Monday, November 28, 2005

For Jor-El so loved the world...

"Even though you've been raised as a human being you are not one of them...They can be a great people Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son."
--Jor-El, Superman: The Movie

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved...And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil...But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
--John 3:16-17, 19, 21

You bet your 'S'So I geeked out over the "Superman Returns" trailer. In fact, my inner geek was quite disappointed with the fact that they didn't show said trailer when I saw Harry Potter on Saturday. I'm sure I'll catch it on a big screen at some point. But somewhere in the midst of seeing just how cool Routh looks in action and how good the flying special effects are even at this stage, I managed to notice that Jor-El left out a "begotten" in his speech.

I'm not a religious guy, mind you. I'm a literature geek, and any lit geek can spot a Biblical reference and a Christ figure. A child is sent out from the heavens by his father, raised by humble surrogate parents, discovers he is more than a mortal man, and decides to use his superhuman abilities as a force of good and a saviour of humans. If you came into Superman knowing only that, would you guess that he was created by a pair of Jewish kids?

I have the power!Of course, anyone who knows a little about world mythology will see just how universal that capsulized description can be. It's at the heart of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, the archetypal hero behind Heracles, Mithras, Aragorn, Luke Skywalker, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Moses, and Jesus Christ. Superman resonates with us because he comes out of this timeless tradition. He's not just a superhero, he's the superhero, the one who is burned somewhere onto our collective unconscious, who has popped up in every major religion, in every set of fables, since the dawn of human civilization.

Preach it, brother!And the folks behind "Superman: The Movie" took that notion and ran with it. Much like the Star Wars trilogy, "Superman" plays out like Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces on celluloid. The whole Epic journey is there; the little nods to other Monomythic heroes, like when Jor-El channels the book of John in the above quote. Someone had a copy of Campbell on set, I'd put money on it.

The Crimson Avenger and the Phantom might have predated Superman when it comes to costumed crimefighters, but there's a reason that Superman is considered the first superhero, and that has more than a little to do with all the history that goes into his character. It's not just Samson, who Siegel and Shuster cited as one of their inspirations for the Man of Steel. Superman was a Monomythic hero from day one, from hoisting that green car over his head. Once they started fleshing out his backstory a little more, the connections to mythology became even more pronounced.

It seems hardly coincidence that Superman's real, Kryptonic name is Kal-El, an apparent neologism by George Lowther, the author who novelized the comic strip in 1942 [actually, the name "Kal-L" was established by the Siegel/Shuster comic strip. Lowther may have added the E, but the sound remained the same]. In Hebrew, el can be both root and affix. As a root, it is the masculine singular word for God. Angels in Hebrew mythology are called benei Elohim (literally, sons of the Gods), or Elyonim (higher beings). As an affix, el is most often translated as "of God," as in the plentitude of Old Testament given names: Ishma-el, Dani-el, Ezeki-el, Samu-el, etc. It is also a common form for named angels in most Semitic mythologies: Israf-el, Aza-el, Uri-el, Yo-el, Rapha-el, Gabri-el and--the one perhaps most like Superman--Micha-el, the warrior angel and Satan's principal adversary.
The morpheme Kal bears a linguistic relation to two Hebrew roots. The first, kal, means "with lightness" or "swiftness" (faster than a speeding bullet in Hebrew?). It also bears a connection to the root hal, where h is the guttural ch of chutzpah. Hal translates roughly as "everything" or "all." Kal-El, then, can be read as "all that is God" or perhaps more in the spirit of the myth of Superman, "all that God is."

--Gary Engle, "What Makes Superman So Darned American?"*

Personally, I think it makes more sense to go with "Swiftness from God," in that he derives his powers, like speed and flight, from a higher entity, from a heritage that, in Siegel and Shuster's time, consisted of a whole race of supermen, demigods from the heavens. One only wonders what "Jor" means in Hebrew. Well, I do anyway. There's a lot more to Superman than red underwear and blue tights. There's several millennia of human literature sewn into that cape. And now, having died and been reborn, deriving his amazing powers from the sun (like Christ-like sun gods Mithras and Apollo), and standing at the head of DC's own Holy Trinity, Superman's links to the Monomyth have only grown stronger.

Superman on the CrossDoes this mean you ought to worship Superman? Is he the Son of Man of Tomorrow? Our Saviour of Steel? Certainly not. What this means is that comic books as literature, tied into the grand scheme of human literary history, is not new. It's as old as Superman, and Superman consequently is as old as humankind itself.

So, ultimately, it's nice to see Singer and crew taking a similarly literary approach to the new film. Supposedly Superman has gone into another exile (like the 12 years he spent in the Fortress in the first film). Has he gone into the vast deserts of space to be tempted and tested? Seeing this messianic imagery in the trailer makes me wonder how much better Superman III and IV would have been if they'd paid more attention to the character's literary history and less to cheesy comic book filmmaking.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

I love OYL

Get it?All this "One Year Later" (OYL) talk has made me want to be the first to make that joke. I'm probably not, but I really don't care.

Anyway, I expect to be thoroughly underwhelmed by "One Year Later." Maybe it's because "Superman: For Tomorrow," which had a similar gimmick, sucked so bad. I just think in media res stories are really overdone in pop culture right now, and I'd like to see less "we'll fill you in" and more "ride along with us" in comics. Any major changes in OYL are going to be undone within a matter of five years anyway.

But enough cynicism, let's go for speculation:

*"Legion of Super-Heroes" is being renamed "Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes." I hate seeing a single character take top billing in a team book, so I hope this doesn't become "Supergirl and a bunch of future people, but mostly Supergirl." She has her own title, and it blows. This does, however, answer my nagging question as to whether or not LSH would be jumping ahead with all the other books. As far as the Supergirl we'll see in these pages, here are the possibilities as I see them:
-It's Peter David's Linda Danvers/Matrix Supergirl. Highly unlikely, as she's dropped off the face of the earth, showed no interest in further superheroics, and was basically David's baby.
-It's pre-CoIE Kara, Superman's cousin. I guess it's possible that it's the Silver Age Kara, just like in Peter David's "Many Happy Returns" arc that closed out his Supergirl series. His plan was to have that Supergirl stick around for awhile with returning to the past cemented somewhere indistinct in her future. Waid could be recycling that idea.
-It's the current Kara. This seems to be one of the most likely ideas, and since Greg Rucka's comments suggest that she probably won't be spending time in the 31st Century in her own book, they'll probably do what they did with Superboy in "Foundations" and pluck her from the timestream somewhere in the present character's future, not knowing exactly when she came from.
-It's Power Girl, who has changed her name to coincide with her new knowledge of her origin. Karen has traveled to the future to join the LSH, partially to distance herself from a world without her family, partially to distance herself from the present Supergirl. I, personally, think this keeps getting more and more likely, but I'd absolutely hate it. PG needs to be on the JSA.

*New Blue Beetle, Shadowpact, Checkmate, and Secret Six series. Damn it, my wallet hurts.

*Ion. Ron Marz writes a good Kyle Rayner (naturally), but I hope that we don't see Cosmic Spidey Kyle anytime soon. I like him leading the GL Corps. My hope is that this book will be about "Ion," a special-ops-type group of new Lanterns, led by Kyle. Ion is a freaking stupid name for a non-electric-powered superhero.

*Rucka on Supergirl can only be better than Loeb.

*I'm wary of Busiek on Superman. I hope it's more like the Samaritan stuff from "Astro City" and less like his plodding, convoluted JLA arc.

Jesus soon, I promise!

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And yet, you see so little Zeldablogging

Get it?Three new links over on da blogroll. I read Crisis/Boring Change frequently enough that it really ought to have been added ages ago, and I just never got around to it. Consider that mistake rectified. I discovered House of L through Comics Should Be Good today, and it earned a spot by making me repeatedly laugh out loud with posts like this. I keep trying to think of clever "I'm the Goddamned Batman" jokes, but none of them seem to be very good. Maybe I'm dense or retarded or something.

Oh, and Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin is some mildly popular new blog, I guess.

Enjoy the new links! New posts forthcoming (including the previously-promised Jesus-and-comics post)!

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Anti-Choice

Christ, table for 12So, I just purchased and read the trade of Mark Millar's Chosen. Maybe it's the deluge of Revelation-inspired media in the popular culture recently, but I found it dreadfully predictable, and more than a little bland.

I suppose this is a good place for a Spoiler Warning, just in case.

So, Jodie Christianson (come on, Mark..."Jesse Custer" flew below my radar, but once you include "Christ" in the last name, particularly when it's not "Christopher" or something more normal, you're being a little obvious) believes himself to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. The story is narrated by the adult Jodie, whose face you never see--his head is always silhouetted out. Just about the time the first of these "adult Jodie" framing sequences pulls you out of the narrative, the ending of the story begins to become clear. After all, dressed in a suit and tie and speaking to his devoted followers, adult Jodie looks and sounds like every version of the Antichrist I've ever seen in modern representations. And I haven't even been paying attention. I haven't read the Left Behind books, I didn't watch NBC's "Revelations" miniseries, and I certainly don't go out of my way to find people who think the Apocalypse is nigh. Yet I could easily predict Millar's paint-by-numbers plot, and by the time Jodie does his ILM resurrection of a dog, any doubt as to the main character's identity and destiny is completely gone. The climax comes and goes without any surprises, and the book ends rather suddenly.

All of this left me feeling pretty unimpressed, and disappointed that something so pedestrian would come out of the same guy who gave us Superman: Red Son. Hinging the story on a big twist that should have been apparent to anyone who knows anything about Christian mythology* was really the book's big failing. The mystery of Jodie's true identity was entirely manufactured; you only wondered who he was because Millar kept saying "hey, you should be wondering about this," not because you had any genuine sense that things were not as the characters believed them to be. Perhaps if Jodie's character had driven the story rather than the forced mystery plot, I would have felt less let down. As it was, it feels like Millar had a great idea, but didn't know where to take it or how to end it, or was building up material for an ongoing series that became a three-issue mini halfway through scripting. It felt like the story should have been about more than just "M. Night Shyamalan's Revelation." Look, he's really the Antichrist, what a twist!

I should make the point that it's not all bad, naturally. The art is very subdued and fits the tone of the book nicely, and both dialogue and art are absolutely laden with symbolism. Jodie's first word in the book is "Jesus." His first miracle occurs when a dog named Angel (just like my puppy!) causes a truck to hit him. He has a falling-out with a priest-who-has-lost-his-faith (another stock character, and also an M. Night Shyamalan favorite!), and ends up walking away from the disbelieving priest on a road named "Division Ave." In the way of foreshadowing symbolism, we see another street sign in that panel, reading "One Way," and Jodie is walking away from it. When the disbelieving priest asks God for a sign as to Jodie's real identity, the dog Angel gets hit by a car and killed--a "fallen angel." Plus, there's the multitude of characters with Biblical names. Symbolism applied with a trowel works here because, let's face it, when you're telling something that's clearly based in the Bible, any symbolism will be pretty obvious, and a lack of it would suggest a lack of research or depth.

Back to the bad, the "adult Jodie" was another failing, due to the small problem of being so cliché and uninteresting as to give away the end of the story. I should amend my earlier statement: this Antichrist was exactly like every other pop-culture Antichrist I've ever encountered save one: Adam, from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's fantastic Good Omens. Gaiman and Pratchett, unsurprisingly, give us everything that Jodie Christianson left us wanting in an Antichrist, although my primary desire for Jodie was a willingness to stand up against his father and his destiny and to take a stand for everything he believed himself to be. Here's a kid who actually wants to do good with his godlike powers, but undergoes some off-panel conversion (involving demonic rape, which I can't imagine would really endear anyone to your side) to the charismatic, evil character we expect the Antichrist to be. My point with this comparison (which really got lost somewhere in there) is that there are ways to portray common characters that aren't common portrayals. Gaiman and Pratchett did it with their Antichrist, Gaiman and Mike Carey have done it with Lucifer, Ennis did it with God, and everything leading up to the end of this story showed us that Millar might do it with Jodie Christianson. Even the adult Jodie's comment that he once thought he and Jesus would be on opposite sides in the coming battle seemed to suggest (to me, anyway) that he found out he was the Antichrist and instead joined with the forces of good (so he and Christ would ultimately find themselves on the same side as opposed to opposite sides. Curse those words with multiple meanings!). Alas, what looks like novelty ends up being normality, and a good idea gets wasted on a bad plot.

Much like Millar, it appears I don't know how to end this post. I guess I'll just tell you to come back next time for more of Jesus and comic books! 'Tis the season, after all.

For Jor-El so loved the world

*By "Christian mythology," I don't mean to suggest that Christianity is a mythology, or that the Christian stories aren't true or anything. If this were a sociopoliticoreligiophilosophical blog, maybe, but not in a comics blog. What I mean by that term is the series of stories and concepts and mythologies that have grown up around Christianity and become part of the Christian cultural landscape, things like Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost and pictures of Jesus as a white guy with long hair and a beard and pictures of Satan as a hooved red demon with horns and such. Things that ain't from the Bible, but are still assimilated into Christianity in one form or another. Hey, look, my first footnote!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

That looks like A-SS

I really liked "All-Star Superman."

But, Frank Quitely decided to redesign the S-shield (making it look really stupid, mind you), and DC decided to redraw all the shields in the book. Decent idea.

Too bad they had a nearsighted chimpanzee with three fingers do the touch-ups. Honestly, I've never seen the shield look more out of place, poorly-drawn, and inconsistent as it does in "A-SS." DC, you've got the damn shield in your clipart, you couldn't make it look better than that?

And Quitely, what the hell? You can render everything in exquisite detail, but the most recognizable symbol in comics baffles you?

Update: From Lying in the Gutters, here's a side-by-side comparison of the redrawn S-shield (top) and the Quitely aSs-shield (bottom). I'll try to get a scan of one of the more flagrant screwed-up retouches later today.

Not bad...
...eeeugh!

God, that's awful.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Does this make Lex Luthor Daddy Warbucks?

Brian Cronin posted this.

Which put this in my brain...
With Krypto as Sandy!

Damn you, Brian Cronin!

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Damn Beatles...

So I'm at work. I'm listening to "Abbey Road" on my CD player. Once it ends, I realize something: I hate listening to "Abbey Road."

Because looking through my small CD case, which has a half-dozen more Beatles albums, a couple of They Might Be Giants discs, a soundtrack or two, and two MP3 discs chock full of random awesomeness, I realize that anything I pop into the CD player next would be a tremendous step down. I scrutinized "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" until I realized I probably should have listened to that first.

"Abbey Road" cannot be followed without making the next album look like utter crap by comparison. Damn Beatles, what with your perfect pinnacle of distilled awesome.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

He ain't heavy, he's my blog(er)

It's finals week. Hence, the lack of posting. I hope to fix that on Wednesday.

Until then, I figure if I make promises here in public, I'll feel obligated to actually follow through with them. So, the following things will appear in the next several weeks:
*My Crisis on Infinite Earths review/analysis
*Crisis on Infinite Luthors!
*Why I hate the Multiverse
*Marvel's Metagene
*Man of Steel's better than Birthright
*Infinitely wrong Infinite Crisis Predictions!
*And random crap galore!

Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Power internalization

I was going to say that Power Internalization is a pretty hot topic these days, but then I could only find the Absorbascon's post on the subject. Could've sworn that Snark Free Waters did something on it recently too...some blog did, anyway, I swear.

Okay, point: I don't totally mind power internalization, particularly in the DCU. F'r instance, Alan Scott's internalization of the Starheart makes pretty decent sense: the magic energy had affected him enough to imprint itself on his children, and he later totally internalized it when he became Sentinel. Then, in JSA we learn that he no longer really has a physical body, and that he is keeping himself alive through sheer willpower.

If ever you doubted who the most awesome Green Lantern was, doubt no more. Hal's Corps needed a special reservoir of backup power to keep the Lanterns alive in life-or-death situations, Kyle's power ran out the more he used it, but Alan Scott's body gave out before his ring did, and he still kept going.

Then, in the DCU, you've got that grand MacGuffin, the Metagene. Marvel came up with "Mutant" as an excuse for developing powers without a real origin, but DC did 'em one better. Take the basic concept of the Marvel mutants (superhuman abilities coded into the genetic structure), remove the major restrictions (Mutants develop during puberty; the Metagene can become active at any time, or may remain wholly inactive and recessive), and give it a couple of disbelief-suspending twists (the metagene tends to activate in times of stress or duress; the powers it bestows are typically linked to the way in which it is activated) to further ease the burden of origin-building, and you've got a universe with a built-in system of developing superpowers. What's more, it's hereditary.

So I can accept that Black Lightning internalized his electrical belt: he had the metagene, and it was activated by prolonged exposure or a specific exposure to his lightning belt. I can accept that Wally West's metagene, influenced by his idolization of Barry Allen and the conditions under which it was activated, gave him a connection to the speed force in that one-in-a-trillion accident. The mechanism of power internalization is built into the DC universe.

But what about the Marvel universe? In the Marvel universe, you usually get your powers from artifacts, magic, serums, the X-gene (or being a Mutant), or radiation. Or some combination of the above. Marvel doesn't have a metagene that can get activated as the plot necessitates. You don't see Falcon sprouting real wings, or Tony Stark suddenly developing the power to make his armor spontaneously appear on him. Captain America has never internalized his shield, though he did end up with that energy shield for awhile. In fact, I'm really hard-pressed to think of any Marvel examples of power internalization.

So, why begin the trend with Spider-Man?

That's right, this is another rant about organic web-shooters.

You know, I'll believe that irradiated spider venom will give a man spider-powers. I'll believe that a teenager can invent an advanced polymer of incredible strength, elasticity, and biodegradability, which can be stored in compressed canisters until it hardens upon hitting the air. I'll accept that he can invent bracelets to fire that fluid in directed, variable streams. What I find hard to accept is that some weird spider-serum would give him (conveniently) spinnerets exactly where the nozzles on his shooters were, shooting webbing that has the exact same properties as the stuff he developed himself. In the DCU, I might be able to accept that. I'd find it overly convenient and dumb, but I could accept it. But in the Marvel universe? No, that supersaturates my suspension of disbelief.

And then, in "Spider-Man: House of M," Peter is demonstrating for his son how he shoots his organic web-shooters (which he has for some reason in this universe, despite the fact that he never became a superhero and should never have fought the Queen who gave him the mutative serum thing), which is by tapping his palm twice, the same way he activated the original web-shooter mechanism. Even the mechanism for activating the spinnerets is the same? Come on! This is worse than Wolverine's bone claws; at least that was a semi-plausible retcon! This is just an overly convenient way to get Spider-Man more like his celluloid counterpart, and take away the most readily apparent sign of his intellect. Oh, and to give him Aquaman's powers, but with insects (despite the fact that he's an arachnid. Details, details...).

Someday, when I'm a bigshot comic writer, I'm going to write Spider-Man, and the first story I'm going to tell when they give me carte blanche with the Spider-verse is the one that gets rid of these ridiculous changes and brings Spidey back down to something that resembles earth. No more weird mysticism, no more New Avengers, no more cosmic threats, just Peter Parker as schoolteacher and freelance photographer, with a superheroic secret identity, a killer rogues gallery, and a host of problems both in and out of costume. I'd get him out after street crimes and normal human criminals and helping children and civilians and trying to get the city to respect him, all while working at a New York Public School, trying to help students get through the same problems that he had in High School. Maybe he'd even realize how far removed he is from the problems that plagued his teenage life, being a genius married to a supermodel these days.

But that's a ways off. Today, I guess I just get to grouse about how moronic these changes are, and how they really oughtn't work in the Marvel universe. Power internalization ain't a bad thing. I think it has fairly simplified Black Lightning and has made Alan Scott a more compelling, interesting character. When power internalization makes sense within the context of the character and the universe, when it adds to the character, it's not necessarily a bad thing. If handled poorly, sure, you end up with the Red Bee firing killer bees out of his fingertips or something.
But when the internalization is unnecessary, implausible, overly confusing, or damaging to the character, then you end up with short-lived Flash villain Replicant or Spider-Man's organic web-shooters. DC has given its characters an automatic plausibility quotient with the metagene, but Marvel has no such mechanism, leaving them with an extra hurdle to overcome. Marvel also seems to have fewer internalizations, and it appears that that, without the metagene, that hurdle is nigh-insurmountable.

If this is what passes for power internalization at Marvel, then I hope they continue the trend of not internalizing their characters' powers.

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So, what's the other half of the battle?

Okay, a cruise ship used a non-lethal sonic weapon, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) to avert a pirate attack.

When did real life start taking after episodes of G.I. Joe?

Next week: evil terrorist organization forms hypnotic rock band!

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Meme-ries, of the way we were...

From Crisis/Boring Change, and a string of other blogs asymptotically approaching infinity. Or something. I tracked it way back, but didn't bother to pay attention to who originally had it.

Favorite Beatles song: Love song, "Something," otherwise "The Sun King Medley" ("You Never Give Me Your Money" through "Her Majesty") or "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." God, picking even just a few is like cutting off my arm.
Favorite solo song by a former Beatle: John Lennon's "Imagine," one of my favorite songs ever, if not at the top of my list.
Favorite Bob Dylan song: Sung by Dylan? "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." If we're just talking about songs Dylan wrote, then "Blowin' in the Wind."
Favorite Prince song: "Batdance."

Just kidding, it's "Raspberry Beret."
Favorite Michael Jackson song: "Thriller," mainly because of the video and the awesomely cheesy Vincent Price.
Favorite Metallica song: The one where the singer sounds like he's chewing on beef jerky and using lyrics that were written while at his first kegger in 8th grade. "As long as they rhyme," right? I guess I have to go with the one where they sample "America" from "West Side Story," because honestly, metal and "West Side Story?" Why not stick a guitar solo into "I Feel Pretty"?
Favorite Public Enemy song: They did "TURTLE Power," right?
Favorite Cure song: "Just Like Heaven." Far and away.
Favorite song that most of your friends haven't heard: Right now, "O Do Not Forsake Me" or "Shoehorn With Teeth" by They Might Be Giants.
Favorite Beastie Boys song: "Girls"
Favorite Police song: "Don't Stand So Close To Me"
Favorite Sex Pistols song: "God Save the Queen," I guess. There are far better punk bands than the Pistols. I like that they innovated the genre, if only because it led to Green Day and Bad Religion.
Favorite song from a movie: "Deep Throat / Deeper than deep, your throat / Don't row a boat / Don't get your goat / That's all she wrote."

Ugh, what a horrendously awful song to go with a horrendously awful movie. No, assuming that this is excluding musicals, I think I have to go with Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," or "Only A Woman" from "Team America: World Police."
Favorite Blondie song: "Call Me," which I almost set as my cell phone ringtone.
Favorite Genesis song: "I Can't Dance," followed closely by "Land of Confusion"
Favorite Led Zeppelin song: "Immigrant Song"
Favorite INXS song: "Devil Inside" I guess.
Favorite Weird Al song: Oh, come on. Anything but "Buy Me a Condo" and "Trash Day" is fantastic.
Favorite Pink Floyd song: God, it's been so long since I listened to Pink Floyd. Uh...the last two tracks on "Dark Side of the Moon," "Brain Damage" and the other one.
Favorite cover song: "Gin and Juice" by the Gourds.
Favorite U2 song: The one that doesn't sound like all the others. Oh, wait.
Favorite disco song: "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor.
Favorite The Who song: "Baba O'Riley
Favorite Elton John song: "Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza."

Wait, what? Oh. Well, then "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."
Favorite Clash song: "Rock the Casbah." Yeah, I know, real original and deep. I just think it's more fun than "London Calling."
Favorite David Bowie song: "Suffragette City."
Favorite Nirvana song: "Come as You Are," I guess.
Favorite Snoop Dogg song: "Gin and Juice" or "Bitches Ain't Sh*t" (Dre's song, sure, but Snoop has a role), but only because of the awesome covers of both of them.
Favorite Ice Cube song: Does anything by NWA count? Because then it's "Boyz N Tha Hood."
Favorite Johnny Cash song: Next!
Favorite R.E.M. song: Shiny Standy Crush (and I Feel Fine). Actually, it's "Losing My Religion."
Favorite Elvis song: "Burning Love."
Favorite cheesy-ass country song: Oh, there are so many, though. My favorite serious country song is "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" by John Denver, but others, like Jello Biafra's "Plastic Jesus" and "Are You Drinking with Me, Jesus?" or Eric Schwartz's "Keep Your Jesus off My Penis" are all fantastic.
Favorite Billy Joel song: "Only the Good Die Young."
Favorite Bruce Springsteen song: "Glory Days." Yeah, I know I'll get crap for that. At least I didn't say "Blinded By the Light." Close runner-up is "Born to Run."
Favorite New Order song: "Bizarre Love Triangle"
Favorite Neil Diamond song: "Cracklin' Rosie."
Favorite Beach Boys song: "Little Deuce Coupe," though "Barbara Ann" and "Kokomo" are really close.
Favorite Dire Straits song: "Money for Nothing" or "Walk of Life." "Sultans of Swing" is a great song, but the others are more fun.
Favorite Elvis Costello song: "Veronica" is the only one I really know.
Favorite Guns 'N Roses song: "Sweet Child O' Mine."
Favorite Jimi Hendrix song: "Purple Haze."
Favorite John Mellencamp song: "Pink Houses." THEN, "Jack and Diane."
Favorite Living Colour song: You mean there's more than "Cult of Personality?"
Favorite Neil Young song: Was "Ohio" a solo effort, or CSN&Y?
Favorite Paul Simon song: "Me and Julio"
Favorite Simon & Garfunkel song: "Cecilia"
Favorite Queen song: "Seven Seas of Rhye," or "Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race."
Favorite Sting song: I've never heard a solo Sting song that I like.
Favorite Tracy Chapman song: Who?
Favorite Van Morrison song: "Brown-Eyed Girl."
Favorite XTC song: "Dear God" and definitely not "Mayor of Simpleton."
Favorite Depeche Mode song: "Master and Servant"
Favorite dance song: Regular or slow? Line dancing: "The Cha-Cha Slide," because it's a terrible song, but it's awesome to watch people try to figure out what the hell "Charlie Brown" and "go to work" and "reverse" mean in the middle of a dance. If we're talking slow dances, then it's "Wonderful Tonight," and if we're talking 'favorite song to dane to,' it's "Build Me Up, Buttercup," by the Foundations. If you think I can distinguish techno from other techno or house or whatever the hell that all is, then you're mistaken.

Except "Dragostea Din Tei."
Favorite Big Audio Dynamite song: See Public Enemy.
Favorite Squeeze song: "Tempted," I guess.
Favorite Smiths song: "Panic," because I think "hang the DJ" is hilarious.
Favorite Tragically Hip Song: The only people I know who are into the Tragically Hip are tragically arrogant.
Favorite Dave Matthews Band song: I hate DMB. With a passion. And I've given them several chances for non-hateage. Yet, somehow I really like "Busted Stuff," the whole album. Can't stand any Dave song but the ones on that disc. Weird, huh? Anyway, off that, it's "Big-Eyed Fish."
Favorite Radiohead song: "Creep."

I'm pretty sure that posting memes is a certain sign that you wanted to update, but haven't finished the real posts you're working on. Like me, here. Coming soon: actual content!

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

It's still Superman's fault

Green Lantern went nuts, killed a bunch of Green Lanterns, all the Guardians, and became Parallax (or got possessed by some sort of bug thing, whatever, it's all the same). He then tried to rewrite the universe, make it better, bring back the alternate Earths, etc.

His reason for all this? Because the Cyborg Superman and Mongul destroyed Coast City.

Oh, but you say that's not Superman's fault, it was Cyborg and Mongul.

Hank Henshaw was poisoned by radiation and died, hating Superman for not being able to save him. His consciousness lived on, able to inhabit machines, including Kal-El's rocketship, which Superman had stashed in orbit for safe keeping. From this, he took Kryptonian metal samples and Superman's DNA, and fashioned a body, claiming to be the true Superman after his Death.

Mongul was the deposed ruler of Warworld. Deposed by Superman, who escaped his gladiatorial games and stripped him of his position. He vowed revenge and wanted to create a new Warworld, preferrably out of Earth. Teaming up with Cyborg, they chose to start with Coast City.

Two Superman villains blow up Green Lantern's hometown because they've got a beef with the Man of Steel, and because he just left stuff lying around (the rocket, Mongul), unguarded and disregarded. Real careless, Kal-El.

This means that Zero Hour was Superman's fault, too. Honestly, I'd leave that off my resumé, Clark. If you're going to be ashamed about a Crisis event, be ashamed about that one.

And "War of the Gods." But I digress.

Of course, there's also Superboy, who got taken over by Luthor and went berserk. Being taken over? Going berserk? It's in Superman's DNA!

Like original, like clone, I guess.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

My blog challenge...

While I haven't yet posted on Tegan's Blogaround challenge (soon, after my CoIE review!), I feel the need to issue a challenge of my own.

See, I'm a little of a narcissist. Honestly, I think everyone who blogs is to some degree. You write for a number of reasons, but primarily to satisfy a love of writing, and to be read and recognized by others. I know I go all a-flutter when blog celebrities like Scipio and Brian Cronin respond to my posts on their blog, and on those occasions when someone--anyone!--but especially a blogger I read and follow and recognize, posts a response here, I feel like I might be part of the in-crowd. Not the in-crowd that shunned me in high school, but a much cooler in-crowd that debates important issues like Power Girl's cup size and the Avengers' Halloween habits.

So, my challenge to you, bloggers and blogees, is to go out this week, and post something on a blog that you visit regularly, but never or very rarely comment on. Maybe even find a random blog that you've never been to before, and give them some kind of comment, whether it's on the posted topic, or just telling them what you like about their blog, or asking them to visit your site about penis enlargement.

Feed the narcissism that fuels the blogohedron!

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Quick reviews

Bulleteer #1: Fantastic start for this miniseries. I really like this angle on the reluctant superhero, and Grant Morrison delves into the world of superhero porn, which has only really been touched upon before in little bits (She-Hulk and Jade spring to mind), playing with the 'superhero as celebrity' angle that he used a bit in New X-Men. Of the remaining Seven Soldiers miniseries, right now, this one has me the most psyched. "Frankenstein" awaits, however, and I do love Mahnke's art.

Firestorm #19: Yep, that's definitely Professor Stein out there in space. Anyway, is it bad that I feel like I've never seen the soul patch best friend kid before? I like that Lorraine Reilly decided to drop by again, and I really liked Jason's apparent schizophrenia, and his friend's comments about DC's buxom super-babes. I do hope this all goes someplace soon, though, because this issue still felt too much like filler, and this series remains the least memorable issue-to-issue series I buy. Maybe I just have a mental blind spot against Jason. A mediocre issue of an otherwise above average series.

Jonah Hex #1: Preacher's Saint of Killers was based, in terms of personality, on Clint Eastwood. Now, Jonah Hex looks to the Man With No Name for visual inspiration, looking like Eastwood with Hex's gruesome scar. I'm not entirely sure what the symbolism is of having an Eastwood look-alike kill a James Dean look-alike in the opening scene of the book, but I'm sure it's saying something. The art's top-notch, and the story's interesting, gruesome, tragic, and generally moving. Off to a nice start for a book I wasn't planning on picking up.

JSA #79: Wait, this storyline isn't over yet? Just as they got the plot headed to what I thought was a conclusion, the book ended. It was a good issue (though I still don't understand why Jakeem went nuts, or what happened to Johnny Thunder's spirit), but way too short.

Spider-Man: House of M #5: Aside from showing just how ridiculously awful and moronic the organic web-shooters are (more on those in a day or two), this was a pretty good issue. Actually, the fact that it showed just how stupid those things are was pretty good, maybe Mark Waid hates them as much as I do. A good wrap-up to an interesting story.

Spider-Man Unlimited #12: The only thing that could have made this issue better is if Tom Beland had done his own art. Christos N. Gage's opening story is a Dan Slott-esque romp which introduces "Vil-Anon," the supervillain rehabilitation 12-step program. That's awesome. Then Beland gives us a touching story about the Marvel universe's many orphans. Top-notch on both counts.

Pick of the week: A lot of good stuff this week, but I have to put Spider-Man Unlimited at the top, for being such a great Spider-Man story in the middle of this "Other" storyline.

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Erik Larsen, please stop talking

You know, Erik Larsen's column, One Fan's Opinion has been a hotbed of controversy, mainly due to his "other creators should do original work and not whore themselves out to established corporate properties" rant from a few weeks back. This week, he's ranting about how comic characters don't have consistent faces, and characters like Superman and Bruce Wayne don't have any specific features.

The point is that making these characters distinctive and iconic makes them easier to recognize. Batman's shadow cast over a villain makes an effective cover-- Superman's shadow doesn't. If Bruce Wayne had a distinctive, specific face, readers would immediately recognize him when he appeared in a panel or entered a room. In a crowd scene you can pick out Commissioner Gordon, but not Bruce Wayne, and that's messed up!


I guess that all depends on whether it's a panel full of dark-haired tall guys, or a panel of white-haired mustachioed men in trenchcoats, doesn't it? Larsen compares characters like Bruce Wayne to Dick Tracy, suggesting that you would painstakingly recreate Dick Tracy from his creator's artwork, but would have no real model for Bruce Wayne or Superman.

Does anyone see the difference there? I certainly do. Dick Tracy is the product of a single, long-running comic strip, which was done in a very specific, very distinctive style for many years, a style which has been emulated by the other artists who have taken the strip since the creator passed away. Characters like Batman and Superman branched out into other media fairly quickly, appearing in multiple comic titles, radio shows, movie serials, and television. That alone gave people multiple images of the characters. Furthermore, throughout the Batman and Superman stories drawn by the original artists, the style was evolving and changing. Joe Shuster's art in 1938 is quite a bit different from his art in later years. Many of the changes to Superman's costume came while he was the sole artist. Same with Bob Kane's Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Also keep in mind the level of detail available to those early comic artists. I've read quite a few of the DC Archive books (which I would have on-hand, but they're generally, sadly, out of my price range), and characters are often drawn with very little facial detail, or drawn fairly small in order to fit more panels and more text on the pages. I know I've had trouble telling Lois Lane from other dark-haired women in Shuster's art. When the original artists were unable to, or just plain didn't, give their characters "iconic" faces, it became hard for subsequent artists to do so consistently. People like Wayne Boring and Curt Swan and Dick Sprang would be influenced by other media representations of the characters when they came up with their styles, they brought their own visions to Superman and Batman.

Larsen's use of the term "iconic" to describe characters' faces (honestly, who in comics has a distinctive face that isn't due to scarring, weird deformities, or accessories? Take away Wolverine's cigar, pointed incisors, and hair, and can you tell his face from any other stubbled squat stock character?) reminds me of a line from the first issue of Invincible: "Everyone wants iconic costumes, but no one knows what that means." I can tell Bruce Timm's Bruce Wayne from any other Bruce Timm character. I can tell Jim Lee's Bruce Wayne from most, if not all, Jim Lee characters (at least, during his Batman tenure). It's due to the way that each artist defines the character's established features. Every character has certain distinctive traits, and the differences between different artists' portrayals of the characters come from which of those traits they decide to emphasize, and who influences them in those choices. Jon Bogdanove's Superman has a chin that juts out a bit, with a well-defined cleft, big eyebrows, and exaggerated hair that sometimes looks like Egon Spengler's from "The Real Ghostbusters." Tom Grummett's Superman was less exaggerated, gave the character an angular jaw, and put more emphasis on the hard lines of the cheeks and the prominence of his eyes than it did his cleft chin. His hair didn't stick out nearly as much. Ed McGuinness's Superman was somewhere in between, with cartoonish features, an exaggerated angular jaw and eyebrows, and hair that stayed close to his head. Yet, despite all those differences, each one was distinctly Superman.

Why? Because Superman has a series of facial traits (s-curl, black hair, blue eyes, square jaw) that stay constant from interpretation to interpretation. Different artists accentuate those features differently, and fill in the less-well-defined features differently. Rags Morales and Dan Jurgens and Tom Grummett, for instance, all draw Superman's nose differently, because no one has ever really set down the "distinct Superman nose." Shuster mostly just suggested the nose by drawing the bottom of it and leaving the bridge up to the reader's brain to fill in.

Larsen discusses his work on Spider-Man:
When I was drawing the "Amazing Spider-Man," editor Jim Salicrup sent along a page of photocopies with a John Romita drawn Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. It was a number of head shots-- showing a range of expressions and whatnot. I learned not to define Peter Parker's cheekbones and to remember MJ's arched eyebrows, dimples and the cleft in her chin.

Yet, he gave Peter far more well-defined cheeks than Romita (who made them less defined than Ditko), a less elongated head, longer, less helmet-like hair with a different hairline (Romita, Sr. gave him a well-defined widow's peak, Larsen gave him a straighter hairline), darker, more exaggerated eyebrows, and a less-square jawline. Larsen himself chose to emphasize certain traits and change others, as any artist does when working with an established character.

But the real "what the hell" moment came when he decided to talk about Captain Marvel.
For years Fawcett's Captain Marvel (later acquired by DC comics) was one of the few characters who had a distinctive face, which was indistinguishable [sic] from all other characters. These days, the guy is almost unrecognizable. He hasn't looked like Captain Marvel in years

I think he meant "distinguishable from all other characters." He goes on:
I can see both sides, I guess. If you're going to hire Jim Lee to draw Batman, you want to see his Batman, not Jim trying to draw like Dick Sprang or Jerry Robinson or Bob Kane or whoever else has been deemed to have drawn the definitive dark night detective. On the other hand, Captain Marvel hasn't looked like Captain Marvel in years! The thing is, it's supposed to be the same guy! It's not as though he's supposed to be somebody else!

Gee, I've taken a look at some of the classic Whiz Comics Captain Marvel covers, compared them with more contemporary visions of the character, and here's what I see (images stolen mostly from comics.org and The Marvel Family Website):
We hear he is a Whiz of a Whiz

Black wavy hair combed back, strong jawline, cleft chin, squinty eyes, well-defined, slightly pointed eyebrows, rosy cheeks.

Squints more than Clint Eastwood

Black wavy hair combed back, strong jawline, cleft chin, squinty eyes, well-defined very pointy eyebrows, rosy cheeks.

You'd be angry too if you had to navigate through a storm that bad

Black wavy hair combed back, strong jawline, cleft chin, squinty eyes, well-defined very pointy eyebrows.

Captain Marvel is watching you poop!

Black wavy hair combed back, strong jawline, cleft chin, squinty eyes, well-defined slightly pointy eyebrows.

So, either Erik Larsen thinks that rosy cheeks are Captain Marvel's sole defining characteristic and laments the sad state of his fluctuating eyebrow pointiness, or he's talking out of his ass with no idea what he's saying or what point he's trying to make. Anyone want to guess what my choice is?

Every artist has a different interpretation of a character's facial features and structures. The same artist may even interpret the same character differently at different times. The characters remain recognizable not just because of the facial constants, but because of the context of their appearances and the things like clothing and costumes that further define the character. Take away the hat and stripey sweater and put him in a Ditko Spider-Man comic, and "Where's Waldo" becomes a stand-in for Peter Parker. We find meaning and recognition through more than just facial features. Different artists have different interpretations of Jesus, but whether it's euro-Christ or black Jesus or probably-correct Middle Eastern Jewish Jesus, we are able to recognize his Messiah-ness from things like robes, a cross, a crown of thorns, stigmata, walking on water, healing the sick, uniting lambs and lions, or the other things that Jesus is typically shown doing. Take him out of context, and he's unrecognizable from any other long-haired bearded hippie.

Honestly, if any schmoe with a rant can get a weekly CBR column talking about random comic stuff, then sign me up. I guarantee I'd do more research than Larsen (i.e., 'some' as opposed to 'none') and I wouldn't actively try to make the comic industry hate me. Larsen really ought to put more thought into his columns, make them make some sort of sense, some sort of point. Otherwise, why read them? "One fan's opinion" ought to be informed and focused, not the incoherent ramblings of an over-inflated ego. Mr. Larsen, please either spend more than ten minutes deciding on your weekly topic and crapping out a mess of words, or just stop talking altogether.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It's all Superman's fault

Oh, sure, we've got a Superman or three running amok in the DCU now, possibly killing Martians and opening huge spacetime rifts and replacing themselves with robots and the like, but Superman's done worse. Lots worse. Like "starting the whole Infinite Crisis" worse.

Don't believe me? Read on.

186 months until Infinite Crisis!It starts way back in one of the early post-Crisis Superman/Batman team-ups, in which the two heroes are investigating a series of deaths related to Luthor's stolen Kryptonite ring, and a woman who had figured out Clark's secret identity. At the end of the story, Superman gave Batman the Kryptonite ring, in case he ever went rogue or otherwise needed to be stopped. He entrusted Batman with his life, knowing that Batman could stop him if necessary.

This, naturally, sets the Bat-ball rolling. After all, if Batman can be trusted with Superman's life, then who couldn't trust him? He's unimpeachable. It also gives Batman the notion of contingency plans against superheroes. Superman places that first contingency plan, the first "Tower of Babel," the first "Brother Mk. I" into Batman's hand!

But, you say, he's Superman, what are the chances that Batman would ever need to use that plan?

Yeah, but who doesn't want to strangle Donna Troy?Then, you remember all the times Superman has gone off the deep end. There was the crippled kid who bodyswapped with him and attacked the Teen Titans, there was the time Luthor took control of his superpowers and cut a swath of destruction through Metropolis, there was the time he started moonlighting as Gangbuster because he had a mental breakdown after fights with Brainiac and killing those Kryptonian criminals, the time the Eradicator tried to make him into the perfect Kryptonian, there was the time Eclipso took control of him, and there was the Cyborg Superman who destroyed Coast City (not Supes himself, sure, but a guy with his powers and then some, who did quite a bit to tarnish his image, during "Reign of the Supermen"), then his powers went out of control and he got huge and grotesque and knocked satellites out of the sky, then Brainiac took over his body and put his mind in the head of an epileptic fan in an asylum while he tried to take over the world, then his powers went screwy and he turned blue (not exactly berserk, but he caused some damage and nearly killed the Parasite), then Dominus used him to try to take over the world, then Lord Satanus took his soul and made him act like a jerk, then he and Bizarro swapped bodies, then there was Eclipso (again), which brings us right up to "Sacrifice" and Max Lord, the latest in a long line of people to send big blue off the deep end. And that's just in his own title, not counting all the other books Superman appears in (cough cough "Hush" cough). Is there anyone in the DCU at this point who hasn't taken control of Superman at one point or another? I know I've mentally possessed his body on two nonconsecutive occasions, and had a fantastic time of it.

Superman's life must be a lot like "Being John Malkovich" with a cape.

It's good to be the kingAnd in some of these occasions (though not as many as you'd think), Batman has had the opportunity to use his Kryptonite ring. I can remember two such occasions. Once, in "Hush," when Poison freaking Ivy took control of Superman, the ring worked with some success, mainly because Superman was fighting Ivy's control. The other time, during the "King of the World" arc, where Dominus used Superman to take over the world, the ring didn't work at all, because Lex Luthor had stolen it and replaced it with a fake.
So, imagine that you're Batman. One of the most powerful beings on the planet has taken over the world with a constant surveillance network enforced by an army of nigh-indestructible super-robots. You and the other most powerful beings on the planet have tried to reason with him, failing. An assault has failed, and your one sure failsafe against just such an event has failed miserably. After you realize the pressing need for more bat-undergarments, your first thought is "gee, next time I should have a better back-up plan."

Superman goes berserk yet againWait, worldwide surveillance network enforced by super-powerful robots? Superman's not only giving Batman ideas, he's giving them to Max Lord too! And, lest we forget, one of those super-robots went on to kill Donna Troy, setting the stage for her further descent into confusing continuity jumbles and her eventual charge to stop the Rann-Thanagar War, or something.

After Superman's weekly rampages and that whole Parallax fiasco, is it any wonder that Batman's a little paranoid about superheroes? In a universe where a rogue D-stringer like Hank Hall can be a serious threat to all of reality (twice), it only seems prudent to keep tabs on the most powerful, and thus dangerous, members of society.

Anyone else remeber the last time the Giffen-era Justice League got trounced this much? Yep, the "Death of Superman" storyline. Comatose Beetle (seems like Beetle was comatose way too often), Booster Gold's suit destroyed, Martian Manhunter all sorts of screwed up, etc. Anyone remember when Superman came in and took control of the League away from Max Lord? Think that might have ticked him off a little?

Oh, hey, and who gave Booster Gold his current suit? Superman.

Stay back! He's dangerous!So, Superman originated Batman's anti-rogue-superhero contingency plans, then gave Batman dozens of reasons to use them, came up with the first huge worldwide surveillance network for the "greater good," gave Max Lord the idea and motive to walk into his brain through the back door, and the concept of super-robots to augment the surveillance system. Superman's actions even resulted in the death of Donna Troy. Cite the Satellite-era league and "Identity Crisis" all you want, go after DiDio and Rucka and Johns, but they're not the real culprits. It's all Superman's fault.

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Just a reminder

I still hate Spider-Man's organic web-shooters. That is all.

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