Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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For the past few months, the new Deathstroke series consistently makes it to the top of my to-read pile. Writer Christopher Priest (Quantum & Woody, Black Panther) always makes comics that are worth reading, especially when he delves into the murkier side of human behaviour and relationships. As one of DC’s most amoral characters, someone who always plays both sides of every engagement, Deathstroke seemed like a good fit for Priest’s style. What I didn’t expect from this series was the quality of the artistic co-creators that he attracts to work on the book. Whether it’s Larry Hama (G.I. Joe, Nth Man) helping with the breakdowns across a handful of issues, or Cary Nord (Conan The Barbarian, X-O Manowar) penciling the two-part “Four Rooms” storyline, the artists always manage to elevate what is already an excellent series. The pinnacle of the current Deathstroke run, however, is issue #11’s “Chicago,” pencilled by Denys Cowan (Hardware, Steel) and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants, Elektra: Assassin). I’ve read this one issue many times in the past month, and each time I sink deeper into the richness of the work. It’s a story that comments on the modern tragedy of gun violence, not in a preachy “this is how things should be” way, but in a way that shows just how complicated and messy it is. Priest keeps the issue in the grey area, where everyone’s hands are dirty, and nobody has the moral high ground. The script is tight on its own, but Cowan and Sienkiewicz’s art (and Jeromy Cox’s colours) bring each character to life, frame every scene to maximize the details, and bring real grit to the story. Plus they throw in the return of Steve Ditko’s The Creeper just so the reader doesn’t forget it’s a superhero comic. For my money, Deathstroke is the best DC book being published right now, and “Chicago” is the crown jewel in the run (so far).
Mel Brooks’ second feature film (released three years after The Producers, his brilliant debut) is 1970’s The Twelve Chairs. Based on a classic Russian novel of the same name, it’s an often broad and silly but wildly entertaining adventure film set in the early days of The Soviet Union. When Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) discovers that his mother-in-law had hidden her aristocratic family’s fortune in jewels from the Bolsheviks by sewing them into the lining of one of her family’s twelve dining chairs, he rushes back to her ancestral home to find them. There, he runs into Ostap Bender (a very young and sexy Frank Langella), a homeless con artist who convinces Vorobyaninov to make him his partner in the search. They’re racing against time, though, as the village priest Father Fyodor (Dom Deluise) also heard the dying woman’s confession and decided that a fortune on earth is worth more than his heavenly reward. It’s a cross-country caper with undercranked slapstick, cleverly quick dialogue exchanges, and of course, Dom DeLuise mugging and chewing all of the scenery. Plus, it has my favourite Mel Brooks performance, in the small role of Tikhon, Vorobyaninov’s old and faithful servant. Some folks might find the director’s brand of comedy a little broad but The Twelve Chairs marries it with cleverness and heart. It’s one of the less well-known of Brooks’ films, which is a shame because it’s one of the best.
The Chris Gethard Show is the comedy talk show I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. A cult phenomenon that started out on public access television, the show is an earnest and bizarre experience, sometimes billed as “the saddest talk show in New York City.” (It’s since made the jump to Fusion TV and all past episodes are available on YouTube.) Hosted by comedian Chris Gethard (pronounced “geth-herd”), the show is wildly experimental and a fascinating experiment in television. Want to see what happens when the entire cast stays up for 36 hours and then tries to do a show with Seth Meyers? Or have Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas take forty-five minutes to guess what’s in the dumpster Gethard brought on stage, while simultaneously trying to pitch their own spinoff show? Or maybe you’re interested in seeing John Hodgman recite Walt Whitman while people engage in a slam-dunking competition behind and over him, in an episode called “Slam Dunks, Slam Poetry”? These are the kinds of things Chris Gethard and his cast & crew want to bring to the world. Complete with call-ins from fans, live music from house band The LLC, insights from The Human Fish, and more, The Chris Gethard show is an inspiring, touching, and very funny examination of the human experience. Plus there is an episode where professional wrestlers toss Jon Hamm around while he’s wearing a sumo wrestler suit. So it’s got that going for it, too.
One of the most important characters in Everything I Never Told You is dead before the reader gets to the first page. In fact, the reader knows about it before the rest of the characters do. It’s not the death itself, but what happened before and after that matters. Celeste Ng’s 2014 book won a slew of awards the year it was published, and though I don’t think it’s without flaws, it’s certainly one of the more engaging books I’ve read in the past year. Everything I Never Told You is the story of the Lee family, a Chinese-American family living in Ohio in the 1970s, and the way the disappearance and death of the middle daughter threatens to destroy the fragile network of unspoken expectations that ties them all together. After a necessarily slow start, the book opens up in the middle third, when the remaining family members struggle to make sense of their lives without the character that they never realized anchored them all together. I ached reading those chapters, all that unexamined tragedy finally brought out in the open, slowly learning what brought them to that one terrible day. It’s a slowly unfolding puzzle; it’s a thriller disguised as a character study; it’s a heartbreaking work that nearly brought me to tears.
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That’s going to wrap things up for this week! Until next time, stay warm and drink plenty of fluids. Stay on the couch and watch movies or curl up with a good book. At least, that’s what I’m going to do to fight off my brand new cold, just in time for Spring Break. I’ll see you in seven days (I hope).