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.

Review: Walking Dead: Suicide King and Home

Wooooooooooooo! Freaking finally.

I’m reading a book series at the moment – one of those open-ended deals that isn’t pretending that it’s going to tie-up in a satisfying way anytime soon – and I’m on book four. Books one through three constituted what I felt like was an emotional arc, running a coherent story through more episodic, um, episodes. (Gah. Bad word choice, I has it.) Halfway through four, I’m still trying to figure what the new arc is going to be and who these people are. I know I’ve been introduced to him? And her? But I can’t recall? At this point in the game, it is pieces moving on the board – this person here, this other person there, a conversation, a reminder. Even though I did not start out talking about A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s a pretty good encapsulation of my feelings about that series too. Books four, man.

Anyway. Point being, here we are after all the dun-dun reveals of the mid-season finale, and I’m feeling very much like I’m reading book four of the series. I’m squealing a little about my favorites, and trying to remember minor characters – who is Oscar? Oh right, the black guy they killed off for being not Tyresse; there can be only one – and wondering why no one is bothering to write a straight up episode arc anymore. Shit happening in sequencial order is not a dramatic arc, friends. I’m not saying The Suicide King was bad, or that there weren’t smart or even heart-melting developments, just that there’s a lot of ground covering and not a lot of what you might strictly call sense.

The opening verged on terrible. I have remained unconvinced by any of the zombie MMA scenes, which I thought initially was a problem of staging, although staging continues to be a problem. The arena feels small, with too few people in it, and I kept watching the shouting audience members one by one and thinking far too much about how the actors had been coached to shout and shake their fists. Too many long shots, too much light, not enough physical danger. Merle and Daryl start swinging at each other, and when they brought in the collared walkers, I thought, how long until this goes completely pear shaped, and Merle and Daryl slip out? Which might ultimately be a conscious choice, because Mayberry is such a total joke.

The scene tightened considerably when the smoke bombs were thrown and everyone ran screaming through the mist, walkers unleashed, the fragile sense of control broken. The Governor walking slow out of the smoke was an image, I’ll grant you, a very good one. But it’s also an image of what the heck is the problem with the Mayberry sequences: who the hell are these people? We’ve got 75 or so folk living here in Mayberry, and all we know about them is that they can shake their fists unconvincingly when brothers are to fight to the death. Sure, okay, maybe the Gov has gotten them through some hard times, but don’t they have, like, actual personalities somewhere behind the mob? Seriously, they’re going to try to storm the front gates to get out into the zombie apocalypse? 75 isn’t a lot of people. That’s half of your Dunbar’s number, and after what, a year? living together, there are no strangers anymore. There’s no anonymous arm shaking. There’s no packing the car and honking at the sentinels to let you out. That makes as little sense as how little Andrea and Michonne seem to know about each other after seven months – seven months! – on the run together. Seriously, why does Michonne scowl when Rick asks if she knows Andrea? Other than that’s the only thing the writers let her do? Bah.

So the Governor walks out of the mist and I think, yeah, I see what you’re doing. Mayberry isn’t a real town, it’s propaganda. This is an inflammatory analogy, but it made me think of Leni Reifenstahl talking about making Triumph of the Will: there was just Hitler, and the people. One man and the state. A less inflammatory analogy would be Lord of the Flies, with the great mass of undifferentiated boys who acquiesce to the will of the only people who matter, the ones in charge. That is totally fine as a metaphor for societal ethics and leadership, which is pretty much the decomposing heart of most zombie fictions, but often reads poorly as a narrative about real characters. Mobs ain’t people.

You’ve got this ongoing civic crisis going on, a boots-on-the-ground version of whatever civic crisis we’ve got going on today. And, given that one of our current civic crises is people (mostly white men between the ages of 20 and 50) shooting their fellow citizens en masse, the whole exploration of white men between the ages of 20 and 50 having their leadership styles completely fall apart feels pretty topical. The world of The Walking Deadhas put guns in the hands of every citizen, including tiny badass Carl, and what they are getting for their gunnish preparedness is most of the living being killed by other living. Seriously, when was the last time someone died from a zombie? T-Dog?

I did enjoy a lot of the everyday stuff back at the prison, like Carol’s discussion of her late abusive husband, and how Daryl’s relationship with his brother is similar. And her little reaction shot when she learns that Daryl has run off with Merle just gutted me – man, that actress is good. I loved the mail holder with Asskicker emblazoned on the side. I keep worrying every time I see that blonde girl and Judith, because I feel like they are swanning around being adorable, and adorable is a huge freaking bullseye. And because I wrote most of this and then got way to busy to finish it before Homeran, I’m just going to start into that.

So, we’ve got two leaders losing their shit, Rick and the Governor, and it is making me really bored with Rick’s problems, and question his leadership. Daryl stepped in in the last power void, and he was smart and competent, and now Glenn has done the same. Wait, why is this a Ricktatorship again? Why does Santa/Gandalf keep delivering these homilies about how Rick has gotten through the hard times with his wistful, rheumy eyes? And Lincoln, man, he seems to think that sweating profusely is a good telegraph for trauma. The dude who plays the Governor is doing a better job with his insanity, especially considering the dialogue he has to do it with, and Mayberry continues to bug. Omigod, he shot a dude in the street! Where have you people been for the last year? At a point it just gets to be bad writing. And Andrea, ugh.

Given how loony Rick has become, I have a very hard time tracking his motivations. Seriously, it is self-evident that your group needs more people, especially because you know the Governor is going to come at you. I guess I’m cheered a little that the writers are treating Maggie’s sexual assault by the Governor as exactly that, but I would like to know what the hell is going on with Glenn and what his motivation is supposed to be. Seriously, this show cannot handle sexual politics at the best of times; they should step away from that plotline as quickly as possible. I was really loving the pedo-Romanov-mustache dude in the last two episodes – they gave him some really great work – which should have been a sign that OMIGOD YOU KILLED KENNY. Maybe there can only be so many racist rednecks on the show, just like there can only be one black dude. With Merle on his way back, you can do the math.

But, whooooo, that ending was a treat. The Suicide King had the problem of its action sequences being mostly crap – and action sequences are where this show really kicks ass – so it was pretty great to see the Governor’s assault on the prison in Home. And I got to be smug about how the zombies are being used in this show, as a sort of violent rhetorical device about how fear is used by the powers that be against the body politic. They’re a tool, like calling the Rickocrats terrorists at every opportunity, like running bullshit about how the Governor is “out on a run”. (Andrea, seriously, stop being so dumb.)

I know this is not going to happen, because the Governor and Rick have been pegged together too hard – it’s too much about their whole doppelganger deal – but I would completely love it if Rick took one in the eye, and then the Rickocrats formed an actual democracy and defeated the fuck out of the Governor and all his dictatorial bullshit. Zombie stories have this tendency to run to justified dictatorship, because obvs a society can’t deal with a threat to it without some self-important lunatic telling everyone what to do. Even though the storyline is making feints in the direction that this might be bad – the whole incompetence of the Mayberrians being the evidence – with how devoted they are to Rick being the main character, and therefore inviolate despite being full of crap, it’s probably just not going to happen.

Dead Inside: Do Not Enter: Notes from the Zombie Apocalypse

Recently, I said some stuff about the epistolary novel being dead on arrival, which has more or less been proved true with this book. In a ba-dump-tss kind of way. I hedged that the epistolary novel has been hanging on in Gothic-slash-horror longer than in straight up fiction, so I get to revel in my rightness, as usual. The confirmation bias rules. 

  Dead Inside: Do Not Enter: Notes from the Zombie Apocalypsewas crowdsourced by the folks at Lost Zombies. It seems to be a more specific kickstarter for a zombie movie, pulling together shaky hand-held found-footage stuff from the zombie apocalypse (which, you may know, is occurring now) and running it into a sort of narrative. There’s a timeline and a frame narrative here: a backpack stuffed with all of these notes from the zombie apocalypse taken off of a 10 year old girl who had been bitten and put down. I pretty much hate the editorial timeline, which runs the usual American panic about quarantine camps in a way that is both unlikely and annoying to me. 

I just spent more time than was wise checking the history of quarantine/isolation and in modern times, there is very little history of anything but the isolation of specific individuals while contagious, let alone huge whack camps of sick people set up, filled, and turned into zombies in days. Seriously, bureaucracy is an issue, and always has been. (I highly recommend checking out the case study of the historical Typhoid Mary. Why, yes, I have just linked to Wikipedia. You can shut up, Internet.) Especially when the illness is widespread and easily contagious. But whatever, Americans, have your panic about the gumment. It’s not that I think you’re wrong, exactly, except for how you’re wrong exactly. You know? 

But the notes from the apocalypse here are wonderful. Or, um, not wonderful, but a good mixture of heart-breaking and funny and mean. Not long ago I read Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, which is his reaction to 9/11 in the days and weeks following the event. The thing that was so surprising to me, ten years since the Towers fell, were the stories about people being thoughtless, callous dicks. Seriously, Art, why are you freaking out so much? I mean, two planes have just vaporized two of the largest buildings in the world in an ugly symbol of cultural warfare, but you need to get ahold of yourself, man. We run our narratives from when the whole cataclysm crashed over us. 

I mean, how often do I relate that, when my sister called me when the first plane hit, from an office in Midtown, totally losing her shit, I was stupidly blase? It has to be an accident or something, like that time in the 40s when that little bi-plane hit the Empire State. There were hundreds of people on that plane! She yelled. The horror cracked a little, but I still didn’t get it until I got sucked into the CNNmageddon, the second plane, the falling, the ten years down the road where we’ve elided our shitty, less than empathetic responses. I don’t know what note I would have written at the time, but it might not have been awesome. 

Morwenna called about some plane crash not far from where she works. She’s okay but freaked out. You should probably call her when you get a sec. And you’re out of dog food, btw.

So the occasional mean-spirited “I never loved you and I’m glad you are now one of them” notes felt true, if ugly, an artifact of our sometimes crappy instincts in trauma. I mean, trauma isn’t exactly ennobling. 

they weren’t bitten, I just told you that so it would be easier for you to leave them.

HELP Fuck you!

There are sad notes and funny notes and notes about typography.

there r three of them inside. if you kill one take a tab. tab one is pulled, with the note: things got bad. tabs four and five are drawn in in another color
CLOSED ZOMBIES. Are you fucking kidding me? Warning about zombies in comic sans? What is wrong with comic sans? I blame all of this on comic sans

This is solidly a half-hour book, something you should put down fast with a bullet in its brain before it turns. These sort of found-objects collage things rely on you, the reader, to fill in gaps and create narrative, the way the social animal in us does, and I can entirely see being in the wrong mood for this, thinking too hard about specific instances, and generally having this frame narrative not hold together. But I really enjoyed the whole existential Marco Polo that went on, people scrawling notes to one another as the end of the world went down. My favorite in the collection is this:

I'm hiding in the attic you fuckers if you could read this you could get my ass

The worst thing about zombies is that they are illiterate, my friends. Boo yah.

Maus: My (Grand)father Bleeds History

Grandpa and I are standing by the wooden fence that holds my cousin’s horses. They aren’t skittish, but they stand just out of reach and flick their ears with watchfulness and flies. It’s full summer in Wisconsin, all grass and the scritch-scritch of insects in the grass. We talk about my cousin and her riding, about horses. I’ve always played city mouse to my country cousins, which is slightly fraught because my Grandpa is a man who has definite ideas about right living which center on small town life. He is second generation Danish from a small town in Iowa, and while he is fiercely progressive in much of his life philosophy, he retains a certain near-stoic near-asceticism which doesn’t mesh with my nuclear family’s outlook. I knew, even as a child, not to talk about certain things certain ways with Grandpa, how he would…maybe not misunderstand, but certainly not respect our city life. And our city life is the detached single-family suburban sprawl of Minneapolis, so city is certainly relative. 

I’m not sure how we start talking about this, but we get onto the subject of SSRIs – drugs like Prozac which affect brain chemistry, which were, even when this conversation occurred, being prescribed like candy. Grandpa was a doctor in the Navy during the War, and then attached to the nascent Marines, the raiders who would go out on lethal missions onto the scads of tiny islands between Australia and Japan. He doctored for both battles of Guam and Guadalcanal, in addition to an unremembered number of conflicts spraying out into the Pacific Rim. He never much talked about the War, least not to me anyway, but I was a child and there was no place for those stories. We knew there was something wrong when the stories started, stories that had always been stoppered, for better or for worse, by my Grandma’s almost harsh pragmatism. My Grandma runs family mythology like knitting, the way she knits anyway, the quickness of her hands in sharp contrast with how bent and gnarled they are by long-term arthritis. “Chris,” she would say when he started in a vein she didn’t approve of, and then quick deflections into topics more tractable. When he could or did ignore her machinations, which are at Sun Tzu levels of mastery, it was an indication of a deeper wrongness. Senior dementia was in the process of erasing him year by year until he was somewhere near six in the year his mother died, at the piano she taught him to play before she left him. It stops my heart still to think of how much pain he still carried from her loss, ninety years later on the eve of his passing. 

Here, I knew that the process was beginning, but not where it would take him. Next to the wooden stile that penned my cousin’s horses, we’re talking about Prozac, and about medicine and psychology and all of that. He’s been retired for a long time, over a decade, maybe more like two. I know he worked for years at a low income clinic after his retirement. Eventually he had to let his medical licence lapse because there is so much need out there that he kept getting sucked into the brutal hours of doctoring he had enjoyed his entire working life. I run the line about how pharmaceutics are not candy, and SSRIs are being used to treat grief like grief is unnatural. He agrees, in the sense that his view of psychology has always been based on will. He is a man of his generation, and getting over it is as getting over it does, and they did. Unless they didn’t. 

I sure wish we had had something like that during the War though.

I was getting ready to ship out again. I had already done a tour in the South Pacific. The ship was in the process of filling up with soldiers, many of whom had not seen action, who were just out of basic training with their squeaky boots. But there were a number of soldiers who had seen combat, piling back onto a ship that would bring them back to that. One man snapped. He was in full gear, with a 70 lb bag on his back. He saluted – ten hut! (Here Grandpa snaps a salute.) And then walked off the edge of the ship into the water. Soldiers scrambled, throwing off their own gear and diving in to water to fish him out. He was screaming uncontrollably. They hauled him off to the brig because that was the only place they could contain his breakdown. His screams reverberated through the metal bones of the ship until someone knocked him out with phenobarbital, but he’d just start screaming again when he came to. All those young men just out of basic listened to the ship they were boarding scream. We had no real way to treat the injuries in the mind. 

This isn’t the voice of my Grandpa. This is me trying to remember him as hard as I can, but it keeps slipping, and I am too much me to recreate him. If you could see me, I could recreate with my body which has some of his genetic tendencies the way he laughed and held his hands and hunched, but it wouldn’t be exactly right, two generations and a gender displaced from him, all those years displaced from the War, the years from this conversation, the years from his death. So much is gone. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck – I had never heard anything like this from him. I have the vague sense that there was someone else there, maybe a younger cousin, but it might have been me simply blown out of myself with shock. We would hear more war stories as the years wore on. My sister and I would collect them and show them to each other. Did you hear the one about the shelling on the beach? About running the wrong way during a retreat and almost ending up on the wrong side of the line? “Hey doc,” the rear guard said, “Where’re you going?” I wish, in a way, I’d tried more diligently to collect them, but I know it was an impossibility. He became so frail, and there’s no way Grandma would allow that line of questioning, even if I’d thought it was a good idea. 

Which is why Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds Historytowers as a narrative about familial and historical traumas, about the way we talk to our parents and grandparents about the fucked up shit they had to endure out there in the ugly mess of history. Art Spiegelman and I are not real similar people; our parents and grandparents did not have the same experiences; we are not from the same places. Spiegelman’s parents, Polish Jews, survived Auschwitz. Maus is the strange lapping recounting of that survival, his dad on a exercise bike or fighting with his second wife, Art fighting hard against his father’s disapproval and the memory of his mother’s suicide. The story keeps folding on itself, Art drawing panels which his father sees and then comments on, this secondary conversation through the oblique public performance that keeps collapsing the narratives, rendering it all into this wash of the meaningful and unmeaningful acts that make up our familiar conversations. It puts me on a wooden fence with my Grandpa who had begun his long, slow erasure of memory to his death, and beyond. It’s bananas. 

It’s so fiercely honest, not just the history, but the ways Art and his dad fail to connect at times. I loved my Grandpa, of course, but sometimes he was a difficult and rigid man, and the ways Spiegelman captures the affection, respect, and complete irritation with our loved ones was perfect for me. My Father Bleeds History is uncompleted, the elder Spiegelmans just committed to Auschwitz, and Art and his father just beginning to talk more openly about the comic Art is creating. Of course I’m reading the second part the second I get my hands on it. 

Hound of the Baskervilles!

So, in interests of full disclosure, I’m “friends” with Jamie Chase who did the art in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I shouldn’t even scare quote that, because it could come off as bitchy. I’ve met him several times at Bubonicon, I’m friends with him on facebook, and I’m a pretty enthusiastic fangirl of his art style, but we’re not, like, borrowing each other’s clothes. He’s pretty awesome though, and I had a conversation with him and a bunch of other folk maybe two years ago about this Sherlock Holmes comic he was about to start work on. So I totally squeed when I saw the finished product on Netgalley. I remember when! That never happens for me. 

My art education is pretty heterodox. I worked as a picture framer for nearly two decades, so I have a scatterdash education in print-making techniques so I could identify a lithograph from a giclée – which, fun fact, the word giclée comes from the French word for “spray”, referring to the spray of ink from an ink jet printer. No one has any idea what’s going to happen with ink jet ink in 50 years – it might just fall apart or go blue like photographs – so art buyer beware on that front. Not that this has anything to do with anything, and the point of this paragraph is supposed to be about how I deal with art. 

You frame an incredible amount of populist garbage as a picture framer, so just because I never had an academic education, doesn’t mean I believe the line that fine art world is out of touch with human emotion and too avant garde for its own sake or something. I mean, yes, the fine art world is this ridiculous circle jerk, but popular couch art is depressing too. I ended up gravitating toward abstract and genre art in my second decade framing, and I super appreciate people like Jamie Chase, who are doing these really odd things with vernacular, stuff that looks initially like a straight take, but there’s this cloaked subversion in it. God, I love his stuff so much. 

So, anyway, I also have some deeply held beliefs about Sherlock Holmes. I read the absolute crap out of every single word Conan-Doyle had on the subject when I was a teen, in addition to some words other writers had on the subject too. (Like the series by local historian Larry Millett, which has Holmes solving fun Minnesota mysteries like in Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders.) Holmes, more than a lot of writing which gets fan-fictioned to death (like Jane Austen, for example), lends itself to adaption. Holmes is a pulp serial, and Conan-Doyle himself was seriously lax about chronology and canon. Watson took a bullet magically in both his shoulder and his leg while he was a doc in Afghanistan. You can fall into some serious nerd-fests trying to determine how many times Watson married and when exactly everything happened. Which is hilarious, because obviously Conan-Doyle was writing everything half-drunk, banging it out on a cost-per-word basis. There’s something brilliant about his slovenly prose, the way it rushes and jumps. The number of times he uses the word “ejaculate” to mean “exclaim” is enough to twss the modern reader into teh funnies. But Conan-Doyle’s prose fairly hurtles, immaturity aside, which makes a graphic adaption that excises most of the text a little sad. 

The Hound of the Baskervillesis an odd case, because it’s so incredibly famous, so iconic, but it’s not real typical of Holmes. Or, you know it is in the sense that Holmes tends to be really idiosyncratic. For one, Holmes stories tend to be urban, situated in the colonial crush or London, but there are a couple out in the Gothic hinterland, like the one with the bicycle or the one with the snake. (Sorry, I’m not bothering to look up their real titles.) So there’s precedent. The weird part is how focused on Watson Baskervillesis – how he’s left without Holmes for ages in the moors. Sherlock takes Watson down at the very beginning with the trick with the walking stick, and it’s pretty funny how that works – the authorial intervention of Holmes’s interpretive dick-move unsettling everything Watson observes in the later plot. 

Because, the other thing about Baskervillesis how soapy it is, how domestically Gothic. Stripped of the Doylian prose (sorry for this adjective), Baskervillesreads really Scooby Doo, what with the land deal mechanics of the plot and the fact you meet the villain straight away. (Spoiler alert, sort of, but there are very few characters here, in true Gothic style, and the red herrings are telegraphed in flaming semaphore.) So, on a technical level, I think a graphic version of Hound is a little hamstrung, especially one as faithful as this one, because the whole thing reads sillier than it does long form, what without all of Watson’s ejaculations. 

What? God! Why do you have to be so immature! 

Chase’s art is really sepia, with all the color bled out, and it took me a while to embrace it. I’m on record as a fangirl, but sometimes I have to be lead to the water before I drink. I was expecting something more Frazetta-pulp, more kaleidoscopic, because I think this would really work with stuff like The Sign of the Four what with its blow-darting aborigines and evil Mormons, etc, etc. But we’re in Goth-land here, and the Gothic is the world of the scary, soapy, reaction-shot close-up, and that’s what Chase delivers. Dude knows what I want before I want it. <3

So, anyway, I enjoyed this take on Holmes, but I think it’s a little hobbled by how the source material translates to the image, even with images as strong as this. I felt like the libretto – or whatever it’s called in comics – spent a lot of time hitting the obvious, quotable stuff in Holmes – the game is afoot! elementary! – while kinda missing the stuff that really makes Holmes the shit. But I seriously, seriously can’t wait for other Holmes adaptions from this team, because I think given this practice, they could come up with something mind-blowing. Eeee!

Revival: Speaking to My Soul

Oh dear. I adored this.


One’s obsessions are hard to sort for their influence in affection. Revivalcertainly plays to some of my obsessions: the undead, the bleak midwinter Midwestern locale, the Gothic/Noir sensibility that relies on understatement more than worn tropes. Like in Raising Stony Mayhall, these are heartland zombies, flyover zombies, more concerned with the strange (dis)function of small, isolated communities than screaming bloodbaths. This blood creeps instead of splatters. I fairly loved both Revivaland Mayhall, but another should-be slam-dunk for me, Ashes, with its Wisconsin winter and plucky teens, didn’t work at all for me. The play out of one’s personal obsessions doesn’t always run to something that sinks into the skin. 

My mother and I once had a conversation about hometowns, about how people talk about them, and how we take those conversations personally. She’d had a conversation with someone who said some flip disparaging things about her hometown. They were true things to say, as far as observations from outsiders go, but to say those things to the local… maybe this was badly done. I’ve been careful since then about what I say to people about where they grew up. However, I love what I feel like are rightful depictions of the people I grew up with, the land and landscape, blahity blah, &c. Which is maybe why I never cottoned to Ashes: the opening was Wisconsin enough for me, but the whole cult-town thing felt like it was from central casting, one of those fictional places that could be anywhere (but you know, ultimately nowhere). Which is fine, and certainly not every book has to adhere to my sense of regionalism and placement. But good lord, when it happens, I flip the hell right right. When you speak to me from where I’m from, in the idiom of my location, I’m going to lose my shit. 

The undead in Revivalaren’t biters, to steal terminology from Mayhall. One day, the day of revival – and I think only on that day – all of the dead in a small area around Wausau, Wisconsin get back up. It’s not a lot of people – 23 I think the authorities know about – but then there are the undead who aren’t known to be undead – at least the one who’s a main character anyway. There are also…other things. While the perspective is not overly tight on any one character, it’s got that situated near-locality that only glances at the larger picture. This is the locality of trauma, relayed in conversations and status updates in the days and weeks after the event. 

It wasn’t so long ago that I watched horrified while a friend in Bryn Mawr, a neighborhood just on the edge of downtown here in Minneapolis, watched the bloody unfolding of the workplace shooting from split blinds, updating on facebook as it happened. It was awful, and it got worse last week with the school shooting in Connecticut. I stood in the snow waiting to get my kids that day – they the same ages as those gunned down – and the other mom whom I chatter with daily and I couldn’t meet each other’s eyes or we would lose it. “It feels like 9/11,” she said. Yeah, I thought, it does. I’m just as trapped miles from where it happened with my imagination running wild. All those classes letting out, their bodies whole and un-riddled with bullets. 

Civic trauma is local, even when it happens a thousand miles away. The area around Wausau in this book is quarantined, for lack of a better word: CDC roadblocks set up, for fear that this revival might be contagious; local police working through the usual round of domestic disturbances and drunk drivers, while also trying to manage the suspicion of the motivations of the dead. One woman, an elderly revival, pulls her magically regrowing teeth out with a pliers because if she didn’t, her false teeth won’t fit. Shudder. Shudder, shudder. And shudder some more with how her story plays out. The time scale shifts and moves, not with strict linearity, but the bright hardness of events that matter. There’s the thin edge of how the larger world is sorting the local traumas, but it’s just a thin thought, a moment in the larger smallness of how life plays out, the cabin fever of trauma. 

There are points when this civic/personal trauma is maybe cut too obviously in the book, like when the CDC doctor dude – a man whose parents are strict Muslims – notes the parallels between the suspicion for the revived with the suspicion for the Islamic – but it still worked. Especially given his half-out-loud conversation with a near-girlfriend back east, who can tell he’s started smoking again by the quality of his voice, the deepening of utterance in the wake of some fucked up shit. The way no one ever says straight out what they mean, or what is going on between them, this is the left-out communication of my people, my landscape. Mum recently joked about reading Main Street and wondering why no one ever said what they meant, but she’s not a Midwesterner like I have grown to be. Not-saying is the language I understand. 

So, the only complaint I have about this story is that I want MOAR and I want it NOW. This is pretty much the perfect package of my Midwestern cold and avoidance made inevitable and bloody and strange. This is all my obsessions made manifest, their closed mouths saying as much as blood in the snow. Uff da.

Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Story

This may sound meaner than I intend, but the macabre sweetness of Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Storyby Jonah Ansell made me like it despite the egregious poetry. For example lines such as:

Bequeath to me
The organ that was meant for she

Should be strangled with piano wire. I get you’re going for the rhyme word there, what with the she, and I know that English is a rhyme-poor language and all that noise, but it’s her. The organ that was meant for her. Don’t sacrifice grammar for the rhyme, or you sacrifice sense for artifice. That is a direct object, and while we don’t do a lot of case-changes in English, we do them with personal pronouns, and…I’m sorry. I get that my head is coming to a point here, and that this sort of thing will not bother many people. I am, as the kids say, just saying. (I don’t even know if kids say that anymore. Off my lawn.) 

So, now that I’ve begun by flipping out about prosody and grammar, here is why I still liked this odd little book. First, this story was written for a brother for his sister on her first day in med school dissecting cadavers. That’s adorable, and also creepy. I love eavesdropping art – or maybe I just love the idea of it – art that was created by this one person for this other person, and then somehow, it ends up out in the world, and we get to pretend we know something about the artist and the audience of one. It might be that all or most art is eavesdropping art, everyone writing to that audience they imagine, which doesn’t, ultimately, include me but in the abstract, and I listen in behind my book. I like that idea. I like that I thought that while reading this. 

The sister-character with her too-large square glasses and fearful little face cuts open the chest of her first cadaver. (Random aside: while I was taking Russian, I learned there are classes of nouns that are animate, and ones that are inanimate; this only become important when conjugating certain nouns or something? Living things are, obviously, animate. But there are – at least – two words for dead body in Russian, one of which is animate, and one that is inanimate. (Sub-aside: we were reading that Akhmatova poem about the true love who washes up on the beach of the Black Sea, which is why we were talking about this at all. His dead body was the animate kind of corpse, but not, like, in a zombie way.) Point being, we had this long conversation about what the English equivalent would be, and corpse we decided was the animate, andcarrion the inanimate. Cadaver, now that was a trickier case. Obviously inanimate, on one level, used at is almost always in medical or scientific contexts to strip the body and its attendant death of personality. But on another level, there’s this sense of industry and learning in this term, the vessel for occult and revealed knowledge or something.) 

Once the sister-character pulls out the cadaver’s heart, he gets up off the table – but not, like, in a zombie way – and begs to road-trip to see his wife one last time. The road trip with cadaver parts were my favorite, him in his ass-showing medical smock, her at the wheel of a big American convertible. The prosody even tightened up long enough for me to stop hating it every second of my life, and there’s a quatrain or two I thought were honestly funny. Then he meets his wife and…well, the rest here is spoilers. 

The price of admission was probably paid by a link at the end of the book that took me to the short film version of this story, along with a password. The cadaver is voiced by Christopher Lloyd, for chrissakes! One point twenty one gigawatts! The doggerel sounds better coming from voice actors and not my internal Minnesota accent, and some of the switch-backs and reveals work better in moving pictures than still. I suspect the film came first, putting this book in the same category as The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, where the book is more of an artifact of a film than a full-blown work. (Not that I have a problem with that. It is, as the kids say, what it is. Get off my lawn.) Interestingly, or maybe only interesting to me, but I can think of many more books made into film than the other way around, stuff like Lost Thing by Shaun Tan. I pretty much want to eat everything that man does with a spoon, though. But not, like, in a zombie way. 

Just kidding. Totally in a zombie way. 

I received my copy from 

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

Aww, you guys, this is so cute.

 Darth Vader and Sonis not particularly weighty – really more a series of punchlines and moments than a narrative – but got a gentle, almost wistful sensibility in with all the sight gags. Darth Vader, it turns out, has the same kind of distracted, lightly exasperated style of parenting that a lot of us Xers have fallen into. Because it also turns out that kids don’t get irony for a very long time – or ever, if some of the comments I see on reviews are an indication – and sometimes irony is the only defense against potty training.

Sometimes these little toilet reads or impulse books can feel mercenary or half-assed, like they were just slapped together for a buck. I don’t get that vibe here at all, though I could be bringing my love of Jeffrey Brown in from other books I’ve read of his. But no, I’ll go with it: this has the feel of care, and also the near earnestness of Brown’s humor. He’s not sarcastic or mean, but at the same time he stays out of treacle or overt sentiment. God, it’s just so adorable.

I’m totes getting this for my brother-in-law. Shhh, nobody tell him.

Review: Walking Dead: Made to Suffer

Every night I lock up my house. This isn’t particularly interesting. Despite certain fictional assurances that the Midwest is a place where you can leave your doors unlocked at night, I know for a fact that if your diligence wanes, someone might just walk into your house. In my case, it was many moons ago when my husband and I inadvertently left the door to our apartment unlocked ere we went to bed. We’d gotten sloppy; we lived in a relatively small apartment building with what looked like a good security system, and I’ve never been good at paranoia. So I woke up that night in a near panic because I knew I had not dreamed the sound of someone in our living room. I called the cops, and considered the angles out of the sliding window unit while my husband ventured into the dark unknown of our living room.

The cops frisked my husband as he shot out of the apartment, spelling his name and telling them his wife was still inside. I was back against the door, low to the ground, like someone might shoot through the shitboard that made up the material of the doors. I know I watch too much tv. They coaxed me out eventually; I can admit I’m a coward. We stood with some cops in our incredibly messy living room for a while – we were in the process of boxing our possessions so we could move into our house – and the cops kept shining their flashlights onto disheveled piles of our stuff and asking if the mess was normal. It was embarrassing. At some point we all realized there was someone else in the room, someone asleep under the laundry I’d washed and folded and left on the back of the couch. The cops shone a flashlight on an exposed arm and asked us several times, “Is this yours?” I still remember the odd phrasing.

I ended up back in the bathroom, I think all the way into the shower, while the cops woke and then sat on and cuffed an extravagantly drunk young man. He was naked but for a pair of socks and a baseball cap. After the cops fetched a truly scratchy looking baby blue cop blanket and swaddled him in it, they coaxed me back out of the bathroom to see if I knew him. I didn’t. He was just some kid who had three too many Long Island Teas at Liquor Lyle’s, pissed himself, doffed his clothes, and then went looking for the first open door. Ours was the first open door. We were diligent for a long while, but I know since then I’ve gotten lax again a few several times. We have a biggish dog, and I figure if someone really wants in, they’ll probably get in.

I’m really glad we don’t have walking cannibal corpses in the neighborhood though, boy howdy, because I figure most burglars are going to go for the tv and not try to eat my face off. Which is what brings this long winded anecdote to the the mid season finale of Walking Dead, Made to Suffer. This season the writers have been working the whole security state post-9/11 panic angle really hard, made obnoxiously manifest in The Governor’s use of the term “terrorist” in his final speech. I had a strangely fruitful conversation with a stranger on the Internet last week, where we talked about subtext of this season, how it seems on the face of it the writers are bagging democracy, from the “this is not a democracy” speech, down to the dark Mayberry of Woodbury with its soft spoken despot with democratical-sounding titles. Our hero is a grief-broken lunatic whose leadership style seems more chain of command than consensus. When he’s around to lead, anyway, and not howling through the prison making unilateral decisions about who lives and dies – though poorly – and talking to ghosts on the phone.

What are we to make of this? Of course, the Governor is eeevil, or at the very least, batshit insane, what with his heads in a tank and zombie daughter in the closet. The part when Michonne came to exact her vengeance was a strange sequence, because I found myself totally crushed by The Gov’s reaction to her killing his child. Yes, yes, she’s a zombie and all that, but Morissey was so stricken, so visibly destroyed by the loss that I really questioned Michonne’s motivations there. That was a bitch move. Andrea’s convenient arrival really showed the lack of backstory between the two women – I don’t think the writers can even imagine what those two might have talked about, they being women and all – and what should have come off as a tense interpersonal moment ended up being scene mechanics.

But back to the security state thing. Woodbury’s leadership seems hell-bent on insulating their town from what has happened, what having happened being the zombie apocalypse. They’re locking their doors against the naked drunks, but they are wide open for the canny burglar who wants to eat their faces off. Every single time we took off our damn shoes while going through the airport security this Thanksgiving, my kids asked me, why are we doing this? And my answer was that one time, there was this damned idiot who thought he could blow up a plane with a shoe. (Jesus Christ, Austen Powers called.) My country is busy rending people and throwing them into the screaming pits – which, good call with the name there, gov; shoulda gone with something like “School of the Americas” – and what we’re getting for our trouble is a bunch of Michonnes. Not to draw too hard of an analogy or anything.

Anyway, teetering metaphors aside, Made to Suffer was very much in the mode of this season so far, which is go go go go. Tyreese was introduced – who was Rick’s lieutenant in the comics – necessitating the death of the other black male character, T-Dog…I mean, whatever his name was who replaced T-Dog. I swear to God, I joked to my husband that that would happen the second Tyreese was on screen, and good golly, am I tired of how lame the writers are. Romanov-mustache dude turns out to be a pedobear and short hair doesn’t mean you’re a lesbian. But man, am I Team Tyreese at the moment. He’s, like, the only person who has ever behaved in a rational manner – letting the bitten woman come along so her living partner can work through what happened, not throwing a fit and glowering when tiny badass, Carl, locks them up until they can be vetted.

Michonne had an actual moment of emotion there when Rick almost tosses her out of the group, I think the first time I’ve seen that woman do anything but scowl. Glenn and Maggie, I heart the hell out of those two and their towering badassery. and I also appreciate that Glenn drops the knowledge immediately that Merle is with the Gov, given how much hiding the football they’ve been doing with him. Internet speculation has it that Merle is being planted as a mole in the Rickocrats when Merle and Daryl eventually escape from their predicament, but I’m not discounting how pissed the Gov is about Merle lying about Michonne being dead.

Well, anyway, I think a lot of this episode was rushed, and I’m somewhat unimpressed with the big battle stuff in Woodbury – why is that people can head-shoot zombies right and left, and can’t hit the side of a barn when living folk turn up – and I sprained my eyeballs eye-rolling at all the terrorist talk in the final Governor speech. Speaking of the side of the metaphorical barn, good god. Individual performances continue to impress, like Morrissey and Maggie and Glenn, even though sometimes I think the caliber of the performance might even undercut whatever bullshit point the writers were going for. Often my favorite moment in series are the ones where nothing happens and people just talk about stuff, which has been thin on the ground this season. We need more people being people before we can cower about how they have become monsters.