Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, November 30, 2007
      ( 11/30/2007 04:51:00 PM ) Bill S.  

DAN CLOWES' UTILITY BELT: Watching series television over the past couple weeks, you can't escape the impression that Comic Con culture has come to television in a big way. Three different weekly shows, The Simpsons, Numb3rs and Criminal Minds, recently set their storylines in the comics world, with varying degrees of success.

The Simpsons' trip into alt comics, none too surprisingly, proved the coolest - as big name creators Daniel Clowes, Alan Moore & Art Spiegelman made an appearance as yellow skinned versions of themselves at a trendy Springfield's comic store. Predictably, arty Lisa did all the swooning, telling Clowes how much she identified with the heroines in Ghost World, and Clowes got the funniest lines, confessing Dan Pussy-like, how much he wanted to draw Batman's utility belt. Pretty amusing to the cognoscenti, though my wife - who mainly knows Ghost World from a movie she didn't much enjoy - didn't find it all that chucklesome.

You didn't need to be a comics fan to comprehend either Numbers or Minds, though. The Numbe3rs caper centered around a San Diego-type convention and an infirmed Golden Age comics creator named Ross Moore (played by Christopher Lloyd) whose tale of mistreatment at the hands of the comics industry contained elements of both Jack Kirby and Siegel & Shuster. A misguided attempt at raising money for the comics man, involving the theft of an "ashcan edition" of a Moore-created comic from the sixties, leads to a non-too-difficult whodunit (it's the Helpful Guy!) Wil Wheaton's turn as an artistically bankrupt comics artist turned entrepreneur (a little bit of Todd Macfarlane, mayhaps?) was fun to watch, while a closing sequence featuring Lloyd and his onetime Taxi-mate Judd Hirsh contained a decent teevee-centered in-joke about the comic artist's experiences in the sixties.

Arguably the most successful of the three series forays into comicdom, though, was this week's episode of Criminal Minds, featuring another former child actor (this time, Frankie Muniz) playing a graphic novelist who undergoes a murderous psychotic break. Focusing on the PoV of Muniz's Johnny McHale, writer/director Edward Allen Bernero filmed the artist's hallucinations in a style that effectively aped the movie version of Sin City. Also, unlike most episodes of Minds, the show worked overtime to provide an empathetic view of Muniz's broken serial killer (more typically, the series treats 'em as faceless monsters to be psychologically picked apart by our gang of profilers). The approach by and large worked, in large part due to Muniz's high-stressed performance, though I can't help wondering why a plot-important voice mail message continues to function six months after its owner has been murdered.

In one scene on Minds, the series' computer whiz Garcia (the wonderful Kirsten Vangsness) talks to non-comics fan Derek Morgan about (Shemar Moore) about Frank Miller. (It's worth noting that where Numb3rs made one of its regular agents a comics aficionado, Minds assigned that role to its two nerdiest characters.) When she tells him that Miller, whose name sounds vaguely familiar to the FBI profiler, was the creator behind Sin City and 300, Derek notes that they both made great movies. A joke, one suspects, even non-comics geeks'll get . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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