Bearers of the Black Staff

Terry Brooks’ Legends of Shannara duology is a direct continuation of his Genesis of Shannara trilogy, except that it’s set five hundred years later. This duology is exceptional for Brooks  because his Shannara books have mostly been written in sets of three. This comes as a change of pace for the fantasy writer. Not oddly, it feels a little rushed.

In the last Shannara book, The Gypsy Morph, a human boy that was also a fairy creature with magical powers named Hawk led a chosen few group of humans and mutants and Elves on a biblical exodus to a secure valley in the Rocky Mountains. He used his powers to become a magical mist that protected that valley. Because he could. The rest of the world got nuked, but not the valley, because it was protected by a magical mist.

The sequel, Bearers of the Black Staff, starts with that magical mist fading away and the inhabitants of the valley becoming exposed to the outside world. Said outside world is filled with mostly mutants, who have started calling their new species fairy names like Trolls, mostly to match up with the continuity of the books that come later in Brooks’ Shannara saga. The book itself is mostly about the inhabitants of the peaceful valley coming to terms with the realization that their remote world is about to be shattered.

The biggest antagonist to this realization is a religious figure named Skeal Eile, who holds the religious title of Seraphic and is leader of a cult called the Children of the Hawk. The Children of the Hawk believe that Hawk will return like Jesus (remember, Hawk was a messiah figure in the last three books) only after the protective mists failed. They are proved to be wrong, but the Seraphic holds to his own socio-cultural power for the sake of remaining powerful.

This is obviously Brooks’ commenting on conservative, militant religious zealotism. You could apply this commentary about power-hungry fools clinging to their faith to any religion in our world—be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever. The problem is that Brooks expresses his socio-religious commentary mostly in long-winded scenes where characters meet and debate in the kind of councils that are cliché to fantasy literature. These scenes read like descriptions of the C-SPAN channel, and are about as exciting.

When it comes to fantasy, I want to read about badasses with big swords and magical powers punching and zapping each other. There is some of that in Bearers of the Black Staff, but not enough for my taste.

There is also a lot of generalized exposition. Brooks masterfully ends his chapters with exciting cliffhangers of characters being attacked by wild beasts or realizing that their allies are in fact traitors to their causes. But when he next picks up with those characters, he usually starts his narrative not with the fallout from the cliffhanger, but instead some time later. And he’ll fill in the narrative gap of what happened between with several pages of dry exposition. This is why the book feels rushed. Brooks should have taken the time to expand these exposited scenes and fill them in with rich details. Instead of glossing over the conflict that occurs between a cliffhanger and the next plot point, he should have delved into it and given it nuance.

I should mention that the title derives from the black staff one of the characters, Sider Ament, carries. This staff was apparently handed down from generation to generation from one of the magical badasses that inhabited the valley at the end of The Gypsy Morph. Part of this story is about how that staff came to be in Sider Ament’s hands, and who will carry it next.

There are other characters in this story aside from Sider Ament, of course. He is not even the protagonist, although the narrative is fractured enough between different characters that it’s hard to tell who exactly is the central character. If there is one, he is Panterra Qu, whose strange name has nothing to do with him being earthy, despite it being derived from “pan.” The names in Bearers of the Black Staff—and indeed most of Brooks’ books—are so strange that I often wonder if he came up with them by slapping silly syllables together and seeing what sounded funniest.

I am being overly harsh. I enjoyed reading Bearers of the Black Staff. Mostly I enjoyed it because I enjoyed the books that preceded it, and wanted to see what happened to the people Hawk led into the protected valley. I also read Brooks’ other Shannara books, which occur some time later in the chronology of Brooks’ fantasy world, and I wanted to see how that world evolved and came to be. Bearers of the Black Staff is written so that it can be accessible to new readers, but it will be best understood and enjoyed by Brooks’ regular fans.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender

I don’t like things that are for children. I don’t like cartoons, especially not anime-style cartoons. But for some reason I liked this American anime cartoon series called Avatar: The Last Airbender.

This is a high-concept fantasy series. Because it is an anime-style cartoon, the civilizations in this fantasy world are heavily based on aspects of Asian culture and spirituality. Its story is set in a fantasy world, complete with a map that appears during the opening title sequence.  In this world, people called “benders” have the ability to manipulate the elements around them. You don’t need to know much more about the backstory other than the little bit of exposition that comes with the titles. That goes something like this:

“Water, earth, fire air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone But I believe Aang can save the world.”

This bit of dialog is spoken by Katara, a waterbender girl who, as she said, discovered the Avatar named Aang with her brother Sokka. The three of them, along with a flying Bison named Appa and a winged Lemur named Momo—yes, this show is weird—embark on a journey together with the mission of training Aang in the ability to bend all four elements and to defeat the fire nation. They get sidetracked a lot along the way.

In a lot of ways, Aang is like Caine from Kung Fu. He’s bald, and a martial art expert. He travels from place to place, meets people, gets into adventures. The difference is that he has two friends and two strange animals who accompany him. And he also has a sense of humor.

Aang’s travel buddies, Katara and Sokka, both serve important narrative roles. Katara is a waterbender, so she can teach Aang how to waterbend. She’s also hot in a Lolita kind of way, so she serves as Aang’s primary love interest. Sokka is powerless, brave, and stupid, so he mostly serves as comic relief.

What’s impressive is how well these characters are developed. At the start of the series, they’re children who cannot fully grasp the importance of their deeds, who never stop laughing and playing games. By the end, they’re teenagers who fully understand that they’re at war. Along the way, they befriend a badass earthbender who is also a little girl named Toph. They also deal with the kinds of issues that young viewers might relate to, like the difficult courtship of young love, and familial strife.

Even the villains are fully realized characters who grow and evolve. One of the chief antagonists is a Fire Nation prince named Zuko. He starts out as a whiny bitch who must hunt the avatar to regain his honor for reasons that at first seem trite and cliché; later, he settles into the role of an outcast anti-hero, and his motivations become apparent. That’s good writing.

The show is divided into three seasons—or “books”—named after the elements Aang has to learn—water, earth and fire. The first season is mostly episodic, and the second tells a more mature ongoing story. The third season takes a little while to get up to steam, and contains a number of filler episodes, but it finishes with an astounding climax.

What else is there to say? This cartoon is extremely well animated. I’m someone who doesn’t watch many cartoons, but I recall the animated shows from the 90s where a layer of simple animation would be layered over a backdrop. You could always tell which door was going to open, or which item the hero was going to interact with, because it was less detailed than everything around it. But Avatar has a surprising level of details, both in its characters and the amount of the background that’s animated. More often than not, everything on the screen is fully animated. And the animators even used shadows and shading to give the idea of detail.

I don’t know much about animation, so I’m probably wrong about the specifics of why the animation is done well. But I do know that the action scenes in Avatar: The Last Airbender look really cool. It’s just a well produced show.

There is one problem. Because this was a show for children produced for the children’s network Nickelodeon, the producers couldn’t or wouldn’t depict or even talk about death. They could show mass acts of violence as long as it was clear that nobody was actually killed. In some ways, this played into the show’s moral message; Aang was a pacifist, and he spoke of non-violence and spiritual balance more often than he beat people up.

Often, the show skirted its mandate against violence by showing the Avatar literally launching enemy soldiers into the atmosphere; but it only got so far with this nonsense when depicting a war. There are moments where the mandate against depicting violence lessened the dramatic stakes of the show. Katara and Sokka’s mother was killed by a Fire Nation soldier, but the actual act of her death couldn’t be shown. Several other important deaths happened off screen.

These sorts of things made me aware that I was watching a kid’s show, that I wasn’t part of the target audience. It made me wish this show had been made fore a more mature audience.

But it’s still better than the bad movie that was based on it.

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Lie to Me

Lie to Me is an enjoyably mediocre show about Tim Roth yelling at people in a cockney accent.

It’s a lot like that other enjoyably mediocre show House you probably watch in that it’s about a quirky genius with a team of minions who solves mysteries. This character, cleverly named Cal Lightman—because he sheds light on truths—is not a medical doctor. Rather, he’s a genius who can use science to tell when people are lying. Like Doctor House, Lightman is played by a British actor; unlike Hugh Laurie, Tim Roth doesn’t try to mask his accent in this show. If anything, he hams it up.

Every episode centers around Lightman puzzling his way through some mystery. Usually these mysteries are cliché TV plots. In one, he has to discover the identity of a corrupt cop in a police force. In another, he has to determine if a beautiful trophy wife murdered her husband, or if she really loved him (spoiler: she loved him, but jumped Lightman’s bones immediately after he croaked). Stuff like that.

Lightman is aided and abetted by a team of minions. He has Dr. Gillian Foster, a psychologist; Ria Torres, a hot Hispanic chick; Eli Loker, a guy who has a crush on said hot Hispanic chick; and Ben Reynolds, an FBI agent whom Lightman can use to legally beat people up. Their characters are so uninteresting I had to use Wikipedia to look up their names just now.

Cal Lightman also has a daughter, Emily. His relationship with her is genuinely sweet, endearing and protective. Emily is spunky and cute, and dates boys Cal doesn’t approve of. His scrutiny of the boys she dates provides moments of humor. His love for her gives the show a heart it desperately needs. Their relationship works onscreen mostly because Tim Roth seems to enjoy working with young actress Hayley McFarland.

The show is stupid. It is mired with cliché TV plots and cliché TV characters who act poorly. It tries to be interesting by making its detective character, Lightman, a scientist. But his science of detecting lies based on twitches in his subjects’ facial muscles is absurd, even if it is based on true science in the way that Titanic was based on a true story.

There has been relatively little progression in terms of plot or character development over the show’s two seasons. Lie to Me is purely episodic. Watching episodes back-to-back will give you a headache. The only noticeable change over the course of the sow is that Tim Roth has become more accustomed to becoming Cal Lightman, and the writers have increasingly written the role to accommodate Roth’s mannerisms.

And Tim Roth is engaging enough of an actor that I’d be entertained watching him recite the alphabet. This show plays to his strengths. His character is British, aggressive, and smart. Roth enjoys chewing up screentime as Cal Lightman. He slouches, he presses his face into his palms, and when he’s feeling aggressive he snarls.

He, unlike everyone else in the cast, knows he’s in a bad show. And he makes the most of it.

Me, I’m willing to watch Tim Roth work to pay his bills. It’s less boring than other things.

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Inception – Decoding the Dream

I would recommend that you don’t read this blog post unless you’ve already seen the film Inception. This is not a review; it is analysis. Brief analysis, but analysis that could still spoil the film. Readers who haven’t yet seen the film probably won’t understand what I’m talking about. I will try—probably unsuccessfully—to keep things coherent.

Justin Chang, a movie reviewer for Variety, pointed out in his review that “movies are shared dreams.” In an ironically perfect metaphor, he calls Christopher Nolan one of “one of Hollywood’s most inventive dreamers.” This is perfect because it sums up the plot mechanics of Inception, wherein a dreamer uses a science-fiction device to bring a subject into a dream.

I’ll jump ahead and spoil the ending: Inception ends with the notion that the whole movie, or maybe just part of it, or maybe just the ending itself is a dream. Any part or even all of the movie could take place either in a dreamscape or in what we call “reality” or maybe something else, but the film won’t say which is the case. We, the audience, have to question these things. Because the ending questions the film’s reality, we have to go back and look thing over again. This movie begs to be analyzed and decoded. It needs to be rewatched to be understood.

We have to figure out for ourselves what parts of this movie are real. The reflexive implication is that we have to figure these things out outside of the shared dreaming experience of a movie theater as well. We have to figure out which parts of our world are unreal. We have to question the nature of our reality.

It is not a spoiler to say that Inception is about a team of corporate espionage specialists who hack into people’s minds to steal their secrets. The interesting twist is that the team is asked by a powerful figurehead named Sato to instead plant an idea in a subject’s mind. They have to do so in such a way that the subject will think they conceived the idea themselves. This process is called “inception,” and it’s nearly impossible.

As one character says, “If I tell you not to think about elephants, what do you think about?”

Elephants. You think about elephants. And you also know who made you think about elephants.

The team is led by a man named Cobb, played convincingly by Leonardo Dicaprio. Cobb has an emotional investment in the inception job. He lives in political exile because the authorities in America think he killed his wife Mal; all he consciously wants is to return home to his children. Sato says he can make this happen.

Cobb is haunted by the ghost of his wife in the form of a subconscious projection he carries with him into dreams. She makes things difficult for him in his line of work, especially when she starts killing people within the dreams. Usually this will wake them up, but in the inception mission, they are sent to a terrible place called “limbo.” Mal is played by Marion Cotillard, who is talented enough to play her character both as a whimsical figure of love and a horrific menace. She is also beautiful enough that she fits into the movie’s heist-noir elements as an enigmatic femme fatale.

If the movie has an internal conflict it is that the emotional love story between Cobb and Mal sometimes conflicts with the heist-like inception mission and the cold logic of the dream worlds. The movie is at its most interesting when Mal comes into literal conflict with Cobb and members of his team. Because, remember, Mal is just a projection of Cobb’s subconscious (probably), so that she sabotages his missions and sometimes attacks his cohorts may mean that his subconscious is self-sabotaging. Mal is partly a representation of the fact that Cobb wants to see himself fail.

Why? Well, that would be a spoiler, but I’ll tell you anyway. It is revealed that Cobb knows that Inception is possible because he first performed it on his wife. Experimenting, they went deep into a dream together. Because in Nolan’s dream mechanics, time is experienced exponentially slower in successive dream worlds than in reality, the couple literally spent decades together in a dream. Perhaps they killed themselves to get out; perhaps they lived out decades of their life in the dream world. Both explanations are given. But during their time in the dream, Cobb introduced an idea into his wife’s mind to help her cope with the length of time they spent inside: the idea that her world might not be real. As Cobb remembers it—and it is important to remember that the film’s perspective is not always reliable—she committed suicide because she thought dying would wake herself up. He is beset by guilt over his part in this tragedy. One of the implications of the film’s ending is that she might have been right.

These paragraphs I have written so far scratch only the surface of an outline of the level of analysis needed to decode this film. But Inception’s achievement is that it never becomes incoherent. Despite the fact that the movie is literally about a heist taking place in dreamscapes; despite the fact that at some points the narrative cuts between three parallel dreamscapes happening at different rates of time—and these dreamscapes include car chases, zero-gravity gun fights and explosions—the movie never becomes incoherent.

It’s also exciting to watch. There is enough chasing, punching, shooting and exploding to keep even the most witless viewer entertained. If you want, you can ignore all the intellectual mumbo jumbo and instead enjoy watching two guys fight in a rotating hallway. Christopher Nolan learned how to direct action with his two Batman movies. In Inception, he creates action scenes unlike any other movie’s.

Oddly, despite most of these action sequences taking place in dream worlds, they are not surreal. These dream worlds are governed by Newtonian physics. They take place in literalized spaces. They are more akin to the Matrix than the dreamscapes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or actual dreams. Every moment of strangeness is explained.

Inception’s lack of surrealism is surprising. This is a movie about dreams and dream worlds. Moreover, these dream worlds are accessed not through high-end technology, but through hallucinatory drugs.  In order to perform their psychic heists, both Cobb’s team and their subject are hooked up to a device that pumps drugs into their arms. These drugs place them in the dream world. In essence, the entire inception mission is a shared drug experience.

Cobb is a drug addict. He finds a chemist to balance the multi-leveled dream worlds necessary for the inception mission. He finds this man in a Moroccan drug den. Cobb, like those who frequent the drug den, cannot dream without injecting himself with the special dream drug.

But there is no psychedelia. The dream worlds are strictly logical. When Cobb injects himself, he flashes to memories he has about Mal. There are no Jungian archetypes in Inception, or Freudian ideas aside from Mal’s invasions. The best and most accurate depictions of dreams and dream logic remain those David Chase wrote for The Sopranos. But Inception adheres to its own internal logic, and this makes it a successful mind-bender.

I should mention one other thing: Christopher Nolan has some fun with meta-fiction in this movie. Cobb is named after the elusive but charming con man character from his first movie, Following. Roger Ebert pointed out that Ellen Page’s character, an architect who designs maze-like landscapes for the dreams the team ventures into who also serves as an emotional guide for Cobb, is named Ariadne after the mythological figure who guided Theseus out of the minotaur’s labrynth. And Edith Piaf’s song “Non, je ne regrette rien” is played for the dreamers to indicate to them that they should wake themselves up; Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for playing Piaf in La vie en rose.

It’s not hard to make connections between Inception and Nolan’s other movies. Other critics have done that. As a filmmaker, he’s always been concerned with criminals and the blurred edges of reality. He has also frequently worked on stories about men who do extraordinary things because they are plagued with guilt.  So far, he has not run out of stories to tell with these themes.

I’ve been having more vivid dreams since I saw this movie. They have been more lucid than the ones I had before. Maybe this is because, as an insomniac who rarely dreams, I’m actually getting a proper amount of sleep lately. Oddly, these lucid dreams have caused me to question reality in the same way I do when I don’t sleep for days on end and enter a state of waking dream. Now that I’m awake, I have to wonder if the dreams weren’t more real, or at least better than the reality I regularly find myself in. I have to question where I am, and why I am here.

Maybe Christopher Nolan successfully performed inception upon me.

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Girls: Conception

On the back cover to the first collection of Girls, a quote from Brian Michael Bendis, the bestselling comic book writer of the past decade, exclaims, “The Luna Brothers are the future of comics!”

I really hope they’re not.

Because judging from this first volume – called Conception - the Luna Brothers don’t know how to write or draw a comic book, and they’re probably misogynistic too.

The book opens with a young man named Ethan masturbating. We get a closeup of his sperm, and then a closeup of his face. His lip is slightly upturned, which indicates that he’s enjoying himself. This is the most expressive his face will be for the entire comic book.

Ethan is a lot like other characters, few of them from comic books. Like other fictional characters, he is upset that he has trouble with women. Like other characters, he lives in a hillbilly town, which is a lot like other hillbilly towns in fiction. It is more of a cliché hillbilly town than, say, the one in the silly movie Black Snake Moan. But perhaps Ethan will appeal to stereotypical comic book readers, who stereotypically tend to have trouble with women. Perhaps the mundane hillbilly town will also appear to comic book readers, who are used to reading stories about soaring metropolises with hypersexualized beings in spandex punching each other.

One night, at a bar, Ethan starts drunkenly rambling about how terrible women are. His monologue reads like something a bad writing student might have spouted. (I’d know; I’ve been to writing school, and I’ve been a bad writing student.) His facial expression remains relatively stagnant throughout his dialog. In a self-reflexive moment of irony for the Luna Brothers, Ethan is rightly called out as a misogynist. Soon after, on his drunken drive home, he discovers a mysterious naked woman in the middle of the road. Every man unlucky in love fantasizes about such things.

From there, things get strange. Ethan and the mystery woman fuck, and she lays eggs from which hatch more, identical naked women. These naked women proceed to terrorize the town. Later, there is a giant sperm monster.

Girls thinks it is a clever comic. It thinks it’s an erotic horror tale, but it’s neither erotic nor horrific. This story thinks it has something clever to say about human sexuality, but really it’s a dumb comic book with a giant sperm monster. The Luna Brothers are not great crafters of sequential visual storytelling. They’re just two more guys in the comic book world who like drawing naked women.

And what they have to say about women is awful. These mysterious naked women attack the women in the hillbilly town. This an awful male sexual fantasy, cathartic only for men who see women as sex objects and hate when they talk.

At least the naked women look lovely. Unlike most comic book women, they’re drawn with anatomic realism. Their breasts and butts aren’t impossibly large, and their waists are normal size. They’re drawn with relative simplicity and economy of line. They’re also the only decent bit of art in this comic.

The rest of the art is bad. It’s not just that every character maintains the same facial expression no matter what they’re doing or saying; the sequential art often fails to effectively convey the story. In the scene where the giant sperm monster kills two people, I only realized that it had, in fact, attacked them two pages later when one character said that it had.

The Luna Brothers’ Girls is not the future of comics. It’s only redeeming quality is that it’s unlike any other comic published. But that doesn’t make it worth reading.

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Predators

For a few decades now, Robert Rodriguez has been one of the finest producers of pulp cinema. He’s made From Dusk Till Dawn, one of the best vampire movies made before vampires  became sexy; Sin City, which was a literary reinvention of the hardboiled noir genre, stylized in the mode of the comic books from which it was adapted; Grindhouse, a love letter to gorey and stupid movies from the 70s; and also a few movies about men with guns shooting things. It’s high time he made a science fiction movie.

Someone smart gave him the Predators franchise. Rodriguez opted not to make the film himself. Instead, he produced the new sequel, Predators, and hired relatively unknown director Nimrod Antal to direct an amateur screenplay. Oddly, the result is a film more tense, serious, and mature than one Rodriguez might have made himself. It still has men with large guns killing ugly aliens.

The movie opens with a character played by Adrien Brody in free fall. He’s falling toward an unknown jungle, and he doesn’t know how he got there. Somehow, he figures out that he has a parachute on. Soon after, he meets a group of really tough badasses who also parachuted into this jungle, and they discover that they’re actually on an alien planet.

Roger Ebert says, “Predators may be the first film in history to open with a deus ex machina.” Ebert is not entirely wrong in that the free fall opening is convenient to the plot, but he ignores the fact that this is a rare movie to open in media res, or in the middle of the action. This story opens with action and intrigue, and the pace never lets up.

The badasses Brody meets up with include a Russian soldier, a convict, a Mexican cartel enforcer, an African death squad officer, a ninja, and a female IDF sniper. They are all badasses. You’ve probably seen them in other movies, but you’ll only be able to figure out where if you’re a nerd. The Jewish woman is not necessarily cast as a romantic interest, but rather to emphasize that the casting was equal opportunity. Over the course of the movie, most of the badasses die. They die in various exciting ways. As with most sci-fi movies, the black guy is one of the first to go.

At the start of the movie, the predators themselves, who are aliens who for some reason like to hunt things, are an unseen menace. They attack the badasses with their dogs before appearing themselves. When they do appear, they are disappointing.

Modern special effects should have made these predators look terrifying and real. And they do, when they stand stagnant and look menacing. But when they actually have to fight the human badasses and each other, their movement is slow and stocky. The scene where the ninja sword-fought a predator – as he was inevitably going to do – relied on editing to show the action, and so it was not shot like a proper sword fight. Director Antal had to rely heavily on editing in all the fight scenes, and because of this the third act was less exciting than the two that preceded it.

But Adrien Brody takes his shirt off. He slathers himself in mud. His frame is bulky. He is not as bulky as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s once was, but he is as convincing at punching and shooting guns at aliens. And that is what people should pay to see this movie for.

That the first two acts are intelligent and smartly paced makes the ticket price a bargain.

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Invincible: Yet Another Superhero Comic Book

Invincible is yet another comic book about superheroes. That it is an independently produced and creator-owned comic book about superheroes does not mean that it is good. Invincible reads like its two creators, Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker, were two comic book fanboys who really wanted to make a superhero comic of their own. But Invincible doesn’t do anything new or groundbreaking for the overtired superhero genre. Maybe it doesn’t have to, but it should at least tell an engaging story.

This is the story of Mark Grayson, whose father Nolan is a superhero named Omni-Man and is a lot like Superman, except with a mustache. Omni-Man is so much like Superman that he even came from an alien planet. Oh yes. And despite Omni-Man not having a secret identity – because he doesn’t, as some superheroes do, wear a mask, or even glasses – the Grayson family lives a middle class lifestyle. Mark’s mother Debbie is boring human and a professional housewife. Her only purpose in the story is to cook.

“Family Matters,” the opening story arc of this comic and the only one I’ll suffer myself to read, deals with Mark realizing that he’s inherited his father’s powers. They’ve begun to manifest themselves now that he’s hit puberty. Cool. This should have made for an engaging if cliche coming of age superhero story. It might, as the title implies, deal with the fallout of his coming of age in the context of his family unit.

But no. None of the characters are fully realized enough for that – in art or characterization. There are no stakes, and none of the characters seem too excited by any of the supernatural things happening to them. When Mark realizes he has super strength, his reaction is, “It’s about time.” When he tells his parents he has superpowers, his mother’s reaction is, “That’s nice. Can you pass the potatoes?”

Characters in these types of stories usually care about the things happening to them. When they don’t care, I don’t care.

Throughout “Family Matters,” Mark – and indeed the entire world in this comic book – seems entirely disinterested in everything. He joins a team of teenage superheroes with about the zeal I approach my morning bowel movement. The world doesn’t seem to mind or notice that there are people in tights flying about; society doesn’t seem to be any different for it. At one point, Mark quits his job at (of course) a hamburger stand and laments at how upset his parents will be. But they’re not. In fact, Omni-Man suggests that very night that Mark should probably quit his job at said hamburg stand, which was a cliche place for a teenager in a story to work anyway.

At one point, Mark actually says, “Dad was sucked into a portal about fifteen minutes ago. I don’t think he’ll be home tonight. It was some aliens we fought earlier today. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

And his mother disinterestedly remarks, “Well, that’s more pork chops for us.”

Maybe this is supposed to be funny. But in any decent story, even if a father figure was literally invincible, his family should at least be mildly concerned when he gets sucked into an alternate dimension by bloodthirsty aliens. They might even try to rescue him. These characters don’t. They don’t care. And because they don’t care, I don’t care.

There’s also some sub-plot about a teacher blowing students up with bomb vests, but I don’t care enough about it to discuss it right now.

Even the art is bad. Cory Walker’s renderings look like the thumbnails of a better artist. His lines are loose and sketchy. He even leaves ink blobs at the end of some of his lines, as if his pen jammed and he didn’t care.

I don’t care either. I won’t be buying another collection of this comic book.

But it’s a shame. Robert Kirkman is capable of telling complex stories with real characters and dramatic stakes. He does this regularly in his zombie comic book The Walking Dead. I don’t know why he thought a pile of ineffectual cliches would suffice here.

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