At least I have these stalks of corn.

*Hope all of you going up to NYC for MoCCA have a good time this weekend. I'd like to be there, but that's just not going to happen - my convention-free status in life remains unaltered. There's probably a lot of neat things going on, so I'll be waiting to read people's accounts when they get back.

*Making my way through a bunch of older Valiant comics recently. The early Unity crossover, masterminded by the soon-to-be-ousted Jim Shooter, really is an awful lot better than most of these massive superhero crossover Events tend to be - I manged to buy all 18 chapters for about $10 total, and I'd say it's worth that and then some. Maybe the key is how direct it is in offering sleek superpowered thrills and amusing characters and pulpy melodrama - it is a typical superhero storytelling megathing in many ways, complete with a world-threatening menace, big team-ups, shocking death, etc., but it never lets the weight of continuity nudging get in the way of often absurd delight (talking dinosaurs can liven up pretty much anything), and it manages to keep the 'new readers v. comprehensive collectors v. individual title followers' thing all balanced out for an impressively long while, the strain not beginning to show until the second half, cracks really widening only in the final installment.

It's a crazy mish-mash of stuff, as if Shooter and his co-writers (notably Bob Layton, David Michelinie, and David Lapham) had decided that the only way to truly pull off an inter-company crossover was to throw together every single genre and subgenre the books in question happened to cover along with the characters. Thus, we have prehistoric beasts, giant robots, cosmic power, barbarian sword-swinging, teen mutant-style soap opera, the nation of Japan orbiting the Earth in the form of a giant metal dragon, noirish back-alleys and seedy bars and double-crosses - all of it mixed into a plot that starts (chronologically) with a war between Bronze Age tribes and extends up to the year 4001, doubling back upon itself countless times. It's compulsively readable stuff.

What really gets to me, though, is how damn many of the things decried today as 'inappropriate' for all-ages superhero books are fully present in these 1992 books, all of them presented as essentially 'all ages' material. There's head-crushings, eye-gougings, dinosaurs literally split in half down the middle (their internal organs left fully visible in cross-section), the hero of X-O Manowar struggling with limited success to hold his guts inside his body after he's split open, time-travel semi-incest as a major plot point, a mentally ill woman seeking to remake reality with near-magical power, two scenes of superheroes having the hair burnt off their bodies and their flesh cooked, a necrophilia dream sequence... I wonder what the reactions were among readers of the time, since there's very little record around of instant feedback? I guess Magnus and Solar don't have quite as much 'cherished childhood icon' kick as Marvel and DC characters, and thus less of an impetus to become annoyed, or maybe I'm just hopelessly overexposed to a multiplicity of viewpoints, this being the internet and all. Or maybe I'm just missing out on all the good complaining.

The key to it all: somehow, Unity makes all of this stuff seem, if not necessary, at least as an organic part of its ongoing action. Plus, it's a fun story. Shooter and company didn't forget the fun in the process of juggling storylines and adding 'weight' to the proceedings and all. I might write more on this later.

*But tomorrow will almost certainly see a review of the new Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion, featuring the contributions of creator/writer/co-star Garrison Keillor and uncredited directorial wingman P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia). I’d not known that Stephen Frears of High Fidelity and Dirty Pretty Things had provided the same assistance to Altman in 2001’s Gosford Park (he apparently got a ‘special thanks’ mention at the end, according to the IMDB), but that’s what the 81-year old Altman himself says in today’s new issue of Entertainment Weekly (#882), which features an interview with the director (as well as a nice notice for Gilbert Hernandez’s upcoming Sloth, plus a profoundly uninteresting, ‘nothing else to run this week’ feature on The 25 Most Controversial Films of All Time as the cover story). The things you learn...