26th Jul2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 7/26/19

by Will

Look at that – I’m back a week after my last post! Speaking of that post, I had a lot of good engagement. I reconnected with old friends, and another good friend even wrote a response piece. That’s what I like to see!

I’ve been really slacking in the movie-watching department ever since my second daughter was born. I think I watched something, like, 13 movies last year. The year my first was born, I watched around 71! So, I’m trying to work on that, which is why I sat down and watched Barbershop: The Next Cut when I caught it on TV last week. Luckily it was only rated PG-13 in theaters, and you can get away with murder on basic cable these days, so it was hardly edited.

I’ve been wanting to see this movie for years, as I was a big fan of the first one (I barely remember the second one), but just never got around to it. At the end of the day, the plot isn’t what these movies are about. No, the star of the franchise is the barbershop itself, as a safe haven where Black men (and now women) come to learn the news and gossip of the day. It’s akin to a community center and church, but you can also get shape-ups. The thing about these movies is that I always felt on the outside looking in, as I haven’t traditionally had the Black barbershop experience. When I was much younger, my mom would take me to Mr. Bill’s, which was a traditional Black barbershop just over the DC line. Shit was dangerous and inconvenient, though, so I ended up at the Hair Cuttery near our house for the next few years. Then, there was the stint where she’d just cut it herself, as it’s pretty easy to just do the same length all over with clippers. So, it wasn’t until college that I got the TRUE barbershop experience. And, in true Will fashion, I fucked it up. Gather ’round, children, as I’m gonna tell you a lost adventure of which I’m not very proud.

So, at Cornell (did I tell you I went to Cornell?), there were really only 2 ways to get a haircut if you were Black: 1) you got it cut by someone at Ujamaa (the Black dorm – no, dorms weren’t segregated, but it was an option if you wanted to live amongst your people. I did not live in Ujamaa. I lived across the street, and looked at them from my window like a Jewish kid looking at the Christian family on Christmas morning) or 2) you went to JC Knight downtown. Every time I went over to “The Uj”, the reception was basically “Who the fuck are you and why are you here?” So, JC Knight it was. Knight’s shop was downtown, just off the Ithaca Commons pedestrian mall, and was highly popular. Every Black person in town knew him and his shop. So, one day I went down there and sat down waiting for my turn. Bad move. At the Cuttery, you just took whoever was available, so I didn’t understand the politics that I needed to request someone. So I think I sat a good hour before they even acknowledged me and were like “Um, you waitin’ for somebody?” I meekly said “Anyone who will take me.” Thus began my immersion into the Black barbershop experience.

I would go down to the shop about once a month (or whenever I hadn’t blown all my money on comics), and learn what had been going on in the Black world while I’d been studying up on The Hill. Sophomore year I started going less and less because that was the year of my S-Curl Experiment. Oh, you don’t know what an S-Curl is? Ugh, I need more Black readers.

So, an S-Curl is kinda like a Jheri Curl, in that your hair is processed, and you keep it wet looking by spraying “activator” on it every now and then. Think 80s Michael Jackson. It’s a lye process that basically straightens Black hair, but then you can do shit to it, like style it with gel and stuff. So, in my “Man, I sure would like to look like I’m in a boyband” year 2000 desperation, I did this to my hair. As such, I didn’t need as many haircuts because you wanted it to get long so you could do more with it. Every now and then you’d just need the sides touched up. And this was the beginning of the end.

You see, Knight and his boys knew I was sheltered and really didn’t have much “street cred”. I was just some innocent kid from Wheaton, Maryland, but I’m sure they probably said stuff like “He thinks he’s White.” People always said shit like that when I was in predominantly Black situations. It has taken me years to come to this realization that I’m about to share with you, but it just goes to show that I’m somewhere on the spectrum that it never occurred to me sooner. So, one time he cleaned up my sides, and when he was done it was time to pay him. God…I hate just thinking about this now. You know how you MEAN to say one thing, but something else comes out? OK, so the haircut was $20, and I wanted to tip, but I only had two $20 bills. I gave him both, and he was like “Are you sure?” *Sigh*

OK, like I had said above, I was spending every last cent on comics, because I could Cornell Card anything else I needed, and just charge it to the bursar. So, I knew that money in my hands would be a bad situation. What I MEANT to say was “Hey, it’s better in your hands than in mine.” However, I’m awkward and nervous at times. What I DID say was “Hey, you probably need it more than I do.” FUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKK. I basically pulled a Rich Frat Boy on him, and the saddest part was I didn’t even realize it at the time. It was years later when I was like “Oh, wait, that said in that way is pretty fucking bad.” I just walked out of the shop, thinking everything was hunky dory. So, the next time I went, nobody could fit me in. I had been blackballed by the barbershop. Knight DID do me a sold, though, by giving me a referral. He wasn’t gonna mess with me anymore, but his friend Carol, this White lady who worked at the salon in the mall, could cut Black hair. I think he played it off as not knowing what to do with the S-Curl, but we know what the real reason was. So, cast out of Black Eden, I proceeded to get my hair cut by Carol until I graduated.

About 10 years ago, I tried to reenter the barbershop world. I found a place in Silver Spring, but there are so many unspoken politics of the shop – not only the different ways to get into someone’s chair, but also learning what you can and can’t talk about. Does this shop think Obama does enough for Black people? Does this shop think Obama is a sellout? What about the Hotep guy in the corner? He’s probably got some off-the-wall thoughts on things. That stuff was just tiring, so I retreated back to the Cuttery, where some woman asks me how I’m doing, in broken English, and leaves it at that.

Anyway, Barbershop: The Next Cut was like revisiting an old acquaintance. We were never close enough to be friends, but our association was enough that I could wonder what might have been. If you’ve never seen this one, the gang violence around the shop in the south side of Chicago has increased, and Ice Cube’s Calvin struggles with the decision of whether or not to move the shop to the north side. Meanwhile, a bunch of stuff is going on in the shop, like Common is married to Eve, but Nicki Minaj is trying to break up their marriage (why did it take this movie for me to finally see Nicki and say “DAMN!”?). There are new barbers, played by New Girl‘s LaMorne Morris and The Mindy Project‘s Utkarsh Ambudkar added to the mix. When the violence reaches its peak, the shop decides to sponsor a weekend ceasefire to bring to community together. Meanwhile, you got all that good barbershop banter: What did Obama do for US? Can you blame THOTS for unfaithful men? And to quote a deplorable man, “There were good people on both sides.” Anyway, it was an enjoyable little movie, even if Hella predictable at times (that straight-laced, good boy didn’t stand a chance).

This week in comics, the X-Men franchise got something of a housecleaning when Jonathan Hickman took over, with House of X #1 as the start of his run. Now, I’m always apprehensive when Marvel starts touting a grand plan for the X-Men because of two reasons 1) I tend not to like those grand plans and 2) I feel it shits on the journeymen who were struggling to keep the books afloat between grand plans. Imagine you finally get your dream job of writing X-Men, only for your run to be forgotten as some palette cleanser between 2 big name writers. You either die Grant Morrison, or you live long enough to become Chuck Austen.

Now, one of the biggest X-Men relaunches was when Morrison took over “adjectiveless” X-Men and renamed it New X-Men (meanwhile, Chuck Austen was cranking out massive turds over in Uncanny X-Men). Morrison had a grand plan where humans discovered that they would be extinct in a few generations and mutants would become the dominant species. Characters were experiencing “secondary mutations”, resulting in newer appearances and powers. In true Morrison fashion, his ideas were “out there” and, while they brought a lot of attention to the line, Marvel proceeded to spend the next 5 years following his run undoing everything he had done. As then-Editor in Chief Joe Quesada said, they “had to put the genie back in the bottle”. So, enter Scarlet Witch, whose utterance of “No More Mutants” reduced the Earth’s mutant population down to a mere 198 characters. There goes any designs of taking over humanity when your entire species could fill a 737. Secondary mutations? Fake. Sure, a few characters from his run remained, like the Stepford Cuckoos and Xorn, but Marvel did their damnedest to erase the broad strokes of his story.

So, imagine my surprise when they started touting Hickman’s upcoming run as the most drastic, sweeping thing they’ve done since Morrison’s run. Well, first of all, RIP to all the writers who’ve manned the books since Morrison’s run ended in 2004. And next, I already know how this is going to play out. My fears were confirmed when I went to a midnight release for House of X and read the book. Verdict? NOT FOR ME. It really does feel just like a remix of the Morrison run, even though I’m sure there will be Hickmanian twists and turns. I can’t do Mutants Have The Upper Hand because I always wait for other shoe to drop.

In the book, it appears that Xavier and Magneto’s dreams have finally learned to co-mingle, and Xavier has a bunch of wonder drugs he’s willing to offer to humanity in exchange for them recognizing his sovereign nation of Krakoa (yeah, the island from 1975’s Giant Size X-Men #1).  We learn a lot about what the drugs do, and how the world’s governments feel about them. In true Hickman fashion, there are charts in infographics, so reading it makes you feel like you’re studying for a final, trying to glean every important detail from the page. Once again, we discover that not only is humanity on the verge of extinction, but that it’s approaching more rapidly than previously thought. The book ends with Magneto introducing mutants as the new gods of Homo Sapiens.

As we saw in Avengers/Secret Wars, Hickman is ALL about playing the long game. He will mine history and go for some deep cuts. It’s probably a rich experience for those who really commit to it, but I found myself bored early on with his Avengers run, and only came back for the pseudo-satisfying Secret Wars. I’m sure y’all are in for an interesting 4-5 year ride, but I don’t think I want a ticket for it. It’s a pretty sizable dose of Been There Done That, with more than a dash of I Simply Don’t Care. Not trying to be cynical because I WANTED to like it. It’s just not BOLD enough.

Meanwhile, characterizations didn’t feel right. Other than the Magneto/Cuckoos scenes, everyone else felt strangely out of character. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I’m not sure I care to invest 3 months in finding out WHY. Because we ALL know that the only way to get this genie back in the bottle is gonna be to have some kind of devastating No More Mutants event around 2024. If comics are still around by then…

The problem with comics is that they’re cyclical. They have to give the appearance of change without offering actual change. And I’ve often said that the average life cycle of a comics fan is about 15 years. Marvel’s counting on folks to have not read the Morrison run because, well, it was 15 years ago. So it’s not really a “crime” that Hickman seems to borrow heavily from it, as the fan base that read that story should have already cycled out of comics by now. Sure, some have stuck around, and they might be as vocal as I am about it, but I just feel it’s kinda cheap to go back to that well, no matter how much time has passed. It’d be like trying to mount the full-on Age of Apocalypse again (which would be nigh impossible in the Internet Age).

At SDCC, it was announced that the House of X/Power of X miniseries wrap up in October, at which point the actual ongoing series will launch. Maybe the dust will settle by then, and I’ll check out the franchise at that point. House of X, however, didn’t grab me enough to come back to this party on a weekly basis. If anything, I’ll read it once it’s collected.

Over the weekend, I took on the Herculean task of cleaning out my Gmail. I’m terrible with email, and I often say if you want to get in touch with me you’d better just tweet at me. On Saturday night, my inbox was over 7,000, but I got it to 198 by Monday morning. The biggest problem is that I don’t delete the junk immediately when it comes in. It also doesn’t help that I have Twitter set up to email me whenever I get a DM or a Like/RT.

The DM thing is funny because I have a record of conversations long after some folks have unfollowed me. If you’ve ever DMed me, I still have it in Gmail. And it was quite the trip down Memory Lane. People I’d forgotten about, who just, one day, stopped tweeting. Did they die? Were they deported? In most cases, I’ll never know. In a lot of ways it was sad. “Oh, here’s that trans gal who I supported during her difficult transition, but unfollowed me out of the blue.” Or “Oh, here’s the girl who might’ve catfished me, but I’ll never know because her sister now says she’s dead”. Yeah, I’ve lived a crazy life online. It’s just interesting how people can come into your life, and you make what you consider to be meaningful connections with them, and then they can leave just as easily as they entered.

Trailer Park

Ready or Not

Man, White people won’t let us have anything! This is just White Get Out.

Zombieland: Double Tap

I honestly didn’t care about this thing until Rosario Dawson showed up. I mean, I enjoyed the original, but it really doesn’t hold a special place in my heart, nor did I just love the characters. I guess it’d be interesting to see what they’ve been up to all these years, but this is not a theater movie for me. I’ll be streaming it somewhere.

Playmobil: The Movie

First and foremost, I’m just bracing myself for folks to mispronounce the brand’s name. It’s Play-mo-BEEL. It’s European, you uncultured swine! Second, this is just sad. We all know WHY they’re doing it, but they never seemed to stop to discuss whether they SHOULD. They’ve kinda sold out, and this is a prime example of that.

When I was growing up, Playmobil was a high-end brand, bought by upper middle-class White parents who wanted their kids to have the “action figure experience”, without it being tied to some sort of cartoon or movie. It promoted creativity and, while not a brick system, its pieces were modular. You know the kids who had Playmobil: unless their parents were European, it was usually that kid who was allergic to something weird, like foods that were red. And he always wore corduroy. In recent years, however, they’ve tried to “diversify their bonds” by taking on licenses, like Ghostbusters and How to Train Your Dragon. I get it. Gotta do what you can to survive. But a movie? One that doesn’t even look remotely GOOD? PASS. I just hope this thing doesn’t drag the toys down with it.

The Rocketeer (Disney Junior)

Surprisingly no one is talking about this trailer that debuted last weekend at SDCC. OK, honesty time: I’ve never seen The Rocketeer. Based on the ratio of Likes to Dislikes on YouTube, those who have seen it aren’t too keen on this show. I think it looks cute, and I know my girls would enjoy it. This might be as close to superhero stuff as I’m gonna get with Evie, so I’ll take it.

Power Rangers: Beast Morphers (Nick)

Though the show is currently on hiatus, this trailer that also debuted at SDCC confirmed a longstanding rumor: original Red Ranger, Jason (played by Austin St. John), would be returning to the franchise next season. Now, I always felt that Austin AND his character had the charisma of a wet paper bag, but I think everyone is tired of Green/White Ranger Jason David Frank, so I’ll take it.

Harley Quinn (DC Universe)

I enjoyed this sizzle reel of the upcoming series, but not enough to actually subscribe to the DC Universe streaming service. The animation looks choppy at times (see the scene where she’s flossing out of the room), and I think I’d prefer Rauch to Cuoco if we HAD to cast a Big Bang alum. I don’t think the service is long for this world, so hopefully this show doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, and at least comes out on Warner’s streaming service, HBO Max.

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE? TAKE IT!

I have been adamantly against the CBS All Access “experiment”, and my love for Trek wasn’t strong enough for me to subscribe for Discovery. But THIS?! Seven of Nine?! And Sirtis and Frakes have confirmed that Riker and Troy are coming back?! Oh, sign me the fuck up! You got me, CBS.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • In a surprising move, Seth MacFarlane announced that his sci fi drama The Orville would be moving to Hulu for its 3rd season. Apparently he needed more time to deliver the episodes, while Fox needed to fill its schedule. So, with the Hulu arrangement, the show won’t return until late 2020.
  • Thank you, Yahweh! Avengers: Endgame has finally unseated Avatar as the highest grossing movie in the world. Now, I’ve actually never seen Avatar, but it always bothered me that something with absolutely no pop culture footprint sat atop that chart. Yes, I know the film was responsible for advances in film making, but that’s not enough for me. I want lunchboxes! So, bye, Avatar!
  • It was announced yesterday that the Will & Grace revival would end after this fall’s 11th season. I guess that’s sad news to someone, but I never acknowledged the revival since it would have to retcon the show’s original finale.
  • Damon Lindelof has clarified that the upcoming HBO Watchmen show is NOT a reboot of the classic comic miniseries, but rather a sequel set 30 years after the original.
  • It was a big week for comic adaptations, as AMC is developing a series based on Image Comics’s Farmhand, meanwhile Amazon is developing a series based on Image’s Paper Girls.
  • Brandon Routh will be suiting up again as Superman for the first time since Superman Returns, in The CW’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths” event this fall. Since they can’t use the Returns suit, he will actually don the “S” of Kingdom Come Superman.
  • After “saving” it following its cancellation at ABC, Netflix has cancelled Kiefer Sutherland’s Designated Survivor. It’s almost like it was based on a shaky premise with no real longevity, huh? Look for talk of that 24 movie to heat up in the next few months…
  • Lifetime is prepping a movie based on the Lori Loughlin college bribary scandal, and I’m left wondering if she can play herself. I mean, who else is a “Lori Loughlin type” whose quote is in line with what Lifetime is willing to pay? Some good recommendations from Twitter were Dina Meyer, Paige Turco, and Jennie Garth.

It was a huge week for Marvel Entertainment, as they revealed a ton of things during San Diego Comic Con last weekend. First, we got new Marvel Legends toy reveals, including some figures a lot of folks had been clamoring for, such as Squirrel Girl, a redesigned Jean Grey and a beautiful Doctor Doom.

And for their MCU figures, they revealed that “Dude” Thor would be the Build A Figure for an upcoming all MCU wave of figures:

For a full list of what’s coming out from the line, check out my pal over at AwesomeToyBlog!

But the excitement didn’t end with the toys. Marvel also unveiled their Phase 4 slate of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We already knew about the Disney+ shows, including WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If? and Hawkeye. No, the real surprises were the film reveals, including Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Widow, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings. And just when everyone thought they were done, they announced Mahershala Ali would be starring in a new Blade film.

While these announcements took folks by surprise, there were some glaring omissions: Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, etc. Kevin Feige promised, however that these are still in development, as well as plans for the Fantastic Four and the mutant contingent.

Quick thoughts on each film:

Eternals – I know nothing of the source material, but it’s got Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, and Brian Tyree Henry in the cast, so that’s good enough for me. Maybe it’ll take us by surprise, like Guardians did.

Thor: Love and Thunder – I don’t really know if we needed Thor 4, but I guess they’d be leaving money on the table by not doing it. The biggest surprise is that Natalie Portman is returning as Jane Foster, who will also become the Mighty Thor, just as in the comics a few years back. It’s just funny that, for years, I heard Portman was difficult to work with, but apparently not that difficult if they’ve brought her back.

Black Widow – I still say this thing is a day late and a dollar short. Plus, if Scarlett keeps opening her damn mouth, she’s gonna kill any goodwill folks have towards this movie.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Finally, a movie that will do what Far From Home did not: explore the Multiverse. Still, I felt Doctor Strange’s first movie was “meh” (It was basically a remixed Iron Man, with half the charisma), and it’s being billed as the MCU’s first horror film, which ain’t exactly my genre. I’ll still see it, though.

Shang Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings – This one was somewhat surprising in that it actually seemed to confirm a fan theory that I’d seen online before it was announced. Someone had said “What if Shang Chi’s father is the REAL Mandarin?”, instead of the fraud we got in Iron Man 3. And while that’s not necessarily the plot (that we know of), it does seem to be headed in that direction, with the mention of the Ten Rings.

Blade – I don’t love those Wesley Snipes movies like the rest of y’all. I think I only saw the first one anyway. So, I welcome a change. Snipes is too old anyway, but I’m sure they’ll work him in there as something. Maybe a mentor character or something.

So, while they walloped us with surprises, I still feel like the slate is missing a bit of Wow Factor. With Thor as the elder statesman of the MCU, I’d like a few more familiar properties to anchor this phase, with the newer stuff sprinkled in. Like, it’s time for Doctor Strange 2, but Blade could’ve waited, as could Eternals. I guess they’re trying to get a new trilogy off the ground, but there are a lot of untried concepts here. It’s not like they can easily make a Black Widow 2 by just shoving the movies between preexisting films, as there are no stakes if we already know how her story ends. I mean, Chadwick Boseman is already 41. We need to crank out 2 more Panthers while he still can! Anyway, they’re taking a lot of chances here. It’s not that it’s unearned, but it does feel a bit like hubris.

At the end of the day, I think it’s safe to say that Marvel won Comic Con. Back in the day, that was a thing. “Who won SDCC?” This year, I couldn’t even tell you any comic news that was announced, other than some auxiliary X-books that don’t sound too interesting. Did DC even show up? So, some might say it wasn’t even a competition this year, but whatever. Marvel came away from the show on everyone’s lips, and that’s why Marvel Entertainment had the West Week Ever.