TV Review: ‘Bad Teacher’ pilot


Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot” | Date: April 24, 2014

Bad Teacher” was a mediocre movie in 2011 that is now an average sitcom in 2014.

The show, which debut the first of 13 episodes on Thursday, isn’t terrible. It’s just predictable.

Ari Graynor plays Meredith Davis, a shallow divorcee whose rich husband dumped her for a younger woman. She fakes her credentials to get a teaching job at Nixon Middle School. (A school named after Richard Nixon may be the best joke of the series.)

Davis talks a good game about being “bad.” Her go-to card is talking about her breasts, or “rack” as she colloquially put it to practically any middle school girl who will listen.

But it’s a sham. Davis defends the nerd girls in the safety patrol — essentially hall monitors and crossing guards — against the popular bullies.

She vows not to sleep with gym teacher Joel Kotsky (Ryan Hansen), but then immediately does. I tip my hat to the writers for not dragging that into a will-they-or-won’t-they plot point.

The problem with “Bad Teacher” is sassy, raunch talk couldn’t rescue the 2011 movie from being just so-so. But this is network TV primetime.

There is no way CBS is going to allow the kind of potty mouth needed to make Davis anything other than just a slightly more than a slightly brainer version of a “Two and a Half Men” bimbo-of-the-week.

“Bad Teacher” needs to be at least as tough as “2 Broke Girls” — which dabbles in race-based humor and makes even more jokes about female breasts. But I don’t think it has the courage to be anything more than an edgy after school special.

TV Review: ‘The Big Bang Theory: The Anything Can Happen Recurrence’

Season 7, Episode 21: “The Anything Can Happen Recurrence” | Date: April 24, 2014

The Big Bang Theory” touched on an interesting aspect of friendships: when you spend so much time together you’re sick of one another.

Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) lies to avoid helping care for Howard’s (Simon Helberg) ailing mother and take a break from Penny’s (Kaley Cuoco) complaining about her role in a silly gorilla movie. Amy (Mayim Bialik) lies to skip Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) latest gripes about looking for a new research topic in physics.

The_Big_Bang_Theory_S7There were some good gags in the episode, but I thought the strength was how it explored the delicate subject of friends who drive you crazy. I have friends who do this to me. And I absolutely drive some of my friends nuts, if not all of them, at times.

People ditch one another simply for something different to do. That happens. To use it for comedy is a good move and the result wasn’t as predictable as some of the relationship stories the show has explored in the past.

The episode made me happy — in part because there were a couple of good gags — but mostly because now the the series has been renewed for three more seasons, I have some relief that all the good episodes aren’t behind it.

TV Review: ‘The Americans: Martial Eagle’


Season 2, Episode 9: “Martial Eagle” | Date: April 23, 2014

“Martial Eagle” was another strong episode for “The Americans” in its uneven and often slow second season. Again the series showed its strength by juxtaposing the struggles of maintaining a family against the mission of embedded Soviet spies.

Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) try to expose U.S. military training of Sandinista rebels on American soil to embarrass the U.S. internationally for aiding in the overthrow of a democratically elected communist government.

The mission is vengeance. The Soviets stole plans for a submarine propellor system. But the prop caused a Soviet sub to sink, killing 160. Elizabeth and Philip interpret this move as cruel, seemingly immune to the fact they got outmaneuvered in their own war.

The mission to the Sandinista camp breaks bad. Philip is forced to murder a young man by slitting his throat and shoot two others. Elizabeth kills one. Philip seems particularly shaken. He lashes out at daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), who has taken up religion and donated her $600 savings to the church at which she found solace.

Philip tears pages from Paige’s Bible and screams at his daughter, “You respect Jesus, but not us?” She cries. Elizabeth stands gobsmacked. Later, Elizabeth wakes Paige from sleep and makes her do housework, saying her daughter lives a privileged life.

It’s a strange reversal from the previous week when son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) is caught breaking into the neighbor’s house to play video games. Henry suffered a minor breakdown in his bedroom, but wasn’t made to do the chores version of push-ups as punishment.

Yet, as emotionally adrift as Elizabeth and Philip seem, they are still excellent spies. We see Elizabeth at an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting. She listens to talk of a woman. From the context of the story, it appears she’s trying some of the faith Paige embraced. But no, she’s there to turn an alcoholic weapons assembly line worker into an asset.

Similarly, Phil visits Martha (Alison Wright). He gets drunk and plays a tape with Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas) mocking her sex appeal at the FBI office. Phil seems lost and seeks the seeming simplicity of Martha’s embrace. But no, he’s there to convince her to increase her surveillance on his behalf.

Interestingly enough, Martha is the first to link the murders of the family of Soviet spies to Stan’s ongoing investigation of leaks in security of Department of Defense projects and the Soviet kidnapping of a Russian expat scientist.

Plotlines that had fallen long dormant — especially the murder of Philip and Elizabeth’s fellow spies — finally seem to coming to a point. And the mental strain of the work, particularly on Philip, is rendered nicely by Matthew Rhys, who expresses more with his face and the rigidity of his body.

Rhys was particularly effective in the episode’s closing scene, when he goes to visit the pastor whom Paige had become fond. Philip pulls on black gloves before he goes into the church. He locks the door behind him. Everything about the scene suggests he is going to strangle the clergyman.

But Philip goes eyeball-to-eyeball with the pastor’s faith and walks out the door.

The scene is another lie, an excellently told one at that. “Martial Eagle” plays with our expectations from beginning to end, as does “The Americans” as a series.

That this episode was co-written by Oliver North, who himself had a hand in arming rebels to fight communists during the Reagan Administration, makes me wonder just how accurate this story really is. But fiction, they say, is often truer than truth. The emotional reality of this drama is certainly a win.

Morning Mixtape: ‘Epic’ by Faith No More

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Billy Gould, the bassist for the San Francisco rock band Faith No More, is 51 years old today. I have no particularly affinity for Mr. Gould. I just used the anniversary of his birth as an excuse to post “Epic,” a song that was unavoidable during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I am given to fits of melancholy and nostalgia when I think of those times. But the music always puts me back at mixers where the girls all danced to a choreography they all seemed to have learned while I admired their tight acid- and stone-washed blue jeans and baggy T-shirts with curves in all the right places from a spot along the wall outside the spinning circles of the disco ball that hung from the cafeteria-auditorium ceiling. Oddly, those are pleasant memories. I had no idea what was coming next, but somehow the thought that I wanted it all but could not have it seemed very true, if trite in retrospect. Anyway, enjoy.

TV Review: ‘Fargo: The Rooster King’


Season 1, Episode 2: “The Rooster King” | Date: April 22, 2014

“Fargo,” the new FX TV series based on the film of the same name, unfolds like a great novel. It takes its time setting up the mystery and the chase. It lets us know some things right away and others it only hints at.

We know, for example, poor, foolish Lester (Martin Freeman), for example, is party to three murders. He inadvertently ordered a hit on Hess, a man who bullied him in high school. Then he beat his own wife to death with a ball-peen hammer and, in the process of covering it up, got the chief of police killed by malevolent drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), who, by the way, killed Hess.

Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) believes Lester is a suspect. But dimwit Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) is made the new police chief. He’s satisfied with Lester’s meandering lies and strange series of coincidences.

Malvo travels to Duluth, Minn., to work a blackmailing case for a grocery store chain magnate Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt). Milos has his own heavy, a former minor league baseball player who doesn’t like the idea of an outside contractor muscling in on his muscle work.

The meathead ballplayer confronts Malvo in his hotel room. Malvo walks past him and proceeds to sit on the toilet and defecate while the ballplay continues to talk. Malvo does not give a shit what the ballplayer has to say and isn’t the least bit intimidated. This is good writing. And it’s excellent work by Thornton, who is easily the series’ most interesting character as a savage, dead-eyed killer who just seems to enjoy screwing with people.

And that is the mystery we don’t know. What has made Malvo this way? How does he really work for? These are questions for which we may not get the answers. Hell, there may be no answers. Malvo likes to watch the world burn.

The bodies continue to pile up in little Bemidji, Minn. Two heavies from the Fargo, N.D., crime syndicate — Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) — show up to figure out who killed Hess, who besides being a bully was apparently involved in the corrupt regional trucking business.

Wrench is deaf. Numbers signs questions and answers to him. It’s one of those bizarre little character choices that makes the show so compelling. Numbers and Wrench identify a mouthy local who carries a big knife and isn’t shy with his own bully attitude.

Numbers and Wrench rough him up but learn he’s not the guy, so they use an ice auger to drill a hole in a frozen lake and toss the loudmouth into the water without a second thought.

There’s yet another mystery: Is an auger the new wood chipper?

TV Review: ‘The Blacklist: The Pavlovich Brothers (Nos. 119-122)’


Season 1, Episode 19: “The Pavlovich Brothers (Nos. 119-122) | Date: April 19, 2014

“The Blacklist” is good show that had about 12 episodes worth of interesting plot stretched across 22 episodes. There’s a difference between a compelling narrative with a natural cliffhanger and jerking the audience around for the sake of May sweeps.

The mystery of Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) began to unravel. Red (James Spader) captures him and delivers him to Elizabeth (Megan Boone), his wife. Tom works for somebody, but that isn’t revealed. Why would it be? They’ve got three more episodes to pad out.

Elisabeth interrogates Tom. Well, first she nags him about being a crummy person. He gives a long, lovely essay about how he convinced her to fall in love and how sorry he felt for her throughout his deception. She breaks his thumb. He slides out of his handcuffs and beats her up.

Tom leaves Elizabeth handcuffed to the banister. He tells her Red isn’t what he seems and offers proof in a safety deposit box at a bank, the key for which Elizabeth found as she began to suspect Tom of being a bad guy.

I wonder what evidence Tom could have. Could it be that Red is a traitor and amoral cold-hearted murderer? Because she should already know that. The file on this guy was pretty thick when he surrendered at the beginning of the season.

She’ll probably be angry with Red again. This happens once or twice an episode. She’s threatened to quit working with Red at least a half dozen times throughout the season. So, you know, more of the same there.

The writers know they’ve got one card to play: Who is Tom Keen? And they’re hanging onto it. They’re like Texas Hold’em poker player who was dealt an Ace and a deuce of different suits. The flop and turn haven’t helped them and the river, or in this season finale, is coming up. They’ve gone all-in with their bet and they’re hoping that last card will turn it around.

I hope they’re luck is better than the last few episodes. Because I’m curious who Tom Keen is, but I’m don’t have to know. I can look it up on Wikipedia later. It’s not a must. And if you’re making a mystery, you’d hope there’s a little more than curiosity as you head into the final chapters.

Morning Mixtape: ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ by LCD Soundsystem

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I heard this song by LCD Soundsystem on NPR on a Tuesday afternoon. I don’t listen to NPR often. I enjoy it in small doses. Mostly I am put off NPR by other NPR listeners. There is a lot of piety in these groups. They act as if they are in a special club of very smart people who have everything figured out because they listen to NPR, sort of like fans of the band Rush. NPR is just a radio station. Rush is just a band. And “New York, I Love You But You’re Brinigng Me Down” is a pretty good song. Enjoy.

TV Review: ‘The Americans: New Car’

Season 2, Episode 8: “New Car” | Original air date: April 23, 2014

The Americans” picked up the pace after a multi-episode lull with “New Car.”

Husband and wife Soviet spies Phil (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings struggle with the trappings of capitalism when Phil buys a new Camaro.

The_Americans_PosterDedicated communist Elizabeth believes Phil enjoys their lives in the United States too much.Phil forces Elizabeth to admit that the American way — buying stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have — is easier, but not better than the communist way.

Sandanistan freedom fighter Luisa (Aimee Carrero) seeks revenge on the U.S. official who trained the rebels who tortured her father. Elizabeth is forced to let Luisa die in order to maintain a mission to discredit the Americans for attempting to topple the government in Luisa’s home country.

The Jennings are further rocked by the news the plans for a submarine propellor they stole caused a submarine to sink, killing all 160 sailors aboard. The plans were fake, part of a massive counterintelligence plan by the U.S. government. The Jennings feel guilty.

Meanwhile, their kids are growing up just like their parents. Young Henry (Keidrich Sellati) has been using the neighbor’s key to sneak in and play their Colecovision. He breaks into tears, saying he’s not a bad person.

But his parents are. They’re killers. Hard-core killers. Breaking into the neighbors’ house to play video games is a day care play date for these people. How do they discipline a kid for a crime that’s so menial in scope compared to theirs that it’s barely worth mentioning?

“The Americans” works best when it shows how small we all are in the grand scheme of things. Even the Jennings, spies who work more directly for the people who run the world than most of us do, are adrift in the games rich men play with the fate of the planet.

They’re swayed by propaganda just as deeply and profoundly as the Americans they pretend to be. It’s just a different flavor of lie they’re being sold. The truth is elusive, deeply hidden and profoundly misunderstood.

The Jennings are spies, murderers and zealots. But they’re also parents and partners in too deep in a job they’re very good at but have so little control over they may as well be incompetent. They’re just like us really, except for the body count.

TV Review: ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Only Light in the Darkness’

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Season 1, Episode 19: “The Only Light in the Darkness” | Air date: April 22, 2014

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” reminds me of variation of the old running gag: “Are we there yet?” Except with each passing episode of this season, the question is: “Is it over yet?”

The critical flaw that’s dragged this show into mediocrity all season is that the story takes place in a world where there are interesting people. Unfortunately, this is a show about very dull people.

Look, I like Clark Gregg. His Agent Phil Coulson is a good man. I know this because he gives lots of patriotic, chest-thumping speeches. Also, other characters tell me he’s a good man. Often. Even the villains. Everybody loves Phil. I’m starting to hate Phil a little bit because everyone is telling me what a great guy Phil is.

This week, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” essentially made useless by the events of the film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” tries to revert to chasing super-powered bad guys.

You remember the film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It’s the No. 1 movie in the United States for three weeks running. It’s a damned good movie. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” for the last three weeks anyway, essentially has been a 3-hour postscript for that movie.

Only the postscript does not involve Captain America, Black Widow or Nick Fury. Hell, it doesn’t even involve the Falcon. It does involve Skye (Chloe Bennet), the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who “thinks different” because she uses the Internet to solve problems, making a big speech to guest-star Patton Oswalt in which she references Captain America.

In the world of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a reference to an interesting character is as close as you’re going to get to seeing an interesting character.

Anyway, Coulson and the two annoying British people go to stop a guy who uses dark energy or some such nonsense. He’s obsessed with a cellist (Amy Acker) whom Phil used to date. The cellist believes Phil is dead because of the events in the film “The Avengers.”

You remember “The Avengers,” a 2012 movie about a ragtag team of superheroes who save the world. It made billions of dollars. It was an awesome movie. This show is a 22-hour postscript to that movie, except without all the interesting characters. You may be seeing  a pattern here.

Phil and the annoying British boy (Iain De Caestecker) use some “Ghostbusters”-like stage lights to kill the bad guy. The British boy mentions that the technology was designed by Bruce Banner. Bruce Banner is the Hulk. The Hulk was in his own movie, which was not as good as the other two movies referenced, but he was also in “The Avengers,” which was pretty good and, thus, he gets a reference.

Maybe I’m supposed to squeal with excitement each time one of these names are dropped, but I have a large DVD collection and access to a variety of digital streaming services. If I wanted to see the Hulk, Captain America, the Avengers or any of the sundry characters the show mentions, I could.

Instead, I see these references for what they are: an effort to distract us from how boring this program really is.

Meanwhile, Grant (Brett Dalton) works for HYDRA. He’s taken poor, dumb Skye off into the wild blue yonder so she can decrypt the hard drive with all of Team Coulson’s data on it. Phil is mad at May (Ming-Na Wen) for selling out the team to Nick Fury.

Nick Fury is a character in a number of Marvel Studios movies, most recently seen in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It’s still in theaters, folks. Go see it again for the first time.

So May pouts and quits the team. She asks her mom for help. Her mom apparently was a secret agent. I think she was the lady who gave the family from “The Incredibles” their outfits. I don’t know. Anyway, May wants to talk to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Maria Hill is a character from “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” She’s going to be on the show next week. Her character is not as interesting as other characters in movies.

But Maria Hill is played by Cobie Smulders. And I support any television show who gives us more of Cobie Smulders. Well, except “How I Met Your Mother,” which was awful.

So for at least one more week, thanks to Smulders, make mine Marvel.

Morning Mixtape: ‘The Moth’ by Aimee Mann

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Aimee Mann is one of my favorite vocalists, maybe my very favorite. Her voice really speaks to me. I can’t explain it better than that. “The Moth” comes from her 2002 album “Lost in Space.” It’s terrific. Oh, a bit of Mann trivia: She is the girlfriend of the nihilists who sacrifices her toe in order to blackmail Jeffrey Lebowski in “The Big Lebowski.” I love this song. I hope you like it too. Enjoy.

TV Review: ‘Fargo: The Crocodile’s Dilemma’


Season 1, Episode 1: “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” | Original air date: April 15, 2014

Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) of Bemidji, Minn., is a lousy insurance salesman with a wobbly washing machine he can’t fix, a wife who henpecks him to the brink of emasculation and he’s still bullied by his high school menace as “Fargo,” the new FX series based on the film of the same name, opens.

Lester seethes in a that peculiar Minnesota dialect made popular by the film. But he is a hapless soul, bereft of the kind of gumption needed to make a change in his life.

After the run-in with the bully and his sons, Lester finds himself in the emergency room next to Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), a coldly cruel man who seems to enjoy screwing with people.

Malvo advises Lester to kill his longtime tormentor. Lester suggests Malvo do it. He’s joking. But he’s not joking. Lester would love to see the bully dead. But he is not strong enough to do it. He senses, however, that perhaps this Malvo man is.

Malvo confronts the bully at his trucking company. We later learn he’s a heavy for a crime syndicate out of Fargo, N.D. Malvo insults the thug’s dimwitted children and takes measure of the man in moment of great menace.

This is Thornton at his very best. He renders Malvo — almost a play on malevolent — as a blank-faced, vacant-eyed killer with a moral compass point straight toward evil.

Malvo later murders the bully while the bully is having sex with a stripper in the backroom of a gentleman’s club. He stabs the man in the skull with a Rambo knife and watches him die.

Lester learns of the murder and is horrified. Malvo assures him he is more man now than before. Lester takes this to heart and goes home to fix his wobbly washing machine. He fails in front of his nagging wife. She verbally eviscerates him. He beats her to death with a ball-peen hammer.

He calls Malvo for help. But the local police chief shows up first to ask questions about Lester’s run-in with Malvo at the hospital. The chief, who has a pregnant wife at home, sees the mangled corpse of Lester’s wife. The chief calls for backup. Malvo shows up and kills the chief with a Lester’s long gun.

Malvo gets away. Lester knocks himself unconscious to trick the police into thinking the scene was a home invasion.

The body count is high for a first episode, but the characters are well-drawn and sharp. The dialect gets to be a bit much after a bit and the pacing is deliberately slow. But Thornton is so good, as is Freeman.

Thornton plays Malvo almost like the devil whispering into Lester’s ear. And Lester is obeying all too well. One can almost see the seeds of Walter White in this twitchy Lester. He lacks the pure meanness that Walter had at the end. That all belongs to Malvo. But “Breaking Bad” proved the corruption of a sadsack makes for as fine a drama as can be produced.

I wouldn’t burden a series with the monicker of “the next ‘Breaking Bad’” after its pilot. The tone is much too different. But it definitely feels like the next great basic cable series has arrived.

Morning Mixtape: ‘Mr. Roboto’ by Styx

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People act like Daft Punk invented being on stage in a robot masks. But that stuff has been around for years. Peter Gabriel turned Genesis into weird performance art in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the band Styx churned out a bizarre concept album called “Killroy was Here.” The biggest song off that album was “Mr. Roboto,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983. The video featured dancers in funky robot costumes. I have no idea what it means. I don’t think anybody else did either. But it’s a catchy tune that endures in pop culture today. Enjoy.

Comic Book Report: ‘Battle of the Atom’ and ‘Uncanny Avengers’


Battle of the Atom” | Marvel Comics | Trade paperback: $34.99 | June 2014 | WritersBrian Michael BendisJason Aaron and Brian Wood | ArtistsFrank ChoStuart ImmonenChris BachaloDavid Lopez and Giuseppe Camuncoli.

Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1: The Red Shadow” | Trade paperback: $19.99 | April 2014 | WriterRick Remender | ArtistJohn Cassaday and Steve McNiven.

The slogan of Marvel Comics used to be “The House of Ideas.” They lived up to that once, but the “Battle of the Atom” crossover and the first five issues of “Uncanny Avengers” show just how few ideas they have left.

Just take the title of “Uncanny Avengers.” I’ll be there’s some genius in a Marvel editorial meeting saying, “Oh, look. This will show readers how committed to the idea we are of having mutant and human heroes work together to solve problems as Avengers. We’ll switch the adjectives in the titles.”

That guy (or gal, let’s not be sexist, for women, too, can have terrible ideas) probably got a raise on the spot. “Uncanny,” of course, was the adjective used to describe the main X-Men title for nearly 50 years. “Mighty” was the preferred intensifier for “The Avengers,” until the early 2000s, when the age of Brian Michael Bendis arrived and Avengers were disassembled, reassembled and ultimately at civil war with one another.

X-Men_v1_141But that is an old gripe. That’s OK. “Battle of the Atom” is an old story. It’s another bloated, meandering, sloppy and unsatisfying rehash of “Days of Future Past,” a brilliant story from 1980 by the dean of X-Men writers, Chris Claremont, and the one of the finest comic artists of any generation, John Byrne.

In “Days of Future Past,” an adult Kitty Pryde travels back in time to warn the X-Men that the planned assassination of a U.S. Senator will ignite a war against mutants that will lead to them all being interred in forced labor camps or outright murdered by the government. Giant Sentinel robots will kill enslave earth and kill human and mutant hero alike. It’s up to the X-Men of the present to prevent the deadly future.

The story is an agreed-upon classic and proved to be the last collaboration between Byrne and Claremont in a long and amazing run in “Uncanny X-Men.” The story, by the way, was two issues. “Battle of the Atom” is 10 issues long and spills into half a dozen other titles.

Why make two good comics when you can make 10 mediocre ones? It’s the new Marvel way.

“Battle of the Atom” takes place after the events of the 2012 “Avengers vs. X-Men” crossover, yet another Bendis rehash of a Claremont, Byrne and Dave Cockrum storyline. The original was called “Phoenix Saga” and is a masterpiece of the genre.

Bendis never met a story by someone else he didn’t think he could improve by making it longer and adding lots of exposition. If you don’t believe me, go reread any story from “Ultimate Spider-Man.”

“Avengers vs. X-Men” boils down to this: The Phoenix Force comes back to earth, turns Cyclops into Dark Phoenix and Cyclops kills Professor X.

“Battle of the Atom” takes place after that. The Beast is depressed. Instead of taking Prozac like everybody else, he uses a time machine to bring the original X-Men — Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel — to the present. The idea is seeing their younger, innocent selves might shock the present-day Cyclops out of his mentor-murdering mood.

But then other teams of X-Men from the future show up with dire warnings. The original X-Men must go home, they say. Then yet another set of future X-Men show up and say the original X-Men must stay. Then the time machine breaks and the original X-Men are stuck. Or something. Cripes, I don’t know.

And I really don’t care. I’m so exhausted by all the low-rent writing, mediocre art and deja vu of seeing the same idea cloned and rehashed umpteen times, I just throw the $35 trade paperback in my pile to sell to the used book store for quick cash.

The most annoying part of “Battle of the Atom” is all the posturing. Wolverine and Storm and their X-Men don’t want to fight present-day Cyclops and his team of X-Men, who wear black and, when possible, show as much female breast as possible without making it a mature readers comic.

Storm says she won’t condone mutant-on-mutant violence. It seems to me that all the X-Men have ever done is fight other mutants. The cover of “Uncanny X-Men” No. 1 shows the original X-Men fighting Magneto, another mutant. That’s the entire point of X-Men comics. Professor X is Martin Luther King Jr. Magneto is Malcolm X.

But now they don’t want to fight. Sure. Why would they? I mean it’s not like it’s a superhero comic book. It’s not like we paid a bunch of money — really, far more than necessary — to see superheroes fight villains. But in the Bendis Marvel Universe, heroes only fight other heroes. There aren’t even villains. Don’t believe me? Reread “Civil War.”

The seismic shift at the end of “Battle of the Atom” is Kitty Pryde decides to go hang out with the new kind of bad guy Cyclops and his home for girls who like to show their boobs. The original X-Men go with her, because, sure, why not.

“Uncanny X-Men” starts so well. Rick Remender writes with narration. When is the last time you saw narration in a comic that was the internal thoughts of a character? It’s wonderful. Remender takes the one kernel of a good idea that Bendis farted out from “Avengers vs. X-Men” and turns it into an interesting idea.

In “Avengers vs. X-Men,” Cyclops asks Captain America why he and the Avengers never helped mutants in their struggle against racism, or speciesism or whatever. It was a good point. So Cap puts together a team of mutant and human heroes called the Unity Avengers. It’s hokey, but I can see some human resources department coming up with a name like that for diversity training, so sure.

The team is Cap, Thor, Wolverine, Scarlet Witch, Rogue and the leader is Havok, brother to Cyclops, who is in prison at the beginning of this story. And Remender gets it all right from the start. He brings back the Red Skull, who steals the body of Professor X and surgically removes Xavier’s mutant brain — which happened to be the most powerful telepathic mind on earth.

Skull has Professor X’s brain grafted onto his own and uses his telepathic powers to inspire hate against mutants and riots. The Unity Avengers try to stop it, but get smacked around pretty good by the Red Skull and his flunkies. There’s a great battle in the middle of New York City.

I actually love this story. It makes perfect sense to use the Red Skull as a genetic supremacist who wants to wipe out the mutants. He’s a Nazi. He’s big on genocide. It’s a great idea. This an excellent use of a villain that’s nearly 75 years old.

So of course they go and ruin it.


The Red Skull uses his newfound telepathy to sway the mind of Captain America to seeing a future when Americans hunt and destroy the mutant menace. Cap sees a series of images of what this future would be like. And right in the middle of a full-page splash Remender undoes all the goodwill he built up in the previous pages.

He writes in another damn homage to the cover of “Uncanny X-Men” No. 141, the one where Wolverine and Kitty Pryde stand caught in a spotlight, presumably from a Sentinel, in front of a poster showing all the X-Men who’ve been killed or captured. It’s a classic cover. It’s been parodied and redrawn scores of times.

And here it is again. Marvel is selling me the same story with a few new tweaks. Why bother doing something new when you can just crank out another greatest hits package? Nobody sees the Rolling Stones on tour to hear their new album. They want the classics. So who can blame Marvel for trying to sell us basically the same song that Claremont and Byrne gave us 30 years ago?

I can. Because this used to be the House of Ideas, not the House of Rehash. Look, I get it. One of the Marvel Studios movies coming out this summer is “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which is another “re-imagining” of the original two-issue story.

Everything at Marvel, now a part of Disney, is about branding and pushing product. Keep “Days of Future Past” fresh in the minds of comics. And, hell, I admit that I’m old. I’ve read a lot of comics, probably too many. So this effort to sell me the same stuff again, which sadly was successful, ticks me off. I want new stories. I want innovation.

If I’m putting $4 for a single issue or $35 for a collected edition, I want something new. I want to be entertained. I don’t want reruns. And that’s what “Battle of the Atom” and “Uncanny Avengers” are. Reruns. Rehashes. Remakes.

I get that new readers might not have a clue about the original “Days of Future Past” from 1980. So here’s my suggestion. Go buy “Essential X-Men” Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. They cost $20 apiece. They’re cheaper if you buy them used through Amazon or Thriftbooks. Read those. That’s the original. And it’s much better.

I hope Marvel at least cuts Claremont and Byrne checks for constantly reusing their ideas. It’s the least they can do since they clearly can’t come up with any on their own.