March 2006 Archives

of course, the primary ingredient is wax

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We got takeout tonight from Arabian Breeze, another Lebanese restaurant on NE Broadway owned by the same family that runs the divine Nicholas Restaurant. The idea of this one is that they serve the sort of food that Lebanese families cook at home; I don't know if that's true or not, but it's awfully good. The best thing, though, was dessert, the "family recipe layered custard": the menu billed it as involving chocolate, vanilla, "traditional sweet flavors" and honey. It was extraordinarily good--the other flavors I picked out seemed to be hints of rosewater and citrus peel--but something about it seemed oddly familiar. Lisa had some too, and said "Obviously this is made with fresh delicious ingredients, but--taste it again. Doesn't it remind you of a Tootsie Roll?"

I did. That's exactly what it reminded me of. A creamy, lighter-than-air Tootsie Roll. But now I have a little more insight into how Tootsie Rolls taste. (I'm always fascinated by this sort of thing--in The Man Who Ate Everything, I think, there's a chapter where the author interviews a couple of professional tasters, who explain that the flavors of Coke and Pepsi are vastly deeper and more complicated than the flavors of off-brand colas.)

gray rage in silver jars

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Warning: mainstream comics geekery ahead. Further warning: there's going to be even more of this sort of thing after 52 starts.

A day after reading the New Avengers: Illuminati special, I'm still not sure how to take it. It's a lead-in to Marvel's forthcoming "Civil War" crossover, and its function is to move a bunch of storm clouds into place, and to set up the crucial events that open the Civil War (helpfully previewed in a seven-page excerpt at the back of the book). I really enjoyed it on first reading, and there are things I love about it--for one thing, it's a very rare example of a "continuity implant" that doesn't seem like a dodge or a pasting-over of inconsistencies or something that will be instantly forgotten, and lets everyone stay in character. There's even a compelling reason we weren't told about it at the time, and "powerful men form secret cabal" is a reliably entertaining plot.

The idea, I suspect, was that Illuminati should feel like a videotape of some horrible governmental roundtable discussion of an impending conflict that it's too late to stop, and it sort of does. Tony Stark's summary of what he suspects is going to happen in the war is maybe a little too prescient as a presentation of "Civil War" plot points, but it's a smart piece of drama that he can see it all coming.

But the more I think about Illuminati, the shakier it seems. For one thing, what's up with Black Bolt not being able to communicate? He's a king--he has to be able to express what he's thinking somehow, even if he can't talk--and the idea that he would come to a meeting to whose discussion he could add nothing is very odd. And, in fact, not everybody is acting in character. T'Challa, as we understand him from Christopher Priest's run on Black Panther, is the guy who is always prepared for contingencies, and his first priority is Wakanda; he'll do whatever it takes to get the information to defend his country. That means that if anybody would join the star chamber, he would. The Iron Man vs. Namor slugfest feels shoehorned in to satisfy the "any superhero comic must have a fight scene" rule, too.

Really, though, my biggest problem with Illuminati is the "Planet Hulk" scene that kicks off its second act. The concept is that the Hulk's latest rampage has killed a whole lot of people, that this happens all the time, that (we're told third-hand) he wants to kill himself but is unable to, and that even under those conditions most of the Illuminati have been his friends and teammates for years--and only now have they decided that Something Must Be Done.

Well, the "Civil War" argument goes, sorry to wreck your cherished illusion, but did you really think the Hulk was supposed to be a fantasy about violence without real consequence? That every time he smashed up an identifiable landmark or a generic cityscape it'd be like the end of Scott McCloud's Destroy!!: "well, at least no one was hurt"? There's only one good counterargument to that: actually, yes, I did cherish that illusion.

It's the illusion, the let's-just-pretend, that's made the entire concept of the character viable beyond the short term. Wrecking it makes every creator and reader who's played along with that polite fiction for 40 years seem like a dupe or worse, and every character who's regarded him as an ally or even a necessary evil seem horrible. (How is Banner supposed to have become anyone's friend, anyway, under those circumstances?) The idea of the Hulk as a genuinely murderous force has been explored neatly before--in Mark Millar's Ultimates, whose vibe seems to be bleeding over into Illuminati. I'd hoped that "Civil War" would have a different tone, but the advance taste of it here makes me fear that it'll be more of the grim same.

Even so, I like the (relative) understatement of Spider-Man killing Norman Osborn being described as "doing what he has to do." If there's one thing that defines Spider-Man's character, it's his obsession with understanding and acting on the idea of what he has to do, or ought to do; I hope some of that discussion makes it into "Civil War" proper.

Countdown to the first time some writer who doesn't quite get it has a character refer to the Xavier/Black Bolt/Tony Stark/Namor/Dr. Strange/Reed Richards ensemble as "The Illuminati": I say seven months.

rainy day projects #12 and 35

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Forgot to mention: I had a little squib about the Dylan Pool in this past Sunday's NY Times Arts & Leisure section. And the pool is now open for the forthcoming tour... sadly, he doesn't seem to be coming anywhere near the Pacific Northwest this time.

I'm very fond of the Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers book, which has a lot of tasty and nutritious recipes that involve stuff that comes in cans. A handful of them involve canned chipotles in adobo sauce, which was a new ingredient to me until recently and is now near the top of my prefab-ingredient hit parade. Unfortunately, the old tomato-paste problem (it comes in cans; one recipe never uses an entire can; it goes bad quickly) is the new chipotles-in-adobo problem. I made four or five different recipes this past week that involved a couple of teaspoons or a tablespoon of the stuff, but finally, nervously, discarded the still-half-full and rather small can today. I've now discovered the glories of tomato paste in a tube (it doesn't go bad!), but I don't think the same can be done for chipotles-in-adobo--too many chunky bits.

The preview for DCU: Brave New World went live today, and... honestly, all six features look pretty dire. I also note with some resignation that, conceptual tweaks etc. aside, the newest of the six concepts is OMAC, which has been around for 30 years.

fiction & autobiography

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Dylan Meconis is very good at both. Here's the beginning of her new serialized graphic novel Family Man; here is one of those posts that make LiveJournal worthwhile.

Highlight of my day today: a 75-minute phone interview with Alan Moore. My head is still sort of spinning.

Karaoke notes: "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" sung in a kind of sub-sub-Philippe Wynne falsetto was not a bad idea at all. (I had earlier blown out the upper end of my regular voice with "Common People.") But then Jen the KJ came on and smashed a large ragged hole through the back wall of the club by way of Gladys Knight's "If I Were Your Woman," and we were all put in our places.

the pretty flames that bridges make

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It's been a week of unexpected farewells to things I'd rather not have said goodbye to--nothing heartbreaking to lose, just one small wave from the dock after another. Hence the absence of posting. I assume things are going to pick up some during the summer; I'm even thinking about 52-blogging.

Really, the thing I've kept going back to this week is the fourth and final issue of Bulleteer. It's probably tied with Zatanna as my favorite of the Seven Soldiers titles, which is saying something (Jog has had some very interesting things to say about the series, too). A few things I've noticed:

*As more than a few people have mentioned, there's a serious problem with the art: Sally is supposed to look like she's 16 years old, and doesn't, which misses the whole point of the story. (She even appeared in Zatanna #1, convincingly looking younger and saying "I'm 75 years old and I can't get served in a bloody bar!") The point, of course, is that superhero comics have been trying to "grow up" for decades and haven't, because they (or rather the people who produce and consume them) are unclear on what "growing up" would mean... because "mature," in mainstream comics terms, means bullets and headlights, winks and teases, cunningly placed wisps of smoke.

*The first, second and fourth issues of all the SS comics have parallel cover designs; the fourth ones are all images of the protagonists escaping from their context in one way or another (even the fourth Mister Miracle is him pulling the old empty tomb trick). Alix's pose on the cover of Bulleteer #4 is of course a cheesecake shot, but it's a sort of foreshortened/fisheye image: she wants to get out of the picture plane, but she also wants to get out of the comic book that her life has become.

*We never see the back of Sally's neck, but we do see her reaching back to touch it a few times... and it can't just be to strike a pose, can it?

Unrelatedly: The final Smallmouth column for the moment. And thank you, Laura, for the link to this fantastic, not especially safe-for-work webcomic, which I can't believe I didn't see any time in the last five years; if you're going to read it, you're going to need 45 minutes or so.

which one's the pink rosebud? and one more

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...this time, a short piece in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section about the Television Personalities.

If you were in Portland last night and missed Charming Hostess's performance at a lovely hardwood yurt behind somebody's house in Northeast, you totally missed out: one of the nicest audience/performer vibes I've felt in ages, songs from Sarajevo Blues and Trilectic, a nicely choreographed cover of "Spoonful," and an encore that was announced as "a very sad Romanian song" and turned out to be the Velvelettes' "Needle in a Haystack." Also, more music venues should have trays of little snacks.

Weird used-vinyl find of the day: a 1977 12-inch disco single by Rosebud, "Have a Cigar"/"Money," on Warner Bros. A little searching revealed that Rosebud released an entire LP, Discoballs, of Pink Floyd covers. The single, on which the lyric of "Have a Cigar" is reduced to its opening line, up through "they're gonna love you," and repeated about a million times, makes them sound like pretty anonymous Eurodisco types. (And the album's cover--naked, grumpy-looking woman wrapped in a few coils of red fabric and holding a red-vinyl LP in classical discus-throwing pose--does the same.) But somehow an anonymous Eurodisco version of "Interstellar Overdrive" still seems like a really good idea. Can somebody either confirm or disabuse me of this notion before I actually spend time/money tracking down a copy?

Actually, they do get points for having the entire final 90 seconds of their "Money" be the anonymous discoettes repeating "goody-goody-goody bullshit." Still not as good as the Galactic Symposium's version, though.

See, the original idea I was considering pitching for this year's Experience Music Project conference was "extreme European disco"--Alec R. Costandinos and his ilk. If I'd done that, I'd have had to have tracked down Rosebud's record already. Fortunately, instead I'm going to be talking on April 30 about the Numa Numa Dance. This is gonna be fun, I think.

a few more pieces

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An article about Matt Madden's 99 Ways to Tell a Story. I have no idea what "an Oulipo of faith" is supposed to mean, although I wonder if there are, you know, avant-garde theologians who've come up with Oufapo.

My next-to-last Smallmouth column for Seattle Weekly, about the new Richard Thompson box.

powder the path, cross the path

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Static equals no blogging, and I know I should be updating the sidebar too--here's a piece about the Belle & Sebastian comics anthology, and a few more things are coming shortly. Took a day trip up to Olympia yesterday to talk to a class at Evergreen; since they're all learning to play the ukulele, those foolish enough to stick around after it was over heard me play them "Oops! I Did It Again." Fortunately, nobody in the class asked me a question as tough as my favorite question one of Sarah Dougher's students asked me a while ago: "are you part of the old-boy network?"

Really, though, it's been Me Vs. Entropy lately. Like the ant in "The Grasshopper and the Ant," I am working diligently toward stuff I hope will be useful in the future. Like the ant in Harvey Kurtzman's version of "The Grasshopper and the Ant," I am not entirely sure what the grains I am packing away actually are.