On the nature of adaptation…

No, this isn’t a treatise on evolution. I haven’t even my mother’s (non-evolution-focused, hence “even”) biological doctorate, so I’d be beyond out of my depth on it.

Anyway, of course, I’m referring to the adaptation of things like, well, comic books (okay, not “like” them, I mean “actually them”).

I’m still watching Arrow, and the truth is, I was never a Green Arrow reader. I was never a D.C. reader, for that matter. I know a lot of D.C. minutiae, because, well, comics. So I recognize the Ted Kord references, and what Roy Harper means, or a two-toned yellow and black mask, so on and so forth. But I have no investment in the characters, no background, no real awareness–GA appeared on my D.C. poster (the one I rather inexplicably decided to cut out from its frame, for reasons I’m still not sure of), and he does appear in the famous O’Neill/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow books (oh, yes, I got the reference to the folks who made GA what he’s known as today via street names, a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–the 1989 film adaptation–and its “Eastman and Laird” address).

But beyond that? It’s not like watching X2 and seeing Lady Deathstrike turned from motivated character to cardboard cutout, deprived of personality, strict, factual origins–everything. It’s frustrating, because all conversations regarding this seem to have to start with, “Well, they can’t exactly adapt 50 years of history into a single…” Yeah. I know. That’s not the issue. It’s jamming a character in unnecessarily for “geek cred”: that’s the Smallville M.O., and that’s not an M.O. anyone should be copying. The only reason that show could stand under any geek-oriented viewing is the constant hook-baiting with this or that detail that pointed toward establishing the D.C./Superman world.¹

The funny thing was, it was most willing to utterly abandon origins in favour of those tricks. Which just made that trick collapse in on itself. Geeky references work best when they are not the core focus, nor lazily manipulative. You know–“Look! It’s Aquaman! It’s Green Arrow!” No time to establish these characters, of course. Just their presence to try to draw in fans of those characters, or people who like the interactions, or just people like me who love the references and associations and connections on such a visceral level that we will put up with lazy writing, awful acting (with a handful of exceptions), bad characterization–all of those qualities that made Smallville what it was. Arrow has made the thankful decision to not commit to an asinine rule like Smallville did (“no tights, no flights”), which denies the chance at the things that make the character people are watching, even the things people who’ve never touched a Superman movie know. And really, really forces plots to drag–without the Dragonball excuse of “We don’t know the plot yet!”²

This does make me extremely nauseous and weary when it comes to a number of upcoming things I do recognize, though. Namely, Thanos (surprise!) and John Constantine, who is allegedly coming to NBC with the right nationality and wrong regional dialect [distracting moment wherein I go and see if new information has appeared]. And apparently a guardian angel and something about the battle between good and…oh fuck. Well, go ahead and write that one off, looks like…

Anyway: the entire idea of adaptation is fascinating. Lazy cash-ins are largely the most successful (…Smallville.), and that’s just…odd, in a way. Considering nearly all adaptations these days are rife with references and nods and hints, you would think that, nevermind the obvious niche draw in the first place, geeks would be the primary audience, and would demand, in some regard, more accurate representations. But, we’ve got limitations: it isn’t as if you can say, “No, no: do that over.” Not successfully anyway. 

I guess that comes down to the larger issue that has been troubling me lately, which is, if I were to be inarticulate: “people like things for the wrong reasons.” But that’s both supremely condescending and inaccurate, in terms of even my own feelings on the subject. It’s more that people don’t actually like things. I mean, they do–but they don’t know what the thing that they like actually is. I’ve seen people suggest that Thanos is “never subtle”, which shows a fundamental failure to understand anything in that character’s 40 year history. Others just talk about his power, or strength. Starlin wrote him as a nudge from some learnings about psychology, and eventually used him to explore character–which he has done with all the characters he writes. That’s what the character is. Some people like him for being the unsubtle brute that…he isn’t. So, I guess, to be fair: people like things for banal, surface understandings.

And I guess that explains it all, doesn’t it?

An un-clever, thoughtless, meaningless, simplistic reference would appeal to anyone who is most interested in the shallow, flashing moment that amounts to nothing real or meaningful. And that seems to be the most popular approach to things–I don’t mean any of that to be critical of people who like those things. I’m less bothered when people talk about how awesome Thanos is and have no concept of, well, how awesome he is–I’m bothered when they criticize unique, interesting approaches like Starlin’s to that character, instead preferring that something utterly exchangeable instead occupy that role, but needing to be purple, blue, and gold.

And, of course: it does mean that generally I’d prefer we not have an adaptation of Thanos that is that bad. The rest of the world isn’t actually going to mind, as any “super-powerful badass” can occupy that space they’ve defined as his. The existing character won’t be ruined (…per se…), but a bad adaptation further cements the idea that a good adaptation simply won’t occur. And, in the process, it’s actually entirely possible that the character in continuity will continue to slough off Starlin’s hard work at a multi-faceted character in favour of that banal, boring-ass brute.

Such is life, I guess…

¹I suppose the one thing to let Agents of ??? survive is that it doesn’t do this. But then, it ends up harder to connect it to that universe it’s a part of. Bit of a catch-22 I guess, but the solution is “good writing”, which neither show has.

²The infamously drawn out Dragonball plots have an obvious cause–Toriyama hadn’t finished the manga, and no one knew what was to happen, though the anime continued to come out.

Make me into a sincere mess dummkopf hopeless hypocrite

I think the nicest part of doing things this new way is that it allows for my extremely incoherent kinds of rambling, leaping from topic to topic as desires warrant. Which is what I’m about to do, of course.

I mentioned the onelinedrawing album The Volunteers, recently, but was distracted by the Wombats. I can’t say I’ve gone all the way through the album enough more times to discuss it, but dear lord that track everyone seems to like–“Over It”.

Was it a single, in any sense? I don’t know. As a physical release? No. But then, I don’t think Jade Tree ever did an awful lot of physical singles. I doubt they did an awful lot of “radio airplay” singles, either. This could’ve been. Should’ve been. Maybe it was. I don’t know, but ah, it’s one of those songs that just fits driving, particularly night driving. I managed to get the electric part to kick in just as I left a parking lot–ahh, good times. I wonder, sometimes, how we arrive at these things–did we have directors placing music that way because we all already appreciated it, or do we appreciate it because we’ve seen it in all of those things? Mogwai’s “Xmas Steps” does the same thing, of course, catch the real kick-in at the right moment, and it’s a pure adrenaline rush, a moment of ridiculous synchronicity.

I can at least say that, like AmRep (or DeSoto, or a few others), Jade Tree has rarely if ever done wrong by me, so I kind of said to myself (by kind of, I of course mean “completely literally”) “Oh, of course.” Seems the album is not well-liked by many of Jonah Matranga (née onelinedrawing) and/or Far (his prior/currentish band), but I hadn’t given a solid listen to any other onelinedrawing stuff, had listened to the one album Jonah released under his own name that Arctic Rodeo picked up, and have given Far some cursory listens.

On an entirely unrelated note (that I could probably tie in if I tried really hard, but fuck it), I just saw more footage from Alien: Isolation, and dear lord is that exactly what I want from an Alien game. My preference for Alien over Aliens is not secret at all (it tends to also include a lot of criticism of James Cameron, and the changes he made to both the creature and the universe in the second movie). An Amnesia-styled Alien game, with an advanced approach to AI, which is allowed by the set-up of the game? Hell yes. I know at a distance some people have suggested (bafflingly) that it’s an insult to the series, and someone joked in the video I saw about their “mech suit”, and it’s only increased the notion that my tolerance for (and thus my need to interact with) people with approximately zero or less perceptive ability has found some kind of limit. Sod off, folks, y’don’t get it, in such a way as to be objectively incorrect.

Anyway: about your business, everyone. I’ve still got those pictures of my sweet-ass mail collection coming, but I want to enjoy the rest of my night before hitting Moogfest tomorrow (thank you kindly, current-employer connections!)

Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Get on With Me Neighbours

Ah, that frustrating moment where exhaustion starts to take me: I’m feeling like I’ve gotten somewhere with what I’m doing: I’ve got art for all my digital acqusitions (okay, the Floor set has massive work to come behind it, so not exactly…). I’m all set to take pictures of fun stuff, look further into my lovely AmRep stuff, read some articles, so on, so forth.

Alas.

I stopped in to Dead Wax and finalized my Record Store Day some days later.  I’ve got too much to do tomorrow (and possibly Saturday, but that’s still up in the air a bit). Frustrating, indeed.

Obviously, the Small Faces are still running through my head (rather than suddenly having neighbour problems again for the first time in half a decade or so), though I’m also mid-way through the first season of Arrow because someone has been pushing it on me. Interesting, so far (oh look, Tahmoh Penikett…), though rather odd in many ways. Still somewhat concerned about it (mostly that whole “murder” aspect, which is the only clear violation of the type that bugs me, but there’s been some pushback, and this is a whole “Year Zero” kinda thing–who knows?).

But, I guess I’ll have to give in shortly…Damn.

I Never Felt So Wicked, As When I Willed Our Love to Die

I was just talking to Brian about why I still love Under the Blacklight, despite the anger it incites from standing Rilo Kiley fans (I know a lot of ’em, too…), and the general distaste for Blake Sennett, comparatively. It mostly feeds into my reflexive irk at “Oh, the singer makes the band,”–an unstated but largely subconscious perception. And certainly it’s true for many of us (yes, “us”), but not always fair.

When I wrote my extensive (and exhaustive) record review blog, I tried to make sure to cover all appropriate credits, because the laziness of assumption can deny you a lot. It made me realize interesting things some times, like how much I appreciate Sam Henry’s simple but catchy drums on “Return of the Rat”, or Zach Barocas’s interesting and creative every god damned percussive line he did for Jawbox. And if you think Member X did all the good stuff, you might never listen to Bash and Pop, or Sparta, or Steel Train, or Slim Dunlap, or Grant Hart’s stuff–and all of that would be sad. It means you mistakenly do things like assume it was Cedric singing “Hourglass”.¹

I did get my Slint box in today, which was quite exciting, especially the Albini review of Spiderland which is reproduced inside, as well as numerous tour flyers, where Slint played with Big Black and Killdozer and a bunch of T&G labelmates. Fascinating, as, for all their intensity, their future connection to Mogwai (as inspiration, and common “they were clearly inspired by…”) makes me associate them more completely with post-rock, and not the same kind of noisiness as a result.

I’ve taken up spreading the gospel of Small Faces, as none of my friends or I had bothered listening to them, despite the reputation. “Song of a Baker” did it for me, so here’s a nice link for you:

 

¹Okay, here’s a catalogue for the unfamiliar:

Bash and Pop: early 90s spin-off from the Replacements, fronted by ‘Mats bassist Tommy Stinson. Paul Westerberg is, of course, the vocalist for the ‘Mats and primary songwriter, and thus gets most of the credit. His solo albums are good (shut up author of article on Cracked whose name I can’t recall! You’re fucking wrong!), but Bash and Pop is fucking awesome. Friday Night Is Killing Me is like, top 10 shit for me.

Sparta: post-breakup spin-off of At the Drive-In. Guitarist (largely) backup vocalist Jim Ward fronts bassist Paul “Pall” Hinojo and drummer Tony Hajjar. Ignored in favour of The Mars Volta. I hold grudges here, as many people know. Let us speak of this no more, other than to add: most of “Hourglass” is sung by Jim, not Cedric, but, this very day, I saw people insisting to the contrary, fabricating artificial limits on Jim to conform the world to their narrow viewpoint.

Steel Train: pre-formation fun. origin. The Format is where Nate Ruess came from, and they’re awesome, but Steel Train continued for another album (their self-titled swansong) after fun. started. And all of Steel Train’s records are better than that awful shit they do now (no insult intended if you like it: it’s only my perspective).

Slim Dunlap: Replacements-replacement (harrrr!) for Bob Stinson, who did too many drugs, and it’s sad. A bunch of people said his exit from the band ruined them, but All Shook Down is awesome, and they’re wrong. Dunlap did two solo records, of which I’ve heard the one so far (The Old New Me) and it’s excellent, so there.

Grant Hart: one half of the feuding duo behind Hüsker Dü. I think they remind me most of Uncle Tupelo, relationship-wise. I think it’s allllmost the same from fan perspectives, as Mould did Sugar and his solo records and Hart was mostly left in the dust, as I understand it. I guess less a distinct “God, Farrar is a dick” kinda vibe, because I think there’s plenty of that vibe going around Hart/Mould (but I see fewer accusations thrown at Tweedy). I dunno. Regardless, pretty sure Hart is less listened, post-Dü.

I had no cares in the 1990s, I knew of no downfalls

I’m gathering packages at the post office now–practically hording the damned things. The hazard, I suppose, of working the hours and living in the place I do. Three more just got shipped (yay AmRep!), and of course tomorrow is board game night so I STILL won’t be picking them up.¹²

Anyway, I’d intended to include a variety of things in my RSD post, including my passed-over purchases, one of which was accidental (The Zombies’ Odesssey and Oracle), and one deliberate (Pinback’s self-titled–limited, but black vinyl, and as low as..$21.99?! Utterly unjustified. Might’ve been coloured I now read, but still just too damned much for a domestic pressing, or at least domestic distro).

One thing I’d intended to add and just failed to was my much more skewed award for unexpectedly good find (that I actually got to listen to): Onelinedrawing’s The Volunteers. But as I was driving home from work today, I found myself itching for an album I’d listened to a lot on the way out, that I picked up in Oklahoma a few months back: The Wombats’ This Modern Glitch.

I know the band because I randomly watched The Inbetweeners and their track “Moving to New York” appeared in it, and really caught my ear. I’ve yet to run into the album from which it comes, but I shrugged and picked up this (later) album when I saw it. Immediately, it’s clear that there’s a shine on the group as of this album. “Moving to New York” was like a sardonic Cribs, but this had an electronic sheen on it, from the opener (“Our Perfect Disease”) onward, and openly acknowledged on “Techno Fan”.

It’s something peculiar–not quite the darkness or weight of the Faint’s Danse Macabre, but along those lines, sound-wise, a rock band infused with dance-oriented electronics. And I can only advocate their choice of singles: “1996” is dark, catchy, and pushes that weaving synthline with bassy counterpoint perfectly. Murphy’s an interesting mix of the absurd, the naïve, the nostalgic, and more sardonics. It’s, in its way, quintessentially British–not in the Kinks sense, though, more in the sense of someone from my generation (and Murphy is that: I’ve got almost exactly a month on him). He phrases the accomplishments of the decade against the minor but personally huge moments of his life, noting this directly, even. The video’s a dark, blue-tinted contrast to the catchiness, married instead to the song’s darker undercurrents. Murphy still looks like Robert Smith bred with Paul Reubens, which I don’t mean as any kind of insult, so much as a wild grab at the sense of familiarity he breeds–maybe it’s hints of ol’ Ian McCulloch, too, or that may just be the Liverpudlian connection. I dunno.

The album’s wormed its way into my head pretty thoroughly now, though, as it just nestles itself warmly into the strange mid-ground of the only-slightly-off indie stuff I listen to and the dance-y pop sound of the modern era that was brought upon me by obvious sources (“1996” is, then, a sickeningly bittersweet cross-section of the difficult to explain pangs of day-to-day life for me, tonally my ever-pursued simplistic nostalgia, and aurally a reminder of the person I miss far more than those days).

Check the stuff out, in any case. It’s good. Seriously.

¹Dammit, WordPress. I want my fucking italics!

²I went to check on my Slint box (oh great! another to arrive tomorrow!), and discovered that Hickman is a fucking doofus and has further marred Starlin’s Thanos, and I really, really need to read what Starlin’s doing next month and later this year. So fucking frustrating reading other people fuck up the character, on really basic, obvious points. The Titan worshipped death. CHILDREN? Are you fucking STUPID?