Pop Culture Priest

Seeking God in All Things Geeky

Sep 26

One for the Road: A Farewell to Comics Ink

Wednesday was the last Comic Book Wednesday for Comics Ink, an LA-based comic book store within walking distance of Sony Studios.

If you follow comic book/pop culture gossip site Bleeding Cool regularly, you’ve probably heard of Comics Ink. About a year ago they printed this story about the owner, Steve LeClaire, ripping up a copy of Kelly De Connick’s Pretty Deadly in front of patrons as a statement of what he thought of it. 

It’s too bad that moment was put on a national stage. It was obviously not a great choice (love your work so much, Kelly!). But it was no more characteristic of that store’s culture than any of the dumb things that any of us have done and then had our idiot friend Katrina post to her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, Snapchat, tumblr and FourSquare and then send in an attachment to my mom. (Screw you, Trina Jackson. Screw you for life.) 

Comics Ink is in fact not one of those stores where the staff are high brow wannabee jerks, too over it to talk to you if you’re reading Bendis or (gasp) Lobdell. The space is not teeming with tweens running back and forth to the counter to tell you they’ve just won their round of whatever the hell that card game is that they’re playing now while hunched over tables jonesing like addicts. Shoot, they couldn’t do that here even if they tried; it’s just a shoebox, Comics Ink. You could fit more people in an elevator. 

In the four years I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I’ve bought from all the stores and liked different things about each. Geoffrey’s, where there’s always treasure to be found in the $1 bins; Secret Headquarters, which has the best comfy chairs; and Meltdown, where I had the chance to meet Jane Espenson and blurted out, oh so creepily, “You’re very special.” 

For me, Comics Ink has always specialized in community. Jason at the counter, always with a smile, saying hello, sharing a laugh. A Jedi Master of Infectious Banter and Joy. (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, but damn this video’s funny.”) And Vince in the back going through the pull lists, cackling like Yoda (and dropping some crazy deep Zen Yoda wisdom—I swear that man is either ninja or the next Dalai Lama).  

It’s a strange thing, going to a comic book store every week. You don’t necessarily spend that much time interacting with the staff on any given day. You’re too busy geeking out over the new issues, making sure you get what you want, trying to convince yourself you can afford it all. (Me love you long time, Marvel, wanna Make Mine You 4Life, but $3.99 for Loki? $3.99??  !%!*@!%!&*!#%!&*&%!&%!*&!.)

But go to the same place at the same time, week in, week out and you become part of one of the groups of regulars — the 10am crowd whose hands basically shake until they get their new comics in them; the skater kids who come after school to trade insults and hang out with the staff; the middle aged guys who come after work to do the same. 

I don’t see any of them but for those 10, 20 minutes we’re together on a Wednesday, but it’s enough to know their stories. There’s the soon-to-be-married Republican who’s made a successful business of selling variants online. If he could spend all day in front of his Xbox playing Titanfall, he’d be happy. And there’s the middle aged guy who comes in early and stays way too long. He’s often clutching a packet of scribbled drawings and papers, and he likes to pester the staff with questions until they get pissed off and tell him to stop. But there’s not a mean bone in his body; he’s just a bit off, and this is a place that will tolerate that. 

Like I said, it’s just a tiny store, and there’s no place to sit, and no food or drink allowed, but somehow in the hands of these guys over the 23 1/2 years that Steve has owned the business and the decades that employees Adam and Vince and Jason have worked here — the store has had only four employees in its 23 years; Jason, the “new guy”, was hired 14 years ago — in all those years this little storefront in a tiny strip mall in the shadow of Sony Pictures has become a sort of Cheers for a whole lot of people. 

Haters often imply that nerds, geeks and insert-your-own-formerly-or-presently-derogatory-term-for-scifi/video game/comic book lovers are emotionally stunted, immature people. But anyone who really knows someone who can’t stop talking about Buffy 11 years after it ended (I don’t care how much you love The Wire, we need to agree that The Body is the best hour of television that has ever been written) or is still furious about Peter Parker and Mary Jane (Dammmnnn youuu Joephhistoooo!) knows that most of us are exactly the opposite, big softies who can’t help but wear our hearts on our sleeves (and sometimes literally on our cosplay as well). 

We’re the kinds of people who cry easily, whether it’s because our son just took their first step or because that goddamn Kieron Gillen just ripped out our hearts and ruined our lives. Again. After telling us it was all going to be fine this time. Again. While dancing in front of us to Emile Sande’s Heaven. Again. (Seriously, Gillen, you’re like the Lucy van Pelt of the comic book industry. I’ve had enough. I AM DONE WITH YOU.)  (Is it true you’re writing Angela?)

We may not lead with any of that heart on a Wednesday. We may spend our time cursing the New 52, dreaming up ways that Katniss Everdeen could put down “Tris”, Hermione and Kristin Stewart or wondering privately to ourselves if BKV got our letter, maybe we should send it a fifth time, though maybe if he did answer and agree to our picnic lunch by the Observatory we’d be unable to do more than giggle and say “Lying” over and over anyway. (All I’m saying is, I really think we could have something special, Brian.) 

We can carp about art and scripts and the companies and the movies and the video games and the WWE  and the goddamn lack of a legitimate variety of weather for hours. 

But then someone in the store mentions quietly to Jason something not going so well, their aunt just died or they lost their job, and we’re right there with them. We might not know each other’s names, we might be unduly obsessed with worlds that fictional and creators that we treat as though they are too, but somehow underneath it all we are friends. 

About a month ago another comic store in LA offered Steve more money than he could refuse, so as of Sunday the store will close and then reopen a few days later as a second branch of that business. For some reason they’re not keeping Jason, Vince and Adam on. The guys have been very professional about the whole thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s a mutual decision.

But I know I’ll feel their absence. And I think a lot of other people in West LA will, too. Ask anyone who goes there regularly — there’s something about that place, those guys. They do good work, but more than that, they’re good human beings. And they make a nice home.

Where do you go when they close the place where everybody knows your name? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out. But I’m sure glad that for the last four years, those guys did. 

Jim McDermott, SJ, is a screenwriter and journalist living in Los Angeles and a Jesuit Catholic priest. Kevin Maguire, Frank Miller and Chris Claremont got him reading comics, John Paul Leon and Brian Michael Bendis brought him back, and so many others keep pulling him in. @popculturpriest on Twitter.


Mar 29

Mar 10

True Detective Finale: Not Quite

True Detective ends its first season tonight. If you haven’t seen the show, on the surface it sounds like yet another cops-investigate-serial-killer series. But in the hands of creator Nic Pizzolatto, the piece became instead a strange, looking-into-the-heart-of-darkness-and-maybe-losing-your-mind character study of the two cops forced to deal with an ever more awful situation. 

I’m sure the coming days will give me a lot more to think about with regard to the conclusion, but just a couple initial thoughts: 

Wait, Is This the Last Episode of Lost? 

Nic Pizzolatto made it abundantly clear in multiple interviews, this was first and foremost a character study, not a whodunit.  And don’t expect a big twist.

And yet, he inserted some elements in the season — most especially the repeated enigmatic “Yellow King”, but also the clear indication of a much broader, sick conspiracy at work — that demanded a bigger, WTF-style ending.  Many online suspected Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) was in fact either the Yellow King or in on the bigger conspiracy.  I’m not sure it needed to go there to succeed, but it did need a bigger finish than just taking down Spaghetti Monster. (Who by the way, really does not seem to be the Yellow King— and I suspect a rewatch of the season will make that only more clear.) 

Philosopher Stone(d)

Pizzolatto challenges those who dismiss Rust’s philosophical babblings as dismissing Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I was definitely willing to go there for a while. At some point, though, I think we all got the point, and it was time to move on.  

Which Pizzolatto did, until this last ep, where suddenly we get another few minutes of how false and dead the universe is. It was very much a “greatest hits of the bromance” moment, a last bow to one of the major elements of the story.  I can accept the desire to have that nod, but it didn’t feel organic, especially coming from the 2014 Rust. 

Having said that, by far the strongest element of the episode (and perhaps the season) was the unexpected evolution of Rust’s philosophy, after Rust (SPOILER ALERT) has a near death experience of his daughter’s still living presence.  McConaughey is going to get an Emmy no matter what, but that moment where he describes being with his daughter is about as profound a moment as you’re ever going to see on television.  Kudos to Pizzolatto for building to it so well and unexpectedly. 

And also, for shame that he followed that moment with McConaughey telling Harrelson that in the battle of light vs. darkness, light seems to be winning. No matter the spiritual experience he’s had, the last eight episodes have if anything confirmed exactly the opposite. We’re talking about a decades-long conspiracy of powerful people— most of whom do not get caught, as far as we can tell— engaged in a pedophilic cult that has led to the rape and murder of dozens and dozens of children. It was a situation so awful that any time a character was able to witness up close what had happened—such as the sheriff they held hostage in the finale—that character responded with horror of the worst kind.

You can’t present that for eight weeks and then end with, “I think things are getting better.” It’s not only not earned, it’s not right. And to put those words in the mouth of Rust, who has spent most of the last 20 years staring into that darkness, seems like a pretty fundamental betrayal of his character. 

Keep it Freaky, Nic

Maybe I’ll feel different about all this when I rewatch it. I think the show has done some really interesting work, and hopefully can offer new life to the soul deadening procedurals of network television. I applaud Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga for creating such a compelling world and characters. A lot of this will be very hard to top in season two. 

But for the moment, the finale feels — maybe unavoidably— a let down from  the buildup.  And if I could wish for one thing in season two, it would be to stay weird and uncomfortable, but let the ending be just as strange and cosmically horrifying as all that has come before.  

 


Feb 20
Cover: Earth X #0

Cover: Earth X #0


Machine Man, Earth X

Machine Man, Earth X


Feb 18

House of Cards Season 2: A Review

I can’t tell whether I’ve actually been sick the last few days, or I just couldn’t stop watching Season 2 of House of Cards. (I’m going to go with the former, but the latter has definitely also been true.)

I’ve got a couple comments on the series, and they’re going to be broad strokes that avoid spoilers for now, but still, if you haven’t finished the season yet, you might want to wait. 

One of the things you begin to know in a very intimate way when you binge watch a show is the title sequence. I can’t tell you where every shot from the House of Cards opening takes place —and there are more such shots this time around to fit the growing cast of the show—but the one thing that unifies them is their total absence of living breathing things. Yes, we see cars drive by, but always at breakneck pace. Never do we see an actual person. 

There’s a way in which this captures the Ozymandius-like cast to the show. In the end, the sequence hints, nothing lasts but the edifices of Washington, which watch over all our efforts with a cold detachment. Frank can scheme all he wants; but baby, some day it’s all gonna crumble. 

But the other effect of these credits is to make the world feel empty, unpopulated, lifeless.

And that is in truth encapsulates much of House of Cards. For a show as focused on treachery, villainy, and other words that end in -y and sound like they should be uttered by characters in Shakespeare, there’s not much heat here. People are fighting for their lives, but it all feels so buttoned up.

In season 2, creator Beau Willimon and company have done a good job of increasing the risks to Frank, putting him in situations that are harder for him to control. But it all still feels a bit safe; even when people are on to him and call him on his darkness, they still succumb to it pretty darn easily.

And Frank never really loses in control. Even more than last season, every moment of his seems calculated — even the timbre of his voice is conceived. (And there’s one wonderful moment of seduction where that voice changes so dramatically and yet so quietly — bravo to Kevin Spacey for that.) 

Claire for her part is so damn cold most of the time she belongs in a Disney princess story. I swear every time someone touches her she withers inside.  (Kudos to Willimon, though, for one great scene for Claire in the final episode, and for what I suspect will be this season’s most talked about scene, in episode 211. Seriously, yo, can we get more of that in the Oval, or what?)

I’m hesitant to use religious language when talking about a secular TV show, but honestly, at some point I couldn’t help but think what I was watching bordered on Rosemary’s Baby Satanic. The way Claire and Frank divide and conquer, the level of undermining that they’re about, the ways they seduce people (and then toss them aside) — it’s incredibly disturbing.  

And yet so often empty, too. And that is undoubtedly part of Willimon’s point. There’s a way in which House of Cards really is the serious version of Veep; hollowness pervades.  

But it makes for a funny sort of experience as a viewer. You get to the end, and you don’t feel much of anything. Really there’s nothing to feel. There’s one person you’re rooting for, and she’s a pretty minor character. The rest are either patsies, dead or different shades of Frank’s oh so black black grey.


Feb 15

House of Cards 201

I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody.  But I also can’t keep silent!

So let me just say this:

Hair.

Glasses.

Slow bleeding. 

Burying the lede. 

And cufflinks. 


Feb 2

Feb 1
“I’m standing on a corner, and I’ve been waiting there for 15 minutes, and I’m trying to hail a cab. And just as I’m about to get in, someone rushes up and gets in. I have a lot of choices in that moment: I could open that door and yank that person out. I could bang on the window and flip them the bird but let them have the cab. I could say nothing and stew in my own anger. Or I could be super-Zen about it and let them go and figure, another cab will come.” Transactions of that nature fascinate Willimon — they are the heart of all great drama, he says. Continuing with his cab analogy: “Who has the power there? Do I have the power because I didn’t let this ruffle my feathers? Or does that person have the power because I let them walk all over me? When you put that on the political stage, there are real stakes to it. And there are people who make a living thinking about these sorts of transactions.” Beau Willimon, Showrunner of House of Cards, NY Times Magazine

Jan 21

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