[Five Deadly Everythings]

Smallville gets smaller

Posted in television by Jef on April 26, 2008

I’ve tried to watch Smallville on numerous ocassions because it comes recommended by friends and it feels like a show I should be into–but no matter how I try, I never like it. Unlike its other critics, I don’t so much have a problem with the monster-of-the-week format it frequently relies on, as I do the Clark-is-acting-weird sentiment that floats through every episode I happen to catch. This sentiment runs anywhere from overtly (Clark touched some variant of kryptonite that brings out the exact opposite of his personality) to very vague (Why won’t Clark date me?), but either way I found it pretty boring pretty fast. Maybe the angst is meant as a puberty parallel but Superman going through puberty isn’t interesting to me, and by making his moodiness often the result of alien tampering, it’s not genuine enough to connect with me on a deeper level.

That said, it has been a successful series by any measure. Ratings have been good, and the show does a great job of making flexible the comicbook continuity that fanboys and girls are usually very uptight about. By all means, this show should not have worked either for comic fans or regular television viewers, but for the most part it has, and for a cross-section of both groups (and of course the many who fall into both categories).

While Smalliville has been picked up for an eighth (and final?) season by The CW network, show creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough will not be returning with it. No reason has been given for the departure, but it was abrupt, and rumours have it that the split was more caustic than conciliatory. While star Tom Welling is still onboard, contracts that are currently under negotiation include Michael Rosenbaum’s (Lex Luthor) and Kristen Kreuk’s (Lana Lang), who has signed on for seven more episodes but nothing more concrete after that.

Honestly, it was time for these characters to go. With the series’ introduction of the Lois Lane character (and perhaps even before that), Kreuk hasn’t had much to do on the show. Lame storylines had her obtaining magical powers, posturing as a villain, oddly dating Lex Luthor, etc. I thought she would have been killed off by now and am surprised she lasted this long. True, she is the show’s sex symbol (though I would contend that), but shoehorning her into subplots has hampered more than several episodes. The show will miss Rosenbaum, whose portrayal of Luthor is the best character realization on the series, but the slow evil-ization of Luthor over seven years can’t be anything but anti-climactic by this point.

More damaging is the loss of the show’s creators. Has there ever been a show that wasn’t killed by the departure of its main voice(s)? I’m thinking of Alias, Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy. Each show lost all sense of itself after their creators left to pursue other projects. Despite the fact that television is art-by-committee, recent history has shown that the auteur theory holds even on the small screen. Will Smallville, based on a character whose creators are long dead anyways and has been written by many different people, continue to fly? Does Smallville have the flexibility of a comic book, or is it like the many TV shows we’ve seen crash and burn before it?

Superman’s copyright woes finally settled
Smallville creators quit


Rock the Bells keeps rolling

Posted in hip-hop, missives, music by Jef on April 24, 2008

The lineup for this year’s Rock the Bells festival was unveiled earlier this week, and it looks damn impressive. In lieu of last year’s fever-inducing return of Rage Against the Machine, Bells brings two nonetheless noteworthy reunions to the stage: A Tribe Called Quest (which reunited some time ago for a couple of one-off shows) and the Pharcyde.

Also on the lineup are golden era Rawkus posterboy Mos Def, as well as likeminded predecessors De La Soul. To bridge the gap between mainstream and underground, something that Rock the Bells has proven itself adept at, the bill also sports the versatile (in fanbase, if not in music) Nas, and caters to the hipster-hoppers with Spankrock and Jay Electronica.

The Toronto date is slated for July 20, and a Vancouver date for August 30. However, the festival has a bad track record of getting its artists across the border into Canada, and fans will have to wait and see if founder and organizer Chang Weisburg has learned new concert promotion tricks since the last time out. It might have been wiser to book Van City before T-Dot, as sources have said in the past that it’s easier for artists to cross the border on the west coast than it is on the east–but of course, that would require the two Canadian dates to play in succession.

According to a Reuters/Billboard report, “Twelve shows tracked by Billboard [in 2007] grossed $14.5 million and drew more than 203,000 concertgoers.”

Rolling Stone blog
Rock the Bells official homepage

Barack the vote

Posted in missives, television by Jef on April 22, 2008

Tonight is the all-important Pennsylvania Democratic primary, where sources say Hillary Clinton will need a landslide victory over Barack Obama in order to stay in the race.

I’m too late to blog about last week’s debate, but when watching Girlicious wins out over watching a key political showdown, that key political showdown probably sucks balls. That’s right, watching Chrystina work out her problems with Tiffanie felt more honest and more productive than watching a troika of dithering idiots sling shit at Obama for over an hour (and then act like the shit don’t stink when it got slung back at them).

Pennsylvania: Do not fuck up.

Girlicious judges: Wow, you did not fuck up.

Scene Guy: Stop watching Girlicious.

My interview with Kidz in Hall about their involvement in the Obama campaign
UPDATE: Pennslyvania fucked up

New Avengers: Secret Invasion

Posted in break it down, comics by Jef on April 6, 2008

The PR blitz for Marvel’s latest company-wide crossover, “Secret Invasion”, stresses that writer Brian Michael Bendis has been planning this Skrull infiltration of the superhero network for years, dropping easter eggs and setup clues into all the Marvel books he’s been writing. This is positioned as hype, but really it’s an assurance: “Don’t worry, we’re not just pulling this one out of our asses.”

Even if this is true, it doesn’t mean Bendis isn’t flying by the seat of his pants. He may have been carefully setting up a who’s-a-Skrull chessboard, but character and plot development in New Avengers leading up to Secret Invasion #1 has been spotty, inconsistent, and ultimately frustrating.

While the Skrull invasion may be well-planned, development of the New Avengers series has been derailed time and again, mostly during the previous cross-over, Mark Millar’s “Civil War”. Breaking up the team and losing two key characters forced New Avengers to ubruptly switch gears and lose momentum. During “Civil War”, the book became a series of single-issue character studies. They were frequently well-done, but they were side stories, not consequential to anything, and all the work Bendis had done building an unlikely team dynamic was pushed further from memory.
And what of Bendis’s many escalating plot points? What was eventually made of Spiderwoman’s duplicity subplot? Spiderman’s burgeoning relationship with Iron Man helped push “Civil War” along, until the middle of the arc when that too was quickly forgotten.

One thing that has been done correctly since the team got jostled is the contrast between New Avengers (the now “illegal”, anti-superhero registration Avengers) and newer title Mighty Avengers (the government-sanctioned, “official” group). Frank Cho’s Mighty Avenger beefcake pencils were round and brightened by a sunny palate — Ms. Marvel never looked so blonde. Alternately, Leinil Francis Yu scratched the pages of New Avengers and covered everything with lines and shadows. The colours were muddy and muted, and there was no confusion about the new, unsafe reality these heroes were living in.

Bendis used outdated thought-bubbles as a recurring narrative tic in Mighty Avengers, but they never revealed anything of depth about the characters. They were jokes, light fare full of gossip and sexual innuendo, and drove home that this was the “fun” series. Meanwhile, the diagetic dialogue in New Avengers was earnest and angsty. Spiderman still cracked wise, but the levity didn’t feel fun.

As the two titles get wrapped up in “Secret Invasion”, it will be interesting to see what happens yet again to what Bendis has been building. Yes, he’s been building up to the Skrull invasion, but he was also (again) building team dynamics that I assume will be readjusted and perhaps torn-apart by the storyline’s conclusion. Will we ever settle down with a team, tone, or over-arcing storyline that will elevate these “new” Avengers above being merely a temporary diversion between the last stable roster and the next?

I’d be happy if at least the books were focused. Bendis may claim meticulous set-up, but all signs point the opposite way. Plotting is sloppy, as shown in New Avengers #38, where Luke Cage encounters Ms. Marvel and she lets him go instead of arresting him. We’ve seen this before, in several permutations, and we’ve also before ended on a shot of the possible Skrull baby, insinuating either Luke or Jessica is green behind the ears. Why again? In Secret Invasion #1, Iron Man is attacked by someone taking control of his armour. We’ve seen this before as well, only one storyline ago in Mighty Avengers. This is lazy, bad writing.

Bendis’s trademark dialogue isn’t even working. He uses characters not only for exposition, but, perhaps through hypnosis, to convince us that what is happening is cool, scary, exciting, etc. “It’s going to be intense because we won’t know who’s a Skrull and who isn’t,” Bendis would say in interviews. And then the next issue of Avengers would feature 20 characters saying “We don’t know who’s a Skrull and who isn’t. This is intense”, or what have you. Again, lazy and bad.

The most disheartening aspect of “Secret Invasion” was the “Illuminati” series, where we learned that key Marvel characters have been working behind-the-scenes of major storylines for decades. Bendis can lay clues in all his titles, but to lay the truly ominous seeds that he wants to, he nonetheless has to go into past-continuity and retcon the hell out of it.

The end result: “Secret Invasion” may have been planned relatively well in advance, but it is nonetheless being pulled out of Bendis’s ass. This ain’t “The Prestige” and Bendis is not Christian Bale. Let’s hope it’s at least fun, because it most likely won’t be structurally sound.
Entertainment Weekly interviews Brian Michael Bendis
Leinil Francis Yu and other filipino artists make University of the Philippines proud