HELLO, IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE – The Dark Tower
I’ve noticed, since I’ve come back, that blo.gs is not registering my updates, and thus comics weblog updates doesn’t “see” new posts of mine. Sent an email, hope it gets fixed, but the likelihood of anything I write actually getting read at this point is getting pretty low.
I’m almost through an audiobook listen of Stephen King’s Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and Glass. I read the book when it came out, and am re”reading” all the Dark Tower books right now in service of reading the complete series. I’ll comment on the series as a whole when I’ve finished, but suffice it to say that this holds up as the best Stephen King book since It (a personal favorite), at least, and probably holds together as a story better than It did. The flashback part of the book (which is about 85% of it) would make a terrific miniseries as this and the first book (The Gunslinger) would adapt fairly well.
I tolerated book 2 (The Drawing of the Three) less well this time out than when I had first read it (possibly due to the irritating way the reader does Eddie and Detta/Odetta/Susanah (2 of the three main characters), possibly making me dislike them in a way that reading the book didn’t. The book also comes off as dated, despite the “revised” designation.
Book 3 (The Wasteland), however, fared better in my mind. I had a memory of the end of the book being repetitive and boring, but it didn’t bother as much this time. The beginning was not great, but this is likely due to my aversion to anymore of the New York mumbo jumbo after book 2.
As happened the first time, I can really feel the tragedy coming in book 4, and it is making me tense even when I’m not listening. Now it’s onto Book 5 (Wolves of the Cala) that I haven’t read yet.
The Bendis interview in the Comics Journal 266 was, surprisingly or not, blah. I think Bendis is still suffering a little from the overexposure of a couple of years ago when there were multiple interviews with him available every month. There is a sense that he has already been asked all the questions, and that he has settled in on the best answer to anything they can ask him by now (not that the interviewer probed that deeply). The only thing that I didn’t recognize as having already been covered was the stuff about the end of Caliber, and I found it interesting that he was still able to remain thankful to Gary Reed after essentially getting screwed over when all was said and done.
One thing that gelled for me in the article, however, was a better idea of what’s going on with Bendis’ women characters. Writing women (for male comic and other writers) seems to be a big challenge. Susan Faludi talked in “Backlash” about how serial television only had one type of woman character for many years – the good wife – until the Mary Richards paradigm finally kicked in. Thus was introduced the type of gal who had a career that was important to her, but who cried a lot. Of course, this was due to the (not always spoken) sense of loss at being removed from her natural state of wife-and-motherhood; hopefully, the characters seemed to say, this was temporary, but oh-my-god maybe it’s forever and I’ll die unloved. And behold, there was now a second type of woman on the tube (go figure). This is the TV woman version of that old Alan Moore saw of inventing two-dimensionality in world of one-dimensional characters. So, your choices for female protagonist were goodwife and deep-down-want-to-be-goodwife-but-can’t-right-now-because-I’m-working-and-being-unhappy. This is kinda simplistic, but Nick at Nite seems to more or less bear this out. This period lasted for an awful long time; but, if you write for a medium where there are actors and actresses performing the parts, you at least can depend on the fact that the intermediary is the correct gender, and can help interpret what you’re trying to get at - comic and prose writers are on their own.
In comics, femme characters were written as swooning dames for a loooong time. Since then, we’ve mostly had them written as men with breasts, or in specific wish fulfillment modes*. The Bendis women are more interesting, because they seem more real, but with 2 caveats: they all seem kind of the same and you can still feel the connection to that Mary Richards archetype which, when boiled down further, suggests that to be “real,” women need to be unhappy.
You can’t, obviously, pin this just on Bendis. I was talking to my wife once about a “great idea” I had for a TV show, and she asked me why the lead female role needed to be so relentlessly miserable. I thought instantly of the “women in refrigerators” cliché, and how it seems any woman in any medium that seeks to have a less traditionally defined identity must do so by suffering. So when you watch Jessica mope around getting shit on or Deena get abducted or Wanda go crazy with the loss of her kids (this one is even closer to the roots of this sociologic nexus), you can’t help but think that what Bendis is doing is related.
Bendis reportedly gets a lot of his dialogue tics from actual observation, and it seems that the accuracy of his general portrayal of women may also be from watching them behave. Jinx seems to be the crucible of his female writing, where he was really doing the observation and trying to capture it on paper for the first time. It is interesting that probably his most realistic (and best) writing in this vein is the flashbacks to her teen years (something he also did in Alias, the spiritual sequel to Jinx), a time in which the brooding intensity of feelings bring male and female psychologies the closest they will ever be. Perhaps the reason writers put women through such pain is that their strongest identification of the feminine point of view may be from junior high and high school, when deep mental anguish is a way of life.
Anyway, in this interview, he claims that Deena (a character I think quite close to Jinx) is the closest character to his wife. As I said, I think most of his “strong” female characters are similar. The insight (such as it was) that I got from the article was that the reason Bendis’ women characters seem so real is that he is channeling his wife, with different aspects of her personality accented. This works particularly well for him because: 1. channeling is mostly how he works anyway (see dialogue), 2. his wife’s personality is somewhat more compatible with the male POV than average, and 3. due to the time periods involved with meeting his wife, and him taking his usable impressions of her, there are some specific events and some age related “pain” to draw on.
Thus, the reason the women feel the same is because they are reflections of the same person, and they seem more real because Bendis is close to his subject and knows how to channel character as well as language. Bendis’ tendency to channel this personal stuff directly into his stories (as well as high output) also explains why every title he has worked on in the past few years has also had a woman in a coma, with a male in anguish poised over her (as noted in TCJ).
I need to play catch up with TV soon, so my posts will probably skew that way next. See you sson.
* A lot of this boils down to a need for identification. Previous generations of male mass media writers may have been more comfortable understanding women in terms of roles or uses, but currently, they strive to identify with them (albeit in somewhat limited ways). At the low end of the totem pole is sexual identification – “bad girl” comics - attempting to delineate sexually aggressive creatures that want what the writer and presumed audience wants. John Byrne turned the early 90’s She Hulk revival into “I act like a guy, but look at how much I enjoy having female body parts” (something similar to National Lampoon’s “My Vagina” with, um, Wyatt Wingfoot). But indy relationship comics are not always that much better, often showing stabs at relating to stereotypical women, only to find connection with the girl that is basically indistinguishable from a guy. I’m picking on comics, but this is everywhere. One of the reasons I think I like Stephen King so much is he is the rare male writer that seems to know how to write female characters as people, not just story dressing.
Been busy, now I’m back. No excuses. Back to the grind.
I’ve grown a little behind on comics reading, but that’s mostly because I buy too much. Lots of good stuff recently, though. For example:
I’ve seen the latest issue of Street Angel (#5) compared to the first issue of Shaolin Cowboy a lot online, but to me it’s Shaolin Cowboy that reminds me of Street Angel. The reason? The second issue of Shaolin Cowboy showed a tonal shift from the first, with wide open puns and parody humor replacing the first issues action fantasmagoria. The only other recent title I can name that offers such an over the top grab bag with glaring shifts in tenor is, you guessed it, Street Angel. Both books also are insanely FUN, and leave me with a sense that the creators don’t really know where they are going (yet) but aren’t that worried about it as everyone just hangs on for the sake of the ride.
Good books recently have come from unexpected quarters. I’m enjoying Breach, the first issue of which I picked up as a lark, but which sucked me in the same way that the similarly (deceptively) low key Batgirl: Year One sucked me in a few years ago (the art actually bears some similarity as well). I haven’t heard jack squat about this title, however, and I can’t help but wonder if this is supposed to be, basically, Captain Atom: Year One (it kind of works this way). Likewise Legion of Superheroes surprised me. Now, I’m in to try any Legion title, but after an acclimation period (it took the third issue before the everything-silver-aged-is-new-again vibe really clicked into place for me), I’m really digging this.
Ultra is now over, and I was a little underwhelmed by the ending. Most of this is likely due to the minimalist rotascope-lite art, which was light and refreshing at the start, but degenerated as the series wore on (I don’t know if the art actually worsened, or whether my tolerance for seeing poorly drawn mouths simply dissipated), but I also found the story exceptionally meh in the last 2 issues. I couldn’t even arouse enough interest to figure out how the ending fit together with the prophesy in the first issue (by the way, they probably should have reminded us of the specifics of the what the fortune teller said at some point in this issue…it’s been awhile for us plebes shelling out for the singles). Don’t know if I’m following the creators to their next project (Girls) or not.
DC needs to declare a moratorium on crossovers in titles I get. War Games basically ruined the bat-titles I read (Catwoman – don’t get it anymore - and Robin – barely holding on due to my support the locals attitude about Bill Willingham), now flash has been utter crap for a half year thanks to useless Identity crisis tie ins and now some ridiculous Wonder Woman cross over. I also have a ruined issue of Wonder Woman to look forward to.
I reread Arkham Asylum and the script, all part of the 15th anniversary edition, or some such. I enjoyed the script in an ideas-flying-around watch-your head kind of way, but I can see why other writers laughed this off when it was first submitted. The whole affair seems kind of silly. If you want to dress the Joker like Madonna in the Open Your Heart video why do you need to link the resulting image to the tarot, kabbalah, and the i-effing-ching. The Joker dressed like Madonna is self-explanatory. And for a guy who claims how kids today can’t write Batman… crap! This is the least Batman-like Batman comic ever. This isn’t dark and brooding of sci-fi Batman. It’s I-need-my-mommy Batman. The word association scene is just laughable. The saving grace of the whole project is that the ideas are, ultimately, some fun, and the McKean art forcibly drowns the silliness and capriciousness under 3 feet of dream weirdness that makes things (kind of) work.
Well, this was just to climb back in the saddle and I’ll be thrilling you with additional posts shortly.