In the last weeks of the strike-truncated 2007-2008 television season, so many sharks have been jumped that PETA has picketed my family room. In show after show, I watched scripts performed that desperately needed another pass or two. I watched actors stumble through their scenes. I watched producers make absurd character decisions in failed attempts to keep their ratings from plummeting faster than President Bush's approval rating.
Though I haven't watched the season finales of every series I follow, I'm ready to name Bones as the worst offender. Its finale saw the brilliant and cuddly Zach Addy, who is played by the brilliant and cuddly Eric Millegan, revealed to be the apprentice of a cannibalistic psychopath. No, not Donald Trump. I speak of the mysterious Gormogon, who, as it turned out, looked like a low-budget horror movie take on Rasputin.
Millegan's socially-awkward character served a brief tour of duty in Iraq that left him mildly traumatized, but there was nada in previous episodes to suggest he was so mentally unstable that he would sign up and kill for Gormogon. Not that the character's war experience was even mentioned in the finale where it could have at least provided some meager explanation for his actions.
My daughter Kelly took small comfort from the show stressing "Zach" didn't chow down on human flesh with his master. She was so angry she vowed never to watch the show again.
Whatever points Bones earned for David Boreanaz reading a Green Lantern comic book in his tub, the show lost with this just plain moronic episode. The episode started with an incredible lame cheat of Boreanaz's character being "fatally" shot in the previous episode's cliffhanger. Soon thereafter, the psychiatrist character played by John Francis Daley wore out his welcome with the series, though the geniuses who run Bones signed him to be a regular next season. The actors did their best to bring something good to the script, but you can't act your way out of a turd.
Bones was far from the only offender. CSI Miami ended one cliffhanger with Horatio Caine shooting his way out of a Brazilian drug gang ambush, taking out several armed thugs and then murdering their unarmed boss. A week later, another episode ended Caine removing his badge to beat the crap out of a pudgy pedophile who wasn't remotely resisting arrest and who, by that point in the episode, posed no threat to anyone. Looking at my DVR list, I have a few more episodes to watch. Lord knows how many poor sharks will suffer before I get to the season-ending cliffhanger.
That was the way of the season finales. Two characters got the boot in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit with one of them behaving wildly out of her previously-established character. Never before hinted at back story was pulled out of some writer's ass to explain the departure of Jesse L. Martin's character in Law and Order a handful of episodes before the end of the season. The Supernatural season finale never even suggested it wouldn't end with its utterly telegraphed cliffhanger while disposing of two female characters who were more interesting than Jared Padalecki's insipid Sam Winchester.
Sidebar. Whatever points I scored with Kelly for the things I wrote about Zach Addy/Eric Millegan, I just lost with that crack about Padalecki. But I gotta call them as I see them.
The Criminal Minds season finale had me screaming at my TV. Guest Sienna Guillory's chewing the scenery as a British FBI agent, said to have been recruited from Scotland Yard, who brings the Behavioral Analysis Unit to New York City to aid in stopping a serial killer was awful enough. Then the episode ended with every cast member climbing into virtually identical vans. Heck, the team even brought computer goddess Penelope Garcia (played by the truly wonderful Kirsten Vangsness) to the Big Apple so she could also be a possible fatality when - you saw this coming - one of those vans blows up. It was a cheesy, clumsy cliffhanger and just so typical of what the end of the 2007-2008 season. Even the brilliant 30 Rock ended with a clunker of an episode.
Were there exceptions to this mass awfulness?
Actually, there were.
Whoever is in charge of Chuck made the right decision in not trying to squeeze out a few more episodes before the end of the season. The episode they left us with worked just fine for the season finale and didn't seem ill-conceived or rushed. I'm looking forward to the show's next season.
And My Name Is Earl has been a delight all season long. The series went in unexpected directions and made the most of them. The writers had great fun with the regular characters and with an army of returning guest stars, then finished with a hilarious and strong episode.
But, with rare exception, I'm convinced these shows and their viewers would have been better served if the 2007-2008 season ended with the writers' strike.
I don't want stunts. I want good stories.
How about you?
WHAT IF: CIVIL WAR
What If?: Civil War [Marvel; $16.99] collects a number of What If? specials in a surprisingly thin package. That's as much a physical observation as a critical one. The paper seemed so thin I had to count the pages to make sure my review copy wasn't missing some of them. It doesn't affect the pages themselves - there isn't any bleed-through to their other sides - but it was odd enough for me to notice something I don't normally notice. What's more important, of course, are the stories in the book and, sadly, most of them lack weight at well.
The book opens with two Civil War-oriented stories and a wraparound vignette. Kevin Grevioux's "What If Captain America Led All The Heroes Against Registration?" is a brutal parable on the sacrifice of a people's personal liberties for political gain while Christos Gage's "What If Iron Man Lost the Civil War?" is far more optimistic. The outcome of the second hangs on another What If? question: what if Tony Stark weren't a villain? However, both of the stories are more summaries of stories than actual stories, and both suffer from poor art. The Ed Brubaker/Marko Djurdjevic vignette - the Watcher talks with Tony Stark - is better, but demands a sidebar.
Sidebar. Marvel seems to be second-guessing how it portrayed Tony Stark in Civil War. He was clearly a villain there, but now their comics are soft-pedaling that. The Iron Man movie is likely an influence on this attempted redemption of Stark, but, in any case, it appears to this outsider, who thought Civil War was pretty exciting stuff, that Marvel did not fully think through the consequences of their universe-changing event. End of sidebar.
Greg Pak's three Planet Hulk-themed "What If" tales are the best of the book with terrific art by Leonard Kirk, Rafa Sandoval, and Fred Hembeck. As you might expect, the Hembeck-drawn story is nothing short of hilarious.
David Hine's Annihilation "What If" vies for the worst of the book with Christopher Yost's X-Men-oriented speculation: "What if Vulcan Gained the Power of Phoenix?" The former has its moments, but it also has annoying lettering by VC's Rus Wooten, who puts a dot inside every letter "O" in the Watcher's narration. That has to be one of the dumbest lettering choices I've ever seen.
As for the Yost effort, it borders on being incomprehensible if you haven't read the "Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" from which it diverges and it's hampered by terrible storytelling and the kind of truly ugly art that infected the 1990s.
Finishing out the collection is "The Spider Who Went Into the Cold" by writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin and artist Clayton Henry. I didn't read the Spider-Man/Wolverine adventure from which this tale diverges, but, even without having done so, I found this spin on it to be an intriguing and well-told tale in its own right.
What If?: Civil War is pricey given the wildly varying quality of its stories. It gets a disappointing two Tonys.
There are three things I really like about Dark Ivory [Image; $2.99] by Joseph Michael Linsner (writer/artist/colorist) and Eva Hopkins (writer/colorist), though each of these things I like comes with minor reservations.
I really like Ivory Fontaine, the teen heroine of this first issue. She's a little too dramatic/emotional - probably because so much of her home life borders on cliche - and a lot wilder than my own teen daughter, but I do recognize something of my Kelly and her friends in her.
I really like that, though the story plays with supernatural and vampiric imagery, there is no concrete evidence that anything supernatural or vampiric is actually happening. Vampires have been done to - my apologies - death. I like that these menacing figures who appear herein might be completely mortal psychopaths. Scary as hell, but still human. That would be something different in this largely imitative marketplace.
I really like Linsner's art, the drawing and the storytelling. I find Ivory too gorgeous/sexy to be very believable, but who am I to suggest Linsner deny his base what they enjoy?
Besides the reservations I've already mentioned, I'll add that the issue doesn't end in an exciting manner. Someone sinister is watching Ivory from a rooftop. That's dull, especially given that it follows a truly intense sequence in which Ivory flees in panic after stumbling across the still-barely-living victim of one of the issue's "vampires." It was a letdown.
Despite the negatives, Dark Ivory #1 was a pretty good issue and has me eager to see what happens in the next issue. That earns it an impressive four out of five Tonys.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
We end our week of Batman-centric Comics in the Comics with a trio of panels, an editorial cartoon, and a strip. First up are two installments of Reality Check by Dave Whamond. This one is from March 28 of last year...
...and this from April 8 of last year:
Gary Brookins used Batman and Robin in this editorial cartoon from April 28 of this year:
Good ol' Scott Nickel guest-starred Batman and Catwoman in his Eek! strip for May 7 of this year:
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Every Tuesday, I post new Tony Polls questions for your balloting entertainment. This week, I'm asking you questions about eBay: how often you buy or sell comics on it, how you would rate your overall eBay experience, and what comics or related items you would be most likely to buy or sell on eBay.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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