Saturday, February 24, 2007

Passing Sentences #4

Death was working overtime this week; good thing her mascara never runs.

Rome, Philippi: Whatever artistic license "Rome" may employ in depicting historical events and persons, certain aspects are immutable. In that sense, there's little point in depicting the Battle of Philippi as though it could unfold any other way. Fortunately, Bruno Heller is a step ahead of his audience: rather than focus on the question of who wins (a question to which we already know the answer; take note, George Lucas!), Heller shifts the emphasis of this climactic episode to the emotional context. This is, after all, the point where the bodies start piling up, among them characters who've been with us from the start. It's one thing to know Brutus, Cassius and Cicero are doomed; it's another to see Pullo execute the cowardly-but-resigned Senator in full view of a wailing slave, or watch Cassius slip away amidst talk of his birthday. And Brutus... poor, vanquished Brutus gets a death that's quite different from that of his non-fictional counterpart, and yet it works so much better: heroic in one sense, suicidal in another, poetic justice in a third, and all that is conflated in a few bloody, poignant moments.

Heroes, Unexpected: Death makes another pit-stop, and this time she picks up someone I wasn't very fond of. Simone Deveaux has been a problem for me since day one, largely because of her wishy-washy nature. I mean, she dies while bringing back Isaac's key for the third fucking time in two episodes. Sure, I could be charitable and call it evidence of a conflicted heart, except that... well, what did we know about Simone outside the context of other characters? Did she ever do anything but faciliate another protagonist's plotline (sending Hiro to Vegas, revealing Claire's location to Peter, dumping Isaac so he'd be motivated to switch sides, etc.)? Even her death serves only the purpose of cementing the rivalry between Peter and Isaac (and now I'm wondering if Sylar had anything to do with Isaac's fate in episode 2). I'd feel the same way had the victim been Janice Parkman, Matt's wife - it's pretty difficult to care about the fate of a plot device. If anything, I'm glad she's gone because that complicates matters, and forces the characters who actually matter to find less convenient ways of moving along. I was more inclined to feel bad about losing Dale, even though she was only on for two scenes (side note: Zach Quinto is getting disturbingly hotter every week).

Anyway, the Stan Lee cameo was adorable (because, you see, he's a bus driver, a ferryman transporting Hiro from one kind of journey to another, and whether it's more or less heroic than the first depends entirely on how you like your comics), I really hope we haven't seen the last of Claude, and Milo Ventimiglia rocks the Dark Phoenix impression. It's interesting that Ventimiglia, like Jared Padalecki, communicates menace, rage and malice so well; could it be that the WB has been misfiring its castings all these years, and the pretty boys should have been villains all along? Or maybe it's the years of playing sanitized twerps that has them putting a little extra oomph into being bad.

Veronica Mars, Mars, Bars: Aw, Death, it's like you're apologizing for taking away my Menzies by purging TV of annoying people. :) Incompetence, obnoxiousness, sleaziness... all these adjectives (and more besides) describe Sheriff Don Lamb, who was sent rocketing to Hell this week courtesy of Richard Grieco (himself on an express train to Mephisto's Pit of Talent-Free Torment). While we may pity the quite-attractive Michael Muhney, let's not forget that Lamb thinks tough love is the way to go with rape victims, and he's never solved a case on his own, and he pissed off Lucy Lawless.

Someone at the Television Without Pity forum made an interesting comment about Lamb's death in the context of the entire series: somewhere along the line, "Veronica Mars" quietly shifted out of the noir (or rather, neo-noir) genre, and Rob Thomas might not be compensating enough for that. Lamb, after all, represented the law as a helpless (at best) or corrupt (at worst) institution. Removing him, and replacing him with someone who we know is both benevolent and reliable, doesn't quite work in a universe aligned against our protagonist (which was always the justification for Veronica's attitude). In terms of the power balance, Veronica seems to be much more in control of herself and the world around her than she should be - to wit, her utter domination of Logan in their relationship, to the extent that even when he dumps her, she makes the move that brings them back together, and then breaks it off herself. That might be precisely the problem that's causing this feeling of ennui; Thomas never defined the series again after the noir trappings were removed.

A Valentine sideplot featuring Bronson, Mac, Parker and Logan was thoroughly enjoyable in a fluffy sort of way... but, see, that's indicative of an identity crisis too, because as much fun as fluff can be, it simply hasn't been a part of Veronica's world until now.

Children of Men: It was beautiful. It was horrible. It was simple. It was complex. It made me cry. It made me smile. It was fucking depressing and ridiculously uplifting and I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. In keeping with the Theme of the Week, "Children of Men" stands as another example of how death can be an incredibly powerful emotional catalyst for the reader/viewer... and, conversely, how the concept of life (new life, to be specific) can change everything. There's something about the way this film uses death: it starts with the murder of a character we never meet but whose influence is inescapable, and it goes on to ruthlessly whittle down the supporting cast in such a way that you can't help feeling each loss, and yet it ultimately turns out that death isn't the point of the movie at all. It's something much more profound than that. As an aside, I wish I hadn't seen this right after the above episode of "Rome", because that one-two punch had me sobbing into my pillow until three in the morning. Between "Children of Men" and "The Prestige", my faith in cinema - or rather, the potential inherent in cinema - is slowly but surely being restored.

Civil War: I never get tired of seeing how out-of-touch the Marvel admins are with what actually sees print under their watch. To wit, Tom Brevoort recently gave Newsarama an interview where he offers up a script excerpt about the moment that decides the outcome of the war - an excerpt that makes sense of the whole issue, and says quite a bit about the leaders of the two factions. There's just one problem: that excerpt doesn't actually appear in Civil War #7. Nothing remotely similar to that excerpt appears in Civil War #7. Which accounts for the current outrage sweeping the boards.

(As an aside, Brevoort has also contradicted Joe Quesada yet again, claiming Mark Millar had planned the whole thing out in advance while Quesada's constantly reminding us of how Joss Whedon swooped to the rescue and helped shape the conclusion of the story. Oops.)

In any event, I don't have much to say about this debacle: I made the choice, back when it was first announced, to avoid "Civil War" in its entirety, and I've done just that - sure, it's nice to know that it was the right call (for me, at any rate), but at this point I'm far more interested in critical response to "Civil War" than anything the actual event could offer.

Ray of light? I do believe that "World War Hulk" and the impending X-Men crossover will fare better than their predecessors, if only because - for the first time in recent memory - the writers involved actually stand a chance in hell of pulling it off. See, this is the truth I've discovered with regards to comics: it's very, very easy to glean what a creator is and is not capable of, just by giving their past bodies of work (which are eminently accessible) a glance. Just because Marvel lacks any kind of discerning perspective doesn't mean we as readers suffer the same liabilities - we might, for example, question the idea of a subtle, complex tale of political intrigue being assigned to Mark "Mjolnir" Millar (the guy who wrote "Red Son", "The Authority", and "Ultimates" for God's sake!). And this, I think, is a big part of the problem: the writing is, and has always been, on the wall, but it has become the habit of the greater part of fandom to only take a look long after it ceases to matter. Sure, you can jump up and rage about "Civil War" now - #7's out, Marvel made a lot of money, and from their point of view it hardly matters if the end result is embraced or not. Their primary mission - cashing in - was achieved. Now, if the Zombies had said no a bit earlier (like, say, issue #2), maybe things would've been different.