Criminal Minds 709: Self-fulfilling Prophecy

This week's murderfest begins - as so many do - somewhere deep in the mostly-charted wilderness of America. The Commandant of a military school drives his ATG (all-terrain-Golf Cart) out to a camp where some teens were supposed to be roughing it, only to discover this-

No, I was not prepared for it either. I'll give Criminal Minds this - from time to time they can still surprise me with a singularly unpleasant opening kill!

Over at Quantico Greg is called in to talk with his boss Strauss (who's back - no mention of the absence that was supposed to take her off the field and shift Greg into upper management this year) about the deaths. It looks like a mass suicide, but Greg won't sign off on that analysis without actually visiting the campus. This could be tricky, since the school is in the running for a prestigious grant, and the director of the FBI (Richard Schiff! Not that he'll be in the episode or anything.) went there!

It seems one teen had hung himself some weeks prior, and the rest are thought to be part of a suicide pact whose motivation and details are as yet unexplained. They talk about how the kids probably waited until the heat was off from the last death, then killed themselves when they were unsupervised. Although bringing bedsheets on a camping trip to hang yourself with seems like a lot of work to go to - couldn't they have all just synchronized hanging themselves in their rooms? And what does the 'we're sorry' message that they left carved into a piece of wood mean? Mysteries abound this week!

Also, there were six teens out in the woods, but only five were hanged - everyone wonders what happened to the sixth teen, but the audience is let in on the secret: He's taken to the trees like John Rambo, stalking animals with a pointy stick!


The Hundred-Fourteenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics!

Fascinating how much public perception wavers back and forth, isn't it? In the forties, someone calling the FBI to inform on suspicious people was considered heroic. In the following decades, it would become a symbol of America's transformation into a fascist police state.

These days, I honestly don't know what we're supposed to think about it.


Criminal Minds 708: Hope

Penelope is at a support meeting, offering some backstory! It seems that her parents died in a car accident while they were out looking for her during a curfew-breaking incident. Tragic! You know who might comfort you in re: that? Xander. Where is he, I wonder? Another woman shares her story about how her depression is only getting worse, so Garcia follows her out of the meeting room for a heart-to-heart. It seems this is the anniversary of her foreshadowingly named daughter 'Hope' disappeared, and offering that is explanation enough to get Garcia to leave her alone. Once she goes back to her car she gets a much better reason to be distracted - a letter from her daughter sitting on the front seat of her car!

I'm a little unclear how the letter is supposed to have gotten to the mom if the killer didn't know it existed, but the mother is so full of... hope... that she's willing to set aside that obvious question when a mysterious man shows up, holding a few of her daughter's 'missing persons' flyers. He announces that a 'little girl' was putting them up around the parking lot, which really ought to set the mom's nerves on end. After all, are we really to believe that a child would put a set of her own missing persons fliers outside of the very church that her mother was inside without making some attempt to contact literally anyone?

Still, the mom's critical thinking faculties have atrophied to the point that she immediately agrees to the stranger's suggestion that she get into his car to search for her little girl, even though she has a vehicle of her own. One would think that two cars would be able to search for a little girl far faster than one, but if she'd thought of that, how would the killer have so easily abducted her? Also, how could the killer have known that she wouldn't have immediately called the police - sure, the letter said not to, but then he said the daughter was running around with a man. Wouldn't mom assume that her best chance for the police to rescue her is when they're out in the open?

Anyhoo, with mom now missing, it's up to Garcia to realize the game is afoot, which she does by noticing that mom's car is sitting empty in the parking lot. She does the smart thing and immediately calls for backup. It's no wonder she solves all the cases, is it?

Okay, this is strange - when I first saw the mom read the letter, it looked like she was surprised to find it in her car. Its sudden appearance, along with the flyers, could logically stun her enough that she wouldn't notice how incredibly creepy the kidnapper seemed. When we cut back to them, however, the kidnapper announces himself, and suggests that she's read the letter hundreds of times since receiving it yesterday.

So if she's had the letter for over 24-hours, how could she not know the kidnapper was circling her? And why wouldn't she be incredibly suspicious of the solicitous man who showed up, claiming to have seen her daughter? No wonder the actress played the letter-finding scene so surprised-

She was trying to fill in a plot hole.


The Hundredth-Thirteenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics!

(click to bigify!)

Ah, what would a vicious beating be without a racist taunt capping it off?

Really, I suppose we should thank our lucky stars he didn't say 'Excuse Prease'.


Superman: Earth One

Is a bit of an odd graphic novel, largely because it's unclear (at first) what purpose it's intended to serve. Joe Michael Stracynski (JMS from here on out, if I have to use the name again) was writing both Wonder Woman and Superman around the time this was released, but it's not connected to their continuity. It doesn't really function as an 'Elseworlds' title either, since it offers no twist larger than 'what if Superman were 22 in the year 2010, meaning that Krypton exploded roughly around 1987-8, and who could really blame them after all The Quest for Peace did to tarnish the name of their favorite son?' to serve as a basis for the plot.

Finishing the book, I couldn't understand why it had been published - while a fun reboot/reimaginement of the character, it seemed to serve as more of a tease than anything else. The story is built around giving the Superman mythos a race of villains - the denizens of Krypton's neighbouring planet, who are half-angel/half-demon - and establishing a central mystery: who gave those villains the technology to blow up Krypton? More importantly, why was that third party so intent of seeing every Kryptonian destroyed, to the extent that they would send the Demgels on a 20-year quest to track Superman down?

It's a good hook, and leaves the reader wanting more, which is a shame, since there isn't any more to the story. It was only a few days after reading the comic that I realized why the whole experience was so dissatisfying - despite all appearances, I hadn't been reading a comic book at all, but rather the comic book adaptation of JMS' pitch for the new Superman movie. Add a few more scenes of the Daily planet gang, some sequences of Superman stopping general crime (perhaps rescuing a kitten), and a bit more of an epilogue and you've got a perfect jumping-off point for a new movie franchise.

Which is why I'm so disappointed to discover that it's just not going to happen. No, with David Goyer and Christopher Nolan teaming up to deliver a (no-doubt overlong) script for director Zack Snyder to ruin, it looks like the new Superman movie is shaping up to be a stunning disappointment. I like Michael Shannon and all, but who really thinks that making another movie about General Zod is going to be a winner? Is he somehow going to out-Zod Terrence Stamp?

Okay, enough general complaining - it's a tragedy JMS didn't get the Superman movie despite his doing such a great job with Thor, but in the end, I kind of understand it, since the climactic threat - a series of drills positioned over the Earth's surface, might have been a little too close to the ending of the new Star Trek movie for the studio's comfort.

Hey, speaking of those drills, here's the one thing I really had a problem with in the comic!

First off, isn't it convenient that the optimal place for positioning drills to contain/destroy the Earth's core is near incredibly recognizable national landmarks? Secondly, why is there a drill in both Egypt and 'Africa'? Especially when the dunes and camels are offered as stereotypical 'Saharan' imagery, which Egypt is actually inside of? Couldn't they have dropped one on the Sydney Opera house? By that Statue of Jesus in Rio? Near the camp that MacReady wrecked to kill The Thing in Antarctica?

You only have six images to represent the entire world that Superman can apparently sense, and you can't pick a single one from the southern hemisphere? Weak, JMS. It's called Easter Island, and it's every bit as recognizable as the Eiffel tower.

Superman debates The Authority, and it doesn't go well for him.

Superman vs. The Elite begins with writer Joe Kelley asking an interesting question: What if Superman's non-interventive, no-murder morality were held up against that of The Authority, who are happy to use their powers to kill people who they identify as morally corrupt (largely because those villains make ethnic cleansing their trade). Would the world value Superman's endless optimism, even when people have to be sacrificed to it, or would they side with a group who would rather just kill Lex Luthor and call it a day?

It's a debate that could open up all sorts of possibilities for interesting storytelling, if only Joe Kelley had the slightest bit of interest in exploring them. He doesn't, though. Instead of making an impassioned case for Superman's point of view, he simply makes The Authority (pseudonimized as 'The Elite' for purposes of lawsuit-avoidance) simplistic villains so that their way can't be taken seriously as an option.

Am I being too harsh in saying that Joe Kelley uses hack writing to undercut his own characters so that they won't ever be a legitimate threat to Superman's ideals? You tell me. Here is literally the first thing we see them do as a team:

They kill a dog. For barking at them.

Because, you see, only monstrous psychopaths could ever consider killing a supervillain as a solution. Monstrous psychopaths like Barry Allen.

The problem with the movie - and why I'm being so hard on the writer (although who knows how much of this is his fault, I haven't read the comic he adapted this from - although he's the writer of that, too...) - is that the movie completely fails to make Superman look like the good guy. I mentioned earlier that it fails to make an impassioned case for Superman's morality, but that's not entirely accurate - it fails to make any case at all.

This is the Atomic Skull. The film introduces him as he walks through downtown Metropolis, killing anyone who gets within arm's reach. For no reason other than he likes seeing people die. Superman jails him in 'Stryker's Island', but he escapes soon after, killing at least fifty more people. At that point the Elite announce that they've had enough of the supervillain's nonsense, and explode his head, ensuring that he'll never again escape from prison and murder dozens of people.


Criminal Minds 707: There's no place like home

The week opens on a parked mobile home during a thunderstorm - not a happy opening, and things are only going to get worse from here! The driver is in the middle of a nightmare so severe that it's got him sweating profusely. He's woken up by a thunderbolt, which lets him know that it's time to drag his captive out of a storage container for some reason. The killer's explanation? "It's coming!" Also he seems to have two captives-

One in the box he's opened, and the other in the green box he knocked on to announce "its" imminence. The killer drags his victim outside, then stands outside shirtless in the thunderstorm so that he can, I don't know, stay clean while he beats his victim to death with a tire iron?

Back in Quantico there's some stress between Jr. and JJ - he misses the days when she worked at the Pentagon, and therefore had weekends off and kept semi-regular hours. Her counterargument is that the case she's been called in on revolves around missing kids - what if it was their son? Wouldn't Jr. want someone looking for him? It's a nice argument on her part, except for one thing:

The 'kids' (really teens) are already dead. So looking for them isn't going to do much good. Also, why are they just getting the call now? Based on the 911 child abduction episode from a couple of weeks ago, doesn't the team fly across the country every single time anyone younger than 18 goes missing?

At the office Joe comes in to help work the case - he's had a few days off after the whole 'assisted suicide' mishegoss, and he's ready to put his nose back to the grindstone! What's the case this week? The killer murders teenage boys, then leaves their bodies in the path of oncoming tornadoes for some reason! Is it to destroy evidence, make it look like the tornado did it, or because he has a sexual fixation on tornadoes because of a childhood trauma?

Given the nature of this show, probably the third.

Greg also announces that he's especially alarmed by the guy killing one person a week in the past two weeks. What about this alarms you, Greg, the fact that he's killing at a much slower rate than every other killer you chase on the show?

While this seems like a preposterous premise for an episode, it's true that there are enough tornadoes in the US that someone driving around that area might just be able to find one a week. Compared to Tim Curry's ability to psychically predict every blackout in the US over a period of thirty years, that's nothing special.


The Hundred-Twelfth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

(I insist you click to bigify)

This is Will Eisner at his most cheekily creative, and I maintain that it counts as a single panel, since Uncle Sam refuses to be bound by the conventions of sequential art.


Criminal Minds 706: Epilogue

Time for more flashback intros - this one to 1996! Two guys are out fishing - a son and his sleazy drunk beardo father! The father starts to beat his son with a belt for talking back - will this drive him to grow up to be a serial killer? Almost certainly, presuming that this creepy guy-

Is the grown up son, watching campers from the woods while the cops pull some bodies from the lake nearby. Then, in a puzzling move, the camper's friend who's currently boating near the cops watches the killer bound out of the woods and club the camper without mentioning it to the police. Or yelling 'look out behind you' over the walkie-talkie that they're communicating with.

Over at the office, people notice that Joe is distracted and withdrawn, so they try to drag his personal information out of him. He's tight-lipped however, and then rescued from the interrogation by Greg, who announces that it's time to start talking the case.

They go over the basic details - three bodies of young men in the water, the latest guy kidnapped, and the forest is so big that people will doubtless have trouble finding him. Nothing to complain about here, except when they say that the victim's friends saw him clubbed and dragged away, but the two were long gone by the time they reached the shore. Here's the thing, though - check out where the friends were-

Now let's see the camp in relation to that-

So, what - two-three hundred meters, tops? Can't be much farther than that, can it? And please note that the cops have an outboard motor on their boat, meaning they could be at the campsite in under two minutes. Given that the killer is trying to drag someone his own approximate height and weight up a hill into the woods, how far could he possibly get before the cops arrived to arrest him?

Not very god-damned far.

Yet the next we the kidnapped victim, he's thrashing about while being held underwater by the killer. Nice work, producers. Couldn't give both characters a set of binoculars and said the action was happening way on the other side of the lake, rather than a nearby outcropping?


The Hundred-Eleventh Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

What, exactly was his plan if that wall hadn't been canvas? Ah, "painful" and "unreliable", the two key elements you don't want to see in a description of your intended method of suicide.