29 September 2009

Endless Night Festival 2009/True Blood & Gold Ball

October is fast approaching, and along with it everyone's favourite dark and twisted holiday (no, not Canadian Thanksgiving). Besides all the usual opportunities for indulging our monstrous proclivities, vampire fans have a few more options this year. Choices, choices...

The Endless Night Festival extends Hallowe'en into a three-day, adults-only* orgy (probably not literally) of all manner of vampiric and paranormal diversions. Confirmed events already include the Carnaval de Macabre (Paranormal Investigation, Ghost Speakers Session, Day of the Dead Ritual), Haunted History tours, Devil's Night Fetish Party, Dark Bazaar, as well as a meet and greet, panel discussion, and a Day of the Dead Art auction. Prices, times, and locations vary, so for more information, click here. There's also a dress code and it will be enforced.

"A Night in Versailles," aka The Vampire Ball of New Orleans is Endless Night's main event. This one is tempting indeed, and well worth the $30 ticket cost ($40 at the door) with performances by Libertina Dance Company, Jeniviva's Mystical Hips Belly Dance, SimpleComplexity, DJ Fangz, and DJ Aengel. This year also sees the introduction of the 1st Annual Endless Night Costume Contest, with categories including "Period," "Fetish," "Horror," and "Crowd Pleaser" (surprisingly not the same as 'Fetish'). VIP tickets ($65 each or $99 after October 15) get you early admission (10 pm vs midnight) to the ball, access to the Anne Rice After-Party and the Vampire Ball After-Party, access to the Devil's Night Fetish Party, access to the VIP Balcony Lounge, a t-shirt, discounts, and extra raffle tickets. The Vampire Ball takes place on Saturday, 31 October 2009 at the House of Blues (225 Decatur St., New Orleans). For more info and to buy tickets, click here.

*Sorry kids, your tickets are only valid if you're over 18, but you can still always go to a Twilight Convention near you, although apparently not for Hallowe'en.

On Friday, 30 October, you can also attend Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club's True Blood & Gold Ball. This one's listed under the weekend agenda of Endless Night, but it doesn't seem to actually be part of the Festival (note: it overlaps with the Devil's Night Fetish Party, so those of you hoping to attend both might be out of luck).

Another 18+ only event, there will be performances by the Kinky Tuscaderos, Saints of Ruin, and Marc Gunn. The main draw, however, will likely be the special appearance (and chance to meet) Charlaine Harris (of Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood fame) and Gabrielle Faust (author of the Eternal Vigilance saga). Tickets are $20 for Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club members, and $30 for non-members (for more info and to purchase tickets, click here). True Blood & Gold Ball, 30 October 2009 at Republic New Orleans (828 South Peters St., New Orleans).

The Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club is also hosting a wine and absinthe tasting and True Blood & Gold meet and greet on Thursday, 29 October 2009. Ticket prices range from $35 to $70 dollars, depending on whether you're a member, what you want to taste, and whether you purchase your tickets in advance or at the door. All proceeds are going to Habitat for Humanity. Your True Blood & Gold Ball ticket will not get you in to the tasting. Also, and hopefully needless to say, you need to be of legal drinking age for this one. For more info and to buy tickets, click here.

25 September 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E3 "Friday Night Bites"

Spoilers Ahead

Football-playing vampire. Need I say more?

Maybe not, but I will anyway.

Damon glamours Caroline into submission so he can use her as a steady source of blood (and presumably sex). Meanwhile he attempts to woo (or possibly annoy--it's hard to tell) Elayna, managing to finagle an invitation into her house, as well as some sympathy, from her but not much more.

Bonnie is now convinced of her psychic/witchy abilities, having visions and predicting things left and right. Elayna mentions to Stefan that Bonnie comes from a lineage of witches (from Salem, of course--where else?) and Stefan mentions that a group of "Celtic Druids" migrated to Mystic Falls in the 1800s. I'm still not positive I heard it right, but we all know 19th century America was knee-deep in Celts and Druids. They hung out with the Romans, Babylonians, and Vikings. Probably all playing football. Seriously? Note to the writers: you might want to at least try to keep things within the realm of believability.

Elayna decides that four months is long enough to mourn her parents, and plans to break out her old, fun self by joining the cheerleading squad. When she realizes she's just not that person anymore she quits again.

Brokenhearted over Vicki, Jeremy decides to become the world's mopiest stalker. Tension between him and her new guy, Tyler, leads to an inevitable drunken confrontation in which Stefan (who steps in to stop it) gets his hand sliced open by a broken bottle. By the time Elayna gets a look at it, the wound has healed. But she saw him get cut? Or did she? Asking Bonnie about the vision she had when she touched Stefan, Bonnie admits it was a cold feeling, the way she imagines death is.

Stefan joins the football team because Elayna says he should. The coach/history teacher/only teacher in the entire school decides to let him try out only because he wants to see Stefan fall on his ass (because, you know, Stefan showed him up in class). Stefan turns out to be the starriest star player they ever had, making an enemy of Tyler but bonding with the coach, as well as with Elayna's ex, Matt. If only he can win over his brother so easily. He does manage to protect Elayna from Damon by getting her to wear a vervain-filled protection amulet "for luck." His attempt (in the form of yet another earnest speech) at reminding Damon of the humanity that still lurks deep down inside him, however, ends up failing when Damon proves he's all monster by killing the hapless coach. Really, I just think Damon couldn't take anymore of the coach/teacher's douchy behaviour (I know I couldn't). Stefan realizes there's nothing human left in Damon and that "he must be stopped." Except that there is something still human inside Damon and it seems to be falling for Elayna (as well as still holding a torch for her doppelganger, Katherine).

Okay, so the teen melodrama (and cheesy writing) has gone into overload. I didn't like this crap when I was a teen, so I'm not exactly impressed with it now, particularly the new focus on sports. I realize football is big at a lot of schools, but no vampire aficionado wants to watch their favourite monsters succumb to the mundane. Why not get Stefan a job at Old Navy next? He's trying to blend in, right? I think The Vampire Diaries needs to decide whether it wants to be a show about vampires and the paranormal, or a show about normal teens in their normal (for TV anyway) world. Because right now it's confused and the result is less than fascinating.

Fang Files

Strengths: Quick healing, control over animals, super strength, fortitude, fast reflexes. The ability to suddenly and silently appear and disappear. Hypnotism.

Weaknesses: Vervain protects humans from being hypnotized by a vampire.

Mythology: Vampires need to be invited in.

Sound Bites

Bonnie: I don't want to be a witch. Do you want to be a witch?
Elayna: I don't want to be a witch.

Damon: I'm sorry if I make you uncomfortable. That's not my intention.
Elayna: Yes it is.

Stefan: (writing in his diary) There must be a shred of humanity left inside my brother. Somewhere. But how do I make him see it? And how do I protect her?

Damon: (after killing the coach) Anyone. Anytime. Anyplace.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 3 "Friday Night Bites." Written by Barbie Kligman and Bryan M. Holdman. Directed by John Dahl. From The CW.

23 September 2009

True Blood, S1 E6 "Cold Ground"

Spoilers Ahead

So, episode six ("Cold Ground") might just be my favourite episode of True Blood. At the very least it contains my favourite scene/moment of the show (see picture). For me, it's all about Bill. But first...

"Cold Ground" opens with a blood-spattered reminder of what Sookie walked in on at the end of the last episode. Her reaction to her Gran's murder, understandably, is one of utter shock, eased only slightly by Bill's arrival. As they embrace we see someone skulking through the door. The skulker turns out to be Sam and the confrontation between him and Bill is cut short only by Sookie's intervention.

As the Sheriff, Andy, and the coroner sort through the scene, there's yet more tension between Bill and Sam, with Bill making a pointed comment that "...this isn't the time or the place for you to mark your territory." (Bill has apparently picked up on Sam's--still unconfirmed--secret canine existence.) In turn Sam lets him know that if anything happens to Sookie, he's going to sharpen a stake with Bill's name on it.

Despite everyone urging her to spend the night elsewhere, Sookie insists on staying in her own home (proving that she's either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. Possibly both). She then immediately gets to work cleaning up the pool of blood on the kitchen floor. She doesn't cry or show any outward emotion.

The next day the house is full of people ostensibly there to pay their respects. Their thoughts, however, betray more ghoulish motives (Maxine Fortenberry laments that she didn't get there in time to see the blood, and then wonders if she should have brought a Red Velvet cake instead of a casserole). Appearing perfectly calm and unaffected, Sookie ends up flipping out when Maxine takes a pie out of the fridge that was made by Gran. As people's thoughts--mostly about how crazy she is--threaten to overcome Sookie, Tara grabs her and leads her upstairs for some "girl time," inviting Lafayette as she goes. Sookie admits she's feeling numb and that she just wants all the people to go away; Lafayette offers her a Valium in case she decides she needs it.

Jason, meanwhile, has spent the night with the skank from Merlotte's, throwing his insistently ringing phone out the window as he tries to sleep. He doesn't find out about his Gran until he shows up for work, and then he goes into a rage, arriving at the house and hitting Sookie before blaming her for their grandmother's death and telling her she's the one who should be dead. Tara kicks him out, screaming at him that she doesn't even recognize him anymore. Sookie takes the Valium.

And thus we come to my favourite True Blood scene. After Tara kicks out all the other visitors, including Sam, she and Lafayette clean up while Sookie sleeps. All of a sudden, a gloved figure climbs onto Sookie's bed and starts choking her. She wakes up, struggles, barely manages to say Bill's name. Bill, asleep in the crawl space under his house, wakes up but is helpless to go out while the sun is up. Cut back to Sookie's house as the sun slowly sets. Tara and Lafayette are still working. Tara wonders if she should check on Sookie, and Lafayette responds that "...that child is dead to the world right now." All of a sudden a blur rushes in and up the stairs. The next moment Bill is shaking a very dead looking Sookie and frantically repeating her name. When she wakes up, the look of relief on his face, well, it's a thing of beauty. That is a man in love. He decides he must have had a dream, and tells Sookie to keep resting (although I wonder if Sookie's Valium-slumber might have had her picking up on the killer's thoughts/desires in a particularly vivid way, making Bill believe her fear was real). She wraps his hand around her and falls back asleep, after which Bill spends the rest of the night standing outside her house keeping watch. At one point he's joined by the dog that probably is Sam. They look at each other and then turn back to the house. For a girl who's got a psycho killer after her, it's hard not to feel a little envious of Sookie.

Anyway, after the funeral (during which Sookie accidentally comes across Bill's grave), she sits alone at her kitchen table and starts eating what's left of her Gran's pecan pie. As she eats, she starts crying for the first time. Anna Paquin displays some fine acting here; I can't imagine being able to sob on cue, let alone doing it believably while also eating. The emotion really seems sincere. Nice job. After she's finished she goes upstairs and changes into a white dress bearing no small resemblance to a wedding gown. As soon as the sun sets she runs to Bill's. He's waiting for her and they meet in the yard with a passionate kiss before he picks her up and carries her inside.

The romance of Sookie and Bill's sex scene is juxtaposed with two other similar, although far-less loving, scenes. In one Tara and Sam are having a good time when Tara suddenly announces she has to leave. She tosses him his clothes and ends up running home and reconciling with her mother, leaving Sam more than a little confused. The other scene is between Jason and the skank; as she straddles him (facing away) and tells him she loves him, he starts breaking down (Ryan Kwanten shows off some fine acting skills of his own here). Meanwhile Sookie and Bill share a particularly sweet moment when his fangs involuntarily unsheathe. He tries to hide them but Sookie kisses him, showing him there's nothing to be ashamed of. This rivals the scene in "What's My Line Pt 1" when Angel vamps out and tries to hide his face from Buffy; her response that she didn't even notice has to be one of the most truly romantic moments in any show, ever.

The episode ends with Sookie urging Bill to "do it" and arching her neck toward him. Of course he takes her up on the offer (although, to his credit, he does hesitate), and we're treated to an interesting (and unusual) camera shot of his mouth against her neck as blood begins to flow and he laps at it.

Okay, so a few thoughts about "Cold Ground"...

I'm not sure how I feel about Bill biting Sookie. It seems a little soon in their relationship to break out the kink (but maybe that's just me). Then again, in Sookie's fantasy back in episode 3 "Mine," she specifically asked him not to bite her. Maybe she's changed her mind, but "Cold Ground" is chronologically only about three days after "Mine," so that seems like a rather sudden change of heart. Maybe it's just her way of dealing with all the recent deaths. Or maybe I'm just overanalyzing it.

Back to the beginning of the episode, Sookie's cat licking her Gran's blood off the floor took me right out of the story (not good). I know I'm being picky but I've never met a cat that would do that (maybe a starving feral cat, but certainly not a pet). Yes, it added a delightful creepy element to the scene, but for me it just didn't work. It didn't help that the blood spots stayed exactly the same as the cat licked them. I suppose they couldn't get the cat to lick at corn syrup (or whatever fake blood is made of these days), so they painted them on or used some other special effect and then put something tastier on the floor for kitty. I just think the episode could have done without this scene.

On the plus side, the fangs have definitely improved since episode one. We got a nice look at them when Bill bared them at Sam--much more realistic than previously. They're no longer stark white and it seems the makeup/effects department has added some natural-looking curve to them while still leaving them reminiscent of snake fangs. I like.

We find out the coroner's young assistant is a fang banger. As they're taking Gran's body out of the house he's desperately hoping Sookie doesn't recognize him from Fangtasia. No doubt we'll find out soon why this is relevant.

Along the same lines: the awkward mention of Sookie's cousin Hadley. Apparently she can't be invited to the funeral because no one's heard from her in over a year, ever since she ran away from rehab. (I think it's a safe bet that vampires are somehow involved.) I thought this was clumsily executed, but maybe that's only because I've seen it a million times before and it's just so obvious that what is portrayed as a minor aside is going to be important at some future time. I guess I should give the writers props for at least planning ahead.

But the foreshadowing continues with the introduction of Uncle Bartlett. The sudden arrival of the man at the funeral gets an immediate reaction from Sookie, who almost crushes Tara's hand. She tries to tell him he's unwelcome but it seems Jason invited him and he feels he has a right to be there. Sookie and Jason later argue about this with Sookie claiming Jason doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm guessing secret childhood trauma at Uncle Bartlett's hands, but we'll have to see.

But we're still not quite done. At Sookie's house Lafayette tells Tara she's going to be sorry she ate any of the "bad juju" food that people brought over after Gran's death. So, there's apparently a lot we'll need to watch out for, although I think that's enough with the "upcoming features" for now. "Cold Ground" spends more time setting up future storylines than I would like, especially since this should come naturally as the story arc unfolds. You don't need obvious asides, ominous statements, and awkward character introductions to get the point across.

Speaking of Lafayette, he might just win the award for best dressed. First there's his leather utilikilt (wardrobe people: please to be putting him in that again soon!) Then during the funeral he's wearing a particularly fetching suit. Everyone else's clothes are okay, but Lafayette stands out. Actually Sookie's wardrobe also stands out, not because it's anything special, but because she seems to wear an inordinate amount of white. I'm positive this is no coincidence and that it is related to her status as being "more" than human. Would it be going too far to suggest angelic or some other type of celestial being (all the white definitely hints at it)? I'm damn curious about this one.

Jason, on the other hand, is exhibiting some all-too human behaviour as the V gets a stronger hold on him. He spends the episode looking mussed, sweaty, and sick. His perception of his surroundings has gone from glowing and sparkly to harsh and strobe-lighty. At one point it seems he's going to do the sensible thing and give up the V, throwing his last bit of it (blotted on a piece of paper towel) out the window of his truck. But then he regrets it and starts frantically looking for it on the ground outside, only to realize with dismay that it's gone. This doesn't bode well for Jason, particularly as vampires don't look too kindly on humans who use their blood for recreational purposes.

This show utilizes some interesting camera angles. In episode one, part of the opening scene was reflected in a car mirror. I already mentioned the "vampire mouth" angle at the end of "Cold Ground." There was also a fun shot of a casserole's POV at Sookie's house (although in retrospect, fun might not have been the right way to go in that particular scene). I'm usually not nitpicky about minor continuity errors but the casserole POV results in one worth mentioning. As Maxine carries the dish into the kitchen we clearly see her set it down on the table. But as the camera alternates between looking at Maxine and looking at Sookie, we're still getting the casserole's POV (in Maxine's hands) when we look at Sookie. When we look at Maxine, however, the casserole is gone. This scene was clearly shot multiple times. I guess they couldn't decide whether to use that particular angle (next time they should just make a decision and stick with it).

They did a nice job in "Cold Ground" of showing how overwhelming Sookie's telepathy is for her. She can barely get a moment of quiet after her Gran's death. First there's the Sheriff, Andy, and the coroner's thoughts about stab wounds and serial killers and how crazy those Stackhouse kids are. The Sheriff offers his condolences while thinking it should have been Sookie who was killed, what with her screwing a vampire and all. His sentiments are echoed repeatedly throughout the visitation at the house and later at the funeral, along with yet more thoughts questioning Sookie's sanity and even the sincerity of her feelings for her grandmother. Evidently she can't block them out, either due to the trauma she's suffered or simply because there's too many of them. The thoughts rise to an overwhelming crescendo that ends with Sookie shouting at the outwardly silent funeral crowd to "shut the fuck up." She can't even get any peace with the people who know about her gift. When Sam tries to apologize for his behaviour during their date, she asks him to wait until another time. But his apology continues in his thoughts, and she has to tell him again to back off. The only person she finds any peace with is Bill, whose thoughts she can't read. It's no surprise she instantly felt drawn to him.

As with every episode of True Blood, there's tons going on, with promises of more to come. I just hope all the plot threads don't overwhelm the show the way too many thoughts overwhelm Sookie. I also hope things work out for her and Bill; there's got to be one happy relationship somewhere in TV land. Then again, if it was happy it wouldn't be about vampires, would it?

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Prominent fangs, slightly curved; reminiscent of a snake's fangs. They descend at a vampire's discretion (and occasionally against their will).

Strengths: Super hearing, heightened senses, super speed.

Weaknesses: Sunlight/can't go out during the day.

Sound Bites

Tara (to Sookie): Stop worrying about being so damn appropriate. This is not an appropriate event.

Tara: You think they're [vampires] capable of loving a person?
Lafayette: Who knows what they're capable of.

Jason: Sookie, please--we're all we've got.
Sookie: We've got nothing.

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 6 "Cold Ground." Written by Raelle Tucker and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Nick Gomez. From HBO.

21 September 2009

Dracula: The Un-Dead

The new trend in publishing seems to be making sequels for books that have entered the public domain. That these sequels almost always end up being abysmal doesn't seem to bother anyone. But forgive me if I'm not holding out much hope for Dracula: The Un-dead, even if (or maybe particularly because) it's written by Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew, Dacre (oh yeah, and Dracula historian Ian Holt). The mere fact that Dracula has been made over into a sympathetic character (effectively rewriting the original) is enough to set my skeptic sense tingling. I'll do my best, however, to reserve judgment until I actually get a chance to read it.

In the meantime, you might want to check out this preview, or visit the official website.

Dracula: The Undead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. From Dutton. Available 13 October 2009.

18 September 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E2 "Night of the Comet"

Spoilers Ahead

So the second episode of The Vampire Diaries left me less than impressed. There were a couple of enjoyable moments (more on those later), but mostly this episode was just lacking.

"Night of the Comet" opens almost exactly as the pilot episode did--with a couple of college students out at night in a remote location. Kids get separated. Boy meets a nasty fate. Girl has terrified moment of realization followed by a frantic escape attempt. Nasty fate gets her too. Standard horror movie scenario. Not sure why the show wanted to go this route twice, let alone twice in a row (hope this isn't going to be their regular opening scene). Of course, the big difference this week is that the kids were in a tent in the woods (as opposed to driving on a desolate country road). Apparently comet watching is somehow enhanced by a heavy tree canopy, but that's another issue altogether.

The comet in question is not only the week's main entertainment in Mystic Falls (it must be a small town--everyone is talking about it, it's the focus of a lesson in history class, the town gathers to watch in the main square...) but the story is that the comet brings mayhem and carnage with it. It's weak as far as plot devices go, but this episode doesn't have a lot of strengths going for it anyway.

By the way, the person who tells Elayna about the comet's nasty reputation is her psychic friend, Bonnie, who also happens to mention that she's not really psychic so much as a witch (according to her wacky grandmother--but she knows it's not really true; those clairvoyant visions she keeps having are just coincidental). This one got a big eye-roll from me. As if the show isn't already painfully similar enough to Buffy, they had to make the best friend a witch too? I guess they figure it's okay because Bonnie's nothing like Willow--she's African-American. Sigh.

Vicki is glamoured (to borrow True Blood's term for a vampire's ability to hypnotize) to within an inch of her sanity. First by Stefan, after he hears from her brother Matt that Vicki claimed she was attacked by a vampire. Even though Matt doesn't believe her (he rightly assumes she was drunk), Stefan goes to the hospital to alter her memory. Of course Matt sees him there, which only fuels his suspicions about Stefan (although what those suspicions are exactly is not clear. He just doesn't like the guy). The problem is that Stefan's powers are weak so Vicki still dreams about being attacked by Damon and then recognizes him once she's out of the hospital. So Damon takes it upon himself to do a more thorough job, this time implanting the memory that it was Stefan who attacked her. Now this could have been interesting. What would happen if this traumatized girl suddenly started claiming that the new boy in school is a vampire? Damon's plan seems to be to get Stefan to feed from Vicki, if not to kill her, then at least to gain enough strength to glamour her properly (but really he just wants Stefan to kill her, and thus remember what it means to be a real--powerful--vampire). Alas, Stefan merely tells Damon he doesn't care if Vicki outs him, that he'd rather be chained up and staked than have to put up with Damon any longer. So Damon glamours Vicki back into thinking she was attacked by an animal and the whole thing ends up being on the pointless side.

Speaking of pointless, things start off well between Stefan and Elayna. After their night of (just) talking, he gives her an original copy of Wuthering Heights (Angel waited until season 3 to give Buffy a first edition) and then they make eyes at each other in history class (which is, apparently, the only class anyone takes. Makes sense since there only seems to be one teacher in the entire school). But when Elayna drops by Stefan's house, she finds Damon there instead. Damon tells Elayna all about Stefan's "ex," Katherine and how badly it ended and how hurt Stefan was, and comments not-so innocently that everyone knows how rebound relationships turn out. That's enough to scare her off, although Stefan showing up and staring down his brother rather than acknowledging her probably didn't help.

When Stefan and Elayna meet up again at the comet fest she tells him that what they had was nice, "But then the sun came up and reality set in." This works out for Stefan, though, because it gives him a chance to hone his brooding skills (anyone else really want to see a Stefan-Angel brood-off?) But not to worry--by the end of the episode Elayna goes to Stefan and tells him the truth about how she feels: that she's scared to be happy. Stefan then offers a little inspirational speech about how "This is reality right here." Cue sappy music. Cue kiss. Cue yawn.

Luckily the show doesn't end on that cheesy note. It cuts to Damon hooking up with Caroline. As she writhes and moans underneath him, he vamps out and lunges for her neck. Nice.

I did promise a couple of good things about the episode. There was a great moment when Aunt Jenna (in the oh-so original role of flaky young aunt forced by circumstances to become the responsible authority figure) tries to give Jeremy the "drug talk" by starting out with how she used to get stoned and how it never solved anything, blah blah. Just when I thought we would have to sit through a classic "just say no" lecture, Jeremy walks out. TV sure has come a long way since I was a teen (although I have no doubt Jeremy's naughty behaviour will ultimately catch up with him).

Another (really) good thing: Stefan's house. I want. That is all.

But the part of the show that makes it worth watching is Damon. He gets the best lines, his character is by far the most interesting (I believe I mentioned the Spike vibe he's got going), and he's not too hard on the eyes, either (although occasionally I wish he'd run a brush through his hair). I liked Ian Somerhalder as Boone on Lost, and it seems his talents have transferred nicely to this role. He's got great onscreen presence as well, dominating any scene he's in. More of Damon, please.

Unfortunately, the things I mentioned I was worried about last time seem to already be happening. I was concerned about poor production values. Well, it seems they blew the budget on episode one because the special effects this time around consisted of a bucket of paint and a light bulb for the comet (not good) and a lot of red eyeliner for Damon when he vamped out.

I also wondered whether the diary narration/framework of the show would get dropped over time. Well, this episode already cut it to the bare minimum, consisting of a few seconds at the beginning of the show. At the end when Elayna goes to see Stefan, she claims that she would normally be writing her feelings down in her diary but she realized that what she really should do is just tell him how she feels. So it looks like the diary portion of events is on the way out. This is unfortunate, not only because it worked well in the first episode, but also because it undermines the entire premise of the show. Honestly, the diaries were the one thing that made this show unique among vampire shows. And as far as plot devices go, it's infinitely better than a mayhem-causing comet.

Lastly, I expressed my fears about "excess teen melodrama." I won't say it's excessive yet, but it's getting there. The parts with the vampires (okay, mostly with Damon) are great, however, so the outlook is good if the producers focus more on the paranormal instead of the just plain normal. Unfortunately, I just found out the Executive Producer (and writer of the first two episodes) is Kevin Williamson of Dawson's Creek fame. The outlook is not so good (although he is also responsible for Scream, so there's still some hope. Very little, but some). Much like Bonnie, I've had a sudden vision of the future of this show, and it's not pretty.

Will I keep watching The Vampire Diaries? Yes--it's too soon to give up. And truthfully, I have seen worse. But I'm afraid it's going to be another show I only watch for one fantastic character. Even worse--I'm afraid it's going to end up being 90210 (or rather, Dawson's Creek) with fangs. The things a vampire addict has to put up with to get her fix...

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Dark facial veins; dark red-rimmed eyes when the vampire is unleashed. Otherwise human.

Strengths: Ability to summon/control animals (crow). Super hearing. Power of hypnotism. Ability to fly. Extreme brooding.

Weakenesses: If they don't feed "properly" (i.e. on human blood) their abilities don't always work. Stakes.

Sound Bites

Elayna: He didn't tell me he had a brother.
Damon: Well, Stefan's not one to brag.

Damon: (to Stefan) We both know the closest you'll get to humanity is when you rip it open and feed on it.

Stefan: What are you up to, Damon?
Damon: That's for me to know and you to dot dot dot [...] Give my best to Elayna.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 2 "Night of the Comet." Written by Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson. Directed by Marcos Siega. From The CW.

16 September 2009

North 40 #2 "An' the Word Was Law"

Spoilers ahead

Okay, so no vampires in North 40 #2 other than a passing mention, and it looks like the two from issue #1 won't be coming back, but that's all right. This issue is about our heroes, as well as establishing the main baddie (at least until the really scary monster shows up). There is talk of "things" that are still in hiding, though, so let's hope some of them are of the fanged variety. Besides, you can't not like a comic that opens with a giant stepping on a bug-man.

The giant is the aforementioned main baddie, aka Dave Atterhull. Former drunken miscreant, he's the new alpha in the Atterhull clan (all of whom seem unaffected by recent events), and has decided to take control of the local dive ("The Howdy Holler"). His super size comes along with super strength (the kind that lets one throw a truck through a wall should he be so inclined--and he is). He doesn't really seem so bad until we find out he's been holding the dive's waitress for some future nefarious purpose. Lucky for her, Sheriff Morgan can outsmart Dave even if he doesn't stand a chance fighting him.

Sheriff Morgan is one of the few white hats left. Without any apparent powers of his own, and not exactly a young man, I'm wondering how long before he wears himself out fighting the chaos that's taken over Conover County. At least he's getting help in the form of telepathic messages from Amanda, and crow-delivered notes from Luanne.

Luanne is the stereotypical good girl, working at the cafe on a Friday night instead of going out and partying with the other kids. When all hell broke loose (apparently literally), Luanne woke up with glowing green eyes and the ability to "see" everything going on. She's the one who told the Sheriff (via bird) that he needed to save the waitress from the Atterhulls. She also warns of the things that are still hiding, and that a barrier is preventing anyone from leaving (or presumably entering) Conover County. It seems she can also project her consciousness into animals, although that occasionally leads to unexpected screaming and fainting when one of the poor things gets killed.

Amanda, meanwhile, has been in training with a nameless, ancient witch in the hopes of ultimately being able to defeat the evil that's still on its way. Carrying a scythe, she's sent out to find the two idiots who accidentally invoked the evil in the first place. Along the way she comes across the Sheriff and gets him to give her a ride. After she finds the crater where the library (and the idiots) used to be, she reminds the Sheriff that she told him (telepathically) not to let the super-farmboy out of his sight. Too bad he has more than that to worry about with the latest missive from Luanne.

"Super-farmboy" is Wyatt, apparently impervious to harm and with the handy ability to fly. He's too preoccupied to really test out his powers, though, what with the uncertain fate of his father and the bullying he still has to endure (you'd think the bullies might have better things to worry about). But it seems now that his main tormenter, Dwyer Martin, has been endowed with telekinesis, he's decided to finish Wyatt off. Wyatt proves to be more of a challenge, however, and even more than he normally would be as he's helped out by the sudden appearance of a man-eating mound of dirt that looks uncannily like his dad.

Issue #2 propels the story forward nicely and gives us a chance to get to know the main characters better. I expect now that we have a sense of the good guys, we'll be seeing more of the assorted monsters and demons in Issue #3, including, from what we see at the end of this issue, some upcoming zombie action. With any luck, vampires won't be long in following (on a related note, any future reviews of North 40 will be limited to the issues that include vampires).

Text Bites

Sheriff Morgan: These are what they call "interestin' times," Mr. Atterhull. In light of that, I'm willin' to let a few things slide.

Sheriff Morgan: You appear to have soiled your farmin' equipment, Miss Amanda.
Amanda: Yeah, and if somethin' eight feet tall with six legs files a complaint, you can arrest me.

Miss Sparks: (on seeing the traumatized waitress) You poor dear. Come inside, and don't mind the coffee-drinking demon. Jesus protects us.

North 40 #2 "An' the Word Was Law"; art by Fiona Staples, written by Aaron Williams. From DC Comics/WildStorm.

15 September 2009

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer Update

Well, it looks like there's some confusion about when Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is coming out. Originally slated for September (I was under the impression that it would be available early-to-mid month), the SLG Publishing site still says that's the case, but the book is out of stock when you try to order it. Amazon (US) meanwhile lists it as coming out at the end of September, while Amazon Canada puts it at the end of October. Hopefully this won't end up being one of those perpetual delays that never results in a finished product. I'd really hate to see this one permanently shelved.

In the meantime you can read my original post on Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer here;

And see a preview here.

14 September 2009

True Blood, S1 E5 "Sparks Fly Out"

This past Sunday brought us the finale of season 2 of True Blood. No comment on that episode yet, except to say that fans are now facing a year-long chasm before the beginning of season 3 (HBO, we need to have a word). Until then, I plan on getting by with the books (pre-ordered and on their way at the end of the month), repeated viewings of the first two seasons (works for Buffy and Angel too, by the way), and getting caught up on my reviews. Anyone who wants to start a True Blood-withdrawal support group, you know where to find me.

Spoilers Ahead

So, there's a fair bit going on in episode 5 "Sparks Fly Out" (I have to mention that I think the episode titles are great, creatively descriptive without being too obvious). It starts out with Bill dropping Sookie off at home after their evening at Fangtasia and subsequent unpleasant encounter with the cop (details here). She's still upset, calling Bill's life crazy and saying she prefers her old boring-but-safe world. Much to my chagrin, he tells her that he won't call on her again. As he leaves we see the dog that may or may not be Sam watching them.

Fulfilling a promise to his upset cousin, Lafayette goes to see how Jason is doing post OD. Of course, he looks like he's wondering why he ever made that promise as Jason uses a sausage to give a cringe-worthy demo of the needle aspiration he had to endure (twice). It's not surprising he never wants to go near V again. What is surprising is that Lafayette argues that Jason just needs to learn how to control the V and then offers to show him how. I'm suddenly reminded of my junior high teachers' warnings that drug dealers lurk around every corner just waiting to get you hooked. Whatever Lafayette's motivation for getting Jason on V, he also lets slip that Tara's been in love with him since she was eight, which somehow turns out to be news to Jason (well, he isn't the brightest).

The next day starts with Sookie's Gran getting angry, threatening phone calls from people incensed that she's invited an abomination (Bill) to speak to her "Descendants of the Glorious Dead" group at the church. At work, Sookie swears up and down she's done with Bill and vampires in general, prompting Sam to ask her out. She agrees to go with him to see Bill speak (she has to go for her Gran's sake) and then for a coffee after.

It's odd to see a vampire making nice with the townspeople. Usually human-vampire interaction is limited to fighting/killing/hiding/screwing (sometimes in combination). Getting along is a rarity, and getting the villagers to put down their torches and pitchforks even more so. But that's more or less what Bill does at the meeting. He starts winning them over right away when he removes "Old Glory" from the cross it was covering (placed there by Maxine and Hoyt Fortenberry due to misplaced concern that Bill would literally explode at the sight of a cross), and claims that as a patriot (another weird thing to hear from a vampire) he would never put his needs before the flag. He then explains that vampires are not minions of the devil, tells heartwarming stories of his Civil War buddies/ancestors of people at the meeting, and gets emotional when presented with an old tintype of his wife and children (hiding his tears, which turn out to be blood). I get the feeling there's something a bit...manufactured about Bill's stories, as though they're heavily edited for a PG audience. I'm not sure if that was deliberate or just accidental, but it seems as though Bill is trying a little too hard to get the residents of Bon Temps to accept him. And they do. By the end of the speech people are lining up to shake his hand, have their pictures taken with him, and hug him (the latter coming courtesy of Terry Bellefleur, a twitchy Iraq War vet who bonds with Bill over their mutual experience of the horrors of war). It's also obvious that Sookie is moved, although the tension between Bill and Sam prevents her and Bill from saying much beyond a couple of pointed remarks.

Jason, meanwhile, is clearly high on something other than life. Sweaty and mussed, he sees trees breathing and claims that sparks are coming off Tara's skin when he runs his hand along it. He also claims that his eyes have finally been opened and that she's the one for him and has been all along. She tells him to come back when he's sober but he swears he'll prove himself to her. Not quite the proof she was hoping for, she catches him not too long afterward enthusiastically nailing a bar skank out back behind the Dumpsters (he does invite her to join them, though. Tara responds by tossing garbage over them).

Sookie and Sam's date starts off well enough, although it's definitely on the dull side compared to the (not exactly conventional) dates she had with Bill. As they chat, Sookie mentions that Sam's thoughts are unlike other people's: his are words mixed with odd sounds and waves of emotion. She also asks him why no one knows anything about him; he responds elusively. But things start going badly when Sam kisses Sookie and she admits she's uncomfortable kissing another man so soon. Sam goes off kilter after hearing she's kissed Bill. He starts grilling her on what else she's done with him, as well as going on another anti-vampire rant, reminding us that not only does he have a problem with vampires, but is also capable of some creepy behaviour. He could well be Dawn and Maudette's killer (although that would be too obvious, and I don't think True Blood is about to take the obvious route). When he angrily pins Sookie against his truck, she's done. She returns inside to call a cab while Sam takes off in a foul mood.

At home again, Bill gets a visit from Sheriff Dearborne and Andy Bellefleur (noticeably reacting to the name Bellefleur, although he doesn't say anything about it). They question him about Dawn and Maudette's murders, and he informs them that if the bodies weren't drained of blood, vampires had nothing to do with killing them. No vampire, him included, would ever be able to resist a fresh corpse full of blood. The Sheriff doesn't seem convinced, but they leave and Bill gets lost in the memory of the night he was turned into a vampire (also the first and last time he saw his family after he went off to war). Back in the present he rages at what happened to him. After his pleasantly bland demeanour at the meeting and with the Sheriff and Andy, it's nice to see him exhibiting some real (not to mention realistic) emotion.

The episode ends with Sookie finally returning home. In the dark she slips on something and skids a little along the floor. Turning the light on reveals a pool of blood and her Gran's body, covered in even more of it. Cut to the credits as Sookie stares in shock.

Okay, so a good chunk of "Sparks Fly Out" is devoted to exploring and exposing the prejudices lurking in Bon Temps. From the relatively minor fears Sookie has about the new and unknown (Tuvan throat singing? She doesn't even know where that is!) to the kind of extreme hatred that leads to women being murdered for associating with the "wrong" kind of people. Even Bill gets called out by Sookie for glamouring and nearly biting the cop just because "traditionally" the police have given vamps a hard time. And somewhere in the middle of all this lie the fears and misconceptions people hold about vampires.

I like that there are no pat solutions offered. Sookie and Bill have to work through their issues on their own; problems aren't magically overcome simply because they care about each other. And just because the misconceptions about vampires (or at least about Bill) are shattered at the meeting doesn't mean that everyone in town is suddenly accepting. Although some people's minds are changed, others remain as wary as ever.

Racism and homophobia are also alive and well in Bon Temps. At the meeting of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead, the Confederate flag is unfurled without any apparent hesitation or self-consciousness (only Tara--standing out in a sea of white faces--reacts), and the Civil War is referred to as "the war for Southern Independence" (which I suppose from their perspective, it was). A trio of rednecks at the meeting (who try vainly to annoy Bill by crushing garlic cloves) later instigate a confrontation at Merlotte's with Lafayette, by complaining about the AIDS in the food that he made. Lafayette puts them in their place, but it's obvious that knowing everyone in town doesn't prevent anyone's irrational dislikes of one another.

The episode is also about loss: Bill's loss of his humanity and family, Jason's loss of his grip on reality, Tara's loss of Jason, and Sookie's horrific loss of her grandmother. Despite a lot of humorous moments, this is one sad episode.

Anyone who still doubts whether a show about vampires can be anything more than fantasy fodder for goth wannabes should spend some time with True Blood. And as the reality of a year-long wait for season 3 sets in, I can at least look forward to re-viewing episode 6.

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Cry tears of blood.

Strengths: super hearing, sensitive sense of smell.

Mythology and Vampire Culture: Vampires are not affected by crosses, bibles, or churches. They are not "minions of the devil." They do show up in photographs.

Sound Bites

Caller: You will go to hell for this.
Gran: (trying to prevent Sookie from realizing what's going on) All right. Same to you. Bye now.

Lafayette: Our blood sustains life. This blood [V] is life.

Sam: (pinning Sookie against his truck) They're not like us. They [vampires] can turn on you.
Sookie: And people can't?

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 5 "Sparks Fly Out." Written by Alexander Woo and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Daniel Minahan. From HBO.

11 September 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E1 "Pilot"

Spoilers Ahead

With the popularity of Twilight and True Blood, and the void left by Buffy, it seems inevitable that we'd be getting a new TV series about vampires in high school. Enter The Vampire Diaries.

Set in Mystic Falls (uh-huh), Virginia, the premise is that 17-year-old Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev, Degrassi: The Next Generation) is trying to move on from the recent deaths of her parents (in a freak car accident in which she was in the back seat but managed to escape). She instantly catches the eye of the "new" guy in town, Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley, Fallen), a vampire who's at least 150 years old and lives with a man he calls his uncle Zack but who is actually his descendant. And just when things were starting to look promising, along comes Damon (Ian Somerhalder, Boone on Lost), Stefan's bad-boy vampire brother, to stir up trouble.

And since this is a teen drama, there are all kinds of subplots going on. Matt is Elena's ex who still carries a torch for her and is suspicious of the new guy. Matt's sister Vicki is the school tramp who had a summer fling with Elena's brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen--grandson of Steve McQueen, and looking eerily like Edward from Twilight). Jeremy still wants to be with Vicki, but she's too world weary to believe he actually cares. Jeremy also still has major grieving issues over his parents and is "acting out" by drinking in public and dealing drugs to his classmates. Elena's best friend, Bonnie, jokes about being psychic only to actually have an unexpected vision of the future. And Elena's best frenemy, Caroline, competes with her for Stefan, whines that everyone prefers Elena to her when she doesn't get him, and then happily catches the eye of Damon. It's no surprise, meanwhile, that Stefan prefers Elena, seeing as how he carries around a picture dated 1864 of a woman named Katherine who is a dead ringer (no pun intended) for Elena (thankfully, this doesn't seem to be going in the direction of a reincarnation storyline). And to complicate things even further, a series of attacks (courtesy of Damon) culminates in Vicki's throat being shredded but not quite killing her. When she comes to in the hospital, with Matt anxiously by her side, she struggles to get out one word: vampire.

Lots going on in Mystic Falls.

As a framework around the story, both Stefan and Elena keep diaries, from which they narrate in voice-overs throughout the show. This was generally well-done, not too intrusive or cheesy, worked naturally into the storyline, and not occurring too often or too seldom. I'm just wondering if it'll get dropped over time, as all the threads of the plot expand and possibly take over.

I was pleasantly surprised with The Vampire Diaries, actually. I was worried it would suffer from either poor production values or an excess of teen melodrama. Luckily, the pilot didn't exhibit either. The effects were few but good. Makeup, lighting, wardrobe were all up to par. The story was engaging. Pacing was all right, dragging a little toward the middle but otherwise fine. Characters were minimally annoying. The problems our teens face are actual problems and not just "Beth wore the same outfit as me *pout*" (hey, that's the sort of thing we were stuck with back in my day--pity us). There's a reasonable amount of realism in the portrayal of the teenagers too: they swear, drink, take drugs, have sex--but not all the time. They actually seem *gasp* well-rounded. Now this is just the pilot so things can change (and the publicity photos I saw of Stefan in football gear are not promising). We'll just have to wait to see where things go.

Now, speaking of Buffy, there were numerous similarities between the two shows. As I mentioned in my review of the first episode of True Blood, there's only so much you can do with a certain type of story and characters, but I think the producers/director of The Vampire Diaries might have let themselves be a little too influenced. Stefan is definitely channeling Angel, right down to the prettiness and brooding (he's also way too old to be a convincing high school student. It would have helped if they'd found an actor under the age of 28). And Damon--surprise, surprise--gives off a strong Spike vibe (particularly pre-chip/soul Spike). Stefan feeds off animals as Angel did after getting his soul (and before realizing butchers have ample quantities of pig/cow blood available), while Damon has no problem killing humans for his meals. He's got Spike's taunting skills down too. They both share the ability of Angel and Spike to silently and suddenly appear and disappear (how long until someone on this show suggests Stefan and Damon put on collars with bells?) They even have their own version of the Gem of Amara, rings that allow them to walk in the daylight without frying. Although the Vampire Diaries books (by L.J. Smith) were first published in 1991 and, therefore, predate Buffy, the show apparently diverges significantly from the novels. It should take care not to spend too much time in Buffy's shadow.

Overall this was a promising start to a new show. Looking forward to seeing the next episode--even if it does include football-playing vampires.

Fang Files

Appearance/Physical Characteristics: Human, until the vampire is unleashed; then eyes darken and dark veins appear on their face. Fangs are prominent canines. No pulse, appear to be dead.

Strengths: Ability to fly, power of hypnotism. Super sensitive hearing. Can control animals (crow) and mist. Can go out during the day if they're wearing their rings. Ability to suddenly appear/disappear (super speed). Super strength. Stefan has the power of his intense stare.

Weaknesses: Will burn in the sun without their rings. Stefan can't always keep the vampire under control. Vampires who subsist on animal blood are weaker than those who feed on humans.

Mythology: Not much mentioned yet, but they wear similar protective rings. Need to be invited in order to enter a house.

Sound Bites

Stefan: I am a vampire. And this is my story.

Stefan: It's been 15 years, Damon.
Damon: Thank god. I couldn't take another minute of the 90s.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 1 "Pilot." From The CW.

08 September 2009

Buffy Season 8, Issue #28 "Strength without Powers"

Spoilers Ahead

I approached Buffy #28 with a serious sense of trepidation. In my last review I mentioned that I was worried about the Slayers de-magicking themselves and losing all their powers, so when I saw the cover--featuring former Slayers, and even Willow, as Tibetan farmhands--I have to admit I was worried. My worries turned out to be founded, but for different reasons.

So the Slayers (and Willow) are indeed using meditation and hard physical labour to slowly and permanently release their magic by letting it be absorbed by the earth. Yes, they just want to be normal girls--the kind who settle down and have babies and bake cupcakes. But they apparently also want to keep fighting, so they're training to fight without magic. But if unmagical people--even an army of them--can fight vampires and demons, why did the world need a Slayer in the first place? And won't the world just end up needing one again? But maybe that's the point, as well as the explanation for the state of the world in Fray's time. Still, if they're going to fight anyway, why not hang on to every advantage they can get? And if they're going to fight anyway, how normal a life can they really have? Not to mention that "normal" is highly overrated, but more on that in a bit...

While the Slayers are busy trying to be just like everyone else (yawn), Andrew picks up a video camera à la Storyteller and uses it to suss out the spy he believes is in their midst. At first I really loved that they reprised this classic Andrew episode; he's ridiculously fun to watch/read when he's being his obnoxiously geeky self. But the more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. So, the best part of the comic was a rehash of an episode on the TV series? Really? Even less impressive: Jane Espenson wrote both the comic and the episode in question.

And now that I think about it, didn't Jane Espenson also have something to do with the uber lame finale of Battlestar Galactica in which the remaining humans decided to swap civilization for the fantastic caveman lifestyle (why have art and technology when you can have a sharp stick and a life expectancy of 25)? (By the way, IMDb confirms she was exec producer.) Kids, if anyone ever tries to tell you weakness and mediocrity are preferable to strength and an exceptional life, do me a favour and bitch slap them back to their hippie ashram. Trust me--the world will be better for it.

While we're on the subject, any time the writers want to stop stressing that the Scoobies might just maybe still have a chance to have a "life" (if they only give up their powers), that would be fine with me. What about fighting evil and saving the world countless times does not constitute having a life? If the only thing that qualifies as "a life" is the aforementioned cupcakes and babies, then I'll take a so-called non-life, thanks. It also makes me wonder why writers who don't even seem to grasp the concept of Buffy keep getting handed the reins. In a story about heroes, why are our characters constantly being exhorted to think small? Our fantastic 'verse is suddenly becoming very mundane.

Speaking of which, there's also a subplot about Buffy finally seeing Xander as a potential love interest, only to *cue dramatic music* walk in on him kissing Dawn. Again I say: really? The show always had some strong soap opera tendencies, but they used to be fun (not to mention interesting and often creative). I hate to say this because I absolutely love Buffy, but this issue comes off like it was written using the Hack Writer's Handbook, rather than the prodigious talent of the Whedonverse mainstays. It's depressing. Worse--it's insulting. If this is the best you can offer fans, what's the point?

By the way, I think Joss should make a sizeable donation to a cat rescue organization, given his continuous negative portrayals of cats through the years. First, he insults the feline world by having Cordelia (before she was tolerable) dress as a cat for Halloween. Then there's the unfortunate incident involving Miss Kitty Fantastico and a crossbow (thankfully, only mentioned in passing). Now in this issue we suddenly have a cat appear among the Scoobies, so of course we instantly know the cat's the spy (okay, maybe not instantly--but as soon as the cat made a second appearance, one in which it was mean to a friendly dog, its purpose became glaringly--and disappointingly--obvious). Apparently Amy morphed herself into a cat, and then decided to teleport back to Twilight (in front of everyone, no less. So, you know, they can have some advance warning) just in time for the big cliffhanger ending. But as I was saying, since Joss and co. have decided to perpetuate the notion that cats are evil/trouble/entertaining in their suffering, maybe he could balance his karma a little and do some damage control.

There was one thing I did like about this issue: Buffy's Sesame Street Count t-shirt. Any idea where I could get me one of those?

Anyway, this is one weak issue in what has so far been an overwhelmingly good series, so maybe I shouldn't criticize too harshly. But weak issues are troubling because by now the writers should have the hang of it. Storylines should be getting better, not worse. Lame "twists" should be recognizable from a mile off and assiduously avoided. Reusing past plot devices should not be considered a substitute for good writing. This kind of downward spiral is easy to fall into and far too difficult to recover from. I've seen it too many times. Let's hope Buffy doesn't keep sliding.

Text Bites

Andrew: I will begin with a little tour. And a little examination of a certain stranger who is suddenly all up in our midst.

Oz: Every time you do a spell, you're manipulating energy, right? You're pulling energy from all around you and you're compressing it, pressing it so tight that eventually it explodes.
Willow: If you say so...
Oz: We're just trying to teach you not to bottle up the poison inside you.
Willow: But without the poison, what am I?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Issue #28 "Strength without Powers"; art by Georges Jeanty and written by Jane Espenson. From Dark Horse Comics.

03 September 2009

Lost Boys: Reign of Frogs #3

Spoilers ahead

Right, so if you'll recall my review of Issue #2, I wasn't overly impressed with the direction Reign of Frogs seemed to be going in. Unfortunately, Issue #3 has not redeemed it.

The story starts off right after the big reveal of the last issue that grandpa is one of the undead. Sam defends him against the overzealous Frog brothers, who are convinced he's been the head vampire all along. Grandpa, meanwhile, claims he's merely a half vampire who's never tasted human blood--and proves it by taking out his denture-fangs. There's no explanation why he has denture-fangs, but presumably it's so he can feed on the vermin and rodents that sustain him (according to Gramps, squirrel blood is particularly delicious). He claims feeding on animals keeps him from turning into a full vampire, as well as providing raw material for his taxidermy business.

So, cue the next major revelation: the head vampire is... the Widow Johnson, aka the Black Widow of Santa Carla. Partial to the ever-popular dominatrix look, the Widow apparently took a cue from Bordello of Blood (coincidentally also featuring Corey Feldman) when choosing her career path. I have to take a moment here to question: was nothing from The Lost Boys considered sacred? Even the Widow Johnson's minor role has to be rewritten and expanded unecessarily. Was the writer given a limit on introducing new characters, or something? Did they get a deal on printing costs if they re-used all the old characters? Maybe the creators are just super dedicated to recycling. Whatever it is, I think it was applied to the use of original ideas as well. David and the Widow's big plan seems to revolve around getting Sam and the Frogs to her den of iniquity (housed, as they all apparently are, in a Victorian mansion) in order to kill them and, thus, lure Michael and Star back to Santa Carla. Can you tell yet that I'm not loving this?

Also, I'm not sure if I'm missing something but in one panel the whore who invited Grandpa in to wait for the Widow locks him into the room, and a couple of panels later (after he's let the boys in through a window), they're all stalking through the halls, weapons at the ready. This is where an editor comes in handy (or at least a few lines of clarification--did they break the door down? Was there a secret passage? Did they teleport?...)

Miraculously clear of the locked room, their next move is to head to the... wait for it ...dungeon. That's where the real partying happens... blah, blah, blah. Well, it is a vampire brothel in a Victorian mansion--we all knew there would be a dungeon at some point. It's also no shock that the raiding party is beset upon by a horde of scantily clad vampires as soon as they reach the dungeon. Sexy (sort of) bloody action ensues, followed by the one plot development that actually works: Alan is snatched in the confusion and turned. What was probably an inevitable occurrence was well executed and even a little surprising.

So, the pacing and length of the story are still good. The artwork is where it was in the last issue (decent, although a little too stylized); same goes for the framing (acceptable if mediocre). The real disappointment is the writing. The first two issues of Reign of Frogs at least maintained the spirit of the original movie. In Issue #3 the spirit gave up the ghost. The story seems to have degenerated into cliches. The characters have lost their personalities. And even the dialogue--a high point up until now--is lacking. It's like everyone involved just decided to stop trying. My lingering hope that The Tribe will be worth watching is shriveling right along with my enjoyment of Reign of Frogs. It's a shame, really--it started out so well. I wish I could say I'm looking forward to Issue #4 (the final one) to see what happens, but really, I'm looking forward to it so I won't have to keep subjecting myself to this downward trajectory. Too bad.

Text Bite

Edgar Frog: Come on, you damn leeches! Bring it on!

Lost Boys Reign of Frogs #3; art by Joel Gomez. Written by Hans Rodionoff. From DC Comics/WildStorm.

01 September 2009

True Blood, S1 E4 "Escape from Dragon House"

Spoilers Ahead

By now I think it's pretty obvious I love this show, so what more can I say except that "Escape from Dragon House" is another excellent episode along the lines of the previous three. Accused of killing Dawn, Jason is taken into custody. As he's waiting in Detective Bellefleur's car, he suddenly realizes he has a vial of V (nobody seems to be calling it V-juice anymore) in his pocket. Panicking, he ignores Lafayette's warning not to take more than a drop or two and downs the entire thing. His resulting priapism goes from humourous to horrifying by the end of the episode. At least he's got Tara to rely on. First she provides an alibi to get him released, then she takes him to the hospital, where she offers reluctant support as his penis is aspirated (drained of blood) with a needle. Who couldn't use a friend like that? Via flashback as she's driving him home, we also find out why Tara is so devoted to the man who barely notices she's alive.

Convinced by her grandmother to use her gift to clear Jason's name, Sookie decides she needs to go to the vampire bar Maudette and Dawn used to hang out at ("Fangtasia") in order to try to get more information than she can glean closer to home. Bill, of course, is only too happy to take her there, although Sookie insists it's not a date. At Fangtasia, Sookie finds out both Maudette and Dawn were fairly well known, and the bartender ("Long Shadow") claims Maudette had a death wish. It's not long before Sookie catches the attention of Eric ("the oldest thing in this bar"), who expresses his interest--and then his disappointment--when both Bill and Sookie confirm she is Bill's [context here]. His interest is further aroused when Sookie's telepathic gift becomes apparent, but there's no time for questions as the police raid the bar. Nevertheless, it's fairly obvious we'll be seeing more of Eric. On the way home, Sookie and Bill pull over so she can have a minute of quiet after an overwhelming day. They're on the verge of kissing when the moment is cut short by a cop pulling up behind them. Proceeding to be obnoxious in the way that only TV cops are, Bill's patience runs out fast. Despite Sookie's repeated pleading, Bill--fangs extended--glamours the cop into handing over his own gun (I don't know what Sookie's complaining about--I think Bill may have glamoured me and all, what with his exceeding attractiveness during this scene. Just saying...) Bill teaches the cop to show a little respect and then shows him mercy by not killing him, although he does keep the gun. They pull away leaving the cop whimpering and wetting himself. This is one of several scenes where viewers get a glimpse of what vampires are capable of, and the fear they can induce without taking so much as a nip at someone. I like that the writers are fully rounding out the monstrous side of True Blood's vampires, as well as the human side (although, so far only Bill seems to have a human side).

Sam's character is also explored a bit more, with hints given of his own dark side. His dislike of Bill apparently extends to all vampires; he's willing enough to give them rights--as long as they keep their distance from humans. He's definitely no fan of integration. His vampire hatred may prove to be motivation for murdering so-called fang bangers like Maudette and Dawn. It turns out, as Dawn's landlord, that he had easy access to her apartment. We also see a photo of the two of them that shows they were slightly closer than mere boss and employee. The episode also ends with him sneaking into Dawn's apartment, sniffing her sheets until he finds her scent, and then rolling around in them, not unlike a cat stretching in a sunbeam. Whether he's the killer revelling in some kind of post-murder orgiastic bliss, or it's just the dog in him coming out as he relives memories, 'tis all very strange. As with any mystery, it's good to be kept guessing, and True Blood's got me slinging theories left and right.

There was some great directing in this episode, the opening scenes in particular. The juxtaposition between the curious onlookers outside Dawn's apartment and what was going on inside was really well done. An especially nice moment was when Maxine Fortenberry comments about being a fly on the wall of the apartment, and the next shot is of a fly crawling on Dawn's lips. Creepy and also beautifully shot. It would make a good poster.

There's an ongoing theme throughout the show, although it hasn't yet been explored in great depth, of Vampire Rights, with analogies to the Civil Rights Movement in the US, as well as (to a lesser degree) gay rights. Until the Vampire Rights Amendment passes, vampires can't (among other things) legally inherit property (Bill's house belonged to his last living descendant, but he doesn't legally own it yet). Presumably they can't vote or be elected to office, either. Mixed relationships (between vampires and humans) are looked down on, with many, if not most, people being hostile toward them, some openly. The cops raid Fangtasia for no apparent reason (although there are some questionable, if not illegal, activities going on) and then Bill and Sookie get harassed by the cop on their way home. It's not surprising that they don't have rights--and that a large number of people are opposed to the Amendment--given that most humans view vampires as little more than walking corpses; things at best. But this is part of what's so fantastic about True Blood (and so unique about this show): they've given serious thought to what it would be like if vampires were trying to integrate into human society. Besides the usual racism, sexism, and homophobia (an accurate reflection of reality, I think), the ongoing discrimination against vampires adds an extra layer of tension to the show. Of course, unlike the other groups who are routinely discriminated against, it's often difficult to sympathize with the vampires' desire for equal rights, given their general views toward humans (we're food, not to mention expendable). But maybe that's just my innate vampiphobia talking.

In other matters, I'm not thrilled with the character of Eric. Firstly, I don't enjoy his formal way of speaking (i.e., the lack of contractions in his speech). Unlike Bill's somewhat old-fashioned diction (and fantastic vocabulary), Eric sounds stilted and unnatural. He is much older than Bill, though, and English is apparently not his first language, so I guess I should cut him some slack. But he also seems wooden, and I don't think it's the acting. From what I've gathered I know he's got a huge following, so we'll see if the appeal of his character becomes more evident in time. In any case, he does have nice hair.

Looking forward to seeing what future episodes bring, possibly including more murder suspects, deepening relationships, and vampire rights protests. Hell, maybe I'll even get the whole Eric thing.

Fang Files

Strengths: Glamouring (hypnotism), super speed, super strength. Beautifully expressive eyes (oops--that's just Bill...)

Mythology and Vampire Culture: Blood types taste different (Bill prefers O Negative). V (vampire blood) is not only possibly addictive but there's no antidote to it should one OD.

Sound Bites

Sookie: ...apparently there's this vampire bar where Maudette and Dawn used to hang out at in Shreveport. You know it?
Bill: Fangtasia.
Sookie: Fang-tasia?
Bill: You have to remember that most vampires are very old. Puns used to be the highest form of humor.

Sookie: (inside Fangtasia) This feels a little bit like what a vampire bar would look like if it were a ride at Disney World.
Bill: Well, don't get too comfortable. It tends to get more authentic as the night wears on.

Tara: (after reluctantly agreeing to stay with Jason during the aspiration) I ain't never gonna be the same after this.
Jason: You're not?!

Eric: I enjoyed meeting you, Miss Stackhouse. You will come again.

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 4 "Escape from Dragon House." Written by Brian Buckner and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Michael Lehmann. From HBO.