Thursday, September 17, 2009

On a weird way to pay tribute to the Firesign Theatre

Ever since Alan Moore "revealed" (by which I mean "Made up") that Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland at all, a popular method of reinvigorating a character has been the Everything You Know Is Wrong play. As opposed to the standard reboot where everything is rewritten from day one or simply started over, this maintains that all of the past adventures of the character had happened, but a basic fact or series of facts about the character was not known or misunderstood, one that puts the adventures in a different light.

In the case of Swamp Thing, the results can be spectacular. In other cases, downright embarassing, like when marvel tried to tell us that the Peter Parker we'd been reading about for over a decade was in fact a clone, and the REAL Peter Parker had just returned. Most of the time, as things do, they tend towards the mean, with some people liking the new version and some preferring the original. Rarely do these changes last long-term, as another person will have a new idea a few years later, or someone will decide that the original idea was the stronger one after all, and you end up with alternate characters littering the literary landscape like spent shell casings in the battle against cancellation.

Geoff Johns has been using an array of tricks in his quest to sort out many of the heroes of the DC Universe, including Hawkman, Superman and many of his villains. The most famous character, indeed his magnum opus, is Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who had to be pulled back from a chasm of poor choices that included him going mad, killing off any of his fellow Lanterns and generally renting the entire GL Corps asunder, and then die, solely for the purpose of introducing a new Green Lantern that DC hoped The Kids Would Dig. Well, suffice to say it was a long 15-odd years as DC tried to get readers to love the new boy. Over time they would slowly bring back the GL Corps, more and more of the trapping s that they had initially decided would not be needed, only to have the fans (in both their protest and their silence) tell them that yes they did want them thank you very much.

So Johns used a number of tricks to help Hal recover from this seeming insurmountable blockade. He introduced the idea that Hal was not acting under his own accord, but was under the control of a sentient embodiment of the universe's collective fear, an emotional elemental if you will. He brought back Sinestro, Hal's greatest enemy, he finished the job started in Final Night and Spectre, and brought back Hal Jordan to the land of the living, hale and hearty and a hero again. He then revealed that the characters killed in hi bad period were in fact "only mostly dead", and they were found alive as well, wiping that crime off the record. To say that fandom has welcomed these changes happily is an understatement.

Over the last four years, Johns has been building towards this year's big DC event, Blackest Night, running now in DC books everywhere. He's created seven more corps, six controlled by a color in what he calls the "emotional spectrum" and one created by Death itself. They're now in war against each other, and will eventually (we assume) team up against the Black Lanterns. One of the concepts he introduced in that first Green Lantern Rebirth story is that each of these emotion powers have a living avatar, a "color-mental" if you will. In Yellow's (fear) case, it's Parallax, the being that made Hal do all that nasty (it was of course really a man named Kevin Dooley, but I, as the saying goes, digress). The green avatar is Ion, a concept created dring the Kyle Rayner years. Other avatars have been vaguely mentioned, and same have not yet been revealed. The avatars work best when they are hosted by a living being, as Hal did to Parallax.

In issue three of the Blackest Night mini, it's suggested that the Golden Age character The Spectre is not, in fact, an emissary of God's wrath as he has been described for all these decades, but may be the Red (rage) avatar. I will say that if I'm reading and interpreting that right, I don't care for the idea of retconning the origin of the Spectre. Reducing him from an emissary of the The Presence to an avatar beast of rage is a hell of a drop. It also flies in the face of FAR too many stories where Spectre has directly spoken to or received orders from The Presence.

Also, considering how much work Greg Rucka has done with the character of late, I wonder how he feels about being told that Everything We Know Is Wrong about a character he had just done such a good job of updating. Not to mention the aforementioned exemplary series by J. M. Dematteis where a certain Hal Jordan was the host of the Spectre, in an attempt to atone for the actions of Emerald Twilight. He was able to change the Spectre's mission from vengance to redemption. If all he was doing is channeling an avatar of Rage, how does that help redeem oneself, or anyone?

Now in almost all of these massive retcon moves, there will be stories that patently Do Not Make Sense anymore with the new rules in play. If Blue Beetle's Scarab is in fact NOT a magical artifact but a millenia-old piece of alien technology, then why did the wizard Shazam want to keep it on the Rock of Eternity where many other magical items are kept, for example. And in most cases, depending on how successful the new story is, you have to just accept that those stories don't count anymore, or that they just happened in a slightly dfferent way. The better the story works for you, the less important those discrepancies become. But if you're dead-set against the change, the slightest quibble become hide-bound evidence that said story CAN'T be right, and MUST fall.

If you're going to make changes to the Green Lantern Mythos, it's only fair to assume that any GL character might mold to fit the new shape of things. But pulling in the Spectre seems a bit offsides. He's been around LONGER than Green Lantern (he prevmiered some months before the Golden age GL) and has never been portrayed as anything other than as an emissary of God (under assorted names and euphemisms). Choosing to take a character with that much history who no one has asked for a change to strikes me as over-reaching a bit. It doesn't ALL need fixing.

The same holds true for the Phantom Stranger - that unsettling "He will face the truth about his existence" line worries me that he too will fall under the pen of Johns. One of the lasting allures of the Phantom Stranger is his undefined quantity. Is he the Wandering Jew? Is he some Silver Surfer-like gentleman, trading his life to serve Himself in trade for saving a life? Is he Longinus the Roman guard? The fun is not to know. Like the Joker and the Grinch, any attempt to define the character limits them, makes them less than their potential. So to suggest that Stranger himself is not fully aware of his origins is, IMHO, a reduction of the character.

These are two characters who have been around as long as or longer than Green Lantern, whose stories are almost wholly unconnected to the GL mythos, and changing them to serve the narrative seems akin to breaking up nice furniture to feed the fireplace. Wasteful.

Now it's very possible that I'm mis-reading this. I hope I am. Because if I'm not it could mean reducing one (possibly two) characters from having Godly connections to something much less in comparison. I'm not going to rail and whine about it...much...just make clear that I don't think either character needs much tweaking, and certainly not just to flesh out an event, good though the event is.

The Blackest Night series has been magnificent so far. There's every chance that at its end we'll see the return of several DC heroes who fans felt passed well before their time. For some, maybe even many characters to get returned at the expense of two more might be a price I'd choke on.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On a series of scientific limericks created to win a prize

They Might Be Giants, Brooklyn's Ambassadors of Love, have just released a new album, Here Comes Science , another of their albums aimed at kids. As a publicity stunt, they're running a little contest at their Facebook page, asking people to create scientific-themed limericks to win one of five free copies of said album.

In a couple flurries of creativity, I've done just under a couple dozen so far. I've included them below. I'll tack any more I come up with before the contest ends.

I'd tell you to visit their page and submit your own...but I wanna win.

Two physicists gaily were chattin'
of a project they knew as Manhattan
hoping for some good luck-a
they'd trot off to Yucca
and clock how many acres they'd flatten

To get taste like the manna from Heaven
make some some gas to allow bread to leaven
baking soda or yeast
CO2 is released
one loaf serves between ten and eleven.

Caterpillars will hardly impress
till cocoons they create and ingress
while deep within those
they metamorphose
and come out looking nattily dressed

An object that no one could shift
met a force irresistably swift
about the result
scientists would consult
for philosophers 'twas quite a gift

To reactions we add catalyst
like to millstones we pour in the grist
we can watch in the cup
the components used up
but the catalyst won't - that's the twist

To carbon add pressure and heat
for reaction exciting and neat
A structure at end
a woman's best friend
an engagement gift nothing can beat

A scientist was fervently wishin'
he could start up some nuclear fission
In his haste he had found
he'd forgotten to round
and wound up with unstable emission

Oxygen makes up pairs with great glee
With more energy, then into three
If not for the ban
of the aerosol can
There'd be far too much sun we would see

Werner's uncertainty principle
can cause outcomes to be quizzical
for as we observe
the results often swerve
so it doesn't come out like we wanted it to

Tycho Brahe, at least so goes the tale
in debates made opponents all quail
At the moment he chose
he'd remove his gold nose
and watch all trains of thought just derail

An astronomer named Galileo
Used a tube to see things far away-o
finding many weird things
like Saturn's great rings
Finding more during night than in day-o

The method we call scientific
is a process exact and specific
watch, deduce, and then move
to attempt to disprove
if you can't, then you publish - terrific!

Archimedes was taking a bath
stumbling onto a standard of math
As the water displaced,
a solution he faced
down the street he then cut quite a swath

DaVinci presented a gift
of a process we now know as lift
with some wood and some string
in the shape of a wing
letting people among the clouds drift

Indigo's such a weak link
in the spectrum of color, I think
To make it reach seven
to connect it to heaven
Newton added it - why not use pink?

physicists love to discuss
the composure of the nucleus
with trons neu and pro
as they come and they go
elements are created as thus

Through complex gravitic attraction
planets fall into orbital action
as they ride an ellipse
sometimes suns they'll eclipse
no collisions or dssatisfactions

Two scientists, Watson and Crick
found a strructure impressive and slick
Knit together like sweaters
using only four letters
the description plan nature did pick

A wee little thing like a virus
can easily sicken, perspire us
without tincture or balm
our system to calm
the bugs can oft quickly retire us

A gal with obsessions to quench
using very small hammer and wrench
with wire and wood nano
made a micro-piano
but she's going blind making the bench

Each day Edison would instill it
into his inventors he'd drill it
As they toiled and persipre-a
in the spinning Maria
He'd say "find a need and then fill it!'

DC current, known as "westinghousing"
was the one Edison was espousing
but Tesla's alternating
left nobody waiting
Sent Tom back to the drawing board browsing

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On The Kid in One Million Words or Less

The Kid started school again this week, in seventh grade. I could swear she was in no later than third back in June.

One of the things that came home with her on her first day was a little survey they wanted us to fill out about her, to give the teachers an idea of what she's like, her cheers and jeers, etc. After a bunch of multiple choice questions (which I believe we got right) there was an essay portion which asked "In a million words or less, tell us why your kid is so fabulous!"

Now we'd already had a meeting with the teachers, as we do every year so they can get an idea of what to expect from her (with her Asperger's and all) and what they can expect from us (making sure they realize we're not the kind of parents who demand the world change its shape to fit The Kid). It went well, and they found out quick that we're a fairly wacky clan.

I figured it'd be nice to drive that home a bit with the requested essy. Here's what I came up with...

(The Kid) has Asperger’s Syndrome, which causes her to behave in a more introverted way, not as in shy, but as in if she’s alone in an elevator, and will, if not reminded, do the kind of things people do if all alone -- talk to herself, dance about entertaining herself, etc. She also has ADHD, which means she does these things at great speed. She’s very high-functioning, can be quite gregarious and charming, but will close off quickly when her bank of conversation questions is depleted.

She’s allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame, but luckily she’s also a picky eater, so she always asks what things contain, and then doesn’t eat it anyway because it’s not pizza or a hot dog. We try to encourage her to try new foods, but we don’t make a big thing of it because that way lies eating disorders, and nobody really wants to go on Dr. Phil.

Her avowed one true love is Sonic the Hedgehog, who she plans to marry as soon as she reaches legal age. As long as he can provide for her in the style to which we’d like her to become accustomed, and the kids are raised Catholic, we’ve chosen not to keep them apart.

Her musical tastes tend more to trance, including the work of Cascada and Paul van Dyk, with a good bit of Webb Wilder and the theme songs from the Japanese Sentai shows, the ones they use to make Power Rangers. We’re all cartoon fans in our house, so her TV watching tends more towards animated fare from various decades.

She can and does sit through entire films and TV shows, but left to her own devices (said devices being the remote) will tend to pop about to her favorite scenes, re-running them endlessly, wearing a hole in the DVD and then who’s going to buy a new copy I ask you not me missy.

She has made the jump in recent months from random non-sequiturs spouted at inopportune moments to the correctly chosen cultural reference. She’s slowly finding the way to make her crazy affectations work to her benefit, and we enjoy watching it happen.

She is well aware of what rules are and that they apply to her, but sees no need not to try to get around them when not under scrutiny. She comes from this honestly, being her father’s child. She’s not made of sugar, and can withstand discipline, tho we are letting the spots at the back of her knees heal a bit, because those scars can be hell to clean.

It was well received.

Monday, September 7, 2009

On the argument in favor of Superboy-Prime

Superboy-Prime is about the most polarizing character DC has right now. People either love him or despise him. Geoff Johns has pulled him from retirement and used him as a living satire on impossible-to-please fanboys since his return in Infinite Crisis.

And I'm telling you right here...played right, he could be turned around into a great hero.

Hear me out.

First introcuced about eighteen minutes before Crisis on Infinite Earths started, he gets a handful of panels over the course of the series and eventually gets shuffled off into the Magic Crystal Retirement Home with the Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2 and Alexander Luthor, the son of the pre-Crisis Earth-Three's only hero, Lex Luthor. and there he sat, alone unmourned and unloved for nigh on twenty years.

Geoff Johns decided to take those characters and use them as the central focus of his opus Infinite Crisis. The base idea was that these heroes were looking out of Crystal Acres, seeing what had become of the DCU upon their exit, and found it lacking. Filled with dour heroes who were barely better than the villains, acts of horror and atrocity that would never have stood in their day. And they make the decision "It's all got to go".

But what people don't really notice is that the REAL villain of IC is Alexander Luthor.

Kal-L of Earth-Two if despondent over the illness of his wife Lois Lane. And Superboy Prime, aside from looking out and seeing what the DCU has become, has been a teenager for twenty years. Two people very easily shaped by the right person at the right time.

In the Villains United series, we discover that Luthor had been sneaking out of the Magic Crystal Dimension for quite some time, masquerading as (our) Lex Luthor, and generally stirring things up a great deal. He also spends a great deal of time pouring poison in Superboy Prime's ear.

In a very literary way, Superboy-Prime is a Shakesperean tragedy hero.

I'll explain. Shakespere's three greatest classic tragedies are (in order) Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet. They show his growth as a writer and his further experimentation of the Tragedy as a narrative tool. Romeo and Juliet are teenagers, literally out of control of their lives, torn apart by their families. Their actions are the immature reactions of children, indeed,the SAME immature reactions we see from teenagers today - run away from your probles and/or kill themselves. They are "tragic" in the "it's a shame this happened TO them" sense. Hamlet, contrariwise, is wholly in control of his fate. He makes his choices, follows through with gusto, and at the end it's wholly clear that he deserves what he gets, no matter the motivation. Macbeth, which came in the middle chronologically, also falls in the middle character-wise. Macbeth is basically goaded into his actions by his wife, and the three witches all but plot his moves for him. He makes the choice to take the path himself, but it's as close to a forced choice as you can get. Once he goes down the path he does it with verve, but the initial choice was not wholly his.

THAT's what I mean when I compare Superboy Prime to Macbeth. He's a villain, but he's not 100% whole-hog behind the choice. If he had spent more time talking to someone else other than Luthor, things might have gone very differently. And it's that little flaw, that small exception, that makes me say he could still get a face-turn and end up a good guy, or at the very least properly redeemed before he dies.

You want a comparison closer to home? Darth Vader. Like Prime, he's a petulant child who's goaded into his turn by Palpatine. And since he didn't start evil, it was narratively acceptable for him to be redeemed, and instanly forgiven for all the deaths that he was personally responsible for.

When Superman said that he wanted to try to redeem S-Prime in Legion of Three Worlds, I was one of the few cheering at the idea. Because of that flaw, that sense that his choice wasn't completely his own, it left open the door to redemption, and still does. There's really only one thing that really queers the case for Superboy Prime's redemption. And it's the same thing that makes S-Prime seem overused to the point of annoyance.

F&%^ing Countdown.

Look only at the Geoff Johns helmed appearances of Superboy Prime. He shows up in IC, doesn't reappear for nigh on two years in Sinestro Corps War, and by then, he's been out of the public eye enough to be kept special. Again, Johns doesn't use him again until Legion of Three Worlds, another almost two-year gap of use. And if Lo3W had shipped on time, it would have again been just over a year before we saw him again in Blackest Night.

But Countdown had to come and piss in the soup.

Countdown, as I have gone on about before, was a textbook example of a company deciding they just couldn't wait to use a bunch of characters and plots, all which were supposed to be used as part of Final Crisis a year later. The story flatly contradicted events in FC (and other minis running at the same time, like Death of the New Gods), and generally gave the upcoming event a sense of having just seen these characters a couple WEEKS ago, thus reducing its feeling of import. Johns had certainly not been afraid to play S-Prime as a killer - he amasses quite a list in IC, and adds to that in SCW and Lo3W. Indeed, by the time of the Legion story, he's graduated to indiscriminate killing of innocents who got in his way. But in Countdown, he's genocidal, Terra-cidal, if you will. He's responsible for destroying an entire Earth, and then an entire UNIVERSE. Many make the valid argument that that's just too far to come back from. Johns played him like a petulant child (which he is), Countdown played him as a mouth-frothing maniac. That, plus the fact that his year-long appearance (plus the extended/delayed) release scheule of L03w) gave the impression that he has been around non-stop for almost two years. This gives his upcoming appearance in Adventure as part of Blackest Night a sense of "Oh No Not Again"; one it doesn't deserve.

But I have to come back to the fact that Countdown is slowly but inexorably being "ignored to death". More and more of the stuff that transpired there has dropped off the timeline - Jimmy Olsen had not once talked about having shacked up with a six-foot tall insect (not to mention one that dumped him), and events in Captain Atom's life as described in Superman sound like they picked up from the events of the Bludhaven mini and skipped CD entirely. So I'm almost willing to argue that S-Prime's actions in CD can be similarly described as "having not happened". That still leaves Prime with a great deal of blood on his hands, but no more than Vader, or, say, Hal Jordan and Black Adam, two characters Johns has successfully brought back as viable characters. So I still maintain the chance is there.

Geoff has been playing the long game here, with storylines started as far back as Green Lantern Rebirth coming to a head in Blackest Night. He's been using Superboy Prime in each of those staories as well, and I maintain that's not by accident. Each one of the characters he's used in that story has gone through a great odyssey of adventure and growth. I find it hard to believe that Prime alone will remain a two-dimensional cipher.

His story might concievably carry through to the Superman event in 2010, but I have a feeling it'll end with Blackest Night. The just-revealed cover to Adventure Comics #5 certinaly makes it seem like it'll end there, but I've learned that covers very rarely portray the contents of the books correctly any more. Whatever we're gonna get and whenever we get it, I'm pretty damn sure your opinion of Superboy Prime will change by the time his story is over.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On the Mouse buying the Spider

I'm not so pompous as to believe that this blog is the first thing you look at each morning, so odds are you've already heard that Disney is buying Marvel Comics for about 4 billion dollars. To say that this has caused some talk in the comics industry and the electric-type internet is an understatement.

Comic fans are doing what they do best; assuming the worst. There are endless doomsday scenarios being posed left and right, most involving Marvel's storylines being castrated and niceified to the point of insulin shock. Endless jokes about Disney/Marvel mashups and crossovers have been told, and generally, it's gotten everyone talking.

So why shouldn't I?

There are exactly 2 areas that I can see that could be problems for Marvel. Bear in mind, these areas are rather large and the amount of which the issues present themselves is impossible to know.

1) Disney has a VERY different way of working with creators than Marvel, or any comics company since about 1954 does. Up until recently, Disney did not allow individual artists to sign their work. If you drew something for Disney, it was drawn by no one in particular. While he was alive, it was supposed to be implied that Walt drew all the comics, etc by himself, as his name was the only that appeared on it. Even the legendary Carl Barks worked uncredited for years, only the fans knowing who drew what. Animation god Mike Jittlov famously got around that limitation by sneaking his name right into the work he did for The Mouse, where they couldn't take it out. Most Disney shows that feature animation has a credit to the effect of "We thank the Disney animators who made this all possible." Nowadays most of their TV cartoons features a "created by" credit, so that dictate is changing, but on the whole, the work of Disney is faceless.

More importantly, Disney's contract with its creators basically states that ANYTHING the signatory creates during his employment at Disney belongs to Disney, or at the very least get right of first refusal on it. It's the reason that creators like Keno Don Rosa patently refuse to work directly for Disney - Don works for Egmont, a Dutch company who licenses the rights to produce Disney comics, but without strictures like, as Don loves to describe it, "ownership of your unspoken thoughts". Now, in the last fewish years, Disney's comics in the US have been produced by outside companies like Slave Labor Graphics and currently BOOM! Studios. Those companies don't have those strictures either. But should Disney decide that they wish to produce their own comics in the future, there's the remote possibility they'll try to bring these rules over with them. Disney needs to have it explained to them very clearly that such a contract will NEVER fly in today's comics industry.

2) Marvel will now be owned by a parent company that has made a habit of caving to public complaint. As a rule, no matter what part or subsidiary of Disney decides to release something of questionable moral standing, it's described as being done by Disney itself. Best example in recent memory is Kevin Smith's Dogma. The film dealt with God and religion in a very irreverent (but at the same time, QUITE reverent) way, and the film was lambasted by the Religious Right in the US (sight unseen, of course). The film was being released by Miramax, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney with complete say as to what films it could release, including many classic films not intended for family audiences. But when the inflammatory Dogma mailings started to go out, the film was described as coming out from Disney itself, as if the famous castle logo would precede the film. The perception wildly outstripped the facts, and eventually Miramax was forced to drop the film, allowing it to be released by another company. Disney has edited and censored its own films after complaints by special interest groups, including Aladdin and many changes to its upcoming release The Princess and the Frog. And don't get me STARTED on Song of the South.

If Marvel chooses to do a plotline of any controversial nature in their books (say, one where a character makes a deal with the devil to keep their elderly aunt alive, say), there is the chance that the latest iteration of Adults Against Funny Cartoons will take to the streets, clamoring about what "Disney" is putting in "a children's comic book". And for all the explanations that comics aren't just for kids anymore, Marvel is an indepedent company, etc, there's the remote chance that Disney will take the easy route and ask the plotline be ended. I can't imagine it happening often, and I don't think Marvel will have to submit anything for approval (none of Disney's other subsidiares do) but I can forsee and extreme situation with this unpleasant end.

Just about everything else is a potential plus.

For one thing, Disney already owns the rights to the Crossgen universe. While it's generally known that they bought it almost solely for J. M. DeMatties' Abadazad, it's still a large number of characters who had a brief but popular life. And now they have access to a comics company who could get the use of them. To quote Henry Fonda, "I'm just saying it's possible".

To be terribly honest, I don't know how interested Disney is in being in the comic book making business. Like Warner Brothers and DC, I think Disney's far more interested in the money they can make off the licensing and movies than all of the comic sales combined. They tried their own comics company not too recently, and dropped it because the paltry profits didn't compare to what they could be doing with that money, so they went back to contracting it all out.

But if they DO decide they want to get more into comics, I don't see that as a bad thing. Example - people are talking about a Hannah Mantana comic book as if it's the worst idea in the world since labial piercing. But I don't see how. No comic company wants to do one, under the old chestnut that kids (and especially little girls) don't read comics. But if it was made available in the Disney store or in proper bookstores? I have no doubt it'd sell. Same with Wizards of Waverly Place, Zack & Cody and any other series they choose to do.

I'd love to see a return of a bunch of the comics from the beloved Disney Adventures magazine. Dan Brereton was in the middle of a Dr Syn (alias The Scarecrow) comic that woulda knocked your socks off. This was a magazine that was selling a million copies a month, and Disney dropped it because again, it wasn't making enough money for them. Money that would have dwarfed (no pun intended) the sales of any American comic.

And that's the key here. Disney exists so far away from the little pool that is the direct market that's it borders on the embarassing. Disney comics featuring Mickey and (far more so) Donald Duck regularly sell in the millions of copies in Europe. Part of that is because comics are more universally available there, and people still read them regularly and openly. They never had a Wertham come along and so successfully convince them that comics were the purview of the illiterate and socially illiterate that to this day the simplest way to show a bad guy is a flannelhead in a movie is to slap a comic book in his hand. But the point remains, Disney is used to selling MILLIONS of something, not 30,000. And they have the power to bring those books back to the mainstream.

I can see Disney making the legendary deal with Wal-mart and Target to get comics back in the stores. If, and it's a large if, they think it's worth it. They might well be happy with solely making the money on the movies and the t-shirts, and as long as marvel proper isn't actively losing money, will leave it alone.

The sad part? Most comics fans would consider that a happy ending.