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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: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (Review)

From pretty much the opening scene, I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano begins wrapping up loose ends with a ruthless efficiency. Jimmy, the rat identified in Nobody Knows Anything, is murdered less than five minutes into the episode. All the various plot threads seeded throughout the show’s first year come to a head. The feud between Junior and Tony is resolved. The FBI swoop in. Tony and Melfi talk it out and figure out exactly what their relationship is. Even Artie’s restaurant becomes a focal point, providing a direct link back to the very first episode.

For all the talk of randomness and inconsistency in The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, everything here seems to come a full circle. It’s absolutely stunningly executed, and one of the best things that can be said about I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (and one of the best things that could be said about any piece of television drama ever) is the fact that it feels so much deeper and richer than its runtime. We know that it’s an hour-long, but it really feels so much meatier and more substantial than that.

It’s a beautiful culmination to a year’s worth of television.

Lights out...

Lights out…

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The Sopranos: Isabella (Review)

With Isabella, the first season of The Sopranos comes to a head. It’s all been building and building since the pilot, and the penultimate episode is the point where things really start to pay off. It’s amazing how structured the first season of The Sopranos is, dedicated to build-up and pay-off. Despite the show is about the randomness of life and how stuff just sort of happens, there’s a very clear internal structure and logic to the first season.

Those frustrated by the ending (or arguable non-ending) of Made in America may have missed the point of the larger show, but it’s not an unreasonable expectation when the first season was so careful about paying off all of its plot points and thread. Isabella is the point where things go wrong for Tony in a big way. It’s the episode where Junior and Livia’s scheming puts a bullet in him (and – in one of the show’s countless references to The Godfather – through his orange juice).

At the same time, it remains a story driven by Tony, focused on his character and his own psychology.

Let sleeping mobsters lie...

Let sleeping mobsters lie…

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The Sopranos – Nobody Knows Anything (Review)

Nobody Knows Anything represents the beginning of the end of the first season of The Sopranos. It is, despite my reservations about Boca and even A Hit is a Hit, a remarkably strong season of television. Part of the thrill of Nobody Knows Anything – particularly after two relatively stand-alone episodes – is watching the series gracefully and fluidly start knocking down the dominoes it has been lining up since the start of the season.

It’s text-book set-up and pay-off, executed with considerable skill. Rewatching the first season of The Sopranos, it’s easy to understand why so many viewers were frustrated by the non-resolution of Made in America. The Sopranos has constantly riffed on The Godfather, right down to Paulie’s car horn here, and it feels like the show is making a conscious effort to emulate the efficiency with which Coppola structured that gangster classic’s final act.

Diving on in there...

Diving on in there…

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The Sopranos: A Hit is a Hit (Review)

A Hit is a Hit works a lot better than Boca, despite the fact that it’s structurally quite similar. It introduces a bunch of new characters and concepts to the series which don’t really extend beyond the episode in question. Massive G never appears again, and the pending lawsuit he threatens is never discussed in any later episode. It’s a light stand-alone tale coming towards the end of a season which has dedicated so much time and effort to building a full-formed world.

However, A Hit is a Hit doesn’t feel completely disposable. Part of that is down to the wonderful B-plot in which Tony finds himself struggling for acceptance among more the more reputable members of his neighbourhood, but it’s also down to the fact that the main plot feels like develops the themes of The Sopranos a lot better than Boca did, and that Christopher’s character arc feels like a logical progression rather than simply “an issue of the week.”

Ain't that a shot in the head?

Ain’t that a shot in the head?

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The Sopranos: Boca (Review)

Boca pretty much interrupts a hot streak of first season Sopranos episodes. It serves as a reminder that the show might have brought the medium into the twenty-first century, serving as a massive influence on televisual storytelling over the past decade, but the first season was still a product of nineties television. Boca feels strangely like a stand-alone episode, a strange artefact from some parallel universe where David Chase and his team decided that The Sopranos might work just as well as a piece of episodic television, rather than as serialised narrative.

Boca feels like one of those “ripped from the headlines” issue-conscious pieces of television drama, as if we’re watching The Sopranos by way of Law & Order. Of course, the script still has the show’s wit, and the episode plays into the series’ themes, but Boca feels a little strange. It’s not a bad piece of television, but it’s the first episode of The Sopranos that feels like it could have been repurposed from something else.

Old love...

Old love…

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