Weekend Music – Clockwork Angels

Look, it’s a guest Weekend Music! One of my very favorite bands is Rush, an addiction picked up from my dad. Which is easy enough to pass along, as they’re celebrating their 40th year this year. Their most recent album was only two years ago, their first concept album – Clockwork Angels.

I wrote a whole series of posts about how I love music but don’t always really understand it. Not so much when it comes to Rush – I feel like I get it. Whether it’s the priests of Syrinx, the black hole of Cygnus X-1, Alph the sacred river, or the Working Man, I’ve got a handle on the metaphors, stories, and mythology going on.

Well, maybe until Clockwork Angels… however, this concept album was more than just the album – they wrote a utopian/dystopian novel to go with it. I’ve reviewed that before, but it ends up at the end with the song above. The Garden. A good life, on your own terms, despite however the world tries to drag you one way or another.

“In this one of many possible worlds…”

I will be seeing Rush this year for their Rush 40th concert tour, and I am incredibly excited. I’ll likely be geeking out more about Rush after that, as part of Eclectic Alli’s “Passionate Geeks” series. Hey, are you reading that series? Go forth and do so!

Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 12

Originally published at Part Time Monster as “Shelob’s Lair.”

This is the 12th in a series on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. You can find links to previous installments here.

The action of Book Four, the section of The Two Towers that covers the Hobbits’ journey toward Mordor, culminates in an encounter with the ancient spider-creature Shelob high in the Mountains of Shadow on the approach to the pass of Cirith Ungol. Shelob is not a creature of Sauron. She is more ancient than the realm of Mordor. She has supernatural abilities and is driven entirely by insatiable hunger. Shelob is oblivious to the Ring and the war. It is Gollum who precipitates this encounter, and the plot builds toward it practically from the moment Frodo and Sam capture him. (1)

After Gollum swears his oath to Frodo, he leads the hobbits through the Dead Marshes. This episode makes it clear that Gollum is still quite intelligent despite his corrupted state, and that he’s been this way before. He warns the hobbits not to look at the corpse-lights below the surface of the water, lest they be drawn in and become corpses themselves. (2)

On the fourth day of their travels together, just after the crossing of the marshes, Samwise awakes to find Gollum arguing with himself. This episode is an important turning point in the story. It shows us clearly for the first time that Smeagol and Gollum have diverged into two entirely separate personalities. Smeagol wishes to keep his promise and help Frodo. Gollum twists the words of Smeagol’s promise and urges him to find a way to take the Ring for himself, but both respect the fact that they are outnumbered by armed hobbits. This passage also contains the first reference to Shelob:

‘We wants it But’ — and here there was a long pause, as if a new thought had wakened. ‘Not yet, eh? She might help. She might, yes.’

‘No, no! Not that way,’ wailed Smeagol.

‘Yes! We wants it! We wants it!’

Each time that the second thought spoke, Gollum’s long hand cret out slowly, pawing towards Frodo, and then was drawn back with a jerk as Smeagol spoke again. (3)

Though we  don’t realize yet who “she” refers to, it’s clear that Gollum is hatching a plot. Smeagol is going to be hard-pressed to keep his promise. And if you look closely at this passage you will see that when Gollum is speaking, GollumFinalGollum has control of the body. Smeagol is barely containing Gollum.

The second hint we get comes in “The Forbidden Pool.” After the hobbits find the Black Gate too well-guarded to attempt, they turn south into Ithilien, a wild, unpopulated region of Gondor which has not yet fallen under the shadow of Mordor. There they encounter Faramir, brother of Boromir, leading a party of soliders from Gondor to ambush a regiment of Harad who are marching up from the south to join Sauron. Gollum eludes these men, but they make Frodo and Sam their “guests” for the night so Faramir can interrogate them and decide what to do with them. (4)

During the night, Gollum trespasses too closely to the men’s secret hideout. Frodo helps Faramir capture him to prevent the men from killing him outright. Gollum naturally reads this as betrayal on Frodo’s part, which only strains their already tenuous relationship. (5)

Faramir turns out to be a very discerning man. He eventually allows the three to continue their journey, but  warns Frodo to be wary of Gollum and counsels him against attempting the pass of Cirith Ungol:

But I do not think you are beholden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he tells you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol! . . . But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent. (6)

This gives us more details and heightens the suspense. It raises the possibility that the “she” Gollum refers to in his argument with Smeagol is this unnamed horror even the wise will not speak of.

Despite Faramir’s warning, Frodo presses on because he sees no other way to enter the dark land without being captured. The pass of Cirith Ungol is the least-guarded way into Mordor, but it’s still quite treacherous. Reaching it requires four dangerous trials.

Continue reading

Time Runs Out – the Conclusion of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers (and the Marvel Comics Universe)

It was the spark that started the fire – a legend that grew in the telling.

At the beginning, it was an origin story. The rebuilding of the Avengers. The reconvening of the Illuminati. And with overtones reaching back to the beginning of the Marvel Universe.

The left is from Avengers - the right is from New Avengers. Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

The left is from Avengers – the right is from New Avengers.
Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

At the end, it’s the mirror of that story. The collapse of the Avengers. The Illuminati replaced by the Cabal. The end of the Marvel Universe.

Jonathan Hickman’s run writing Avengers and New Avengers has been a blast. I’ve blogged about it a good deal because it’s one of the main comics I have been following on a regular basis – although I have stepped down to reading it in the trade paperbacks/collected digital volumes. That said, I am here now because these two comics just released their last trade last week – the end of the four-trade, two-title saga called Time Runs Out, which led directly to the current Marvel Secret Wars and which ended the Marvel Comics Universe in a very real way.

Yes, it’s comics, it’ll probably come back. Still, for now, es ist kaput.

So how did we get there? Even if the why of the universe ending was corporate and marketing and business, the mechanism that got us there took about 100 comics. So what happened? Why did time run out?

A Quick Rundown of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers

To make this a quick rundown, I am going to be sourcing things out to previous posts I have written. In these posts, I have a number of screencaps from the comics with some further explanation of things so it’s not just me I’m referring to, it’s the comics themselves.

At their heart, these were two parallel and competing stories. In Avengers, as in the image above, it’s a bit of a reboot/reforming of the Avengers team. A fresh start, a new beginning. With an expectation of greater threats: with a need for a bigger team. So an origin story of sorts there. Meanwhile, new “villains” (many of whom end up new Avengers), new problems, and new versions of “old” heroes – like a female Smasher and a new Hyperion. Meanwhile, with the larger backdrop of the villains and the big fight to come (Infinity, which I blogged in three parts), there is a larger narrative and origin story of the whole universe. Callbacks to a narrative of, essentially, the big bang.

In New Avengers, that story becomes one of universal death. Of the opposite of the big bang: a big collapse, with the whole universe collapsing at once. Which they get to see happening, multiple times: the entire multiverse (multiple universes) is collapsing, universe by universe dying. I included Mister Fantastic’s excellent explanation in my original review.

Thus, the dual character of life, and death, between the two stories, which I have found really cool, and which I talked about as one of the great themes in Hickman’s comics in generalContinue reading

Penny Dreadful: Memento Mori Review (S2 E8)

We’re back this week with more Penny Dreadful Season 2–and I’m delighted to say that there will be a season 3 of the show and that we’ll be blogging it here again! Now, on to this week’s episode, the 8th of this 10-episode season. And my, what an episode it was. We *finally* see the picture of Dorian Grey; Lily goes on a feminist rant; and Lyle deciphers the Verbis Diablo. (Warning: This post is dark, and full of spoilers.)

mementomori2

We open with Lily, and she’s pretty much where we left her last week—in bed with the corpse of a man she’s just strangled. On the way out, she knocks over a rather tall house of cards the man had been building—and one can’t help but see it as a symbol of all sorts of things that Lily would like to knock over.

The Creature, meanwhile, is tearing up Frankenstein’s lab and terrorizing his maker. He wants to make sure that Frankenstein remembers why he’s made Lily. Lily isn’t for Dorian or for Victor or for anyone else—she “belongs” to the Creature. I can’t help wondering what Lily is going to think of that, how she’s going to handle “belonging” to someone and being “created for” them.

When Lily does return home, Victor is eager to get her out of the city. He proposes a holiday away from London. Lily, though, says there’s more to teach her. More to do. It’s her new home, at any rate, and not one she’s keen to move on from. This is the first time I notice that Lily is talking without any impediment, without any strange diction, but I think it’s actually been happening since Dorian’s party.

Victor goes out to see Sir Malcolm. He’s worried about what love has done to him, mementomori3how it has changed him. Sir Malcolm is surprisingly close to the mark when he claims that love is an enchantment.

Lyle is making his way to the Murray house after an awful meeting with the witches. They’re concerned about where his loyalties lie and whether he’s telling the truth. It’s glaringly obvious now that Hecate has plans to overthrow Evelyn; she corners Lyle on his way out of the house to try and get more information about Vanessa and Ethan.

Back at Frankenstein’s home, the Creature visits Lily, stops by her room, and we get an idea of why Lily isn’t ready to leave London. She’s tired of being told what to do and when–she’s tired of corsets and high heels and so many of the restrictive mementomori1gender norms that marked her in life and now hold sway in death. She gives the best speech about it, and I remember again why I adore Billie Piper. Now beyond death, Lily is Something Else. She’s someone never to be used again.

And Lily has a completely developed sense of what she is, knows that Frankenstein has created her and that he created the Creature–I wonder how long she has known, how much of her relationship with Victor has been an act. Now, she swears men will bow to her—and she offers the Creature a place by her side.

Detective Rusk is also sniffing about. He discovers Sir Malcolm’s past visits to Scotland Yard and makes a visit to the Murray home in an attempt to discover why those visits stopped and how Mina Murray died. Sir Malcolm claims that the circumstances of her death were embarrassing to the family, and he absolutely denies knowing Ethan Chandler. Rusk is unconvinced but leaves anyway.

 

And Lyle has finished translating the Verbis Diablo. He reads the story aloud to Frankenstein, Sembene, and Murray, who are all stand around the table where the various artifacts that make up the Verbis Diablo are gathered. Murray is having trouble concentrating—perhaps because Evelyn is whispering devilish language into the ears of his fetish puppet.

Lyle reads the story aloud from the translated artifacts. It is the story of a fallen angel, yes—but it is also the story of his brother. When the rebellion had ended, God cleaved the brothers in two, throwing one into Hell to feed on souls (Lucifer) and sending the other to Earth to feed on blood. Only the Mother of Evil can reunite them. There’s some chatter about vampires, about why Vanessa is the chosen one, about why there’s always a woman as the evil conduit.

Helen McCrory as Evelyn Poole in Penny Dreadful (season 2, episode 6). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_206_0270

Sir Malcolm points out that the repeated phrase is “wolf” not “hound” of God right about the time that the enchantment of Evelyn is able to break through. Sir Malcolm’s eyes turn black and he upends the table, shouting and breaking the artifacts. Sembene is quick to his aid, though. He wrestles Murray out of the room and into an empty, dusty room. “Know who you are,” he shouts. And suddenly, Sir Malcolm has a vision and is able to break Evelyn’s enchantment.

Across town, Angelique is less-than-thrilled at being left home while Dorian is going out with Lily yet again. As he leaves, she she sees a draft of air, and she finds the portrait. Upon his return, he realizes what she’s done. There’s a bit of chatter, and despite Dorian’s kind demeanor, I’m on edge as he and Angelique talk about the portrait. And apparently, I was right to be. Right after saying she can accept him as mementomorihe is, as he truly is, the two share a toast—and then it’s goodbye Angelique, as she falls to the ground. The camera pans, and I’m worried it’s going to stop, but then—-we finally see The Picture. Dorian is old, disfigured. His skin is flayed off in spots; he is chained by the hands and feet, crouching like an animal. He’s hideous and sad.

But oh, now Sir Malcolm realizes that he’s been enchanted and is mad, mad, mad. He sneaks from the house alone with lots of ammo and a big gun. But of course, those things are virtually useless. He’s quickly captured by one of the younger witches and brought to Evelyn. She’s underestimated him, though. The tears she cries and her efforts to get him to join her are entirely unsuccessful.

She leaves him locked in a room with his hallucinations: three coffins for the members of his family. The lids creak open, and just as his family rises from their coffins, we cut away.

Next week, in the season’s penultimate episode, it looks as though we’ll see Vanessa and Ethan make their return to London and the characters readying for a final battle with the witches.