Batman #651

"Face the Face" part 2 of 8
Story by James Robinson, art by Leonard Kirk and Andy Clarke

Part two of the story begun in Detective Comics is still solid, still professional, and a little dull. Batman and Robin foil Poison Ivy's ELF-style antics, then, on the final page, discover that Harvey Dent has killed another minor '80s Bat-villain. Robinson gets points for the way our heroes foil Ivy -- using strategy and teamwork rather than brute force -- and for some nicely choreographed action sequences. But the whole thing feels like a bit of a vamp, a way to keep Batman and Robin occupied while Dent knocks off the requisite number of rogues so the real story can begin. Nothing wrong with this, particularly, but I doubt I'll be around for parts three through eight.

JSA Classified #10

"The Fall and Rise of Vandal Savage Part One"
Story by Stuart Moore, art by Paul Gulacy

On the plus side: a cool story idea -- Vandal Savage, who has been alive since the dawn of mankind, has 11 days to live -- and a great scene with Savage's daughter, Scandal. On the minus side: dull Vandal-Savage-through-the-ages padding. pedestrian dialogue, a few pages of rushed-looking artwork, and a mendacious cover. (You can't put "featuring Green Lantern" on the front if he only appears in one panel.) That's a "No thanks," then.

Hawkgirl #50

"The Dead of Night"
Story by Walter Simonson, art by Howard Chaykin

I'm pretty sure this is the worst of the bunch so far. Nightwing comes close, but that was by a couple of semi-nobodies: this is by Walt Simonson and Howard fucking Chaykin, whose American Flagg! used to be mentioned in the same articles as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

The plot is a snoozer about creepy bullshit lurking in secret underground tunnels beneath the museum where Kendra "Hawkgirl" Saunders works. Every choice Simonson makes exacerbates the dumbness of the scenario: the opening dream sequence, the lugubrious pacing, the expository thought-balloons. (If you have a character thinking "The deadfall must have dumped tons of rock between us, and I'm on the wrong side," it's safe to say you're not using the comics medium to its full potential.) But the real shock is Chaykin's staggeringly ugly art. His figures are stiff, his backgrounds are illegible, and his perspectives are crude or botched, especially on faces, which sometimes look unintentionally Picasso-esque. Inexplicably, he insists on depicting Hawkgirl's bottom teeth, giving her a perpetual grimace whenever she appears. DC should be embarrassed to offer this crap for sale.

"When you see a big company threatening patent suits, sell": Paul Graham on software patents, for all you patent fans out there.


Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16

Story by Mark Waid, art by Barry Kitson and Mick Gray

Now this is good comics.

Mark Waid's Legion revamp, which I hadn't looked at until now, is like a youthsploitation sci-fi fantasy from 1971: in the 30th century, everyone's a boring adult trying to keep the kids from having any fun, until a team of brightly colored teenage superheroes arrives to shake things up. It works because Waid doesn't take the premise seriously (his adults say things like "We insist that you stop being so ... so ... colorful!"), and because he writes funny dialogue. He's good at plotting too: he welcomes new readers with a scene-setting anecdote; he contrives for the Legionnaires and Supergirl (who debuts in this issue) to team up before they've even met; he introduces or advances three (by my count) subplots without cluttering up the story; and he ends on a genuinely surprising cliffhanger.

The frosting on the donut is the startlingly handsome art -- cleanly composed, consistently legible, and still fun to look at, especially in the crowd scenes, where the background faces are a little more cartoony than those of the main characters. (This is an old trick but one you don't see enough of in mainstream comics.) Plus, I'm pretty sure that's one of the Anathematicians of the Insect Mesh, from Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, in panel two, page 20. No one who is not a dyed-in-the-bone nerd can understand how happy this makes me.

A couple of these One Year Later books have motivated me to look out for the next issue, but this is the first one that's inspired me to pick up the back issues too. Fortunately they're collected in two paperbacks, which I will be obtaining in exchange for cash.


New York magazine asks how long we can go on like this:

He owns eleven pairs of sneakers, hasn’t worn anything but jeans in a year, and won’t shut up about the latest Death Cab for Cutie CD. But he is no kid. He is among the ascendant breed of grown-up who has redefined adulthood as we once knew it and killed off the generation gap.
(And by the way, no one is allowed to post "and he writes reviews of superhero comics on his blog," OK? Because I'm posting it first.)

Robin #148

"Boy Wanted Part One: Out Go the Lights"
Story by Adam Beechen, art by Karl Kerschl et al

There's nothing really egregious about this story. Mystery villain lures Robin into a fight, blinds him with floodlights, plants a corpse in a Batgirl suit on the ground, and calls in the cops, and boom -- the Boy Wonder is wanted for murder. But the plot feels shopworn: Bruce Wayne was wanted for murder a few years ago, and Nightwing (the original Robin) got framed just last week, and Beechen deals with this by having characters go around saying things like "First Nightwing, now you?"

Plus there's a lot of little botches that add up. The in media res opening is confusing and necessitates some clunky exposition. (The trick with these One Year Later stories is making the reader wonder what's happened since last issue without making them wonder what the fuck is going on now.) The characterization of Batman and Oracle is wrongheaded: Oracle comes off like a big soppy girl, and Batman clumsily apologizes for hurting Robin's feelings. And Beechen spends about half the issue awkwardly contriving to keep Batman from pursuing the case himself (a problem that anyone writing a Robin solo book must face on a monthly basis). This comic would be fine if it were, you know, better.


Birds of Prey #92

"Progeny Part One: Inseperable"
Story by Gail Simone, art by Paulo Siquera and Robin Riggs

Cool plot idea: the Crime Doctor (sadistic medical-torture expert) wants to defect from the Society of Super-Villains, and Oracle and her team of sexy operatives have to give him cover. Dumb execution (i): the story doesn't get any further than bad guys pursuing the fleeing turncoat and our heroines fighting them off. Dumb execution (ii): that story, dull as it is, is intercut with scenes of the former Black Canary undergoing martial-arts training in some southeast Asian village, and the intercutting is so clumsy as to make both stories almost incomprehensible. (I had to reread and skip the Canary pages, then go back and read them separately.)

Douglas Wolk wrote a great piece about Birds of Prey as a series that "revolves around a handful of characters whose back stories are unbelievably tangled up." Wolk's "super-reader" might recognize the new team member who appears in sillhouette on the penultimate page, but I had to check Wikipedia to learn that it's Gypsy, of all people. I was reading JLA during the much-maligned "Detroit" era, when Gypsy was around, and I wouldn't have identified her in a million years.


Green Arrow #60

"Crawling Through the Wreckage Part One: New Sheriff in Town"
Story by Judd Winick, art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Comics have always been distinctly urbanist by nature. Even people who don't read them can tell you that Superman lives in Metropolis and Batman in Gotham, and those cities -- Bright Shiny Deco New York and Dark Scary Gothic New York -- define the characters as much as Lois Lane and Robin, or Lex Luthor and the Joker. Superhero stories are full of daily newspapers and police commissioners and other appurtenances of city life. But I was still surprised and a bit thrilled to find Green Arrow's new adventures beginning with two mayoral aides debating urban redevelopment.

One Year Later, GA's Star City is the New Orleans of the DCU, recovering from catastrophe, begging for federal aid, prey to carpetbagging developers. Green Arrow is a good candidate for this kind of city-politics storyline -- since the '70s he's been DC's resident lefty, a role that's tough to square with the superhero milieu. (A war on crime is a fundamentally right-wing civic improvement project.) Winick's solution: Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen has been elected mayor of Star City, and now an evil development consortium has hired Deathstroke to get him out of the way. (Note the apparently coincidental overlap with Superman: the hero is targetted by a political opponent for the public acts of his secret identity, rather than by a supervillain for his costumed assaults on crime. There's also some apparently coincidental overlap with Batman: in the hero's absence, a bad guy has turned vigilante. GA pins a glue arrow to him with a note saying "Nice work but stop killing them.")

There is just one incredibly huge problem with all this. Winick structures the story around a surprise ending: we hear the bad guys and the aides and the news reporter who does the exposition talking about "the mayor," we see Deathstroke contracted to kill the mayor, but we don't learn that Ollie's the mayor until the last page. This would be a huge and exciting payoff if not for the Oliver Queen for Mayor posters on the cover of the fucking magazine. Is there not an editor in charge of these things?


This Bright Hot Center

Here's part of interview with this guy Bill Wasik, who wrote a (apparently famous though I'd never heard of it) story for Harpers in whch he created some sort of fake flashmob:

W: A lot of people move to New York because they have a subconscious sense that they want to get closer to the center of the culture. Which of course means getting close to the next big thing—

V: —and sometimes even participating in making it.

W: Yes, I don't mean in an entirely passive way. It's exciting. People who move to New York go through this process in whatever area that excites them—books, magazines, indie rock, dance, theater, any of these things—there's this process where you become embedded in the creative groups of people who live here. You're self-consciously trying to wend your way closer and closer to this bright hot center. You only know it's there because you see people who appear closer to it than you are, and you're like "I want to be that close." And you get that close, and you're like "I want to get even closer." And so somebody you know tells you about some reading by some writer, and maybe you've never even read them or maybe you even don’t necessarily think they’re that good, but you’re like, "Well, it's the thing to do, so I’m gonna go."

Here's another good bit:

V: I've talked to some friends who liked your story, and some who hated it. As far as the haters go, I think you may have broken a major hipster taboo here, which is don't use the word "hipster," don't try to define hipster, anyone who purports to understand the hipster doesn't understand the rules of the game and therefore must not be a hipster. You seem to have waded into territory where there's a code of silence, where you're supposed to knowingly nod and wink but not really talk about who we are, what we stand for, and why we go out. Why's that? Is the truth that embarrassing?

W: Right, the one weird thing about "hipster," is that it's a word that nobody applies to themselves, or openly admits to being.

V: So hipsters are those guys over at the next table that dress like us but aren’t quite getting it.

W: Yeah, I thought a lot about whether or not that was the word I was going to use. Other than the fact that nobody seemed to take the term on as their own, it did seem to accurately describe the phenomena I was talking about, so I decided I would use it. I wouldn't have used the word "hipster" a year and a half ago, but recently I've started to hear people use it in a way that does sort of begrudgingly describe themselves in a broader sense. It's not just "those assholes who live in Williamsburg" or "this mean little clique of people who aren't at all like me." The broader sense means like "the self-consciously cultured people of a certain generation, who are trying to get closer to the culturally central thing, trying to feel like they're up on matters." That doesn't just include people who wear tight corduroys but also a lot of the Internet culture and people who are all into the same shit.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.


I could not agree more re: Big Love. In the NYer this week, Nancy Franklin says it doesn't get good until episode five or so, but of course you can never trust TV critics because they have to watch so much TV that their standards go to pieces. I don't know that I will be around to find out if she's right. I agree that the best parts are the scenes with the daughter's coworker at the burger place, specifically the coworker's face. It's so funny! If that character was played by a normal-looking actress, I don't think you'd like those parts so much. (UPDATE: Actually, she looks like this; she's just very good at playing a character who looks like a total freak.)

Two more thoughts:
(i) A lot hinges on what they're going to do with Harry Dean Stanton -- specifically, on whether he's going to remain a moustache-twirling child-abusing Bill's-dad-poisoning villain or whether something more complicated is going to happen. It would be great if he bust out some of the Molly-Ringwald's-dad-in-16-Candles charm, just to complicate things a bit.
(two) The biggest problem, besides the gaping hole that is Bill Paxton, is that having three wives is such a huge hassle, and so much of the show revolves around the stressful elements -- the jealousies and rivalries among the wives, the scheduling, the expenses -- that it's totally unfun to watch.

No Love for Big Love

What do you think so far about Big Love? Again, I am surprised you have not shared your reaction with Roth Brothers readers. I am having trouble getting into it, and have decided to give it only one more episode. It seems to have picked up some of the tropes of HBO's genuinely good shows -- Sopranos and 6FU -- without actually replicating what makes them compelling. Mainly, I just can't make myself care about any of the characters. There seems to be no moral or emotional center at the heart of the show. Perhaps because he's a Mormon, Bill just seems totally bloodless and held-in. Maybe this is intentional, and we'll see some moment of catharsis or whatever at some point, but I don't think I'll be able to stick around for it. It's very hard for me to sympathize with the trials of a man with three wives, when A) he's so unbelievably cold and self-absorbed, 2) we know so little about what led him to think this was a good idea in the first place, and D) he seems to have made a conscious decision to choose this life. But then I think about Tony Soprano, who also "chose" his unconventional life as much as Bill did (though maybe neither of them did, families being what they are) and that doesn't stop us sympathizing with him. I guess it's because with Tony there's some humanity under there (and we have the sessions with Melfi to make it even more explicit), which we've hardly seen in Bill at all. And plus the sex is creepy. The best thing so far is the teenage daughter who was in Mean Girls, and her weird but sweet new friend at the burger place.


If you thought comic book blogging was obscure

Just posted this on the Washington Monthly site but thought I'd do it here too.

Not to belabor this whole patent business, but it's good to see the New York Times get into the game today, with an editorial($) that hits pretty much all the key points.

Ironically, the Times also has a news story today that offers a near-perfect example of the harm that over-broad patents can do. A new study suggests flaws in a test for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes--mutations which have been linked to breast cancer. But a Utah bio-tech company called Myriad Genetics holds the patents on that test, and on any testing for BRCA1 and 2. So without Myriad's permission, no one can develop a more accurate test (or a cheaper one--Myriad charges about one third again as much as some university researchers used to). And frequently that permission isn't granted: several researchers told me they'd given up studying the BRCA genes after getting cease-and-desist letters from Myriad.

What the Times doesn't mention is that the European patent office has revoked Myriad's patents, concluding, essentially, that Myriad's contribution to the ongoing research which ultimately allowed them to isolate the BRCA genes was not significant enough to merit giving them monopoly rights to any use of the genes. Europe's patent laws are less business-friendly than ours, but some American experts argue that the US patents are equally faulty. So the patents should perhaps have never been granted at all. If they hadn't, we might be catching more cases of breast cancer.

Since you asked

This kind of tantrum has been a recurring punctuation-mark to Moore's brilliant career. This particular iteration is getting a lot of play because of all the movies being made from Moore's work lately, and because of the increased mainstream interest in comics, but to seasoned Moore-watchers it's business as usual.

Around 1987, flush with the success of Watchmen, Moore quit DC (along with fellow stars Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, and Marv Wolfman) when the company announced plans for a ratings system similar to the movie industry's. The ratings scheme never happened, and Miller, Chaykin, and Wolfman are all still working for DC two decades on, but Moore stayed away. He later told the Comics Journal that "the last straw" had come when a DC editor threatened to launch a Watchmen spinoff series. (No such series was ever published.) Now he's accusing the company of tricking him into signing away his rights to V for Vendetta.

He's had a similar series of squabbles with Marvel over the use of the name Marvelman (eventually published by Eclipse under the name Miracleman, now sadly out of print), over Marvel publishing strips he did for the U.K.'s Dr. Who Weekly, over a credit that was omitted from a Captain Britain trade paperback. His involvement with the film industry is the same story again: interpreting 20th Century Fox's decision to settle a plagiarism lawsuit as a personal slight, demanding an apology for Joel Silver's Hollywood bullshit, etc. etc.

It's not that he's in the wrong on any of this stuff, particularly -- it's just that it happens so much you have to assume he enjoys it.

It's a shame, because I think all this antagonism has deformed his career. Imagine if, instead of bouncing from publisher to publisher, he had followed a path through mainstream comics like that of Grant Morrison, who has alternated periods writing mainstream superhero books (New X-Men, JLA, and soon Batman) with work on his own creations for DC's mature-readers imprint Vertigo (The Invisibles, The Filth, We3 -- all of which Morrison owns outright). Imagine if, instead of writing Superman homages in Supreme and Tom Strong, Moore had spent a year writing Superman, or if, instead of WildCATs, he'd taken over JLA. I suspect Moore's later work would be more satisfying, and mainstream comics would certainly be richer for his involvement. As it is, his most influential work was done 20 years ago.


How have you been feeling about the fact that your longtime idol Alan Moore has been all over the news lately with his public denunications of V for Vendetta? Every time I see his name I think of you at like age 13. I was hoping that you might have shared your reaction with Rothbrothers readers. I know there is only so much comics-related blogging one man can do, but still...

Nightwing #118

"The Gang's All Here"
Story by Bruce Jones, art by Joe Dodd and Bit


You know that moment in Crocodile Dundee where Crocodile Dundee meets some guy on a Manhattan street corner and then says, "I'll be in town for a few days -- I'm sure I'll see you around!" Well, that was a joke. And yet: Dick "Nightwing" Grayson has moved to Manhattan (his former city, which goes by the very realistic name of Bludhaven, was destroyed in Infinite Crisis), and: the girl he picks up in a bar happens to be some kind of metahuman; his friend Clancy happens to be at the same bar; she happens to know who the girl is; she happens to run into Dick on the street the next day; Nightwing happens to be around the corner when she's getting mauled by an escaped mental patient later that night.... This is Manhattan, guys. There's more than three people on it.

Also: Does Dick "I Used To Be Robin" Grayson, whose integrity and character clinched Batman's case in his argument with Superman-2 in Infinite Crisis, really hop in and out of bed with bar floozies? Should the villain really explain his powers to the hero in mid-fight? Can this comic get any lamer? I will not be around to find out.


Superman #650

"Up, Up, and Away! Chapter One: Mortal Men"
Story by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, art by Pete Woods

Now this one I'm glad I read. It works because it combines revelations about the Missing Year and the current state of play with an actual plot, the kind that was missing from Detective #617. The revelations are ordered in a meaningful way -- right when we think we know what's going on, we find out something new that changes everything. This is how you make suspense.

First we learn that Superman's been MIA for a year, but Clark and Lois seem pretty happy about it: Clark has spent the time actually doing some reporting for the Planet and cooking dinner for Lois. A crisis develops, and Clark slips into an alley, psyching us up for the big "I'm back!" costume change -- but instead he summons Supergirl with a signal watch (it even makes the same "zee zee zee" sound as Jimmy Olsen's). OK -- he's training Supergirl; he's taking a break to concentrate on his secret identity. Nope. Hired goons rough Clark up in an alley -- and he bleeds. To Be Continued.

What's more, the fight between Supergirl and the Kryptonite Man is actually written: Supergirl figures out a clever, plausible way to stop the guy, instead of just pounding the crap out of him. This is about as good as an issue of Superman can get (at least one that's not written by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison).

And what the hell happened in the Missing Year? "It's been a good year," Clark says. Contrast that with Batman's remark to Gordon in Detective: "It happened. Every terrible thing." This is the kind of thing you can do when you've got a whole universe to tell stories in.


JSA #83

"Who's Afraid of Ghosts?"
Story by Paul Levitz, art by Rags Morales, Luke Ross, and Dave Meikis

A couple years ago the London Guardian, of all places, ran an interview in which DC president Paul Levitz wondered if he could still make it as a comics writer. "The writing's better" nowadays, he said. I thought this was a likeable attitude for a guy who is, after all, running the company.

Well, the jury is in: Paul Levitz should stick to running the company. Two points about this stupid comic: (1) it resurrects the team-book trope in which we see each member of the team having the same experience one after another, so the whole comic is the same three-page sequence over and over; (2) comic-book villains continue to advertize their presence to their enemies ("The Gentleman Ghost always warns ya when yer goin' ta die!"), and they continue to lose. This comic is why people think comics are for morons.

Detective Comics #817

"Face the Face" part 1 of 8
Story by James Robinson, art by Leonard Kirk and Andy Clarke

This is what they call decompression: Commissioner Gordon gets a call saying Poison Ivy is doing something nasty and floral to a big meeting of CEOs; he goes upstairs and turns on the Bat-Signal; Batman and Robin show up, get briefed, and set out to stop Ivy from pursuing her deranged ecoterrorism. And that's the comic, basically. Gordon walking up to the roof gets a full page.

OK, there's a little more: the undignified death of a stupid villain from the 1980s, a lot of hints about what's happened over the past year, and a good moment when Batman disses a presumptuous rookie cop. (There's something cool about Batman being straight-up rude.) And a striking effect from colorist John Kalisz: Batman crouches on top of the Bat-Signal, and his costume turns black and white in the glare. Solid professional superhero comics in the modern style.



I am going to be doing some comics-related blogging here. Worse, it's going to be superhero-comics blogging, not Ware/Clowes grownup-comics blogging. I have been reading more DC comics than usual lately, due to a big stunt that DC is pulling that I have totally fallen for.

For two years, most of the DC titles have been converging into one massive storyline that climaxes with a limited series called Infinite Crisis. I've read about half the relevant stuff so far; some of it's good and some of it's dumb, but as a whole it's an impressive feat of narrative coordination. Infinite Crisis itself is total fanboy fun and completely inaccessible to anyone not steeped in DC Universe lore.

But what's relevant for our purposes is what happens after IC: all the core DC titles jump one year ahead. The issues in question have a big "One Year Later" insignia on the covers, providing a place for new readers to jump on and affording the writers an opportunity for some mystery: what happened during that missing year?

The missing year will be covered in a weekly series called 52, out in a couple months. (All we know so far is that the big-shot heroes are MIA, and 52 will focus on the minor-leaguers trying to fill their shoes.) But I'm going to take One Year Later as an opportunity to read a bunch of DC comics, including some I've never read and others I haven't looked at in years, and see how they rate. If any are good, I'll keep buying them until I'm sick of them.

I won't be buying every 1YL book (you could probably pay me to read a sword-and-sorcery version of Aquaman, but it wouldn't be cheap). But I will buy most of them, and then I will post a brief review, and you will learn what a college-eduated man thinks about escapist entertainment for slow-reading adolescents. Stay tuned.


Hipsters turn down $$$ for Hummer commercials:

Hummer has been turned down or stood up by everybody from long-defunct post-punkers LiLiPUT (offered 50 grand for "Heidi's Head", according to the AP), to big names Talking Heads and Smashing Pumpkins, to recent indie bands like Four Tet, Caribou, and the Soledad Brothers.

Link rodeo

This is pretty cool: a montage of clips from all the cinematic and televisual incarnations of Superman, followed by the teaser for this summer's Superman Returns. The teaser suggests a conscious effort to target the movie to Christians -- just listen to (one assumes) Jor-El saying "It is for this reason -- their capacity for good -- that I have sent them you, my only son." (Um ... I thought you sent him because your planet was about to explode.)

The NYT on Alan Moore's crusade against DC Comics and the makers of V for Vendetta.

Google has purchased the very-cool-if-not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Writely, suggesting that they're gearing up to take on Microsoft Office. Edit: A very smart debunking of this piece of conventional wisdom is here.

Plus here's the NYT on "mid-level" web acquisitions (where "mid-level" = around half a billion dollars) and on the Silicon Alley revival.


Also the Hassidim who run a hotel and foolishly try to rip Tony off. One starts lecturing him about the fall of the Roman empire. Hassid: "And where are the Romans now?" Tony: "You're lookin' at 'em." Cue the ultraviolence.

Also: that thing in the article about how leaders are measured by how they treat their Jews? I bet a Jew made that up.


The Sopranosteins

Sorry, lame title. There is way more to be said about The Soprano's approach to "the Jewish question" than is accomplished here. This totally ignores the famous Mercedes heist at the Jewish wedding. More broadly, it doesn't address the skill with which the show's creators depict the way that suburban Jews and Italians in the NYC metro area are in almost the exact same social/cultural/economic milieu, having made the move from the LES/Little Italy to the New Jersey and Westchester, and assimilated into the American mainstream at almost the exact same time. The Jews always seem to represent what Carmela imagines her own family's existence could be if Tony could just grow up.

Fishbowl DC

The other thing is that I went to an event in the Capitol Building this morning with Rep. Sherrod Brown, who is running for Senate in Ohio. The most interesting thing, aside from getting to meet Matthew Yglesias, who is predictably tounge-tied in person, is that Jane Mayer from the New Yorker was there, and she couldn't be more than like 42. And she's very cute and charming, not that I had the balls to actually speak to her. I had always assumed that she was like 55 and all dowdy, I think maybe because I confused her with Jane Kramer.

Heather Havrilesky agrees with us too. I'm not sure that the perception of a fix will be as devastating to PR as it was to Joe Millionaire, however. What made PR better than maybe any other reality show is that who ended up winning wasn't really the point. Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor/ette are built around the process of identifying the winner. It's not that we're all supposed to agree that whoever the dude picks is the most deserving, but there really is no goal other than winning, and no other reason to participate or watch. But built into the setup of PR, maybe kind of like prestigious literary prizes, is the idea that the judges aren't really qualified to judge who's better or worse. It's more just about seeing the different personalities and the beautiful things they produce. And who fights with who.

There is more to be said on this but not by me right now.

I like Daniel. Daniel is America's gay boyfriend. But he choked. It turns out that, for all his technical skill and the improvisatory ability that served him well in weekly competition, he wasn't ready for a full-collection runway show. Half his pieces were ugly and the other half had nothing interesting or special about them -- you could see them on the rack at Banana Republic. Chloe, frankly, was kind of a joke, with those plasticky materials and grotesque throws and, as you point out, the overuse of the openings-in-the-back motif.

Santino's clothes, though, were beautiful, sexy, elegant, and wearable. Of the three collections, his was the only one that looked like it was made by someone who likes women's bodies.

Santino's strategy: (i) Use flashy, overwrought clothes and an arrogant-prick love-to-hate-him persona to make it to the final three. (ii) Reveal your softer side the episode before fashion week. (iii) Bust out these lovely subtle dresses that no one knew you had in you in the final round. The trouble was that the arrogant-prick thing worked too well, and there was no way they could let him win. When Nina Garcia told him she wondered what had happened to his individuality, you could see him realize: The fix is in.

I fear the credibility of Project Runway has been badly tarnished. Reality shows that are perceived to monkey with the results for narrative purposes have been known to lose all their popularity between one season and the next (cough cough Joe Millionaire). Viewers generally won't get fooled again.


Dude you are so so so right. Chloe used the same fabric too many times and over-used that thing where you cut slits in the back. Daniel had too many of those high wavy collars, and his much-vaunted 13th piece was plain ugly. Santino had masterfully reined in his impulse to "over-design", without sacrificing an inch of the ambition and verve that got him to Bryant Park. I think his personality was what screwed him in the end, which is ridiculous, because Chloe was just kind of bland. Santino may have been a bit of a dick sometimes, but he was the realest by far.

Is it just me, or was Santino totally robbed?


This column by Seth Stevenson, comparing VW's deliberately lobotomized current campaign with its earlier ads, makes me genuinely nostalgic for two car commercials from about five years ago. I remember being excited about "Da Da Da" at the time, particularly the floppy little toy the guy is playing with, but I never realized how lovely "Pink Moon" is.


Good ways to start an interview, #1

ESPN.com Sports Guy Bill Simmons talks to Malcolm Gladwell:

When I started reading you back in the mid-'90s, I remember being discouraged because you made writing seem so easy -- technically, you were almost flawless, and since I knew I couldn't write that well, you were one of those visible writers who made me feel like I was going to be bartending my whole life. You never waste a word. You come up with cool arguments and angles for your pieces, then you systematically prove/dismantle those same arguments and angles, and you do it in an entertaining, thoughtful, logical way. You never allow your biases to get in the way. You're better at writing than me in every way. Basically, I hate you.

So I always thought to myself, "Well, maybe he kicks my ass as a writer, but I guarantee he's a huge dork who knows nothing about sports and couldn't talk to a girl to save his life." Then we went out for drinks in New York City in December, argued about basketball and football for three hours, and then some smoking-hot bartender started hitting on you at the end of the night. She was giving off that same vibe that the 25 girls give the "Bachelor" during the first episode when he has, like, only four or five minutes to meet everyone, so everyone has to hit on him at warp speed. Now I have decided that you need to die.


My Amazing Story, Or, How I became the Pope

I was as surprised as anyone when I found out I'd been elected Pope. I got a message on my machine saying I should call the Vatican, they had some important news, and I called, and some secretary there told me. I didn't even remember that Pope was an elected position at first; I guess I thought it was like being the king, you were born into it, although of course that doesn't make sense.

Anyway, when they told me, I was amazed -- I mean, why me? I'm not even a Catholic. I'm Jewish, I guess, although I don't believe in God. I just didn't see myself being Pope. I'd never even considered the possibility.

At first I was going to tell them no. I didn't think I could deal with all the God stuff, and I'd have to move to Rome. And it's crazy, the idea of being a divine representative on earth. I would say the wrong thing and get into trouble. It just didn't seem like me.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there would be good things about it too. Like, I could do a lot of good as Pope. I knew the previous Popes had been pro-life, and it would be good to have a Pope who was pro-choice -- not to mention one who didn't oppose birth control. And I figured the money would probably be pretty good -- like, better than what I was making at my previous job, for sure. (I was right!) And to be honest, it was flattering to think that, of everyone, the cardinals had picked me, even though I didn't necessarily have all the qualifications.

But the thing that really made up my mind was this whole sexual abuse thing. Like everybody else, I'd read about it in the papers, and i thought the church handled the whole thing really badly. If a priest is molesting little kids, you don't just ship him off to another parish for Christ's sake -- you tell the cops! It seemed really obvious, but apparently the people in charge didn't get it.

So I called them back and told them I'd do it. Little did I know that I was making a decision that would totally change my life!


The first thing that I learned is that the Pope doesn't pay for anything. I told them I'd get on a flight out to Italy, but the secretary just said, We'll take care of it, your holiness, and they got the tickets themselves. First class and everything! They picked me up at the airport and drove me to the Vatican, laid on all the food -- it was lavish. It was really nice, too, but it also worried me a bit. Like, would I be able to perform as Pope, seeing as how I'd never been to mass or anything like that?

So I spent the first couple weeks of my papacy just learning the ropes -- here's what the basic services are, here's what you do when people come for an audience with you, etc. etc. I had to memorize a lot of new words -- vestry, ordination, bull, laicization, sacrament ... there's a lot of them. But once you get the hang of it, the work itself is surprisingly easy when you're at the Pope level -- it's the cardinals and bishops that do all the real work. I'm lucky I got to skip that bit.

Once I was pretty confident that I wasn't going to like start singing at the wrong point in the service and make a fool out of myself, I told them I was going to make some changes to church policy. (When I say "them," I mean all these guys who hang around you when you're Pope. I'm not sure who does what exactly.) I could tell they were a bit skeptical at first -- they knew how inexperienced I was, of course -- but all you have to say is, "Who's the Pope?" and they fall into line pretty quickly.

I'd been thinking about it for a while, and I knew there was lots to be done, but I decided I'd start with the really obvious stuff -- the things that everyone knew were broken and needed fixing. I started with an Edict on Abortion -- I just wrote it all out in English and had someone there translate it all into Latin for me. It basically said, Sorry, big mistake, it's between a woman and her doctor, disregard any instructions to the contrary. And then I basically did the same with birth control -- stuck in a few lines about condoms and AIDS but basically told them to use their own judgment. I compromised a little bit by putting in some stuff about God -- they weren't ready for a papal edict that didn't mention God, so I just said that God obviously wanted people not to have more kids than they could cope with and to look after themselves and all that.

And then I figured, since I was at it and I had the translator guy there and everything, I might as well do women priests. I'd thought maybe I'd leave it a week or so to let everything die down about the abortion and birth-control ones, but then I thought, well, might as well let them know I mean business. So that's what I did: I went on the Internet and looked up some antidiscrimination law and had it translated into Latin and made part of church law (or "canon law," as they call it). So now in addition to women priests we're going to have gay priests and handicapped priests and basically anyone. That felt good, thinking that because of me, all the little girls who want to be priests can grow up to fulfill their dreams.

And then I thought, well, as long as we're doing this, we might as well address the whole pedophilia thing. I mean, people are going to want to know what I'm going to do about it, aren't they? But I thought it was particularly sensitive, because there's all those kids out there, some of them now grown up but still scarred by what happened to them. So I wrote two special edicts, one saying that any cardinal or bishop or whatever who knows anything about any priests fiddling with little kids should turn them over to the police right away -- no second chances -- and another just telling all the people who've been fiddled with that the church is very sorry about what happened to them and wishing them strength and happiness in their lives. That's all. It doesn't have any binding force, the second one, but I thought it needed saying anyway.

I thought that was enough for one day, and the whole atmosphere was wearing me out a bit. It's a very male atmosphere, the Vatican -- it's like a boys' club. So I went up to my living quarters and called my girlfriend, who was still in the States. She had been dubious about this whole Pope thing at the beginning, but she'd heard about all my edicts and she was really supportive, which was nice. We started talking about her coming out here to see me -- I kept telling her the Vatican would pay for it, and she kept saying she'd pay for it herself, and I kept saying that it was me who'd decided to move all the way out here, and what's more I could easily afford a plane ticket for her (and going first class makes all the difference on those long international flights), but she wouldn't hear of it. She's very self-reliant -- it's one of the things I like about her. She said she'd see when she could get some time off work. We said goodnight, and said we loved each other and missed each other, and then we hung up and I went to bed. I do miss her a lot, but I feel really good about this whole Pope thing. I'm really glad I took the job.

This is cool. (Scroll down to the thing that says "Sorry Shafer.")


Interesting discussion of music and literature with Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, and John "Mountain Goats" Darnielle in the LA Weekly.

JONATHAN LETHEM: Camden Joy once made me very happy by saying that if my collected writings were a band, they’d be Yo La Tengo, and that thrilled me because it felt right (if you grant that I’m as good as YLT). Like them, I’m openly aware of standing on the shoulders of giants. Like them, I make sporadic use of Dylanesque personal gestures and Enoesque (Enoid?) self-effacing experiments, but don’t lock down into either mode.

We're usually too high-minded for this kind of thing, but it's somehow thrilling to see the girl who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter movies drinking a Mexican beer with a lime in it. [Photo from Gawker; link via Bookslut.]