Oh! An endeavor!

*Standing by my window and listening to the folks milling around on the sidewalk, I’ve been hearing a lot about group blogs and multi-person efforts and the like. I’ve just updated my very very current blogroll (complete with links to Sean T. Collins and John Jakala) with a passage to The Great Curve, a rather large group blog, with some good contributors. And listening to these people and reading this blog, and following a long bout of self-examination and several shots of Jim Beam, I’ve decided to 'kick it old-school' as the popular crowd says (unless my slang is of the same aged character as my blogroll).

Which is why I’m now doing a weekly column at Komikwerks. Yes. It won’t affect this site at all; in fact, it’ll allow me some space for the ‘comics punditry’ (as Dave Fiore would put it) that usually doesn’t show up on this blog. In this way, I hope my column will have a unique appeal that compliments what I’m already doing with this site. The first edition went live yesterday titled “My Irrelevant Childhood (and What I Learned)”, and new installments will arrive each Friday morning. I hope you’ll all find it to be entertaining and succulent. Komikwerks is also debuting about seven other columns in the week ahead (check the right sidebar), some of which will be weekly, some of which will appear more irregularly. So keep on checking back!

*Another milestone was reached last night: I saw my first of the year’s Best Picture hopefuls, “The Aviator”, which I largely enjoyed. I find myself responding well to Glossy Epic Scorcese; surely it’ll be tough to find a more technically immaculate picture playing on today’s screens (unless “The Life Aquatic” is still hanging on). I particularly adored the use of period music; it’s not just period songs, but pieces of period film scores, applied in much the same way as they were in the actual pictures they were attached to, bubbling with b&w melodrama that contrasts with the all-color action on screen. Scorcese keeps everything gently artificial; stylized. In particular, Cate Blanchett’s performance as Katherine Hepburn walks straight up to the face of outright caricature and kisses it on the cheek, but there’s no naturalism = better paradigm in my film-going world, and the larger-than-life performances are more than fitting for this thundering pageant of godly characters, although they’re older gods, the sort that possess all of the awful faults of humanity, but on a grander scale.

It’s not really a ‘highlights reel’ sort of biopic; after jumping around a little bit through Howard Hughes’ Hollywood career (the collaborative directorial nature of his films is unfortunately played down) from the death of the silents to the reign of the Hayes Code, with the obligatory prologue concerning his formative childhood experiences, doubtlessly simplified to a huge degree, we basically get a recounting of Hughes’ adventures in developing aircraft with government money during and after WWII, as his relationships dissolve and his mental illness begins to take total control of his life. It’s a heavily sympathetic portrait, although Scorcese doesn’t skimp at all on the sickness, probably understanding that an audience weaned only on tales of Hughes’ reclusive later life might feel cheated without a few scenes of balls-out newspaper-coated microphone-screaming urine-in-milk-bottles Crazy Time, so we get a little of that, and the conflict becomes whether or not Hughes can keep his illness subdued long enough to Save Aviation from the villainy of Pan-Am, an airline that plays plenty of lip service to the glory of the Free Market while scrambling overtime to secure Congressional protection of their monopoly on overseas air travel. It’s absolutely not a balanced portrayal of things, with Pan-Am head Juan Trippe stalking around his personal office (designed like a veritable supervillain’s lair) puffing his evil pipe and plotting horrid schemes; at one point his entrance is even accompanied by Evil Music. He’s also played by Alec Baldwin, which naturally brings “Team America” to mind (as he crouches outside of Hughes’ screening room taunting him late in the film I half-expected him to whisper “You think you can out-act ME, boy?”). The Supporting Actor nom went to Alan Alda, though, playing a snide senator who’s in the pocket of Pan Am. All he really does is react to Hughes’ triumphant grandstanding in the big Senate Hearings finale, but he’s ok at it.

I ought to mention that the film is totally stuffed with some of the most gratuitous cameos I’ve recently seen, ranging from Gwen Stefani to Jude Law to Willem Dafoe to Rufus Wainwright, and it was sort of a distraction, but it also vaguely adds to the Classic Hollywood unreality of the whole enterprise (I’ve even read that scenes in different time periods were tinkered with in post to subtly ape the color film developments in cinema across Hughes’ lifetime). As for Leonardo DiCaprio, he sells the mental illness pretty damn well and generally acquits himself with the rest (full disclosure: I guess I’ve had something of a hidden soft spot for him ever since he teamed with William Burroughs to write an introduction to Last Gasp’s “The Collected Checkered Demon” in 1997, same year as “Titantic“).

It’s a nice portrait, not fawning (there’s an amazingly creepy scene of Hughes auditioning a 15-year old starlet for the role of his personal companion) but judiciously cut off before we make it into Hughes’ frothing anti-Communist hotel-based later life. I liked the film. I really liked its old movie stately artificiality, which might have more appeal to film nerds like myself (and the director, of course), but that’s ok for me, huh? I still want to see “Sideways” and “Million Dollar Baby” (my sixteen-year old sister saw the latter last night and bawled her eyes out for the concluding half-hour), but I won’t be annoyed if this one takes all the awards.

Oh, and they had the “Sin City” trailer playing before it; it looks a lot more impressive on the big screen than on my laptop. The audience seemed more confused than anything by it…

The Spirit: The New Adventures #1-2

Back in 1998, the soon to be defunct Kitchen Sink was the premiere publisher of Will Eisner’s graphic novels, along with various sketchbooks, anthologies, and miscellaneous projects. Among the miscellany was this ongoing series of tribute stories featuring Eisner’s classic costumed hero, laid out by some of the biggest names in comics. It lasted for eight issues, with talents like Paul Pope, Joe R. Lansdale, Paul Chadwick offering work, but these two early issues probably vibrate the most with comics star power, even if the stories themselves don’t add up to much more than attractive homage.

The entirety of issue #1’s original material is provided by none other than the “Watchmen” team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, who provide three interlocking stories (originally created for but never published Overstreet Fan magazine). It all a rather fannish riff on the title character’s ever-changing origin story (as helpfully explained in an essay in the back), with different members of the cast disputing various accounts of events across the stories. But mostly it offers and interesting glimpse into Moore’s superhero thinking at that time, with “Supreme” still ongoing. Especially in the last story, largely presented as disconnected incidents on sheets of notebook paper, one can see Moore forming his ideas for “Greyshirt”, which he would later create with Rick Veitch for ABC‘s “Tomorrow Stories“ and the underrated “Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset“ (easily the best non-Moore ABC series), all cast largely from The Spirit’s mold. The effect is close enough that one can securely dub this issue a Greyshirt dry run, with even Gibbon’s art displaying a similar bright inventive cartoon style that Veitch would later demonstrate (though without the individualistic lumpiness that all Veitch characters possess).

Issue #2 features the interesting-in-theory teaming of Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell, as a nebbish screenwriter runs into The Spirit, all the time refusing to accept the reality of the situation because he’s too cynical to believe that heroism can exist. It’s sort of cute, but nothing more, and largely notable for Campbell employing what’s essentially a smoothed-out (and richly Steve Oliff colored) version of his “Bacchus” style. It’s Jim Vance and Dan Burr of “Kings in Disguise” who really provide some fun, presenting a largely straightforward humorous Spirit tale, aided greatly by Burr’s gorgeous 50’s “Mad” inspired art. “Judge Dredd” co-creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra offer up the final story, I pretty typical bit of paranoia and irony.

It’s an interesting series to examine, if not all that effective in execution. Still, issue #1 is definitely worth tracking down for Moore fans (he also has a story in issue #3), and it’s at least a good looking homage.