suspiciously like John Carter gets something suspiciously like a space boner for her.  Strong, courageous, and the survivor of brutal torture, Princess Leia is Chris Claremont’s idea of a hot chick and he makes the most of the first person narration by the Carter pastiche to talk about her brave resourcefulness and sad eyes.  In its way, the story is a better acknowledgment of Star Wars’ roots than what Lucas went on to do in The Phantom Menace, though the airships here show a marked similarity to what is done there.  However, because these stories were written in simpler, far less ambitious times, there’s not the thorough airing out of influences there could be, where we can really get the sense of just how much Star Wars owes to Burroughs’ desert landscapes, exotic princesses, alien pals and low-gravity swashbuckling.  There’s just a repurposing of art, a light feeling out of topics that will later become fetish (for Claremont, anyway) and then it’s on to the next.

I thought this stuff was highly OK, and in some places quite GOOD, but I guess I prefer more Cosmic Twincest Follies far more intentional and far less accidental.  It was fun revisiting what so many of us thought Star Wars was, instead of what it actually turned out to be.

FLASHPOINT: LEGION OF DOOM #1:  “My name’s Heatwave.  I’ve got a hunger… burning in my gut.  The only way to stop it… is to satisfy my appetite.”

So begins the dumbest, most inept comic I’ve read in a while.  It’s so bad I’m shocked Hibbs passed it over for his ever-increasing number of “I Have Read The Worst Comic I Have Ever Read” columns.  Here, Adam Glass and Rodney Buchemi treat us to a tale of  non-starter supervillain Heat Wave, who starts off the book incinerating one-half of Firestorm’s secret identity because he wants to fight a guy whose head is on fire.  Then Cyborg shows up and awesome dialogue like “Didn’t your mommy ever tell you not to play with matches, Heatwave?” “Sure did! So I burned her to death.”  Then Heat Wave makes a train run out of control by…shooting it with flames?  Then Heat Wave ends up in prison where he proves himself to be a bad-ass by breaking the leg of a dude who must have shins made out of breadsticks.  Then Heat Wave gets manhandled by prison guard Amazo, which totally makes sense because Amazo is a robot with all the powers of the Justice League in an alternate universe where there never was a Justice League.  Then there’s a Hostess cupcake ad, just like we had back in the ’70s, except it’s eight pages long and it’s about Subway.  Then the awesome Legion of  Doom headquarters shows up but here in the Flashpoint universe it’s a prison for super-tough criminals but for some reason Heat Wave is put in there, too.  Then Zsasz threatens Heat Wave. Then Clue Master turns up.  Then Heat Wave kicks a dude in the nuts.  Then, later in their cell, Clue Master clutches his stomach, coughs up blood, and then Plastic Man pulls himself out of Clue Master’s mouth.  Yes, Clue Master was a mule used to smuggle in Plastic Man who on the last page is standing there grinning evilly, saying “Okay, you ready to blow this popsicle stand?” as one bloody arm still juts from Clue Master’s mouth.  The next issue caption helpfully says, “NEXT ISSUE:  PLASTIC MAN!”

(Finally, I know why Jack Cole killed himself. Poor precognitive bastard.)

If you’re the fan of the noise that’s made when someone scrapes the very bottom of the barrel, this is the book for you. I actually hope this book has 100% sell-through for retailers, because I worry it will otherwise end up being donated to a hospital somewhere and make ill and injured children lose the will to live.  This book gets the seldom-used ASS rating which is actually overrating it by just a tad.  Please don’t tell me you bought it and enjoyed it.

14 Responses to “ More Cowbell: Jeff on Things and Stuff. ”

  1. I bought Flashpoint: Legion of Doom and enjoyed it.

  2. Ditto on badass Heat Wave and reverse enema Plastic Man. If you thought that comic was ASS, you’ve led a sheltered life.

    Mike

  3. “Enormous stormtroopers!”

    That’s probably my favorite comic panel EVER.

  4. RE: X-Men — I think you overdosed on Pride week, mm?

    RE: Star Wars: “It was fun revisiting what so many of us thought Star Wars was, instead of what it actually turned out to be.”

    Especially because ours was better!

    RE: Heat Wave: I only “Worst/Ever” things that some part of me somewhere care about.

    I also added a tag!

    -B

  5. B:

    RE: X-Men: Yeah, maybe that was it. I guess I should’ve brought my E from home, rather than buying the extra-large size from the concession stand.

    A.L.: Yeah, that was…what? I kinda loved it although I didn’t remember there being much follow-through at all on that one…

    Pete & MBunge: Half-convinced you guys are kidding me, but if it floated your boat, more power to you.

  6. You buried the cowbell joke in the title…

  7. Dude, I am totally serious. I wouldn’t say it was great or even very good but just as a matter of perspective, if FLASHPOINT: LEGION OF DOOM is ass…what do you call something like RISE OF ARSENAL or MARVILLE?

    You’ve got to be judicious in ripping stuff. I mean, if you’ve called the original Transformers movie an atrocity…what word can then appropriately describe the exponentially worse REVENGE OF THE FALLEN?

    Mike

  8. @Mbunge: I guess I would…also call them ASS? ASS-PLUS if I had to? (In the case of MARVILLE, I’m pretty sure I did…)

    I mean, I agree about being judicious, but I think I found nearly every single panel of this to be painfully inept, smug, and panderous. It’s poorly paced, the dialogue is awful, and it’s maybe the dullest possible take on the material possible with maybe the dullest villain in the DCU possible. Believe me, I wouldn’t have thrown this thing the rating that I did if it hadn’t been the worst comic I’d read in several months. Maybe not picking up RISE OF ARSENAL has left me uninnoculated to the crap comic virus?

    Finally, I haven’t seen any of the Transformers movies, but the idea that people should’ve been a little kinder to the first just because the third would be even worse is a really weird idea.

  9. Jeff, this was pretty amazing. I’d make some analogy with irritated clams making pearls, and maybe Red Lantern hate-vomit but it’s just not coming together.

  10. “I think I found nearly every single panel of this to be painfully inept, smug, and panderous. It’s poorly paced, the dialogue is awful, and it’s maybe the dullest possible take on the material possible with maybe the dullest villain in the DCU possible.”

    Eh. Maybe I just have lower standards than you, but it sounds like you went into it with a bad attitude. I mean, if you don’t think reverse enema Plastic Man is cool, we’re on two different wavelengths.

    Mike

  11. I’d just like to point out that Heatwave killed Jason Rusch because he wanted to become Firestorm with Ronnie Raymond, not to fight him. Glass doesn’t exactly make that clear, but that’s why.

  12. @Joe: No need to work that analogy out any further, Joe. I get what you mean (I hope).

    @Mike: I am more than willing to grant you both the bad attitude and the two different wavelengths. Also, I have to concede the following…

    @Dan: Thanks for pointing that out. I did indeed miss that little point and it’s…almost clever? I dunno, maybe I would’ve been more patient about reverse-enema Plastic Man if it had opened with something so retarded.

  13. C’mon, DC not pussyfoot about! Plastic Man’s arm should have straight up come out of Clue Master’s arse together with a speech balloon saying stuff like: “Hey, give a guy a hand whycantcha?! Whoooo! Biryani – bad mistake! I’d get that seen to if I were you, pal! When I said I was a big Colon fan, I meant Ernie Colon, Sheesh!”

    DC – call me!

  14. Well, I’ve got to say that oddly enough the book with the least amount of violence and body horror seems to be written by Geoff Johns. Huh. Not sure how I feel about that. (keep in mind I’ve only read Project Superman and The Outsider in addition to the main title)

    *SPOILER* FOR PROJECT SUPERMAN

    After reading PS this week I can say with a fair amount of certainty somebody thought it would be cool to do Dragonball Z in DCU.

    The test subject (with a name like Sinclair is there ANY chance whatsoever this dude won’t turn into a problem?) is a stand-in for Gohan, of course, right down to the hairstyle (which gets progressively more Super Saiyan as he grows more fully into his powers) and mixed parentage alien DNA. Also, his wicked Spirit Bomb that blew everything to kingdom come including El Presidente, his tiny daughter, and THE SUPPORT TEAM (General Lane’s term – not mine.) What can I say, (somber tones) I was a fan of Toonami once…and young.

    So, toss in the offhand destruction of the Daily Planet building by the arrival of baby Kal (one would suppose) and you’ve got quite a lot of violence there.

    END SPOILERS and RIFFING

    Now, Taken in concert with Warren Ellis’ third hand re-telling of a meeting where Bob Wayne and DC are saying fans are clamoring for a return of the “…more visual punch in the mode of 90s comics movements like the early Image Comics work and (unspoken, but certainly associated) the Marvel style of that general period…” and you are assuredly telling me that THIS (meaning FLASHPOINT and all attendant grit and violence) is your recipe for success.

    So, this is it, yeah?

    Gross.

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