The Bridge

FX is currently airing the second season of The Bridge.

Based on the Danish-Swedish series Broen/Bron, The Bridge begins with a body found on the border between Mexico and The United States. It is soon discovered that the body is actually two halves of two bodies positioned as one. Two police officers, American Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Mexican Marco Ruiz, (Demián Bichir) investigate the case as bodies begin to pile up.

The premise of the show is very interesting to me because it explores the dynamic between the people on both sides of the Mexican-US border. As a person born in Latin-America (though not in Mexico), it is not often that I get to see people like me on American television, despite the fact that there are many people like me in the US population. We are not only under-represented in fictional media, but also in the news’ indifference to the violence in places like Juarez. When border violence does make it onto the news, it is often in terms of its effect on (mostly white) American ranchers. The drug war affects regular people on both sides of the border. Families have seen their children disappear or be murdered, and the crimes continue to go unpunished. The perpetrators south of the border collaborate with allies in the north, and The Bridge explores this, too.

I have to admit, I was disappointed by Season 1’s resolution. I won’t spoil the identity of the killer, but his personal connection to one of the leads made his “quest” on border crimes seem like an afterthought. The season had built up the theme of violence and xenophobia that marks border relations, then discarded these in favor of a personal vendetta. Still, the journey was fascinating enough that I don’t regret investing time into the show.

When the second season begins, Sonya and Marco are once again partnered, this time on the murder of a Mexican national in the US side of the border. The events in Season 1, particularly those surrounding the cartel, are now catalyzing greater aftershocks in Season 2. The complex thread encompasses American reporters, the DEA, politicians, money-laundering bankers, and born-again vigilantes seeking justice on their own terms. If I had one complaint about Season 2, it would be Sonya’s personal story arc, in which she chooses to trust a person who may or may not be dangerous. I find it tests believability, but beyond that, I think the subplot seems underwhelming against the larger narrative of violence on the border.

The Bridge doesn’t spoon-feed its audience. Crucial details are revealed with such subtlety that they might be easily missed by distracted viewers. This is what I love most about it: you need to focus. Its cast is ever expanding, and narrative threads tear away from the main plot, only to circle back again in unexpected ways. Like Inglourious Basterds, The Bridge makes the characters speak in the language that they WOULD use in a given situation. Marco speaks English north of the border, but back home, or among his friends and family, he speaks Spanish. Since the show takes place in both Mexico and the US, that means that half of it is in Spanish. I am a native speaker. I am also not adverse to reading subtitles, but it might be an issue for some.

I don’t know if the resolution to Season 2 will be more satisfying than the resolution to Season 1, but as I said, the journey, particularly the strength of the performances, makes it worthwhile.

The Knick

Recently, Cinemax premiered The Knick, a Steven Soderbergh show that was originally intended for HBO. Much like Cary Fukunaga did with True Detective, Soderbergh directed every episode of The Knick, and the quality is evident.

The show has a premise that sounds like House meets BBC America’s Copper. Whether on not The Knick will exceed or transcend those two shows remains to be seen, but it does have a promising foundation and a solid cast. I will be one of the reviewers on The Knick over at HBOWatch, so check out my posts there for more detailed thoughts on the series.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, Veronica Mars came back from cancelled TV Show Limbo to feature film. Spoilers ahead for that movie.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is set just after the Veronica Mars film ends. Having turned her back on NYC, a lucrative job offer in a first-rate law firm, and her longtime relationship with Piz, Veronica has decided that she will stay to battle the corruption in Neptune, California. She’s in a long-distance relationship with Logan Echolls, who is serving in the armed forces abroad. She is also figuratively distanced from her father, who disapproves of her recent decision to give up her career in law.

Neptune is playing host to Spring breakers. When one young girl goes missing, the media has a field day, blasting the falling morality of today’s youth, engaging in slut-shaming, and making life difficult for the bumbling sheriff Dan Lamb’s police department. When tourism is affected, the local board decides they need someone more competent on the case, and they seek out the services of Neptune’s best P.I., Keith Mars. Unfortunately, Keith is still in recovery from an attack on his life, so Veronica takes the case in his stead. With the help of her friends Mac and Wallace, Veronica tries to infiltrate the local party scene, discovering the disturbing presence of local mob bosses and other criminals waiting to prey on the young and the wasted.

I like the book for several reasons. The first is the feminist stance that it takes against victim-blaming. Like the TV show and film that preceded it, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line exposes the way people (male and female, young and old) perceive young women, and Veronica has to wade through those perceptions to get at the truth of what happened to the disappeared girl. Also like its predecessors, the book explores the scavenging nature of the media in cases such as these.

More importantly, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line continues Veronica’s arc as a character. She is not the girl she was in school. She has changed and she has grown, and the return of a key person from her past will force her to confront issues she’s buried away for years, while introducing new and challenging dynamics into her life.

The audiobook is narrated by Kristen Bell herself, and I would recommend The Thousand Dollar Tan Line to any fan of the series. While not as exciting as the film that came immediately before, it is a good continuation to the story of Veronica Mars.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is available for sale. A second book, Mr. Kiss & Tell, has been announced for October 2014. The Veronica Mars Movie is on DVD/BluRay and will premiere this week on HBO. You can read my review of the film at HBOWatch.com.

Loki: Agent of Asgard

Recently, I picked up Marvel’s Loki: Agent of Asgard by Al Ewing because I was curious about the revamping of the character. Over the years, Loki has been old, female, a child, and many other things. As I understand it, this incarnation of the character was tailored to a post-film world, one in which Tom Hiddleston ended up stealing the show in the Marvel cinematic universe. So now, Loki is young, but not a little kid. He is also the headliner. Since he has spent the majority of his existence pestering his brother Thor (as well as other Marvel heroes), the question becomes: how does Loki fare on his own?

The answer is: EXTREMELY well.

In Agent of Asgard, Loki becomes determined to make up his past mis-deeds (or does he?). He works for the All-Mother, taking on extremely dangerous missions. Of course, being Loki, he also questions everything that he’s been assigned to do. Is it truly in the service of good? He must use his wits against his enemies, his allies and the All-Mother if he wants to complete his objective, yet his greatest enemy is himself. That’s not merely a metaphorical observation about Loki’s inner conflicts; there is an actual OTHER Loki (his literal Old Self) running around trying to re-assert himself and sabotaging the younger Loki.

The art is beautiful. The tone is fun. The storytelling is a wonderful juxtaposition of modern laugh-out-loud character interactions (no, seriously, I ACTUALLY laughed out loud) within a classical labors-of-Hercules-type narrative. And since we are talking about the God of Mischief, there are a lot of misdirections.

When this title was announced, I had my doubts. Some of the most interesting characters in fiction work only when they are undermining the stick-up-their-butts heroes of the narrative. The moment you make the snide one into the hero, you’re leaving them without a straight-man to react to. The other trick is the turning of a villain. Can he remain a badass while fighting for good? The reason Loki can fulfill this function (at least in his most modern incarnation) is that Marvel has been setting up the possibility of his redemption for years. He was SUCH a successful character on screen because one always sensed the tragedy of his fall, of his self-imposed separation from good (by contrast, one never felt anything resembling a tragedy in Malekith, though he lost so much more). The films and the comics’ Kid Loki storyline set the stage for a journey of redemption, but this title shows us that even if Loki could be redeemed (and that’s a big IF), he could still get himself into loads of trouble. Regardless, redemption will not keep Loki from being a smartass and the ultimate prankster.

Loki: Agent of Asgard Vol. 01 Trust Me is out today.

Batman: Nine Lives

Famously, Batman’s origins have been linked with that of pulp character Zorro. In most retellings of the tale, Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered after attending a screening of a Zorro film (The Mark of Zorro). Given his thematic proximity to Zorro and The Phantom Stranger, as well as his 1939 origin, it feels fitting to have a Batman story set in a more pulpy, 1940s Gotham.

In the Elseworld tale Batman: Nive Lives by Dean Motter, the Caped Crusader stumbles upon the body of local club owner Selina Kyle, dead in the sewers. Kyle’s lovers immediately come under suspicion, including millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Wayne was not Selina’s only squeeze. She was dating Oswald Cobblepot, a racketeer; Jack, a card sharp; and Private Detective Dick Grayson, whom she entrusted with her protection. Selina was fearing for her life, as she knew the secrets of the most powerful and most dangerous men in Gotham. The question is: which one of them killed her?

As a lifelong Batman fan, I have to say: I love me an Elseworlds tale! I would never recommend an Elseworlds story to someone who hasn’t read a “regular” Batman comic, though. In order for such a story to resonate with the reader, he/she would have to understand, say, who Jack the card the dealer is, and why he might present a danger to anyone who crosses him. Without a knowledge of the mainstream Batman mythos, bits like that wouldn’t work in an Elseworlds tale. On the other hand, the Batman mythos is one of the most widely-known of all comic book worlds, so theoretically, a newbie might be able to appreciate this.

The art and the design of Nine Lives are beautifully pulpy and noirish. Many familiar faces make appearances, and the Batman world, unsurprisingly, adapts well to the 1940s setting.

Justice League Dark

The web has been buzzing with speculation about Gillermo del Toro’s possible adaptation of Justice League Dark, as well as the upcoming premiere of the Constantine TV show. Recently, I read the first two volumes of the New 52 supernatural team-up series.

Madame Xanadu receives visions of a terrible future, one which includes the deaths of everyone and everything. It is her understanding that she must assemble a team, to monitor outside threats, but also to check each other’s power. She recruits John Constantine, Shade, Mindwarp, Zatanna, and Deadman.

In the first volume, the team battles The Enchantress, whose power is so great that it has overwhelmed the Justice League itself. The writing, by Peter Milligan, is scattered. As is the case with any team, some members are more interesting than others. I expected that going in. What I liked even less is the lack of character moments, the lack of sustained beats. Everything happens in chaos, but it doesn’t feel exciting.

Volume 2, written by Jeff Lemire, is an improvement. The reason for this is the increased attention given to John Constantine and Zatanna. Constantine is a very charismatic protagonist, and his personal history with the villain of the arc makes the volume feel better in structure than its predecessor. Of course, this comes at the expense of the other characters, but the thing is, I don’t feel invested in most of the other characters. Nevertheless, this focus gives the second volume more coherence and weight than the first.

Constantine, Zatanna, and Deadman are pretty fun, but my biggest problem with Justice League Dark is that I’m not interested in most of the team, nor their interactions. Reading the first two volumes, I kept wanting to stay with these three. This isn’t a problem I have with the regular Justice League, though to be fair, I have a lifetime of reading/watching Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, etc, so I’m automatically more invested in them. Lemire’s writing on Justice League Dark Vol. 2 made me more interested in checking out John Constantine’s solo titles.

As a fan of horror and the supernatural, I expected to like this a lot more than I did. It certainly has its moments, but I find that I’m not interested in continuing the series beyond this point.

Ms. Marvel

I have to admit: Even when its quality is not up to par, I’m a DC girl. For whatever reason, I just can’t gel with Marvel (For the record, I also dig Image Comics).

One of the depressing things about being a female fan of comics is having to set aside your annoyance when the female characters are written badly or written well but drawn as a set of boobs with a tiny person attached to them. This is why it’s genuinely refreshing when a comic comes along that presents girls and women as people with complex internal lives and clothes that looks more realistic.

One of these characters was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Based on the tv show, Buffy has existed in comics for years, and she has grown from a teenager to a young woman, and the issues she faces have grown with her. Buffy is seldom drawn as a set of tits. Perhaps because she’s based on Sarah Michelle Gellar, the comic book Buffy often dresses in a pair of jeans and a regular top.

Now we have a character from one of the Big Two that is a perfect complement to Buffy. Kamala Khan has assumed the mantle of Ms. Marvel now that Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Kamala is a Pakistani-American girl living in Jersey City. She is both a very vivid, particular character and a universal character at the same time. By having to navigate between her family’s expectations of her and her own desires, Kamala is Everygirl, and the fact that Everygirl is being presented as a Muslim girl of Pakistani heritage is as American as you can get. She is from a family of immigrants. She lives in Jersey City, a city that is home to many immigrants pursuing the American Dream. She is a portrait of the immigrant experience in America.

As someone who was born in South America, Kamala’s journey speaks to me, even though I am an atheist. I sympathize with Kamala’s desire to blend in, as well as her uncertainty about those things she must leave behind in order to become “more American.” As a woman, Kamala speaks to me, as well. I think she will speak to all girls and women who weren’t born to wear 6-inch stilettos, as women in comic books so often do. Kamala, like most of us, is awkward. She’s finding herself. She is a bit of a fangirl. She’s much smarter than she knows she is (thanks to the insightful, empathetic writing of creator G. Willow Wilson). She doesn’t exist to titillate. She exists to make her own way, and work out who she wants to be.

Kamala may have superpowers, but she feels very real.