27 November 2011

"Jealousy" by Catherine Millet

Jealousy: The Other Life of Catherine M.
Catherine Millet
Translated by Helen Stevenson
Originally published in French in 2008 as Jour de Souffrance
Date of Publication: 2 February 2010
Cover Price: $23.00
185 Pages

I read The Sexual Life of Catherine M. in 2009, in which Millet candidly recounts her libertine lifestyle. The titillating subject material was only part of the appeal; her unapologetic candor was what really struck me. Shortly after finishing that memoir, I learned that Millet was set to release a companion volume, Jealousy. I became instantly intrigued. This was, after all, a woman who wrote in explicit detail of her years in the swinger lifestyle, in which sexual partners are ephemeral. What would be the object of her jealousy? How would such a woman even feel or process jealousy?

As it turns out, Millet grew into her jealousy with Jacques Henric--her husband. Catherine continued her sexual adventures with the full knowledge of her husband, but was stunned to discover that he had in turn been involved with various women as well. No expectation had ever been placed on his monogamy, nor had he made any commitment to that effect. Yet despite the hypocrisy in her outrage, there is an understandable and accessible sense of betrayal--at least, insofar as she articulates her side of things in Jealousy.

Monogamists will likely thrill to this with a sanctimonious self-righteousness of vindication that even the author of "the most explicit book about sex ever written by a woman" (Edmund White, speaking of The Sexual Life of Catherine M.) eventually discovered the power of a meaningful, monogamist relationship could unnerve her. That may well be, but it is not itself evidence that Millet was wrong to enjoy the sexual life she has had--nor anyone else, for that matter. Rather, I see it merely as an epiphany of a woman who has discovered a dynamic to her relationship with one man that was not really present in any of her other relationships.

Sexuality is a poorly understood subject in our society, despite our inheritance of centuries of reflection on the matter. I won't now go into the "Westerners are prudes" speech we've all heard ad nauseam, but I will point out that in this specific incidence, I think it fair to draw an analogy to non-sexual experiences we have all had. Think of all the teachers you had throughout the years, each trying to guide you through a given subject. Remember how you struggled with something for years (in my case, I always had problems with literary analysis) and then, all of a sudden, along came that one teacher who put it to you in a manner that made it accessible and understandable?

We have been instructed by various teachers over the years, so why would this one manage to get through to us when others could not? Was that teacher unique? Had we been incapable of "getting it" until then? Does the credit lie with our previous teachers, whose efforts chipped away at us over the years and our enlightenment was the result of their collective work rather than the uniqueness of this one teacher? Who's to say? Very likely, all of these and other elements were in play. It does not mean, however, that we were wrong to have not understood the material with previous teachers. It merely means that the dynamics were different.


In point of fact, Millet characterizes her philosophy on the relationship between sexuality and love:
I am aware that my conception of books is similar to my conception of love! Although I am a libertine, I have definitely never been flighty. I consider people who have one love affair after the other as though they were members of an alien race, whose language and customs are mysteries to me. I am hopelessly, discouragingly sceptical [sic] about those romantic souls who succumb to love at first sight. My own experience is so different! It took many years, thousands of conversations, a few shared tribulations, until, without of course having thought it through, I identified the feeling I had for Jacques as a feeling of love. (176-177)
I found Jealousy much more affecting than The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and it is a shame that it is the earlier volume that eclipses its counterpart. Jealousy reveals an emotional vulnerability the likes of which I have rarely encountered. My heart broke for her as she became anxious even passing near the steps that led to Jacques's study. I cringed at her obsessive fantasies of him with other women. There were times I wanted to hug Millet, and times when I wanted to share with her my own experiences. Of course, I could do none of this; she was not actually here with me.


As much as I recommend Jealousy, I think it necessary that you first read The Sexual Life of Catherine M. The earlier work establishes the context in which to fully appreciate Jealousy, and I think that readers of Sexual Life will find Jealousy a fascinating confession the likes of which were not readily apparent in that first volume.

There are two formatting problems I have with Jealousy as a book. Firstly, the entire memoir is full of run-on sentences broken up by several commas. I suspect this is a direct consequence of having been translated from French. I would have favored breaking these passages into smaller sentences, even if that defied the original structure of Millet's manuscript...but of course, no one asked me. Secondly, the paragraphs ought to have been broken more frequently than they were; several paragraphs consume whole pages. Again, this is likely because it is a translation and I suspect Millet's original French manuscript looks a little different. I don't recall these issues with The Sexual Life of Catherine M., which was translated by Adriana Hunter, so it may well be that my issue is with Helen Stevenson.

26 November 2011

Buy Local?

Much has been made in recent times of the importance of supporting the small businesses in a community. Keep your neighbors employed, that kind of thing. It's a noble cause and as someone whose family owned and operated a consignment shop for 20 years, I certainly appreciate the premise of circulating your spending dollars where you live.

That said, there is one key problem to the Buy Local directive and that is that most of what we all want to buy isn't made locally. Let's be honest with ourselves: Few of us really have an enthusiasm for homemade crafts. We may find something from time to time that catches our eye, but for most people our regular spending goes toward food and entertainment. With food you can buy local--be it at a farmer's market or by dining at locally owned and operated restaurants. This, I wholeheartedly encourage.

Entertainment, however, becomes problematic. What difference does it make to me whether I buy The Sopranos on DVD from Best Buy or a small, independent seller? It's the same product either way. My concern as a consumer is to get the best price I can find and unfortunately for the indie seller, that's likely to be at Best Buy. You need customers to support your establishment? I get that. But I need to stretch my few dollars as far as they'll go. I won't apologize for this.

And, let's face it: I'm still helping to keep someone in our community employed. Best Buy employees live here, too, you know. Remember when Circuit City closed? Or Borders? Those were big chains, sure, and we can talk about how cold their shareholders were but those shuttered doors impacted people in our neighborhoods just the same.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from patronizing their locally owned and operated businesses. I encourage it myself. But I also think there's something disingenuous about acting as though local businesses have something special to offer us. At the end of the day, most of them are either trying to sell us stuff we don't want or they're trying to sell us the same stuff we can get anywhere else.

"The Sopranos" The Complete Fourth Season

The Sopranos The Complete Fourth Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Drea De Matteo, Aida Turturro, Federico Castelluccio, John Ventimiglia, Vincent Curatola, Steven R. Schirripa, Katherine Narducci and Joe Pantoliano
Created by David Chase
DVD Released: 28 October 2003
List Price: $49.99
800 Minutes

The fourth season of The Sopranos is the one that has hit home the most for me in my recent revisiting of the series. Tony's contentious relationship with Ralph eventually leads to what is still one of the greatest fight scenes I've ever seen in TV or film. Johnny Sack, underboss to Carmine Luppertazzi, is drawn into the conflict after learning of a wisecrack made by Ralph at the expense of John's wife, Ginny. He also fans the flames between Tony and Carmine, manipulating all parties.

Throughout this subplot of the season, I found Tony a rather sympathetic character. Who among us hasn't had our work lives made miserable by other people? How often have we had to defend people we wanted to slap ourselves, because our position required it of us? In my personal life of late, I have found myself alternately frustrated by the behavior of other people as well as being forced to be diplomatic on behalf of others. I know how badly Tony must have wanted Johnny and Ralph to kill one another, just to be rid of their drama. He wanted to side with Johnny, but had to side with his own underling to keep the respect of the rest of his captains. Who hasn't been in that situation?

Moreover, there's the conflict at home. Tony is oblivious to it, but his wife Carmela and his enforcer Furio have begun to lust for one another, each of them dangerously close to acting on their desires. Beneath even that lust, though, is a growing dissatisfaction within Carmela concerning her marriage to Tony. Cognizant of her own vulnerability through her complete dependence on Tony, Carmela begins pushing for a change in the family's financial situation to ensure her security in the event something should happen to her husband. It's easy to see Carmela's perspective, yet as series creator David Chase notes in his commentary to the finale, "Whitecaps," Tony is not entirely at fault for their conflict. He has valid complaints of his own for a change.

I haven't been a cheating mob boss, but I can admit that my inability to manage my depression for the last year has been the epicenter of most of my personal life drama. It would certainly be easier for me to accept my current situation if I had been a serial cheater; at least then I could hang my head in complete shame and know that I made choices that led us here. My physiology, however, is an entirely different critter than an absence of moral fortitude. Still, there were arguments made by Carmela that cut me to the quick...and some made by Tony that I silently cheered. I clearly could not relate to their subplot the first time through in the way that I can relate now.

It's not all doom and gloom for Tony, though. He becomes involved with a race horse, Pie-o-My, and discovers a passion for not just racing but this specific horse. As I reflect on this last year, I can see the various Pie-o-My's in my life--little things, mostly, like blogging, comic books and Flickchart--that managed to distract me from my stress and depression from time to time. Watching Tony enjoy being around Pie-o-My reminded me, for instance, of how excited I was when Natasha Badhwar and later Jeri Ryan shared a link to my post "On Depression," and the flurry of reactions that I received. Or even just the minor thrill I got discussing the DC Comics relaunch with other comic book fans...fleeting and entirely trivial, but it was really just the ability to momentarily get lost in something entirely unrelated to my woes that meant so much to me. I understood this time around just what Pie-o-My meant to Tony.
Did I use the past tense to talk about Pie O My?
As a TV season, I have to say this is one of the finest. I rated every episode at least 4-stars, and I found several 5-star episodes, too--including the last five episodes of the season. The fight between Tony and Ralph is stunning; the awkward dinner Meadow has with her friends and her parents; Bobby Baccala's heartbreaking grief; the intervention for Christopher; the disintegration of Tony and Carmela's relationship...These are the kinds of situations that we all face--or desire, in one way or another--and it is again a reminder that The Sopranos was great not because it glorified the criminal life but because it gave us a new way into looking at ourselves.

On an entirely personal note, the episode "Everybody Hurts" really unnerved me. In this episode, Tony boils over with rage after learning that his last girlfriend, Gloria, has committed suicide...and his longtime friend Artie Bucco nearly succumbs to it himself after getting into debt with Tony. I haven't really processed that episode's effect on me, but I can assure you that was a very troubling episode for me to watch.

First Season | Second Season | Third Season | Fifth Season | Season Six, Part I | Season Six, Part II

24 November 2011

Thank You for Being a Friend

Anyone who has ever known me can attest to my longstanding love/hate relationship with Thanksgiving. Even before I ever developed Crohn's disease, I had a bad track record of feeling miserable on Thanksgiving. Mind you, this wasn't because I overate; I would feel miserable early in the day, before I ever took a single bite of food. It wasn't psychosomatic, either. I love the entire idea of congregating to gorge on homemade food!

In my family, the one traditional dish served every year is roast beef with egg noodles, gravy and cracker crumbs. I can't tell you how this came to be a family dish, but I've grown up with it and that's just how we roll. There's turkey, of course, and often ham. Side dishes aplenty, though carrots are probably the most consistent (often prepared with the roast beef). I just finished a plate of that, actually--sans carrots, of course. I missed dinner with my family earlier, actually, but it's okay with them. I was with my friends tonight and had one of the most enjoyable Thanksgivings in my entire life and that is not hyperbole.

The spread was terrific, but even if it had been paltry and mediocre, the company alone would have ensured that I would have left feeling quite good. I've noted in recent posts how great my friends have been about rallying around me through this difficult time and tonight was one more example. We joked from the time I arrived until the time I left (from roughly 2:00 until 10:00). After eating, most of the guests departed for other activities--some to work, some to other gatherings, etc.--leaving our hosts, two friends and myself. The five of us decided to play Trivial Pursuit, sitting on the floor. Every card yielded to some manner of humor. I don't think we had a single question and answer pass without causing us to laugh. At one point, I laughed so hard that my right foot began to cramp!

As I look back on my year with depression, I am most shamed that I allowed that poison to insulate me from the terrific people I have surrounded myself with over the years. Every one of them has earned their stripes, and I felt a pang of guilt today thinking that I had cheated myself out of their company for so long. That yielded quickly, however, to gratitude that I have reasserted myself over my depression and that I was able to share such a lighthearted, satisfying day with them today. I may have squandered an entire year, but I did not succumb to my suicidal urges and I am here now to have played Trivial Pursuit and turned FDR into a punch line. If that's not the true spirit of this holiday, then I am incapable of grasping it.

So my sincere thanks go to my friends--including those who were absent today--for continuing to humble me with their kindness, amusing me with their bawdy sense of humor and inspiring me with their nobility.

23 November 2011

"Batgirl" #3 (Jan 2012)

Batgirl #3
"A Breath of Broken Glass"
Gail Simone - writer
Ardian Syaf - penciller
Vicente Cifuentes - inker
Ulises Arreola - colors
Dave Sharpe - letterer
Adam Hughes - cover art
Katie Kubert - assistant editor
Bobbie Chase - editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of publication - 9 November 2011
$2.99, 32 pages

My niece is spending the night, but she's asleep and I've got a second wind so I thought now would be as good a time as any to finally review some comics.

In issue #2, Batgirl established the real identity of Mirror and his motivation...and she was tasked with knowing that he was going to blow up a train on which a man who was "supposed" to die is a passenger. She hastily effects an intervention, but is forced to witness an act of carnage anyway. Deflated and furious, Barbara tries to find her emotional footing...and her physical footing as well, as Nightwing shows up to check on her condition. They spar, and by the end of the issue Batgirl makes clear where she feels she fits into the Bat-family.

I confess, I was leery of this issue going into it based solely on the appearance of Nightwing. Several DC New 52 titles featured hero-on-hero conflicts within the first three issues and the proliferation of that made me fear it was all part of a formulaic storytelling strategy (similar to the romantic/sexual interludes I noticed in the three issue #2s I read last month). The appearance of Nightwing may well have been ordered from on high, but Gail Simone deftly turns it into the most interesting character content of all ten New 52 issues I've read to date. There is a bittersweet intimacy between Barbara and Dick--part sibling, part former lovers--that allows for a specific dynamic of the characters to be explored. This is not the kind of conversation Barbara can have with her father, or with Batman, but one she seems to need to have with someone. By the end of this issue, I just wanted to hug Babs. Maybe I'm just sentimental and emotional these days.

Hats off to Ardian Syaf for some truly interesting action sequences. They're not as gritty as Tony Daniel's work in Detective Comics, but the aesthetic is perfect for this book: kinetic, at times visceral, but clean and a little lighthearted. It suits both Batgirl and Gail Simone's writing quite nicely. There's an endearing vulnerability to Barbara and tenderness in her dad in their two pages together in the middle of the issue, and Nightwing's face betrays genuine concern later.

In short, Batgirl is what a superhero comic book ought to be. I dig it.

22 November 2011

Mini Pizzas

Growing up, we often made mini pizzas. It was nice as kids to not only have something sized proportionate to ourselves, but to be able to help with the preparation. Mini pizzas are ridiculously simple and even someone as disinclined toward the culinary arts as myself can manage them. I had my niece spend the night with me tonight, and saw fit to share this small tradition with her. She's a smart girl with strong intuition; as soon as I told her about it being something I grew up doing, she immediately saw that it was something she would be able to one day pass on to children of her own--which she quickly assured me she was in no rush to have. Thank God, since she's only nine!

So here's how we do mini pizzas, illustrated by photos taken tonight.

Ingredients

  • 1 package hamburger buns
  • 1 jar pizza sauce
  • 1 bag shredded cheese
  • other toppings as desired; we elected to add grilled chicken strips

Step One


Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Open the hamburger buns and arrange them on the cookie sheet. I find it works best to have the thicker top parts on the outside.

Step Two


Spoon some pizza sauce onto each bun. You don't want too much, because this can cause a mess later. It takes a little trial and error to find what the right amount for your taste is. Tonight, my niece applied two spoonfuls per bun and that seemed about perfect.

Step Three


Toppings! We bought a small package of pre-grilled chicken strips, and cut those into small pieces to add to each bun. I normally add cheese last, but my niece was adamant that the cheese go atop the sauce directly. You're welcome to do it in any order you--or your children--prefer.

Step Four


Set the oven to 350 degrees. Let them bake for about 10 minutes. Check them to see how well they're coming along; no one wants an unfinished pizza! You know your taste about how dark the pizza ought to be. Ours were perfect at around 14 minutes.

We found we still had half a jar of pizza sauce and half a bag of cheese remaining after preparing our mini pizzas, but of course you can't buy half a jar of sauce or half a bag of cheese. You can plan on buying two packages of buns, or you can simply find another use for the remaining ingredients. My niece was full after three or four mini-pizzas, so you don't have to count on each child consuming half of a bag of buns individually.

The important thing, of course, isn't even how they turn out but rather the shared experience of making them. My niece was quite proud of her handiwork, and rightly so--they were terrific mini pizzas! She may not remember how they turned out later, but hopefully she'll recall how nice it was to make them with me.

20 November 2011

A Note from My Niece

My sister-in-law brought my niece and nephew over for a visit tonight, which was nice. We played Wii Sports for a while, combined laser pointers and catnip with the kitty cats and generally joked and teased our way through a couple of hours. At one point, my niece went into the office and wrote out a note for me. She insisted I not read it until she had left, which I honored. I read it as soon as the door was closed, however! I was instantly touched and because this blog is my blog, for me, I wanted to archive it here.
I love
you
uncle travis
and I
miss you
so much

Love,
Mashalia

Yeah, I got choked up. Verklempt, as Linda Richman would say. When a child writes something like that about you, you know you've done something right along the way.

"The Sopranos" The Complete Third Season

The Sopranos The Complete Third Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Drea De Matteo, Aida Turtorro, John Ventimiglia, Federico Castelluccio, Steven R. Schirripa, Robert Funaro, Katherine Narducci with Nancy Marchand and Joe Pantoliano
Created by David Chase
DVD Released: 27 August 2002
List Price: $49.99
780 Minutes

I suppose the underlying theme of this season is adjusting to a new status quo. God knows that's a theme with which I'm all too familiar of late! For Tony Soprano, this is brought on in large part by the death of his mother, Livia (actress Nancy Marchand passed away before this season went into production). His Uncle Junior--under indictment and awaiting trial--is diagnosed with cancer, and anyone who has encountered that brand of misery knows all too well how it rewrites the status quo at will. Dr. Melfi is brutally assaulted. Meadow has two successive romantic relationships, each of which puts a strain on Tony for different reasons. A.J. is acting out in school, and Carmella begins to have a spiritual crisis about the kind of life she's willfully overlooked all these years. Artie Bucco becomes so smitten with Adriana that his wife Charmaine decides to leave him.

Each subplot of this season resonated with me in a very personal way. My grandfather has had health problems recently, for instance, and he's actually a lot like Uncle Junior. Meadow's nascent sexual relationships were a reminder that I may well have to at some point consider going out and trying to meet someone new (a phase I dread so much I may never actually do it!). I never misbehaved like A.J. does, but I've reminisced lately about when I was that age so I recall the disillusionment that undermined the very concept of consequences. It seemed that nothing really mattered, so why not do stupid things? In some ways, I suppose I never actually grew out of that.

Thankfully, the one subplot that I can't identify with on a personal level is that of Dr. Melfi's sexual assault. It did register with me, though, because my Twitter timeline has been dominated recently by women speaking out against the misogyny directed at them online and the despicable rape culture in which we live that blames victims. I've mentioned Dawn Foster in this blog (it's worth being on Twitter just to follow her!), and she has recently shared some absolutely horrible things that have been directed at her online. She's not alone; several other women I follow have also been caught in a wave of hostility. That kind of behavior lights me up! As I've said in the past, I want my cousin, my niece and all the other women I know and love to live in a world where they are safe and treated with respect. They are not "fair game" for such vitriol, and by extension I have no tolerance for any woman being treated that way. (It seems it's time for me to compose another post about feminism!)

As for this season as TV, this one is a step up from the second season. Every episode is at least four stars in my book, with four episodes earning five stars--including the classic "Pine Barrens" in which Pauley and Christopher have a misadventure trying to kill a Russian. "...To Save Us All from Satan's Power..." is the first Christmas-themed episode of the series, and I had forgotten how funny it is. An arc that takes place over half of the season involving Tony's affair with Gloria (Annabella Sciorra), a patient of Dr. Melfi's, is particularly well done...including its visceral termination. Given Gloria's suicidal, manic nature I related to her for obvious reasons. I suspect I'll think about her when I sit in the therapist's waiting room in a couple of weeks. Someone remind me not to strike up conversation with any attractive car saleswomen I might encounter there. (Though I suspect me not being able to afford to buy a car would be a sufficient safeguard.)
Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico in "Pine Barrens"
There are some cutesy moments in this season, though. For instance, there's a sequence in one episode in which we see what precipitated Tony's anxiety attack by watching the footage in reverse. It's gimmicky, but this is the kind of highbrow show that can indulge in such things without compromising its artistic integrity.

The DVD box set includes three episode commentary tracks; one with Michael Imperioli on "The Telltale Moozadell" (which he wrote), Steve Buscemi on "Pine Barrens" (which he directed) and series creator David Chase on "Amour Fou." There's nothing particularly special about any of the three, but it was nice to listen to the three chat away about the series and their line of work. I like hearing Steve Buscemi speak, so it was nice to have him record his commentary track. It was a reminder that he appears in a recurring role in the next season, and I'm looking forward to revisiting that. The only other bonus content is a fluff "behind-the-scenes" piece that aired on HBO. It's just a few minutes long. I've always been disappointed that a show this terrific has had such underwhelming bonus content on DVD.

All in all, I really enjoyed going through the third season again. There were a lot of things I'd forgotten, and some things registered differently with me this time through. I caught more nuances, for instance, and of course the subplot with the Buccos hit me in a way that it couldn't have when I first saw these episodes several years ago. I still feel that the first season is the most accessible of the series--it plays out like a mini-series rather than part of an ongoing series--but this third season really grows the series tremendously. These thirteen episodes are stronger thematically than those of the second season, and it makes for gripping viewing.

18 November 2011

"Detective Comics" #3 (Jan 2012)

Detective Comics #3
"Cold Blood"
Written and Drawn by Tony Salvador Daniel
Inks - Sandy Florea
Colors - Tomeu Morey
Letters - Jared K. Fletcher
Cover - Daniel and Morey
Assistant Editor - Katie Kubert
Associate Editor - Janelle Asselin
Editor - Mike Marts
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 2 November 2011
$2.99, 32 Pages

"Cold Blood" picks up right where Detective Comics #2 ended: with the Batman confronted by the Dollmaker and his sordid family. Outnumbered and drugged, our protagonist manages to overcome his adversaries through a combination of intellect and luck. Batman later discerns the identity of the Dollmaker...and why he has fixated on Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, now a captive.

This whole story arc has been terrific so far, and it's easily one of my favorite Batman stories in quite a while. Dollmaker is a genuinely unnerving antagonist. There's a sort of comfort zone in which most members of the Dark Knight's Rogues Gallery operate; Dollmaker does not adhere to such conventions. As such, this new character is freer to operate without triggering any kind of expectations on my part as a reader. The pace continues to be perfect; I want to devour every panel on every page, but I'm afraid over missing something along the way. It's really a well-crafted story so far. The art is great, too, and Tony Daniel does a terrific job with action sequences. The opening fight of this issue is quite kinetic; there's visceral sense of action taking place between panels. Also, the shot of Batman dragging away one of his enemies on the bottom of page 5 is one of my favorite single panels in quite some time. Batman's line of dialog ("Let's go, sunshine.") makes it perfect.

I confess that there's a surprise with Olivia I saw coming, but it's still interesting. And the final page gave me pause going into next month's issue #4, but having loved these first three issues, I'm going to trust that Daniel knows what he's doing.

Three issues into the New 52, I think I have to conclude that Detective Comics is the strongest of the three series I've been reading. I highly recommend this arc!

16 November 2011

"The Sopranos" The Complete Second Season

The Sopranos The Complete Second Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Drea De Matteo, David Proval, Aida Turtorro and Nancy Marchand
Created by David Chase
DVD Release Date: 6 November 2001
List Price: $49.99
696 Minutes

"The Richie Aprile Season." Throughout the second season, Tony (Gandolfini) is harangued by an FBI task force intent on bringing him down, drama from his sister Janice (Turtorro) and then there's Richie Aprile (Proval)--fresh out of prison and driven by a massive chip on his shoulder. This is to say nothing of the residual conflicts from the first season, chiefly the antagonistic relationship between Tony and his mother (Marchand) and Uncle Junior (Chianese), who conspired to have him killed...or suspicion over Big Pussy's (Pastore) whereabouts.

Next to the first season, this is the one I've watched the most; I rented it on DVD from Netflix back in the day, then re-watched it later with my wife once I got her into the show and now this third time through. Plus, I re-watched a few episodes the first time around when various friends would pop in so I've seen some episodes four times. It's a busy season, but I confess that this time around I was struck by how much less cohesive it is than the first season.

In many ways, it seems that the central question to the second season was: "What next?" and that it was asked as much of the creators as the characters. The real strength of the second season is that we see a lot of growth from the three younger characters: Christopher (Imperioli), Meadow (Sigler) and A.J. (Iler) all begin to come into their own. Most of us either went through similar phases of growth ourselves, or perhaps we were there when others went through them--a friend, a sibling, perhaps now as a parent--so again, the strength of the series is that its storytelling taps into universal experiences. For instance, A.J. questions the existence of God and the futility of life. I can still recall how great an epiphany that felt like for me the first time I had those doubts. It felt like I had grown into true vision and was no longer an ignorant child.

As for the DVD release, there are four commentary tracks and two brief featurettes. None of this content is remotely as insightful as the dialog between David Chase and Peter Bogdanovich on The Complete First Season box set and I have to confess I was pretty disappointed by the bonus content here.

I don't know if it's because of my state of mind this time through or what, but I found that The Complete Second Season hasn't held up as well for me as the first season. It's worth noting, I'm sure, that before I began making my way through it this time I had learned that my marriage was going to end. It's hard to really get into much of anything amid something like that so perhaps this season is fine and I would have been hard to win over regardless of what I watched in the last few days.

Yet, I'm aware that perhaps this was the right season for me at this time. It questions how we adapt to a changing status quo and God knows my status quo is changing! In some instances, we adapt by trying to reestablish the status quo and in other instances all we can do is forge a new one. I must now do the latter. Who knows? Perhaps my new status quo will involve wire taps, busted kneecaps and a visit to Italy.

15 November 2011

The End of the Beginning

Astute readers likely by now have noticed that since my initial post-treatment output, I have refrained from discussing anything personal in this blog. The reason for this is that my blog is not anonymous; I cannot freely explore subjects that involve or affect other people. The time has come, however, where I must now begin to face something important.

My wife and I are going to divorce.

The strain of this last year with my depression has been too great for her to continue to bear. Beyond that, I will not discuss the nature of our relationship in this blog. I do not wish to read any comments about how sad this is, how I'll find something new or anything else. I will delete any such remarks that appear in any comments. If I wanted that nonsense, I would spend my time at Hallmark instead of blogging.

Neither my marriage nor impending divorce are "fair game" subjects for discussion here. There are no exceptions. If I haven't already discussed this with you, then (at the risk of offending you), you're not sitting in a seat at my inner circle.

Why bring it up, then?

Simply put, this blog is for me. That others have benefited is gratifying, of course, and it's what makes sharing my experiences easier for me, but at the end of the day, I blog for myself. I cannot compartmentalize something of this magnitude any longer. I have no idea the extent to which this will color future posts, but I can say that I hope to be able to offer some measure of comfort to readers who may also endure this particular brand of misery just as I have reached out to those who have fought depression, Crohn's disease or paying full price for Disney Blu-rays.

At present I have not processed enough of this or gained enough perspective to be able to offer anything helpful to anyone else with one lone exception. If you learn nothing else from me, let it be this:

The origin of a strain is irrelevant; whether the strain is properly addressed is all that matters.

It is almost impossible for me to expect to finish my NaNoWriMo project on time, having lost an entire eight days now in which I was unable to write a solitary word. I do hope to resume writing soon, though, and even if I fall short of the 30 November deadline, I intend to continue working on this story until I have completed a draft. That reminds me: I hate naming characters. So in lieu of banal platitudes I have no desire to read, why don't you do me an actual favor and submit some character names for me to pilfer?

11 November 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Mask" & "Vows"

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #39-40
"Mask"
By Bryan Talbot
Gaspar - Letters
Olyoptics - Colors
Goodwin & Kaplan - Editors
Psychiatric Consultant: Keith Marsland, R.G.N., R.M.N.
Batman created by Bob Kane
$1.75, 32 pages/each
Nov-Dec 1992

Legends of the Dark Knight was often a more psychologically-based series, as I've noted in previous posts about the series, but this two-part tale by Bryan Talbot may be the clearest example yet.  Note that there was an actual psychiatric consultant, for starters!  This is only the second work by Bryan Talbot that I know I've read (the other being the powerful Tale of One Bad Rat), and it appears that if nothing else, Talbot is thorough.  This sells him short, though; he's also one of the most talented storytellers in the medium I've seen yet and I cannot fathom why I've not read more of his work!

In "Mask," Batman apprehends a group of amateur burglars and is then overcome by a strange sensation.  He awakens in a hospital as Bruce Wayne, having been found lying in a gutter in his Batman costume.  Dr. Mike Clayton explains that Bruce inherited misery and massive debt from his parents and has escaped into alcoholism and created a fantasy world for himself wherein he is the Batman.  It seems the "You're not really Batman" premise has already been done quite a bit, but I must say that "Mask" does it better than most.  The twist is actually quite surprising--though there are a few loose ends that I find a bit nagging.  Still, "Mask" is quite fascinating and the fact that Talbot had the guts to give Batman this specific antagonist--and that editor Archie Goodwin allowed it--is a shining example of why I loved LOTDK.

Note: "Mask" was included in the trade paperback, Batman: Dark Legends.

Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #2
"Vows"
Dennis O'Neil - story
Michael Netzer - penciller
Luke McDonnell - inker
Willie Schubert - letterer
Olyoptics - color
Bill Kaplan - assistant editor
Archie Goodwin - editor
Bob Kane - Batman creator
1992
$3.50

It can be hard to know where the annuals take place in the publishing continuity because there are no in-context clues; no blurbs in the letters columns about the annual coming up or anything helpful like that.  I know they were generally published late in the year, and both Annual #2 and LOTDK #40 feature an ad for the movie Passenger 57 on the back cover, so I figure it's a good bet that they were published around the same time.  In any event, LOTDK #40 is the final 1992 cover issue so it seemed appropriate to follow with the '92 Annual.

Just prior to his wedding to Detective Sarah Essen, Police Commissioner James Gordon is targeted by a vindictive former cop, Flass (readers may recall him from Batman: Year One as Gordon's partner; he was also in the movie, Batman Begins).  Flass is now working for a mobster, Mr. Glean, and it seems Gordon is about to expose a crooked judge just before election day.  To ensure that the judge's reputation is untarnished with the voters, Flass and his accomplices attack Gordon and Essen, and take his son James, Jr. hostage.

What I like about "Vows" is that it makes full use of the Annual format; the double-length allows Denny O'Neil's story to move along at a deliberate pace, not having to build up to a cliffhanger every so often.  The Batman is really a secondary character here, too, and I thought that was interesting.  What casual readers may find off-putting, though, are the references to Gordon's family life: his previous marriage, that he's marrying Essen (who?) and that James, Jr. was kidnapped and dangled off a bridge as a young child, too.  These are precisely the kinds of cumbersome things that permeated the "regular" Bat-books whose absence made LOTDK so refreshing for me.  So, points for the story, but deduction for the continuity hassles.

Note: I am currently working on NaNoWriMo. This blog post was written in advance during October.

10 November 2011

Advice from a Sno Cone Vendor

Many years ago (probably about twenty of 'em by now), I was at a flea market with a friend of mine and we happened upon a chatty Sno Cone vendor named Keith.  He was probably in his early to mid-20s.  After a few minutes of idle chit chat, I thought I'd see if he had any wisdom that my friend and/or I might be able to use.  I asked, "What's the best way to get women?"

Keith paused for a moment and reflected upon my query.  Then he replied:
"Be rich."  Then he quickly added, "And flaunt it."
It hadn't occurred to me at the time, but now I suspect that Keith himself was lacking for female companionship at the time and probably blamed the fact he worked the Sno Cone kiosk at the fairgrounds.  It can't have been particularly rewarding, either financially or emotionally (though I like to believe the few minutes spent chatting with us livened up the guy's afternoon that day).  Was Keith a self-pitying cynic?  Or was there some merit to what he suggested?

I don't know.  Hell, I'm a guy writing a blog post built around what a Sno Cone vendor told me as an adolescent.  Clearly, I'm not qualified to write a column about dating.  Nor do I really know what you're supposed to do with this anecdote, for that matter.  I simply thought I'd share and leave it to you to divine a use for it.

Note: I am currently working on NaNoWriMo. This blog post was written in advance during October.

09 November 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Destiny" & "Mercy"

Legends of the Dark Knight #35-36
"Destiny"
Plot and Art: Bo Hampton
Script: Mark Kneece
Letters: Tracy Hampton Munsey
Color: Olyoptics with Airika Lindsay
Edits: Goodwin and Kaplan
Batman created by Bob Kane
Early Aug-Late Aug 1992
$1.75, 32 pages/each

A dude dressed up like a Viking shows up in Gotham City, tangling with some shady low-lifes.  Naturally, he runs afoul the Batman.  Together, they discover that they are the descendants of a shared piece of Viking lore, told throughout this two-part story as a parallel to the present day activities.  I'd go into what the present day story is, except it really doesn't even matter.  It's just an excuse to showcase the mythological tale.

To be honest, I'm not big on this story.  The premise is okay, but it gets a little too clever for its own good.  Honestly, I think it would have been more satisfying for me if they had scrapped the present day stuff altogether and simply told the Viking myth story.  I dig the art, though.  The cover to issue #35 is still one of my favorite LOTDK covers.  A shame the story inside fell short for me.

"Destiny" was reprinted in the trade paperback, Batman: Other Realms.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #37
"Mercy"
Story: Dan Abnett + Andy Lanning
Art: Colin MacNeil
Letters: Ken Holewczynski
Color: Olyoptics
Assistant Edits: Bill Kaplan
Edits: Archie Goodwin
Batman created by Bob Kane
Sept 1992
$1.75, 32 pages

A rookie cop and her partner go in to apprehend The Cossack, a mountain of a man who delights in bare knuckle beatings.  The rookie insists that the Batman stay out of it and let the police do their job.  He obliges, but it costs the rookie's partner his life and she is left for dead.  To repay his debt to her, Batman undertakes to train her himself in secret, until she has become a fighting specimen out of control.  This eventually leads to an underground, illegal "fight club" marked by brutality...and a confrontation with The Cossack.

I liked the premise of "Mercy" quite a bit, and the art was terrific--particularly the full page reveal of The Cossack on page 14.  Like "Destiny," though, this one didn't quite scratch my LOTDK itch.  Whereas I think "Destiny" needed some shaving, I think "Mercy" could have benefited from being expanded.  Knowing it was a standalone issue, I could sort of tell where everything was headed because I knew it only had so many pages left to resolve itself.

Not that it's terribly important, but with issue #37, the title officially becomes Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight per the small fine print inside the issue.  I personally wish they'd left Batman's name off the covers and out of the title; I think it seems a little more mature that way but maybe it's just me.

I am currently working on a novel for NaNoWriMo; this blog post was composed in October.

07 November 2011

On Friendship

Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles. - Rene Mathis to James Bond in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale
In "How to Form a Support Network," I presented a few guidelines for how someone might begin the process of building their own support system. I suppose in many ways, this is a companion post regarding the nature of friendship.

I've always been very selective about whom I've conferred the title, "Friend." Even today, I'm uncomfortable with using the word to describe every person I "know" on Facebook. Just because I know someone well enough to be in contact with them does not, in my estimation, qualify them as my friend. Some of them are former classmates, neighbors, co-workers; others I've only come to know at all through third parties. Sure, I like them; but would I go to the mat for them? Would I expect them to do so for me? Not really. That's not a reflection on them as people, mind you; I don't associate with people who aren't terrific. But the dynamics of our relationship don't meet my personal criteria for the title, "Friend."
You're doing something right when your friends can fill the corner booth at Waffle House...
This may seem an odd way to begin a post celebrating friendship, but I feel it's important for the context that you understand where I draw the lines. I have Associations, Friends and then there's an elite group I consider my Inner Circle. Here are my general descriptions of the three categories.
Associations I like you, you make me laugh, etc. and I enjoy your company. I'm comfortable trying to make you laugh and I hope you enjoy my company. But don't ask me for money, don't pry into my personal life beyond what I choose to share with you and if we're at a bar and you pick a fight with someone, you're on your own.
Friends I trust you enough that I'm comfortable sharing most of my personal life with you, though there will be times I play things close to the vest. I don't worry about what I share with you becoming gossip. More importantly, I know you're not a sycophant. I need people around me whose opinions and insights I can trust. I have confidence in you enough that I'm hopeful you'll see something I don't and that you'll share it with me.
Inner Circle These are my Friends in "heavy rotation" (to borrow a term from radio).
These are not closed membership groups; people come and go from one to the next as the dynamics of our relationship evolve. Members of my Inner Circle started off as Associations once upon a time, after all. And just because I don't count someone among my Inner Circle today doesn't mean they've been "demoted." It just means that, at present, these are not my go-to people.

My approach seems either too self-important or flaky for some people. I can appreciate that. For some people, "a stranger is a friend you haven't met." Deciding you like someone automatically places them on your Friends list, unless they do something to warrant their removal. I'm not qualified to pass judgment on you if this is how you approach people. I just wanted you to understand how I do it.

What about family?
Good question. For a lot of people, family are exempt from their Friendship rules, whatever they may be. "Blood is thicker than water" is the prevailing doctrine. Not for me. I learned as a child that just because I share genetics with someone is no reason for me to feel obligated to trust someone. There is, I grant you, a certain leeway for family that I wouldn't extend to a Friend - and certainly not to an Association. But by and large, family fall into Associations, Friends and Inner Circle just like everyone else for me and just like everyone else, how close I am with that relative can change. This is true of everyone, but I'm willing to admit it and a lot of people aren't. They feel guilty for suggesting there's some kind of hierarchy within their bloodline. Doesn't bother me a bit.
...or when someone like Natasha Badhwar extends such an invitation.
Virtual Friends
I've really become invested in the concept of online friendships, the majority of whom are Associations. Most of my support networks for Crohn's disease and depression fall under this category. This is not meant to disparage anyone, but the nature of our association is confined to when we see content shared by the other online, be it on Facebook, Twitter, a blog or somewhere else. Again, that's perfectly okay and no one should feel slighted by this. Due to the nature of what we have in common, though, we often discuss some fairly personal parts of our lives.

Still, the truth is that I count a few such people as actual Friends. Given that we communicate exclusively through the Internet, there are different expectations than we would have as offline friends. Regardless, these are people with whom I am comfortable confiding a higher level of personal information than Associations. I admit, I'm still guarded about what I share but I feel comfortable opening up about specific topics with these people.

As I've begun to reassert myself over my depression this past month, I've taken inventory of my friends. What I have discovered is that I have managed to do a really good job over the years of cultivating relationships with a lot of really good people. I don't know if it's the result of my admittedly stringent screening process for friends, if I've just been lucky or something in between but I can't find a bad apple in the bushel. It shames me to see the kind of people I've withdrawn from this past year as my depression worked to discourage me from reaching out to them. I have, however, really appreciated and enjoyed their support lately and I only hope that I continue to deserve it.
"Of one thing I can boast: I am unaware of ever having lost a friend." - Alec Guiness, Blessings in Disguise

NaNoWriMo II: The 10K Club

Well, we're a fifth of the way through November so a fifth of the novel was supposed to be finished by the end of today (I'm writing this after midnight, so technically...yesterday). I haven't posted anything here about my progress but figured this was as good an occasion as any to pause and make note of the experience so far.

Firstly, I finished writing somewhere around 5:45 on Sunday afternoon. I could have kept going, except a friend of mine popped in on me and I went out with him. We wound up renting Batman: Year One from Wild and Wooly and he made some terrific ribs with mac and cheese for dinner. (I'm broke, but he was gracious enough to let me wash the dishes at least.) All that extraneous information aside, my final word count when we left stood at 10,397.

I've actually had a pretty good run so far. I got ahead the first night, clearing 2,000 words. In fact, I've stayed on top of this enough that I cleared 10,000 words for the first six days without even writing a single word on Thursday (3 November). I'm sure that sounds like boasting and I don't mean it to; I'm merely trying to allow myself a moment of feeling like I've been productive on this.

For those who may be wondering about the content itself, I'd rather not get into it too much but I can say that I've already introduced my principal three characters, established the particulars of how, when, where and why they will come together and I'm just about to get into that part of the story.

One of my writing influences is Ian Fleming. I'm not able to embellish stories about wartime espionage, of course, but the one thing I picked up from Fleming is to name specific, actual products. For instance, one of my characters begins the story treating himself to some bourbon and cigars. He chooses Knob Creek and Montecristos (#3, the torpedoes). Why? Because I hold them in high esteem. He rents an Inifinty G37 Convertible because it wasn't the obvious choice but I thought it looked good, got good mileage (important for driving round trip from St. Louis to Louisville) and he rents it from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Kirkland, Missouri because even though I don't think you can actually get that car from them, this Trekkie could not resist the combination of Enterprise and Kirkland.
A character in another scene is seen reading comic books. She's reading Batgirl. Why? Because I've enjoyed the first two issues of the current series and the lighthearted tone of the book seemed to suit the nature of this character to me.

Mostly, though, I have specified clothing. I've got an entire sequence in which one character buys a suit from Brooks Brothers. I hit their website to get information about their actual selection and prices at present, and I used their color description (charcoal, not black!). I wasn't sure how customers would know the name of Brooks Brothers employees, so I tweeted them to ask, explaining that I was setting a scene in my NaNoWriMo novel in one of their stores. They replied:
Indeed, we give our names. 
I hope they don't mind that I made their employee seem a little bit snobbish; it wasn't meant to disparage them at all, but rather I intended the scene as an homage to P.G. Wodehouse's terrific Jeeves stories--which I specifically reference in this passage. My character is tight on money, so I also hope they understand that I don't mean to portray them as outrageously expensive, either. I can't afford to shop there at present, of course--see paragraph two--but I recognize that they do, indeed, sell fine men's clothing and that such quality is not inexpensive. Anyway, he wound up purchasing a two-button Suiting Essentials jacket in charcoal, with pleat-front trousers from the same collection (also in charcoal).
Two-Button Suiting Essentials Jacket
Likewise, I dressed my lead female character earlier today in a tweed pantset from Danny & Nicole, sold at JC Penny. She co-owns a modest hotel with her husband, so I figured she would want to dress appropriately for her job, but that she would be practical and shop at a place like JC Penny instead of somewhere pricier. I think the pantset I selected looks nice; tasteful, but showcases curves. Most guys (and quite a lot of women) would look twice at someone wearing this well but it's not designed to beg for such attention.
Tweed Pantset by Danny & Nicole
Under her pantset, however, my character wants a boost of confidence so she's wearing a bra and panties from Victoria's Secret. Since I had gone to the trouble of researching the Brooks Brothers suit and the Danny & Nicole pantset, I risked being completely confused and went to the Victoria's Secret website. Thankfully, it was fairly easy to navigate and my friend arrived just in time to help me make the right choices. We determined she is sporting a Miraculous Multi-way Bra (gray floral lace) and Incredible Incredible hiphugger panties (black rose lace).

I agree with Fleming that naming actual products helps create a sense of reality within a story. You can actually go buy these things yourself, for one thing, and also there's the fact that they're a shorthand of sorts. You may not know the difference between the pleated and plain-front trousers from the Suiting Essentials line, but when you read about a guy buying a suit at Brooks Brothers and he's intimidated by the salesman and the prices, you either immediately identify with the guy or perhaps it tells you that he's not at all like you. Either way, it reveals something subtle about the character that hopefully helps him become someone recognizable as a person to you.

I don't namedrop every product, of course. For instance, my suit-buyer walks in wearing an old pair of Wranglers and a plain navy blue T-shirt. That's sufficient (it's also what I was wearing at that exact moment). Like Fleming, though, I believe that the point of entertainment is to offer the reader something identifiable, but somehow not necessarily part of their daily life. I realize that drinking Knob Creek, smoking Montecristos, driving an Infinity G37 Convertible and wearing a Suiting Essentials jacket and trousers may be commonplace for some people, but I suspect these would be infrequent indulgences for most of us.

More importantly, I think they're all attainable. You can buy these things for yourself, or perhaps you might have a different perception of these products than I do. Maybe you think Knob Creek is overrated; that my guy should instead be drinking Old Forrester Birthday Edition. In that case, though, you've still reacted to the character's choice in some way and by doing so, I hope you've unconsciously still established a new dimension to him. You did, after all, just disagree with him which means that he's someone developed enough for you to disagree with in the first place.

I realize I haven't really said anything about the story itself and I promise you, my characters do more than give me occasion to namedrop products! At present, however, I'd prefer to keep that stuff to myself. I'll reveal the content in the future when I've got a better sense of the story and I know enough to actually divulge. I assure you, I have not been compensated in any way whatsoever for these product selections; I made them entirely on my own (with the obvious exception of my friend helping me with the Victoria's Secret products) to serve my story rather than to promote anyone's merchandise.

05 November 2011

"Billy Jack" by honeyhoney

Billy Jack - honeyhoney
Album Release Date: 24 October 2011
List Price: $16.98 (Vinyl), $9.99 (CD)

I've waited three years for this album, having become a fan of honeyhoney in 2008 when I downloaded the music video for their debut single, "Little Toy Gun" as a freebie from iTunes. I'm not even sure I had any expectations or even hopes about what this album would be; I just knew I wanted to hear more from this young duo.

Billy Jack is an album, rather than a collection of songs. On my first listen, I was struck by the difference between this and its predecessor, First Rodeo. Where their debut album was energetic and fun, their sophomore outing is more reflective. I wouldn't go so far as to call it brooding, but these songs feel more intimate and thoughtful. It's quite obvious they were written from experience rather than imagination. This may not be an album to throw on during a party, but it's easy to imagine these songs filling a small venue where the audience is seated, listening attentively with a bourbon and Coke.

One of the things that I enjoy about honeyhoney is that they use instruments like the fiddle and banjo. These are hallmarks of country music, but in their hands they recall the recordings of yesteryear. In many ways, this album is more in keeping with the kind of music I've always enjoyed than any of the contemporary country music.

Of course, I would be remiss not to take a moment to lavish vocalist Suzanne Santo with praise. I just love to hear her sing. In the liner notes to Waylon Jennings's Lonesome, On'ry and Mean album, Chet Flippo wrote, "If he sings it, you can believe it." I feel that way about Santo as well. These are not songs written merely to entertain or maybe become a commercial hit.

Sometimes, I find myself guilty of penalizing albums (or movies) for not being replications of their predecessors. Billy Jack does not quite resemble First Rodeo, but it is clearly the product of the evolution of honeyhoney. This album makes me wish I was out on the road with them, making the most of an uncertain way of life with the doubts and successes that go with it.
Note: I received this album free as a member of Lost Highway Records Fancorps. I was not asked to write this review, nor have I been compensated for doing so. I am a fan and would have gladly bought the album anyway.

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Blades"

Legends of the Dark Knight #32-34
"Blades"
James Robinson - story
Tim Sale - art
Willie Schubert - letters
Steve Oliff - colors
Archie Goodwin & Bill Kaplan - editors
Late June-Late July 1992
$1.75, 32 pages/each

A killer calling himself "Mr. Lime" has decided to rid the overpopulated world of the elderly.  Meanwhile, a flamboyant, sword-brandishing swashbuckler calling himself The Cavalier has emerged as Gotham City's latest hero, stealing the spotlight from the Batman...who has become increasingly obsessed with finding Mr. Lile.  Then comes a jewel thief, preying on Gotham's wealthiest citizens; a bothersome crime not worthy of the Batman's attention with Mr. Lime on the loose.

"Blades" is worth noting if for no other reason than being the LOTDK debut of Tim Sale, who would go on to collaborate with writer Jeph Loeb to craft the three Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Specials and The Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome mini-series.  James Robinson's yarn, however, is quite solid itself and deftly uses both Mr. Lime and The Cavalier to hit at different aspects of Bruce Wayne's psychology.  He is obsessed with finding Lile because he is tormented by the grief of the surviving children left behind; no matter that they're all middle-aged adults much more capable of handling the loss than he was as a child.  Whereas Howard Chaykin's "Flyer" showed us Bruce realizing that being the Batman could not be about having fun, Robinson has hit on what drives him in the first place.

Yet, the counterpoint is explored in the relationship between Batman and The Cavalier.  The Dark Knight tolerates the swashbuckler chiefly because he's busy with Mr. Lime and is willing to defer the handling of Gotham's other crimes to the hands of the newcomer, at the very least as a placeholder hero.  However, we also know that The Cavalier has inadvertently hit upon another nerve: he reminds Bruce Wayne of his childhood hero, Zorro.
"You remind me of old movies...of good times.  For that you get a chance in Gotham. One chance. Guard my city well." - Batman to The Cavalier, Part One, page 14
It's a fascinating story, as both subplots resonate so strongly with Bruce Wayne's youth; one fond, the other tragic.  These are the kinds of stories that best characterized Legends of the Dark Knight.  Rather than rely on action-driven conflicts with the colorful (and popular) Rogues Gallery of supervillains, most LOTDK stories centered instead on minor, often original, characters who were better suited to exploring these kinds of psychological tales.  "Mr. Lime" disturbs the Batman in a way that, say, The Joker would not.  There's a familiarity with The Joker; not knowing who Mr. Lime is becomes as infuriating for Batman as not being able to stop him.  And, as a reader, I find that my own lack of familiarity with these antagonists allows me to be more easily caught up in the drama at hand.

I do wish there had been a fourth issue, though, because one subplot feels abridged here in three issues.  Or, perhaps, I simply wanted more of "Blades."  Regardless, it's a terrific story and one I would certainly recommend.

"Blades" was reprinted in the trade paperback, Batman: Collected Legends of the Dark Knight.

I am currently working on a novel for NaNoWriMo; this blog post was composed in October.

04 November 2011

"Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray Disc

Quantum of Solace
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini with Jeffery Wright and Judi Dench as "M"
Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Directed by Marc Forster
Blu-ray Disc Release Date: 24 March 2009
List Price: $39.99

I reviewed Quantum of Solace when I saw it at the Oldham 8 theater in 2008; hell, I even reviewed the trailer before I saw the movie. I still believe it's a highly underrated Bond movie and I stand by my initial characterization of it as the closest that a movie has come to capturing the sense of reading an Ian Fleming Bond novel. The pace is fast and furious, and the villain masquerades as a public hero while working on something a bit convoluted...and yet entirely plausible. Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) isn't out to provoke World War III or eradicate mankind. He's trying to seize control of a very precious natural resource that numerous experts insist will soon become the source of global contention. It may be underwhelming now, but like Tomorrow Never Dies I suspect eventually we will call Quantum of Solace "prescient."

Anyway, I finally got around to the bonus content on the Blu-ray Disc last night and I have to say this was outright disappointing. Ever since the late 90s Special Edition DVDs, James Bond movies have come packed with bonus features including commentary tracks to the creation of the film, documentaries of the history of the franchise, biographies of key cast and crew, promotional materials, music videos and all kinds of other content. Quantum of Solace, however, contains very little. There is a feature, "Bond on Location" that runs 24:45 and is a fairly decent overview of the production of the film. It's more superficial than typical Bond making-ofs, but it's the lion's share of what's here. There are five additional clips that run between 2:14 and 3:14, amounting to little more than extended versions of a few pieces of "Bond on Location." It seems to me they were only excised and expanded so that the menu showed more than one documentary.

There are, however more than 45 minutes of Crew Files. These were released as a series of behind-the-scenes capsules of various crew members explaining the nature of their work on the film. Typically, I go gaga over this kind of stuff but none of these Crew Files even hits the two-minute mark so there's very little in the way of actual content to be found. After the first seven or so, it became boring; it was outright tedious to finish slogging my way through all of them. Otherwise, the only other bonus content are two trailers and the music video of "Another Way to Die," performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys (which at least was not pillarboxed like the video of Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" on Casino Royale).
It's fairly obvious that a lot of content was withheld expressly for the purpose of padding future reissues of Quantum of Solace on Blu-ray or whatever formats follow it. This strategy was already used for Casino Royale; the initial release had basic features (padded by a slightly expanded version of the full-length documentary, Bond Girls Are Forever) but it wasn't until the second release of the movie that we got the commentary track and the lion's share of the bonus content that has been released to date. It's aggravating because on the one hand, I admit there comes a point where you look at the sheer volume of Bond bonus content and have to wonder, "Just what is there really left to even discuss?" By now we've all become familiar with their process of scouting exotic locations, rehearsing and executing elaborate stunts and then some footage of the lavish premiere with the principal cast smiling and schmoozing.

And yet...I feel cheated by the absence of this admittedly extraneous material largely because I've become accustomed to its inclusion and because I know it will be offered in subsequent releases. I don't want to have to choose between owning a Bond movie when it comes out or waiting until the next Bond movie is made to get the release I should have had in the first place. They were very generous with this stuff all the way through Die Another Day, but that appears to no longer be the Bond home video modus operandi.

Still, I really enjoy the movie and of course that's the primary reason this is in my library. It is gorgeous in HD, I'll admit. I am, however, glad that I was able to buy this at Target in late 2009 on sale for $15. I feel disappointed by the bonus content at that price. I think I would have felt cheated had I paid $20-25 and probably quite angry if I had paid the actual list price of $39.99.

03 November 2011

"The Sopranos" The Complete First Season

The Sopranos - The Complete First Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Nancy Marchand
Created by David Chase
DVD Box Set Release Date: 12 December 2000
List Price: $49.99

It's been more than a decade since the show premiered and anything that could be said about the content itself has already been said. I leave it to you to familiarize yourself with the show if you haven't already done so. Instead, this is a reflection of the context of my recent viewing of this season and how it struck me this time around. You're welcome to read on without fear of spoilers.

I had heard about The Sopranos, but not having HBO I hadn't actually seen the show until I rented the first season on DVD from Netflix (Disc One was my fifth-ever selection from Netflix) in 2001. By then, I had already been fighting depression for a while so a show about a depressed mob boss was both recognizable to me as part of my own reality as well as the kind of vicarious fantasy that attracts most of us to entertainment in the first place. I mean, I know I'd be a terrible gangster but I would also be a terrible secret agent or masked vigilante but part of me still wants to believe I could be James Bond or Batman. Why not be Tony Soprano?

This is, I believe, my fourth time through the first season of The Sopranos and in light of my recent treatment for depression and whatnot, I find that it resonates differently with me this time. Maybe it's because I'm older now, a little closer to Tony's age than I was when I first started watching a decade ago. Maybe it's because since then, I've developed Crohn's disease so I have a permanent antagonist in my life (similar to the nature of Tony's "work"). Maybe it's because I'm twelve days away from my first-ever therapy appointment. Who knows?

In any event, throughout these thirteen episodes I found myself reacting to things that hadn't quite registered with me previously. For instance, in the penultimate episode, "Isabella," Tony appears to have some kind of dream or hallucination. I got that the first time, but what didn't hit me fully until now was what it felt like for that character to discover that he had imagined something visceral. I recently experienced a taste of what it's like to hallucinate when my Captain Kirk toy from Burger King malfunctioned and made me believe I was hearing things. It's a peculiar kind of fear and anguish that I had never before experienced, so that episode spoke to me in a new way (pun intended).

Ever since my first viewing of the pilot episode, "The Sopranos," I have had three basic reactions to the series: 1) admiration for the sophistication of the writing, 2) a great sense of fun (James Gandolfini doesn't get nearly enough credit for his comedic timing) and 3) hunger. I swear they spend more time eating on that show than they spend on sex and violence combined!
James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in "Boca"
I could go on endlessly about this show, this season or any of the thirteen episodes here but I'll leave it at this: "College" is one of the finest episodes of any television series ever produced. It's still perfect. As for the DVD release, it looks terrific; I've been curious what the Blu-ray version looks like but I gotta say that I was wowed by the a/v quality of this 11 year old set. There's scant bonus content: an hour-long interview with series creator David Chase conducted by Peter Bogdanovich, a commentary track for the pilot by the same pair, and a couple of small promo featurettes HBO ran leading up to the series. Some of Chase's insights into the production of the series are surprising, such as his frank admission that despite the cohesion of the season, he and the other writers essentially made it up as they went along with just a skeleton of an arc.

Like Casablanca, I first came to The Sopranos suspicious of its reputation and walked away a believer. Even knowing what was coming, or would be said, I was still startled, amused or excited. TV shows generally abide by the law of diminishing returns for me, but The Sopranos is so rich with content that if anything, I find that repeat viewings reveal new things to me.

02 November 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Duel" & "Family"


Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #1
"Duel"
Denny O'Neil - Script
Jim Aparo - Pencils & Ink pages 1-6, 52-54
Keith Giffen - Pencils pages 7-15
Malcolm Jones III - Inks pages 7-15
Joe Quesada - Pencils pages 16-24
Joe Rubenstein - Inks pages 16-24
Tom Lyle - Pencils pages 25-33
Ty Templeton - Inks pages 25-33
Dan Spiegle - Pencils & Inks pages 34-42
James Blackburn - Pencils pages 43-51
Michael Golden - Inks pages 43-51
Jim Aparo - Letters pages 1-6, 52-54
Janice Chiang - Letters pages 7-15
Willie Schubert - Letters pages 16-51
Steve Oliff - Color
Bill Kaplan - Assistant Editor
Archie Goodwin - Editor
Cover by Mike Mignolia
1991
$3.95/54 pages

Take a look at those credits and you'll see some of the most prolific names in the industry all had a hand in crafting this first ever LOTDK Annual.  As we open, Batman is lugging some kind of large green duffle bag through the snow.  He arrives at an old monastery where he trained prior to becoming the Dark Knight and is instructed to choose between paths; he can continue as Batman, or he can choose to find peace.  From there, it's a series of bizarre conflicts one after the other, from fighting a dragon to a Martian UFO crashing into the Capitol Building, until eventually we learn what has set into motion this unusual sojourn.

Literary-minded readers will likely think of Dante; cinematic-minded readers will recall Fellini.  Either would be an appropriate frame of reference.  Each sequence seems more bizarre than the last, yet at no point did I ever feel that we had entered the realm of the completely absurd; though I admit that the Martian UFO sequence tested even my open-mindedness.  By then I had accepted that we had gone down the rabbit hole,  but it was still unexpectedly peculiar.  Mandatory reading?  Not really.  But certainly an interesting, surreal romp ripe with symbolism (an enticement for those who appreciate such things, and a warning for those who do not).

Cover: Brent Anderson (pencils and inks)
& Steve Oliff (color)
Legends of the Dark Knight #31
"Family"
Jim Hudnall - writer
Brent Anderson - artist
Steve Oliff - colorist
Kevin Cunningham - letterer
Bill Kaplan - asst. editor
Archie Goodwin - editor
Early June 1992
$1.75/32 pages

Bruce Wayne insists that Alfred take a week's vacation to Corto Maltese.  When Alfred does not return, however, the Batman arrives and scours the jungle to find the only family he has left in the world.  It turns out a ruthless drug lord has the notion of exacting from Alfred something secretive about Bruce Wayne that can be used to blackmail Gotham's well-known billionaire.  Naturally, we almost sympathize with the guy since we know just what kind of hornet's nest he's stirred up by abducting Alfred.

"Family" is a short story; the first single-issue tale told in Legends of the Dark Knight (with the exception of Annual 1).  Its premise is simple enough that it's hard to imagine that it would have benefited from being expanded.  It's not a particularly strong issue, though it's a nice little look at the dynamics of the Bruce/Alfred relationship and we get to see Alfred in action a little.

There are two reasons for pairing these two issues.  Firstly, the letters column of "Family" is devoted to "Duel," so you get the chance to see reader comments about Annual 1 there.  Secondly, there is a somewhat complementary nature to the stories; "Duel" is all about the inner conflict within Bruce Wayne, and the single-minded nature of his mission as Batman, whereas "Family" gives us an external conflict that hits home for the Dark Knight on a different level.  Having fought depression as I have, I identified strongly with the dichotomy of how we can be so overwhelmed and uncertain what to do with ourselves, but focused and ferocious when it comes to our loved ones.

I am currently working on a novel for NaNoWriMo; this blog post was composed in October.