fifty-seven years is a pretty good streak

I bought comic books pretty much every week of my life, starting with whatever week Fantastic Four #26 came out (which may have been around May 1, 1964). As I reported before: “I Got Hooked on Comic Books by Superman’s Grandmother

That weekly habit stopped with the beginning of the pandemic, since there aren’t any comic book stores anywhere near me, and in any case comic book publishing went into a temporary hiatus for a while, because of the lack of functioning comic book stores.

I sort of assumed that I’d pick up the habit again when the pandemic was “over” (whatever I imagined that state of affairs would look like), but I’m finding that I don’t have any desire to resume buying comic books whenever “over” actually does happen. (Well, I do read Captain Marvel on my tablet — I’m not sure why that’s the one I decided to continue to follow.)

I think one I’m fine with the new status quo (at least as regards comic books) is that I’ve been finding my comic book pleasures elsewhere these days.

1) Legends of Tomorrow:

I’ve written about this show before, and I enjoyed, with increasing glee, seasons one through three, but I was never able to get any real momentum going with season four.

But now season seven is about to begin, so I’m planning to try to jump back on board with that.

I have watched the last episode of season six, and it was pretty good, even apart from the really touching wedding of Sara Lance and Ava Sharpe (co-captains of the Waverider and co-leaders of the Legends).

(The ceremony was somewhat less formal than initially planned, because it ended up being performed in the middle of an alien invasion in the 1920s, but that’s appropriate. Their first date ended with a big fight with Blackbeard and some of his pirates, after all.)

The show is on the CW, which I can watch on an app. It means commercials, but I can deal with that.

(By the way, I do think it’s hilarious, in an awful sort of way, that there are commercials about expressing yourself without worrying about what people think, and they’re ads for Facebook. Which is a feeling that nobody has ever had about the actual experience of being on Facebook.)

2) Doom Patrol:

I wasn’t really on board with the second season. The first season was funny and tragic and bonkers in pretty much equal portions, which is perfect for Doom Patrol, but the second season lost most of the funny and that threw the recipe off.

However, I’ve watched the first episode of season three (which was supposed to be the last episode of season two — but, you know, pandemic), and it was pretty good, including some wonderful moments, one of which made me cry. So, definitely worth sticking with, at least for the moment.

Unlike Legends, Doom Patrol is not on any broadcast TV network, so I subscribed to HBO Max, which I know I said I wasn’t going to do, but it’s a cheap rate for the first six months, so we’ll see after that. Also, the animated Harley Quinn series will move to HBO Max for its second season when that comes out.

3) The Suicide Squad:

As Harley Quinn says at one point, “Wowzers.”

I liked the first Suicide Squad movie more than a lot of people did, but there’s a big difference between “I liked it” and “it was good.” This movie is actually good.

Full of over-the-top violence, wild humor, people who are “bad” vs. people who are “evil,” and excellent music. This may be the first superhero movie to include Louis Prima on the soundtrack (to wonderful effect).

And, like the first movie and Birds of Prey, it’s a delivery system for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (with full credit to her stunt double in this movie, Ingrid Kleinig — there are some great stunts here). The whole cast is good, but there’s a reason Harley was the one character everybody was sure would survive this movie (it was pretty generally known that a lot of characters wouldn’t).

Anyway, definitely not to everybody’s taste (as the trailer indicates), but if your taste runs in those directions, it’s a hoot, and it has a lot more heart than you might expect from a movie with so much blood. (But, as I think of it, “blood” and “heart” do go together. 🙂 )

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the sound of genre

I’ve written before about my experiences watching Game of Thrones, and now I’m starting to read the first book (which is also called “Game of Thrones,” conveniently enough).

I’m not going to go all the way through the book series, partly because the books are really, really long (I believe some of the individual volumes are longer than the entirety of Lord of the Rings), and partly because the series ends in the middle and of course there is no guarantee that the final books will ever be written.

But it is interesting to read, because, on the page, GoT is a “fantasy” genre story, in a way that the television show really isn’t.

To some extent, at least in the case of fantasy, “genre” seems to reside in the voice, in the way it’s written, and it doesn’t transfer to the screen, at least not completely. On television, it’s a TV show — one that happens to have swords and horses and dragons.

I did not notice this with Lord of the Rings, but the difference there may have been that I had read the books (many times) before I saw the movies, so I may have unconsciously added the “voice” to the experience of watching it on the screen.

On the printed page, Game of Thrones is very full of noble titles, castle names, family relationships, family seats, geography, history, genealogy, and legends. The television show, of necessity, whizzes past a lot of that. In addition, the absolutely vital information, especially in the first episode, is sometimes shoved in very awkwardly. People are constantly telling each other things which everybody already knows (“As your brother, I need to be sure you’re aware…” and so forth). A lot of the rest — names and relationships and so on — is left out until and unless the audience actually needs it.

It makes me think of Henry James (of all things). I have seen many film adaptations of stories and novels by Henry James, and all but one were dismal failures. Without that irreplaceable authorial voice, they are just stories about some people doing some things (or, quite often, hesitating about doing things). Plot was never the point with James.

The one exception was an adaptation of The Golden Bowl that I saw on television once, where a minor character was telling the story, after the fact, to a friend, and that became narration, which sort of worked (though it didn’t make up for the fact that I could never stand The Golden Bowl).

Anyway, I feel like I’ve been reading Game of Thrones for a long time, and my Kindle tells me I’m only 34% of the way through it, so, given that at least I got a blog post out of the experience, this is probably a good time to stop.

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across the river and into the trees

I thought this article about Hemingway was interesting: “Hemingway’s Consolations

It requires registration or a subscription, but the part that struck me the most is a footnote which didn’t make it into the online version anyway:

… Hemingway is far better on hating one’s wife than on loving her. His depictions of amorous couples are numerous — they appear in A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the posthumously published Garden of Eden — with results mostly ranging from insipid to wretched. An alternate key to understanding which of Hemingway’s works have endured might be: only the ones with unhappy couples or unrequited lovers.

That really clicked for me, I must admit. Sometimes when something about a novel (or a movie or TV show) doesn’t move me at all, I wonder if it’s me, so it can be nice to get confirmation that I’m not alone. Thinking back on Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, for example, she seemed like a real person, living a life, in a way the Renata in Across the River and into the Trees doesn’t. I haven’t read For Whom the Bell Tolls in years (and I have no desire to read it again), but I remember the romance in that book as being lousy.

On the subject of Hemingway, here are my two ideas — my two initial ideas, at least — about Across the River and into the Trees:

In the beginning and ending sections of the book (the good parts), we see Colonel Richard Cantwell, a career soldier who served in both World Wars. We see his rough way of acting and speaking (exacerbated now by his knowledge that he is going to die very soon), and we see his eagerness not to be this way anymore, not to be “brutal” — in general and specifically with his lover, Renata, an Italian countess who is much, much younger than he is.

We see this very clearly during the (more or less endless) middle part of the book, where he is spending time with Renata. By the way, the sentence above about Hemingway’s writing of amorous couples doesn’t mention this book (possibly most people who have read it want to forget then entire experience), but “with results mostly ranging from insipid to wretched” applies here.

Across the River is in third person, but mostly third person limited, so we see Colonel Cantwell’s actions and thoughts, and his ideas about how others see him.

But, every so often, and sometimes only for a phrase, the camera swivels around and shows us how the men around him (and, once, Renata) actually view him.

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Not that Cantwell always learns how the others see him, but we do. It’s quick, as I say, and sometimes easy to miss, but it’s there.

For at least one man — the poler who is piloting the colonel’s boat and scattering his decoys — his antipathy toward the colonel turns out to have nothing to do with Cantwell’s actions and his words, nothing to do with how “brutal” he is or is not being at any given moment, and everything to do with his U.S. Army uniform.

We can try to improve how we treat people, but a lot of how people react to anything or anybody has to do with other things in their lives.

My current opinion is that this would have made a really good short story.

My second idea is that the colonel spends a lot of his last hours with Renata telling her all sorts of stories about the battles he’s fought in his career. Renata encourages him periodically, usually after he says that he’s sure he’s boring her, but the colonel obviously wants to share this information, as much as he can. He knows that he is about to die, and this is his only chance to pass these things along to someone else.

I was less sure about this interpretation than the first one, but then I found out that one of Hemingway’s early ideas for this book’s title was “The Things That I Know.”

Other posts where I talked about this book:

  1. Death in a Box
  2. Getting Deeper into the Trees
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the vorpal word

I find it kind of annoying that words from “Jabberwocky” are ending up in the dictionary now. I’m not a Lewis Carroll afionado, but it’s always seemed to me that the magic of “Jabberwocky” is that Carroll’s words hint at meaning, by their sound and how they’re used with each other, but they are not real words. They don’t have fixed meanings, and that’s fine.

At least it’s fine with me.

(Also, I was sort of under the impression that the “vorpal sword” was just a named weapon, like Glamdring or Longclaw, but it seems I may have been wrong about that. I may have got that idea from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie, where it’s treated that way. But, again, there’s no definite evidence, so, it could be either, really…)

On another topic, I liked this article: “My Secret Weapon Against the Attention Economy.” The subhead is “When you reread the same poem over and over again, you stop scrolling along the surface and dive deep beneath it,” and it reminded me of my blog post about “Getting Deeper into the Trees.”

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sex, drumming, and swords

Some things:

1) I liked this article: “Opinion: Franchises are taking over Hollywood. If only they could all be ‘F9: The Fast Saga.’

Specifically on the subject of sex, it bothers me more and more that the Marvel movies are so sexless. Not that movies have to actually show sex, but it’s weird to have a huge cinematic universe were nobody ever seems to think about or want sex. Movies from the 1940s, for example, never actually showed sexual activity, but some of them were drenched in sexual thoughts and feelings and desires.

And this is specific to Marvel movies (there is sex in DC movies, for example), and it’s specific to the Marvel movies which were made after Marvel was bought by Disney. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, introduced in the first Iron Man movie, which was pre-Disney, are clearly living and sleeping together.

Maybe this was part of what Scorsese was talking about.

2) I have the Washington Post app on my tablet, and they have a section called “Good News.” Most of the articles on the app change frequently, because the world is like that, but the few “Good News” articles are mostly the same, day after day after day, so it’s basically a reminder that there’s not a lot of good news these days.

But this is a different kind of good news, and I admit I got a kick out of it: “Dave Grohl and former enemy/child drummer Nandi Bushell finally perform live together.

Or you could skip the article and just watch the video (which is much more fun):

That has never failed to put a smile on my face, and I usually watch it once a day. I get particular pleasure from the fact that Dave Grohl sets the tempo at the beginning on the guitar, and Nandi follows it on the high-hat. But when she starts on the snare drum, she pushes the beat a little faster, which is absolutely her job at that moment.


I’ve embedded this clip before, and I’ve watched it many times, and I’ve watched reaction videos to it, but I just noticed something about it that I never saw before, and which nobody in any of the reaction videos has noticed either (though I’m sure somebody somewhere on the internet has noticed it before me).

Sansa Stark and her sister Arya are pretending that Arya is on trial, to catch Lord Petyr Baelish (“Littlefinger”) off guard as Sansa starts listing his crimes against the Stark family (and the realm as a whole). This obviously works — Baelish is fumbling, trying to assess his danger moment by moment, nowhere near as smooth as he usually is.

But there was a big fat clue right in front of him which he didn’t see. And which I didn’t see either, until now.

Arya is the one on trial, theoretically, but nobody takes away her weapons. Her sword (Needle) and her Valyrian steel dagger are still on her belt.

Arya is a Faceless Man, a master assassin, and she has killed a lot of people. Some online sources credit her with more kills than any other human character on the show. And Sansa knows this — she’s seen her sister in action.

If Arya had really been on trial, they would have tried to disarm her.

But, as I say, it slips right by. Until you see it, of course, and then it becomes “obvious.”

I do wonder if the writers thought it through like this, or if they just got lucky. I’ve had that happen — I read one of my old stories and I see something that I never thought about before and it happens to fit exactly correctly anyway.

Sometimes, of course, not so much.

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getting deeper into the trees

Is it better to read five books once each, or is it better to read one book five times?

If you want to choose a good car to drive, it’s probably best to do research on a bunch of different ones, do some test drives, ask around from people who know cars, and so on.

However, if you want to figure out how to build a car, you might want to take one car apart and put it back together again, and then maybe do the same with another car, and so on.

When I first bought Inherent Vice (on my lunch hour, on the day it was published), I started to read it, and I ended up reading it pretty much continuously for the next five months, from the beginning to the end and then back to the beginning again, including listening to the audio book version many times. I figured out some interesting things about the book, wrote a lot of blog posts about it, and added extensive notes to the online Pynchon wiki.

I’m not sure if I learned any useful lessons to apply to my own writing, though. As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m reading Pynchon I’m always aware that any one of his sentences is better than any sentence I have ever written or am ever likely to write. So, not much to learn there.

Anyway, I am still poking around in Across the River and into the Trees, and I now have a second theory to add to my first one. I’m still testing them, though.

On the other hand, I’m definitely not going to devote five months to this project. There is pretty much no chance that I will figure out something which will elevate Across the River… to the level of Inherent Vice.

As I said in a comment on another blog:

“I’m reading Across the River and Into the Trees now, which is interesting. It’s taking some work, but I think I’m beginning to understand what he [Hemingway] was going after. As he said to A.E. Hotchner (talking about this book, and critics), ‘In this book I have moved into calculus, having started with straight math, then moved to geometry, then algebra; and the next time out it it will be trigonometry. If they don’t understand that, to hell with them.'”

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