Saturday, December 11, 2004

Stinky Tuscadero

Second "America's Next Top Model" recap post in one night! Woo! This week on "America's Next Top Model," Ann goes all Harvey Dent on Eva and we discover that Jay is not a huggy person. Also there are bikes.

The contestants start the day by meeting with a designer of "Japanese street fashion." This is the "Gothic Lolita" look that has so enthralled Japanese teens and American sex-starved shut-ins. The designer wears what Amanda accurately describes as "a little Mister Potato Head hat." It's a miniature top hat -- rakishly tilted, of course. The ladies are told to create a similar outfit which will then be judged by the designer. At 5'11", Ann is too tall to wear most of the clothing, plus her dick keeps getting in the way. Amanda tries to help her by peeling off layer after layer of her own clothing, except she's wearing about three dozen tops at once so it's not nearly as titillating as it could be. Ann, meanwhile, looks sour and bored and a little peeved about not just the clothing, but also the contest, the television show, Japan, and the entire rest of the universe. Her eventual outfit is boring as hell -- no accessories, no hat, no gloves, not much of anything really. Amanda gets a great review. Ya Ya is told she needs some giant jewelry -- something the size of her ego, maybe. Eva gets low marks for color coordination, which in this case means she had coordinated the colors.

Next, the contestants are given 20,000 yen and a list of four stores. They have to assemble another outfit and report to a design studio before 6 p.m. "When you're looking for something, vision is important," Amanda sagely explains. That's why she gets everything at one store and heads straight for the studio. Eva is outraged by the dearth of English signage: "Like, a lot of characters are written in Japanese." They are? When did that happen? I suppose there's hardly any Norwegian, either! Bastards! Eva runs into Ann on the street, and if only Eva was driving a truck at the time. The dysfunctional duo ends up below one of the stores they're looking for but they don't see it. So they walk away. Eva screams at crowds of hapless Japanese citizens, "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?" Then she grows to giant size, destroys numerous skyscrapers, battles Jet Jaguar, and flies off into space. When Ann and Eva finally get their outfits together, they look like the love children of Courtney Love and Ronald McDonald. Ya Ya finishes dressing with only two minutes to spare. It turns out that next to the studio is a store with the same name. The store is closed. Ya Ya thinks the store is the studio. She walks away! Hurrah! When she returns, it's 6:02. The judges, Shingo and Hitomi, politely tell her that she's too late and they ask her to leave. When she's gone, Shingo says to Hitomi that he thinks Ya Ya's behavior was "unacceptable." Dude, I've been saying that since the first time I saw her. Eva wins the challenge! In an interview, she explains, "My idea was, find things that don't look good and don't go together and I will win." And yes, this is cynical but it's also very smart. A big part of staying in this competition is following advice and knowing what the judges want to see and hear. There have been plenty of times when a particular challenge was immediately preceded by a meeting with a stylist/teacher/whatever who told the women exactly what they were supposed to do to win the challenge. It's just that most of the women have been ignoring the advice they've been given. Eva's prize is breakfast with a "mystery guest." She decides to share her prize with Ann on the mistaken assumption that Ann has regained her sanity. In an interview, Ya Ya says, "My non-presence there gave someone else the chance to win." She blessed them with the absence of her compassion and wisdom! (Bitch.)

The mystery man turns out to be a famous jewelry designer. Neither Eva nor Ann have ever heard of him. But they pretend they know who he is anyway just to be polite. He gives them pearl necklaces. (Stop giggling.) Ann and Eva are both in good spirits and I figure at this point that Ann won't screw things up by flipping out again. Shows what I know.

The day's photo shoot will have the ladies posing on bikes while wearing more Gothic Lolita clothes and makeup. Jay appears in a bizarre long-sleeved top that's a bloody car wreck of patterns and textures. Ann thinks it's neat! She reaches out to feel it and Jay snarls, "Ann, don't touch. Honey, you're lucky you [sic] still in this competition. You barely got a photograph." Jay is a hateful little snip of a man. Commercial break. Eva has been voted the Cover Girl of the Week again. It's a title she's held ever since Toccara was eliminated. Say, isn't Ya Ya in this contest? How is Ya Ya's presence allowing Eva to win, week after week? What a mystery! But I believe a clue can be found if you connect all the zits on Ya Ya's forehead.

With the contestants all gussied up like teenage biker whore-clowns, it's time to pose! Miss J. is there, and "she" advises Ann to look "fierce." Yeah, good luck with that. Amanda does a good job but Ya Ya irritates the photographer by making him wait while she arranges her pimply dancer's body into elaborate poses. Ann does a horrible job, like usual. She starts crying. Jay says that she "doesn't get it." I'm guessing Jay doesn't "get it" either, or else he wouldn't be so crabby all the time. Jay tells Ann, "You look like a flight attendant gone wrong! Work it!" I don't know how many times somebody has said that to me. All of Jay's sniping at last puts an expression on Ann's face, and that expression is "tearful hatred." I really do not like Jay but I understand his frustration with Ann. She has no enthusiasm and she seems to resent being asked to do any work at all. That said, Jay is a nasty, poisonous little creep.

The next morning, the women meet with Tyra and Tyra's mom for individual counseling. Amanda is sad because her family needs money. She cries. Ya Ya is told that she doesn't need to advertise her intelligence. She cries. Eva talks about her self-esteem issues. She cries. Ann is upset about all the negative comments she's been getting. She looks sad but doesn't cry. Her tear ducts must be damn near completely dehydrated by now. The ladies then meet Tyra's brother's ex-wife's dentist's cousin's uncle's best friend's accountant or something but it's so boring that I'm not going to describe it.

For the judging panel, Tyra decided that instead of wearing regular eye makeup, she'd smash a couple of Keebler Grasshopper cookies onto her face. So, her eyes are ringed in black with an outer ring of bright green. The effect is stunning. Nole Marin appears to have been embalmed. I hope he purchased a miniature matching sarcophagus for Empress Minnie. The guest judges are Shingo and Hitomi. The contestants get fifteen minutes to create yet another "Japanese street fashion" outfit. The hell? I'm sorry, but how often are models required to dress themselves for fashion shoots? Ya Ya's ensemble is good but the judges bring up the time she was late to the studio. Ya Ya offers up an excuse. Janice mimes yawning and even says "Yawn, yawn, yawn." She's a lunatic but I adore her at times. Amanda is told to remove her belt and to rumple her socks. Then she looks perfect -- as long as you're a psychotic, mass-murdering clown fetishist. Ann looks enervated. The judges badger her with questions she can't answer until she cries. Then they strap a rat cage to her face -- or was that "1984?" Eva's outfit is "not happening." The judges attack her shorts -- with scissors, transforming them into shredded "Daisy Dukes." Eva takes the criticism well and defends herself with a smile. Good for Eva.

In what is captioned for the first time ever, I believe, as the rather ominous-sounding "holding room" (doesn't Guantanamo Bay have one of those things?) Ann says that she's sure she'll be sent home this time. She blames her impending departure on her "honesty" because she didn't fabricate answers, like, oh, say... Eva. Somebody flipped the switch on Ann's back to "evil" again! I bet it was one of the gaffers. Ann thinks Eva is a phony because she pretended she knew who that jewelry designer was, even though Ann did the exact same thing. When Eva gets mad, Ann says, "I'm not having this conversation." Jeebus. Where the hell is that gaffer?

The judges gather the contestants and tell them that they all need to "step up." Amanda wins first place this week. Ya Ya gets second. Third goes to Eva. When Ann leaves, she hugs Amanda and Ya Ya but not Eva. Eva looks gobsmacked again. I think Ann's attitude here is "If I'm losing, I'm taking you down with me." And also, "I'm jealous of Eva and more than a little batshit crazy." In an interview, Ann says, "I hate crying." That's funny, because she sure does it a lot.

Next week: the finale! The judges have a tough decision to make. That's because all three remaining contestants suck equally.

Tea Disservice

Man, am I ever behind on this blog! So... on last week's "America's Next Top Model," it's Norelle versus Japanese culture. Japanese culture wins.

With Nicole's completely unjustified booting, the remaining contestants are moved out of their Tupperware "Stuffables" storage containers and into an actual apartment. There are two suites for five contestants. The trio of squabbling pseudo-lesbians get one suite, while Amanda and Ya Ya share the other. All five ladies are taught how to perform a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Norelle, to nobody's surprise, looks completely lost. In an interview, Norelle says, "Japan or anything Japanese to me is like space." I think she means outer space and not the ample space inside her bug-eyed noggin, but who knows with her? Ya Ya seconds the notion that Norelle is uncomfortable in foreign settings, and is not as worldly and sophisticated as herself. She goes on to brag about how humble she is and that logical paradox causes sparks to shoot out of my head, just like the androids on that one "Star Trek" episode. Amanda is so taken with the beauty of the tea ceremony that she cries. Eva thinks this qualifies as "diva" behavior. Shut it, shorty. The contestants take turns performing the tea ceremony before an unsmiling panel of experts. One of the judges is a middle-aged lady in a kimono, and her hair is seriously freaking me out. It's a gravity-defying pixie cut that makes her look like a cross between Amelie and Pippy Longstocking, with just a smidgen of the "Dick Tracy" villain, Flattop. Eva keeps glancing sideways at the judges, like she's on the lookout for tea ninjas. Ann is stiff and tense, just like she is in every situation, every hour of every day. Amanda is quite serene, which for some reason is interpreted as "emotional shutdown." Ya Ya forgets part of the ceremony but she answers one of the judges' questions in Japanese, so, you know. Bonus points. (Bitch.) Then it's Norelle's turn. Annnnd... cue the circus music! I swear, this show is edited with all the subtlety of a WWE match. It's a shame Ya Ya couldn't hear the circus music while she was being filmed, because I think that would have been a tremendous help. You hear circus music, you know you're doing something wrong. Crazy Hairdo Lady is diplomatic: "Norelle didn't do very nicely, actually." Haw! Ya Ya wins again, dad blast it. She shares the prize of a visit to a hot springs spa with Amanda. Amanda says that with a smaller number of contestants left, "You're finding out who's real and who's not." Ya Ya is "real?" Ow! Sorry, sparks are shooting out of my head again.

That night the ladies go to a restaurant. Eva is miserable because nobody likes her. Tyra shows up, goads the women into complaining about one another, and leaves. She doesn't exit through the door -- she wraps a cloak about herself and dissolves into a cloud of vampire bats. Ann brings up Eva's anti-Norelle comment once again. Ya Ya jumps into the fray because no one is paying attention to her. Eva looks like she's going to cry. She apologizes to Norelle, but Ann keeps going after her and I still haven't figured out how this is any of Ann's business. Eva fights back by pointing out that Ann thinks Norelle won't win because her hips are too big. In an interview, Norelle says, "I was so confused." Really, you could have put that snippet of video into any episode of this show and it would never be out of context.

For the next challenge, the women have to pose with a mobile phone while wearing a kimono, a goofy wig, and kooky Kabuki makeup. Eva takes Norelle aside and apologizes again, "from the bottom of [her] heart." Norelle, bless her, accepts the apology with gusto and gives Eva a hug. When it's time for the shoot, Tyra demonstrates how the contestants should pose and God DAMN is she good. Even with a ridiculous Tina Turner fright wig she manages to look sexy. Needless to say, the demonstration makes nary a dent in how the contestants pose. Amanda keeps spinning around like if she does it enough times she'll turn into Wonder Woman. Jay warns Ya Ya, "Don't lose your neck!" Sound advice, that. I once lost my neck for a whole week and it made it really hard to drive. I finally found it wedged behind the refrigerator. Norelle's turn is scored with more circus music. She's utterly clueless about posing. Ann is a disaster. Jay tries to get her to think of poses by referencing movies: "Did you ever see My Fair Lady?" NOPE. Heh! Sorry, Jay, but if you're going to reference an Audrey Hepburn film with Ann, you'd have better luck with The Children's Hour. Eva does a good job. Suddenly Naomi Campbell rushes in, grabs the mobile phone from Eva's hand, and uses it to beat everyone senseless. Okay, not really.

Panel time! The guest judge: Kyoko Higa, a.k.a. Amelie Longstocking. For their test, the women have to walk in a "high fashion" manner while wearing a kimono and holding the mobile phone. Ya Ya does well. Amanda does a good job, too. Janice tells her, "You look beautiful like a bonsai butterfly." I think somebody finally balanced her medications! CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP. Why, it's Ann! And she's walking like a pissed-off Clydesdale! Norelle's walk is a sickly little shuffle while she uses one hand to hold an invisible tray of invisible watercress sandwiches. Alright, she's actually holding the phone. But the first time I saw it, I couldn't even see the teeny little phone and I thought that Norelle had finally lost her mind. Eva still looks shell-shocked. Tyra asks her if it's because of the competition. I don't know why, but Eva says that it is and she doesn't mention Ann. When the judges deliberate, Tyra says that she loves Eva less because she's depressed. Gah! Ouch! Stupid sparks!

Amanda gets first place this week and Ya Ya gets second. Eva gets third. Ann wins fourth and she's so thankful that she cries. (Tyra is furious!) In an interview, Norelle says, "I will be a model. I will be America's next top model!" Apparently no one bothered to explain to her that she was kicked out of the contest. Wouldn't it be awesome if she kept showing up?

Next week (okay, okay, this week): Eva can't understand why there is so little English signage in Tokyo and Ann is made up like a clown. A sad clown.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Ya Ya Dancer, Your Life Is Appalling

This week's "America's Next Top Model" was a clip show, albeit one with some previously unseen footage. It really brought back the memories. For example, I had forgotten how completely immobile Jennipher's face is. I did not, however, need to see Jay in drag again. Ye gods! But mostly this show was a showcase for Ya Ya's insufferable superiority complex. I guess I hadn't noticed it so much in the earlier episodes, but apparently she's been full of herself and condescending to everyone else since day one. The most telling bit of new footage showed a telephone call that Ya Ya made to her sister after the judging panel bitched her out over dissing a hat. Ya Ya sobs her heart out (and yet I'm strangely unmoved) and her sister tells her to "continue to bless people with your compassion and your wisdom." So apparently Ya Ya's entire family thinks its a bunch of freaking saints. I bet they have to call the plumber a lot, since they're all so perfect that they shit diamonds.

Next week: Norelle can't work a sliding door. Then her new girlfriend, Ann, smashes through it like the Incredible Hulk. (Just kidding about that last part.)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Konichi-blah!

On this week's "America's Next Top Model," Amanda can't even die correctly, Ya Ya disrespects a pickled plum, and Nicole's failure to concoct a wildly stereotypical reality show persona leads to her elimination.

This episode is chock-full of great quotes. Let's start off with Nicole, who declares, "Panel's not a place for me to go and act like a 'tard." Classy! Now that the editors can be bothered to show Nicole's interview footage, she reminds me a lot of Pink: tough, sassy, plain spoken, and perhaps a bit stinky.

The morning's "Tyra Mail" message states simply, "Prepare to die." This alarms some of the contestants. They're probably expecting they'll be led into a small, dark room, and then Janice Dickinson will drop from the ceiling and disembowel them. But no, it's just an acting class. Their acting partner will be Taye Diggs, who in a wild coincidence stars in the UPN program that airs right after this one. The aspiring models are given one chance to perform a deathbed scene. They get to read their lines -- for the first and only time -- off of cue cards. For maximum humor value, they have to pronounce a lot of medical terminology and just a smidgen of French. In most cases, the women's acting comes to a dead halt when they get to a word they can't pronounce, and they do everything but bolt upright in bed as they stare at the cue card and sound out the word in a flat, halting voice. Amanda forgets that dead people typically stop moving. Taye Diggs improvs, "You're alive!" The acting coach comments on every contestant except Nicole and then she starts to announce the winner. Oops! She's "forgotten" Nicole! And I put that in scare quotes because in retrospect this will end up looking extremely staged. The winner is... Ya Ya. (Yawn, yawn.) Her prize is "luxury class" seating on the contestants' flight to their next destination: Tokyo. Norelle interviews that she's apprehensive about visiting a foreign land, only she phrases it in a way that is much more xenophobic, and, of course, stupider. She giggles nervously, and then her face does that walleye thing that makes her look like a willowy, elfin Buddy Hackett.

Ya Ya has totally alienated herself from the other ladies but the rules state that she HAS to share her prize with one of the other women. She chooses Amanda, since Amanda is one of the few ladies left in the contest with whom Ya Ya hasn't shared one of her numerous other prizes. On the plane, Ya Ya and Amanda drink wine and play with their motorized seats. Fun fact: in "luxury class," all of the magazines have Tyra Banks on the cover! Even Guns & Ammo! Even Asphalt Contractor and Numismatic News!

At long last Tokyo. "A capsule hotel is a hotel of capsules," Amanda informs us. Wait a minute... that wasn't informative at all! Suffice it to say that the contestants will be living in what appears to be an automat for cannibals. The rooms are actually glass-fronted cases, about two-and-a-half feet high, stacked three deep. Each capsule has a blind the occupant can pull down for privacy. Except this is Japan, so the interiors of the capsules are loaded with high-tech "panty cams" which transmit continuous footage of the contestants' unmentionables to men's clubs across the city.

For their next challenge, the women must perform in a soup commercial, speaking mostly Japanese. While waiting for her turn, Ann practices her lines. Her quietly despairing delivery of "Konich-wa" cracks me up. The women are dressed and made-up in an avant-garde yet traditional Japanese fashion. Their blush spreads from their cheeks over their eyes and onto their foreheads. Special guest makeup artist: your grandma! The commercial's director is a Japanese man who doesn't speak English. I called bullshit on that right away because I remembered last season's trip to Milan where an Italian designer who "didn't speak English" turned up on the judging panel and revealed himself to be American. The women have a tough time getting through the filming. Eva is so worried by her lousy performance, she says she hopes Norelle does worse. One problem: Norelle is about five feet away when she says it. Norelle gazes at her with the bemused detachment of the highly intelligent and the very, very stupid, but says nothing. Ann decides to be offended for Norelle. Donating one's outrage is very trendy this year.

The contestants face the judging panel. The commercial director is there! He still doesn't speak English! Crap. I hate it when I'm wrong about these things. For the final test of the night, the ladies must act in another ad -- this time for a Japanese food item that is later described as "a pickled plum." The plum apparently tastes nasty. (And why is this show morphing into Fear Factor? First the tarantula and now this. Grrrr...!) Eva does a great job! Evidently she's had a lot of practice in swallowing things that taste unpleasant. The editors dispense with even the possibility of suspense when Ya Ya's turn comes, because they crank up the scary music and they slo-mo parts of it. The only thing missing is a smash-cut to Tyra running from a fireball and screaming "NOOOOOO!!!" At any rate, Ya Ya is very perky and engaging and she delivers her lines perfectly, and everything is going splendidly until she skips the part where she has to eat the plum. She finishes her lines and she still doesn't eat it. The judges start chanting "Eat it, eat it," like they're at a frat party. A haute couture frat party! Ya Ya puts the plum in her mouth and pretends to enjoy it way too much. She writhes and makes little doggy whining noises, and then she starts in with the orgasmic moaning. The plum is so big, SO BIG! Using her extensive dance training, she contorts her body into a question mark and then, when her face is below the level of the table, she spits out the plum. The Japanese judge looks offended, but who really knows since he doesn't speak English? Still, this is clearly an international incident. Quick, call the U.N.! They'll solve this problem in about, let's see, judging from their history with international disputes, hmm, carry the two, okay, so that would be never, basically. Janice baits Ya Ya by asking her how the plum tastes. "Like nothing I've ever tasted before," Ya Ya replies with a plum-eating grin. That's a solid, diplomatic answer. She's learning!

The judges gather all the contestants together. They rate their performances and "forget" Nicole again. See what I mean? In private, Tyra thinks Nicole is "blah." "Beyond blah," echoes Janice, who looks and sounds "beyond wasted." And also, how very "Carolyn from 'The Apprentice'" of her. In a stunning upset, the judges choose Ann as the best contestant this time around. Eva is second and she would have gotten first except the judges have suddenly decided they don't like her voice. Nicole and Ya Ya are in a dead heat for last place. But ultimately Nicole is booted for being boring. Sure, her pictures have been consistently wonderful, but this isn't a modeling contest. It's a soap opera with really cheap production values -- a community dinner theater version of "Paper Dolls," if you will. A chorus of bipolar castrati sings and Sylvia Plath noodles about on a keyboard as Nicole says her goodbyes. Everybody is crying, except for Janice, 'cause, y'know. Botox.

Next week: Ann breaks up with Eva! And I thought those two kids had something special.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Comic Review Roundup

Last Tuesday I bought...

B.P.R.D.: The Dead #1 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis.
After that one B.P.R.D. miniseries with the gnomes or whatever, by Christopher Golden and that one guy who couldn't draw very well, what'shisface, I felt royally ripped off. So I skipped "Plague of Frogs," even though it was by a different creative team. This was evidently a big mistake. I picked up "The Dead" because it was a slow week and I love Guy Davis' artwork. The story this time around is terrific, with some interesting internal shakeups at the B.P.R.D. and a fascinating glimpse into Abe Sapien's previous life -- something that was hinted at in "Plague of Frogs" I've been told. (Note to self: go buy "Plague of Frogs.") There's also a cool new character: Captain Benjamin Daimo, a disfigured gent who cut his way out of a body bag after being dead for three days. And I'm not sure he's a good guy, either. With a story like this, and the artwork of Guy Davis (who, I'm sorry, draws Mignola characters with more warmth and range of expression than Mignola does) I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Last Thursday I bought...

The Flash #215 by Geoff Johns, Howard Porter, and Livesay.
I got sick of what Johns was doing on this title a few years ago, which is when I stopped buying it on a regular basis. I bought last issue and this issue because they tie into "Identity Crisis." Last issue, Wally received a letter from his deceased mentor, Barry Allen. That's pretty much all that happened. Wally got a letter. This issue, he reads the letter! Yes, it's all-out epistolary action in the mighty Geoff Johns manner! It turns out that Barry wants Wally to restore the sanity of the Top, even though it will make the Top evil again -- because this is a Geoff Johns story, and things have to be depressing and horrible all the time. I can't say I care for the plot, but the flashback scenes did make me interested in the Top, of all characters, and that's a pretty impressive feat all by itself. In other news, Howard Porter still hasn't figured out how to draw Green Arrow's hat. For the love of God, man, use some photo reference now and then! It won't kill you, I promise! I got a good laugh out of Howard's version of the "practically the entire JLA dogpiles on Doctor Light" scene from "Identity Crisis." Howard tries to cram everyone into a vertical panel, so instead of the full-contact "You grab an arm, I'll grab a leg" version that Rags Morales created, we get Hawkman choking Doctor Light, Black Canary grabbing onto his cape, three other characters just kind of standing there and Green Lantern floating aimlessly in the background. It looks less like a life-or-death struggle and more like a costume fitting gone horribly awry.

JSA #67 by Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, and James Hodgkins.
Guest artist Gibbons' pencils aren't exactly spectacular, but they are anatomically competent and pleasant to look at. Which makes them about a jillion times better than regular artist Don Kramer's amateurish, ugly crap. And here's a bonus: Gibbons is the first artist in a long time to draw Power Girl without cartoonishly oversized bazooms. It's bad enough that Power Girl's costume has a "cleavage porthole" where most other superheroes would have a letter or symbol. Of course, for most fanboys, gargantuan teats are as much a symbol of Power Girl as bats are a symbol of Batman. The bulk of this issue focuses on Doctor Mid-Nite and Mister Terrific. They perform an autopsy on Sue Dibny in costume because really, why take those things off even for a moment? Doctor Mid-Nite declares that he knows who killed Sue. Not that he's going to say who that is. That has to wait for...

Identity Crisis #6 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair.
And even then he doesn't give a name. Mid-Nite and Batman independently conclude that Sue Dibny's murderer has the ability to shrink to microscopic size, which of course means she was killed by their fellow superhero, the Atom, because-- huh? Never mind that the Atom's internal monologue from a few issues back contradicts this idea. So it's either a case of mind control or another frigging red herring, or this whole series has been a brilliant scheme to resurrect the Silver Age Wonder Woman villain, Mouse Man. (That would ROCK!) Also, in a scene with disturbing undertones and overtones, Robin undresses as he rushes to his father's freshly murdered corpse. I just hope all of this is leading somewhere. I swear, if DC is jerking me around again like they did with "Millennium" and "Genesis" and "Invasion" and "Underworld Unleashed" and... huh. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. If the next issue sucks, I'm never buying another DC "event" series ever, ever again. And this time I really mean it.

Plastic Man #12 by Scott Morse.
HUGE disappointment. I skipped the last Scott Morse fill-in but I thought I'd give this one a try. Well, it sucks. The entire issue is one interminable fight scene that manages to be both frantic and boring, and the dialogue is pun-filled but not funny. Topped off by Morse's signature muddy coloring, the whole package gives me a migraine.

Firestorm #7 by Dan Jolley, Liam Sharp, and Andy Lanning.
I'm no more interested in this version of Firestorm than I was in the original, but I do like this issue's guest star, Bloodhound. So, what makes the new Firestorm different from the old one, besides the refreshing absence of puffy sleeves? For starters, his dad's an abusive bastard! Yeah, not interested in reading more about that, thank you very much. This issue, Firestorm makes the mistake of absorbing a badass criminal who'd just given him a concussion, so the criminal takes over Firestorm's body. The criminal (who sports a wraparound head tattoo, which is perfectly inane) goes after his old enemy, Bloodhound. This continues in...

Bloodhound #5 by Dan Jolley, Leonard Kirk, and Robin Riggs.
Now, this is more like it. I know I should hate this book but I can't help it. It's the comic book version of one of those straight-to-video Deathwish/Diehard ripoffs that star Joe Don Baker or some martial arts nobody, and I hate that kind of thing. Jolley elevates it somehow and turns all this blood-soaked mayhem into an art. What I love about Bloodhound, the character, is that in a fight he'll use anything he can get his hands on, up to and including the kitchen sink. This issue, he gets the best of three armed men, using only a two-by-four. Needless to say, Mister Head-tattoo doesn't stand a chance.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Toccara Eats It

On this week's "America's Next Top Model," the contestants have to work with a small, venomous creature. And no, I don't mean Jay. It's a tarantula! The judges continue the spider theme by smooshing Toccara with a Kleenex and flushing her down the toilet.

I missed the first few seconds of this episode, which begins with Tyra Banks in her "bedroom," with "no makeup on" and her hair "a mess." She's "crying!" Tyra is in a teddy and is sitting on her bed with another lady who is fully clothed. Tyra tells this lady that she feels bad because she couldn't help last week's eliminated contestant, the gleefully bulimic Cassie. The other lady tells her not to feel bad. Annnd... CUT! I remember wondering who on Earth that lady was. Based on her cold, unemotional demeanor, I finally decided that she must have been Tyra's therapist, who made an emergency house call to the soundstage where Tyra lives. I later found out it was Tyra's mom. Jeez Louise, Tyra! Everything else was fake! Just fire your dull mom and hire Thelma Hopkins. Who would know?

Back at the aspiring models' apartment... uh-oh, someone's at the door! It's a godawfully attired professional stylist named Rebecca Weinberg. She's accompanied by two overly groomed, waxy-looking fellows who... well, I'm not exactly sure what their jobs are, to be honest. I think they're image consultants or something. The waxy men recoil in fear when confronted with Ann's butch athleticism. Rebecca, who looks like a cross between Miss Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies and Sonic the Hedgehog, doesn't like any of the contestants' clothes. She tells Amanda her outfits look "cheap." Amanda thinks she means "inexpensive." Try again, dear.

Tyra shows up while the contestants are having dinner. She sits at a conveniently empty chair at the head of the table and proceeds to eat off of everyone's plates. I guess she thinks this makes her quirky and loveable, but it's really just obnoxious and kind of creepy.

For their next challenge, Rebecca Weinberg takes the aspiring models to a discount clothing warehouse and gives them fifteen minutes to pull together an outfit. The contestants all rely on Rebecca's earlier advice, with the exception of Ya Ya who of course knows better because Ya Ya is fabulous and strong and she represents, girlfriend, and also because she's a major horse's ass. Toccara has trouble finding anything in her size, because she's kind of chunky and also the producers are screwing with her. Rebecca wears earrings made from lengthy chunks of Tyra's "safety orange" weave. In their new outfits, the contestants attend a simulated red carpet event, minus the event, and are interviewed by a reporter from "Us Weekly." The reporter asks each of them which of their fellow contestants are hard to get along with. Quirky, childlike, moronic Norelle is the only one dumb enough to actually give the reporter a name. And that name is... "Ya Ya." Since this challenge is judged by the reporter and not by Rebecca Weinberg, Ya Ya wins. Our Lady Ya Ya, full of grace (and crap) proves once again that she is much, much better than anyone else by sharing her prize with Norelle... even though she privately thinks that Norelle is "a flake."

The next day, the contestants get to model diamond rings in a "beauty shot." That means this is the only time they're not made up to look like circus clowns. Jay tells them they'll be posing with a partner. Cue the short, dumpy woman with the tarantula. Eva asks if the dumpy lady is their partner. Nope! Eva freaks out. She cries, before, during, and after her shoot. She thinks she's doomed, but the judging panel praises her photo to the skies. The judges also like Ya Ya's photo, but they give her a royal ass chewing over her attitude. Ya Ya breaks down and cries! I know! I can't believe it either! She actually seems to take Tyra's advice to heart. This would all be very touching except for the part where Janice Dickinson demands that she apologize to a hat. But what's with Toccara? The judges are all amazed that the confindent woman she was at the beginning of this contest has turned into a mousy, miserable wreck. Gee, how'd that happen? They decide to send Toccara home because they think that she doesn't want to win this contest as much as her last-place rival, Ann. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that. The judges have hated almost all of Ann's photos and they told her only last week that she wasn't photogenic, and yet they choose her over Toccara because she "wants it" more. Just imagine if medical schools or fire departments worked this way. The only up side to this is that the judges can now concentrate on crushing the spirit of a different contestant. They've already made a good deal of progress with Ya Ya.

Next week: acting lessons with Taye Diggs, with a cameo by Tyra Banks in a "sexy nurse" outfit straight out of a Bob Hope special. Yikes!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Hippy People Need Not Apply

On this week's "America's Next Top Model": the polls have closed and the final tally has been made. It's official! Two out of five fashion designers think Cassie has a big, fat ass.

This episode was pretty boring, thanks in large part to Cassie the Bottom-Heavy Yokel. The only reason she made it this far is because Tyra can only get rid of one contestant per week. Just like last week, she spends all of this episode feeling miserable. She doesn't want to be in the contest. Her uncle back home is deathly ill. Despite her debilitating eating disorder (which she doesn't think she has), famous designers tell her she's "too hippy." None of the judges think she's photogenic. (That's true, actually.) None of the other contestants like her. She doesn't know what to make of all the drag queens who keep popping up on this show. (You're in New York, honey. Get used to it.) It's a relief when she's finally eliminated, but it's not the least bit cathartic. I didn't love Cassie or hate her. She was just there. She was just in the way, taking valuable screen time away from people who are more interesting.

Like Toccara! Toccara enjoys food so much that she keeps it piled around her bed. It's like she's sandbagging her mattress against an oncoming flood, except the sandbags all have the word "Ruffles" printed on them. She tells one of the other ladies, "My mama eat [sic] in her sleep!" And then she mimes her sainted mother tossing and turning while munching on a sandwich. Dear Lord! That's either deeply disturbing or an impressive display of time management. Toccara's confidence takes a beating after it becomes clear that haute couture designers don't keep piles of plus-size gowns on hand for the (very) odd occasion that someone weighing more than ninety-five pounds comes to visit. Still, many of the designers think Toccara has a great personality. Not they would ever, under any circumstances, want to hire her. (And speaking of personality... when Tyra informed the contestants that the designers would be partly judging them on their personalities, Cassie looked stricken. You could tell she was thinking, "My personality? Damn! I knew I left something back in Oklahoma!") All of the negative feedback puts Toccara's nerves on edge. She gets into a nasty argument with the show's stylist, her photo shoot goes poorly, and she ends up sobbing her heart out to The Divine Swami Ya Ya. Janice "May Contain Some Filler" Dickinson thinks Toccara has no place in the competition. Tyra thinks Toccara could be a pioneer and break the fashion world's weight barrier, which is like the sound barrier, but chunkier.

In the middle of the episode, the wannabe models dine on kangaroo meat at an Australian restaurant, and it makes some of them giddy and flirty -- with each other. Ann, Eva, Amanda, and Norelle pile into a hot tub. The Right Reverend Ya Ya is horrified! She and the other contestants don evening gowns and have their very own party, with wine! (The degenerate drunks.)

Next week: tarantulas!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"The Super-Power of Negative Thinking!" (Justice League of America #158)

jleague158

About that cover: there's a small coloring error. As the interior artwork can attest, Ultraa's thighs are actually bare. Who wears short-shorts? Ultraa wears short-shorts!

The September, 1978 issue of "Justice League of America" begins with the Flash and Wonder Woman interrupting a museum robbery. The perpetrators are Poison Ivy and Mirror Master, and the felonious pair does a fine job of smacking down the superheroes. But then Ultraa bursts onto the scene! So they smack him down, too. Though temporarily blinded by Mirror Master, Wonder Woman zeroes in on his voice, which she likens to "a foghorn." Great. From now on, whenever I read Mirror Master's dialogue, I'm going to hear Harvey Fierstein. Wonder Woman calls upon her years of warrior training to... shove Mirror Master down. Mirror Master falls onto Poison Ivy, who has caught her right foot in part of a sound effect. And oh, how I wish I was making that up. Mirror Master manages to flip himself over and deliver a very impressive Rockette-style kick to Wonder Woman's noggin. With all three heroes down for the count, Mirror Master and Poison Ivy vanish, along with their loot: a sundial.

In a big, steaming pile of expository dialogue, Wonder Woman tells the Flash about her U.N. job, reminds him of the fact that they'd enjoyed dinner together the previous night (What the hell?) and explains that the sundial is "worthless." Ultraa flips out: "You mean -- those villains jeopardized the lives of innocent people -- for an object of no value? That is -- unconscionable! ...Any act which endangers life is an act of evil! Particularly the act of a super-being! We have such power... we could destroy all humanity!" Ultraa flies off in a huff (sound effect: "SWOOSH"), leaving the Flash and Wonder Woman thinking, basically, "What's his deal?" The museum's employees and patrons poke their heads through a door and ask if it's safe to come out. The Flash reacts to this perfectly sensible question like a total asshole, which is something of a recurring motif in this story. His scarlet forehead all a-wrinkle with consternation, the Flash marvels, "Have you been hiding here the whole time? --Cowering?" The civilians compare superhero battles to "a combination earthquake and hurricane." So it's like any given day in Japan, then. In a silent panel, Wonder Woman and the Flash look at each other like, "Do you believe these pussies?" But safely away from the powerless human cattle, the Flash admits that they may have a point.

Later, Chronos, the Tattooed Man, and the Scarecrow welcome Poison Ivy and Mirror Master to "the new headquarters of the Injustice Gang!" First-time visitor Poison Ivy can't help but notice that the Injustice Gang's hideout is in the former location of the Justice League's headquarters. (Now, that's a ballsy real estate agent. "Superman, I've found an anonymous group of motivated buyers for your property, and they're ready to close on the deal today!" "Great! Say, they're not evil, are they?" "Ummmm... no.") The super-crooks add the sundial to their other swag, which includes models of a windmill, an oil derrick, and a hydroelectric dam. The group's mastermind, a towering, cloaked figure, explains that the artifacts were left on Earth by an alien race that intended to return and use them to control "the power output of the entire planet... leaving Earth barren... and reducing man to savagery once more!" The other villains think this story is total bullshit, so they immediately start hassling him with questions like "If these aliens are so powerful, why haven't they come back like you said?" The cloaked man isn't about to stand for insubordination, so he either grows to about three stories tall, or levitates -- the panel composition makes it hard to tell. Either way, it leaves the rest of the Injustice Gang staring up at him, their elbows akimbo, and for some reason most of them are standing with their legs spread about three feet apart.

At the Justice League's new headquarters, the assembled superheroes dish about Ultraa, just in time for the hotpanted dynamo to hurtle through the wall. He uses a ray-gun to bathe the Justice League in "negative waves" which "affect your thinking... your ego... your entire personality -- negatively!" Those negative waves are like the 700 Club, moveon.org, and the Atkins Diet, all rolled into one! "Never again will you be able to use your super-powers!" Ultraa boasts. The Flash skids into a wall. (Sound effect: "CHWOMP." Just what, exactly, is that wall composed of? Rice Krispie squares?) Superman has a dramatic little hissyfit about his vulnerability to Kryptonite in an oddly drawn panel -- he looks like he's shadowboxing while passing a kidney stone. The rest of the superheroes give up without a fight. Ultraa next uses the ray-gun on the Injustice Gang -- secretly, and without bothering to stick around and see if it works or not -- so he has no idea that the "negative waves" have actually boosted their self-esteem.

Feeling pretty darned good about themselves, the Injustice Gang proceeds to cripple the world's energy supplies. The Justice League monitors convey images of a waterfall that has halted in mid-descent, a windmill that refuses to turn, and oil rigs that have gone dry. Since there is no interesting way of depicting malfunctioning solar panels, we instead get to see a mob of people who are all shivering and hollow-eyed because there is snow on top of their heads. Put on a fucking hat, you idiots! Ultraa insists on facing the Injustice Gang by himself. The Tattooed Man attacks him with a living hawk tattoo. The Scarecrow incapacitates Ultraa with "fear pellets." Chronos uses his "time-gun" to... well, it's never made clear just what effect the time-gun has. It shoots tiny little sundials. Maybe they're really itchy. The Justice League has to go save Ultraa's sorry ass, but there's the whole negative wave problem. Superman suggests that they act as a mutual support group and cheer one another on. The final three pages of this story depict the League triumphing over the Injustice Gang while spouting stomach-turning affirmations like "I have to believe in myself, in my own will! Have to fight... fight my greatest enemy... myself!" Oh, and the man in the cloak turns out to be the old Flash villain, Abra Kadabra. And he was about fourteen feet tall for most of the story because...? Never mind. I don't care. Superman looks askance at the now-chastened Ultraa, and wonders, "After this, can we ever trust him? What do we do with him now?" With "headache lines" emanating from his cranium (and mine), the Flash replies, "I wish I knew, Superman. Right now, that's one question I simply can't answer..." Because it's the bottom of the last page, and there's no more room! It's the comic book equivalent of "called on account of rain." The writer just rolls a giant tarp over the script and then everybody goes home.

Also in this comic: join the Sales Leadership Club, sell only eighteen boxes of personalized Christmas cards, and win a "color TV video game!" This was in 1978, so I'm going to make a wild guess, here: it's "Pong."

Friday, October 29, 2004

Breakfast In Bed, With a Knuckle Sandwich

On this week's "America's Next Top Model," Tyra Banks sneaks into the apartment while the contestants are asleep. She awakens each and every one of them with a merciless beating. No, seriously. She flings herself on their beds and just slaps the crap out of them. The contestants are delighted. "My jaw was just fractured by Tyra Banks! The Tyra Banks!" I have to believe this was staged. For one thing, if somebody pulled that nonsense with me, I'd instinctively grab onto something -- say, an alarm clock or a table lamp -- and smash it into my attacker's face before I'd even opened my eyes. I'm just sayin'.

Tyra has brought along a plus-size model and a nutritionist, and she gatheres the contestants to talk about body image and proper eating habits. She offers the contestants one-on-one counseling. Cassie confesses to Tyra and Co. that she binges-and-purges occasionally, which in her mind isn't an eating disorder. Except that it totally is. Bonus creepy moment: in a phone call, we learn that Cassie's boyfriend knows that she has an eating disorder, and doesn't seem terribly upset about it. Right on, dude! No fat chicks! Jackass.

Cassie has another problem: the other contestants hate her. Cassie keeps to herself and she's kind of a slob, or as Alliterative Albino Amanda puts it, "a sloppy slut." Cassie whips up a batch of low-carb brownies that none of the other contestants are allowed to eat and leaves the kitchen a mess. The He-Ann Cassie-Haters Club (a.k.a. Ann and Eva) swings into action. Ann seizes a knife and carves into the brownies a demand that Cassie "clean up [her] shit." Eva keeps watch. The other ladies giggle and shush one another. Kelle merrily anticipates "Drama!" When Cassie discovers the vandalism, she's naturally upset. But then she takes it to a weird extreme where the mutilated brownies act as some kind of rape metaphor. She interrogates all of the roommates. Nobody owns up to the crime. Did I say "crime?" This sounds like a job for... Saint Ya Ya! Did you know that Ya Ya is a nurturing caregiver? Yeah, me neither. That's because Ya Ya is actually a condescending twit whose sole agenda is to impress other people with her moral superiority. Ya Ya is fresh out of Buddhist robes and nuns' habits, so she instead dons the most passive-aggressive T-shirt she owns. Dinner that night takes place at Moby's famed restaurant, "Teany," where the patrons may subsist only on select lichens and the very air itself. The other contestants are intrigued by Ya Ya's T-shirt, which is emblazoned with a Portugese word. Ya Ya regally explains that the word means "respect." As a ray of light illuminates her face, a dove with an olive-branch in its mouth lands on her shoulder, and the table centerpiece bursts into heavenly flame, Ya Ya tells them that they need to respect one another more. This goads Ann into confessing, but it only makes Cassie even angrier. She's so angry she could cry! And then she cries. In the background, a pale, stunted vegan waitress schleps dishes, looking none-too-pleased by the presence of so many aspiring models.

The next morning, the women attend a grueling "boot camp" style workout. Most of the women are excited by the indoor obstacle course. Apparently they'd spend all their waking hours at "Chuck E. Cheese," if the food wasn't so fattening. The drill instructor tries to look like a total badass, with fatigues and a crew cut and a scrubbly goatee, but the effect is completely ruined by his severely plucked eyebrows. He claims to be a former military man. In what branch? The Kiss Army? Cassie's body is currently devoid of all nutrients, so she's weak and miserable and not the least bit motivated, even when she's yelled at by The Prettiest Sergeant Ever. After the workout, the women head down the street to another building, where they are greeted by the very same drill instuctor! He's a witch! (Well, he does have eyebrows like Billie Burke.) The women now have to run up fourteen flights of stairs, straight to the roof, where they will immediately be photographed in the most alluring poses they can muster. All that running makes Eva want to throw up, but she can't quite commit to it. ("HUCK!" Pause, stagger a few feet. "HORP!") Nothing comes out. She should ask Cassie for pointers.

The next day, the women are photographed while bouncing on a trampoline. Taking the judges' previous advice to heart, Ya Ya succeeds in looking less 'like a dancer" and more like a total spaz. Ann inexplicably brutalizes herself, slamming her body face-first into the trampoline. She ends up with a lot of scrapes and a "best photo" that makes it look like she's been shot out of a cannon. Kelle's boobs slip the surly bonds of both Earth and her outfit. Even pixelated for family viewing, the liberated breasts flop gaily about, and with more grace and abandon than the rest of Kelle's body combined. Kelle keeps jumping up and down, grinning moronically, while people scream at her to tuck her breasts back into her dress. Everybody thinks Kelle is the worst model left in the competition. Even the little toy dog that sits on the fat guy's lap thinks so. With the last few shreds of her self-esteem blasted into tiny atoms, Kelle is booted from the contest. So, Kelle... still enjoying the "drama?"

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Batman-Superman of Earth-X! (Jimmy Olsen #93)

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In the June, 1966 issue of "Jimmy Olsen," our hero dons his most stylish outfit -- brown suit, green bowtie with black polka dots, and a vest that seems to have been made from the hirsute, jaundiced back of a circus strongman -- to visit his friend, Professor Potter. Potter shows off his "dimension-travel machine," which resembles a bathysphere with piano legs. Potter then exits, telling Jimmy to "wait here -- but don't touch anything!" That's panel two. In panel three, Jimmy has already climbed inside the thing and "accidentally" pushed a button. Panel four depicts a mammoth explosion. THE END.

Naw, I'm just foolin.' The only effect of the explosion on Jimmy's person is to muss his hair and knock his ugly green tie slightly askew. The machine, meanwhile, is a wreck. But it worked! Jimmy is now on "another Earth" and immediately encounters a double of his boss, Perry White. But this Perry White is a matador! With a blue cape! Because this is another earth, where the seamstresses are all colorblind, I guess. Jimmy saves Perry from a charging bull and makes an astounding discovery: "Maybe it was the explosion's radiation reacting with this Earth's sun... but here I have superpowers! YAHOO!" Giddy with power, Jimmy uses his remarkable abilities to... redecorate. "I'll surprise Perry by focusing my heat vision to burn his ranch brand right on his front door!" And if he complains, you can just stare at him real hard and blast his head off! Jimmy also does some chores, shoeing a bull with his bare hands, while in the background, what appears to be a giant metronome smokes ominously. In no time, Perry dies, but not before giving Jimmy a letter of introduction to his nephew, Metropolis World's Fair employee... Clark Kent.

The letter somehow entitles Jimmy to traipse about the fairgrounds after hours and by himself. He can eat all the saltwater taffy he wants! While fondling a statue of Earth-X American president Benedict Arnold, the super-strong Jimmy knocks it over, into another statue, which falls into another, and so forth. He uses his superpowers to put the statues back in place, but is spied by Clark Kent. "You can fly!" Clark observes. "You have super-strength! You're Steel-Man!" Clark reveals that he is a science-fiction writer, specializing in lame, unattractively costumed superheroes. A poster in his apartment depicts "Solarman," who wears black trunks, a red "muscle shirt" with flared shoulders, and a pointy purple stocking cap that some bully jammed down over his eyes. Also, he's barefoot. Fashion-conscious Clark sees that Jimmy's stylish suit was unharmed by the explosion and must therefore be indestructible. As Clark watches, Jimmy unravels his clothing reweaves it into a replica of the outfit that Clark Kent creation "Steel-Man" wears. He adds a cowl to protect his identity, and the cowl looks exactly like Batman's (with the ears!) for no goddamn reason at all.

Soon, Jimmy tangles with the LUTHAR League. LUTHAR stands for "League Using Terror, Havoc And Robbery. So, the full name is "League Using Terror, Havoc And Robbery League." Jimmy becomes the toast of Metropolis after foiling one of their dastardly capers. The city honors Jimmy with a ticker-tape parade, depicted with some very dubious perspective. Observe the policeman who isn't much larger than the child he's standing next to! Gape at the convertible that seems to be about seven feet wide and twenty-five feet long! Marvel at how Jimmy is about twice as tall as the people who are sitting in front of him! Later, the LUTHAR League has an emergency meeting! (And I'm sorry, but as organizational names go, "LUTHAR League" sound about as menacing as "The Daughters of the American Revolution" or "The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals.") The head of LUTHAR may possibly be the Joker! Or perhaps not. The narration is quite coy about this.

The LUTHAR League (of Women Voters) raids the World's Fair "Art Pavilion," nabbing "a genuine Rembrandt portrait of that great actor, Mickey Mantle." Ha ha ha! Shut up. Jimmy fights valiantly, but is felled by radioactive rocks. Professor Potter shows up to bring Jimmy home, but Jimmy doesn't really feel like going just yet. Since there's apparently nothing at all going on in the Professor's life right now, he agrees to just hang around on Earth-X until Jimmy changes his mind. Jimmy is lured into a trap by the Joker -- er, make that Clark Kent! He was wearing a suit that looked just like the Joker's outfit and a clown mask that just happened to look exactly like the Joker's head, for no goddamn reason at all! (And yes, it was ostensibly to protect his identity, but nobody else in LUTHAR wore masks during their meetings and they all dressed in coveralls, not purple tuxedos.) Clark uses a machine to transfer Jimmy's superpowers into himself. He embarks on a reign of terror that lasts for exactly one panel before powerless, unmasked ("So that's what he looks like!") Jimmy confronts him. Jimmy tricks Clark into exposing himself to a mysterious gas that destroys his powers. Jimmy nails Clark with an uppercut to the jaw! Clark rots in jail. "Bah!" says Clark. (I couldn't agree more.) Jimmy finally returns home, leaving behind a promising romance with the Earth-X version of his girlfriend, Lucy Lane, who unlike the more familiar version, is not an emasculating harpy.

In the second story in this issue, Jimmy goes undercover as a drill sergeant. Except that doesn't do anything to disguise himself, and he uses his real name. Still, Jimmy is 'a trained secret agent" who was given this important assignment by "the Pentagon." God help us all.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Hey, Nerds! Comics!

I meant for this blog to focus mainly on comics, hence the name. And yet, this is only the first post about them. Go figure. I buy comics every week or two -- it's mostly DC stuff, with some manga. I'll review my purchases here. My other comics posts will most likely deal with some of the treasures I've acquired during my thirty years of collecting. (I have a complete run of "Dazzler." Jealous?)

Last Friday, I bought...

Teen Titans #17 by Geoff Johns, Mike McKone, and Marlo Alquiza.
So... bloody, amputated limbs are "approved by the Comics Code Authority" now? Of course, the teeny-tiny stamp on this issue's cover consists of white lettering on a black background, which is the reverse of its usual look. Maybe this is the Bizarro Comics Code Authority. ("Bloody, amputated limbs am REQUIRED!") This book also contains a scene with a character getting shot in the face. Thank goodness for that code stamp, or else I'd think this was unsuitable for children. Now, that said, I'm not a kid, and if all superhero comics still read like they did in the 70's, well, I wouldn't be reading superhero comics anymore. No, sir. I'd be much, much happier. In this issue, the Titans wind up ten years in the future, and find that the junior members -- Wonder Girl, Superboy, Robin, and Kid Flash -- have all become grim, possibly villainous versions of their adult counterparts. There's also a buck-nekkid, feral version of Beast Boy, who has amped-up powers -- he can become two separate animals at the same time. (I thought he was actually cooler than the current version.) The future Raven -- well, I don't know what's up with this Raven, but it clearly ain't good. Johns throws in a future version of the new Aquagirl, just for good measure. The young Titans enter into an uneasy truce with their future selves, and wonder how things could have gone so wrong. But then Superboy sees something they didn't want him to see... (Hint: bloody, amputated limb.) It's good, violent, soapy fun.

Identity Crisis #5 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Mike Bair.
Atom fans will probably be pleased as punch about what transpires this issue. Firestorm fans, not so much. Meltzer's script offers up another possible suspect in the murder of Sue Dibny, even as it suggests that the person who sent Lois Lane that note in a previous issue wasn't threatening her, but warning her. As always, the dialogue and characterization is spot-on. Morales' stunning artwork really sells the story, particularly in the final sequence, as two young men listen to what may be their fathers' final words. The faults and merits of "Identity Crisis" have been discussed to death on the web, so I'll restrict myself to this: I think that superhero storytelling is diverse enough to allow for something like this book as well as more lighthearted fare such as "She-Hulk" or even the Cartoon Network stuff. And I think that DC (and Marvel) superhero continuity is fluid enough to accomodate radically different tones in storytelling about the same characters. I have umpteen versions of the Legion of Superheroes in my collection. For me, dealing with the events of "Identity Crisis" is a freaking cakewalk.

H.E.R.O. #21 by Will Pfeifer, Dale Eaglesham, and Wade von Grawbadger.
This is the next-to-last issue of "H.E.R.O." I've followed this book since issue number one, and I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more when it functioned as an anthology title. Pfeifer is certainly wrapping things up in an explosive fashion, with most of the former users of the H.E.R.O. device dying at the hands of a super-powered... serial... killer...ZZZZZ. *snort* Sorry, nodded off there for a second. Luckily, I'm still interested in the character of Robby Reed, so I'll buy the final issue just to see what happens to him. Eaglesham handles the pencilling chores with his typical aplomb, meaning that it's quite dynamic, as well as anatomically shaky and just unbelievably ugly. It's probably for the best that "H.E.R.O." is ending. I would've dropped it soon enough anyway.

Plastic Man #11 by Kyle Baker.
Baker's standard approach with this book is to throw a bunch of jokes at you and see which ones stick. As per usual, this issue consists of more "hits" than "misses." The bulk of the plot gives us a "brain swapping ray" that redistributes the pysches of Plastic Man, President Lex Luthor, an FBI agent, a mad scientist, a cat, a frog, a fly, and (wait for it) Bizarro. According to the internet (so it must be true) Woozy Winks' surreal speech at the end consists of actual George W. Bush quotes. I find this sadly plausible. Baker also throws in some meta-textural jokes that don't work at all. And in a move meant to bolster one of those failed jokes, he gives us a Vice-President Pete Ross who is Black. The funny part for me was thinking about all the hard-core fanboys going out of their minds with rage when they saw that. Haw! Losers.

A Future DVD Purchase I Won't Regret: The Grudge (2004)

The Grudge opened last Friday amidst a brutal critical drubbing. Almost to a man, reviewers have described it as illogical, repetitive, clich├ęd, and -- the kiss of death for a horror film -- not scary. I saw "The Grudge" yesterday, and in my opinion these reviewers are out of their goddamn minds.

When deciding whether or not to see a film, I tend to give a lot of weight to critical consensus. Although I always take the opinions of individual reviewers with a grain of salt -- I remembered Roger Ebert's shrill anti-Bush editorials and his so-glowing-it's-radioactive review of "Fahrenheit 9/11" when I read how much he despised "Team America" -- when legions of reviewers hate a film, I figure it's for a good reason. Before I saw "The Grudge," the only positive review I read was from a guy who loved "Ringu." And as you can see a few posts back, I thought "Ringu" was godawful. But "The Grudge's" trailer had intrigued me and I'm fascinated by the film's Japanese setting and I'm a sucker for anything with Sarah Michelle Gellar in it. So I plunked down my dough for a matinee ticket. I'm glad I did.

"The Grudge," a remake of the Japanese film "Ju-On" (2000), concerns a haunted house so potent that even if you manage to escape it, the ghosts will just follow you home and kill you anyway. The story occasionally moves backwards in time, but unlike most of the reviewers who've seen it, I didn't find this confusing in the least. And I don't think most other people will either. The present-day storyline with Sarah Michelle Gellar moves steadily forward, and it's intercut with the stories of the man who killed himself after visiting the house and the first family to move into it after the deaths of the previous tenants. The film lays out these puzzle pieces for the audience and then proceeds to fit them all together into a compelling whole. This technique culminates with a masterful sequence in which the house seemingly transports Gellar to a day three years in the past, allowing her to witness the impetus for one of the deaths. Director Takashi Shimizu increases the tension with moments in which the dead character seems to be aware of Gellar's presence. As an amateur horror story writer, I can tell you that one of my biggest challenges is finding ways to impart backstory without making it tedious. "The Grudge" accomplishes this quite deftly.

Most of "The Grudge's" negative reviews focus on how the various characters always investigate strange sights or noises instead of running away or calling the police. I feel I must defend "The Grudge" on this score. I watched the film with an eye for this sort of thing, and I think in most cases the characters' behavior is logical. They are usually following what appears to be a small child or a cat (although it's actually something that manages to be both and neither) or someone in distress. At one point, a ghost even disguises itself as another character. Is "The Grudge" repetitive? In the sense that the house keeps killing people, I suppose so. The difference, however, is that the victims in the grudge are not the ciphers of a slasher film but are instead interesting, sympathetic people. If their personalities are only lightly sketched, I can forgive that in light of their limited screen time -- as opposed to something like "Don't Look Now," which had a whole film in which to make me care about Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and failed miserably.

I think a lot of reviewers were put off by a lack of a central character in "The Grudge." Although Gellar gets top billing, her story occupies only about half of the actual running time. The film's puzzle-box structure gives us glimpses of many characters' lives... before they are dispatched by the house's bloodthirsty ghosts. This is not a character study, but something far more visceral. The movie doles out its scares pretty regularly and always manages to keep them from being repititious. There's a powerful scene with a character in her office tower's stairwell, with the lights flickering out in the upper levels, causing darkness to sink down towards her while something is crawling up from the lower levels. During an elevator ride, we see through the window (but the character isn't looking) a ghostly little boy standing on one of the passing floors. And the same ghost is waiting on the next floor, and on the next, and on the next...! "The Grudge's" ghosts also have a sense of humor. When a character in an apartment building gets a phone call from another character who claims to be waiting several floors down -- and who the audience knows is dead -- the first character agrees to "buzz [him] in." She does so, unlocking a door several stories below. She turns around, aaaannnd... cue doorbell. (Candygram!)

Is "The Grudge" perfect? No, although it's pretty damned close. There are a few scenes that are meant to be frightening but just aren't -- like the shower scene with Gellar finding a dead hand (or as a brilliant Television Without Pity post described it, "zombie baby ass") on the back of her head. She feels the hand, looks scared, turns around, and that's it. That's not scary. That's just weird. Also, the film would have been even better if it had ended one scene earlier. Still, it was well worth my time and money, it did a great job of repeatedly scaring the bejeezus out of me, and I plan to see it again. And you can bet your (zombie baby) ass I'll be buying the eventual DVD.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Regrettable DVD Purchases, Part Two: Don't Look Now (1973)

Okay, quick show of hands. Who remembers what Donald Sutherland looked like in the 70's? No, not his 70's. The 70's. Remember? The huge, topiary-garden hair that partnered with his smeared-on mustache and creepy lizard eyes to create a look that answered the question, "What if Doctor Who was a coke dealer?" Remember that? Okay, now we're getting somewhere. So, everybody who remembers this, who among you has any desire to watch a bare-ass naked Donald Sutherland grind his man-parts against Julie Christie for oh, say, about four-and-a-half minutes? Nobody? Nobody at all? Thank you. The prosecution rests its case.

"Don't Look Now" is hailed by legions of film critics as one of the best horror movies ever made. With this in mind, I bought the DVD. Sure, I hadn't seen it before, but certainly a film with so many critical accolades must be a masterpiece. Right? Imagine my surprise when I discovered that "Don't Look Now" in fact sucks, and hard. Let's forget, for the moment, that protracted, almost documentary-style sex scene. (And oh, how I wish I could forget it.) "Don't Look Now's" main fault is that it is ostensibly a "horror" or "suspense" film and yet it is neither horrifying nor suspenseful. It's boring. Lead actor Donald Sutherland overacts his heart out in a vain effort to animate a severely underwritten character. Julie Christie is saddled with an even flatter character, to compliment her flatter acting style. Sutherland and Christie play a married couple who lose their young daughter in a rather mannered drowning accident. The film gives us no reason to care about these characters, beyond the fact that their child is dead. When the film was over, I had as much sense of their personalities as if I'd watched a twenty-second news clip about mudslide victims. (Yes, it's tragic, but who the fuck ARE you?) Nicolas Roeg's direction is "arty" without really being expressive. It's utterly ineffective in building any kind of suspense. The script is similarly flaccid, devoid of wit or verve, and borders at times on the nonsensical. Either Roeg, screenwriter Allan Scott, or a drunken editor decided that it would be a fabulous idea to "induce chills" by smash-cutting to a scene of two secondary characters laughing uproariously about God knows what. Because this makes them seem like they might possibly, maybe, after a fashion, sorta, kinda be vaguely sinister! Or not! Jeebus. I'm shaking my head just writing this.

I watched "Don't Look Now" twice -- just to confirm my suspicion that I was right and it was the rest of the world that was crazy, and then I sold it to a new-and-used DVD store. I clutch to my wounded soul this meager consolation: at least I got to see Donald Sutherland get stabbed to death by a dwarf.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Dogpile on Stacy!

On this week's "Apprentice," the contestants worked with dogs, and she-troll Stacy received her long-delayed boardroom pasting. It was a glorious thing to behold. Trump, Carolyn, and a substitute George all pitched in to tear her several new orifices. Stacy's strategy -- which has become a lifestyle for her at this point -- was to make sure that she took no important responsibilities during the tasks, and then to heap blame for losing on somebody else. "Somebody else" being someone who actually did something. Trump and friends finally bothered to call Stacy on her nonsense and gave her the old heave-ho. When she dragged her refrigerator-sized luggage out of Trump Tower, the traditional taxi waited for her at the curb. I was rather hoping for a clown car. And yes, I know the short jokes are in bad taste, but I'm happy to make an exception for Stacy. Seriously. She's a dreadful human being.

The project managers this week were Jennifer (Apex) and Wes (Mosaic), who in the past weeks have had about fifty-two seconds of total screen time. Combined. After this week? They're still ciphers. In a brilliant, shit-stirring maneuver, Trump made Wes and Jennifer choose the three people they liked least. These losers had to go to the other team. And here's a bonus: with the teams sporting an equal mix of women and men, the Apex "witchfinder general" monopoly is at long last broken. Of course, this didn't stop Ivana from preemptively blaming Elizabeth, just in case her team lost. Maria was exempt from firing this week, due to last week's miracle win (courtesy of Satan). Maria celebrated her good fortune by contributing pretty much nothing at all to the task, strolling about a New York park dressed as a combination firefighter/Hooter's waitress, and, in a fashion masterstroke, pinning a triffid to her lapel. Chris informed the television audience that he has the biggest paycheck of anyone on his team. Is that what the young people are calling it now? A "paycheck?" He uses that big paycheck to buy many "underwears." Chris also has a ROLEX PRESIDENTIAL watch. I bet that would go nicely with Maria's DESIGNER SUIT. And Chris? Suck my "paycheck."

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Snout Awareness

This week, on "America's Next Top Model," the unflappable (i.e. stone-faced) Jennipher posed dully in lingerie, staggered dully about on rollerskates while modeling a purse (dully) and spent a lot of time complaining in a flat, emotionless tone about how everyone seems to find her dull. Can you guess which contestant got booted from the competition at the end of this episode?

The show's centerpiece was Toccara's one-on-one talk with supermodel/producer/microphone-licker Tyra "Moon Maiden" Banks, which degenerated quickly into a long crying jag about her parents. I felt awful for her. The really sad part is that according to Toccara, her parents were pretty much useless to her when she was growing up, and yet she still feels like they have power over her. She's still trying to prove herself to them, even though their own personal problems forced Toccara into taking the parenting role in her family. Tyra gave her a hug. ("Take comfort in my tangerine-colored weave, child.")

For comic effect, the editors then cut to a scene with Toccara walking into a room and finding Kelle in the middle of her own crying jag. But Kelle's problem is that she suddenly hates the way she looks -- so much so that she can't bear to see herself in a mirror. Welcome to the world of modeling! The producers' and judges' ongoing campaign to destroy Kelle's self-esteem is chugging along just fine, thank you very much. Each week they choose some bizarre out-take with Kelle's face or body in a weird position, and present it to her as her "best photo," along with generous dollops of belittling remarks. Dang, suddenly everybody wants to be Michael Moore. Kelle's main concern is with her mouth -- or, as she's calling it this week, her "snout." She sobs to Toccara, "I was in denial about my snout, but now I know." (That sounds like the title of the best Judy Bloom book EVER.) Kelle points to a magazine photo with a model who has her very own "snout." Kelle is oblivious to the fact that this grotesquely deformed model is earning a living by appearing in fashion magazines. The editors blurred out the model's eyes, no doubt to save her from nationwide scandal. Snoutgate! Toccara tries to boost Kelle's confidence but you can tell that her heart really isn't in it, and I don't blame her. Kelle is nineteen, which is just a little too old for that kind of self-pitying bullshit, especially when the person in question thought she was the Queen of the Carnival only a few weeks back, and particularly especially when the "snout" in question is a perfectly normal-looking mouth.

The contestants had to pose in a store window while wearing skimpy lingerie. In true reality show form, the judge announced that the prize would be "Five thousand dollars...!" (Pause, wait for contestants to shriek with venal joy.) "...worth of lingerie!" Their excitement was remarkably undimmed. Maybe some of them thought that they could take the lingerie to a bank and exchange it for currency. The James Cagney-esque Eva posed her short, pugnacious heart out, while Toccara's stiffer poses seemed to take their inspiration from Hermione Gingold in "The Music Man." ("ONE Grecian urn...!") And throughout the show, just like all the past shows, the judges hammered Ya Ya with their inane "Stop moving like a dancer" critique. At least one of them actually demonstrated this for her this week. One judge posed, which meant "dancer," and then let the pose droop somewhat, which meant "model." So, models are like enervated dancers. Got it.

Next week on ANTM, someone sticks her finger into a tray of brownies and all hell breaks loose. Can't wait!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Regrettable DVD Purchases, Part One: Ringu (1998)

I used to have the bad, lazy habit of buying DVD's of movies I've never seen. (I could have tried renting them first, but no...!) These were all movies that I'd seen praised to the skies in various reviews, of course. The problem was, I usually ended up hating them. Case in point: the Japanese horror film, "Ringu." "Ringu" was released in Japan in 1998, and spawned several sequels as well as a TV series. Hollywood took note and in 2002 released a slick remake: "The Ring." Since I'd liked "The Ring" enough to buy it, and since various internet horror sites claimed "Ringu" was better, I bought "Ringu." Huge mistake. "Ringu" is inferior to "The Ring" in practically every way. The film lacks the chilling atmosphere of "The Ring." The plot is threadbare, owing in part to the sheer brevity of the cursed videotape. The tape in "The Ring" is rich with surreal imagery that recurred in new forms throughout the film and provided only vague clues to the mystery of the little girl. The tape in "Ringu" has only a few images, none of them terribly interesting or scary. Instead of using the tape itself as a resource, the characters in "Ringu" often have vital clues literally pointed out to them by the specter of a man with a cloth over his head. The dude actually points to spots where the characters are meant to look. In "The Ring," the little girl's origins remain somewhat mysterious and there is an inferred supernatural element, but in "Ringu" she is specifically said to have psychic powers. Just like every other character in the film, including the girl's mom and the lead character's ex-boyfriend! (Psychic = boring to me. Sorry.) In "The Ring," the reporter's son is a serious little boy who ends up haunted by the little girl, and yes, the performance is reminiscent of the kid in "The Sixth Sense," but at least both these boys can actually act. (And for that matter, the kid in the "Ring" doesn't have psychic powers -- he only draws pictures of his cousin's death because she told him she was going to die beforehand, and the only "dead person" he sees is the malevolent little girl.) By contrast, the little boy in "Ringu" is a sour-faced, dead-eyed little mannequin who spends the entire film looking like he's crapped his pants and is feeling kind of angry about it. And then there's "Ringu's" set piece. Three words: climactic bailing sequence. The well in "Ringu" is pretty full, which means that the reporter and her ex-boyfriend spend quite a bit of time emptying it with a little bucket. This goes on for what feels like hours. In what passes for a plot complication, the reporter's arms get tired. She starts crying. The ex-boyfriend yells at her. It's just like one of the lamer challenges in "The Amazing Race." ("Bail faster, Mirna!") Needless to say, I felt utterly ripped off by this purchase. Sadly, I'm a bit of a slow learner when it comes to financial matters, so it would take a few more bad purchases like this before I finally learned my lesson. Up next: "Don't Look Now" (1973).

Who is Blockade Boy?

I'm glad you asked. Blockade Boy is an alien superhero who showed up as a minor character in Adventure Comics #344 (May, 1966) in the Legion of Superheroes story, "The Super-Stalag of Space!" He was promptly killed off in the very next issue. His super-power was the ability to transform himself into a steel barrier -- except that his head stuck out of the front of it, which made him look like a hunting trophy, or perhaps an oversized refrigerator magnet. Other than that, he was kind of boring. His costume, such as it was, consisted mainly of a yellow t-shirt and brown trousers. Oh, sure, there were a few concessions to superhero fashion, such as his insanely wide belt (six inches, at least), the stubby brown boots, into which the cuffs of his trousers were haphazardly stuffed, and of course the bad-ass wrist guards, a la Ultra Boy or the Golden Age Atom. He had a crewcut, and he wasn't terribly handsome, either. He was lantern-jawed, his eyes were kind of beady and a bit too close together, and his nose was a knobby lump. He died saving Matter-Eater Lad, who was equally lame but much more popular with comics readers because he had an actual personality.

Blockade Boy is also a thirty-five-year-old Kansas man with more comic books than sense. He's not physically imposing, although he does own a Bowflex and is working hard to lose weight. He cannot turn into a steel barrier with a human head protruding from it. He is, he flatters himself, somewhat wittier than his comic book namesake. Not that this would take much.

So, why choose "Blockade Boy" for an alias? Simple. I have a soft spot in my heart (and head) for hapless proletarian characters like Blockade Boy. And I just like the name. It has a certain clunky charm. It's also one of the few comic book superhero names that hasn't been appropriated by very many internet comic book geeks, if any at all. Because it's dumb!

Blockade Boy, the blog, will focus mainly on pop culture claptrap, like comics and movies. There may be some swearing.