About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jerry Springer, The Opera

Seen Sunday evening June 26, 2008 at the Studio Theatre, Washington DC, the Metheny auditorium. 4 slithy toads.

For several years now, the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC has been my second home for live stage, often as a second chance for shows I regretted missing in New York or was lukewarm about seeing but for a slightly more modest ticket price or as part of a weekend away or just because the Studio had chosen them ultimately seemed worth a look.

Their current 2nd Stage production of Jerry Springer, The Opera, is the biggest production they've ever done, with over 30 cast members and an orchestra.

It may very well be one of the best productions they've ever done. When the only complaint you have is that the curtain call wasn't really sufficiently long enough to give sufficient love back to the cast, well then I think you're in love.

This wasn't a second chance or a lukewarm. Jerry Springer had opened in London five years ago, and while I had never seen the talk show I knew from reading the reviews that this was a show I wanted to see. And it never came to NYC, except for a one night (one weekend?) concert staging at Carnegie Hall. This was the show's east coast premiere, and I made a special trip to DC this weekend to be sure I could see it ahead of an August from Hell when I will be just about everywhere but working or relaxing at home.

And thank heavens I did. I guess if I'd never seen it I couldn't have missed it, but oh if I had...

The first act of the show, which is very literally an opera, around 98% sung and around 2% spoken, is a glorious musical mash of what an episode of the talk show might have been. A man who's two months away from marrying, having an affair with his fiancee's childhood friend, and a second with a hooker, but still in love with his wife. A man who wants to be in diapers for his girlfriend and to truly be her baby. Another man whose involved with a pole dancer and the KKK. It ends with Springer being shot, and the second act is a grand fantasia on Jerry Springer in hell, a talk show by way of Mel Brooks or South Park, with the devil and Jesus and Adam, Eve, Mary and the eternal one in a racing outfit, Godspeed for Gods Team. Of course on the jacket the Godspeed is split between the S on one side of the buttons and the P on the other, so it kind of reads a little different on the costume than it does in my blog. It ends with 30 Jerry Springers on stage saluting the one and only.

It's in stunningly awful taste. The program reminds that the production includes "strong language, adult themes, nudity (simulated), violent (simulated), profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, blasphemy, fog, haze, smoke, fire, gunshots, cigar-smoking, bubble-blowing and confetti-throwing." With regard to the first eight items on the list I assure you the list is fully and abundantly accurate, and thereafter simply accurate. It all works with dead-on aim; I believe the bubble-blowing malfunction by the security guard is intentional.

The production is lively and immersive. 18 members of the cast are in the audience for the first act, enthusiastically commenting on the on-stage events, and in a few instances going on stage and becoming much like the chorus in Sweeney Todd. (& in fact many of the cast members in this production have Sweeney Todd in their credits, others the DC production of the Titanic.) You're fully surrounded and totally caught up in the goings-on, and since the setting is intimate there is no room for the cast to call it in. I lingered in the lobby for a few minutes after the show, and overheard one of the cast saying they'd rehearsed for five weeks. I'd been unhappy to see the show only 4 performances into its run which can sometimes be too soon for the kinks to work out, but there were none to be found from my up close vantage point.

I should probably single some people out for particular praise, or show my learnedness by commenting on this or that aspect of the production, but it doesn't seem fair. It's a 33-person ensemble, and the production is totally working on every level.

It's supposed to run thru August 17, and if you are in the DC area you must see it. Unless some of those eight items on the list seem likely to offend you when present in gleeful abundance. With luck the production will extend. I'm sure hoping it does because I can't possibly see it again until mid to late September, and I would very much like to do so.

Did I tell you that I liked this?

Next season the Studio has: The Road to Mecca by Athol Fugard, a possible lukewarm; Grey Gardens, a second chance; The Seafarer which I shouldn't see because it's by the colosally overrated Conor McPherson and is about people being drunk, but maybe; Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard which I don't think so; and August Wilson's Radio Golf (also overrated, but maybe, it's easier to be a student of the theatre at DC prices than NYC. And also Blackbird by David Muse which I've never heard of, and The Receptionist by Adam Bock, and more. So there's a good chance you'll be seeing some more blog posts from me over the next year from the Studio.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Holy Tzatziki, Batman!

The Dark Night, seen Sunday July 20 at the AMC Empire 25, Screen #6, 4 Slithy Toads

Mamma Mia!, seen Sunday July 20 at Clearview's Ziegfeld. 3 Slithy Toads

After 44 years of waiting, I can finally say I've seen a good Batman movie. And in fact not just a good Batman movie, but a truly great one. Wow!

The first Batman movie of my acquaintance, the '60s one spinning off from the Adam West TV show, is not bad for what it is. It fairly faithfully replicates the considerable pleasures of the TV show. But it's more an extended TV episode than anything else.

The 1989 Batman wasn't very good. I remember it being the launch movie for Dolby Digital sound in New York City, and I saw it at the Toys R Us in Times Square, or the Criterion Theatre as it was known at the time. I've always been very fond of the Dolby Digital "sounders," those spikes being driven into the train tracks and then the train driving thru the theatre.

1992's Batman Returns, I'm pretty sure I saw it, but I can hardly remember a thing about it. Maybe also at the Criterion?

1995, Batman Forever? I guess I saw it?

Batman and Robin, 1997? Now that, my friends, was a true classic. So good that it didn't even get better for having been seen in my late lamented Loews Astor Plaza. It contends for being one of the worst movies I ever saw at the Astor Plaza.

Batman Begins (2005) was a huge disappointment to me. It had so many good ingredients and got so many good reviews but I thought it fell flat on pretty much every level. I particularly disliked Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow, which was Batman villain by way of Bugsy Malone.

Recounting this dismal history, I think I'd enjoy watching 90 minutes of the Dolby Digital Choo Choo Train more. Spike on the back left, spike on the front right, here comes the train. On a double feature or triple bill with SDDS and DTS sounders.

For all the good reviews for The Dark Knight, it is safe to say I went in with trepidation, and almost with duty-bound reluctance. And to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

Two small quibbles: did they even attempt to explain the plan regarding Commissioner Gordon's death, and I don't think I've ever liked the way the Batman voice sounds in any of the Batman movies since the 1966, and this one is no exception.

Other than that, what's not to like?

When I commented on Sydney Pollack, one of the elements I praised in Tootsie and The Firm was the across-the-board goodness of the casting, and this has that. The earlier Batman movies had a lot of people doing villainy for a paycheck, and Christopher Nolan has gone well beyond that. If you look at Lucius Fox in an old Batman comic book, can you see anyone but Morgan Freeman in the role? Bill Cosby, maybe? Roscoe Lee Browne? Freeman is Fox, and his put-off when a Wayne Enterprises employee starts sniffing around the accounts that point toward Batman/Bruce, it's the definitive line delivered in a definitive way by the definitive actor for the role. Michael Caine as Alfred? Well, of course! The role of Bruce/Batman has always been an odd duck in these movies because there's so little for an actor to do when he's tucked in the batsuit, and Christian Bale was one of those interesting ideas last time around that didn't quite seem to work. Surrounded by a better movie, it works. However much I disliked Cillian Murphy last time around, the idea of casting him was better than the idea of casting Tommy Lee Jones or Arnold Schwarznegger (I don't dislike Murphy, by the way, I just didn't like him there). Here, the same idea is applied toward casting Aaron Eckhart, and the performance is boffo, bam, excellent. Maggie Gyllenhal, excellent. Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall in small roles? I'm starting to warm to Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Enough has been said about Heath Ledger, and I don't need to add to it. This is a well-acted movie.

The music is instrumental. Yay! No superhero rap song over the end credits. See my comments on Indiana Jones.

The special effects are excellent. The movie always looks real. See my comments on SFX here.

But most important, the movie is dark. Batman has often been a darker kind of superhero in the comic books, and sometimes as with Tim Burton or even in Batman Begins, this darkness has played out on the screen as muddy cinematography. Sometimes, that darkness has been wedded to a campy homage to the old TV show. Show how modern you are by showing a "dark" batman, show how you remember Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Tallulah Bankhead as Black Widow, and it's not a good combination. This is the Dark Knight by way of the Untouchables, and I'm surprised I haven't read more on the similarities. Al Capone gets his point across to other mobsters by killing with baseball bat, the Joker gets his point across by doing magic trick with pencil. You don't bring a knife to a gunfight, and Batman is challenged if he can really fight with the Joker on his level. But also like De Palma's Untouchables, this is suspenseful film direction with tick-tock precision. One good set piece after another after another, well-acted and well-scored and well-edited and well-photographed and nail-biting.

Maybe I should see it again in Imax!

A short time later I took in Mamma Mia. Talk about seeing two very different movies in one day. Mamma Mia isn't particularly well-crafted. I'm not quite as down on this as some of the other reviews I read, many of which sounded to me like critics who complain about choppily edited musicals with too many close-ups where you can't see the characters' feet now complaining about this for having too many wide shots where you just see everyone dancing. But there's one shot that's so egregiously bad with the sun coming thru a window and drowning out 10% of the image of the screen that does't look like intentional craft. The casting is up-and-down. I don't understand how you do an Abba musical without using Fernando. There was something in the air that night, the moon was white, the stars were bright, Fernando, and if I had to do it all again, I would my friend, Fernando. Though he does get a brief shout-out in the movie in a briefly glimpsed poster. Or were the stars white and the moon bright, and if I had to do it all again I should get the lyrics rght my friend Fernando. The casting is a little bit odd. Meryl Streep I thought was good. No doubt all of the critics who've been criticizing her just wish she'd be doing boring serious movies like Out of Africa or were back in the days when it seemed she just did accents. Pierce Brosnan can't sing. The daughter seems off. The boyfriend/fiancee doesn't have the right chemistry and spends too much of the movie seeming like a best friend, but Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are having the time of their life in their roles. But so what. The movie is fun. It is lively. The music is sweet to listen to. It's fun. And as with Wanted, fun is good.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wall-E Wanted Hancock...

... but he couldn't have him.

Wall-E, Seen Sunday June 29, 2008 at the AMC Loews Kips Bay 15, Auditorim #9, 3 Slithy Toads

I might have enjoyed Wall-E a lot more if it hadn't been surrounded by such showers of critical acclaim. It's a very good movie, but I didn't think it was a masterpiece. The animation is glory to behold, achieving more of a filmed quality than anything else I can imagine. Compare what's on the screen here to what I'm seeing in the coming attractions for Disney's upcoming Bolt, and there's just no comparison. They were trying to get the look of the sf masterpieces, and they succeeded. It's different, and it's somewhat daring. How many animated animals are we supposed to endure? The Hello Dolly thing is an example of this. A lot of films harken back to some other film with the poster in the bedroom or the movie showing on late-night TV, but it's never something like Hello Dolly that most of us have forgotten. There's a passionate defense of the choice of Hello Dolly in the Washington Post from Sunday which I kind of agree with, while at the same point agree with the AO Scott NY Times article that this Post piece decries. It's not a safe choice. Just like it's not a safe choice to have a virtually silent movie for such long stretches. I like that. At the same time, safe choices are that way for a reason, and the movie wasn't as involving as a movie with safer choices might have been, and at the same time becomes decidely worse in the second half when it starts to make safer choices becoming a madcap chase with the robots in white hats and the evil people in the background in black hats. One quick example: why does the captain of the ship decide to take the side of righteousness and get his ship going back to Earth? It's not a well-motivated decision, but it's foundational for the second half of the movie.

Wanted, Seen Sunday June 29, 2008 at the AMC Loews Kips Bay 15, Auditorim #7, 3.5 Slithy Toads

And now I'm doing the sacrilege thing and giving a higher rating to this piece of Hollywood action than to the Pixar masterpiece. Sometimes we go to the movies or read a book because we want to have fun, and this is delightful fun from beginning to end. It's toned down stylistically a bit from the director's Night Watch, but in a way that makes it Hollywood accessible instead of neutered. It's very well acted. Angelina Jolie is having a lot of fun, and it shows. Twinkle twinkle Angelina's eye... James McAvoy is as wonderful here as he is in Innocence, only without the pretension and the period costumes. Morgan Freeman is always good. The one thing I didn't really like was the need of having an entire train car or two full of people plummeting to their deaths. It's a little too unnecessarily horrific to fit in with the overall idea of having fun. I left with a smile on my face.

Hancock, Seen Tuesday July 15, 2008 at the Clearview Cinemas Ziegfeld. 3.5 Slithy Toads.

There are a lot of surprises in this one, and I don't want to spoil them because one of the best things about this movie is that you really totally can't predict ahead of time where it's going. Sometimes I'm a sucker for the cliches, sometimes I want to be surprised, and right now I think it's safe to say the summer's filled with so many same-old same-old (how many comic book movies have we had this year) that I am on board for that which retains a capacity to surprise. The movie's short, under 100 minutes, instead of one of those bloated two-hour plus sitathons. There's one weakness in the movie, which is that the bad guy seems to have been left on the cutting room floor or otherwise colossally underdeveloped. But that aside, I was a sucker for Will Smith, and I enjoyed the surprises.

For the sake of completeness, I've also seen in recent weeks: Zohan, which I did not like; and Get Smart, which has its moments and is pleasant enough but no more than that.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

For the first time in a long time, much longer than I can remember and this is probably not a good thing, I took four days off where I did not once check e-mail and tried to minimize the amount of time I even spent thinking about the job. I did have around 100 e-mails waiting when I got back, but the world and JABberwocky seem to have survived.

This was to Connecticut to visit with my family. My parents came up for a few days, and the entire family (less one niece in Israel) got together Saturday afternoon for a seven-week preemie celebration of my mother's 80th birthday. I got her the 40th birthday card I neglected to obtain for her the first time around; that's the kind of guy I am.

My mode of transport to CT is usually Metro-North Commuter Railroad to New Haven then Amtrak to Hartford. I could take Amtrak from Penn Station in NY, but Penn Station is such a pit of existence while the New Haven train station is so nice that I'd rather have time to kill in New Haven if need be. If I have lots and lots of time to kill in New Haven and my luggage isn't too heavy to walk with, I can walk a mile over to the downtown/Yale area. It adds a little time to the trip, but not necessarily a godawful amount, especially since it's slightly quicker for me to get to Grand Central to catch Metro North. And sometimes it's quicker as when on the way back Sunday night the connecting train from Boston to New York was running very very late.

I visited my 73rd and 74th Whole Foods Markets. #73 is in Glastonbury, CT and I was visiting just shy of its 4-month anniversary. It's a "just right" location, big enough for the prepared foods to have some specialness but not so big (like the one in Columbus OH I visited with Tobias Buckell) you wonder where all the customers are supposed to come from. This store has its own in-house bake-house, and while I was there they were taking a big huge disk of dough that looked like some monster from a science fiction movie and turning it into cranberry pecan (I think) rolls. I sampled a four-cheese sourdough bread that was really yummy, and if I thought my younger brother and his family were more the types to enjoy artisanal bread maybe I would have gotten some. The store also makes a sublimely delicious white chocolate brownie that is so good it almost makes me want to move to Glastonbury so I can fatten myself up. The 74th I count with reluctance since it's an old Wild Oats location that was one of the first to be rebranded as a Whole Foods post-merger. Apparently the merger is still a work in progress; I was told by the Prepared Foods Team Member who dished up my small dish of Pete's Ravioli that there's talk of a renovation but who knows when, and that since the store looks the exact same as it did only the contents of the shelves are different that people don't really know if it's a Wild Oats or a Whole Foods or a what. It was very quiet on a summer Sunday while the "real" Whole Foods two miles away in West Hartford center was bustling when I shopped there an hour or two later. Part of me says I shouldn't count the Wild Oats as a Whole Foods, but the sign says Whole Foods and the food on the shelf is Whole Foods, and as I visit other parts of the country (like Denver for WorldCon) I'm not going to know which are conversions and which are real and as they do more renovating the gaps will close. So I'll count them.

Trivia note that Bishop's Corner had one of the earliest B&N superstores before they built them quite as super. It's now closed. There's a new store in West Hartford Center in the Blue Back Square development, and one right across the street from the Borders in Farmington that is always very very quiet compared to the Borders. The staff roster for that B&N on Sunday had only 4 bookseller/cash wrap people on it, so they weren't expecting a throng.

I dump a lot on Borders in this blog, but here to dump on B&N a bit: can anyone explain why the Glastonbury and West Hartford locations of B&N do not have a model on and are not carrying Brandon Sanderson's MISTBORN? This is inexcusable. The publisher will tell me how B&N loves Brandon and sells tons and blah blah blah, and I don't want to hear it. The time they spend trying to justify this for B&N, I'd wish they would spend getting on B&N's case, that, like, in case they haven't noticed, Brandon is one of the top-selling fantasy writers in the country these days, in fact THE WELL OF ASCENSION was Tor's top selling fantasy mass market two weeks ago according to Nielsen Bookscan, and I shouldn't have this overhanging my vacation. Sad to say, this isn't something unique to Tor. There's a form of regulatory capture that takes place in the dynamic between the sales reps at the major publishing houses and the buyers at the major chains just like between the airlines and the FAA. So don't get me started. Today it's B&N, Tor and Brandon, a couple years ago Penguin, Borders and Charlaine Harris, somebody else tomorrow, and some people who've spent time with me know that I can go on about these stupidities at very great length.

The Pizzeria Uno at the WestFarms Mall has closed. This was one of the earliest of the Unos I visited, a fixture on visits to the CT area for me for many many years. PF Chang's is taking over the spot and I'm sure will make the Mall feel much happier with itself, but I will miss the Unos. Happily there is still one by the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester on the other side of Hartford. There is a general feeling of ennui toward Friendly's amongst my family. Smaller scoops of ice cream, inferior food, not like we remember it. But is it them or our memories that are faulty?

I attempted to play things on a Play Station and did not do very well. Too many buttons. I'm not fast-fingered enough on the quiz game. The karaoke game doesn't do it for me. I did better at Wordigo, which is a word game I would recommend. It's a kind of multi-player solitaire word game.

The blueberry picking wasn't up to snuff. Most years I've been up closer to the 4th of July when the blueberry patch is just opening and there are clusters and clusters that are ready to fall into the bucket. A little harder to find those two weeks in to the season. Lots of fun, still, and it's not like the berries were bad, but it's definitely worth keeping in mnd for next year that earlier in the season is better.

Bradley Airport in Hartford is looking rather shabby. There are some transit systems that use letters for buses and some that use numbers and some that use both, so why does CT Transit think their Hartford bus system will be much the wiser for their expense of converting from letters to numbers?

So them's a few musings inspired by my vacation.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Funny-book round-up

I haven't done one of these in a while. If I'm doing one, it means I haven't had time to read any comics in a long time, and thus have a stack I've caught up on, and I'd rather not be there. Oh well; I did spend some time over the holiday weekend immersing myself in a stack of comic books. I did change the rating system, which back then went from 1 to 5 slithy toads and now goes from 0 to 4, so if you compare you need to subtract a toad from before.

Continuing Titles:

Infinify Inc. #11. 2 Slithy Toads. Still holding on my buy list. No crossover to drive me away. The younger superheros are still acting their age, which is a good thing, and the artwork is viewable, and it's holding it's own. The new issue has some disconnects. I'm not sure how it hooks up with issue #10, the script jumps around a bit without clear progression from person to person and place to place, and I'm not sure if the New Gods connection here matches up with the recent "Death of" mini-series. But I had fun with it.

Un-Men #11. 2.5 Slithy Toads. The last story arc seemed to drag on a bit, but not so much I veered away from it. This issue is almost a complete story that offers some nice backfill on the main character. I'm not in love, but I am intrigued.

The Simpsons #143. 4 Slithy Toads. The mainstay of the Simpsons line from Bongo continues to offer exceptionally good work more often than not. This is definitely not one of the occasional down issues that comes down the pike, and was a delight on every level. Oddly prescient in light of the current hostile takeover bid for Anheuser Busch by a Belgian/Brazilian brewery, this issue revolves around new owners of Duff Beer that introduce a new cold fire-brewed recipe for Homer's favorte beer. Homer does not like the new recipe. The pinnacle is the ever-so-brief reference to The Invasion of the Body Snatchers that follows in the best traditions of the TV show.

DMZ #32. Holding steady. The new arc has held dead even. 2.5 toads.

Not Discussed Previously:

Ex Machina #37. Brian K. Vaughan's series has been excellent from the beginning. I'm told that it like his Y: The Last Man is moving toward a defined ending, and my only hope is that this will be a good ending unlike the dreary last year of Y that went to Japan and got thoroughly lost and drifted around for a year before reaching an unsatisfying end. Ex Machina is about a superhero mayor of New York City who has the ability to speak to electronic gadgetry. It takes off from an alternate ending 9/11; one of the towers is still standing. It goes off in interesting tangents, be they the subway system or Rome. It's insightful about NYC politics, politics in general even. If it does end up someplace interesting it will be one of the great series of the decade, and if it doesn't it'll be an interesting footnote. The current arc is set in 2004, with a Republican convention planned for NYC, the Mayor worried about a terrorist who scales buildings to say bad things about George Bush, whether the Republicans will actually come to a city where This Kind of Thing is happening, and in the background yet another of the many somewhat circuitous and indirect threats to the Mayor suggestive of some Secret Yet To Be Revealed. The art by series co-creator Tony Harris is crisp and clean as always. 4 toads. A smile always comes to my face when I see a new issue on the stands, and it's hard to beat that.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #4 of 12. I like to have some superhero in my diet, and it gets really really hard because of the constant crossovers that force you to either get very fat on lots and lots of superhero immersion or keep out of the cloudy water. This isn't great, but I'm enjoying it enough to keep going. I don't know much about this Tangent World stuff which was introduced in some other book or series, but on a basic level I can enjoy simple for knowing that it is tangent/alternative stuff without sweating all of the details. A group of heroes on Earth has gone to the tangent world ruled by a dictatorial alternate Superman, he is planning to use those heroes, they are planning to defeat him, there are people back on "our" Earth trying to regain contact with the heroes on the tangent world, and you get the idea the bad Superman could use the one group to get at the good group back home and do bad things for us. I'm liking it enough, but can't really recommend it too much. 1.5 toads.

Bart Simpson #42. 2.5 Toads for a 12-year-old, 1 toad for a 42-year-old. This is pitched at a younger audience than the mainstay Simpsons books, and I should probably not buy it. But... I like Simpsons comics, and there are just enough issues that pleasantly surprise to balance out the ones that don't do anything for me. This issue is rather typical in having a good lead story but much weaker tales in the back of the book. Here, a long lost tale of Homer's youth when the local single screen theatre where one week would have a boy movie and the next week a girl movie gets replaced by a Duoplex where a boy movie and girl movie can co-exist and havoc results. It's a nice concept. But the other half of the book did nothing for me.

Trinity #1-5. See my comments above on Tangent. This is another superhero title that, knock on wood, will be straightforward enough for me to enjoy without requiring me to make a life-long commitment. I gave up on the other recent weekly DC series because they didn't do much for somebody who hadn't taken a doctorate on DC books. This one I might just be able to stick with so long as it works on its own terms. It hearkens back to the Action Comics Weekly (the He of Whom We DO Not Speak when discussing the history of weekly series at DC more than to the MegaCrisisOnAllMannerofEarths bombast of Countdown. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have a strange dream that they get together to talk about (those 3 heroes being the Trinity of the DC Universe) and this leads to an attack from something weird that leads to a spaceship from someplace else while a tarot reader in the bad part of LA is chased by a trio of supervillains. There are multiple artists involved, and I'm liking the more straightforward art a lot more than the arty art that the fanboys might be liking. There's a nice structure between the main story and the backup stories that is working for me. The series can be enjoyed (so far) with the Trinity as established characters we are all familiar without requiring (not yet, at least) a strong knowledge of their most recent continuities and variations, which is especially important for Wonder Woman who seems to be constantly "updated." Can it walk the fine line over 52 weeks of being enough of an event to appeal to the Event Or Bust crowd while still reaching out to the casual fan? 2.5 toads for now. I'll rate it more generously if it does no more than hold steady because I fear the worst, while also reviewing for an immediate downgrade if it loses appeal to the casual fan.

Simpsons Super Spectactular #7. 1 Toad, maybe half. I keep on buying this as the triumph of hope over experience. It only comes out twice a year so I can do that. The idea of it is always intriguing, as here to have "The House of Westinger" on the cover in tribute to long-time Superman editor Mort Weisinger. But as too often the case, it goes nowhere with the idea, and the story falls totally flat on every level. Hembeck, Aragones, Keith Giffen, even? There's more superhero parody in the four panels of the DC Nation plug for the return of Ambush Bug than in this whole comic.

House of Mystery #3. One of the newest Vertigo series. It's so, so, So Vertigo. Which is sometimes good and sometimes bad and sometimes like this the jury is going to be out. You've got this house, there are people who are there and can't not be there no matter how hard they try, and whatever. There's a framing story and a little story inside the frame, and it's accessible art I'm slowly warming to it. 2 slithy toads now, maybe more next time?

The Dearly Departed:

I really liked the first issue of Young Liars, and I soured on it very quickly thereafter. The opposite of House of Mystery, which I thnk might build toward something interesting, this is a book that seemed to race away from having characters anyone would care about or art that was consistent or helpful. It's hard for me to wonder why I even liked the first issue.