Review: Sheltered by Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas

Sheltered is a perfectly lovely nasty piece of work, a “pre-apocalyptic tale” about all the horrible things people do in preparation for the end of it all. I enjoyed Sheltered immensely, but the first collection (which collects #1-5 of the ongoing comic) has an expectant, waiting quality about it, unfinished, almost unstarted. This dovetails beautifully into the themes of the comic: all of the potential of adolescence untapped and unstable, and how that adolescence slowly, choice by choice, resolves into dreary, irrevocable adulthood. Boo yah.

Sheltered first introduces us to Victoria and her father David. They’re newish members to the prepper community of Safe Haven, which lives somewhere in the hinterlands of Montana. Vic’s not altogether happy with her new digs, hanging out with Hailey, another teen girl who has been in the community much longer. “At this point I’d kill for a mall,” Vic says ruefully, sitting in a deer blind with a flask. “I hate malls. That’s how desperate I am for any sense of normality.” Her dad — an engineer of some stripe — talks shop with the other adults, obviously not quite with the whole prepper community ethos. There’s a pretty wonderful conversation about pulling permits, which I admit might not resonate for other readers who do not have a contractor’s license.

After the slow pan of the first installment, rolling over the bunkers and principals, we get to it: blank-eyed teenage psycho Lucas somehow gets all the other kids to rise up and kill their parents. The supervolcano over Yellowstone is going to erupt soon, within days — according to Lucas — and the food won’t last the three years necessary to survive the nuclear winter with all the adults alive. Hard times call for hard choices. Lucas’s motivations aren’t lingered on, nor are we given much in the ways of his persuasive arguments for doing this.

I thought about this narrative choice for a long while. It could easily be seen as cheating, rushing this hard to imagine brutality; bang, blood in the snow. But I thought it worked, in the end: this unexplained outbreak of violence in a community that has been preparing for a more explicable outbreak of violence. Plus, I dunno, I like the irony of a community preparing for the worst not being prepared for the very worst. Other than the newcomer Victoria, I get the impression that these kids have been raised with a shadow of doom their whole lives, the constant expectation of violence, and I can almost feel the relief when it arrives. Boom. Here’s your apocalypse.

Some of the mid sections are a little slack, with maybe not the best sense of place. Victoria and Hailey are bunkered down somewhere on the campus, Hailey injured, and I couldn’t quite tell you where their building was in relationship to others. Lucas makes a lot of terrible choices, and tends to respond to even perceived threats to his leadership with violence and cruelty. It works. He’s got the shiny blondness of a cult leader, but he’s still a kid. He’s marshaled his charisma to get the other kids to commit this unspeakable act, but he’s not mature enough or wily enough to manage their grief and guilt. What if you were wrong? What then?

There’s a great sequence where Lucas mansplains to another boy about how he should stop hanging out with a girl because we can’t have any pregnancies and we all have to think about group morale etc etc. His mansplaination goes on waaaay too long, long enough for the other guy to be like, geesh, lay off already, mom, I was just talking. It’s hard to pin Lucas’s motivations here: maybe he believes what he’s saying, but maybe he’s also jealous and frustrated that he hasn’t got any easy joking friendships. He’s clearly cut himself into the loner leader role intentionally, but intentions at that age are mutable and jumpy. When he can’t admit he’s wrong — and he really never can, given the stakes — his only recourse is to double down.

The end of the last installment ends with a truck pulling up, the tall figure of a man flicking his cigarette off into the snow. “Hey kid,” he says to Lucas. “Your parents around?” Boy howdy, they are not. There’s been a lot of scrabbling and missteps by Lucas up to this point, and it’s going to be interesting to see where this situation goes. On some level, a new grown up threat is what Lucas needs, given that the younger kids — like the foul-mouthed little shit Curt — have been acting like kids without parents. (Or even acting like kids with parents, because impulse control is low, parents or not.) If he can cow them into submission with another threat, he might be able to keep this crapshow going long enough for the supervolcano to blow. That’s the American way, after all.

 

Thanks to sj at Snobbery for turning me onto this.

Review: Walking Dead: 30 Days Without an Accident

Walking Dead offers very few meta moments where the writers tip their hands and remind you this is a show. It’s far too earnest for that, blending tightly constructed spectacle against the almost drearily telegraphed lack-of-soap operatics of living post-apocalypse. So it was fun to a see a little fan moment, where Carol and Daryl are chatting about Daryl’s new standing as trusted badass with the new members of the prison group, and she tells him to accept the love. She also calls him pooky. This was a just adorable nod to Reedus’s fan-favorite status, and threw a bone to us Carol/Daryl shippers who want acknowledgement that Carol and Daryl are going to get married and have like a million babies.

As far as the rest of the episode went, it was a fairly perfect example of the things Walking Dead tends to get right with just enough stuff to worry me about what the writers think they are doing that I’m not too comfortable. Which in some ways is meta in it’s own way. This season looks to be about how the prison population has adjusted to the new normal with a modicum of safety and competence, and how that’s going to go to shit. Everything from the cold open, which was, per the best of them, wordless and packed with meaningful detail, to the almost casual beginning as the group goes to loot the Piggly Wiggly shows how our group has built strategies and coping mechanisms for their new world. They’re not running anymore; they’re not just sitting still; they’re building.

One of the things Walking Dead has always knocked out of the park are their gory action set-pieces, and “30 Days Without an Accident” delivers in spades. Because of the Big Bad last season, many of the set-pieces felt small or freighted with emotional weight that the characters cannot deliver (though the actors sometimes could, despite writing failures.) The zombies-as-threat had given way to humans-as-threat, which is a perfectly cromulent dramatic shift, but I don’t think Walking Dead has ever pulled off character work that convincingly. Too many torture sequences, too many growled conversations, too much posturing, not enough fucking zombies eating your face. There was too much set in the set pieces, like the zombie MMA sequences that felt like they were occurring on a sound-stage in Burbank.

But the Piggly Wiggly sequence: this was awesome. My husband and I screamed and sang “It’s raining zombies!” though the whole thing, shrieking when the bodies hit the ground, doing that thing where you shift out of the way like you can make the character see the zombie coming right for them! It was glorious and disgusting, and maybe more importantly, it established the themes for the season. So yeah, you’re clever with drawing out all the walkers with a boombox wired to some car batteries and you’re tight formation but you didn’t factor in the rotting infrastructure of a World Without Us. (One of Weisman’s observations about what happens to human-built structures with no maintenance: if you want to take down a house, cut an 18 inch square hole in the roof and stand back. About a year should do it.)  The crew have adjusted to zombies, but they haven’t adjusted in many ways to the changing parameters of the world. The rot isn’t just in the splashing bodies, but in everything, even the living. We’re all just meat sacks in the end. We kill or we die. Or we die and then we kill.

Which brings me to  the disease outbreak in the prison. This storyline has a lot of potential, and seems a logical extension of the whole zombie mechanism we have here. If anyone who dies turns, and anyone can die from even mundane illnesses, you have a situation were there needs to be a lot more security even within relative safety. But I’m a little perplexed by the conversations about naming things – the pig, then the walkers – and what this was supposed to be about. Here we are, three plus years from the zombie apocalypse, and people (though admittedly children) are having conversations about the relative humanity of walkers? Who even does that? If this is supposed to be some broad semaphore that the kids from Shelbyville are out of touch, then that’s pretty lame, given what they’ve undoubtedly been through since the shitshow at the end of last season.

Rick’s conversation with Crazy Irish was a similar mix of good stuff and perplexing. I liked her truncated and obviously obfuscating stories about what happened to her and her group after the world went to hell, but this sequence (fairly long sequence) didn’t do much other than set up an unsurprising reveal, and did almost nothing for Rick’s character that hasn’t been done before. (Also, thanks for the bullet point conversation with Hershel. “I could be her” indeed, Rick.) I did like the bit where Rick didn’t even go to look at the zombaby, because in a world of horrors, who needs another one? But like the conversations between Glenn and Maggie, this was mostly wheel-spinning retreading of “conflicts” that have never had much juice, and are getting thin with reiteration. If that isn’t a mixed metaphor. Moving on.

I think I’m in the stray observations part of the essay. I’m pleased to see Michonne both smiling and joking! – who even knew that was possible – and I liked seeing Beth doing something other than having huge liquid eyes. She’s given a boyfriend and a fairly interesting monologue after he’s dispatched, which makes me wonder if she isn’t bullseyed for death next episode. Walking Dead has a fairly annoying tendency to dispatch minor characters right after they are given absolutely anything to do – RIP T-Dog, and mustached pedobear, and every black character not still living, and Milton – so I don’t have much hope for her continued survival. I still hate gravitas-mouthpiece Hershel with a white hot intensity. The dude who got stuck under the wine bottles: this was a fairly hilarious sequence where he’s obviously telegraphing his temptation to the drop and then WHAM, a huge metaphor just fell on your legs. I almost took joy in it, because it was so ham-fisted.

This episode felt mostly like scene-setting, which I don’t count as a bad thing. Here is our new normal, and here are the threats to that normal. So far, I don’t see anything (or anyone) arising as the new Big Bad – Michonne’s obviously off on a hunt for the Governor, but that’s not given much time. I’m not sure that’s a problem, exactly, because Walking Dead seems to falter when drawing out conflicts based on personality or (God help us) philosophy. I would be incredibly happy to see a season based on more mundane, personal, physical survival mechanics, the heretofore interstitial pieces like Carol’s knife lessons given more prominence.  Much as I like watching them die, I want to see how they live, and not as some abstract conceptual piece, but on a nuts and bolts level. We’ll see how that goes for me.

Revival, Volume 2: Winter isn’t Coming; It’s already Here

The second volume of Revival is not quiiite as awesome as Revival, Volume One: You’re Among Friends, but some of that is just the inevitable settling that occurs when reading a series which starts with such a bang. Revival, Volume Two: Live Like You Mean It collects issues 6-11 of the ongoing Revival series, which details the travails of the town of Wausau, Wisconsin in the days and weeks after a discrete number of their dead get back up.

These reanimated people aren’t cannibal shamblers, and the reanimation does not appear to be contagious. Although the setting, art style and dialogue is naturalistic, there’s an edge of the supernatural: rural noir, Midwestern Gothic. While the revived seem mostly unchanged, some are still…twitchy, and everyone is on edge. The town is quarantined; various jurisdictions jockey; locals sandbag the Feds; religious leaders attempt to score points; scumbags attempt to profit. You know, the usual with a civic trauma.

This second volume sinks into the boredom and profiteering of the quarantine, with minor revelations punctuated by lots of wheel spinning, both literal and metaphoric. Winter is deepening. I wasn’t real enamored of the meth brothers and their theatrics – it felt like too much of a red line under a point – but the several conversations between two central sisters, the weird, dumpy religious lady lit up with her faith, the Hmong woman’s monologue – all of this worked in the strange, understated, deflected language of my Midwestern people.

comic panel showing cops talking at a roadblock

Fuck it, Tim Seeley is my new boyfriend.

Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown

This is going to be one of those reviews where I tell cutesy anecdotes about my kids. Fair warning. You can get off this merry-go-round at any point. 

So, my son has been pissed at me since Christmas, when I bought a copy of Darth Vader and Son for my brother-in-law, had it knocking around the house for a week, during which time I had to keep making sure the boy didn’t make off with it like he had with other Jeffrey Brown titles, and then mailed it off. I want that book so bad, he would say to me. You have to get me a copy right now. I’ve been doing the parental yeah, yeah for, like, eight months. I’ll get it from the library for you, and also, get your feet off the couch, now. 

So finally, after I kenned on the fact that there was a sequel, I sucked it up and ordered both. Both kids are ridiculous about Cat Getting Out of a Bag and Other Observations, constantly holding up the book and reading out the “dialogue”: pat pat pat pat Misty! Both arrived today before they came home from day camp, and I tossed them at the boy when he’d ensconced himself on the couch to watch some fact or fiction show on tv. His little freckled face lit up. You’re welcome, I said, and pointed at him, like you do. 

darth vader pointing at leia

Sure, Vader’s Little Princess is more of the same, and sure, maybe it looks like a cash-in, but Jeffrey Brown totally rules in the strangling nostalgia observational heart-based Gen Xer exasperated parent and child thing, and god bless him for it every minute of bedtime. It makes me a little bleary to have both kids hassle me trying to read out these books as I shove toothbrushes at them and order them to bed. I love that the girl has a Jeffrey Brown book too. They are both asleep with these titles at the moment, and that is a parenting win all around. 

leia having a tea party with stuffed ewoks

Dial H for Hawt: Miéville Writes a Comic

Netgalley, y u never approve me on Miéville titles? Maybe if you had approved me for Dial H, Vol. 1: Into You, I wouldn’t be months down the road after twice unsuccessfully requesting this from the library, unsuccessful because they blew up my local library branch, and it’s sometimes tough to get down to Central. (See also: The Shining Girls, which just got sent back because I didn’t make it in time. Sob.) Anyway, once something turns into an epic quest, I’m half-expecting the payoff to blow my circuits, which this, alas, did not. 

I’m not saying I didn’t like it, just that it’s all over the place and uneven. In that, it reminds me a little bit of the first of the Sandman collections, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, which spent a fair amount of time sorting out how Morpheus of Gaiman’s work was related to the Sandman of the 30s serial and hat-tipping a bunch of DC properties like John Dee and John Constantine. (Everyone to be named John, I see.) Which is one of the reasons I find comics so fucking frustrating: all these connections and referents, this huge world spanning decades with re-starts and blind alleys everywhere. How can the casual reader be expected to get into this sprawling inside joke at all? It’s very rewarding, of course, if you know all that stuff. So a little like the Western Canon, but, like, with more pictures and spandex. 

Some of my bitching being the point, undoubtedly, of Dial H, which takes a playful tone in regards to the powers of superheros and the like. Overweight, unemployed slob Nelson Jent is being returned home by a friend after a heart attack when he and his friend argue about his general lack of care towards his life and person. The friend takes off; Nelse follows to apologize; the friend is beset by knee-cappers. When Nelse goes to call the police in an old timey phone booth, he instead is transformed into Boy Chimney and saves the day, transporting his friend to the hospital. There’s a plot involving a bunch of people who didn’t make any sense to me, but it turns out any time Nelson dials H-E-R-O on the sketchy phone, he turns into a different comic hero, characters like Captain Lachrymose and Chief Mighty Arrow.

After a fair amount of confusion on my part in the beginning – who are these people, and how are they related? whatever, moving on – the plot shapes into your usual origin story with your usual surprises and the like. Maybe I’m being jaded, because maybe the usual reversals aren’t nearly as usual as I expect, superhero comics being the last refuge of the lame, heteronormative boyfest. Making the ersatz hero a big, bumbling bumblefuck maybe is a pointed commentary about the self-insert or something. I felt stronger about the reveal of Maneau’s true identity, because who she is a stranger animal to find in superhero comics, except as a wise aphorist. She’s still sometimes a wise aphorist though, straight up. Nelson has some real identity problems with his swirling changes into the myriad of oddball supes, and Manteau’s covering of her supe-identity with yet another mask was honestly a cool choice. There’s a baddie who has a typically Miévillain (get it? GET IT??) esoteric weirdness, and I dug the head-spin thinking about nothing fighting nothing. 

Later, when things begin to make more sense, and Nelse is kicking it sidekick style with Manteau, Dial H gets into some pointed criticisms of the racism and sexism that often punctuates superhero comics. Nelse turns into a hugely war-bonneted Indian chief, and Manteau is like, you are NOT leaving the house like that. Then the Hi-Yo-Silver-like horse eats her yard. Dang you, horse! I dug that immensely. The last episode has that what-the-fuck-is-happening vibe with a shift to an ancient Mesopotamish locale and a cuneiform dialer that was cute, but also began to deepen the mystery of how the dialers work, and what kind of universe(s) we’re living in. 

So, like Sandman, it’s possible this uneven plot will settle down into something truly game-changing, but for the moment, things seem a little…rote is the wrong word, but something like that. Comics are about mid-season payoff, once they’ve found their legs and start really messing around in earnest. Origin stories are necessary, I guess, but they feel, to me, like placeholders until the writers can finally get something done. And I wrote myself out of this observation, but I’m not sure that the comic format plays to Miéville’s strengths as a writer, as he tends to go in for verbose, profane sidebars, and, frankly, his abilities in the punchy humor department are lacking. So I’ll check out volume two, for sure, but I’m not overwowed at the moment.

Strange Attractors by Charles Soule

My husband and I were talking recently about the aphorisms that people dish at you and then act like they’re revelatory or meaningful. The one that we heaped the most scorn on was, “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.” O, rilly? Pretty much the opposite of any emotional state is the lack of an emotional state, from a certain observational angle, so you might as well say, “The opposite of hate is being in a coma” or, “The opposite of feeling itchy is being dead.” True enough, as far as it goes, but not helpful. I mean, I know that this proverb is mostly deployed in situations when love’s gone wrong, but it’s just so freaking dumb and unhelpful. The opposite of irritation is slumber!

Anyway, somewhat wobbly point being, I had classed the saying, “When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, we can get an hurricane in another,” as one of those stupid aphorisms: something someone says to you when a tree flattens your garage or something. Oh those damn butterflies! Add in the fact that since Ray Bradbury‘s A Sound of Thunder, where time travelers squash a butterfly in the Jurassic, leading to Planet of the Apes-style changes in the hear-and-now, the whole butterfly thing has become something of a hoary old chestnut in sff.

[What happens when Homer squashed a butterfly. Donuts!]

But, turns out, it’s an actual mathematical thing! From the wikis:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state.


Oh look! Attractors! Maybe some of them will be strange.

So the story starts with grad student Heller Wilson bopping around New York, complaining about the soulless thesis topic he was given by his adviser, and just generally having the pre-graduate crisis. The art is sepia realism with bright punctuations of color, and the scientific-y drawings are wonderful, crossing a sort of biological feel with more airless, computer-generated structures. The image I found of one of these complexity maps has decided not to work, so you’ll have to take my word for it, sadly. I’m just saying I liked the art.

In order to kick-start his thesis, he goes to meet the old math department crank, Dr. Spencer Brownfield, who is a cross between a hobo and Sean Connery in Finding Forrester, but less sexy than the latter. Brownfield’s been working on something called “complexity theory” for the last 30 years – a mix of Asimov’s psychohistory and the Butterfly Effect – and believes himself to be the guardian of New York. He’s forever doing these inexplicable “adjustments” – things like setting a rat loose in a restaurant or subtly driving people towards a different subway entrance – which he believes keeps New York’s “immune system” robust.

Which is my segue to talk about New York. First and foremost, Strange Attractorsis a love letter to the cityest of American cities, a place with infrastructure so unbelievably barnacled, complex, and jury-rigged that it’s astonishing that it works at all, let alone that it weathers the shocks of terrorist attacks, hurricanes, and various NY mayors. One of the many facts that blew my mind in The World Without Us was that, without the pumps working every minute of every day, the subway system would revert to the underground rivers that every inch of the underground strains to become. The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent destruction were just a hairsbreadth from knocking out these pumps and flooding the system. This could be repaired after months and months of work, but. Soule and Co do an excellent job of capturing the vibrancy, texture, and fragility of life in NY, as Heller gets more and more caught up in Dr. Brownfield’s crazy theories and such.

The plot is pretty perfunctory. Heller thinks Dr. Brownfield is a loon, but a brilliant one; he gets more caught up in Brownfield’s ideas; Heller gets in trouble with The Powers That Be over Brownfield’s influence; Brownfield asks for more than Heller is willing to give, etc, etc. The crisis and resolution is a little dorkily cheerful, with a whole pay it forward vibe that makes me gag just a little. But! Just a little. I am not immune to feel-good stories about majestic, chaotic cities repairing themselves in the wake of disaster, or in the forefront of it. I <3 cities. They might even <3 me back. Awww.

Also, way back in the day we had a bird named Boolean, and Dr. Brownfield has a dog with the same name. Nerd pet names represent!

I received my copy from NetGalley.com.

Walking Dead: This Sorrowful Life

This Sorrowful Life starts with a complete character disaster of epic proportions, and that it ended with something approaching an honestly emotional moment was really something. At first, literally all of the white men in the prison group sit around discussing the fate of the only black woman like she were property, and it is a violation on a number of levels that Rick was even considering turning her over to the Governor. Putting aside the repulsive sexual and racial politics of all these conversations – and I am right tired of Gandalf’s rheumy-eyed speeches – this is not a choice Rick would make. Sure, I get that they’ve been running all this grief insanity with him, but he has always and ever been a boy scout. Coming hard on the heels of their interactions in Clear (the last time they interacted on screen), it makes zero sense that Rick would pull such an about face.

Even while I loved the details of Glenn’s proposal to Maggie – “I hope he really washes that ring,” my husband said after Glenn cuts it off a walker – I kind of don’t understand what’s going on with the proposal at all. Glenn and Gandalf have been hugging and crying together a lot after Maggie was sexually assaulted by the Governor, which is sweet in some ways, but in others makes my right eye twitch. Why is it that every “choice” by a woman gets made beforehand by a couple of dudes? Why is it about how they’re so cut up by her assault? Why is the concept of marriage even a thing during the zombie apocalypse? But whatever, Americans are completely loony about marriage, in general, and my head has been exploding reading the Supreme Court’s oral arguments today. That Walking Dead, which has been completely crappy with gender largely and writing female characters specifically, has goofed an engagement plot is no great shocker. All that said, I will ship til the end of time for Maggie and Glenn. Hearts.

But even though the opening is seriously bad, once Merle and Michonne get on the road, things improve drastically. Some of the most successful post-apocalit is in the vein of the road trip novel – works like The Road or The Reapers are the Angels – with the enforced conversation of the travelers in their solipsistic bubble run against the pit-stop that draws dangerous (in)humanity around the principles. I’m still on the fence about how Gurira has been playing Michonne, though I admit most of it is how little actual character work she’s given, but I love her fierce physical competence in this episode. She, like Merle in some ways, is a pragmatist, though unlike Merle, she is unwilling to allow her pragmatism to be used by others.

While I don’t understand why Merle lets her go, his final blaze of glory is a sight to behold. I couldn’t figure whether this was a regular highway robbery location for Woodbury – is this just a place on the road where they waylay the living that Merle would know about? – or is it a pre-arranged place for Rick to drop Michonne? Either way, Merle’s assault was the kind of clever that only drew the lightbulb for me once he dropped out of the car and rolled. Before that, I was seriously wondering what was up with this cracker with his whiskey drinking and walker mob. Good tunes though, Merle. The musical cues have been great this season.

There’s a pretty wonderful eulogy for Merle over on Slate, and while I disagree with some particulars – mostly I think Merle was a shitty stereotype redeemed by the redneck grace of Michael Rooker’s performance – I am sad to see him go. Rick’s stupid choice to send Michonne to the Governor was meant to knock the white hat off of Rick’s head, and it was badly, baldly done. But the characters with no hats at all are always going to be more compelling. As a pragmatist, Merle has been speaking truth much more often than other characters, because the truth is the purview of the hatless.

You go on, give him that girl. He ain’t gonna kill her, you know. He’s just going to do things to her. Take out one of her eyes, both of them most likely. You’d let that happen for a shot? You’re as cold as ice, Officer Friendly. 

Amen, you asshole. Out of the mouths of the hatless, you have my problems with this show in a nutshell. You’re gonna write this character-voiding choice just for some frisson  just as a first act setup? In defiance of established character? That’s cold.

And poor fucking Daryl. When they bother to do character work, like they have intermittently with the brothers, that’s when this show works. So good on that. I don’t feel like I’m ready for whatever barn burning bs they’re going to pull for the finale next week, but it’s not like we’re ever prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Walking Dead: Prey: or Syke! Let’s talk about In the Flesh instead!

Heya. Looks like I dropped the ball on writing about Prey in anything resembling a timely manner. So here’s the quick and dirty about that episode: it’s totally fine, and managed to get me to stop hating Andrea every minute of my life. Like Clear  two weeks before it, the focus of the episode is on a smaller group of people and actually has a coherent beginning, middle, and end. This focus had been lacking in episodes previous, and the wheeling around all over Georgia checking in with everyone dissipated the stakes. Good on them for tightening up.

Andrea also shows some competence, which we knew she must possess to survive as long as she did, but shore wasn’t in evidence recently. (Although, how come she doesn’t steal the Governor’s car when she pulls the trick with the stairway zombies? I don’t get it.) The small character work between Georgia Gandalf and Milton last week paid off in a better understood Milton – he’s the one who torched the pit zombies, yeah? And altogether people seemed to have coherent actions. Neat.

But the biggest shift may be the Governor, who is *finally* acting like a really big psycho. My husband observed that he’s been like this all along: telling people what they want to hear about what he’s planning, and then tossing people in the “screaming pits”. (Have we seen those again? Since they were first mentioned? Or is that the pit zombies?) Morrissey has a lot of presence when you get him moving – he’s so damn tall, and there’s this sense of inevitability when he strides around – and it was great to see that in action, especially coupled with the slightly corny but still creepy whistling.

But I come here not to talk about Walking Dead, which I apparently did anyway, but to freak out about BBC’s In the Flesh, which is so amazingly good and doing just the weirdest things with zombies.

Kieren is a Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer – god, I love these mordant acronyms I find in zombie fiction, like Colson Whitehead’s PASD (Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder) – who has been rehabilitated from his flesh-eating state, and is preparing to be sent home to the community where he hunted and killed. His grim Northern English town is the center for the band of activist zombie hunters who helped stem the tides against the undead, and probably not that great of a place to return. Some of the townspeople came off as clumsy caricatures – and the sister rankled a bit – but lordy was that final scene with the old woman taking out her contacts and looking up at the mob come to kill her effective and brutal.

Obviously, the narrative goals of In the Flesh and Walking Dead are dissimilar, but I’m completely impressed with the way the zombie metaphor could stretch to be about rehabilitation and social conformity, disability and possibly even immigration politics. Many monster narratives end up boiling down to but the humans are the monsters OH DO YOU SEE. This is a perfectly fine stock message for justifying some bloodbath and great set-pieces, and one third season Walking Dead is relying on pretty heavily. But man is it cool when pretty much everyone is the monster, and the flinching, grainy remorse of In the Flesh really got me.

Review: Walking Dead: Arrow on the Doorpost

Well, it’s nice to see that Walking Dead, after the tense and almost claustrophobically personal episode last week, managed to get back to treading water until they waste a bunch of poorly drawn characters in a big barn burnin’ like the end of last season. Certainly, Arrow on the Doorpost was better structured than we’ve seen in the the latter half of the third season, where it seems like characters just bump around and have conversations until some walkers attack and then the whole business ends…for now. 

Despite a lot of growling and posturing, not much was accomplished by the meeting of the Governor and Rick. I actually started laughing when they framed Rick like a gunfighter on Main Street – subtly done, guys. Bravo. I haven’t brought up the comics in a while, because so much has diverged that it can be a bad comparison, but at this point we were getting a sense of an almost relaxed sense of home at the prison. They had planted crops, which were beginning to come to fruition, and were setting into a round robin of love triangles and stuff. They’d stopped clearing the yard because they were more inward focused, living their lives. They had driven in stakes, which was why there were stakes at all in their stand with the Governor. But this lot? I’m not seeing much invested there, short of constant gestures towards Judith.

While I still like Morrissey’s purring sociopath take on the Governor, I’m beginning to wonder if he isn’t, um, wrong for the part? The man’s got so much gravitas and there’s something mountainously immobile about him, which sits in strange contrast with the jumpy long-haired meth-freak of the comic. The townspeople of the comic were obviously afeared of the Governor, held in check by fears of expulsion or worse. The comic Governor was a warlord and a despot, and I get why people were afraid of him. Morrissey’s Woodbury though? Not so much. Dude’s obviously batshit, but no more batshit than Rick, and possibly less so. Comic Gov’s people never would have been honking at the barricades to let them out; they were in the care of a madman and they knew it. It’s possible the writers could do something interesting with Morrissey’s soft sold approach…lol, no, it really isn’t.

I liked the sequence of their lieutenants chest-beating and then falling into soldiery camaraderie, as well as Gandalf talking stumps with Milton. But godamn it, Andrea! Here’s the problem: she’s totally right, as is Merle when he’s all like, I’ve got a gun in my room, let’s go cap him right now, but the writers are so damn invested in this big mano-a-mano dick-measuring situation between Rick and the Governor to the detriment of character. They have undercut the secondary characters, so hard, so far, that when Rick tells Andrea to get out because the men are having important men-talk, I just laughed instead of getting pissed off like I should. Such unbelievable gender bullshit.

Anyway, I don’t feel like I have a ton to say, partially because next to nothing happens in this episode. Oh, but I did make this lolGovernor that I’m pleased with. You’re welcome.

P.S. I’m glad Glenn and Maggie finally got laid again. Big hearts for those two.

Review: Walking Dead: I Ain’t a Judas

Spoilers, etc.

Post-apocalyptic stories often deal with wonkish logistical realities: where to get water and food, how to protect your body, how to skin a rabbit. This can be done well, like in Mike Mullin’s Ashfall, which tackles the physical realities of volcanic annihilation with tense, realistic detail. Or it can be done badly, like in the Autumn series by David Moody, which has a very serious “going to the bathroom” problem. Seriously, stop talking about searching the desks! Stop doing all that Mordorian walking! Gah. Now, I think one of the stupidest criticisms of any television program is “when do the characters go to the bathroom??” but I think post-apocalyptic settings almost beg the question. Hell, this is played for gags in Zombieland, what with Mark Zuckerberg’s whole quest to see a man about a horse without getting et.

It’s a Maslow’s triangle of needs brought down to the most bodily immediacy, and Walking Dead so far has made what I felt was reasonable gestures to the scrabbling hardship of securing basic needs, from making runs for formula to huntin’ and fishin’. More enterprising folk than I have put together google maps of the locations on Walking Dead, you know, with the usual caveats that many of these places are fictional to start. Sure, there’s been the usual “in all the crappy zombie-infested strip malls in Georgia, Merle finds Glenn and Maggie in this one??” but I respect that stuff has to happen, and too much logistical blather can get to the bathroom problem. But good golly, I Ain’t a Judas pretty much poops on logistics. And it does it with fucking Andrea, which, barf.

Andrea has been bugging the shit out me since her sojourn in Mayberry, although if I’m being fair, my irritation with her wide-eyed blonde routine is in some ways an outgrowth of my irritation with Mayberry. Because Mayberry has the opposite of a “going to the bathroom” problem; that place and its people make zero logistical sense. What are you eating?? Why doesn’t everyone get there are zombies everywhere?? Why does Milton (and, sidebar, is this an awful literary reference or not?) goggle when the Governor growls that “adolescence is a 20th century concept”? I mean, sure, I get that I’m supposed to think, OMG THE GUV IS EVIL TEH ASTHMATIC CHILDREN, and then have the revelation that Carl’s been gun-having for nearly two seasons ZOMG, etc. Which I’m going to resent, thank you.

Anyway, back to Andrea, and how much I hate her character. I guess since the writers offed Lori in a big gender specific gross out, they needed another girl to be ridiculously inconsistent and horrible. They’ve done such a crap job of differentiating the townspeople that I can’t even credit Andrea’s shouting about how there are “innocent people(!)” in Mayberry. Come on. (Also, what is up with Carol’s “bang and kill him” advice? Bad, bad writing.) In all the dumb shit she says, she does hit the occasional truth on the nose, like why are they trusting Merle with a gun? Seriously, good question.

But really, my biggest problem with this episode was the blithe treatment of the landscape here, certainly done so Andrea could play ambassador to the two groups, there and back again, jiggidy jig, but it’s sloppy and poor, and makes me nit-pick. Why aren’t the Rickocrats just clearing the walkers crashed into the yard? They took down the lot of them in an afternoon when they took the prison in the first place. I see that Tyreese is now hanging with the Governor, but, um, did we see them leave the prison? How far away are these places? Are there still herds? How many walkers are there? WHAT IS GOING ON?

The whole thing just frustrates me, and it frustrates me more because the writers have been setting up the parallels between Mayberry and the Prison (OH DO YOU SEE?) with such a sledge-hammer that they are smashing both logistical sense and the character kind. I’m half of a mind to be Team Governor at this point, because Rick is an autocratic jerk (and also bananas with grief) who is only the hero because we know he’s the lead and unlikely to die. Frankly, I think it only makes sense for Mayberry to take the Rickocrats out at this point, regardless of who started what with whom. Even though Andrea’s naivete is hard to stomach – seriously, women, you were abandoned by your friends and on the run for months – I almost appreciate her eye bugging about how hard the Rickocrats have become.

If this show isn’t going to become an endless horrible slog – and likely for many folk, it already hit that second season – there’s going to have to be more beautiful life gestures, which I Ain’t a Judas managed to hit with the absolutely sublime Tom Waits fade-out started by that blonde girl who is totally going to die soon with her high clear voice, and then fading into Waits’s gin-soaked rumble. More of that, writers, and less of the wandering in the woods, transported by the magical tesseract of plot expedience. I get there is ground to cover here, but put your damn feet on it.