We thought we’d seen the last of our favorite early-20th-century British property owners, their splendidly ornate possessions, their struggle to maintain their lifestyle even as all their peers fail in droves, and the working-class employees who were more like us. Even though the series finale brought closure and a happy ending — without the doom and gloom that traumatized us in earlier years, no less — leave it to writer/creator Julian Fellowes to confound those expectations and serve one last course of fan service for Anglophiles.
My Stephen King phase lasted from roughly 1986 to 1993, and began when a late-night cable viewing of Christine spooked me so much that I checked out the novel from my junior high school’s library. Having consumed that, I resolved to catch ’em all. To an extent I inherited the fixation from my mom, whose all-time favorite novel is The Stand. I proceeded to read every novel from Carrie through Gerald’s Game, skipping only The Dark Tower series because the first one was impossible to find when my King spree began. (Drifting away from King’s work wasn’t his fault exactly. 1993 was among my darkest years.)
Though I do have my favorites among them, I have a particularly fond memory of the It reading experience. I sat down one evening with the 1000-page paperback edition and proceeded to devour the first 500 in one go. At 6 a.m. my grandma got up for breakfast and was quite surprised to see I hadn’t gone to bed yet. I haven’t done that in ages and would dearly love to have the free time and concentration power to devote to any task for that many hours in a row at my age. I blame the internet.
Judging by my Twitter feed over the past week, America’s biggest July 4th sensation this year was Netflix’s release of Stranger Things‘s third season for a massive fan base eagerly waiting to follow the further adventures of the pluckiest teens ever to come out of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. As you can imagine, there was no shortage of pre-release coverage, articles, and advertisement here in the good Hoosier state. I’m getting better at finishing new seasons of streaming series as they’re dropped and had this one wrapped up Saturday afternoon. My thoughts didn’t quite streamline themselves into a narrative, but I did have a few.
Most of them are SPOILERS AHEAD, so there’s that. Some of this also won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched it, especially if they’ve never seen an episode. This is virtually stream-of-consciousness, not a pro recap. It’s faster and more fun for me to get it out of my system this way.
1. A Long-expected Party.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my annual comic book reviews included a promise of a future entry inspired by Die, the new Image Comics series by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that I encapsulated like so:
What if you took the structure of Stephen King’s It, but instead of fighting a murderous super-clown, the kids and adults in their respective eras were reliving the ’80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon as a horror story, and the Big Bad was Tom Hanks from Mazes and Monsters turned into a truly mystical, manipulative interdimensional overlord?
Painted art by Stephanie Hans is like a high-end gallery showing on every page, while writer Kieron Gillen is engaging in ambitious, phenomenally detailed world-building, worrisome in its six-digit word count and rising. He’s exploring fantasy tropes and toying with them from within, but he’s also designed an entire RPG from the ground up to facilitate his vision, one that’s dredging up so many childhood memories for me — some I would dare label “definitive” in regard to my personal backstory — that I’ll need to devote a separate entry to this series in the near future. I have a lot of baggage to unpack here, and I blame Gillen for wheeling the baggage cart right up next to me.
I had the pleasure of meeting painter Stephanie Hans at this year’s C2E2, where I gave her the elevator-pitch version of this entry and she encouraged me to share it. I got a kick out of meeting Kieron Gillen at C2E2 2013, where we briefly chatted about his Britpop-magic fantasy Phonogram and he asked me which character I identified with most. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to it and was ashamed to have no answer, either prepared or improvised. I’m not used to pros at a con asking me a question beyond “Where are you from?”
(Having had time to think later, my answer came to me, obvious if twofold. As a young adult from 1989 to 2000 I imagined myself Seth Bingo, self-anointed tastemaker and DJ, bringing my boom-box and tapes/CDs to entertain at work after-hours — no requests allowed, sharing my collection with peers who just didn’t get me or my nightly playlist. For my life 2000-present I’ve been closer to Lloyd, engaging with music intellectually via long thinkpieces written only for the audiences in my head, but rarely physically and never socially, thus arguably denying its greatest powers. If only I could’ve written all that on an index card before approaching Gillen’s table. Or narrowed my answer down to just one of those two alienating dudes.)
The farther I’ve read into Die, the more I’ve found myself reflecting on my own experiences with Dungeons and Dragons, an integral part of my preteen years. It was a compelling confluence of entertainment and imagination. It was a big hit with the other kids who joined in. It also ushered in the end of my circle of childhood friends.
I spent tonight diving into my own personal archives (by which I mean piles of old stuff) to research a potentially epic-length entry involving childhood memories, games, and psychological damage. A particular magazine box proved to contain only one of two items relevant to the search, but I stumbled across a small stack of posters I forgot I owned. I flip through a few of them and, lo and behold, find myself staring at a beauteous work of art by the Hayao Miyazaki, nearly the entire length of our card table.
I don’t remember owning this, but here it is.
I’ve heard a lot of chatter about Marie Kondo, the lady with the Netflix show who, if I understand all of last year’s internet squabbling correctly, recommends everyone throw away all their possessions except their Top 10, keep only one pet and release the rest into the wilderness, stuff half their food in the garbage disposal, raffle off any jewelry that weren’t featured in magazine articles, or something like that. For the record, I haven’t watched a single episode, so I’ve not been hypnotized and chanting, “I must give away all my possessions and join the KondoMinimizers,” or whatever.
No, I’ve been planning the act in the above photo for a few months now — consciously, at least. Subconsciously, maybe a lot longer.