Quick Take: Kindred on FX

Kindred is possibly Octavia Butler’s most acclaimed work. It’s a meaningful novel with much to say about power, family, racism, sexism, the Antebellum South, and more. Possibly its most important theme is the human condition and the lengths to which humans can go to survive intolerable conditions.

I watched the FX series; it was fine. But I didn’t see much beyond what I’d already gotten from the novel; the relatively minor changes didn’t seem to disturb the broader brushstrokes. I was honestly on the fence about watching the second season.

Still, FX was taking an important novel and making it available to a wider audience and that is a public service. I was glad the series was being made even if I hadn’t yet decided to watch season two.

Now I’m disappointed that FX has canceled Season Two. It seems to me that if a network undertakes an adaption of an important work, it should see it through. Leaving the project undone does nobody any good.

Evidently, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the showrunner, is currently shopping season two to other networks. You know what, network executives: I’m in. Pick up season two, and you can count on me as a viewer, even though I’ve aged out of most of the demographics you care about.

Meanwhile, everybody else: If you’re interested in Kindred read the novel. It’s worth your time. Or, if you’re committed to experiencing the book through other media, cross your fingers. Or check out this Eisner Award-winning graphic novel. I’ll review the graphic novel here once I read it.

Bottom Line for the FX series:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Quick Take: The Revolution

I’m two episodes into The Revolution with Steve Kornacki and it’s well-researched and fascinating. Still, as a history of one of the moments that has led to the deep dysfunction we see in today’s politics in the United States, it’s not entirely a fun listen.

On Election Day 1994 I remember proclaiming, “We will never see a Republican House of Representatives in our lifetime.” Close to 30 years later, I feel a little silly looking back on that. One of the first things Kornacki does, however, is to emphasize how staggeringly unanticipated the overthrow of the so-called “Permanent Democratic Majority” was. If nothing else, I feel a bit better.

The first episode does an excellent job of setting the stage, delineating Gingrich’s background, and describing the zeitgeist as he entered Congress, driven largely by the national tax revolt sparked by Proposition 13 in California.

And it gives a real sense of just how different Congress was in 1978. Many friendships crossed party lines and no one took offense or even notice. We hear from Ray LaHood, a former Republican Congressman who went on to serve as Transportation Secretary under President Obama, “Back in the day, there weren’t members on either side who were offended… because they knew people came to Congress to get things done and they came with the idea that the art of compromise was the way [to do that]. And not one of the 435 got their own way.” It was Gingrich who saw attacking your opponents as bad people as a viable strategy while Tip O’Neal supported the Republican leader and treated him like a team member.

Gingrich unveils the Contract with America 9/1994. (Chris Martin/CQ Roll Call)

It’s an interesting story. Hopefully, it will extend beyond Election Day to explore some of the changes Gingrich made during his speakership and their long-term consequences, like the shuttering of the Office of Technology Assessment.

There’s a lot to unpack about the current state of American Politics, and Gingrich is a key player in that history.

Here’s an interesting companion piece from the Al Franken Podcast:

How We Got Here. Norm Ornstein on the Erosion of Norms from Gingrich to McConnell to Trump.

I might be inclined to say “from Reagan to Gingrich to McConnell to Trump,” but you have to start somewhere.

Rating: 4 out of 5.


  • Featured Image: The Revolution logo from MSNBC (fair use) with a public domain American Flag background from <www.publicdomainpictures.net>
  • Gingrich Unveils the Contract with America 9/1994. (Chris Martin/CQ Roll Call)

Quick Take: The Billion Dollar Boy

A few weeks ago, I was thinking back fondly about Heinlein’s juvenile novels. I used to read those all the time even once I aged out of the YA target audience. These hold up nicely. Not too long ago, Joanne and I enjoyed Starman Jones and Have Space Suit Will Travel as audiobooks on a long drive or three.

My nostalgia turned to the Jupiter Novels. In the mid to late 90’s, Tor books published this series as an homage to these works of Heinlein. I read a couple and they were pretty good. Maybe I’d like to reread a couple of those or track down the ones I hadn’t read, I thought.

By an odd coincidence or a creepy not-a-coincidence, if Facebook is eavesdropping on us, I soon received an e-mail from Arc Manor Publishers offering a free copy of the e-book of The Billion Dollar Boy by Charles Sheffield. This was one of the Jupiter Novels and it was one that, to the best of my recollection, I had not read.

And it was fine. After the first couple of pages, I knew in broad brushstrokes how the plot would unfold. The main character, a spoiled rich kid would, through some contrivance, end up in space. He’d be forced to earn his keep while he discovers amazing things and some dramatic stuff occurs. By the end, of course, he’s no longer an entitled jackass. Wikipedia tells me this is essentially the same plot as Captains Courageous.

But even with the predictability, this is a fun read. The story moves along quickly. The happenings are engaging, the conflict is exciting and the resolution is satisfying. The Billion Dollar Boy is nothing more or less than the science fiction equivalent of ordering comfort food in a restaurant. It’s not exactly what you grew up with and it’s fundamentally unchallenging but it’s reminiscent enough to be enjoyable.

Bottom Line:

Quick Take: Superior Spider-Man (2019)

I read the first issue of the New Superior Spider-Man when it first came out and I wasn’t inspired to invest in the series. Not even Terrax was enough to inspire me to purchase issue 2. But while my car was being serviced, I noticed that the first issue was available on Marvel Unlimited. I decided to give it a second read. It did not get better. The set up is obvious, Dr. Octopus’ mind now resides in a cloned body of Peter Parker, with all of the powers that implies. He’s teaching at Horizon University in San Francisco and trying to be a better hero than Peter. The whole thing has a perfunctory “been there, done that” kind of a feel. It’s the same themes as volume 1 without having Peter’s story to bolster my interest.

The art isn’t superior either; it’s competent, but all the characters look like posed manikins. I’ve seen people talking about how they really like this series and it isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll return to it in a couple of years, once the entire run is on Marvel Unlimited, but then again, maybe not. I can’t see investing in this series for the individual issues.

Also, do you remember a time when comic book companies tried not to overexpose their characters? In the 1940s Superman, Batman and Flash couldn’t be in the JSA because each had his own book. Similar policies persisted for a long time. But now Peter has two books, Miles, Gwen and Otto have books and there’s something called “Symbiote Spider-Man.” If Marvel isn’t careful, we’ll all have brand fatigue before long.

Bottom Line:

Quick Take: Dark Phoenix


When I want to comment on something, but I don’t have a hell of a lot to say, I’m going to label it a “Quick Take.”

So, I just saw the Dark Phoenix movie.  I had to.  The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the high points of superhero comics.  It’s also one of the things that I was really excited about when I was getting back into comics.  Without the Dark Phoenix saga, we might have an entire other room for something other than comics.

This movie definitely benefited from low expectation. I’d literally heard nothing good about  this film.  And by-and-large, what I’d heard was fair.  But sitting in the theater, it was okay; better than I was expecting.  I didn’t hate it, and on balance, I’m not unhappy I saw it.

But, make no mistake; this is not a good movie.  There’s a death that felt gratuitous and there are plot elements that feel either tacked on or poorly thought out.  The biggest tumblr_m8qincGKz21qfxwtoo4_1280problem for me was that the original Dark Phoenix was all about internal conflict.  It’s a long build up to Jean being corrupted by the power and changing from Phoenix to Dark Phoenix.  Ultimately, Jean is the hero of the story because she sacrifices herself to keep her friends safe.  The movie shares a lot of these elements, but unfolds in what seems to be about 72 hours.  These elements are all eliminated or trivialized.  If you’re looking for this dimension of the story, you’d do better to reread the original.

My favorite thing about the movie is that it was nice to see the old-school Marvel logo with the flipping comic images rather than the movie clip version that they now use in Marvel Studios Films.

Bottom Line:  closed star half staropen staropen staropen star