Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On the analysis of a minor change in a major character

N.B. - In the interests of full disclosure, I should clarify that I’m writing this column before I’ve read the actual issue and storyline on which I am commenting, basing my opinions solely on what has been released and leaked since last evening. This is so that I can work from the same position of no knowledge that the rest of fandom is at. Indeed, “the position of no knowledge” may be fandom’s favorite, place and show going to “missionary” and “doggie style so we can both watch X-Files”. A second, actual review of said comics and stories will follow.

Okay, you’ve all seen the new costume by now.

Okay, you’ve likely all laughed your ass off and spouted your vitriol on the Twitter.

Okay, now let’s calm down and look at this rationally.

Okay, as rationally as comics fans can.

Of the section of fandom that’s seen the new costume design, I’ll warrant about…35 percent actually read the attached articles, as opposed to those who just saw the picture and assumed the thousand words underneath were ancillary. They just flew off the handle, landed at their keyboards and screamed “childhood rape”. So for those people, here’s what those words said.

JMS’ story is based on what science fiction fans refer to as a Change War. You go back in time, change one little detail that will snowball forward and eliminate or cripple your enemy’s power base. It’s the kind of thing Booster Gold is fighting in his title. It was the plot of the last weekly title, Trinity. It’s EXACTLY what the Justice Society of America has been involved with in their book as we speak, with the final issue of the story coming out today. It’s the same plot idea behind the new Tom Strong mini series. Hell, JMS wrote a Real Ghostbusters story that did the same thing, where the guys go back in time and bust the three ghosts before they can scare Scrooge straight. So this is not a bold new idea. But like all, ideas, great things can be done with it, depending on who’s at the wheel.

Now in Wonder Woman’s case, the “one little detail” isn’t all that little. 20 years ago, Paradise Island was destroyed. Princess Diana was smuggled off the island to keep the line of Amazons alive, and now in the “present” of this wildly alternative timeline, the Amazons are a ragtag handful of warriors scattered across the globe. That’s present in which we pick up the story.

To summarize, the claim that JMS has changed Wondy’s origin and continuity is largely misleading. He’s writing a story in an alternate timeline in which events of her life are wildly disparate from the norm. It almost certainly cannot connect to the rest of the DC titles, as it would require that timeline being referenced in all the other books. It’s going to be a stand-alone story about Wonder Woman’s attempt to get her proverbial life back. Any appearances by Wonder Woman in other DC titles (and there will almost certainly be some, if only in Brightest Day and JLI:GL) will be of the “classic” Wonder Woman, and not the one we’ll be reading about in this series. That could be confusing for some readers, so odds are it won’t be done much. I’m rather curious to see what the rest of the DCU will be like in this book. Will she still be a founding member of the JLA? Will there be too many other heroes at all? Will the Max Lord incident have happened, or just end very differently? Since this is a story about Wonder Woman, I don’t know how much time will be dedicated to those questions, but I’d like to see some, at least. Part of the fun to such stories are the differences to the world made by the change.

I think the endgame of the story is fairly easy to predict, at least in broad strokes. Wonder Woman will return to mainline continuity, largely unchanged. The events in said story will have never occurred, save likely for Wonder Woman remembering them. We may see some minor tweaks to the cast, points in her life seen from a new light, but ultimately, we’ll have what Alan Moore described as “The Illusion of Change”. Like Bruce Wayne’s current apparition and return, we get a chance to enjoy something different, get reminded about what we liked about the character in the first place, and then get them back.

JMS was just recently directly involved in a storyline very similar in theme to this one. Namely, One More Day in Spider-Man. A minor (yet to be explained) change in Mr. Parker’s past was made, resulting in his marriage to Mary Jane Watson having never occurred, resulting in a great deal of his past adventures occurring in ways of varying variance. The way the story was finally done was so unacceptable to JMS that he left the book. I don’t know if this will happen or not, but played properly, but if he chose to, this story could be a massive “So there” to Marvel, a plot that screams “HERE’S how you do this story, you clods.”

If this were anyone else writing this, I’d be rolling my eyes and walking away, waiting for the next retcon to come around. But JMS is one helluva writer. I have no doubt JMS' story will be well written, and that I will enjoy it. Same with his run on Superman. Both stories are very bold moves to make, a real change from the status quo. In both cases, he’s taking the characters off on their own proverbial spirit quest to get back to a more archetypal interpretation of the character.

But here’s the thing that has be worried.

Many Superman fans have just spent a year complaining about how the Superman titles didn’t have Superman in them. They claimed they didn’t want to read about a bunch of other characters in the books. Those who chose not to read missed out on a great bunch of stories, as I’ve talked about endlessly over the past year. But point is, they wanted to see Superman back in Metropolis, and his books, fighting bad guys and saving the world from alien invasions and the like.

DC has all but admitted they pooped the bed. Some are couching it by saying it was a mistake to do it for a whole year, some said the error lay in taking him out of all the books at once. But the point was the same – a lot of people didn’t want to read non-Superman Superman books.

So what are they doing this time? They’re taking him out of Metropolis for a year.

There’s a definition of “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome”. They just got done saying taking Superman out of Metropolis and filling the gap with an opportunity to read about a whole bunch of other characters was a misstep. And now they’re doing it again.

Now bear clearly in mind – I enjoyed the last year of Super-titles, and I FULLY expect to enjoy this year. Paul Cornell is a stellar writer, and seeing what he has planned for Luthor and Action Comics will be a major portion of the next year. Similarly, I fully expect JMS’ Superman stories to be moving, dramatic, personal and the kind of stories you wish they wrote about Superman every day.

I also fully expect a LOT of readers to hear that top-line description – “Superman goes walkabout, Metropolis unprotected, other heroes step up to fill the gap”, think it’s New Krypton all over again, and stay away in droves. JUST like they reacted to the Wonder Woman announcement, picking out the bits they were the most incensed by and screaming “I quit comics forever”. And once again, they will be cutting themselves off from some very good books.

JMS or no, both characters have Big Uphill Battle written all over them. People who like the books are going to have a LOT of work to do to get people to get past those powerful first impressions and give them a try. So get ready for a lot of persuasive speech if you end up liking them.

Now let’s get back to The Costume.

This costume, plain and simple, is a choice designed to do exactly what it has done: spark comment. Wonder Woman has got more buzz in eighteen hours than she has had in eighteen years. Bringing in a hired gun like Jodi Picoult didn't do it; the exemplary work of Gail Simone didn't make a dent in the apathy and inertia of the comics fans.

But change the costume, do something that people can see, and post, and publish and retweet, and you've captured their attention.

The reaction to the new costume in online comics fandom has been 90%+ derision, and not without good reason. It’s a jarring change, from iconic to street thug. Comparisons to 90’s club wear are prevalent, as well as references to synonyms of the word “trollop”. But again, these are comments made not grasping the Bold New Direction of the character. If Wonder Woman were still the Princess of Paradise Island wearing that, it would indeed be laughable. But in this story, Wonder Woman was raised in New York City. So she dresses like a New Yorker. It’s more logical than it seems.

There’s no possible way the costume will stay tho. Just like her history, there are far too many dollars being made on the iconic costume in licensing alone. All the folks making lunchboxes and t-shirts don’t want to hear that costume is going away. Heck, they tried to change Batman’s costume a while back, and get rid of the trunks, making the suit a more monochromic look. Didn’t take – too many t-shirts out there.

This costume is a hot-shot, intended to draw quick and furious heat, in the hopes that people will HAVE to try the first issue, whether out of genuine curiosity or “just to see HOW bad it is”. It will go away.

Dan DiDio has gone on record as being a member of the “no publicity is bad publicity” camp. To continue the pro-wrestling metaphors, his philosophy is that whether the fans are cheering or booing, they’re up on their feet and actively participating. Right or wrong, he wants to see a reaction to what DC is doing, not just a quiet acceptance as the fans pick their books up off the racks.

Mission Accomplished.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On the Convention Wars taking an interesting turn with an unexpected success

I chose not to attend Wizard World Philadelphia this year, mainly because there was nothing going on there I was interested in. I knew that the few artists I wanted to see would likely also be at Baltimore and/or New York later in the year. Also, I, like a lot of comics fans, have been decidedly turned off by Wizard's bullying tactics against other conventions, particularly against Reed and the NY Comic Con.

This started a few years ago, when Wizard scheduled their show the same weekend at Shelly Drum's Heroes Con, a show with a long history, a stellar reputation and a tremendous amount of good will. The first year it happened, Wizard swore they were at the mercy of the convention center, this was the only weekend available, hands were tied, yadda yadda yadda. When happened a SECOND time, many eyebrows were raised. DC only decided to attend at the very last minute that year, splitting its teams to provide both shows with a fair-to-middling roster of editorial and creative talent. But the next year, with the show safely on another weekend from Heroes, DC still chose not to attend anyway. Marvel had already chosen to stop attending, claiming a desire to cut back on convention appearances altogether.

But this year, with DC and Marvel absent (indeed, I believe Zenescope was the largest comics company to be attending, based on the website), a larger list of media guests than comics, and a general sense of inertia among online comics fans, many artists are reporting that WW Philly was a rousing success, with lots of fans, all with lots of money, all willing to spend. Ethan Van Sciver reports it's his most successful show this year to date.

So...what happened?

I think there's a couple of things going on here. First off, Philadelphia does not have any other comic cons to speak of. Many--bordering on most--comic fans in the area don't have the funds or resources to get to other shows in the area like Baltimore, New York or even strong shows out in Pittsburgh. So to a degree, they're a captive audience. Back in the '90s, the company I was working for chose to run a show in Philly, even though we were based in New York, on the assumption that while Fred Greenberg was doing a good job of providing NYC with shows, no one was doing the same for Philly. And we guessed right - we drew 35,000 fans for our first (and alas, only) show, which is tremendous for the first time out of the gate. I've been saying ever since that Philly is a woefully under-served city convention-wise, and the results Wizard had this year might shine a light on this. It seems to me that like New York and many other major cites, Philly could easily support more than one major show. If a second company chose to bring a show to the town, it could do very well, and not reduce attendance for either Wizard's show or New York. In the words of Daffy Duck, "If they like that mess, they're starvin' for some real hoofin'!"

Also, Wizard has been slowly making a change in its direction with their shows. Each successive convention they run has been less purely comics and more "multi-media". By appealing to fans of TV shows and films, wrestling and MMA fans, as well as comics, they've been able to appeal to a larger range of people, and thus expanding their potential customer base. In a way they're turning into the modern equivalent of Creation Entertainment, who used to dominate the media-con landscape in the '80s and '90s, and is still doing a brisk business with their branded Star Trek, Twilight et al shows across the country. Interestingly, the reaction of science fiction fans who were used to going to fan-run conventions had the same reaction to Creation then that comics fans have of Wizard now. "Mediafen" are somewhat looked down on by other more pure/traditional Sci-Fi fans, and the shows that Wizard are putting on are getting the hairy eyeball from the comics community. But in both cases, their continuing success points to the idea that they must be doing something right, infuriating as that may be.

The other point to consider is that, as much as it galls us, the online fannish community is not neccesarily representative of comics fans in general, and really makes up only a small sliver of it. Bloggers will endlessly bemoan the fact that one book will sell like the proverbial hotcakes while their personal favorite spends most of its time on the bubble. And while the Internetigencia will pooh-pooh the lopsided guest list of the Wizard shows, SOMEBODY is lining up to see Patrick Stewart and the Iron Sheik. While the talkative and verbose upper crust of fandom will cluck their tongues at the Great Unwashed and their tastes, the selfsame Great Unwashed goes through their day blissfully unaware of the very existence of the people who are clucking. It's not that "they don't know any better" as is so often said; it's that they know what they like, and it's not really our place to lambaste them for it. I mean really, they're not putting all those reality shows on just to spite you.

When Reed started the NY Comic Con and started its march West, Wizard went into overdrive. It started buying up conventions left and right, shows of various size and regional reach. This, bear in mind, came after a period of time where they CANCELLED several of their shows for various reasons, be it lack of funds, interest or what have you. Once they started grabbing more shows, most famously Mike Carbonaro's Big Apple Convention, they started counter-programming. First they ran a show in New York that they didn't go out of their way to make clear wasn't the New York Comic Con; Reed had to skip almost a year for its show, going from February in 2009 to October in 2010. Wizard ran a show in October of 2009 to fill that gap. The show was acceptable, according to most reviews, but compared to the size and professionalism of the NYCC, it was a fart in a hurricane. Wizard next set up a convention in LA the same weekend as Reed's first show in Chicago, C2E2. The plan was to draw many of the media stars away from the Chicago show with the allure of a shorter trip. It succeeded, in that both shows had lackluster attendance, compared to what either show could have drawn if it were unopposed. That seems a rather nose-to-spite-face way of scoring a win. Wizard then announced that they'd run their Big Apple Con the SAME weekend as this years NYCC, in a facility only a few blocks up the street. They have since pulled back from that play, moving both the weekend and location, retrating to the Penn Plaza, location of most of Mike C's major shows, a facility that has gotten scathing reviews by many attendees in past years based on its age, cramped quarters and general state of disrepair.

There have been endless reports and rumors of both companies wanting to sign publishers to exclusive deals. Those stories have (AFAIK) never been confirmed, but as time has passed, fewer companies have chosen to work with both companies, the lion's share choosing to go to Reed's side of the playing field. At least as far as the public face of the two companies are concerned, Reed has had the moral high ground. They've gone out of their way to never disparage Wizard, making it very clear that the country and the market is large enough to support two companies, and hopefully more. It's been Wizard who has given the impression that the industry must "choose" between the two. But even though most have chosen Reed, Wizard has still been able to hammer out successes with their shows by basically doing what most of the comics bloggers have maintained needs doing - appealing to a larger audience and drawing in more people. They're the underdog that the smart folks don't want to win...but the majority simply don't care, as long as they get to go to a con.

So Philadelphia is in a rather sad position - filled with people happy and anxious to go to a convention, and currently being served solely by a company that has done a bang-up job of burning bridges. So Philly misses out on its chance to get a "proper" comics convention and attends one that's better than nothing, and the publishers who've decided to stop working with Wizard miss out on a chance to reach a somewhat captive audience. It seems that everyone loses in the scenario loses...except Wizard. They get a perfectly acceptable and (presumably) profitable convention, and may get the impression that they "don't need" the stuff that the publishers can provide. If the market is happy with cheap hamburger, why bother to offer expensive steak?

Philly deserves a better comics show, and I maintain the company that provides one will be richly rewarded. If Wizard can get the publishers to return, they already have a solid reputation in the city, and presumably a contract with the convention center that may preclude another comics show from getting access to it for a good number of weeks in either direction. If Reed chooses to move in, they'll be able to provide a massive show, based on the tool chest it's already assembled, but will place itself in the position that Wizard has been in, stepping into "someone else's territory", similar to the scenario in Chicago this year.

Wizard endlessly argues that there's room for two, drawing comparisons to Coke and Pepsi, Marvel and DC, et al. But what Wizard isn't mentioning is that the aforementioned companies are available all year and the customer has the choice of sampling one at one time and the other at another, or both, or neither. A convention is a static limited event, and if the choice is between two options at a similar time, it's more difficult to choose to do both. It's the reason TV networks program similar shows in the same time slot as their rival stations. They don't want to to watch BOTH shows, they want you to watch THEIR show.

I still maintain that Philly is large enough to support two major shows in a year, and indeed the rest of the country is large enough to support two major convention companies, so long as they maintain a modicum of decorum and avoid direct confrontation whenever possible. But of course, humans are involved, so that outcome is as likely as people taking turns at a hard merge on the highway or choosing to go to the next show where there's only one ticket left for the current one.

On a bit of DC Marketing that desperately needs to be done

So Geoff Johns posted this photo on his Twitter Feed of a guy's Green Lantern Tattoo.  For those too lazy to make with the clicky-linky, it's a tat of a Royal Flush poker hand, made up of GL playing cards.  Presumably, the fellow will then have Geoff's sharpie-on-skin autograph added to the tat, a practice growing in popularity.

But I got to thinking.  With the plethora of color Corps and members of same, a deck of playing cards based on the current Green Lantern Mythos could easily be produced.  With eight Corps, you could actually do two seperate decks, or one deck for a game of Cripple Mr. Onion.  But I think one deck ought to do, as a couple of the Corps don't have that many members.

Green for Clubs, Red for Diamonds, Yellow for Hearts and Black for Spades seems the most likely setup.  Violet (love) for hearts is pretty obvious too, But you can't very well leave out Yellow, and there's only four suits traditionally.  They tried to popularize five-suit poker many years back, but it never caught on.

Now in a lot of photo cards, they'll put images on each card, but IMHO that makes it slightly harder to recognize a Face card.  I prefer the numbered cards to be a number of the symbol and little else.  Maybe you could have nice art of the symbols in different quantties being generated by a Corpsmember, to get the best of both worlds.

It seems the Color Entity should go on the Ace, and the most powerful/popular member of the Corps go on the King.  So it'd be...

Okay, quite a bit of debate possible here. More than a few characters who deserve the Face card spots.  But how do you decide? 
Also, do you bow to the obvious gender-streotypes here and put a female in the Queen spot, or open oneself to endless snickering by putting a guy in that position?
Perhaps the best solution is to not make the choices, and going with popular characters NOT from Earth.  Luckily, there's a GL named Jack, so let's go with him, and there's no actual proof of Mogo's gender, so...
Jack - Jack T. Chance
Queen - Mogo
King - Hal Jordan (Maybe with Kyle, Guy and John in the background to shut everyone up?)
Ace - Ion

Jack - Dex-Starr
Queen - Laira
King - Atrocitus
Ace - The Butcher

Jack - Despotellis (1st runner-up; Arkillo)
Queen - Kryb (1st runner-up; Lyssa Drak)
King - Sinestro
Ace - Parallax

Jack - Black Lantern Kal-L
Queen - Black Lantern Mera
King - Black Hand
Ace - Nekron

VIOLET (for argument's sake):
Jack - Miri Riam
Queen - Wonder Woman (1st runner-up; Fatality)
King - Carol Ferris
Ace - The Predator

And the Jokers? Well, Larfleeze, obviously, along with the Bizarro Yellow Lantern.  Tho if Avarice were a suit as well, I rather like the idea of dressing him in three different outfits (incliding a queen's robe) for the face cards.

So, DC...I'd get hopping on this.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On the experience of a voice from the past screaming at you like a homeless man on a street corner

One of the nice things about the electric-type Internet is it allows friends and relations, long ago lost to moves and parting ways, to re-acqauint with each other and restore ties, or at least share the odd witty comment on each other's walls.

And then there's the experience I just had.

Out of nowhere and with no prelude, I just got the most fascinating string of tweets from old an High School buddy. They are included below, un-edited and un-spell-checked, tweets separated by "//".

vinnie sending you a tweet last time to get your attention, then I'll let 25 more years go bye. If you want a friend ok //

but if you want to pontificate about comics, norbit, christianity and conservitive stuff, not interested. //

I sometimes wondered how we became friends in highschool at all. It really doesn't matter so take it easy, be what you want //

oh and Dr. Who really is some of the worst SciFi that they ever came up with. Look at Heinlien and Asimov if you want good.

I'll throw that again; the last time I interacted with this fella was 1984, when we graduated Chaminade High School, the school that also produced Brian Dennehy, George Kennedy, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Hughes from the Village People.(not all at once, of course)

I saw him add me as a friend on the Facebook some time back, but didn't have anything to say to him, so I didn't.  He started following me on the Twitter TODAY, followed immediately by these stream of consciousness tweets.

Now I've done some horrible things in my life (ask any McDonalds counter-person within a ten-mile radius) but I've no idea what I could have done to him to warrant this mad rambling.

The part that's fascinating is that he seems upset with me for what I'm doing and talking about now.  To the best of my awareness, I don't have a mailing list or anything that was cramming my rapier-like wit down his throat, so I'm not sure how my rampant pontification invaded his personal space.

Upon investigation, I see his twitter feed is only slightly less crazy than Yoko Ono's.  Some samples:
Where is my sanity when I worry about yesterday's thoughts?

We waste so much time with ego, anger and pride. We think the little things we do will last beyond us. We are mistaken...

If we feel we know the truth, we have nothing. It is only by "dropping all" that we have all, become all, find ground.

Thought in all actions is need until finally, thought is no longer needed.

Pain is what occurs when you allow yourself to be wrapped up in emotions and attachments...
There are times when I allow myself to take offense at things my ego points out as "offensive", and then there are times when I am well.
Anger, love, passion, all just spitting distance... First you gotta breath... Then you have to know what breathing truly is....
All this touchy-feely inspirational poster speak, and he spits vitriol at me like I was wearing a fur coat at a PeTA meeting.  I feel..oddly honored.  I mean, to be able to make such an impression on a person that he'd seek you out 25 years later to insult you...That means either I'm that impressive, or he's that impressionable.

When we were in in school together, his favorite author was Michael Moorcock, and his favorite word was (as he pronounced it) was "mye-rid".  After having him use it in a sentence, I asked, "do you mean "Myriad"?

He did.

When I showed The Wife the tweets in question, she guessed EXACTLY who sent them, having never MET the man, based SOLELY on the stories other Chaminade Men have told about him.

Out of courtesy, I won't mention his name, or actually give his twitter feed.  But if you went to school with me, you already KNOW who it is.  And you are in no way surprised.