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.

The sound of inevitability (brought to you by Jimi Hendrix)

Apparently, lots of people hated the season 3 finale of Battlestar Galactica. They hated the Big Twist (Baltar’s “not guilty” verdict”!), followed by a Big Twist (four of the Final Five revealed!), followed by a Big Twist (Starbuck’s back! And she’s got this weird serene smile on her face!), followed by, well, not so much a Big Twist as a Surprise Reveal: Earth… although is this Earth 2008 A.D. or Earth 10’000 BC? Is it post-apocalyptic Earth, or will the Galactica arrive to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs? Will it bump into the USS Enterprise on one of its time-travelling jaunts?

Star Trekking,/Across the universe...

Whatever will happen, the BSG writers have quite a big task ahead of them. Personally, I loved “Crossroads”, the season finale, but that was mostly due to its sheer audacity, mixed with the fantastic editing and musical choices, as well as the acting which sold the outrageous events to me 100%. But if they don’t resolve many of the open questions in the remaining twenty-something episodes, then my appreciation of their audacity may very well turn into “What the frak were they thinking?!” Still – the last 10 minutes of “Crossroads, pt. 2” had my heart pounding. I’m not talking metaphorically here – everything from the blackout to the congregation of the four to the sitar-heavy strains of “All Along the Watchtower” to Lee realising who’s flying on his left to the final zoom out and reveal of what the survivors have been hoping to find for three years now, all of that got my pulse racing. And since I’d read spoilers (stupid me, I know…) I knew what was coming – yet the way it was directed, filmed and edited made what happened on the TV screen feel inevitable, for want of a better word. Especially the reveal of the four should’ve felt random, because with at least three of the four there hasn’t really been any foreshadowing – but instead, it felt like puzzle pieces finally falling into place, at least for me.

This is my body... and what a body it is

Of course “Crossroads” has raised a couple of questions that will be difficult to answer to our satisfaction. I don’t believe they would have pulled such an audacious number of rabbits out of their hats if they didn’t know what they’re doing, but that’s just me being an optimist. How will they resolve these things? Will they even have time to resolve them?

  • The final Cylon: is it Starbuck? After all, we did watch her Viper go all kablooie, yet here she is, and in a spick-and-span ship, no less. Or is it Prez Roslin? We did see her share a vision with two Cylons, and she seemed to sense the blackout of the fleet (which also affected the Cylon ships, it would seem) moments before it happened. (For the record: I don’t think that either of those two will turn out to be the final Cylon. It’d be too obvious.)
  • If Chief Tyrol, Anders, Tori and Tigh are indeed Cylons, are they the same kind of Cylons as the many-copied ones? Do they have multiple copies? If they die, are they resurrected? They are clearly as much of a mystery to the seven more common Cylon models as to the humans. Now that the switch has been flicked, is there more programming in store for them? Any Boomer-shoots-Adama moments waiting for us?
  • For that matter, the series implied at the beginning that the humanoid Cylons were something of a novelty and unknown before the destruction of the twelve colonies. Yet Tigh goes back to the first Cylon war and before, unless he’s a copy of an original human Tigh. But then again, the Cylons seem to have links to the mythology and religion of the colonists, and those go back thousands of years. We were originally led to believe that man created tinbox Cylons, they rose against man in the first Cylon war, there was an armistice, in the interim the toasters evolved into something more organic (yet the Cylon Raiders are semi-organic, so perhaps there was a biological component to Cylonity from the first – and that may well go back even further than the chromedomes). We were never explicitly told that this was true, mind you – and most likely, the writers will make use of that gap in what we know. They’ll have to. Unless they’ve got some clever-clogs flashy thing that they can transmit through our TV screens to make us forget. (Ed.: They do. It’s called ‘reality television’.)
  • So, what about Baltar and his head-Six? Is she real? Is she a delusion? Same with Six’s head-Baltar. What are they manifestations of? Which leads us to the final question…
  • The Cylon God. How does he figure into all of this?

I’m not saying that all of these questions will have to be answered. In some ways, I’m probably more answered in the smaller-scale fallout of the revelations. How will Callie react if she finds out her husband and the father of her child is a toaster? How will Starbuck react to Anders’ Cylonity, for that matter? Or Adama to Tigh’s? But these issues have been raised now over the course of three seasons. They need to be addressed in one way or another, lest we get some disappointing cop-out ending. Chances are that whatever ending they give us, some of the fans will think it’s a cop-out. They already thought that season 3 was too much of a turn-around – too much metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, not enough hot ship-on-ship action. To which I say: what series have they been watching? The metaphysical elements, while not as whoa-inducing, perhaps, were there from season 1. Anyway, enough jabbering from me. I’ll leave you for the moment with two YouTube videos that, at this point, are probably pretty inevitable. Enjoy!

The best laid plans of machines and men

I’m sure there were blog entries like this one back when Battlestar Galactica season 3 premiered in the States. So, once again, I’m a year or so late with my reactions. Well, you know what? If you’re looking for cutting-edge reviews you’re in the wrong place anyway. Sorry… should’ve told you earlier, I guess.

Together with Firefly, it’s Battlestar Galactica that has revived my interest in sci-fi. After an overdose of bad Star Trek spinoffs, I’d really given up on the genre, but these two series show that there’s interesting stories to be told in outer space. What I like especially about BSG is the ambivalence of its characters – and that has never been as plain to see as at the beginning of season 3. The references to Iraq are obvious – lines about “insurgent uprisings” and “capturing their hearts and minds” are almost a bit too in-your-face – but the interesting thing is that it’s our protagonists who are strapping on bombs, killing the enemy as much as their own people.

And what other series could manage such a sick, compelling “Honey, I’m home!” moment as when Leoben is stabbed through the neck by Starbuck, only to come home a little later, freshly downloaded, telling her that it’s her choice whether she wants to sleep in the bedroom – but either way (nodding towards the Cylon corpse on the floor) she’d be spending the night with him.

Almost feeling a bit sorry for Gaius Baltar…

I must say I’m even feeling a bit sorry for Gaius. He’s in a situation where he can either do the wrong thing or get a bullet in the head. He’s never been heroic, exactly, but he’s in a place where he’s screwed, no matter what he does. It’ll be interesting to see where the season will take these characters. But I’m sure that wherever we’ll end up, it won’t be predictable.

A season too far…

We watched another two episodes of the second season of Life on Mars yesterday, and while they were more enjoyable than a couple of the ones earlier this season, they still felt like variations on a theme – and minor variations at that. The impression I got was that they had material for a total of eight or nine episodes, at most. Instead they decided to stretch it to two seasons and 14 episodes altogether, and as a result much of the impact was lost. This could have been a little gem of a series, and instead it turned out to be an okay execution of a clever premise, extended past its sell-by date.

You doity rat (redux)

Quite a few series are milked, the episodes becoming tired, stale rehashes of earlier material. Even fans say that The Simpsons have been going on for too long (although they also argue that the last season has been a marked improvement). Same seems to go for Spooks (another BBC series by Kudos, the producers of Life on Mars), Buffy (I’ve seen few defenses of season 7), The X-Files or most of the Star Trek series.

And then you get series that are killed untimely. Firefly and Deadwood come to mind, but I’m sure there are other examples as well. (Futurama, perhaps, ending with one of the best episodes of the entire series, but it’s being revived right now, so I’ll wait and see.) Series that, quite simply put, had much more to say. Series that quite often also expected something from the viewer, that made demands – for instance, that you tuned in every week. You can’t really tell a good, sustained story if viewers may look in once a month, at best.

Death by trampoline?

To be honest, I can only think of a handful of series that managed to end when they should have. Six Feet Under is a candidate. M*A*S*H, perhaps, although the jury’s out on whether the series maintained its quality, got better, or simply got smug and self-righteous. Most people loved “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”, but there are some who hated it with a vengeance for being Alan Alda’s soapbox.

I guess that, given the choice, most fans would prefer more material of their favourite series even at the price of diminishing quality. But it is frustrating to see them putting out yet another cop series or medical soap but at the same time not allowing more complex, more ambitious – and, admittedly, less audience-friendly – material the breathing space it needs.