This is one of those catch-all columns from NG Central, where we play with format a little bit. I'm
rolling the sidebar into the main column, talking up reviews and main subject all at once.
In part, this is because I'm filing this sandwiched between one of the low-grade crises that has
marked this past year -- my laptop went kablooie on the night I originally planned to write
this (now being finished on a hastily-found Craigslist-bought replacement, which might give me even
more mileage if I update the RAM), and time is running out with a Very Large Weekend approaching:
namely, youngest son's Bar Mitzvah, and eldest son's departure for college 36 hours later. So
I have a narrow window in which to get this done.
After these coming events, it seems like a sort of finish line will be crossed, from a single
dad-staying-in-L.A.-to-pitch-in-during-the-childhoods perspective. They've been great years in many
ways (will being simultaneously hard in others), and they're not over yet -- youngest still has
high school ahead of him.
So I'm not bidding a particular adieu yet, where I can give up renting a place and just take to the
road in an old VW bus, an "old guy who feels good," to use a phrase coined by Country Joe McDonald's
father when he was selling self-published autobiographies on the streets of Berkeley. This isn't a
last-column as I prepare for a mid-September wanderjahr but the landscape seems like it's bound
to be reconfigured.
As is our columnar reporting here. Normally, I'd write about Comic-con around this time of year, but
since the estimable Mr. Klaw and I switched slots, it's now a full two weeks (or more -- the Con was
a bit early this year) since the event happened, and you've read all the Marvel movie / Hobbit-y
announcements you were interested in.
It keeps getting bigger and more crowded, and I mostly went to panels on writing your own comics (as
well as a couple I covered on Hollywood craftsfolk, for Below the Line -- about which, more at the
link). My best yarn, perhaps, comes from going to a press event for the DVD release of The Hunger Games.
Being directed down a hallway toward a large Hunger Games one-sheet, I was instructed to
find a crowded room with a good balcony view of San Diego's Gaslamp District. I went through the first
open door that fit that description and wound up in the green room -- I realized an hour or so later -- for
Entertainment Weekly, which was doing interviews with the True Blood cast,
then the Breaking Bad cast, and then (and this is when I realized The Hunger Games
wasn't part of the line up there) Ian McKellan of The Hobbit cast walked by -- in a row, like they were going
through the forest! -- with Peter Jackson in the middle, looking pretty Hobbit-y himself.
So I made it across the hall where, it turned out, the press event was behind a slightly ajar door,
just in time to hear the actress who played Rue being asked by my fellow press-folk if she got
emotional, like they did, watching her death scene. "I think," young and poised Amandla Stenberg
said, "you have to be pretty self-involved to cry at your own death scene."
That might have been my quote of the con. But if I'm not reporting on the Con as such, with my
new/later filing date, perhaps a review of The Dark Knight Rises would be in order?
Well, a review already resides on this very web site. My verdict isn't quite as hard -- I too
thought the film failed to fully cohere, and the motives weren't always clear (so you're blowing
up the city anyway? Does it matter to have a timer, then, to do it an hour earlier than the bomb
would on its own?) and the politics of the film, with its wariness of the great unwashed rising
up after all, remain debatable.
But Anne Hathaway is a fine Catwoman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt acquitted himself quite well
as "The Young Man Wonder," as it were. Though how did he know Bruce Wayne was Batman, just by
looking at his eyes? On that basis, Clark Kent's mild ruse should have failed years ago.
But the main thing about the movie is, of course, the fact that it's now tethered to the atrocities
that accompanied it during its opening midnight at Aurora, Colorado. As Anthony Lane mentioned
in a New Yorker blog post, it will henceforth be impossible to think of the
film without, on some level, thinking of that particular horror.
But what does it mean for the way the film is regarded, in retrospect? Would the gunman have gone
off -- God forbid -- if it was some other summer "event" movie, or is there something in the nature
of Batman that might make someone about to go off in the classically male "I'm insane and I
have weapons" kind of way, more drawn to such a midnight gathering?
Of course, we might also ask if there is something in the nature of shopping malls, work places,
college campuses, military bases, post offices, cafeterias, McDonald's outlets, etc., that call
forth such nihilistic, violent energies, for mass killings have taken place in these settings, too.
But it's never happened at a movie theater before, and it's a commentary on our times that any
mass gathering now seems to carry with it a particular vulnerability, a subliminal wariness to it.
What would it mean for subsequent midnight Batman films? Perhaps it's a good thing that this
fall's Batman release -- the direct-to-DVD animated version of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight
Returns -- is meant to be viewed at home.
Though, of course, we know that homes can be pretty dangerous places, too.
Perhaps, though, the atrocities show -- in the most awful way possible -- just how "mainstreamed"
comic books, and their heroes and villains, have been mainstreamed into the long-troubled American psyche.
And speaking of troubled psyches, I wound up reading this month -- to my surprise -- three of the Before Watchmen books.
This happened when eldest son -- the college-bound one -- brought them home, and at that point,
whatever ambivalence I had about the project yielded to curiosity.
The three I read were the Nite Owl, (J. Michael Straczynski writing, with Andy and Joe
Kubert art), Ozymandias (Len Wein writing with Jae Lee art),
and Minutemen (written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke).
Of the three, the Ozymandias book maybe holds the most surprise, simply because he seemed
perhaps the most cipher-like of the original Watchmen. Nite Owl has the benefit of having Rorschach
in it -- I might like to read the ink-blobbed one's mini-series -- but so far, in the early going, no
one can yet write him like Alan Moore can.
Which brings up the whole question of "artistic ethics" behind the series -- they must be fun to write (had
my phone somehow improbably rung with one of the assignments, I would probably have agreed to do one,
too), and there's something pleasurable about being able to re-enter that particular universe in a semi-fresh way.
But the "semi" is important here: Because ultimately, so far -- even with the pirate stories running
in the back -- the books don't feel like they go beyond what we have already surmised about these back
stories on our own (from both the comics and the "back matter" Moore crafted for the series).
They're fun, though, and perhaps in dark times that's enough to warrant flipping through one. But
let's hope it never happens to Promethea, V, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.