Here on the Sandy Dunes

Stuff I have read and watched since January.

The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012

the-master-image

I didn’t see a lot of 2012 movies and most of them have degraded in my memory.  So “The Master” has retroactively taken up my best movie of 2012 thingie.  It’s a frustrating movie but enjoyably so.  Slow, intentionally inscrutable, sparse in story or even connective threading between set pieces it relies on its exquisite photography and the charisma of its actors to do lots of acting. Not overacting, mind, just a lot of acting, maybe “Big Acting” is a better phrase.  It is the style of acting in all PT Anderson films, where the characters start broad and then go deep while staying broad somehow, so “Big” seems fitting.  The movie continuously made me question my own readings of stuff because those readings felt right but too simple, too easy. Duality and the Id versus the Ego, and how those two sides wish they were more like the other didn’t seem like they were good enough.  Is it weird to appreciate a movie for making me feeling intellectually inadequate? The answer, of course, is yes.

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino, 2012

jamie-foxx-as-django-in-django-unchained

This on the other hand is so exactly what it’s about that I got everything in one go. I read somewhere that somebody said it was “entertaining but not very good” ( I think it was the mightygodking blog) and that pretty much synced up well with my impression of it.  Id have to say this is his second least good movie with “Death Proof” being the bottom and they suffer from the same problem of over-indulgence.  “Death Proof” he over-indulged on dialogue to the point of shrillness and the death of that movie’s pacing.  This one is just badly paced.  He could of cut 45 minutes out of this fucker with no loss of plot and whatever texture those scenes provided (texture being a phrase I picked up from Robert Evans and have grown to love) are acceptable losses.  Man, this thing had a plot contrivance so glaring that it just picks at your brain and I always try to write around spoilers but this time…

SPOILERS

Now I figured the reason that they had to use a ruse to rescue Broomhilda was because King Schultz didn’t actually HAVE 12, 000 dollars.  So when they get caught and Schultz actually just has 12,000 dollars on his person in his wallet…then why the ruse? Why bring Django? Why not just approach him to buy alone to buy Broomhilda for 12,000 for the reason that he wants a German speaking slave?  Calvin Candie couldn’t refuse such an offer.  It seemed like the only reason they had to do any of this is because Schultz didn’t want to fork over 12,000 if he didn’t absolutely have to…so it seems like the whole second half of the movie happens because he is a stingy bastard.  This was too big a logic gap for me to ignore.  If the movie had tighter pacing it probably would’ve been able to skate right past it, but I had too much time to think about it.

Marvel Comics-The Untold Story

Sean Howe, 2012

marvelcomics

The prose in this is really economical and has a lot of pop. For every one bit of data I already knew as a comics fan I learned five new things on top of that.    The last 20 pages about the company could have been easily excised since all of the people who would have anything interesting to say still work for the company and we’re not going to here any of the behind the scenes juice about the stuff going on right now for a long time.  Plus. his heart was clearly in the 70’s and 80’s  parts of the book and I have a feeling he had to excise that stuff the most to hit his page count. I’d be very interested in reading a whole book by him that expanded those two sections.

Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett, 1929

red harvest

This book is known for being the inspiration behind Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” and Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars” though those movies are a lot more clear cut in terms of morality and how many sides are at play.  They both have heroes who are dirty and scoundrely but ultimately altruistic playing two equally bad gangs against each other so that they take each other out.  This is much murkier.  I lost track of how many people the main character (known only as The Continental Op, because he’s an operative of the Continental Detecive Agency) was playing against and what there relationships were to each other.  But the character is engaging because of his motivation.  If the corrupt cops and gangsters had left him alone while he did the one job he came to do he would’ve left the town quickly and as it was. But they fucked with him so he decides to burn it down.  It didn’t hit me till way after I finished it but this would’ve been an awesome Walter Matthau movie from the 70s.  Something that would have slotted in nicely between “Charley Varrick” and “Hopscotch” two other movies where his schlubby charm is cover for the fact that he’s smarter than everyone out to get him.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2013

Evil Afro 1-In Which Things Get Swirly

Marvel Premiere #1

“And Men Shall Call Him…Warlock!”

Roy Thomas-Writer

Gil Kane-Pencils

Dan Adkins-Inker

Sam Rosen-Letterer

Been a long time since I’ve gone back and read my own work. I may have said this before over in “Daredevil Minus Daredevil”.  I go out of my way to not describe the story or the plot beat by beat. To me, that is not an essay or a review, that’s a recap.  However upon consideration, I will be starting these with a broad recap of the issue but in the best way that I can.

This issue is mostly NOT about Warlock he is pretty much a non-player till the end. This comic mostly concerns itself with The High Evolutionary. He is a stock Marvel Comics Super Scientist who could be    evil or not evil depending on what the story called for.  He monologues into a space recorder on his spaceship for many, many pages about his personal history. Mostly how he became a 2001 Space Baby and didn’t like it so he decided not to look like that anymore.  He finds Warlock, who had previously gone only by the name Him in the old Kirby comics he debuted, floating in a cocoon out in space. He sticks a camera in the thing and talks to Him while he is still inside the cocoon allowing them to monologue at each other…did I forget to mention High Evolutionary created a bunch of animal people?  The main one is a wolf monster called Man-Beast.  Anyway High Evolutionary creates a Counter-Earth on the other side of the sun with the hope of creating a world without violence. He passes out midway through the job and Man-Beast who had been observing all this sneaks aboard his spaceship and introduces violence and fucks everything up making Counter-Earth like Earth-2 but in the same universe.  Him busts out of his cocoon and scares off Man-Beast and then the High Evolutionary sends him to Earth to be Space Jesus. Because he’s God. (Two meanings! )

That is the broadest recap I could do and that is still a hell of a paragraph. That’s how dense comics were back in 72’ folks and they weren’t all Don McGregor awesome wordiness sometimes they were Roy Thomas shut-the-fuck up faux formal speechifying.  This is very much a Roy Thomas comic from 1972 indeed.  The nexus point between the Roy Thomas that wrote some awesome Avengers and Dr. Strange comics and was pretty terrifically creative and the Roy Thomas who has no other interest then in making all comics fit together into a super-structure.  This comic is 70 percent people talking at each other about their continuity. Roy Thomas LOVES that stuff.  He is always down to recap other comics that he read.  At this moment in time   Thomas is using his power of obsessive continuity tracking to create new plots. He sees Him and the High Evolutionary floating around in space and decides to make his Passion Play in Space comic.  1982 Roy Thomas doing the same thing would try to figure out how they connect to the Golden Age for some reason.

The other part, the creative part is that Roy Thomas is still into space fantasy and God and Jesus metaphors are some easy things to slot into that sub-genre and Thomas would just be in his Early 20s just enough, at this time,  to really believe he was getting into some deep shit (which is why I would say that when Mike Friedrich takes over, without reading those yet, he is realllly gonna take that ball and run with it because he was totally invested in that mindset of just Believing.) Gil Kane definitely plays with the pages of the creation of the Counter-Earth. It’s all a kaleidoscope of swirls and orbs and clouds becoming these thin shapes that are supposed to represent Earth and then going through the history of the Earth and drawing Cavemen and Barbarians and as many floating heads as he can stand to draw. I will say that the trade-off between the nagging verbosity of the prose is offset by the fact that the art is always showing something fascinating going on.  Gil Kane is the Gil Kane of Marvel at this point and can give anything a spitshine at this point…not that this needs a big one.  Picking at it aside I did enjoy it. It was asinine and unwieldy in a way I could get behind.  Fuck it, Space Jesus comics 1972.

Next time, Adam Warlock meets some Groovy Teens!

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012

What I’m gonna do now.

Okay, writing on this blog has been really spotty. I’ve been working a lot, I’m back to school and I’m lazy.  I’m not ingesting enough movies TV or music or books to do anything nor do I read a lot of new comics anymore. I’m blocked on any sort of creative writing and it’s because I’m not doing any writing at all. That’s the point of this blog to practice writing.  I enjoy subjective critical writing.  I’m gonna write about old comics because that’s what I like, that’ll get the juices flowing again.  Luckily and stupidly both I have let two old comics projects stagnate.

The first is “Evil Afro” which was supposed to be about Jim Starlin’s Warlock comics.  At the time I planned to do those I worked at a comic book store and had access to the Special Edition reprints of those.  I got fired from that job, lost the access, and didn’t have the comics.  Now that they’ve put out Essential Warlock I can return to the project and not only cover those issues but all the Roy Thomas and Mike Friedrich issues before (I like Mike Friedrich so I was happy to find it was him and not Len Wein who had done those issues because I thought that for some reason.)

The other one was “Daredevil Minus Daredevil” which covered the last year of Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr.’s Daredevil run.  I got an issue in and it stagnated again for no reason at all really.  The Funnybook Babylon podcast covered those issues here. Quite a good evaluation.  I’m gonna cover them in the order I dropped them.  I also wanna write about Ed Brubaker comics in the near future. I’m gonna try my best to get back to being somewhat regular on this but this is what its gonna be for a while.  Maybe a few other dashed off things.  I also I’m past the second year of this blog and it’s due for a makeover and, again, content.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012

Subtle Changes

Batman: Earth One

Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal (Does he give everyone the weird teeth in Gary Frank comics?), Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh. Batman created by Bob Kane & Bill Finger

DC Comics, 2012

This reads like Geoff Johns notebook of ideas for what to do with Batman after Christopher Nolan leaves.  He might be able to have one or two more of these books out by the time Warner decides it’s time to reboot and he can go, “here you go, make this.”  What Johns does well, what he has always done well, is reset character concepts and tighten up connections.  His universes are pretty internally airtight.  His stories in the long term unfurl with clockwork precision, new information at the right time.  It is his actual issue to issue storytelling that has been a problem since he quit The Flash the first time.  Given the expanse of pages in Earth One you’d hope he could surmount this problem.  Not so.  Page after page I was agreeing with the resets of characters and base ideas he was putting out, “that’s a good idea, that’s a good idea, that’s a smart choice” ideas I could only acknowledge contrasted against what I knew already because I read Batman comics.  I can’t help, I always do this, but to think how a new fan would read this.  If the fan doesn’t know what new ideas are being brought to the table it just leaves the story. This is the story of Batman and some cops fighting a body-builder child molester and the mayor.  It’s a little boring and badly paced.  A lot of short scenes that needed more space and long scenes that could’ve been clipped, the Arkham stuff was odd and then easily dismissed, the “fight” between Alfred and Bruce could have been much shorter…I don’t think the new fan would like this. Especially in a world where Batman: Year One exists. Tell them to read that.

This and “Amazing Spider-Man” had a lot of structural similarities I realized after I put it down.  The difference between why I loved that and was lukewarm to this was that it, Spider-Man, had rounded out it characters as a trade-off to the plots it had left for resolution later, and Batman: Earth One doesn’t. Amazing had a plot we’d seen so many times before but characters that were enjoyable and a story that clipped along.  Earth One, it’s just positioning of characters into modified roles or starting them in modified roles and getting them closer to their regular roles and that’s not a story. That’s a plot and character descriptions. It’s an idea notebook.

It’s a bad comic book with character ideas used better elsewhere.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012

They’ll Never Give Him Web-Pits in Any Movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Marc Webb Sexin’ Up the Shaft, 2012

I was rooting for this before it came out.  Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. I truly have come to dislike Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies.  So I wanted for this reboot.  It really worked for me and works for me the more I think about it.  Choices they made are smart and seem pretty considered against both staying true to the source material and what will work in a movie.  Complaints lodged against the movie have been that we did all this in 2002’s Spider-Man.  True.  It retreads an origin told so many times that if the origin was a squirrel hit by a car and then backed over and over and over and over so many times that it’s a blood soaked dishrag by the time you pick it up to eat it. Anyway, Spider-Man 2002 Go America was superficial and emotionally stupid with dull leads.  This is not, so better. I’ll always prefer the non-stupid version of something.   It also took the risk of having Marvel (Jim Shooter) plot design.  It sets up a villain A-plot that gets paid off here and 2 or 3 subplots that will get paid off in the next movies.  It’s a very confident move when you realize that’s what they are doing and easily confused with laziness if one doesn’t.   Because Marvel superhero comics are, to me, as the disposable products of fun they are, carried by the charisma of the star and a narrative based on momentum.  This is the stuff Amazing Spider-Man wants.  Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is likable, fallible, funny, rash, intelligent, biting, angry, whiny and a screw-up.  He thinks things through half the time (the web-snare in the sewer) and unthinkingly fucks up the other half (having his real name on his camera.) Just like any teenager/anybody.   I wanted for this thing and I was happy to be able to buy in.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012

Essential Avengers Vol. 8

The back-cover blurb calls this collection of issues the height of Space Opera Avengers and it’s correct.  Jim Shooter and David Michelinie write/plot these guys. Shooter is doing some double reverse engineering here using the ongoing sub-plot building structure he swiped from early Marvel for Legion of Super-Heroes, which became that books calling card Paul Levitz, and bringing it back to Marvel with the Legion cosmic stuff and bureaucracy attached. Co-starring the Guardians of the Galaxy who are literally Marvel’s Legion rip-off.  “The Korvac Saga” (the bulk of the book) is totally an unused Legion plot and I’ll never be convinced otherwise.  Structurally when a given issue’s main plot is a thudder Shooter is so adept at sub-plot juggling that the interest going forward is always there.  Despite the book’s Space Opera Avengers theme the best stuff is the three parter at the  beginning where Count Nefaria steals the Lethal Legion’s powers leading to the fucking of shit up and the stuff at the end where Michelinie takes over completely and pays off the sub-plots introduced in those issues almost two years later.  The former set  is the first three issues of the book and the latter is the last four bookends of John Byrne art and knowing how John Byrne is I can see him getting caught up on the year+ a half’s worth of issues he didn’t draw and saying, “nothing got done with the old man on the boat? Fuck that this is Avengers not Chris Claremont goddamnit.” and him and Roger Stern had a good laugh while they secretly hi-jacked Avengers and Uncanny X-Men in 1979.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012

A Novel-Length Epic!

The value of storytelling in Essential Spider-Man Volumes One and Two.

This was a tagline used in silver age comic books to promote an issue that had one continuous story rather than multiple shorter stories in an issue. It was also a promise of story value in exchange for your hard dime and two pennies.  Because, no, of course twenty pages isn’t novel length in page count but rather in terms of density of incident in the story. The reader is going to get ALOT of story. This is the pledge of the publisher! These comics are crammed not with just plot but incident. Things are always happening. The narrative is propulsive, every panel packed with information and pushing you forward into the next panel to learn more, to every page to get the next bit.  And when it got down to action you understood every bit of that fight. Look here from The Amazing Spider-Man #10:

The mind must create movement, motion, and propulsion from panel to panel. It is the artists job to make that happen with as little as possible. These days the standard comic page is 3-4 usually widescreen panels delivering static images, very little geography or locality, and then a splash page to show action rather than to punctuate the immensity of action. In this rigid six-panel grid artist Steve Ditko utilizes full and mostly uncropped figures in each panel. The first shot establishes that Spider-Man is fighting in a warehouse or a garage of some sort, a place where the gangsters he is fighting would be thought to congregate. He lands on the stuff the Big Man is squirting on the floor in the first panel and in the second panel uses it to propel himself into a group of gangsters continuing the forward motion of his landing.  Continuing that same momentum he slides into another group of gangsters and grabs onto a chain dangling from the ceiling.  The background has dropped out at this point to emphasize action but because the first panel established location and Ditko’s momentum has been unabated we know where we are and how we got here and why there would be a chain dangling from the ceiling.  Spider-Man flips using the chain as a ballast using his legs to provide momentum for the flip. In the panel before he was sliding on the heels of his feet leaning back meaning that’s where his gravity was centered and so it makes sense physically that the flip would look the way it does.  The rotation of the flip continues into the next panel and Spider-Man is landing the way a person who could perform such an acrobatic feet would land because even though he has spider-powers physics still mostly apply to him. It is landing in this way that allows Fancy Dan a chance to get a hit in and then to flip him because he is off-balance from being caught in mid-land.  We believe he can do this because as he informs us by way of bragging, he is a judo-master.  And from these six vertically stacked panels we get one clean and fluid motion that performs lots of tricks, leads the eye, and makes physical sense.

This is a page from an issue of Batman: The Dark Knight from this past year:

I think I’ve given you the tools to see why this isn’t as good.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012