Archive for August 7, 2017

Quick question : who is the most tragic figure in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three?

Is it Kyle MacLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper, bifurcated into two distinct beings? I’m thinking no — in part thirteen, “Evil Coop” finally dispenses with the troublesome Ray (played — for presumably the last time — by George Griffiths) once and for all, after winning an arm-wrestling match, placing the infamous “Owl Cave Ring” on Ray’s finger, pumping him for the co-ordinates he’s been needing (along with some info on the ever-enigmatic Phillip Jeffries), and, unbeknownst to him, forging an unspoken bond with the psychotic Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), who I still maintain is his son. And while all that’s going on, back in Vegas, the brothers Mitchum (Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper) are happier than hell with Cooper’s Dougie Jones persona, coming into his insurance agency’s office in an honest-to-God conga line along with their showgirl sidekicks (once again Amy Shiels’ Candie being the only one who actually speaks) and bestowing expensive liquor, cufflinks, and even new cars on both Dougie himself as well as his boss, Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray) as ostentatious tokens of appreciation for an enormous insurance claim being decided in their favor. Heck, Sonny-Jim (Pierce Gagnon) even gets the swing set of every kid’s dreams and Janey-E (Naomi Watts) — well, shit, she’s just happier than ever, and why shouldn’t she be?

Of course, this isn’t good news for everybody — and by “everybody” I mean Tom Sizemore’s Anthony Sinclair and Patrick Fischler’s Duncan Todd. Still, Dougie’s simple-minded fascination with Sinclair’s dandruff — yes, you read that right — triggers a 180-degree transformation in the ethically conflicted con artist, and soon he’s spilling his guts and probably saving his job in one fell swoop just when he was about to commit himself to a truly irreversible decision, and with the comedically incompetent Detectives Fusco (Larry Clarke, Eric Edelstein, and David Koechner) on the case of deciphering Dougie’s true identity and predictably writing off key clues as simple “mistakes,” our empty vessel’s newfound and truly mindless suburban marital bliss seems very secure indeed. No real tragedy to be found here, then.

Could our tragic figure then be Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne? There’s clearly a lot more going on in the battle of wills between her and her husband (Clark Middleton) than we suspected last week — in fact, this is some MK-ULTA, Chuck Traynor/Linda Lovelace-level manipulative bullshit that’s playing out before our eyes. Audrey doesn’t even seem completely sure of where she is, what she’s doing there, where she wants to go, or how to get there from here — wherever “here” even is. So, yeah, depending on how things shake out in future installments, she might be the character trapped in the most tragic situation of all — but I really don’t think so. She’s always been a survivor, and a devious one when needs be. She’ll work her way out of this mess one way or another.

Who, then? James Hurley (James Marshall)? There was talk way back in part two about him being in a motorcycle accident some years ago, and he does seem a shadow of his former self, but no less an authority than Shelly Johnson/Briggs (Madchen Amick) informed us, if you’ll recall, that “James is still cool,” and he proves it tonight by taking the stage at the Roadhouse (after being introduced by beyond-awesome emcee J.R. Starr) — the same stage recently occupied by the likes of Chromatics and “the” Nine Inch Nails — and making a transfixed female member of the audience cry with his  heartfelt rendering of what’s apparently still the only song in his repertoire, “Just You And I.” Even the two creepiest-looking backup singers you’ve ever seen in your life can’t diminish James’ musical magnetism, so nope, he’s not exactly leading a tragic existence, either.

A brief check-in with Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh shows that they’re headed through Utah, and that’s certainly tragic, no doubt, but they’ll get through to the other side of the state and make their escape at some point. And, as I predicted in my last review, Russ Tamblyn’s Dr. Amp/Jacoby and Wendy Robie’s Nadine Hurley appear to be on the verge of cosummating their previously-confined-to-the-airwaves romance in the shadow of her silent drape-runners, so these two lonely souls may have just found true love at last. Let’s rule out all four of these “suspects,” then, and move on.

Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried) has it rough, there’s no denying that , given that she’s trapped in an abusive relationship with a drugged-out, two-timing loser, but at least her mom still loves her, loans her cash, and feeds her homemade cherry pie — and does she really have it any worse than her father, Deputy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), who’s reduced to eating alone at the Double R and pining after the wife and daughter he’s lost?  Hmmm —two strong contenders here, to be sure.

Except that in the end, Bobby doesn’t have to eat alone — he’s invited over to the table shared by Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) and (finally!!!) “Big” Ed Hurley — and I think Ed might just be our guy, because this happy trio is soon interrupted by Norma’s new beau, a cheesy financier named Walter (Grant Goodeve) who’s so blatantly phony and insincere that he makes old-school game-show hosts like Wink Martindale and Chuck Woolery seem honest and authentic by comparison. “Big” Ed still clearly carries a torch for Norma, and despite his assurances to Bobby that “nothing’s going on here,” he’s not fooling anyone. McGill gives a truly gut-wrenching (and largely silent) performance here in part thirteen, one that anyone who’s ever been sweet on somebody they can’t have (shit, I guess that includes anyone who was ever in their twenties) can immediately relate to. He’s obviously  envious of Mr. Plastic, but  at the same time you can feel that he wants Norma to be happy above all else — he just knows it sure won’t be with this sleazy operator, who’s convinced her to franchise out her diner (now we know why she’s doing her books all the time), but then has the unmitigated nerve to tell her how she should be running the place. “Big” Ed obviously loves Norma to death — always has, always will — and the final scene of him eating his take-out soup alone in his gas station as the credits roll is enough to rip your beating heart right out of your chest. This is emotional desolation at its most profound — and most profoundly difficult to watch.

Yup, that’s it then, case closed — the most tragic character on the Twin Peaks revival is “Big” Ed Hurley.

But then I remember Grace Zabriskie’s Sarah Palmer, self-medicating away her pain with fifty bucks’ worth of booze and three or four packs of cigarettes every night, her daughter and husband both dead at the hands of forces beyond her understanding that now appear to be coming for her as well, watching blood-soaked nature documentaries and 1950s boxing matches on her giant television every night, basking in the cathode ray (or whatever the hell they’re made out of these days) glow in an otherwise silent home — a woman for whom the end of the world is no longer an abstraction, but something that already happened a quarter-century ago and didn’t even have the decency to take her with it. Imagine an apocalypse so heartless and cruel that it leaves you behind with no road map for how to put your life back together while everyone else goes on with theirs all around you, as if nothing even happened, and you’ll have some inkling as to what Sarah’s going through. Compared to that, shit — even “Big” Ed has it easy.

 

Among the ranks of Jack Kirby devotees and casual fans alike, you won’t be able to find many willing to make the claim that Super Powers #5 (cover-dated November, 1984 and featuring the story title “Spaceship Earth! We’re All On It!”) ranks among The King’s greatest works — and I’m not here to make that case, either. What I am here to do is to advance a (hopefully) convincing argument that this is still a terrific comic well worthy of critical re-appraisal, and that the flaws it does have aren’t Jack’s fault. In fact, he tried his best to save this mess of a series and pretty much pulled it off.

Some quick background info is probably in order at this point : Super Powers was a mini-series launched by DC to capitalize on a then-popular line of toy “action figures” bearing the same name, which featured all of their “A-list” heroes and villains and set Kirby’s Fourth World chief baddie Darkseid up as the most evil mastermind of the bunch — which, of course, he already was, but it was definitely a swift about-face of sorts for DC to posit that he was the biggest, baddest evil-doer they had in their corporate “universe” given that just a decade earlier, the entirety of the Fourth World saga was unceremoniously cut short and that it largely went unmentioned until a lackluster attempt at reviving it near the end of the ’70s met with a similarly truncated lifespan. Here, then, was a tacit admission on the part of the publisher and its parent company, Warner Brothers, that they had a “blockbuster”-type franchise on their hands (the other denizens of New Genesis and Apokolips also figuring prominently in the Super Powers line-up), they just didn’t know what to do with it at the time.

Kirby knew what a potential “game-changer” he had on his hands from the outset, though, of course, and to their credit DC hired him to update the designs of all his characters for the toys and worked up a contract to pay him some royalties based on their sales, but still — when the time came to exploit his concepts on the printed page  via an official “tie-in,” Jack was once again largely snubbed. He was assigned the task of plotting the five-part story, but the scripting and art chores were handed to other (and, who are we kidding, lesser) talents, who quickly made a mess of things.

Writer Joey Cavlieri and artist Adrian Gonzales had taken Kirby’s simple-but-effective premise — Darkseid grants super-powers to the likes of The Joker, Lex Luthor, The Penguin, etc. in order to keep their foes in the Justice League at bay while he prepares an invasion of Earth, but his stooges can’t help themselves and betray both heroes and villains alike, sending them all bouncing around to various points in time and space while their boss readies his armies —and scuttled it by means of embarrassingly clunky and ineffective dialogue and lackluster art, resulting in four thoroughly fogettable issues and a situation where the guy who should have been doing the book all along was finally brought in to clean up the mess. That’s my take on things, at any rate.

Kirby arriving on the scene immediately made this series something it should have been from the beginning — fun — and he also cleverly and ingeniously managed to wrap up a story that had, just a month prior, looked like it was going to feature all of DC’s top characers aimlessly bouncing around the so-called “multiverse” forever, to wit : Darkseid decides that the best place to watch his conquest of Earth play out is from the offices of DC comics, where he shares an eleveator with a typically-beleaguered staffer named Shmidlapp — but little does he realize that while he’s getting ready to observe his ultimate victory, Kirby’s mysterious cosmic “wild card” figure, the unfathomable Metron, has snatched the big granite-faced guy’s adversaries from their endless loop-de-loop in order to join forces and put paid to his grand ambitions.

Darkseid has no less than four swarms of his dread Parademons waiting to descend upon our planet by means of “Boom Tubes,” but rather than engage them in head-to-head combat after the fact, the heroes (and villains) of Earth decide to combine their might in order to augment Metron’s own mental abilities and head the armies off at the pass. To that end, the first bunch, ostensibly headed for Metropolis, find themselves re-routed to the year 80,000 A.D., where a gigantic sentient “super-computer” blasts them into the far-flung depths of space; the second army gets the opposite treatment, being hurled into the distant past and “devolving” by means of “genetic regression” along the way into club-wielding cavemen who immediately set about each other; the third is drowned en masse in the murky depths of the ocean; and the fourth is dispatched to a “mad universe” created by none other than The Joker himself.

Okay, so a bit of mass-murder took place here, and heroes aren’t supposed to kill and all that — you can argue the morality all you want given that Parademons aren’t human and it’s Metron who technically does the slaughtering — but at the end of the day, Darkseid has to scamper away, non-existent-tail-‘twixt-legs, and our world is safe again (for now). My view, then, is that this issue represents the best, and dare I say cleanest, way out of a tricky wicket — and sets the stage for the sequel series that Kirby would at least be assigned to draw from start to finish. Continutiy-obsessives can also take heart in the fact that, even though volume two seems to proceed directly on from the events of Kirby’s The Hunger Dogs graphic novel,  these stories, being obvious commercial “tie-ins,” are not considered to be “canonical” at all. And anyway, this is still a pretty damn fun little comic and pretending it “never really happened” doesn’t change that fact at all.

Why, then, do I admit at the outset that it’s far from great — and state that its flaws are hardly Kirby’s fault? Well, Kirby being brought in as a metaphorical ninth-inning relief man is one reason, and the other can be summed up in two words : Greg Theakston.

There’s no nice way to put this — Theakson’s inks on this book are, as was almost always the case with him, flat-out atrocious. Kirby’s rich detail is “dialed back” considerably in panel after panel ; faces are, inexplicably, re-drawn almost in their entirety; backgrounds that considerable time went into drawing are either “skimped out” on or  omitted altogether; unfaithful “freelance” decision-making either distorts or destroys the original intent of the penciled images — the list of art crimes here is straight-up fucking endless. Here is but one sample of Jack’s pencils vs. the final “finished” pages, and if you so desire a few minutes on Google image search will yield countless other examples of Theakston’s unconscionable butchery :

 

So, yeah, it ain’t pretty — and certainly the most gifted, visonary, influential, and important creator in the history of the medium, at the tail end of a career for which the word “legendary” is far too small, deserved much better. But this book is what it is, warts and all, and I still think it’s a better-than-fine example of Kirby working his way out of a bad situation  not of his own devising (as well as the only chance you’ll have to see him draw a number of DC stalwarts that he hadn’t been allowed anywhere near previously), only to be ultimately saddled with yet another. Super Powers #5 will always go down in my ledger, then, as a very good comic book — but minus some earlier editorial short-sightedness on DC’s part (that Kirby was forced to compensate for) and some absolutely wretched inking on Theakston’s, it could have easily been a great one