alexandraerin: (Default)
...finding out that actual homophobe Orson Scott Card's terrible, terrible version of Iron Man for the Ultimate universe has been retconned to be an in-universe licensed cartoon that everybody involved finds stupid and unrealistic.

There are all kinds of reasons that I don't like Orson Scott Card being involved with the Marvel Universe (any Marvel Universe), but even his politics (I won't say "personal politics" because that makes it sound like he's playing alone in his own sandbox, not hurting anyone) aside, the man clearly had no understanding of comic books, superheroes, or the character he was hired to write about.

Now, this is all from memory because there was no way I was going to pay to own an Orson Scott Card comic and once I'd read it once there would never be a reason to read it again. So I might be off on a few finer points, but the broadstrokes are all there.

First thing he does is basically say that Tony Stark being able to build the things he does (in or out of a cave, with or without a box of scraps) is unrealistic, unbelievable. There has to be a reason. There has to be an origin story for Tony before we get to the origin story for Iron Man. This ignores the fact that Tony Stark is not the most brilliant or unrealistic "super gadgeteer" in the Marvel Universe. So, again: the man has no understanding of the medium or universe he was working in.

So the backstory: Tony's parents were working on a regeneration treatment, to cure damaged limbs. They notice that brain tissue regenerates in a way that the rest of the body doesn't. (What?) So they figure out a way to make a human body that's basically entirely made out of brain tissue. (What what?) And because of convoluted and contrived reasons, they end up testing the formula on their own infant son (Of course.)

So now we have Tony Stark, the invincible Iron Man... who is physically functionally immortal. Any injury to his limbs or body instantly heals, because his whole body is brain tissue (this is why doctors recommend trying to land on your head if you fall, of course.)

Again: the man who will eventually design a force field-projecting suit of powered armor from some of the most advanced alloys on earth is immune to physical harm.

But he's in constant pain, because of all those nerve endings. You know how the brain totally has nerve endings that register pain? Well, it actually doesn't, but Tony Stark's brain-arms do. Because Orson Scott Card's not done yet. He needs to give Tony's parents a reason to invent a synthetic skin that covers his body like an invisible suit of armor, that protects his immortal entropy-reversing,conservation-defying superpowered body from the world.

(Not that I have a problem with superpowers that defy these things. But remember, kids: his goal was to make Iron Man more realistic and less comic-booky.)

Now let's pause a moment. We now have a superpowered Tony Stark who is invincible (regeneration) and covered with an armor shell (like a man of iron). If this were some alternate universe reimagining of the Invincible Iron Man, something like DC did with their Tanget Comics imprint (a universe where creators started with the name of a DC character and imagined a new character, based not on the original character but only what the name made them think of), this would have been a great stopping point. I wouldn't like OSC and I wouldn't approve of Marvel giving him a job, but I couldn't say he'd done it poorly.

But no. He's just getting started. At this point, he's created a Tony Stark he can believe in, and it's time to invent the armor. He takes a different route than the one we're familiar with, unless we're familiar with the works of Orson Scott Card because this route involves a special military-run school for genius children that has a pint sized sociopath trying to kill our hero.

Credit where credit is due: one of his attempts at "realism" that goes better than Stoneskin Salamander Stark (comes with everything you see here! Dolls do not walk or talk.) is having Tony design a moderate-sized mecha prototype version of the Iron Man, with the reasoning that the miniaturization necessary to make a man-sized suit of armor would be one of the trickier parts. Notable, most adaptations (including the movie) since then have used a version of this, making the cave version more of a walking tank than a suit. But, anyway, despite the different route, the final result is the same. You'd look at it and know you were looking at Iron Man.

And so we end up with an Iron Man who is mostly recognizable as a version of the same character we know from the 616 universe (or that even more of us know from the cinematic universe)... but inside, he's absolutely the last man on earth who needs a suit of armor.

I'd say that this was clearly the story that Orson Scott Card was least suitable to write, but since I know what he did to Hamlet, I can't say that. Dunning-Kruger effect in full swing, clearly.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...the big story is that (co-publisher) Dan Didio has announced that in the new continuity, the "Crises" never happened. There's some confusion about what exact events he's referring to when he's also said that Identity Crisis did happen. Rather than "Any Storyline Which Involves The Word 'Crisis'", I assume he means Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis... the big wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey events that were meant to utterly remake continuity, usher in new eras, etc.

Identity Crisis did "soft retcon" things and explain some continiuity snarls involving the wildly differing portrayals some characters had received over the decades, but it didn't involve somebody literally stepping outside the timestream (i.e., the story) and remaking things.

And my response to this is pretty much "meh"... I pretty much thought that was the upshot of the reboot. One Retcon To Rule Them All. So many of the central characters of the universe are so different from who they were on either side of those events. People are saying this is confusing, but I find the idea that I'm supposed to reconcile what I know Old!Superman did in the original Crisis or Zero Hour with who New!Superman is way more confusing.

Also, the age of superheroes is supposed to be 5-6 years old at this point. So the multiverse is destroyed and remade every year and a half now? That could actually make a decent premise for a superhero story with cosmic-level characters... every time they come together and have a big fight, the whole world changes and they have to be aware of that... but as background for a story that's not about remaking the universe over and over again, it would verge on ridiculous.

If the backstory for this version of the universe is that it was made by the actions of Barry Allen trying to set things right after breaking the previous timeline, it makes perfect sense to me that there was no Crisis on Infinite Earths. I mean, if he could remove one thing from continuity, don't you think it would be the thing where he and a bunch of other people died?
alexandraerin: (Default)
...that Scott Lobdell, the writer credited on Red Hood & The Outlaws, also wrote Teen Titans, which I liked just fine. The writing was decent and I thought it was pretty well put-together.

I suggested in both my reviews of RH&TO and Voodoo that bad writing flows directly from the decision to pornify these comics, and here's some evidence of that phenomenon. Give Lobdell a book that requires a story to carry us from the first page to the last and bring us back next month and he delivers a story. Give him a book that relies on the promise of SEXY SEXUAL SEX to keep things moving and that's what he delivers.

The thing about Starfire's portrayal is we deserve better. And when I say "we", I don't mean sexless humorless feminists. I don't even just mean women. I mean anybody who wanted to read a fun and engaging superhero book. Even people for whom the appeal is "I want to imagine I'm a globetrotting/weapon-slinging badass who gets to have sex with Starfire." deserves better than they got. A good book could be written where Starfire has little concern for human modesty and is implicitly sexually active with both the male protagonists. But DC's not bothering to turn out a good book because as far as they're concerned they have you ("you" here meaning "the kind of person we expect to read comics) at sex.

We know Lobdell can turn out a decent story. We know that he can turn in a decent book. This means that he, too, ultimately deserves better than what he's done for himself.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I don't really know if any of these are up to the nerdiness standards of my previous reviews, but it works as a tagline.

Teen Titans

I started reading DC Comics when Tim Drake was already Robin, so for me the moment when he first crystallized as a *particular* Robin and not just Robin was during the Zero Hour event when he met a time-displaced Dick Grayson and his more analytical, Encyclopedia Brown "fun fact"-based style stood out from Dick's two-fisted chase-the-bad-guy approach. When I later learned Tim's origin story (plucky boy detective deduces Batman and Robin's secret identities), that sort of coalesced into part of my image of Tim as the thinking boy's wonder... the one who apprenticed himself to Batman to be the next master detective rather than the next Batman.

My fondness for Tim evolved into love in the recent-ish incarnation of Teen Titans that was basically a Young Justice/Titans mash-up, with Perez/Wolfman-era Titans standing as mentors to the new generation of teen sidekick heroes, including Tim. When the teens were ordered to stand down while the more experienced heroes went to fight veteran capekiller Deathstroke, Tim played the part of the good soldier that everyone expected Batman's sidekick to be and promised Starfire that he and his friends would stay put. Once the older team left, Tim promptly cut a Bat-shaped hole in a window and led the others into battle, prompting this memorable dialogue:

"You lied to Starfire?"

"Why not? I lie to Batman."


(Let's pause for a moment to mourn the passing of Starfire as a character that anybody would be afraid to lie to, or would even need to.)

There was some great dialogue that came out of that series ("Why does the telemetry show one of my Batmobiles in San Francisco? And why is it upside-down?"), and the blending of multiple generations/incarnations of a team into one was pretty great. So I had kind of mixed anticipation for the new series.

So far, so good.

It's another gathering of heroes story, but one that shows us that this kind of story can be done right. We're given a fantastic opening sequence of Kid Flash being reckless and daring, which leads us into the high concept of this book: kids with superpowers are trying to be superheroes and failing in dangerous ways. They don't understand their powers, they don't understand the consequences of their actions. A shadowy multinational organization called N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (old Doom Patrol foe who basically wanted to save the world by murdering anything weird... here, for all intents and purposes, the initials might as well stand for Ncheckmate Ocheckmate Wcheckmate Hcheckmate Echeckmate Rcheckmate Echeckmate) has started scooping them up for some mixture of protecting the public, teaching them some control, and turning them into weapons.

Tim Drake comes in because of his analytical nature, which naturally gets good marks from me. In this book, his Red Robin persona seems to have come about because he wanted to step out of the limelight and become less hands-on as a hero. His costume is more stealth-and-infiltration friendly than the traditional Decoy Wonder garb. It seems like he's been running a one-man "Bird of Prey" outfit (again, pause to mourn what's passed) for a while when we catch up to him; he's squatting in splendor in a luxury suite in a Luthor-owned building, connecting the dots on both the metas gone wild and the metas gone missing. There's an interesting side bit where he blames Batman (or possibly the Robin persona that he participated in) for the problem of young heroes, but he's mostly focused on the solution.

The story ends in the same place that Superboy #1 ended, with N.O.M.A.T.E. deciding to unleash their own homegrown superhero as a mole in Tim's new operation, after their more direct attempt to co-opt it failed. It's a much better way of tying the stories together and sewing up the universe than the bizarre little aside in Superman where it cuts to the Himalayas for a few panels so we can watch some kind of alien fish-beast blow a horn and we're told to pick up Stormwatch if we want to understand what it's all about.

By the issue's end, we have met Kid Flash, Red Robin, and a Cassie Sandsmark who doesn't want to be called Wonder Girl, we've seen them all in action, and we have a pretty good idea of their personalities. We've also glimpsed the other members of the team. Even if we haven't reached a destination yet, we can see the wheels are in motion.

Voodoo

I really only read this one for the articles because I was curious if it would tie into Grifter, and how.

Well, the jury is still out there. There is no resemblance between Priscilla's alien monster form and the "demons" that possessed people around Cole. The alien race that Priscilla belongs to is said to be scoping out the earth for invasion, so if they split the Daemonites into two separate things for the surviving Wild C.A.T.s then that means there are two different flavors of pod people/bodysnatchers infiltrating the earth at the same time which could lead to awkwardness and hurt feelings down the line, or an embarrassing game of "assimilated you last".

However, at the end of the book we do see Priscilla shapeshifting into another human form, which I don't believe was among her powers in the Wildstorm version. If she can assume any form she wants, this could mean that the "battle form" she assumed is not actually her "natural form", just something that's useful for combat with all the scales and claws and things. This not only leaves open the possibility that Priscilla is related to the aliens that are chasing Cole, it strengthens the possibilities that the White Martians are standing in for/merged with the Wildstorm Daemonites.

As for the book itself...

I hope the writer sends Scott Lobdell a cake or something for making him look good. Here there is at least a plausible reason for why the scantily clad alien sexbomb acts and dresses the way she does; if the male agent (of N.O.W.H.E.R.E.? I don't recall if they said, but that's the impression I got) is right about her mission, then putting a mildly telepathic shapeshifter in a nudie bar near a sensitive military base makes a kind of sense. Less risk of exposure than infiltrating the base itself, men get drunk and focus their attention on the visuals, etc.

But something can be an in-universe reason and an out-of-universe excuse at the same time, and there can be no doubt that this is very much an excuse for spending half the book drawing an edited-for-TV strip club. What could have been done with a single establishing panel or page is lingered over. The most interesting part of the book is the backstage conversation, which is the only place we get an actual glimpse of the title character's personality, any sense that there's anything to her but boobs and scaly death... a hint of an internal conflict, which tells us there is motivation lurking inside her head, even if we're being kept in the dark as to what that motivation is.

And to be fair, it's valid to keep us in the dark. She's been positioned for us as the vanguard of an alien invasion. Naturally the truth should be something more complicated than that, or we should be left thinking it might be if they're going to fake us out and yes she really is a bad guy.

But the problem is she's such a cypher because we have like five panels showing us anything of her in terms of real characterization amid about fifty panels of her operating her cover identity, which happens to be a stripper. Those panels aren't great. They happen backstage among her co-workers who are given even less characterization... they're pure ACME Instant Respectful Portrayal of Exotic Dancer 101; i.e., Young Women Working Their Way Through College and Single Mothers Just Trying To Get By. If the creators had been told they had to add two more panels to the comic and they had to be in the backstage scene, we'd have the Junkie Supporting Her Habit and someone would be draping a jacket over her shoulders.

Understand, I'm not criticizing the idea of a single mother trying to get by. I'm critiquing it as a sole character point, as the sole point of a character. This is all we know about any of the characters we see in the strip club, and the fact that we're basically told that everyone there except Priscilla is a single mother trying to get by or the equivalent makes it feel a bit like a bit from one of those horrible "______ Movie" parody movies where people stand up and explain what stereotype they represent as they're representing it.

As I did with Red Hood & The Outlaws, I'd like to highlight again how bad writing arises organically from the creative choice. By committing to spend as much page real estate as possible on asses and boobs, there is less space left over for things like plot and characterization.

I'm not complaining that she's a stripper or even that we're treated to the mainstream comic version of pornography. I expected that. At this point I'm pretty sure that the fact that she's a stripper is one of the reasons she of all the Wildstorm characters was tapped for a solo book, because while DC is not catering their entire line to the "core audience" of 18-34 heterosexual men who like sex with women they are definitely making sure there are books "for them".

But the thing is, the people who wanted to see her boobs would have bought the comic for one page focused on her boobs and then enjoyed seeing those same boobs popping up again in the course of 19 pages of story. At the end of the day they're not getting anything more out of the pages and pages that linger on "sexy" imagery. This is the strength of sequential art: you show that she's a stripper, you show her boobs, and the imagination does the rest. We understand that it happens, and adding a bunch more of disconnected panels along the way doesn't actually improve the experience. In fact, the more panels you show without showing anything, the more you just drive home the fact that you're not showing anything.

There is actual plot here, intercut with the boobs. It's just hard to care about it or engage with it. The only real exposition is shoehorned into a lapdance in a way that makes no sense, and I mean it fails to make sense in a way that goes beyond shoehorning exposition into a lapdance. The guy who's telling Priscilla (and the audience) that he knows she's a shapeshifting alien infiltrator reading the minds of the strip club patrons says he's telling her this because he's a "results guy, not a rules guy"; well, the result is that he blew his cover, got killed, and now the target knows she's being tracked and has gone on the run.

We get it. He took a cocky gamble and paid the price. But it's a gamble that made no sense and wasn't even necessary given that the whole idea is that she can read the minds of the men she dances for, and this is the second time she dances in front of him in the issue and we're given to understand that he's been stationed watching her for a while.

Better way to do it?

He and his (female) partner have a conversation about their training in resisting psychic probes. The partner mentions the importance of concentration and warns him against getting too close and letting his guard down. (This jibes nicely with one of Priscilla's few lines.) He gets cocky and/or horny, and slips up. There's a moment where she freezes or gives him a look, and he's like "OH SHIT". But then she recovers her cool leaving him to wonder if he imagined it. She invites him back for a private dance; his cockiness leads him to accept it, either to see what move she makes or to not risk blowing his cover as an appreciative club patron or whatever.

And then it turns into an interrogation... her interrogating him, of course.

We get the same information, but you know what the difference between this version and what actually happened is? Agency, for one thing. It makes the title character an active participant in the story bearing her name... which here is a stage name that doesn't even belong to her, it's just awarded to the highest-earning dancer in the club at the moment.

So again, I'm not complaining that the character is a stripper. I'm complaining that a shallow and exploitative version of "sex appeal" has once more been used as a substitute for good writing. There could have been so much more here, in the space otherwise occupied by lovingly rendered porn poses. "Priscilla Kitaen" is a dark-skinned woman who refers to herself as biracial. She's also an alien or alien/human-hybrid. Did she choose the form, or does she have mixed-race (mostly) human parents? Does the form mean something? Does it say anything about how she feels? I wouldn't feel cheated that they didn't explore this or any other particular thing in the very first issue, if said issue had a lot of other things going on.

But it doesn't.

It just has a lot of stripping.

I have a prediction about Priscilla's actual motivation/situation that arises from those tiny glimpses we get, but I'm not going to share it because that would suggest I'm invested in what happens next and I'm not. I don't want to skim another 20 page comic for 5 pages of story. At this point I'm actually hoping that she has nothing to do with Cole's "demons" because I might like to see what happens to him next and I don't want to reach a point where I have to follow her to keep up with him.

Batman: The Dark Knight

I don't have much to say about this one. It's another "Now Back To Your Batman Already In Progress" book, with a sexy White Rabbit, a lot of talk about fear and confronting fear in the midst of a bunch of Arkham inmates having a berserk freak-out that doesn't thus far lead to Dr. Jonathan Crane, a hulked-out Harvey Dent, and narration boxes that feel a bit like The Tick is talking to Bruce. This book seems to zig where Detective Comics zagged. If I cared about it more I'd do a side-by-side comparison explaining that, but suffice it to say that it just doesn't work for me, and the reveal at the end is everything that the splash at the end of Detective Comics wasn't. It's a cheap "dun DUN DUNNNN" rather than a visceral "WHAT THE FUCK?"

Now, if the Scarecrow showed up every time Batman's narration mentioned "fear", the book would be called Batman and Scarecrow. But the prevalence of the theme and the fact that it's overlaid on the scenes of a panic at the asylum makes it feel like this isn't just a heavy-handed rendition of Batman's usual leitmotif, all this talk about "fear" means something.

And then it doesn't.

And then there's Giant Harvey, screaming "CALL ME ONE-FACE".

DC Comics, what did I just read, and why should I want to read the next issue?
alexandraerin: (meta)
Justice League Dark

I'll say one thing for the reboot: it really makes me appreciate en media res openings. This "gathering of heroes" thing is a lot to sit through again and again. One doesn't notice it so much when reading a collected edition, but it makes the month-by-month method seem a little slow. At least none of the books other than the prime Justice League seem to feel the need to do it one hero at a time, issue by issue.

As a die-hard Constantine fan, I'm disappointed that he's neither the mover nor the shaker behind the team's formation. This is a character, after all, who spent his first major story arc trying to micromanage the spiritual reverberations of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. I won't say it's sad to see him reduced to a con man, because that's what he's always been. But having Zatanna pressing him into service means that there needs to be an explanation for why one of the world's most powerful actual wizards thought she needed a hustling street mystic for back-up, whereas if the story involved him noticing a pattern of mounting weirdness (something he's good at) and then assembling more powerful players (another thing he's good at) to deal with it...

The actual storyline involves the real Justice League trying to stop a world-threatening mystical threat and coming up short. Zatanna's involvement comes from her connection to Batman. It's nice to see that they're still close enough post-reboot for her to be in the cave, but to me, the whole thing feels a little "Simpsons Spin-off Showcase"... you know, "Maybe her old pal Batman will show up to wish her well!"

It feels like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are in the book to establish the Justice League connection and justify the title, as well as to sell this book full of weird characters written by weird British men to people who want to read about superheroes. The presence of Cyborg on the away mission gone awry feels like it's there to serve a similar purpose... as a JLer, DC wants to put him on the same level as the iconic seven. I think DC is yet again underestimating the Teen Titans fanbase. They should be positioning Cyborg as a tentpole to bring in people who don't normally read comics about the "traditional" Justice League.

Another problem is that I don't feel like anything's happened. A character called The Enchantress has gone insane and is causing world-wide havoc involving doppelgangers and unexplained phenomenon and a flying swarm of teeth that eat Superman. Okay, you know what? Unless she's trying to sleep with Thor, I don't know who The Enchantress is. I gather she's been important in some recent-era comics, but she's not iconic like Zatanna or Constantine. Heck, I've never read anything with Shade: The Changing Man in it, but I've been hearing about him since the 90s. When you say The Enchantress has gone mad, I just don't care... I have no investment in her as a character and I don't know what her madness means for the world, and the fortean times stuff isn't really selling me on that.

(Edit: Apparently I've read stuff with The Enchantress in it, but she didn't make enough of an impression on me to retain any awareness of her. That might just be me, but still, I think they might have done a bit more to introduce the character who is at the center of the action.)

The opening scenes in Swamp Thing showing the mass animal deaths in Gotham, Metropolis, and the stretch of water around Aquaman conveyed "weird, bad shit is happening" muuuuuuch better, in a way that rooted the events in the DC universe, connected them to better-known and more popular characters and Aquaman, piqued the reader's curiosity, and allowed for some narration boxes to give us a feel for Alec Holland's character. This whole issue doesn' accomplish as much as Swamp Thing did in those (checks) three pages.

Actually, I want to digress to talk about Swamp Thing more. I mentally filed away the opening sequence as a series of two-page spreads, one for each location. I just went to do a reality check there, because you can't open a comic with a two-page spread. What we get is one page of pantomime in Metropolis. The unfolding scene shows a zoom-in on the Daily Planet building towards the window where Clark is working with pigeons sort of incidentally there, and then Clark reacts to something and then everybody else notices it. Then you turn over to a two-page spread, divided between the three locations: dead pigeons in Metropolis, dead bats in the cave, dead fish in the water. The sequence loses some of its impact from the fact that those pages were circulated pretty widely as a preview, but still it's a pretty great scene.

It's a marvel of sequential art storytelling economy. We don't have to be given the whole sequence with Batman and the other guy after we've seen the lead-in with Clark. And the first page is just like a fairly normal Superman story opener, great Metropolitan Newspaper and all, but it starts to go wrong halfway through. Classic horror technique: start with something familiar, and twist it until something pops off. ALL THE PIGEONS DIE. This doesn't look like a job for Superman, and that's the point. There's nothing here he can punch, lift, or even understand so he can be as horrified and out of his depths as everyone else.

Justice League Dark just doesn't work like that. When Cyborg, Superman, and Wonder Woman approach The Enchantress's shack(?)... it looks like any other time the Justice League has gone up against a magic-wielding supervillain and so it feels like they give in too easily. They've been here before. Batman complains about magic (Cyborg does so here), someone reminds the audience that Superman's invulnerability doesn't protect him from magic, and then the Flash traps the bad guy in the United States tax code.

That last part may have only happened once, but the point is they complain, they dig in, they adapt, they win. This time they just give up.

So we spend pages on establishing the threat and presenting it as something The Real Justice League Can't Handle and then we spend pages introducing the individual characters and getting them together-ish... they're still in individual clumps at the end of this issue... and again, it just feels like nothing's happened.

This is not a bad book. But I suspect it's going to be hard to say it's a good book until a few more issues out. I like longer stories, but if DC really wants to boost monthly circulation they need to stop writing exclusively for the trades. The individual issues need to be entertaining on their own. Paul Cornell could lead a writer's workshop about this, to judge by his work on team books Demon Knight and Storm Watch.

All-Star Western

I'm not sure if setting the first story in a book called "All-Star Western" in Gotham City is more Spin-Off Showcase nonsense ("Keep your eyes open. Maybe his old pal Gotham City will drop in to wish him luck!") or trying to have their cake and eat it, too, by giving us a cowboy book that's freed of many of the markers of that genre. I can understand doubts as to the marketability of western comics in general, but there's been a fairly steady stream of Jonah Hex material lately. I'm not surprised they made him the first star in an all-star book, but I am surprised they're not leading with him more strongly.

The thing that drew me to this book was the premise of teaming Hex up with a pre-asylum, pre-insanity Amadeus Arkham. The problem is that both characters are written terribly.

Hex's drawl is written in the worst attempt at a phonetic dialect transcription this side of a Looney Toons comic. Ah hate, ah say, ah hates that. All sense of taciturn menace drains out of your mysterious scarred bounty hunter when he says things like "Ah wuz comin' fer ya." Mention is made in the book of how little he talks, which is weird given that I think he has the most line of dialogue of anyone.

The book receives narration in the form of Dr. Arkham's journal, which contain some embarrassingly generic dimestore psychoanalysis. The character was originally something of a Lovecraft pastiche, which means that purple prose is to be expected but here instead we get beige. I was expecting shades of The Alienist and Sherlock Holmes, but apart from confirming that the word written above the fifth dead prostitute is also a word for "fear" like all the others were, he adds absolutely nothing to the proceedings. He deduces nothing, he discovers nothing, he contributes nothing.

At one point Arkham having an invitation to a party full of uppercrust high society types is... sort of important, but given that Hex is not invited, and it's clear that Arkham's presence doesn't change the fact that he's not welcome and that he doesn't care, he's still superfluous.

The plot of the book looks to be a shockingly unoriginal remix of elements from From Hell and the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes... ancient order, serial killer, etc. The book likes its women the same way Frank Miller likes his coffee: in the form of mutilated prostitutes.

So far the darker, more Vertigo-ier books have fairly consistently been among the best offerings of the new DC Universe. This is the first one I really can't recommend.

Superman

There is some really interesting stuff going on here in the demolition of the old Daily Planet building with historic-looking architecture and the opening ceremony of the new Daily Planet, under new ownership and housed in a gleaming tower of steel and glass. The old Planet was a newspaper; the new Planet is a multimedia entity owned by a giant corporate conglomerate. Are we seeing the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new parallel here?

And to DC's credit, this isn't simply a Who Moved My Cheese?-style rebuke of people who dare to question change. Clark and Superman are positioned as the last champions of the old Planet, and the Planet's new owner is Morgan Edge, who DC readers know to be a "legitimate businessman" with the very scariest of scare quotes.

The villain buying the Planet is a story DC has done before, but it's never been as relevant as it is right now on both a meta and a real world level. The references to wiretapping scandals and other questionable business practices by Edge's Galaxy Media leaves us with little doubt what void these entities would slot into in our world.

By the end of the issue, Clark has apologized to Lois for being a dick about the whole change thing, Lois has used new media savvy to deliver what the new boss wants without compromising her morals, and Superman defeated a flaming space monster by throwing the globe from the wreckage of the old Daily Planet at it, which is one of those things that feels symbolic but it's hard to say what it's a symbol of.

I doubt this is going to be anyone's favorite book, but it's a well-executed one and a better concept for a first issue than a lot of the books DC has shipped this month.

Except for the thing that I haven't mentioned so far.

At the same time the action starts, we're treated to a new series of narration boxes that stay for most of the rest of the issue. The newsprinty colored background and the font choice leave us with little doubt that we're supposed to be reading newspaper copy, but it doesn't read like reporting... not the sort of reporting that would be done on an actual super-crime. It vacillates between the sort of "Bart's People"-type (what is it with me and Simpsons references today?) human interest piece that Clark seemed to specialize in on TV's Lois and Clark and Old Timey Radio Show style narration.

And you know, when it veers towards the latter I really like it. I got excited about it a couple of times. I wished they would even out the tone and make it a regular part of the book. This sort of thing is an authentic part of the Superman mythos:

Up in the sky! Look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman! Yes, it's Superman--strange visitor from the planet Krypton who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, race a speeding bullet to its target, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.


That's the opening to the Adventures of Superman radio show. Look at how many phrases from it have cropped up in my reviews. Look at how many you recognize.

But the problem with the narration in the comics--apart from the uneven tone--is that we're meant to take this as Clark Kent's award-winning journalism. He turned in a story that narrates Superman's deeds and even thoughts in the third person, allegedly after getting an "exclusive interview" but including no direct quotes. And for a lot of it, there's nobody to corroborate what Superman told him. As a journalist, Clark could report what Superman told him in the form of "According to Superman...", but he's repeating it as unvarnished fact.

There was a great story in Kurt Busiek's Astro City where a grizzled veteran journalist who was sort of a Perry White/Ben Urich mash-up takes a cub reporter's story about a mini-Crisis that happened in the subway involving shark cultists and superheroes and a time-displaced legendary hero of a bygone era and cut everything that he can't prove, that he can't verify, that he can't corroborate. In the end he's left with a brief item for the back pages about a shark's corpse found on the subway tracks. I wouldn't expect Perry White to hold Clark Kent to quite this exacting of a standard, but the lesson here is that journalists don't write comic books. They write news.

The narration boxes occasionally work as retro narration. They don't work as journalism. The inclusion of bad writing/reporting as award-winning journalism is something that happens a lot in fiction; comic book writers don't write news, they write comic books. The problem here is that it's allowed to be distracting. By its placement, it's required to be distracting.

It's a small misstep with a large impact.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...during my lunch today, after having re-watched both Thor (on DVD) and Captain America (which is still hanging on at one of the local cineplexes) last night. The show wouldn't even be on my radar if I hadn't seen it being discussed by professed Steve/Tony shipper, the mighty [livejournal.com profile] ktempest.

It's interesting. The first several episodes apparently aired as minisodes which were then pieced together into full-length episodes. This sort of thing was not all that uncommon during the golden age of TV As Toy Advertisements... the Inhumanoids started off in this format, for instance. But where the Inhumanoids minis fit together to make one epic overarching plotline, the first episodes of Aengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes follow an anthology format, which four minisodes fitting together into a story that focuses more or less on a single hero at first, with the baton passing to a different character near the end. So right now it feels like I'm in the middle of a miniseries about various characters doing different things in different parts of the Marvel Univese.

It's an interesting choice. None of the stories are origin stories so far, though they all work fairly well as entry points/introductions for the characters. They're also all fairly... representative? Typical? Iconic? I'm not sure which word is the best fit. The show is a definite retro throwback to the Kirby era in a lot of (good) ways, but also very in keeping with modern aesthetics in a way that I wouldn't really believe possible if I hadn't seen Thor.

I've seen this show talked up for its character dynamics, something I really haven't seen yet. I've liked what I've seen so far but I'm sure I'll have more commentary once I reach that point.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Just as a side note, it occurred to me last night that I've been praising Demon Knights to people for having a "woman-heavy" cast. On the team, there are approximately 4 women and 4 men, again depending on how exactly you count certain characters. The villains are a male and female couple.

This isn't woman-heavy, this is... normal. Or it should be. That's just plain representational of the actual demographics of the human race. It's also pretty revolutionary for a book that's not positioned as being for and about girls.

That said, here's quick takes on three more DC comics I have been able to read. These aren't going to be as detailed as some of the others, because with the exception of Batwing I can't refer directly back to them to check on details.

Superboy

Anybody who enjoyed the journey of the "Reign of the Supermen" Superboy into Kon-El/Connor Kent has reason to regret the reboot's complete erasure of him from the timeline. Anybody who cringes remembering the beginning of that journey can relax; this is the hybrid/clone Superboy, but he has not been returned to his "like, totally bodacious to the extreme max" roots. Rather, it's an entirely new take on the character.

What's interesting to me here is that DC Comics has allowed three radically different takes on the same character in such close proximity. There's the recently-returned-to-life Connor within the pre-Boot continuity, the angry tabula rasa clone with scaled back powers in Young Justice, and this version who seems rather in keeping with the idea of Superman as more of an alien and outsider.

If anything, it seems like with Superboy they are setting the stage for a more mature and deeper investigation of what it is to be a "superman" than usually happens in mainstream comic books. Superboy's power gimmick of "tactile telekinesis" has been expanded here into a sort of expanded consciousness/awareness that makes the character's entire point of view alien. It makes his creators/caretakers underestimate him twice; first in assuming the project failed because they can detect no brain activity while he's listening and learning from them with every molecule in his body, and then again when they generate a virtual reality world that fails to engage his mind on the level at which it actually operates.

When he ignores a staged disaster and cries for help (while having a discussion about morality, no less) while within this virtual world, we're not quite sure if it's because he's aware that the danger and the people threatened by it are illusions or if he really just doesn't care.

I do have something of a fondness for the Conner Kent character of the more recent Titans eras and his friendship with Tim Drake, but unlike the changes to Amanda Waller or Barbara Gordon his erasure does little to change the balance of representation within the DC Universe. Given that he'd just been brought back from the dead before the reboot, I want to believe that this change is the result of someone having a story to tell and the first issue bears that out.

Batwing

Dear DC Comics:

I want to see more of the Batman Inc. concept, I want to see more diversity among superheroes, I want to see the parts of the world that comics normally ignore. But this is not how to do any of those things. I hope you stick with it and get it right. You're not there yet. The first thing you need to do is make sure the person responsible for the solicitations about "The Batman of Africa" never gets a job involving words again, the second thing you need to do is clarify Batwing's beat, which may involve establishing other heroes in the continent.

I haven't read much of the Batman Inc. stuff from before the re-boot, so I missed Batwing's origin. I'm hoping that he was already fighting the good fight on his own before he got the franchise offer from Gotham City. This issue is just full of "Batman said this" and "Batman designed that" in a way that just drives home the colonial/imperial implications of exporting costumed vigilanteeism.

Who was this character before Batman? Who is he without Batman? If Bruce Wayne suddenly pulled his support, would that hamstring him entirely? I understand the principle of having the better known and established and popular character show up in the first episode of a spin-off to boost ratings, but I really hope that the writers of this book are mindful of how problematic Batman's usual "You do things my way. There is no highway." approach to people would be in this situation. Ideally, he should be supporting Batwing but he shouldn't be standing over his shoulder, much less giving him orders.

I fear he will be treated as a bat-flunky, though. There's a lot of focus on what a violent and corrupt and dangerous and myth-fearing place Africa (as embodied entirely within a single made-up city/country) is and no examination at all of how this came to be, and that's where this issue really fails for me. "How do you use Batman's resources to solve problems in Mogadishu or Darfur?" would be a better story than "using Batman's resources to punch crime in the face in Mogadarfur."

(Also, the country that invented superhero comics in general and the company that invented The Goddamn Batman in particular shouldn't be making statements about how powerful myths are in other "lands". Remember "criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot"? Remember "Legends of the Dark Knight"? Don't act like this "mythic" stuff is some special African thing. We will believe a man can fly, DC. It's embarrassing when you pretend otherwise.)

Justice League International

Okay, I invoked the JLI in passing in a blog post long before the reboot, in talking about how little a pointedly "International" team did to threaten the white hegemony within teams called "Justice League".

This team? Not much better. They have Vixen, who was a JLAer in recent memory. Her presence on the team is called a "courtesy" to her fictional African country. Okay, if the team doesn't end up with a Green Lantern on it full-time, she's the most flexible (and arguably the most powerful) character they have, and the way her powers work require an agile and tactical mind. If she joins your team, it's a courtesy to you.

This line can be taken as a sign of the cluelessness and condescension of the U.N. "global security group" member who approves her candidacy, but I kind of doubt there was that much thought into it. Also, it's impossible to tell which person in the telepresence conference is saying that line.

I know that JLI has had something of a traditional of being a "humor" oriented book, but in this case a lot of the humor includes the main character (who is white and for our purposes American) delivering lines that would work better in an animated show and the "comical" accents of the Soviet and Chinese representatives on the team. Again I'd like to believe they were trying to say something about actual politics by having Soviet and Chinese presence on a UN-sponsored team. The fact that there are a Chinese and Russian representative vetoing and approving team members is suggestive there. But then they seem to be there for the low comedy.

Hell, they have (Brazilian hero) Fire on the team for no particular reason except she was on the classic JLI roster... with a Brazilian, Russian, and Chinese member on the team it would have been a perfect opportunity to remark on the importance of the Big Four "BRIC" countries and their growing importance in the global market. But, no. The only statement on Fire's inclusion is some drunken nonsense about "finest cognac" from the Russian UN rep, who speaks exactly like the Russian superhero and somehow I don't think we're heading for a dramatic reveal where a member of some special UN security council offshoot by day is an atomic age superhero by night.

The actual story is... well, it's a story. It's the kind of story you'd get when you have meet the team/saddle-up episode of a TV show and then you have to get them in the field. Another reviewer mentioned that a subplot showing a couple of disgruntled U.S. citizens firebombing the League's headquarters should have been the main story. I agree. But I doubt they'd do it justice... the malcontents seem more concerned about superheroes "selling out to the government" than the things that actual U.S. domestic terrorists bombing a U.N. superhero team headquarters would be concerned about, which is the idea of the government selling out to the U.N.

So, to sum up: bad comedy, "hilarious" stereotypes, and missed opportunities. It could get better but I'm not holding my breath. This is another one I'll wait for the trades to come out on, and read them before forwarding any money DC's way.

(Also, this is another team that's basically split down the middle on men and women. But it's so much the Booster Gold show, and with Russian wackiness carrying so much of the weight the women don't ever really stand out.)
alexandraerin: (Leahy)
Okay, I'm going to slap a spoiler warning on this one, because this comic ends on a major WHAM note that I'm going to be discussing, albeit obliquely. Also, the title of the book is "Detective Comics", and there is more of a mystery implicit in the plot than there was in Action Comics (not counting the accidental mystery of What The Hell Happened There With The Train/Phone Thing.)
So, be advised. )

Another quick reaction:

Grifter #1

This one I like. When I read the original Wild C.A.T.S, I just thought "Grifter" was a cool name and had no idea what it meant. I believe the same may be true of Jim Lee, because Grifter was never shown actually grifting, just being cool and having guns and motorcycles. And hey, if he didn't name the team "Wild C.A.T.s" because it sounded cool and then figure out what it stands for (Wild Covert Action Team...s), I will eat all of my hats.

But in the nearly four years* since Wildstorm debuted as part of Image Comics, the internet made it a lot easier to look up what words mean and so now we have a new version of the character who is not just a Cool Guy With Guns Called Grifter... he is an actual con man.

Actually, I think rather than dictionary.com, the credit for this direction belongs to shows like Leverage, Burn Notice, and The Human Target for making cons cool.

In the original, Grifter was the ostensibly human member of a team that was populated mostly by aliens and alien hybrids. Stripped of that team and much of the Wildstorm Kherubim/Daemonite mythology (How much? We don't know yet), his story becomes more of a sci-fi thriller. There's no friendly aliens to explain what's going on when he suddenly becomes aware of "demons" in our midst. It's got shades of They Live! (though it doesn't have the shades from They Live!), Skrull Kill Krew, and those really creepy Stephen King stories like "The Ten O'Clock People" or the one where the schoolchildren are monsters or the teacher is crazy.

The interesting thing is that the design of the aliens (so far unnamed) somewhat resembles some versions of DC's "White Martians". That would be an interesting choice for integrating the Daemonites into the main DC universe. I suspect we'll learn more when the other Wild C.A.T.s survivor, Voodoo, has her DCU debut. She was a Daemonite hybrid in the original series.




*Like Marvel Comics, I maintain a floating timeline so as to maintain my relevancy and demographic appeal.
alexandraerin: (Harley)
A Detective Comics review is still forthcoming, but since I've been paid to dig deep on it it's going to be a little bit longer in the coming. I'm also going to be comparing and contrasting it to Batman and Robin #1.

In the meantime, here are quick impressions of two of the other books to come out:

Stormwatch

When I read the new Stormwatch #1, I thought "This writer wrote for television."

Way more so than any other of the reboots, he made this issue about introducing the characters and concepts to the world. It didn't make for the best story.

In fact, it added a sort of hokiness I wasn't expecting... since this is part of the Wildstorm legacy that started with Image comics and since it seems like it's inheriting more from The Authority than any other incarnation of Stormwatch I was expecting this to be one of the darker books, but instead it felt more like Jubilee meeting the X-Men.

That's not to say it was bad. I would have used Kitty Pryde meeting the X-Men as an analogy in that case.

I'm not terribly invested in any of the Stormwatch or Authority characters, so most of my concerns about this book revolved around the DC mainstay J'onn J'onzz. The idea of him being a JLer is as much a part of the Justice League's concept as it is part of his. He's like the secret heart of the DC Universe; non-comic fans don't really know him, but he's always there. With his particular powerset including invisibility, shapeshifting, and globe-spanning telepathy that can get a little meta.

It's easy to see why those kinds of powers and a detached, big-picture mentality might fit in well with a team like Stormthority, but if it meant the "Manhunter From Mars" had never been a public superhero, never been a member of the Justice League... well, it would be a poor omen for the rebooted universe.

I was not at all reassured when one of the first things that was said in issue #1 was that the Authwatch team couldn't be recalled from a mission in Moscow because they'd found "our potential Superman-level recruit". I already knew that this issue was going to be about finding and recruiting the former Wildstorm character Apollo, which meant they weren't talking about J'onn.

Though J'onn would have to lose at least 6 senses and about two-thirds of his powers to be Superman-level, that line made it seem likely that DC had either decided to seriously de-power J'onn or they had forgotten how powerful he is. It's easy to do so. In the best stories, only he, the writer, and Batman actually understand what he's capable of. (Even if Batman's not there.)

But fortunately the whole issue turned my increasingly dismal expectations around on me in a single moment. That moment was when the Sutrowitcy team's new Superman-buster gets pissed off and punches J'onn in the face then falls backwards, while J'onn merely remarks "impressive." Okay. They haven't forgotten that the Martians are the sort of thing a twelve-year-old roleplayer dreams up while flipping through a superhero RPG sourcebook and giving themselves a million points so they can buy ALL THE SUPERPOWERS.

And then Apollo recognizes J'onn as a "Justice League guy". That's like Strike 2, only in bowling where strikes are good or something. (Thank you, Ariella.) And then J'onn gives him this explanation:

"I am known in some quarters as a hero. I can wear that shape when I need to. But when I need to be a warrior, I do it with Stormwatch."


And with that, my fears are relieved.

And yes, my entire opinion of this book on a pass/fail level pretty much revolves around how they handled the Martian Manhunter. Why? Because I don't care about anybody else in it. I came in with no investment in them, and this story gave me no buy-in... again, it's Jubilee and the X-Men. Now I know that Beast talks all fancy-like and climbs around on walls like a gorilla and Wolverine says "bub" and claws through things and Cyclops is inexplicably in charge of anything ever, but that's not the same as caring about any of them (especially Cyclops.)

It's not a bad issue. It only really falls flat when Jack Hawksmoor and the woman with the internet in her head explain/demonstrate their powers. From what little I know of him, I want to believe that Hawksmoor is the sort of person who wouldn't act like that if you didn't catch him in an introductory episode. That's where the Jubilee and the X-Men thing gets really gratuitous.

Actually, the internet thing is even worse than any X-Men cartoon (yes, even "Pryde of the X-Men"). It's more like the bit in Uncanny X-Men #9 (the first crossover with the Avengers) where they go through a gratuitous introduction of each character and their powers (presumably for the Avengers readers dropping in), including one drama-filled moment where Jean Grey, realizing she's moments away from putting her foot down right where a hole is, thinks quickly and with milliseconds to spare uses her telekinesis to levitate a handy piece of wood over the hole, thus averting a dangerous tripping that couldn't have possibly been avoided any other way.

But it's over quickly and the rest of the issue is perfectly serviceable. This is not a book I'm planning on following on a monthly basis, because again, I don't care about the people in it and the first issue didn't give me a reason to. But when the first storyline is collected in total, I'll give that a read and see if it's any good.

Bottom line: J'onn is handled well. A lot of the rest of the DC relaunch could have learned something from this book about doing introductions, but this book could have learned something from the rest of the relaunch, too.

Demon Knights

When I read the new Demon Knights #1, I thought "This writer is a Doctor Who fan." (There were multiple things leading up to that, but "The Celts have odd ways. Smile and nod." was the clincher.)

Then I found out that the writer is Paul Cornell, who has in fact written Doctor Who fiction and television episodes. It's weird that these two books both take very opposite tacks when it comes to introducing themselves to the world. But then, the book reviewed above concerns a team that already exists where this one shows us a band coming together. The fact that this book concerns concepts and characters who will already be somewhat familiar to DC readers might also be in play.

Demon Knights is my favorite book of the new 52 so far, by far. I didn't have high hopes for it because the name and the focus on "Dark Ages" in the promotional materials and the promotional images of The Demon all made me think it was going to be DC's answer to Medieval Spawn, just a big ol' bucket o' dark and grim grim darkness.

This impression was about as far off from the truth as it could possibly be, and I'm glad... because absent gratuitous spikes and blood and angst, everything about this book appeals to me. I've always had a weird affection for the character of Etrigan, even though I've never read any book he headlined. I also like things that mix up the high sorcery and superhero genres, and the projection of superhero tropes back into earlier ages.

Etrigan/Jason's history seems to be drastically simplified from most versions with some meta thrown in, as Merlin basically binds them together because that's how it always goes. It's like, "What, another new reality? Camelot again? Okay, it's falling to pieces all around me. Time to bind Etrigan to Jason and then wait for the next reboot." In the next universe, Merlin will probably phone it in. Some purists are already decrying it. Maybe it was necessary in the sense that the alternative was to write the whole issue as an Etrigan origin story, but... well, there are more than half a dozen figures who All Meet At An Inn in this story and we don't get origins for all of them.

And yes, the heroes do All Meet At An Inn. And that Inn happens to be in the path of an evil horde. This is totally a stealth D&D comic inserted into the history of the new D&D universe, and it is downright awesome.

Though it seems to ostensibly star Jason/Etrigan (Etrigan's been the main figure in promotional materials and is the closest thing to a title character, and they had their origin story in passing), this book is also heavily populated with female heroes, including what seems to be an itinerant Amazon. In fact, depending on how the "odd Celt" shakes out regarding gender identity, and whether you count Jason and Etrigan as separate characters, the band is either equally mixed between men and women, or nearly so.

The other confirmed male characters are an Arab artificer named Al-Jabr (the name might seem a little on-the-nose, but after 10 years of seeing people on the internet talking about the Middle East like it's still in the dark ages, it's nice to see a comic book basically pointing out that they'd be going, "Dark ages? I don't remember reading about any dark ages in any of my many tomes on science, medicine, history, or math.") and... Vandal Savage.

Yes. That Vandal Savage. He's an unexpected joy. Here we get to see him as a vandal, behaving savagely... but with a glimpse of the more erudite conqueror he may have been before and/or may become in the future. One reviewer I read fears him suffering the fate of Movie Gimli. I think it's more likely he'll become the group's Richard or Belkar.

We don't have to go on yet, but for now I prefer to believe that Vandal doesn't see the fractured tribes and isolated hamlets of post-Roman Fantasy Europe to be worth conquering so he just wanders where he pleases, doing what he pleases... if you can act like you rule everything and nobody can stop you, it's basically like ruling everything, right?

If nothing in the above makes you want to check out Demon Knights, let me add this last tidbit:

The evil queen commands an army of dinosaurs.

You're welcome.
alexandraerin: (Harley)


There's only one possible circumstance under which DC's redesign of Amanda Waller - a popular character and an iconic and recognizable character in their successful, decade-spanning DCAU - as a skinny woman with a completely redesigned face and hair is remotely acceptable. And that's if they've offered Angela Bassett a fabulous multi-picture deal to anchor their answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the way that Nick Fury does for them. In that circumstance, redesigning her comic character to be more recognizably the same character that Bassett played in Green Lantern wouldn't be my favorite creative decision but I believe it would be justifiable.

Now, I haven't seen Green Lantern but I just did an image search to find images of Bassett as Waller. She clearly doesn't have Waller's frame, but I have to say her appearance in the movie was more in keeping with the classic character than the redesign is.

Far more likely than this being a consequence of the movie appearance is that somebody at DC decided they need to "sexy her up" and didn't even bother to think about how problematic it is to tie sexiness to skinniness and white norms of beauty. And even more likely than that is there was no decision at any level that would register as a decision - drawing a woman as thin and "sexy" (for a very specific value of sexy) isn't the sort of thing that a comic artist needs to decide on. It's the default.

And of course, that's where the "No Malice Chorus" is going to chime in on this. Nobody meant any harm! There's no conspiracy! They took a strong, powerful and large woman with African features and turned her into someone who could pass as a Bond girl, but nobody meant anything by this!

And I can believe that. There was no intended message here.

In fact, they removed a message. That message was "Sometimes, the people in charge look like this:"



And Amanda Waller has always been in charge of whatever she did. Before the reboot, this woman even served as a cabinet-level secretary. (One of two African-Americans in Lex Luthor's cabinet, but I don't think that's what history would have remembered him for if it hadn't been erased.) Like so many other characters, she's been placed by the reboot into her most iconic role: director of Task Force X/Suicide Squad.

But she's been made absolutely unrecognizable in the process. This isn't like Superman's costume change. She's not a superhero. She doesn't have heraldry or an emblem that says "Yes, this is Superman you're looking at." Not only that, but Superman-the-person is still being drawn more or less the same way, within normal variance for differing artists and styles.

DC Comics, this woman



is not The Wall.

She's barely even The Partition.
alexandraerin: (Harley)
Alan Moore wrote a story in Swamp Thing in which some military goons trying to kill the indestructible Swamp Thing pay Lex Luthor something like a million dollars for fifteen minutes of his time. (I wouldn't swear to either figure, but you get the idea.) He starts by telling them "Gentlemen, you don't know from invulnerable." and then outlines how his ray gizmo will sever Swamp Thing's consciousness from the earth's biogenic field or whatever.

Even with Swamp Thing planted (heh heh) firmly back in the DC universe of capes and cowls, this story is not likely to be considered canon any more, as it involves Gotham City building a statue to Swamp Thing and a Batman who can just pull up in front of City Hall in broad daylight and start telling city officials what's what.

Despite a very clearly Silver Aged Batman, this story was Post-Crisis... in fact, I believe it landed around the time that John Byrne's Man of Steel comic was introducing the post-crisis Superman and Lex to the world, so Legitimate Businessman Luthor was kind of a new thing. Moore's portrayal of Lex stood out as a sort of balancing act between the Luthor who would spend untold amounts of money inventing world-changing technology and use it to rob a bank and the one who would patent that world-changing technology, sell the world a nerfed and DMR'd version of it for millions, and keep the best for himself. It was only a cameo, but it gave the sort of balanced portrayal that Mark Hamill would bring to the Joker years later in Batman: The Animated Series - not straddling the line between conflicting versions of a character, but integrating them.

So when DCnU's Lex Luthor is introduced to us in Action Comics as a paid consultant for superhuman-hunting military figures, it gave me goosebumps. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Grant Morrison's portrayal was inspired or informed by Alan Moore here. I don't know that. It's definitely reminiscent. But at the same time, this isn't just Supervillain!Lex meets Businessman!Lex. This is also paranoid xenophobic humanocentric Lex, whose hatred of Superman isn't just that he can literally look down on him or that he stands in the way of his schemes (indeed, Superman can't yet fly and there's no sign that he's actually impeded any of Lex's undertakings yet)... it's also (or perhaps solely, we don't know yet) that Superman is an alien, a being foreign to his world who comes with untold power and unknown attention.

Regarding the last parenthetical aside: it's entirely possible that Lex's villainy will all be motivated by this factor this time around. However, motivations aside, it would be wrong to label him as only being a villain for opposing the designated hero. This issue makes it clear that he has no qualms with putting any number of his fellow humans (at least the kinds of humans who live in condemned buildings in poor neighborhoods and who take the train) at risk of death if it helps his plan to bring down the being he refers to as "the creature" and "it".

While the upshot of the comic is that Lex is that sort of fictional genius who can treat an entire city as if it were no more complex or unpredictable a system than a billiard table, it also clearly reveals the occlusion of his bias. His interest in Superman is motivated by the idea that Superman is an alien invader who threatens humanity, but his plan depends from start to finish on the idea that when he himself throws lethal danger at human beings, Superman will put himself in harm's way to protect them.

It can't be said he doesn't see Superman's altruism or believe in it... he was counting on it. If pressed, he would probably say it's a pose to gain people's trust. But in that case his plan didn't just hinge on everything physically falling into place as he predicts, it depends on Superman not blinking when Lex calls his bluff. Would he have felt so confident in that case? I doubt it. Whatever he would like to believe about the strange visitor, his study of Superman's psychology can address only the outward pose. He based his plan around the idea that Superman absolutely would not back down with human lives on the line, and he based this on observation of Superman's behavior.

So what we must conclude is that Lex knows Superman is a moral being who places a higher value on human life than he himself does and has no problem at all reconciling this with his idea that he, Lex Luthor, is protecting the world from a dangerous alien menace. It's the kind of contradiction that is rare in fiction (except when it's lampshaded so that someone can have a Come To Jesus moment and be instantly converted to the protagonist's cause, or double-down on their evilness in a rage-filled rejection of logic) but extremely common in real life.

Basically, Lex Luthor was the highlight of this issue for me... though part of that is because I've already been exposed to the Superman character in the preview pages that went out. I'd have to give myself high marks for my first impression. This version is definitely strong shades of the classic Superman, the illegitimate son of Hugo Danner and Tom Joad, if only they had been created to star in wish-fulfillment fantasies.

There has been much comparison of the new, young Clark Kent to Peter Parker and I think there's something to be said there. What I haven't seen a lot of commentary on is just how effectively the Clark Kent/Superman double-down disguise is sold in this book. Superman has slicked-back hair, yes... but Clark's is not just combed differently, it's pointedly mussed up. Clark wears glasses, but Superman keeps the red glow in his eyes. Superman wears an outfit designed to show off his physique (not exactly tights anymore), Clark wears a big bulky sweater that buries him. Clark acts mousy and bumbling, Superman is... well, he's arrogant, showboaty, and confrontational.

(I believe the red glowing eyes idea was used in Superman: Secret Identity, a pre-Infinite Crisis take on the "Superboy-Prime" story... in Secret Identity a young boy whose parents thought it would be hilarious to name him "Clark Kent" and who lives in an apparently mundane and power-less world suddenly finds himself with powers mimicking those of Superman, the fictional character he was named after. It's later revealed that some event gave a certain number of people powers and implied that he subconsciously shaped his. In this more "realistic" world, the point of wearing a Superman costume is it makes people doubt their eyes and accounts of his appearances, and keeps people from trying to recognize his face... the red glow is another touch for that purpose.)

You see him mugging and belting out lines like (paraphrase) "Tell it to someone who cares, because that ain't Superman." and you think "This has to be a put-on." And of course it is. That's the point. That's what Superman is. An identity he puts on so he can use his abilities without it being connected to him.

Now, it's going to be really grating if he keeps doing things like that... I really hope he dials it down to an 8 or a 9 at the very least. But it's a great take on how to make Superman into somebody nobody would mistake for Clark Kent, and vice-versa.

(Which raises the question: what's he really like? I don't mean the "Is Superman real and Clark Kent is the mask, or is Clark Kent real and Superman is the mask?" conundrum. The Superman that the world sees and the Clark Kent that the world sees are both caricatures. I think Grant Morrison understands this, to judge by All-Star Superman... and by this.)

Now, the criticisms:

First, as was pointed out to me in the last post, there's what seems like a whole plot point missing from the middle of the book, turning Lex's scheme into what feels like an Underpants Gnome plan. It's like watching Back to the Future on FOX: they cut out stuff that's kind of integral. After reading it, I understand what happened. I know how Lex's plan worked. I was deeply confused in the middle, though... it feels like they were a two-page spread over their count and they decided we could just infer what was happening.

Second, the crowd that moves to protect Superman from the authorities after he saves them looks a bit more... homogeneous... than the people he actually saved. If enough people read through this TL;DR I'll surely get someone commenting to tell me to quit looking for racism everywhere and it was just random. Here's the point: if you "randomly" populate a building with squatters and you end up with Black faces, and then you "randomly" draw a crowd of people heroically standing down some heavy ordinance to protect a beloved and iconic superhero... well, the crowd isn't even random. It's drawn from the people we saw Superman saving.

Now, it could be said that the Black folks were less confident about the idea that their presence would stop anyone from firing. But as the issue stands, it feels like they were stuck in for a single frame to help sell the "urban poorness" of it all or as a nod (but only a nod) to diversity.

I don't know if this would have even tripped me, but representation has been a hot topic around the reboot, both from DC's critics and from players within DC who maintain that they're using the reboot to help redress the balance a little. We have a white businessman using the military to make a literal assault on the poor. The economic stratification of the U.S. is a racial issue, as it feeds into and from racial stratification. This was not the place to shoehorn a couple of faceless and voiceless people of color into a frame and call it good.

But missteps and missed opportunities in the middle aside, this is a book with a strong opening and a glorious finish, and it makes for a strong introduction to the new DC Universe.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Every once in a while I get someone who sends me money with an instruction to "buy something fun with it". I'm usually in a position where this is something I can reasonably accommodate. Today I had someone offer to send me $25 if I'd spend it on DC comics. I understand the thinking there... they want to support the relaunch (I do, too), I've been blogging about my impressions culled from preview and reviews, and I said in a comment that I'm not in any position to buy any right now.

But by that token: at this point in time I would rather have the $25. So I talked them down to this: $25, and I spend $10 on DC's digital comics. Now, if the donor hadn't budged I would have accepted and abided by the conditions.. I'm not complaining about having basically been offered free comics.

Anyway, this left me with some hard choices. Action Comics was the first thing I picked, because that's the one that has me most intrigued. It's not necessarily the comic I want to read the most on an ongoing basis, but I've obviously been interested in what Morrison is doing with it and I wanted a clearer picture.

The next thing I decided was "no Batgirl". No, I'm not boycotting it or anything over the de-Oracling... but I want my purchases to have some impact and Batgirl has been the breakaway pop hit of the relaunch. Another sale the day after launch is not going to help it. Me getting a copy after the price drops is not going to hurt it. If I weren't so dang curious about Action Comics I would have skipped it, too.

My next selection was Green Arrow... again, curiosity. Ollie is one of my favorite DC characters, and I love everything that's been done with him since Kevin Smith brought him back. (I don't love everything that's been done to his son Connor, but I love Connor, too.) This means he's one of the ones I have very mixed feelings about rebooting. And this is also one of the books that's been talked about the least. So I wanted to 1) scope it out and 2) give my $3 "vote" to its continued existence in case it's good.

The last choice was the hardest. Though some of them rate lower than others, is no book that's dropped yet that I'm not interested in checking out, but going with the principle of giving my initial purchases as much impact as possible, I decided to make sure I wasn't picking yet another book focused on a white guy. By title alone, Justice League International sounds like it should be perfect, but... well, to judge by the previews it's another book focused on a white guy. (The more things change...)

I almost grabbed Static Shock, but Static has an established following that I hope is giving him a boost. In the end, I picked Batwing. There are bound to be some problematic aspects of a character who's been advertised as "The Batman of Africa" (given that the whole point of Batman Incorporated is that one man can't be everywhere, shouldn't a continent merit more than one?), but I'd rather those problems have time to be addressed than see the book fail and have that failure be chalked up to a lack of interest in anything other than whitebread All-American Heroes.

I'll be reading them now and posting my impressions.
alexandraerin: (Harley)
So, DC's new Action Comics #1 comes out tomorrow... this is the comic that in its initial incarnation was Superman's first home in the publishing world. In DC's newly rebooted continuity, it's the home of Superman's "year one" stories, showing an inexperienced Young Man of Steel running (not flying) around Metropolis in a home-made outfit consisting of jeans and a t-shirt.

The "no tights, no flights" aspect of the project is sure to prompt comparisons to Smallville and his methods might call to mind the Reign-of-the-Supermen-era Eradicator, but I think it really is more about getting back to the character's roots... back to the age when he was more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and that was considered to be impressive enough without flight or pushing celestial bodies around.

In fact, as I read these preview pages, what I'm reminded most of is Philip Wylie's Gladiator, the seminal work of the modern superhero genre... if you read it with no idea of the timing, you'd swear it was an early deconstruction of the Superman myth, but in fact it's the foundation of it. The surface resemblance between Wylie's protagonist of Hugo Danner and the original Golden Age Superman are so noticeable that when the Golden Age version of the character was removed from continuity in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, his adventures were retconned to have happened to Danner's son.

(Gladiator was in the public domain at this point.)

Hugo Danner as written was a tragic figure in a way that Superman is never likely to be even in a Grant Morrison book, but his attempts to use his powers for great justice have a lot in common with the hands-on, in-your-face style of Morrison's Young Superman.
alexandraerin: (Zinda)
Smallville touched on pretty much the entire Superman mythos in its decade-long run, having Clark Kent meeting Lois Lane, fighting Doomsday, and joining(?) the Justice League before there was even a Superman. Yet apart from some winking nods in the background, there was nary a mention of Wonder Woman or Batman, much less an appearance by either character. Not even a Bruce Wayne character. This probably resulted in more mainstream media exposure than Oliver Queen (Green Arrow, a character originally very consciously made in the mold of Batman) would otherwise have gotten, but it seems kind of baffling. Why hold back on the big guns?

Before that, the Justice League cartoon had to deal with what was dubbed the "bat-embargo", where access to the vast roster of long-established characters from the Batman cartoons that launched the DC Animated Universe was seriously restricted. Again, this gave more exposure to characters who might otherwise have continued to languish in obscurity, though surely some opportunities were missed.

Why these restrictions? Because top brass was worried about having competing versions. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman pretty much always have new media projects in the works, and the bigwigs were concerned about some combination of brand dilution or consumer confusion.

But this seems silly. It's not like there aren't conflicting versions out there already.

The thing that strikes me in all of this is that DC's universe is rooted in the idea of using a "multiverse" to accommodate different versions of the same character. The original golden age Superman who could leap tall buildings with a single bound came from one world. The silver age Superman who could fly faster than the speed of light time plot the speed the last writer tried to set as his limit came from another.

DC erased that version of the multiverse in their "Crisis on Infinite Earths" plotline in the late 80s, which had the intention of cleaning up continuity and allowing the most modern incarnations of the characters to have a clean break and a reintroduction to the world. That didn't actually work so well from a clearing-up-confusion standpoint, and they've followed up with a series of variably soft and hard "crises" and "reboots" since then.

Apart from the big editorially mandated retcons with attendant criss-cross-crisis-crossovers, of course, there have been the incidental reinterpretations and re-envisionings along the way, the seminal events that get written and re-written... I think the story of the Joker's origin or of Batman's first encounter with the Joker is turning into a comic book version of "The Aristocrats". Not necessarily in the sense that every writer tries to top the last one (that's normal comic book writing), but in the sense that it seems like the story that every writer wants to tell with their own personal stamp or twist.

And the thing is, they're all pretty good. None of them are definitive, none of them can be definitive, but they're all good. When it comes to the Joker's origins, the "multiple choice past" is part of the character's personal meta-mythology. Occasionally the main ongoing story might pay lip service to this version or that version as if it were part of continuity, but it's like the references to where Springfield is on The Simpsons... there is no "truth" to be discovered, and every hint will eventually be contradicted.

So here's my question: why continue with the fiction of having one official version at all? As much as I would love it if new DC animated movies and shows like Young Justice were officially folded into the universe as the one anchored by Kevin Conroy's Batman, nothing has been hurt by the plethora of non-interconnected, contradictory animated movies and TV shows. Since Iron Man, Marvel has very conspicuously rushed animated movies to the shelves a year or two ahead of their live-action blockbusters without worrying that The Invincible Iron Man not only shows a different version of Tony Stark than the live-action Iron Man, but it focuses on the same story (his origin).

Around the same time Marvel started knocking it out of the park with movie adaptations, they launched their "Ultimate Universe" line, a second continuity that was muddled a bit at the beginning by seemingly conflicting mandates to bring characters back to their roots while exploring bold new takes on them, and to appeal to newer and younger fans while giving us dark and gritty twists on established characters. It was at its best when it gave us a fresh start on old characters (contemporary!teenage!Spider-man) and at its worst when it gave us edgy for edginess' sake (cannibal!rapist!Hulk).

And in that same era, DC undertook a somewhat similar endeavor, the "All-Star" line... the idea there was an anthology-ish imprint which would take an iconic character and give it to an iconic comic book writer to tell their own stories with, outside the constraints of creativity. Grant Morrison and Frank Miller were given the first go-rounds, on Superman and Batman. Morrison gave us his haunting and terrifically affecting love letter to the lost excesses of the Silver Age. Miller gave us The Goddamn Batman. The project never actually went any further than that.

So now we are on the eve of DC's rebootiest reboot ever. Everybody is younger. Everybody is supposed to have less baggage. By rebooting the whole line at once they have a chance to actually clean up continuity snarls in a way the previous reboots failed to do so. (After the first Crisis, one of the problems is that they didn't have "new official" versions of all the characters and their histories lined up, so new versions of some characters continued to interact with old versions of others until they got their own retcons.)

But that's not actually likely to happen, because we're being told that the basic history of the DC universe has still happened, it just happened when everybody was younger, and it happened in less time. Barbara Gordon was Batgirl as an adolescent, she was shot and spent three years as Oracle, doing the things that Oracle did only as a teenager rather than an adult and now she's out of the chair and taking her first steps into adulthood. Leaving aside the problematic aspects of abandoning the Oracle role: we're supposed to imagine the whole history of Birds of Prey happened, they happened in three years, and they happened with a plucky teenager occupying the seat of the capable adult we've been reading about.

This is not really... ideal. I can't believe that this "We're starting over! ...but not really." was actually anybody's baby. Rather I imagine a conflict between the creative desire for a clean slate and the creative desire to honor what's come before, the marketing imperative to keep things accessible to new fans and the marketing imperative to not alienate the existing fans... same sort of thing that made the early days of the Ultimate Marvel Universe such a messy mish-mash of "Big-time superhero coming through!" and "The madder Hulk gets, the hornier Hulk gets!"

So here's what we might term the "ultimate" question: if DC thinks they can sell Batgirl books with young Barbara out of the chair and in the suit, why can't they do it at the same time as allowing stories featuring the older Oracle Going To The Motherfucking Computer Bank Like An Adult? And also have stories with Cassandra as Batgirl and/or Steph as Batgirl?

They don't have to be the same continuity. Comic book fans aren't confused by this. Consumers aren't confused by this. Kids aren't confused by this. Kids have never been confused by this sort of thing. We grow up with different versions of the same story.

For every fairy tale, there's the Disney Version, there's The Other Animated Version (when I was growing up, this usually came in the form of an imported cartoon shown as a "Special Delivery" on Nickelodeon), there's The Retelling In An Otherwise Non-Fairy-Tale-Based-Cartoon, there's probably at lest one live action version... oh, and yes, there are books, too.

When we've already got the comic book of Batman, the animated series of Batman, the animated series of The Batman, five different men who have played Batman in movies, comics based on the cartoons... why must there be one true and central version of "continuity" or "mythology?"

One of the best-loved episodes of Batman The Animated Series even focused on this idea. It took its title ("Legends of the Dark Knight") from a then-ongoing comic series that played around with the idea of different continuities/mythologies. This animated series featured a young Barbara Gordon as Batgirl at the same time that Oracle was establishing herself in the pages of ongoing DC comics. DC published and sold comics based on the animated series with the Barbara Gordon.

So why does it seem so unthinkable to present us with two versions of the character now?

There are a lot of sidepoints I could explore here, about the nature of storytelling and how mass media and copyright have changed it... and how fan fiction falls into that. I might have another post in me about that, but for now suffice it to say that I've found myself drifting around almost 180 degrees from my youthful (under)estimation of the worth of fanfiction.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I saw Captain America: The First Avenger today. I don't know if I'm in a headspace to write a detailed review/analysis, but I'm going to try.

I'll start by saying that I'm pleased at having almost exactly called what they were doing with the "classic" costume.

I didn't predict just how meta they would go with the classic shield and the comic books and the staged Hitler jaw-socks. The theme song belongs in the same pantheon of retrokitsch tunes with Make Way For Tomorrow Today. The reactions of the soldiers overseas to the "star-spangled man with the plan" was an unexpected but very on-point way of ending the booster montage and getting Cap involved in the action.

Focusing the action on a purely comic book conflict between a multinationally-staffed SSR and the forces of HYDRA at the very moment when they've split off from Germany entirely to become their own world power is more than a bit of a dodge of the issues involved in making a WWII movie, but... well, pitting superheroes against supervillains nicely answers the question of why neither side makes much of a difference to history.

Captain America couldn't go sock Hitler on the jaw because he was busy with the Red Skull, and they ultimately neutralized each other. It's the sort of thing that the OSI in Venture Bros. exists to arrange. I find, as a meta-structure in superhero stories, that I prefer this sort of set-up to the escalation theory. Superheroes and supervillains keep each other busy so that everyone else can go on living their lives.

It was a fun enough movie. The major criticism that stuck with me is that the supporting cast was underdeveloped; the Howling Commandos, for instance, were never introduced to us by name. If Dum-Dum Dugan didn't have such distinctive headwear, I wouldn't have known they were supposed to be the Howling Commandos at all.

Now, if you're not a big enough 616 geek to know who the Howling Commandos are, that in itself doesn't sound too bad, but to break it down: Cap trusts these guys with his life and vice-versa and we don't even know who they are.

Couldn't we have dipped into the "war booster" montage or the "destroying HYDRA" montage a bit to give them a bit more characterization? Okay, I know they're not likely to be on stage for a Captain America sequel or the Avengers movie, but that means this was probably their only time to shine.

The connections between movies/characters is probably about on the same level as it was in Thor. Fewer Avenger cameo/references, but the decision to tie the Alien Power MacGuffin directly to Asgard (prediction: it's not Asgardian tech, that's just where it came from immediately before reaching earth) and continue the science-is-magic-is-science angle is probably going to do a lot to make The Avengers more coherent as a movie. We now have Tony's father having studied the cube and its properties, Thor the Asgardian, and Captain America having seen it in action.

This coupled with the seeming-inert cube's appearance at the end of Thor makes me optimistic that we'll get more than "I drafted all you people and here's something threatening the world for you to face." as the plotline for The Avengers

Anyway, it's no Thor and I'm not even sure how I'd rate it against the Iron Men, but I wouldn't relegate it to the shelf of Hulks.

(Sidenote: Saw The Amazing Spider-Man trailer... are they trying to trick people into thinking it's a horror movie for the first half?)
alexandraerin: (Zinda)
Hi!

I'm not going to start this by saying that I'm a loyal customer and you owe me anything because in fact I am not a customer of yours, loyal or otherwise, and you thus owe me nothing. Here's a fact: most of the DC comic titles I have read in the past several years I read in the cafe at Borders (mea culpa, guys... in my defense I spent an awful lot of money on smoothies!). I can't remember the last time I bought a DC trade paperback that wasn't Birds of Prey or something Vertigo-y.

This hasn't always been the case. I've bought quite a few trades from the time of like The Death of Superman and Zero Hour and all that stuff in the 90s on through the early 00s. What drove me away was mainly when it became more and more about the hot Crisis-On-Crisis action. I didn't stop reading, but I stopped finding as much that I read that I knew I wanted to own and re-read at will and support with my money.

The reasons I always favored trades is because I don't like buying comics monthly. I have mobility issues for one thing, and I am not one of nature's collectors. The monthly comic magazine is not the sturdiest of formats, and won't stand up to the kind of repeated re-readings that I favor. You have to be careful with a comic book if you want it to last long enough to be enjoyed in the future, and I don't read that way.

This is also why I've recently switched most of my prose reading to electronic formats... they're harder to lose track of or wear out. Really, electronic is better than a sturdy collected edition. It addresses all of my needs perfectly. I don't have to arrange to be taken anywhere to get it. I don't have to do anything to take care of my copy. I'll never lose it. It's great.

So when you announced your digital content initiative thingy, I was very excited about it. While a lot of people were outraged over the idea that you were torpedoing the Friendly Local Comic Shop, I thought you were reaching out to me... the lapsed comic buyer, the person who doesn't have a pull file, who isn't part of comic book shop culture but who enjoys reading a nice bit of sequential art and might like to do so more regularly if it were possible to do so conveniently.

This seemed like a good direction for you. I mean, you've already got the money of the people who go to the comic shops every week or every month. Growth is about reaching new markets.

So here's where you've lost me... and that's a phrase that is just loaded with meaning, DC Comics: you are making it so super convenient for me to send you money on a regular basis again for the first time since you canceled Anima*... steady, predictable, recurring income (that's the good kind, folks!)... and now what I'm hearing out of you is that you don't actually want my money.

You are reformulating your universe to appeal more strongly to what you perceive to be the core audience... i.e., the same people whose current pull files and subscriptions aren't apparently doing enough for you to rock your parent company's world. You are firing female creators, you are benching female characters or retconning away their existence or their moments of triumph, you are hiding or diminishing a lot of what diversity their was in your universe...

And your answers when this is pointed out or questioned range from dismissive to disingenuous.

Do you remember that story you guys put out where the white collar fraud guy has his lawyer try two desperation tactics, a request for change of venue and an insanity plea, and it backfires when he ends up in Arkham Asylum? One or the other might have gotten him a cushier outcome than he could have otherwise reasonably hoped for, but by going for both at once he ended up leaving himself open to a truly cruel and unusual punishment.

(Sidenote: I actually did buy that one. Twice, because I gave one copy away. I'm really not trying to emphasize the "loyal customer" thing, though. I don't think I've contributed to your bottom line at all this year, for example.)

That's what you folks... or let's be honest... you guys... are doing right now. You're trying two different tactics: recommitting to your perceived core, and reaching out to new markets.

How much more core base do you think there is to capture? All your base is belong to you and Marvel, if you'll forgive the somewhat dated internet idiom. If you keep squabbling over the same few little acres of contested dirt, you're never going to have any gains to show for it that are all that impressive or all that permanent. It's like the big telcoms fighting for a big piece of the same city, while the companies that are doing things like bringing broadband to underserved rural markets are showing huge growth. Why are they showing huge growth? Because they're going where there's room to grow.

Maybe you're falling prey to the idea that anything computer-related is a "guy" thing. Maybe that's why you are "guy"-ing up your universe even further on the eve of your bold digital whatever.

This attitude is lamentably understandable given the world we live in, but believe me when I say that as someone who wants to see digital distribution succeed I think you're making a terrible mistake. The idea that the internet is all guys hasn't been true for... well, ever. But it's an increasingly ludicrous and outdated meme to propagate.

Look at the comic communities that have popped up on Dreamwidth and Livejournal and other Livejournal spin-offs. (Just... don't look at the ones on Livejournal right now, they're having some issues. And maybe have your lawyers leave the room first.) Do you know what the male/female ratio on Livejournal is? Do you know how many women blog and read blogs?

And here's something else you should look at - My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Google "Brony". Do it.

Don't worry, it's safe for work.

Oh, and you can have the lawyers come back in.

See? Not only is the internet not "for boys", but a thing being "for girls" doesn't mean guys can't or won't appreciate it. Also? Notice how many bosoms that show doesn't have. Count 'em: no bosoms.

I'm going to be honest here, completely honest. Not only do I freely admit that you haven't seen a dime from me since I watched The Dark Knight in the backseat monitor of an airplane last December, I will also freely admit that I will *probably* check a few titles out in your new universe. But where I would have done so enthusiastically and with a lot of room in my heart to forgive bumpy starts and stick with it to see where things going, I will be doing so hesitantly and with a critical eye.

I don't expect you to learn anything from this one random internet post, much less decide to do anything about it in time to change any of the details of the already completely arranged launch. But if you get a good number of sales in the opening months of the initiative and then a swift decline, please learn the correct lesson from it: it's not that your distribution plan was flawed or that new audiences outside your core aren't interested, it's that you have failed to use your new distribution method to deliver content that anyone who isn't part of your perceived core wants.

Thank you.
alexandraerin: (Default)
One of the interesting things to me about the movie is that it wouldn't have existed without Iron Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe that sprung therefrom. I'm not saying that Thor wouldn't have been adapted into a standalone film in the absence of the idea to spawn a metafranchise, but it wouldn't have been adapted in this way and the results probably wouldn't have been nearly as pretty.

Because this isn't the Mighty Thor being adapted for the big screen in general; it's the Mighty Thor being adapted for the existing cinematic world of Tony Stark and Nick Fury. And it works. It works far better than a movie based around the comic book character of Thor has any right to do.

A comic book universe is an anything goes kind of place to begin with. Movies have to be both more firmly grounded and more narrowly focused. In figuring out how to fit a character who is essentially a big mash-up of Shakespeare, superheroes, Norse religion and legend, and Jack Kirby's ineffable love of gods-as-aliens-with-stupid-hats into the same world as the Iron Man of Iron Man, the filmmakers have discovered the perfect lens for translating the character in a way that we not only can believe, but... and this is the important point in a genre like superheroes that depend so heavily on willful suspension of disbelief... that we will want to.

So how did they make it all fit? By only slightly increasing the "Sufficiently Advanced Aliens" angle of the Marvel characters. The nine worlds are rendered as actual planets spread out across the universe but linked in a cosmic configuration (visualized by the Asgardians as the World Tree, Yggdrasil) that allows for wormhole travel between them. Earth, as Midgard, is one of the "realms" in the configuration.

For all the "Stargate" influence here, it never becomes obnoxious. We don't have a bunch of high tech aliens with scienterrific prowess who for some reason dress up like wizards and play pretend. The Asgardians, with their mastery of science that is indistinguishable from magic, see things differently than we do: they don't distinguish between the two. In an interesting reversal of the usual superior-aliens-chuckling-at-the-primitive-culture, the Midgardlings immediately set about deciphering what's going on in scientific terms while the Asgardians are like, "Lol, what's the difference?"

There's the line in the promos: "Your ancestors called it magic. You call it science. Where I come from, they are one and the same." The movie hews to that perfectly. There is never a moment where the curtain is pulled back and we see circuitry. They never stop to do any complex computations. Their technology is magic and magic is their technology. The only slight exception to this is their method of travel, which they know as the Bifrost bridge and the Midgardlings know as the Einstein-Rosen bridge... both its apparatus and its effects are a bit techier-looking than anything else in Asgard.

But given its uniqueness and importance in the narrative world, that works, too.

For Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, this film delivers the connections you crave: apart from Thor and Fury, we have one Avenger named and appearing on-screen, one Avenger name-checked, and one Avenger referenced in urban legend fashion.

Shield agent Phil Coulson continues to be an unexpected delight. I mean, if you were delighted when he threatened to tase Tony Stark and go watch reality TV, you'll continue to be delighted by him. It's interesting to see how his polite spook routine plays out differently when dealing with underfunded, slightly-hippieish civilian scientists than it does against a billionaire defense contractor/terminally-ill rockstar superhero who is probably pathologically incapable of giving a shit what anybody in a suit wants from him. I hope we get more of him in the future. I know he's confirmed for The Avengers but that's going to be a crowded movie.

And I do hope we get Thor sequels. I know that the Thor/Loki plot will continue in The Avengers, but there's so much more there. Like Heimdall. There is a lot going on with Heimdall, but it all is done... well, quietly, but also booming. Heimdall is presented as a god of few words and deep conflicts, so there's a lot about him that is left unsaid. It would be a shame if this one movie is all we get to see of him.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I got a question in my Formspring inbox asking me what I think about the Prop 8 ruling. I have to say that like Newt Gingrich, I'm disappointed in Judge Walker for not recusing himself from the case due to his obvious conflicts of interest.

First of all, asking a human being to judge a case relating to human rights is always a bad idea... that's like putting the fox in charge of the, uh, foxhouse. We all know how that ends.

Second of all, as a rational individual, Judge Walker was clearly susceptible to reality's well-known liberal bias and extremely prejudiced against the sort of "non-traditional" or "alternative" evidence that the defendants' case depended on.

I ask you, in the 21st century do we still believe that an idea gets to choose whether it's going to be a fact, a supposition, or an opinion? Of course not. So why do our nation's courts insist on enshrining facts as having special privileges over the unsupported prejudices of fearmongering bigots? Even if we presuppose that the government has some interest in the truth, it's not like every fact leads to some greater revelation.

So who would have been better to hear the case than Judge Walker? Off the top of my head, I can think of a few possibilities for jurists who could have overseen a trial much less biased against the defendants.

1. A Criminal

Criminals are, as the proverbs tell us, "a superstitious and cowardly lot", which means that while they might still give the facts a full hearing, they wouldn't necessarily elevate them to a level where they're somehow above fear and innuendo.

2. Bizarro, Superman's Flawed Duplicate

As we see in cases ranging from Texas v. Lawrence to The Board of Education v. Brown, Bizzaro World's jurisprudence often results in rulings that are a cliched opposite to how similar cases were resolved here on Earth Prime. As a bonus, Judge Bizarro's habit of referring to the court as "me" in his crayon-scrawled rulings would probably pass as "folksy" to Prop 8's supporters.

3. Harvey "Two-Face" Dent

Let's face it: flipping a coin is probably the closest way to a fair and rational system that could have found in the defendant's favor. That's not to say that deciding issues of civil rights using purely random methods is all that fair or rational, but hey, it beats subjecting the rights of minorities to a majority vote, doesn't it?

You know, I'm starting to think that maybe I shouldn't have written this right after watching the cinematic trailer for DC Universe Online...

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alexandraerin

August 2017

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