October 14, 2004

Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven; Nightwing: Rough Justice

Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven and Rough Justice (collecting Nightwing 1-8 and 9-18): Poor Dick. He must be the only superhero in history who became less cool when he got his own title. Seriously. What other superhero comic would devote a full issue early in its run to a surreal fantasy about the character's heroic and sexual inadequacy? You have to feel for an orphan left to imprint emotionally on Batman, and you have to adore a kid whose heart is so big that he outloves the Dark Knight's defenses, but sheesh. In these trades, he makes Smallville's Lana Lang look like a model of stoic self-sufficiency. Let Dick have a little dignity!

This run is a two-arc setup to introduce Dick's new Bludhaven home, job, friends, superhero beat, and did I mention the neuroses? It's your typical Chuck Dixon fare: pedestrian, sometimes awkward, usually readable but sadly lacking in grace notes. The action is...adequate. A lengthy mob arc is even more boring than these tend to be for me (I'm not even trying to keep up with War Games) because the mobsters are so new to us that the serial numbers haven't even been filed off yet. The rogues' gallery has a couple of dark horses, but is largely unimpressive. I can't believe this is the Blockbuster that's caused such uproar in the title of late; he seems like the worst sort of generically grim 90s-designed villain, who's...really SUPER big and punches SUPER hard. And the less said about "Lady Victims," the better. The art doesn't help much here. Dick looks fairly good (and loses the ponytail, thank God), but it's often quite difficult to work out what sort of acrobatics he just pulled off to escape that dangerous situation. More potentially interesting is the subplot with the block's own self-appointed vigilante, who makes Dick look like a model of mental stability. We've seen this before, but the byplay of the origin stories works for me.

Probably the most enjoyable aspect of these issues is the ongoing byplay with Oracle and the bonding with Tim. If you haven't completely lost your patience with Bruce, you'll also find the awkward way he and Dick come to an accommodation touching. (I go back and forth on this.) Dick really isn't meant to work solo; there's a reason he decided to settle in a city that would need him even more than Gotham did. Therefore, keeping him connected to the Gotham crew is important for reasons beyond sales, and it's also vital that he get a chance to shape the long-neglected Dick Grayson into a real live boy now that he's on his own. I think Dixon knows this and works hard, within the limits of his powers, to provide Dick with a milieu that will challenge him as a person as well as a superhero. It's a pity he doesn't really have the talent to take it farther. Dick is an odd character in an awkward place, and though he reaches something in a lot of comics readers, it takes a light touch to make him shine.

Posted by Sarah T. at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2004

Collateral (2004)

The genre of "thriller" is an awkward beast. It's usually applied to films just a little too cerebral or atmospheric to be labelled straightforward "action/adventure," but too violent or odd to be accepted as straightforward "drama." Good thrillers tend to be exciting, puzzling, suspenseful...but not necessarily possessing any deeper message worth thinking about once you're out of the theater. This isn't uniformly true, of course. The Third Man is biting political commentary and a painful exploration of the conflict between affection and duty; The Manchurian Candidate is as sweaty an evocation of paranoia as ever appeared on the big screen; The Silence of the Lambs wraps a feminist coming-of-age story so brilliantly in a serial-killer flick that Demme fooled the whole Academy. Still, the exceptions are few and far in between.

Michael Mann would like Collateral to be an exception. I do believe he thinks he's making points about connection and freedom here. He's not. There's nothing truly thought-provoking in this film. What there is to enjoy is a grainy, soft-edged portrait of LA, a "high concept" plot whose interest survives a few ill-chosen meanders and a conventional conclusion, some heartstoppingly-shot sequences of violence, and convincing turns by the lead actors (if not the lead actress). It's evocative and absorbing when you're watching it. It's worth watching again. But it'd be better still without Mann's occasionally labored pretensions. You'd think that with his resume he'd be over his genre anxiety.

Posted by Sarah T. at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

Henry James, Roderick Hudson

This is the first James novel, and I reread it largely because I wanted to remind myself of the history of Christina Light, the femme fatale of this book who is also the heroine of The Princess Casamassima, which I am presently trudging through.

This book is, to be frank, the See Jane Run edition of Doktor Faustus, which, if it treated of a theme that isn't terribly compelling to the modern mind (are art and morality fundamentally opposed?), at least had the good grace to lard it with some very abstruse footnotes and complex symbolism, sadly missing here. Well, Roderick Hudson is a first novel. It hasn't aged well (though it reads easily and clearly, not exactly a strong point for James later on). What can you expect, really?

The one interesting thought I had about this book is that the existence of present-day New York City would've utterly undone James. He might never have written a word. An American city, one of the greatest capital of the art world and of sophisticated debauchery? It would unstring his dichotomies and reduce his plots to rubble. Even in the latest novels, when American power is represented as far less crude, far more subtle, much more irresistible than at the start of his career (Adam Verver vs. the senior Touchett), James was never prepared to treat with New York City as the flower of Western civilization.

Posted by Sarah T. at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)