Monday, October 31, 2005

Appreciating the She-Hulk

There are some things that I see, read, or listen to that make me marvel at their formal structures, or how things fit together in a way that seems organic, rather than contrived. (Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, for example.) Other works move me through their rendering of extraordinarily complex situations and characterizations in deceptively simple packages. (I'd place Mozart's Magic Flute and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go in this category.)

Conversely, great enjoyment can come through accepting certain things on their own terms, and appreciating how well they work within, or even transcend, the conventions of their formats. Along these lines, I've come to value pop film, music, and printed ephemera like comic books and cartoons that are produced with skill, wit, and some measure of conviction.

In a documentary about movies that I caught a while ago on cable TV, John Waters was asked about the kind of films he appreciates. In response, Waters said something very interesting: even in a bad film, he commented, there are always interesting things to be seen. For example, if the plot doesn't make the grade, you might enjoy yourself nonetheless by concentrating on the lampshades that were chosen in the interior shots, or the clothes that the people were given to wear. When I first heard this, I thought it was pure glibness, but in the intervening years I've come around to Waters' point of view.

Sometimes great satisfaction can be derived from the full appreciation of a small component of a larger work. In short, the thing doesn't have to be entirely good to be thoroughly enjoyed.

Case in point: in anticipation of the re-launch of the She-Hulk series, I considered myself lucky to find issue 2 (June 1989) of John Byrne's The Sensational She-Hulk in the comic slush-bin at my neighborhood's secondhand bookstore. Byrne's run on the She-Hulk was infused with an unabashed warts-and-all love for the medium that is infectious, and which has carried over into the more recent incarnations of the series (authored by Dan Slott and collected in Superhuman Law and Single Green Female). What's refreshing about the series is that the She-Hulk is an avid reader of Marvel comic books, and is basically aware that she exists in a corner of the Marvel universe created by John Byrne. When she confronts several of the issue's villains on page 13, she turns to face the reader/writer and says scornfully: "What...? TOAD MEN? TOAD MEN, Byrne?? I thought the cover was just a gag!"

Like Waters' finding (and appreciating) the interesting lampshades on display in an otherwise indifferent film, for me this panel alone justified the purchase of this old comic book, despite its poor condition.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Recently Acquired

Last week the following items arrived in the mail:
Essential X-Men, Volume 5, (Uncanny X-Men #180-198; Annuals #7-8)
Essential X-Men, Volume 6, (Uncanny X-Men #199-213, and others)
New X-Men, Volumes 1-3, (Grant Morrison's complete run, issues 114-154)

My College's Library held its annual sale this weekend, and I came away with several interesting books:

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, translated by R. Ellis and James Spedding, (London: George Routledge and Sons; NY: EP Dutton & Co, n.d.)

W.H. Hadow, Collected Essays, (Oxford UP, 1928)

The Complete Works of Mrs. Hemans, edited by her sister, in two volumes, Volume 1, (NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1868)

The Spectator, volume 1-2 (of 8), ed., A. Chalmers, (Philadelphia: John E. Potter and Company, n.d.)

D.G. Paterson and M.A. Tinker, How to Make Type Readable: A Manual for Typographers, Printers, and Advertisers, based upon twelve years of research involving speed of reading tests given to 33,031 persons, (Harper and Brothers, 1940)

Webster and Tourneur, ed. and intro. by John Addington Symonds, Mermaid Series, (Ernest Benn Limited, reset edition, 1959)

Felicia Hemans has provided me with a fitting poem to include in an academic paper that I'm drafting about Celtic Elizabethans who promoted the first British empire:

Prince Madoc's Farewell
Why lingers my gaze where the last hues of day,
On the hills of my country in loveliness sleep?
Too fair is the sight for a wanderer whose way
Lies far o'er the measureless worlds of the deep!
Fall, shadows of twilight! and veil the green shore,
That the heart of the mighty may waver no more.

Why rise on my thoughts, ye free songs of the land
Where the harp's lofty soul on each wild wind is borne?
Be hushed, be forgotten! for ne'er shall the hand
of minstrel with melody greet my return.
--No, no! --let your echoes still float on the breeze,
And my heart shall be strong for the conquest of seas!

'Tis not for the land of my sires to give birth
unto bosoms that shrink when the trial is nigh;
Away we will bear over ocean and earth
A name and a spirit that never shall die.
My course to the winds, to the stars, I resign;
But my soul's quenchless fire, O my country! is thine.

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