Monday, January 29, 2007

Storytelling Engines: Killraven

(or "Turn And Face The Strange Ch-Ch-Changes")

Looking at 'Killraven' as a concept, it shouldn't surprise any student of comics that the original concept came from Roy Thomas. The man is a loyal fan of classic pulp fiction and Golden Age comics, having championed Conan, the Justice Society, and (in his various stints on Doctor Strange) H.P. Lovecraft. So, "The Martians from 'War of the Worlds' come back after getting their shots," well...yeah, that's a Roy Thomas concept, alright.

That pulp influence shows throughout the storytelling engine. Killraven himself is a sword-wielding, brash, tough-talking former gladiator in the Martian slave pens, who's escaped with a battle-hardened band of his comrades and wanders the Martian-ruled former United States seeking for a way to overthrow the cruel tentacled tyrants. It's set a few decades in the future, so you can have flying cars and ray-guns to go with your swords and horses; the ruined USA is your setting, with each issue taking on a sort of travelogue motif; the dialogue and tone are all very much in the 'Conan' vein, with Killraven and his first lieutenant, M'Shulla, faux-bickering in the manner of Conan and his trusty ally of the month (I'll admit it, all of Conan's buddies blur together in my mind. The 'Essential Conan' is out of print, too, so I'll never be able to get them straightened out...)

This probably isn't going to win the Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, but Thomas has laid us down a template for fast-paced, pulpy fun. But he was also editor-in-chief at the time, and that's something that cuts into your writing he took the idea of Killraven, and after only a couple of issues (which also included Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman taking a hand), it passed to Don McGregor.

McGregor, though, wasn't interested in telling the stories Thomas designed the engine to run. He was more interested in using the ruined USA as a vehicle for social commentary on present-day culture, and although the Martians remained the series main villain, they faded a bit into the background as the setting became more of a character in its own right. New characters were introduced like Carmilla Frost, who were a bit more introspective and suited to McGregor's style, and Killraven himself seemed a bit out of place in his own title. (Indeed, his constant arguments about Frost's "overthinking" seemed at times to be arguments with the writer as much as with his comrades-in-arms.)

Was the sudden shift in tone successful? It's difficult to say. Certainly, there's still a strong core of Killraven fans who think that McGregor's melancholy pieces are more interesting than Thomas's initial broad strokes, but I can't help but wonder what the series would have been like if Thomas had picked a writer whose vision was more consistent with his own. Because tone is one of those subtle things, but changing the tone of a series can be every bit as big of a change as killing off a supporting character. After all, if you're not interested in writing fast-paced pulp adventures of a brash, tough-talking gladiator, why did you sign on to write 'Killraven'?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Archive Factor: Can It Raise The Dead?

(First, a brief hello to anyone who's coming to this from 'Comics Should Be Good'--if you're wondering about the update schedule, new "Storytelling Engines" are on Mondays, and Thursdays are my normal entries, which are not guaranteed to be comics-related, geek-related, or even necessarily worth reading. I've had a tradition of self-deprecation since the first post, and I'm not about to stop now.)

Today's post, though, is geek-related. Specifically, it relates to a post I made a couple of weeks ago, in which I talked about all the ways this is a wonderful time to be alive. (And every fan of 'Yamara' always finishes that with, "Archers, commence firing!") I discussed, in specific, something I called "The Archive Factor", the recent commercial trend of putting out collections of sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure/...let's just call it, for lack of a better blanket term, "cult fiction" out for release. When I was five, if you wanted to read the complete Lee/Kirby run of Fantastic Four, you had to have more money than God. Nowadays, it'll cost you less than a hundred bucks. The ephemera of pop culture has become an accumulation, almost a museum of cool. (With new exhibits added daily, natch...Penny Arcade Book Three just came out yesterday!)

This has a lot of upsides; for one thing, it means that you can start telling more complex stories because you can work on the assumption that future audiences will be able to look up your backstory. This is a double-edged sword, as I've commented on in the past, but you can see the benefits of being able to do less recapping of previous stories and more storytelling. (Even so, writers shouldn't overlook the need for good exposition.)

The second factor, which edges closer to the heart of this column, is the idea that cult fiction generates cult fiction; people who are into science fiction tend to be predisposed to like new science fiction series, people who are familiar with the basic tenets of a fantasy universe won't feel so put off or confused when they see a new fantasy story, et cetera et cetera. And since all this stuff is available now in archived form, it's easier to get the necessary cultural priming to enjoy cult fiction. (In fact, I think we might have achieved some sort of critical mass in the last two decades, where cult fiction is now the dominant paradigm for fiction. Being a geek is now not just socially acceptable, it's downright cool. You can even chart this on a year-by-year basis by watching "The Simpsons", and keeping track of how casually surreal the series has gotten over the last fifteen years as audiences have become more accepting of it. The societal tipping point, obviously, is when "Lost" became the hot water-cooler show.)

But the third, and most important to my mind, is the way that archiving of cult fiction has changed the commercial strategies of production companies. Because this stuff is no longer ephemeral, it can take all the time it needs to build an audience, and then return as a commercial success once it's got a broader fanbase.

This isn't an entirely new concept, of course; "Star Trek" and "The Twilight Zone" were both series that got cancelled after relatively short initial runs, but which built a strong, broad fanbase through syndication and eventually returned. But the time was, these were exceptions to the rule. That's because other series that might have been able to build similar fanbases weren't able to do so; syndication of a series like 'Firefly', for example, just wasn't an option, because it only had thirteen episodes.

The Archive Factor has changed all that. You can make a movie like 'Slither', and be confident that you'll make your money back even without a big initial return, because it's such a good movie that people will still be watching it two decades from now. (You do own a copy, right?) 'Firefly', 'Family Guy', and 'Futurama' all got (or are getting) new stories after their supposed demise, because studio execs all noticed that these were strong sellers on DVD. Since nothing's ephemeral anymore, good ideas might get buried in the archives, but they won't be thrown in the garbage anymore. Sooner or later, when the time is right, they'll return. No good idea ever dies anymore.

Which means that all I have to do is wait, and I'm getting another 'Hawk and Dove' series.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Storytelling Engines: Man-Thing

(or "Don't Just Stand There, DO Something!")

When we look at Marvel's Man-Thing (yes, you there, snickering in the back, if you can't hold it in, please leave the room), inevitably, comparisons arise to DC's Swamp Thing. Both were created almost at the same time, both involved brilliant scientists working on top-secret projects who got doused with their own chemicals, set on fire, and ran into the swamp ("so I built a third scientist! That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp!") Both involved said scientist coming back as a mucky, oozy swamp creature whose body has only a tangential relationship to the animal kingdom.

So why (apart from the gifted writing of Alan Moore) is Man-Thing at best an occasional guest-star and Swamp Thing a major player in the DC universe?

It can't be the tone; both play pretty much in the same corner of "dark, near-supernatural near-horror adventure". Setting? To be honest, Man-Thing has the edge here; the swamp that nurtures him is a nexus of realities, a cornerstone of existence constantly visited by strange and unusual beings (like Howard the Duck, whom we'll be discussing in a future column.) It's a perfect storytelling engine for a writer. Even the supporting cast for Man-Thing is great, with wizards, budding teen sorceresses, and a sarky, cynical DJ with a heart of gold and a lucky streak a mile long--and all bad.

No, it has to be said: The problem with Man-Thing is, well, Man-Thing. Because he's a walking (well, shambling) example of the one thing you don't want your protagonist to be--passive. He's completely and totally mindless, not even operating on the search for food or shelter; his only interest is in destroying things that feel "negative" emotions like fear or hate. (Which, naturally, writer Steve Gerber has to fudge on countless occasions, because if you have a nine-foot tall swamp monster that burns everything that fears him to death with acid,'d probably have a pretty high casualty rate. So good guys seem to intuitively understand that they don't need to fear the rampaging swamp monster more often than they strictly speaking should.) Other than that, Man-Thing is usually content to stand there and let the plot unfold around him.

This isn't just a problem for an open-ended series, this is a problem for even a single story. Writers constantly get told, "Avoid the passive protagonist." The lead character for your story should be doing things, making decisions, and ultimately deciding his or her own destiny. Steve Gerber has to struggle and strain to get Man-Thing to move five feet. He's constantly ringing in "empathic links", "inexplicable urges", magic spells, gimmick after gimmick for the entire length of the Essential Man-Thing, just to get the lead character involved in the plot. That's the sort of thing that can exhaust a writer, and it's a hassle that you don't need. Your stories live and die on your lead character, and if they're not willing to get involved, you're handicapped before you start.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

This Is Funny (Trust Me)

The Minnesota Vikings hired a new wide receivers' coach yesterday, and I'm picturing him meeting with his players on the first day of his new job.

COACH: Alright, guys, starting today, we're going to go back to the basics. I want to work with you on the fundamentals of catching the football, from--

TROY WILLIAMSON: Sorry, coach, but, uh...whatting the football?

COACH: Catching.

TROY: No, sorry, still not getting it.

COACH: Catching? You know, you catch the football when it's thrown to you?

MARCUS TAYLOR (doubtful): I dunno...that's not what the last guy said.

COACH: Of course you catch the football! When your number's called and it's thrown your way, you catch it!

TROY: Pffh. You won't get me to start talking crazy like that. Marcus Robinson started saying stuff like that, and they cut him.

Take my word for it--if you were a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, you'd be laughing hysterically right now.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Storytelling Engines: The Elongated Man

(or "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Break It")

'Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man' is a bit interesting, insofar as it presents a long-running backup feature rather than the stories of a character who had his own title; in fact, the Elongated Man has never had his own series, instead being a perennial second banana in other titles and member of the Justice League. And yet, he got his own collection long before such obvious candidates as Wonder Woman, the Flash, or the Atom. Why?

In no small part, it's because the character is "topical" at the moment. He's one of the leads in DC's current hit series, '52', and he's coming off of a fairly major role in the "summer event" crossover a few years back, 'Identity Crisis', where his wife was murdered. These two things, combined, provided DC with a marketing impetus to publish his old adventures, giving us a chance to look at what his storytelling engine was like.

It was brilliant. Ralph Dibney is an independently wealthy jet-setter, and he and his young, pretty, spunky wife Sue travel the globe like perpetual honeymooners--and, of course, along the way, Ralph's instincts for mystery lead him to find strange, unusual cases to solve. This is a virtually endless story generator; the mysteries are up-beat, quirky little tales, the writer can use any setting, and the character dynamic is absolutely perfect. Sue and Ralph, as a couple, drive the story, with each one complementing the other perfectly and giving it a cheerful and up-beat tone.

Let's now reiterate what brought him into the public eye of late: His wife was murdered in 'Identity Crisis'. Um, oops.

This is the danger of shaking up the status quo to make a character more popular; it's entirely likely that you'll lose important elements of the story-telling engine. Yes, Ralph is more noticed by the average fan than he ever was, but what good is that if you can't find stories to tell about him? Note the use of the word "stories," plural. There is a story to tell about Ralph, and they're telling it in '52': He's trying to get his wife back from the dead using all the various deus ex machinas of the DC Universe. But that is one story. Right now, it's really the only story you can tell about him. And as we do keep saying, telling a single story about a character is all about inspiration. Setting up a status quo that can sustain multiple, open-ended stories about a single character requires calculation.

And this is the great crime of 'Identity Crisis'. (For which, it should be noted, I do not blame Brad Meltzer. He didn't force DC to publish the book; as always, editors get final say, which means that the end result is always their fault.) It's not, "Oh, they killed Sue Dibney and I always loved that character," it's "Oh, they broke a story engine that could have told a thousand stories in order to publish a single 'important' one." In any company concerned with the long game, change should always be approached with great care, and never lightly.

Even on a career second banana like the Elongated Man.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Unwrapping DC Showcase Presents

(See the clever thing I did in the title, there, using the other meaning of the word "Presents"? That's what we writers call, um...clever, I think. There's probably a technical term for it, too.)

Originally, I didn't think I was going to do a DC equivalent of in this blog, mainly because I didn't think I knew DC history well enough to make any good suggestions. But on thinking about it, DC's reprint program is so new, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Even a relative DC novice like me (I started reading DC comics in 1991) can come up with a bunch of good choices for reprinting, because they haven't even gotten around to Wonder Woman yet.

So without further ado...

Honorable Mentions: DC's got a lot, actually, because (again) their list of what's actually out is so small. They could do more war comics (Blackhawk, The Losers, Enemy Ace), more of their classic heroes (Superboy, Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Firestorm, Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter), or some of Jack Kirby's contributions (The Demon, New Gods, Kamandi.) There's still horror out there (like The Witching Hour)...heck, I think they even have the rights to Mad Magazine. But for the top fifteen...

15, Sugar and Spike. Yes, there are people looking at me funny, saying, "Why would you want to reprint a kid's humor comic instead of 'Firestorm'? But S&S is well-regarded, it'd probably sell well as a black-and-white reprint, and it's the sort of thing that might not get reprinted anywhere else, because it doesn't have the hardcore nerd appeal.

14. The Outsiders. Or, as it was known for much of its early run, 'Batman and the Outsiders'. It's a concept that's had legs for a while now, it's still being published today (albeit with no Batman, and a completely different team line-up), and there's a lot of 70s nostalgia in there to be tapped.

13. World's Finest. One of those concepts that was always a no-brainer; "Hey, you got your Superman in my Batman!" "No, you got your Batman in my Superman!" Since they've got a Superman line and a Batman line, this one seems to be the natural extension.

12. Sgt. Rock. Easily DC's most famous and recognizable "war comic" character, and yet 'The Unknown Soldier' beat him to the punch. This is the sort of thing you don't want to get worse; better reprint him before things get out of control and 'Girls in Love' has a volume while the Sarge is still stewing in limbo.

11. House of Secrets. If you've got 'House of Mystery', you've got to have 'House of Secrets'. What's Cain without Abel?

10. Warlord. Mike Grell's 70s sword-and-sorcery epic has tons of devoted fans out there, all of whom would no doubt snatch up collections of the comic. Not to mention, I have a strong suspicion that Grell's art would look great in black and white.

9. Supergirl. I have to suspect that plans for this one are already afoot, given that they published the volume of Superman that introduced her, but didn't give us any of her back-up stories. In any event, Supergirl's probably more popular than ever, so this one's a no-brainer.

8. The Question. If they're going to make this one relevant, they'd better hurry--it doesn't look like he's got long left. (That's a '52' reference for those of you not stopping at comics stores; the character has terminal cancer.) The reprints could probably cover the entire Ditko era before the first volume finished, then go on to the Denny O'Neil stuff that's probably got a bigger following.

7. Suicide Squad. Technically, there's not enough material of the "classic" Silver Age Suicide Squad to fill a volume, but that's alright, because what everyone's really jonesing for is the 80s John Ostrander Suicide Squad, the one with all sorts of B-list DC villains and death around every corner. It made Captain Cold seem bad-ass, so it has to be impressive.

6. Hawk and Dove. Again, there's not enough actual Silver Age Hawk and Dove material to fill a volume, but spice it up with some of their key Titans appearances, and then the uber-classic early 90s series by Karl and Barbara Kesel, and you've got a slice of good comics. (I don't know how to make an umlaut in this format, by the way, so just draw two little dots on your screen with Magic Marker over the "u" in "uber".)

5. Doom Patrol. In the Marvel list, things got closer to the present as they got higher up, because I wanted the comics I remembered as a kid; here, they get older, because I want to see the roots of DC's Silver Age. The Doom Patrol is best remembered now for Grant Morrison's weird 80s run, but I think that the 60s version has a lot of potential for reprints.

4. The Metal Men. Another one that's actually pretty topical at the moment, since their creator, Will Magnus, is popping up now and again in '52' (he doesn't have terminal cancer. He's manic-depressive. Gosh, isn't DC fun for kids nowadays?) Fun book, cool robots, it's a snap.

3. Adam Strange. Another '52' alum (both eyes gouged out--no, I'm not kidding), Adam Strange is practically synonymous with the Silver Age. He's a space hero with a jetpack, a laser gun, and he's even got a fin on his head! How he hasn't been reprinted yet is beyond me.

2. The Atom. Another Silver Age icon whose absence is surprising, this would be another topical pick, since there's a new 'Atom' series out there (he's not in '52', though, and is probably breathing a heartfelt sigh of relief.) It'd be good synergy to reprint this one, since the current 'Atom' series deals with Ray Palmer's successor, and kind of assumes you know something about the Silver Age Atom (like, for example, the fact that his real name is Ray Palmer.)

1. The Flash. The absence of a 'Showcase Presents The Flash' is absolutely bizarre to me. Comics historians actually date the beginning of the Silver Age from the first appearance of the Flash, in 'DC Showcase'. He's the definitive Silver Age hero. To have a 'Showcase Presents' line without the Flash is like Marvel's Essentials line not having gotten around to putting out a Spider-Man book yet.

So, there's the list for DC to match Marvel...again, licenced titles were excluded, which is a real shame. Because who wouldn't, if they had the option, want to pick up 'DC Showcase Presents: Jerry Lewis'?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Storytelling Engines: Spider-Woman

(or "Five Authors in Search of a Character")

The general trend when discussing these storytelling engines assumes, on the whole, that the writer is starting with a concept or character that they think can sustain multiple stories, and works from there to add a status quo around them that helps to generate more. Today, though, we'll be looking at an exception to that rule in 'Spider-Woman', a title that started with the concept, "We need a comic called 'Spider-Woman', and we need it now!"

Essentially, 'Spider-Woman' started as an effort to establish a trademark and copyright for the name (supposedly in response to a Filmation cartoon called "Web Woman"), and it shows. The character starts out in 'Marvel Spotlight' as a super-evolved spider fighting the forces of HYDRA (after being brainwashed by them to kill Nick Fury), but by the time she gets her own book, her origin has changed (she's now Jessica Drew, a woman with spider-powers that HYDRA brainwashed into thinking she was a super-evolved spider), HYDRA has dropped out of the picture and her main nemesis is the ancient sorceress Morgan le Fay, she's changed locales from London to Los Angeles, and she's picked up a mentor (Magnus, a student of le Fay's) and a love interest (Jerry Hunt, agent of SHIELD.) It might not surprise you to know that there's also a different writer involved.

The title changes writers again around issue #7, and suddenly Morgan le Fay is defeated, Magnus returns to London, Jerry and Jessica break up, and now she's got a secret identity as a receptionist at the Hatros Institute, where she meets new "friend" Lindsay McCabe and her boss turns out to be new nemesis Nekra. (I put "friend" in quotes because the lesbian subtext is so obvious that it has to be intentional--men are attracted to Jessica, we're told, and women repelled by her, due to arachnid pheremones she's been unintentionally releasing. But Lindsay seems to have the reverse reaction to the pheremones, invites Jessica back to her apartment, and Jessica winds up spending the night there. Again, the subtext doesn't seem accidental.)

A new creative team comes on board with issue #21, and Jessica, who's been fired from her receptionist job (not surprising, given that she beat her boss into a coma) suddenly becomes a bounty hunter, complete with a warehouse full of disguises and a wheelchair-bound sidekick who acts as her criminologist. So abrupt is the change that we're told we'll learn how she found the disguises and sidekick in a later issue (unfortunately, said issue is outside the confines of the collection, if it exists.) Still later, and unfortunately after the collection ends, a new writer comes on board and Jessica ditches the sidekick and bounty hunter gig to become a private eye in San Francisco with Lindsay McCabe as her "room-mate". (Again, I have to put this in quotes. San Francisco, people. It's staring you right in the face.)

So, what can we take away from this dizzying blur of backgrounds, supporting casts, origins, and modus operandi? Only that every writer working on the title knew how important a status quo was to the character. Every one of them tried to establish more to the adventures of Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, than "bad guy shows up, Spider-Woman hits it", giving her other elements of her life that could help to generate stories. But just as importantly, because there was so little to the fundamental concept of Spider-Woman, each writer felt free to try to establish their own status quo, and so many changes in so short a time definitely hurt the character's popularity. Indeed, Jessica Drew was basically a footnote to Marvel continuity for two decades, outside of a few appearances in Chris Claremont's mutant titles--he was the last writer to work on the series, and remained fond of her--and it's only within the last few years that she's been visible as Spider-Woman again.

Oh, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that the first thing new writer Brian Michael Bendis did was revise her origin.

Monday, January 08, 2007

ConBestiary #4

Cosplay Succubus: This offshoot of the succubus family feeds solely on the attention of men; thus, the convention environment, with its wildly skewed male-to-female ratio, provides a perfect feeding ground. By dressing up in skimpy, geek-culture themed costumes, the cosplay succubus ensures that simply walking down a hallway draws crowds of socially awkward males to them. The cosplay succubus is essentially harmless, although some men have been known to injure their brains wondering if the girl dressed as Witchblade is single. If you need to escape from a cosplay succubus for any reason, get someone to ask to take their picture--cosplay succubi are absolutely unable to resist the lure of a photo opportunity, and will freeze in position for hours if they believe that someone is taking a picture of them.

A much rarer and deadlier creature is the cosplay medusa, and unfortunately, the only way to tell them apart is by visual inspection--by which point it's too late. These sad, deluded creatures believe themselves to be a cosplay succubus, but insist on dressing in a ludicrously unflattering costume. The cosplay medusa will not turn you to stone, but after seeing a 40-year-old man dressed like Sailor Moon, you may very well wish it had.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Storytelling Engines: The Defenders

(or: "Where Did Everybody Go?")

When you look at the idea of the Defenders, it seems great--not just great, but downright natural, an inevitable companion-book to Marvel's long-running Avengers series. If the Avengers is a group of socially-acceptable friendly heroes that fight menaces too big for any one hero, the thinking goes, then the Defenders are a group of socially-unacceptable loners who do the same! On paper, this works well. Doctor Strange's mansion forms a perfect group headquarters, the team can go anywhere through mystical teleportation, and the rest can all be cribbed from the Avengers.

But read between the lines, and you'll find a question that a variety of writers have struggled with for years: Why would a group of socially-unacceptable loners stick together to fight crime?

A team dynamic isn't the same thing as the dynamic of a solo book, particularly when assembling a group of characters who already have their own titles into a team. The readers expect consistent behavior between appearances of a character; if the Hulk is an anti-social misfit who just wants to be left alone, the Silver Surfer thinks of Earth as an insane asylum he's trapped in, Namor hates the human race with a passion, and Doctor Strange is constantly dealing with things that would make your eyes dribble out through your nostrils, well...people are going to expect them to behave like that when they work together, too. Which means, natch, that they won't.

Steve Englehart struggles with this constantly in the first volume of 'Essential Defenders'. Over and over, we hear phrases like, "Just this once," "only for a minute", "one last time," "only becase the menace is so great", all deployed as reasons to get the various members of the classic Defenders line-up to actually team up together to defeat an enemy instead of flipping each other off and walking away. The team dynamic here is working to make it harder for the writer to tell stories, because in addition to coming up with a plot, he has to come up with a reason for the heroes to come together each time. By the end of the first book, Namor and the Silver Surfer have both left the team for good, replaced by less well-known (but more team-oriented) characters like Nighthawk and Valkyrie.

In the second book, without being saddled with a group dynamic that actively works against the writer, new writer Steve Gerber is able to focus in on questions of tone, turning the book into a battle against off-beat menaces that the Avengers wouldn't necessarily be able to cope with. This new dynamic, which turns the Defenders from "misfits and loners" into "counter-culture super-heroes", is much more sustainable (although note that later, after Doctor Strange leaves and the series becomes entirely about B and C-list heroes, it's finally cancelled.) Subsequent attempts to revive the Defenders have all attempted to revive the "classic" line-up of Namor, Hulk, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer, and they've all failed because fundamentally, it's a bad team dynamic--anytime the writer is struggling to keep all the characters in the same room, it's going to be hard to turn them into an open-ended, long-term series.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Golden Age?

So let's see...Doctor Who is moving towards its third season after smashing its competition in the ratings, Joss Whedon is writing a new Buffy comic that picks up where Season Seven left off, 'The Invasion' is finally coming out on DVD with animated versions of the missing episodes, and this summer sees the third installment in the Sam Raimi-directed 'Spider-Man' series and a live-action 'Transformers' movie. As some point, the question has to be asked: Is this the best time to be a geek ever?

The gut instinct says, "Yes!" Doctor Who Christmas specials alone seem to demand it. But hold, I say to myself. It is far too easy, as a geek, to fall in love with the new and shiny and neglect the memories of yesteryear. Let's look at some of the other candidates, first.

The 1960s: Doctor Who first starts, Star Trek makes its appearance, lots of big-name sci-fi writers are doing the work that will make them legends, and oh yes, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are working on some comics for that company that keeps switching names. "Marvel" sounds better than "Timely" or "Atlas", though... It's a pioneering time, and very impressive, but much of the work is more pioneering than great in its own right.

The 1970s: Two words: Star Wars. It's a point at which a quantum leap occurs in special effects technology, changing audience expectations of what science-fiction is capable of and raising the standards for all subsequent geek TV and movies.

The 1980s: Comic books are now available in special shops instead of having to grab what you can on newsstands, and home video means you can actually see old Star Trek episodes without having to just tune in while they're showing repeats and hope it's not one you've seen a thousand times before. 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' finally blew the lid off of stodgy old DC, and movies like 'Terminator', 'Aliens', and the Indiana Jones series keep raising the bar for "cool".

The 1990s: A strong candidate for 'Golden Age' status. Sci-fi TV finally explodes, with Babylon 5, Highlander, X-Files, two Star Trek series at once (NextGen and DS9--one of the best things about the mid-1990s was that Voyager hadn't happened yet), Xena, Hercules, and even some cult gems like Forever Knight all jostling each other on the airwaves. The Simpsons were in their prime, Neil Gaiman was doing Sandman, Bone was coming out, and the Internet was just starting to flex its muscles. Doctor Who was producing the New Adventures, the finest TV-tie-in line ever written, and we even got a TV movie and the hope of a new series someday. Hong Kong action movies started to hit it big in the States, which meant that the bar for "cool action sequences" was about to be notched up to a height only Jackie Chan could leap over. Oh, and the Playstation came out.

So, what is it about now that manages to trump that stellar line-up? It can't just be seeing K-9 come back (maybe that it was in the same episode where Anthony Stewart Head played a villain...nah, still not enough.) Ultimately, what makes now better than any of the thens mentioned above, and what makes this truly the Golden Age of the Geek, is what I call:

The Archive Factor.

Because let's face it, that's the big difference between now and any previous time. We've finally made our voices heard, and archives of all the classic geekery has been made available to us. Monty Python, Highlander, Star Wars, Star Trek, the Avengers, the other Avengers, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Looney Tunes, Doctor Who, Rocky Horror, Shaun of the Dead, all three X-Men movies, the non-Special Editions, every era of Transformers, the Muppet Movie, the best years of the's all available to you, as close as a DVD or a trade paperback. The newest video game system, the Wii, has in addition to its own line-up of games, a feature that allows you to download classic video games and play them all over again. What was once ephemeral, something to catch once or miss forever, is now archived to enthrall future generations of geeks in addition to their own, newer, equally exciting stories. Geek culture now welcomes casual viewers, because the world has finally caught up to the rest of us. Is this the best time ever to be a geek?

No. Because in ten years' time, it'll be even better.