Tuesday, December 24, 2013

L'Esprit D'Escalier, Final Crisis Edition


Over at Phil Sandifer's always-interesting blog, guest writer Andrew Hickey has written (in the words of the Young Ones) "a highly articulate outburst" relating the generally poor reception of 'Final Crisis' and the subsequent launch of the New 52. And while I think there is something to be said for connecting those two dots--let's face it, a big part of what people complained about with 'Final Crisis' was that they were looking for a grand, Wagnerian finish to the 73-year long story DC comics had been telling all those years, and instead they got a longer version of 'Rock of Ages' that somehow managed not to tie in to 'Rock of Ages' (the JLA storyline that Morrison wrote, that is, not the musical) and that almost certainly sparked the idea of blowing everything up and starting over in Dan DiDio's brain--I nonetheless think that Hickey extends the idea too far by suggesting that DC made a wholesale rejection of quality because they gave their readers the bestestest thing ever in 'Final Crisis', and they didn't like it so DC decided its readers must hate things that are good.

For one thing, he mentions the tie-ins and promotional efforts for 'FC' as though they were some sort of unfortunate summer storm, an event outside of Morrison's control that wrecked the lovely picnic he had planned. Whereas the truth is...look, I try very hard not to swear on my blog, but it is hard to think of the events leading up to 'Final Crisis' without using the words "unprecedented clusterfuck". Nobody working for DC seemed to have the slightest clue what anyone else was doing, and in fact the only thing they did seem to share was naked contempt for each other and their audience. Morrison was out doing interviews where he openly insulted people who thought that Barry Allen's death should be permanent, because death in comics never was and only pathetic fanboys gave a toss...while that same month, DC was marketing the first issue of his new epic with the tagline, "WHERE WERE YOU THE DAY THE MARTIAN MANHUNTER DIED?" Dan DiDio gave months and months of interviews, talking excitedly at conventions about how 'Final Crisis' was the culmination of everything the company had been planning since 'Identity Crisis'...only to have Morrison explain later that nobody had told him any of that, and he'd just been planning to write a fun little story about Darkseid, and 'Final Crisis' just meant that it was the last crisis he was planning to write about, and people needed to either just get over it or stop buying comics if they were going to whine about every single story they didn't like. And that's not even counting the weekly interviews about 'Countdown to Infinite Crisis' with editor Mike Marts on Newsarama, which started out as a fun promotional exercise (a la the interviews with '52' editor Steve Wacker on Newsarama) and gradually devolved into an exchange of insults between an interviewer who patently did not understand how DC could publish such unreadable garbage and an editor who didn't know why he was bothering anymore.

In short, everything about 'Final Crisis' was practically designed, by everyone concerned with the creation of it even tangentially, to make it impossible for the story to live up to anyone's expectations of it. And that includes Morrison, who pretty much threw everyone under the bus including his fanbase in the course of his interviews by suggesting that he just came up with the idea for the story and then went off into the cloisters to work on it for a year or so, like some sort of Zen comic book warrior monk, and came back out utterly flabbergasted that they'd screwed it up so badly. The sad part is that this could very well have been true--goodness knows that DC was inept enough for me to freely believe that they weren't talking to Morrison about their plans for the series he was writing--but Hickey seems to feel that Morrison should be held blameless for never talking to his editors, never reading any industry press about the series he was in the middle of writing, and never thinking to get involved with the PR in any way shape or form until all the money was spent and it was time to start apportioning blame for who was responsible for essentially defrauding comics fans of a couple hundred dollars of their hard-earned money.

Which is something that I think Hickey, and quite honestly most of the people who write about "angry fanboys" miss. We spend our money based on what we are told about these stories. Most comics stores, in the immortal words of every comic book store owner ever, are not libraries. Fans have to rely on what they hear about the series ahead of time, and the marketing strategy ever since 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' has been to tell fans, "You really can't miss this one. So much important stuff happens in it that you'll be totally lost if you don't buy it." And that's worked for a long time, because 'COIE' really was so important that it could not be missed. Fans have been conditioned to believe editors when they said that a storyline was a really big, huge, important development in the metastory, and that they had to read it even if it wasn't that great. (Well, they never said that last part. But it was sometimes implied.) And 'Final Crisis' was the point at which fans realized, en masse, that it was all just a big con to take their money. There was no grand plan. There was, it seemed, no plan at all. To discount that anger, or even to underestimate it, is to completely miss why 'Final Crisis' was so hated when it came out. It wouldn't have mattered what it was, because what people disliked was what it so tangibly wasn't.

Instead, Hickey goes with the tried-and-true sneering disdain for anyone who disagrees with him, the old "Well, it tried to make readers think, and all the people who disliked it were really just stupid and didn't get it." Which, while obnoxious and smug, is really just the flipside to the equally obnoxious disdain for anyone who did like the series, most of whom used the classic "You didn't really understand it either, nobody did, it's just that you're pretending you did so you can act intellectually superior to the rest of us" tactic of disingenuously dismissing their opponents' criticisms without engaging them, so I can't complain too loudly because nobody involved in that discussion ever came out looking very good. (In case you couldn't tell here, I don't actually have a lot of patience for debates about the quality of 'Final Crisis'. I didn't read it myself, because I gave up on DC in general about the same time Hickey gave up on 'Countdown', but I do find the haters and the defenders of the series equally meretricious.)

And so Hickey moves to the ultimate conclusion I mentioned at the beginning. Having misread the reason for the backlash against 'Final Crisis', and having taken as an a priori assumption that the series was flawless, he proceeds to the only answer he can under the circumstances. DC must have decided that it wasn't worth their time doing good comics, and went to the utter clusterfuck that was the New 52 on the grounds that the only thing that mattered was getting buzz in the industry media. Whereas in fact, when you examine the entirety of 'Final Crisis' in light of the year's worth of stories leading up to it, the story was at best an accidental aberration in a sea of editorial ineptitude whose only goal seemed to be getting headlines on Newsarama, and the thing that connects 'Final Crisis' to the New 52 is that they are both the products of a company that is, fundamentally, not very good at its job. The New 52 is a change in direction only cosmetically. The actual direction DC Comics has taken has been unchanged since DiDio took over--wandering randomly, spinning their wheels, and ultimately going nowhere.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Review...ish: The Apple

For the first two minutes, 1980 musical 'The Apple' is perfect. It opens with letter-perfect and savagely incisive parody of a glam-rock stadium concert; the act is Pandi and Dandi, but they could just as easily be the Bay City Rollers or any one of a dozen Iggy Pop/David Bowie wannabes out of the late Seventies. Their anthem, 'BIM's On the Way', is a perfect evocation of the way major record labels repackage independence and rebellion into product--it's a brainlessly catchy tune that seems to have no other purpose but to laud the very same label that endlessly promotes the musicians singing it. ("BIM" is a stab at BMI, a gag I didn't even notice until it was pointed out to me.)

And yet, underneath the empty-headed vapidity of its lyrics, there's a sort of soul-crushing deadness to the lyrics...Pandi and Dandi might sound like a glam-rock version of any number of studio-hyped groups, but their song carries the explicit message that there is no good, no evil, no joy, no shame, nothing but power and the will to use it. And BIM has that power...and by extension, is the only thing worth your adoration. It is, in short, nihilism given a catchy beat and a clever call-and-response bit that invites the audience to join right in with the death of society. ("Be!" "I am!" So's Darkseid, buddy.)

Then people start talking, and that's about when the movie goes downhill. Because 'The Apple' is supposed to be an audacious glam-rock musical bookend to 'Jesus Christ Superstar', telling the story of the Book of Revelations in the same counter-culture rock-and-roll terms that it assumes its audience grooves on--while simultaneously being a scathing indictment of the music industry and the way it grinds up individualism and talent and turns it into pop-culture pablum. That's the goal, and it's actually an impressively lofty one. But...

Setting aside the second musical number, which is supposed to be a welcome antidote to the soulless glam and instead comes off as a schmaltzy salute to the Osmonds...and setting aside all the other musical numbers as well, which seem to have been written according to the well known songwriting technique of, "Sod it, at least it rhymes"...actually, I can't set that aside completely. One couplet goes, "It's a natural, natural, natural desire/to meet an actual, actual, actual vampire." This is not a vampire story. This is not even a story with vampires in it. This is a story where a vampire pops up into shot for three seconds as Dandi sings the above couplet, and then is never seen again for the remainder of the film. I'm not a professional songwriter, but I think that might be a sign that you should rethink your lyrics.

But reluctantly setting the music's flaws aside, the story doesn't do what it's trying to do. Mister Boogalow is woefully miscast and misdirected. He should be kind and warm and friendly and exactly the last person you'd expect to be the Anti-Christ; Alphie should be torn by self-doubt and indecision for breaking up with his beloved Bibi and giving in to his hallucinogenic visions of doom and disaster if he signs on with BIM. ("BIM" = "Boogalow International Management".) But instead, he's a sinister smirker with a goatee and a Russian accent. He couldn't be more obviously evil if he had horns. Which he does, in some scenes...well, horn. Not sure what happened to the other one. Maybe there was a wardrobe malfunction.

With Boogalow obviously evil, Bibi looks stupid for signing on with him. Her journey through the highs of becoming a superstar to the lows of personal destruction and drug abuse, on to her final personal transformation and reconciliation with Alphie, basically just becomes a waiting game for the bimbo to realize what the audience figured out 87 minutes ago.

It doesn't help that the film is catastrophically unsubtle. Don't get me wrong, I understand that a glam-rock Rapture is not the place for subtlety. But that's the wonderful thing about a musical; people get to openly sing about their emotions in big music numbers, getting all that subtext out of the way in a song so that they can be subtle in the actual story. Bibi's getting ready to sign a contract, but she has doubts...so have Boogalow and Dandi sing a song about temptation likening the contract to Eve's Apple. It's unsubtle, sure...but it's the right kind of unsubtle. As it is, Alphie has a hallucination where Bibi is literally presented with a giant prop apple while standing on a set that evokes a downright Ed Wood-ian vision of Dante's Inferno, precisely so that Dandi can sing a song about how she should take a bite of the giant prop apple. The song was already metaphor enough without turning the costumes, set decoration, and dialogue into a walking literalist extension of it.

The film's pacing also has issues. Far too much of the film is spent on Alphie moping over Bibi and Bibi pining over Alphie (while sleeping with other people and taking copious amounts of drugs). The actual plot, such as it is, sort of hovers around in the background trying not to intrude. There are a few scenes where Mister Boogalow's marketing gimmick of a "BIM Mark" goes from being a trendy fashion accessory to a mandatory identification badge, and one where BIM's dancercise show becomes mandatory for every American, but these are so abrupt and unmotivated that the allegory fails. It's now less an allegory, and more some guy wandering past the movie and mentioning, "It's all about Satan, by the way," when he thinks the A-plot isn't looking.

The conclusion, in which "Mister Topps" shows up to spirit Alphie and Bibi away to a new world in his pimped-out Caddy (if this movie does nothing else, it teaches us exactly which machina the deus exes from) is just as abrupt as all the other things that happen. In trying to give us both a savage expose of major record labels and a trippy rockpocalypse, the film really succeeds at neither. But I have to admit, there's just enough of a glimpse of what the film could have been that I can't help but love it a little. It fails miserably at everything it tries...but it tries at something. I don't think there's a single Michael Bay film I could say that about.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Things That Really Surprised Me In Marvel's 'Essential' Collections

It still surprises me, sometimes, that I'm kind of sort of maybe just a little bit of an expert on Marvel Comics. I mean, I don't really feel like one; I've read the first 100-300 issues of the Avengers, the Defenders, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Wolverine, X-Factor, and Daredevil, along with a smattering of obscure titles like Man-Thing, Spider-Woman, Howard the Duck, Ghost Rider, Godzilla, and Son of Satan...but that doesn't feel like it should make me an expert. That feels like it should make me an obsessive reader with a good memory. And yet, when I go to conventions, I invariably wind up on panels where I explain the backstory of Marvel characters (and DC as well, for that matter) to comic book fans. This weirds me out. I feel like they should recast me for these things.

But I do appear to be settling into a mantle of expertishness. And so, having read more comics than any sane person probably should, I figure I should pass along a few of my more unexpected responses to you, the reader, so that you can then pass them along as received wisdom to a bunch of people who will tell you I'm full of it. I feel that it's only fair.

1. The Defenders really went catastrophically downhill around issue #125. The thing about the Defenders was that it was a great title for a very long time. There was great chemistry among the cast, they played off the quirky, counter-culture concept really well for a very long time and did fun things with the idea of a team as a social grouping rather than a family or an organization (the two directions explored by the FF and the Avengers, respectively). Doctor Strange worked perfectly as a guide and mentor rather than a "leader" per se, and they had a nice mix of headliners like the Hulk and interesting B-listers like Valkyrie and Hellcat...although I'll admit, Nighthawk never worked for me. The bigger a role he got, the less I liked the series.

But then J.M. DeMatteis, a writer who I generally like and respect a lot, decided to write out Doctor Strange and the Hulk and turn the series into a vehicle for Angel, Beast and Iceman, and to turn them into an official team. The headliners were written out, and most of the new additions felt charisma-free. Suddenly, the book felt like an amateur-league group of Avengers, rather than a social grouping of powerful and interesting characters, and the series went into a slump it never recovered from. This is a shame, because the reboots have all tried to go back to the very basic concept (Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor and Silver Surfer) rather than to the middle period that worked so well, simply because of the stench of failure that clung to the later efforts. I'd love to see a modern Defenders reboot that kept Doc Strange and maybe added "non-team" heroes like Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Wolverine. (Yes, I know I'm describing Bendis' Avengers. Your point?)

2. Stuff actually happened in Thor. I know, this shouldn't be as surprising as it was, but I really never touched Thor as a kid. Even Walt Simonson's legendary run barely impinged on my consciousness, other than the bits they mentioned in Avengers where every bone in his body was broken inside his armor. I knew the very basic stuff, like the Warriors Three and Odin and Loki, but I had no idea that this was where Ego first showed up, and where Galactus' origin was first revealed, and where Firelord made his initial appearance. It was surprising to me to find out how much cosmic space adventure occurred in a comic that was ostensibly high fantasy mixed with Earth-bound superheroics. (It still didn't wow me for a lot of the run, I'll admit. The whole always felt like it was less than the sum of its parts. But it was an interesting look at a piece of Marvel history I never heard of.)

3. Howard the Duck really captured the zeitgeist of the Seventies. To be honest, it captured the zeitgeist of the Seventies so well that it really doesn't work as a modern comic; you have to read it as a piece of history, a record of the mood of a particular time to be able to enjoy it. But Steve Gerber got it perfectly; the fads, the crazes, but more than that the sense of palpable disaffection and disorientation that the Sixties had produced. People had spent a decade searching outside the norms of society for meaning, and the Seventies was where they realized that they still hadn't found it and weren't even sure what they were looking for. There was a sort of existential despair that permeated the era, and Howard ("trapped in a world he never made"--aren't we all?) hit it perfectly.

4. Some of these series really work as stories with beginnings, middles and ends. I don't actually think that anyone intended any of their series to have endings. Endings in comic books, save for a few notable exceptions, come about due to low sales and not due to any kind of overarching intent. But many of the comics that were collected into big, thick Essential volumes turned out to have really good endings that summed up their whole series. Ghost Rider, for example, had a finale that finally brought together all the revelations about the character's past and gave him something he'd never had, a meaningful nemesis who was a match for him in his final battle. Godzilla had a truly epic conclusion, featuring a huge battle against the Avengers in mid-town Manhattan that was everything you could hope for. Killraven turned out to be the story of the Second War Against the Martians, from first strike to the final human victory. And Super-Villain Team-Up was the fore-runner of the modern crossover, pulling in the major players of the Marvel Universe in a war between Atlantis and Latveria that spanned two years of comic book history. Had these titles not been canceled, they might have had to do very different things to keep going. But the ends they had cemented their reputation.

5. Marvel deserves more credit for their horror books than they ever got. Most of the praise you hear for horror comics is for horror anthology books, specifically the EC comics of the Fifties and the later DC horror renaissance under Joe Orlando. But Marvel had some excellent continuing horror series, something that was amazingly difficult to achieve given the natural tendency of the genre to end in the death of the protagonist. They had an amazing werewolf comic, Werewolf by Night, and an underrated Monster of Frankenstein series that went back to the character's roots. And Tomb of Dracula is one of the best things Marvel ever produced, bar none. Even their lesser lights, like Man-Thing, Son of Satan and Satana, had some great stories in there. (I will not work too hard at defending Brother Voodoo, though.) They really deserve a critical re-evaluation by enthusiasts of horror comics, because they had some amazing stuff in there.

I could probably go on longer--I've barely even touched on Spider-Man, which seems criminal--but I've got five already and I haven't even touched on DC's output. But that seems like a good topic for next time...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In the Special Edition, Lumpy Shoots First

Recently, Rifftrax released a VOD edition of the 'Star Wars Holiday Special', complete with their signature commentary. A lot of people have been wondering exactly how they can do this, given that the intellectual property rights to the Special are currently owned by a company who have, on numerous occasions, issued Cease and Desist orders on public domain works solely on the basis of, "By the time you prove it, your legal bills will have bankrupted you anyway. Why not give up now?"

I don't really have any answers to this, but it has gotten me thinking about the Special. Namely, it's got me wondering if it will ever see daylight in an official sense. (I suppose this may be the basis Rifftrax was using to release it; their lawyers might go to court with a defense of, "People have been bootlegging this for decades and Lucas has never said anything apart from disavowing the damned thing, so they've lost their chance." I don't think that's a defense that'll work, but more power to them if it does.)

Because the key thing is, Lucas has disavowed it. He notoriously hates the thing, wishes it had never been made or at the very least that he'd taken more of an active role in its creation (by all accounts, he simply took the paycheck and let the people who normally produced these kind of variety specials do their thing, only stepping in to design Boba Fett). He hates it to the point where he won't even put out a commercial release of it, even though it's been selling from fans to fans for decades now. But as we all know, George Lucas has just sold the rights to all of the Star Wars properties to Disney for an exorbitant sum of money. And Disney is, by all accounts, going to milk that sucker for everything they can.

So does this mean we're going to see a brand-new Blu-Ray version of the Special, with remastered video footage and special features where the cast discuss their experiences working on it? (Oh, that alone would be worth the cost of the DVD. Harrison Ford squirming uncomfortably, Carrie Fisher explaining just what she'd taken that day to make her pupils dilate like that...) Perhaps we could even get new CGI special effects for the Jefferson Starship box and the miniature aquarium.

If they do release it commercially, I hope they embrace the campiness. Let's face it, the only reason anyone ever watches it is that it's the one thing in the franchise that you can make fun of without sputtering fanboys declaring that you just don't know about the piece of Expanded Universe lore that totally explains that apparent plot hole and you shouldn't be allowed to watch the movies if you're not going to do your research first. (As much as I love geekery, I will admit that the Comic Book Guy comes from a real place.) If they try to sell this as a "lost classic", they're going to run into a major problem when people buy it and realize it's eye-bleedingly terrible. So I say, run with it. Promote it as the "So Bad It's Good 'Comedy' That's Funny...for All the Wrong Reasons!" Include the original Seventies ads (where possible), and add the "Fighting the Frizzies at Eleven" bumpers. Heck, go right ahead and subcontract the Rifftrax guys to include their commentary track. Pretty much everyone involved has already either displayed that they have a sense of humor about it or that they're going to pretend it never happened anyway.

Then again, all this assumes that Lucas did sign the rights away. Maybe the four billion dollar contract includes a clause prohibiting Disney from ever releasing the Special in any way, shape or form. I know it sounds crazy, but keep in mind that when DC bought Wildstorm, they created a separate company for disbursing funds solely to ensure that Alan Moore's paychecks didn't say "DC Comics" on them. Weird and seemingly insignificant clauses are a staple of big contracts. I guess the only way to be sure is to watch for the DVD. Or ask Lucas, but it'll take a braver person than me to bring up the 'Star Wars Holiday Special' around him one more time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What I Liked About 'Thor 2', and What It Says About Marvel

I'm not going to say that 'Thor 2' was the best of the Marvel movies to date. The plot is very generic fantasy in its tropes and basic structure (ancient enemy, ultimate weapon that's buried instead of destroyed, said enemy returns looking for its old weapon which is now in the hands of a single Hobbit...er, Natalie Portman...) and while I don't think that Malekith was quite as under-baked as some of the reviewers, he was kind of a waste of Christopher Eccleston. (Seriously. You get a guy like Eccleston, you give him some good speeches. Malekith didn't make speeches, because he was fully convinced that there was no need to justify his actions. I'm okay with that--when you've decided that the universe is a mistake and needs to be erased, there's no real point in explaining that to its inhabitants. But it means that Eccleston doesn't talk much, and he's an actor who's good at giving speeches. Just think of his scenes in '28 Days Later', which are all about self-justification, and you'll agree.

But what I did love about 'Thor 2' was its sense of playfulness, its understanding that there's something just a little bit goofy about a series of films whose hero is a big doofy guy who thinks that "hit things with a hammer until they stop moving" is an actual strategy. Thor wanders through the world like this big, glorious, crazy chunk of four-color simplicity, and some of the best gags involve the ways that he interacts with mundane life. (The symbolic heart of the movie is the tiny little gesture he makes when he comes into Jane Foster's apartment and hangs Mjolnir up on the coat rack.)

This sense of fun infuses the whole movie. The big final battle is as much farce as it is drama; Thor and Malekith chase each other through dimension-spanning portals in a fight that owes as much to Looney Tunes and Benny Hill as it does to Lord of the Rings. (Oh, sorry, there's something of a spoiler there...although if it really surprises you that there's a big fight at the end between Thor and Malekith, I suspect you're not really the film's target audience. Although you'll probably be blown away with shock when Thor wins--oh, sorry, more spoilers there.)

The point is, this is a film that's not afraid to lose a little dignity to gain a lot of charm...and it vividly contrasts another problem with comics these days. (On top of all the other ones I mentioned in all my other posts.) Marvel is absolutely terrified, at least in its comics, of looking silly.

I think the root of this is that Marvel has, for a long time, been aiming its publications at kids. And kids love to laugh as much as they love to be frightened, to be excited, and to be grossed out at mushy stuff. When the Hulk talked in his big, dumb, "Hulk smash puny humans! Bird-nose shouts too much at Hulk!" patois, it was meant to seem silly and goofy, because that helped humanize the Hulk and make him less of a monster. When Daredevil fought villains like the Leap-Frog and Stilt-Man, you were not supposed to see them as necessarily a figure of utter terror.

But nowadays, Marvel comics are written by adults for adults. Or, more accurately, they're written by adults who hate having to explain to people that comics aren't just for kids anymore, for adults who hate having to explain to people that comics aren't just for kids anymore. They have a pathological fear and loathing of anything that might smack as "childlike", because they're afraid that some non-comics fan will spot that one panel as their first exposure to comics since they were five, and they'll look derisively at the fan and say, "You actually read this stuff?" Or worse, "You actually write this stuff?"

So humor has been banished. Everything is, if not grim and brutal, at the very least to be taken absolutely SERIOUSLY. Everyone is serious about everything they do, and every villain is a serious threat to humanity that must be fought by serious heroes being seriously serious. The only humor still allowed is to make fun of how silly things used to be; everyone can mock the way that the Hulk used to talk, but nobody seems to understand that it was a joke. Even when we're not getting on-panel disembowelings and villains raping women to show how evil they are and the other trappings of arrested adolescence, the pathological avoidance of anything that might be considered "fun" is almost total. (Maybe this is why Squirrel Girl and Deadpool are such fan favorites. They actually get to be...gasp...silly.)

So again, I find myself gravitating to the movies, where Thor has to take the London Underground to get back to his battle for the sake of the universe, and Jane Foster's best friend calls his hammer "Mew-Mew". Because it is silly, it remembers that the whole idea of superheroes are wonderfully and gloriously silly, and it understands that it's not something to apologize for. It's something to embrace. Because, in the immortal words of Terrance Dicks, "What's the point of growing up if you can't be childish sometimes?"

Saturday, November 09, 2013

My Thoughts On the New Ms Marvel

For those of you that may not already know about this, Marvel Comics is launching a new 'Ms Marvel' series, creating a legacy hero to fill the shoes of Carol Danvers (who has in turn decided to become a legacy hero filling the shoes of Captain Marvel, because Marvel has to publish a comic called "Captain Marvel" once every so often or DC will swoop in on the trademark like a turkey vulture that happens on a wrecked tour bus). The new hero will be Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager from New Jersey who learns that she has shapeshifting powers and decides to follow in the footsteps of her favorite Avenger. Her parents, who are first-generation immigrants from Pakistan, aren't sure if being a superhero is a good career move for her; and her brother, who has picked up some strongly conservative views about the role of women, is very sure it's not.

My initial thought is that this sounds like great stuff. The editor of the book, Sana Amanat, helped to create the character by drawing on her own experiences growing up as the child of Muslim immigrants, and I feel like this could be a real, authentic character with something fresh to say about the superhero genre. All too often, even the earnest attempts at getting more diversity into comics come across as ham-fisted box-checking (as opposed to ham-fisted bun-vending) and descend into stereotypes, because as well-meaning as they are, it's still the same old bunch of white guys writing them. (The ultimate example of this, by the way, would have to be the New Guardians. It had a Japanese businessman with technology controlling abilities, a Chinese woman who could manipulate ley lines, an aboriginal Australian with "dreamtime" powers, and Extrano, who was gay. Only they couldn't say that, because of DC's publication standards at the time, so they hinted it by having him lisp and mince until audiences got the point. Suffice to say that the road to unintentionally hilarious gifs circulated on the Internet among gay comics fans is paved with good intentions.)

So this is great. It's an attempt to get a fresh perspective on comics that isn't out of the Straight White Male Club, to give representation to a lot of people who look at the comics shelves and don't see themselves, and as such don't read comic books. One of the things that's very invisible to most straight white male comics fans is how much of their fandom is based on audience identification; because just about every comic book character out there falls into at least two if not all three of those categories, they're so used to having someone they can identify with that they don't even need to examine why they tend to like some characters more than others. They don't even notice, "Hey, this superhero is just like me," because they're all just like them. (I remember having a half-hour long conversation with a comic-shop employee on why it was a bad thing to get rid of Oracle. I think it was the first time it had ever occurred to him that every single superhero he liked was a straight white able-bodied male.)

But as always, I run smack-dab into the brick wall of my cynicism here, which is best summed up by the 'Dilbert' quote, "You know, if you put a little hat on a snowball, it can last longer in Hell." Because the unfortunate reality of the marketplace is, Marvel and DC have already done a pretty damned good job of marginalizing non-straight white male able-bodied fans to the point where most of the target audience for the new Ms Marvel probably won't even know it exists. Title after title for decade after decade aimed squarely at the "white teenage boy" market, combined with a marketing strategy that has made comics virtually invisible to anyone outside of a tiny, dedicated fanbase that actively seeks them out, has self-selected Marvel's market down to the point where launching a book like this might as well have a blurb on the cover that says, "The New Ms Marvel! She's Not For You!"

Yes, there are some fans who will seek it out even though they don't personally identify with the character. There are also some fans who do personally identify with the character, either in terms of race, religion or ethnicity, who haven't been burned out on the hobby despite the worst efforts of fans and professionals alike, who will pick it up. But experience has taught me the lesson that these fans aren't enough to sustain a book. Marvel needs to reach out to a different audience on this one, and I don't think they're going to do it. They're just going to put the book on the rack next to 'Spider-Man' and 'Captain America', in the store that has all the cheesecake posters up behind the counter and the clerk who gives the stink-eye to anyone who looks vaguely ethnic because "they might be shoplifters", and then wonder why it fails. And inevitably come to the conclusion that it's just because nobody wants to read about superheroes who aren't white guys like them.

And from there, it's about five years to the point where Kamala Khan dies in the next crossover so they can introduce the NEW Ms Marvel, who will coincidentally be white. And then someone will write another article like this lamenting the fact that Marvel and DC always kill off their ethnically-diverse legacy characters so they can bring in whiter versions, and the company will placate these concerns by introducing a NEW ethnically-diverse legacy character in a different role, but without having learned any of the marketing lessons involved so that hero won't do any better because they're still marketing them hardcore at the same audience that rejected all the previous ones...and who have learned that if they just act pissy enough, Marvel and DC will back down from ethnic diversity every single time and give them back the comforting whiteboy fantasy world they got used to as a child. (I swear, sometimes I think that fans have gotten less tolerant over the years, simply because they know that at least when dealing with comics companies, xenophobia is rewarded.)

Obviously, I hope I'm being cynical. I'm certainly willing to put my money where my mouth is, and to go back into comics stores come January to actually pick up a copy of the new 'Ms Marvel', because as much as I think it's an effort that comes pre-doomed for your convenience, that doesn't mean I won't support it. But I do wish that one of these times, Marvel or DC might realize that there has to be more to reaching a new audience than just putting the book in the store and expecting teenage girls to have a sudden flash of telepathic insight that the industry that's been semi-overtly hostile to them for generations is making another half-assed attempt at getting them interested in the medium.*

*Post #7,352 in the "Why Marvel's Entire Marketing Department Should Be Lined Up Against the Wall and Shot" series. Collect them all!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Two-Sentence Review of 'Drive Angry'

It wasn't that it was bad, per se; it was just that despite some clever stuff with Hell's Accountant and his open disdain for Satanism ("Satan is a thoughtful man, very well-read, and the idea of sacrificing children in his name annoys him") the movie really didn't live up to the trailer--the trailer was just such a perfect encapsulation of its own concept that extending it out to a feature length only got repetitive. But it wasn't bad.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

I'm Not More Politically Active Because They Won't Let You Have Cattle Prods

So the current manufactured scandal afflicting Obamacare (and as an aside, I am more than happy to have the biggest improvement in America's healthcare since Medicare permanently associated with the name of a prominent Democrat, who by the way got bin Laden and Qaddafi) is that many people are finding out that their old plans are no longer available to them under the new insurance rules. My goodness, these people are having to pay more money for better insurance! This is a cosmic injustice that simply cannot be borne! What happened to their freedom of choice? The Republicans, who utterly demand freedom of choice for white males and white males only, are predictably outraged. They are also predictably outraged that people are having difficulty signing up for the thing that they tried to delay, defund, and repeal for the past three years running, probably because it infuriates them that Obama is even better at obstructing Obamacare than they are, but that's a different story.

The simple answer, which for some reason isn't getting more press, is that one of the things Obamacare does is set up minimum standards for what an insurance company can get away with actually calling "insurance". You see, basically there's been a trend over the last decade of predatory, anti-consumer "insurance policies" out there that offer ultra-low premiums, but that have coverage so limited and deductibles so high as to be useless in any kind of practical way. This has been sold as a great alternative for young people without much disposable income and a low likelihood of getting sick or injured...but these are exactly the people who need good insurance the most.

Why? Because if you've got low income and a low likelihood of getting sick or injured, you probably don't have much of a safety cushion in place for when you do get sick or injured. Lots of people are living paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to be out of work for a few weeks under any circumstances, let alone with massive medical bills. These people are basically suckered into taking a major gamble with their health, one that could have catastrophic consequences for their financial future should they get into a car accident or fall down the stairs or get a major illness. And up until now, selling these people high-deductible, limited-coverage plans has been a lucrative scam for insurance companies.

How do we know it's a scam? Simple. If it wasn't, the insurance companies wouldn't sell it. Think of it this way--these plans give health insurance companies thousands less in revenue per person per year. For a theoretically healthy person who's not using their insurance, the insurance company's most profitable strategy is to convince them to sign up for the most expensive plan possible, because all of that money is pure profit to them.

But they're not. They're pushing--actively pushing--the cheapest plan possible. They're tacitly admitting that they make more money when you buy a plan that has very low premiums but less ability to make claims. The only way that this is a financially viable business strategy for them is if they expect you to make claims often enough to more than offset the difference in premium price. In other words, they're gambling that you're going to underestimate the likelihood of making a claim. The only way this isn't a scam is if insurance companies don't understand odds as well as you do. Have I mentioned that they employ hundreds of full-time statisticians and actuaries?

So when the news says, "Obama is taking away your insurance plan, young people!" ...they actually mean, "Obama is ending a scam that ends up bankrupting thousands of sick and injured people each year." But for the news to say that, they'd have to admit that several of the biggest corporations in America have been running a scam on its most financially vulnerable citizens for years and they haven't said anything, and we're not a country that generally likes admitting that the only difference between Blue Cross/Blue Shield and that guy on the corner offering to sell the Brooklyn Bridge for fifty bucks is that one of them wears a suit and tie. So it's easier to sell this as a "choice" and hope nobody's paying attention.

Lucky for us, the federal government is paying attention and doing its job. No wonder the Republicans hate it so much. They've been insisting that's impossible for so long that finding out they're wrong is kind of breaking their brains.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Horror Anthology Drinking Game

(To be played during the reading of DC horror anthologies like "House of Secrets" and "The Witching Hour".)

Take a sip whenever a character is revealed as a vampire in the last two pages of another kind of horror story ("It was then that the alien realized he'd abducted...a vampire!" Or similar.)

Take a sip whenever the protagonist of a ghost/werewolf/vampire/mummy/whatever story realizes that he/she is the ghost/werewolf/vampire/mummy/whatever.

Take a drink when a character finds out he/she is actually a robot. (This may result in a sip and a drink if it happens at the end of a story about robots.)

Take a sip when the host's closing narration completely changes the story ("...but of course, he died in a car accident a week later.")

Take a sip when the main character's significant other turns out to be a witch. Take a second sip if it happens on the last page of a story where witches were not previously mentioned. Take a third if it was a story where the supernatural was not previously a plot element.

Take a drink every time someone recognizes which Edgar Allan Poe story they're ripping off this month.

Finish the bottle every time the narrator shows up as a character in the story.

Take a drink every time the narrator refers to the narrator of another DC horror title in their narration.

Take a drink every time the real monster is...Man! (As opposed to taking a drink every time the real monster is Woman.)

Pour a shot whenever an ugly character is victimized by a pretty one to drive home a point about being shallow. Drink it when an ugly character is the villain anyway.

Drink a shot of the oldest alcohol you have in the house whenever immortality is depicted as a curse.

Take a sip every time you catch yourself wondering why there are Sergio Aragones drawings in a horror anthology.

And lastly, take a drink every time the story is a thinly-veiled ripoff of 'The Monkey's Paw', 'The Most Dangerous Game', or 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'. (As with all Fraggmented drinking games, the management cannot be held responsible for any incidents of alcohol poisoning related to the practice herein described.)

Monday, October 14, 2013


Sorry about the lack of posts lately. Been feeling all kinds of sick, and just as I felt like I was starting to get it together, my workplace took away Google Chrome, leaving me with a greatly diminished set of posting options. I'm posting this from a Kindle, and we'll see how that goes. On the other hand, there appear to be nine more new Doctor Who episodes out there since I last posted, so that's awesome...even if it does mean Ian Levine will be even more insufferable about his insider fan status.

Speaking of cult TV, I have been watching the Agents of SHIELD series, and liking it. I am not unaware of the complaints about the series, and don't entirely disagree--Ward is a stiff, and I'm not loving the chemistry he has with Skye. But as with so many series out there, I feel like people are complaining not because the show is bad, but because it doesn't seem to be building a huge, overarching metastory that they can invest their emotions into speculating about. But I am actually a fan of episodic these days, primarily after being disappointed by series like Heroes, so I'm not disappointed that it's not being something it wasn't trying to be. (I still feel like this was the cause of a lot of the fan backlash against Dollhouse.)

Oh, and the Amazing Race is happening again. For fans of train wrecks, I guarantee you that you will not find a better train wreck than Tim and Marie. These two are already divorced, meaning that the bickering has already reached nuclear proportions, and they lucked into the double Express Pass in the first round, leading to some of the most hilariously inept attempts at manipulation EVER. At one point, she tells a team who she thinks has a lead on good tickets, "You know I have the Express Pass." My current working theory is that she thinks it works like Wonder Woman's magic lasso, forcing other racers to tell the truth. I'm torn between despising her sense of entitlement and not wanting the shitshow to end.

I know, talking about TV ain't exactly Shakespeare. I'm easing my way back, OK? Next time I might even be up to complaining about comics.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Funny If You Play 'Avengers: Alliance'

"My name is Fury, Captain Rogers. Nick Fury." The man stood in the shadows...or perhaps the shadows gathered close to him. "The Avengers need you. SHIELD needs you. There are threats out there, threats to America that only you can face."

Captain America smiled wearily. "How can I turn my country down?"

They took him to the future, then, with a time machine they claimed was confiscated from someone named 'Doctor Doom'. They set him up with his own room in the SHIELD helicarrier, and told him he'd be going on his first mission shortly. Within minutes, a SHIELD agent met him at the door.

"So, how about a little sparring session? You, me and Wolverine against another team. The practice will do you good."

Cap shrugged and grabbed his shield. "Sure. It'd probably be a good idea for me to get used to some of these strange new threats, Agent..."

"ContractKiller, sir."

"...um, right. Just show me the way to the gym."

A few minutes later, and he returned to his room, bruised and exhausted. His 'sparring partners' had tried to murder him with some sort of powered suit of armor that shot missiles and lasers. Luckily for him, Howard Stark's shield held up to the punishment, but he'd be feeling the pain for days even with the Super-Soldier Serum coursing through his bloodstream. He needed to rest, or he'd be no good for whatever mission Fury was planning for him--

There was another knock at the door. "Hello, sir, I'm Agent Deathbringer. I'm afraid that Doctor Strange and I need you for another sparring session."

"Um, I really think that I need a little R and R, can't you just--"

"Sorry, it's tournament season." He pressed a button, and the two of them were teleported back into the gym. This time, a ten-foot tall green monster pounded away at him for five solid minutes while his teammates picked off its allies. Cap couldn't help but notice that they kept hiding behind him whenever anyone attacked.

He staggered out of the gym, but he didn't even make it back to his bunk before 'Agent Play947325' dragged him back for another 'sparring session', this time with a woman named Storm as his partner. In the brief moments before a crazed telekinetic tried to drop a boulder on him the size of a Buick, he whispered to her, "Um...do we ever fight bad guys around here?"

"Sometimes," Storm whispered back. "To keep in practice between sparring sessions."

Thankfully, he didn't remember much after that. He woke up back in his room, his skull ringing and a lump the size of a hen's egg on his forehead. He tried to sit up, but the room swam unpleasantly around him and he sagged back onto his bunk.

There was a knock on the door. "Go away!" he shouted.

The door opened anyway. Cap realized he'd never actually seen any sign of a lock on it. "Hi," the SHIELD agent said. "I'm NickFury232, and we have a sparring session scheduled. Don't worry, Cap, it's just to keep your skills honed."

Cap tried to hit him, but he was too dizzy to do anything but swing wildly. "I understand your feelings, sir," the Agent said as he teleported them back to the gym, "but we need to use the best in these fights. And you are the best."

He wasn't kidding. As the other team teleported into the room, Cap saw that they had another Captain America right at the front. "How...?" he mouthed, almost too confused to speak.

The other him shrugged, his expression resigned. "I'm from fifteen minutes in your future. Agent Dudebr0 here used Doom's time machine to make sure he had me on his side." He sighed. "If it helps any, I remember making it quick."

It didn't.

Twenty-one days later, they finally stopped coming. Cap felt like he'd been through World War II...again. He tried his best to patch up his wounds, though. The new recruit, a man named Cable, was explaining to him that it all started up again in a couple of weeks. Captain America briefly wondered if the living legend of World War II could get away with deserting.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Blogging Isn't a Pain in the Neck, But...

I have a pain in the neck that's stopping me from blogging. Posted a couple of things I've already written, but I'm taking a few days off of writing anything new. The discomfort is just nagging enough to wreck my concentration. See you folks next week!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Twenty-One

I really thought I was still dreaming when I woke up. Can you blame me? I was disoriented, I was in an unfamiliar place (yes, we took over the building eight months ago, but it's not like I slept there every night--I still have school and family and stuff, and I probably don't sleep in the dorm rooms more than about one night out of every twenty) and I was in the middle of a weird horror-movie dream. And I woke up out of the dream to see my favorite movie star saying, "Are you okay?"

Well, I say "movie star", but even I have to admit that June isn't going to win an Oscar any time soon. Not because she's a bad actress or anything; it's just that movies like 'Night of the Blood Leeches' and 'Deathrain' don't exactly aspire to be the kind lofty art that the Academy looks at. But if they did, there'd totally be a little gold statuette with 'Best Actress - June Munro' written on there. Honestly, I think she deserves it way more than Meryl Streep; anyone can imitate Maggie Thatcher if they just watch enough old news footage, but how many people can convincingly pretend to be hypnotized by a lesbian vampire cult? ('Cult of the Blood Sisters'. It was direct-to-DVD. You might not have heard of it.)

That was what made me so sure I was dreaming. I wasn't just seeing an actress, I was seeing my absolute all-time favorite actress. I had watched entire movies for her thirty-second cameo appearances, and she was in my metaphorical bedroom? No way. No freaking way. I just rolled over and closed my eyes again, because if June Munro was showing up in my weird horror-movie dream then it was probably about to get weirder and more horrory, and I didn't want to deal.

And then she shook me on the shoulder a little, in that way that people do when they're touching a stranger. And then I realized I wasn't dreaming after all.

I flipped over so fast that she probably didn't even realize what was happening, and luckily for me, I also went through my embarrassing celebrity gush phase so fast that she didn't realize that either. "OmigodAAIIIEEEEEyoureJuneMunroIvegoteverysingleoneofyourmoviesonDVDIlovedyousomuchinMegaScorpionvsVampSharkcanIhaveyourautographwhatareyouevendoinghereOMIGODdoyouhavesuperpowersdidyoujointheteamthatissoawesomeItotallycantevenbelieveitEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!"

She gave me a blank look. I think that was probably the best thing I could possibly have hoped for. "Hi," she said. "I'm Skreem Queen. Captain Light told me to come and wake you up?"

I nodded. I had calmed myself, collected myself, gotten over my embarrassing gushing, and was now into the next phase of being awkward around a personal idol, paralyzing shyness. "Um. Hi. I'm Cassie. Hummingbird. That's, um...you know, what I call myself." I could feel my cheeks getting hot, and I knew I was blushing bright yellow. (I still have red blood, even though my skin is green, so when I blush, I blush yellow. Science is fun!) "Um...what did Josh need? Er, Captain Light. What did he need?"

She looked at me with a little furrow in her brow. It was a look that screamed, 'I want to ask if you're okay, but I don't know you well enough.' She shook it off and answered my question. "He said that there was a laboratory of some sort that was reporting a hostage situation. A place called PerfecTech?"

That took my mind off of my awkward celebrity encounter pretty quick. PerfecTech had been on our radar for a few months now, and if they were having problems, it automatically fell into the category of 'not good'. They'd been showing up after our fights, grabbing anything weird-looking that wasn't nailed down and driving off with it. We'd tried stopping them, but they flashed some official-looking paperwork in our faces that said that they had legal authority to 'salvage' anything unusual they found abandoned. There was a lot of jargon on there about 'extraordinary technology of sufficient interest to national security', and some signatures of people that I'd seen on the nightly news. We weren't interested in getting those people on our bad side, so we let PerfecTech go. A couple of us even thought it might be good to have someone securing all that weird alien technology and magic artifacts and stuff, just so that it wouldn't wind up on the black market or something, but most of us wanted to know a whole lot more about who was doing the securing before we relaxed. This looked like a good chance.

Or possibly a very bad one, if there was someone who had already broken in and had access to everything they'd piled up and a whole bunch of hostages with it. Imagining a person armed with all the leftover junk from a half-dozen invasions, a small horde of supervillain rampages, and a smattering of mad scientists was a pretty big wake-up call. "OK," I said, realizing she was waiting for a response. "Give me a minute to splash a little cold water in my face, and I'll meet you down in the hangar."

Life as a superhero never seemed to stop. Still, I did get to meet movie stars.


Monday, September 02, 2013

I May Very Well Have Snapped

I'm going to try doing a thousand words a day on a long-form story, until it's done. Since I don't want this blog to turn into "seven posts a week on one topic and then one or two a week on everything else," I've created a separate blog for it here:


I will try to make it look prettier later. The quick and dirty description, for those of you who won't click on a link without a little enticement, is that it's a novel about zombies...but they're not mindless, they don't hunger for human flesh, and they don't eat brains. That doesn't mean that the dead rising from the grave isn't causing the end of civilization as we know it; it just means that it's happening in ways that Romero fans never imagined.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The New Lobo

Okay, fanboys, here's the deal: For years...no, for decades, female comic book fans have been complaining that women in comics are treated like sexual objects, with exaggerated attributes designed to appeal to drooling, leering, oversexed men who want pinups and not real human beings. And for decades, said drooling, leering, oversexed men have countered that with, "No, they're not 'exaggerated', they're 'idealized'! That's the way that everyone is in comics, they're all meant to be over-the-top, wish-fulfillment versions of people! Because comics are basically wish-fulfillment!"

And for decades, women (and non-sexist men, let's be fair) have responded with, "Except that they're not. The male characters are wish-fulfillment versions of men, with rippling muscles and powerful bodies that are all about the (predominantly male) artist drawing what they wish they looked like. Whereas the female characters are all big-breasted, wasp-waisted, bubble-butted and slender-to-the-point-of-emaciation bodies that are all about the (predominantly male) artist drawing what they want to have sex with. Men are idealized, women are sexualized."

And for decades, sexist male fans have responded with, "No, no, no, that's not true! For one thing, we all know that's what you women want to look like!" (This is why the term 'mansplaining' was invented, by the way.) "For another thing, women are attracted to big, hunky, muscular he-men like Conan! Men get male idealization figures that women leer at, and women get female idealization figures that men leer at! It's totally fair!"

And for decades, women and non-sexist men have responded with, "No, that's really not what women are attracted to. A lot of women prefer a guy who's slim and athletic rather than an overmuscled weightlifter. A male figure that's created as an object of female attraction, rather than an object of male idealization, would look very different than the male characters we see in comics now. It might even look closer to what men stereotype as the body type of gay men, even though that's a really stupid generalization as to what a 'typical' gay man looks like that we're not going to dignify by suggesting it's correct. It'd probably make men deeply uncomfortable to look at; but since they're the target audience and not women, and they wouldn't enjoy it, we get tons of beefcake instead."

And for decades, sexist male fans have responded with, "No, we're not uncomfortable with men being sexualized in comics! We're just fine with it! We see shirtless men with huge guns and ripped pecs fighting in nothing but a loincloth all the time, and we don't complain about being sexualized and exploited, so women don't have anything to complain about either! Actually, given the way that shirtless men with highly detailed musculature is the norm, we should be the ones complaining...but we're not, because we're manly manly men and men are just tougher about sexism than women!"

And then Kenneth Rocafort's designs for the new Lobo, based on writer Marguerite Bennett's character concept, were released.

(See here for the new Lobo design.)

And the response from a lot of male comics fans? "Ew, he's slim and athletic and not an overmuscled weightlifter! I don't see how I can possibly enjoy looking at this character! Why would they even make him look like this? He looks all gay now! It makes me deeply uncomfortable. They should change him back." Well-played, Rocafort and Bennett. Well freaking played.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Living in the Footprint

I was reading some old 'Savage Sword of Conan' last night, and it suddenly struck me what has always seemed strange about Conan as a fantasy character (and Hyboria as a fantasy world, for that matter). Conan was riding in on some adventure or other, getting ready to fight some slithery monster, and I suddenly realized--he has no elven friends. No dwarven friends either, for that matter.

That's not because Conan is racist, or anything. Sexist, yes. Racist, no. (Sexist, oh GOD yes. Robert E. Howard didn't just have issues with women, he had entire climate-controlled vaults filled with complete collections dating back to Gutenberg.) But the point is, he didn't have elven or dwarven companions because these were adaptations of fantasy stories written before Tolkien. It explained for the first time to me why I'd always felt like 'Conan' stories felt a little "empty"; the number of elements I'd actually associated with "fantasy" in my head were surprisingly few.

The implications of that thought were kind of unnerving. I mean, I'd felt for a long time like fantasy authors aped Tolkien a bit too much, but it was only when I realized just how out of place it felt to a reader who'd grown up after 'Lord of the Rings' to see a fantasy novel without elves, dwarves, dragons and long-bearded kindly wizards that I realized just how much of an impact Tolkien had made on the genre. (There were wizards in Conan's universe, of course, but they were almost universally decadent and in league with unholy forces. Magic was something the bad guys used, and Conan defeated them with his strong right arm and his trusty blade. I could write a frigging dissertation on the underlying psychological implications of Howard's work, starting with the anti-intellectual symbolism of magic as a tool of evil and going on from there.)

It's scary, when you think about it. Tolkien's ideas were so powerful that they left a permanent imprint on every single fantasy writer who ever followed him. Those writers, in turn, deepened the imprint--I don't think you'd see nearly as many Tolkien pastiches if 'Dungeons and Dragons"' hadn't given us all a framework of "rules" for the fantasy genre, complete with a list of official Protagonist Races. But still, the sheer memetic power of Tolkien's work has warped the entire mental fabric of the conceptual space we think of as "fantasy". Maybe that's why I've never been as much of a Tolkien fan as most fantasy enthusiasts; I'm a little nervous about something that's taken over that much headspace over such a short period of time.

Or maybe the problem isn't so much that Tolkien conquered all the territory as it is that it was primarily virgin land to begin with. Prior to Tolkien, the only really major "high fantasy" writer in modern literature was the aforementioned Howard, and we still see a lot of his staple ideas to this day as well. (Barbarian heroes, decadent nobles plotting and counter-plotting, degenerate monstrosities from lost races, women treated either like meat or scheming harpies by a sexist and misogynist author...) Perhaps it's not so much that Tolkien has made it impossible to escape the fantasy framework of elves, dwarves and humans going on a magical quest guided by a kindly wizard; maybe it's just that we need the next Tolkien to come along and add something entirely new to the mix. If Tolkien has shown us anything, it's that one book can definitely have that kind of impact.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Top Ten Showcase Continuations I'd Like To See

As with Marvel, so goeth DC. I don't know if any of these series will ever get another volume--DC seems less invested in their Showcase line than Marvel is in the Essentials, despite a very strong rush of offerings in the first few years of their existence, and it kind of feels like they're just pushing the same old things. Still, a few of those same old things are on my list, so let's throw these out and see what happens, shall we?

10. Warlord. I really liked Volume One of 'Warlord'; Mike Grell's art is beautiful in black-and-white, and the series was a great fantasy pulp pastiche. I know it ran for over 100 issues, so it can't be that hard to keep it going for another few volumes, right?

9. Teen Titans. The first two volumes tied up the Seventies series, but that just means that the stuff everyone really wants, the Wolfman/Pérez run, is just around the corner. Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, all that great Pérez art in black-and-white, and I suspect that royalty issues will preclude it from ever seeing print. I can hope, though, can't I?

8. Superman. It's been ages since Volume Four, and I don't even think they're out of the Sixties with this title. The whole Julius Schwartz era hasn't even seen print yet. Really, they can't stop with this one, not with so much good stuff left.

7. Supergirl. It's been ages since Volume Two, and I don't think they're out of the Sixties here either. Plenty of great material to go on with, even if the character did sort of get sidelined in the Bronze Age, and I'm really hoping they keep going with it.

6. Legion of Super-Heroes. As far as I'm concerned, there is no reason to ever stop with these, really. The Legion has such a rich history that it should all be available in cheap, easy-to-read versions for the edification of potential Legion fans who need to catch up on the endless backstory of the title.

5. Justice League of America. Because it's the Justice League, and who doesn't want to get the whole flagship title of the DC Universe collected? This one feels like 'Avengers' to me, a title that was just so integral that they can't not put it out.

4. Hawkman. Because I am a total sucker for the "space cop" version of Hawkman, and I want every scrap of his material that I can get.

3. Batman and the Outsiders. I actually think that one more volume of this one might put them all the way into the Nineties, but I'm fine with that. The first volume didn't even get around to wrapping up Halo's origin, the whole thing is wonderfully cheesy Eighties comics, and I love it. Not necessarily unironically, but I love it.

2. Batman. Because they're heading deep into the heart of the classic O'Neil/Adams run, and stopping now would be like parking the rollercoaster on the hill.

1. All-Star Squadron. This was great. It was Roy Thomas at his finest, taking the Golden Age characters and making them work again, making the rich continuity of DC live and work, and it ran for a long while before 'Crisis' finally killed it off. It'd be nice to see this magnum opus collected in its entirety.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review: Green Lantern

This was almost "Under the Hood: Green Lantern", because the movie is so obviously flawed that I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to take the skeleton of this film and use it to make something actually good. It's a movie that encourages you not so much to watch it as red-pen it and send it back to Warner Brothers with a note saying, "No. Wrong. Do it again."

The flaws are enormous and fundamental, starting with the protagonist. They made a strange and distracting choice in this one, grabbing pretty much every single character flaw from Hal Jordan and piling them on one after another while adding a few new ones just for this movie. As a result, I couldn't tell you what Hal's emotional arc is in this movie if you put a gun to my head: Is he trying to overcome his fear of commitment? Is he trying to show everyone that he's as good as his father? Is he trying to cope with his fear of dying like his father? Is he trying to overcome his fear of failure? Or is he too much of a loose cannon, with the arc being that everyone else (including the Corps) needs to learn that he's right and they're wrong? The movie offers absolutely no answers and never really wraps up any of these things; in the end, Hal mutters the Green Lantern oath under his breath and then defeats Parallax in less than five minutes. It was as if they assumed that Hal would be sympathetic solely because of Ryan Reynolds' degree of dudebro roguish charm, and so they didn't need to do anything at all to make you like the guy based on the script.

Oh, yes, and Parallax. Let's have a long, sad talk about Parallax. Look, I know he's a major element of the last decade's worth of Green Lantern mythology, but...he's not really a villain. He's not even really a character. He's a walking collection of plot kludges that solved problems that the writer was having in the 'Green Lantern' titles at that time. He has no clear motivations--is he trying to destroy the universe? Rule it? Eat it? Punish it? Never explained. He has no clearly defined powers--in the film, he's just a big cloud of smoke with yellow souls in it that swoops through Coast City, except when he's a yellow goo that turns Hector Hammond into a creepy monster-person who otherwise has sweet Fanny Adams to do with the rest of the film. (And by the way, I'm going to give a little tip to you, filmmakers. If you do, in fact, plan to have Hector Hammond as a villain so you can retcon in a lifetime personal connection to Hal and give them the parallel problem of being unable to live up to their famous fathers...maybe have them meet sometime before the halfway point? The late second act is a little too late to have them bump into each other and start chatting.) And speaking of Hector Hammond, at least he had a connection to Hal, even if it was just made for this movie. Parallax could be pretty much anything from a giant meteor to a plague of space frogs for all that it matters to the main character.

And they have Sinestro in the movie, but they don't use him as a villain, because "you need to set it up". No, no you don't. Sinestro is an ex-Green Lantern who decided that the Guardians were soft and fear would exert control and curb disorder far better than "willpower", and so he turned to the power of fear to do the job that they could not. That's a sentence, not a movie. What people generally mean when they say that you need to set up Sinestro's fall is that they feel like Sinestro becomes a stronger villain when he's also Hal's mentor, but that's not necessary, just desirable. Given how weak Hal's Rogue's Gallery is outside of Sinestro (maybe Krona, maybe Star Sapphire, maybe the Manhunters but they're basically Sinestro without the ring, but before long you start getting down to dregs like the Black Hand and the Shark) you have to open with something big. Sinestro is your biggest gun. There's no point in saving him for a sequel that may never happen. Not to mention, if you do for some godforsaken reason want to use Parallax as a villain, you use him after you use Sinestro. Sinestro is a mortal using the tools of a god. He's less threatening if Hal has already beaten the god in question, even if it was through one of the dumbest and most awkward Chekhov's gun moments in cinematic history. "Here, poozer, let me teach you one thing and one thing only. The best way of defeating something large and monstrous is to throw it into the sun. Remember that in about an hour or so, okay?"

And even if you are going to set up Sinestro, maybe you should then decide to, oh, I don't know...set up Sinestro? As it is, Sinestro's emotional arc is the only easily comprehensible one in the entire film, and it's "arrogant and prideful hero wannabe learns that real courage isn't just power and combat skill, it's facing up to your fear and defeating it." It is an arc that means the one thing he's not about to do is put on the freaking fear ring at the end, by definition. Putting him in the neon yellow CGI animated bodysuit at the end (and I could write an entire post on the way this film was utterly drunk on CGI, using it for things that would have been done far better as practical effects like make-up and costumes, but life's too short to spend the rest of it detailing every single way this movie sucked rocks) was the one thing he should not have done based on his character as shown in this movie. It wasn't just an unearned Big Moment, it was an anti-earned Big Moment.

I could go on further--the opening saga voiceover was a pointless infodump that was covered later on in the movie in its entirety, there was no effort made at establishing the Guardians as actual guardians of the universe that people would listen to (the seemingly endless number of Guardian heel-turns only ever worked because they first grounded the Guardians as examples of the Wise Mentor archetype and then showed that they had a dark side), Abin Sur still had a spaceship even though there have been no less than two stories written in response to the question, "Why is a Green Lantern flying a spaceship anyway?", there's a criminally good setup line for a heroic quip that's utterly wasted (Parallax says "You are nothing without the ring," which absolutely begs for Hal to do something awesome and say, "No, the ring is nothing without me," but instead his sorry butt is saved by Carol launching cruise missiles at Parallax)...but I think I've made my point. There are exactly two things this movie did right, and one of them was not succumbing to the urge to call Tom Kalmaku Pieface. This is not a good track record.

I think a good 'Green Lantern' movie could still be made. In fact, it's been made pretty easy. Just look at every single creative decision this movie ever made, and do the exact opposite.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Terrible Pun of the Day

I apologize profusely for the lack of posts lately; I've been working on a writing project (one that's perilously close to being ready for a formal announcement, I hope) and it's left me with little energy to blog on top of it. I've mostly been kicking back with 'Avengers: Alliance' in my free time.

One of the enemies in the game has an attack called "Unavoidable Slash". Today I found myself wondering if it was Kirk/Spock or Harry/Snape. I think that's a sign of something, but I have no idea what.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Top Ten Marvel Essentials Series That Deserve Another Volume

Long-time followers of my blog will know that I love love love love love the Essentials series. I adore getting huge chunks of comics for a ludicrously reasonable price and tearing through twenty issues at a time of a classic title. They don't come out nearly often enough for my tastes, unfortunately, which means that not only are they not collecting some of the series that I want at all, they're also frustratingly slow in getting out more of the ones that they've started. Don't get me wrong--I understand that top priority will always go to the next Spider-Man, Cap, Thor, Iron Man and whoever else has a movie coming out soon. (Which may mean we might actually freaking see 'Essential Guardians of the Galaxy'!) But there are a lot of titles I want the next volume of, and I want it now. In reverse order of desirability:

10) Howard the Duck. Yes, I know this one's crazy. I know that the post-Gerber issues supposedly suck, and that they're not a patch on his great work on the series and that they were just an attempt to cash in on the character after he got sick of dealing with Marvel and quit. I'd still like to see them, just to make that judgment for myself. They'd also probably have room here to collect all the material Gerber did once he reconciled with Marvel before he died, which would be a nice gesture.

9) Captain Marvel. They've got two volumes out, and I think a third would actually bring them right up to 'The Death of Captain Marvel'. I'd like to see that, for the sake of closure if nothing else. Never been a big CM fan per se, but it'd be nice to have his story completed in one set of accessible volumes.

8) Doctor Strange. There were a lot of good Doctor Strange runs in the late 70s/early 80s, and the Essential series is on the verge of getting to them. My dream run goes all the way up through Roy Thomas' return to the series alongside Jackson Guice in the late 80s, before they got all 90s with the character and lumped him in with the Midnight Sons in a failed attempt to make him "edgy". (Oh, who am I kidding. As part of an Essentials run, I'd even take that.)

7) The Defenders. As with Captain Marvel, I think that one more volume should just about finish the series off. It'd be nice to get the original run collected, right up where it gets canceled and dovetails into the first issue of X-Factor. Plus, there was a certain apocalyptic splendour to the series finale; it's not quite the original Doom Patrol, but the team did implode in a pretty impressive way, and it'd be nice to read it all in one big story.

6) X-Men. Totally unfair, I know, because the odds of them not continuing to collect the X-Men are pretty slim even though Volume Eleven makes a good stopping point (it's the end of the Claremont era.) But just because they're likely to collect it doesn't mean I want it less. This was about where I stopped reading the X-titles, primarily because it was too expensive to keep up with them and there were too many series to keep track of and there was too little going on in each issue. The Essential version cures pretty much all those ills at once, so I say bring it on!

5) X-Factor. Pretty much everything I said about X-Men applies here, with the added bonus that the next volume would collect most of Peter David's original run on the title, which was absolutely divine. Vic Chalker and his family, Strong Guy, Cyber, and I'm pretty sure the X-Cutioner's Saga falls into this era too. Fun stuff, even if the end of X-Cutioner's Saga made it clear that they had no idea at the time who Stryfe and Cable were going to be. (Their dialogue makes literally no sense in light of their later origins.)

4) Web of Spider-Man. There is just no way I'm turning down mid-to-late 80s Spider-Man. Amazing, Spectacular, Web...I'm a sucker for all of it. This one's on here pretty much as the representative of the trio, because there's a little less of it than there is of the other two and I have fond memories of it. (And if they go far enough, we could get the Clone Saga! How sad is it that I actually enjoy 90s schlock when it's cheap enough and I can read it all in one sitting without having to open bags.)

3) Power Man and Iron Fist. There's still, I think, another volume or two to squeeze out of their original run, and that was a fun era on the title. The two characters had a great chemistry, they're still popular...or at least, Marvel's still pushing them on people, which may or may not be the same thing but I love reading their old series. They were hard to find on the newsstands when I was a kid, and all I really remember is that Iron Fist died at the end in a very stupid way. I'd like to go back and actually read it all, though.

2) She-Hulk. This one's a sneaky one, because the first volume collected her whole 70s run. Which means that a Volume Two would jump ahead to her classic John Byrne run, which I have fond-but-vague memories of as one of the great action-comedy series. Byrne's art in black and white is always easy on the eyes, too. I'm sure this one would be popular; it's got some serious nostalgia working for it.

1) Silver Surfer. Volume Two of this series was basically Volume One of the characters 80s title, and it deserves a Volume Three which would actually be a Volume Two. Steve Englehart's old run on this series was absolutely pure, unmitigated awesome. Better yet, continuing further would hit Starlin's run, and if there's anything that would sell right now it's the comics featuring the original return of Thanos. Add in the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos Quest, and you've got some truly great cosmic epics. I'd love to see it all in a single big, thick, black and white chunk.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Top Five Picks for the New Avengers Team (Once Disney Buys Up the Rights to All World Media)

Because let's face it, we know it's coming. And while it's undoubtedly going to have downsides to have a single massive corporation controlling the intellectual property rights to every single concept ever created by anyone ever, it does mean that the crossovers are going to be freaking metal. So let's just get on to the happy part of it now and worry about the rest later, okay?

1) Harry Potter. Because the Avengers have needed a magic specialist for a long time. You can't always cross your fingers and hope that Doctor Strange is going to be at home to answer the phone instead of being on the tail-end of the 14th Dimension fighting it out with Freddy Krueger, can you? (Remember, Disney will own everything.) Harry brings real magical expertise to the table, he's survived at least two uses of the Killing Curse, and he's got that great teen/tween appeal.

2) Snake Plissken. Because if there's one thing Brian Michael Bendis has forced on us taught us, it's that the Avengers should have at least one ruthless murderer on the team at all times, just in case a ruthless murder needs to happen and everybody else has scruples. (Because that's the extent of scruples as Bendis understands them--not doing the murdering yourself.) Plissken is a expert tactician, a weapons master and a good close-in fighter. I can see him teaming well with the Black Widow and Merida (oh, she's totally on the team. So's EVE. But we're limiting this to team-ups that couldn't already happen.)

3) Pikachu. You'd probably have to bring Ash along for the ride, here, sort of like how the Justice Society always had to hang out with Johnny Thunder even though you know they wanted to just stuff him in a dumpster somewhere and take the thunderbolt along by itself, but it'd be worth it. Anyone who ever played 'Super Smash Brothers' can tell you the little teleporting lightning mouse can be stone-cold brutal when the mood strikes him. Besides, how awesome would it be to have Doom cowering in fear on hearing "Pika Pika!"

4) Superman. Because if you're putting together a flagship comic of all the superheroes, how can you pass up the ultimate hero? He'd probably have to split time with his membership in the Justice League, like Captain America, but it'd still be a great addition to the title.

5) Hannibal Lecter. Hey, it still makes more sense than Wolverine.

Any suggestions you have for a great Avengers roster that involves non-Marvel characters? Toss it in the comments!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Worst Thing About All This

Years ago, I thought I had a shot at breaking into screenwriting. I didn't think I was going to be any kind of artistic success, mind you, but I was more than willing to make some decent scratch off of being low-brow. And I thought I had a pretty good insight into what kind of comedies teenagers wanted to see. So I wrote a script for Jim Carrey.

It wasn't great, don't get me wrong. I knew I was slumming it, and I wasn't proud. But it was the kind of thing he did back then, and it was just tasteless and raunchy enough that I thought I might be in with a chance. Carrey was the male lead (of course), playing a dorky-yet-loveable congressman who went off to Washington determined to do the right thing. (There was a running gag about his last name, "Weiner", and all the other congressmen making fun of him.) But he was allergic to the cherry blossoms, so he got his doctor to prescribe some anti-histamines...only the doctor was actually this crazy mad scientist type (I was thinking maybe get Martin Short for this part? I had some suggestions, maybe I was overstepping my bounds there) and he mixed up this bizarre chemical concoction for him. And when he drank it, buttoned-down Congressman Weiner became the suave, sexy ladies' man Carlos Danger.

I figured it'd be a guaranteed sell. There was all sorts of wacky misunderstandings going on, Carlos kept doing things that Weiner had to explain away, the other Congressmen were using it as a way to try to get him to drop out of the race so that the crooked governor could appoint a sleazy creep to the post who was going to bulldoze an orphanage, and in the end Weiner got the girl (of course there was a girl) and saved the orphanage. I was already describing it in my head as "'The Nutty Professor' meets 'Mister Smith Goes To Washington'," which I knew was going to go great at the producers' meetings, and I figured I'd make a million off it and be able to quit my day job. My only question was whether I should have gone with 'Mister Weiner Goes To Washington' instead of 'Congressman Weiner'.

And Carrey shot it down cold. He sent it back to me with a note on it that said, "Give me a break! Totally unbelievable even by my standards. 'Congressman Weiner'? 'Carlos Danger'? Nobody's going to buy this, especially not me!" I can't pretend I wasn't hurt--I'd sold out my artistic integrity, and found out that nobody was even buying. (I was even more upset when I saw the ads for 'Me, Myself and Irene', but I decided not to sue. Dignity, that's my motto.)

And that's the worst part. Now I have proof it could all really happen, but Jim Carrey isn't doing those kinds of movies anymore.

Oh well. Maybe I could dust off my old horror movie script about a Mormon ex-governor who concealed the evidence of his serial killings in his tax returns...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Next Week On 'Finding Cthulhu'

Next week, on 'Finding Cthulhu', the team heads out to Arkham, Massachusetts.

MATT: Arkham is actually a very good place to go when you're looking for for 'Thuls; there've been about a dozen sightings there in the last century. We got some audio footage from a friend of mine in the area, said he heard several 'Thuls calling to each other.


RANAE: I'm pretty sure that's just whale song, guys.


BOBO: That's Ranae all over. She doesn't understand that Cthulhus are expert mimics! The Call of Cthulhu can sound like any number of local animals. I think she needs to see Cthulhu for herself to understand the truth.

MATT (voiceover, over shot of map of Massachusetts): We traveled up to Arkham to see if we could uncover evidence of Cthulhu. Our first step, as always, was to ask residents if they'd seen the Elder God.


MATT: So you say you've actually seen a Cthulhu in the wild?

MAN IN STRAITJACKET, HIS HAIR STARK WHITE WITH UNHOLY DREAD: I have! I have seen him, I have seen his dread majesty! He comes forth to ravage the world! Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


RANAE: The boys gave a lot more credibility than I would to a witness who was committed to an insane asylum after murdering half a dozen people. I'd like to try to get some video evidence. That's why we're spending the entire night in a leaky rowboat out in the harbor, dropping heavy rocks into the area where we believe a Cthulhu to be nesting.


BOBO (to CLIFF): Wanna try a few calls?

CLIFF: Sure. [puts fingers in front of mouth in a vaguely tentacular fashion and burbles through them]

MATT (voiceover): Cliff is an expert Cthulhu caller. His Call of Cthulhu should get some results, especially with me dropping rocks over the side.

CLIFF: Did you guys hear that? That strange, unearthly splashing noise?

RANAE: That was Matt, dropping a heavy rock in the water.


BOBO: Ranae didn't hear it, but I'm sure I heard a second splash a split-second after the rock hit the water. I'm sure that the 'Thul responded to us by slapping a tentacle...but when he saw that it was a bunch of humans and not another Cthulhu, he ran away. They're naturally timid around people.


MATT: Well, guys, I guess the stars weren't right tonight. Still, I'm sure we'll find some evidence next week in Innsmouth!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Find Myself Deeply Disappointed in the Film "Pinocchio's Revenge"

I had a weird idea for a horror movie starring Pinocchio, but before I shared it with you I figured I'd look up the character on Wikipedia because the idea is so obvious I feel like it must have been used before somewhere. I did see that there was a horror movie called "Pinocchio's Revenge", but it didn't have even a single scene where Pinocchio grabs someone and starts rapidly telling lies, impaling them on his sharpened nose.

Why even bother if you're not going to do that? Huh, movie?

(Also, if anyone can tell me if this idea has been done, I'd be very grateful. It feels familiar to me, but then again I was reasonably certain someone must have done the 'Scooby-Doo'/'V for Vendetta' mashup, and I appear to have come to that one first.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

If I Wrote the Fantastic Four #1

Yes, it's a total rip-off of Chris Bird's "If I Wrote the Legion", but I can't help it. I have ideas for a Fantastic Four run, and even though this is no way to break into a major comics company (if it was, they'd have listen to Chris Bird's frankly awesome ideas for the Legion) fish gotta swim, you know? So, here's my first in an irregular series of posts on what I would do with the FF if I got it, starting with...

#1: Cosmic Rays. They're Not Just For Breakfast Anymore.

One of the things that I've become a big believer in, so far as comics go, is that there's a depressing dearth of creativity. Everyone comes onto a series to do their "Greatest Hits Album", taking the better-known villains on the title and trying to do the "ultimate" story for that villain. That isn't to say that this approach can't work; Kurt Busiek's run on 'Avengers' was a GHA, going from obscure villains like Imus Champion and Morgan le Fay to his take on Ultron and Kang, and it was great. But there's only so many times you can do a Fantastic Four run that goes through the Frightful Four, Galactus, the Mad Thinker, Doctor Doom, and never adds anything to the mythos.

Which isn't to say I wouldn't use Doom...but not from the start. My first storyline would involve creating some new villains for a change. And why not use the same method that created the Fantastic Four? "Probably because not everyone can just hop on a spaceship and fly past the Van Allen Belt," you might say, but I have a solution to that.

In my first issue, Reed discovers a source of concern regarding the Earth's ozone layer. Roxxon (they're still around, right?) has been using a new manufacturing process which they insist is perfectly safe...but as an expert in cosmic rays, Reed alone realizes that they're slowly eroding the Earth's protection from cosmic rays. As a result, the layer of atmosphere that shields from cosmic rays is dangerously thin, with shifting "hot spots" that allow full-strength blasts of cosmic rays to go all the way down to the ground.

As a result, random individuals are being hit by cosmic rays and gaining superpowers. Some of them are taking it well; I figure there'd be at least one who's trying to organize a support group. "People With Powers, Thursday 7-8." But there are always going to be some people who use their powers in the wrong way, and as the cosmic ray experts, the FF are the go-to people for it. They stop the bad ones, help the good ones, and Reed adds every single one of them to his "When I Finally Find A Cure For Cosmic Ray Bombardment" list.

Of course, there are other people out there interested in what is the beginning of a new army of superhumans...

Monday, July 08, 2013

Post-CONvergence Report

Sorry about the lack of a Thursday post, but as previously mentioned, I was at CONvergence this weekend. For those of you not familiar with it, CONvergence is a Twin Cities sci-fi/fantasy/general geekery convention that grew out of Minicon, but has rapidly come to outshine the venerable old sci-fi/party convention in the minds of me at least. It's a con that's hit that perfect sweet spot, large enough to attract cool guests like Paul Cornell and Kevin Murphy, but not so large that you have to wait in endless lines for each panel. (Although this year for the first time there were significant lines for badges. My advice to anyone going is to pick theirs up a day early.)

Once again on going to the con, I was struck by how absolutely great, how amazingly wonderful, how shout-it-to-the-rooftops awesome this con's harassment policy is. They make it clear through posters on every single wall and in every single convention space that being a jerk to your fellow conventioneers is not going to be tolerated (of either gender, by the way--several of the posters had men in kilts next to the slogan "Costumes Are Not Consent", which is a wonderful contrast to conventions that allow things like the Kilt Inspection Brigade.) They had various spaces designated as Official Safe Spaces, where you could go and be guaranteed that the person there would send whoever was bothering you away and give you a chance to get over whatever they did while they got convention staff to kick that person out of the con. CONvergence walks the walk as well as talks the talk, and the result is a con that attracts a lot of amazing and talented female guests and has wonderful gender representation on the panels. (Paul Cornell said that when he announced that he would only appear on panels if there was at least one woman up there with him, CONvergence was the only convention that didn't have to rearrange his schedule at all.)

And the panels were fun. I saw a great panel on the Worst of Bond, I was on a great panel on the Wilderness Years of Doctor Who (with Jason Tucker, who's arranging a new convention here in the Twin Cities, and Lars Pearson, who is always an absolute delight to talk to or listen to, and with my lovely lovely wife.) I ran four Red Dragon Inn demos, I jumped in a hot tub bigger than my actual bathroom, and I saw trailers for movies both real and fake. I took about fifty photos of people in awesome costumes, including a TV-quality Vastra and the Pink Dalek (an adorable eleven-year old girl handing out ribbons that said, "Exterminate! XOXO Pink Dalek". They were the hot item of the con.) And I am already looking forward to next year, and planning to join the movement to get Ben Aaronovitch to the next CONvergence. (The theme next year is urban fantasy. The man who wrote 'Rivers of London' deserves to be there.) (So does Paul Cornell, but he's already said he plans to go every year because he loves it so much.) (And frankly, so do I.)

So a big thank you to every single one of the volunteers, even if it was just someone who badged for a half-hour, and I hope to see you at next year's CONvergence!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Insane Comics Moments, Part Eight

Frankly, making fun of the Blackhawks is like shooting fish in a barrel. Sure, they were more popular than Superman at one point and sold more copies of their comic, but you can say the same thing about Youngblood. They're basically just "wacky ethnic people flying jets", which was enough to hang your hook on back in the Golden Age when they didn't know any better (other successful comics back in the day were "a guy who hits people", "a guy who throws smoke bombs, then hits people", and "a short guy who hits people".) But once the Silver Age rolled around and kids got real superheroes, sales of the 'Blackhawk' comic plummeted.

Which is when things got...awkward.

Because it led to Blackhawks #228, which is nigh-unto-legendary in the annals of lovers of Silver Age goofiness everywhere. The DC Universe goes temporarily meta, as Batman himself informs the President of the United States that the Blackhawks have become so terminally lame that even other fictional characters can't stand them anymore. (Lest you think I'm joking here, the actual quote from the comic is, ""It's fact, sir -- the Blackhawks are washed-up has-beens, out of date antiques, a danger to national security! To put it bluntly... they just don't swing!" That's Batman, explaining to the President. No really.)

Later, the secret agency known as GEORGE (I'd really like to say that's not an acronym, just because I love the idea of a secret agency named George, but it actually stands for "Group for Extermination of Organizations of Revenge, Greed, and Evil") defeats the Blackhawks in a mock battle to show them how inept they are. It's a comic-book intervention, basically. The Blackhawks decide that the only way that they can become crimefighters as good as superheroes...is to become superheroes themselves.

And this is what they come up with.


...just feast your eyes on that for a moment. Marvel at Stan's...what the hell is that, a tesseract on his wrist? Does he trap enemies in the fourth dimension with it?

Gaze in astonishment at "The Listener", which has to be the least menacing superhero name ever. "Talk, punk. Tell us what your plans are. Because I really want to know what you're thinking. People say...I'm a really good listener."

Admire the Weapons Master, who looks something like my mental image of the Unabomber before they caught the Unabomber.

And Dr. Hands...you know what? That's actually a step up in dignity for Chop-Chop. Screw it.

After 14 issues, this take on the characters was pretty much dumped down the memory hole to land next to Mopee, the Heavenly Helpmate who gave the Flash his powers, and the Blackhawks themselves entered decades of on-and-off (mostly on) comics obscurity. Their revamp, though, entered comics history as the only desperation move lamer than Penance.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I Must Be Getting Desperate For Topics

The real reason my posting schedule gets a little bit sparse at this time of year has nothing to do with lack of time and everything to do with lack of ideas. I get so consumed by work that I don't really pay attention to the world, which makes it hard to write about things that aren't the financial industry's decision to spend years and years depersonalizing the home mortgage process and getting personal influence out of the home valuation process by putting barriers between the loan officers and the appraisers so they can't communicate...then start requiring references from a financial institution for all new appraisers. (As you can imagine, this is something I can talk a lot about.)

So at this point, I'm just going to tell you about a dream I had the other day. In it, I was watching a "lost" Eccleston episode of 'Doctor Who', and marveling at the sheer audacity of Russell T. Davies. Because I knew that while the casual viewer wasn't going to notice it, Davies had gone and made the story into a mashup of "Vengeance on Varos" and "Timelash", and was demonstrating that there was really nothing wrong with the ideas, only the execution. In it, the Doctor and Rose and Jack landed on a degenerate former colony where the inhabitants had developed a Roman-esque Imperial Court, and the Doctor was framed by the Emperor as the ringleader of the rebels (who didn't really exist--they were just a convenient excuse to crack down on people) and sentenced to the Mindlash. (As a subplot, there was a faction who planned to use the Doctor to assassinate the Emperor and then execute him for that. Not many good guys in this one.)

The Doctor, in turn, found out that the Mindlash was actually a piece of broken technology from the original colony ship, an artificial intelligence that functioned as the ship's psychiatrist. Unfortunately, this one had become rather severely degraded, and was convinced that the default state for "sanity" was the 17th century explorer Vasco de Gama. The Doctor was deemed incurably insane for not believing himself to be a Spanish sailor from the Age of Exploration, and the machine decided that the best way to "cure" him was to erase his brain patterns entirely.

I woke up before the end, but I'd already guessed it--the Doctor had been talking to the Captain of the Imperial Guard, who was a good man who knew that the Court had become too decadent to survive, and I figured that in traditional Ninth Doctor fashion, he was going to win not through direct action but by inspiring someone else to do good. But it was an awesome episode, full of jokes and twists and courtly intrigue. I wish you could have seen it.