athelind: (Default)
I'm watching The Spirit. A couple of months back, when Blockbuster was closing down most of its stores, I picked up the DVD for $2.

I'm barely out of the credits, and I'm wondering if I was overcharged.

If I had a Twitter account I'd be liveblogging this.

It's very Frank Miller, in all the wrong ways, but there's not a hell of a lot of Will Eisner in here. Not script-wise, not visually.

For the love of Schwartz, we have Thugs Wearing T-Shirts With Thematic Code-Names on them.
This is, in fact, the Frank Miller version of the 1966 Batman series.

With some Warner Brothers thrown in.

Miller thinks "campy slapstick" is the same as "tongue-in-cheek whimsy", and "over-the-top stunt action" can sub for "magical realism".

I can see, in my mind's eye, a scene drawn by Eisner (or Darwyn Cooke), with the comic';s cast watching this, Ellen, Doyle, and Ebony laughing their asses off while the Spirit himself just cringes in humiliation.

The one bright spot is that this movie isn't disappointing me. It's performing to expectations.

Okay, I turned it off at the 62-minute mark. I'm not sure when I stopped actually paying attention to it.

Don't think that I'm just ragging on this as a bad adaptation. No, it's a bad movie, and there are any number of bad decisions contributing to that. For far too many of them, the only explanation that makes sense is that Miller was trying to emulate the source material and failing miserably.

I think he doesn't quite realize that Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman were different people. This is a Mad Magazine version of The Spirit.

For most of the others, it was evident that he wasn't able to resist throwing in Millerisms, or possibly attempts at self-parody.

athelind: (Default)
In a recent post and its associated comments, [ profile] thebitterguy complained:

... Canada doesn't fucking EXIST in the DCU ... Marvel at least had a team up here. DC didn't even give us a member of the Global Guardians.

Your Obedient Serpent intuited the obvious: since Shuster modeled Metropolis on Toronto, DCU Canada was obviously annexed by the DCU U.S. at some point in the 19th Century.

This explains where they put all those extra cities; they took all those funny Canadian names and replaced them with more prosaic, descriptive ones. "What the heck's a 'Vancouver'?" "It's a city on the coast." "Can't we just call it 'Coast City', then?"

It's not that DC doesn't have any Canadian heroes; it's that MOST of their heroes are Canadian!

athelind: (Default)

First Superman Comic Sells For Record $1 Million

I dread work this week; odds are far too high that at least one bozo will come in every night, all excited about this, and wanting to talk about comics and collectibles as "investments".

He won't want to buy things, per se. He'll want my advice. What should he look for? What should he buy? What's the best return on his money?

How can he make a quick buck?

Your Obedient Serpent is honestly sick to death of comic books, superheroes, and pop-culture ephemera, but he'd still rather deal with people who read and enjoy these things than someone who bumbles in asking questions so clueless they defy an answer, simply because he's heard about someone who made huge returns on stuff that he's always dismissed.

How can you make a quick buck in the comics market? You can't. It took seventy godsforsaken years of carefully babying a fragile bundle of crappy, high-acid paper, starring a character nobody in the industry thought would catch on, to get that ten-million-fold return on Action's 10¢ cover price, you idiot.

Resolved: I am going to do my damnedest to sell these sleazy fools every worthless piece of crap I've got in the store, every random Big Event Comic, and most especially, every High-End, Hard-Sided, Nitrogen-Filled Comic Preservation Device I can dig up.

Because that's the real answer to the question. How do you make a quick buck in comics? By selling crap to the gullible.

Barnum was right.

athelind: (Default)
Your Obedient Serpent has no idea what he's gonna do to relax in the near future, because all the things he's frittered away his spare-and-not-so-spare time on over the years actively piss him off right now.

This is, in part, because he's frittered away so much of his life on them, and in part because, well, Busman's Holiday. One of his sources of stress is his low-paying retail job, selling all those time-consuming distractions.

athelind: (Default)
And now, everyone can stop the endless round of the same ol' Disney-Marvel mashup gags, because there's no way to top the awesome of this:

For those of you not in the loop, that's a take-off on the first on-panel appearance of Mary Jane Watson.

athelind: (Default)
The news in my last post has a lot of people worried about Marvel getting "Disneyfied". Funny, that hadn't really occurred to me.

I'd hate to see the intelligent, thoughtful storytelling of recent years compromised by a company who didn't respect the years of development and history of these characters. I'm not sure the store where I work could survive without merchandise aimed at the mature, sophisticated sensibilities of the modern comics audience.

I know, I know, when people hear "Disney", they still automatically think of the "wholesome" Mouse Factory of fifty years ago, as if the company had no idea how to tell exciting, entertaining action-adventure tales. But, seriously, folks: the modern Disney megalopoly has its tentacles in a lot more than happy, sappy, saccharine kiddie stuff. When I hear "Disney", I don't hear "Cartoon Company" anymore. I hear "Entertainment Powerhouse".

When I mentioned the effect this might have on the Marvel Studios movie series, it was almost entirely wondering if that side of the business would see a cash infusion that would re-accelerate the filming schedule (which has been pushed back a couple of times from the original plan of two big-name superhero pictures a year for three or four years).

Edit: [ profile] cpxbrex pointed out that Marvel owes its recent barrage of movies to "complex financing", and that this may have something to do with the acquisition deal.

A lot of folks, on the other claw, are worried about them somehow compromising the integrity of the properties.

Personally? I think that the megacorp that gave us movies like No Country for Old Men and Miracle at St. Anna won't bat an eye at Tony Stark's antics.

Edit: Since none of the other comics blogs I read have mentioned this at all, I've combined the last two posts into a single post on my comics blog, Kirby Dots & Ditko Ribbons. Scooped! You are all so totally scooped! Like Raisin Bran, you're scooped!
athelind: (Default)
That headline again:

Disney. Buys. Marvel.

Tempting as it is to just follow that with "'Nuff said", I have to wonder....
  • How will this affect Marvel Sudios and their ambitious "Avengers Cycle" movie plans?
  • Will Disney cancel the Gemstone Comics license, and start releasing Disney titles using Marvel's production and banner?
  • Conversely, will that matter if both companies continue to ignore newstand and grocery store distribution in favor of the hard-core fandom's boutique market?
  • What does this mean for Kingdom Hearts and Capcom vs. Marvel?
  • Will there be an even more vigorous crackdown on Marvel fanfic and games with "Character Creators" that let you "duplicate Marvel intellectual property", like City of Heroes and Champions Online?
  • Will Howard return to his original character design? Will he turn out to hail from Duckburg? Will he lose his pants?

If this doesn't fall through, it'll bring a symmetry to the comics world: both major comics companies will be owned by massive global media juggernauts.

Strange days indeed.

athelind: (Default)
This made me laugh out loud:

I may have to print it out and post it at work.

Speaking as a long-time fan of the Green Lanterns, who's read the book(s) through all the ups and downs since 1970 or so, this multi-year arc that Geoff Johns has been writing is the Best Damned Run Of Green Lantern ever, one of the best things DC has done in the last decade, and Blackest Night is shaping up to be the "Final Crisis" that Final Crisis wasn't.

Honestly, it's a big part of why I still bother with superhero comics.

After, what, five years of non-stop Big Events and Red Skies Crossovers from both major companies, after a year of working in a comic store, and after my Fanfic Epiphany from a couple of years ago, I've come very close to burning out on commercialized adolescent power fantasies.

But Johns is good, and Blackest Night is not so much an Editorially-Mandated MegaCrossover as it is the logical climax of the story he's been telling for the last five years.

Still and nonetheless... "They turned Green Lanterns into Care Bears" is spit-take-worthy.

athelind: (Default)
As some of you may recall, I have a Blogger account, reserved, in theory, to be my soapbox for ranting about pop culture in general and comic books in particular. I originally established it with the intent of participating more fully in the "comics blogosphere".* Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect. Due to the inconvenience of the interface** and the pressure of Treating This Like A Column instead of whipping out a stream-of-consciousness LJ entry, I didn't use it much -- but I also found myself making fewer LiveJournal entries about comics, because I felt I had to "save" them for Kirby Dots & Ditko Ribbons.

*Translation: all the cool kids had one.
**Translation: a password too long and complex to log in consistently.

So, just as an experiment, I'm going to start whipping up comic-related posts on LJ, and cross-posting them to KDDR. The movie and TV posts you're used to seeing under "The Hoard Potato" header may follow, as well.

Here we go:

The other day, working at the comic shop, I had a conversation with one of my teenaged customers about the early years of Batman. and he reiterated something I've heard for decades. Jules Feiffer groused about it in The Great Comic Book Heroes, insisting that he'd felt this way since childhood, so the complaint's been around pretty much as long as the character.

It's the idea that the introduction of Robin the Boy Wonder was a Bad Idea and Ruined The Whole Batman Concept.

After reading the first few volumes of The Batman Chronicles, however, I think it's just the opposite.

Before Robin, "The Bat-Man" was just another pulp character.

Oh, those early stories are nice, tight little packages of action and suspense, just like the pulps that inspired them -- but there's the key. They were just like the pulps that inspired them; a bit more compressed, perhaps, and with the exotic appeal of the new medium, but the protagonist was interchangeable with any of the lesser mystery men of the Street & Smith line.

Unoriginal, undistinguished; a guy in a bat costume with (eventually) boomerang. He didn't have the intricate network and multifarious identities of The Shadow; he didn't have the small army of geniuses that followed Doc Savage; he didn't even have the exotic Old California setting of Zorro, the character he really most resembled in those early years.

It was only after the introduction of Robin that Batman really started to come into his own, started to develop his own distinctive motif and theme, started to evolve what could rightfully be known as a mythology. Even Miller recognized that, when The Dark Knight Returns has Bruce reminiscing that Dick named The Batmobile -- "a kid's name."

Before Robin, he was just Zorro in New York. Not The Shadow, mind you; despite what the revisionists of the latter day would have you think, the obsessed devotion to the War On Crime wasn't a major part of the character in those pre-Robin days. Bruce Wayne's effete disaffection with everything around him was misdirection, no doubt, but nonetheless, those early stories convey the impression that, on some level, he put on the costume to fight crime because he was bored.1

It's tempting to assume that Robin just happened to be introduced at the same time as the elements that make Batman so distinctly Batman, but I don't think so. I think that the new character dynamic of the duo was a key factor that shaped a truly mythic character.

Before Robin, Bruce had a social life. Bruce had a fiancée. The Batman was something Bruce Wayne did. It wasn't yet who he was... until he took on a partner.

With a confidante, someone who knew both sides of his life, Robinson, Finger and Kane could let Bruce Wayne immerse himself in the role of Batman.

The conventional interpretation is that the introduction of the brightly-clad wise-cracking kid sidekick was a distraction that pulled the Batman away from his Holy Mission. If you really sit down and read the stories, though, the opposite is more the case. The idea that everything Bruce Wayne does is really just to serve the needs and goals of his alter-ego only emerges post-Robin.

The modern Batman, the revisionist Batman, the grim, obsessed avenger, lurking in the shadows, devoting his entire life to his personal War, is intriguing today only because he's an anachronistic example of a once-profligate phylum. In that time, in that place, he would never have stood out enough become the iconic archetype that we know today -- if he had ever really existed in that form back then.

It's not Superman who's the last survivor of a lost race.

1This is not, in itself, an unacceptable motivation for a fictional crimefighter; Sherlock Holmes got a great deal of mileage from it.

athelind: (Default)
You know, I never quite believed in the Bat Signal. Sure, I've seen searchlights shining on cloud layers, but the idea that you could see a silhouette of something placed over the light, and see it so clearly, seemed like pure fancy.

I was, evidently, incorrect:

In New York City in the early 1890s, nighttime clouds served as projection screens for giant ads. A 3,000-pound lamp atop Joseph Pulitzer's World building beamed text and figures from the news or from sponsors onto the clouds; the messages were visible as far away as New Jersey and Long Island.

The same technique was used in the '30s, in England.

Gotham City is generally considered a fictionalized New York, of course.

athelind: (Default)
Our top story this morning:

BRIAN BLESSED did not land the role of Volstagg the Voluminous in Kenneth Branaugh's Thor.

Reports indicate that he landed the role of ODIN, THE ALL-FATHER.

Props to [ profile] thebitterguy for calling it more than a week ahead of time.

athelind: (Default)
Watchmen, in brief:

Both [ profile] quelonzia and I really enjoyed it, demonstrating that it worked both as a movie, for someone unfamiliar with the story, and as an adaptation, for someone who's read it a dozen times or more since it came out.

There's a lot more I can say about it, but it only seems to come out in conversation. When I sit down to try and just write, I come up blank. That's why it's taken me two weeks to present even this much.

I will say that, in my estimation, Snyder made a good stab at examining the superhero movie in his own way, just as Moore and Gibbons scrutinized the superhero comic book all those years ago.

The Battlestar Galactica finale, also in brief:


Again, Quel and I both loved it -- and yes, we both cried. Long-standing questions were answered -- and others weren't. As far as I'm concerned, though, they picked the right questions to leave unanswered.

I also suspect that this ending may be close to the one that Glen Larson really intended for the original series.

athelind: (Default)
I'm still processing it. I'm seeing it again tomorrow, with [ profile] quelonzia; expect a full review some time this weekend.

athelind: (Default)
Yes, I've already got advanced tickets -- for both Friday and Saturday mornings. I have tomorrow off, but [ profile] quelonzia doesn't.

(I work in a comic store -- can I write this off my taxes as a job-related expense?)

As I may have mentioned, we're approaching this movie experimentally. I read Watchmen when it first came out, as individual, monthly issues punctuated by occasional delays (which is a slightly different experience than reading it for the first time in collected form). Quel, on the other claw, hasn't read it at all -- and since all the hype started last summer, I've been deliberately (and with her knowledge) steering her away from any of the promo material that might reveal plot points.

Our intent is to see if the movie works for both a devoted fan intimately familiar with the story, and a new viewer seeing it for the first time.

Please note that I spent 20 years hoping that this movie wouldn't be made, and insisting that a decent adaptation couldn't be made -- right up up until last summer's previews in front of The Dark Knight. Between the promo material I've seen and the feedback I've gotten from those who have been lucky enough to catch sneak previews, I am now Cautiously Optimistic.

Before I actually see the movie with my own eyes, however, I thought I'd make a few observations.

First, a prediction: at least one idiot reviewer will say something snarky about how the whole "superheroes coming back after being outlawed" is a ripoff of The Incredibles.

Now, a thesis: no matter how good a job Snyder did, the movie is not going to be "everything the graphic novel was". It can't be -- because the original was as much about the form and medium of comics as it was about the deconstruction of the superhero genre. This is, by my readings, the main thing that Mr. Moore keeps griping about.

Personally, I'll be satisfied if the most superficial level, the murder mystery/conspiracy, plays out acceptably. This is all it will take for me to classify it as Successful Entertainment.

If it actually does manage to play as an examination of the underlying premises of the superhero genre, as well, I'll be very happy indeed.

This, as an aside, is why I didn't complain about the liberties taken with the costumes (particularly Dreiberg's). If it's going to even attempt to make the same kind of metacommentary that the original did, it's going to have to address the recent spate of superhero movies, not superhero comics. To do that, it will have to use the visual vocabulary of the superhero cinema.

And yes, this includes, in some cases, latex armor that makes a mediocre physique look buff.

Look for more after I've seen the movie itself.

athelind: (Default)
Back in the early 1990s, I ran a GURPS Supers game down in the Oceanside area. The premise was that the players were all playing versions of themselves, who got too close to a UFO crash site and wound up with Amazing Philadelphia Experiment-Based Powers when the thing exploded.

Really, I just planned to have a completely conventional spandex-and-secret-IDs superhero game.

Three things thwarted that goal, however:

  1. I've always had a "pick up on player input and run with it" style of hosting games.
  2. This was the heyday of the World of Darkness and The X-Files.
  3. One member of the group was a Marine MP, active duty at the time, whose previous assignments had included working with FEMA.

When we got to the point where the UFO crashed, our MP friend said something to the effect of, "I can't really say if FEMA has plans for this. But, if they did...."

And for the next few minutes, I just kicked back and let him do my job for me.

This turned the game into a classic Fugitives Hunted By The Government exercise, which I soon compounded by adding an unhealthy dose of Dean R. Koontz Sociopath-With-Powers.*

Well, it turns out that he wasn't making things up.

*Have I mentioned that sooner or later, every game I run that lasts more than a session or two turns into a horror game? I don't particularly like horror games, but I do have a knack for them.
athelind: (Default)
Odd. I've made light NaNoWriMo in years past -- honestly, I've outright mocked it. However, it just occurred to me that this year, in my own peculiar way, I actually participated.

I've had a mental block as a GM for several YEARS now, in no small part because of poor preparation skills. For last part of of November, however, I've been busily writing away, hammering out the background for a one-player superhero game I'll be starting tomorrow.

I'm sure I haven't gotten anywhere near 50 kwords, and it's more a series of timelines and outlines than prose -- but that's what one needs for a game setting. I've come up with interesting characters, long-term plot twists, and dramatic scenes, both as backstory and to be played out as the game progresses. In the last three days, I had a surge of inspiration, tying together three or four disparate elements and themes and bringing them together into one grand, intricate scheme.

And the oddest thing?

This is all building on notes and ideas I worked on last November... only to set them aside at the end of the month as other ideas took center stage.
athelind: (Default)
I was perusing some text files I wrote up at the end of last year, sketching out the initial outlines for a game setting, and got inspired again. I wanna run a game in this setting -- preferably a round-robin type game with rotating GMs, because, frankly, I'd have a blast playing in it myself.

This would be a Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition game set in an alternate DC Universe -- one where the major characters are introduced in the years they debuted in our world, and then age normally from there, interacting, marrying, having families and legacies.

It would steal heavily from "Elseworlds", especially Generations, The Golden Age, and The New Frontier.

I've put together tentative timelines for the Superman and Batman legacies, and I have ideas for the Marvel Family that I haven't typed up yet, but after that, I just... petered out. There are major legacies I need to timeline, and hten I need to go back, figure out how they intertwine, and revise accordingly.

So, I need a GEEKTANK! A thinktank of geeks to brainstorm ideas based on this premise -- largely just for the fun of it.

I may set up an LJ community for it -- if I could find some kind of Q&D Wiki, that would be ideal, since we could all brainstorm on timelines.

I know I've got fanfic writers and comics fans in my flist who could come up with good stuff here. Who wants in?
athelind: (Default)
Over in his journal, [ profile] scarfman observed:

Just because a character can do anything, just because he has no physical limits, doesn't mean he's an uninteresting character. It just means you have to do stories about what he won't let himself do ... or, about the circumstances when he will let himself do that.

You just have to
be a good writer.

That got me thinking.

In the Inter-Crisis Universe, especially toward the end there, Batman had taken over from Superman as the "character who could do anything". He was better at everything than anyone else, in any human field of endeavor, and in many or most superhuman fields, as well: you couldn't beat him, because He Was The ********* Batman, and he'd Find A Way. He was never wrong, and he never had to turn to outside expertise -- other than the data-mining he farmed out to Oracle, because sitting in front of a computer had become so commonplace that it was no longer Cool Enough For The Bat.

On another note entirely, this is an excuse to plug one of my favorite webcomics. )

LJ on JL

Oct. 11th, 2002 10:49 pm
athelind: (Default)
I like the Justice League cartoon -- most of the time. Some of the episodes fall flat, but others just make me sit back and say "Wow." Even the best of the best, though, don't quite hit every note perfectly.

The latest episode, "Metamorpho", provides a splendid example. I loved it, over all. The central characters, Rex Mason and Simon Stagg, looked exactly like Ramona Fradon's artwork in those original '60s adventures. (More about Metamorpho!)

(Sapphire Stagg, Our Hero's love interest, wound up looking like Generic Bruce Timm Female #2 (Blonde), but that's another rant entirely.)

The complete change in the character's origin wasn't unexpected, and made for a very solid piece of storytelling.

They handled Rex's powers wonderfully. He took full advantage of his abilities, used them in an elegant combination of his classic bits and new, interesting and unexpected applications. Silver-Age characters like Metamorpho thrived on coming up with creative new ways of using their powers.

(I found it a bit annoying that they never quite explained the powers -- the ability to turn himself into any element or compound found in the human body. An old Silver Age fan like Your Obedient Serpent always liked the exposition about the nature of Metamorpho's abilities and what element he used to create what effect, and why. I suspect that those comic-book factoids influenced my lifelong ambition to go into the sciences... but I digress. As usual.)

In short, they treated Rex as a fully-capable, highly-adaptable, competent individual capable of making full use of flexible, adaptable abilities.

Exactly how they fail to treat the regular cast.

JL's version of J'onn J'onnz, for instance, seems to be the love child of Worf and Deanna Troi. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf spent a lot of time getting beaten up any time the writers wanted to show how tough the Alien Of The Week was. In fact, he spent more time getting beaten up than he did beating other people up. On Justice League, J'onn only gets to show off his telepathy when the writers want to show what utterly impressive mental abilities the Guest Villain of the Week has. The erstwhile Martian Manhunter spends much of his time dropping to his knees clutching his temples, much like Commander Troi.

This week, we finally see J'onn do some real shapeshifting. Until now, he's just assumed other humanoid shapes. Of course, he only manages to get his ass handed to him again just to show that This Week's Guest Star Is Tougher.

J'onn isn't the only one who forgets his powers except in situations where they'd be worse than useless. Big Blue himself gets short shrift most of the time -- and this from people who wrote an entire show around him, and have shown a keen understanding of just how to use Powers And Abilities Far Beyond Those Of Mortal Men. Hey, Supes! While you're standing there just staring at Giant Monster Of The Week marching down the streets of Metropolis, maybe you could stare at it with some of that heat vision?

Meanwhile, this incarnation of John Stewart has to be the least-imaginative person ever to sling a ring. Fly, Zap, Bubble. Fly, Zap, Bubble. Fly, Zap, Bubble. I never thought anything could make me miss Happy Hal and his silly green boxing gloves. Look! Sapphire's plummeting to her doom! I could just make a glowing green grabber or a glowing green net or a glowing green Carmine Infantino hand, but nooooo, I'll fly down and grab her!

And what about teamwork? You know, those barely-pubescent versions of the X-Men over on Evolution could probably whip this JL, simply because they make a token effort at coordinating their powers.

"Hey, GL! Maybe your Wonder Ring can help your non-flying buddy get up to where the action is?" "Nah, I'll just stand here on the roof looking grim."

"Hey! Maybe we could, like, try to hit the thing all at once, or one of us could distract it while the others hit it at different angles!" "Nah, let's just hit it one at a time, like the throw-away thugs in a bad Hong Kong kick flick, so we can get tossed aside just as handily."

I hear the writers are afraid of the sheer power of the characters becomind Deus Ex Machinas. Well, you know, if you've established the ground rules and the powers from the start, they aren't a Deus Ex Machina. If you don't make use of the powers that have been established, the viewer feels cheated and wonders why the character didn't use his or her full abilities. Even the best episodes of Justice League leave the impression that Our Heroes are a bunch of barely-competent dilletantes who can't even keep track of their own abilities, much less work effectively in a group.

The thing that really underscored the candy-ass treatment of Our Heroes this time was that they wrote Rex so well. He made masterful use of his powers, fresh out of the test tube. Hell, he came very close to kicking all their asses soundly from Gotham to Metropolis and back by way of Central City.

I signed on for the World's Greatest Superheros, not for the Inferior Five Plus Two.

March 2010

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