Thursday, January 07, 2010

The first step into a larger world

Howdy all!

I've decided to move from Blogger to WordPress!

You'll find much of the same content here, at the new home of Comics Ate My Brain. Join me, won't you?

(And please update your bookmarks!)
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Saturday, December 19, 2009


Not sure what's turned my thoughts to fictionalized warfare. Maybe some Avatar osmosis, although I've cooled to James Cameron's directorial charms. Anyway, in trying to get to sleep the other night, I started thinking about a Green Lantern story. (It could easily be a Justice League story, but would center around GL.)

Basically, the initial setup was this: Green Lantern -- doesn't matter who, might as well be John -- is patrolling Sector 2814 when his ring detects an approaching starship. It's an advance scout for a massive armada headed, yes, straight for Earth. Naturally, GL alerts the Justice League and also buzzes Oa for backup. The JLA is prepped and ready for action, but the word comes back from Oa: reinforcements denied. In fact, a Guardian gets on the horn to tell John specifically that he is to offer no resistance to the invaders. Instead, he is to observe and advise them. He can protect the Earth's best interests, but the Guardians have determined that the invasion must be a success, because that's the only way Earth can survive.

John then contacts the JLA from aboard the invading scoutship and explains the situation. Obviously John is conflicted, but ultimately he has no reason to distrust the Guardians. Besides, he (and presumably any other Green Lantern in the area) will theoretically be able to influence the invaders in Earth's favor. Of course, the JLA and the rest of Earth's super-folk have no such conflict, and while there is some debate over whether to follow John's lead, eventually the choice is made to repel the invaders.

Thus, the stage is set: hundreds (if not a thousand) hostile starships bearing countless troops, versus the Justice League, Justice Society, Teen Titans, et al. There are pitched battles in orbit and fierce fights on the ground, but the invaders eventually get past the superheroes. The invaders seem to be looking for something, but they don't know quite where; and they tear the dickens out of several regions in the process. Cairo, Helsinki, Nepal, and Salt Lake City are hit especially hard. Regardless, thanks to John, casualties are amazingly low, including among the superhumans. Indeed, the invaders start ham-fistedly rebuilding the infrastructure of the devastated cities, even advising local leaders on alternative forms of government.

Once the invaders believe Earth has been subdued, though, the JLA and its allies strike back using guerrilla tactics. This is quite successful, in part because the invaders are caught off-guard. Before they know it, they've lost half their fleet and most of their infantry has been incapacitated; and they're ready to retreat. After Green Lantern has escorted them out of the solar system, he gets a call from Oa: the Guardians are pleased.

Pleased?!? John spits. You could have stopped all this before it even started!

Yes, muses the Guardian coolly, but the [invaders] needed to be taught defeat. The Guardians knew that bloodying the invaders' collective nose was the only way to get them to leave Earth alone, but calling in the GL Corps would have merely turned the invaders' attention to Oa. It seems the invaders are a particularly thick and brutal race, but one thing they do especially well is fight -- so they would have first found a way to eliminate the GL Corps, and then they'd have come after Earth. And make no mistake, John Stewart, intones the Guardian, [the invaders] would have dedicated their very existence to wiping us out. Now, however, they see that even if they defeat an enemy one day, it also won't stop until it's driven them off. The Guardian wraps up by saying they regret having to manipulate John and the other Earth GLs as they did, because (irony alert) they normally don't work like that.

* * *

Now, clearly there are a number of problems with that story. I first thought of it when I was half-asleep, and I fleshed it out on the fly just now. The point, though, is that it is a blatant morality play about the Iraq war, and I'm not sure that something as deadly serious as Iraq (or Afghanistan, or wherever else the U.S. finds itself) should be trivialized, even potentially, by adapting it to a superhero setting. For one thing, it's designed to leave no lasting scars on the Earth or its people. For another, the invaders are pretty one-dimensional -- they're looking for WMDs because they think someone on Earth attacked them, but that's never really made clear.

Still, if you declare that some subjects are off-limits to superhero stories, aren't you shortchanging the genre? Joe Kelly wrote a decent Iraq-related issue of JLA, where President Luthor basically lies to the Justice League to get them to invade an inoffensive country; and Greg Rucka put Lois Lane in harm's way in "Umec" during his tenure writing Adventures Of Superman.

I actually do like the story, mostly for the moral dilemma it puts GL in. I suppose you could strip out the more obvious real-world parallels and make a passable 2- or 3-issue arc out of it. It wouldn't have any real-world lessons, but it might be entertaining, and it would definitely explore the relationship between a Green Lantern and his little blue bosses.

Still, on balance I'd like my comics to be open to larger moral concerns. I'd just hope they'd be able to get past all the fantastic stuff.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Forbidden Trek

No, I am not just now realizing that Star Trek owes a tremendous debt to Forbidden Planet. Every time I watch FP I imagine that it is the greatest unfilmed Star Trek episode ever. I mean, really: Leslie Nielsen is pretty much a Roddenberry captain, he works for the "United Planets," and the four main officers are the commanding officer, first officer, ship's doctor, and chief engineer. The only thing missing is a Spock figure, and I'm not sure that "Doc" wouldn't fill that role pretty well.

Probably the weakest aspect of the movie is the romance between Nielsen's J.J. Adams (that name's oddly familiar too, given who directed the latest Trek) and Anne Francis' Altaira, and that's not all bad. I bought it from her point of view, but by the same token Adams knows full well what she's feeling and to my mind takes advantage of it.

Still, it's great fun to spot the other elements which would later find their way into Star Trek. The mysterious loner and his female companion figured in "The Man Trap," "What Are Little Girls Made Of?," and "Requiem for Methuselah," the all-knowing computer was a staple of Original Trek, and of course there's the design of the deceleration devices.

Oh, and Dr. Morbius reminded me a heckuva lot of Dr. Orpheus from "The Venture Brothers." Now I want to see Dr. Orpheus' daughter in the Anne Francis role....
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Re-posting: At least it wasn't A Wrinkle In Focused Totality

[If you think you've seen this post before, you have. I deleted the original to get rid of spam comments. No non-spam comments were harmed by this procedure.]

Yesterday [December 2] I finally did something I'd been meaning to do for years, namely re-read Madeleine L'Engle's classic young-adult fantasy A Wrinkle In Time. I can't remember the last time I read it, but it had probably been close to thirty years ago. It wasn't as mind-blowing as I remember, but I do want to read the rest of the series.

AWIT was also a lot shorter than I remember, although it was pretty dense nonetheless. I wasn't expecting all the Christian references, and I definitely wasn't expecting them to be so prominent. It didn't feel like a book written in the early '60s -- more like something from the end of the decade or the early '70s.

Perhaps most striking, though, was the Chris Claremont sensibility I got from the whole thing. Yes, I know that if anything, AWIT would have been an influence on Claremont, not the other way around. Still, you have a mousy, nerdy teenage girl unappreciated by her peers, who's part of a family where almost everyone is either hyper-competent, extremely attractive, and/or outright super-powered. They all live in the rural Northeast (close to Westchester County?) where our heroine Meg meets her soulmate Calvin, who almost immediately starts talking about his own special destiny -- maybe not in those terms, but close enough. Meg and Calvin and little telepathic Charles Wallace have a series of well-written intergalactic Christian-flavored adventures against an implacable evil, until everything is solved by the power of love.

Now, despite that smart-aleck tone, I did like the book, but darn if it didn't seem like C.S. Lewis' Uncanny X-Men.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mad or Bat?

In an early episode of "Mad Men," one of Sterling Cooper's proles (I think it was Harry Crane) wonders aloud about his mysterious boss, Don Draper. "Maybe he's Batman," Harry laughs.*

Well, in light of last week's third-season finale, maybe Harry was more right than he realized.

SPOILERS FOLLOW for that episode (and for the series as a whole)...

... but first, I've been waiting a long time to quote this exchange between TV critic Alan Sepinwall and "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm:

[AS:] Before they cast Ryan Reynolds to play Green Lantern, I was saying to everybody that I thought you'd be perfect casting at that, but is that the kind of thing you would even be interested in doing?

[JH:] It's interesting. I was in talks with a lot of those people. Now they've tapped Mr. Reynolds to do that. And I think that's a really good choice. My thing with the sort of superhero genre is, it's a tricky balance to create. I think "Dark Knight" did it best, "Watchmen" did it fairly well. But whenever you're a superhero, you're literally a super man. You don't have any vulnerability, and that becomes very difficult to relate to, or almost becomes comically earnest. And I think there needs to be a second level, whether there's a darkness like "Dark Knight" or a sense of humor even. That can propel those things. If it's just guys in tights and capes running around shouting character names to each other and throwing fireballs, it almost becomes unintentionally funny. I would never say never to something like that, but there has to be a different level. And fortunately, there are so many amazing graphic artists out there right now that are writing these stories that have deep layers. Frank Miller obviously is one of them, and Alan Moore, and guys like that, but there's a whole new generation who are writing these new ones that are really deep and dark and cool and funny and superheroes.

[AS:] There are probably some people out there who would look at [Don] Draper as a superhero to them.

[JH:] Sure, there's a lot of that. He's kind of Mr. Perfect in a lot of ways, seemingly so.

The immediate irony of Hamm's position is that Don shares one major character trait with most superheroes: a secret identity. Born Dick Whitman into hardscrabble circumstances, Dick/Don survived a forgotten Korean War attack with his old life literally blasted away. He returned home under the name of his fallen commanding officer, eventually reconciling himself with the original Draper's widow. In time they became fast friends, although "Don" had to get a divorce in order to marry his current wife, Betty.

Naturally, Don's past has intruded upon his present on a few occasions. Dick's brother's visit ended tragically. Scheming account manager Pete Campbell discovered the secret and threatened to expose Don, but SC partner Bert Cooper dismissed the threat. (Bert later used the secret to compel Don to sign an employment contract which Don had been resisting.)

These all paled in comparison to the doomsday scenario of Betty finding out the truth, which she did late this season. Don came clean, pretty much, and for a while it seemed like the Drapers would be able to move forward together. Maybe that will prove true in future seasons (I don't see the show abandoning Betty and the kids entirely), but for now, Don has moved out, Betty is on her way to Nevada for a quickie divorce, and the show's focus has apparently shifted in favor of Don's workplace.

In the other late-season upheaval, said workplace isn't quite Sterling Cooper anymore. Rather, in a series of behind-the-back passes, Don and his partners have formed Sterling Cooper Draper Price, their bulwark against being absorbed into a bland, faceless Madison Avenue adscape. (As noted here, the agency which bought the old Sterling Cooper was responsible for Coke's treacly "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" commercial.)

To do this, Don must repair his other damaged relationships, not just with Pete, but also to his protege Peggy Olson and his colleague Roger Sterling. This struck me as a very Batman-ish thing to do, especially since the Batman of the late '90s (and forward) had also surrounded himself with a surrogate family. In time-honored fan tradition, therefore, I will try to map Don's relationships to Bruce Wayne's.

Betty Draper is superficially similar to any number of Bruce's girlfriends who can't figure out why their date ends whenever the Bat-Signal lights up the sky. Clearly Betty's split from Don goes deeper than that. In Batman terms, she's Silver St. Cloud, who dumps Bruce after she discovers the truth; although Silver was more remorseful than Betty appears to be. Indeed, Betty is upset with Don basically for lying to her since they met. Don tries to rationalize this, asking rhetorically when he was supposed to tell her (first date? proposal? wedding night?), but no dice. Betty's reaction is a dagger through the heart of any secret-identity lifestyle, even despite her own fumbling attempts at infidelity. Still, we're not so much concerned with Betty here.

Pete Campbell is the Huntress/Helena Bertinelli, a rival of Don's who nevertheless seems bent on aping his methods and even going a little farther. I would say that Pete is Robin/Jason Todd, but neither Don nor Pete want to be mentor and protege. Besides, Batman admired Huntress enough to sponsor her for Justice League membership, and Pete is sufficiently forward-thinking for Don and Roger to recruit him into the new firm. (Also, Pete has the big clients they'll need.)

Roger Sterling worked his way out of Don's good graces over the course of this season, divorcing his wife in order to marry Don's 20-year-old secretary and thereby giving in fully to his midlife crisis. The sale of Sterling Cooper, and the prospect of facing an unbearably boring retirement alongside a vapid trophy wife, is the kick in the pants Roger needs to revive his old competitive spirit. Accordingly, Roger is Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, who gave into his more destructive impulses and had to prove himself to Batman all over again.

(Bert Cooper is Alfred, Don's older confidant who knows Don's background but doesn't care. Don doesn't need to mend too much with Bert.)

Finally, Peggy Olson is Robin/Nightwing/Dick Grayson, Don's number-one protege and the person who might have been the most wounded by Don's callous appraisals. Peggy started at SC as Don's secretary, but her ideas for a lipstick campaign led to her becoming a respected copywriter. This season, though, she was seduced (literally -- eww) by Don's rival Duck Phillips. Peggy realized she was becoming stuck in Don's shadow, and it was implied pretty heavily that she was thinking about going to Duck's firm. She stayed with SCDP, though, because she and Don both have tragedies in their pasts which shape their views of the world. (Peggy gave up a child for adoption between seasons 1 and 2, and Don helped her through it.) I suspect many "Mad Men" fans would gladly throw Don's marriage under the bus if it meant keeping Don and Peggy's relationship intact.

Now, I'm sure Don's personality and attendant relationships have a lot in common with other cold-on-the-outside characters and their ensembles. It's a simple way to humanize those kinds of characters. I stand by that Peggy/Dick comparison, though, even if it means Duck is the Starfire....

* [Considering that Harry said this in 1960, well before any of the major Batmania periods, I wonder if Superman, more popular at the time, might have been a better comparison.] Full Post

Monday, October 26, 2009

Podcast thoughts

As you might have guessed, real life has intruded on my attempts to do weekly-roundup podcasts, just as it did on the written versions. I don't mind doing them; but there are logistical difficulties, most of which concern a certain 14 1/2-month-old and her various bodily needs. In other words, it's been hard finding an hour (at least) to record and edit the things.

Therefore, because I can't quite tell how many of you actually listen to and/or like the podcasts, I'm asking now. Sound quality notwithstanding, would you like me to keep doing them, or would you prefer I go back to weekly posts on this site? My feelings won't be hurt either way, and I may even do a little of both.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

New comics 9/30/09

A light week means a shorter podcast, and at the risk of being immodest, this week I think I am finally starting to put all the pieces together. Comics discussed include the Astro City: Astra Special #1, Blackest Night: Titans #2, Gotham City Sirens #4, Green Lantern #46, Justice League of America 80-Page Giant #1, Superman #692, Unknown Soldier #12, and Wonder Woman #36. Olivia helps as well, and as always the music is by R.E.M.

Download it here, stream it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!
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Monday, September 28, 2009

Where are the Marvel nerd pages?

Writing annotations for Trinity was a whole lot easier thanks to the wealth of DC nerd-sites on the Internets. The Unauthorized Chronology of the DC Universe is an excellent, well-reasoned, and fairly comprehensive timeline of post-Crisis DC. The DCU Guide indexes most characters' appearances, both currently and in the Golden and Silver Ages. Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics focuses on the company's publishing history.

However, for a company which made Eliot R. Brown a legend among nerds, I haven't been able to find comparable resources for the Marvel Universe. If I want to know how Dr. Strange's Defenders appearances dovetailed with his various solo series, where do I go? Last week I was curious to see whether the Essential Spider-Woman books covered all of the character's major appearances, but I'm unaware of a Marvel counterpart to the DCU Guide. I'd love to see month-by-month charts of Marvel's output over the past seventy years, but again, no luck.

So what about it, True Believers? And don't tell me it's because you actually have lives....
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New comics 9/23/09

Good grief, it's another huge week for the podcast, although this one comes in at just under 40 minutes. The lineup includes Beasts Of Burden #1, Blackest Night: Superman #2, Detective Comics #857, Fantastic Four #571, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #5, Galactica 1980 #1, Justice League of America #37, Madame Xanadu #15, The Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror #15, Supergirl #45, Superman: Secret Origin #1, and Wednesday Comics #12. Music, as always, is by R.E.M.

Download it here, stream it via the player on this page, or visit the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!
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Monday, September 21, 2009

New comics 9/16/09

Big agenda this week not just because a whole lot of comics came out, but also because we're catching up from last week. That means forty-odd minutes of laconic drawlin' 'bout Action Comics #881, Agents Of Atlas #11, Batman And Robin #4, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #4, Blackest Night #3, The Brave and the Bold #27, Captain America Reborn #3, Green Arrow & Black Canary #24, JSA Vs. Kobra #4, Marvels Project #2, Warlord #6, and Wednesday Comics #s 10 and 11.

Download it here, listen to it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here. Music, of course, is by R.E.M.
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New comics 9/10/09

Another light week this week, in part because I got to the shop too late for new issues of Wednesday Comics and Warlord. It still leaves Blackest Night: Batman #2, Booster Gold #24, Doom Patrol #2, Green Lantern Corps #40, Secret Six #13, Superman: World Of New Krypton #7, Titans #17, and The Unwritten #5.

Tune in as I use the word "gratuitous" in a way that may seem, well, gratuitous; marvel as a "pal" gets the boot; admire the squickiness of Secret Six, and observe the unfortunate juxtaposition of a thong and hot dog. Olivia contributes comments in the background. Music, as always, is by R.E.M.

Download it here, listen to it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here.

Happy listening!
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Friday, September 04, 2009

New comics 9/2/09

Not a big week this week, thank goodness -- just Agents Of Atlas #10, Batman #690, Justice League: Cry For Justice #3, Strange Tales #1, Supergirl Annual #1, and Wednesday Comics #9. As it happens, I'll be out of pocket next week, so check back in about ten days. Music, as always, by R.E.M.

Download it here, listen to it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!
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Friday, August 28, 2009

New comics 8/26/09

My throat's still a little sore, but the new comics just keep coming--!

Therefore, get ready for 32 minutes' worth of Batman And Robin #3, Blackest Night: Titans #1, Detective Comics #856, Fantastic Four #570, Flash: Rebirth #4, Gotham City Sirens #3, Green Lantern #45, Madame Xanadu #14, Superman #691, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #2, Unknown Soldier #11, Wednesday Comics #8, and Wonder Woman #35. Can you handle it?

Music, of course, is by R.E.M.

Download it directly here, stream it directly from the player on this here site, or go to the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!
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Monday, August 24, 2009

New comics 8/19/09

As promised, here's the podcast for last week's comics. Specifically, they're Batman: Streets Of Gotham #3, Blackest Night: Superman #1, The Brave and the Bold #26, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4, Justice League of America #36, Supergirl #44, Superman Annual #14, and Wednesday Comics #7. The embarrassing reference this time out is to Ally McBeal. Music, of course, is by R.E.M.

Download it directly here, stream it directly from the player on this here site, or go to the podcast homepage here.
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

I got knocked out, and that turned out OK

The short version of this post is, the podcast is late because I have been sick. It'll be done tomorrow, I hope.

The long version is, I ate something Thursday night which disagreed rather persuasively with me, so much so that I spent pretty much all of Friday on my back.

On the plus side, Thursday night I did get to see an "Incredible Hulk" I'd never seen before, where Hulk must land jetliner. Hulk evidently had lasagna.

Accordingly, yesterday and today were filled with postponed chores. It also meant I was in no shape to participate in Tom Spurgeon's Five For Friday, which this week was all about matching songs with the comics pros who we'd want adapting them.

Anyway, it's a good thing I didn't get to submit my list, because I had gotten stuck on "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" adapted by George Perez -- you know, for the quintessential Perez "let there be light" gradually-expanding layouts -- and clearly I was too sick to blog because I didn't take this vivisection of the song into consideration.

So now I'm feeling much better, thanks; and I might as well share a list, right? How about:

1. "Boys Of Summer," Don Henley -- Alex Toth
2. "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," Billy Joel -- Rozakis/DeStefano
3. "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," Meat Loaf -- O'Neil/Adams
4. "Annie's Song," John Denver -- Wolfman/Perez
5. "Dancing In The Streets," Martha Reeves and the Vandellas -- Simone/Scott

(Aaah, probably still sick....)
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

New comics 8/12/09

For this week's 40 minutes of heck, I try to balance a rant about Dr. Mid-Nite and some Blair Butler bewilderment with some memories of the classic New Teen Titans and nice words about Wednesday Comics' "Wonder Woman."

Specifically, it's Action Comics #880, Adventure Comics #1, Batman #689, Blackest Night #2, Blackest Night: Batman #1, Booster Gold #23, Green Arrow/Black Canary #23, Green Lantern Corps #39, JSA Vs. Kobra #3, Titans #16, The Unwritten #4, and Wednesday Comics #6. Plus, Olivia gets another cameo!

Download it directly here, visit the podcast homepage here, or cast your eyes to the player at right.

Music, as always, by R.E.M.
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Thursday, August 06, 2009

New comics 8/5/09

This week it's Unknown Soldier #10 (making up for its omission last time), plus Agents Of Atlas #9, Astro City: The Dark Age Book 3 #4, Captain America Reborn #2, Doom Patrol #1, House of Mystery #16, Justice League: Cry For Justice #2, Marvels Project #1, Secret Six #12, Spirit #32, Superman: World Of New Krypton #6, Warlord #5, and Wednesday Comics #5. Sorry about the lingering sound-quality issues -- I used to know how to work a microphone.

By the way, it seems like I might have gotten a copy of The Marvels Project #1 a week early -- but there it was, and who am I to argue?

And just for the record, I was pretty mystified, and more than a little creeped out, about Green Lantern and Green Arrow's "threesome" conversation.

Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here.

(Music by R.E.M.)
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Saturday, August 01, 2009

New comics 7/29/09

This week I go off on a little rant about Mark Millar's Fantastic Four, and there are references to Fargo and Stripes, as well as a thoroughly-unsurprising Monty Python reference. Otherwise, it's Batman: The Brave and the Bold #7, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3, Detective Comics #855, Fantastic Four #569, Justice League of America #35, Madame Xanadu #13, Superman #690, Wednesday Comics #4, and Wonder Woman #34. Music, as always, is by R.E.M.

[EDIT: Sorry, folks, the Unknown Soldier stuff somehow got lost in the editing process. I'll try to work it in next week!]

Download it here, or go directly to the podcast homepage here.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

I thought this was easy, but my answers are probably wrong

Kurt Busiek asks:

How many Legionnaires can you name who had letters on their costume?

Naturally, the 'L' on the flight ring doesn't count.

I got five — or eight, depending on how technical you want to get.

Mark Waid got the same five, but agreed that those other three shouldn't count.

Paul Levitz got four, with the same caveat.

James Robinson got five.

Tom Galloway came up with a sixth, but then, as I understand it, he was at the Challenge last year, so he's had much more time to think about it. And I spurn his sixth name as a technicality anyway, while Mark grumbled that yeah, it's a technicality but he should have gotten it anyway.

I can think of five, plus the "three who shouldn't count" -- but again, I am not really a Legion scholar, so I'm probably missing something:

1. Superboy
2. Supergirl
3. Phantom Girl
4. Element Lad
5. Ferro Lad

... and the "honorable mentions" would be Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy, and Saturn Girl, whose codenames were written out on their costumes in their very first appearance.

Now off to's forum to check my work!
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

New comics 7/22/09

This week's podcast features Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2, Final Crisis: Legion Of Three Worlds #5, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3, Gotham City Sirens #2, Green Lantern #44, Madame Xanadu #s 11-12, The Spirit #31, Power Girl #3, Supergirl #43, and Wednesday Comics #3.

Sorry in advance about some lingering sound-quality issues. This is also the second week in a row in which I use the phrase "boy band."

Once again, Olivia contributes from the peanut gallery, and R.E.M. supplies the music. Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So, does he grow up to be an architect?

I'm not that far into Essential Nova Vol. 1, but ... it's like it's trying to be bad.

Naturally I remember Nova from its original run. I bought the issue with Spider-Man on the cover -- probably because it had Spider-Man on the cover -- and I remember being haunted by the Nova-in-deathtrap cliffhanger which closed out the issue. [Caution: memories may not be accurate to particular issues.] Other than that, though, it didn't leave much of an impression. I sure didn't remember Marv Wolfman writing it.

Actually, I'm not sure Marv would have wanted people remembering he wrote Nova. The character might be described as "what if Peter Parker were Green Lantern?" but that's not really fair to Peter Parker. Richard Rider, the 17-year-old who gets zapped with the powers of the Nova Prime Centurion, is a paragon of mediocrity. He makes average grades, he has a genius younger brother, his nerd friends are each funnier than he is, and -- and this is clearly meant to be Marv's crowning achievement in the field of characterization -- the school bully who picks on him is not only the head jock, he's better off academically too. After a few issues we learn that the bully picks on Richard as an outlet for the pressures of high expectations, so right there our hero's chief antagonist becomes more interesting, if not more sympathetic. This is not the same Marv Wolfman who wrote Tomb of Dracula, Fantastic Four, or even those goofy late-'60s Teen Titans. He's trying so hard to craft the ultimate teen superhero -- right in Spider-Man's back yard, mind you -- that Richard comes across like George Costanza's intern.

To be fair, the "Marvel manner" of superheroics centered around characters who were outcasts of one sort or another, and/or whose powers got in the way of their having regular lives. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Thing, and even more traditionally-positioned heroes like Captain America and Doctor Strange were each alienated from society to a certain degree. Also, when Richard is zipping around as Nova, he's much easier to take (although his dialogue still makes Marv's Beast Boy/Changeling sound like Noel Coward). Still, there is an air of frustrated greatness around each of Marvel's classic characters, like their superheroic careers are making up for ... well, probably for the accidents which facilitated their superheroic careers. I'm waiting for the issue which explains in detail why Richard, and not one of his friends or enemies, was zapped with the Nova bolt. As it stands now, Marv seems to be equating "completely average" with "relatable," and I'm just not seeing it.

Oh well. At least Marv is starting to spell "cannot" as one word. When I was reading Tomb of Dracula, that particular habit got real old real fast....
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

However, if she starts rollerskating, we may have a problem

Well, that was easy: the Madame Xanadu paperback (written by Matt Wagner, pencilled by Amy Reeder Hadley, inked by Hadley and Richard Friend) sold me on the regular series. I found it to be an energetic, engaging story and a fun travelogue through the magical history of the DC universe.

However, it makes me wonder why this book is assigned to Vertigo and not the main DC superhero line. It guest-stars the Phantom Stranger, who by the way is orders of magnitude more interesting here than he's ever been. It features tons of references to, and guest-shots by, DC superhero characters like Morgaine le Fay, the Demon, Doctor Fate, the Spectre, the Zatara family, and even Green Lantern. To be honest, it is the kind of appeal to the main-line DC fan which I haven't seen since the early issues of Sandman. (And that reminds me -- that series is referenced pretty heavily here too.)

Maybe that's the answer. The wonky "border restrictions" between DCU and Vertigo probably would have prohibited the Endless from appearing in a main-line DC book, but that may only go one way, such that DC superheroes can appear in Vertigo comics.

Now I have to decide if House of Mystery would be better-read in paperback form....
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

New comics 7/15/09

In this week's podcast: Action Comics #879, Agents Of Atlas #8, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #2, Blackest Night #1, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1, Brave and the Bold #25, Captain America #601, JSA Vs. Kobra #2, Rasl #5, Titans #15, Wednesday Comics #2, and Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38.

I hope I have fixed some of the lingering technical issues (which I further hope no one minded in the last episode), and of course I am still working on my elocution. Early on, Olivia even offered her own comments in the background. (The music, once again, is by R.E.M.)

Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here. Thanks for listening!
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's my 5-year blogoversary -- in stereo!

Can you believe that it's been five years since this humble blog was launched? Heck, it seems like five years since the last post....

Accordingly, as a way to get back into the weekly new-comics grind, I am trying the exciting world of podcasts! Yes, give me thirty minutes and I'll give you somnolent commentary on the usual batch of new purchases! This week it's Wednesday Comics #1, The Unwritten #3, House Of Mystery #15, Superman: World Of New Krypton #5, Green Lantern #43, Batman #688, Green Arrow/Black Canary #22, Booster Gold #22, and The Warlord #4. (Music is by R.E.M.)

Right-click here to download the episode. You can also visit the podcast homepage here.

Anyway, I'm hoping to have new installments up on weekends (or Fridays if I'm lucky), so keep an eye out!
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Friday, June 26, 2009

What's the matter with Kansas?, part 2: Superman Inc.

I got the idea to blog about this 1999 Elseworlds while in the middle of reading Red Son, and the reason should be pretty obvious: here, the focus isn't on communism, but unapologetic capitalism.

Superman Inc. was written by Steve Vance, pencilled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and inked by Mark Farmer. It's an unusual Elseworlds in that it's not about superheroics. Instead, Dale "Superman" Suderman (the erstwhile Kal-El of Krypton) is the greatest athlete the Earth has ever known -- a star in the NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball, a multiple-medal-winning Olympian, and an unstoppable marketing force. His chief rival is still Lex Luthor (now a team owner), but this time Dale/Supes earns Luthor's wrath by screwing Luthor out of a new stadium.

See, Dale isn't exactly a paragon of virtue, which the book demonstrates in a pointed parody of the regular Superman's boy-scout reputation. After Dale's grinned and glad-handed his way through a lobby full of adoring kids ("Have this [jacket] fumigated," he later tells his assistant), he tears into his staff for their concept-art failures. "Can't you morons get anything right? How many times do I have to tell you?! I'm Superman! I'm everybody's friend! I don't grimace -- I smile!" This last sentence accompanies the scary picture of an intensely beady-eyed Superman poking the ends of his mouth upwards in a look that would give the Joker chills.

What brought Dale to this state was a succession of foster homes and juvenile facilities, necessitated by the death of Dale's foster mother. Dale's powers contributed to her death, because his flying startled her into falling down the stairs and breaking her neck. This caused Dale to draw into himself (and also repress the use of his flashier powers), until years later when a chance involvement in pickup basketball awakened his "athletic abilities." It's certainly not an unrealistic alternative to Superman's origin, and it gives Dale's story a poignancy that a straight-up "Clark chose football over virtue" choice might have lacked. (Dale isn't without some scruples, though, thanks to his mentor, ex-NBAer Marcus Clark.)

Nevertheless, Dale can't quite let go of his powers, and as another marketing tool creates a "Superman" cartoon which uses the familiar costume and abilities. Thus, in this reality superstar athlete Dale Suderman invented the super-hero, which seems a little precious but pretty much works in context. Meanwhile, though, Luthor and his investigators (including reporter Lois Lane, naturally) have pieced together Dale's extraterrestrial origins, and use their findings to "out" Dale. Being a nigh-omnipotent alien is apparently worse than using human growth hormone, so Dale's career threatens to start circling the drain.

An enraged Dale makes matters worse when he storms Luthor's penthouse offices, is defenestrated thanks in part to a shard of Kryptonite, and flies back up to administer beatings in front of many witnesses. Furthermore, during an attempt at talk-show rehabilitation, Dale gets shot with a Kryptonite bullet and winds up in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Lois shows up, having quit Luthor's employ once she figured out he was behind the shooting. She's withdrawing herself: "I may do some teaching," she says as she leaves.

At this point Superman Inc. starts to steer Dale in a more traditional direction, with a visit from a familiar generically-named police detective. Yes, J'Onn J'Onzz tells Dale that there are many aliens living on Earth who could benefit from a more positive role model, so why doesn't he shape up? Thus, Dale heads back to where it all began, in Kansas, to clear his head and figure out what to do with his life. Along the way, he's knocked out by a lightning strike. No points for guessing which kindly couple takes him in!

Actually, that too is handled pretty smoothly. The Kents don't know Dale Suderman from Adam, so he's able to hide out with them without much effort. On the farm he learns the value of hard work, etc., and eventually tells the world (via taped message) he's headed into space to find the remains of his home planet. However, on the last page of the book, it's "Clark Kent" who registers for Lois' Journalism 101 class....

Superman Inc. looks like a pretty slight story, but I think it has a lot going on beneath the surface. The "I don't grimace" scene is actually a nice encapsulation of the book's message about image management. Dale's mother dies because she thinks her flying child is a demon, and Dale turns this into introversion and self-loathing. Once Dale has started playing basketball, though, that gets completely inverted, and his face becomes ubiquitous. (The "S" symbol shows up too, but as the logo for Dale's new basketball franchise, the Metropolis Spartans.) In this way "Superman" allows Dale to use his powers, after a fashion.

However, as in Red Son, Dale has no "secret identity" which might offer another perspective. Therefore, this book's "Superman goes nuts" scene also forces him into hiding as a bespectacled nobody. In Red Son Superman's disguise is just that; but here, it's implied pretty strongly that "Clark" is the real deal -- a kinder, gentler iteration of the boy who grew up to be an oversaturating sensation. The traditional Superman was Clark before he was famous, so Dale needed to learn how "Clark" could help him cope.

There is a hint, too, that Dale could re-emerge as Superman the superhero, fighting evil and injustice in the mode of his animated alter ego. After all, if Dale can't use his powers for sports anymore, he'll need some other outlet. The logistical gymnastics that would require seem well-suited for a sequel. Too bad DC has gotten out of the Elseworlds business....
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Monday, June 22, 2009

What's the matter with Kansas?, part 1: Red Son

This post is the first installment in a short series about various Superman Elseworlds. Nudged by the news that DC is releasing a hardcover edition, I re-read Superman: Red Son over the weekend. That got my brain going, and I wanted then to re-read other stories. Look for posts on Superman & Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy, Superman: The Dark Side, Superman Inc., and probably at least one other, in the near future.

Right from the start, Red Son (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett) creates an all-encompassing sense of horrifying inevitability, like there is absolutely no way it will end well. At the same time, though, that inevitability almost makes it read like dull, state-sanctioned propaganda. Accordingly, I found Red Son to be rather a frustrating comic -- not in the reading, which was fairly engaging, but in the message (or lack thereof).





First, a bit of personal perspective on Red Son. Lefty though I may be, I did grow up during the last two decades of the Cold War, and lived under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction. We didn't have "duck and cover" drills in the '70s and '80s, but we did have The Day After, Red Dawn, and "Amerika." While a lot of that turned out to be right-wing nightmare fuel, I wasn't particularly eager to have the United States turned into the Workers' Paradise.

It seems to me that Red Son plays on those kinds of fears and expectations. The big surprise, apparently, is not that Superman is a Commie; it's that he's a compassionate Commie, eschewing outright conquest in favor of winning the world's hearts and minds. Even so, I found it hard to root for Superman, simply because of what he represented in this story; and I'm sure that's just the way Millar wanted it.

See, Red Son argues that as a Soviet operative (and later as Soviet leader), Superman gets to examine how the apparatus of the state could be used for the benefit of all. In the capitalist United States, Superman/Clark can be just another guy, doing what he can to help out. However, if the state is charged with taking care of everyone, and Superman is the state (for all practical purposes), then he has an obligation to give the people food, shelter, etc.

Nevertheless, these are background and motivational details. Millar doesn't really make a case for communism (Soviet-style or otherwise) -- or, more accurately, he doesn't use Superman to "rehabilitate" communism -- as much as he implies that a communist viewpoint enables Superman's actions in the pursuit of social justice. Thus, Red Son is another in a long line of "Superman takes over the world" stories, and like those, it ends with the realization that Superman can't impose his personal morality on humanity as a whole.

"But that would mean," my straw-man says, "that if the world got too corrupt, evil, depraved, etc., for Superman, he wouldn't do anything about it!" I agree -- and remember, that's exactly what turns the Kingdom Come Superman into a bearded, pony-tailed hermit, living on a holo-farm in the Fortress of Solitude. Both the KC and RS Supermen have one last red-eyed rampage which ends in the above-described come-to-Jesus moment.

And as much as I shudder at the thought of a Soviet Superman leading the Red Army triumphantly down Main Street USA, I think Red Son would have been better had it not given into that familiar character bit. Admittedly, Millar sets up RS's come-to-Jesus moment pretty well, equating Superman's global victory with his one unquestioned failure, but its first two chapters are so chilling that it's almost a cop-out for Millar to bring in conventional Superman morality.

I want to stress here that I am not trying to connect said morality with uniquely American values. Instead, I just think it would have been more interesting for RS-Supes to have embraced fully the benign totalitarianism he'd been practicing for most of the story.

That's the unspoken point of Elseworlds generally, though, isn't it? Superman is Superman, whether he's in the Middle Ages or the Civil War or raised by the Waynes. At some point, however, it makes these stories exercises in rearranging the details. In the end that's what I didn't like about Red Son: all of its radical visions -- Wonder Woman traumatized by the loss of her lasso, JFK an aging buffoon, Hal Jordan waterboarded -- seem only skin-deep. Indeed, the critical moment in the third part comes when President Luthor pretty much only has to snap his fingers in order to reinvigorate the United States' moribund, third-world economy. There's your communist-vs.-capitalist showdown in a nutshell: Superman spends decades shaping the USSR into the world's only superpower, and Luthor reawakens the US practically overnight.

Like I said, frustrating. Is Red Son shaggy and padded with high-concept "moments," or is it all necessary in order to get to Luthor's "checkmate?" Is it shrewd satire, not just of Superman but Bush-era foreign policy; or is that undercut by the eventual redemptive moment? Did Superman deserve some comeuppance beyond the loss of his identity and prestige? Certainly Red Son is thought-provoking, but I'm not sure the answers justify the effort.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kids -- they'll age you!

[I should really preface this post with a disclaimer: anyone looking for an extremely well-thought-out DC timeline owes Chris Miller's site a look. The following won't necessarily match up with Chris's work, but that's probably because I'm making more assumptions than he is.]

It's been a while since I've tried to work out a rough Batman timeline. However, Grant Morrison says that Damian Wayne is ten years old, and that's got me thinking. A ten-year-old Damian tends to explode the notion that DC's current timeline is perpetually only 12-13 years old (that is, DC's "Year One" was somewhere around 1996-97). Batman/Bruce didn't even meet Talia until Dick was off at college -- well into Dick's Robin career, at least a year or two before he became Nightwing. Assuming that Bruce and Talia didn't make the sign of the double-humped camel until 1987's Son of the Demon graphic novel -- which appeared a few real-time years after Dick gave up the short pants in early 1984 -- that means Dick has been Nightwing for at least ten years. Accordingly, that gives Tim Drake a pretty substantial Robin career, and it probably has implications for Jason Todd's tenure as well.

Memorable milestones make the Batman timeline is relatively easy to figure. Bruce Wayne was 25 during "Batman: Year One," Dick Grayson became Robin somewhere in Year Three and turned 20 not long after becoming Nightwing, and Tim Drake was 13 when he became Robin. (By the way, has "Batman: Year Three" been lost in a continuity fog? For some reason I think it has, even though it pretty much sets up Tim's origin in "A Lonely Place Of Dying.") Furthermore, back in late 1986/early 1987, when "Year One" was originally serialized, Bat-editor Denny O'Neil theorized that the then-current Batman stories were taking place in Year Seven.

I don't agree with Denny's thinking there, primarily because it gives Dick Grayson too short a Robin career. If he turned 20 as Nightwing, but he spent a year in college as Robin (say, age 18), then the transition probably happened while he was 19. Even if that changeover occurred in Year Seven (and it probably didn't), then Dick was only Robin for around four years, and was in his mid-to-late teens when he started.

Besides, Damian's age lets us work backwards. If he's ten now, he was conceived some eleven years ago (1998) -- probably as chronicled in Son of the Demon.

(Brief digression: Batman #666 has a one-panel flashback to the night Damian was conceived, showing the original/"Year One"-style Bat-suit, as opposed to the "New Look"/yellow-oval model still in use in SotD. No doubt this gives DC some wiggle room to claim that Damian was conceived many years earlier than SotD, and thus that Talia and Bruce "knew" each other before they were properly introduced, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Well, I say phooey on that. It would mean that either Ra's al Ghul or Talia knew pretty early on that Batman needed to join the family; and as impressive as Batman's early career might have been, it surely wasn't that impressive.)

Therefore, with Son of the Demon as our eleven-years-ago milepost, we can start estimating other events. Dick (age 20-21) was Nightwing, and Jason was a teenaged Robin. Dick turned 20 pretty soon after Crisis On Infinite Earths ended, so by the time of SotD he was probably around 21. Thus, Crisis took place twelve years ago. Moreover, if Dick became Nightwing at age 19, that takes us back thirteen years; with Dick's year at Hudson University being fourteen years ago. In other words, Dick was 18 in 1995, making him 32 today.

However, there is some disagreement over Dick's age in Year Three. Marv Wolfman, who wrote "Year Three" (and, of course, all those New Teen Titans issues; and who was writing Batman when NTT launched), stated often in dialogue that Dick had been Robin since age eight. This would give Dick a pretty substantial Robin career of at least eleven years (ages 8-19) -- but how old would that make Bruce? If Dick was eight in Year Three, that would make 2009 Year Twenty-Seven, and Bruce would be 53 -- which, by the way, is Dark Knight "retired for ten years" territory.

We can try to figure Dick's age by using Tim's; and we can figure Tim's in relation to Jason Todd's career. Jason was killed (in real time) in 1988, about a year after Son of the Demon was published. 13-year-old Tim met Batman and Nightwing some months after that, which probably places the event in the DC-year following SotD. It would make Tim 13 when Damian was 1.

Here, though, we run into another problem: as far as I know, DC refuses to let Tim turn 20; and it surely won't cop to Tim being 22. This ceiling makes Tim at most 9 years older than Damian and 13 years younger than Dick. It also affects Bruce's age, since Tim was old enough to remember the Flying Graysons' routines on the night Dick's parents were killed. For some reason I want to say Tim was 2 years old when this happened in Year Three. That would make Bruce 25 years older than Tim, and 44 today -- which would make this Year 20.

In summary, then, Bruce is 44, Dick 32, and Tim 19. Dick's Robin career lasted from ages 15-19, Jason Todd's spanned (all or parts of) Years 7-14, and Tim's is in its seventh year (his brief "retirement" notwithstanding). The lingering problem with this timeline is that it may give Jason a longer Robin career than he had in real time (around 4 years, 1984-88), so I may have to revisit my assumptions to correct that.

Still, the point remains that Damian's age necessarily extends everyone else's timeline, and I hope DC acknowledges that.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not quite a debriefing on The X Files

Well, I've finished nine seasons, one movie, and thirteen "Lone Gunmen" episodes, and overall I was pleasantly surprised at how well The X Files held together.

When the show was in the thick of its conspiracy plot -- say, in 1998 and '99 -- I watched and re-watched it obsessively, looking for hidden connections and other clues. However, after the Syndicate was wiped out, there didn't seem much point; and I could never connect the subsequent "super-soldier" plotline to the black oil, bees, etc. Accordingly, I have been watching those later episodes for the first time since they aired, over seven years ago. (In fact, the final episode aired on May 19, 2002.)

The show became famous, or perhaps infamous, for its complex mythology. As I remember, a lot of fans felt cheated that Chris Carter and company were apparently making stuff up as they went along. Personally, with "The Truth" fairly fresh in my memory, I'm glad the show turned out as coherent as it did. Still, "The Truth" left a few significant cliffhangers on the table, including the fates of Skinner, Kersh, Doggett, Reyes, and the X Files themselves. (I still haven't seen the second movie, so if it offers any clues, please don't spoil 'em.)

Finishing up the final season has also affected my perspective on the shift in Scully's character. With Mulder definitely out of the picture (teases notwithstanding), Scully is free to become the "senior partner" with regard to Doggett and Reyes. Apparently Season Nine was also going to be Gillian Anderson's last, regardless of what happened to the show, so it shifted focus to the new pair. (It also played up the possibility of romance between D & R, which I found rather forced -- but more about that later.) Season Nine did have its share of funny Scully moments ("Lord of the Flies," "Improbable," "Scary Monsters"), as well as the heart-wrenching "William" (where events compel her to give up her son for adoption). Indeed, Scully's roles in "Lord of the Flies" and "Scary Monsters" elevated episodes which I would otherwise have dismissed as remakes of better installments.

While I didn't actively dislike Annabeth Gish as Monica Reyes, I thought the character suffered from an excess of backstory contrivance. She wasn't a Mary Sue, but she did seem to be in the right place at the right time, dramatically speaking, a little too often. Whereas Doggett's skepticism was tempered by acceptance of the phenomena he'd actually experienced, Reyes was more of a "token" believer. She was filling a slot which the show needed, but not in a particularly organic way. It's ironic, considering that she was introduced gradually into the show in order to establish her relationships with Doggett, Scully, and Mulder. I don't even remember her having any practical connection with the X Files unit (like Mulder investigating his sister's abduction, Scully's "debunking" assignment, or Doggett's search for Mulder) prior to her assignment. What's worse, arguably, is that we are told it's her dream job -- which is a very tricky thing to assert if you're trying to endear the audience to your new co-star. Reyes' history with Doggett (and also with Cary Elwes' AD Brad Follmer) also runs counter to the other characters' relationships, since Mulder, Scully, and Doggett had no such prior connections. The implication that she and Doggett would eventually fall in lurve seemed similarly convenient. In short, it was hard for me to like Reyes, because she just popped up and happened to hang around. Maybe, given time, she could have grown into the part, but she had a few years' worth of development forced on her almost from her introduction.

Anyway, over the life of the show, I found myself enjoying the standalone "monster" episodes more than the mythology. Sure, the mythology was fun, but the exceptional episodes tended to be standalones: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "War of the Coporophages," "Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man," the two-parters "Dreamland" and "Tempus Fugit"/"Max", "Post-Modern Prometheus," etc. Writer Vince Gilligan turned out quality episodes like clockwork, especially the hicks-gone-wrong "Small Potatoes" and "Bad Blood."

As the series drew to its close, it tended to dwell on its characters' isolation (and attempts to avoid same). At first, in "William" and "Release," our heroes said goodbye to their sons -- Scully to her infant, and Doggett to the murdered Luke. However, "Sunshine Days" and "The Truth" were about reunions -- a lonely man with his father-figure, and Scully with Mulder. In both cases the reunion comes at a cost (Oliver loses his powers, our heroes go on the run), but in light of the bonds renewed, they are costs worth bearing. (Again, please no spoilers about Movie #2.)

Thus, the series isn't so much about "the truth," or belief therein, as it is the connections and commitments which come with those beliefs. Over the course of the series, Scully becomes less of a skeptic, but for his part Mulder learns lessons of faith from Scully. Don't know when I'll embark on this journey again, but I found it worth taking.
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Friday, May 15, 2009

It's the post I just had to call ... "Face Front!"

So there I was, barely having started this week's Tales Of Asgard #1, when I learned that the Aesir squared off originally against "the totally evil FRONT GIANTS!"

Naturally, I checked the (earlier) reprint in Essential Thor Vol. 1, and saw that somewhere along the line, the text had been edited to read "FROST GIANTS" -- which, of course, makes more sense, since the rest of the story features those kinds of giants.

Indeed, it seems to me based on the lettering styles that the mistake was in the original, and that Marvel's quality-control people were more concerned with the new computer coloring than with Smilin' Stan's natty narration. I presume the new reprints worked from a different copy of the original art. Still, you'd think a single issue would be easier to check than a thick Essential volume.

Anyway, no big deal. At least it's faithful to the original (well, except for the new coloring). I even learned a valuable gymnastics term!
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A dubious anniversary

Unfortunately the day is almost over, but I couldn't let it pass without mentioning this.

Ten years ago today, on Wednesday, May 12, 1999, I got up earlier than sane people should (actually, around 4 a.m.) to (gasp) stand in line for tickets to Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This was at Lexington, Kentucky's Woodhill Movies 10 (represent!), then the nicest cinema in town, but which I understand has been supplanted by newer movie palaces further out in the 'burbs. It probably goes without saying that I had taken off from work to do this. (The day of the movie was pretty calm until the afternoon, when I got seriously worried that I'd have to work late, and by all that is holy I was not doing that.)

Anyway, I got there at 4:30 a.m. and was 147th in line, which by that point snaked around to the back of the building. It was a festive atmosphere, like tailgating for nerds. One band of ticket-seekers had brought a video projector (VHS, I presume, but it could have been laser) and was showing the Holy Trilogy on the side of the building. I got there for the last 15 minutes or so of Return of the Jedi.

As for me, I traveled light, with just a paperback. Seems like it was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but it could have been another Tom Wolfe or maybe a Hunter Thompson. Eventually I made some small talk with the guys around me in line, but none of us really bonded for life. After a while, though, this was not a particularly thrilling event, no matter what the "nerd tailgating" nickname suggests. The local new-rock radio station did a live broadcast from near the head of the line, and people were pretty cool about saving each other's places. I was almost interviewed by one of the TV stations, but then I remembered I hadn't exactly told the office why I was taking off that day. I even got a break to get lunch and new comics (it was Wednesday, remember). It was sunny too, so that was a plus. I got a good tan -- fight the pasty stereotype! -- without getting burned.

It seems strange now to think that standing in line for movie tickets was a big deal just ten years ago. I remember The Onion did a story about it and there were editorial cartoons contrasting the lines with the exodus of refugees from the Balkans. However, I didn't know when the box office would open (it opened early, at 3:30 p.m., so I was in line for some 11 hours), and it only took cash (I was getting 10 tickets at $6.25 apiece).

I did the same thing for Episode II three years later, except I got to the theater at about 7 a.m., it rained a little, and I was only there until the b.o. opened at a little after 11:00 a.m. Also, I was about 20th in line.

So yeah, while it was a bit dull and not exactly the kind of thing I'd want (or need) to do again, it was still kind of fun to see all those years of fan expectations personified in this pre-dawn exercise. Naturally the atmosphere for the actual movie (a week later, on May 19) was pretty charged, although I'm sure one's feelings about the movie itself probably overwhelmed whatever goodwill that nerd camaraderie generated. Good times, good times.
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Repositioning Scully

I'm pretty far into The X Files' penultimate season. Specifically, I've just watched "Three Words," where Mulder tries to reclaim his old job only to run afoul of Doggett (because Doggett is being set up by still-mysterious forces). These are fairly decent episodes, although they show pretty clearly that Mulder and Scully have gobs more chemistry than Scully and Doggett.

Between Mulder's absence and Doggett's struggle to prove himself (to the viewers, that is), Scully is Season 8's constant. Accordingly, Scully steps into Mulder's shoes as the agent "open to extreme possibilities." However, Scully also takes on Mulder's quest for a lost loved one. Mulder was searching for his sister, and for the first part of S8, Scully searches for Mulder.

Naturally, Scully's quest plays into her not-quite-romance with Mulder. She has given up a normal life to stay with the X Files -- not exactly to stay with him, because she has her own reasons for wanting to uncover the truth -- and he is therefore her touchstone. She can't abandon him, even if she weren't carrying their child. All her eggs, as it were, are in his basket. The show has told us more than once that, in a very real sense, she has no other life to go to. (I haven't seen the second movie yet, but I think that statement is still true as of Season 8.)

I suppose my question is this: does all of that make Scully so dependent on Mulder that it hurts her as a character? Certainly Scully isn't a bad character without Mulder -- the "Roadrunners" episode finds her stranded in a sinister little town, and she handles herself well for the most part -- but so far through Season 8, Mulder has been the elephant in the room. The reverse was not necessarily true for Mulder, who got more than a few episodes where Scully was either out of the picture or reduced to a supporting role. To be fair, the show tried to balance its solo stories, with M & S each getting an episode opposite the Lone Gunmen, and each having to play phone-tag while the other was in the field.

Regardless, there's only five episodes left in the season before Mulder leaves for all but the last two hours of the show; and I am left feeling like Scully isn't quite playing off Doggett or Skinner as much as she's still paired with Mulder's ghost. When all is said and done I think this is unfair to her; but the show seems to have been pointing her in this direction for a while, so it's not unexpected either. I don't know if it's sexist, but that aspect of it nags me too: Scully needs to find Mulder because she loves him, in a way quite different from Mulder's need to find his sister.

So, is Scully diminished for standing by her man? Thoughts?
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