Before I forget, Happy New Year. After some consultation with CBR bossman Jonah Weiland, this week's column has been bounced to next week, when readership will likely be much higher, so we're back to the short and piecemeal for one more week, but that's an appropriate way to close out a crappy year and a crappy decade. (Which, technically, doesn't end until next December, but since everyone erroneously started the Millennium, and, subsequently, the decade, on January 1, 2000, we may now assume that particular pedantic ship has sailed, and on Friday we're into the next decade as far as anyone really cares.) So, a bit of throwaway fun, and a very special Comics Cover Challenge.
For starters, our current Gil Kane worship fest continues, courtesy of the reader who sent me the following. A few weeks back I discussed Gil's western work and the great Western covers he did at Marvel in the '70s. This next piece I'd completely forgotten, a vignette drawn for Alan Moore's run on Rob Liefeld's SUPREME in the late '90s, and probably the last western work Gil did. Gil had also done a lot of work on Alan's JUDGMENT DAY mini-series over there about the same time that rewrote Rob's superhero universe, literally, and pissed me off at the time because it stalled a project Gil and I were supposed to do that never got unstalled. Enterprises of great pith and moment and all that. Still, nice job:
Just for comparison's sake, here's a Gil Kane penciled & inked 'Johnny Thunder' job from DC's ALL STAR WESTERN series 42 years earlier, in 1957. Another run it'd be lovely to see DC collect between covers – Johnny Thunder, who beat out Marvel's Daredevil with the gimmick of a dual identity so he could otherwise keep a promise to be a pacifist, and subsequently scorned in his true identity but praised in his adopted identity by his gruff sheriff father, was otherwise mostly drawn by Alex Toth and Mort Drucker, leaving him a better artistic pedigree than most comics characters – but it's unlikely to ever happen unless general tastes change. Still, a character I'd love to tackle someday, and that was another project I wanted to do with Gil once, the last Johnny Thunder story. I did do it, eventually, just not with Johnny Thunder and not with Gil, but, like several other projects from this decade (and quite a few from the '90s, now that I think about it) it has yet to see print. Maybe someday. In the meantime:
Kind of drives home how wasted Gil was on superheroes all those years, except he wasn't...
Best TV series of 2009:
SUPERNATURAL. Okay, sure, it has made a career out of nicking HELLBLAZER and now, in its supposedly final season, PREACHER, but this is a series now that's completely sure of itself: a tone confident enough to seamlessly straddle apocalyptic nightmare and devilish humor in the same breath, sharp directing, beautifully structured and written scripts, and actors who fit their roles like a glove. You can tell after four seasons the show has finally gotten where it wanted to be all along, and it's reveling in it. If you're not watching, you should. (The CW, Thursdays 9p)
PRIMEVAL. Series after series, this British show continues to be TV's best science fiction, following a secret team tracking and dealing with rips in time through which monsters prehistoric and futuristic frequently emerge. It recreated itself between first and second series, using the show's premise and the unpredictable repercussions of time travel to do it, and again in the latest season as the show's star abruptly left. The gaping hole left by team leader Professor Nick Cutter was filled by a no-nonsense cop played by Jason Flemyng; the shock was that the show got even better, trimming back the scientific jargon as episodes took on the speed and thrills of an adventure ride – miraculously without sacrificing story integrity. The great characters didn't hurt. (ITV; returning sometime in 2011)
PARTY DOWN. Hilarious adventures of a Los Angeles catering crew, staffed by out of work actors and writers still desperately dreaming of that big break while pouring drinks and serving hors d'oeuvres to the rich, famous, crazy and often equally desperate. The most savage TV assault on the Hollywood mentality in ages. (Starz)
FRINGE. It's like JJ Abrams learned from LOST. I expected FRINGE to be another murky slog, but the show, about an FBI squad standing between the world and onslaughts of superscience run amok, has shed any trace of X-FILES knockoff and solidly established its own identity with a great cast – and one of the TV's truly great characters in John Noble's half-destroyed scientific genius Walter Bishop – and a vast conspiracy storyline that, unlike similar shows, is actually coming together at a steady pace. With real answers and not just more mysteries. (Fox, Thursdays 9P)
30 SECONDS. An Aussie comedy about the advertising business, skewering the insanity of the business with every breath without the slightest trace of sentimentality, co-written by members of a real ad agency. I like MAD MEN, but it can't quite spare its characters (esp. "hero" Don Draper) or the business a rough dignity. Dignity is the last thing 30 SECONDS is concerned with. Good, well-drawn characters too, and clever, punchy stories. (Foxtel)
COMMUNITY. Network sitcoms are a dying breed for good reason: for the most part they depend on insane characters who wouldn't survive a day in the real world. COMMUNITY, after its first couple so-so episodes (suffering from the intro-itis that cripples many shows) pull off a neat trick, though: its main character, Joel McHale's Jeff Winger, pretty much behaves like he is in the real world, and, sure, he has a high opinion of himself, but without any standard motivations. He is, in fact, just a guy trying to get through life, making him a refreshing break from the maniac characters infesting TV and a great anchor for the other, wackier characters, though those have also mostly been ratcheted down. Any show that actually figured out how to use Chevy Chase to good effect deserves props just for that. (NBC, Thursdays 8P)
PARADOX. A short-lived British scifi/crime hybrid, about a police squad brought in to unravel photos transmitted from the future and deal with the incidents they portray. The first episode was rough – more introitis – but subsequent episodes, as they struggle to figure out what's going on and to deal with the odd ramifications of their situation - are they causing events by trying to stop them? How can they take criminals off the streets if they stop any evidence from ever coming into existence? etc. – and with the disintegrations of their personalities and belief systems when coping with the mysterious phenomenon. Despite a slightly antiquated style that faded as the series went on, and an emphasis on the miserablism that drags down many Britcop shows, it became one of the more intriguing shows of the year, and where star Tamzin Outhwaite goes, I go. (BBC)
THE THICK OF IT. The now venerable political Britcom, maybe the nastiest political comedy ever done, got a shot in the arm with a new female minister at its core, loosing party boss Peter Capaldi's unceasing string of savage vulgarities in the service of the party's interest in whole new uproarious directions. It also upped the show's energy level considerably. A stunning piece of work. (BBC)
DEFYING GRAVITY. An absolutely doomed show about astronauts a few decades in the future heading off on a vast exploration of the solar system. Like most such shows, it had an overarching conspiracy and unanswered mysteries underlying everything, but its truly fatal flaw was that its characters acted like adults. Events proceeded slowly, sure, but actors like Ron Livingstone, Laura Harris, Maxim Roy and Malik Yoba more than made up for it, and the mainly character-drive stories were all good. In steering clear of the asinine hysteria that constitutes most TV series, though, it cut its own throat. But it was great while it lasted. (ABC)
The worst TV series of the year:
THE PRISONER. The new... well, remake is a bit strong... of the classic McGoohan series was basically THE PRISONER FOR DUMMIES, or at least for those too dumb to know how to buy tickets to THE MATRIX. I read an interview with the director where he poo-pooed Patrick McGoohan's '60s original as having outdated themes, but the main theme of the new version was "maybe we can get a spinoff videogame franchise out of this." Lifeless, pointless and completely leaden. (AMC)
LAW AND ORDER UK. Helmed by former TORCHWOOD assassin Chris Chibnall, this overseas entry from the Dick Wolf mini-empire adapted old scripts from the American version, and cleverly stripped them entirely of character or story logic. Mainly so the "heroes," who specialized in insanely stupid decisions, could endlessly wring their hands about their inability to put away the bad guys. Incredibly half-assed, yet somehow it has received another series order. (ITV)
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, the final hour. In which the rest of the series was undone entirely, with the odd spectacle of humanoids evolved from robots electing to leave technology behind altogether. 'Cause, see, turns out God wants humans and anything shaped like them to live The Natural Life, presumably without heat, plumbing or antibiotics. But don't worry: God will take care of us. The asinine half-witticism of the final hour rendered the entire series retroactively asinine and a ridiculous waste of time, and just another example of the braindead namby-pamby pseudo-hippie mysticism they keep passing off as science fiction on Syfy. (Syfy)
CONSPIRACY THEORY WITH JESSE VENTURA. I'm glad Jesse's picking up a paycheck, and this show is so awful it's thoroughly entertaining, but... Jesse's restricted to evil conspiracies of the last ten years, leaving out most of what the general public is interested in, and the level of logical scrutiny the "conspiracies" get is on par with the logic of creationists who insist that because science has not yet unraveled all the mysteries of the Big Bang it must have been caused by God. Half the time, the "evidence" presented refutes the show's premise, and logic chains tend to jump from "we don't know what's going on it there" to "so obviously something evil could be going on in there" to "we've proved that something evil's going on in there." I doubt Jesse set out to do a sitcom, but it works great as one. (Tru)
Notes from under the floorboards:
Congratulations to Mark Bernstein, the first to identify last week's Comics Cover Challenge #1's theme as "Oz." Mark directs you to his friend, author Seanan McGuire, at, curiously enough, Seanan McGuire.
Congratulations to Rick Brock, the first to point out last week's Comics Cover Challenge #2's theme was "arrow." Rick didn't mention a site, so one less mission for you this week.
Congratulations to Stephen Recker, the first to realize last week's Comics Cover Challenge #3 theme was "energy sources." Stephen asks you to visit the parenting website Mothersmilk, to which he also contributes.
Congratulations to Egan McConvey, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge #4 theme was "money." Egan sends you to the website of his forthcoming comic 22 Reasons To Fear The Future.
And no one seems to have gotten #5, but that doesn't surprise me because I couldn't get it either. Love and war? Care to fill us in, Nicolas? (Whose last name is actually spelled Juzda, and my apologies.)
For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme – it could be a word, a design element, an artist... anything, really - binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. IMPORTANT NEW RULE: PLEASE INCLUDE WITH YOUR GUESS THE WEBSITE YOU'D LIKE TO PROMOTE IF YOU WIN. As in most weeks, a secret clue is cleverly hidden somewhere in column, but stop thinking about it and it might pop out at you. Good luck.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.