Monday, May 23, 2016

New comic review: The Pink Panther Free Comic Book Day Edition #1 (American Mythology, May 7th, 2016)

Alas, the comic book store (and the one other that I visited) that I regularly patronize only had the standard cover (by S.L. Gallant, depicted below) and not the Ant and the Ardvark variant that I was hoping to get my hands on. Hey, what matters is that I got the comic -- and following my rule of thumb with the IDW books that I buy (Disney and otherwise), the A cover is always the "real" one, and I don't want to be a hypocrite, now, do I? And as this particular A cover directly represents the lead story, it justifies my reasoning behind my personal system for choosing covers.


Also, a correction: I had reported that this Free Comic Book Day edition is also this new Pink Panther run's official #1. The ads inside it clarify that the formal #1 will follow sometime in May, but it appears to have been pushed back to June 8th.
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"Pan-Thor"
written and drawn by S.L. Gallant

Gallant definitely understands the neo-silent film, visually-dependent nature of the DePatie-Freleng shorts and faithfully translates them to the medium of comics... or, if you will, sequential art. (I would think that Scott McCloud would approve.)  I was confused by a couple of the gags. I'm prone to think it may well have been me, with one exception: what's up with Inspector Clouseau's cameo at the end? Is he Thor's Earthly counterpart, or was this a case of magical long-distance place-trading? Anyway, in the spirit of Free Comic Book Day, this parody of Marvel's Thor works nicely as tribute to the medium as a whole.
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"Clean Sweep"
written and drawn by Adrian Ropp

The punchline of this one-page Ant and the Ardvark gag is an old standby. While no new layers or twists are added to it, it's still told well, with quick, sharp timing, and the characterization is true to the shorts. Compared to the light, flitting style of "Pan-Thor", this has an earthier style, grounded (pun kind of intended) by a more weighted sense of anatomy. In both cases, the respective style is an appropriate interpretation of the animation on which the comic is based, although neither is a slavish mimicry of the original by any means.
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"Pink Volcano"
written and drawn by Warren Tufts

Though this story is attributed to 1994 issue of Pink Panther (published by Harvey, we can deduce), the fact that it was also a reprint then is neglected. The four-tiers-per-page format in conjunction with the Pink Panther title logo in the opening half-page splash are a dead giveaway that this of Gold Key/Whitman origin. In true Western Publishing fashion, just like with, for example, Tom and Jerry and The Road Runner the Pink Panther does something that his screen counterpart does not: talk. A lot. 

This is an extremely silly story about an island trying to sacrifice "Pink" (that's his name, apparently) to their volcano god. The natives are represented by an oblivious, buffoonish "king" with an absurdly long, jibberish-y name that he can never pronounce right himself (this running joke nearly dominates the story) and his royal "assistant", who's the "power behind the throne" -- you know, the type who's actually far more astute and competent than their "lord", and is actually the one keeping things running, but never complains, happily, loyally and quietly doing his job. Their comedic interplay is actually pretty entertaining. The same goes for Pink playing out the old routine of relishing in the mistaken belief that the natives genuinely mean to treat him hospitably and as an honored guest, and then, at the moment the truth hits home (markedly later than common sense would dictate -- and that's where the humor lies, of course), doing, "Wuh-wuh-WUHHHHH?!!! They want to EAT ME??!!! I'm OUTTA HERE!!!"-type double-take. Fun stuff. Like cotton candy! (And not just 'cause it's pink!)

-- Ryan

Saturday, May 21, 2016

New comic(s -- in total, 2) review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #730-731 (IDW, April-May 2016)


Right: Cover for #730, drawn by Henrieke Goorhuis, colored by Ronda Pattison. Original.
Left: Cover for #731, drawn by Massimo Fecchi, colored by Mario Perrotta.

"The Search for the Zodiac Stone" (#730-731)
Chapter 10: "Blondbeard's Pirate Plunder"
Chapter 11: "The Partners of the Pendant"
written by Bruno Sarda
drawn by Franco Valussi
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
U.S. dialogue by Jonathan H. Gray
(Italy. Topolino #1789-1790, March 11th and March 18th, 1990)

Eleven issues ago (...how time has flown!), I wrote about the advent of the U.S. premier of "The Search for the Zodiac Stone" in terms of expecting some sort of cosmic-in-scope, "ultimate"duck-mouse universe-set "epic". I had no idea what I was talking about, as many a European reader would've been able to recognize 25+ years ago. To a Topolino reader in 1990, this storyline we might imagine was a novelty: for 12 consecutive issues (exactly three months' worth), one story (out of several) per issue, each roughly 30 pages in length, was presented under the over-arcing "Zodiac Stone" umbrella. What otherwise may have read as the latest Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, or even Huey, Dewey, and Louie adventure had tacked onto it some jive about the immediate proceedings having something to do with the recovery of 1 of 12 "pedants" (as they've been called int he American version).

The loosely serialized nature of the continuity is driven home by its unassuming, casual, not merely self-contained but self-concerned second-to-last and penultimate installments. Chapter 10 is made of the stuff that accounted for a Huey, Dewey and Louie Back to School or Donald Duck Family edition of Dell Giant: the nephews, staying on Grandma Duck's farm, are bored, so Grandma decides to liven things up for them by faking a pirate's treasure map set right on her farm. On the other hand, even given her temporarily getting the upper hand on Scrooge, Chapter 11 may be Magica's most undignified, humiliating effort to acquire Scrooge's first dime: despite the basis of the magic she uses here in Greek mythology, in effect, it comes off as little more than her commandeering a coin-operated grocery store kiddie ride rocking horse.

Make no mistake, I enjoyed the comedic  seasoned adventurer nephews' expressions of boredom with the plain doldrums of a "hayseed's" existence; Grandma's stick-to-it-iv-ness in not just verbally defending her way of life but going out of her way to orchestrate an elaborate ruse to prove her point; the comic relief found in Gus reluctantly aiding Grandma in aid efforts and in their course becoming far more easily tired than she is; Scrooge's faulty memory ("Back to the Klondike", anyone?) leading both Donald and Mickey around the globe on several false trails; and a despondent Scrooge supplicating a gloating Magica, who is quick to find herself fouled up by the surprise arrival of the Donald-Mickey team. And make no mistake, each and all of these characterizations and interactions were as richly rewarding as they are in the IDW due to Jonathan Gray's exacting scribesmanship.

Whereas in Chapter 10, the "Taurus" theme is incorporated only in passing as part of the opening scene, and later revisited, sort of "tying everything together" at the Whitman-level "dramatic" climax, and has absolutely nothing to do with the respective pendant's backstory, Chapter 11's " " is jutting right into our face, in a glaring, big, honkin' way... yet the ultimate locating of the  pendant turns out to have NOTHING to do with the preceding search for it, in an way that's almost clever for being anti-clever.

So, in all, yes, "The Search for the Zodiac Stone" has ended up being sillier an outing than I'd originally hoped it might be. But it HAS -- thanks to the lively, charming art, dialogue, and characterizations -- been a hell of a lot of fun, delightfully both silly and satirical.

And the final panel of Chapter 11 teases and promises that the next and final installment will see the Phantom Blot teamed with Peg Leg Pete. Let it not be said that "they", in their various permutations over the decades and across the continents, don't know what we want!
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"Music for Melons" (#730)
written and drawn by Ben Verhagen
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seiter
U.S. dialogue by David Gerstein
(Netherlands. Donald Duck #9-1987, February 27th, 1987)

Perhaps it's because of "Blondbeard"'s low-key nature that "Petrified Perfection" was given  the cover and lead spot over "Zodiac"'s tenth chapter. Whatever the reason, the rare appearance of Ben Verhagen story is a special event in its own right, and being a 10-pager, it being a WDC&S headliner is both appropriate and deserved. Donald pressured to succeed in a new, key position delegated to him by the ruthlessly judgmental Scrooge is a time-tested formula. I wouldn't as Donald only succeeds at the last minute, after a string of desperate, failed attempts. If the intended-to-be-silly efforts to accelerate and compound the growth of a single melon are visually not as silly as they could be, Gerstein's dialogue makes up for it, with numerous pun and turns-of-phrase ingenious in their direct contextual relevance, as well as several very eccentric references (a couple of which I couldn't even figure out). 

Something about the narrative execution felt off to me -- I've pinned it to the fact that Scrooge charges Donald with the entire crop, yet the ensuing efforts are centered on the one melon. Though we're shown what inspired this obsession, it was hard to escape the feeling of established but immediately neglected expectations. Living (and measuring) up to the legend is a still hard sell, as it's not made explicit that the melon icon painted on the fence is supposed to represent the actual size of the historic precedent Don's striving to emulate. 

Ultimately, though, the [series of comedic failed attempts --> fleeting moment of triumph undone by over-the-top disaster --> things turn out okay with a "twist" solution] structure holds things together perfectly fine. The wide-angle, grand, stately depiction of Scrooge's newly-opened giant-melon-refurbished-as-hotel in the closing half-page splash evokes the fantastical whimsy of Verhagen's adventure stories. I don't know if Scrooge in the introductory scene citing the zoning restrictions subjected upon him or the cryptic hint in the legend about "the secret being found in song" were originally part of the story or were worked in by Gerstein, but either way, both lay the ground for a setup-payoff sub-thread -- two integral layers built into the story, giving it more complexity.
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"Petrified Perfection" (#731)
written by George Stallings
drawn by Riley Thomson
(U.S. Br'er Rabbit weekly Sunday newspaper comic strip, May 17th, 1953) [newly titled]

Vintage Disney's Br'er Rabbit, a vintage Sunday newspaper comic strip -- how can one go wrong?!
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"Why Robot" (#731)
written by Stefan Petrucha
drawn by Fabrizio Petrossi
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
(France. Le Journal de Mickey #2999, December 9th, 2009)

This story's appearance in the U.S. marks a throwback to the Gemstone days, which was heavy with 4-tiers-per-page modern Danish Mickey (and friends/family) stories. Petrucha was one of the writers whose stories were regularly used, and though Petrossi wasn't seen as frequently as Ferioli, he did make a showing, and I would say aesthetically was of that same school -- slick, smooth, and more (pupil-eyed) "Disney traditional" than their stylized Italian counterparts.

Not only is "buddy film"-esque scenario spotlighting Goofy and Horace as a comedic duo sans Mickey or any other regulars a novelty, but so is Horace receiving top billing, shared not. It's practically screamed in the reader's face that if their hosts aren't robots or haven't been body-snatched by aliens, then it's got to be some other equally familiar trope.  But it's not supposed to be an impenetrable mystery for the reader -- it's a farce, the crux of this outing being how, each for his own reasons that are innate but completely different from the others, this pair of sidekicks astray from their "alpha" are both oblivious to and hyper-suspicious of (in a justified but completely misguided way)  of their surroundings.

Because they're both played as fools, we expect all along that whatever accounts for their mysterious glimpses, fleeting window-facilitated of what they take as a "robot's shadow" is most likely innocuous. It shouldn't be a letdown when we're proven right, for all of the dark-and-stormy-night theatrics are meant as a joke -- a spoof -- reflecting each protagonist's childlike, misread perception of the situation and their wild, unfounded hypotheses.

The quintessential moment of this exercises in contrast is the simple-minded though humble nature expressed in Goofy's thought balloon and the overblown ego and self-deluded vanity rampant in Horace's.

-- Ryan

Saturday, May 7, 2016

New comic(s, two of 'em!) review: Uncle Scrooge #417-418 (IDW, April-May 2016)


 
Left: Cover for #417 by Alessandro Perina, from Topolino #2985.
Right:  Cover for #418 by Ulrich Schroeder and Daan Jippes. Original.

"Scrooge's Last Adventure" Parts 1 and 2 (#417-418)
written by Francesco Artibani
drawn by Alessandro Perina
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
new U.S. dialogue by Jonathan H. Gray
(Italy, Topolino #2985-2986, February 12th and 18th, 2013)

This is what the ill-paced, under-developed "Rightful Owners" four-parter of 2011's short-lived U.S. DuckTales comic should have been... and I think was trying to be. (Not to mention that Rockerduck unquestionably belongs in an Uncle Scrooge story, whether properly cast -- as he is here -- as one of Scrooge's arch-nemeses, whereas his comparable (unprecedented) involvement in "Owners" was... puzzling.) One of if not the most recent Italian duck stories that IDW has printed, it reveals that Italy's most popular comic is keeping pace with its American counterparts, in terms of "big", blockbuster-level stories that bask in the mythologies of the respective headlining stars and their universe, playing to a cumulative archetypal conception of them given a new spin, the figurative "money shot" being our hero faced with a harrowing day of self-reckoning and/or devastating crisis and defeat that speaks directly to and underlines their "core essence". Strictly in terms of Batman, a definitive example of this kind of thing would be "Night of the Owls"; or its slightly-less-modern (and now virtually legendary) progenitor, "Knightfall".

Getting back to the DuckTales comparison, I find it apt as even though the TV is now considerably more dated than I ever imagined it'd become, in conceit it was always a more Hollywood incarnation of the duck comics... and with "Scrooge's Last Adventure" (ahem, this 2013 Italian four-part serial, not the promising but sloppily executed 1990 DuckTales episode), that objective and approach has been reinvigorated and brought up to speed with competing popular fiction narrative-based entertainment.

Make no mistake, a part of me (a considerable part) is almost militant in my ideological inclination toward a Barksian-Rosian purism (the "-ian" part is quite deliberate -- far from rejecting anything not by the Duck Man and his celebrated #1 fan and successor, I embrace the European stories crafted by Jippes, Milton, Verhagen, Branca, Vicar, the Heymanses, etc. because of their familiarity to and with Barks' universe.

Nonetheless, how can I not enthrall to seeing my favorite characters in such a rollicking, accelerated, hyper-ized form so drastic and heightened in scope? Seeing the secretive reaching-out-and-assembling, hand-playing, give-and-take compromising that nets the super group allying of Scrooge's four unqualified hallmark arch-nemeses; the execution of their strategically coordinated, multi-front assault on Scrooge and his bin hinging on their game-changing role-switching; its paradigm-shifting success; the defeated, depressed Scrooge casting a pall over his shaken but (touchingly) supportive nephews, soon to feel the ramifications of the villains' triumph themselves; the concurring intricate clashes of wills, agendas, and statuses (the Beagles and Magica each in their own right tossed aside as tapped-out patsies "rewarded" with pointedly misfitting new trappings), exacerbated by their innate mutual distrust, forcing the web of inter-group conflict to thicken; and both fantastical, big-stage Magica-centered show-stoppers (in Part 1, a would-be-but-dud-fated Battle for the Ages over the dime in the bowels of Mt. Vesuvius; Part 2, a Tolkien-cum-Lovecraftian face-off with an apparently sugar-averse monster posted guard at the gates to the underworld of the sorceress trio comprised by Magica's superiors.

The answer? (Wuh...? ...ohhhhh, yeah! I was asking a question! Huh! Who could remember that?!) I have no choice but to -- there is no conceivable reality in which I cannot -- eat this shit up! I even -- for the first time, EVER -- not only accepted and was sold on Duck Avenger being a part of Donald's existence and Duckburg's schema... I found myself actually liking the whole deal! Hell, I was cheering him on!

Despite my excess use of flowery language, I'm absolutely not dressing up and agrgrandizing any of the scenes, concepts, characterization, or "ultimate character mythology moments" I've alluded to. I'm but recounting what's in the comics -- what Artibani and Perina are doing here, and doing in spades. The complexities of Artibani's ambitious overarching plot and its several inextricable subplots are the stuff of grand vision complemented by acute clarity and finely-honed execution. Perina's art is unmistakeably "duck comic Italian" in its late '90's/early '00's Cartoon Newtork-ness, but deceptive in its simplicity, for his action is fluid and precise, bolstered by his exacting, exceptional, original, rich-in-depth "camera angles". The latter, however, are so purely servile to the narrative, one doesn't notice them -- "cinematic" framing and composition is the post-Watchmen comics norm, but to employ this approach in a duck comic and trick you into thinking you're reading a more-or-less traditional shows the hand of an artist who in this respect is truly good.

Also and in kind, it's important to note how the state-of-the CG coloring done at Digikore Studios is as (pardon the expression) cartoonishly bright and "solid color"-predominant as we've come to expect of modern Disney comics, but the faux-shading is more sophisticated and nuanced than were these comics' four-color ancestors (even very recent one), but is subtly layered to the point where one is thinking, as he or she would in the Disney Comics era, "Hey, they're trying to be modern but its beyond their means." It blends in. It works. (E.g., the shadow that's fallen over Donald's house in the left foreground in just the opening panel of Part 2.) And it adds to that vivid, "rich", "cinematic" "depth" (quoting myself) in Perina's panels, working together for the comic, not against it.

(And those Seitler letterers, they're all on top of and "rocking it" in doing their job, too!)

A couple other "quintessential" bits/scenes that must be noted:

1. All of the duck family and a few familiar friends and acquaintances rallying around the resigned Scrooge at his and his nephews' place of refuge, Grandma Duck's farm can easily be transposed in my mind to being enacted by the "duck cast" variant that is DuckTales' cast.

2. In fact, much like the nephews, Launchpad, Mrs. Beakley, Webby, and Duckworth's visit to Scrooge's jail cell in DuckTales: The Movie reinvigorates him, quickly and decidedly resolving to double down, strike back, and WIN... in "Last Adventure" Part 2, the genuine, profuse concern and encouragement from the extended Italian comic book duck-family-and-friends lineup finally resonates with Scrooge, and he suddenly is restored to the tough-as-nails, ablaze-with-drive-and-determination Scrooge we know and love. I won't mince words: as an integral turning point crowned with an uinhibited, all-in McDuck rallying cry, it's absolutely, positively, wayyyyyyyyyyyy beyond kickass.

...oh, and before his rebound, said scene finds Scrooge pacing afret on a circular rug. Yes, there's a Barks precedent (unquestionably), but I couldn't help but let it evoke for me DuckTales' "worry room"... (I know, I know, I can't help myself...)

When I expressed to one of my grad school professors fondness for the '90's JLA arc "Rock of Ages", citing two specific intentional "quintessential, archetypes" (1. Part Two's cliffhanger ending, in which Batman -- cowl folded back, fully exposing the face of and giving way to the person of Bruce Wayne -- declares that he's going to revert Lex Luthor's thwarting of the League with something that "Bruce Wayne knows best -- corporate takeover" (sic). 2. The reveal, on a dystopian future Earth, that the elusive, anonymous mastermind running the rebel resistance from a computer terminal is a battered, hardened, aged Batman/Bruce Wayne), she remarked that the story as a whole was contrived, strung together by "those big moments", while the themes and seemingly key plot points said moments are meant to crystallize are inconsistently actualized throughout the rest of the serial. I had to admit that I could see her point, so I do at times worry that I'm letting myself be manipulated by the gimmicks that are in actuality what these"sweeps week"-type "event books" are built on. Maybe so. But in my assessment, if the plot can be looked at as a thin string of fan bait, at least with the IDW version, not one of the ultimate product's bones is lacking, thanks to the abundance of meat that is Jonathan Gray's dialogue, the numerous strengths and immense versatility of which has been praised here several times past.

By the way, here's a notably dark (for a duck comic)cover by Perina that was used on a 2014 Finnish book in which the whole serial was collected:


Pretty great, eh? Hopefully, IDW will appropriate it for either Part 3 or 4... or use it for the trade (which not only is an eventuality, but should happen, since a multi-part epic like this one presented in its entirety is originally what a "TPB" was for... and still the only purpose for which one makes sense.)
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"Nothing Like It" (#417)
written, drawn, and lettered by William Van Horn
(New to the U.S. First appeared in 2009 -- the April 27th issue of Norway's Donald Duck & Co., Sweden's corresponding April 28th issue of Kalle Anka & Co., and the Danish Anders And & Co. equivalent, dated April 1st but designated by Inducks as the story's "first" appearance. Must have been determined alphabetically ('cause, you know, Anders).

Given how "Last Adventure" Part 1 ends aLocationnd how the immediately-following backup story, "Nothing Like It", begins, a new reader might think the latter to be some sort of "Last Adventure" sub-chapter taking place somewhere in the near-immediate wake of Part 1. (I'm quite sure this not literal but thematic unity was not overlooked by our editors.) New (to the States) Van Horn has become rarer and rarer, so this one's appearance here is certainly a happy occasion. Though relatively simple, modest, and low-key, "Nothing Like It" is simultaneously whimsical, absurd/surreal, eccentric-ly and uniquely funny, and genuinely original and unpredictable. Yes, all odds were that Scrooge could only be experiencing a dream, hallucination, transport to an alternate universe, or anything else but a genuine, real McCoy new day in his and Duckburg's reality (such as it), I couldn't for the life of me deduce what was actually going on or how Scrooge's dilemma would work out -- I was stumped! With the "lima bean and tapioca yogurt" callback and the self-in-joke wordplay to Scrooge's "wise adage" final line, the ending hits just the right spot.
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 "For Whom the Belle Toils" (#418)
written by Dick Kinney
drawn by Al Hubbard
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
(Disney Studio program, new to the U.S. Per Inducks, first printing anywhere was in Brazil, 1970, but my alphabetical theory holds up (O before T), because said Brazilian printing was in what Inducks cites as the October 2nd, 1970 issue of that South American nation's O Pato Donald... yet the site likewise notes that its first Italian -- and, I decree, actual first-ever -- printing was in that same year's January 18th issue of Topolino. Unless I'm misinformed, January is the first month and October the tenth month of a given calendar year.) (Trivia gleaned from Inducks: Until now, Italy, Brazil, and Greece were the only countries to use the story, in 1976.)

Belle Duck is back, I found her more endearing than last time, the comedic twist on the last page and the "new anchor" callback closing gag actually amused me and didn't feel forced, and for the most part, Hubbard's ducks aren't looking more appealing and less weird to me. Pluses, all! (I know, sort of backhanded of me, though... I think I'm just restless in wanting to finally be done with this review...)

If a Belle-versus-Brigitta-for-Scrooge's-hand story has never been done, I guess I'll go on the record as saying that it wouldn't be a hopeless endeavor. By the way, re: Belle, think Kathy Bates' Jo Bennett of The Office but with a markedly higher sum measurement of the ingredient of sweetness.

-- Ryan

Thursday, May 5, 2016

American Mythology's Pink Panther #1 Free Comic Book Day 2016 (I just found out!)

Was just playing catch-up (what else is new?), and was surveying the 2016 Free Comic Book Day master list (it's this Saturday, May 7th), just about to conclude that there was nothing to my interest or worth my while this year, when "AMERICAN MYTHOLOGY| THE PINK PANTHER FCBD 2016 EDITION" caught my eye. Looked it up, and lo and behold, it's not a new itinerant of the live-action feature film-based franchise, but the honest-to-goodness, animated Pink Panther! Per this Bleeding Cool article, with this Free Comic Book Day issuing of issue #1, American Mythology Press is launching an ongoing Pink Panther!


I'm partial to this very DePatie-Freleng-esque Ant and the Aardvark cover:


Hopefully, come this Saturday, I'll luck out, and my dealer will have that last one. If not, I'll take what they have, and get my preferred one somewhere online afterward!

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Some new, timely Disney comic reviews are coming -- well, there's some I really want to do, anyway!

-- Ryan

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

(Some) Assorted Thoughts on: The X-Files, season 10, episodes 5 and 6: "Babylon" and "My Struggle II" (2/15/16 and 2/22/16)

Had I gotten around to writing about "Babylon" before the latter edition of "My Struggle" had aired, I would be subjecting you to a far more negative blog post. Indulging in bloated production orchestrations and a sense of humor that's not just gimmicky and shallow, but just plain puzzling, "Babylon" found Chris Carter embracing his worst tendencies, all too painfully evoking memories of the insufferable inanity of, say, "The Post-Modern Prometheus", "Triangle", and "Improbable". Most will probably point to the insipid, totally unfunny "Mulder goes line-dancing while on mushrooms" abomination as the episode's worst sin. However, I was absolutely SHOCKED AND APPALLED that Carter shamelessly pulled a tired old trick (one that the show has done five or so times in its history) out of his that: that of introducing obvious, cutesy doppelgangers to Mulder and Scully, apparently intended to illicit irony and humor.

...actually, I'm leaning toward the episode's TRULY biggest, most unforgivable sin being the bill of goods Carter sold us with his promise at last year's San Diego Comic Con that "the Lone Gunmen will be back". Memo to Carter: Having their distorted, costumed visages appear for a couple seconds in Mulder's drug tri DOESN'T COUNT.

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(...oh. All of my negativity toward "Babylon" came pouring out after all, didn't it?) As was always the case when contrasting Carter's bloated-budget "family entertainment" episodes with his cornerstone Mytharc episodes, "My Struggle II" is an all together different case. Having eagerly awaited it with baited breath these past four weeks, it exceeded my expectations, not just following through and delivering on what was set up in the first part, but -- as foreshadowed by the numerous stills from the show's early years that complemented Scully's voiceover intro-- actually bringing the Mytharc full circle, explicitly honing in on story threads harkening all the way back to the second season.


 The most exciting development was the significant screen time given to Cancer Man (who we were teased with at the very end of Part I... and whose appearances here -- as he deserves --  were given the show-stopping, shamelessly histrionic gravity of a veritable arch-villain for the ages, as he deserves) and a certain other returning cast member whose made-over role might in fact be considered controversial and seen as cheap by some. As likable as the character of Monica Reyes as played by Annabeth Gish may have been, she never really got to come into her own the way that Robert Patrick's John Doggett did.

Patrick fully assumed the position of male lead for nearly the entire duration of season 8 and 9; even when he did "have" to share the spotlight with Mulder, in the writing and the performing, it was a totally convincing meeting of wills. Reyes, on the other hand, was "brought in the backdoor" late in season 8 as a recurring guest character, forcibly presented in a one-note way as the quirky "New Age" agent with weird interests. When she was officially made lead for season 9, she was re-characterized as completely bland, presumably to fit some conception of mass appeal. And not only did she have to share space with Scully, her sensitivity and earnestness made her seem of junior status compared to Doggett, ostensibly her partner. And even Doggett got a shoehorned "personal" Mytharc, while Reyes had no backstory and, really, no character arc -- she was a purely functional investigative agent assigned to the X-Files. So while she may have had potential, fast-forward to 2016, and she's obviously going to be given a secondary role as long as Mulder and Scully are restored as the leads. Thus, her surprise return and the twist revealed with it gives this exhilarating tsunami an additional point of intrigue and "edginess"...and believe me, it already has A LOT going for it. 

Things escalated so rapidly, Scully was rushing to literally save the entire world, in a state of panic from an abrupt mass viral outbreak, before I'd even registered what was happening. The Mytharc has endured loads of criticism throughout the years for eternally setting the stage for an impending threat to all of humanity but never delivering. Honest to God, they actually did it, and even though it was contained in one mere episode (well, so far... read a bit further), they actually hit the "epic apocalyptic feature film" level that a "Mulder and Scully save the world" barnburner calls for!  

And it should have seemed all too much contain in 42 minutes, for in fact, we were left on an out-of-field (but very appropriate, given the series' iconography in the popular consciousness) cliffhanger that would be AGONY if it were never followed up on... but I'm happy with what preceded it, and all signs are that both Carter and Fox are more than ready and eager to continue, I'm not too worried. 

Oh, and two important points:

1. The Mulder and Scully "young doppelganger" characters returned, and they actually worked pretty well in a serious drama. Still, it's hard to get over how obvious it is not just that they've been brought on as bench-warmers in case Fox is willing to go ahead with Duchovny and/or Anderson, but that we've been through this before, stringing us along with Spender and Fowley in seasons five and six, and later Doggett and Reyes stepping up as full-fledged, official replacements. (Though both, even the under-realized Reyes are characters unto themselves and by no means clones of Mulder and Scully, nor their inversions as were Spender and Fowley, earning their own respectable places on the X-Files tapestry, ultimately, they were the product of a backup plan.) 

2. Remember last post, when I was speculating as to if they would ever be brave enough to take on the landmark story that would be William's return? Part of the cliffhanger was Scully realizing that the world depends on his being found... yup, they're going all in and giving him a singular spot in the Mytharc as the "Golden Child" immaculately conceived by Scully -- who it's implied is destined to be Central Player in the Grand Scheme of Things herself -- who is to the world's savior messiah. That's right, all in! :D

-- Ryan

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

(Some) Assorted Thoughts on: The X-Files, season 10, episode 4: "Home Again" (2/8/16)

As I write this, only about 20 minutes have passed since this mini-season's fifth episode, "Babylon", premiered. As I don't have cable (and even if I did, I would have gotten home from work halfway through it... as if such specs about my life matter to you...), I'll be watching it online shortly. But first, I'll get in my comments on last week's episode...

My litmus test for whether or not someone "gets" not just The X-Files but Ten Thirteen Productions' output as a whole is if they recognize how vital the creative team of Glen Morgan and James Wong -- if either was credited as writer, director, and/or producer, then nine times out of ten, the other was co-credited as same right there with him -- were to making The X-Files into The X-Files, in terms of its defining its main characters, jump-starting and expanding the Mytharc, and self-consciously playing with and pushing of the series genre-oriented stylistic narrative parameters. When the second season of Millennium was put entirely in their hands while Carter and other key Ten Thirteen personnel were working on the first X-Files feature film, the result was the single best season of any one Ten Thirteen show. 

But in the wake of said season, whatever the reason, Morgan and Wong together went their own separate way from Ten Thirteen. If in fact there was bad blood that had boiled over, I'm glad that matters have been reconciled so as to precipitate their participation in the X-Files revival of 2016. As said participation is major -- each has an entire episode to all to himself, single-handedly writing and direction -- it's nice to see that Carter indeed recognizes that the optimal way to do The X-Files is to do it with Morgan and Wong. 

Taken together, Wong's "Founder's Mutation" (covered in my previous post) and Morgan's "Home Again" are clear counterparts, and very complementary ones, at that, employing a similar narrative structure and embracing the very same theme and subject matter. Both function as a standalone Monster-of-the-Week, but woven into the proceedings are subplots (and I hesitate to call them that, as they arguably eclipse the doings of the ol' Monster-of-the-Week rigmarole... or at least I suspect they do for many longtime, die-hard fan) of the lasting -- and evidently worsening -- self-doubt and pained sense of absence and a certain incompleteness re: Scully having "given up" hers and Mulder's son, William, some 14 years ago so as to protect him from Super Soldiers by way of anonymity. In contrast to the dream-like, "What if...?"/"In another life..." sequences in Wong's episode, Morgan depicts her agonizing over the fear that not only was she forever rendered a horrible mother by her decision to put William up for adoption in and of itself, but all the worse, the possibility that knowing that he was rejected by his own mother has had a permanent, detrimental impact on William. The romanticized fantasies in "Founder's Mutation" of Scully walking William to his first day of school and Mulder showing William 2001 for the first time and joining him in launching a model were touching in a warm-and-fuzzy, pseudo-nostalgic way. But Scully's thoughts and emotions regarding her absentee son in "Home Again" hit us with -- and leave unresolved -- an unresolved existential bleakness.

"The Band-Aid Nose Man"

Lest I overlook the Monster-of-the-Week stuff, the case of "the Band-Aid Face Man" is of a nature polar opposite to "Founder's Mutation" scientific orientation (albeit a loose one at certain points -- though every idea incorporated into that episode had a basis in actual theory, research, and/or experiments, the flash-whiz-bang tricks performed by the unified psychic power of the Chimera siblings at "Founder's" climax was more Hollywood than anything). But based on when we saw him in action, by all appearances, the Band-Aid Nose Man seemed what could only be a supernatural entity, and when all was accounted for -- or at least, to the extent that anything was accounted for -- the scrappy artist living "the fringe" who appears to have manifested Bandy did so through a process of pure magic.

Even taking into the fact that we're dealing with a series whose history has included a man who can stretch and contort himself like Plastic Man (or Ralph Dibny, ha!) or Gumby and one of its leads spending an episode trapped in an "uprooted" building suspended at the heart of a maelstrom/tornado-like void of an alternate dimension, nothing here should in theory be testing our suspense of disbelief... perhaps it's the contrast with the grounded, wholly realistic scenes in which Scully sits at her dying mother's side and those in which she contends with the very mundane legal nitty-gritty of late changes to her mother's will that Scully was unaware of. 

Still, Morgan plays the Band-Aid Nose Man story just right: using a lot of close-angle shots and quick cuts -- the recurring motif that is the rear, up-angle perspective of a silhouetted Bandy's uncannily tall figure ripping apart his victims with sharp, outward right-angle thrusts of his arms are instantly iconic (even though the gore is in silhouette, because of said gore, I've chosen not to use screen shots of these particular visuals, are distinguishing as they are) -- sees to it that the murders, though played out in full before our eyes, such as they are, remain vague and elusive, and that we are in fact left not with not a full accounting but a suggested, yet ultimately un-nail-downable, explanation/fill-in-the-blanks backstory gleaned and inferred from what the "artist" disclosed is in fact a classic X-Files motif.


Mulder stands at Scully's side during her mother's final moments... 
in which painfully lingering doubts and potentially unanswerable questions 
re: their son are brought to the fore.

The pathos of Scully being faced with her mother's death evokes early episode in which she also weathered personal and familial crises of mortality, such as the first season's "Beyond the Sea" or the second's "One Breath" (which capped a multi-episode arc based around Scully's "abduction", alien or otherwise). NOT coincidentally, "Beyond the Sea" and "One Breath" were both Morgan-Wong episodes... and given the great extent to which this episode captures the spirit, characterizations, and themes of those episodes (in fact making overt references to the "One Breath" era, even jarringly using clips of  both a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Duchovny and Anderson!), at certain points, it was as surreal to watch this episode as it was to find one's self being sensorily-impressioned by the series original theme song/title sequence the first time watching "My Struggle". Until now, the 2016 X-Files' connection to the franchise's past had seemed loose, but here, Morgan not only brought things near-full-circle, but came as close as probably anyone ever can or will come to not merely rehashing or imitating those early days, but realizing a living, breathing, organic, speculative pseudo-real-time jumping-to-the-present continuation of that work. (Not an update, so much as a bringing-up-to-date.)
____________________

I would think that Mulder and Scully actually being reunited with William has to be in the cards... my instincts tell me not in the remaining two episodes of this current "season" (well, as much of the world has now seen "Babylon", which has now been sitting on my laptop waiting for me for over two hours, in truth, only one episode remains), but in the event that Fox orders more episodes -- which by all indications, all concerned parties very much want to happen; it's just a matter of making negotiations with the principles -- they could hardly put it off for long. They've handled the matter delicately and admirably in these recent episodes, so much so that one can't help but think that it might be best if they never take the plunge and attempt Star Wars-esque Epochal Event that the prospect seems to self-demand...
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And so, "Babylon" and on. I burn with anticipation for "My Struggle II" next week, but I'm very curious to see what else Carter has offered with his return to the writer's-and-director's chair for tonight's episode... I'll get back to you on it soon!

-- Ryan

Saturday, February 6, 2016

New(!!!) X-Files episodes: (some) assorted thoughts

Though I haven't posted since New Year's Eve, I'm almost (note the "almost") okay with that fact, for something shifted in my brain during the course of this past month: between my full-time job and my "recovery" hours between shifts and on the weekend, to expect myself to write exhaustive reviews all of the time is unreasonable, running contrary to my "natural" (as if) day-to-day living rhythm.

Honestly, at this point, I'm not sure what the future of this blog is going to look like. Nonetheless, especially as we're already halfway through the X-Files revival's six-episode run, I can't let it go without posting about it.

It's been a while, so they're not wielding
those badges with confidence again yet...

Here, I now offer my take on the three new episodes that have aired to date:

"My Struggle" (1/24/16)

Like every season past, the series' tenth (it seems that's what these six episodes are officially considered) opens with a sweeping, tumultuous, big-in-scale-and-scope Mytharc episode... except virtually none of the Mytharc threads left hanging at the end the (I guess former) series finale, "The Truth", are addressed. Obviously written with casual and new viewers in mind, all you really have to know is that since the late '40's, UFO sightings have persisted throughout the U.S., almost as though the show is using the actual history of ufology as its backstory and starting anew from there.

Honestly, as much of a continuity freak as I am, I didn't mind the unexplained absence of Super Soldiers or the question of why Skinner still has his job after having aided in Mulder's escape from death row in "The Truth". (Though these fumblings aren't actually new; in the 2008 film I Want to Believe, Mulder's fugitive status was casually, inextricably written off, and at the film's climax, Skinner's surprise appearance found him without explanation still FBI Assistant Director)

Rather, I was riveted...
  •  ...right from Mulder's  clarion call-like voiceover intro -- which was accompanied by a montage of striking images of UFO sightings, a number of which appeared to have integrated CGI UFOs into of proper live-action footage of actual landscapes and cityscape, making the prevalence of such events far more realistic and imminent-seeming than the original series ever had...
  • ...to the strained, angst-ridden reunion of Mulder and Scully...
  • ...by the intrigue introduced with Internet conspiracy talk show host Tad O'Malley seeking out Mulder as an ally...
  • ...and then how, having led Mulder and Scully (and us) along by a dangling carrot for two-thirds of the episodes, O'Malley lays down all his cards and outlines the global elite's bleak, dystopian, Hell-on-Earth plans that he professes to have uncovered(*)...
  • (*) Citing 9/11 used as an excuse for endless war abroad and attacks on civil liberties like the Patriot Act and the NDAA; Big Pharma; transnational food corporations like Monsanto that have a stranglehold on a major fraction of the market but questionable regard for public health; and infinitesimal inflation and Too-Big-To-Fail bailouts, this wasn't sci-fi so much as a regurgitation of the news.
  • ...clear through to the ground-pulled-out-from-under-us, brick-to-the-head last-minute turn of events bringing about an abrupt cliffhanger: Mulder and Scully discovering the likely-ordered-from-on-high shutdown of O'Malley's website; jackbooted storm troopers raiding and destroying the hangar housing a secret project utilizing alien technology, unflinchingly mowing down with their machine guns every last one of the the earnest, noble, world-class scientists working there whom we'd met earlier; and the stark dramatization of the  cold-blooded apparent murder (via a beam of light directed at her from a UFO, ensuring as over-the-top bombastic cliffhanger as possible) of O'Malley's prospective key witness, a completely sweet, endearing, innocent young woman named Sveta, milking every last drop of the audience's sympathy for her so as to leave them distressed and clamoring for follow-up and resolution.
 
 Gee, I have NO idea who Tad O'Malley 
could be based on... do you? 

Mulder and a reluctant Scully
convene with O'Malley and Sveta.

_________________

"Founder's Mutation" (1/25/16)

 We begin with a guy suffering a splitting headache...

...and somehow end with bio-engineered siblings sharing 
some sort of psychic link meeting for the first time.

It was frustrating to know that the second episode wouldn't be following up on the first... but then, that's exactly how it always was, right? An exemplary Monster-of-the-Week entry, from the nature of the case (it starts off grisly, but it winds up somewhere more wondrous), the federal agent procedural angle, and the scientific basis. It was charming to see Mulder and Scully present their FBI badges to interviewees for the fist time in over 15 years, wrangle with uncooperative witnesses, and create a bureaucratic tiff with another federal agency, the Department of Defense.

Skinner's wry "Welcome back, agents" as he hands the newly reinstated Mulder and Scully their badges just after an unfriendly visit from a terse DoD representative (who doesn't get off without being subjected to some Mulder-brand sarcasm, of course) was one of the most priceless parts of the episode.

"If we don't make eye contact wit him, maybe he'll start to think he's not real."

And James Wong, one-half of the James Wong-Glen Morgan duo who wrote some of the original series' best episodes, should certainly get his due for this episode's solid, tight writing and directing. The dream/alternate reality sequences showing Mulder and Scully's son, William, growing up with them in a happy domestic household were not just beautifully shot, but very touching.

In another life....

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"Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" (2/1/16)

If you know what the phrase "a Darin Morgan episode" portends 
and are told that this image is, in fact, from a Darin Morgan episode... 
it makes perfect sense.

Darin Morgan, the writer of classics like "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (and certain lesser known but arguably even more brilliant second-season Millennium episodes), triumphantly returns with his trademark mix of self-parody, silliness, and introverted, existential reflective observations about how perplexing so many aspects of everyday life are, and how that goes largely unnoticed and taken for granted. If you've ever felt like you're playing someone other than yourself in your own life, you'll surely appreciate the way Morgan turns the show's whole Monster-of-the-Week concept of what a "monster" is on its head.

-- Ryan