Hamsterdam and the gooey kablooie

You have to admire Stringer Bell’s attempts to de-thuggify the Baltimore drug trade. His endeavours to get his business away from the drive-by shootings and everyday violence is one thing; his sweet, endearing (not words easily used when it comes to The Wire, except for everyone’s favourite addict Bubbles) meeting rules are something else altogether. It wouldn’t feel more strange to have these dealers and “soldiers” in the drug war speaking in Jane Austenese.

Season 3 of The Wire once more is among the best TV there is. It’s smart, impeccably crafted and unexpectedly funny. (A shout-out has to go to “My dawg…”.) I’m also finding it less affecting than the second season, though. Is it that the stevedores represented by Frank Sobotka had more pathos? Frank’s final episode nearly had me in tears. Or is it that I, in spite of my impeccable bleeding heart credentials, can relate better to pudgy, corrupt white guys with receding hairlines than to black hoppers slinging red tops and getting hot and bothered about semi-automatics.

There’s more than enough here to get to the viewer, though: Cutty’s attempts to get back into the game after 17 years in prison, or Bunny Colvin’s subversive social experiment born out of a frustration with the shambles and hypocrisy of the war on drugs and a wish to do something, however radical, that might actually break the stalemate and help.

And on that happy note I’d like to thank Amazon for its special offers. (No, I don’t get paid for this. I should, though!) Thanks to them, seasons 4 and 5 of The Wire are on the way and I don’t even feel too guilty about spending the money. I’m slowly running out of interesting HBO series, though… so in one, two years’ time I’ll either be reduced to Sex and the City – or it’s back to Six Feet Under. In which case I might as well rename this blog “Fisher & Sons”.

Always running… from something!

Avid readers of this blog may have noticed that I’m fairly keen on Messrs. Vaughn and Whedon’s work in comics… so when Joss Whedon was set to write the next series of Runaways, I was excited. Both writers have similar strengths; their writing is witty, they create ensemble casts of characters that gel extremely well, and they tell a good story while providing more than enough ambiguity to keep things interesting beyond the plot.

I recently re-read Vaughn’s original three Runaways volumes and apart from a couple of minor issues (such as the slightly inconsistent quality of the artwork – there’s some gorgeous work there, but some panels and some of the inking feel rushed) I greatly enjoyed it. Coming away from Whedon’s run with the kids, however, has left me somewhat disappointed. When he’s at his best, Whedon is a fantastic storyteller, getting you involved way more than I would have expected from stories about teen vampire slayers or space cowboys. He’s not infallible, though; his first Serenity comic, while not abysmal, was in no way as memorable as the TV series, for instance.

And now, Dead End Kids: my first and main thought throughout was, “I wonder what Brian K. Vaughn would have made out of the material.” Again, Whedon’s writing isn’t bad, but there’s little of the sense of surprise or freshness that Vaughn’s stories had. The kids feel ever so slightly less real and more like comic book teens. (And don’t think you can worm your way into my heart by introducing a new regular character that comes from where I live, insiduous comic!) The art is absolutely fine, but it lacks the quirk of Alphona’s best panels. And the time travel gimmick, while fun, also comes across as a tad overused. In that respect, the story feels a bit as if Joss Whedon had written an episode of Star Trek.

Nevertheless, there are moments when Whedon’s talent shows. Even if the time travel plot is a tad overdone, its denouement is more poignant than I would have expected. There are some interesting hints at the direction in which especially one character might develop, with a daringly cruel punishment for two of the story’s villains. And there’s a couple of pages ending in the death of a minor (or should I say “small”?) character that had me giggle and go “Yewwww!” at the same time.

Was it worth getting the comic? Yes. Was it as good as the other volumes? That’s a definite no. In any case, I’m very much looking forward to Vaughn’s use of Whedon’s characters now. If I’m lucky, the first two volumes of Buffy: Season Eight (the comic-book continuation of a certain barely known TV series that Whedon supposedly had a hand in) should arrive this week, and if memory serves Vaughn has penned a Faith storyline. Should be fun to see how that one’s turned out.

On a very different note: we completed The Wire season 2. ***Warning: some spoilers to follow.*** Apparently there are people that didn’t like the second season too much, mainly because they wanted more Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell and everyone’s favourite junkie Bubbles and fewer paunchy white guys with bald spots and union shenanigans. Okay, I could have done with more Bubbles too (who couldn’t?), but season 1, while tighter, didn’t have the tragedy of Frank Sobotka. The ending of episode 11, “Bad Dreams”, builds up to one of the saddest fade-outs I can remember. In a way, the reveal at the beginning of the twelfth and final episode of the season isn’t half as sad as seeing Frank walk towards his fate. Even Ziggy, one of the major fuckheads of television history, becomes a tragic character when you see the larger context of what is going on. Yet for all the sadness that permeates the season ending, the series never loses the anger and sense of humour that make it bearable. At least in the first two seasons – I may very well be setting myself up for a broken heart in any of the three remaining seasons.