odds and ends

I’m proud to say the first book I’ve read in 2011 was Quarry’s Ex by Max Allan Collins, a new release from the Hard Case Crime imprint.

I’ve tooted my horn about my enjoyment of the HCC series of books here and I will continue to do so because I find them to be fun, quick reads. I’m especially a fan of these Quarry books- Collins has crafted a weirdly appealing blue collar antihero in his midwestern hitman. Oddly enough, Collins ended the series with The Last Quarry before dipping into his past with the next few HCC novels.

Quarry’s Ex takes place in the 1980’s and directly references previously established continuity by brining the guy’s former wife into the fold while he investigates a film director on whom a hit has been taken. I really enjoyed the movie-making setting of Quarry’s Ex as a change, but I missed some of the bleaker Midwestern settings from the previous books. In all honesty, Quarry’s Ex is probably the least of the newer Quarry novels, although I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. I wonder if Collins boxed himself into a corner by giving his working stiff hitman a happy ending in The Last Quarry.

That aside, I’m on the hook for any new stories Collins chooses to tell with the character.

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I suppose I’m late in this, but IFC recently released the first season of their sketch comedy series Portlandia to Netflix and I’ve been really enjoying the first season. Starring Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Arminsen and Carrie Brownstein, Portlandia is sort of a send up of youth culture based in and around the eclectic West Coast city. Armisen and Brownstein do the heavy lifting in the series, although there is a nice stable of guest stars in the first season’s six episodes.

One of the things I really like about Portlandia is that, on the surface, it seems like Armisen, Brownstein and Company are mining an ultra-specific topic for their comedy… but as you watch a few episodes, you begin to realize that the hipster trappings are just window-dressing for the quirky humor. One of my favorite sketches in the series so far involves two artistic go-getters pimping their genius aesthetic strategy of taking things and “putting a bird on it!” While there is a hipster veneer to that sketch, the concept quickly degenerates into easy-to-appreciate goofiness.

When I was a teenager in the 1990’s, there were half a dozen sketch comedy series percolating on the upper dials of cable television. Reruns of SNL and The Kids in the Hall were ubiquitous on Comedy Central… and I remember watching shows like The State, Exit 57, The Vacant Lot, and Friday nights on HBO, Mr. Show with Bob and David.  Even the networks would occasionally take a run at sketch comedy with things like The Dana Carvey Show and The Edge, although I think the only real success on that front was In Living Color.

I’m probably forgetting half a dozen shows which didn’t make it beyond their first few episodes. Sketch seems to be a television show format which has died down in recent years. Every once and awhile it will show signs of life but I’m surprised there aren’t more cable channels actively developing and supporting more shows like Portlandia.

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Last week, The Onion’s AV Club (my go-to source for intelligently written pop culture articles and barely comprehensible message board discourse) has published a helpful article detailing what exactly makes a good all-ages comic. Author Oliver Sava give a nice run-down of the subject and also provides a list of comic books that would be great to share with young readers. He hits the big ones (Bone, Owly) while making some nice arguments for newer books like DC Comics’ O.M.A.C. and Marvel’s Mystic.As it happens, I have copies of both O.M.A.C. and Mystic in my lending library thanks to a generous donation from a friend of mine and although no one’s yet picked up Mystic, the first issues of O.M.A.C. has been a pretty big hit with my students.

Written by Dan Didio with art from superhero comics’ mainstay Keith Giffen, O.M.A.C. IS sort of an Incredible Hulk type story with lots of fighting and a really appealing lead character. The book was easily accessible with beautiful pencils by Giffen, sporting a heavy Jack Kirby influence. I was looking forward to picking up more issues… but sadly, the title was cancelled last week.

I don’t agree with Sava that Good as Lily is the best title of DC’s now defunct MINX line of books (I’d tip my hat to The Plain Janes on that one) but besides my own personal preferences I give the article a recommendation.

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One Response to “odds and ends”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Oooh, just wait until you see the “Battlestar Galactica” episode from season 2!

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