Tuesday, May 31, 2011

There Is No Hyperbole Great Enough

DC Comics made an announcement today that should absolutely, positively, unequivocally stun everyone in the entire comics-reading world today. Seriously. There has never been news this big in my entire lifetime in the industry, not ever.

No, not the "We're relaunching everything at #1!" crap. That'll be retconned away within five years, max. (Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison have a collective Silver Age crush that makes Mark Waid look like Alan Moore. Their "reboots" are never going to last, because they're coming from the guys who undid 'Crisis' and invented a whole cosmology-shattering mini-series so that they could bring back the 70s Legion. Geoff Johns is psychologically incapable of true innovation.) No, I'm talking about the news of same-day digital distribution.

Or, as I call it, "Hey, comic book stores! F*** you sideways!"

Sure, DC is trying to downplay this. They're trying to say that they will have special incentives designed to get people into stores. (This is roughly akin to stabbing someone with a broadsword, hooking the open wound up to a turbine-powered exsanguinating vacuum pump, and then announcing that you plan to put some band-aids on the counter.) They're no doubt going to say that collectors will always want the print edition. (But in the kinds of numbers that can support an independent retailer?) They will no doubt point to their back-catalog of trade paperbacks. But honestly, that's all like spritzing the Hindenburg with one of those little plant misters.

Because this...this is in all likelihood the beginning of the end for print comics. Same-day digital means that anyone who wants to can go download their comics directly. No trips to the comics store, no waiting, your very own copy of a comic right there on the hard drive. And let's face it, the iPad has been regarded from the beginning as a perfect platform for digital comics. This is going to drain away a big chunk of the market from print.

And the profit margins for comics stores aren't great. Losing a big chunk of your DC sales is probably going to result in some retailers going out of business, especially for those stores that are going to have to try to guess how much their demand is going to drop and will be stuck with unsold copies if they over-order. (Personally, if I was a comic book store owner? Tomorrow, I'd have a sign outside saying, "DC Comics will only be available at this retail outlet if you pre-order them.")

And if stores start going out of business, Marvel is going to have to either jump on the digital bandwagon or lose money as they lose outlets for their product. And if Marvel goes digital, the death spiral continues...there's not a retailer running that can survive on solely its indie books. They need Marvel and DC to pay the bills, and they might not be there much longer.

Some might suggest that this is hyperbole. They might say that comics is such a tradition-oriented industry that this initiative will fail and leave comics back where it started, a niche market catering to nostalgia. (It's certainly the argument that I'm using regarding the "Every issue is a new #1!" BS.) Time will tell if I'm right or wrong.

But on the other hand...if MGM announced that it was making a new James Bond movie, and also announced that all their movies would be available on Netflix the same day as they came out in theaters...wouldn't you be talking less about who Bond is going to be and more about how hard this is going to make life for movie theater owners?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Line Item: Hired Goons

Sorry about the slight delay in posting; I started a new job last week (yay!) and they've thrown me right in at the deep end on a big project, which necessitated lots of overtime this week. (I'm being slightly vague about the details because if there's one thing I've learned from being on the Internet, it's that no matter how innocuous your blog posts about your job are, you still don't want any identifying details about the job.) The big project involves collecting some information from all of our outside contractors in order to update the database.

Anyhow, I got corrected (I'm still a little too new to actually "get in trouble") because, when one of the contractors refused to provide the information, I passed word of that refusal along to the regional manager for that area. I did so mainly because the refusal sounded like it was "with prejudice", as it were, and I wanted them to know that they might have some angry contractors to soothe. As it turned out, though, people like me don't talk directly to people like him. There are channels to go through for that.

I apologized, like you do, and explained that I went directly to the regional manager because I'd been told in the email that "it is your responsibility to make sure the information is collected for every name on this list." As far as I was concerned, that meant I should do whatever I had to in order to get that update done.

I didn't say so at the time, but I did picture using comic hyperbole to make my point. "If I have to email the regional manager, I will. If I have to call the CEO and ask him to make a personal visit, I will. If I have to hire some goons to go out and rough these people up until they update their profile in our system, well, then, that's what I have to do." Pause. "Of course, I'd expect to be reimbursed for that. Do I have to submit an invoice, or...?"

Of course, I'd have to note it in the "Comments" section of their profile. "Goons hired, will contact when vendor roughed up sufficiently."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Paul Ryan Medicare Plan In a Nutshell

"Now, I think we're all aware that we have a serious spending problem in this household. I make ten thousand dollars a month, but with the three thousand dollars a month that we pay for Grandma's heart medication and the three thousand dollars a month I spend on sweet, delicious candy, that barely leaves enough to make ends meet. Therefore, I propose that we cut down to spending only one thousand dollars a month on Grandma's heart medication--and because I'm fiscally responsible and willing to make hard choices, I'll only use half of the two thousand dollars we're saving to buy more candy. That's right--I'm such a serious, responsible person that I'm willing to take a full thousand dollars a month that could be used to buy chewy, chocolatey goodness and put it towards saving for our future.

"It's a tough decision, but that's just the kind of guy I am."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Exciting Pixar News!

Of course, we've all heard the announcement of Monsters University, the next movie after Cars 2 and Brave and the first Pixar prequel. But what you may not have heard is that this is just the first of an entire new slate of films exploring the beginnings of Pixar's beloved characters! Brad Bird and John Lasseter are already thrilled about the idea of getting at the roots of what made Pixar's protagonists tick. Some of the slated films include:

Losing Coral: A shocking and gruesome tale of terror and revenge, Losing Coral focuses on the night when clownfish Coral runs afoul of a brutal, sadistic barracuda named "Heartless" (voiced by Christopher Walken.) The taut, suspenseful thriller follows the deadly game of cat-and-mouse Heartless plays with Coral, a game that ends in tragedy when Heartless murders her and devours her eggs. The film then follows Marlin as, pushed over the edge by the death of his mate, he hunts down and kills Heartless by luring him into a nematocyst. About to commit suicide, Marlin discovers that one egg has survived...an egg he decides to call Nemo.

Cars 0: Carmageddon: When the first machines develop sentience, humanity is initially thrilled by the development of a machine culture. After all, we built them--surely they'll be grateful to their creators? But instead, the human race finds itself locked in a deadly battle with the vehicles they designed, and only one race can survive. In the end, the machines exterminate the people, leaving nothing but the trace remnants of our culture to survive in the entertainments the new mechanical race devises for itself.

The All-Too Credibles: Thrill as Bob puts on a few extra pounds and loses job after job! Gasp as Helen slowly gives up on her own ambitions to become a stay-at-home mom! And be astounded by Violet's unhappy school years as she slowly learns to keep her head down and not make waves because girls don't get called on anyway! It's an exciting descent into vague dissatisfaction for the whole family!

WALL-Lander: As it becomes apparent that humanity will not return, and the trash removal robots slowly begin to break down, each one realizes that the only path to survival is to cannibalize its brethren for parts. A vicious war begins, as each robot seeks to disable its fellows so that it can keep itself alive that much longer. In the end, there can be only one...

...this isn't doing anything to disprove my belief that I'm never going to be working for Pixar, is it?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why They Will Never Let Me Work At Pixar

2025: Overpopulation and pollution conspire to breed a new "super-virus", created by chemical-induced mutation of an existing bug and incubated in the vast shantytowns of the underclass. The virus causes vast mutations to the human brain, turning key sections to become anaerobic tissue and allowing other sections to die off. This creates mindless, vicious assailants that continue to attack long after their circulatory and renal systems have shut down. These infected, quickly nicknamed "zombies" due to their difficulty to kill and hunger for living human flesh, spread like wildfire through the overcrowded Earth.

2030: Overpopulation is now the least of humanity's problems, as the zombie plague has now covered 95% of the areas inhabited by humankind. With the last few strongholds of humanity about to fall, the decision is made to evacuate Earth completely. The resources of the remaining population are devoted to creating ships that can hold the survivors for as long as it takes for the zombies to die off. Robotic killing machines are sent out into the wastelands to humanely exterminate the infected, as humanity leaves the world of its birth forever.

2546: A robotic probe is sent back to Earth to determine whether the planet is fit for humanity once more. What it discovers is a terrifying dystopia where the zombie virus has mutated yet again; the zombie survivors have retained their intelligence, and now rule the Earth. Humanity is kept in "breeding pits", enslaved for life and used either for food, or transformed into consumers of human flesh. The robots have all been overwhelmed, save for one. One last hope for the enslaved and exiled humanity, one last hero for the human race...

WALL-E, Zombie Hunter.

...oh, come on. You'd pay to see it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why Smallville Is Not Doctor Who

It's been a while since I've watched an episode of Smallville; I haven't actually checked, because I don't care that much about the show, but I think the last episode I watched in its entirety was the third or fourth episode of Season One. But when I heard that the last episode would be airing on Friday night, I felt that there'd be a certain poetic symmetry in watching only the first(-ish) and the last episodes. Plus, given the reputation that the series has gotten over the last ten years, I figured that I'd be onto something good by skipping the ten seasons of hinting, teasing and stalling and getting straight to his transformation into Superman.

You may now laugh.

As it turned out, even the grand, huge, epic "finale" to Smallville was an exercise in drawing out the thin gruel of a story it had been subsisting on for the last decade. Everything was about not changing, about not surprising, about giving its viewers as close to the same experience as they could get without violating the show's mandate of demonstrating how Clark Kent became Superman. There were reset buttons a-plenty, retcons and reappearances, and massive dodges (I someday want to explain to television writers that legally, you're married when you sign the marriage certificate. Failure to say, "I do" means diddly-squat in the eyes of the law.) And in the end, we never really even got to see Superman; there were a few CGI sequences with the character shown from a distance, but in the end, they were driven by the need to keep things the way they'd always been. "No tights, no flights," the unbreakable rule of the series.

And then, the next night, I watched "The Doctor's Wife". And while I won't spoil anything, because the episode is very wonderful, very surprising, and many people probably haven't seen it yet, I will say that it is the epitome of everything that Doctor Who is and everything that Smallville isn't. Instead of being an "epic game-changer" that really doesn't change anything, not even really the things it's obligated to change...this was a normal, everyday, stand-alone non-arc episode that just happened to transform everything you thought you knew about forty-eight years of the series. And it did it almost casually.

Doctor Who is, and always has been like that. It's never been afraid to reinvent itself, not even after forty-eight years. It's a bold, inventive show that has no boundaries, no self-imposed rules, and no orthodoxies to uphold. That's why it attracted a writer of the caliber of Neil Gaiman, whereas Smallville has had to content itself with Geoff Johns and Jeph Loeb. That's why it's still going and why I don't think it'll ever stop. Because it's a show that can do anything...and one that will do anything.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Amazing Race Round-Up, Finale

Technically, it's the last two episodes crammed together in a not-at-all-blatantly obvious fashion, no siree! Much like Riding With Death and the Master Ninja series, CBS has seamlessly blended these two episodes into a two-hour extravaganza so brilliantly that you can't even see the join! (I suspect it was somewhere around the Pit Stop at the halfway point, but that could just be crazy talk.)

In any event, at the start of the first epis...er, first half of the episode, the four remaining teams (Flight Time/Big Easy, Zev/Justin, Gary/Mallory, Jen/Kisha) are still in Switzerland. They all head to the airport to get their flights to Rio de Janeiro, and the Globetrotters luck into a flight that seems like it will give them (and Zev/Justin, who were tagging along with them) a seven hour head start over the other two teams. This good fortune lasts until Mallory asks Flight Time, "Did you find anything better?", at which point his eyes widen like he's just seen an oncoming train, his mouth hangs open for a long moment, and he finally says, "Um, no! We were looking to see what y'all got!" Unsurprisingly, his devastating poker face fails to fool Mallory's razor-keen intellect, and soon all four teams are booked on the same flight.

Once they get to Rio, a little taxi roulette and a trolley schedule give the other three teams a half-hour lead over the Globetrotters, which is pretty much entirely eaten up for Zev and Justin when they choose Zev to do a dancing challenge. I'm not going to say he has the worst rhythm of anyone ever on the Race, because I know better, but his lack of dancing skills combined with his social disorder lead him to a) get through the challenge very slowly, and b) slap one of his instructors on the ass, which made me wish she'd have returned the favor on the back of his head. Mallory and Jen cruise through the challenge looking like they had a lot of fun, though.

Then everyone gets fifteen minutes of body waxing. For some, this meant they came out perfectly smooth. For Zev and Justin, it just meant that the waxers managed to get the first couple of layers of fur off. (The timer elapsed before they could get the machetes and flamethrowers to really slash and burn.) After that, three of the teams did the drink-mixing half of the Detour, while Zev and Justin basically said, "Nah, we don't want to be in the Final Three anyway!" and went to go sell bikinis on a beach. Because nothing works like having two white guys, one of whom has a social disorder, wander up and say to random bikini-wearing women, "Hi! Take that off and pay us money to model one of ours!" Needless to say, the first half ends with Zev and Justin getting eliminated. Honestly, they only had one or two genuinely bad legs this time around, but when they were the 10th and 11th, that was all that mattered.

The second epis...er, half...begins with the teams heading back to Miami for the final leg of the Race. There's a lot of chatting, recapping (pffh...recapping...like anyone could make that interesting...) and general catching-up to get people excited for the final trek to the Finish Line...and then Gary and Mallory get a genuinely incompetent taxi driver and don't even see another racer until the last challenge. So this is pretty much a two-team race, here. (For the record, I agree with everybody else who said, "Gary and Mallory should have realized how bad their driver was very early on and ditched him for another instead of sticking with him until it was too late to make up the time." But hindsight is 20/20.)

The other two teams face two Road Blocks in a row (one of those little "gotchas" I appreciate, because it means that teams who strategize all the way through the Race to make sure that their strongest Racer gets the last Road Block wind up having to put their weaker half in for the very last one) and a challenge that was annoying due to wind and weather and the need to be super-attentive to detail. No Detour, though. Come to think of it, there wasn't one last season, either. Maybe they just want to make sure everyone has to do the exact same challenges for the final leg. (That also seems to be the motivation for the obvious bunching for the final leg.)

Then finally, in one of the nastiest final tasks I can remember, they have a seven-mile bike ride to the Finish Line. It's close--the Globetrotters actually have Jen and Kisha in sight as they trek across Seven-Mile Bridge--but in the end, Jen and Kisha become the second all-female team to win the Amazing Race. (Which should, by the way, shut everyone up who claimed that Nat and Kat won by beating a "weak field of Racers"; Jen and Kisha beat several teams that finished in the Final Three on previous Races, and were one of only two all-female teams this time out. And frankly, I think if this Final Three had been put on Nat and Kat's race along with them, they would still have beaten out all five of the other teams. But that's unprovable.)

And that's it for another season of the Amazing Race! As always, I'm looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Why Syndrome Makes the Perfect Nemesis

I've been watching The Incredibles a lot lately; this has something to do with the fact that my daughter comes home from preschool with the words, "Can I watch The Incredibles?" practically bursting from her lips. It's actually displaced Toy Story 2 from the top of her "never sick of watching" list, which I didn't think was ever going to happen. So I've seen it on a near-daily basis, something that's afforded me a few opportunities to think about what Brad Bird was saying with the movie.

One of the things that's interested me is the way that Syndrome, Mr. Incredible, and Dash all seem to have different surface motivations, but the same basic underlying drive. Mr. Incredible, of course, insists that he's being genuinely altruistic; he feels bitter about the public reaction to superheroes (which is actually a matter for another post, because the idea of "superheroes getting sued into retirement" is kind of a handwave, to be honest, but I'm digressing here) and wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were.

Syndrome, on the other hand, is bitter and resentful about the lack of emotional support from Mr. Incredible when he was younger. He wants to show Mr. Incredible that he's a better hero, and that if he'd been allowed to be Incrediboy, he would have been a huge asset to the cause of good--to prove that Mr. Incredible was wrong to dismiss his gifts.

And Dash? He just wants to show off. He wants the world to acknowledge his specialness, and to receive the adulation he feels he deserves for his amazing abilities. Which is a little childish, but then again, he's ten. When he grows up...

...he'll wind up either like Mr. Incredible or Syndrome. Because underneath their surface motivations, that's exactly what they want too. Bob Parr doesn't want to save people anonymously, just because they need saving; he does do that over the course of the movie, but only because he can't go out as Mr. Incredible anymore. He only really comes to life when he's wearing his super-suit, performing amazing feats for an admiring audience (even if that audience is just Mirage and her mysterious benefactor.) Deep down, he really wants things to be the way they were when the world looked upon him with quiet awe and adulation.

Syndrome, of course, makes a second career out of self-justification in the movie. Looking at his actions, he's a pathetic, needy child who needs everyone to praise him for his gifts. As Mr. Incredible points out, he's killing real heroes in order to create a fake villain that people will praise him for stopping. While he claims that he's doing it all for Mr. Incredible, there's never been anything to stop him from using or selling his inventions to make the world a better place; it's just that doing so won't give him the emotional rush that comes from crowds cheering his name. Deep down, he and Mr. Incredible are two sides of the same coin, which is why he makes such a perfect nemesis. (And thus I make good on the implicit promise in the title...)

The real hero of the film, of course, is Elastigirl. She's the only one who can put aside her costume easily, because she wasn't ever in it for the glory; she was a superhero when the world needed one, and only when the world needed one. She's tried to pass along to her kids the belief that it's what the world wants ("the world wants us to fit in") and not selfish personal needs that are important; nonetheless, when her family needs Elastigirl, she proves to be easily the most competent of all of them.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Amazing Race Round-Up, 18-10

Famous director Akira Kurosawa once directed a film called "Rashomon", based on a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa about the death of a samurai. The film makes an important point about the ambiguity of memory; even the most seemingly clear-cut situations can never be truly known, and all our attempts to bring order out of chaos by assembling events into a narrative are doomed from the beginning.

This will be important later. But for now, we start off in Switzerland, with our five teams setting out to a helipad for some good old-fashioned "hours of operation" bunching. Once that's out of the way, we start off with a Detour that involves trekking out into the trackless wastes of the Swiss Alps to rescue stranded tourists. (Or, more accurately, involves tourists trekking out to rescue actors/mannequins.) One option, Search, involves finding a buried mannequin and digging them up, while the other one, Rescue, involves one Racer lowering the other into a crevasse to "rescue" a probably very bored Swiss person.

Three teams (Kent/Vyxsin, Jen/Kisha, Flight Time/Big Easy) do Rescue. It's fairly easy, despite the editors' valiant attempts to recut Kent's whining into some sort of an actual crisis. It should be noted here that this is pretty much the point where killer fatigue and the arduous nature of the Race combine to boost Kent's natural whininess to intolerable levels. He's been getting gradually worse all season long, but this is the episode where it all goes off the rails and he hits "Perfect Storm" levels of general obnoxious whinging. He can't even put on his own hood when it gets windy.

The other two teams (Zev/Justin, Gary/Mallory) do Search...which proves to be longer and more difficult, to the point where I started to wonder if Zev and Justin weren't going to need to be rescued while they searched. Both teams managed to save their mannequin, though...if you don't count the tiny, insignificant fact that they broke him in half while "saving" him. This puts them at a major disadvantage when they get to the Road Block.

Which is another Travelocity-themed challenge (we usually get about one per season.) This time, they have to make a giant painted chocolate Roaming Gnome, using two molds that each team has one of their Racers paint, freeze, fill with chocolate, freeze again by putting in a snowbank, then split open to reveal the creepy misshapen parody of a human being within. Once they've done all that, they get a clue and a non-chocolate gnome, which they then take on foot to the Pit Stop.

This is where the Rashomon stuff comes in. Because the molds aren't labeled, the shelves in the freezers aren't labeled, and everyone is working at a frantic pace to get their gnomes painted. And one of the Racers, Flight Time, looks up at one point to find that what he thought was his gnome-half is actually Vyxsin's. Or, from his point of view, what Vyxsin thinks is her half is actually his. There ensues what could be the most confusing sequence in Race history; even the audience isn't clear on what happened to which gnome, at least judging by the Television Without Pity forum. All we know is that neither Flight Time nor Vyxsin got a penalty, so whatever happened, neither one took work that didn't belong to them. It seems pretty clear that Vyxsin put her work on the bottom shelf precisely so that she would know which one was hers, too. Beyond that, the universe simply does not allow us to know what happened. Narrative fractures and decoheres, and all we can be sure of is that both Big Easy and Kent were being whiny dicks to each other in accusing each other's teammates of theft.

We can also be clear that Kent and Vyxsin didn't read their clue carefully enough, because they took a taxi to the Pit Stop. (Still managing to arrive in third, impressively. Apparently some of the other teams are good runners.) Despite the fact that he was holding the clue when they got into the taxi, and that Vyxsin said repeatedly that something wasn't right about the situation when they passed other teams that were on foot, Kent insists for the entire half-hour that this is all Vyxsin's fault for not reading the clue carefully enough and that she's dragging him down with her negative attitude. That's right--the man who literally had to be carried through a Detour like a six-month-old is telling the woman who dragged his ass along that she's holding him back. This marks the official point where everyone in the world started rooting for their elimination simply so that Vyxsin could tell him to fuck off and never see him again.

And everyone got their wish. The half-hour penalty elapses, giving Gary and Mallory and Zev and Justin time to get to the Pit Stop while Kent is still explaining that he's being positive by blaming everything on his teammate. They're eliminated, and next week it looks like the last four teams go off to Brazil, then the last three teams go to the Florida Keys in a double-sized season finale!

Which will, of course, be broken up into two normal-sized episodes for subsequent syndication. But c'est la vie!