Monday, August 26, 2013

The New Lobo

Okay, fanboys, here's the deal: For, 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.