Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday with Freakazoid...'s supporting cast!

For those who may remember, Freakazoid started as a sort of anthology show, and Freakazoid wasn't the only one to take the spotlight. Today, we shine that bright white light on one of Freakazoid's finest allies, the Huntsman.


He'll whip the pants off the bad guys!

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The things that bring you here

So, I shouldn't be surprised that a search for Organic Spider-Man comics turned up my blog, what with all my ranting and raving about web-shooters. The thought, however, of comics printed on untreated paper, using only natural dyes and no pesticides, tickled me mercilessly.

It looks like my mis-coined term "misandrony" is catching on, if a search for misandrony definition of is any indication.

To my good friend in Winnipeg who asked what does it mean when a grown man throws a tantrum, I answer that it clearly means you're reading a post by James Meeley.

Then, there's searches like Nasty Linda and Vicky wedgie, where I'd prefer not to know.

The Fortress of Soliloquy: your number two source for Vicky wedgie on the web. I swear, some days it's like I'm the butt of some cosmic joke.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Marvel Comics I'd Write for Free: Civil War

Civil War, in case you haven't heard, is Marvel's latest attempt to parallel events in the real world. Unfortunately, it seems that they their job too well, and entered into a Civil War without an exit strategy.

All throughout the lead-up and duration of this series, Marvel's higher-ups have said that they're not endorsing either side, that neither group is "right." Meanwhile, Tony Stark's behind-the-scenes manipulation of longtime friends and colleagues, the pro-Registration side's willingness to play Odin and dance with devils, and Captain America's mere presence on the anti-Registration side, have told a very different story, a tale of clearly-defined good and evil, and no amount of panels where Tony Stark wonders about his choices or where Cap looks like a fanatic, will change that.

Then, there's all the smaller problems. Why are all the intellectuals on the pro-Registration side? Why are Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Reed Richards acting so wildly out of character? And the one that's bugged me ever since I read Illuminati: how the hell can you justify the Stamford incident?
The new New Warriors may be a relatively inexperienced team, they may be in it more for the fame and money than they should, but of the four members I see on that team, three of them (Namorita, Night Thrasher, and Speedball) have been with the team since its inception, and have battled cosmic-level threats to the world. They routinely battled with the Sphinx (who at one point gained the ability to warp reality, as I recall), former Galactus herald Terrax the Tamer, and other fairly major villains. They've earned the right to some respect. Nitro, on the other hand, is something of a D-list villain, a character I hadn't even heard of until I picked up the Essential Official Guide to the Marvel Universe, whose power is "exploding" and whose only claim to fame is being involved in the death of Captain Marvel. This isn't a Year-One Power Pack going up against Dr. Doom, this is a group of fairly experienced heroes going after a lame villain. How is it that they were so "out of their league"? How is it that they could be blamed for the incident, that they "should have known better," and called the Avengers or some such nonsense? Last I checked, there wasn't a superhero phone tree. Is Spider-Man supposed to stop and call up the X-Men when Juggernaut starts rampaging through Times Square? How exactly does the hierarchy proceed? If Galactus shows up, do you call the Fantastic Four or the Avengers? I mean, the Avengers have more firepower, but the FF's got the experience. The idea that the New Warriors should have stepped back and called for help, that they were out of their league fighting freakin' Nitro, is beyond absurd.

No, Civil War started on the wrong foot and simply hasn't recovered. Here's how it should have gone.

First off, the Illuminati was a dumb idea which should have never been. It's elitist, it's vaguely racist, and it's another one of those "a dark secret from the earliest days of [insert character]'s history comes to light" plots that has been used, reused, and overused since Identity Crisis (see also: Gwen Stacy, Barry Allen, Professor Xavier, Thomas Wayne, etc.). Besides that, a major crisis, almost infinite in its scope, results from the dissolution of the relationship between the universe's primary heroes...seems to me that it's been done before.

The difference, of course, is that DC exploited a relationship that already existed, they didn't do a "JLA: Trinity" one-shot to set it up first.

What we do instead is a one-shot or brief miniseries (no more than 3 issues) about the new wave of "superhuman chic" sweeping the nation. Shows like the New Warriors and X-Statix have become increasingly popular, and every network wants to cash in. Meanwhile, the Masochist Marauders (from Spectacular Spider-Man #21--teens who fake muggings in order to get beaten up by superheroes) are a Jackass-style Internet sensation, and copycats have sprung up all over the country. Deaths due to radiation poisoning and other attempts to re-enact superhero fights and origins have been steadily rising. Rising up the bestseller charts is "The Capedemic: How So-Called Superheroes Endanger us All," a book which proposes the idea that the number of averted disasters and saved lives simply doesn't make up for the danger inherent in superheroes' existence. Finally, premiering this season on Fox: "Big Shoulders," a reality show about a new team of teenage superheroes operating in Chicago, the 'Chicago 7.'

Next, one tragedy isn't going to set the wheels in motion. There ought to be a series of events, and the first involves the Hulk. Things can go down pretty much the way they happened in Illuminati--Hulk rampages through a small midwestern town, completely unstoppable for the several minutes before heroes and Hulkbuster Units can arrive to bring him down. Midwestern politicians come under pressure to stop the spread of metahuman-related violence. When it was primarily an issue for New York, it was a different story, but superhuman menaces have begun popping up with more frequency in California and in various states across the country. S.H.I.E.L.D. is pressured by Congress to do something about the Hulk, hoping to use that as a stop-gap procedure, taking attention away from the metahuman problem. They go to the Avengers, telling Iron Man "he was on your team, he's your responsibility." Tony brings together Captain America, Hank Pym, Wasp (the only original Avengers left), Doc Samson (who knows the Hulk best), and Reed Richards ('cause he's a smartie), along with a somewhat sedated Bruce Banner. Bruce understands the problem at hand and agrees that he's simply too dangerous to continue roaming around the country. Tony suggests placing him on an orbital platform--he has several satellites in various places around the solar system that could be easily and remotely modified. They settle on a research satellite orbiting Mars. Bruce will be provided with all the amenities of home, and the self-replicating nanotechnology will ensure that any damage done by the Hulk is strictly temporary. Meanwhile, a research team on Earth will step up their quest to cure his condition. They send Bruce up, but he never makes it to the satellite. It's not clear who or what caused the malfunction.

Barely a week goes by before the Abomination breaks out of prison and ends up in St. Louis. The first superheroes on the scene are the Chicago 7, three weeks into the new season. The event goes live, with producers hoping to turn it into a publicity stunt. It works: Abomination stomps the rookie heroes, and their inexperience only makes things worse. Hundreds die, the property damage is astronomical, and all in the fifteen minutes it took for a Quinjet and several S.H.I.E.L.D. hovercraft to arrive from the East Coast. Within days, a superhero registration bill is circulating around Congress.

Now, this is about where my two ideas for this story diverge. For this first one, I'll accept the basic premise that it's an ideological war between Captain America and Iron Man, except, you know, without the idiocy.

Captain America makes a public speech against the bill, and the act's supporters need a spokesperson from the costume crowd. They end up picking Iron Man, due to his prestige and sway with the superhero community. Tony is torn, and as much as he may agree with Captain America, he can't help but wonder if maybe the act would be a good thing. He reads through the text several times, he speaks with the drafters and S.H.I.E.L.D. executives about the logistics. Everything would remain more or less the same, really. The superheroes would register with S.H.I.E.L.D., who would provide them with training and license cards, similar to the Avengers Membership Cards. The registered heroes would have the option of becoming S.H.I.E.L.D. employees, which would allow them to do their usual superheroing and civilian living, as long as they took the occasional S.H.I.E.L.D. mission. For this, they would receive a stipend and benefits (health insurance and life insurance are a bitch for the capes-and-tights set). All this information would be kept absolutely secret, and only top S.H.I.E.L.D. brass would have access to it.
And those who refused to register? If apprehended, they would be offered the chance to register. If they continued to refuse, they may be charged a fine, and they might face some time in prison.

Tony turns to Peter Parker for moral guidance. Peter's feelings about S.H.I.E.L.D. are mixed, and he's never been on the best of terms with the general populace. He and Tony have a long conversation about the matter, with Peter mostly playing the anti-registration side. That is, until Tony wonders aloud how many innocent lives might be saved if young superhumans had the proper training. Peter thinks back, back, to how a little professional training might have allowed him to reach Gwen Stacy in time, or to catch her without killing her, how a that extra edge against Doctor Octopus might have let him save Captain Stacy, how if he had gone to S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of the TV station, he might have been around to stop that robber...
It becomes clear to Peter that superheroes have been given great power, and the registration act is merely asking them to accept the responsibilities that come with such power. He joins Tony in support of the Registration Act. Tony immediately sets out to get the best and brightest in the superhero community to figure out the logistics, to ensure that security, training, and enforcement all works out with the heroes' best interests in mind. Hank McCoy won't return his phone calls.

Meanwhile, the X-Men are placed in a difficult situation. Cyclops and Wolverine and their ilk see the Act for what it is: a broadened version of the Mutant Registration Acts that have circulated around Congress for years. Cyclops considers coming out in opposition, but fears that it may draw unnecessarily negative attention to the dwindling Mutant community. Supporting the Act, however, would be outright hypocrisy, and would go against everything Xavier ever stood for. Not wanting to make the school a fort against the United States government, he declares official neutrality on the subject. Wolverine is understandably upset by this and leaves the mansion in protest.

The Act passes, despite Captain America's public speeches in opposition. Things initially appear to be going well. The superhero-related shows that started much of this ruckus have been quietly cancelled, superheroes are registering voluntarily by the dozens, and the anti-registration heroes? Reed Richards registers, as do Sue and Ben, but Johnny Storm refuses and leaves the team. Sue is still unsure about the whole thing, and Ben just won't talk about it, but both recognize that their public identities and publicly-known headquarters make it difficult to make a stand against the Act. Reed just hopes to oversee the registration operations, to ensure that identities are actually kept secret from prying eyes, and that the superhero training goes well, that all this will ultimately help the superheroes' cause.

It starts with Night Thrasher (and why not? Rather than needlessly kill him off, let's give him a purpose), who is in the process of battling a minor supervillain (I dunno, someone like Nitro, I suppose), when a police officer tries to arrest him. NT tries to tell him that he doesn't have time for this, but the cop draws his gun and insists. Night Thrasher knocks him out, then does the same with Nitro, leaving the supervillain in handcuffs with a power inhibitor collar on. NT escapes, but now is wanted for assaulting a police officer in addition to refusal to register. The scene plays out across the country: Hercules has to shrug off bullets from both sides while he stops a Hydra terror plot in Times Square, Darkhawk finds himself on the wrong end of a SWAT team after stopping a school bus from going over a bridge in San Francisco, and finally, some trigger-happy security guard fires at Speedball during a bank robbery/hostage situation, and the ricochets from his kinetic field kill two innocent bystanders. The media picks up the story nationwide, using Speedball as the prime example of why heroes need to register, how dangerous the anti-registration heroes are, and why young people shouldn't be allowed to operate as superheroes. The atmosphere shifts; first police are recommended across the country to use riot teams to apprehend rogue superheroes, then S.H.I.E.L.D. teams are dispatched onto regular superhero patrols. Iron Man offers his services to help round up the unregistered heroes, in hopes that he can take control before they start using lethal force in these apprehensions. Things are clearly spiraling out of control.

Meanwhile, Captain America has become the hero of the anti-registration movement. He steps into this role naturally, finding them across the country and running a sort of underground railroad for anti-reg heroes. Things with Cap proceed pretty much the same as they have in the regular series, what with him assembling his Secret Avengers and continuing their superheroic duties in secret. The only difference is that some of the heroes, particularly some of the younger ones, are chafing under Cap's cautionary ways. They want to break out and really fight back, but Cap doesn't want to start an all-out war with the American government. These dissenting heroes--including Black Cat, Jack Power, Deathlok, and War Machine (assuming all of them are still alive)--begin sneaking out of the base and causing anti-government havoc. Cap tries to hold together his Secret Avengers, despite the growing schism, but more and more of his team are choosing proactive methods over reactive ones. Of course, those methods are being spun by the media and the government to increase the furor over the issue, and it's quickly nationwide martial law on unregistered superheroes.

Tony Stark decides that this needs to end quickly; he realizes that the situation has long been out of his control, and he assembles his team to set a trap for Cap's Secret Avengers, in hopes of stopping the madness before America becomes a superhuman police state. The battle goes poorly for both sides; two of the Young Avengers and Dazzler are captured, while Sue Storm defects to Cap's side.
Cap and Tony don't fight, not really. Tony explains his position, how he just wants to help, he wants to wrest control of the system back from the government, and he can't do it alone. Things are out of his hands, and the vaguely anarchist actions of the Secret Avengers are only making things worse. Cap tells Tony that he's not trying to take down the government, he's just trying to hold his team together, and it's breaking apart under the pressure. He's disappointed that Tony would stoop so low as to set a trap for them, and he doesn't want to fight, but he's not going to back down. The Registration Act is wrong, and if Tony can't see that with S.H.I.E.L.D. patrols hunting down superheroes in the streets, then there may be no hope at all. Cap tells Tony to call off his troops, that this can still end peacefully, but Iron Man morosely looks away and pulls his mask back down. "I'm sorry, Cap. I can't do that." He fires his repulsor-ray, but finds it deflected back at him by Captain America's mighty shield. Cap calls for a retreat, while Iron Man's enforcers press on. They teleport away, with help from the Invisible Woman, and return to their base.
Back in the hideout, licking their wounds, the Secret Avengers have a breakdown. Cloak is pissed, and he leads the proactive heroes out of the hideout. Captain America is watching his resistance fall apart, and he wonders how it got to this point. Maybe Tony's right, maybe it would be better if they sat down with the pro-Registration folks and hammered out a compromise. Around that time, a young and idealistic superhero by the name of Gravity awkwardly steps up to Captain America, clumsily salutes, and introduces himself, saying how much of a pleasure it is to meet him, and how it was his shining example, his steadfast adherence to the ideals that make this country so great, which inspired him to put on a mask and tights and fight the good fight. Captain America shakes the young man's hand, and is suddenly reassured that he's doing the right thing. He thanks the lad, and solicits volunteers to go after their black sheep.

The splinter Avengers, however, aren't doing so hot. Following a raging Cloak, they decide to raid the S.H.I.E.L.D. prison facility where their teammates are being held, in hopes of causing serious damage while they're at it. They successfully break into the prison, not realizing that both the captured heroes and various villains are temporarily being held in the facility. The ensuing melee decimates that base's S.H.I.E.L.D. forces, and the splinter Avengers barely escape with their lives...the ones who manage to escape, anyway. The team's wounded, with S.H.I.E.L.D. on their tails, a dozen supervillains on the loose, and no place to run. With nowhere else to turn, Cloak's team makes a deal with the nearest available devil, Wilson Fisk. In exchange for releasing him from prison, they need a base of operations and the resources to recouperate and take down the Act once and for all.

This latest raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities has the government steaming. The casualties are fairly low, and they managed to recapture several of the villains and a couple of the splinter Avengers, but the collateral damage was deemed unacceptable. They decide on their own to settle this once and for all. Each one fitted with an inhibitor collar that can be activated by remote, and will detonate if removal is attempted, the new Thunderbolts squadron is unleashed, with orders to find and capture the Secret Avengers, by any means necessary. When Iron Man protests, he and his team are placed on lockdown.

And that brings us right up to the end of issue four or so. Excluding neutral parties like the X-Men and the Thing, we have four distinct factions: Captain America's Secret Avengers, fighting nobly against the Registration; Iron Man's enforcers, defending the Act for the good of the nation; Cloak's crusaders, teaming with a supervillain in order to take down the government; and Maria Hill's S.H.I.E.L.D. and Thunderbolts, who want their order on their terms. The logical continuation would see Iron Man and Captain America's teams uniting to corral their rogue factions, and the future of the Act could go either way, depending on how brave Marvel wants to be. Moral ambiguity abounds, and with the right treatment both of the moderate sides can look like they're doing everything for the right reasons, while the fanatics can act fanatical without going wildly out of character. There's no need to compromise Captain America and Iron Man for a story like this, no need to senselessly slaughter minor characters, and absolutely no need to clone Thor.

Doesn't that sound like a better comic? And I'd write it for free.

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And everything in its place

The Civil War rant is taking longer than I thought. Hopefully this will tide you over.

I just read some of the latest Paty Cockrum post (the part which was quoted here, in which (among other things), she calls all of Grant Morrison's fans "mindslaves" and roundly condemns his work on New X-Men, based mainly on his treatment of Magneto. She accuses him of "[jumping] a hundred fifty years into the supposed future in a vain attempt to keep Marvel from using the X folk again in current continuity!!!" and that's the part of the post and subsequent discussion that I'm going to focus on.

Let me lay my cards on the table here: I liked Morrison's New X-Men run. I came into it late, picking up the first trade and then the subsequent two, before jumping into the run at "Riot at Xavier's" and following it to the end in floppies. Aside from the first 12 issues of Astonishing, this is the only time I've ever regularly bought a core X-Men book (I used to pick up the issues with cool covers as a kid, and I bought X-Force/Statix up until El Guapo joined, and lately I've been following X-Factor). The story had its ups and downs; I was none too fond of anything involving Fantomex, and the last story was simply confusing, but Planet X was excellent. The Magneto-as-Xorn reveal was very well-done and completely unexpected, and it's a shame that it was so quickly made as unimportant and confusing as the rest of X-Men history.

Anyway, in the comments section on Blog@Newsarama, David Horenstein says "Plus, he’s [Grant Morrison] always been good at putting toys back in their box so the next person can play with them (in his words). Any changes that remain, remain, because most fans, writers, artists, and Marvel itself liked it." That got me thinking. There are some writers who are simply terrible at "putting the toys back" in the right place. How does Morrison figure into that? How does his X-Men run, and subsequent runs, figure into that?

Well, to begin, when I thought "who's bad at putting the toys back," my immediate thought was Mark Waid. Let's take a look at his Fantastic Four run, shall we? He killed Dr. Doom, he effectively killed Galactus, he killed and resurrected the Thing, and he made the Fantastic Four reviled around the world. Removing the two main villains in their rogues gallery couldn't have made it easy for whomever picked up the title next. Thankfully, it was J. Michael Straczynski, who doesn't really pay attention to things like "continuity" or "the point of the characters," and just takes the story on a one-way trip to nuttyville.
Waid's Flash run was similar; he ramped up the Flash's powers, introduced the Speed Force, replaced the Rogues with Replicant, introduced both the Flash legacy and Cobalt Blue legacy, time-traveled and Hypertime-traveled, and killed Wally no less than twice. How could you follow such a run? Waid did everything.
Jeph Loeb left Supergirl a blank slate, sure, but when he left Superman he still hadn't resolved the mystery of the faux Silver Age Krypton, and I think poor Clark Kent was still fired from the Daily Planet. Took the poor guy until OYL to recover from that blow to his supporting cast. Loeb left Hush with Batman's newest (and dumbest) villain still running around, both Catwoman and Riddler knowing Bruce's secret ID, Jason Todd resurrected--oh wait, not really, and a bunch of fans really puzzled as to what just happened.

So, what about Grant? He connected Animal Man to the universe's morphogenetic field, created a new Psycho Pirate, held a second Crisis, passed down the mantle of B'Wana Beast, tied Vixen into a greater dynasty, and gave Buddy the secrets of the universe (though made it vague as to whether or not he remembered them in the end). Finally, he restored some of the status quo (resurrecting Buddy's family) and left the book. With the JLA, he justified Green Arrow's trick arrows, revamped the Key, revitalized the JSA, revamped Queen Bee and the Shaggy Man/General Eiling/The General, made Plastic Man a formidable character, revamped Starro, introduced Zauriel, proved that the League can still function as a large team, introduced Prometheus, fought a giant war, finished Aztek's story arc, and pared the team down to a manageable level by the end. In New X-Men, he destroyed Genosha, made Magneto a martyr, developed a Mutant subculture, introduced the secondary mutations, introduced Cassandra Nova, killed Jean (again), hooked Scott up with Emma, fundamentally altered our perception of the Weapon X program, fleshed out the student population, introduced Xorn, revealed Xorn to be Magneto (albeit under the influence of Kick), did a fairly traditional Magneto-wants-to-kill-humans story, and left everything off with a futuristic tale (a staple of the X-books ever since "Days of Future Past") and a bittersweet ending for Scott.

So, how about the toys? The X-writers after Grant came back to the toybox to find some of their toys scuffed, some broken entirely, but a whole bunch of new toys and playsets to make up for it. Immediately, little Chucky and Chris started putting things back together and trying to set things up the way they were before, while Joss picked up Grant's favorite toys and ran with them. Sure, Grant made it relatively difficult to tell more Jean Grey stories, and he made Magneto back into a remorseless bastard and a world-class threat to humanity (though the personality changes could easily be explained away as influenced by the Kick), then promptly killed him (not usually a problem for Magneto). But look at what we got in return:

  • New characters
  • A new status quo for several members, most notably Scott and Emma
  • A new way to look at the Mutant population and growing subculture
  • A school which feels like a school, and not just a hangout for old superheroes
  • The U-Men
  • A new mechanism (secondary mutations) for updating old characters
  • A new status quo for the Shi'ar

And so on. It's not that Grant left the toybox in a shambles, it's that Claremont and co. wanted to keep on playing the same game they've been playing since 1970-something, and Paty Cockrum is right there with 'em.

See, the job of a good writer isn't to leave the status quo undisturbed. It's to tell good stories. If you can tell a good story without altering the status quo, go for it. Plenty of folks have, and still do. But the X-Men's status quo had long been "confusion, retcon, resurrection, and inaccessibility," and what Morrison did was strip all that away, in order to tell very accessible (if 'Morrison-weird') X-Men stories, which paid attention to continuity without being bogged down in it, and which progressed the franchise so that other writers wouldn't get caught in the quagmire of inaccessible storylines, convoluted history, and boring, static characters, which has plagued the X-Men for at least the last decade and a half. Half of the reason for suckiness since then is the systematic dismantling of what he created, reducing things back to the old standard rather than moving the story forward. Only Joss Whedon ran with the ideas, creating new villains and bringing in new ideas, playing with the characters that dominated Grant's run, and trying to move X-Men singlehandedly out of stagnation, while Chris Claremont and the others just made the remnants of Grant's run as convoluted as any other piece of X-Men history, what with twin brothers and false revelations and whatnot. And then Decimation comes along and takes out the elements of subculture which Grant cultivated so well, leaving the X-Men in a weird sort of limbo.

There are three types of comic stories: Static, Progressive, and Regressive. Static stories exist wholly within a given status quo. Sometimes these are quite excellent (Alan Moore's in-continuity Superman stories come to mind), some are mere filler. Ultimately, these Static Stories make up the vast majority of comics, especially mid-Silver Age comics. Progressive stories advance the status quo somehow. These advancements may be minor (Perry and Alice White adopting Keith), or major (Hal Jordan going insane and being replaced with Kyle Rayner), and sometimes minor advancements occur within a generally static period. Regressive stories restore a previous status quo, and sometimes these are good (Green Lantern: Rebirth) while most of the time, they're terrible (JLA: Tenth Circle). While progress can be made for progress's sake, regression requires that special little dance to respect what you're retconning away while so as not to alienate the people who liked the changes, while also trying to make the old ways look new, interesting, and viable, since the changes were presumably made because the old ways lacked that.

The nice thing about progressive stories is that they almost universally open up new avenues for other writers to tell new and different stories. Alan Moore's changes to Swamp Thing transformed the character from a mediocre horror feature to the first of a pantheon of new gods for the DCU. Grant's changes to Animal Man paved the way for subsequent writers to tie him into the larger Elemental tapestry, to make him master of the Red, as Swamp Thing masters the Green. Mark Waid's Flash run altered the protagonist's powers and left him a married man, but all his forays into the timestream left a whole chunk of Wally's character unexplored and unexploited, and it's in that more down-to-earth realm that Geoff Johns's follow-up run excelled. Grant Morrison's New X-Men run is no different, and Joss Whedon's work proves it.

Can you imagine if Moore's Swamp Thing had been followed with a regressive writer? Can you imagine someone like Chris Claremont coming in and having Swamp Thing discover that the Green was all a hallucination, prompted by the Floronic Man, and that he really was Alec Holland after all? What great stories would we have lost? The Elementals are now fundamentally tied into the DC universe, much like the Endless and the Order/Chaos conflict. Imagine what would have been lost if someone had decided they liked the straight horror more. Imagine what would have been lost if someone came into Animal Man and bring Buddy back to his Silver Age-y roots, losing the philosophical trappings and the elemental-esque connection that Morrison had introduced. Would he be nearly as popular a character today? Would he have shown up in World War III and 52? Imagine if someone wrote a story which invalidated all of Morrison's contributions to the Doom Patrol, and turned the team back into lame X-Men wannabes...oh, wait. Sorry.

The point of all this rambling is that comic storytelling ought to be primarily progressive. If you can maintain momentum and suspense and interest with static storytelling (I'm looking at you, Paul Dini's Detective Comics), then by all means, do so. But most good stories come from moving things forward. Think of comics like a relay race; you run your part, but then pass the rod to the next person in the line, and they'll hand it off somewhere down the track. Even the best regressive stories still advance the situation somehow (going back to GL: Rebirth, in undoing Hal's death and the Parallax debacle, they redefined the core concepts of the Green Lanterns, introduced Parallax as a new villain, and changed the way the Corps operates). To continue the race metaphor, this is when the track has circled around back to the starting point; yet the runners have been moving forward the whole time. If you hand it to the next girl and immediately she starts running backward, then what you've done has been ultimately worthless.

So, Paty Cockrum, why don't you recognize comic characters for what they are. They aren't icons that can remain trapped in amber; even Mickey Mouse has had to roll with the changes. They're characters, and characters have to develop, change, and grow. Grant Morrison's New X-Men run was radical because it kicked the X-Men out of their fifteen-year slump, and all but begged for the next runner to end the cycle of "Magneto and Xavier's different viewpoints clash in a heated battle -> Status quo is restored -> Resurrect -> Retcon -> Repeat." Claremont and others ignored Morrison's advice, and X-Men remains in that slump, with the exception of Astonishing, which actually decided to play with Morrison's new status quo, and is consequently the best X-Men book around (though I hear Mike Carey's doing good things with his title now). Marvel's not recovering from Grant's "insanity and ineptitude," they're recovering from the short-sighted, self-serving retcons employed by writers who couldn't stand to see things move out of their decades-long rut. Claremont had found his comfortable ass-groove, and damned if he was going to give it up for something as inconsequential as "better stories."
Move forward. Go ahead and undo what you don't like, but do it in a progressive fashion. Clone Magneto, pull him back out of the timestream, don't say "oh it was never actually him." It doesn't do anyone any good to just start running the other way.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

This-ism, that-ism, -ism -ism -ism

I don't call myself a feminist. I've been rethinking this position lately, but I just can't seem to make myself take the plunge. I think women ought to be treated equally, and I think all of society benefits from equality, not just the minority. I've read Tekanji's How to be a Real Nice Guy, and while I have some contentions with the finer points of the "reverse -ism" argument, it's a nice combination of "things I ought to be more aware of" and "things that make me feel a little less guilty and worried." It underscores a lot of things (like privilege) that I've had a gut feeling about for years, and it's nice to see them put into words. It really helps me understand why I feel so torn over Politically Correct language (English major/editor anxieties about language vs. "liberal guilt" and respect for minorities). Despite all this, I have a hard time thinking of myself as a feminist. I tell people that I don't feel like I've earned the right, and every time I think about privilege, I feel even less certain of that.

Hm...it's at this point that I'm going to invoke the "Read More" link. Things get personal below the fold, folks. If you don't care, just come back tomorrow and enjoy a Civil War rant.

See, part of my problem is that I've always had an overactive sense of guilt. I've always tended toward being "the good kid," and I think a large part of that is due to a youth spent with an overactive imagination that would tend to pick out the worst possible consequences to any action, and frequently replay them. That, and I always identified with the good guys; I wanted to be Superman and He-Man and Optimus Prime (and yes, I credit cartoons and comic books with a significant part of building a strong moral fiber).
Though not humility, apparently. In case the general lack of personal info on my blog hasn't clued you in, I really don't like writing about myself. My feelings? Sure. My reactions to this week's Batman or whatever? You betcha. But who gives a damn about my past and my life? Whatever, I'm knee-deep in it now, might as well take the plunge.

So, due to a variety of little quirks in my upbringing, I'm always a little worried about being a racist, homophobic, bigoted jerk. I've said some horrendously homophobic things, and it was only around the end of my Junior year of High School that I got the bigot's epiphany. I've done whatever I could since then to promote equal rights and acceptance for the GLBTQ community--going to rallies, joining the Gay-Straight Alliance--mostly because I've felt so passionately about the subject, but also in hopes of atoning for the things I said in the past, so that I might clear my own conscience.

So I think that my personal history of prejudice has a major effect on my feelings about considering myself, with the privilege smorgasbord of being a young white middle-class heterosexual male, ideologically equal to someone who actually has to deal with discrimination and bigotry on a daily basis. The most I've done is attend a rally or two and watch The Vagina Monologues for V-Day. The last time I felt discrimination was when I was thirteen and old clerks followed me through the drugstore (well...unless you count religious discrimination, but even that's pretty minor). How does that measure up to people who have to fight every day to be recognized as people?

And then there's the little matter that I tend to play apologist/Devil's Advocate for some of the various majority groups to which I belong. As much as I can imagine myself into another person's shoes, the only perspective I can offer is that of a young white heterosexual middle-class male. It only reinforces the barriers between us to see that perspective dismissed or unconsidered, and sometimes I can't resist the impulse to say "well, look at it this way." It's only through understanding each other that we'll even be able to discourse equally, let alone treat each other equally. Good fences don't make good neighbors, they just make it harder to see the other side.

Yes, I believe women are people. I believe homosexuals ought to have the same rights as heterosexuals. I believe that everyone should be treated equally regardless of gender, skin color, religious affiliation, or sexual preference. I believe that comics aren't "meant for" any one audience, and that everyone should be able to pick up an issue of Justice League and find something that appeals to them. I believe that overt sexualization and stereotyping hurt comics' appeal far more than the occasional late book or fill-in artist. I want to see developed, defined, well-rounded characters of every sort, not characters who are defined by how developed and well-rounded their breasts are. I'd like to see equality, in comics and the real world, because I think equality ultimately benefits everyone. It's not a zero-sum game; you don't appeal to female readers at the expense of the male ones. You broaden the scope, you don't just shift the narrow focus. You open it up to everyone, and allow everyone to find something that includes them.

I believe that people ought to be treated with respect, whether they're real or four-color. I do what I can to treat real people with respect; I could do more, I'm sure, and I'll keep trying. I'd like to be in a position to treat four-color folks with respect, but that's really up to DC Comics, at this point (hint hint). I don't think that's enough for me to take up a label associated with people who have to fight to receive that sort of respect. Maybe I'm way off-base, here, and I wouldn't mind being told so. But it seems to me that calling myself a feminist would be the height of presumptuousness.

At this point, I'd usually go back and make sure this all makes sense, but I know that nothing I do to it will eliminate the rambling incoherence of it. This is going to be the Finnegan's Wake of comic blog posts. Sorry 'bout that, folks.

Give post a chance!

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday with Freakazoid!

After my "Le Mar" joke on Tuesday, I thought it'd be a good time for all of you to learn a little bit o' French.

Bon, merci! Au revoir!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Here there be solicits

Ahoy, ye landlubbers! Today, we'll be checkin' out the nastiest, deadliest crew o' black-hearted curs e'er t' sail these seven seas.

RAAAAWK! Solicitations!

Whazzat, Polly? Aye, aye, ye be a right fine bird, ye be. That's what I gets f'r list'nin' to Toungeless Pete. Like me parrot says, we'll be checkin' out the nastiest, deadliest crew o' black-hearted covers e'er to go on sale in a Winter that'll chill ye right to the bones. Yarrrrr.

First, on the starboard, we have the DSea books. P'raps there'll be a tale or two about the blue, briney deep, to read 'round the coals come nightfall, yarrrr.

Where does a pirate keep his buccaneers?Batman #660-661: Yarrr, John Ostrander be a fine writer, but that blackguard Mandrake makes me eye bleed, an' me empty socket glad it's empty. I'll be puttin' the black spot on this arc, mark me words.







Under his buccanhat!All-Star Superman #7: There be nothin to dislike about that Frank Quitely fella, an' that Grant Morrison be one crazy scallywag. I'll drop me doubloons f'r this'ne.







What's a buccaneer?Superman #659: Yarr, a haunting image that be. Reminds me of me own fearless, faithful mutt, lost to me when I was but a pup m'self. A vitamin deficiency took 'im, it was, but 'e was the finest scurvy dog e'er to roll in th' filth on the beach.






Too much to pay for corn!Action Comics #846: Mightn't this here be the new Zod? The beard's a fine choice, but th' John Waters moustache be makin' him look like a lily-livered dandy.







I saw a pirate movie the other day.Supergirl & The Legion of Super-Heroes #25: Yarr, well that be spoilin' the surprise a bit, eh?









Avast! Off the port bow, that be the French clipper Le Marvel! Men, prepare for boardin'! We'll keelhaul the men and ravish the women!

What? What d'ye mean there's no women? Wherefore?

There be no women 'cause there be no women? Now what kind o' answer be that? Yarr, this be gettin' us nowhere. Let's send 'em all to Davy Jones an' plunder the solicits t' fill our pockets!

It was rated 'ARRRR'!Ultimate Spider-Man #103: There be nothin' to hate about this book. 'Tis a shame Beardless Bagley's walkin' the plank so soon.








A pirate walked into a bar with a captain's wheel stuck down the front of his pants.Sensational Spider-Man #33: Shiver me timbers, that cover be uglier than a bearded sea-hag! Cast it back t' th' murky depths with th'other foul, soulless hellspawns!








The bartender said 'Why do you have that captain's wheel in your pants?'Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #11: Yarr, 'round here Nextwave missed the mark more'n a blind Spaniard with a curved cannon, but this be a fine cover.








The pirate replied 'Yarrr, it's drivin' me nuts.'She-Hulk #14: A Greg Horn cover with nary a lass on't? 'Tis a strange sight to behold, aye, but nae so strange as Andy's giant head.








Yarrr! A fine haul we pulled in t'day, lads. Plenty o' booty to go 'round, wi' nary a Frank Miller page in sight. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Walkin' on, walkin' on broken gla-a-ass

Yep, that's right, I'm going to make myself look like an ass again. Thankfully, due to the recent brouhaha, I ought to look like a much smaller ass by comparison.

So, for some reason I ended up looking at one of Kalinara's old posts, which I somehow overlooked the first time around. First things first, it's a fantastic post, clearly describing what Kalinara would like to see in terms of female comic characters, and doing so in a very grounded, fair-minded manner. I agree wholeheartedly with her thoughts, (especially those regarding costumes and body types, two topics where I have a difficult time articulating my thoughts) and I wish I'd caught this thread back when it first popped up. So, thanks for a fantastic and enlightening post, Kalinara. If you ever decide to permalink your "best of" posts in the sidebar, I recommend this for the list.

The reason for this post, however, is not to praise a months-old thread on feminism; it really has very little to do with Kalinara's post at all. No, something in the comments section stuck out to me:

At 11:59 AM, Ferrous Buller said…
[...]
"At least what *my* brand of feminism is really about."

Well, that's part of the trouble, though, isn't it? Put ten feminists in a room and you'll get ten different definitions of "What Feminism Means." Apart from agreeing that the point of feminism is to make the world a nicer place for women, you'll hear very different ideas about what matters and how we should go about changing things. E.g., I'm sure there are plenty of feminists who would argue that wardrobe and body image are central issues.
[...]
Put another way: you'll never please all the people all the time - and that includes feminists.

Good post overall, though: you articulate your stance pretty succinctly. :-)

Emphasis mine. See, Buller makes a good point: there's no consensus on just what "feminism" is, beyond treating men and women equally (and even then there's disagreement on just what "equal" means). I wouldn't argue for such a consensus; there's no one philosophy that will work for all women in all places, at least not one more specific than "equal treatment." You can't take a specific statement and make it apply to a large general population, it simply doesn't work.

Tangent alert: this, I think, is the root of many of the problems with communication between the sexes. People take generalizations (for instance, "women are generally less violent than men") and try to apply them axiomatically ("all women are less violent than men") or individually ("it's a good thing you're a woman, and thus less violent than men, honey. What are you doing with that knife?"). The problem with this is that those generalizations, whether they are biological, psychological, hormonal, sociological, or traditional, fall apart at the individual level. Regardless of those predispositions, everyone is wired differently, everyone thinks and acts differently, and no one conforms to all the norms. I saw part of BBC's Secrets of the Sexes program, which demonstrated this fairly well. They showed that, on average, the participants conformed to what was expected, but depending on the parameters of the test the positions of the individual men and women on the male/female continuum line differed wildly. In some cases, it was a matter of one factor conflicting others (as I recall, one of the women had an unusually high testosterone level, a hormonal predisposition, which worked against some of the other factors), in other cases, it was something less quantifiable. The truth is that everyone is a product of nature and nurture, and everyone is affected by all of these factors--biological, psychological, hormonal, sociological, and traditional (among others; the waters are far muddier than this)--it's the combination of these factors in different amounts, along with upbringing and life experiences, that shapes people into unique individuals. Which predisposition wins out at any given time is the product of any number of variables. Trying to pin down any one factor that determines behavior, or trying to say that one factor outweighs all the others, simply shows ignorance regarding the complexity of human behavior and motivation. Tangent over.

Anyway, I started thinking that if ten feminists will each have a different opinion of what feminism is, then they'll also have ten different opinions about what misogyny is. Like feminism, everyone can agree on the basics of misogyny: hatred of or contempt for women (thank you, Oxford English Dictionary). There are situations where pretty much everyone can agree on the blatant misogyny (husband beating his wife? Pretty clear), but what about more subtle situations?

For instance, I didn't manage to see "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," though I wanted to. I'll probably rent it (come on, she throws a shark at someone, that's gotta be worth the price of admission. That's better than a gun that shoots swords). But I saw a review on some blog which called it misogynistic. Now, it's entirely possible that there are misogynistic elements which didn't make it into the previews, and I'll certainly concede that. But, I'm assuming here that the charges were made against the portrayal of Uma Thurman's character, G-Girl, a superheroine who is, among other things, clingy, emotionally unstable, manipulative, and prone to jealousy, all traits stereotypically associated with women. It looks like the plot revolves around her human boyfriend's quest to dump her and move on, while she's playing the role of super-stalker.
Before I get to my point, let's play the gender-reversal game. G-Guy is an emotionally unstable, clingy, jealous superhero who uses his superpowers to stalk, threaten, and attack his human ex-girlfriend. Isn't this premise just as misogynist? Wouldn't this be "My Date with Major Force" or something? Doesn't this end up the sort of spousal abuse misogyny about which we can all agree?

Standing womb onlyOr, for a better example, how about the Mother of Champions? I think people are more hesitant to call Morrison a misogynist, given his prestige and body of work, but no one's pulling their punches over the pregnant lady. She's been called misogynist and racist (a double-whammy), and it's easy to see why. As one of the two female members of China's superhero team, The Great Ten, the Mother of Champions has the ability to give birth to twenty-five super-soldiers every three days. She is carried around in an insect-legged robot bed, since she can't move around too well in her state of perpetual pregnancy. The stereotypes are obvious: the Chinese reproduce like rabbits, and women should stay barefoot and pregnant.
And yet...China's not exactly the most progressive nation in the world when it comes to gender equality. The government and society still actively discriminate against the female population. Why wouldn't a team created and run by a sexist government have a token female who represented what the government expects of its females?
Incidentally, if MoC represents the Chinese government's expectations of Chinese women, then the Ghost Fox Killer, an exotic femme fatale, represents the outside world's expectations of Chinese women. Her ability to control the ghosts of the men she has killed makes her, like MoC, dependent on men for her special abilities.
The point here is that, if I were writing (for instance) a Confederate super-team, organized and run by their (shady, Black Adam-aligned) government, I certainly wouldn't fill it with black and female characters who were treated as the equals of the white men on the team. I'd stock the team with characters who represented what the government expected of its people. Is it racist to recognize the prejudices of foreign cultures?

So, back to G-Girl, is it more sexist (and I realize that sexism and misogyny are different things) to craft a female character who has real negative traits stereotypically associated with femininity, or to refuse to attribute such traits to female characters? I discussed the whole chivalric sexism/noble savage/"positive" stereotyping before, and how it ends up being just as discriminatory as the more obvious variety. It seems to me that calling a female character misogynistic, based solely on the fact that she's portrayed in a negative light, is really restricting what kind of characters may be deemed acceptible.
And just how is it that the Super Ex-Girlfriend plot ends up being equally misogynistic no matter what the gender of the jealous super-stalker is?

Here are the long-awaited answers, as I see them.
First, on the problem of G-Girl, I think the character is only misogynistic if the stereotypical traits are the only traits she has. When a well-developed female character gets jealous at her ex-boyfriend or shows herself to be emotionally unstable (assuming, of course, these traits aren't huge departures for the character), it's going to be much harder to get charges of misogyny to stick.

For example, Cassandra "Wonder Girl" Sandsmark, thanks to exposure in Wonder Woman, Young Justice, and Teen Titans, was a very well-rounded character. When she attacked Supergirl in a jealous rage in the early issues of the new series, it seemed wildly out of character. However, her current emotional instability seems like a natural progression given her established personality and all the crazy crap that has happened to her in the last year or so, mainly the death of Superboy. It doesn't seem like the writers are saying "she's lost without a man," it's more like "she has lost everything and everyone--after that, you'd feel lost too."

So if G-Girl was, in fact, stereotype stacked on stereotype with no depth, then the accusation of misogyny seems apt. If she was a three-dimensional character, who also happened to be a bit insane, then I think it's unfair, unrealistic, and antifeminist to make such a claim. Equality means taking the good and the bad, including "equal capacity to be a maladjusted nutcase."

For the problem of G-Guy, I think it's a matter of where the misogyny lies. G-Girl may be a misogynist character in that she embodies a negative female stereotype. Pitting a superpowered stalker against a powerless female is more of a misogynist situation, in which we have a violently dominant male figure and an unwillingly submissive female character. I suppose G-Guy himself might be a misogynist, though that's more of a jump; 'being prone to jealousy' and 'hating women' don't necessarily go hand in hand.
As far as the writers, I think the misogynist charges might be more suited to the G-Girl story than the G-Man one. Assuming every other plot point (so far as I understand them) is the same, then "My Super Ex-Boyfriend" would portray the woman as the protagonist, fighting against a clearly-nutso superhuman. She'd be the underdog, and the story would be more about a lone woman fighting an unbeatable foe than an abusive boyfriend stalking his ex. It might even be an allegory for feminism--women taking control of their lives (symbolized by the girl-initiated breakup) and becoming independent, but having to fight the all-powerful patriarchy to do so.
Whereas in the story-as-is, we have a female stereotype and a doofy male re-enacting the clichéd story of amazon anxiety (stereotypical male fear of strong women). Given that, I'm not convinced that the film wouldn't be misandric as well--Luke Wilson's character looks like just about every clueless, goofy milquetoast slacker in romantic comedies.
This leads us, however, to a new question: does writing about a misogynistic situation or misogynist characters (like Major Force) or stereotyped characters make the writer a misogynist? How do you judge the difference between "sexist writing" and "using gender stereotypes to make a point about gender roles (or society or stereotypes or whatever)"?

But, back again to the first point, if these two characters manage to be well-rounded, if their personalities and circumstances are developed beyond the stereotypes, then I think the charges of misogyny should fall apart. Unless every woman in the film is some insane bitch, up against Luke Wilson's flawless knight in dorky armor, having an unstable jealous female villain shouldn't be enough to warrant the m-word. People, regardless of gender, can be and are jealous, petty, clingy, and emotional, and including or excluding those traits in a character, solely on the basis of gender, is sexist and ought to be avoided.

I recognize that there is a long history of those stereotypical characters, enough so that any female character who displays traits like jealousy and clinginess and moodiness is walking a tightrope, where one wrong step will turn them into a terrible caricature. I recognize the impulse to judge such characters immediately, to want a moratorium on those traits in female characters, but that seems like that would only skew the trend toward the 'chivalric' stereotypes. As Kalinara requested above, we should be working for well-rounded, well-developed female characters, regardless of what their traits might be. We shouldn't decry jealous women unless that jealousy is unfounded or is the only real trait they have. If there's a real motivation for it, a reason behind it, a personality that supports it, then why should it be excluded.

With the Mother of Champions, I'm reserving some judgment until the Great Ten become more developed. I think there are a few things to consider when judging her, though. First, the Chinese government is being set up as being involved in some shady dealings, not the least of which is their alliance with Black Adam and their adamantly nationalistic control of their borders and airspace. Furthermore, the Great Ten is meant to be under government control, and is also supposed to be the product of some shady dealings. Like Captain America or Uncle Sam, these characters are each meant to represent some aspect of their culture or society, but at this point none of them have developed characteristics beyond "being Chinese" and possibly "harboring a secret agenda." If Mother of Champions is meant to represent the Chinese government's ideals of woman/motherhood--subservience, silence (since she appears to be a behind-the-scenes player), and complete devotion to the country--then I can't really fault Morrison and crew for her portrayal. I guess the matter hinges on what her character ends up being like, whether or not she's shown to be more than a babymaker (or if her stereotypical nature is explored in-story), and what the Great Ten's story arc ends up being.
Consider this: what if the Chinese government, developing their own version of Luthor's metagene treatment (or perhaps using his--definitely something they'd want to keep secret), went through far more than ten test subjects before they found the right combination of acceptable power sets and controllable subjects. What if MoC and Ghost Fox Killer were chosen specifically because their predecessors were too uppity? What if MoC discovers this, or begins to resent her treatment, her status on the team, the sacrifices she has made for the country with none of the prestige afforded to her teammates. They call her "Mother," but she isn't really, she's a factory, squeezing out two dozen superpowered automatons twice a week to become cannon fodder for the glory of China. She's been denied motherhood in any real sense, she's been denied a sex life, relationships, self-mobility, even her freedom, to languish in the Great Wall, listening to the snickers and chuckles of the staff and her team. Eventually, as would anyone, she tires of this. And what happens when an oppressed woman, with an ever-growing army of superpowered soldiers on her side, decides she's had enough?
A Great Ten miniseries, that's what happens, or so I hope. I mean, it seems to me that the answer to her current apparent status as "racist, misogynist caricature" would simply be remedied by some attention and characterization. Am I wrong? Would she still be an -ist character in the above scenario? Sure, it's a lot of "what ifs," but we haven't really seen her do anything yet. It seems premature to pass judgment before they get a chance to develop her character.

I said above that this would have very little to do with Kalinara's post on well-rounded female characters, and after all that, it turns out that I'm advocating just that. I started out by trying to examine misogyny, and I guess I'm still trying to understand it. The conclusion ends up being obvious: the way to eliminate prejudice is with understanding. In storytelling terms, the way to eliminate stereotypes is with depth and development. That's what, in the beginning, separated Cassandra Sandsmark from every other tomboyish teenage rebel. That's what separates Raquel Ervin from the stereotypical unwed black teenage mother. When you give a character personality and motivation, the traits they share with stereotypes no longer seem so offensive. It's okay for an Irishman to fight, it's okay for a Korean to be good at math, it's okay for a woman to be jealous, as long as it fits with their characters, as long as there are reasons for those traits, as long as single traits doesn't define them.
And, as a corollary to that, understanding and development take time and patience. It's unfair to judge a character before they get a chance, whether it means looking at Power Girl and thinking "big boobs and blond hair, must be some bimbo adolescent fantasy woman," or looking at the Mother of Champions and thinking "Chinese, barefoot, pregnant, and endlessly procreating: thanks for setting back race and gender relations sixty years, Grant." I'm not saying you should stick with a character for ten years before passing judgment, I'm not saying you should wait until some writer decides to flesh out what used to be a stereotype, I'm not saying that you ought to stick with a character who spends his or her first panel going "Ah so, me get you flied lice chop-chop!" I'm saying that you can't judge a character from a sketch and power description and a couple of cameos, any more than you can judge a person from such cursory meetings. Everyone deserves a chance.

In conclusion, it took me three times the space to come to the same point Kalinara started with. Hopefully, there's been some sort of insight and interesting content along the way, hopefully I can get some of my questions answered, and hopefully I didn't make myself look like too much of an ass.
I hope I haven't misrepresented the culture and/or government of China; I did some cursory searching for "China" and "gender equality" before writing about it, and came up with the UN site on the subject. If there are serious flaws in my judgments or information, please let me know.
I hope I haven't come across as a passive-aggressive jerk who thinks he knows more about feminism and the female condition than those who experience it first-hand. I've spent enough time mocking just that sort of attitude in the past couple of days that I certainly wouldn't want to emulate it. Everything I've said has been in the interest of honest, open discussion, and I've meant everything with the utmost sincerity. I don't presume to tell women (or anyone else, for that matter) what to think, how to act, what's acceptible, etc. The only advice I'm giving is that no one should make snap judgments. Well, and that people should make their characters three-dimensional and well-rounded. The bottom line, so far as I see it, is that everyone benefits from equality, not just the oppressed party. Conversely, discrimination of one segment of the population comes at the detriment of the whole society. Feminism can only accomplish good things, but rushed judgment works against that spirit of equality and understanding. A little patience never hurt anyone.

If you've read this far, I think you've demonstrated just that sort of patience. Feel free to comment.

Edit: I've read at least two more posts on the subject since writing this post, and the possibility of "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" featuring three-dimensional characters who rise above common gender stereotypes and the conventions of pedestrian romantic comedies and don't just exist to make the male protagonist look like a flawless god, is looking pretty slim. I won't pass judgment for myself 'til I see it, naturally, but the volume of criticism suggests that my ideal "what if" scenario simply isn't the case. That's really a shame.

Keep walkin'!

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Baa

I started a LiveJournal. I think this means I lose my street cred. Anyway, I expect it to be updated about as often as Movies Schmovies. Despite that, feel free to friend me. Because, you know, "friend" is a verb now.

God, I am such a tool.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday with Freakazoid!

Hm...I sure have been light on posts this week. Hopefully I'll have another one later tonight. Anyway, recently this Scribbler cover showed up on Comics Should Be Good's monthly review of Image solicitations.

Nobody understands me. I'm sooooooo deep.

Notice the tagline: "Unzip your head." As I mentioned in the comments section, that line was much awesomer when Freakazoid was saying it. But you don't have to take my word for it; see for yourself.

"Say 'Grandma Moses makes munchy meat most Monday mornings'!"

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This is just too funny

So, James Meeley has been recently linked both by Kalinara on Blog@Newsarama's Meanwhile column (something I look forward to every week) and When Fangirls Attack! and he's thrown something of a fit in the comments sections both times. In both cases, he's asked the site to "cease and desist" linking to his page, because "he doesn't need the help" getting an audience. Naturally, because of Blogger's system, every time he comments about getting rid of the link, his name becomes a link to his profile, and thus back to his blog. Perhaps he should send a "cease and desist" letter to Blogger, so that they stop linking to his blog through his profile, and through that pesky "next blog" link.

I'm not sure what the funniest part of all this is. It could be that this guy not only thinks that people linking to him is to help give him an audience, but that he has some say in whether or not such linkage occurs. It could be that he thinks using legal language like "cease and desist" holds some kind of intimidation power on these here Internets. It could be that he's so wrapped up in his metaphor of "Internet=Real place" that he thinks the rules of the Internet conform to the rules of the outer world. It could be that a man who claims to be 32 is throwing a hissy-fit on two of the most prominent comic blogs around.

Or it could be, as Mike Sterling noted, that he's totally "unclear on the concept of 'the internet.'"

In any case, I find it freakin' hilarious.

Also, the undersigned (heretofore referred to as "I"), in pursuance with the general rules of Internet etiquitte, hereby issue to the comic blogohedron (including but not limited to weblogs, websites, and online journals involving topics of comic books, manga, comic-based movies, manga-based movies, and other media forms of the characters and plotlines involved in such sources) an order to cease and desist all refusal to link to The Fortress of Soliloquy on the basis of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or content. Failure to link to The Fortress of Soliloquy shall constitute a breach of contract, and may result in the loss or suspension of said offender's Comics Blogging License, the loss of the offender's blog security deposit, eviction from the Comics Blogohedron, and/or fines not to exceed $5,200.00. The blogohedron is hereby given seven (7) days to comply with this order, starting from the date on which this message is received. By reading the previous sentence, the reader has agreed to the conditions of this order, and has forfeited all rights to refer to the aforementioned The Fortress of Soliloquy or its employee(s) as "petulant," "immature," "fat," etc.

The Fortress of Soliloquy assumes no responsibility for injuries sustained in accordance with the normal actions of reading or commenting on this post, or subsequent to said actions, nor does it assume responsibility for any accusations that the above joke is "too long," "tedious," "not funny," etc.

Sincerely,
The Undersigned

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Happy (belated) Bloggiversary, Written World!

I'm terrible about keeping up with these things; perhaps it slipped my mind, perhaps I've simply been lax with checking, but I somehow allowed Ragnell's One Year Bloggiversary to go by without posting. Ragnell's one of the most prolific comic bloggers around, working not only on Written World, but also on When Fangirls Attack!, Zamaron, and Blog@Newsarama (though you won't find her under a nom du blog there). Of course, it's the former which is cause for success here.
The Sound of Music had a good point: the beginning is a very good place to start. Marvel at how someone who approached the blogohedron with such trepidation could end up with one of the most widely-read and highly-regarded blogs around. It's a real rags to riches story. Then, you could move on to her early comparison of the Green Lanterns to the Arthurian Knights, or you could discover her deep love for Donna Troy. Keep reading and you might find where I subconsciously stole my "things I'd like to see" post idea.
I could direct you toward her precise predictions regarding a particular veridian vixen, which led in part to this controversial take on that infamous refrigerator. Seeing her thoughts on Seaguy makes me want to re-evaluate that particular miniseries; I'll make a mental note of that.
I'd be remiss if I didn't direct you toward her Favorite Women of the DCU. That, my friends, is essential reading.
You might be sad to know that Ragnell is afflicted with a terrible disease, one which affects mostly English Majors; I have a variant strain myself, Millifaceted heroicus connectivitis or Joseph Campbell's Disease. I think you'll find that, as with many with mental ailments, it really only helps her writing.
One of her most widely-known contributions to the world of comic blogging is the Depressing or Damned List, a collaboration with Kalinara, which acts as a macabre companion to the above-mentioned Refrigerator List. If you're looking for something in a similar vein, you might want to check out Monday Misogyny, a feature which we all wish was less recurring than it is.
I may not always agree with her, but there's no denying that Ragnell consistently offers intelligent posts which approach both current events and classic criticism from a fresh point of view. She may have an unhealthy obsession (or two, depending on how you look at it), yet she still manages to run one of the best blogs around, no ifs, ands, or butts about it.

Happy Bloggiversary, Ragnell. It's been a fantastic year, and you've managed to cram several years worth of high-quality blogging into it. I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to your sister for "bothering [you] to create a blog or live-journal or something like that" in the first place. So thank you Kim, and thank you Lisa, for such a vital, fantastic contribution to the blogohedron. Here's to another wonderful year!

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday with Freakazoid!

I've decided, in light of the new favicon, to begin this new feature here on the Fortress of Soliloquy. My posting's gotten a lot more regular lately, so something like Fridays with Freakazoid! is finally possible. Now, without further ado, your weekly dose of awesome:


Huggbees!

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wholesome

There's a neat conversation raging in the comments on this post over at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise (why don't conversations ever rage in my comments?), over some things that I've been considering quite a bit lately. There's a good deal of disagreement regarding the current Supergirl, her portrayal, and what the character ought to be like. The word "wholesome" keeps popping up, and how this Supergirl, with her midriff-baring, tattoo-wearing, cousin-kissing, naked-prancing, cigarette-burning ways, falls far short of that description.

I thought of that criticism for a moment, trying to develop a response, when I recalled my own disappointment in a changing-of-the-Kara. I was an unabashed Kara-purist as a kid. I tolerated Matrix, but I even wrote a backstory (long before I ever heard of 'fanfic') detailing how Supergirl could have survived the Crisis (having not read the story in question). I don't recall how the story went, but I remember it involving a super-criminal Khund/Kryptonian hybrid.
Yes, I had a lot of time on my hands as a kid.
Naturally, I was really, really excited when I saw the new Kara pop up in Superman vs. Aliens. There was some buzz at the time about how the character would become important, but that buzz was nowhere to be found by the time I heard about Peter David's Supergirl series. I read about it in Wizard (and probably Comic Shop News), and I was incensed. Clearly, this new ersatz Linda Danvers would preclude the return of the real thing.

And oh, how far this new "Supergirl" was from the real thing. I refused to read the series, and the more I read about this nasty Linda Danvers and her dealings with demons, her sordid past, and eventually, her weird angelic powers, the more secure I felt in my boycott.

Then, I actually picked up an issue. Sure, I was thoroughly confused (sampling a series at issue #50 doesn't always work out), but hey, maybe she wasn't so bad. Eventually I picked up the series again (as part of collecting Our Worlds at War in its entirety--an expensive and not altogether unrewarding venture) and got hooked. When the series ended not too long after, I had already honed my love for Linda, and I was quite sad to see it go.

When Cir-El showed up, a little month, or ere that cape was old with which she followed my poor Linda's series, I naturally felt many of the same outrages as I had with Kara's elimination, since it sure looked like Linda was shoved aside to make way for Cir-El, a fact only increased by the fact that Linda didn't garnish so much as a mention throughout the Cir-El storyline. Of course, with Cir-El, most of that reaction was justified, especially since she never really justified her existence. She was a plot contrivance given form.

To the point, then: a wholesome Supergirl, over the course of the last thirty years, is not the norm. In brief:

  • Naïve protoplasmic entity with an identity crisis.
  • Slightly less naïve protoplasmic entity engaging in a naïve and vaguely Electra-ish relationship with the evil alternate-universe (well, alternate to her) version of her creator (masquerading as his own son, making him at least an estranged stepbrother of sorts), at least until she flips out and tries to kill him.
  • Protoplasmic entity merged with a troubled girl after her attempted suicide, who later turns out to be an Earth angel, engaging in a complicated relationship with a demon, and romantic-but-complicated relationships with a gender-bending update of a Silver Age character and a female Earth Angel who turned into a male horse-person.
  • Young, relatively normal woman trying to be a superhero despite a major power downgrade.
  • Future daughter of Superman who may or may not be evil, but turns out to be a Brainiac-developed trick clone thing.
  • Superman's seriously messed-up cousin from Krypton.

Go back to the beginning, and you find that Supergirl was the first super-character to operate completely in secret, and eventually the only one (outside of Superboy) to have living parents. I can't say for certain if she operated superheroically before revealing her identity to her foster parents, but she'd be the first to have operated under parental radar as well. Apparently she was also the first to have her Kryptonian parents turn up alive and well, too (the things you learn through Wikipedia). Details, perhaps, but significant details.

Increasingly since her debut, Supergirl has been the 'experiment' character in the Super-franchise. No matter what changes happen to Superman, everyone knows he'll eventually be back in the blue-and-reds with the cape and whatnot. Superman is a constant, with a well-established history and supporting cast. Supergirl came onto the scene as a tabula rasa, and years as Superman's 'secret weapon' did little to ameliorate that. She languished when her adventures were 'Superman lite' or 'the adventures of Superboy when he was a girl,' and so writers were forced to find new avenues and options to distance her from her cousin. She's been a college student, a news anchor, and a soap opera actress; she's changed costumes repeatedly, all in order to give her some distinct identity of her own. When Kara was wiped from the timeline and the "only one Kryptonian" order came down from on high, making Supergirl a viable, distinct entity became the only way to fit her in the new universe. Since that point, the character has increasingly been the platform for experiments with the Super-family. Maybe you can't introduce religious dilemmas into Superman comics without Editorial watching you through a microscope, but writing Supergirl allows you a bit more freedom, since the desire to tell new and different stories with the Super-family dovetails nicely with the need to distinguish Supergirl and justify her existence (or at least her own title).

So, while I can see the argument for wholesomeness, I also see that Supergirl's lengthy history doesn't always point in that direction.

That being said, "Bratz" Supergirl is about the last thing I ever want to see. I think Jeph Loeb fell into several traps with Supergirl, which are really kind of the tics that detract from his work in general. First, he gave her inflated importance by ignoring the history of the character in continuity, by suggesting that she was more powerful than Superman, by connecting her intimately to the other two members of the Trinity, and by pitting her against the two biggest villains in the DCU early in her career (see also: Thomas "Hush" Eliot). Second, he gave her a mediocre mystery, which was all build-up and no resolution: 'nope, she isn't that powerful. Forget what we said' (see also: Hush, Dark Victory, the President Luthor storyline). Third, he fell prey to visitor vomit, where guest stars are thrown up all over the place, diluting the story and diverting attention from the supposed star or focal point. The attention is spread among the special guests and regular cast, either to drum up sales or as a deliberate attempt to cover a lack of characterization and plot depth with flashy panels chock full of characters (see also: Hush, every issue of Superman/Batman). Finally, he ended both arcs with Status Silverization, the tendency to, no matter what the story or character logic might dictate, no matter what might be more interesting, restore a Silver Age status quo (see also: President Luthor storyline, Return to Krypton).

So Supergirl got immediately involved with Darkseid, as guest stars from the New Gods to the Amazons to Harbinger showed up to fill out the storyline. The mystery of her true nature developed and got at least one mention from its inception up to the 'big reveal' (or 'big anticlimax') in Supergirl #5. Then, at the end of the Superman/Batman arc, she faked her death...only to immediately introduce herself to the assembled superhero community, despite the fact that keeping her in "secret weapon" status would have been far more interesting than her first story arc ended up being. The deadly Loeb combo killed any chances of character definition as long as Loeb was on the book. The only consistent characteristic was her sexualized, waiflike, anorexic appearance. So that came to define her, much to everyone's chagrin.

I can't blame Kelly for that. Rucka was tossed a hot potato of a character defined by her looks, and he passed it to Kelly in mid-confusing-storyline. Kelly did his best to wrap things up quickly, and I think issue #9 represents the turning point for the status quo. He's trying to take the character in a different direction (or just "a direction"), and until he flubs that, I'm willing to give him a chance. Yeah, incest-girl was weird, but he was tossed into a bad situation, and we can't say with any certainty what part of that story was continuing Rucka's plan, and what part was Kelly's own.

I've kind of misplaced my point, so let me lay it out here in the open: Supergirl has been unwholesome before, and it turned out pretty damn good. No, she hasn't been sexualized like this before, but I don't think Kelly wants Bratz Supergirl any more than anyone else. This issue gave her the first character definition she's had that wasn't based entirely around her looks, and that's a major step forward. Yes, maybe he's trying to justify her oversexualization, but that's been her primary characteristic for two years, and failure to address it would be an oversight. The clear sentiment by the end of issue #9 is that things are going to change; Supergirl's previous definition "didn't fit," and now she's going in a different direction. We can only hope that it's a better one.

But to damn this Supergirl because she's "not Supergirl enough" is to deny Supergirl's history, and to damn Linda Danvers for being similarly unwholesome and impure. And Linda's the most popular, successful, and original Supergirl that there has ever been.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Damn you, Supergirl #9!

I was ready to drop Supergirl. I really was. I'd stuck through six less-than-lackluster introduction issues, five meandering character exploration issues which failed to explore her character, one issue where the quality rose to confounding mediocrity, and two issues of incest-fantasy weirdness. Supergirl had been on the chopping block for some time, but little rays of hope (the end of Loeb's run, Greg Rucka, Joe Kelly) kept the ax from falling. Eleven character-free issues from Jeph Loeb couldn't make me care about Kara, an issue of Rucka didn't get me interested, and two issues of Kelly just confused and disgusted me. If Joe couldn't turn it around with #9, I'd let the blade fall.

Then, Supergirl #9 hit, and things actually clicked. In the span of one issue, Joe Kelly gave Supergirl more personality and more of a place in the Superman family than in the previous fourteen (excluding, of course, her appearances in LSH which have been universally well-done). How did he accomplish such a monumental task?

By contrasting Supergirl with the other members of the Superman family, something he is qualified to do, having written extensively for Superman and Superboy. Supergirl is struggling to define who she is, to find her place in the world, and more specifically, her place among those who wear the 'S'. From the cover to the last page, we see Kara trying to define herself with reference to her Super-kin.

Feelin' groovyI am a rock, I am an Island
The cover starts the trend, itself a dark mirror image of the cover to All-Star Superman #1. Where the Superman cover is bright and calm, with its subject sitting contentedly over the sprawling city with the sun out on the horizon, the Supergirl cover is dark and morose, trading fluffy clouds for jagged rocks and a bright cityscape for empty desolation. Supergirl's single tear and pained expression are a bit melodramatic, but Churchill does a surprisingly good job of making her look lost and lonely as opposed to just generically sad. She is proclaimed to be the "Lost Daughter of Krypton," which is a nice turn on the familiar phrase, and that sets the theme for the rest of the issue.
Inside, Supergirl slouches in a chair, dressed in Superboy's black t-shirt, smoking a cigarette as she bares her soul to Captain Boomerang (who, for some reason, is mostly obscured throughout the issue, to the point where I didn't even catch that it was him until I read it on another blog).
Kara sits in a manner that is blatantly masculine, displaying already a sense of alienation, of discomfort with her gender identity. She begins and quits smoking in the span of two pages, as part of an experiment to discover what works for her, what can be incorporated into her identity. Upon hearing her sudden decision to quit, Capt. Boomerang remarks that he did the same last year, but it was hard:
How can we sleep while our beds are burning?
Kara has not only quit smoking, but she's quit being Supergirl. The habit, as she demonstrates with her masochistic doodle, isn't quite so easy to break. She's fighting the 'S,' fighting her destiny, as she demonstrates on the next page by ignoring the signal watch.
The issue moves into a flashback, the first of many, in which Supergirl and Power Girl are fighting over this issue of quitting. It does well to remember that Supergirl and Power Girl are versions of the same character; in essence, Supergirl is grappling with herself, struggling with the responsibilities of the 'S' and what it means to her life. She's been told from day one who she should be and what she should do (as she discusses on the first page), and now she's trying to figure it out for herself.
This first flashback scene sets the stage for the ones that follow, in that it shows Supergirl in contrast to another character.

An aside: Power Girl deserves an S-shield. Etch it into the golden clasp of her cape or put one on her belt buckle, but she deserves one someplace.

Anyway, the next flashback depicts Supergirl and Wonder Girl mourning the loss of Paradise Island, and a flashback-within-a-flashback demonstrates how different WG and SG were from the Amazons. This serves to demonstrate that Supergirl was an outsider among the Amazons as well, despite being raised with them for awhile. In this matter however, she wasn't alone, and her relationship with Cassandra will become more important later.

Aside #2: Diana, Themyscira, Conner, Robin...Wonder Girl lost a lot in Infinite Crisis, more than most. Is it any wonder she's so moody and fragile these days?

Our next flashback is the most important of the five, as Supergirl visits the Kent farm. This scene--and I never thought I'd say this about this Supergirl series--is brilliant. Kelly contrasts Jeph Loeb's Supergirl with Superman by referencing Jeph Loeb.
Sunshine / On my shoulders / Makes me happySunshine go away today / Don't feel much like dancin'
Why Jeph couldn't do that is beyond me. Even before we get to Supergirl's reaction to the sunrise, we see a fundamental difference between Clark and Kara; Clark is in his civilian clothes, feet firmly on the ground, in touch with the world, human. Supergirl lacks that connection. It's no wonder, then, that her response is "...I don't get it. It's just a lot of wheat...Does something happen?" She doesn't recognize the beauty, doesn't feel that connection with nature. Hell, she misses the whole point, she can't see the sunrise for the wheat.

The scene moves inside, into Conner's room, where Kara picks up his black t-shirt. There, she asks a fantastic question:
I wish I was / Homeward bound
Why didn't Clark invite her to live with him? Clark invited Conner to live with the Kents. Before him, Clark brought home a childlike blob of protoplasm called "Mae" to live with his parents. You know, Mae, short for Matrix, the last major Supergirl. Kara's the odd one out, and it shows.

In the fourth flashback, we see that Kara's Kryptonian home life might have been even weirder than previously thought, as Zor-El asks for her assistance to kill a person who we assume to be Alura (Kara's mother). Through this, and through the prior revelation that she was meant to kill Kal-El, we find that Supergirl is fighting her Kryptonian destiny as well as her terrestrial one, fighting against the 'S' both in terms of what the Superman family expects of her, and what her biological family expected of her.
The fifth is a scene with Batman, in which she demonstrates a greater camaraderie with him than with her other 'parents,' neither of whom even appear in the book. This, coupled with her asking Owen to pass a message along to Nightwing, suggests that Kara feels more comfortable with Batman's squad of loners and orphans than with her own superheroic family.

She prepares to leave Owen, in the classic superhero fashion, leading to this scene:
Written on the pages / Is the answer to a Neverending Story
Notice how Supergirl answers Owen's question: "Never." There are several loaded words with regards to Superman, and "never" (more specifically "never-ending") is one of them. Kara rushes off to save a little girl from an oncoming truck, falling back into the Supergirl role, but doing it her way. Then, this exchange occurs:
No colors anymore / I want them to turn black
What's significant here is not the goofy look on Supergirl's face, it's not the "Supergirl shouldn't wear black" line which acts as a jab against Cir-El, a dismissal of Supergirl's "dark side" from Supergirl #5, and admonition against her current attitude. What's significant is that Kara is soliciting advice about her identity. Her whole life, people have been telling her how she ought to be, who she ought to be, and she's rebelled against it. Here, stepping more naturally into the superhero role--doing it "her way"--she can be comfortable taking that sort of advice. Now it's on her terms, not someone else's; she has taken control of her life and her identity, and is on her way to figuring out just who she actually is.

All that, and there's still time for a scene where Kara bonds with a grieving Cassie, passing Superboy's shirt to its more rightful owner.

So by the end of the issue, we have a Supergirl who feels like an outsider to her family, to her Amazon peers, to her adopted planet, and to her homeworld. This feeling is naturally underscored by the fact that she's spent the whole issue with an Outsider, one who occupies a similar position in terms of people's expectations. Both Kara and Owen are trying to define themselves as separate people from their families, but both also carry the weight of destiny and legacy on their shoulders. It's no wonder, then, that Supergirl would find herself more at home with Batman than Superman.
Of course, part of that is that Supergirl lacks Clark's sense of humanity, his ties to the planet. Kara has no civilian identity, she hasn't lived with the Kents, her only friends are other superheroes. With Superboy dead, she finds herself trying to fill his shoes (or shirt), but she finds that his life is no more a perfect fit to her than the life that was thrust upon her. It's really a shame that he's gone; a superpowered teenager trying to live up to a perfect legacy, with a history of identity crises and a secret darkness passed down genetically? They'd have oodles to talk about.
Yet it's clear from this issue that she's not just a clone of Superboy. She's facing similar problems, but unlike Superboy, she really doesn't have a support structure in place to help her solve them. She's a teenager, trying to find her place in the world, trying to fight her father's legacy of death while trying to define her place in her cousin's legacy of hope. She may have floundered for a couple of years, bouncing from personality to personality, expectation to expectation, but it's clear that she's finally made a decision about where she's going to go with her life, and her 'S'. With Wonder Girl and Captain Boomerang, she has the beginnings of a supporting cast, and hopefully she'll be slipping on a pair of glasses sometime in the near future. Then again, maybe not. What we have here is a Supergirl who doesn't fit so easily into a cape, a teenager who's still trying to figure out who she is, and not just who everyone wants her to be.

Do you see all that text? I couldn't have written that much analysis of any previous issue of this series. I'd be hard-pressed to find that much meaning in Loeb's whole arc. This is the first issue of Supergirl since David's run ended where I could consider using words like "subtle" and "nuanced." There's a lot of rough edges, to be sure, but this Supergirl has finally become someone I can care about. Even if Kara hasn't quite found her identity yet, the audience has, and watching her come into that identity should be an interesting trip. Looks like Supergirl is saved from the axe for another month.

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