lundi 14 octobre 2013

Breaking Boundaries: An analysis of Superman's first appearance

By Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist)
From Action Comics #1, June 1938, panels numbered 10 to 17
Breaking Boundaries

The creation of a miraculous champion for justice: How Superman shatters comics conventions and social barriers
The creation of Superman changed the face of comics in America. How could a character rejected many times suddenly become the incarnation of a nation?
This page shows Superman racing to the governor to save an innocent life, presumably to ask for a stay of execution. He carries a woman, gagged and with her hands ties. He leaves her outside as he reaches for the governor's house. He doesn't behave as a gentleman but treats her like he would a man.  In the first panel he looks like a giant straddling the landscape as if he wore seven-league boots. This makes him a fantastical character. The shading lines on his costume and the landscape point toward the right and the bottom of the whole page but also to a house in the lower left of that panel. The language is very terse with even the word "through" shortened: "A tireless figure races thru the night." The sparseness of words evokes the urgency of a telegram: “Seconds count: Delay means forfeit of an innocent life.” Superman is always drawn with a leg before the other one and with his chest forward. He’s a motion that cannot be stopped. His supernatural strength and giant leaps make him a force of nature.
The page has three equal tiers. The top tier has three equal panels. When the governor’s butler closes the door on Superman on the first panel of the second tier, the width of the panel is reduced, leaving Superman with very little space. But in the next panel he smashes through the door, and through the gutter as well as the camera recedes to show his whole figure and the whole door. As a result the butler is cornered in the third panel. In fact when one looks at the whole tier one can see that the figures of Superman surround the butler: there’s no escaping Superman.
Having thus been cornered, the butler is now seized by Superman in the bottom tier. In addition the respective positions of the butler, Superman, the door and the wall on the third panel of the top tier, the first and third panels of the second tier as well as the stairs on the second panel of the bottom tier lead us to think the page and its panels are a representation of a house and its rooms. For instance, the right side of the first tier shows Superman on the outside. The next panel on the left side of the middle tier reverses Superman’s position so that the inside stays toward the middle of the page while the outside remains on the borders of the page. The right side of the middle tier depicts a wall. Similarly, the positions of the Superman figure, always seen in profile, help the eye read the page. On the first and second panels of the first tier, he faces to the right. On the third panel he faces to the left as the reader now needs to go to the left of the middle tier. The middle tier repeats this pattern. The last panel of the bottom tier has Superman taking the butler up the stairs, thus leading the eye outside the page and toward the top of the next page. Since the reader’s eye follows Superman, it helps reader identification with the character as well as it teaches the reader to follow Superman’s lead. Superman masters space by swallowing great distances with his leaps and by cornering the butler on the comics page itself but he also masters time.
To the butler’s “See him in the morning” he retorts “I’ll see him. Now!” He swallows time. His dialogue with the butler “Are you going to take me to the governor?” “No! I won’t!” “Then I’ll take you to him!” makes Superman like a prophet as it echoes this exchange, “If the mountain won’t go to the prophet, then the prophet will go to the mountain.”
Superman’s actions are miracles. He’s an agent of divine justice, unstopped by social conventions such as difference of status between men and women or between lower class and upper class. This page shows Superman owning the space of the comics page. Time, space and people submit to his will. He breaks boundaries of the page, moving inside and outside it at his leisure, and is not bound either by social conventions concerning gender or social classes. Right from his first appearance he embodies might in the service of right.

Breaking Bad Finale

Is Walter a bad guy? Creator Vince Gilligan's idea was to tell the story of a protagonist who becomes the antagonist. An idea which seems antithetic to television. But Badger and Skinny Pete in one of their geek conversations, mention JM Straczinsky Babylon 5, the complete TV series which was conceived and told over five seasons, a model for Vince Gilligan.

In his mind, Walt is the hero, he provides for his family. Even at the end, when in a moment of lucidity, he acknowledges that he did for himself because he was good at it and he felt alive, it's hard not to sympathize with him. He has issues common to gifted people, feelings of a lack of recognition which overtime turned into resentment toward his partners Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz. But few of the characters around Walt elicit sympathy.

The character of Skyler White (but not the actress of course) deserves all the illwill she's gotten. Right from the start the handjob she gives Walt as a birthday present while she tracks an ebay auction makes her unlikable. Certainly she is lied to continuously by a manipulative Walt but she's got all the characteristics of a castrating, emasculating personality. The scene with the talking pillow and the one when she goes into the pool show how manipulative she can be herself. As Jesse says, it's her who wears the pants.

The pants is the first image of the show, pants not worn, flying as the mobile home starts in a hurry. At least three male characters are manipulated by their female counterpart. Walt Junior is a study in passive-aggressive behavior. He has none of the smarts of his father (but is Walt his father? Remember when Ted Beneke says the kid has "good genes"?). Yet Walt never shows any of the frustration that he must feel over his retarded son.

Jesse, who becomes a sort of surrogate son, one who learns from Walt, is originally a two-bit loser but due to Walt's influence, he starts having flashes of brilliance. His moral awakening gives him sympathy points but he doesn't find his freedom by himself.

 Hank has moments of brilliance but he's out of his depth too many times and would have lost his life if not for Walt. His inability to face emotional issues makes him putty in the hands of Walt such as in the scene where Walt puts spy software in Hank's computer. This is in stark contrast with his exterior bluster as a DEA agent.

Marie Schrader is borderline crazy (substitute "seems to have unresolved psychological issues" if you prefer politically correct nonsense). Generally speaking, women on the show are often annoying. Consider Lydia Rodart-Quayle.

 The Pinkmans (Jesse and his parents), the Whites and the Schraders show us a very dysfunctional image of the suburbian American family.

So not only Walt's entourage isn't endearing but there are always more unsavory characters: the Salamancos, Gus Fring, the Cartel, Todd Alquist, his uncle Jack and his gang are worse. Mike Ehrmantraut, putting money aside for his grand-daughter and fiercely loyal to his men (therefore very much like Walt) is nonetheless a cold-blooded killer.

jeudi 3 octobre 2013

Dexter Last Season: What Were They Thinking?

As the last season was announced the series would move toward one of these two goals: the happy end or the death of Dexter. Dexter being exposed was another strong possibility. Yet the writers chose none of the above. While they defied expectations, that may not have been for the best. If there was one continuous thread to the previous seasons, it was the ongoing humanization of Dexter. Certainly this comes up as this season offered what Dexter never had: a mother. Enter: Dr. Vogel, the psychiatrist which developed Harry’s code, who therefore serves as a surrogate mother. Except she’s everything but maternal, even encouraging Dexter’s murderous nature.

Meanwhile, Debra has left the police force and works as a private investigator. Her relationship with Dexter is strained, although Dexter refuses to give up on her as if she was his anchor to his humanity. The return of Hannah MacKay makes it possible that Dexter will have a family. Even Captain Matthews seems to serve as a replacement father as he keeps reminding Dexter about Harry. And then Zach Hamilton is a surrogate son, a serial killer to whom Dexter teacher Harry’s code.

The family angle is paralleled with the supporting cast. Quinn is getting out with Jamie and starts thinking about getting a better situation. Masuka finds out he has a daughter and wonders if he can be a dad. A number of spectators have wondered what was the point of Masuka’s daughter? I’ll offer this: After a long list of Dexter doubles, one can forget that Masuka early on was described by Dexter as another man pretending to be normal. Could he overcome his sex obsession and become a family man? He does and this gives hope for Dexter himself. But Quinn doesn’t come through as he fails getting the promotion and then fails being fair to Jamie after she moved in with him.

Dr. Vogel points out that Dexter isn’t a perfect psychopath because of his feelings. In her view he can’t have empathy and says as much until she begins to revise her judgment. However this may blind her to the danger of her own murderous son and costs her her life as it had cost her charge Zach Hamilton his. Still Dexter lets their murderer go as his happiness with Hannah allegedly freed him of his killing instinct. This proves a dire mistake and costs Debra her life. The lesson doesn’t escape Dexter: he causes the death of all those who are close to him. After so many promises of family, Dexter loses it all: Dr. Vogel, his son, his fiancée, his sister, even the ghost of his father, his job and the relationships he had there.

The scenes where Dexter shuts Debra from life support in the hospital, takes her body to his boat and dumps her body at sea are the more resonant. They remind us of his first kill, the nurse, and of his other disposals. But the final scene, where he’s seen to have survived the storm and working for a lumber company, lacks any such resonance. In the main, the ideas for this season weren’t bad but their execution was ultimately unsatisfying.