Friday, January 29, 2010

Five Reasons to Love Fans

In no particular order:

1) Because sometimes they become creators

2) Stupid/Awesome Fanfiction

3) Silly Slashfic

4) Absolutely cool "in character" cosplayers!

5) Fanart

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lazy Mid-Week LinkBlogging

1) Tim O'Neil has an excellent look at the comics industry of the past decade. I'm not sure I agree with all his results, but they deserve a look at.
3) If you haven't gone to check out Alan David Doane's awesome sale - go quickly before it's all gone!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Your Moment of Funny

God I hate the Sentry,
and so should you.
On another note, please go support Alan David Doane's latest comic sale here. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Night Physics!

Back in High School, a friend of mine used to go on about how once the technology became available, he'd get as many cybernetic/bionic limbs and gadgets as he could, because the idea of living forever in a body made of steel sounded cool.

Now, not to shoot down the transhumanists, but I'm going to take some time tonight to shoot a few holes in your dreams.

  • Software: Size is the obvious first problem - software required to map your neurological impulses to the associated motion/action (and that's just limbs - never mind more complicated systems) would be pretty intensive, and prone to bugs - and who really wants to run their bodies and sensory organs on Windows Vista?
  • Systems control - So, you're going to control the various extra weapon and sensor systems (Nightvision, enhanced imaging, IR, UV, and etc etc) like you would operate you iPhone, I guess? (Totally unrelated, but if Steve Jobs hasn't gotten the trademark for iBorg, you should steal it - right now). Or are you going to try and operate it using an optical system from your eye. Oh, and what do you do when there's a malfunction? How many redundant systems can you cram into a human shape body?

  • Following from above: Power systems - what do you plan on having and how often are you going to have to recharge the systems (again, if it's going to fit into a human-size frame, it's probably going to be pretty small)? And won't it be expensive?
  • What about repairs and maintenance? And would that be covered by your health insurance or some other body? And yes, there would be maintenance - see cars, buildings, bridges, tanks, jet fighters - or any majorly expensive piece of hardware designed to last more than 2 years of heavy exposure to the elements.
  • For those of you who want to go for the mixed package of flesh and metal - how do the various parts interface? How do you prevent infection?-gangrene sucks. Or, given that the metal parts would likely have a very different weight and center of mass than the flesh and blood components they are replacing, you'd need a very good gyroscopic system (probably similar to what the F-22 uses) to maintain your balance and stablity while in motion. And you'd need to reinforce the non-metal bits so they can move the metal bits.

I'm sure they'll figure out solutions to these problems eventually, but here are some of the technical questions I have - and I hope you share them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

About Villains, Motivation, and Build-up

One of the big problems I mentioned in my overview of the current Spider-Man status quo last month was that I felt the villains had no arc or development. Now, to understand what I'm talking about, let's use what is probably the baseline for villain development in the Spider-Man books during the time period the current regime wants to recapture - Hobgoblin. A glancing inspection of the character's history reveals some interesting contrasts between what happened then and what's going on now.

The first thing we can note is that Hobgoblin's development is that, like recent Spider-Man villains, he was developed primarily by one writer (Roger Stern), but also through various other writers in a more-or-less cohesive editorial group, in multi-issue-per-month Spider-Man comic (over multiple titles, of course). The primary divergence here is that while Stern could have been seen as the primary writer, he wasn't the only one working with the character.

The next interesting thing to point out is that the Hobgoblin was a frequent opponent in the books at the time, and even when he wasn't the direct villain of the issue or arc, his presence was usually felt in the background or was even the focus of the B or C-plot. Because of this, the impact and consequences of the villain's schemes and actions were allowed to sink in. That's a pretty good thing to have in any story, especially in a superhero story where the primary action is often physically or emotionally violent - the consequences of said violence. Compare this to the consequences of...actually, this could be said of just about any Marvel villain except Nitro in the last 5 years or so? It's usually limited to the arc of whatever writer is on the book at the time, and the consequences are usually (but not always) delayed until the next time that particular villain appears. This is in part a consequence of the fact that with the current writer-centric focus in "Big Two" supercomics that some writers feel an ownership over a given character and his/her effects on the larger story, and that's a totally valid instinct - but in the sense of a larger super-narrative where you are sharing all the characters and stories with others, it can end up hurting the long game.

The Hobgoblin's schemes themselves are an interesting point of inspection - in that he had some fairly clear ones. His earliest efforts were focused on blackmailing Norman Osborn's business partners (and Harry Osborn) in order to get capital to build his own criminal power base. Oh and he decided to hold his main extorting event in the same building where the Kingpin was dining, did I mention that? This very slick bit of plotting immediately established two things about the Hobgoblin - that he was crafty and sheer-out-ballsy. It builds up the character as a legitmate rival to the Kingpin without direct confrontation or some other cheap storytelling gimmick. This is a pretty stark contrast to Ultimate Mysterio bumping off Kingpin in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics after only a couple of minor appearances or the Hood becoming the Kingpin of Supervillains because...he made a speech or something? Come to think of it, has the Green Goblin ever had a solid agenda beyond "Get Revenge on Spider-Man!"? There's been some very vague things about criminal workings, but never anything solid enough as a story in its own right.

Now, maybe setting the Hobgoblin as the standard for new Spider-Man villains is a bit rough - after all, you could say he was the biggest success by chance, or because the writing team also incorporated his mysterious identity into the mix. Those are fair comments to make - however, this exact same build-up and character development process was applied consistently throughout the late 70s and 8os, and even into the 90s for nearly all of Spider-Man's villains and supporting cast. I could have easily made this article about Tombstone, or Venom, or the Black Cat, or the revitalization of Robbie Robertson (of which Tombstone was a big part) or Doctor Octupus. Take a look at those comics and that build up during this time period - the self-same era that the current Spider-group wants so clearly to emulate, and ask yourself if you think they are doing a good job.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Things I don't get

OK, so this is one of the new promo images for the current status quo in the Wildstorm-verse, and I have a few questions to ask to anyone who is still reading the books (which judging from the sales is pretty much no-one).

  1. Spartan's new look there - Ok, I can sorta get the pseudo-Greek helmet (even if it looks more Roman than Greek, but I'll let that slide), but it doesn't look like it offers much in the way of face protection which strikes me as sort of the point. Also, weren't the Spartans more into spears and swords? What's with the Axe?
  2. So, that guy on the far far left - is that supposed to be Hellstrike? Did they really stick him back in his old costume from, what is it? 1993? Because that is ugly.
  3. Isn't it weird that everyone is now wearing tights? Wasn't the whole point of the Wildstorm endeveour to get away from traditional silver-age costumes and go for something a little more militaristic/real? Yet there's GEN-13, who's main selling point was that they were teens who just happened to have superpowers (instead of superheroes who happen to be teenagers), in Dave Cockrum -style Legion of Superheroes outfits. Talk about stepping backwards

Alright, answers if you got'em.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Your Moment of Funny

Alright, so what books would you recommend as deserving of wider recognition? Put'em up!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Comics that Deserve Greater Recognition Pt5

I only discovered Atomic Robo last year.

Yes, I know, I'm a horrible person.

So, in 1929 Nicola Tesla built an Atomic robot who has spent most of the last 80+ years with his company dealing with science gone mad, monsters and mystical creatures (well, it's fine if you think of them as mythical, but Robo doesn't believe in magic, so there's that). He's also been to Mars and helped explore the world.

Now, critics have said that the concept leans heavily on Atomic Robo. Two things:

-Not that much, no.
-You really could do worse then taking one of the most popular and enduring creator-owned franchises of the last twenty years as a model.

While Robo and Hellboy are both known to crack wise while fighting monsters, well...that's where the similarities end, really. Robo is a confirmed skeptic and scientist who doesn't buy into magic and the supernatural. Sure these creatures are monsters, but he tries (and largely succeeds) in framing them in scientific terms. He tries to reason his way out and goes as far as to point out the scientific and logical implausibility of the creatures he faces. Which is even more funny when he starts smashing them up really good. Atomic Robo is all about scientific romance; hell why else would you have Carl Sagan as a guest star in your book?

Atomic Robo is straightfoward, no-holds barred action comedy that combines classic sci-fi with a wry wit that leaves me entertained even after multiple re-reads. I'm very glad I ran into this book.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Comics that Deserve Greater Recognition Pt4

Anyone who has spent enough time going through the backlog knows I'm a huge fan of Aaron Williams PS238 (True Story: The motivational posters in the background of the comic inspired me to make motivational posters, and thus re-activate this blog. So it's all his fault).

If you haven't checked it out yet, the premise is simple -it's a school for the superpowered kids of Earth's greatest heroes (plus a few of the villains, and super kids with no legacy, oh and that one kid who's the offspring of Heaven and Hell, and...well, you get the idea). The main character of the series is Tyler Marlocke - the son of two powerful (and rather over-achieving) superheroes who is non-powered, and is the only student at the school whom doesn't have any powers. He struggles not only with a life that amounts to constant child-endangerment, but also on discovering the multitude of secrets that comes with a student body and teaching staff loaded to the brim with secret agendas and mysterious pasts.

As with most of the other entries listed here, what is the best delight is characterization and world building Williams has done. While some of it borrows from classic comics (a few analogues here and there), the majority of the cast are wholly original concepts, and many of the analogues diverge from their templates in a way that strips them of the immediate familiarity. The world-setting itself is unique - the superheroes of the world aren't treated as rockstars or an army - the closest comparison would be that of a self-regulating trade or professional practice like lawyers or doctors, which strikes me as a far more innovative and mature outlook on the concept than what is commonly found in superhero shared universes.

Williams succeeds best at giving the kids unique and recognizable traits - these aren't adults with maturity and experience in tiny bodies, nor are they teenagers with attitudes to prove something. Instead, they are kids, experimenting and completely earnest and honest about having fun with superpowers; in love with the excitement of it all. When they make mistakes, they don't have the ability to easily brush it off. The learning experience can be painful, and the consequences when those mistakes involve superpowers can be dire, which is where the teaching staff steps in to try and prevent those types of mistakes (in the best cases) or at least try and help the children cope. However, the problem is that while the teachers are themselves experienced in dealing with superpowers, only one of them has any teaching experience, and so they are as prone to failure and misjudgements as the kids themselves.

Williams work is funny; focusing on quick wit and trying to be accessible to both kids and adults in terms of the scope of the humor presented. There's very little slapstick, but a fair amount of good visual gags to be found. Where he has trouble are in his depictions of super-combat - it lacks the smooth and clear depictions of other segements of the book, even when he gets other action scenes. Whether it is a deliberate choice to make the book more marketable to kids or some genuine troubles with framing these types of actions is uncertain, but those scenes can be hard to follow.

All said, I recommend PS238 heartily - it's a great effort at all-ages entertainment that succeeds at almost every level and deserves your support.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Comics That Deserve Greater Recognition Pt3

Now, I know what you're saying - "Hey! Hellboy's already pretty popular! What gives?"

It's a valid point, but my response is thus:

1) Like you can ever say enough about how awesome Hellboy (and Mike Mignola) are
2) There's a couple things I (and maybe no one else) have never said about Hellboy, so I'm going to take the chance to talk about them.

The first thing I want to say is that I have to sit in awe of Hellboy's success. If you think back to the Nineties (and for some of you that might be hard, what with being very small and all) Hellboy would not have appeared to be a likely candidate for a long and prosperous franchise; after all, it was a new property being marketed by a company best known for comic series based on licensed properties from other media. It was complex, drawing on multiple levels of mythology, history (both real, mythical and totally newly crafted), in a series of mini-series, one-shots and trades, with a semi-regular schedule. It was a dark story, with an uncertain future and a mature direction. All this in the age where Spawn, Youngblood, and Cable ruled the comic racks.

Funny how things work out, no?

I think it's a testament to the purity and long-term thinking Mignola put into this, clearly his life's work, that he didn't take any shortcuts or compromises. As the song goes, he did it his way. And the results? The franchise has never been more popular and it's spawned (ba-dum-buh! I'll be here all week folks!) spin-offs in both animation and of course, two really cool movies, with more hopefully to come.

The other thing I want to comment on is the cleverness of the concept and how it's evolved. At first, the entire concept could have been easily summed up. "A demon gets raised by the government, grows up, and fights other demons." Simple. Gets to the point. And even after nearly 20 years of publication, that's still true - but the layers and evolution of the character (and the rich, detailed world Mignola has crafted around him) have been slowly revealed, while not allowing the core concept to waver even a millimeter. Think about how that compares to other comic concepts, that have completely upended their original mission statement (*cough cough* Authority *cough*) to the point that all the extra detail has actually removed what made the property work.

All this sends a very positive message that bears repeating and shouting from the rooftops: Play the Long Game, and stick to your guns, and you'll win.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Comics That Deserve Greater Recognition Pt2

Alright, this one might seem out of place next to the creator-owned stuff I have and will be continuing to promote, but I'm putting it up here anyway because it's such a great treat.

Dynamite's Zorro series, largely at the helm of Matt Wagner has been an absolute blast. The focus has been on something that has rarely (if ever) been touched upon in Zorro's 90-year history; his origins. Drawing largely from the recent novel by Isabel Allende that also covers similar grounds, Wagner has spent the first year of the series on the shaping of Zorro.

And what a history it is - Wagner succeeds at breathing a sense of the fantastic while maintaining a healthy suspensions of disbelief. This is an origin story worthy of Zorro's high-adventure caliber - pirates, secret societies, Native American spirit rituals and every last bit of pulp-era excess is lavished onto the character to bring some new vitality to the legend.

Another interesting bit is the focus on the social justice - the struggle between different classes of society and between different ethnicities. It shouldn't be a surprise that concepts of race, identity and justice are so firmly entrenched in this version of Zorro; but it is surprising to see it painted in terms that are immediately recognizable and timely. I can't help but think that in a modern society that is focused on ethnic and class struggles, the character of Zorro offers an interesting mirror to both the past and present.

Also, there are some nice sword fights. And did I mention the pirates?

Yeah, check this out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Comics That Deserve Greater Recognition Pt1

Today we'll be talking about comics that are a bit off the beaten path - ones that I think are worth recognizing as fun, light stuff that you don't get to see much from the "Big Two" with their increasingly dark and dreary storytelling.

First up is Thom Zahler's Love and Capes which recently put out it's first TPB that I managed to pick up - and let me tell you, that was a great buy.

The story is fairly simple - Mark is an accountant, whom also happens to be the superhero Crusader, who happens to be dating independent small bookstore owner Abby. Together, they manage a relationship which isn't easy filled as it is with an Amazon Ex-girlfriend, secrets, and the occassional threat to the planet.

Zahler's high concept is simple enough, and while I've become quite jaded towards analogoues, there are enough differences in both concept and personality (for example Batmanesque Darkblade is light-hearted and snarky, but a genuinely good friend to Mark) that it never seems that derivative or cliche. What you get is a lighthearted comedy that centers first and foremost on the characters; whether it's Mark's bouts of jealousy of other heroes (it seems that everyone has a movie out about them except him) or Abby's everyday insecurities (her business woes, trying her hand at acting, and of course, familial problems galore), the story focuses on how Mark and Abby as a couple gel. Thaler gives them an adorable chemistry - they are both very falliable, but never unlikable.

Thaler's art is also a nice treat - while exaggerated it's never cartoony, and the characters all have unique and immediately recognizable characteristics and expressions. He also excels in slight visual humor gags - such as the running coffee gag or Abby's post-flight hair.

I highly recommend this series for people who want a break from down and dreary heroics. And for people who like to see superhero relationships that work.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Notes about me

Tonight is a hodgepodge of stuff that's leading into this week's theme, and it'll help explain a few things:

I don't really have much interaction with fandom; never have and likely never will. This is based on a few things:

-Online fandom - I'm well out of the mainstream in that I don't really post to any of the comic message boards. I don't even visit most of them, and the ones I do visit and/or post to are well off the beaten path. Part of it stems from the fact that I don't have the time or energy, and part of it stems from my opinions being far out of mainstream fandom, so I don't have much in common. The one exception is that I do visit a lot of (what I consider) big name comic blogs (listed in the sidebar, natch).

-Conventions - I like the idea of them - both for meeting some of the smaller-name creators (I have no desire to meet Warren Ellis, despite liking some of his books; Aaron Williams however, I owe a coke to, and would like to get him one some day) and other social aspects. However, they are too far away and too costly for me to justify, so unless happenstance intervenes I don't see it happening.

In fact, when I think about it, most of whatever enjoyment I'm getting from "Big Two" supercomics these days is more from the fans than from anything the companies themselves are producing. Take a look at ItsJustSomeRandomGuy and his awesome YouTube videos, or the way Christopher Bird wrote the best Doctor Strange stuff I've seen in...ever, really. So, with that in mind, I'm turning away from the more familiar big two this week to talk a little about some other comics that are holding my interest, and maybe should be on your reading lists too.

So sit back, and let the games begin!