Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Thoughts on artificial gravity

Last week I was watching the prestige science fiction film Arrival and it made me think about Star Trek and Star Wars.

Wait - stop! No, come back! Hear me out!

In Arrival the mysterious alien ships visiting Earth can be accessed by their human visitors through a sort of airlock. Because the ship has artificial gravity on board this causes people entering the ship to suddenly float at a right-angle as they shift from Earth's gravity to that of the ship's.

It's a moment meant to emphasize the strangeness of encountering another species but it caused me to reflect on how this science is normally used in science fiction. Some science fiction avoids the question of gravity aboard ships at all, preferring zero-gravity environments. But in Star Trek and Star Wars, the world's two most popular science fiction franchises, artificial gravity is a given.

The issues surrounding artificial gravity rarely come up on Star Trek. From time to time there would be a gravity failure on one of the ships. Enterprise, being the series set at the chronologically earliest point of the franchise, played with gravity a little more than the others - there were certain gravity glitches the characters would experience.

Yet Enterprise ignored an idea which Arrival explored - what about the airlock? That series frequently had alien visitors board the ship through its airlock (as transporter technology wasn't fully reliable). What would have happened if a visiting ship had to dock at a 90 degree angle because of its physical shape? What would a boarding sequence look like in that instance?

But then I began to think about artificial gravity in Star Wars and realized, "oh yeah - they have that too." Many have argued Star Wars is more fantasy than science fiction and I'm afraid I'm about to repeat that argument. Space and technology in the Star Wars films is extremely familiar and lived-in. Everyone is accustomed to being around some 200 different species at any given time, traveling through space at faster-than-light speeds is a given and the franchise's most popular vehicle is deemed "a piece of junk" by its universe's standards.

Where I would say Arrival and Star Trek hold concepts in common is that the characters experience a sense of awe and wonder as they're exposed to the wider universe. In Star Wars, all of the awe and wonder is calculated as an effect upon the audience, not so much as to be experienced by the characters. That is, we in the audience are supposed to think the Millennium Falcon is cool; those in the film do not.

What would exploration even look like in the Star Wars universe? It seems as though everything in that franchise has to be somehow connected to the Force. If you're mastering the Force, what else could the universe offer you? Among their thousands of culturally-acclimated aliens, why would people in the Star Wars universe want to go seeking another race? What purpose do planets serve in the Star Wars universe beyond military and commercial ventures?

The aliens in Arrival possess certain abilities (no spoilers offered) and the knowledge they carry changes the course of humanity. In Star Trek, various aliens have been shown to possess different abilities or cultural values which provide interesting contrasts against humanity's (one notable Trek race has the same abilities as the Arrival aliens). But in Star Wars, the only people credited with particular powers or beliefs worth coveting are those who use the Force. It is, as David Brin has argued, a pro-elitist perspective. For all that multiculturalism seems to be a universal norm in Star Wars (outside of the very British Imperials) the Force divides the universe into haves and have-nots. To paraphrase George Orwell, in Star Wars all people are equal but some are more equal than others.

And that's what the artificial gravity made me think of. Even Gravity didn't inspire me to think this much about gravity.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Rest in Peace June Foray

99 years is a pretty good run.

June Foray was one of the last living legends of the Old-Time Radio era. She was also a beloved voice actress in animation (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes) but radio sharpened my appreciation for her talents. She collaborated many times over the decades with Stan Freberg, including as a featured player on his all-too-brief Stan Freberg Show in 1957. You can hear the entire series at archive.org and I highly recommend you listen to them all - it was one of radio's funniest comedy programs.

She appeared all over radio - Family Theater, Lux Radio Theater, Command Performance, Favorite Story, CBS Radio Workshop, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. She also performed in an episode of my favourite radio series Suspense - the 1956 version of "The Man Who Stole the Bible."

Thanks for the laughs, Ms. Foray.

Friday, July 21, 2017

"Now let's be perfectly clear, here." The Divided States of Hysteria #1-2 review

Although a tag for Howard Victor Chaykin already exists on this blog from previous articles I am not exactly a Chaykin fan. Most of the Chaykin comics I have read over the years have been stories he drew and someone else wrote. Of those stories I read which Chaykin did write & draw, I didn't find that they held my interest.

Chaykin has certainly been talked about in the comic book industry lately due to his new Image series The Divided States of Hysteria. Who would have thought a series with that title would rattle people's cages? Indeed, in an editorial found in issue #1 Chaykin recalls the first announcement of this series at Image Expo being greeted by "a neutral, mostly uninterested audience." That changed when issue #1 came out and several people (many of them comics industry professionals) were outraged by its contents, followed by a second outrage at the preview art for issue #4's cover, which resulted in a change of covers. All of that hit before issue #2 had even come out!

I attempted to follow the discussion but what I found difficult to ascertain was what exactly it was about issue #1 that people had a problem with. No one was posting panels or quoting dialogue to show what they hated. In fact, the response seemed to be "it's so terrible I can't even begin to tell you, so I won't." Lacking this context, I became more and more interested in the series. I hadn't paid attention to any of the promotion - I read the Image solicitations every month and the solicits for The Divided States of Hysteria left no impression on me. But now I was learning what it was about and that was... intriguing. I am, certainly, a reader willing to indulge viewpoints I don't agree with - witness my previous entries on this blog re: Steve Ditko or Dave Sim. Issue #1 was sold out but a 2nd print came out to coincide with issue #2.

Above all, The Divided States of Hysteria is an exercise in venting. This is an angry comic written by an angry man - an angry liberal man who sees much to be outraged by. The reaction to this series, then, is an outrage against outrage over the thing which outrages both groups. It is almost impossible to keep from seeing the content of this series (and the reaction to it) as emblematic of the ugly side of the USA as seen in last year's election. In The Divided States of Hysteria, one liberal points his finger and says, "Look at this hellhole we live in!" And his peers gasp, "How dare you draw our attention to that!"

But what is The Divided States of Hysteria actually about? It is set in the near-future shortly after the US President (presumably Trump) and most of his cabinet have been assassinated, but this has only led to even worse things for the state of the nation as people become more and more divided (hence the title). The central protagonist is Frank Villa, a Pentagon official who learns of a looming terrorist attack and fails to avert catastrophe. Consequently he loses his government job and is hired by a private firm to put together a team of operatives to hunt down the people responsible for the attack (a consortium of Muslim, black supremacist and white supremacist allies-of-convenience).

Villa's four operatives are introduced in issue #1 and recruited at the end of issue #2. Each is in prison when Villa finds them: Henry Noone is a black supremacist who went on killing spree which targeted only white people (obviously drawn from recent real life "anti-white" gunmen in the USA); Christopher Silver appears to be a transvestite sex worker who was assaulted by her three johns and shot them all to death; Paul Berg is an expert poisoner who preys on wealthy people ("the 1%" as he calls them); Cesare Nacamulli is a serial killer who targets random people to avoid forming identifiable patterns.

It's the character of Christopher Silver who provoked the aforementioned outrage. It's actually a little difficult to pin down Christopher's gender but she appears to be a man in women's clothing (no surgery); I use the term 'her' because it's what the story uses. She's introduced in a three-page sequence in #1 where she's seen with her three johns, who feign outrage upon 'discovering' she has a penis (Silver notes in her narration they knew that when they hired her and were pretending so that they could claim the "trap defense"). When the trio begin beating her she takes a gun from her purse and shoots them all dead. Christopher stands apart from the others because her punishment is unjust - she acted in self-defense, whereas the other three prisoners were sociopaths preying upon others: white people (Noone), the wealthy (Berg) or strangers (Nacamulli). Silver is picked for Villa's team not because she's in the same league as the others, but because the johns she killed were coincidentally linked to the terrorist network.

I can't bring myself to be outraged by the treatment of Silver because the story's perspective is that Christopher Silver was wronged. She is granted a righteousness the other anti-hero protagonists do not possess. For all I know, she'll turn out to be the conscience of this series (or then again, maybe there is no conscience). Chaykin has called this a "revenge story" so it stands to reason that the person who was wronged will attain vengeance by the tale's climax. I understand people speaking out against this comic book because they don't want to read it - they shouldn't. I can't bring myself to agree with those who don't want this book to exist - there, I must side with Chaykin's remark: "I’m being impugned from my side of the aisle–by the sort of people who say such things as “I’m all for artistic expression, but…” It’s that “but” that undercuts all that “…all for…” No, you’re not really. If that were the case, there’d be no buts."

I'm afraid my problems with The Divided States of Hysteria will be of little interest to anyone. Chaykin has a bad habit lately of abusing his pages with Photoshop. A behind-the-scenes feature in issue #1 shows the transformation of a page of Chaykin's pencils into the finished product and I much prefer the lines on the penciled page - whenever a Photoshop background or graphic is used it's wicked obvious and jarring. The use of computer-generated imagery to fill in details feels cheap, which I'm sure is intentional - Chaykin spent time with Wally Wood early in his career and one of Wood's mantras to his apprentices was "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up." Wood would have loved Photoshop. Further confounding are the two kinds of lettering boxes, seen below:

First there's the blue narration boxes which look like they belong on a 1999 Geocities page (so says the owner of a 1999 Geocities page), then there are the speech balloons with their tiny, near-invisible tails which cause momentary confusion when trying to follow which person in the conversation is speaking. I've called out Chaykin's comics for this one before and I'm afraid I must again - letterer Ken Bruzenak: you are my least favourite part of this comic book. Your lettering consistently interferes with my ability to follow the story being told, which is just about the last thing lettering should do.

Perhaps because I am not a citizen of the USA I have a few degrees of removal from their toxic political culture and can better enjoy this book as an outlet of liberal rage. Certainly when I think about the state of politics in the US, I get a bit angry; mostly depressed. I am not one who normally advocates on behalf of offensive/provocative art - I say, 'well, I agree in principle with its right to express itself but I sure don't want to read it.' I don't enjoy exploitation films, the exploitation 'homages' of Tarantino, 'rape revenge' films, splatter films or 'torture porn'; I was never an angry youth so I never enjoyed young angry music. Yet here I've read these two issues for sake of getting better informed on the controversy and find myself interested in following the plot. Weirdly, then, for the first time in my life I find myself reading a Howard Chaykin comic book I'm willing to follow regularly. Uh... thanks, people who wanted this story banned!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Another article up at Hugo Award Book Club

This time I've written an article about robots entitled 'Who Own the Robot?' This one was intended to provoke a little discussion so you are most welcome to head over and comment (I will be monitoring comments both here & there).

Sunday, July 2, 2017

New essay up at Hugo Book Club

The Hugo Book Club blog has graciously published an essay I wrote about science fiction. The essay is about the many science fiction authors who have dabbled with pseudoscience and cultish beliefs. It's entitled "Pseudoscience, Belief and Science Fiction." Check out the blog, they have a wealth of knowledge about science fiction past and present.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On being Canadian

Some say we Canadians have no national identity - that our culture is too fluid, mercurial to be defined. Others claim we are only defined in the ways we differ from our neighbours to the south. Perhaps we spend too much breath protesting our independence from the UK and difference from the USA. It seems at times as though Canada is defined primarily by bilingual signage, kilometers, maple syrup and hockey.

My own Canadian experience has been spent in the province of Alberta, never residing in any other province or territory, never visiting the north territories, never venturing further east than Quebec. I'm from the province of cows, oil and gas, the supposedly Conservative stronghold (recently, said stronghold has rather crumbled). The redneck province, living in the city where guests are invited to don white cowboy hats.

I grew up thinking myself rather conservative, yet never understood the 'redneck' culture. I grew up in a small town with a 12 acre property, but I didn't wear cowboy hats, I couldn't stand country music, I didn't enjoy watching rodeos, feared riding horses and I didn't drink until I was an adult - and even then, it look me years to find a taste for beer. As to oil & gas? The two years I spent working in that sector gave me valuable experience but my employer was simply terrible; it was dispiriting place to work.

My city will soon be invaded by swarms of those who wish to see the Calgary Stampede, to watch chuckwagon races and hear popular bands. In the 19 years I've lived in this city I've visited the Stampede all of once. If that were the epitome of Calgary culture I would feel very distanced indeed.

But this is Canada. I've never identified myself to a particular political party (instead, I call myself 'centrist') and I love that. I have voted for virtually every political party possible, even parties which clearly had no hope of winning a seat, provided I agreed with their platform. I like my national anthem and I feel proud when I sing it at a hockey game. When I visit Africa I wear the Canadian flag on my luggage and pinned to my shirt because I'm proud to let them know where I hail from. In turn, I've found that those nations like my own.

I have Canadian heroes: Romeo Dallaire, Lester B. Pearson, my uncle Dr. Stephen Foster, William Shatner, Dr. James Orbinski and James Turner. As a comic book fan I've taken pride in this nation being home to one of comicdom's most popular super heroes, Wolverine; birthplace to Joe Shuster, one-half of the team who created super heroes; and to Dave Sim's 300 issues of Cerebus, a landmark in independent publishing. Heck, in comics Canada has everyone from Kate Beaton to Guy Delisle.

Canada has been good to me. I think I've been good to Canada. Happy Canada Day, my friend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fiction that won me back

People who know me know that I'm extremely picky and stubborn like a mule. When I get a notion into my head I'm loathe to reverse my position. Growing up, I was a terrible problem for my family whenever they wanted to see a movie in the theater because I would veto most of what the cinemas were offering. And once I decided I didn't like something, I would remain steadfast in my resolve.

This being so, let's look at three times where I had set myself against a project - only to be won back.

I watched a fair bit of Mission: Impossible growing up, starting with the 1980s revival series, then seeing the original program when it ran in reruns on FX. It was often an uneven series (particularly in the later years) but there are many episodes which I can point to as great television. The series also had a great number of repeated tropes, moments which would appear in virtually every episode and so would be anticipated each time - and then surprised in those episodes which didn't follow the typical Mission: Impossible formula.

I did not like Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. Oh, how much did I not like this film. As a Mission: Impossible fan, I simply couldn't stand seeing the program's hero - Jim Phelps - turned into a villain then thrown under the bus in order to promote Tom Cruise as the new hero. This film angered me, so much so that I couldn't appreciate any of the craft which went into its much-admired stunts.

Many years later I found myself on a flight from Canada to Sierra Leone and noticed Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol among the in-flight entertainment. After getting through the films I really wanted to see, I lowered my expectations in order to give Ghost Protocol a shot. I reasoned that while it wouldn't be the Mission: Impossible I enjoyed, as it was directed by a director I enjoyed (Brad Bird) maybe I'd get something out of it. I was won over by the time the opening credits rolled.

The bongo music - the fuse moving across the screen - the clips of upcoming moments - wow. Instantly, I gleaned that Brad Bird might have been a fan of the original series. I became immersed in that film and enjoyed that it was - like the original series - an ensemble piece (that is, less of a Tom Cruise vehicle). So many of the trademarks of the television program were present, from stealth gadgets to changing room numbers to trick people. I enjoyed this film so much I went to see Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation on its opening weekend! Ghost Protocol remains a film I would happily watch again.

I came somewhat late into Star Trek fandom, arriving just as Star Trek: Voyager launched. I went back to catch all that I had missed and soon found there were episodes I liked, other episodes not-so-much, characters I liked, characters I loathed. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine became my favourite of the franchise I still watched Voyager to the end - gradually realizing it wasn't that great, often viewing it from a sense of inertia and seldom engaged with the stories, but it wasn't bad enough to switch channels.

Then came Enterprise. Although I had misgivings about the series' approach to continuity, I respected that the program wanted to break out of the usual tropes and find a new angle on the Trek formula in order to attract a wider audience. I gave the first season some rope and found it likeable enough. That changed with season 2, particularly with the notorious "A Night in Sickbay" episode, but also a series of other similarly lousy programs. I gave up partway into the season and decided I was done with Trek. I ignored what I heard about the show's changes in seasons 3 & 4.

One day, a friend eagerly insisted I watch the season 4 two-parter "A Mirror Darkly." I spent a great deal of time laughing at the over-the-top performances and the audacious number of references to classic Trek. This convinced me to go back and see the rest of season 4 to discover what the series' new showrunner (Manny Coto) had done to improve the series. I ultimately judged he had made the show a solid good program and felt better about how Trek's TV franchise wound up. Still, some fans insisted the show had actually become good in season 3. Eventually I would watch everything I had missed (including more of the lousy season 2 episodes) and concluded that it had actually become decent near the end of season 2 and even hit an all-time high during its 3rd season. Enterprise didn't deserve a better chance - simply being Star Trek gave it a better chance than most programs - but, like every Trek program, if you ignore the really bad episodes it's not such an awful series.

Finally, Star Wars. I've blogged before about how Star Wars was a very important franchise to me in my childhood but how I began to feel disinterested even before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released. That feeling continued throughout the era of prequel films. I recognized the product as a legitimate Star Wars offering, yet had a sense of disassociation, not feeling any emotion about seeing the product. This finally changed when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which offered some compelling new characters alongside a hefty dose of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is the common bond between these franchises. To win me back to Mission: Impossible, it took an homage to the original series opening; for Enterprise, it was bringing in the Mirror Universe; for Star Wars, it was familiar characters and situations. But I would say in each instance nostalgia was a means to an end, not a means unto itself. Beyond the nostalgia I sensed in the opening of Ghost Protocol, I enjoyed the risky stunts and character interplay. Enterprise dug deep into franchise lore for its 4th season, but it also worked hard to rehabilitate its own characters, particularly by calling out its lead character (Jonathan Archer) for his sins. Finally, The Force Awakens trod upon familiar soil, but it was the new character Finn who gave me hope for the franchise's future.

How about you? Is there a series or franchise which you came to dislike, then found yourself being won back?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Roadblock and the Art of Smothering Explosives

Here's a great scene from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #29 (1984) by Larry Hama, Frank Springer and Andy Mushynsky. The scenario: Cobra has planted a bomb on the boat the G.I. Joe team is gathering aboard. It is discovered by the Joes' expert explosives defuser Tripwire. Hama endowed each of the G.I. Joes he wrote with a particular unique personality trait to set them apart; Tripwire was notorious in the series for being extremely clumsy, seemingly the last person you would want to see working with explosives - but when at work in the field, Tripwire would become intense and determined. This scene gives us Tripwire's attempt at being heroic. He flings himself upon the bomb:

It sure looks like good ol' Tripwire is about to go out in a blaze of glory, right? At least his comrades will be safe - assuming his body could shield a bomb intended to destroy an entire vessel. Unlikely, I guess. But behold how his teammate Roadblock reacts:

Roadblock takes the bomb from Tripwire and punts out the nearest vent, causing it to explode in the ocean. He then gently reprimands Tripwire for his actions:

"That took a lot of heart back there, Tripwire, but don't do it again! Uncle Sam paid megabucks to train you to fight with a team. A dead hero don't do his buddies no good and medals ain't no shinier when they're posthumous."

Well said, Roadblock. Come with me now to G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #233 (2017) by Larry Hama, S. L. Gallant and Brian Shearer. The scenario: A terrorist has just lobbed a grenade into Roadblock and Duke's vehicle. Roadblock catches the grenade midair and smashes out of the car to get rid of the grenade; problem: they're in the middle of a crowded marketplace with civilians everywhere. There's no safe place to dispose of the grenade!

How to shield the civilians from the blast? Roadblock simply places the car door over the grenade to smother the explosion. This works.

So 33 years ago Roadblock should have followed up his speech to Tripwire with: "...Now maybe if you had a car door with you, that would be something..."

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Defense of "Oceans"

Yesterday my church introduced a new song to our congregation - "new" being a very relative term. "Oceans (Where My Feet May Fail)" was written by Matt Crocker, Joel Houston & Salomon Ligthelm of the band Hillsong United in 2013. It's been a popular Christian tune over the past four years; it took this long for someone in my church's worship team to suggest performing it.

The song was already on my mind because of an article I had seen on a Christian blog: "Hillsong's "Oceans" (Where This Song Fails)" by Jonathan Aigner. I did not agree with his conclusions about the song and with "Oceans" entering my church's repertoire, the time seems right to respond.

The tone of Aigner's article is very troubling for a Christian blogger speaking to a Christian audience about Christian worship. The opening paragraphs are full of snark and presume the audience already shares the blogger's opinion of the song ("If you’ve been in contemporary worship circles, you already get what I’m talking about"). He then relates an anecdote about how he first learned of the song from a teacher, including as many dismissive and condescending remarks as he can ("...I said, wanting to be supportive..." "...she probably didn't know the difference").

But then he gets into his criticisms, beginning by complaining that the song doesn't rhyme. He states "on the most basic level, this is terrible poetry," having no apparent appreciation for free verse - it is a valid form of poetry and common to contemporary worship. I understand that he doesn't like it but he presents his opinion of contemporary worship as though it were something quantifiable or canonical. His distaste for the song is evident in the anecdote about the teacher, as is the relish he takes in tearing down something he knows other people enjoy.

He goes into some lyrical analysis which is astoundingly off-base. He complains that "I thought we were trying to walk on water, which will fail of course, because we aren’t Jesus." I don't know what denomination he belongs to but it is not impossible for us to do perform the miracles of Jesus for we "can do all things through Him who strengthens." (Philippians 4:13). Further, the phrasing is "let me walk upon the waters," which is a prayer, something we want to see accomplished. He also complains about following this lyric with the phrase "take me deeper," suggesting that this indicates drowning. "Deep" is referring to a more profound understanding of Christ, not a vertical direction.

He complains next about the word "I" being too common. Amazingly, his next section complains about the use of the Spirit which is pretty important to the context of the "I"s: "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders." As well, throughout the song are the "yous" - "I will call upon Your name," "I am Yours and You are mine," "Your sovereign hand will be my guide," etc. This doesn't seem to be bad theology to me - I am not a singer, songwriter, musician or theologian but the song is talking about setting out under the direction of the Holy Spirit and that we have no borders - that the titular oceans need not impede us. As someone who has stepped out into the world (across the ocean, in fact) on mission work and has had his trust in God strengthened through those experiences I think I could pray to this song.

The blogger closes his post by noting Hillsong Church isn't currently playing "Oceans" (or another popular song of theirs "Shout to the Lord"). He presents this as some proof of the song's irrelevancy. He ignores that the reason the song has left rotation there is that the band is constantly writing new material. Songs fade in and out at churches across the world; my church does not perform the hymn "Lift High the Cross," but that's not a slight against that old ditty - it's a great hymn, but it's not quite right for the current environment of my church. It is right for other churches. One can only fit so many songs into the set lists in the course of a year!

Above all, I have to return to the tone of this blog post. Christ left us instructions for how to love each other (John 15:9-17) and to deal with those among us who sin (Matthew 18:15-20). Unfortunately, he did not address those occasions when we will wish to write snarky criticisms of our brothers and the way in which they worship. Again, I am not a theologian but I will suggest Jesus wouldn't care for it.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

It's a Wonderful Woman (Wonder Woman film review)

At the dawn of the 21st century - before Marvel's super heroes came to wider audience awareness - Wonder Woman was one of the world's top three best-known super heroes alongside her DC pals Superman & Batman. Although her comic book had never been a sustained hit and her television exposure limited to a live-action show and a few cartoons, Wonder Woman was extremely well-represented in licensing and, due to her continuous presence and prominence in comics, became the go-to reference for discussions about female super heroes.

Although I know a lot about Wonder Woman, I've never been a fan. Heck, I've read about 12 issues of Wonder Woman taken as a whole and most of those were George Perez issues. I haven't read so much as a comma from Greg Rucka's work. I suppose you can chalk it up to my being a Marvel fan, coupled with the generally underwhelming reception much of her recent work has received. I've also kept away from the latest attempt at creating the DC Cinematic Universe and had no intention of watching the Wonder Woman film - until a week ago when there was a tempest in a teapot about misogynists trying to label the film anti-male. I chose to counter that by giving the film my money (strangely, the people who are against this film have also chosen to fight it by giving it more money).

While I have no particular interest in Wonder Woman as a fan, that at least frees me from many of the anticipations fans would have about how she's portrayed. Let's assume I'll be talking *SPOILERS* here on out.

Part of what I enjoyed about the film Captain America: The First Avenger is that it was set during World War II, the conflict which spawned an immense flurry of comic book super heroes, yet had been largely excised from the big screen adaptations of said heroes up until then. Upon hearing Wonder Woman would be set during the first World War instead of the second, I assumed it was an attempt to avoid comparisons to Captain America: The First Avenger. However, Darren Mooney made a good case for the idea that the first World War was better suited to the mission statement of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was, after all, a character created to oppose not only the 2nd World War but the very concept of war.

The problem, then, with World War II is that it is less open to anti-war criticism, especially in the mode of a blockbuster super hero action film. Although both sides in the 2nd World War committed atrocities, the sheer magnitude of what the Japanese did to the Chinese and the Germans to the Jews renders any attempt to criticize the Allies' behaviour as 'unfair.' On the other hand, World War I has long-since been absorbed into popular thought as an unnecessary and pointless bloodbath of carnage which was so badly botched that it spawned a whole other terrible conflict. Thus, in Wonder Woman our hero is allowed to be against the Germans, yet appalled by the Allied leaders speaking callously about casualties. Popular culture has only really remembered two stories about the 1st World War: All Quiet on the Western Front and Blackadder Goes Forth; Wonder Woman will make sense to anyone who is familiar with those works.

What I appreciated the most about the film's characterization of Wonder Woman is that she was incredibly earnest. It's a quality I personally appreciate in super heroes such as Superman and Captain America - the idea that they're nice people, a bit naive but very trusting and trustworthy. The story itself is very accessible, standing alone as an origin story that doesn't feel the compulsion to intentionally set up future films. This seems to me to be what DC should have been doing all along and will hopefully inspire them to make a bit of course-correcting for their coming films. It's not filled with sarcastic remarks like so many of the Marvel films, but it's not oh-so self-serious either. The film understands it has a fantastic premise (woman raised on all-female island created by the gods) and treats it like a great Greek myth instead of a dour Greek tragedy.

In recent years it's become very popular to depict Wonder Woman with a sword and shield, playing up the idea of her as a rough warrior woman. I've had some problems with that as I've always thought she was powerful enough to handle enemies without needing to kill them, y'know, like Superman (*ahem*). I suppose a shield is fine, but seems derivative of Captain America. Yet, behold! By the climax of Wonder Woman she's shed the shield and sword and the final battle with Ares is conducted using her traditional equipment - her fists, her bracelets and her lasso of truth. Bravo!

The fight scenes certainly remind one Zack Snyder is a major part of this film series as the speed-up/slow-down stuff felt right out of 300; I actually enjoyed most of them, particularly a scene where she slow-mo dodged a sword thrust while kicking a man in the head. However, a scene near the end where she went into slow-motion while piling through a bunch of Germans felt like it was sapping energy from the climax instead of ratcheting up the tension.

Steve Trevor was handled very well, treated as a decent, likeable guy. I wondered at times if the climax would go for the he's-old-she's-young development (as in Justice League's "Savage Time") but his purpose in the film - demonstrating the good aspects of humanity for Wonder Woman - was nicely played. It's a pity this is his only film appearance; guess she'll need a new love interest next time she gets a solo film. And how about that, look at the box office! There's totally going to be another one of these. Warners, now that you've raised people's expectations don't screw up again.

I suppose there are three things I could nitpick:

  1. Diana is never called Wonder Woman, thus joining the ranks of other super hero characters who try to play down their codenames (Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Falcon). It's a little weird considering the film committed to a reasonably faithful bright red/blue Wonder Woman suit and as it was set in the past it would have seemed... less corny, I guess. (having grown up with super hero comics I never find this stuff corny)
  2. When the film didn't open with Diana's creation as a clay statue (instead referring to it) I wondered if they were going to go with the more recent retcon where she's the daughter of Zeus, and I became convinced the moment Hippolyta began uttering ominous things about Diana's origin. The thing is, it doesn't matter. Zeus is dead. Statue given life by Zeus or daughter of Zeus, what's the difference? I guess as the daughter of Zeus it places here on more even footing with Ares but the "shocking revelation" about her parentage didn't change anything. (I also guessed she was the god-killer; you grow up with these tropes, you stop getting surprised)
  3. The moment David Thewlis appeared I instantly went, "bad guy?" The man simply has that look about him. Now, if the character had been played by Patton Oswalt I wouldn't have suspected a thing (don't know how believable Patton Oswalt would look firing lightning from his hands).

Did you like Wonder Woman? Has it changed your mind about the future of the DC Cinematic Universe? Do you know more about the comics and have some perspective on that? Don't be shy, I'm easy to speak to; comment below.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Hey, Hugo!

A friend of mine recently obtained a bit of research on the state of comics over the past few years so that he could compose a pair of blog entries about the Hugo Awards' category for 'Best Graphic Story.' It's not too long so if you'd care to check it out you'll find part 1 here and part 2 here!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Coming in September: Bloodstone & the Legion of Monsters!

Another trade paperback collection featuring one of the first Marvel comics I served on as head coordinator: Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone. Tying that book into Bloodstone has finally paid off!



The MU's most marvelous monster-hunter — unleashed! And she's brought along a few friends... When young Elsa Bloodstone learns her father was legendary creature-killer Ulysses Bloodstone, she soon discovers that blood runs thicker than water! With her father's powerful gem around her neck, Elsa takes up the family business — so look out, Dracula & Co.! Watch Elsa kick beastly behind with her NextWave pal Boom Boom and her own team of groovy ghoulies, the Legion of Monsters! Plus: Discover the full scope of the Bloodstone legacy with astonishing tales from the files of Ulysses himself! Collecting BLOODSTONE #1-4, ASTONISHING TALES: BOOM BOOM AND ELSA, LEGION OF MONSTERS (2011) #1-4, MARVEL PRESENTS #1-2, MARVEL MONSTERS: FROM THE FILES OF ULYSSES BLOODSTONE & THE MONSTER HUNTERS and material from MARVEL ASSISTANT-SIZED SPECTACULAR #2 and GIRL COMICS (2010) #2. 312 PGS./Rated T+ ...$34.99 ISBN: 978-1-302-90802-7

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

RIP Rich Buckler

On May 19, comic book artist Rich Buckler passed away. He had a long career in the medium but was never upheld as one of the industry's leading artists, perhaps because he carried his influences - Jack Kirby & Jim Steranko - a little too obviously upon his sleeve. He's best-known for creating Deathlok, the original cyborg soldier of the future. It was during his Deathlok stories that he also created a fellow named Devil-Slayer whom you may remember from a post I wrote; Buckler liked Devil-Slayer so much, he created him three times!

For myself, I'm most pleased to recall Buckler's time as the original artist of All-Star Squadron with writer Roy Thomas. Although Buckler left within a year, he set the tone for that title's six year run. Most of the fans & pros eulogizing Buckler call Deathlok his finest hour and I won't disagree, but in terms of comic books which had a foundational impact on how I approach super heroes, All-Star Squadron looms large within the canon. Rest well Mr. Buckler.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Looking back on my first thousand

This seems like a fine time for me to reminisce about the history of this blog. Initially I didn't have much to share on the blog outside of advertising my Marvel Comics publications; I never felt comfortable talking about what went on behind-the-scenes there - and I still don't. The blog has no particular focus - it's about comics, primarily - films, secondarily - old-time radio, tertiarily - and whatever else beyond that.

But thanks to my friend Colin Smith I became inspired to write about comics on a more meaningful level and more fully discuss what I found enjoyable about the medium; my essay "Why Do I Like Super Heroes?" is probably the best of those. I am also proud of my opinionated editorial "The Quality of Mercy." Probably the two most important works on this blog are my first "Unearthed" entry, a review of All-Star Comics #62, which began my occasional forays into comic book back issues; the other being my long list of creator credits for the 2012 Avengers movie, which began my regular feature on crediting the people who developed ideas seen in super hero films.

I've written many decent essays about comics history; the best of them ran through topics such as the shape of Dr. Strange's eyes, adaptations of John Dickson Carr in Suspense comics, a defense of Steve Ditko's Speedball, exposing the many art swipes in Ross Saakel's Captain Wonder, a multi-part feature "The Troubles of X-Factor", another multi-part feature looking back at Roy Thomas & Howard Chaykin's Star Wars, a multi-part feature on Captain America & Iron Man's hostility, and examining the sources which inspired Iron Fist.

Beyond that I was very pleased to write an article expressing my fascination with the character of Karamaneh, a look at episodes of the Jack Benny Program without Jack Benny, comparing Chaplin to Gandhi and my Star Wars Episode I anecdote.

This blog will continue to be what it is; views have increased steadily in the last year and while comments are scarce, I'd happily keep blogging into oblivion regardless of the impact it has; it's been a fine release of various tensions inside me over the years. Thank you for indulging me.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What is funny? (1,000th post!)

Do you like to laugh? Sure, we all do. When people discuss what makes them laugh the word "subjective" tends to appear, as though comedy were the most subjective of all forms of entertainment. We don't all agree on what is sad, frightening or thrilling either, but comedy is the whipping boy. Perhaps this is because if you don't believe that, say, a ghost story is scary you might still be entertained by it in some other way; but when comedy is not funny it is considered less than worthless.

I have come to realize I am a particularly prickly person where comedy is concerned. I like what I like; I don't put much effort into discovering new comedies, whereas I do place some effort into exploring new horror stories, adventure stories, etc. I have seen maybe 1.5 episodes of Saturday Night Live; I've never gone to a live comedy show; I haven't watched sitcoms for a decade; I very seldom watch comedy films in the cinema.

Recently I was browsing Netflix to find something to watch - I wanted something light and enjoyable, so I browsed through comedy. I couldn't find anything that I thought I would enjoy except for those shows I had seen before. That got me thinking: what about all the things I do like? What do they have in common? Come with me and we'll see.


I've mentioned before that when I first became interested in old-time radio I listened for the science fiction/horror shows and skipped over the comedies, believing they would be old-fashioned and unfunny. And yet, I soon found one program which made me laugh: The Jack Benny Program. Jack Benny was a comic who knew his limitations - he couldn't master snappy patter. Thus, Jack's character was the schmuck instead of the wit; Jack's program constantly featured his supporting characters puncturing his ego, frequently to observe he was not as handsome, smart, funny or likeable as he believed himself to be - and I laughed because it seemed as though it were true and Jack deserved to be humiliated.

The wonderful, intangible part of Jack's routine was that his audience knew he was putting on an act, that "Jack Benny" was a false persona, yet he didn't break character (even Jack's ad-libs were very much on-point). I have found few other comedians so willing to put themselves down; to some extent, this is also what I enjoy about Robert Benchley's articles and short films; he would project an image of a dignified, urbane gentleman, but really he was another schmuck.

The Non Sequitur

How best to describe it... I like the snappy, witty remark, particularly when it is in stark contrast to the other party's statement ("the stooge"), and especially when it's surprising, totally unexpected; "non sequitur" seems to be the term which best describes it. I enjoy how authors such as P. G. Wodehouse & Damon Runyon would subvert genre expectations through clever dialogue and situations. I see this humour in my love for Groucho Marx's retorts:

This kind of humour tends to be heavily sarcastic or sardonic. The first party has come to play chess, but the second party arrives to play tennis - with a pogo stick - and demands the first party explain why he isn't similarly prepared. I was late in discovering Mystery Science Theater 3000, but its format of witty remarks and put-downs mixed with affectionate chiding truly spoke to me.

I've since come to learn, however, that one should not abuse their "witty" humour in public as it quickly becomes intolerable to friends. I've also learned how my idol Alfred Hitchcock used such remarks to disguise his own shyness; these remarks are basically a form of self-defense.


Over time I've learned I have low tolerance for the all-encompassing statement. I am the one who picks holes in every broad remark, noting the exceptions to each and every rule. I am similarly quick to note the cliches which infuse popular culture and when a masterpiece of satire appears - say, Stan Freberg, Cerebus, Monty Python, the Tick, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, Batton Lash - I nod in approval. The object being satirized need not be obvious; some of Bob & Ray's satire is best enjoyed when you are aware of their target (listen to at least one episode of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy before listening to one of their "Jack Headstrong, the All-American American" skits) and yet, even in this instance, a parody of a children's science show which I'm not familiar with, I recognize they were satirizing a particular format and style of programming; the satire is specific in its target but broad in its humour:

I've never read a Nancy Drew book in my life, but Kate Beaton has had great fun writing her own comics based on the covers of Nancy Drew novels:

Edgar Wright is perhaps the best currently-working film satirist, mocking the sitcom (Spaced), zombie genre (Shaun of the Dead) and crime story (Hot Fuzz).

Returning to self-deprecation, some satirists would satirize themselves; witness Edgar Allan Poe and his connected stories "How to Write a Blackwood's Article" & "A Predicament," or Michael Kupperman sending up the entire genre of comics:

Self-deprecation works well with satire - however, I'm not confident that simply doing the opposite of the source material is sufficiently funny. "Dracula, but stupid" is not a solid basis for a film. Great satire digs deeper than the surface and exposes the tired tropes and cliches behind the entire genre; it's Poe making fun of morality tales in "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"; it's Stan Freberg making fun of lawn mower commercials while selling lawn mowers; it's Bob and Ray selling you a suit that will not only save you money, but make you money!

Laugh, won't you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Now on Comixology: Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files

As of today, Comixology is selling digital copies of one of the first comic books I served on as head writer: Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files, a book released as part of the 2006 'Marvel Westerns' month-long event. Here's their promotional blurb:
Masked men, lawmen, dudes, owlhoots and vigilantes! From the battle of the Alamo to the dusty streets of Tombstone, the men and women of the West that was are finally unearthed in this scrapbook of memories from the personal collection of the modern-day Phantom Rider! Featuring entries on the Black Rider, Tex Dawson, Gunhawk, Kid Colt, the Masked Raider, the Outlaw Kid, the Phantom Rider, the Rawhide Kid, the Steam Rider, the Two-Gun Kid and more!

Buy the book here for $1.99!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Looking back at Superman: The Animated Series

I had begun the 1990s as a devoted fan of Marvel Comics, but by the mid-90s my interest in Marvel waned, and with it comics themselves. Around that time I began paying more attention to the animated television program Batman: The Animated Series. Although Batman was a character who I'd never particularly liked in comics and I was well out of reading DC titles I gradually came to admire the lush, stylish animation and the depth of storytelling on that series.

I was fortunate enough to flip over to the WB in time to see the premiere of Superman: The Animated Series, a program which I didn't realize had even been in the pipeline until I saw it on the screen. As opposed to Batman, Superman was indeed a character who I'd enjoyed in the comics and I was pleased to see the same creators who had led Batman (chiefly Bruce Timm) were bringing that same level of craft to the program.

During Superman's second season the program became The New Batman Superman Adventures as Batman moved from Fox to WB with brand-new episodes. The problem, however, was that I never knew when new episodes of either program would air and the merged title was now appearing 6 times a week on WB's schedule (Saturdays was often a 1.5 hour timeslot!). Various episode of both series slipped past me, until finally I went to college in '98 and didn't see the remaining episodes; Superman: The Animated Series aired its last new episode in 2000.

Recently I bought a DVD collection of the entire Superman: The Animated Series and it was somewhat revealing to see the episodes together in order. I feel that the show started off with a very strong first season, but the remaining years carried a lot of flab. Tim Daly voiced a fine, likeable Superman; Dana Delaney was a joy as a feisty, smart-mouthed Lois Lane; the other supporting characters were very recognizable, but tended to keep to the background (has anyone ever written a terrific Perry White story? if so, I haven't read it).

I think the problem with Superman: The Animated Series is its villains. Don't get me wrong, Clancy Brown is perfectly cast as Lex Luthor and Luthor's characterization (based on the Byrne-Wolfman interpretation) was spot-on; Corey Burton was great (perhaps underutilized?) as Brainiac and their concept of Brainiac being quasi-responsible for the destruction of Krypton was actually a pretty good revision of Superman's history; Malcolm McDowell had a fine voice for Metallo, though the villain only had a couple of good stories - as the creators noted, a villain who carries Kryptonite in his chest can end fights against Superman far too quickly.

But then there's the rest; I mean, they did their best with Parasite, I guess. The creators had done such a fine job making the villains on Batman: The Animated Series compelling that it's strange to see how many villains on Superman misfire. Of course, the creators didn't think too highly of Superman's comic book rogue's gallery; according to Bruce Timm:

"Once you get past them [Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, Parasite] suddenly you're in the realm of 50 year old guys who are a little overweight, wearing business suits."

There are other Superman villains from the comics who turned up on the show - Mr. Mxyzptlk was terrifically funny in his first episode; Bizarro was a great mixture of humour and pathos; Titano was... well, a giant ape (too bad they skipped on the Kryptonite vision, it's the most interesting thing about the comics version). Maxima was, for some reason, renovated into a joke character and Kirby homage, to the extent that she didn't resemble her comics counterpart much at all beyond wanting to mate with Superman. They used Phantom Zone villains but avoided General Zod for some reason (did they think he was overexposed?).

But as to those overweight guys in business suits, Toyman was completely renovated into (as the creators noted) a veritable Batman villain (it's surprising he never teamed up with their Mad Hatter or Baby Doll). The other Superman foes of that type (Prankster, Puzzler) were nowhere to be seen; the type of villains Timm was referring to were primarily cerebral threats to Superman, and as they had remarked before how difficult it was to write Riddler stories on Batman, it's no surprise they wanted to avoid similar characters.

And thus, they brought in Intergang and Darkseid from Kirby's Fourth World stories. That wasn't a bad idea at all - Darkseid debuted in an issue of Jimmy Olsen, to be sure; Superman was part of Kirby's original Fourth World stories and they kept pretty closely-aligned to his universe over the decades.

There were also original villains: Livewire, Volcana and Luminus. None of them are much to write home about - Luminus was somewhat interesting as the idea of Superman battling holograms was a different type of threat... Volcana's story was a weird X-Men/Men in Black homage that didn't catch fire (applause, please). Livewire might've worked if she weren't exceptionally and deliberately irritating; she was an attempt at giving Superman a wise-aleck foe similar to the Harley Quinn character developed on Batman but she was seldom funny and never sympathetic, the two qualities which made Quinn succeed.

And then there are the guest stars. Batman seldom dipped its toes in guest stars during its Fox run - there's Zatanna in one episode... pretty much it. Yet in the first season, the Superman creators brought in Lobo for a two-parter (Lobo was a very popular character in comics at the time). Then season 2 brings in the Flash with his foe Weather Wizad; soon after there's Dr. Fate and his foe Karkull; season 3 has the Legion of Super Heroes; Green Lantern (with his foe Sinestro); Aquaman; plus five episodes given over to Batman and his foes.

The guest appearances start coming closer together in the final season, but more than that, I suddenly realized how little Lex Luthor was seen in that season; through season 1 and most of season 2 Luthor was seldom absent, appearing even in episodes where he wasn't the threat (such as the season 2 episode "Target").

So, is Superman's rogue's gallery really all that shallow? I suppose of those villains they didn't use on the show there is Terra Man, the Kryptonite Man, the Atomic Skull, Silver Banshee, the Ultra-Humanite, Master Jailer... but there were also episodes of Superman which didn't rely upon a great super-villain, namely two of my favourites: first, "The Prometheon," a story where the threat is a giant alien which is drawn towards heat - in that episode, the alien is simply a great problem which needs to be solved rather than beaten in a fight (the alien also has no dialogue); the second, "The Late Mr. Kent," a brilliant script in which Clark Kent is believed dead and Superman has to solve his 'murder.' Similarly, Batman featured plenty of great episodes which didn't depend on the hero's rogue's gallery: "P.O.V."; "The Forgotten"; "I Am the Night."

I find Superman loses steam quickly; that first season still holds up pretty well; a friend of mine considers the entire program simply "a test run for Justice League." If you've never delved into the DC animated universe programs I would certainly recommened you start with Batman - it's the best; Superman might be the least among those shows but there are enough strong episodes to redeem investing your time in the program. Uh... maybe skip most of season 3 except for "Knight Time," "Unity" and "Legacy," though.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Did that thought go through your head?" Rolling Blackouts review

"The only thing I'm looking for in this story is that dynamism of someone engaging with something and then changing as a result."

It was just over a decade ago that I discovered comics journalism existed; having been brought up primarily on a diet of super hero comics, I was still finding my feet with the wider comics arena. Reading Joe Sacco gave me an appetite for comics journalism and I've sampled what little there is when it appears. This brings me to Sarah Glidden's recent graphic novel Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, published by Drawn & Quarterly. I had previously bought and enjoyed Glidden's prior graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, so this newer book was something I anticipated delving into. I actually discovered Rolling Blackouts on the shelves because I instantly recognized Glidden's style on the cover and was excited to see a new book by her!

Set in 2010, Rolling Blackouts is a recount of Glidden joining two journalists and a former U.S. Marine named Dan as they underwent a journey into Iraq's Kurdish territory, then to see Iraqi refugees in Syria. As her first true outing as a comics journalist, Glidden is superb at capturing people's personalities through her simple facial expressions and in the simple Herge-meets-watercolours art making up her backgrounds; How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less certainly prepared her for this challenge and she meets it well; the accounts of refugees telling their stories are quite captivating.

Yet there's another story going on here, a story which one of the journalists - Glidden's friend Sarah Stuteville - attempts to tell through the person of Dan, who is an old friend of hers from her teenage years. Dan was against the Iraq War, yet wound up serving in Iraq in 2007 because, as he puts it: "I thought the war should never have happened, but I want to support the cause, even if I thought it was wrong, by contributing a guy with a clear head, I guess." Dan is interviewed by Stuteville at various points throughout the book and these soon become the most tense moments of the book - because Stuteville is constantly seeking to tug on the reins of Dan's story.

Dan seems extremely level-headed, very relaxed even when discussing his time in Iraq: "But my memories of Iraq mostly are of laughing hysterically and being with friends," he states. He repeatedly insists that he has coped well with what happened to him in Iraq: "It's just a luck of the draw thing. Fifty-two cards in a deck, somebody's gonna get pulled out. I was lucky to stay in the deck and be safe." His personal philosophies, by contrast, come from what seems to be a grim assessment of human nature: "Life will go on whether it sucks or not. I guess I see things kind of harshly. I don't see this perfect utopian world where people will all get an equal share."

To this, add his old friend Stuteville. She is convinced there's more to Dan than what he presents in their interviews and continually attempts to draw him out - but he refuses to be led. When Dan isn't around Stuteville confides to the others her own thoughts on what Dan has shared: "I think there's a key incident here that might unlock some of this," she insists. "We have to crack his code!" Although quite aware of what she's doing, Stuteville presses on, despite acknowledging "Frankly, we've kind of heard Dan's story before."

Glidden, being less emotionally invested in Dan and Stuteville's relationship, seems to see the wider picture: "He might not feel guilty at all," she says of Dan 2/3rds of the way through, despite both journalists' belief otherwise. In fact, early on Dan states that what bothers him the most about returning to Iraq is "the narrative people are expecting me to tell." Yet Stuteville doesn't seem to catch that. She also makes Dan upset around that same time when he asks her not to tell people he was in the military, to which she rejoins: "I don't see why you think we should deceive people!" She doesn't seem to believe Dan deserves any agency in the telling of his story.

Instead, Stuteville grows increasingly frustrated by Dan. "To me, the story of Dan is in the things he asserts that aren't true." At times she begins to detect how her frank speeches about the Iraq War are driving Dan away from her, causing her to reflect how they "need to be more careful about what we talk about in front of Dan." And so, Stuteville becomes the most fascinating character in the book - the reporter who has already made up a story in their head and is trying to get the subject to put it into words - only for the subject to be unwilling.

After drawing Dan's attention to two earlier quotes of his which didn't agree with each other, Stuteville goes on to state, "I didn't even ask you if you felt responsible or guilty. I've never asked you that." Glidden inserts herself into the background here, possibly because Glidden is questioning the validity of Stuteville's remark; although Stuteville never asks Dan whether he feels guilty, she does ask him why his sense of guilt "doesn't necessarily extend to what happened to the Iraqis." In this and other conversations Glidden draws Stuteville with expressive furrows on her brow or pleading eyes as she spars with Dan; this particular conversation ends with Stuteville's recording device losing the interview, which causes Stuteville to storm off in anger. It's clear that she's emotionally too close to Dan to objectively tell his story (assuming the story is even there).

Stuteville sums up her "conspiracy" against Dan by explaining how she feels journalism is meant to challenge and change others; when Dan appears unchanged by what he sees in Iraq & Syria, she internalizes this as her failure as a journalist. "Nothing is different," she states of Dan. "If anything [he's] become less honest," concurs Stuteville's collaborator Alex. Yet the idea of life's journey containing these sort of easily-identifiable stop signs seems fallacious to me; some of the moments which changed my own life didn't impact me until a month or more after they'd passed. I often feel I'm only observing my life drift by, not directing it.

So, Dan never undergoes the change which would have satisfied Stuteville. Yet, the book Rolling Blackouts doesn't suffer for this; I'm very much of the philosophy that life is not a novel with its denouements & climaxes. I appreciate the fact that real people are full of contradictions, self-justifications and hypocrisy. But then, I'm not a journalist or a storyteller - simply an observer.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A brief look at Batman's golden age

Some time ago my friend Colin Smith wrote two excellent blog posts about the early days of Batman, as seen in the trade paperback Batman Chronicles Volume One (collecting Detective Comics #27-38 & Batman #1) by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff and Bob Kane. You can read those essays here and here.

Colin's impetus in writing those posts was to comment upon the widely-held perception of Batman's early days within comics fandom and the reality he found within the trade paperback. As Colin notes, fandom has come to believe the early days of Batman were more violent and dark, representing the ideal version of Batman, the one who Frank Miller and others firmly reestablished. In those circles of fandom, the accepted wisdom was that the arrival of Robin in Detective Comics #38 lightened Batman up, clearing away the darkness of those early tales. That belief is hogwash, but comforting hogwash to those nostalgic fans.

In those early tales we can see much of what we know about Batman hadn't been figured out. The Batcave is nowhere to be seen, there is no Alfred and Wayne Manor is out-of-focus. Batman had no origin when he first appeared, with the iconic tale not appearing until his seventh adventure (Detective Comics #33). He wore short gloves in his first appearance, then went gloveless in the second (so much for protecting his identity!). In Detective Comics #28 we see his cableline (a silk rope) has to be thrown as a lariat; he won't begin using batarangs until issue #31 and doesn't attach his line to a batarang until #32. His first aircraft (the Batgyro) appears in #31. The shape and size of the ears on his mask are in constant flux in his early appearances but are mostly standardized by #33. It's also well-known that in those days his origin didn't include swearing a code against guns; the early Batman wielded firearms and he took the lives of several of his foes.

Yet even then, some elements of Batman were figured out sooner than you'd suppose - the yellow utility belt is right there at the outset. The arrival of Robin doesn't change much either - Detective Comics #38 was followed by Batman #1, featuring the first two Joker stories. The Joker is a cold-blooded killer who uses his rictus-inducing venom from the begining and Robin is present for it all; that issue also includes Batman's fight with the Monster Men, a story which notably demonstrates Batman was still using firearms after Robin and still killing opponents (as when he strangles a Monster Man to death).

Yet there's other notable moments in those tales. Colin noted in his posts how Batman was quite far from Grant Morrison's "can beat anyone with enough prep time" ubermensch; in these tales, Batman is almost never prepared, instead flinging himself into situations where he's repeatedly beaten over the head. As Colin notes, Batman seems to be more of an adrenaline junkie than a cerebral detective/scientist.

There are two different stories in this volume in which Batman is shot (Detective Comics #29 & 33); weirdly, both times he's shot in the right breast. The first time it happens because he stops to interrogate two henchmen while a third surprises him; even though Batman's gun is in his hand, the third henchman still gets the drop on him (since this is pre-Alfred, Bruce has to visit his family doctor to have his wound stitched up). The second time, he's about to destroy the villain's dirigible by hacking it up with an axe (one supposes he'd be a few hours on that job) when the villain enters the room from behind him and shoots him in the back. Poor butterfly. He reveals he was wearing a bulletproof vest, yet leaves a large puddle of blood and has to be patched up again.

Was Batman a terrifying creature of the night pre-Robin? Not especially. We contemporary readers have been indoctrinated with the idea that Bruce dresses up as a bat because criminals find it frightening. Not so much in the 1930s - in fact, in Detective Comics #34 when he sneaks into an underground lair he's greeted by an unafraid henchman declaring "A drunk! Probably from a bal masque. Get his wallet." This is the ideal Batman? The one who is targeted for mugging by petty criminals?

Batman's also a little lacking in terms of courage, I'm sorry to say. In issue #31 we suddenly learn Bruce Wayne has a fiancee - Julie Madison. Julie is hypnotized by the Monk, a werewolf who wants to make Julie a member of his pack. Julie is on a boat to Hungary, but Batman tails after her in his batgyro to ensure she's safe. Soon after Batman lands on the boat to comfort Julie, the Monk appears and uses his hypnosis on Batman. Barely able to respond, Batman manages to throw a batarang at the Monk, then climbs back up to the batgyro and resumes following the boat from the air. In other words, he left Julie alone on the boat with the Monk so he could spirit her away to his lair. Smooth move, detective.

Perhaps the best example of Batman at his thickest is Detective Comics #37, one which Colin rightly roasted. This story opens with Batman stopping his batmobile outside a house to ask for directions. Yes, you heard right, Batman got lost. As he walks up to the house he hears a scream. Bursting in he sees three men torturing a fourth man who is bound to a chair. Batman attacks the armed gunmen, defeating them, but when he unties the fourth man the fourth man hits Batman over the head then murders the first three men, leaving Batman there so he'll be accused of killing them. The killer mentions a Mr. Turg which, on a hunch, leads Bruce Wayne to scout a grocery store owned by a Mr. Turg. Sure enough, the store is a criminal front being used by the killer. So Bruce exits the shop, changes into his Batman costume, reenters the shop and punches the shopkeeper in the face: "I'm not buying anything this time!"

Great plan, detective: let the criminal know you're the same person who was just inside the shop purchasing items from him. Apparently the concept of a secret identity was a little theoretical at this point in time.

Perhaps a very important part of the legend of Batman was never to be found in the pages of the comics - it was inside our untrustworthy collective memory.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 creator credits

We now live in a wondrous world where 1990s Jim Valentino creations appear in top-grossing motion pictures!

Links to all of my creator credit lists found here!

Stan Lee: co-creator of the Watchers, extraterrestrials who observe the transpirings about the universe without interference (Fantastic Four #13, 1963); of the Kree, an extraterrestrial race of conquerors (Fantastic Four #64, 1967); of Him, a gold-skinned artificial being who emerges from a coccoon (Fantastic Four #66, 1967); of Berhert, an alien world (Incredible Hulk #111, 1969); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963); of the Sneepers, an extraterrestrial species (Tales of Suspense #49, 1964); of Groot, an immense tree-like being from Planet X (Tales to Astonish #13, 1960); of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish #46, 1963); of Ego, the living planet, a massive creature in the form of a planet with a face etched upon its surface; Ego destroying all other life within a galaxy (Thor #132, 1966); Ego having complete control over the environment on his surface, manufacturing bodies and tentacles for himself (Thor #133, 1966)

Jack Kirby: creator of the Celestials, immense intergalactic cosmic creatures (Eternals #1, 1976); co-creator of the Watchers, extraterrestrials who observe the transpirings about the universe without interference (Fantastic Four #13, 1963); of the Kree, an extraterrestrial race of conquerors (Fantastic Four #64, 1967); of Him, a gold-skinned artificial being who emerges from a coccoon (Fantastic Four #66, 1967); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds (Journey into Mystery#97, 1963); of Groot, an immense tree-like being from Planet X (Tales to Astonish #13, 1960); of Ego, the living planet, a massive creature in the form of a planet with a face etched upon its surface; Ego destroying all other life within a galaxy (Thor #132, 1966); Ego having complete control over the environment on his surface, manufacturing bodies and tentacles for himself (Thor #133, 1966)

Jim Starlin: creator of Gamora turning against Thanos (Avengers Annual#7, 1977); of cosmic awareness, the ability to sense life on a celestial scale, representing by stars appearing on the user's face (Captain Marvel #29, 1973); of Gamora, a dangerous green-skinned woman who wields knives (Strange Tales #180, 1975); of Gamora's name (Strange Tales #181, 1975); of Gamora adopted by Thanos; Gamora operating as Thanos' assassin (Warlock #10, 1975); co-creator of Drax motivated by the deaths of his wife Yvette and daughter (Captain Marvel #32, 1974); of Drax the Destroyer, a green-skinned man with great power and singular focus on hunting his enemies to their deaths; Thanos, a death-worshipping intergalactic warlord who inflicts genocide (Iron Man #55, 1973); of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

Keith Giffen: co-creator of Star-Lord teamed-up with Mantis, Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Groot and Rocket Raccoon's friendship; Star-Lord's helmet with full faceplate, red goggles and breathing unit; Star-Lord favouring twin guns; Rocket favouring heavy artillery (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #1, 2007); of Groot's ability to regrow himself from a single piece (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #3, 2007); of Drax's redesign with red body tattoos (Drax the Destroyer #3, 2006); of Drax wearing only pants; Drax preferring knives as weapons (Drax the Destroyer #4, 2006); of Rocket Raccoon, an anthropomorphic adventurous raccoon (Marvel Preview #7, 1976)

Gene Colan: co-creator of the Kree depicted with blue skin (Captain Marvel #1, 1968); of Howard the Duck wearing pants (Howard the Duck #2, 1979); of Yondu, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a red fin on his head; Yondu's yaka arrow, which is controlled by whistling; of Martinex, a space-faring hero with crystalline-skin, ally of Yondu; of Charlie-27, a space-faring hero with superhuman strength, ally of Yondu; a team of heroes based in space called the Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Super-Heroes#18, 1969)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Grandmaster, a cosmic being (Avengers #69, 1969); of Stakar Ogord, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu (Defenders #27, 1975); of Aleta Ogord, Stakar's wife, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu; of Stakar's real name (Defenders #29, 1975); of Rocket Racccoon as a swashbuckling hero clad in green with the moniker "Rocket" (Incredible Hulk #271, 1982); of Brahl, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Thor Annual #6, 1977)

Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning: co-creators of Groot's vocabulary limited to little more than "I am Groot" (Annihilation: Conquest#2, 2008); of Gamora, Drax, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Mantis and Groot banded together as the Guardians of the Galaxy; Rocket as the team's tactician (Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 2008); of Groot's iterations of "I am Groot" having multiple meanings (Guardians of the Galaxy #17, 2009); of Cosmo, a Soviet dog in spacesuit (Nova #8, 2008)

Arnold Drake: co-creator of Yondu, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a red fin on his head; Yondu's yaka arrow, which is controlled by whistling; of Martinex, a space-faring hero with crystalline-skin, ally of Yondu; of Charlie-27, a space-faring hero with superhuman strength, ally of Yondu; a team of heroes based in space called the Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Super-Heroes#18, 1969)

Bill Mantlo: co-creator of Howard the Duck wearing pants (Howard the Duck #2, 1979); of Rocket Racccoon as a swashbuckling hero clad in green with the moniker "Rocket" (Incredible Hulk #271, 1982); of Contraxians, an extraterrestrial species (Jack of Hearts #1, 1984); of Contraxia, homeworld of the Contraxians (Jack of Hearts #2, 1984); of Rocket Raccoon, an anthropomorphic adventurous raccoon (Marvel Preview #7, 1976)

Timothy Green II: co-creator of Star-Lord teamed-up with Mantis, Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Groot and Rocket Raccoon's friendship; Star-Lord's helmet with full faceplate, red goggles and breathing unit; Star-Lord favouring twin guns; Rocket favouring heavy artillery (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #1, 2007); of Groot's ability to regrow himself from a single piece (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #3, 2007)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of Mantis, a heroic Asian woman with empathic powers (Avengers #112, 1973); of Star-Lord, alias Peter Quill, a half-alien man orphaned at a young age who becomes a space-adventuring gun-wielding hero while searching for his origins; Meredith Quill, Peter's mother whose death leads him to discover his origins (Marvel Preview #4, 1976)

Mike Friedrich: co-creator of Drax motivated by the deaths of his wife Yvette and daughter (Captain Marvel #32, 1974); of Drax the Destroyer, a green-skinned man with great power and singular focus on hunting his enemies to their deaths; Thanos, a death-worshipping intergalactic warlord who inflicts genocide (Iron Man #55, 1973)

Jim Valentino: creator of Taserface, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 1990); of Mainframe, a computerized intelligence, ally of Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy #5, 1990); of Krugarr, one of the Lem species, an ally of Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1, 1991)

Steve Gerber: co-creator of Stakar Ogord, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu (Defenders #27, 1975); of Aleta Ogord, Stakar's wife, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu; of Stakar's real name (Defenders #29, 1975); of Howard the Duck, an anthropomorphic sardonic duck (Fear #19, 1973)

Steve Gan: co-creator of Star-Lord, alias Peter Quill, a half-alien man orphaned at a young age who becomes a space-adventuring gun-wielding hero while searching for his origins; Meredith Quill, Peter's mother whose death leads him to discover his origins (Marvel Preview #4, 1976)

Roger Stern: co-creator of Nebula, a blue-skinned villainous space pirate (Avengers #257, 1985); of Nebula related to Thanos; Nebula as an enemy of Xandar (Avengers #260, 1985); of Brahl, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Thor Annual #6, 1977)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Grandmaster, a cosmic being (Avengers #69, 1969); of the Kree depicted with blue skin (Captain Marvel #1, 1968); of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived; of Him's alias Adam Warlock (Marvel Premiere #1, 1970)

Keith Pollard: co-creator of the A'askavarii, an extraterrestrial race (Black Goliath #5, 1976); of the Xandarians, an alien race very similar to humans (Fantastic Four#204, 1979); of Xandar, homeworld of the Xandarians (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

Mark Gruenwald: creator of Yondu Odonta's surname (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #5, 1986); co-creator of Her, the intended mate of Adam Warlock (Marvel Two-in-One #61, 1980)

Mitch Breitweiser: co-creator of Drax's redesign with red body tattoos (Drax the Destroyer #3, 2006); co-creator of Drax wearing only pants; Drax preferring knives as weapons (Drax the Destroyer #4, 2006)

Paul Pelletier: co-creator of Gamora, Drax, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Mantis and Groot banded together as the Guardians of the Galaxy; Rocket as the team's tactician (Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 2008)

Chris Claremont: co-creator of the A'askavarii, an extraterrestrial race (Black Goliath #5, 1976); of Ayesha, an alias of Her, bearing an imperious identity (Fantastic Four #11, 1998)

John Buscema: co-creator of Nebula, a blue-skinned villainous space pirate (Avengers #257, 1985); of Nebula related to Thanos; Nebula as an enemy of Xandar (Avengers #260, 1985)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of the Xandarians, an alien race very similar to humans (Fantastic Four #204, 1979); of Xandar, homeworld of the Xandarians (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

Don Heck: co-creator of Mantis, a heroic Asian woman with empathic powers (Avengers #112, 1973); of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish #46, 1963)

George Freeman: co-creator of Contraxians, an extraterrestrial species (Jack of Hearts #1, 1984); of Contraxia, homeworld of the Contraxians (Jack of Hearts #2, 1984)

Doug Moench: co-creator of the extraterrestrial species the Krylorians (Rampaging Hulk #1, 1977); of the Lem, an extraterrestrial race (Shogun Warriors #19, 1980)

Gil Kane: co-creator of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived; of Him's alias Adam Warlock (Marvel Premiere #1, 1970)

Len Wein: co-creator of Brahl, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Thor Annual #6, 1977)

Brad Walker: co-creator of Groot's iterations of "I am Groot" having multiple meanings (Guardians of the Galaxy #17, 2009)

Salvador Larroca: co-creator of Ayesha, an alias of Her, bearing an imperious identity (Fantastic Four #11, 1998)

Tom Raney: co-creator of Groot's vocabulary limited to little more than "I am Groot" (Annihilation: Conquest #2, 2008)

John Byrne: creator of heroes carrying a bomb into Ego's brain in order to destroy him (Fantastic Four #235, 1981)

Walter Simonson: co-creator of the extraterrestrial species the Krylorians (Rampaging HulK #1, 1977)

Larry Lieber: co-creator of the Sneepers, an extraterrestrial species (Tales of Suspense #49, 1964)

Jerry Bingham: co-creator of Her, the intended mate of Adam Warlock (Marvel Two-in-One #61, 1980)

H.E. Huntley: co-creator of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish #46, 1963)

Simon Furman: co-creator of Tullk, an extraterrestrial criminal (Annihilation: Ronan #1, 2006)

Val Mayerik: co-creator of Howard the Duck, an anthropomorphic sardonic duck (Fear #19, 1973)

Jorge Lucas: co-creator of Tullk, an extraterrestrial criminal (Annihilation: Ronan #1, 2006)

Herb Trimpe: co-creator of Berhert, an alien world (Incredible Hulk #111, 1969); of the Lem, an extraterrestrial race (Shogun Warriors #19, 1980)

M.C. Wyman: co-creator of Nebula's body reinforced with cybernetics (Silver Surfer #72, 1992)

Ron Marz: co-creator of Nebula's body reinforced with cybernetics (Silver Surfer #72, 1992)

Ron Lim: co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

Wellinton Alves: co-creator of Cosmo, a Soviet dog in spacesuit (Nova #8, 2008)

Kurt Busiek: co-creator of Ego's spores regrowing him on other worlds, including Earth (Maximum Security #1, 2001)

Jerry Ordway: co-creator of Ego's spores regrowing him on other worlds, including Earth (Maximum Security #1, 2001)