Monthly Archives: April 2012

Minutes on my mind, cont.

A spasm of inspiration that seemed to turn out pretty well for the product of a few minutes. My terrible songz, let me show you them.

Do you remember when we went down to the riverside
To see the people pray
For what they already had
We went down to where time’s abide
To the people who went away
Ahead of when things got bad
When the dust came and raked across
All our worlds and took our words
From our mouths a parched refrain
Of a love gone mad
Too far gone and lost across
All our stars and all our scars
That made us whole with righteous pain
Sadomasochistic sermon
Sacrament of twisted wire
We are what we bleed
But love runs thicker still
Automatic ballistic ferment
Torment of our misplaced ire
We are what we speak
But suddenly the tongues are still

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The Shadow #1

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Yeah. This guy.

I love The Shadow. Have ever since I was a kid. I want to say that my first exposure to him was the (admittedly mediocre) 1994 film. It has its faults, but I will always enjoy that movie in a most un-ironic way. After that though a love affair was born. I dressed up as The Shadow for Halloween in first grade and I’ll be damned if a one knew who I was. I did it again in high school with the same result. Never put a damper on my fun, though. When I was still in grade school I started listening to the old Shadow radio show from the 30’s and 40’s with my grandfather, whom I discovered was also a pulp aficionado with a collection of bootlegged serials. We had our differences and our arguments over the years, but this we always had in common. I still kick myself for not tracking down his collection after his passing, but I still have a few tapes. We enjoyed a lot of shows; the Inner Sanctum, Suspense!, the Copperhead. The Shadow was always my favorite though. It didn’t take me long to migrate to reprints of the Shadow magazine stories, often more violent and lurid than the straightforward radio mysteries. Interpretations of his identity and his abilities have varied over the years, depending on the author and the medium, but his primordial elements have remained a steady constant. Their resonance with the popular culture is evidenced by the numerous works which The Shadow has influenced or inspired. You may be familiar with at least a couple of them.

Now, Dynamite Comics has inaugurated a brand new Shadow comic book in the capable hands of Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell (with a great cover assist by the inimitable Alex Ross). Dynamite has been gaining some traction in recent years reviving pulp series in this vein, and it was only a matter of time before they got to the scarf-man himself. How does it hold up though?

Well, it’s hard to say for a first issue. The book front-loads the action and lets Campbell’s creative panel work  grab your attention. By contrast, the latter half of the issue is mainly talking heads and feels much more uptight. My main problem with the issue is that by the end of it not a whole heck of a lot has happened. We aren’t even properly introduced to most of the characters. The conceit that these players are already familiar to us isn’t necessarily misplaced, but the ink saved by cutting out the preambles and introductions is largely given over to cryptic half-exposition. It’s kind of unsatisfying, honestly. Nevertheless, I’m probably the best audience this book could have and I will inevitably give it as much time as it needs to hit its stride.

As far as portrayals are concerned? As ever, Lamont Cranston is the Shadow’s alter ego, and he plays the “wealthy young man about town” to a key. It remains to be seen though whether Cranston is his true secret identity, as in the radio and film adaptations, or if that is in fact another cover for Kent Allard, as in the original pulps. Cranston’s connection to the orient is established early, and it seems as though this first story arc will primarily deal with Japanese-occupied China in some way. Cranston is also kind of an insufferable ass to everyone around him, but that’s always sort of been how he rolls. In particular he and perennial paramore Margo Lane continue to have a rather prickly relationship. As to the Shadow, he demonstrates the power of “clouding men’s minds” that originated in the radio program, as when he seemingly disappears from sight and compels information from a mark, but also the hard streak of remorseless violence carried over from the pulps, as when he unblinkingly guns down a group of henchmen. It is my hope to further discuss both these aspects of the character and his relationship to them in subsequent reviews. The Shadow also seemingly exhibits the curious abilities of clairvoyance and precognition, traits which he does not possess in any incarnation I am familiar with (though my knowledge of the character, while extensive, is not exhaustive). I really wish there was more I could say about it, but as I mentioned there just isn’t a whole lot going on in this first issue. Fret not though, these thrilling adventures shall return next month!

Until then, the weed of crime bears bitter fruit…

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Four Color Coupling, cont.

Alright boys and girls, I think I left off yesterday about to discuss my two sacrosanct comic book couples, whom I will defend with uncharacteristic and frankly disproportional zeal. Before I do that though I want to discuss a little more some things from earlier in my previous posts. For those of you who read the comments section this will be a retread for you, so you might just want to skip down a paragraph. I feel that all these shenanigans have less to do, ultimately, with whether young readers can “identify” with the characters in question than they do with the authors and editors wanting to ignore everything that happened to the character after they as readers turned sixteen. Its what I call the Generation Gap in comic books. The disconnect between what the writers view as a character’s essential canon, based on their memories of him or her during their formative fan years, versus the canon of their contemporary readers who don’t have the same revisionist attitude. This isn’t the first time they’ve tried this with Spiderman (Cloooooooone Sagaaaaa), and while I’m less familiar with Superman’s post-Crisis stories I wouldn’t doubt that they’ve tried this thing with him before as well. As a young kid who didn’t start reading either character until after they were married, it seemed absolutely natural to me. There was a sense of history there, and it made both characters seem more fleshed out in my mind. But, the personalities involved at each company don’t want to come out and say that these decisions are just because they want to cheat at collaborative storytelling, so they play the hackneyed “relevance” card. Its essentially a twist on the same argument they used in the nineties to make everyone really angry and wear lots of belts. They might as well let Rob Liefeld out of his imprisonment in Tartarus if they’re going to trot that old pony out. (Unless they already did that…)

The thing of it that gets me is that this isn’t a phenomenon limited to either Pater Parker and Mary Jane or Clark Kent and Lois Lane. There is an unspoken war on commitment that seems to go on behind the curtain of these universes. Over on the Marvel side of the aisle we have Scott Summers and Jean Grey. How many times have they killed Jean Grey off (literally) and tried to set Cyclops up with somebody else? For all those keeping score at home, the answer is at least three. Three times! This is absurd! U.S. marriage law is not equipped to handle this level of permeable mortality! On the other side of the spectrum at D.C., Green Lantern Kyle Rayner has had at least three different girlfriends killed off. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Women In Refrigerators” in reference to the treatment of female characters in comics, Alex Dewitt is the trope namer and the first casualty among Kyle’s significant others. Why? Why do writers keep doing this? I just want us to examine our assumptions here.

Now, as to the couples I mentioned earlier. Why do I hold them so high? Why am I ready to foment a Marxist insurgency at the mere suggestion of writers busting them up? Its several fold. First and foremost is the fact that, moreso than just about any other comic book couple, they feel real to me. They feel like two people who are legitimately in love and deal with all the attendant problems that really entails. They have real problems, as well as the obligatory zany spins on real problems that the superhero lifestyle promulgates. They overcome them too, sometimes stronger for it, sometime worse for wear. Life happens to them, in a way that I feel so many of their peers are somehow isolated from. Additionally, unlike most of the aforementioned four color couples, each half is an equal partner in the relationship. There’s none of this good luck kiss before waiting to get kidnapped business that seems to follow superhero romance like an unwashed cousin who won’t get a job. Both (all four?) Luke Cage and Jessica Jones as well as Rick Tyler and Jesse Chambers share in the dangers and the responsibilities of the costumed career, they’re all breadwinners and they’re all heroes.

  

As far as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are concerned, I also love them for the character arcs in each of them that their romance facilitated. For the uninitiated, while each had been in the other’s romantic orbit for a time beforehand, their relationship didn’t properly begin until after a drunken one night stand which resulted in Jones’ pregnancy. This wasn’t really a high point for either character. Jones was still damaged from her largely failed heroic career to that point and in particular her horrific experiences with a mind-controlling sexual predator. Cage was continuing to struggle on the fringes of legitimacy, lacking in acceptance and respect due to his checkered and volatile past. This event, which could easily have been another nail in the coffin, instead effectively catalyzed a personal and professional resurrection for both of them. Jessica put her demons to rest and Cage graduated to Marvel’s A-list. Theirs was always an unconventional relationship, but one that was all the stronger for its strangeness. I’d argue they’re an even better fit than a number of Marvel’s more established romances. Also, their daughter is super cute…

 

I love Rick Tyler and Jesse Chambers for a similar reason. Each has baggage, each helped the other unpack it. Both are “legacy” heroes; the children of superheroic parents. This carries with it equal parts sense of responsibility and unwanted obligation. Both struggle with other legacies as well, including that of the bizarre and often suspect science of their respective fathers. Jesse has dealt with the pressures of leadership and a life consumed by masked heroics, while Rick has repeatedly battled the habit-forming aspects of the drug which gives him superpowers. Both have grown from their involvement in eachother’s lives, and their relationship has endured its fair share of strain. The natural chemistry of their characterizations though has made their bond both strong and fundamentally believable. In many ways these two seem to epitomize the spirit of “for better or for worse.”

Relationships of this caliber in the comic book medium are of rare stuff. It would likely take the power of an editorial mandate to unmake them, and frankly that sort of power used in this way almost seems to border on plain bullying. Nevertheless, they exists in a universe that seems fundamentally hostile to their existence, and their continuance must be carefully stewarded. I hope that I have perhaps intrigued my gentle readers with my gushy romanticism, enough that perhaps they may even come to find the same enjoyment in them as I.

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Four Color Coupling

This wasn’t what I was originally going to post about, but then again when is it ever? I’d mention what those things ‘were’ going to be, since they’re still coming down the pipe, but if we’re being honest it is unlikely that I will get to them in a timely or orderly manner until I have someone dangling deadlines and money in front of me. It’s my hobby and I’ll cry if I want to!

I’m bringing things back around to comics briefly for a bit. Specifically comic-book romantic relationships. Even more specifically the very narrow range of them that seem to exist by editorial decree. Why is it that the default state for most principle super-heroic characters is that of the hapless bachelor? Even more than that, the hapless and often irresponsible bachelor? Just try and make a diagram of super-powered romantic entanglements. Take your pick of Marvel or DC. I’ll wait…

Has it driven you mad yet? Good, it probably should. Say what you will about it, but it’s not exactly healthy. Certainly, there is a degree to which once can attribute this to the highly stressful and often transient nature of the superhero lifetstyle, if such a thing can be said to exist. Whether we’re talking about the parade of brief interludes between heroes or the threadbare tropes 0f maintaining a civilian romance though, it can’t be denied that all of the shenanigans about the “danger” still serve an agenda of commitment-phobia. Its all just another way to keep the main characters from being “tied down,” because that is the mindset that so much of this fiction still operates from; that somehow the world ends once a woman destroys virility with “feelings.” Even this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that any characternot in the default bachelor state finds their relationship under constant editorial assault.

Joe Quesada’s long running, underhanded, mean spirited war on Mary Jane Watson is well documented and frankly old news. One More Day has long since become the next day, and the day after. Nevertheless, the man’s monomaniacal obsession with destroying Spiderman’s marriage and writing out one of the longest running female characters in the comics medium can’t help but seem a little bit… low. His reasoning for the whole debacle has consistently been that readers just won’t identify with Peter Parker as a married man. This is insulting on a number of levels. It is insulting not just to the decades of writers who collaborated to give these characters’ relationship and marriage life, but also to the readers he claims to be championing. It makes the galling presumption that we can only view Spiderman as an adolescent wish-fulfillment expy, a view that is incompatible with his having an old lady (in this case “old lady” being slang for wife, and not a literal old lady as in Spiderman’s Aunt May whom Quesada seems all too keen to keep around). Moreover, this is insulting to the characters themselves. Sure, they’re fictional and they can’t care. Goddamnit though, I have a blog! That means I’m entitled to care for them! You know, because. Anyway, Quesada’s presumption reduces Peter Parker to swinging man-child; the kind of character that he assumes we all want to grow up to be. Perhaps even more insultingly though, it reduces Mary Jane Watson to a mere love interest. It takes whatever characterization she has received over decades of storytelling and puts her back in her place as a character defined by her relationship to another. She is the ole’ ball and chain. Now, it is perfectly possible that Joe Quesada can only relate to Spiderman as a bachelor, just as it is perfectly possible that Joe Quesada has the emotional maturity of a spermatozoa. I just wish he’d stop trying to get his ick on the rest of us.

This isn’t just a Marvel thing though. Dan Didio, Quesada’s mercurial goatee’d nemesis at DC, pulled a similar stunt in the last year. I refer in this case to the nullification-by-fiat of Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane as part of the “New 52” not-really-reboot. This received significantly less in-character fanfare. It was and then it wasn’t. Fan reaction, though angry, was less sustained than the revolt against the Mary Jane annulment, as this controversy was fairly quickly eclipsed by others with more cultural immediacy (Starfire, Catwoman, I’m looking at you). Once again though, the reasoning was the same. Superman needed to be more “hip.” Their solution? Make him a “free man.” Never mind the fact that this relationship had momentum behind it older than our last three presidents and most of our parents, kids just won’t “get” Superman with Lois in the picture. The insults levied by this presumption, ironically by a man who generally prides himself on being as little like Joe Quesada as humanly possible, are the same as in my previous paragraph. As such, just swap the names out and I’ll save some wear on my keyboard.

Now, all that said, I will live. The world keeps spinning, and while I’ll rant about it (obviously) I’m not going to engage in any of the impotent raging that inevitable seems to accompany these exercises. However, there exist two marriages in comic books, one in Marvel and one in DC, that are as far as I’m concerned, and I want to hammer this point home, untouchable. If anybody gets it into their head to fuck with either of these completely fictional couples, I swear to Tyche, Megaera, and Nemesis that I will get straight-up fan-boy axe-crazy in this bitch. I might start using even more hyphens. These two power-pairs are Rick Tyler and Jesse Chambers at DC along with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones at Marvel.

Unfortunately, it is super-late. So you will have to find out exactly why these couples are so near and dear to me, tomorrow…

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Life Abridged

I keep trying to write, but the internet distracts me as ever. My solution? Write about the internet! Look at this kid. He so meta. If the internet does one thing and one thing well, it acts as a vast mechanism by which our culture is continuously consumed, digested, and regurgitated in a never-ending cycle of skewed self-reference. Imagine the Sarlacc after too much Thai food. Do it!

Now that I have all of you in the proper head-space (you’re welcome), I’d like to very briefly deal with one particular aspect of this great moebius-meme. You might even say I will deal with it in… “abridged” fashion? Yeah I went there. While the lion share of the “abridged series” phenomenon has already come and gone, an internet trend with the approximate lifespan of one of its episodes, its references continue to echo with surprising longevity. In particular, the keystone for “abridged” reference is inevitably the one that spawned a thousand imitators, the (somewhat ironically) inimitable YuGiOh Abridged. The classic pilot awaits below in all its unpolished glory!

This was hardly the first time someone had redubbed anime for comedic effect. Heck, I can remember “japanimation” parodies as far back as MTV’s Cartoon Sushi (there’s a dated reference for you). This was something subtly different, though. What I feel accounts for much of YuGiOh Abridged’s popularity is a combination of creator LittleKuriboh’s deft vocal skills doing convincing impersonations of the characters with an intuitive sense of the comedic value inherent in the actual show’s premise. That said, much of that comedic value is lost on someone who didn’t watch the original series. That is the dirty little secret of Abridged. For a show that has been the subject of so much (not undeserved) panning and mockery, an awful lot of us watched it. Being able to laugh at the abridged series effectively makes it okay to have watched the original, because this time we’re ‘actually’ watching it ironically, rather than just ‘pretending’ to.

Nevertheless, as rollicking of a good time as it is, its hard to deny that Abridged starts to lose some of its steam after the first season or so. Its still funny, just not quite in the same way that made you laugh out loud without need for abbreviation. Why is that? Well, if I had to put my finger on it I would say it had to do with the show becoming an entity unto itself rather than just a parody of another property. The caricatures of cast members began to have distinct personalities of their own beyond their absurdist relationship to the straight-men on which they were based. The meme spawned memes of its own which spawned still other memes, like the sorcerer’s apprentice of one-liners. These somewhat threadbare in-jokes combined with an increasing number of outside pop-culture references to gradually create a new comedy formula that supplanted the straightforward satire of the earlier season. Some of this was inevitable. At the end of the day there is only so much material you can mine out of the central premise of purportedly reasonable people getting waaaay too into a “children’s card game.” So, the internet did what it does best: consume, digest, regurgitate. Its not that the new comedy is bad, its just different. LittleKuriboh’s character work remains entertaining even if the funny voices seem to be more and more the central draw of the series. You can call it all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Amidst the unceasing redefinition that undergirds so much internet culture though, does it really need to? In a lot of ways when you take a broader look at the self-feeding culture furnace that is the internet, along with all of its attendant tropes, the world wide web is really just one massive Abridged Series. Except what this one parodies is real life.

This post isn’t nearly as abridged as it ought to be…

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T.C.K. Day Tripper

Rachel is asleep in the back of the van. Its really not designed for that sort of thing, but field assets tend to get resourceful very quick. God, how old is she? Twenty four and in this line of work? Its criminal what this economy does to people. She had a future. She says that she wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer but I don’t believe it. At least she was doing something with herself when the agency found her. Me? I was the drummer for the band Doomsaxxon. It wasn’t nearly as cool as it sounds. Just indicative of my very narrow skill set. I can talk a good game about expounding on the finer points of bands nobody has heard of, and I can hurt things really really well. Started out in the army, doing the latter thing in the only place I could do it with structure and control. They say I’m a born killer, but that doesn’t mean I’m a sociopath. Have to figure that’s the only thing that separates me from the hacks. Regardless, I messed up the uniformed gig when I decided to come out of the closet. Maybe not the wisest choice I ever made, but it was the one I had to make. The two-thousands were a different time, and the words “I’m gay” more or less ended my career. So, it was falling back on an encyclopedic knowledge of bands with less than two albums. Shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it wasn’t really paying the bills. Finally though, Atticus found me. More than anything, it started out as a paycheck to me. Covering the bills. I suppose thats how everyone falls into it, including Rachel. Had no idea the things I was getting myself into. Why do I still do it, though? Don’t know if this is really the audience asking or if I’m putting it to myself. Well… because at the end of the day, its fulfilling. It sounds twisted to say, but it really is. Its thankless and bloody and often terrifying, but the knowledge that at the end of the day you’re doing something worthwhile does wonders for a man’s rest at night. It’ll keep you going even when you’re staring at something that you can’t even try to convince yourself is human and it’ll keep you going even when you have serious doubts about the people you’re working for. Maybe that’s why Rachel is here, too. This is the hardest part of the job; the waiting. Being forced to sit around when you know the hack is out there doing god knows what. Its part of the job description though. We’re searching as wide as we can while keeping our profile, but nobody goes to ground like hacks. Sooner or later though we ‘ll draw the Spider out. I just hope we aren’t too late again.

While I didn’t really “know” about hacks, in a technical sense, until after I joined the agency, I was already… familiar with them. In 1999 I was stationed in Kosovo. Being on the offensive was the easy part. Pointing lasers at things we wanted blown up. Sitting on the place, that was the hard part. It wasn’t that they hated us. It was that they hated each other. I saw the worst in human nature in those months, things that haunt my nightmares and things that would come to haunt my waking hours. Once you decide that a person is less of a being than you are, there’s nothing you can’t justify. No sin you can’t right with yourself. It… defies words, the things that it opens the gates to. Some people like to say it proves we’re no better than animals, but they’re wrong. We’re worse than animals. A human being is capable of almost profound depths of cruelty. Things which can only be described as the most perverse form of art, and perhaps the purest expression of what some people would call “humanity.”

I suppose I should wake her up soon. Its almost time for her shift. Perks of the job include access to the most sophisticated and officially illegal surveillance equipment money can buy. I like to think that toys like these are why we don’t get a dental plan. Its almost worth the trade off, even if I do know more about the sex lives of suburbia than I ever, ever wanted to. This is intelligence though, sifting through the rawest of data. Waiting for the barest glimpse of a glimmer of something suspicious. Something that will tell us where the Spider is holing up. I want to find this guy, but I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to it. Rachel deserves better than this. Something quiet and non-hazardous. Something where she doesn’t have to sift through the worst human matter on a daily basis. We don’t pick the hands we’re dealt though. All that’s left is how you play them…

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