Monday, January 24, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight

The 40-issue run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight published its final issue last Wednesday, which incidentally was also Buffy's 30th birthday.  The "season" lasted more than 4 years, and had some serious ups and downs. It certainly doesn't command the same feelings as the television show did for me, but there were definitely some things I enjoyed.  Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:

...The format is simply not as emotional to me as the show.  I just can't get as engrossed by each issue as I was by every episode.  Plus, at best there is a month between issues, during which plot details seep from my mind.  Just as I get into the story, the issue is over.  And while the writers do a pretty bang-up job writing Spike and Faith, some of the other characters (especially Angel) just don't sound quite right.  The change in medium removed the concept of budget constraints from the production, but it came with a pretty major set of drawbacks.

...Further riffing on the above, one of our core group of friends gets killed.  I can't even imagine how it would destroy me in the show.  In the comics, while I was left feeling a bit surprised that Joss would go there, that was about it - I was totally dry-eyed. 

...According to the letter from Joss that was included with the final issue, part of the mission of Season 8 was to take the optimism and empowerment that concludes Season 7, and reconcile it to the hopeless dystopia of the Fray world.  They nailed this.  At the end of Season 8, Buffy is back to slaying vampires, patrolling, nursing her broken heart.  These are the things we love her to do.  The army of slayers is broken apart and no more will be called; magick (at least in the form we understand) is ended; the Fray world can now be plausible.  Plus Willow is completely depressed, Xander and Dawn have gone domestic (which I totally think works, and think the groundwork was laid in the Season 7 episode "Chosen"), Faith has all of Giles' stuff (plus the mission of rehabilitating Angel), Spike is still on his insect-crewed spaceship and mooning over Buffy... the stage is set for adventures just the way we want them.

...I loved seeing Oz again. 

...I'm glad Kennedy is out the door.

...I thought that the "Riley" one-shot was one of the best issues of the entire season (and it's not even one of the sequential 40).  We got to see Riley (for whom I have no love) interact in the only way that was flattering to him during the series - with his badass wife.  They basically talked about why he needed to help Buffy, and it was powerful.  It did a great job of encapsulating this incredible character from the point of view of another person.  Plus, the explanation of how Angel became Twilight made some sense. 

...That said, I'm still having trouble with the "Angel is Twilight" thing, as well as the space-banging causing the apocalypse.  Angel has been the bad guy before - Angelus was pretty freaking bad - and I'm not sure I want to sit through another character rehab.  If anything, it might make him even broodier.  And really, who needs that?

So all in all, I would call the Buffy comics a success, but not a definitive one.  It had some problems.  But I liked seeing the Scoobies have new adventures, and I will read the new ones brought to me in Season Nine. At this point, I'm way to comfortable in a comic book shop to bail out now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Combustible prickle pile

Every year we say our Christmas tree is the best ever.  Though I think this year may have topped the prior best, I can definitely say it topped the longest tree we've ever had.  Yesterday I finally had the chance to take down the tree, pack up Christmas and regain 30% of my living room.  I can't believe how well it held its needles, but it had to have been a serious fire hazard the last week or two.

It was a pretty one, and this holiday season was wonderful, but do you see that mountain of toys to the left?  Now that the tree is gone, our toy collection will have the space to breathe and grow and reach it's potential. 

P.S. My house isn't crooked, but apparently my blackberry camera alignment was a bit off kilter.

P.P.S. You should totally see The Fighter.  I love me some Marky Mark, but Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo deliver amazing performances as a crack-head, a kinda trashy but good-hearted hometown girlfriend and a crazy bitch mom, respectively. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and his imagination and storytelling are virtually unparalleled.  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of 24 short stories that span a quarter century of Murakami's career, the first being written in 1980 and the last couple in 2005.  It's a superior collection of stories, and several are among the best I have ever read. 

At his best, Murakami's work ranges from touching to horrifying, scary to surreal.  His short stories are no different.  "Tony Takitani" is an insightful exploration of love and grief, while the next one, "The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes," is extremely strange and creepy.  "A Shinagawa Monkey" is about a criminal, well, monkey.  Whether his characters are in the mundane everyday of their lives, discovering their sexuality or experiencing an unexplained year of nausea, Murakami understands exactly what they are feeling, and he is a master at expressing it all to the reader.

I have two small criticisms, if they can even be characterized as such.  Many of these stories (as well as Murakami's novels) are told in the first person.  He is one of the few authors I've ever read who can pull that off.  But the problem with a whole collection of stories in the first person is that it is tough to read two of them back to back without getting a little confused.  That being said, stories aren't necessarily meant to be read marathon-style, so it isn't really a major issue.  And all in all, I prefer Murakami's novels.  They display the same incredible skill at making bizarre situations and people seem real, while involving more layers of complexity than any single story can get into.  I'd recommend this collection without hesitation, though, for anyone looking to read short stories.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

License to kill

Saturday's horrible, violent crime in Arizona that left six people dead and more critically wounded is an affront to all of us.  As a parent, I cried when I read about the nine-year-old girl who was killed.  As a voter I was upset that a politician was gunned down by a member of the electorate.  As a supporter of our free judiciary I mourned the loss of a federal judge.  People have jumped at the opportunity to politicize the event, but while Sarah Palin's bullseye map was irresponsible and tasteless, it was not the cause of the killings.

In my view, there were steps that could have been taken to prevent this horror, or at least to control the damage.  The semi-automatic assault weapon that Loughner used was legally obtained, and legally brought to the public event.  This highlights several egregious gaps in gun laws, all of which have been vigorously defended - successfully, thus far - by the NRA. 

First and foremost, assault weapons have no place in a civilized society.  They have one purpose only, and that is to kill people as quickly and efficiently as possible.  While that has military or police applicability, there is no sane reading of the second amendment that would lead us to put those weapons into civilian hands.  I have no problem with people hunting, and I know how to handle and shoot guns myself.  I even support people's right to own guns for self-defense, though I think the odds of a gun being successfully used to that end are extremely long.  But a Glock serves neither purpose.  It's not a hunting weapon, and it's not a self-defense weapon.  It's a gun that is made to kill people.  And there is no justifiable reason for an average person to be able to own one.

Secondly, it is asinine to allow people to carry concealed weapons.  And without a permit!... National parks, bars and restaurants, public events, schools, the workplace... these are places that should not allow weapons period, and the allowance of concealed weapons deprives those of us who would not elect to be around guns of our ability to make that decision.  Private establishments need to be able to prohibit weapons.  And people who own guns need to respect that their weapons are simply not welcome everywhere.  The allowance of concealed weapons undermines that very concept.

Third, the extended magazine on the Glock that was used in Saturday's crime was one that was banned under the assault weapons law that expired in 2004.  If our lawmakers had had the backbone to stand against the NRA's resistance of that law's renewal, fewer rounds would have gotten off and fewer people would have been hurt and killed.  Again, this extended magazine serves no purpose other than to kill people quickly, and has no legitimate purpose on the streets.  A full ban (not just against its manufacture, but against its possession) needs to be enacted post haste.

And finally, the purchase of a weapon should be subject to a reasonable background check, which can't be circumvented by trade shows or other methods.  The U.S. Army rejected Loughner's attempt to carry a Glock in defense of our nation.  There were also repeated indications of his being an unstable young man.  Why, then, would this nation put that very gun into his hands? 

The NRA resists any gun laws under the assumption that regulation and limitation is a slippery slope that leads to the erosion of our constitutionally-granted rights.  But weapons that have no purpose other than to kill people, and concealed weapons generally, have no place in society.  And a society that puts guns into the hands of those the military has rejected is making some pretty terrible choices.  These are not "slippery slope" issues - they are the concerns of a civilized, democratic society.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

As She Climbed Across the Table

The premise of Jonathan Lethem's 1997 novel As She Climbed Across the Table is pretty interesting, in an uber-dorky, science-geek kind of a way.  Alice Coombs and her fellow physicists at the fictional Beauchamp University create a space/time anomaly.  It's a complete nothingness in itself, though it may be the portal to an alternate universe (or universes).  This Lack begins to display signs of being, signs that it perhaps has a achieved a level of consciousness, even an intelligence.  He absorbs a pomegranate, ball bearings, a domesticated cat named B-84; he rejects a bow tie, a lens cap, chocolate cake.  And Lack rejects Alice, who has fallen in love with him.

Phillip Engstrand, Alice's live-in boyfriend until Lack's creation, is a fellow professor at Beauchamp.  The novel follows his comical coming-to-terms with Alice's new obsession.  He's been displaced by a nothing, he does not understand why, and he is determined to get Alice back.  Minor characters (the blind men Evan and Garth, other physicists at the university, the beautiful therapist Cynthia Jalter) are well rounded and generally amusing.  But nothing in the plot is compelling enough for me to feel anything but disappointed in this book.  It's OK, but not great.  Letham has written great books; read Girl in Landscape or Motherless Brooklyn instead.

Next up: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood