November 2003 Archives

Read Son

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Superman's x-ray vision sees allSome of you are probably wondering why it's taken me so long to report on the Superman "Red Son" series, it being so very up my alley in so many ways. There was, however, an unexpected rush on this title at my local comic book shop, so it took me awhile to get my hands on this three-issue series as a result.

In fact, I've noticed a surging popularity in Cold War-themed entertainment lately. Consider, for example, the video game Freedom Fighters, in which you join a squadron of patriots resisting Soviet invaders through ground-fighting on the streets of New York. I guess in retrospect, by comparison with today's terrorists and corporate thugs, the Russians don't seem so bad after all. It also proves how elastic the concept of nostalgia really is--it can shine it's softening glow on almost anything, even one's former enemies.

At any rate, I liked almost everything about this "Elseworlds" series, which postulates a universe in which the baby Superman lands in Russia instead of the U.S. Rather than growing up to become an invincible hero, Superman becomes the perfect totalitarian leader, all-powerful and all-knowing.

I thought the permutations of the story were quite clever, as they extended to include other characters and storylines. In the "Red Son" universe, Batman, for example, becomes a dissident figure. The graphics, done in the style of Soviet propaganda posters, deliver equal wit. I especially liked Wonder Woman's costume, reworked in red and black, or the Big Brotherish graphic, shown here, which graced one of the covers.

With so much in this title that is tongue-in-cheek, I was truly surprised by the series' ending, which subtly shifted tone in order to deliver an unnerving time-shifting story.

Hitchcock in pieces

Rod, the friendly websmaster at the Joy of Shards web site, recently wrote to tell me about an update to his online exhibit devoted to Alfred Hitchcock-themed mosaics in the Leytonstone tube. I wrote about these wonderful mosaics some time ago.

The mosaics depict or commemorate scenes from Hitchcock's life as well as moments from his films. Thus one finds mosaics entitled "Hitchcock the Director" and "Hitchcock and Dietrich" next to mosaics evoking scenes from Hitchcock's films. There are a variety of stylistic treatments, ranging from The Birds, which suggests the violence of the film, to Vertigo, which highlights Hitchcock's dramatic framing technique. Rod has provided additional detailed views, such as the agonized horses in Strangers on a Train or the tile backgrounds in To Catch a Thief.

Although I am not a mosaic hobbyist, The Joy of Shards is such a wonderful resource it makes me wish I was. It's almost worth the effort to take it up just so I could subscribe to "Grout," which--The Joy of Shards will tell you--is the newsletter of the British Association for Modern Mosaics. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but sometimes, in the course of job interviews, I've been asked, "What periodicals do you read?" Wouldn't it be nice to snap back sharply, "I read 'Grout,' of course"?

An update on me

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Thank you to those who have written and even called to ask how I'm doing. My asthma is completely under control now that the fires are out. I was not directly affected by the freak snow and hail storm that hit Los Angeles last week. I am calmly awaiting the plague of frogs that will most likely come next.

A Southwestern Heroine

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Cinnamon, a tall red-headed cowgirlThe moment I saw the cover of Cinnamon: El Ciclo I knew I had to pick it up. The image of a tough-looking, red-headed cowgirl firing six-shooters somewhere in Mexico was very appealing; I hoped the story would be just as good. After reading issue #1 I felt undecided, though not in bad way--I just needed to see more.

Not only did #2 sell me on the storyline, it made me gaze regretfully at the "of 5" after the issue number on the masthead. Cinnamon is a smart Western that deals with a variety of timely subjects, including the United States' participation in human trade through corporate-sponsored smuggling of labor across the border from Mexico. The art is done in a sketchy, modern style that matches the overall tone of the book, and there's an element of magic realism in the way the fable of the lone outlaw gets woven into more realistic and grittier themes.

Scary Disney

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A hallucination of pink elephantsWhile reading Geisha asobi blog, I discovered Retro Crush's piece on the 100 scariest movie scenes of all time. Animation fans may be interested to know that the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence in Dumbo is listed at #90. There are numerous screen shots from the film to illustrate the point. It's too bad the soundtrack can't be linked to, as that adds considerably to the moment's terror. One of the interesting things about this choice, as opposed to some of the others scary movie scenes listed, is that the Pink Elephants aren't simply repulsive, they also have a strange attraction. Or is it just me that feels that way?

To Live and Breathe in L.A.

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I have a few follow-ups to my previous post about the L.A. fires. Via Incoming Signals, I discovered an online exhibit about asthma, called Breath of Life. It includes a gallery of people past and present who have had asthma. Mysteriously, I have not been included.

Nor was I included in the recent L.A. Times round-up of L.A.-based blogs, which I read about on the L.A. Blogs portal. The insults never end, do they? Also through L.A. Blogs, I found these photos of the horrendously nasty air that has resulted from the fires.

The Infernal City

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It's been a tough week, here in Los Angeles. This probably didn't make national news, but believe it or not, a 3.0 earthquake hit Malibu the other night. Mother Nature doesn't pull any punches.

I'm an asthmatic, so I've spent the last few days locked in an air-tight room, sitting next to a Honeywell HEPA Air Filter machine and a warm-mist humidifier, sucking down extra medication and watching the 24-hour fire coverage on TV. Earlier this year, I read Mike Davis's excellent book, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, which explains the hows and whys of fire movement in the Los Angeles terrain as well as the politics of fire management in California. Very useful background information in the present situation. One of the things I learned from the book was that Los Angeles has the longest wilderness border of any city in the United States: 675 miles. This border is being referred to on the news as the "urban interface" with the forested mountains.

Air quality has improved somewhat, and yesterday when I saw there was a shooting outside the Robert Blake trial, it almost felt like the city was returning to normal again. Of course, that would not be entirely correct. The city was experiencing other disasters even before the fire started, in the form of several large-scale strikes. The transit authority is on strike, which has added about 50% to commute times. The chain-store grocery workers are on strike, bless them, which makes it extremely difficult--though not impossible--to get food. And three groups of county workers have held intermittant strikes, including the county sheriffs.

Last Sunday was particularly hard. I went out into the baking 90 degree heat in an attempt to get groceries. The air was choked with ash that burned my eyes and nose. To avoid crossing the picket line, I had already been to a bulk grocery that supplies restaurants in order to get staple goods, now I was going to a mom-and-pop grocery store to try to get fresh food.

The scene inside was a mad house. It was so packed with people supporting the strike that almost every step required negotiation with adjacent shoppers. People had that brittle politeness one often encounters on the L.A. freeways, just in case Michael Douglas's character from Falling Down is driving the car next to you.

Last week, my sister freaked out while waiting in the check-out line at a small natural foods store. Since she's not patient enough to stand in the long lines, she's been reduced to eating dinner at 7-11 every night.

The fires may be under control, but the city's still way out of hand.

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