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Charles & Daniel Knauf’s Run on Iron Man – Civil War (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

You really have to feel sorry for the father-son team of Charles and Daniel Knauf for their work on Iron Man. Picking up the book after the fantastic introductory Extremis arc by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, the duo quickly found the character’s direction swept up in the maelstrom of Marvel’s event-driven larger universe. Mark Millar’s mammoth superhero crossover Civil War did its best to turn Tony Stark into a supervillain, a fascist in a suit of armour presiding over internment without trial, cloning of gods and the use of psychopathic villains to hunt down his former friends.

The duo do their best to try to deal with the obvious problems that this approach generates for an on-going Iron Man book, managing a fairly concise two-issue tie-in that tries its best to offer a defense for the characterisation of Tony Stark during the crossover.

On top of the world...

On top of the world…

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The Sopranos: Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist’s Office…

Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office gets the second season of The Sopranos off to a strong start. We’re immediately informed that time has elapsed and that everything has sorted itself out. We get a montage to assure us that it’s business as usual, and the early part of the episode features Tony tying off the last possible lose end in the feud between himself and Junior. However, there’s also a sense that things are changing, both in the lives of our characters and also in the way the show is structured.

The first season of the show is a damn fine piece of television, but it’s also somewhat misleading. It’s a beautifully structured thirteen-episode mob epic which manages to satisfactorily tie up all its loose ends by the time the credits role on I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano. It’s understandable that so many people were frustrated by the show’s non-resolution after the first season wrapped up so elegantly.

With the success of that first season, there’s a sense of earned confidence to Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office, as if Chase feels like he has a bit more freedom to work with in telling his great American novel.

Something's not quite right here...

Something’s not quite right here…

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The Sopranos: Down Neck (Review)

I’ve said before (and many far smarter individuals have said it before me), but The Sopranos really feels like a novel for television. You can see that approach most distinctly in the first season, where David Chase cleverly structures the show that we spend more than half the season getting to know the cast, and getting comfortable with them, before things actually start happening in any truly meaningful sense. Of course, things have happened. The restaurant exploded, Junior and Tony nearly came to a head, but the approach has really been first and foremost about defining who these characters are, before we really get into what they do.

Down Neck, halfway through the first season, is really the perfect example. Not much really happens. Sure, plot threads advance. Livia discovers that her son is seeing a therapist. We hear that Junior is really settling into his new-found position of nominal authority. However, the most significant beats of Down Neck are concerned with character. A large portion of the episode is an extended flashback focusing on a dead character, and the rest sees the family dealing with the possible diagnosis of Anthony’s Attention Deficit Disorder. Hardly what one might have expected from the halfway point in the first season of a mob drama.

Family values…

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Case of Mr. Pelham (Review)

As part of the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, I’ll be taking a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s contributions to his celebrated anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I’ll be looking at some of the episodes of the classic show that he directed. The “For the Love of Film” blogathon this year is raising money to keep one of Hitchcock’s earlier works, The White Shadow (which he wrote, edited, designed and assistant-directed), available on-line and streaming for free. It’s a very worthwhile cause and you can donate here.

Due to circumstances outside our control, tragedy will not strike tonight. I’m dreadfully sorry, perhaps some other time.

– Hitchcock’s introduction; well, at least he apologises

The Case of Mister Pelham picked up the series’ first Emmy nomination, with Hitchcock himself nominated for outstanding direction. It’s not too hard to see why, as The Case of Mister Pelham is a wonderfully compelling piece of television, a psychological character study masquerading as a supernatural mystery. In many ways, it feels like the best episode of The Twilight Zone that was never an episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s sharp, cleverly constructed, and features and astounding central performance from Tom Ewell as the eponymous Mister Pelham. What more could you want?

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The Sopranos: College (Review)

College is interesting because it perfectly captures a lot of the themes at the heart of The Sopranos, effortlessly blending Tony’s upper-middle-class concerns with his familial obligations (both to his nuclear family and to the mob). At the same time, it explores many of the inherently contradictory aspects of modern living, including the implied acquiesce to a culture of greed and corruption. College is the first time that we really see Tony get his own hands dirty, and it’s the point at which we explore how complicit Carmela is in his shady dealings and illegal activities. I think it’s a show that really pins down what the show is going to be – and it’s no surprise that the episode won Chase his first writing Emmy for the show, and is reportedly his favourite episode of the series.

Driving the conversation...

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The Sopranos: Sopranos (Review)

I feel like I am massively late to the party. Not fashionably late, mind you. However, my gran received The Sopranos on DVD for Christmas, and I’ve decided to go back and watch it from the start with her. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the iconic television show over the years – even following it for a full two seasons in the middle – but I’ve never seen David Chase’s dark exploration of the American dream from beginning to end. So, slowly, in the company of my grandmother, I shall be making my way through what many people consider to be the best television show ever produced. And where better to start, after all these years, than the very first episode?

Talking it out...

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