athelind: (benjy)
Last week, Your Obedient Serpent let slip the single nerdiest thing he has ever said, or, in all probability, ever will say. Those who have spared even a cursory glance at this journal will understand that this is a high bar indeed.

I compared the Cutie Mark Crusaders to the Forever People.

This, dear readers, is a transcendent moment of nerdity. For one brief, shining moment, I achieved Nerdvana.

Ah, but I can tell by your expressions that this bon mot was sufficiently inbred as to be incomprehensible to any but my fellow Nerdisattvas.

As I have noted in the past, there is a tendency for fans of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Saga to neglect the Forever People, a series about a band of youthful, colorfully-garbed "gods" of New Genesis who can only be described as "Space Hippies". While the Fourth World as a whole is a product of its time, it's the Forever People who are the most dated. They're earnest. They're optimistic. They're corny. "Serious" readers find them embarrassing, and prefer to ignore them or sweep them under the rug, preferring even Kirby's work on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen to this gaudy gang of star-born striplings. Alas, some of those "serious" readers include comic professionals who attempted to continue the King's Magnum Opus.

This is unfortunate, because it is in the pages of the Forever People that Jack clearly spells out, over and over, the key concept of the epic, the Anti-Life Equation -- a MacGuffin that those "serious" readers insist that the King "never really explained". Those embarrassing space hippies are the ones who most often directly confront the Big Bad of the Fourth World, Darkseid, and encounter not one but two individuals who actually wield the Equation itself.

By the same token, there is a tendency amongst Bronies (the Periphery Demographic that helped to catapult My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic from a thirty-minute toy commercial to a global phenomenon) to dismiss, ignore, or just roll their eyes at the episodes centering around a group of secondary characters dubbed "The Cutie Mark Crusaders". The Crusaders are younger than the main cast (a.k.a. the "Mane Six"), being portrayed as schoolchildren. Originally, they were planned as a spin-off aimed at an even younger audience, and, well ... they're earnest. They're optimistic. They're corny.1

It is also in the Crusader-centric episodes that writing staff clearly spells out the key concept of the "Cutie Mark", the mystic brand that adorns the hindquarters of each adult pony. A Cutie Mark appears when a pony finds her True Calling, the vocation or avocation that that will bring her the most fulfillment in life. The Crusaders, last in their age group to achieve this milestone, are determined to do everything they can to hurry the process along.

The puberty metaphors are not accidental, but are, ultimately, incidental. The Cutie Mark is more than just a metaphor; the magic of Equestria may not be rigorous enough to satisfy Sanderson's First Law2, but the Marks and Callings nevertheless play an important role in its operation -- particularly in Season 5, currently underway as of this writing.

More than one Brony rolled over a few Saturdays ago, went back to sleep when they remembered that a CMC episode was scheduled for the day -- and discovered upon awakening that they'd missed one of the Big Episodes of the Season. Given the themes of Season 5, I would not be surprised if Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Bell turn out to be major players in resolving the crisis in the forthcoming season finale.

Is there a point to all this? Probably not, other than an amusing confluence of easily-dismissed side characters in obscure pop culture.

On the Other Claw, perhaps there is. Perhaps it's worth taking a second glance at the overlooked and unappreciated side characters in the media we all so adore. Perhaps there are more works where the real themes and key concepts are explored by the side-characters, since, after all, the protagonists and antagonists are busy protagonizing and antagonizing. Perhaps, in many works, all that foreground action is just a carrier wave, and it's the Big Bears and the Apple Blooms, the Merrys and Pippins, the Neville Longbottoms and the Etta Candys who really embody the signal.

1 There is also an unfortunate tendency for the earlier CMC episodes to hinge heavily on Cringe Comedy, though this thankfully diminishes as the seasons progress.
2 Did I just invoke Sanderson on top of Kirby and MLP? Trifecta!!
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
The Everlasting Gobstopper* is Your Obedient Serpent's own rhyming slang for a "Neverending Doorstopper", the most egregious metastasis of Trilogy Creep.

To qualify as an Everlasting Gobstopper, a work must have most or all of the following traits:

  • Each volume in the series will run around a thousand pages, putting each individual installment firmly into Doorstopper territory.

  • There is no clear end to the progression of installments: while the saga appears to be telling a story, there is rarely a hint of actual resolution. It is, in short, Neverending.

  • The characters rarely manage to accomplish anything of significance. They are tossed around from event to event, becoming increasingly mired in events outside their control.

    • Corollary 1: The more sympathetic they are, the less they manage to accomplish.

    • Corollary 2: Any minor "victories" will happen early on in the series. As it progresses, the characters become increasingly less effective, as the author finds it easier to play on readers' sympathies tormenting characters rather than advancing the story.

  • Readers often develop Stockholm Syndrome. After investing so much time and energy into a work, they are not going to walk away and leave it unfinished, no matter how much of a slog it has become or how little they care about the characters anymore.

  • As the work continues to expand, it becomes increasingly likely that the author will walk away and leave it unfinished.

While these symptoms are most commonly found in Fantasy Literature, the contagion has spread to other genres and media as well. HBO's Game of Thrones, of course, is the most obvious example, being a direct adaptation of one of the quintessential Everlasting Gobstoppers.

An example native to television might be Supernatural: after the resolution of its original story arc and the departure of the creators, the series has continued without actually progressing, to the point where one can tune into any random episode from Seasons 6-10 without being able to determine if it is, in fact, a rerun.

In the world of comics, Hickman's multi-year run on the Avengers titles spiraled into a Gobstopper. Hicman managed the rather impressive feat of making the defeat of a vast alien armada seem ultimately meaningless. Geoff Johns' tenure on Green Lantern and its spin-offs deserves a mention, as well: it even outlasted the original author (though Mr. Johns is, thankfully, still with us); after his departure from the books, those who followed him kept spinning out the plot threads he set in motion, stretching them ever-finer and more tenuous.

Note that an author can crank out novel after novel about the same characters for decades, but if the characters resolve the issue at hand in each installment, it's not a Everlasting Gobstopper. The continuing adventures of Philip Marlowe, of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or even those of Harry Dresden do not qualify as Gobstoppers. Yes, Harry's saga has an ultimate over-arching story arc, but each volume is largely self-contained; he and his friends resolve the most immediate of threats and dangers, and even multi-volume plot threads are resolved every few books. Butcher lets his characters win now and then, and that big looming metaplot actually progresses as we learn more about it.

I am ... not a fan of Everlasting Gobstoppers, and I try to avoid them. I get sucked in on occasion, of course; the Agent Pendergast series seemed like a tidy batch of fairly self-contained superhantural thrillers until it swallowed its own tail diving into the protagonist's dysfunctional family background; ultimately, I walked away from that one and haven't looked back. More recently, after thoroughly enjoying the tidy trilogies and done-in-one works of the preposterously prolific Brandon Sanderson, I picked up The Way of Kings ... and discovered, as I was immersed in the second volume, that Sanderson intends to run that series for at least ten full doorstoppers.

Coyote help me, I am looking forward to them all.

*The phrase, of course, is borrowed from Roald Dahl's masterpiece, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
Your Obedient Serpent quite enjoyed Ant-Man, particularly since it suggests that the hot mess that was Avengers: Age of Ultron is an outlier and not a harbinger that the grand experiment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally followed Mr. Fonzarelli's motorcycle over the infamous elasmobranch. However, I must agree with Mr. Taylor's assessement that the core conceit that the Ant-Man technology changes SIZE but not MASS was handled with a distracting inconsistency.

I will note, for the moment, that said inconsistency was handled pretty much exactly as it is in the comic books.

DC's Alternate Company Equivalent, The Atom, possesses full control over both his size AND his density -- and, of course, this was spelled out in dialogue, editorial footnotes, or both, in every single one of Dr. Palmer's Silver Age adventures. However, Dr. Pym, Ms. Van Dyne, and their assorted successors have never explicitly been granted anything but size control -- and usually, they are portrayed as no stronger than their insect associates at those scales.

A possible explanation of the Tiny/Heavy Paradox that plagues the movie occurred to me this morning. It's nonsense sci-fi technobabble, but no more than any other instance of Comic Book Physics, but it's sci-fi technobabble of impeccable pedigree.

Edward Elmer Smith, PhD, known to fans and friends alike as "Doc", was the author of the seminal Lensman saga, scribed back in the 1930s and 1940s. Lensman was the trope codifier for pretty much the entire genre of Space Opera, including Star Trek, Star Wars, and everything else of that nature, and had no small impact on another comic book franchise that didn't involve tiny people at all other than the occasional superintelligent alien virus.

A key piece of fictional science and technology in the Lensman saga is the conceit that later developments of relativistic theory divorced inertial mass from gravitational mass; in the epic, of course, this allowed for the faster-than-light velocities needed for star-spanning adventure.

I find myself wondering if this might prove the key to bringing some level of consistency to what the movie portrays: when Ant-Man is just standing, gravity only affects him as if he were the size and mass of an ant. When he falls, or hurtles into something, or socks someone in the jaw like a proper superhero, he has the momentum and kinetic energy of an 80-kilogram man, concentrated in the volume and surface area of one a mere centimeter tall.

(This works better if we discard the movie's explanation that the Pym Particle "reduces the distance between atoms" and return to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe's assertion that the mass of the shrunken person or object is "shunted into another dimension".)

It suggests that subtle variations in angle and trajectory could produce a wide range of "effective" mass and momentum. As just one example, he can match velocities with his formic steed because the ratio of his surface area to his gravitational mass allows him to control his descent, but if he jumps off, tucks in, and minimizes his surface area, he can hit that hapless mook with all the force of a full-grown man dropping a meter onto his back. (Ow.)

It's no less nonsense, but it might be the hand-wave that "fixes" the movie; I would have to watch it again with Bergenholm Physics in mind to see if it really does mesh with all the delightful, preposterous things we see on the screen except for that damned keychain.

athelind: (Beware My Power)
I am home sick today, my third round with a stomach bug in a four-week span, so let's talk Superhero Movies.

Recently, Time Warner announced that they were ramping up their slate of DC Comics-based movies in a desperate attempt to play catch-up to Disney’s unprecedented success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • Wonder Woman (2017)
  • Justice League Part One (2017)
  • The Flash (2018)
  • Aquaman (2018)
  • Shazam (2019)
  • Justice League Part Two (2019)
  • Cyborg (2020)
  • Green Lantern (2020)

Needless to say, this prompted some discussion ‘mongst my social circle … and some eye-rolling that followed the last entry on that four-year, ten-movie extravaganza: Green Lantern.

Long-time readers will recall that GL was once Your Obedient Serpent’s very favorite superhero, but even he will admit that the last attempt at translating the Emerald Gladiator to the big screen was, to be generous ... unimpressive. Nevertheless, while its descent into mediocrity was the end result of bad creative choices, one should not fall into the trap of assuming that the first of those bad choices was "let's make a Green Lantern movie!"

The first and biggest Bad Choice was to cram far too many elements into the first movie, all from different periods of the comic, without really giving any of it a proper build-up.

The second Bad Choice was Hal Jordan.

Okay, let me rephrase that. No, I am not Happy Hal's biggest fan; of all the different characters who've worn the ring and claimed the title, I'd have to say that there were three or four ... thousand ... I like more than Hal Jordan. And if the movie had actually given us Hal Jordan instead of Stock Character #438, I'd have been middlin' pleased.

Look, here's the Secret Magic Ingredient that Marvel Studios stumbled across that turned their movies into both critical and box-office successes: superhero movies need distinctive characters and strong character arcs.

The character arc in the Green Lantern movie? "Look, the slacker screwing up his life gets a magic ring, straightens out, and turns his life around, proving that he's not such a screw-up after all." No surprises there: that's about as trite and unimaginative as Hollywood gets these days.

It's also not Hal Jordan.1

Please note that I am not saying "oh, they aren't faithful to the character, so this movie sucks." I'm also aware that they've been trying to shoehorn "reckless maverick who's always in trouble" into Hal's backstory since they did Emerald Dawn back in '89, but that's never really clicked.

I AM saying that Hal Jordan's character arc in the comics is a lot more compelling and unusual than the story of Yet Another Man-Child Growing Up.

When we first meet Hal in 1959, he's got it all. He's a test-pilot, competent, confident and successful in a career that demands highly-honed skills and steady nerves. He's fearless, not reckless: having him on the Ferris Aircraft payroll is an asset. He's a jet-setting ladies' man who has his sights set on the woman who runs the company, and lives a life of martinis and tuxedos that James Bond would envy.

The magic ring that falls from the sky doesn't straighten out his screwed-up life; quite the contrary. It gives him amazing power and opens the entire Cosmos up to him ... but little by little, it sends his personal and professional lives into a tailspin. The responsibilities of protecting Sector 2814 as a member of both the Corps and the Justice League take more and more of his time from his life on Earth. By the mid-'70s, he's gone from a high-prestige test pilot to someone who can't hold a steady job, his resume including such gems as travelling salesman for a toy company.

He spent a good chunk of the mid-'80s having resigned from the Corps, trying to figure out what had happened to his life, wandering around as a drifter trying to figure out just who Hal Jordan was apart from being Green Lantern.

And yet he keeps going back.2

Now, that's a character arc that we haven't really seen on the big screen. In the Spider-Man movies, Peter Parker can't hold a steady job because because of his extracurricular activities, but it hasn't really dragged him down -- at worst, it's held him back. In the Iron Man series, we watched Tony Stark go from a reckless genius billionaire playboy asshole who didn't give a damn about anything to ... um ... a reckless genius billionaire playboy asshole who really does want to do the right thing, mostly. By the end of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce Wayne is a battered, broken semi-invalid, but really, he was always a broken man: his body just caught up with his soul.

So far, we haven't had a superhero movie where the "Guy Who Has It All" finds his true calling ... and loses "it all" because of it.

As much as I can see the potential of a good Hal Jordon movie, though, I think they could get a lot more mileage out of John Stewart. Really, as much as it pains the Silver Age Stagnation Squad to see it, John is familiar to a lot more people than Hal, thanks to his headlining role in three brilliant seasons of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

I would love to see a movie that really took advantage of John's two primary background elements: he's a Marine Sniper who became an Architect. Seems like writers who eagerly adopt the Marine backstory (first introduced in the above-mentioned animated series) completely ignore the Architect (the vocation he's pursued in the comics almost since the beginning), but that dissonance between Warrior and Builder has a LOT of untapped potential.

John was the protagonist of Green Lantern: MOSAIC, a brilliant, surreal early '90s series by Gerard Jones that DC shows no interest in reprinting or even acknowledging. At one point, Jones scripts him a scene -- almost a soliloquy -- that manages to reconcile Warrior and Builder as two aspects of the same principle:

"What I do," John says, "is redistribute violence."

After this this startling proclamation, he clarifies: the job of an architect is to balance all the forces acting on a structure, and redirect them to make it stronger instead of tearing it apart.

That's John Stewart, particularly when Jones writes him: he's intelligent. He's erudite. He's philosophical.

John Stewart is the Warrior Poet.

We've had a lot of "smart" superheroes on the big screen ... we haven't really had an intellectual up there.

I will also note that John has another quality that is important for entirely different reasons: he's African-American.

And yes, dammit, that's important. Ask my friend [ profile] kolchis, a school teacher who does a lot of substitute work in a lot of different areas, about the black kids who immediately zero in on the Green Lantern keychain the middle-aged white guy carries.

Rest assured it's not because they're Ryan Reynolds fans.

No matter how hard they try to push him as one of their Iconic Characters, Cyborg is the odd man out in that slate of movies. Sure, he's been around for more than thirty years now, but when push comes to shove, he's a Teen Titan. When they try to shoehorn him into the Justice League, it feels like they're desperate to dig up just one character in their roster who isn't Upper/Middle Class White Guy Man.

Do I think they should leave him out? Hell, no! I want to see Victor Stone up there on the screen with John Stewart. I want to see Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson playing Captain Marvel Shazam instead of Black Adam, and Billy Batson played by a kid with an equally-diverse heritage.

Representation and diversity is not tokenism.

1 "It's Kyle Rayner." "YOU SHUT UP. JUST SHUT UP."
2 This is directly related to why I am one of the few people who thought that Emerald Twilight was perfectly in character and was the logical culmination of three decades of storytelling ... but that is a story for another time.
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
Time Warner has owned DC outright for years, and, of course, Disney owns Marvel. The House of Mouse is doing their best to bring the sum total of the House That Jack Built into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sony and Fox are clinging to their respective Marvel licenses, because it's clear that Disney Wants Them Back.

So what do you do if you're a studio that wants to cash in on the booming market for comic book movies?

You aim for the indies, of course.

Evidently, a couple of indie movie studios have optioned Jim Starlin's vintage '80s space epic, Dreadstar.

Let us, for a moment, set aside the differences between "a superhero movie" (based on a particular genre) and "a comic book movie" (based on a particular medium). There have been some excellent and successful "comic book movies" that have nothing to do with superheroes, but it is evident that the Motley Fool isn't thinking of works like From Hell or A History of Violence. He's looking at Dreadstar, with its fancifully-named hero with extraordinary powers, and putting it in the same category as Iron Man or Thor ... or, possibly, with Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a more apt comparison.

Now, I love Starlin's work (so long as he keeps his hands off of Kirby's Fourth World). I loved the Metamorphosis Odyssey in high school, in which Vanth Dreadstar first appeared1. It was a sweeping, beautifully-illustrated epic (whose initial chapters appeared, appropriately enough, in Epic Illustrated, Marvel's stab at a high-end outlet for creator-owned works aimed at an older demographic), and it was unlike anything else in comics at the time.

And there's the rub: it was unlike anything else in comics, thirty years ago.

It's a star-spanning epic about a ragtag bunch of misfits who fight to liberate a galaxy an evil empire with vaguely-defined preternatural forces on each side.

There weren't many comic books like that at the time -- though that same basic structure pops up in the original 1969 Guardians of the Galaxy, the Bill Mantlo-scripted Micronauts, and much of Starlin's own work at Marvel. Once you sweep your gaze across other media, though, it looks, shall we say, increasingly familiar -- all the more when you include the works of the following three decades.

There are a lot of distinctive elements to Starlin's magnum opus, but, aside from the lush, painted visuals of the opening chapters, I doubt they'll translate successfully to the big screen. It's a thoughtful, philosophical work that happens to have the surface gloss of an action-packed space opera, but the movie industry, by and large, is terrible at making those distinctions.

Marvel Studios has tapped into an exceptional range of industry professionals who have an affinity for comic book superheroes, and have a gift for looking at half a century or more of comics and seeing just which elements will make a movie that is both entertaining and successful.

Not everyone in the industry has that Marvel Studios knack. That's why there have been so many mediocre superhero movies, and so many missteps.

In this particular case, there's a tendency to look at a property that was a successful, well-regarded comic book and assume that it's because of something distinctive and interesting about the character.

Sometimes, the only distinctive, interesting element about the character is that he was in a comic book. Once you move him out of that medium ... it's hard to distinguish him from other, similar characters.

I call this The Punisher Effect.

Frank "the Punisher" Castle is a Spider-Man villain from the 1970s who is a direct and shameless ripoff of Mack "the Executioner" Bolan, the protagonist of a long-running series of cheesy "men's novels" from that decade, published by the same company that publishes the infamous Harlequin Romances. Their origins are identical: Viet Nam veterans who carry on a vendetta against organized crime after their families are caught in the crossfire of a mob hit.

The Punisher became enormously popular in the Iron Age of Comics, the late '80s through the '90s and into the current century. He's been brought to the screen three times, in 1989, 2004, and 2008; all three movies bombed, and none of them snagged the brass ring of a sequel, much less a long-running franchise to match his comic book counterpart or paperback "inspiration".

Why hasn't this character ever really clicked on the big screen, even with his devoted following?

Well, why is he successful in the comics? Because in the Marvel universe, he's the only guy "fighting the mob with the weapons of war." He's different. He's unusual. He's interesting.

On the big screen, he's routine. Frank Castle is a blandly generic action movie protagonist, indistinguishable from any number of other characters played by Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, or Jean Claude Van Damme.

The only interesting thing about the Punisher is that he is a comic book character. Take that big fish out of his small pond, and he gasps for oxygen. Throw him in a bigger pond ... and he's just another fish.

As much as I would like to think that there's more substance to Vanth Dreadstar, Syzygy Darklock and their companions ... I am honestly not convinced.

When Marvel Studios says, "Hey, everyone! Here's a raccoon with a machine gun! Just roll with it!" ... we're going to roll with it, in no small part because they've earned that trust with almost a dozen excellent movies based on unlikely and historically-difficult source material. They can throw yet another ragtag bunch of misfits in space into the market, and we are intrigued and amused by the audacity, and eager to see how it ties into the larger saga.

If they weren't tied into that bigger story, though ... and Vanth and company are not ... well, that's a really big pond.

1Technically, the whole span of Vanth Dreadstar stories, including the comic to bear his name, are just chapters in The Metamorphosis Odyssey.
athelind: (Default)
Because really, what could I possibly add?

athelind: (hoard potato)


I've finally figured out my utter dis1 for DC's recent business model of resurrecting Silver Age characters who got killed off in the '80s and '90s because they couldn't sustain their own titles.

As I mentioned the other day, I don't like zombies.2

Certainly, remembering, as one example, the long, dragged, out "Trial of the Flash" that closed out Barry Allen's run months before he met his end in Crisis on Infinite Earths is not that far removed from having the fragrance of three-month-old sea lion carcasses waft unbidden through one's amygdala.3

At least when Marvel turns its colorfully-costumed characters into shambling undead mockeries, they're occasionally honest about it.


DC is releasing a series of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic graphic novel, Watchmen.

I reserve judgment on whether or not this is a bad move; really, I'm finding myself far too tickled by the outrage of the fandom (and Alan Moore) to really have many objections myself (and besides, one of them will have Darwyn Cooke art).

However, something occurred to me the other day:

Watchmen is older than most of the "old comics" it was based on were when it was published.

1disinterest/disappointment/distaste/disdain/disregard/dyspepsia ...
2I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oot the whole trend down!
3I have a dread suspicion that that storyline, which seemed to take forever at the time, might seem a masterpiece of snappy pacing compared to the "decompressed" storytelling of today's "decompressed".

athelind: (Dragon Conspiracy)
If you haven't heard, D.C. Simpson has a new comic, and a syndication deal with Universal!

It started last Sunday, and has been getting very good reviews. Thus far, it's got that same combination of charm and bite that characterized Ozy and Millie.

===== The comic starts =====

===== HERE. =====

clicky clicky clicky

Congratulations, Dana!

-- Athelind Long, Honorary Llewellyn

athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)

The "World of Cardboard" Speech:

"That man won't quit as long as he can still draw a breath. None of my teammates will. Me? I've got a different problem. I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment, or someone could die. But you can take it, can't you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am."

For those interested, I've expanded and annotated The Top Five Superman Stories list.

athelind: (hoard potato)
In the comments to my last entry, I opined that Superman vs. Muhammad Ali was "one of the top five Superman stories ever".

[ profile] hitchkitty then decided to put me on the spot for specifics.

My current list, in chronological order:

I reserve the right to revise the list as my whims might demand.

Feel free to discuss this list and/or your own lists in the comments.

Edited to provide links to Amazon links for those stories in print, and online versions of those that aren't. Some additional notes:
  • Jerry and Joe wrote "K-Metal" in 1940, but the Powers That Be at DC shot it down in favor of indefinitely maintaining the status quo. It was never published, but over the years, the script and various pages of mostly-finished artwork made it to the collector's market. The link leads to a project to reconstruct the story, and if I'm interpreting recent court decisions correctly, this material would definitely fall under the auspices of the Siegel and Shuster heirs, rather than DC-AOL-Time-Warner-Mega-Huge-Conglomco.
  • Neal Adams has repeatedly referenced Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as his favorite comic book work. It really is Adams at his best; he goes all-out on the art, and it is epic.
  • Maggin's novel has been out of print for years, and DC shows no inclination to remedy that. The link leads to the entirety of the novel, online; Maggin himself has given his blessing to the web site, and has in fact contributed additional stories (an unusual instance of a former professional writing fanfic about the character he used to be paid to write).
  • The link for the Alan Moore story goes to the recent trade compilation of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? -- which includes "For The Man Who Has Everything" and another Superman story by Moore. "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow almost made this list, but as excellent as it is, I don't think it holds up as well as a stand-alone story.
  • "For The Man Who Has Everything" was also adapted as an episode of Justice League Unlimited. All-Star Superman was recently adapted as one of the DC Universe direct-to-video animated movies. It's quite good, but has a slightly different tone than the graphic novel.

Comments to the effect that Superman is "too powerful" to write interesting stories about will simply be deleted. Don't be a troll.

athelind: (clobberin' time)
One of the comic-related blogs that I peruse regularly is also art-related: Superhero of the Month. They have a pretty straightforward shtick: each month, they pick a superhero, and invite the art community to reinterpret that character with new costume designs and, occasionally, revamped backgrounds. The contest is usually sponsored by some comic book shop, and the prizes tend to be graphic novels featuring the character in question.

It's a concept that's produced some really impressive and thoughtful looks at iconic characters, and it's one that depends heavily on fair use, remix culture, and the principles of the transformative works movement.

So what in the world possessed them to shill for a copyright-maximalist marketeer and his hollow, vapid t-shirt logo "superhero"?

Here's the guy who's the subject of the December 2011 contest: NOTES (or possibly N.O.T.E.S.), flagshill for the innovatively-named Superhero EnterprisesTM.

"NOTES" is our most powerful science fiction superhero and a highly-skilled leader in music technology, whose mission is to enhance and transform the experience of making and editing electronic music.

"N.O.T.E.S." distinctively offers solution(s) to the global fight against illicit downloading and counterfeiting, as the consequences of digital piracy online and in the streets....have continued to threaten the U.S. economy, jeopardize public safety, and undermine the livelihood of our domestic entertainment industries.

Comic book superheroes are supposed to provide role models that are potentially used by children in developing self images. N.O.T.E.S. symbolizes these qualities of high moral character, courage, generosity, and honor of a noble spirit.

That's right, kids: he fights those eeeeeeeevil downloaders! He's a valiant defender of the profit margin and traditional distribution models!

The blog also offers a link to the eventless "origin story" for NOTES, in which Our Hero defeats a couple of shoplifters with ... um ... look, all snarkiness aside, but it really reads like his music is so crappy that they go into convulsions. There may be more pages that haven't been posted yet; it certainly reads that way, and the "origin" offers no explanation as to how he got these powers of amazing musical dysentery.

I've perused the rest of the site, and it just gets worse. The fake street 'tide, the obvious memetic targeting toward the metaculturally naive—he's like Joe Camel for anti-downloading. There's nothing about actual story here; he's Pure Product, No By-Product. Sure, Marvel-Disney and DC-Warner exploit their properties mercilessly these days, and yes, Joe and Jerry's concept sketches included sketches of product labels adorned with their mythical muscleman, but NOTES is designed to be merchandised first and foremost. They come right out and say it: he was the logo for their music production company first, then they decided to spin him off into a "superhero". He got t-shirts and sneakers (and an art contest!) before his first comic was ever released. They describe him themselves as "the trendiest superhero in the universe."

Higher praise no mutant could ask.

And what fabulous prizes await the artists who can best capture this Champion of Commercialism?

1st Place: Opportunity to write/illustrate a two-page short story featuring NOTES to be featured on Superhero Enterprises' Tumblr and DeviantArt pages, and a NOTES T-shirt.

Semantic Analysis: Draw us free art to make our IP look cool and popular, and we'll let you do more free art to promote our brand!

Your Obedient Serpent was sore tempted to post a comment along these lines on the SotM blog announcement, but honestly, that's flat-out trolling—especially since the comment list on every SotM entry is headed with a "don't be rude" disclaimer.

I should note, however, that the contest parameters themselves state: "What we'll be looking for is an illustration that best exemplifies what you believe NOTES stands for."

Oh my. Do be careful what you wish for.

My medium of choice, alas, is prose, and thus not appropriate for the contest.

I think it would be a fine thing, however, if the more artistically-inclined provided the blog with entries that showed exactly what they believe NOTES stands for.

As Uncle Howard used to say ... Do Not Call Up What You Cannot Put Down.

athelind: (Beware My Power)
You know what?

I don't care if it's been over-hyped.

I don't care if parts of the previews might look a little iffy.

I don't care if Ryan Reynolds is playing Hal as a flippant jackass; this is, after all, Hal Frakking Jordan.

Deep down inside, all I care about is that the superhero who's been my very favorite since I was six years old had made it to the big screen in a sweeping special-effects epic.

I realized yesterday that, for the first time in more years than I can remember, I am genuinely excited to the point of impatience for a new movie, a new superhero movie.

It doesn't matter if it's good, bad, or indifferent.

Friday night, I'm taking my six-year-old self to see Green Lantern, and it will be awesome.

Cross-Posted to Kirby Dots & Ditko Ribbons.
athelind: (facepalm)

Oh, jeez.

io9 just published a column looking at the History of the X-Men, and how it becomes even more absurd when you compress it into the decade-and-a-half or so of Marvel's sliding timescale.

When I read the opening line, I was excited: someone invoked the Marvel 1:3 time ratio!

I know I read about that in a Stan's Soapbox from the '60s -- but I've never found any other official reference or verification from the House of Ideas; just that one, off-hand blurb, offered in the blurry sans-serif type of Stan the Man's stentorian prose. When the whole run of those columns was republished, once online and once in trade paperback from Marvel itself, I tried and tried to find that specific entry, to no avail.

It must have been in a letter column or something. I know I saw it.

But, lo! thought I, here's someone else referring to the same thing, as if they'd found the factoid from an authoritative source! Did they see the same Soapbox or lettercol that I did, in a dusty tome of ancient lore? Did Stan or some other Marvel exec ever repeat the proclamation? I hope the article doesn't just mention it in passing and breeze on by. I'll be really happy if they give a ref ...

... oh. Oh, my stars and garters.

The reference the article gives is to the Comic Book Time page on the TV Tropes Wiki:

In a "Stan's Soapbox" in the mid-1960s, Stan Lee stated that, as a general rule of thumb, they were trying to keep the then-new Marvel Universe on a one-to-three timeline - every three years that passed in the real world would be a year of Comic Book Time. Deliberately or otherwise, Marvel actually managed to stick pretty close to that right up until the early 1990s when, during one of the X-Men's 30th Anniversary comics, Professor Xavier mused about the things he'd been doing for the past 10 years - starting with the founding of the X-Men.

I know that TV Tropes passage well.

I wrote it.

... I think I need to do some editing. I am certain that I read that blurb about the 1:3 ratio in an old Marvel comic, but I'm no longer certain where.

One shouldn't leave dubious source material scattered 'round the net.

If you can't cite a source, you're just making it up.

Cross-posted to Kiby Dots and Ditko Ribbons.
athelind: (Warning: Memetic Hazard)

From the Glossary of A Miracle of Science:

Science Related Memetic Disorder:
Science Related Memetic Disorder (SRMD) is a memetic disease which susceptible persons can both catch and transmit. SRMD appears to be a naturally-occurring memetic disorder which spreads via fringe science books and half-baked online rantings. A susceptible person - usually an engineer or scientist whose theories have been snubbed by his professional peers - who reads one of these rants can catch SRMD. Once a person has been infected with the SRMD meme complex, he or she will begin to constuct a scientific theory and will go to any length to prove it and to show everyone who disregarded his work that his theory is correct. Persons infected with SRMD, who are colloquially called "mad scientists," will often engage in illegal or hazardous actions to further their goals.

Signs that your loved one has an SRMD infection are: manic laughter, a desire to build a secret lab, hoarding of radioactive materials, sleep deprivation, building armies of oozing zombies in the bathroom, and dry mouth.

athelind: (facepalm)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

If you could either have the powers of Spider-man or the Green Lantern, which would you choose, and why?

... somebody's not really trying.

The answers I could read seem to fall into two categories: "Green Lantern, obviously", and "Spider-Man, because I don't know anything about Green Lantern."

Let's assume that "the powers" don't include the quirks of the particular secret identity: if I get Spidey's powers, I don't get Peter Parker's constant parade of personal catastrophes. If a little blue guy hands me a green ring, I don't suddenly become prone to recurrent head injuries or finding loved ones stuffed into household appliances.

It's still no contest.

On the one hand, we have The Proportional Strength of a Spider.

On the other, we have The Most Powerful Weapon Tool In the Universe.

It's a starship on your finger, complete with tractor beams and replicators.

No. Contest.


Yes, since the '90s, the writers keep calling the ring "the most powerful weapon in the universe", but to me, the question isn't "how many asses can I kick with these abilities?"

It's "how many lives will these abilities let me save?"

athelind: (Default)

The Line Is Drawn #30

That first one, with Steel and Hardware (who were introduced in the same year), really underscores how visually interesting and distinctive Hardware's armor is ... and Steel's, alas, isn't.

(I hate linking to forum-y sites like this one. I hope this link is still good in five years.)

(I need an icon of Icon, just to be recursive.)
athelind: (Parallel Worlds)

Requiem In Pace: Dwayne McDuffie, Comics Creator, Animation Editor, Scribe Extraordinaire.

February 20, 1962 – February 22, 2011. He died two days after his 49th birthday, and less than a week before my 47th.

Creator of Static, Icon, Hardware, and the Blood Syndicate, driving force behind Milestone Comics, scribe of too many comic books to mention, story editor on Justice League Unlimited ...

Truly, you were an Icon in your own right.

athelind: (Default)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Who was your favorite childhood superhero, and why?

Green Lantern.


  • The Ring That Does Anything You Can Imagine.
  • Being part of an interstellar community dedicated to saving lives, preventing disasters, helping people, and, oh, yes, maybe fighting crime here and there.
  • This:

... oh, and even though Hal was the Main Green Lantern throughout my '60s and '70s childhood, he was never my favorite Lantern. I encountered John Stewart early on, and Alan Scott later, and, of course, all of the myriad alien GLs.

"The one True Green Lantern" so beloved of the fanboys is my least favorite ringslinger.

athelind: (Parallel Worlds)
The Legacies premise is pretty straightforward:

  • They Began When They Began. The characters of the DC Universe each started their active adventuring career on or about the same time as their first appearance on the comics stands in our world.1
  • Life Happens. They aged normally2 from that point, and had full lives. Many of them married and had children, sometimes with ordinary people, sometimes with other superhumans or costumed adventurers.
  • Dead Is Dead. If a character died in the comics, they stayed dead, even though the comics eventually brought them back.3 No miraculous resurrections.4,5

  • The Gang's All Here. "Characters of the DC Universe" includes pretty much every character currently under the DC umbrella, including the original stable of National Allied Publications (Superman, Batman) and All-American Comics (Green Lantern, the Flash), Quality (Blackhawks, Freedom Fighters, Plastic Man), Fawcett (Shazam!), Charlton (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question), Milestone (Icon, Static), MLJ/Red Circle (the Shield, the Web), and Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
  • All This and Arkham, Too. In the Legacyverse, the traditional DC "fictionopoli" do not co-exist with the cities of our world; they replace them. Gotham City is Boston, Metropolis is New York City, Gateway City is San Francisco, and instead of Los Angeles, there's a big crater where Coast City used to be. Fictional locales from sources other than DC comics are likely to make an appearance; the suburbs of Gotham include Arkham, Kingsport, and Innsmouth.
  • "Guardians of the Universe" is a misnomer. Oan jurisdiction extends across the "region of dominant gravitational attraction of the Milky Way Galaxy", including the halo of globular clusters surrounding it. As far as is known on Earth, the Magellanic Clouds are "disputed territories". Just who would dispute such matters with the Oans and the Green Lantern Corps is a matter of endless speculation in xenopolitical circles.6 For the record, there are a lot more than 3600 sectors in the Oan Jurisdiction, though I haven't decided just how many there really are.

  • Big Events Usually Happened. Events in the Legacyverse track the main DC timeline(s) fairly closely, right up until the Crisis of 2008 ("Final Crisis"). The various alien invasions, the Luthor presidency, the Gotham Earthquake, the destruction of Coast City -- they've all left their mark. Not all of them did, though, and they didn't all happen in the same way. There Will Be A List Later.
  • Yes, Virginia, There Is A Multiverse. It's ... wider, weirder and more diverse than the one we see post-52, though. Since the mid-1960s, the Justice League have had annual contact with a team from a parallel Earth that call themselves the Avengers ... .
  • Some Elseworlds are Thisworlds. Oddly, while John Byrne's Generations shares almost exactly the same premise, I wound up using very few of his plot twists. I'm using a few bits from Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier (especially Diana's costume!), and a whole lot of James Robinson's The Golden Age.
  • It All Started With K-Metal. This is important enough to give it its own bullet point: "The K-Metal from Krypton" is an unpublished Shuster and Siegel tale from 1940; Joe and Jerry originally planned to have Superman discover his origin and reveal his identity to Lois early on. Please read this; for one, it's a short, fun tale; for another, it's exactly the point where the published stories of the DCU diverge from the Legacyverse timeline.7

  1. There are exceptions to all of these rules, of course. Green Arrow, for instance, doesn't put on a costume until the late '50s, while his comics counterpart first popped up in the '40s. His Bronze Age Road Trip with Hal Jordan and his relationship with Black Canary are just too important, and he needs to be the right age for that.
  2. "Normally" as modified by alien or metahuman physiology, of course.
  3. There will be exceptions here, too. Not every death scene "counts".
  4. Things like Lazarus Pits aren't "miraculous" if they're an established part of a character's background. Ra's al Ghul isn't known for sharing, though.
  5. Yes, this means that a lot of familiar young faces will be in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. More than one regularly-appearing character in the comics will be, well, just plain dead.
  6. For some reason, I never had to worry about stuff like this in Gotham.
  7. You might notice that "K-Metal" has properties not normally seen in the Green Kryptonite that later appeared; those properties may be a plot point.

athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
I keep hearing radio ads for a local air show.

In them, the announcer growls enthusiastically that the audience will see the F-15 Strike Eagle and the F-18 Hornet.

The "monster truck rally" voice that he uses carries the suggestion that these are bleeding-edge examples of advanced aviation technology -- but they're both designs rooted in the 1970s.

The F-15 design is now older than the P-51 was when the F-15 first entered service.

Now, I'm not saying that this indicates how our aerospace technology has "stagnated". There's an s-curve to technological development: rapid advance at first, then a plateau where improvements are only incremental. At some point, you can really only improve on a design by making a major paradigm shift in underlying technology (piston to jet, for instance).

This intrigues me because it mirrors some other socio-cultural trends I've observed: people half my age or less who listen to the same music I do, and watch movies that I grew up with, and don't really think of them as "old".

The '90s just don't seem as far in the past as the '50s did when Happy Days debuted. When Marvel brought Captain America back in 1964 after a 19-year absence, those two lost decades were a huge gulf that let them wring great soap-opera mileage out of A Man Out Of Time. It's hard to see getting that kind of impact out of someone who hadn't been seen since the far-distant past of ... 1991.

If it were Just Me, I'd say that this was a natural process of Getting Old ... but even the adults of my childhood referred to the '50s as "back then", without the immediacy that the '90s seem to have today. I meet more than a few teenagers who listen to rock from the '60s and the '80s without any sense of "retro" or "nostalgia" or "irony". Blade Runner just doesn't have the same sense of "quaint" that Forbidden Planet did in 1982.

It's like the last half of the 20th Century didn't take nearly as much time as the first half.

November 2016

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