Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Proboscises And Overuse Of The Word “Woo”

I read Cyrano de Bergerac for the first time today. Not in the original French, but that’s not the point. Blew me away. Whatever else he may have written, Edmond Rostand has rightfully earned his place in literature. Cyrano is larger than life, the page and probably even the stage. A hero of epic proportions and outlandish deeds, a man who faces down 100 men with only his sword. A poet, philosopher and warrior but one cursed with an outlandish nose. A dreamer with a wit even sharper than his sword.

The other characters are just sort of there. Mostly they are obstacles for Cyrano, creatures that don’t exist on the same level as he, and who can’t fully understand him. Early in the play, he’s asked why he gave away all of his wages to stop a play, leaving him broke for the rest of the month. The friend, Le Bret, tells him “What a fool!” Cyrano responds “But-What a gesture!” Cyrano’s actions are not those of a fool, but the deliberate actions of a poet, and it is far more poetical to woo the love of his life on behalf of someone else than to never woo her at all.

Cyrano’s love for Roxane is heartbreakingly painful, but so poetical that it transcends mere pain and becomes this thing of exquisite altruism. That Roxane remains oblivious to Cyrano’s love until his death only compounds the sweet pain of it. Its like the Blues in that regard. Misery upon misery is heaped up until the dam finally bursts and by that point its too late for Cyrano and Roxane, but the audience leaves with both a sense of “well at least my life’s not so bad,” but also a longing. A longing to love that deeply, to have a Roxane to fight a hundred men for or a Cyrano to be wooed by under a balcony.

For some, Cyrano’s deeds strike close to home, and so do the consequences. To live poetically is difficult, yet oh so heroic. To woo beneath a window and a bursting, round moon and fail. To walk alone at midnight along empty streets searching for that perfect word to say. To sit on a rooftop begging the stars to finally give them that one chance. To know that failure is honorable as long as it is glorious. Most can’t handle that kind of life. Admittedly it is a little bizarre, not to mention lonely and often painful, but its like the biting wind of winter; the pain reminds that you’re alive, and it sweetens the victories. A Romantic like that, being so placed in a universe where every object, gesture and word has meaning, can’t believe that there is any other way to live that does not ring hollow.

At least, that’s how I see it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spider-Man Is The New Black

So Spidey 3 finally hit. Saw it opening night with my posse. Good times. Liked it. If you somehow happen to be one of the few hermits out there who didn’t take part in the “breaking of all box office records” or perhaps a misguided youth who threw money away on a Jon Heder/Will Ferrell Movie.

What’d I think? It was a ride. A damn exciting ride that manages to keep its numerous plot threads from crashing down most of the time. The cast were all excellent, even Topher Grace (I hated “That ‘70s Show” very much).

Though I did have a small problem with the movie. The foreshadowing was incredibly thick. I found myself successfully predicting a lot of the big moments of the movie as though I was a soothsayer. It wasn’t bad storytelling, just incredibly obvious storytelling. Which I suppose is all right, since Spidey is something of a modern Morality Play. Responsibility. Vengeance. Doing what’s right. Not being an assface to the people that care about you.

And assface Peter Parker does become. See, he’s riding high at the beginning of the movie. He’s saved the city and popular with the masses. His girlfriend’s in a Broadway play. His best friend wants him dead. …Okay, maybe its not all wine and roses, but nothing he can’t handle and it seems like everything revolves around Spider-Man in a good way. Of course, he gets so wrapped up in all the good stuff happening to him that he completely and painfully fails to see the problems that Mary Jane is having (and Kirsten Dunst puts in her best performance of the 3 movies). Then he finds out that the guy who killed Uncle Ben wasn’t who we thought it was. It was a guy named Flint Marko, who’s conveniently just escaped from prison and been turned into the shape shifting Sandman (because that’s what happens when you get caught in a late night particle accelerator experiment) THEN an alien life symbiote from SPAAAAAACE lands and bonds with Peter, giving him the black costume.

After that, the movie can pretty much be subtitled “Peter Parker: Douchebag.” He goes from confident to cocky to arrogant bastard. Sure, he comes to his senses and ditches the symbiote, but not before a LOT of damage is done (like being completely responsible for the creation of Venom)

The scenes where you really see Peter acting like a total ass are both incredibly painful but also totally necessary. Its what happens when a character’s who’s whole tagline is responsibility gets irresponsible. And yeah, Peter gets so emo, it hurts. He pretty much deserves every beating he gets in the movie after the getting the symbiote.

See this movie, if for no other reason than Bruce F’in Campbell.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NOT the E-2 Aircraft, University of Iowa Mascot or Alan Alda

Its rather nice seeing comic book culture coming up from the underground these days. I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that the 20-30 somethings rising to prominence in entertainment were all part of that “Saturday Morning Cartoon” set that grew up in the 80s. And now that this precious 18-35 demographic is graduating college and gaining disposable income, they’re spending it on what they want to see, which seems to be revivals of the stuff they grew up on (see Transformers).

Next weekend, Spider-Man 3 cometh to theaters nationwide. Spidey’s been an icon for decades now, and (next to Wolverine & Captain America) the public “face” of Marvel Comics (like Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman over at DC). Marvel’s usually done right by Spidey (we WILL NOT mention the Clone Saga) and he’s had numerous TV series and crossovers and the character himself is just so damn likable that he’s rightfully cemented himself as a top character.

But he’s not my favorite. Neither is Wolverine (who, while a badass when he’s done right, is just WAY too overexposed that its become a cliché), nor Superman or Batman. Not even Captain America, even though I’ve got nothing but love for the character. Deadpool comes real close, but no, top honors go to Clinton Francis Barton!

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Pirate Boots! PIRATE BOOTS!

“Who,” you ask? The simple version is that Clint Barton was a trickshooting carney who wanted to do some good but ended up on the wrong side of the law and fought Iron Man a couple times before reforming and joining the Avengers (you can look up the longer version if you like, but it might make your head explode). Since then he’s been the quintessential Avenger, spitting in the face of danger, mouthing off to anybody (even his mentor, Captain America) and saving the world at the last minute with nothing but an arrow. No armored suit, no powers of a god, just an everyman with top level hand-eye coordination. He doesn’t even have the super soldier serum that Cap was injected with. Since the ‘60s, Clint’s probably quit the Avengers more times than anybody else, but he’s always come back, more times than anybody else. In the 90s, he even took over leadership of a team called the Thunderbolts (who were former b-level villains who masqueraded as heroes in order to conquer the world, but found out they actually liked being heroes and tried to reform legitimately) before coming back to the Avengers again only to get himself blown up in the incoherent “Avengers Disassembled.” I was sad when it happened, and more than a little pissed since it was at a time when I was just getting back into comics in college and Hawkeye was one of the main reasons I wanted to start reading again (The other reasons being Firestorm I, Blue Beetle II and Booster Gold, who all met grisly fates over at DC. Booster got better, and the new Firestorm is actually a pretty cool character, but I still haven’t forgiven DC for putting a bullet into Blue Beetle’s head)

Unlike a lot of kids, I wasn’t all that into Spider-Man and the X-Men. I was an Avengers fan, and trolled yard sales looking for old comic books, mostly for books that had Hawkeye on the cover. I even took up archer in late elementary school, not because I wanted to be like Robin Hood or even Green Arrow, but I wanted to be like Hawkeye. And that’s the thing really, Hawkeye resonated with me. Here was a guy who came up from humble beginnings, was kind of an outsider, wasn’t the smartest guy in the world but wasn’t stupid by any means, respected talent and merit more than reputation, wasn’t afraid of making stupid mistakes, and hid his insecurities (and boy howdy did the thought bubbles cover the panels when he was thinking) behind a big ol’ grin and a gaudy purple costume and a pair of pirate boots. I identified with all of that and still do. Even the pirate boots.

About a year or so after “Disassembled,” Marvel launched “House of M,” a big crossover about a reality warp by the now crazy Scarlet Witch (She’s a mutant and a longtime Avenger before going loopy in Disassembled and has WAY more confusing backstory). Anyway, thanks to her, Mutants are the dominant power in the world and her negligent daddy, Magneto, is basically king of the world (I probably should’ve mentioned the Magneto thing earlier). Anyway, it was an interesting idea but kind of fell flat as a miniseries, but it did do one thing, it brought Hawkeye back to life, who shot a bunch of arrows into Wolverine, sulked a lot when he found out he was supposed to be dead, then was killed again by Scarlet Witch.

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A LOT of arrows

BUT THEN…when the whole shebang ends and Scarlet Witch reverts everything back to the proper reality (albeit with a lot fewer mutants around), there’s evidence that our boy Clint is back among the living. Again. Fast forward to 2006. Aside from Civil War, it turns out that Clint has indeed come back to the land of the upright and has a lot of questions he’d like to ask the woman who was once his friend and killed him twice. He tracks down Scarlet Witch to the totally fictional Eastern European country of Wundagore and finds out she’s depowered herself and has no memories of anything to do with the Avengers or superhero stuff. Then they shag, since he stopped a street urchin from mugging her and has been harboring a huge crush on her for 30 years or so (consider that in that time she married a synthezoid/robot-man and sort of had kids with him, and Hawkeye himself bounced from failed relationship to failed relationship until he married a woman who later died while saving him in a hell-like dimension and her soul is still technically trapped there, I think. Continuity is not easy.)

Anyway, aside from a couple of mini-series, the best place to find Hawkeye stories are in any of the older Avengers or Avengers West Coast titles. Inside Avengers circles, Hawkeye is easily one of the top five most popular, so he’s been around for a lot of their big storylines. The Essential Avengers volumes are a pretty affordable place to start looking (albeit without color)

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This about sums him up. He single-handedly takes down Deathbird, a villain the X-Men routinely have trouble with, then plants a big wet one on her. Because it was funny.