Thursday, June 27, 2013

Young Avengers #6: Guys Keep Giving Prodigy Noodles and Gloves and Stuff (Spoilers)

What happened:

Nothing. Just kidding. For the most part. I read this on the bus and wasn't that into it, but I think that was maybe me being reactionary and missing the usual YA crew, because I liked it more when looking it over again. However, it's quite the change of pace after months of our other heroes' battling their dead parents and exchanging witticisms. In fact, we saw nothing of our usual gang (Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye, Noh-Varr, Miss America, and Loki). Presumably they're all admiring Billy's on-trend and fandom-igniting new outfit and still deciding on where they can go that isn't New York, New York; Broxton, Oklahoma; or Boulder, Colorado. Lagos, Nigeria? Reykjavik, Iceland? Bakersfield, California? Maybe they're in the back room of some club and Loki's teaching them all to snort coke. We don't know.*

Yeah, he's definitely bullying Wiccan and Hulkling into trying coke.

Anyways, the main idea in this issue is pretty clever and fun: boring jobs for superheroes. We start with Prodigy in a deliberately repetitive series of panels, trouble-shooting for a superhero hotline. I've worked in a call center, David. I feel your pain inflicted by that relentless ring and the confused and combative people it precedes. Then Tommy a.k.a. Speed, or possibly Dragon Ball Z's Trunks, appears. He works at the same place David does, but puts contraptions together very quickly and while hating it. Tommy pretty much forces David to become his friend, and they get noodles and coffee. We get some backstory on the endless Mutant drama. Then there's a break-in, someone's pretending to be Patriot, Tommy gets punched in the head and disappears, and David refuses to wear fake-Patriot's glove. The end. Oh and fake-Patriot's invisible.

"Give me the full Trunks. I want the hair, the jacket..."

Random Notes:

-Kate Brown's art is pretty and has great detail. It's playful, but maybe a little too playful with Tommy, who seemed to be in his very own teen comedy manga.

David, kindly, does not mention this.

-Tommy is sort of grating, but...that's kind of the point? He's a border collie/lab mix on caffeine. Best line: "Last night, I was on a podium, waving my shirt around my head, and a sudden thought came to me..."

-David has a call center job. He thinks he is going to be able to retire someday. ...How's the economy in the 616? Can I work there?

-"You just can't help ninjas."

-"I want you naked, now. Not in a sexy way."

What's next:

Young Avengers #7 is out July 10. Yay for not having to wait so damn long!

*from the preview for YA #7, it looks like they decide to visit a diner in space. If this is true and they don't run into Zaphod and Ford Prefect, I will cry.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole: Camille Rose Garcia at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Entrance to the exhibit.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is not a place I'd expect to see a show from artist Camille Rose Garcia. Succubus Spring, from her 2008 show "Ambien Somnambulants," isn't exactly Bambi. But "Down the Rabbit Hole," featuring her illustrations from a recent edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is on display there until November 3.

Garcia has long had a connection to Disney, but not the kind that the corporation usually embraces. She grew up in suburban Los Angeles, the birthplace of pop surrealism, and Disneyland ("the happiest place on Earth" and "the Magic Kingdom") has often been present in her work, but not necessarily in a flattering way. Her first major show, in 2000 at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery, was bitingly called "The Happiest Place on Earth." A book of her work was called The Saddest Place on Earth. Her mid-career retrospective at the San Jose Museum of Art was called "The Tragic Kingdom." That show's literature stated of her adolescent relationship with nearby Disneyland: "The artist quickly grew to recognize its artifice and contradictions, and she witnessed the realities of privileged suburban life - adolescent alienation and social marginalization. Her precious glittered compositions are infused with a sense of discontent, yielding works that are simultaneously disturbing and attractive."

Also, my sister and I got a good giggle at one of her art books, which includes a piece with the words "fuck face," being in the gift shop of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Entrance to the museum, in San Francisco's Presidio.

Perhaps the show indicates the museum's goal of being a cultural institution, not just a theme park PR extension. Indeed the museum itself, while certainly heavy on the feel-good marketing, does take a technical look at the evolution of animation and even covers early Disney labor disputes. Still, Camille Rose Garcia at Disney seems like a surprising decision for both parties.

However, Garcia is not the first lowbrow/pop-surrealist to become associated with Disney. Shag, with his hip, mid-century modern SoCal imagery, has become one of Disneyland's official artists, creating posters and merchandise artwork for the park. And while the style of his art is a perfect fit for retro pleasures like the Tiki Room and Tomorrowland, it does make you wonder what his intentions were and are. Art that seemed to be making a comment on cheery consumerism became part of that cheery consumerism. (Full disclosure: I try to be smug about Disneyland but will still eat the churros and ride Pirates of the Caribbean a billion times.)

Garcia, For the Duchess, at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

But to move on to the art at hand: Garcia's illustrations for a new edition of Lewis Carroll's most famous work. I wrote briefly about this project last year for Easter, and weirdly, that post became my blog's most-read, mainly from people searching for "Camille Rose Garcia" in conjunction with "Alice in Wonderland." There's a lot of interest in this, and it's easy to see why. Although John Tenniel's engravings for the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are generally considered sacrosanct, if you're going to have another artist update this volume, Garcia is an ideal choice. 

Garcia has said this illustration, The Lobster Quadrille, is her favorite, as it's not a
scene Tenniel had done. Note narwhal with tiny top hat.

Garcia's surrealist bent is a good match for the material. Her work is dreamlike, cartoonish, playful, and dark. She captures the weirdness and loveliness of Carroll's odd scenes. As wondrous and even cute as they can be, there's always an unpredictable danger lurking. Her Alice's goth-girl toughness reminds us that Carroll's Alice was a pretty hard chick - no-nonsense and capable. Garcia's punkish mixture of pinks, purples, and black drive home the fact that Alice is no damsel in distress.

Part of Garcia's Down the Rabbit Hole show.

The work is beautiful: graceful curves, elegant drips, layers of color in acrylic and watercolor, an occasional dash of black glitter. It's vivid, fun, nightmarish. And the museum stages it well, with dark purple walls and black frames. Supplements include the edition she illustrated, a few other editions, and touchscreen stations with an artist bio and sketches. Large murals of Garcia's rendering of the famous tea party scene decorate the walls of the lobby just outside the exhibit.

The show includes a wall of Mary Blair art. Garcia has named Blair, who "brought modern art" to Disney, as an inspiration. An artist most known for her work on Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and the park's Small World ride, it's interesting to see her and Garcia's different, distinctive color palettes and shapes and how they both tackled the challenge of making what Tenniel had illustrated their own.

Blair's concept art for Alice in Wonderland

Access to the exhibit is included in regular ticket purchase. You can see more of Garcia's illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery's website.

Garcia, detail.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Party at the Whedons': Much Ado About Nothing

Graduate reference? Can he not swim?

After months of waiting, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is out! Unfortunately, it looks like a very limited release so far. I get that Shakespeare, despite his endurance, isn't the biggest draw (Ralph Fiennes's fine Coriolanus got the shaft, release-wise), but although the showing I went to wasn't a sell-out, there were still a good amount of people there and the audience loved it - lots and lots of laughter. Plus, you'd think the distributors would try to cash in on that Avengers $$$, even if by resorting to misleading the uninitiated about what Much Ado About Nothing is...about.

And then the aliens attack!

But even if it doesn't have Avengers' explosions or Cabin in the Wood's horror or Angel and Buffy's vampires or even a Whedon script, the movie remains very Whedon. It's filmed in his Santa Monica house (well, mansion), which was designed by his wife, architect Kai Cole. And, as expected, the cast is chock-full of Whedon regulars. "I was expecting the 'grr...argh' at the end," a friend told me, referring to the closing-credits logo of Whedon's Mutant Enemy Productions. This isn't meant in a disparaging way. Even if familiar Whedon faces are all there, the actors stay true to the characters and the director stays (mostly) true to the story.

What I loved: 

-No need to worry about Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh comparisons; Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof are funny and touching as this sharp, sweet, egalitarian couple. Both mastered not only the rapid-pace banter, but their respective slapstick scenes.

-Nathan Fillion was hilarious as vocabularily confused officer Dogberry. Absolutely perfect. As I had hoped, his acting was hammy without being too over-the-top. And he was was well matched with his ensemble of wide-eyed cops.

The hammer is my sense of justice.

-Whedon's promise that they "stressed the human, not the hymen" proved true. Although Leonato's reaction seems a little extreme for just a cheating allegation (versus being devastated because his sole heir and genetic lineage is now not marriageable because a penis entered her vagina at the wrong time), Clark Gregg quickly and fairly smoothly has his character come back to senses. And Fran Kranz manages to add some depth and hesitation to Claudio's desertion.

-They handled the Shakespearean text/modern times juxtaposition really well. A few things do inevitably seem odd (duels? counts? you thought a girl died from fainting on the lawn?), but it mostly worked. Other adaptations, like Romeo + Juliet and Coriolanus, have used modern technology, but it felt more seamless here. I especially liked the TMZ-style video of Don John getting arrested.

-Speaking of which, thank you, River Tam's big brother, for not being Keanu Reeves. Sean Maher captured the villain's terseness without sounding like he was reading off cue cards. Unexpectedly, the cupcake-stealing Don John and his associates Conrade (Riki Lindhome of novelty duo Garfunkel and Oates) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) were kind of...adorable. The trio is hot, mod, and a little silly. How do you not love them dog paddling across the pool after setting their evil "let's ruin this wedding, haha!" plan into motion? (Related note: how did act 1, scene 3 become "the sexy scene"? First Branagh has Richard Clifford give half-naked Keanu a rub-down, and now Whedon has a female Conrade turning "Can you make no use of your discontent?" into a come-on.)

-Really, the whole cast was great. I was happy to see Ashley Johnson, the cute waitress from Avengers, as Margaret, the maid who has no idea her sexy times with Borachio are serving a sinister purpose. As Hero, Jillian Morgese (also an Avengers extra) was innocent and likable and had cute father-daughter chemistry with Clark Gregg.

-I was impressed, and my awesome musician roommate was thrilled, that Whedon worked the play's song, "Sigh No More," into the film.

Beatrice and Hero can't believe Claudio and Don Pedro's shit.

What I was iffy about:

-They kept the act 5, scene 4 line, "I'll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope," by which Claudio promises to wed fake-replacement-Hero even if she's African. (Charitably, I suppose you could interpret Claudio as promising to wed this girl who supposedly looks exactly like Hero even if she looks nothing like Hero. Spoiler alert: it's actually Hero.) This is tricky. Obviously, we'd all prefer that the line had never been written like that, but unfortunately it was. So what to do with it? I reflexively lean towards cutting it, but I see that's objectionable. I don't know this text as well as A Midsummer Night's Dream, so without re-reading I'm not sure how much text was cut or altered besides in relation to axed character Antonio. In this version, Claudio says the Ethiope line right in front of a black wedding guest, prompting the audience to laugh at him for being such an oblivious ass. But that just makes that black extra a prop to assuage white guilt - especially glaring since the cast was pretty much all white.

-Borachio's character was sort of all over the place, but I didn't feel this was the actor's fault.

-I'm ambivalent on the flashbacks of Beatrice and Benedick's previous love affair. I think Whedon wanted to make it clear he was not onboard with slut-shaming Hero by showing that fan faves have sex too, but it puts a different spin on the budding B&B relationship. Like, why did they break up before and why will this time be different?

-The white wine (there was drinking in pretty much every scene - I thought it would end like Hamlet, just with all the deaths from alcohol poisoning) looked exactly like water, which it probably was. Maybe they could have used white grape juice? I have no idea what would look clear but not too clear on camera in black and white.

-That's about it. I really loved this, and I hope more people watch it.