Before ‘Before Watchmen’

July 25, 2012

So, I’m going to write this before reading about Before Watchmen. This is all my opinion, and my opinion purely on the concept of Before Watchmen, without over-assumption, hopefully, over its possible quality and content. I’m writing this in response to an article forwarded to me that I took as objecting to the Before Watchmen comics on the basis of those (as-yet-unpublished at the time of that article) comics ruining comics publishing by stifling creativity and as their production is against the wishes of the original Watchmen writer Alan Moore. I will not be linking to this specific blog as (a) there are many with the same statement (b) I’d prefer not to seem to start a beef with this guy and (c) I’m pretty sure the only person who is going to be reading this is the same person who sent me the link.

1. In terms of the relation of this between DC and Alan Moore, this is, in my mind, what is known as a jerk move. Given that DC only owns the Watchmen rights on a technicality (they were to revert to Moore and Gibbons when the issues went out of print … and then Watchmen’s popularity helped invent the trade paperback) this is pretty much flying in the face of the author’s express wishes and in the face of what they’d said they were never going to do, when asked on this, for the past several decades. Ideally, DC has the right to offer Alan Moore as many dumptrucks of money as they like, so long as he can, in turn, refuse them.

2. That said, DC is not an unchanging hive colony. It is not the same people there now as there were in the 1980s, and not all those working for it have a consensus positive opinion on the actions of some. People who made prior promises have been replaced with people who have not. Statistically speaking, you were eventually going to run across someone who thought this was a good idea, either because their interest in Watchmen is so all-consuming or so tenuous, either financially or creatively, either out of boredom or daring. As long as Watchmen was relevant, regarded and popular, it was always going to be a when, not an if.

3. Is this how it should have been done? I don’t know anything of their plots yet, beyond the fact that they are Before Watchmen. Contrast that to putting a definitive expression on the ambiguity of the ideas at the end of Watchmen, and the ‘Before’ becomes a small mercy. Not to say an After Watchmen is impossible -this whole event proves that it isn’t- but Before is the lesser of the two evils. With the flashbacks, the very concept of time in Watchmen, the framework for this type of storytelling exists. Now, should they all be six-issue stories, conveniently tradepaperback length? Sounds like large coincidence, or that saleable format is more important than any individual story. Moreover, should the amount of additional material outnumber the original story, several times over? There seems to be a great risk of endless padding, trying not to do anything that’ll break the universe, but still be interesting.

4. So, theoretically, how would this be done in a way that might be more in tune with what Moore does. Taking the example of Moore’s work on the League of Extraordinary Gentleman, along with the rest of his metafictional work, the shape of a Watchmen work might be more in the shape of a Tijuana Bible – a series of short stories where authors express what fascinates them about the concept of Watchmen. They’d be in wildly different art styles, narrative styles, lengths, forms and formats. Ideally they’d have been collecting them from significant writers and artists for years, as a response to what Watchmen has meant to the comics industry, possibly launched on an annversary. There’d be no continuity constraints between stories, and they’d all have individual tones and ideas and outlooks.

5. That said, that wouldn’t make Alan Moore happy. No iteration of Watchmen reimagined is going to make Alan Moore happy. There is no quantifiable way to make Alan Moore re-happy in terms of Watchmen’s posession by DC, never mind a reimagining. Really:

So you can’t do it for that reason, because that isn’t going to happen. It isn’t on the table. So, if you instead want to swiftly create and neatly market a smooth transition to the idea of additional Watchmen with art consistent with the original, Before Watchmen is what you do. You launch a series of individual miniseries based on the most significant characters, all at once, with a clear, brandable concept and consistent continuity.

6. That will make a great deal of money, as BW has begun to do so. And that is significant. Yes, a great deal of the internet said this was terrible, that they’d never read DC or this series. Sales have been outstanding, apparently. There will be a great deal of collectability about them, no doubt with variant covers and embossed foils and maybe even a hologram, in classic eighties style. Is that immoral? What’ll that money do? I’m sure cigars shall be lit with $100 bills, as is tradition, but what else? DC’ New 52 has been lauded, aside from all the reboot business, for varying the line. They actually have a consistent range of crime comics and war comics and sci fi comics and supernatural comics. Maintaining a broad range of that size is costly, ever-increasingly so. If this is how DC pays for it …?

7. Being a trade-waiter myself, I don’t really care. I want a few, well told, self-contained, one-author stories. I don’t need new comics every week, a new one in every series every month. And Before Watchmen can’t ruin Watchmen for me because if I don’t hear anything worth reading from them when they are over, then I will not read them, and the copy of Watchmen on my shelf won’t combust or disappear or change. There’ve been crappy tie-ins and continuations and crossovers to plenty of my favourite comics – it honestly doesn’t bother me, beyond the waste of the opportunity to tell a good story. I hope they never market a compendium that combines W and BW, and I hope they don’t turn them into continuing monthly series, and I hope they don’t integrate those characters with the main universe so Captain Atom and Dr Manhattan could hang out.

8. Being a trade-waiter myself, I therefore don’t have the right to say that everyone should turn away if they don’t like it. Even if diversity is being paid for by commercialization, if that commercialization is being forefronted over that diversity, then I can’t imagine how infuriating this must be for the people who see BW steal the charts every week over the critically interesting. However – wasn’t W the exception to the rule? Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, Batman dominate – and that isn’t by the necessarily consent of the original creators. In the case of Batman and Spiderman, the writer received credit – the original artists didn’t. In the case of Superman, both creators had contention with DC, and their respective estates still are in legal schlemozzles with DC:

9. And so, to finally come around to the point of the article to which I was directed – this sort’ve thing is killing the creativity in the comics industry. Is is a good sign? No. Is it anything more than a sign? No. The superhero genre has dominated the comic industry since the companies grouped together to use the Comics Code authority to regulate the competing crime, horror, sports comics, etc, out of existence. Those comics in turn have been dominated by a handful of characters, either by the hard cold sales they produce, or by their iconic nature and they have to be kept in print or the rights revert to their creators (Wonder Woman). DC, being older, is even more directly tiered, internally, than Marvel’s universe – everything is under Superman, Batman and the Justice League, as opposed to the equilibrium of Avengers, Fantastic Four, X Men, Spiderman, etc.

10. There have been bigger moments that have dealt worse fates to comics. The Comics Code – and not just the superhero-genre-dominate-the-medium factor. The blow to the adult readership – to the female readership of comics, which had numbers it physically pains me to consider given that in the modern day they still haven’t recouped anything like those figures or statistics in this ‘modern’ age of graphic publishing:

“During the late 40s and on through the 50s, the Romance comics saw their heyday and adult women were a very major part of these comics’ readership. By 1950 there were over 148 different romance titles, and soon, virtually every publisher was putting out romance comics. However, the postwar years saw a decline in female creators and romance comics, which were almost all being created by men, whose stories began reinforcing the idea that a woman’s ultimate goal should be to get married. Still, the comics portrayed working women characters as intelligent and modern with real world problems.
But as the 1950’s drew to a close, female characters began to fall back into supporting roles with superheroines mostly being members of groups and not stars of their own titles. Not surprisingly, female readership began to decline.”

Detrimental event comics? How about the Death and Return of Superman? Max Landis lands the accusation at this comic that it made death in comics completely and uttlerly meaningless across the spectrum:

11. That certainly sounds worse than Before Watchmen. For my part, let me give you the example of Kingdom Come. I love Kingdom Come. Art, story, character, themes, ideas – it is as close as one gets to perfect, for me. Self-contained, in an alternate universe, with distinct visuals and character interpretations. It is a thing of its own. And there is other stuff related to it now. There is ‘The Kingdom’, which is dreck. There a handful of parts that would have made neat short stories in that universe, but tying it all together with some horrendous padding and obsession over minutiae hamstrings them. The JSA use I have heard of – the use of Magog of in JSA seems to have paid out very weakly in terms of actual story, and its use of the Kingdom Come universe in the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ story an odd little cosmic diversion. But, this is fine, because:

“Alex Ross states that this story is not intended as a sequel to Kingdom Come as that would negate the purpose of the original story.”

Kingdom Come isn’t altered or erased by these – even though a Kingdom Come creator was involved in each of these projects. Did The Kingdom or the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ arc.ruin comics? It was my opinion that they were pretty bad. I was sad that the continuation of the universe wasn’t something I enjoyed. If anything, the ‘Justice’ universe is much more a continuation of the spirit of Kingdom Come. Does this apply to Before Watchmen? Alan Moore doesn’t approve. But if a creator approves, as Dave Gibbons does, doesn’t that count equally with Moore’s disapproval?:

Even if Gibbons isn’t drawing a book of his own in this series, he still can give this project his blessing. And I will respect the guy that drew the Owlship, and the Glass Clock and the Squid monster enough to at least equate what he did with what Moore did.

12. Also, if executive meddling is going to bring BW into the world, let us least remember that W was brought into the world by executive meddling. If not for some panicky editors, we’d be talking about how Captain Atom, after concurring with Peter Cannon, killed The Question, much to the horror of the Blue Beetle. All of which would have been immediately up for grabs by DC at the time and, moreover, the rape of the Phantom Lady character by the Peacemaker character would hardly have been done with the consent of the creators of those characters. Has Alan Moore’s own battles since changed his beliefs about character use? Technically yes, in the sense he doesn’t want his used. However, it was fair game to use the Dr No era James Bond, and have him to attempt to rape Mina Murray in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier:

Or to have Lord Voldemort in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Century: 1969 and have him attempt to rape Mina Murray.

Later, in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 2009, Moore had Harry Potter, as the AntiChrist, kill Allan Quatermain with a lightning-attack from his penis-wand, shortly after implying he wished to rape Mina with afforementioned penis-wand. For the purpose of completeness, he then had Mary Poppins, as nanny to even the deities themselves, turn Potter into a chalk drawing that then washed away in the rain. Having Mary Poppins kick the ass of a Harry Potter villain is pretty neat – so much so that there is an as-yet-unconfirmed rumour about just the same in the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics:

-but still, a pattern emerges, is what I’m saying. If Moore’s own work uses copyrighted materials without the consent of the author, then the personal nature of Moore’s beef isn’t a valid argument. To the degree that Moore uses these characters is quite legal I’m sure – every name is out of the corner of the reader’s eye – but, then again, DC has the legal right to use these characters. It is something of a jerk move, but by legal standards and Moore’s own practice, it is fair game. It is like the Jimmy Carr scandal; mocking a legal-but-jerky method of avoiding tax is highly laudable … except if you yourself are using that same method:

13. Now, (and, as the last point) you may have felt my mentioning the rapes these characters attempted were unrelated or tangentially related to this argument. Actually, there is a reason, beyond the feelings of their original creators. It relates to why, fundamentally, there is an argument for Before Watchmen, why, even if this set of book turn out to be a boring cash-in, the idea of revisiting Watchmen could have some merit:

Watchmen isn’t perfect.

No really, and I’m not just talking about the squid, whatever your feelings about that are. It isn’t even, mainly, about plot-holes. There are plenty of little plot holes that a BW story could explore of course – how the heck did that detective know Dan Dreiberg was Nite Owl II for a start. Did he stake out Hollis Mason’s place? Did he know Hollis Mason from his days as an officer? Did Veidt tip him off? Otherwise, it is just an excuse to force Dan onto the bottom of the river in the short term, and on the run in the long term. In fact, why did those detectives start expositing about the Keene Act in the first pages? Surely they already knew-

And there are other things, like in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen film, that I liked being elaborated upon. I liked Hollis Mason sketching out the start of the superheroes as guys who dressed up in fancy-dress costumes so they could beat up crooks who were dressing fancy-dress disguises so that couldn’t be identified in line-ups. It was a neat little solve that explained so much. I loved the visual reimagingings of the opening, feeding back how we saw the eighties into an eighties-written work, demonstrating the cultural impact of superheroes in an alternate universe, over fifty years, in just under five minutes. I loved Silhouette getting to kiss the nurse in the iconic ‘We Won!’ image.

But those are just tiny details. No, the real reason to look at Watchmen again would be the same as the reason it was created in the first place. Watchmen was a satire, that has been in turn enshrined at the core of comic ideals. Moore didn’t, couldn’t have foreseen that so many writers would take their cues from his story for the next thirty years. It paved the way for ideas on ethnicity, sexuality, transhumanism, psychosis, science, etc, in comics. But it is still that mainstay, over a quarter of a century later. As such, where are the non-white heroes? Where are the transgender heroes? Where are the rest of the female heroes?

Could you imagine if that was what Before Watchmen was? Watchmen illustrated that in a group of apparently ‘normal’ heroes, anything that could be concealed, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, psychopathy, paranoia, sociopathy and disconnection from humanity, could exist. So what about the other half of that? What about the non-white heroes that fought alongside the others, but never received an invitation to Minutemen meetings, or who have been classified as ‘Black Unrest’ Captain Metropolis’ Crimebusters? What about the other female heroes who were shut out because the Minutemen already had two? And the dialogue of female superheroes can progress beyond (a) Rape is the New Dead Parents (b) Undercover-as-Stripper Costume (c) Bury Your Gays.

Of course, it probably won’t be that. I’ve have specifically written this before reading what is going on in those books, because this is about rejecting the very idea of reinterpreting Watchmen. Watchmen the book won’t change magically, but the discourse, the ideas surrounding it could be changed, questioned, reinterpreted. Of course, this also doesn’t need to happen, to the Watchmen characters in specific or Watchmen in general. There are plenty of ways of reinterpreting the original material without reimagining it. But, if someone chooses to do it that way, I won’t shoot them down for the very idea, and especially without hearing what they have to say.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish, partially because I am done, and partially because a new cover of All Along the Watchtower by ‘Devlin, has started playing on the radio, just as I finish this:

Seriously. No really. I’m pretty sure that means the snake-god-puppet Glycon has probably been invoked to bring about my end. Lets face it – that’d be a really cool way to go. I wish Promethea was here.

And that is three hundred times ten. Snyder indeed.


A Clash of Things

October 26, 2011

So, an update on ASoIaF, as of book 2: I still love it.

I really like the universe.

I like the Wall. I like wargs, and the wildlings, and the wights. I like the ten-year summers and the fears of winter. I like the talking white ravens and the direwolves and the dragons. I like Valyrian swords and the dragon-bone daggers and the poison-proof bejewelled chokers. I like Winterfell and Storm’s End and the Dragonstone.

I like the maesters and the Pyromancers Guild and the improving-wizards. I like the black brotherhood, and the sers, and the Kingsguard. I like the Lord of Light and the Great Sept and the Godswood. I even like the three-eyed crow and the wolf dreams and the green dreams, and dream-centic fate-narratives can tick me off pretty quick.

I like the I like the illegitimate children, and the child-brides and the in-bred dragon dynasties – or rather I hate them, but I love that Martin has grounded and spaced his universe with real historical models, and isn’t forcing modern predicates onto it. I like the sypathetic villains and the cold decisions of the heroes.

I like the switching narratives and the timeskips between them. I like the well-trained, but still-blindspot-bearing ten year olds. I like the ongoing mysteries and the bewildering, game-changing tragedies. I like the different fears each character has and the certainties that that particular fear will end the world as it is known.

Yes, this particular volume did strike more of a Wheel of Time chord than the first – implications of former fallen civilisations, of magics long lost beginning to work again with the advent of dragons being reborn, -cool!- and some glimpses of bdsm -mmm,ok-. Overall, yes – good stuff.

Terry Pratchett’s Snuff

October 16, 2011

A short review, I think.

I liked it. A nice juicy Vimes book, that settles down a little from previous installments’ mounting pressure. It worked, in several parts at least, as a mystery, and the change of scenery, authority, motivations and lead characters were refreshing. Vimes, on holiday in the countryside, with, a switch of emphasis onto his domestic cast and a minoring of the Watch cast, was a great change. The continuing theme of Vimes not being certain of who he is, where he came from and being afraid of who he could be become, who he knows he could have been had a few things been different, is a rich seam that bears mining again in this fresh context.

I really liked Sybil in this outing. Pratchett really gets into what character powerhouse Sybil is, being everything Vimes is in morality and everything he isn’t, generally, in social deftness. There is a real partnership there in this book that really works. And, quite frankly, an element of sexual suggestion between the two that really, em, fleshes them out. Also, I particularly like Sybil’s rants to Vimes after someone of rank assumes that Sybil, too, must be a goblin-racist. Real anger there, real rage.

Willikins too, though Pratchett laid it on a little thick. Basically, Willikins has, over the course of the last few books, been fleshed out as a butler who, when called to war, is an ear-taking, nose-biting, beserker-sergeant, and has a backstory as a street youth gang fighter, comparable to Vimes’ own. This was alluded by things like Vimes asking what Willikin’s weapon of choice was in those days – Vimes is surprised at ‘a hat with sharpened pennies sewn in the brim’ as apparently these could take out a man’s eye. Willikins replies with ‘if used with care, yes sir’ while folding laundry.

Now, on his last outing Willikins did use this past to take several dwarf assassins – yes, just yes, and it was awesome – and using a dispassionate butler’s air to humbly describe how, at one point he killed one with the ice knife he was using at the time, then took up the assassin’s flame-throwing weapon, ‘apprised myself of its functioning’ then pointed it down the hole the dwarves broke in by and fired until the ‘igniferous fluid’ was used up, incidentally setting the garden across the street on fire. The whole charm of it was the staid delivery. So, in short, it was sort of weird to see Willikins, say running around with a pocket crossbow, doing trick shots through mobs. Yes, characters can change, and be far less uptight – given that this is set six years after the events above and that Vimes works every day to make his staff relax more around him, that is believable – but did Willikins in the previous books have arm tattoos? Did Vimes constantly compliment Willikins on what a dangerous man he was? I don’t hate it, and I can ride the ride if I want to – I LOVE a battle-ready butler – but it was a little weird.

And the Summoning Dark returned! Awesome, in fact. Usually, the odder stuff Vimes encounters, like the DisOrganizer that predicted appointments and so on disappeared. This was pretty cool, and recurring theme of darkness, and it makes sense that a ‘substition’ would work for goblins too, given that it is completely without need for faith in it.

And a lot of what didn’t strike right with me was ‘weird’. And that is a matter of taste. However, I’ll put it out there:

It seemed weird that when the children’s author revealed her backstory, she was effectively backgrounded for the rest of the story. I mean, part of the story, in the end, was the popular acceptance of goblins as a people, and choosing an artistic method to do it. Why not have her publish a book about it? Even the Jane-Austen-reference character (which I loved to bits by the way) got her book shilled in the end. No reference to an enormously popular good goblin book for kids written by the lady whose mother was raised by them, who specifically went out her way to mention the beauties of the goblin language?

It seemed weird that Fred Colon had this hallucinogenic period where he saw things from a goblin’s point of view, and we never saw anything from HIS point of view, or a goblin’s for that matter, throughout the book. We’re supposed to understand this transformation he has in the end to a friendship towards goblins, but we never see what he goes through, not even an in italics paragraph between other characters’ viewpoint paragraphs. It really failed to sell that aspect to me, while simultaneously seeming to pass a perfect opportunity to do so by.

And then there were the goblins in general – similar problem to Unseen Academicals with orcs, the book where the concept of goblins in the Discworld, coincidentally, was introduced. You see, orcs and goblins are pathologically hated by the populace at large – really, really despised – odd, though not full-blown weird. Where it gets weird is that when present these species for five minutes, they’re awesome. Orcs apparently can become knowledgeable about, pretty much anything – they’re do all great guys who get a bad rap because they were created by the ‘Dark Emperor’. Some of it worked, some of it did not, and some of it could be the fact that we only see one orc who has been well-raised.

The goblins in this? Make beautiful pots out of trash. Oh, not really made pots of scrap, no – glowing, beautiful pots that are intrinsically wonderful. Show them how to play a harp, and they will make Sam Vimes cry with their music. Not even kidding. They’ve a beautiful language within their grunting, apparently, which we never hear expressed. They also have an eidetic memory, something that seemed to be thrown in with orcs too. I just felt I was being told to like something.

And they have a belief about putting their immediate effluvia in pots, to be buried with them. And there is a single murder of a goblin and an outright slaughter of goblins, and the pots never come up in regards to that. One comes up as a mystery plot ploint, the other as a MacGuffin to convert the racist Colon and as another mystery plot point. Never as the object of belief. And we get a line about how the goblins believe they’re being punished for something, but we never come back to that. The beliefs are a central plot point, but never expanded on. There is literally a guy chronicling the goblins writing for half a page at the start who mentions the belief about the pots and that he’ll bcome back to them – he doesn’t back to the pots, and neither does the book.

And you know what? It is mentioned that goblins have perfect night vision. It is also a plot point that the local barge captains have to sail by memory and timekeeping because their lights can’t always illuminate the conditions they sail in. There is a climactic scene where a barge captain has lost his place in stormy conditions, while the barge is filled with goblins. Vimes uses HIS perfect night vision to warn the captain of obstacles. Now, okay that is fair enough – Vimes bonded with the goblins with this nightvision. But still – Vimes is a hero afterwards because of this, but there is never a mention of Vimes slotting goblins-eyes-Tab-A in barge-captain-Slot-B. Or anyone else doing this. It seemed like such a legitimate way for the goblins to become beloved, but it was just unused.

And really, you didn’t have to twist my arm to sympathise with these guys. They’re hunted, enslaved, transported and worked to death. They’re instantly sympathetic, they don’t have to be marvellous harp players. But here is the problem.

It could be taste, because it isn’t just that I like Pratchett. Discworld is formative to me. I think in fantasy parody easier than fantasy-straight. Before Neil Gaiman taught me about vampires as metaphor for social leeches and Joss Whedon taught me about vampires as analogy for teenage years, Pratchett taught me about vampires as alcoholics. And werewolves as bipolar. And zombies as stuck-in-their-ways. And trolls as giant computers, and elves as sociopaths, and dwarves as 50% transvestites. And those were brilliant twists on Tolkien, on existing myth and legend. And then there are these things ‘tacked on’ to the goblins, that don’t come from … anywhere, near as I can tell, and we never see from their point of view like we did Cheery or Detritus or Angua. They’re never people to us, just something to be pitied or beloved.

How do they become beloved? Well, Sam Vimes burns some wicker in a dramatic fashion, giving out free beer, while Sybil Vimes held a concert to showcase a goblin harpist talents. Yes. Then everyone involved was arrested. Also, the guy who apparently headed everything, Gravid Rust? Never appears on page. I don’t mean ‘never appears on page with the heroes’, I mean he never appears. We see his lackeys for two scenes, and we see his henchman Stratford for the most of the book. We didn’t need to see as much, frankly, because he pretty much seems to be Andy Shanker from Unseen Academicals in a different hat – brutal thugs in a passionate relationship with violence, who are savaged/killed, just before the end, by a side character, at night. In the master palette of Discworldean evil, this was a sad duplication.

It was weird that Nobby has a goblin girlfriend. Yes, I know, its Nobby, haha, but also wuh?

Anyway, that wasn’t short, but I had a lot of problems with a book I otherwise loved. So it is hard.

Completely unrelated: A Narnia fanfic on the ‘Problem of Susan’ – really good voice:

And that is 1655.

A Song of High Fantasy and Fire

October 2, 2011

So I admit it – I’ve been livecasting on Facebook about Doctor Who, in-progress, rather than blogging about it later. Given its one of the few things I watch that a lot of my F-book friends also watch, this, and e-mails, seems to be a good fit. However, with Doctor Who over this year, excepting the Special, and only a half-season during 2012-proper (the world CAN’T end that Christmas, I have to see the Silence!) I’ll be getting back into the swing of this.

My book reading will, for the time being, be going up on F-book too, while I try this Game of Thrones thing out, as an astoundingly large amount of people I know really seem to like it. I even skipped the last 3 books of the Earthsea Quartet (read: only read the first -really, really good – to catch upon this) when I actually realised how many bannermen of House Stark were in my demesne.

Am I jumping on the bandwagon? In many usages of the term, God yes. I’m giving something a chance because of the buzz around it now, with its tv show, that I was vaguely aware of for years but never really looked into. I am fine with that. I’ve done it before. Even with the stuff that came out in my lifetime, Harry Potter for example, I didn’t start until Book 4 came out. True, I did buy all four solely off the back of the description of Albus Dumbledore in Book 1’s beginning, but I thought Harry Potter was the red head on the cover of book 2 (I don’t use ginger, that and the Cavan-people-are-cheap thing were memes I only encountered in college).

But I know the rules of conduct on the bandwagon. Mostly: just catching up patiently on the material and being nice to people further behind than yourself. It is cool to catch something from the beginning and be a part of that, release to release, but, honestly, realising how much of a following something you’re going into has already is pretty cool too. The first book would be worth the investment in just-knowing-what-people-are-talking-about alone. Ironically, I’ll be avoiding this network like the plague, for now – too many spoilers.

I was burned out on High Fantasy for a while there. Naming no names, but I was really tired of books 600 pages long and not being really sure how much of it was merited. Maybe that really is a taste thing, but it wasn’t for me. Reconciling this with my love of Lord of the Rings, even Silmarillion, is tricky, given all the long, detailed walking they did. The best I can say is that while Tolkien tapped into the epic fantasy by presenting us with legendary characters, who didn’t have sex, get colds or use the bathroom, aand that presenting those realities in a fantasy format is an admiral achievement, there was stuff that wore on me.

I didn’t like that at some point, some of the female cast would be in an in-story bdsm scene. I didn’t like that, while the strength and prominence of those characters was wonderful, there was some baseline ‘bitchiness’ that meant they could not trust the male characters, or other female characters, on some basic level, ever. There was always some undertone of the conniving and the deceptive, while the male characters were open about their feelings and motivations – and I felt that books bore that out, that their short-term, off the cuff rescues worked better than the female’s long-term trickery.

And yes, that is a taste thing. I’m sure I totally misread those situations, or that they weren’t as all-pervasive as I felt they were in those series.

In other series, I really hated the contrivances. I hated the all-powerful place of destiny and people being trapped on Scalextric-track of fate. Some prophecies, some predictions, they came with the territory. But some works seemed to have nothing else. I hated that there was only one person who could do anything. Only one person that could do a particular thing – okay, I can see that. But some, it felt, had a large revolving one person who did and knew everything and was fated to do so. Even that wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the fact that this person had to be entirely unsuited and unknowing of the world they were entering enraged me. It felt like it totally dominated the books I came across for years, that skill was some sort sin.

And you know what – I’m almost certainly wrong about that. There is probably a plethora of High Fantasy books that shuck of Fate entirely, and are populated with a balance of talented, capable characters, and that the books that I’m thinking of were seperated by decades.

I hated the contrivances, with the super-intelligent god-children (mirroring my hatred of super-intelligent robot-children in space opera), with the villains who it seemed were all sociopathic hypocritical fiends and the masses being some poorly herded sheep who turned at the drop of a hat, unless they worked for the villain. I was tired that the only political system that they seemed to know was medieval feudalism, with the odd bit of Roman legislation once in a while. And I hated, hated, hated, that the books had no certain, individual resolutions, just pouring from one to the other.

And I flat out know that that it isn’t all true of all or ever a large section of High Fantasy. I know that was totally wrong. But it was all I knew for a while.

I was in Victoriana for the duration, if you must know. The latest of Rankin and Pratchett, Susanna Clarke, Gail Carringer, etc. It was fantasy, but fate was at a dull roar, the magic systems were a blend of the creative and the regimented, the books plots worked alone and as part of a series and, worst comes to worst, it was about 200 pages, maybe less.

So I’m back. Not to be sourgrapes-laden, but with any luck I’ll have plenty of time before Book 6 comes out to read the first … six. One per year, at least then. I’ll probably regret that statement in a few month’s time. I’ve got a booktoken earmarked for the new Pratchett, and the new Stephen Fry biography, and I’ve got the new Rankin, and some there’ll be some left over after that – I’ll be sure to get both of books three at the same time. And that is 1100 words. Eleven!

Coming soon

April 30, 2011

Doctor Who Review

Last of the general reviews for A-Z comics I’ve read.

Review of Alan Moore / Grant Morrison / Warren Ellis comics I’ve read.

Scott Pilgrim; Volumes 2-6 & The Film

March 12, 2011

The Books

So: I liked this.

Indie Music? I -maybe- hear what is hot on Today FM’s Pet Sounds and Last Splash. That is the totality of my out-there music. My use of the word ‘hot’ should signal how ‘hip’ I’m with ‘da kids’.

Vintage Video Games? I know Sonic more from his cartoons, Mario more from the strange film. I thought the green-capped long-hair on the ‘Legend of Zelda’ games was the titular Zelda. Seriously.

Scott Pilgrim? Pretty jerky. Dating a 17-year-old, whom he dumps for the literal-girl-of-his-dreams – but not before asking out and making out with said LGOHD. And he is pretty ok with ending people.

So: I liked this.

The art style is tricky – occasionally I will have to re-read a scene and deduce who exactly this is; the faces and eyes are pretty interchangeable, particularly on the female characters. The hair is often destinctive, but given how often this can change, it can be confusing. The compact black and white palette compounds this – although coloured, widescreen comics can become subject to this too: (Runaways, volume 3 so far, I’m looking at you – remember; Minoru is Asian, Chase shouldn’t resemble Fred from Scooby-Doo and Klara is NOT in her teens!) The name-tag/fact-bar are really quite necessary – I’d find it near impossible to recognise a minor recurring character. As with Runaways, I’m reminded why most comic book characters wear uniforms.

That said – the art for this builds the world. A truly original universe. There is the basic level – basic, in terms of colour, shading, complexity – yet so well done it there is no disconnect for the reader. Onto this framework is built stunning sequences of action – the basic frame bringing a video game to mind, but the action, emotion and expression involving us with the characters. This is a world of video game imagery we can be entertained by and has story that we can engage with. This is a world where line music streams across the bottom of the page, where group-cooking a vegan meal is half cooking show, half documentary. It isn’t that it never becomes cartoonish, it is that the events are funny because we know the characters, like an old 25-minute Bugs Bunny.

The writing is also tricky. Also, I’ll admit, there were some ideas I was playing catch-up with; The head-bump that locks one in one’s own mind – would have liked a little more on that. Also, the Ramona getting stuck in a freezer with six other of Gideon’s exs? Aside from these – and I these are really minor for me – this work has a great ability to be comfortable while writing away from its ostensible central premise, while still adding subtle things to that premise. In many ways the simple cartoon premise – beat seven bosses, win the girl – makes such a straight line that even when you take detour you can still see the main road all the time. Its a complex plot, but it is complex about mundanities and emotions rather than geodesic puzzles and swift surprises.

The writing makes the world. Death is serious – but not that serious? Save points, extra lives, hyperspace doors and hammerspace handbags? Super-powered vegans, cyborg drummers, demon hipster chicks, chubby half-ninjas, self-drying psychics and the power of love. There is the dream-logic, game-logic, song-logic of the storytelling that guides through an impossible, mundane world – where not only can people perform incredible feats through practicing combos, but that these abilities can be totally apart from the person themselves – that the greatest fighter in the province can also be sharing a futon in a bomb shelter-looking apartment with his roomate. A world where past events can be expressed as taking up ‘pages’ and where people are told to ‘read volume one’ without irony. It is a world of dreams, onto which we can project problems and complexities for satisfaction.

The cast of characters, apart from the above-mentioned problems with recognition, compliment the complexity. In the main cast, the afforementioned Scott-being-jerk a la Peter Pan aside, these seem like … people you could meet. Or have met. Or were at that party that one time. Apart from the whole vegan superpowers and battle robots, which are really just other ways for one to grind exp., they are all caught up in the mix of intrigues, projects, moving days, lies and lunacy of the rest of us. They have their own adventures prior to, in parallel with and probably after Scott’s time with them. Ramona certainly has a septology’s worth of adventures from her pre-Scott era. Stephen Stills has an almost certainly as-interesting revelation about his own career, recurring relationship with Julie and his own sexuality. Kim Pine even had a few strips of her own regarding her jerky roommates. Wallace clearly requires his own tv show.

I’ve heard about the idea that all this, on one level or another, is taking place in Scott’s head. Given the events of the books, I’d pretty much take that as an assumption. The only addition I’d make is that all the other stories that are happening in all the other heads are equally awesome.

Oh, they’re all jerks, like Scott. Apart from their comedy-sociopath reaction to repeated murder attempts on Scott, the following; Ramona makes out with her ninja ex-girlfriend after inaccurately-accusing Scott of doing the same. Wallace is pretty relieved Scott has a girlfriend, as Scott won’t be homeless when Wallace moves out. Kim Pine tells Scott off for dating high schooler Knives Chau … then drunkenly makes out with Knives. Knives dates Young Neil just to get close to Scott again. Young Neil calls Stephen Stills ‘Capt Homo’ which, when we find out what was going on in that period, is quite cruel. And so on. And this insn’t the slightest reason no to read it, just a slight underlining to warn you that if you can’t take the occassionally jerky behaviour, stay out of the vegan-friendly kitchen.

As for the rest of the cast: People move in and out of the range of the story, the way people do. A host of villains, partygoers, one-night-stands, movie stars, barristas and samurai dads. Legendary.

The Film:

So yeah, I generally liked this.

The filmography – not the first place I’d usually go, but, like the art in the book, this builds the world. The special effects, the camera angles, the set and costume design, the stunts and, of course, the music – however you’d like refer to these cement this as a cult classic for a considerable fraction of all time. None of it was … ‘clunky’. It didn’t get in the way of what we know must happen. Hollywood has insanely pandered to our desire to see the villain not just fail, but be captured. This carried it farther, onto the realms of unconscious expression, where they all explode into coins. Its imagery was never constricted by contemporary mores or iconography. They used these mores and images, sure, but I never got the feeling that in ten years nobody is going to have a damned idea what is going on here, or have to read the books to get it.

Story: The dialogue is the book verbatim – just in different places. Only when re-reading the books did I realise just how much of it had come from them, albeit in different contexts. And it worked. With Watchmen there was a scene or two in the end that felt really weird, with Laurie ‘quoting’ something Dr Manhattan ‘would have said’ to get that line in without the original scene. I appreciated the changes yes, but some of it was done was really odd. As for the other changes – largely they were cuts, and largely I liked them. Yes, I missed the Kim Pine story – the thing that was closest to “*could* have been kept in for plot relevance” – but overall these largely practical cuts. Making the band plot a ‘battle of the bands/signing deal plot’ did work to parallel the main plot. I still had perhaps two major issues with the story overall (they are somewhat related).

Firstly, the time-compression. A year becomes a week. There was some loss of Scott’s other ways to grow outside of his romantic relationship – which was ptherwise a great message in this film – and said relationship is now only a week-wide. Still, I’m not that vehement about this point. It does make it more palatable for a single sitting, and, more importantly, it really contributes to the end aesop that the Power of Love is all very well, but that that of Self-Respect has a much, much cooler sword. This film single-handed goes a great ways to undo some of the damage the film-shorthand ‘power-of-love-saves-the-day’ has done over the years. By keeping the relationship relatively short so far, it underlines why Scott should be fighting for himself rather than Ramona. Which, alas, brings me onto my big gripe.

Ramona and Knives. A little fact I learned later that explained a lot:
Apparently, at the time of filming, Scott was going to hook up with Knives at the end of the books. Now, just let me say: This, while a little weird, wouldn’t have put me off too much as the book’s ending. By the last book, Knives has become a wonderful young woman who is so much further on from where she started out. She got over her first love, got past dating guys to make that crush jealous, got over her first beloved band, got over getting punched out by the drummer of her adored band and is off to have her own, awesome life. And is 18. I feel I should stress that. In the film however, this means a crazy Knives, who is still attacking Ramona for Scott’s mistakes, is supposed to be the love interest. Thankfully, this didn’t happen, and the ending was changed as the O’Malley decided Ramona made the better story.

And Ramona did make a great story. After spending a year with the ‘nicest guy she has ever dated’ and dealing with her seven evil exes teaming up to destroy said nicest guy, she ran off – which is significant, as she manages to escape the two classic traps of either hooking up with the villain or getting put in his dungeon. Running off was immature of her, but it put strides ahead of many a love interest. She is messed up, but going away on her own terms – and, most particularly – coming back on her own, and her on own terms, AND driving the evil, evil stalker Gideon from her head on her own terms was wonderful. It prompts Scott’s own revelation about the chain of dumped and dumping and sets up their tag-team deathmatch to destroy Graves. Film-Ramona goes back to Graves, has a chip on her neck, gets rescued, gets to knee him in the balls then get kicked down the stairs. Which is a real slap in the face after the great hammer/stand-on-my-shoes fight.

I whine and whine about poor stories for female characters, but the book is the stuff that reminds they can be done well. The fallout from this is the following: Knives clearly is underlined as the love interest in the end – from the ‘Knives-Scott tag-team’, ton ‘wow, yeah, wow’, to the ‘you make a good team’ bit, it is clear which way it was being pushed, even in the final cut. The deleted scenes version makes it really explicit. And so in the Ramona/Scott is the rescued girl who Scott has only know for a week and with whom he appears to leave everything for. The alternate ending with Knives/Scott is worse – Scott goes back to dating the crazy 17 year old and Ramona walks through a door (which, gives the absolute midnight behind it, looks sort of like death – not something we wanna associate with her not having a guy. Not having a guy is a fine end for her, but for god’s sake, have HER walk into the sunrise then, not this inky spectre of death stuff).

So, rant over. In short: I actually preferred the bit when Scott died, with him rerunning everything. Really drove home the growth. And was awesome. The whole subspace/memory-editing thing was so weird that even in the context of all other ninja-mystic weirdness that was around it, it was weird – and so would have been difficult to adapt without several minutes of pure exposition. I was ticked off at how the whole plot for Ramona was reduced to chip-on-neck stuff, but still, I see how hard that would be to adapt.

Casting wise, I really want to see Kieran Culkin in more films from now on. It was eerie seeing not-MacCauley’s features on a a screen, but he is a wonderful actor. Anna Kendrick shows us all why she has been nominated best supporting actress in the biz (best part of the Twilight films’ school scenes, without a doubt), and I kinda want to see the film she got nominated for now. Michael Cera rightfully remains a leader in the particular typecasting subset that of quirky-young-heroes-with-idiosyncratic-critically-acclaimed-stories that Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Long, Aaron Johnson, Jason Schwartzman occupy. Speaking of, Schwartzmann was a great villain. A little light on backstory, but a real sonnova-bleep. Elizabeth Mary Winstead was great. She had excellent villain-chops in Sky High and, to be honest, kept thinking of this as Sue Tenny grown up – c’mon; mysteriously left America, had several super-powered evil boyfriends in high school, has access to high technology, has dabbled in being a bitch. Ah, conspiracy theories. But seriously, I hadn’t clicked with me that she’d been in Die Hard 4, or Deathproof (I’ve seen trailers). A quick google image search and I realised that depending on her hairstyle, I’m probably going to mistake her for Emma Stone, Jennifer Garner, Anna Friel and/or Katy Perry. The dyed hair really made her stand out in my mind by comparison. Girl needs a duelling scar, is what I’m saying. And Alison Pill – oh, Alison Pill. That Kim Pine voice and that Kim hair and Kim Pine drums. The two takes on her reaction to Scott’s entrance to Gideon’s club were equally genius. Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, etc – great. The exes – magnificent.

Ultimately? I read the books before I saw the film, burt I saw the trailer before I read the books, so these are the voices I hear when I read the books, the faces I impose on the drawings. And I’m cool with that.

I hope it does well on the DVDs. There isn’t any terrible compulsion, of course – there isn’t any more of this individual story to tell, everyone involved has a career afterwards and appear to have plenty of work. But genre-busting off-kilter adaptations of indie stuff should be encouraged. It shouldn’t be the only thing on the screem, but it shouldn’t be once-in-a-decade stuff. Ah well. More particularly, I shall, again, have to widen my reading horizons to see what I’m missing in the OEL Manga / Oni-Press stakes. And that is 2,500 words.

Quick and Dirty Review; R-S, excepting Scott Pilgrim.

February 24, 2011

Rocketeer: 1st trade paperback.

Remember the film, with Jennifer Connolly and Timothy Dalton? This is its basis.

This is pulp, plain and simple. Ingeniously in-depth, it is clear the author knows his period. The characters are period – Cliff Secord IS the idiot hero; sleeping-in, pulling pranks and who, finding a rocket pack can only think to use it to make some cash to win over his girl Betty, about whom he is insanely jealous. Betty (Betty Paige, in pastels), who lets a guy called Marco take ‘art-photos’ of her, of course says money isn’t an issue – while Betty’s thought bubbles, meanwhile, reveal that pretty much is and thinks it is odd that “it doesn’t seem to matter to Cliff that he is getting more than anyone else”.

In short, they’re idiots together in their world – with what would be considered the modern-type heroes (qualified, in authority and in the know) tracking down the rocket pack – featuring a pastiche of pulp characters from Doc Savage and the airplane-pulps. But the reversal works, and not just in a laugh-at-the-fools way. Trying to compare to this film is problematic – the film’s characters were pretty heroic and reasonably methodical, and therefore more likeable, more admirable. But these characters are interesting characters on their own terms – and you can laugh, because they’re idiots.

Runaways: First 2 volumes

I’ll spoil one thing – the central premise – and then stick to commentary:

SPOILER: The first issue reveals – to us and the kids alike – that the twelve parents of the six children are supervillains.

Moving on: Brian K Vaughn – Y the Last Man, Ex Machina. I think that this is a very well written story. Really well written. I think the dialogue works well, I think the characters work very well and I think the plot works very well. I think this is an achievement to have something like this, not only on its own terms, but also the fact that it works within the larger Marvel Universe. Millar’s Civil War Run is the only Marvel-ous thing on my shelf at the moment. Runaways is something that could make me revisit this state of affairs. It uses the universe – both exploiting the holes and celebrating the triumphs – to best advantage without being hampered by it. It isn’t mired in inextricable continuity, puts other members of that universe in the picture without letting them block out the camera. Everything has been worked out and compliments each other wonderfully.

So what do I say about what happens? This: There is a reveal – one amongst many, but a particularly big one. And it is one of the few reveals in my reading that I worked out ahead of time that wasn’t because of foreshadowing, or an off-hand clue, or a good guess, but because something didn’t fit with the character and nothing else. So yeah, that is the league Vaughn is in at this point. Also: Molly. Molly is hilarious. And Gert is witty. And Alex is clever. And Chase is messed up. And Nico is delightful. And Karolina needs a hug, and maybe a ham sandwich.

Scarlet Traces

So – H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; After all that was over, with all the alien tripods, heat rays, spaceships and terraformed land lying around, did it just stop? Or did heat rays become the weapons of choice of the British Empire? Did Arachnid-Hansom cabs become the favoured method of transportation? Did all the technology take a jump to modern levels – and sometimes beyond? Captain Autumn and Sergeant Major Currie – something of a north-and-south, upper-and-lower take on Holmes and Watson, with some Bob Morane throw in there – are looking into the disappearance of Currie’s niece – along with the disappearance of a great many other young women. Their investigation is a tour through the modified Britain, from the mechanised, ghetto-ised North and its suddenly unemployed population, to the cold heart of the Empire itself. Steampunk detective story, in so many words, with the requisite references to everything from Varney the Vampire to the Jack the Ripper murders, this is good read, particularly if you’re into the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ethic.

Starman: Robinson’s run 1-80.

Starman – Ted Knight. Golden Age superhero. Uses Cosmic Rod, powered by ‘Cosmic Energy’, to fight crime. Contemporaries include Sandman, Hourman, The Spectre, Wildcat, the Jay Garrick Flash, the Alan Scott Green Lantern and the rest of the Justice Society of America. Had two boys – one, David, a real clean cut scientist-superhero, the other, Jack, a rebellious young sot with a thing for vintage memorabilia and antiques. Obvious, really which one took up the mantle. And David was shot, first few weeks out, first mission, by the new Mist, son of one of Starman’s old enemy of the same name. And that was just the start of the rampage of chaos the new Mist was set to start. So, yeah, this is the story of how Jack Knight became Starman.

And yet, not quite.

Because we’ve heard that story before, and unoriginality isn’t the name of James Robinson’s game. No. Sure, we’re with Jack on his hero’s journey for eighty issues, but this isn’t the story of one Starman. This is the story of all of them. Ted, and David and Jack – but also Mikaal, the Starman of the seventies, named after the David Bowie song, the mystery Starman of the fifties and the brief, super-powered Starman of the nineties. There are Starman-for-a-day types, and Starman-from-the-future types. This would be tired retconning and needless justification except for the natural flow with which we look back at the Starman lineage and with the obvious love and respect and … hope? with which it is done. This is Batcave-Giant-Penny/Robot-Dinosaur country, people.

Also contemporary to Jack, we have the O’Dares, the police-filled family, scions of the original Starman’s ‘Comissioner Gordon’ liason. Except this isn’t Gordon-lite. Apart from the eldest, all of the O’Dares are beat cops. This, paired with Jack’s young-hero status keep them firmly out of of the sidekick or sideline setups. I love the balance presented in the interactions between them and Jack and the rest of the cast. It breathes a real life into a police of what would otherwise be disposable uniforms. Over the course of 80 issues all five O’Dares become fleshed out characters, real to us in the same way Jack is. They mix the mundane and fantastic best, I think – they’re as willing to risk their lives to everyday threats as to raging monsters from beyond the hell dimensions.

On the other side of this is The Shade. Now, I will recuse myself from writing overlong on the Shade, because we’re all well aware that when it comes to clever, witty, top-hat-cane-spectacles rogues with Dickensian diction and refined values, I have no reserve. Suffice to say – The Shade is one of the handful of old-villains-turned-antihero I buy as a good story. He is still a shadow-demon-holding immortally-ageless-snatchthief. He will kill you. But he loves Opal City. He has lived there and loved it for a century or so. He likes its heroes because they protect and enrich his beloved. He liked the Golden Age heroes of other cities, and had some sport with them. And if you hurt his Opal, with bombs and terror and panic, shadowy demon wolves will tear you limb from limb … from limb.

And why shouldn’t he? Opal city is her own character too. This is the town where everyone knows that Ted Knight was Starman, that Jack Knight is the current one. That would be special enoughon its own, I think, to merit the attention Opal gets. Starman, here, is not the enigmatic alien god or mysterious demoniac avenger of other towns. At the same time, Robinson avoids making Starman Opal’s rubber-stamped tourist-attraction. This is a city that is throughly aware that this is a crazy world, and yet still stands, proud. Bringing this idea to life is Tony Harris’ wonderful art. Here is the beautiful masonry of Gotham, but as well lit as it would be in Metropolis. The layering of history, with the diverse architecture and beautiful landscapes, makes this a fabula one could truly visit in the mind.

So – this is an ensemble piece. These are the main cast, but they aren’t the half of the recurring cast introduced throughout the run. And I love them. Just one example,or I’ll be here all night – I love Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, as a contented elderly man who is even more decrepit than his contemporaries, and yet filled with a light of heroism free of the angsty-loss that plagues all the other heroes, on one level or another – and I love Jack being happy to meet Wesley, but also being overjoyed to meet Wesley’s partner Dian Belmont, who is also Jack’s favourite author. I love Ted being a little fidgety, telling Jack that he really didn’t know Sandman that well, that they hit off with an ordinary uncomfortableness when they first met -i.e. something that can happen to anyone – and then that Sandman saved his life once …

I’ll come clean and admit to not knowing that much about Starman before this, and definitely not the minutiae of his universe. Not only has Robinson’s run corrected this deficit, but I really see a depth to it all that is in few mythos – Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Green Lantern perhaps. Not say it can’t all get a bit much, sometimes. Jack’s Odyssey into Space does run on for a while, and does pretty much meet everyone you could in DC space at the time – as well as several figures from the DC timeline’s past and future. It gets very timey-wimey at points and, while I was always interested, my mind was wandering back to Opal. This is a wonderfully planned out series, and every single issue is put to good use, but at 80, even the best story will have weakpoints. Of such a large arc though, I have to say I’ve seen far more flaws in many a 10-issue than the whole of this run.

So yeah. I put forward a theory – To inculcate the love we, the reader, have of Superman or Batman, at an adult level, takes about a minimum of 80 comics read, or their demonstrative-equivalent in movies, tv shows, cartoons. 80 issues of Superman opening the Fortress of Solitude with that big-ass key, feeding the animals in his menagerie and watching Firefly season 2 on his ‘What If’ machine. Usually that ’80 issues’ is by a great many writers, in a great many different formats, with a thousand takes on the character and perspectives on the classic elements. Robinson makes it through on 80, all by himself, for me at least. Ah well.

The Shadow – Coils of the Leviathan

A dark little story, very much a piece of the time it is set and the time it was written. Not a must read exactly, but a piece with some wonderful art and delicate look at a pulp hero that doesn’t feel compelled to be an origin, a reimagining, an update or modernisation. This could easily be a comic book of one of the novels – though the most I know about the character comes from the radio plays. This is grit before they had to explain to us that there was another way, a gun-wielding hero before we played nice with tasers, batarangs and karate chops.