Thursday, May 29, 2008

Things Worth Checking Out: Geek Monthly

I stumbled upon 'Geek Monthly' a few months ago, when they had an article on 'Futurama: Bender's Big Score', and it really is something I want to take a moment and make sure everyone knows about, because it's great. It's not your typical "sci-fi enthusiast" sort of magazine; sure, they've got their share of stuff about the latest in science-fiction movies and TV (and video games and anime and all the "usual" geek interests), but they also cover developments in the world of science, get into weird and entertaining toys and consumer products (spray waffle batter, how awesome is that?), discuss music (everything from hip-hop to techno), and in general, 'Geek' understands better than anyone else on the stands that what separates a geek from anyone else is a restless mind eager for new ideas. We're always willing to expand our horizons, and this magazine gets that.

'Geek Monthly' is always a fun read, it's pure brain candy, and my only regret is that back issues for it are so hard to find.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Two Words You Least Want To See Together

So today at work I spotted a check from the "Creative Dental Association". Is it just me, or does that sound more than a little scary and painful? I can just imagine what their meetings are like.

"OK, OK, work with me on this one, here. 'Dentistry while skydiving!'"

"I like it, it sings! But I was thinking something more snappy, something with less equipment."

"That fits perfectly in with my 'Clothing-Optional Dentistry' idea!"

"But what about cities with restrictive decency laws? No, I'm afraid we'll have to file that one with your 'Chimpanzee Dentistry' idea for now, at least until PETA gets off our back."

"Alright, alright. But getting back to my 'Dentistry-Mobile', I was thinking we could follow the ice-cream truck around neighborhoods, offer to do quick cleanings, maybe check for toothaches..."

"That's got real potential! Let's talk to our Head of Vehicular Dentistry Concepts, see what he has to say."

"Not much, I'm afraid. He was testing the 'Waterskiing Dentistry' idea we had last week, and his jaw's still going to be wired shut for a while."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Everybody Doubts Me

Last week, I said that comics "are not a grown-up medium, they are an adolescent medium." Everyone seemed to mentally snip off the second part of the sentence and assume that this was once again me saying that comics are for kids, but in fact, the key point is that comics aren't for kids anymore either. Comics are in exactly that awkward stage we all went through in our teen years, where we were still learning what to keep and what to discard of our childhoods, and what to embrace and what to ignore for our future. Comics are not grown-up yet, and they show all the signs of going through puberty. Think about it:

1) Comics are self-absorbed. X-Men is, arguably, the single most successful comic in the last fifty years, and it's also the most "teenage". Claremont's writing was practically obsessed with the introspection of its characters, with everyone having their own trademark teenage angst to handle--Storm got a mohawk and went punk, Cyclops had a dead girlfriend and nobody understood him, Kitty kept getting told she wasn't mature enough to adventure with the team, Havok had a bigger brother who was captain of the squad and lived in his shadow...and this series has been the template for just about every single super-hero comic to follow it.

2) Comics form a tightly-knit social circle that "outsiders" just don't understand. Related, in no small part, to #1, but this is about the way that comics are all about returns of obscure characters, reinventions of old ideas, easter eggs for the fans, and similar references that reinforce the "insider-ness" for insiders, and push away outsiders. Look at Dark Horse, which has practically made a career out of creating impenetrable mythos for Buffy, Firefly, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (and Aliens, and Predators, and...) The top three writers at DC are Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Geoff Johns, all of whom have a massive man-crush on the Silver Age. The top three writers at Marvel are Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and Jeph Loeb, all of whom have a massive man-crush on the Bronze Age. These are fans writing for fans. If you don't get it, it's because you're not supposed to.

3) Comics are obsessed with sex and violence. 'Preacher' is not an example of a grown-up medium, folks. 'Preacher' is a classic example of someone who's going overboard with the sex and violence to seem grown-up. Do I enjoy the series? Heck, yeah. But nobody is going to mistake it for 'Death of a Salesman'.

4) Comics love girls, but don't know how to talk to them. 'Gen13'. Next!

5) Comics keep insisting they're not kids anymore, and that you just don't take them seriously, and that they're mature enough now to be called an adult, but you keep treating them like a kid! See the comments section of this post.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fanboy Irritation In A Nutshell

So they're bringing back Barry Allen. That's the Silver Age Flash, who died some 23 years ago saving the universe from the sinister Anti-Monitor, for those of you who might be casual comics fans. Grant Morrison, writer of 'Final Crisis' (the crossover in which he returns), is on the record as saying, "That's the point of comics - they don't have to die, because they're fictional creations. We can do anything with them, and we can make them come back and make them defy death. And that's why people read comics, to get away from the way life works, which is quite cruel and unheroic and ends in death."

Now, Morrison has taken a lot of flack from fandom as a result of this quote, but I actually support it. I might good-naturedly point out that for all his reputation as an avant garde, boundary-pushing innovator, Morrison is really just as much of a traditionalist as Mark Waid or Geoff Johns (two people who are constantly raked over the coals for rehashing old stories and writing fanwank, but who didn't bring back the Shaggy Man or Klarion the Witch-Boy. Or Barry Allen, for that matter, although it wasn't for lack of trying.) But I agree with the quote. He's right. I do read comics to spend a little time in a brighter, happier world where the good guys win and the bad guys lose, a world that isn't cruel or unheroic. I applaud Morrison for having the guts to say something unashamedly sentimental in a fan environment that currently believes that they need to leave hope and joy behind in order to be considered "grown-up". (I've said it before and I'll say it again. Comics are not a grown-up medium, they are an adolescent medium. The obsession with not being seen as "kiddie" is a clear signifier.)

So no, I'm not bothered by them bringing back the Flash, and I'm not bothered that Grant Morrison shrugs off criticism for them bringing back the Flash. What I'm bothered by is that in practically the same breath, DC makes one of the major selling points for 'Final Crisis', "Hey! We're killing off a major figure of the DC Universe, one that will absolutely shock you! You must not miss this massive, huge, epic change in the very composition of the DC Universe!!!!!!"

That's the problem perfectly encapsulated. When they think change will sell comics, they insist that it's vitally important that you pay attention to these changes and buy the comics involved. When they're no longer interested in dealing with the problems these changes have made, they switch everything back and insist that nobody should put too much emphasis on 'change', that it's really just all about telling good stories and hey, you like these characters anyway, right? It is not the change or the impermanence of change that bothers us, it is the hypocrisy involved. It is the fact that I frequently bought lousy comics because I was told I would need to have them to follow the overall story of the DC Universe, only to have them back away from the changes but somehow manage to keep my money in their wallet. Lots of people can't articulate that irritation, but they all feel it.

You want to bring back the Flash? Knock yourself out. You want to openly admit that no matter how graphic, how inescapable, how brutal a character's death is, you're eventually going to bring them back anyway? Good for you, it's a great first step. But could you please do us all the service of not continuing to lie about how "important" death in comics is in order to take my money?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Friendly Warning To Battlestar Galactica Fans

Don't bring the series up around me. Don't recommend it to me, don't tell me about it, don't mention it. Because I will say things that will make you cry.

My room-mate's been watching it, and every time I walked by the computer screen, I heard things that made me grind my teeth in sheer bilious hatred. Every time he explained an element of the backstory to me, I found myself staring into plot holes that could consume whole planets. I found myself wondering how anyone, not just the series' writers but anyone at all could read these scripts and not say, "No, sorry, you need to rework this so that it actually makes sense as a story in its own right and not simply as a tortured analogy for post-9/11 America."

I could go on, but that would defeat the purpose of the friendly warning, and probably make some people cry, to boot. And I don't want to do that. I am a kind person, and I know how attached science-fiction fans get to their favorite shows. I don't want to tear your favorite series to pieces in front of you, ripping it to shreds by pointing out all its absurdities.

So we'll make a deal. You don't talk about Battlestar Galactica to me, and I won't flaunt my hatred of it to you. Sound good? OK.

(Oh, and Dane Cook fans? This goes double for you. Man couldn't find a punchline if it had a neon sign over it...)