Doomsday Clock #8, or, The Attic is Flooded

Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #1-8

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KITTY CAT ATTACK

“Superman’s going to clear this all up and everything will be okay.”

“I can trust Superman, Professor. Because everyone can.”

“Superman speaks not for America, but for all people on this planet.”

Thus far, reading Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s DC Comics/Watchmen crossover Doomsday Clock has been akin to watching a slow leak steadily flood a subterranean house with an above-ground attic. As the DC Universe has steadily filled with increasingly dire, real-world horrors over the course of the series’ first seven issues only Superman has remained dry, above it all. But that leak has intensified in Doomsday Clock #8, with Syrian refugees, detained children and a war-declaring Vladimir Putin seeping into the DCU and finally, three quarters of the way through this sprawling event, Superman’s socks had been sufficiently soaked after fiery tempers and clumsy misunderstandings lead to tragedy in Russia.

At the end of last issue, after meeting with and being dejected by Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias violently declared he could save everyone and everything. At the start of this issue we find him having broken into the oval office, absconding with mysterious files. Are Ozymandias’ actions here and his scheming in general to blame for Superman’s collapse into unforgiving grit and reality, or are his schemes still pending, desperate attempts at altering or avoiding the future Manhattan cannot seem to peer beyond?

And what of Manhattan’s machinations? He has references a cataclysmic moment in the future which he cannot see beyond. Does his “experiment” in the DCU seek to avoid or assure that moment? In Watchmen readers are led to believe Manhattan experiences all of time at once, but has no ability to affect or change it. That doesn’t seem to be the case within the DCU, but just how much more powerful has Manhattan become in burrowing into the less realistic DC Universe? And will the increasing realism the DCU is being subjected to in Doomsday Clock affect that power?

The clandestine actions, ambitions and motivations at play in Doomsday Clock #8 and the distressing outcome they bring about reflect some semblance of the weariness the series’ first issue conjured so well – a feeling of utter helplessness in the face of powers seemingly so beyond the scope of any single human being. Here, though, the dread of that first issue takes a backseat to confusion, as there is still so much yet to be divulged eve as we approach the story’s homestretch.

Every  issue of Doomsday Clock thus far has proven to be a delight to read and reread, but the pacing this far into the proceedings has left me wondering if this book’s finale will ultimately prove to be a prologue to something else, rather than a true ending.

Regardless, we seem at least to be taking definitive steps towards Manhattan’s (and marketing’s) promised brawl between himself and Superman. That that brawl’s apparent inciting incident only just now occurred, 75% of the way through the story, is perhaps perplexing, but nontraditional pacing has always fascinated me and Doomsday Clock is no exception. With the Man of Steel finally entering into the global discourse of the Supermen Theory fists first, it would appear the entire DCU has at last been flooded with the grit and grime of the Watchmen universe, closer to our world and its overwhelming problems and evils than ever. At last the stage is set.

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A Hallway Fight with Something to Say, or, Daredevil Season 3

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This. Devil’s on FIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!

I’m pretty far behind on the Netflix Marvel Microverse. I’m about two episodes into the season two of Jessica Jones, I haven’t started the second season of Luke Cage despite my best intentions to do so and I’m just never going to watch the second season of Iron Fist. But gosh darn it I love me some Horn Head, so when Daredevil Season 3 debuted on Netflix last Friday I dove in, continuity be damned.

Two episodes in I was bemoaning the creative decision to make these shows ensemble affairs, rolling my eyes through subplots and characters I never would have given the time of day to had I encountered them on wild television with no Daredevil in sight. It’s a shortcoming, akin to stretching what could be done in ten episodes out to thirteen, that is present in this season of Daredevil just as it is in every preceding Netflix MCU entry.

You will get to know the friends and family of Daredevil’s friends and family. You will have character backstory laid out beat by beat over the course of meticulous flashbacks that all fail in efficiency and effectiveness in comparison to the character background provided by Jon Bernthal’s stunning monologue in last season’s “Penny and Dime.” You will sit in on so, so, so many meetings in so many offices in New York City.

But in the end, Daredevil Season 3 flourishes in spite of these familiar faults.

There were moments in the season’s second episode in which I found myself thinking “I hate this.”

By the end of Episode 3 I’d stumbled upon a cautious optimism that, by the end of Episode 4, bloomed into elation and appetite that sustained me through a frenzied viewing of the rest of the season.

Where Daredevil has, in its previous two seasons, proven less concerned with the world outside our windows than the likes of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, or even the Punisher, here it dives full-bore into the bewildering state of American politics in 2018.

In its waning episodes, when the show most directly states its ideas and concerns, they feel earned, organic, even profound. The ideas and discourse throughout the season are by no means hidden, but I for one never felt myself being lectured to or beat over the head with an ideology, and so when Matt Murdock finally declared “some people are so rich and powerful the system cannot handle them” it felt frighteningly true, like an inescapable, outraged epiphany.

Here, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk is almost revealed anew, an already established villain and a lauded performance recontextualized by real world events far beyond Kingpin’s control. Daredevil Season 3 gives us a chess match between leviathan economic, social and legal constructs, calling the worth of all of them into question, casting the Man Without Fear, and thus the audience, adrift in the uncertain waters between them.

What if this is the end of the system? The end of the old rules? Of how things are supposed to work? Of establishment? What if the human contrivances built to impose justice and morality have abandoned us?

Fisk demands Matt Murdock and company grapple with these questions and in doing so enflames very contemporary insecurities. More impressive than just how ably the show hammers at these insecurities, however, is that despite these nagging uncertainties still dangling like loose story threads in the real world, Daredevil Season 3 actually manages to arrive at something of a satisfying, thoughtful ideological conclusion.

The profundity of that conclusion, and the insecurities that lead to it, are sold in no small part by Charlie Cox turning in a spectacular, career-best performance as Matt Murdock. The places he goes and the authenticity he brings with him throughout these thirteen episodes is astonishing. Also of note is Jay Ali’s FBI Agent Rahul Nadeem, who feels as though he walked through a door in our world directly onto this operatic, philosophical battlefield. Ali is an actor I’ll definitely be on the lookout for in films and television to come.

Though this season of Daredevil is still hindered by the aforementioned, tradition Netflix MCU shortcomings, the usual slump that occurs a little over halfway through these shows is nowhere to be found here. Once the season kicks into gear around Episode 3 the stakes and intensity rarely, if ever, stagger, building to a momentous final confrontation.

Season 3 of Daredevil pushes itself to be more than gritty and adult, coming to the table thoughtfully and confidently with something to say about the world, and these thirteen episodes greatly benefit from that push as the comprise the best season of Daredevil yet.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, or, Le Retour de Tommy C. Dans un Film d’Espionnage

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For Cinema!!!!!!!!!!!

All too often when we talk about cinema, that stuffy moniker reserved for only the finest of film, we fall back on the same few facets of the medium – writing and acting. Specifically, it seems that time and time again the films that are dubbed by the establishment and thus ingested by filmgoers as vegetables, those movies that are hearty and healthy, good for us in the long run, lean on plots and monologues. Both are certainly more than capable of profundity, but they are far from the outer limits of celluloid.

This is cinema, after all! Moving pictures! Light! Sound! To limit the heftiest cinematic discourse to film’s that excel at narrative or performance is to utterly shun the potential of the very medium and all it has to offer.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, a film that demands the use of not a colon or a hyphen but both, is not the grandchild of Citizen Kane. It is not the spawn of The Godfather. It is the direct descendant of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, those first infamous frames of a black and white train barreling ahead at an unsuspecting audience of the very first moviegoers like a bullet from an otherworldly gun. It is a film that takes full advantage of being a film.

Christopher McQuarrie, the first returning director to the Mission: Impossible franchise, has crafted a film that harkens back to the earliest days of Bond, when that franchise was a cinematic passport, taking audiences to faraway lands and showing them extraordinary things they might never otherwise see. Here, that passport is updated for transit in a world in which facsimiles of facsimiles of those places and things are a tap away in our own pocket. This is a movie that rabidly pursues spectacle at its most authentic and whole-heartedly believes in its value.

M:I-F is of distant relation to the likes of John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road, a work of undeniable craftsmanship, of fine-tuned and purposeful movie-making. These bathroom fight scenes, these helicopter chases, these extended wind sprints are reminders of just how pigeon-holed we’ve allowed the ideals of film to become, how thinly the critical eye for quality has squinted.

Here is a style of film that we don’t get but once a year, if we’re lucky, in which calloused hands harness raw sweat into the sort of lavish exhibition only a movie can offer.

Doomsday Clock #6, or, Master of Puppets

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It’s like that song from Age of Ultron, “I’ve Got No Strings!” Except the opposite!

Superman and Doctor Manhattan! Batman and Rorschach! The Joker and The Comedian!

The… Marionette? And the Mime?

Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s DC Comics/Watchmen crossover Doomsday Clock promised a slew of thrilling face-offs, many of which have already happened six issues into the twelve-issue series and some have yet to come. But amongst those fandom-shaking meet-cutes we’ve been introduced to two new characters, the face-painted wife and husband crime duo The Marionette and The Mime, whose presence amongst these titans of comic book literature has thus far seemed inconsequential.

Doomsday Clock #6 explores the background and history of these new additions, focusing specifically on Erika Manson, The Marionette. More so than Doomsday Clock #4’s dive into the history of Rorschach II, this issue has offered more heart than any previous chapter in this delightfully cerebral series and it places a character that had previously teetered on the brink of being some sort of off-brand Harley Quinn front and center, revealing her to be an enthralling personification of many of the ideas and themes the book has explored thus far.

As a child we see Erika playing with the marionette she will one day model herself after, acting out that relationship between levels of fiction that has been a focal point of the series thus far, instilling life into the imaginary via thin, invisible threads, embodying the violent effects we’ve watched so many invisible forces reap on the Watchmen and DC universes alike. Marionette’s relationship with her namesake is as effective an illustration as we’ve gotten so far of the tunneling, reverberating nature of reality and fiction. Erika instills the marionette with life and the marionette in turn inspires Erika, who becomes a reflection of her childhood plaything, strings and all.

The character’s use of razor-sharp thread as a weapon is overwhelmingly appropriate, a symbol of her defiance of the system of intangible concepts dictating her life, evoking a reclamation of the means of subjection, a weaponizing of the myriad threads connecting the few powerful with the many powerless.

More fascinating still is that The Marionette never reattaches those strings. She no longer dangles impotently from them herself, and rather than dragging someone else along like a puppet, she reorients them, turns them perpendicular to their intended use to inflict violence. Violence, the implication and fear of it, is so often the means of control between the powerful and powerless, that thread so often indicative of permissions on behalf of the holder to yank up and hang the held. Marionette disrupts the socially-accepted monopolization of violence, doling it out swiftly, effortlessly.

Erika Manson, then, winds up feeling like the most organic character in the story thus far, the most relatable point of entry for us, the readership. Hers are motives spurred not by insanity and psychic squid attacks and super powers, but by the diabolical pressures so masterfully conveyed in that first issue of Doomsday Clock, the everyday horrors of living in the modern age. She is a little person in a sprawling multiverse who has shirked subjugation and grabbed power where she can. She is not all-powerful, she is not utterly free, but she has upended the traditional interactions between the variables of her world, tilting them 90 degrees to sever heads with an air-thin thread.

As Doomsday Clock #6 concludes, Marionette is established as the most human, the most real, the most “us” character in the series thus far. The question then becomes, why has Ozymandias freed her and insisted upon her joining his voyage to a strange, new universe? Why was her and The Mime’s child ripped away at birth? The answers we receive in Doomsday Clock #6 regarding The Marionette may have lent humanity to a mass murdered, but a god-sized question mark still looms over her head.

#CloneWarsSaved, or, A Poe Boy Hot Take

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I’m not crying, you’re crying. Ah, look at that, now you’ve got me going. I guess we’re both crying now. So silly.

Have you heard the good news!? No, not that, the OTHER good news! I have a brand new Star Wars podcast, Poe Boys! Check it out on Podbean and Apple Podcasts!

It was a confluence of events that threatened to sour Star Wars, my great pop culture love, for me.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had performed poorly at the box office and thus any and all discourse to the film was relegated to everyone and their mother’s hot takes on what went wrong, rather than any sort of discussion regarding the contents of the actual film.

Unfounded rumors began to swirl that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy would be resigning and that Disney was entirely scrapping any and all planned Star Wars anthology films.

It became impossible to forget that Solo and Star Wars were products, to the point that it began to feel as though that’s all they were.

Around the same time, Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, essentially expunged her social media presence in response to the toxic little pigs that have coopted Star Wars fandom for their own racist, sexist agendas.

And of course who can forget the rogue band of fans offering/threatening to fund a remake of Episode VIII, a pursuit for which they claim to have raised… $400 million.

All this left me feeling like Star Wars fandom was something best left unengaged with, like politics at Thanksgiving. I felt like I’d been looking at Star Wars through rose-colored glasses and now my third eye had opened to reveal a dollar sign.

Look gang, I’m just trying to talk about the progression of heroism from Episode III to Solo and how that progression serves as a thematic bridge between the prequel and sequel trilogies, but it feels impossible to pry Solo out of its hardened fiscal resin!

And then San Diego Comic Con rolled around, and it was announced there would be a panel celebrating the tenth anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and they showed concept art and talked about the development of the show and OH YEAH THE CLONE WARS IS COMING BACK BABY THIS IS NOT A DRILL THIS IS HAPPENING THANK THE MAKER OH BOY OH BOY!!!

I don’t know that I’ve been as excited for a Star Wars announcement since I learned there would be an Episode VII.

The Clone Wars was what took me from a casual Star Wars fan most moviegoers could identify with to waking up at four in the morning in Orlando, Florida to wait in line for the Star Wars: Rebels panel at the last Star Wars Celebration. It is the beating heart of my fandom, and shortly after Disney acquired Lucasfilm Mickey buried a rusty axe in it, leaving untold stories in various stages of development and production dangling before fans’ imaginations, pesky what-ifs and what-could-have-beens just out of reach.

I’ve talked about it here one or five times.

I don’t remember if I wound up officially forgiving Disney for their flagrant transgression, but if I did I take it back, even in the face of the show’s eminent return.

#CloneWarsSaved rekindled my excitement for a franchise that seemed to be moving further and further from the contents of its actual stories and characters, not only because of the prospect of seeing more of my favorite show, but because of the fandom I saw on display during the panel at which it was announced.

Not every Star Wars fan is a Star Wars animation fan. We’re certainly a smaller subset of the sprawling audiences that flock to theaters for the live-action films. And if the panel in question is any indication, we’re also a subset that won’t immediately harass and berate creators and performers into digital oblivion because we don’t like the cut of their jib.

Perhaps because of that there exists a transparency, an openness between the creative forces that be and the fans of Lucasfilm animation that is not mirrored elsewhere in the Star Wars machine. Reading through The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, for instance, I found no mention of the directorial transition behind the scenes and how that may or may not have affected the art direction of the film. I’m not looking for juicy gossip mind you, I genuinely am curious about the creative mindsets at play and how the film’s art direction grew. But that’s unseemly and secret and even though anyone who’s buying The Art of Solo knows exactly what happened behind the scenes, we just don’t talk about it. Inversely, on the Clone Wars panel, Star Wars animation guru Dave Filoni openly jokes about episodes fans have deemed “filler” and story arcs that viewers were ultimately less than enthusiastic about. There’s an openness to the conversation in which fans are just as ready to dislike something as they are to like it and creators are ready to acknowledge those feelings playfully because it never devolves into the Thunderdome. It’s the kind of back-and-forth you get when a fan base isn’t littered with ointment-sullying maggots.

The return of Clone Wars doesn’t make me excited just for a dozen more episodes tying up loose ends, it makes me excited for a discourse that, for a brief moment, felt in danger of being beaten to death by bigots and bullies. For me, and my relationship with the multi-billion dollar juggernaut of a franchise, it isn’t just The Clone Wars that was saved.

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Nine Inch Nails’ Bad Witch, or, The Evitable Conclusion

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  Well, it had to happen eventually I suppose, and five years in is as good a time as any to finally jump the shark. Which is to say, I guess I write about music now too. Nine Inch Nails is a band that has always felt, for lack of a less dramatic sentiment, a […]

“&” is for Cooperation, or, Ant-Man and the Wasp

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What’s he looking at over there? Wait. What’s she looking at up there? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!!!

More surprising to me than its lackluster box office haul was the feeling Solo: A Star Wars Story seemed to elicit in many reviewers that the film was “inessential.”

Huh?

Bro, they’re movies. They’re all inessential.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Solo didn’t have star war and lightsabers and Skywalkers. Still, the idea that Solo is inherently lesser because of that is perplexing to me and I’ve yet to see it conveyed in any meaningful or convincing way.

With that in mind, I left Marvel Studios’ latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the nagging feeling that the film had been… inessential. Like a regular pot.

But Ant-Man in the Wasp isn’t so much inessential as it is the direct follow up to Avengers: Infinity War, which is to say the galaxy spanning struggle of, like, twenty superheroes to stop a space warlord from committing universal genocide is followed up here less than three months later by a film that at one point involves seagulls. There’s a distinct sense of whiplash between the two films, one that is more jarring and less refreshing than the welcomed disparity between the cumbersome Avengers: Age of Ultron and the lean, original Ant-Man.

But scope aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a thematic follow up to Infinity War that proves itself, while still jarring, anything but inessential.

Infinity War finds its cast of heroes split across the universe, willingly or otherwise. It’s a film that sees a distinct lack of communication between its heavy hitters, even when they share the same geographic location. There are conflicting ideologies and strategies and motivations that muddy the waters of the Avengers’ common goal, and so while the heroes are not in open conflict as they are in Captain America: Civil War, they are lesser in their division, big or small, by choice or by circumstance.

So much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, down to its very title, is concerned with cooperation, with crossing aisles and uniting fronts. Here, crooks and physicists work together for a greater good, as do fallen-out old peers, the rich and poor, the brilliant and goofy. Human beings and ants.

Well, the ants seem like they might be straight-up slaves, but you know.

Ant-Man himself works alongside his ex-wife and her new husband to raise their daughter. The Wasp works aside her estranged father to search for her mother. This is a film about cooperation, about people helping and being helped. It paints a picture of an MCU in which hands, though sometimes more eagerly than others, are still extended in comradery. It’s not an Ant-Man movie. It’s not a Wasp movie. It’s all about that “and” baby.

Despite its great sense of humor and utterly badass antagonist, Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), I’d be lying if I said Ant-Man and the Wasp made it any easier to wait for Avengers 4 next summer, but it’s thematic follow-up to that film has me chomping at the bit to concoct hot takes on the quadruple feature of what is shaping up to be a fascinating run of Marvel films; Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and Avengers 4.

When the dust settles on phase three of the MCU after whatever fallout awaits us in Avengers 4 it’ll be very interesting to see just how essential this brief interlude becomes.