Thursday, October 9, 2008

Funky Connections

I haven't followed Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean in years. (Though for some reason, I do read his Winkerbean spin-off, Crankshaft, every week in the Sunday paper.) I grew up reading Funky in the '80s because it was the local guy making good and the comic was set in Northeast Ohio. But then I moved out of the area for 10 years, stopped reading the funny pages regularly, and lost track of the characters. But I'm always up for an interesting talk and supporting our fantastic local library, so I went to hear Batiuk speak Wednesday night.

The talk mainly focused on Lisa's Story, Batiuk's comics page epic of one of his main character's battle with breast cancer. Batiuk comes off as self-depreciating and self-assured in the same breath (a compliment). His half-hour talk and half-hour audience Q&A was engaging and entertaining. And I learned a few things along the way.

Of the most interest to me -- especially as I am currently immersed in the comic book culture while working to turn my Deus ex Comica series into a self-published book -- was finding out that Batiuk is friends with John Byrne, and that Byrne even drew the strip for ten weeks back in 2003 while
Batiuk recovered from foot surgery. After the talk I came home and did some digging, finding Byrne's work on the Funky strip online. Very cool, indeed.

Batiuk is a fan of sequential art. So it makes sense he relishes those moments when
he's been able to incorporate super heroes in his own medium. He has drawn Superman, Wonder Woman, and She-Hulk in his strip over the years. He has pictures of the boyhood Cleveland home of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superman, on his web site. And earlier this year he did a Sunday strip that was an homage to Tales of Suspense #80.

I really enjoyed Batiuk's talk and appreciate what he's done with his talent, stretching his influence beyond the funny pages. And I might have to give reading Funky Winkerbean another go, twenty years later, because it sounds like Batiuk's still doing some bold things with the strip (like the recent time jump), and it seems like it just might still be relevant.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Little Something for Bonnie Tyler

A lot of folks seem down on the new season of Heroes, but I am back on board the Heroes bandwagon. I loved much of the first season. It faltered a bit near the end, but overall it was a fun ride. Season two, on the other hand, fell apart quickly. Hiro stuck in feudal China with Adam was a black hole that I don't think that season ever recovered from. I am pretty fickle when it comes to TV. I have no qualms about leaving a show mid-season if I become bored with it. So I approached this new season of Heroes cautiously and avoided the pre-première clip-show.

The season's storyline is called "Villains", and I have been pleasantly surprised by this young, four-episode season so far. My wife and I blew threw the first three episodes Monday night, and snuck in the fourth episode before settling in for the debate last night. The show seems energized, refreshed. It's pulling elements from so many sources -- like the "four years in the future" thread obviously owing a debt to Chris Claremont's classic "Days of Future Past" X-Men story arc -- but reverently in my mind.

The reveals have come fast and furious in these first few episodes, and I never felt like the writers were taking a desperate, "let's throw everything and the kitchen sink at them" approach. It feels more like the writers are having some fun, and it's translating well for me. My wife and I have found ourselves jumping in our seats at some of the scares, laughing out loud at some of the dialogue, being surprised by some of the reveals, and being intrigued by where the new storyline is headed.

Some of the stuff that has us enjoying this season (spoilery)... Claire is invincible. Sylar is a Petrelli. Future Ando with powers! Future Ando with powers killing Hiro! Mama Petrelli taking over the Company. The Haitian's back! Parkman's African guide. Mohinder powered up, horny, and making like Brundle-fly. Daphne.
HRG. The genetically engineered triplets. And more!

Another plus? While Kristin Bell is easy on the eyes, she's a horrible actress (with apologies to my wife), and I was thrilled that she was only briefly in these first few episodes and may have been killed.

Before the television season ramped back up this fall, we rewatched the majority of Heroes season one for the first time since it originally aired, and that first two-thirds of the season was lightening in a bottle. Then season two turned around and broke my heart. So I approached this new season guardedly. And after these first few episodes I am cautiously enjoying it. While I don't think the show will ever match the heights of season one's episode 17 (It's called "Company Man", but my wife and our friends all refer to it as "the best episode of Heroes. Ever."), season three is at least fun. And I'm willing to be carried along for the ride.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Three years ago I reviewed the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil's KÀ. Last week in Vegas, celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary and my birthday, I finally got to put the visuals to the score. Vegas is overrun with Cirque du Soleil productions. Nearly every destination hotel casino on the Strip has one, and KÀ is the MGM Grand's offering.

My wife got us second row seats for the amazing production. The stage in and of itself was simply stunning. It could tilt from a horizontal to vertical position and rotate completely. The choreography of the show was breathtaking. A fight was set on the stage while it was in its vertical position -- with the performers using only pegs protruding from and retracting back into the stage to scale and descend the platform. There was a wire-fu bullet-time battle that also took place on the vertical stage. At one heart stopping point there was a rotating contraption where performers were defying gravity without harnesses or nets! The show also simulated a ship caught in a hurricane and a bird in flight, and both scenes took the performers out over the audience.

I had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show before, and I was totally blown away. It is my understanding that KÀ was the first (and may still be the only) Cirque du Soleil production to employ a narrative device to move the show along. I don't know that it was necessary, but it certainly didn't detract from the wonder and jaw dropping astonishment we felt for the individual feats. Fantastic show! And the soundtrack is now loaded back on the iPod!