If you want to see Page One of Ra-Boka, clicketh thee here.
Remember: if you want pages more regularly, the key is our Patreon – we’re less than $50 away from two pages per month.
This isn’t going to be thoughts on the actual issue; I made the decision back in about April 2007 (during the execrable ‘Countdown to Final Crisis’ and ‘Amazons Attack’) that I wasn’t going to be spending any more money on DC’s comics without a wholesale shakeup of their senior management. Apart from a few good reviews of the ‘Omega Men’ reboot and some passionate defenses of ‘Final Crisis’, I’ve heard absolutely nobody telling me I made a mistake here.
It’s also worth emphasizing that these are solely my thoughts on the subject; I’m sure MGK has his own opinions, which may or may not coincide with mine, and he may make his own post on the subject at some point. Oh yes, and I’m going to install a spoiler tag for those who want to read the issue but haven’t.
continue reading "Random Thoughts on DC Rebirth"
For a while, people have been asking “when are you going to release a collected edition of Al’Rashad like you said you wanted to do, we want to buy that.”
Yes! We did ask about that!
In answer, Davinder and I have set up a Patreon page for the sequel to Al’Rashad, entitled Ra-Boka: Kingdom of the Bound. More swords! More undeads! More Joro mouthing off! Everything you love and new things as well, which he hope you will love, including numerous other major cultures in this world what we have created, and new characters who we are sure you will like (or, as appropriate, hate) as much as the original cast. And, if the Patreon is successful enough, we’ll put out pages at a faster rate than we did for Al’Rashad.
…but that’s not exactly what we asked for?
We know. We’re currently trying (and have been for a while) to get a deal with a traditional publisher, because Davinder and I both have time-consuming day jobs, and the time spent on publishing a book, even via an assistance service like MakeThatThing or similar, is time that we would prefer to spend on other things. An ongoing Patreon that is successful makes us more attractive to publishers – and I will not lie, pretty much every publisher we’ve talked to says some variation of “I like this, but it doesn’t fit into our current paradigms of what makes for a successful comic release,” so demonstrating that we have an audience via the Patreon will help us a lot in that regard.
And if it turns out the paying audience is smaller than we hoped, well, that’s what Kickstarter is for. But we’re hoping to avoid that.
Are there like, rewards and things?
Yes! Getting to see pages in advance before they’re published on the website; getting to see rough pencils before the pages are finished; PDF copies of any promos/prints we might do for yourself; and, for our most generous contributors, insertion of yourself as a character into the comic, either in a non-speaking role or – and this last one is pretty exclusive – with lines. Ra-Boka will have a larger and more diverse cast than even Al’Rashad had, so we can do this easily without tainting the artistic integrity of the work. Pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves.
Okay, I’m sold. What’s the link again?
Glad you asked, Invented Person Who Doesn’t Really Exist! It’s here.
Warning: some spoilers for the new Captain America film follow. Oh, and the Civil War comics, but those are like a decade old now so who cares.
Ezra Klein has a column up at Vox wherein he explains that Captain America is in the wrong in Captain America: Civil War and Iron Man is the actual hero. This is in fact not the first time Klein has written about Civil War; in 2010 he expressed his agreement with Spencer Ackerman (whose column about Civil War seems to have disappeared when Firedoglake collapsed):
And, incidentally, I agree with Spencer entirely: Iron Man was unequivocally right in the argument over superhero registration. I’m not even sure what the case for the other side is, and the libertarians I’ve asked haven’t been able to come up with one. If the state has any legitimate function at all, it’s to train and regulate people who could accidentally kill everyone in a hundred-mile radius.
I’m not a libertarian; I’m your bog-standard sorta-socialist liberal. I am also rather famously on record with respect to my opinion as to Civil War being a not-entirely-competent story.1 That having been said, the case for the other side is really quite simple: these are stories set in a universe where superheroes exist, and the normal balance of security versus liberty is accordingly upended.
Political pundits like to take Iron Man’s position for two reasons: first off, Iron Man is unequivocally the villain (or at least the antagonist) of both the comic and film versions of Civil War, and there’s a certain sort of contrarian glee to be had in saying “no, the bad guy of the story is right,” which is why every new Star Wars movie generates a fresh flood of why-the-Empire-were-actually-the good-guys columns despite the fact that the Empire are Space Nazis who murder billions of people both onscreen and off. The second reason is because Iron Man’s regulatory position makes sense when you assume that some of the elements of a comic book universe apply but don’t follow through wholly with the logic.
Klein’s argument that Iron Man was “unequivocally right” about the original Civil War dispute is one that relies on the assumption that Iron Man’s concerns about unregulated superheroes are valid and that Captain America’s concerns about the tyranny of the state are overblown. Now, because I’m a sorta-socialist liberal I can understand this position, because in the real world, the closest analogue to Captain America’s position is one expressed by gun nuts and idealistic-but-stupid libertarians, whose concerns about the tyranny of the state are (usually) overblown. But Civil War is a comic in a superhero universe, and in a superhero universe Cap’s concerns are entirely valid, because in a superhero universe as the powers of individuals grow to ridiculous proportions, so does the power of the state.
The amazing thing about Cap’s argument is that I don’t really have to make it. It’s already been made for me. Christos Gage wrote a superb one-shot Civil War tie-in comic, Casualties of War, which is mostly just an extended conversation “mid-war” between Tony and Cap as they each try to convince the other of the rightness of their position. Tony’s argument is, for the most part, the one Klein makes, along with the argument that he and Cap have a responsibility to make sure that the next generation of young superheroes is properly trained; he cites Spider-Man failing to save Gwen Stacy as his primary example. Cap refutes that argument by pointing out that Gwen Stacy didn’t die because Spider-Man failed to save her – that’s an argument that places blame unfairly on Spidey – but properly assigns the blame for that death to the person who actually caused her death: Norman Osborn.
He then points out that Osborn was able to do this because he knew Spider-Man’s secret identity, and discusses other times when superheroes’ loved ones were threatened or even killed because of secret identity leaks. And then points out – entirely correctly – that any database of registered superheroes could and would be exploited by supervillains, and actually cites moments from both Tony and Cap’s individual careers where their own information was used against them to discredit/frame them for crimes they did not commit – and even if supervillains didn’t do it, there’s no guarantee that a future administration with regulatory oversight wouldn’t do it, which for Cap is particularly relevant since the government had forced him to stop being Captain America more than once.
The crucial distinction between Tony and Cap’s positions, in the comic, is that Tony’s position is grounded in our real-world experience of how regulation generally works. Cap’s position is grounded in his unreal-world experience of what actually happens when external authority is applied to superheroes: the result is inevitably a slide towards tyrannical behaviour, regardless of the intent of the regulator, or the allowance of threats to superheroes so intense that they would be forced to abandon their duties as protectors.2
And here’s the kicker: in the comics, Cap is proven completely and utterly right by the events following Civil War. Iron Man’s side “wins,” and for about two years of comics, they mostly do all right: Tony sets up government-sanctioned superteams all over the United States (why Wyoming needs its own superteam I don’t know, but they supposedly had one) and they prevent a lot of threats. But even at this time, Tony – who is supposed to be the hero, remember – has set up the Thunderbolts as a covert team of super-criminals who have been coerced into government service. (It ends up being a spectacular failure, because psychopaths don’t make good government functionaries.)
But Tony’s moral failings aren’t the worst part – the worst part is when he loses power as a result of a crisis (a Skrull invasion) and Norman Osborn is given control of the regulatory regime. Osborn then uses his new state-sanctioned power to remake SHIELD into HAMMER, which is essentially a death cult loyal to Osborn alone, and viciously and relentlessly persecutes the superheroes – including Tony! – who won’t play ball with him, which is most of them, because Osborn is an evil man not interested in the general welfare of society at all, but only really in power for its own sake, in glorifying himself and in murdering Spider-Man, with whom Osborn is obsessed.
So Tony’s belief that a less-intrusive regulatory regime can assuage Cap’s concerns about its potential for misuse is just wrong; wrong on the evidence of what had happened before, wrong on the reasoning of what is happening currently at the time, and wrong as to what happens when it is enacted. That’s the argument for Cap’s position. And Cap is completely right.
So that’s why Klein is wrong about the comics. Why is he wrong about the film? That’s easy. First, everything I wrote above still more or less applies in the movie: Cap has real-world experience of the dangers of giving organizations too much control over superheroic quantities – that was what Winter Soldier was about, remember.
Secondly, let’s go to his column:
As I understand it, the Avengers are allowed to simply stop being Avengers if they don’t want oversight — Cap can keep his shield, Widow can keep her stingers, Iron Man can keep his suit, and they can go on and live normal lives. What they can’t do is act as vigilantes. That’s more or less the equilibrium in America, too, where we let people possess mind-boggling amounts of weaponry but have pretty strict laws about who they’re able to shoot.
The problem with this understanding is that it is wrong, because it skips over the part where some of the Avengers can’t actually stop being Avengers in a way which would satisfy the concerns of the state. It is made extremely clear in the film that the Scarlet Witch is not going to be allowed to go on and live a normal life; she is going to be imprisoned. The prison might be a particularly nice prison, but it will be a prison nonetheless, and that is Cap’s sticking point. Remember, in the film, Tony almost convinces him to work within the Sokovia Accords at one point – until Cap learns that Wanda is going to be a prisoner.
And Cap knows that Wanda isn’t the only enhanced human out there – Bruce Banner is still out there, Quicksilver was one before he died, and it is safe to assume that there are others. It is fairly obvious what would happen to them as well, and the film shows us explicitly what happens when anybody resists, regardless of whether they have powers or not – they’re sent away to an extrajudicial mecha-Guantanamo in the middle of the ocean without the burden of due process. Wanda is fairly obviously doped out of her mind to prevent her from using her powers, which is by any reasonable standard cruel and unusual punishment. And it’s clear from Tony’s reaction that he obviously didn’t know this was happening, despite his assertions that with his participation such abuses would be prevented.
Bottom line: Cap is right in Civil War, both in the comics and in the film. He’s right because although our everyday reality is that governmental regulation is, by and large, a net positive, his everyday reality is different from ours in very significant ways – and that makes all the difference.
As I have previously mentioned, the one bright spot about the existence of the otherwise extremely uninspiring and uninteresting ‘Batman v Superman’ movie (really, I remember having huge misgivings as soon as the project was announced–Zack Snyder, talking about DKR as his inspiration, feels like it could be the dictionary definition of “toxic masculinity”) was that it held the potential for some truly wacky studio hijinks. After all, the movie looked like it was going to tank, at least by the standards of Hollywood blockbusters…
A word about that, for everyone saying, “Hey, it made $850 million, why is it being called a failure?” It’s being called a failure because different standards apply to Hollywood blockbusters. These things are designed, through merchandising, product placement, synergistic endorsement deals and aggressive promotion, to make back their money even if the film is basically just two solid hours of Arnie flipping the bird to the screen and shouting, “SUCKER!” in an Austrian accent every few minutes. (Spoilers for ‘Terminator: Genesys’!) It is very hard for them to actually lose money, because so much of the money is made before the film hits theaters–‘Phantom Menace’ would have been profitable without selling a single ticket–and so much more of the money is made before the reviews come out. These films are not judged on the absolute money they make, but on the money they make relative to each other, because their job is not to make money. Their job is to make the kind of obscene, world-shattering money that lets studio execs throw $50 million at some crazy vanity project sight unseen because they’re making ten times that per extremely reliable Avengers movie and have money to burn. On that scale, BvS has failed. ‘Ant-Man’ did better in its fourth week than ‘BvS’ in its fourth week. You do not want to be the guy who makes a Batman/Superman movie that makes less than ‘Ant-Man’.
OK. So the point is, all I was really hoping for is that WB execs would lose their shit and we would get some entertaining panic. Would they dump Snyder overboard like a hot potato? Would he give great snippy bitchy interviews where he blamed audiences for not getting his vision? (I’m still holding out hope for that. If there’s one thing I can say about Snyder besides the fact that he’s a shitty director, it’s that he’s incredibly thin-skinned and holds grudges with reviewers that he works out every time he does a press junket. He’s still holding court on ‘Sucker Punch’, ferfucksake.)
Instead, we get Seth Grahame-Green quitting the ‘Flash’ movie. Now, I can’t say this would have been a great movie–I loved the hell out of the book of ‘Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter’, but he hasn’t been able to translate his skills into movie-making quite yet and it’s distinctly possible that this would have been a big whiff. (Especially since this would have been his directorial debut, and giving someone a huge summer blockbuster as their first movie even though these things have damn near broken guys like Sam Raimi and Joss Whedon seems like its own category of fascinating train wreck.) But in terms of whose vision I’d rather see in the DC Murderverse, it’s an untested Seth Grahame-Green over Snyder any day.
And now James Wan is talking about ditching ‘Aquaman’. And while…look, I cannot stand ‘Saw’, okay? I absolutely think the final twist is the kind of irredeemable bullshit that makes me want to throw things at the screen, an infuriating and unearned “gotcha” that makes no sense and requires six billion coincidences that the killer can’t possibly arrange all to fall in a very particular way for the movie not to literally end on Page Two of the screenplay. (“Hey, I found these keys stuck in the drain! Let’s just go!”) I cannot stand this movie and I will gleefully spoil it for strangers on the grounds that it is better for you to not watch the movie than feel like you wasted two hours on it. (The killer is the guy on the floor. He’s not really dead. Yes, it’s bullshit.)
But that’s all the script. The direction in ‘Saw’ actually makes a movie about two guys stuck in a room all night compelling. It’s impressive work. James Wan has a solid and impressive body of directing behind him. If WB is backing Snyder, whose biggest hit is now over ten years behind him and wasn’t written by him in the first place, over Wan, this is going to be less “fun trainwreck” and more “oh. oh, that poor man. oh god, his wife is crying, and she’s covered in blood, and…is that her blood? is that her husband’s blood? oh god, they had a cargo flat full of adorable baby lambs, and they’re squealing, they won’t stop squealing, there’s just so much pain….”
I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. I’m really hoping that the backstabbing and panic leads to good movies in the end, rather than good movies being shitcanned in order to double down on the Snyder vision of a Bat-boot stamping on a human face forever. Because this, this thing of interesting and creative people fleeing the DC movies like rats leaving the sinking ship? Not actually what I was hoping for.
The problem with any retelling of the Doctor Strange origin story – and although I am more or less tired of origin stories as “first movies” in superhero cinema, I make an exception here, because Doctor Strange’s origin story is probably the last truly compelling one in comics that hasn’t been filmed yet – is that the original Doctor Strange origin is almost irreversibly Orientalist – apocryphally, Stan Lee is said to have described Doc as “what if Mandrake the Magician learned all of Fu Manchu’s secrets” at one point, and that is more or less the origin story right there and that’s kind of a problem. Doc, moreso than any other Big Two comics character, is the best example of the “white man learns ancient non-white secrets, surpasses the original practitioners” trope. Thus, I can see the argument for getting away from that by casting a non-Asian actor as the Ancient One, and Tilda Swinton is as gloriously weird an actor as exists on this planet so giving her the role makes sense in that context (and making the Ancient One female adds additional cultural weight to the student/master relationship between Ancient One and Doc that I feel is welcome).
However. In a cinematic universe where Marvel is doubling down on white male protagonists – to the point of casting the whitest possible character to play Iron Fist, a character who A) is only white because when he was created it was impossible to imagine a non-white character in his role and B) actually works much better in the “child of two worlds” aspect if you make him biracial Euro-Asian or simply Asian but raised in an American context – and has at this point a track record of reducing the impact of non-straightwhitemale characters seemingly to increase the impact of SWM protagonists (Ant-Man being the best example of this so far as it spends half the film trying to explain why Evangeline Lilly isn’t just the Wasp despite the fact that she obviously should be), any change of ethnicity in characters has to be very, very carefully done. Casting Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, for example, is diverse casting, but how great is it to make one of Strange’s definitive archenemies the diverse casting choice, exactly? And while Swinton is an inspired choice for the Ancient One, couldn’t Michelle Yeoh (for example) also have been as inspired?
So doing Doctor Strange’s origin story – which, I repeat, you should want to do, because it is about a bad and broken man healing and becoming a better one, unlike most superhero origin stories which are either lengthy revenge fantasies or “generally decent person gets superpowers” – is tricky, because you can either go with the traditional origin, in which case you risk criticism of being Orientalist, or you can revamp it and attempt to de-Orientalize it, in which case you risk criticism of whitewashing/yellowface. What Marvel have done here, apparently, is try to split the difference via the Swinton casting but still keeping the “trip to conspicuously un-named country that looks a lot like Tibet” aspect of the origin story, in an attempt to address both issues while still keeping the origin as traditional as possible. But the problem is that instead of avoiding both, they’ve opened themselves up to scrutiny on both counts, which is certainly sort of an own-goal in this context.
None of this, incidentally, should be taken as the implication that I won’t be going to see this on Day One because of course I’m going to go see this. Me noting that aspects of the film are potentially problematic (and I hold out hope that the script will address some of my concerns) is not the same as me refusing to go see a Doctor Strange film. It looks visually ambitious, which I both hoped for and expected, and Cumberbatch looks to be a decent Doc, which I also expected – just because he was the safe choice for the role didn’t make him a bad choice. (I do find it amusing that he’s basically doing Hugh-Laurie-as-House for the accent, if only because my personal Doctor Strange in one sentence is “if Dr. House became Dr. Who.”) I’m not sure how Mads Mikkelsen is gonna be Dormammu but, whatever, he’s a good actor, I’m happy to let them run with it and see what happens.
Those of you hoping for a review of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ on this website will probably need to look elsewhere; I’ve never been particularly interested in seeing Zack Snyder’s take on the Batman/Superman rivalry, to say nothing of the fact that I’ve always felt that giving the two a “rivalry” was a misguided take on both characters to begin with. And Chris is tweeting that he has no particular interest in seeing it either. Unless you want to start a Kickstarter to pay for my tickets, I will let other people have All the Opinions on this one.
Oh, and hey, they do! The movie is currently hovering around the 30% mark on Rotten Tomatoes, which is…let’s just say Not Good. Further, the reviews themselves have been filled with phrases such as “like putting your head into a beehive for 2 1/2 hours”, “rectum-puckering garbage fire of a movie”, “blunt, humorless and baffling”, “overstuffed and preposterous”, and my personal favorite, “a ponderous, smothering, over-pixelated zeppelin crash of a movie scored by a choir that sounds like it’s being drowned in lava.” (That last from NPR. I didn’t think they got that mad about anything, up to and including Trump.)
So basically, the movie is not reviewing well. And Warner Brothers is right up against it–‘Justice League Part One’ begins filming literally within days, and this movie is going to be seen as the direct precursor to that one. Meaning that if audiences agree with critics, well…they are going to have to drastically retool ‘Justice League’ pretty much on the fly, starting with the decision of whether to keep Snyder.
On the other hand, if the movie does well (Thursday box office was great, but those numbers were always going to represent people who went to see the movie on faith) then it could be another ‘Transformers’, a critic-proof franchise that draws in major box office despite getting bad reviews. Warner Brothers can probably live with that.
So this weekend is going to be very important. Because BvS has to have a showing that will put it on track for the kind of 1.5-2.0 billion dollar box office that WB has every right to expect from a movie that finally puts two of their most iconic characters onscreen together. We’re probably talking about something in the $400-500 million dollar range, at a minimum. Anything less than that and you will see panic. And I mean panic; WB has left themselves almost no time cushion to absorb any lessons that might come from the success or failure of BvS, so if they find themselves in a crisis of faith, they will have to pull the trigger quick on any changes they want to make.
And they may make changes anyway. Some of the pre-release articles have hinted that not everyone up top buys into Snyder’s vision; if there are executives with itchy trigger fingers already, they may decide that it’s not worth the risk that audiences will stay away from another Snyder joint and bring in someone else to direct. Sometimes it’s all about how the person signing the checks feels about the movie. (Just ask ‘Superman Returns’, which was ultimately a modest success for the studio, but which alienated the top brass at Warner Brothers.)
Why am I so interested in this? Because with ‘Batman v Superman’ not sounding like anything I want to see, I take my entertainment where I can find it.
Sorry for the delay in this post–I got hit with a bad cold over the weekend, and I’m just now to the point where I can think about saying anything coherent. (I don’t know if I can actually say anything coherent, but I can at least pretend now.) And I figured I’d talk about ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’, since I bought issue #3 the day before I got sick.
It’s…it’s good enough to earn an issue #4, I’ll put it that way. There are definitely things to like about the comic; Lunella is an adorable kid who manages to avoid a lot of the traditional “kid genius” tropes floating around in science fiction. She’s not adorkable the way most of them are; she’s spiky, tense, irritable and anti-social. Which sounds like she’s also unsympathetic and unlikable, but the book does a good job of explaining why she feels so alienated from everyone around her and why she’s so driven. Honestly, it feels like this could be the origin story for a super hero or a super villain, which is kind of cool. (Oh, and it goes almost without saying that a comic about an African-American girl who’s a super-techno-genius on a par with Iron Man is a genuinely good thing and a great stride for representation at Marvel. Almost, but not quite.)
And yes, it’s got Devil Dinosaur. If there’s ever a bad time to put a red pseudo-T. Rex who kicks butt into your comic, I cannot think of it. Would ‘The Kindly Ones’ have been a better comic with Devil Dinosaur? I have to say that on balance, the answer is “yes”. ‘Age of Bronze’? Oh heck yeah. I’m even willing to entertain the notion that ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’ would be better if they put in a second Devil Dinosaur, perhaps through time-travel shenanigans. The point is, he’s not what’s wrong with the comic.
And the art is charming. It’s cartoony enough to be vivid and larger than life, while really evocative and filled with a solid design sense. Every page is pretty enough to frame.
No, I think the problem with the series to date is the pacing. This may just be my hobby-horse; Lord knows I’ve complained about “decompression” enough times that some people probably have my rants memorized. But really, very little has happened in three issues. Devil Dinosaur has come to the present, so have some evil ape-people, and…yeah, that’s pretty much it apart from capture-escape rigmarole. The central premise has been restated two or three times an issue (Lunella needs the thingie that the ape-people worship and that popped them to the present because she thinks it’s a cure for her incipient Inhumanism) which is bad whether it’s being written for the trade or not. And Lunella has only started to bond with Devil Dinosaur, which is frustratingly bad pacing because we all know it’s the premise of the series so dragging it out is really pointless.
So I’m giving it an issue #4, because there’s a lot to like about it and I want to support the things that are good about it. But it would be nice if it didn’t feel quite so much like it was treading water.
I was kindly sent a complimentary copy of Amazing Fantastic Incredible, Stan Lee’s comicbook autobiography (with the “assistance” of Peter David and Colleen Doran) (and yes, reading this, one discovers that Lee follows Jim Steranko’s spelling of “comicbook,” so for the sake of uniformity I will use it here). To be sure, it has some funny moments. Stan Lee has lots of funny stories, and many of them make their way into the book at one point or another. In particular, Lee spends one page mostly throwing shade at Bob Kane, who is depicted (rightly) as an asshole, and that’s probably the highlight of the book because whenever somebody says “Bob Kane was SUCH an asshole” they are A) always right and B) worth commending.
All of that is well and good. But the book has a central problem, and it is this: I just said how Lee spends a page throwing shade at Bob Kane? Well, he spends five pages on the creation of Spider-Man, which is arguably the single most significant thing he did in his entire life. For the sake of comparison, some other page counts in the book: the time Stan Lee met Bill Clinton (three pages), the history of Spider-Man movie development (three pages, and remember Lee was only tangentially involved with most of that), characters Stan has created or co-created with POW Entertainment, such as Stripperella (five pages), the Stan Lee Imagines comics he wrote for DC (five pages), and recording the Merry Marvel Marching Society record (four and a half pages).
What I am trying to get here is that biography, when it’s written successfully, can’t just be a mostly-chronological list of “things that happened.” Biography is the marriage of factual events with traditional narrative structure – real life written into a pattern that resonates with readers. This means (depending on the biography) selectively editing out events, creating arbitrary beginning and end points, or playing heavily with flashbacks and flashforwards to make real life fit into the narrative structure. It’s not dishonest; it’s style.
And, to be blunt, it requires willingness to focus on the parts of your life you don’t like if they’re significant. There are at least three major friction points in Lee’s life (well, let’s be honest, there are lots more than that, but there are three really major obvious ones): his role in Jack Kirby leaving Marvel, his role in Steve Ditko leaving Marvel, and the fallout from the collapse of Stan Lee Media. Kirby’s departure is dealt with in three pages and Lee adopts a wholly unconvincing “well if Jack had only told me he was unhappy” position before ultimately appearing to imply it was probably for the best. Ditko’s departure is dealt with summarily, in one page, and again Lee professes not to understand why Ditko was unhappy, which is amazing bullshit given that Ditko hasn’t exactly kept why he was unhappy a secret (artistic conflict and the completely reasonable belief that Lee was refusing to support him when he did anything that might challenge fan expectations). Lee literally refuses to discuss the collapse of Stan Lee Media in the comic, which is surprising given that by all accounts Lee was duped just as most investors were by Peter F. Paul when the latter committed multiple types of stock and security fraud.
The result of a lack of any real narrative structure combined with Lee’s willingness to cover over the more problematic parts of his life with a smear of bullshit makes for a comic that, at its best points, meanders enjoyably through amusing anecdotes, and at its worst just meanders boringly. It’s a comic without a direction, because at 93 it appears Stan Lee still hasn’t decided what the story of his life is. And that’s his perogative! But that doesn’t mean we needed a comicbook about it.
Sad to say, this isn’t a review of a comic book featuring a collection of D-list superheroes who band together to fight enemies that escape the notice of the heavy hitters. Because that would be awesome. Instead, this is a coffee table book by Jon Morris that describes a number of…let’s just say misguided attempts to create the next Batman or Superman. Going in chronological order from the Golden Age up through the Modern Age (the most recent entry covers Maggott and other late-90s mutants), it shows a variety of characters from the poorly thought out like Doctor Hormone (who’s basically a scientist who solves every problem with “hormones”) to the interesting concepts that never caught on (711, a wrongly-convicted prisoner who breaks out of jail every night to stop crimes he learns about from his fellow inmates) to characters that simply can’t come back (like ROM. DAMMIT.)
The book is a little bit light on information–for the most part, this isn’t due to a lack of research, but simply due to a lack of things to write about. Most of the characters under discussion only had a handful of appearances, many deservedly so, and Morris is able to cover their entire publication history in just one double-page spread. There is, fundamentally, only so much you can say about NFL Superpro or Congorilla. That does mean that no particular hero ever wears out their welcome…well, except perhaps AAU Shuperstar, the superhero who appeared only in ads for shoes and who spoke exclusively in shoe-related puns…but it does mean that the book is really just a light and goofy read rather than a reference book.
Which does mean that if you’re going to buy this, you do have to consider whether it’s worth almost $25 (list price) for what’s basically a silly book about goofy superheroes. As a collection of information, it may not be. However, it’s worth mentioning that the production values on this are first-class; every page contains excellent reproductions of classic comic art (some of them from luminaries like Kirby and Ditko, who were amazingly talented but didn’t always knock it out of the park). It’s certainly the sort of thing that you can leave out as a conversation piece, even if the conversation will probably trend towards things like, “There was really a superhero named Bozo the Iron Man?”
On the whole, I’d say that while you may want to look for a bargain on it, it’s definitely worth a look. If nothing else, it’s a heady mix of discovery (“So that’s where those ‘Nature Boy’ memes came from!”) and nostalgia (“Hey, wait a second! I liked Slapstick!”) If you’re a comics fan, check this one out.
The other day, someone mentioned to me that there was a really good webcomic called “Strong Female Protagonist” that should be in the Hugo conversation. They provided a link to www.strongfemaleprotagonist.com in with the comment, and I clicked on that link…and about six hours later I came up for air, having devoured every scrap of extant material, and started waiting for the next installment to be posted.
Because it is phenomenal. Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag are two people who have really given an immense amount of thought to the way a superhero universe would work, and they’ve come up with some really fascinating answers. And the best part is, those answers lead to more questions, and those questions make for great plot hooks that lead to fantastic stories. For example, “Why is it that you never see any superheroes with the power to generate cheap, pollution-free energy?” or “What practical use is super-strength and invulnerability in combating systemic social injustices like racism?” or “If Wolverine has a healing factor that strong, wouldn’t he do more good by just becoming an organ donor?” (The answer to that one is, by the way, one of the most heart-rending things you will ever see in a comic book story.)
All of that could be bloodless, but Mulligan and Ostertag do a great job of turning these abstract moral questions into grounded, meaningful human dramas. Protagonist Alison Green, aka “MegaGirl”, is a character who feels utterly real, someone granted great power for no apparent reason (although there are definitely hints that “no apparent reason” isn’t remotely the same as “no reason”) and is struggling to deal with it in the same way that any normal person would. She’s no paragon of seamless virtue–there’s a brilliant scene where she admits to a supervillain that she fantasizes about killing people hundreds of times a day, simply because the logic of “beat up the bad guys” is so seductively easy–but she’s immensely sympathetic nonetheless. She’s a good person trying to do her best to make the world a better place, but she admits to not knowing what that is.
And the supporting cast is great too. I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I’ve already probably hinted too much at spoilers, but there are a lot of interesting and unique takes on classic comic tropes. It’s a series that actively resists the temptation to slot people into the role of “hero” or “villain”; even the worst characters, like the twenty-foot tall guy with meat cleavers for hands and super-strength, turns out to be all too human and all too relatable, and some of the superheroes turn out to be petty, arrogant and stupid. They’re not superhumans; they’re humans with super powers, and they’re all trying to figure out what that means in a world where their only guide is a medium where all the problems end in thirty-two pages or less.
I could go on–I’ve barely said anything about Ostertag’s magnificent art, which gets better with each and every installment, or about the sparkling and literate dialogue–but at some point I have to just tell you to go read the entirely free comic instead of listening to me talk about it. I will say this: You will never look at the world the same way again after reading ‘Strong Female Protagonist’, much less a comic book. If ‘Watchmen’ was a major step forward in treating comics as real literature that analyzes what makes a so-called “superhero” tick, then this is the next step on from ‘Watchmen’. And it’s about time.
A long time ago, I discussed briefly my circa-2005 ideas for rebooting Impulse with a new character, as Bart was Flash and Wally was dead (followed, of course, by Wally being Flash and Bart being dead. They trade off every so often.) One of the stories I really wanted to do featured another Teen Titan, the extremely short-lived Young Frankenstein, who made exactly one appearance in the “World War III” mini-series before dying when Black Adam ripped his arms off. (He got better in time for “Final Crisis”, but still hasn’t been what you’d call a major character.)
I wanted to use him for two reasons: One, death should be no impediment to a character who’s a walking reanimated corpse, and two, THERE IS A CHARACTER NAMED “YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” IN THE DC UNIVERSE AND NOBODY HAS MADE A MEL BROOKS JOKE ABOUT HIM. So my idea was that Impulse would be fighting a mad scientist who was working on (among other things) making an army of undead soldiers, and she’d help free Young Frankenstein from his lab, where he was being studied in hopes of extracting the secret of his resurrection. And Impulse, on hearing his name, simply would not be able to let it go. She’d keep calling him “Fronkensteen”, referring to herself as Eyempulse, and yes, there would be a scene where they fought mutant wolves so that when Young Frankenstein shouted, “Werewolf!” she could reply back with “There!” And the whole time, Young Frankenstein is just giving her the blankest looks ever, but she simply cannot stop herself because she is teaming up with Young Frankenstein, and really, could you?
And at the end, after they defeat the mad scientist and prepare to go their separate ways, she’d say, “See you around, Young Fronkensteen.” And he would rear up to his full height and shout, at the top of his lungs, “MY NAME…IS FRANKENSTEIN!!!!!!” And Impulse’s eyes would get huge and terrified, and she’d begin to apologize…before realizing just what he’d said. She’d shout, “Hey, wait a second!” but he would already be off, singing to himself, “When you’re blue and you don’t know, where to go to why don’t ya go, where fashion sits….PUUUN ANNA RISS!”
I may just be weird, but it still gives me a chuckle.
Now that the real trailer for ‘Suicide Squad’ is out, I feel like I can make a better stab at predicting its ups and downs than when I was deeply unconvinced that I was actually watching a real thing made by real professional Hollywood types. (Which, don’t get me wrong, it was certainly a very good fan-made production, far better than I could do. But it did not look like a multi-million dollar budgeted movie, is all.) My basic prediction is that it’s going to have trouble finding an audience, and it may have trouble finding its voice. That doesn’t necessarily translate to being bad, but it is two big strikes against it right from the start.
The first problem, and perhaps the biggest, is that it’s coming too early. The thing that makes most of the best incarnations of the Suicide Squad interesting is that it’s about taking known quantities, and putting them into new situations where they reveal unexpected character facets. What made Captain Cold interesting in the Suicide Squad was that everyone thought they knew who Captain Cold was; he was that lame supervillain with the freeze gun who served as Barry Allen’s punching bag every six or seven issues. But when you saw him in the Suicide Squad, you realized there was a lot more to him than that.
The Suicide Squad movie does not have that audience familiarity. A few of them may know Killer Croc or Harley Quinn from the Batman cartoons/video games/ancillary tie-in material, and of course the Joker is guaranteed box-office. But most of the characters they picked are obscure even for DC fans. Apart from people who are going to see Will Smith be all Will Smith-y, there’s really nothing to get people into theaters. A trailer for ‘Suicide Squad’ should look like an inverted version of the 2012 Avengers movie, a collection of DC’s worst and darkest coming together to band against something that scares even the bad guys. This feels like a collection of scrubs and oh by the way the Joker.
This leads into the second problem–if the best incarnations of the Suicide Squad work when they’re about familiar villains revealing unexpected character beats, and they’re not familiar villains, then the character beats won’t be that unexpected either. The ‘Suicide Squad’ movie will have to spend its time establishing these characters to audiences who don’t know them, and will then have to provide reasonable-seeming motivations for them to do something out of keeping with those newly-established characters without making it seem like forced, unmotivated writerly fiat. I have some suspicions that this won’t work well.
I think that honestly, this should either have come much later in the development of the DC Cinematic Universe (assuming such a thing doesn’t die a quick death over the performance of ‘Batman v Superman’), or it should have been an ongoing TV series. A series would have given them more room to develop the characters initially and made their transition to wherever they’ll be going as personalities seem more natural. That said, I’m not writing off the movie even with these questions hanging over it. Even the muddy gray-and-brown color palette isn’t enough to make me give up on it just yet.
But if Amanda Waller says in the next trailer, “Actually, it’s more like…a squad,” I’m gone.
Hi all! This post is slightly delayed as I was spending last weekend attending CONvergence (which is, to the best of my knowledge, the largest entirely volunteer-run convention in the country). While there, in addition to all the other things I was doing, I saw a trailer for ‘Suicide Squad’, which I didn’t even realize had gotten far enough along yet to get a teaser.
Now, I will freely admit that the folks showing the trailers did include a few clear parody trailers like “George Lucas Strikes Back”. So it may have been a fan-made trailer. On the other hand, it certainly looked, in the opening scene, like we were getting original footage of Will Smith, which makes me suspect it was real. On the other other hand, it looked astonishingly terrible. In the opening sequence, Amanda Waller says that she’s putting together an elite unit. She then pauses and says, “Actually…it’s more of a SQUAD.” Then she looks at the camera and says, “A SQUAD, get it people? SQUAD, as in ‘Suicide SQUAD’? Eh? Eh?” (Okay, she doesn’t actually do that last part. If she did, it’d be easier to know that this was a fake trailer.)
My question is: Has anyone else seen this trailer? Is it real? Is it fake? If it’s real, did it tank your hopes for the ‘Suicide Squad’ movie the same way it did mine? Please let me know in the comments!
As I’m sure you’re at least dimly aware if you read this blog, Marvel is…decidedly NOT rebooting the Marvel Universe! Because Marvel never does that! That’s the sort of thing DC does, heh heh heh. We’d never ever do a ‘Crisis’ style reboot, not when we can just mush all of the parallel universes together and then pull them apart into a new continuity! It’s totally not the same thing HEY LOOK A RARE THREE-BILLED WOODPECKER! **runs away**
(Or so I imagine Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso saying.)
The point is, we’ve got a new Marvel Universe coming up, one which is totally going to make sense and be internally consistent and not be an attempt to bury any bad decisions they might have made under the rug, and I for one am looking forward to it! But as a fan, of course, I have a deeply-held sense of entitlement that must be catered to, and as such I have certain very particular expectations for the new Marvel Universe. I am setting down my demands now, with the implied threat that I will go on Internet message boards and declare for all to hear that the new comics “suck”. (This is not an idle threat, Marvel.) To wit:
1) Starlord needs to get his own pack of semi-tame velociraptors. Actually, come to think of it, while I’m not demanding that every Marvel character get their very own pack of semi-tame velociraptors, I wouldn’t say no to it.
2) New series: The Amazing Chipmunk Hunk. Additional new series: The Spectacular Chipmunk Hunk. Possible additional new series: Nuts of Chipmunk Hunk? (Maybe not that last one. We’ll discuss it.)
3) Bring back the Sentry. Then kill him off again, in an even more painful and ignominious fashion.
4) Bring back the Spider-Marriage. Then bring back Gwen Stacy and have her marry Peter too. Then have Betty Brant, Liz Allan, Felicia Hardy and Deb Whitman all marry him as well due to a series of wacky misunderstandings, turning the series into an anime-style harem comic.
5) Grumpy Old Wolverine should have a new series where he’s joined by an angel (not Warren Worthington, an actual angel) and they travel the American Heartland learning lessons about sharing and kindness.
6) A monthly comic that is entirely Kamala Khan’s illustrated fan-fiction about the Marvel Universe. Wouldn’t that be so awesomely meta that you’d freak?
7) Less Deadpool. Maybe knock it down to six, seven appearances a month, tops?
8) More alternate reality Gwen Stacies. In specific, I demand the Uncanny X-Gwen, the Gwenvengers, and Gwenpool. (She can be one of the six or seven.) Also, look into some sort of Spider-Gwen/Spider-Ham mashup? Just brainstorming here.
9) New series: ‘Shirtless Loki’. Not for me, but I know a few fans who’ve been asking for it.
Last but not least:
10) Look, would it kill ya to bring back US-1? I got a feeling that Citizens Band radio is coming back in a big way, here. Maybe include Razorback as a supporting character for added sizzle.