I’m not sure whether I severely misperceived Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life before reading it or the book was just marketed in a way that highlighted certain parts of the book over others, but Ulli Lust’s comic memoir was much different—and more powerful—than I expected. What I had understood to be a document of the ’80s Austrian punk scene is more of a travelogue, and not merely a travelogue but also a narrative about the treatment of female bodies. Lust recalls her teenage travels through Italy, a time in which she is leered at, fought over, and abused. She is an agile cartoonist, and the many negotiations and close calls of Lust’s stay in Italy really come alive. Surprising, and surprisingly fun, even with its heavy content.
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Speaking of perception issues: Miracleman is one of the works Alan Moore wrote in years leading up to Watchmen, and Moore’s Miracleman stories have a substantial cult in their own right—many conversations about superhero genre subversion start with these comics. And fair enough! There’s a lot of genre subversion to be found in the Dream of Flying collection. But man oh man, there’s a lot of purple prose too. Staggeringly pretentious prose—lines that Chris Claremont would’ve thought twice about. A couple years ago, when I first read Miracleman, Moore’s caption writing didn’t make much of an impression on me. This time around, it overwhelmed my reading of these stories. I don’t know if Moore matured drastically as a writer in the years between Miracleman and Watchmen or if he was under more editorial scrutiny or both, but yeesh, this is rough stuff on some pages.
This is still a great cover, though:
- I’ll admit I came into this book wondering how much A Man Called Destruction could tell me about Alex Chilton that I didn’t already know. The answer: quite a lot! A steady stream of fascinating anecdotes here—including a couple about the Manson Family—and a serving of humble pie for Greg!
- A Man Called Destruction also caused me to wonder about the duties of the biographer. George-Warren presents certain topics/events with an absolute minimum of editorializing, which is commendable, and yet these events are made more conspicuous in the text for George-Warren’s lack of comment. Alex Chilton the deadbeat dad, Alex Chilton the physically abusive boyfriend—the wrongness of some of Chilton’s actions throughout his life is so obvious that any moralizing might read as trite, and too much explanation might read as a defense of some pretty gross behavior. Perhaps George-Warren’s light (some might say hasty) touch in scenes of Chilton at his worst is the most sensible approach. (If a reader interprets George-Warren’s refusal to editorialize as an endorsement of Chilton’s behavior, that’s on the reader.) Even so, the relationship in some of these passages between the written word and the actions those words depicted left me unsettled.
- More plainly a problem: in the pursuit of a happy ending, George-Warren flat-out refuses to acknowledge that the Big Star reunion album of the ’00s, In Space, was received as a failure by pretty much everybody. Chilton shifted between the roles of musical genius and disappointment artist, and by not engaging with the last great disappointment of Chilton’s career, George-Warren lets the reader down.
- Elsewhere, though, George-Warren is a heck of a music writer. The book includes a lot of talk about the studio and what takes place in it, the kind of writing that I expect will resonate more strongly with musicians than it did with me—and yet the book never lost me in these scenes either. What Chilton could do and the effect Chilton had on music listeners are similar but different things, and George-Warren knows how to balance them.
- Snowpiercer achieves a kind of balance that auteur-on-genre movies rarely do. The story starts quickly, and viewers get the information they need to follow along in a pretty economical manner, and yet Bong Joon-ho finds lots of room for memorable, unforced weirdness. At a two hour running time, it’s a reasonably lean movie too—I can’t imagine what Harvey Weinstein wanted to cut.
- Tilda Swinton kills it. Her performance is of the variety that deserves an Oscar nomination but usually never receives one, but then again she already took home one statue for Michael Clayton and anyway, WHO NEEDS ‘EM TILDA??
- Like The Raid, one of the other most notable action films of recent years, the story follows a sort of video game logic: characters move from one level to another, encountering greater adversity along the way. Some people will probably find reason to complain about this, but in a figurative sense, it’s what happens in most stories, and at least in Snowpiercer we get a lot of striking changes of scenery.
- A person could cite Snowpiercer's diverse cast as one of the film's strong points, and another person could criticize the film for still casting a square-jawed, blue-eye white dude as a film's lead, and they would both have fair points. But Chris Evans plays the role he has been given well. His Curtis is a recognizably different person from his Steve Rogers, and Evans does not look out of place while interacting with an actor like Swinton or John Hurt.
- As a tale of violent class revolution, Snowpiercer feels at once relevant and a little quaint. With income inequality not going away, some of the film’s scenes of revolt are cathartic (although Bong Joon-ho wisely introduces hints of ambivalence on occasion). And yet I have to believe that a more effective allegory for twenty-first century struggles would have examined the ways in which people give up their freedoms—something about Snowpiercer's near-future dictatorship plays as very twentieth century. Chris Evans's other summer action movie, the sequel to Captain America, has more to say about the twenty-first century exchange of privacy for comfort. Then again, Snowpiercer boasts a visual wit and willful strangeness that The Winter Soldier, doesn’t quite have, and these, really, are the reasons to go.
"One wonder of “Nathan for You” is that such sophomoric premises can take richly unexpected turns. In Fielder’s favorite Season 1 episode, he got a Burbank gas-station proprietor to charge just $1.75 a gallon, but only for customers who climbed to the top of a distant mountain, answered a series of riddles and deposited a rebate form into a drop box hidden in the brush. On the day of shooting, about a half-dozen customers agreed to this challenge, so Fielder piled them into a van and brought along tents and a guitar for campfire songs: The episode morphed into an improbably touching travelogue about lonely people, Fielder included, with an excess of time and patience."
— The New York Times Magazine on Nathan for You. Cannot wait for season two.
I dunno man. Left me cold!
I reviewed the first volume of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky:
The world literally stops for Suzie and Jon when either of them has an orgasm. These characters can temporarily move around while everything around them remains frozen in time. In One Weird Trick, the two find each other. Not long after Suzie and Jon hook up, the couple decides to rob banks during this post-orgasm “Quiet” time. But even before the robbery scenes, Fraction and Zdarsky use their conceit to examine the different roles sex plays in the lives of ordinary people. In the story’s first installment, Suzie tells readers how alone she used to feel when the rest of the world froze—a sideways depiction of the failure of sex alone to complete a person. And an anecdote in which Jon describes his orgasm-power learning curve reads like a true account of puberty writ large. Even if genre comics have used the emergence of superpowers as a stand-in for adolescence since 1962 or so, the mix of excitement and confusion in these scenes is recognizable and vivid.
For much of One Weird Trick, Suzie acts as a guide to the reader, relaying the story’s events in the first person. If the comic’s overarching metaphor is strong, the line-by-line narration of Sex Criminals is the book at its weakest. Although Suzie isn’t likely to wind up in Avengers Tower before Sex Criminals ends, her narration resembles the self-conscious quippiness of Fraction comics like Marvel’s Hawkeye. In lines like the following, Fraction writes Suzie as if she’s fiction’s first self-aware narrator: “That [question] was rhetorical. You don’t need to answer. We couldn’t hear you anyway, this is a book and you are a person and that’s not how it works.” This performed cleverness is a feature of Fraction’s writing across his body of work, and here as in elsewhere, it distracts from the actually clever moments throughout the story.