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1. Orhan Pamuk Q & A

       Orhan Pamuk (The Museum of Innocence, etc.) was at the Cairo Literary Festival a couple of weeks ago, and in Al-Ahram Weekly they have a Q & A Mona Anis and Youssef Rakha conducted with him there, Ottoman culture in disguise.
       Lots of interesting stuff -- including:

There are readers who are following my books, but say in the United States I am most famous for Snow, while they don't care about that book in China. They definitely care about My Name is Red there [...] These are issues I like, and these I think for example Chinese or Korean, Asian readers care about while American readers don't care much about the issues we have with individuality. American readers want to know about political Islam, or they care about My Name is Red in the sense of artists, drawing, they did this kind of miniatures, very interesting, but not as an issue of today. Or, for example, in Spain my bestselling book is Istanbul
       And, amusingly:
That's the problem with interviews. You do an interview and you define a certain situation that's resolved in two years' time, but 16 years later they're still quoting.

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2. African literature at American universities

       A couple of weeks ago Yale professor Wai Chee Dimock wrote about A Literary Scramble for Africa, occasioned by the annual MLA-centered hiring-ritual.
       Dimock reported that:

To our surprise, almost one-third of the people we ended up interviewing were again working on Africa, and not even the usual suspects: Chinua Achebe, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer. The field seems to have grown up overnight and turned into something no one had foreseen. Here and there we ran into some vaguely familiar titles -- Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow, NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, Helon Habila's Oil on Water -- but, for the most part, people were writing about authors we had never heard of: Senegal's Boubacar Boris Diop, Tanzania's Ebrahim Hussein, Congo's Sony Labou Tansi, Uganda's Monica Arac de Nyeko, Mozambique's Mia Couto, Malawi's Shadreck Chikoti.
       You may have heard my anguished cries -- though at the time I only tweeted a few initial reactions. But it's good to see that there's now a more comprehensive, measured response: Aaron Bady writing about Academe's Willful Ignorance of African Literature -- well worth a look.
       The PEN World Voices festival (NYC; 4-10 May) this year is 'On Africa' -- with at least one of these 'authors we had never heard of' in attendance (Boubacar Boris Diop); I'm curious to see whether this helps raise the African profile.
       I'm embarrassed about many lacunae at the complete review (though often it is more a case of not enough -- applicable to almost all categories -- than none at all), and the sampling of African literature under review is certainly among them. And yet: familiarity just with the reviewed-here titles -- limited though the selection is -- could have saved Dimock some ignorance-embarrassment. Which is, in itself, sad: what you find here really doesn't even scratch the surface -- and at least in academia they should be aware of far more.

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3. Ryan Cody discusses ‘Doc Unknown’ Kickstarter success

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Doc Unknown created by Fabian Rangel Jr & Ryan Cody.

Fabian Rangel Jr. and Ryan Cody debuted Doc Unknown # 1  two years ago, and the project was financed entirely by Fabian out of pocket. They launched a Kickstarter project to fund BOSS SNAKE: Cold Blood, Cold Streets. The duo raised $7,540 to fund the project based on a character from the introductory issue, but the fruitful Kickstarter ventures put the creators on the map and helped with further projects with IDW and Dark Horse. Fabian and Cody raised $12,250 to publish DOC UNKNOWN: Winter of the Damned & other. The second Doc Unknown kickstarter project offered a number of enticing rewards that made publishing the comic with a cover by The Goon’s Eric Powell that much sweeter.

Third time’s the charm? The ambitious creators are attempting to fund their final installment of the series:

DOC UNKNOWN: THE WAR FOR GATE CITY is a 104 page graphic novel collecting the final four issues of supernatural pulp series DOC UNKNOWN. The third and final volume will be 94 pages of new story, featuring an introduction from ED BRISSON (SHELTERED, CLUSTER, MURDERBOOK) an afterword by me (Fabian Rangel Jr) and will include a pin-up gallery featuring MATT SMITH (BARBARIAN LORD), ALEXIS ZIRITT (SPACE RIDERS) LOGAN FAERBER (OH, KILLSTRIKE), DAVID RUBIN (THE RISE OF AURORA WEST), and MIKE MIGNOLA (HELLBOY)!

The series has raised (not taking account the Kickstarter and Amazon fees) $19,790. So, it’s safe to say they know what their doing when it comes to launching a successful Kickstarter, following through a quality product and rewards. I had a conversation with my Southern Arizona dive bar drinkin’ buddy and AMCE director, Ryan, about the success of the series, what to expect from DOC UNKNOWN: THE WAR FOR GATE CITY, and offers advice to Kickstarter comic creators.

Henry Barajas: Let’s cut to the chase. You and Fabian have raised $19,790 for this series. You’re already over 50% of goal. What’s your fuckin’ secret?!

Ryan Cody: Our backers are comic and pulp adventure fans who appreciate the world we’ve built. I think we really built on a successful first volume and good reviews and word of mouth. Doc Unknown Vol.1 was totally financed by Fabian on his own, then we did a small Kickstarter for a spin-off one-shot featuring Boss Snake and the enthusiasm was overwhelming. We noticed that there could be a market for more of these characters and Volume 2 of Doc was funded via Kickstarter within two days and did incredibly well. By delivering on time a high quality product, we eliminate any fear backers may have, and they in turn feel confident in telling their friends about it. It’s very grass roots and organic.

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“New Boss Snake one-shot cover by ABE SAPIAN artist MAX FIUMARA with colors by DAVE STEWART!”

 

Barajas: Without giving anything away, what can backers expect in the last Doc Unknown adventure?

Cody: Everything. It will reward long time readers and include practically every character we’ve seen before. All of our villains are banding together to take out Doc. It’s also welcoming to new readers as the book is designed to be very accessible. There are alternate universes, magic, science, fish monsters, motorcycles, explosions, ghosts, lasers and plenty of punching. What else could you possibly want in a comic book?

Barajas: I noticed some big names are doing some pin ups of the character. How does it feel to see your character reimagined by someone like Hellboy creator Mike Mignola?

I was floored when Fabian told me. These guys are really busy with their own work, so the fact that they will take time out of their schedules to draw a character Fabian and I created is pretty amazing. Volume Two had Scott Godlewski and James Harren pin-ups in it, two of my personal favorite artists, and now to have someone like Mignola drawing a character I designed is absolutely nuts. It’s really cool and it’s fair to say he’s one my biggest influences. I think it just shows how timeless and fun our book is, it has a bit of everything we all loved growing up in it.

Barajas: What are some things you’ve noticed with unsuccessful kickstarter comic book projects?

Cody: I think there are two major factors in why kickstarters can fail. #1 is poor production and art. If your comic does not look like it could stand up with other books on the shelf, it’s probably not ready and the art and story is probably not up to par. Poor design, coloring and lettering can make even a good artist look like an amateur. The other reason I see is people asking for way too much money. The theory on these Doc Unknown books is to ask for the absolute minimum and then hope it makes considerably more than that to actually cover all the expenses. I think Fabian has really done well planning them out that way.

Rewards include shirts, sketch cards by Ryan Cody, digital comics via Comixology, and thank you credits in the book.

Rewards include shirts, sketch cards by Ryan Cody, digital comics via Comixology, and thank you credits in the book.



Click here to learn more or support the project.

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4. Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club and “the toxic ever present white gaze.”

There’s no question but that in American culture the predominant view is one that is rich, white, male, straight and Christian. And while “The male gaze” is pretty well known, we’re getting to learn about the “white gaze” as well. Have you ever wondered what it looks like? Now we know. Except it’s from New Zealand AND America.
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Shocking isn’t it? Here is some more of that toxic white gaze:

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The gaze in question is Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club a newish webcomic by New Zealander Katie O’Neill and American Toril Orlesky. Or rather it WAS, because despite praise and anticipation, the duo pulled the plug on the comic after a mere 13 pages after it was accused of cultural appropriation because it was a comic set in Japan with Japanese story lines that was by two white kids from across the globe. And also because one of them responded to a troll on Tumblr in a way that the Tumblr police deemed inappropriate. Here’s that crime again.

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Deb Aoki has heroically (and I mean it HEROICALLY) compiled the entire saga, which played out on Twitter, in one epic epic Storify. Normally I would embed it, but it’s so huge and epic it would crash your browser. Anyway I cannot recommend enough that you read the whole thing because the wise Aoki takes this molehill and tackles an entire mountain of the question “Do You Have to Be Japanese to Make Manga?” which is a huge one that this Storify doesn’t answer…but it does raise more and more questions.

For the digest version, shortly after MSBC began running, an ANONYMOUS questioner on Tumblr asked on O’Neill’s tumblr:

Anonymous asked: God damn this is why I hate it when ignorant white people like you try to make stuff about Japan just because it’s trendy. Learn how to write kanji that isn’t so awkward before you even think about making a story set in the place the language is from. 嫌なら自分の文化を使え それとも世界で他の文化が色々があるんだろう。

Hey! I actually have a BA in Japanese and speak it with some fluency (though it’s been a few years since I graduated), and the kanji in the logo is based off a font I got from a Japanese website! Thanks for your concern, but if you’re basically saying that white people should only write about white people that’s kind of messed up. We’re always going to be open to criticism and concerns, so if we get something wrong let us know!

O’Neill’s answer was deemed to be flippant and somehow racist (even when other people pointed out that ANONYMOUS wasn’t that great with Kanji either.)

Things intensified on the twitter and tumblr of cartoonist Iasmin Omar Ata, theirself the author of a well-received webcomic Mis(H)adra:

Anonymous asked: oh my god thank you for calling out msbc i’ve been side-eying that project since forever….

 

hey! i’m glad you’ve noticed the issue, too. honestly, i’m shocked at how people haven’t really called out the creators for a) their blatant cultural appropriation, and b) the awful “it’s fine” response to that ask. the whole thing is garbage and unfortunately is just another reminder of how toxic the ever-present white gaze is. i hope that soon we can do away with this kind of thing in comics because i for one am up tohere with it.

Orlesky and Ata also hashed it out on twitter:

And even if they had a point, Ata was definitely being a jerk about it. The response did not fit the crime.

While some people—even Japanese people—said they saw nothing wrong with MSBC, unfortunately, O’Neill and Orlesky decided to pull the plug on the comic even though it is not clear from anyone anywhere aside from anonymous trolls what they did wrong:

Note on Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club

As I’m sure you’ll know, last month we launched our webcomic, Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club! We were very excited about it, however we absolutely do not want to hurt anyone with it and we are concerned that this is unavoidable. From the outset we tried to be aware of issues such as cultural appropriation, fetishization and stereotyping and did our best to avoid them and write in a nuanced manner. We hoped that extensive research and experience living and working in Japan would be enough to make a portrayal that wasn’t hurtful. We can see now this was incorrect and not possible, and we don’t wish to create a comic that will hurt people, so it seems the solution is to simply stop. We sincerely apologise to anyone who was upset by it.

Thank you everyone who had faith in our comic skills before we even started, and who has given us kind feedback about the art especially! It means a lot to us that people feel this strongly about us as creators, and we will absolutely be working together again in future! Feel free to keep following the strangestarcomics blog if you’re interested in our other projects!

Now I’m willing to write part of this off as young, insecure cartoonists who are still figuring things out and not really being able to take possibly faulty criticism well. There are lots of tweets around that subject on the Storify above. I know we live in a time of identify politics where cultural appropriation is a terrible crime. Of course that didn’t stop Osamu Tezuka from culturally appropriating Walt Disney and Robert Louis Stevenson to invent manga in the first place, or Naoki Urasawa from drawing a manga about half English half Japanese insurance inspector, or any of a thousand other example of the cross pollination that makes cultural exchange a wonderful thing. Culture isn’t a bag of potato chips —you don’t chomp it up and then it’s gone. It’s an ocean that flows and ebbs and freezes and evaporates and becomes different things everywhere.

Which isn’t to say that, YEAH, people from one culture can misunderstand and fetishize people from other cultures. And it’s good to point that out.

But did Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club ACTUALLY DO THAT???? Japanese-New Zealand Cartoonist Jem Yoshioka wrote about this and this is possibly the most well meaning and infuriating document I’ve read this month.

Yoshioka runs down a FAQ of why she agrees with O’Neill and Orlesky shutting down the strip, but fails to explain any reason why the critics were correct. For instance.

In the case of MSBC too much hinged on the Japanese setting, so they have decided it’s best to stop making it.

WHAT NOW? Because a story is set in Japan and that setting effects the story it is bad? God forbid she ever watch Lost in Translation.

Also, here’s a great straw man:

Isn’t this exactly the same as when Japanese people write about western countries or white people?

 

No. Western countries and white people occupy a significant place of power within our global world, economically and culturally. To put it simply, the whole world is drowning in white culture, so it’s not culturally appropriative to write a story about white people or set in a western country. There’s a strong power imbalance in favour of western countries and white culture(s).

If anything I find this attitude MORE dismissive of Japanese culture than a wee tribute. Hundreds of millions if not billions of people are influenced by Japanese culture, billions more by other Asian cultures which are strong and thriving and, yeah, ignored by Westerners who think that US culture is the be all and end all of world culture. That just isn’t true. Posing Japanese culture as a timid weak hothouse flower before American aggression is just an insult to Japan, as American children clutch their Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers cereal spoons while playing with their Transformers.

But then we get to the meat of the matter:

What are the issues with MSBC specifically? It seemed fine to me. I’ve seen way worse stuff get made.

 

MSBC doesn’t necessarily look like cultural appropriation. The kanji is correct, the landscapes are representative of real Tokyo landscapes, and while there were a couple of inaccuracies around the reality of the voice acting industry, that’s an acceptable leap to make for the sake of storytelling purposes (see all movies ever that feature computers, science, engineering or hacking as plot points).

OK so aside from being an actually awkward story, nothing wrong here.

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However, even though it was respectfully well-researched and executed, MSBC did personally make me feel a bit weird. MSBC intentionally draws on anime and manga tropes, which can be problematic and reductive in their representation of women, gay men and often focus on specific elements of Japanese culture. There is also a lot of white western readers of this material who are still early on their journey of understanding the difference between respect and appropriation, often with a heavy side of racial fetishisation and overly romanticised ideas of Japan.

Now what tropes would those be that were revealed in the 13 pages of Masou Shounen Breakfast Club? The TROPES that CAN BE problematic and reductive.

CAN BE

Not were. It isn’t shown that MSBC used these tropes in any problematic and reductive way. Just that they COULD HAVE BEEN.

It’s fine to use these tropes, but it’s important to take the overall environment into account when writing them as a white westerner. While Katie and Toril were obviously aware of this when working on MSBC and worked hard to make sure they didn’t fetishise or stereotype, the genre itself and the wider effect it has within the community makes it difficult to achieve that.

Get that now? Because other people fucked it up, Katie and Toril probably would too, so they had to shut things down after just 13 pages before they did it. Once again, no actual crime, we’re talking total pre-cog here.

For a lot of people MSBC won’t be considered anywhere near appropriative or fetishistic, and that’s just where you are on your own journey. For me personally it does approach a line that makes me uncomfortable. I would have kept reading anyway because I enjoy the storytelling and illustrative style, but I think that feeling would have stayed with me the whole way through. The weird thing is that if they had kept going I likely would never have said anything about how I felt, because I would have been too scared of being instantly shot down about it, feared I was being silly and felt I’d never be able to properly articulate my issues. I am overjoyed to know that Katie and Toril are the kind of creators who are respectful and listen to this kind of feedback this seriously.

Yoshioka seems like a very nice, reasonable person, and I totally dig her art, but…what exactly is the crime here? The comic made Yoshioka feel uncomfortable because…feelings.

And eventually someday she would have been upset by it.

Got that? She was sure that someday she would get upset by the way that these two were sure to fuck things up. Two non-Japanese people—even with knowledge of Japan—doing a comic set in Japan was fetishistic no matter what the context or content. Just the concept was enough to ensure that lines would be crossed.
If O’Neill and Orlesky decided to pull their comic because they didn’t want to hurt even one person’s feelings, well then, okay. I get it. Hurting feelings is bad. I also suggest that they get out of any creative endeavor in the future because all great art hurts feelings, causes feelings and in general shakes things up. It isn’t safe and it isn’t afraid. Under these rules that Yoshioka lays out, no great comic would ever have been completed because some element of its creation MIGHT have been used incorrectly in the past.
If you have been reading my writings for any amount of time, you know that I’m a fan of multicultural diversity, and of multiple viewpoints and creators of every sex, religion, creed, race and sexual orientation getting a chance to tell their stories.
I’m also a huge fan of cultural context for stories that examine how the preconceptions of a work of art are reflected in the execution. But I never want to see these criticisms used to PROACTIVELY SILENCE ART.
The problem with a lot of the sociological criticism that we’re seeing now is that it sets up a Zeno’s Paradox race against some kind of Platonic ideal that has never been proved to exist. Nearly all art has a cultural context that insults SOMEONE. If I take all the anti-MSBC arguments above and reduce them to a fine gravy, it DOES come out that no one should ever write or draw a story about a culture or place other than their own because they might get it wrong. White people should stick to white people (aka the status quo), black people should stick to black people and Japan should never write a story that takes place in another culture (because I’ve read plenty of manga that fetishized some bizarre element of American culture.)
Fetishishing is wrong, orientalism is wrong, appropriation for cool points (Hey Iggy) is wrong. But absorbing the rich cultural stew of the entire world and trying to express it in your own art and comics is not wrong. And as far as I can tell, that’s the crime that O’Neill and Orlesky were convicted of in tumblr court, and that’s a shame.
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Concept art for Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club.

[The first version of this post misidentified Toril Orlesky as being from NZ rather than from the US,  and Iasmin Omar Ata as male. I regret the errors but it doesn’t change a thing I think because I judge people on their behavior not their identity.]

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5. Entertainment Round-Up: Jared Leto’s Joker hair, Marvel Movie Marathon, Warner Bros’ CEO claims DC Movies are “edgier”, Age of Ultron “behind the scenes” vids, iZombie premiere

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It’s been a slow news day today, post Age of Ultron trailer, but I did go see Chappie last night (it’s terrible, I suddenly fear for the Alien franchise). Here’s your quick round-up of today’s entertainment-related news:

– Per Latino Review, Jared Leto‘s hairstylist Chase Kusero just posted a picture on Instagram of a “work in progress” look at Jared Leto’s Joker hair as it will appear in Suicide Squad. From that back-shot, it looks very Greg Capullo-esque:

The end of an era

A photo posted by @chasehair on

– As we’re on the verge of Avengers: Age of Ultron debuting, in just under two months, it should be no surprise that theaters are planning big Marvel movie marathons. But it’s not just Phase 2 they’re showing, no sir/ma’am, it’s the entire Marvel oeuvre to this point. Starting April 29th at 6 pm and ending just before 10 pm or so the next day, select AMC and Regal theaters across the country will be showing all 11 Marvel Studios films in their order of release.

Here’s the full schedule:

6:00 p.m. – Iron Man
8:25 p.m. – The Incredible Hulk
10:35 p.m. – Iron Man 2
1:00 a.m. – Thor
3:10 a.m.  – Captain America: The First Avenger
5:30 a.m. – The Avengers
8:48 a.m. – Iron Man 3
11:15 a.m. – Thor: The Dark World
1:45 p.m. – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4:20 p.m. – Guardians of the Galaxy
7:00 p.m.– Avengers: Age of Ultron









As you can see, you can take a nap during Iron Man 2, and maybe run out for IHOP around the showings of Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World. Otherwise though, there’s no breaks built in and you better make good use of that unlimited refill on the popcorn and sodas!

Those who are feeling a little more time crunched can instead opt for Cinemark‘s Avengers double bill. I remember I tried to do something like this once with The Lord of the Rings movies right before The Return of the King came out. By the time I got to the third film, I was ready to see Frodo tossed into Mount Doom. But more power to anybody that gives this one a go!

Variety spoke with WB’s CEO Kevin Tsujihara for a piece about the possibility of audiences facing superhero fatigue, an assertion that he dismissed. Yet, the quote that fans are zeroing in on specifically is one that posits WB’s upcoming DC-based superhero slate against the meteorically successful Marvel one:

“The worlds of DC are very different,” he said. “They’re steeped in realism, and they’re a little bit edgier than Marvel’s movies.”

“Edgier” is a word I wish he hadn’t used, as that brings to mind many of the major criticisms that detractors struck Man of Steel with: that it was film too grim for its own good, among many other complaints. Whether that will prove true for the upcoming offerings in 2016 remains to be seen. Where I feel like WB should set the DC films apart from Marvel is by making them more auteur-driven, rather than forcing an overall edict of realism onto Aquaman and Shazam!. The one big Achilles’ heel that Marvel has is that they’re a bit “samey” in their approach, in that every film has to fit the same tone, plot beats, and has to uphold the on-going universe above all else. There’s no real room for a director to really lay his stamp onto the characters the way Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan did for Batman and Sam Raimi did for Spider-Man (the good ones anyway, whichever those are, I’ll leave to your discretion). But, I can’t think of anything less appealing than a cinematic universe that operates just like Marvel but in the same gray sludgey tones as Man of Steel. For all its faults, the MCU at least has some great color throughout and is a good deal of fun to watch on the biggest screen possible. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll be pleasantly surprised come next year.

– After Marvel’s early Age of Ultron trailer release, today they let loose with a few short behind the scenes videos with Cineplex featuring Joss Whedon and Jeremy Renner while in the midst of filming:

-Last but not least and just in case it slipped your mind; on March 17th, the same day The Flash returns to CW, iZombie will be debuting just after, here’s a trailer for the upcoming adaptation by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) of Chris Roberson and Mike Allred‘s Vertigo comic:

2 Comments on Entertainment Round-Up: Jared Leto’s Joker hair, Marvel Movie Marathon, Warner Bros’ CEO claims DC Movies are “edgier”, Age of Ultron “behind the scenes” vids, iZombie premiere, last added: 3/6/2015
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6. Review: ALL-NEW HAWKEYE…Ready…Aim…Run

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1

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Storytellers: Jeff Lemire, Ramon Perez

Colors: Ian Herring, Ramon Perez

Letters: Joe Sabino

Publisher: Marvel

 

 

Jeff Lemire’s works have been very hit or miss for me. Sweet Tooth is a book that I still adore. His work on Green Arrow was solid, but his Constantine issues felt rushed or cut short. When Marvel announced that he would launch a new volume of Hawkeye with artist Ramon Perez, it definitely got me curious about All-New Hawkeye #1.

My immediate thought after finishing the opening chapter is that there isn’t much to go on in the first issue. The story recalls events from Clint Barton and his brother Barney’s childhood as on-the-run orphans. These events are interwoven with Clint and Kate Bishop currently invading a hidden Hydra fortress in search of the evil organization’s latest ultimate weapon. While the opening chapter definitely doesn’t lack substance, it does however leave a lot to the imagination as far as where the story is going in this arc.

There are two groups of people this book is for; fans of Lemire/Perez, and fans of anyone ever using the Hawkeye name. Just like the previous volume, while the book is called Hawkeye, it could have just as easily been called Hawkeyes, and that should tell you the value readers get in the book. If for some reason you missed the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye, don’t worry Lemire’s story is quite fresh and welcoming to new readers. Because of the book’s subtlety and elegance, All-New Hawkeye might put off those who expect mega Avengers scale battles in their comics, but those readers most likely never got on board with Fraction’s run either. Also, don’t worry that the last issue of Fraction’s run hasn’t come out yet, this one stands on its own.

Ultimately, All-New Hawkeye #1 is just flat out fun to read. The flashbacks of Clint and Barney growing up are gorgeous. Ramon Perez’s watercolors present an interesting dichotomy when compared to Ian Herring’s more traditional color work in the book, but both are solid and don’t stray far from what made Hawkeye one of Marvel’s most unique titles. Jeff Lemire is no stranger to writing archers, and it looks as though he’s going to infuse needed depth into Clint Barton’s upbringings, while taking anyone who has carried the name Hawkeye along for the ride. For an opening issue, the book could have used a little more setup. Based on the stellar watercolor work and witty banter between Clint and Kate; we liked All-New Hawkeye, but it still has a little bit to prove before we love it.

If you pick up one Jeff Lemire book this week, make it Descender from Image Comics. Should you find yourself with an extra $4 then give All-New Hawkeye a shot.


Tell us what you thought of Hawkeye here or @bouncingsoul217 

As always with Marvel, first come first served.

Marvel.com/Redeem

code: TMA7S7Y6PUVS

 

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7. Maestro Comes to SECRET WARS and CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS

One of the more obvious teasers run by Marvel in the build up to announce Secret Wars was Dale Keown’s image of Peter David’s Future Imperfect series. Back in 1992, David and George Perez told the tale of a dystopian future where an evil version of the Hulk, known as Maestro, laid waste to the heroes of the Marvel Universe in the Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect mini series. While he was killed in the  series by the Hulk we know, the character has recently appeared in Spider-Man 2099. Today, Hollywood Reporter announced that a new Secret Wars tie-in would revisit the world of the Maestro.

Set to release on June 3, Future Imperfect by Peter David and artist Greg Land will tell a stand alone tale of the Maestro wreaking havoc on Battleworld. David has also promised a big surprise when readers find out who’s leading the charge against this out of control monster, “I will tell you this: there’s a character in the series referred to as ‘the boss,’ a person who oversees the battle against the Maestro. I feel pretty confident in saying that no-one will be able to guess that person’s identity until it’s revealed on the last page.”

An interior page from the book was also displayed and shows a female Red She-Hulk. Though the writer would not say if the character was Betty Ross as in the current Marvel U.

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It was also revealed today that the Maestro is officially the big boss of Marvel’s Contest of Champions mobile game. Currently available on iOS and Android the mobile fighter lets you build a team of heroes or villains as you fight through a tournament in the game’s own Battleworld. The game is free to download and actually is one of their more interesting titles for fighting boredom in convention lines.

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8. Review: Big Con Job is a dark, meta, fandomy heist: and I can’t look away

BIGCONWritten by: Jimmy Palmiotti and Matt Brady

Art by: Dominike “Domo” Stanton

Colors by: Paul Little

Letters by: Jim Campbell

Publisher: Boom Studios

I came into Big Con Job #1 cold: Amanda Conner’s lively cover art shows a bunch of aging space-opera stars at a convention table. Their larger than life TV personas are depicted on banners that stretch high behind their real life counterparts; looming over the actual people behind the clearly much younger characters. The images overwhelm and diminish them. It’s a great piece of art because on first glance it has a self-aware, lighthearted look to it. After reading the issue, however, that cover takes on a much darker tone.

Palmiotti and Brady have created a group of characters instantly familiar to fans of comic books, science fiction and fantasy in general: aging TV stars wearily working the convention circuit to earn their daily bread. There’s the buxom, Princess Leia-like love interest to the pulpy, Captain Kirk-ish Buck Blaster in the aptly-named series ‘Treck Wars’. The pair look out into a sparse audience that has turned on them: asking accusatory, confrontational questions and demanding answers from the actors (Blaze Storm and Danny Dean) who obviously had very little input on their character’s development.

There’s nothing lighthearted about the look Big Con Job’s writing team provide into the hardscrabble lives of the increasingly obsolete actors. They can’t pay their rent and are getting evicted; they’re getting stiffed on promised appearance fees and drooled over by the invasive fans they must cater to. In one particularly gut-wrenching scene, Poach Brewster, the man behind the show’s Spock-esque scientist, breaks up with his younger partner. She’s a beautiful actress on the rise, and he knows his melancholia is holding her back. As he clutches her pillow to his face the next morning, I actually turned my face away from the panels. I keenly felt the anguish of these characters. I’m sure the recent loss of Leonard Nimoy added poignancy to Brewster’s story; thank goodness Nimoy had a rich artistic life post Star Trek.

Some intensely heartbreaking scenes are still to come. A warning: if you struggle with depression, or are just having a rough day, you might want to read this issue when the clouds disappear. But you should read it. I was shocked by the unexpected depth, not just of the plot but also of Dominike Stanton’s art. It seemed to subtlety change from page to page, morphing so the characters and settings matched the tone of the story. In the convention scenes, where the actors put on their best imitations of happiness and nostalgia, the art becomes rounder, and more stylized. When Dean and Brewster try to drink away their pain, the images seem to stretch slightly, giving them a more strung-out look.

It all lays the groundwork for a strange heist scheme, which name-checks the San Diego Comic Convention just before the book ends. Most heist narratives waste little time in defining the “why” of the robbery or con-job; it’s enough to know that money is at stake, or perhaps a loosely-sketched blackmail scenario. Not so in Big Con Job. The why is painful, understandable and relatable. Comic readers may not be washed up actors well-past their 15 minutes of fame, but they have loved the characters portrayed by those people. Have traveled with them in their hearts and minds to distant lands and planets; but will they follow them past the adventure scenes and epic battles through the dismal struggles of the real-world people behind the fame?  To see what likely-illegal schemes that desperation and tragedy can push a person to consider? For my part, I’m ready to watch this group break bad: I can’t look away.

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9. Good luck to Tom Spurgeon on his halfway cross country move

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Tom Spurgeon is relocating from New Mexico to Columbus, OH this week. I can only imagine how stressful that is—some tweets posts about a cancelled last minute comics sale show just one aspect of it. I think he said he had something like 75 boxes of comics…just having a lot of stuff makes moving traumatic, let alone moving in the middle of a winter which resembles the White Witch’s plans for Narnia. I know moving my least favorite thing in life. (I’ve only moved three times in my adult life. )

In Columbus Tom will be an even more important force in comics than his already formidable position as he spearheads the new Cartoon Crossroad Columbus event. Anyway, good luck to him!

(Photo via Facebook)

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10. Los Angeles Times Book Prize graphic novel nominees announced

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Awards season is barreling along now. And here are the nominees for the LA Times Book Prizes, which added a graphic novel category several years back. It’s a prestigious literary prize, and the winners over the years—Duncan the Wonder Dog, Finder, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life among them—have definitely lived up to the billing. This year’s five books chosen include what I would almost call the usual suspects for 2014:

 

The Chast and Tamaki books were THE graphic novels of 2014, and The Love Bunglers is a masterpiece. Arsene Schrauwen was much admired and deserves all the attention it gets. The Neyestani book doesn’t quite have the same profile, but it’s gotten a lot of recent ink and it’s also a pretty damn fine book.

In other words, good picks.

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11. Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 3/5/15: Area woman finds comics are not as she remembered

§ It would be easy to mock this Jen Teasdale-style column in the Norfolk Daily News where a woman goes to find some comics in her local bookstore but finds only superheroes and not Little Lulu, but I think there is a lesson in it. The tone is not the anger you sometimes find —”That’s not MY Aquaman!”—but rather curiosity.

My own collection of comics is now quite old, and it only contains a few superhero stories. When I was young, I wasn’t interested in those types of comics, and I admit that I’m not interested in them now.

In fact, I went searching to see if I could find newer editions of the comics I’d read as a child — Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, Richie Rich, Yosemite Sam, Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Roadrunner, the Pink Panther, Tweety and Sylvester, and my favorite, Uncle Scrooge. Sadly, I couldn’t find any of those in the drawer after drawer full of action comics I encountered.

The closest I came to finding comics like those I loved as a kid was a small selection of Archie comics. I bought a “Betty and Veronica” double digest book for a whopping 99 cents! Believe me, that’s a major deal when you compare it to the average price of $5.99 I saw on most of the comics.


This woman actually really likes comics. While manga isn’t to her taste, she remembers the pleasure she found in picking up what sounds like The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Strips—who wouldn’t?—and vows top hold on to her very old collection of comics and says “If anything, I’ll add to the collection whenever I can.” It is perhaps too much to expect that she might enjoy Powerpuff Girls or Adventure Time…or maybe Operation Margarine. The point is she is a comics fan, but when there were no comics for her tastes, she moved on. One of the benefits of having a strong and varied world of kids comics now is that as these readers age they will find a lot of material to choose from. Comics are for everyone.

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§ Speaking of Operation Margarine, the enjoyable girls on bikes romp by Katie Skelly, she’s done a pin-up for the collection of the apes on bikes romp The Humans.

§ 18 drawing tips from Moebius! BOOKMARK

§ Moebius’s collaborator on a Silver Surfer novel, Stan Lee is schooling us on superheroes at the Smithsonian. And it’s online and its free. Gather and learn, children.

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§ Olivier Schrauwen’s Mowgli book is out from Retrofit and it’s large and magnificent.

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§ Here’s a collection of Gold Key Star Trek comics covers that are pleasant to look at. According to the database the stories were written by a youthful Len Wein and the covers are by George Wilson, not a very familiar name to contemporary comics fans, but he was pretty boss. (Via Boing Boing)

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§ And speaking of Star Trek, apparently as a tribute to the late, great Leonard Nimoy, Canadian Trekkies are marking up their $5 bill to resembles Spock, a practice wich the government wishes to discourage.

Bank of Canada spokeswoman, Josianne Menard, has confirmed the stunt is not illegal, but she urges Spock fans to stop. She says in a statement, “It is not illegal to write or make other markings on bank notes… However, there are important reasons why it should not be done. Writing on a bank note may interfere with the security features and reduces its lifespan. Markings on a note may also prevent it from being accepted in a transaction. Furthermore, the Bank of Canada feels that writing and markings on bank notes are inappropriate as they are a symbol of our country and a source of national pride.”


The Spock-lie personage on the bill is Canada’s seventh prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Somehow I think we need Kate Beaton to make sense of this all.

§ I know you have probably fired up Evernote and made you own exhaustive analysis of the new Avengers trailer, but just in case you got stuck, here’s the Comicbook.com one.

§ Finally, by stock photos needs have been met at last.

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12. Gaston & the Beast Cast Opposite Emma Watson

Emma Watson once again put rumors and speculations to rest with a couple of tweets. According to Emma’s Twitter feed, Dan Stevens will be playing her Beast, and Luke Evans as Gaston.

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13. Vietnamese literature abroad

       As I've often noted, the South-East Asian languages are among the worst-represented in translation (especially into English). In Viet Nam they apparently have been holding an international conference -- "attended by the local literati and over 150 international poets, authors, and translators from 43 countries and territories" -- trying, in part, to figure out what can be done about the situation.
       Coverage can be found in:

       Among the advice on offer:
Kazakhstani writer Bakhitkozha Rustemov stressed that a joint effort from the Government and relevant sectors and agencies, as well as national and ministry-level cooperation agreements, are needed.
       Ah, yes, relying on 'national and ministry-level cooperation agreements', that's the ticket .....
       Of course, there are some ... positive (?) observations: sure, Russian interest and activity is down since Soviet times, but, hey:
As many as 6 books by Vietnamese authors are scheduled to be published in Russian by 2016.
       Compare that to the US: the Three Percent database lists all of one work of Vietnamese fiction published in translation in all of 2014 -- Ticket to Childhood by Nguyen Nhat Anh (not, I'm afraid, a front-runner for the Best Translated Book Award) -- and none at all so far on the (admittedly still incomplete) 2015 database.

       Still, at least they seem to be trying to address the issue(s), and looking for ways to get the word/books out. Which seems more than local laggards Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia have managed to date ..... Read the rest of this post

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14. Bookselling in ... Russia

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines they offer an English version of Kira Latukhina and Pavel Basinsky's Rossiyskaya Gazeta article, finding that The Russian book industry is at a crossroads.
       The bleak situation:

"Book distribution networks have been ruined in recent years," Alexei Varlamov says. "The situation is even worse in the regions, where publishing a book is the same as publishing it for yourself. As a result, almost all literary engagement is restricted to our two main urban centers: Moscow and St. Petersburg." The problem is complex and can only be resolved with a complex approach that extends beyond the Year of Literature. Money must be invested into maintaining and reviving regional as well as central bookstores, otherwise a significant portion of the country faces being cut off from this important cultural marker.
       Given the abject failures of the Putin regime in managing ... well, pretty much anything, things do not look promising.

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15. L.A. Times Book Prize finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the 35th annual L.A. Times Book Prizes.
       Some interesting works -- and a lot of categories. I have some of these, but none are under review at the complete review at this time.

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16. The Room review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jonas Karlsson's small workplace novel, The Room.

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17. Throwback Thursday: The Guardian reviews “Chamber of Secrets”

The Guardian recently published a review of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As many of us may recall, this book originally hit bookstores in the UK in 1998, and in the USA one year later in 1999. The Guardian’s review mainly summarizes the novel, giving a brief opinion at the very end:

This is another great story by J.K. Rowling. It shows how Harry and Ron get on throughout the ‘clever stuff’ without Hermione and how the Chamber of Secrets was supposedly opened before by their biggest friend. It also shows a side of Hogwarts possibly without Dumbledore.

Just like the first book this is superbly written with amazing descriptions to make you feel as if you are Harry attending Hogwarts!

However, it is a good opportunity to sit back and reflect on our memories of when Chamber of Secrets entered our lives. Back when Harry was just getting off the ground on his Nimbus 2000, it has been nearly 16 (or 17 in the UK) years since the publication of Chamber of Secrets, and so much has unfolded within the Harry Potter world since then. Please share your tales with us in the comments below!

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18. J.K. Rowling to be featured in “Unions Matter: A Reader”

The National Union of Public and General Employees is releasing a second 40-page booklet on why employee unions matter. Both volumes one and two contain essays, quotes, quips, and images from various sources that are in support of unions. The second volume features J.K. Rowling, along side other big names such as Bruce Springsteen. It is not quite clear how our favorite author will be featured, as  The NUPGE reports:

The 40-page booklet is available now and pulls together a diverse range of quotes, quips, essays and images about the myriad ways in which unions make the world a better place.

“It’s not just members who benefit from unions, it’s their entire community,” says NUPGE National President James Clancy. “By giving everyday people a voice, unions reduce income inequality, strengthen the economy, promote democracy, spread fairness, defend dignity, and make sure that everybody has a shot at prosperity and contentment.

“Our goal with the reader is to remind everyone of all these beautiful ways that unions matter.”

The first edition of the reader was published in 2014 and featured the voices of Homer Simpson, Ken Dryden, Martin Luther King Jr., and Matt Damon. This second edition features Bruce (The Boss) Springsteen, J.K. Rowling, Linda McQuaig, and Rick Mercer.

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19. HEAVY METAL TEENAGER is back in the woods!! (First spotting in over a year. He looked older, but his...

HEAVY METAL TEENAGER is back in the woods!! (First spotting in over a year. He looked older, but his long locks remain golden, abundant; his bangs still hang to the frames of his thick, thick glasses; and his t-shirt game is still on point.)

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20. "Art Is a Way Out. Do not let life overwhelm you. When the old paths are choked with the débris of..."

“Art Is a Way Out. Do not let life overwhelm you. When the old paths are choked with the débris of failure, look for newer and fresher paths. Art is just such a path. Art is distilled from suffering.”

- Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (via)



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21. Stay, Clute

Stay cover

Strange Horizons has now posted my review of John Clute's latest collection of materials, Stay. A taste:
Even a mere glance through Stay, John Clute’s latest collection of book reviews, short stories, and lexicon entries, (or through any of Clute's books, really) will convince you that you are in the presence of genius.

But a genius of what type? The type that can turn a million candy wrappers into a surprisingly convincing small-scale replica of a rocket ship, or the type that zips to the heart of a zeitgeist faster than the rest of us? Is this genius a fox, a hedgehog, an anorak? Does it sing in seemingly effortless perfect pitch, or is its singing, like that of a dog, remarkable simply for being at all?

The desire to taxonomize is inevitable after reading even a few pages of Clute. He is a wild literary Linnaeus: obsessively compulsed to categorize. As someone generally uninterested in taxonomy, I have struggled to learn to read Clute appreciatively. I used to want to shoot his clay pigeonholes, to mock his neologistic frenzies, to clothe the emperor. But then I realized I was enjoying his work too much to do so. Clute’s imperative to categorize is contagious. I’d passed through the portal and made my way into Cluteland.
This review marks ten years of my writing for Strange Horizons — I began as a columnist in February 2005 with a rather odd piece titled "Walls". I stopped as a columnist after writing fifty, since I felt like I'd done what I could do with the form for that audience, but I've continued occasionally to write reviews.

I don't do a lot with genre speculative fiction these days, since other things have taken me elsewhere, but it's nice to be back now and again at a publication that feels so much like home. I owe thanks to lots of people there, especially former editor-in-chief Susan Groppi, who first asked me to write for the magazine, current editor-in-chief (and the first, if I remember correctly, reviews editor) Niall Harrison, recent past reviews editor Abigail Nussbaum, new reviews senior editor Maureen Kincaid Speller, and book reviews editor Aishwarya Subramanian, who not only let me keep some of my bad puns and jokes, but even liked some of them! Strange Horizons remains a unique, wonderful place out there in the wide world of the web, and it has always been an honor to be associated with it.

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22. Duggan and Shaner Travel Back to 1872 with Famous Friends

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With Agent Carter plugging up the airwaves with awesomeness, it’s time for the comics to start integrating period pieces back into the fold. Enter 1872, the newest Secret Wars tie-in from Marvel featuring two fine creators in author Gerry Duggan and artist Evan “Doc” Shaner taking our favorite heroes back a few century or two. 1872 #1 ships in May with a stunning Alex Maleev cover on the first issue.

A Western drawn by Shaner is worth the hole Secret Wars is blasting into your wallet. Don’t just take our word for it either “Doc’s first sketches blew holes in our heads,” said Duggan to the AV Club regarding Shaner. Let the saliva continue to drop from your mouth when you hear about Sheriff Steve Rogers, Blacksmith Tony Stark, and a young strapping Bruce Banner running amok in the Old West.

The best part of this entire story revealed by the AV Club might be the strapline: Real Heroes Die With Their Boots On. Duggan explained the genesis of how the off-the-wall title came to be with a few simple words “I pitched it.” This is yet another case of someone on a Secret Wars tie-in getting the opportunity to tell the stories that they want to tell.

Here’s the full solicitation and cover:

1872 #1

Written by GERRY DUGGAN

Penciled by EVAN “DOC” SHANER

Cover by ALEX MALEEV

Variant Cover by EVAN “DOC” SHANER

REAL HEROES DIE WITH THEIR BOOTS ON

  • SHERIFF STEVE ROGERS faces corruption and fear in the boom town of TIMELY.
  • The only thing ANTHONY STARK seems capable of is pulling a cork, so can he pull Rogers’ fat from the fire?
  • But…a stranger comes to town that will change Timely forever…for anyone left standing, that is.

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23. Power of fan tweets unlocks thrilling new Avengers trailer

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After using the powers of social media to unlock a new trailer, we see the Avengers in a hopeless battle against Ultron! He’s only one robot, what is the problem??? Nice character moments for the Black Widow and Cap, as we see the Avengers facing a host of CGI adversaries, and a ton of CGI building coming crashing down! And I nuanced take on the aqua/orange color scheme of all movies with a more robin’s egg blue and light bisque patina.

Oh who am I kidding…this is freaking awesome.

Marvel, PLEASE make a Damage Control movie! or at least a short.

What is YOUR favorite part of this trailer, readers?

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24. Art Spiegelman’s Wordless has its final NYC performance March 13th

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Wordless! is a collaboration between artist Art Spiegelman and musician Phillip Johnston—but it’s really about Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and Milt Gross. The evening—which I was fortunate to catch last year—involves the Johnston Sextet improvising over a slide show of the wordless comics of the above as set up by Spiegelman. And Art being Art, this is also a lucid, connection making journey through comics and art history, the oppressive woodcuts of Masereel eventually coming out in Spiegelman’s own work. And for you social history buffs, the continued theme of young women who are done in by their own society flouting desires—aka getting knocked up by some cad —provides an interesting window into the time period of these comics.

Wordless! was commissioned for the same Australian arts festival which saw the astonishing The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell and Fourplay.

Wordless! is quite an amazing piece of theater and while it’s been touring for a bit New Yorkers will have ONLY ONE MORE CHANCE TO SEE IT! And it’s this March 13th. Deets:

Art Spiegelman & Phillip Johnston’s 
WORDLESS!
***
one performance only:
Friday, March 13, 7:30 pm. Miller Theater



Columbia University Theater 2960 Broadway (at 116th Street)  

Tickets here.

If you haven’t seen Wordless, do it. You’ll kick yourself forever for not seeing it when you had the chance. And here’s a video trailer in you need any more convincing.

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25. Jason Isaac’s New “Must-See” TV series “Dig”

Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) stars in the lead role of USA’s new TV series, Dig. The pilot episode of the new series airs tomorrow, March 5, and already has rave reviews. Isaacs plays a detective, Peter Connelly, who works in Jerusalem. As he investigates the murder of a young woman, an archaeologist, he uncovers “a conspiracy 2000 years in the making” (IMDB). Many reviews have praised the new series, including an article from the Las Angeles Times, which Jason Isaacs tweeted. The LA Times states:

Equally unique, at least among the USA lineup of character-driven procedurals, “Dig” is more entertainment than education, though one will no doubt feel compelled to Google at least some of the show’s iconography. Combining the sort of conspiracy theory that made Dan Brown rich with the endless fascination of Jerusalem, Raff and Kring set their story at the nexus of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

There’s also a cult leader (David Costabile) raising a boy in seclusion in the middle of the New Mexico desert, an archaeologist who may or may not be seeking the ark of the covenant, and Anne Heche as the complicated head of the FBI in Jerusalem. Most important, however, there’s Jason Isaacs, heartbroken and unleashed. As FBI agent Peter Connelly, in Jerusalem to recover from personal tragedy, Isaacs roils with pain and the ongoing curse of clarity.

So withdrawn and taciturn that his only friend is his supervisor (and sometime-lover) Lynn Monahan (Heche), Peter is, of course, constantly in conflict with local authorities. Including and especially Det. Golan Cohen (Ori Pfeffer), with whom he will, naturally, partner to investigate the murder of a young American.

Although designed for high-octane enjoyment — marketplace chase scenes, shootouts, enigmatic zealots, mysterious talismans — “Dig” takes its time, weaving its various plots together in a way both tantalizing and occasionally maddening. Certain scenes in early episodes make it clear that those involved in the conspiracy are willing to go to Any Lengths, though by the end of the third hour, we have no idea for what.

Tension is good, but the longer you build up any mystery, the more shocking and clever it dang well better be — the Grail was a woman! Soylent Green is people! Brody still isn’t dead! (No, wait, wrong show.)

The religious overlap — both Christian and Jewish extremists appear to be involved; the word is still out on the Muslims — lends “Dig” a certain resonance and depth, just as the location work in Jerusalem gives it authenticity. But in the end, it’s about a man who needs to save the world to save himself. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Either way, “Dig” promises to be a whole lot of crazy fun to watch, proof that TV can be as wild and exciting as it is political and penetrating. And all on the same night.

 

The trailer for the series can be seen below. A caution to viewers, this show is geared towards an older/mature audience, and may contain disturbing images.

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