Monday, May 26, 2014

David Goyer, Craig Mazin and She-Hulk

For those of you who haven't heard, David Goyer (screenwriter on movies such as the Blade trilogy, Man of Steel, and the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Overextended Title: Seriously, We Can't Stop With the Colons: We're Starting to Sound Like Rikti) recently did an appearance on a podcast called "Scriptnotes", where he and host Craig Mazin discussed She-Hulk. The Mary-Sue summarizes it here.

In all fairness, Craig Mazin did apologize. In the other, harsher kind of fairness, he waited until it was perfectly obvious he was never going to get any peace until he did so, and he gave a lazy, weasel non-pology where he explained that he didn't think She-Hulk was a slut when he said, "The real name for She-Hulk was Slut-Hulk," he was just pointing out all the sexism inherent in the character that only he can see, and which he admits in the podcast "worked on" him! Seriously, I've seen multiplexes with less projection than this guy. But again, in all fairness, he did apologize. So he's actually ahead of Goyer on this.

Now, in fairness to Goyer...because I'm a big believer in fairness in all its many forms...his statement that She-Hulk was "a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f**k" does have some background to it. Mark Millar wrote a comic where the two characters had an incestuous relationship that resulted in children, because of course he did, and John Byrne wrote some comics where She-Hulk lost her clothing a lot more than was strictly plausible in the course of a superhero's daily activities, and certainly more often than male superheroes do in the general run of events. There was a Dan Slott run where She-Hulk was kicked out of the Avengers Mansion for bringing home too many drunken hook-ups...if you were someone who wasn't a comics fan and who was given a random stack of She-Hulk comics to research the character, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that you might form a conclusion that she has not always been well-treated by her creators. And pointing out that those creators were mostly men and tended to sexualize her, well...again, not unfair.

But Goyer went much further than that. He reduced the character to nothing more than a male sex fantasy, which is something that suggests to me that he's at the very least wanting to have his cake and eat it too. (Which is something that Mazin can also be accused of.) He wants to point out that the character is a sexualized caricature, but he isn't at all interested in making the effort at a redemptive reading (which isn't even that hard, given that she's also a trial lawyer who argued in front of the Supreme Court while being an Avenger and a member of the FF. Competency is pretty thick on the ground with Jennifer Walters, here.) Instead, he seems to be suggesting that it's okay if he sexualizes and reduces She-Hulk to a caricature, because it's no different from what anyone else was already doing.

And more than that, it seems to point to a deeper unwillingness to engage with the characters. Later in the podcast, Goyer spent an inordinate amount of time making fun of the Martian Manhunter as "stupid", which isn't in and of itself offensive--let's face it, DC has spent a lot of time and effort trying to transform the Martian Manhunter into an A-list character, and they've never succeeded--but it is illuminative. Goyer isn't interested in working at this stuff. He simply doesn't care enough about superheroes to give them more than a surface examination, and write his scripts based on that. And based on his comments about She-Hulk, he at the very least expects to be given a pass on not bothering to challenge the sexism of others beyond commenting on it, assuming he's not adding a healthy dollop himself.

This could be a problem, given that he's currently working on a script that features Wonder Woman. And that's directed by Zack Snyder. And that's inspired by Frank Miller. I mean, at this point if you added in Dave Sim and Mark Millar, you could form some sort of Misogynist Voltron out of the people working on this movie, and it's set to define Wonder Woman for a whole generation of fans that have already pretty much given up on comics as a medium for delivering superhero stories. This worries me. I'll admit, I'd already written off SvB:TDoJ:INWATA (the last initials stand for "I'm Not Writing All That Again") due to the Snyder/Miller thing, but it does sadden me that DC has hitched their star to a bunch of jackasses and sent it chasing Marvel. I like DC. I want to like their movies.

But they have to make some good ones first.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thoughts on the Recent Amazing Race Season

It looks like we had another Amazing Race. This was another "All-Star" season, where they brought back fan favorites from previous seasons to give them another shot at the race around the world for a million dollars. This season actually had plenty of sympathetic teams, two of which actually made it to the finals. So that part was nice (even if I wish they'd stop bringing back Jet and Cord, the homophobic cowboys).

I liked the mix of teams, for the most part, and I liked that most of them played the race smart and avoided a lot of drama. The obvious exception was Brendon and Rachel, who did pretty well on the former but not on the latter. They were much better than last time, when they seemed to be a sort of Zach-and-Flo minus the competency, but even so, Rachel's insistence that they were racing on behalf of her tragically empty womb grated. (No, seriously. She'd made a deal with Brendon that if they won, he had to impregnate her. Because that isn't creepy.)

Actually, more needs to be said about that. It's creepy, but it's not just creepy that Rachel made that deal. It's creepy...creepier, in fact...that Brendon agreed to it. Because you could see it in his face every time she talked about it, which was a lot--he doesn't want kids right now. He may not want kids ever. But he really doesn't want to have that conversation with Rachel. So he's putting up practical obstacles in her way so that he doesn't have to discuss the emotional divide between them on the subject, which is really unfair to her and clearly driving her towards big dramatic gestures in an effort to get those practical obstacles out of the way (and if there's one thing you don't want to do, it's to encourage Rachel's tendency to dramatic gestures).

Other than that, I thought their "heel" elements were overplayed by the series. Eventual winners Dave and Connor made a huge hairy deal out of the fact that the Brenchels U-Turned them,, RACE? Competitive competition in which each team tries to come in first? I understand not being happy, but seriously, people. This is like getting pissy with your friends when they hit you with a "SORRY" card.

All that aside, I thought there were some good challenges this season; the bamboo raft-building exercise made for some great television, and the drink-mixing detour was fascinatingly brutal. And I think that every team should have to go through Rome and participate in remote-control chariot races. (And they should also have to race bunnies in the Netherlands, but that's another story.) Even so, it felt like a lot of the legs lacked tension, probably due to the foregone conclusion of Margie and Luke's elimination falling right between two non-elimination legs. (Mallory and Bopper's leg felt a bit like a foregone conclusion, too, but that at least had some tension to it.)

The lack of tension extended a bit to the finish line--not that skydiving to the mat wasn't AWESOME, but I was really good with either Dave and Connor or Caroline and Jennifer winning, and Brendon and Rachel were clearly out of the running for first no matter how they Amazing Edited things. So it didn't pack as much oomph. Still, the finish was great because the finish to the Amazing Race is almost always great. Seeing all the teams gather together and share the joy of having experienced the Race, win or lose, is something you don't get in Survivor or Big Brother. It's what'll definitely bring me back for another season.

But please no cowboys next time?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Storytelling Engines Announcement!

For those of you who missed the CONsole Room convention this weekend in Minneapolis (which I'll excuse this time, but 2015 is just around the corner!) we had a very wonderful convention. ATB Publishing was there, talking about their forthcoming projects now that they've sorted out their reorganization and are ready to follow up their debut project, the really wonderful 'Outside In'. (Which I participated in!) And the publisher himself, Arnold T. Blumberg, announced one particular project that I've been waiting to say something about for a while now--they will be bringing out a compilation of my Storytelling Engines columns!

This will include every single one of the comic-related Storytelling Engines, revised and expanded to include the feedback I got from my readers. In addition, there will be about a dozen brand-new columns exclusive to the book, including such topics as the "Hard-Traveling Heroes" era of Green Lantern, the Adams/O'Neal era of Batman, Solomon Kane, Amethyst, the Marvel Cineverse, and more! And while I'm certainly proud of my original columns, I think that they benefited greatly from a chance to revisit them, polish them, and in at least a few cases incorporate material that simply wasn't available to me when I posted them those many years ago. (Spider-Woman, for example, got an examination of the Claremont and Nocenti runs in the back half of her series, which wasn't collected when I first wrote the piece.)

So if you've liked my Storytelling Engines, I hope you'll be interested in picking up this volume when it's released. There's no official date yet, and I hope everyone understands that small press publishing doesn't exist in the same linear relationship to time that the rest of us do (which reminds me, 'Rip Hunter, Time Master' is going to be in there) but I also hope you'll watch this space for further announcements as we get closer to finalizing the release. I'm really very proud of this book, and I hope that you'll all enjoy it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Insane Comics Moments, Part Nine

You know...after you spend long enough reading Silver and Bronze Age comics, eventually you get kind of jaded. I mean, there are only so many ways that Red Kryptonite can make Superman act goofy, and eventually you just get used to cruising through the story with your brain on auto-pilot and waiting for the wacky twist at the end. Not that it's boring, but I'm just saying that after a while you do get to feeling like there's nothing they can do to surprise you anymore.

And then something like "World's Finest #189-190" happens.

This two-parter by Cary Bates, respectively known as "The Man With Superman's Heart" and "The Final Revenge of Luthor", opens with a dying Superman plummeting to Earth like a meteor and taking out a child's playground. (For those of you who are proponents of the Superdickery theory of Superman's behavior, this is an entirely fitting final act.) You may think that this is an imaginary story, one of the many "What if Superman died?" tales that DC published over the years, but nope. This is entirely in continuity. Superman's corpse is lying there on the ground, his killer (a space alien named "Motan") boasts of offing the Man of Steel, and Superman's last will and testament is to have the United Nations use a Kryptonite laser to carve him up and donate his organs to worthy people around the world so that they can have his superpowers.

And of course, that's not crazy enough. No siree. Not while there are supervillains out there. Batman has refused to accept Superman's heart, stating that he's unworthy to have a Kryptonian heart beating in his human chest...and also, what exactly would it do for him? I mean, that's one of the few things that hasn't been mentioned in connection with his bizarre profusion of Silver Age abilities, at least not unless there's something we don't know about his super-ventriloquism. But anyway, Batman is trying to find worthy donors, while also dealing with the Gang of Four. (Um, not the disciples of Chairman Mao who instigated the Cultural Revolution. This is a gang of criminals who were so well-organized and cunning that they gave Superman fits even while he was alive, and are going on an unprecedented crime spree now that he's dead.)

But Luthor decides that now's the time to up the ante on creepy supervillainy, so he breaks into the UN building, steals Superman's organs, and auctions them off to the highest bidder. So, um...for those of you complaining about how comics have gotten too "dark" lately, it's 1969 and we've got a story about Lex Luthor's black-market organ harvesting of the Man of Steel.

The Gang of Four use their ill-gotten gains to buy Superman's organs (all except for the heart, which Luthor keeps for himself in the hopes that someday he will figure out a way to perform a heart transplant on himself and become immortal) and immediately embark on a SUPER-crime spree, with each of them having one set of Kryptonian body parts to aid in their wilding. One gets super-strength from Superman's fists, another gets super-breath from his lungs, a third gets heat vision and x-ray vision from his eyes, and the last gets super-hearing from Superman's ears. (He hangs around with the eyes guy a lot, on the not unreasonable basis that having super-hearing by itself doesn't really do much against being punched in the face by Batman.)

Batman is totally outclassed by the new supervillains, but he nonetheless announces that he's got a secret weapon against them and challenges them to a showdown at noon. (I know what you're thinking, but the weapon isn't Kryptonite, despite it being a really obvious choice that existed in quantity in the DC Universe at the time.) The villains show up, immediately realize that Batman didn't pack Kryptonite like a sensible person would, and start kicking his butt...

Until suddenly their super-organs fail. Blinded, deafened, paralyzed, and suffering from catastrophic lung collapse, they pose much less threat to Batman. In fact, he's getting ready to save the guy whose lungs stopped working when Luthor shows up and stops him. Turns out Luthor has figured out what Batman knew all along...Superman's not really dead, and the organs are synthetic. Supes shows up, whipping off his "Motan" disguise to deliver the required exposition--remember how much trouble the Gang of Four was giving him? Well, his solution to the problem turns out to have been to trick them into buying defective black-market body parts and permanently disfiguring/crippling themselves. HEROISM!

Batman and Superman haul the survivors off to jail, and lament the tragic demise of the one criminal who learned that the wages of sin are death...and also that Superman will straight up trick you into ripping your own lungs out if you cross him...and the two-parter comes to a close. And frankly, there's just not much they can do to top that one.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The LucasFilm Sale: How It All Went Down



LUCASARTS EXECUTIVE: Hello, sir. You said you had some big news for me?

LUCAS: Very big. I think this could be the biggest thing for this company since 1999.

EXEC: You mean...we're...?

LUCAS: Exactly.

EXEC: Episode Seven?

LUCAS: Huh? Oh, that. Um, yeah, I have a few ideas I've been tossing around. No, I've been thinking about new revenue streams for the company. I mean, the movies have always sold well, but eventually we hit saturation on that. People have the originals, they have the Special Editions, they have them on video and DVD and Blu-Ray, and they've all seen them in the theater a couple dozen times on top of that. It's the ancillary revenue streams that keep us in dough, you know that.

EXEC: Um, but Episode Seven would be a new film. They'd want to see that.

LUCAS: But you have to spend money making it, first! Millions of dollars scouting locations, hiring actors, putting them into mo-cap suits so that you don't actually have to see them on-screen when you're done...arranging all those pixels into fake aliens costs money, you know. And when you're all finished, what do people do? Complain that you didn't do it right and decide not to see it another sixteen times! No, if we're going to do this, we have to make sure it's profitable before the first ticket sold. Like 'Phantom Menace'. That's where my idea comes in.

EXEC: More merchandising, sir? I'm really not sure there's anywhere else to go with that. We've sold 'Star Wars' action figures, 'Star Wars' video games, 'Star Wars' tissues, 'Star Wars' muffin tins...we sold that candy that made you french-kiss Jar Jar Binks! I don't think we can really put the logo on anything else, not unless you're willing to sell 'Star Wars' toilet paper.

LUCAS: Hmm. Actually, write that one down. But no, I was thinking along the lines of advertising tie-ins.

EXEC: Kids' meals, drink cups, that sort of thing? I mean, I'm sure we can round some up, no problem, but--

LUCAS: You're not thinking big enough. Ever watch any sports?

EXEC: Well, um...yes, but--

LUCAS: Not me. Never really had the interest. Not enough CGI. But one of my kids had on a basketball game last night, and do you know where those guys play? Staples Center.


LUCAS: "STAPLES" Center! Don't you get it? The guys at Staples paid big bucks just to get a building named after them! I looked it up! It's like, millions of dollars! And I was thinking.

EXEC: OK, maybe we should do a little less of that--

LUCAS: Naming rights! How many of those damned aliens do we stick in the background of each shot? Twenty? Thirty? And every freaking one has an action figure, its own novel tie-in, and something like three comic book series about them! And we've just been naming them after our friends and stupid inside jokes! All this time, we've had a frigging gold mine right under our noses, and we haven't touched it!

EXEC: I'll be honest, sir, this sounds--

LUCAS: Brilliant? Lucrative? Like the future of cinema? Here, I've drawn up designs for a few new characters. That's Wal-Martto, he's going to be a wacky alien sidekick who does all the bargaining for the heroes. This, this is Darth Verizon. He's going to be a villain, but a "cool" one. Over here is Starbuck, a new Rebel pilot who loves to fly with the kind of energy only a Chai Latte can give you.'re giving me a look. What's the look?

EXEC: Well, first off, Starbuck is already a pilot in another series.

LUCAS: I know! And they didn't charge a dime! Don't worry, I've got a product placement deal going with the BSG people. We'll get twice the money for the same character, and they'll get a free ad for their DVD boxsets. It's're still giving me the look.

EXEC: It's just that...I mean, doesn't this kind of cheapen our franchise? I think the fans will see it as kind of, well...lame.

LUCAS: They didn't complain about Sio Bibble, Salacious Crumb or Elan Sleazebaggano. I think if we can get away with Elan Sleazebaggano, we can get away with Darth Verizon.

EXEC: ...OK. Look, George. How much would it cost to get you to not make this movie at all? Or any movies? Ever?

LUCAS: I dunno. Four billion dollars?

EXEC: Let me get Disney on the phone.

(Disclaimer: All kidding towards Lucas aside, I'll be honest; I really only did this because I wanted to get the name "Wal-Martto" down in print somewhere.)