Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
I'm not a polticial guy. By and large my idea of the Big Issues tend to revolve around whether who would win in a fight between Superman and Captain Marvel. But the above has shaken me out of my complacency and I'd be remiss if I didn't at least talk about how this news made me feel. Much of this will doubtless sound monumentally naive and simple, but I want to get this out of my system so in the future I can just point to it for my opinion on the subject.
I'm a Canadian, and a proud one at that. I love my country and truly think we've got the best of all possible worlds in this great land. I've always had this image of Canada as having its problems to be sure, but still being a land of decent people where we embraced the diverse and built upon that selfsame diversity for a better tomorrow. Nations, spiritual beliefs, gender, sexuality. . .none of that mattered in the Canada of my idealized vision. Needless to say reading of the above assault, hearing of a similar attack in British Columbia has done a lot to--if not shatter--than at least to smudge that rose-colored view a great deal.
I'm not gay. I say that not as a defense mechanism, merely as a statement of truth. I can't imagine what it must be like to live in a world where I have to face intolerance for being who I am and wanting to be with the people I care deeply for. With the passing of Proposition 8 in the United States, the simple act of recognizing a same-sex couple legally as a loving pair joined in matrimony has been rejected. And most of all, I can't concieve of a world where something as simple as picking your kid up from school could become the basis of a savage, unreasoning attack for no other reason than one of these women may have spoken to the child of this creature that poses as a human being.
Why? Seriously, why is this such a big deal? What is it that's so wrong about people being with people that they love? It makes no sense. They're not trying to force their beliefs on anyone, they're not trying to make you gay. No. All they were doing was living their lives, and for that unforgivable sin of daring to dream of a world where they might actually have a chance at life, libery, and the pursuit of happiness some cowardly, insecure fucktard took it upon himself to act as what he doubtless percieved to be the righteous fist of the majority. How dare anyone think that they could spend an afternoon picking up their kids with the woman they love, maybe heading to Dairy Queen to treat them for good grades on a quiz? Where do they get off just living their lives like they're--y'know--normal human beings? Don't they know they're different? Don't they know that's the way it is? Well I'll sure show them right?
And the worst thing, the absolute worst thing that just makes my molars grind is that this thing, sitting there waiting to be arrested acted blase about the whole thing, impatient to be getting home. Never mind that he'd left these women broken and bleeding. Never mind that he'd traumatized their kids, his kids, and the kids of this school. He had to get home in time to watch the latest tractor pull or run the risk of missing So You Think You Can Dance. To top it all, the police released this walking pustulence. He gets to go home after the mild inconvenience of being detained for a few hours while these women are in the hospital.
It boggles the mind, but more than that it shames me and shakes me out of my complacency all at once. The Gay and Lesbian community are a part of everyday living now. They deserve no less than the same fair shake that we all recieve in turn. They also deserve the same defense that anyone who is attacked and made the victim should be granted, and the offender should be charged and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We need to send a message that this kind of behavior is the antiquated relic of a previous century and will no longer be tolerated. Who we choose to love should have no bearing on who we are in society. It's just that simple. No more.
Speaking of the flick, y'know it never occurred to me until just now but Nathan Fillion would make an excellent Steve Rogers. They might have to digitally weaken him a bit for the pre-Erskine treatment, but he could really pull off the whole super-soldier look with six months physical training.
And come on, the irony of a Canadian playing the Sentinel of Liberty? Delicious.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Batman: The Brave & The Bold Cast
Warner Bros. issued an abbreviated list of characters that will be appearing on the show. Voice actors are listed whenever possible.
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Dietrich Bader
Aquaman: Jon DiMaggio
Blue Beetle: Will Friedle
Booster Gold: Thomas Everett Scott
Calendar Man: Jim Piddock
Cavalier: Greg Ellis
Green Arrow: James Arnold Taylor
Green Lantern Corp.
Guy Gardener: James Arnold Taylor
Justice Society of America
Plastic Man: Tom Kenny
Red Tornado: Corey Burton
Skeets: Billy West
Wildcat: R. Lee Ermey
This show has Jonah Hex and a Wildcat voiced by R. Lee Emery. I am now officially stoked.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Yes, yes, literary subtext and metaphor, Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth and all that B.A. English major jazz. . .if I were any proper Internet nerd I'd be kvetching about this detail and that. . .but come. On.
It's the Hulk.
This is more metal than an Iced Earth, Manowar, and Dragonforce triple bill with special guest Slayer. And that, my friends, is pretty fucking metal.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
'Remember: NOBODY ESCAPES THE LAW OF GRAVITY! '
Ps. A more detailed review will be provided later. I just. . .goddamn this book is awesome!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I don't know about anyone else, but my fandom tends to move in a cycle. Sometimes I'll be way into Star Trek, and wax philosophical and at length about the various facets of Gene Roddenberry's space franchise to any in range who'll give me the time of day. Others I'll be really into Star Wars, and want nothing more than to discuss the intricacies of Jedi versus Sith philosophies and the zenlike inaccuracy of stormtrooper marksmanship. On still others I'll be into J. Michael Stracynski's epic saga of Babylon 5 and want to regale others with just how utterly awesome G'Kar was, and how Andreas Katsulas may have been the greatest actor on television period, leathery makeup or no. The latter case is especially apt these days as I'm on a huge B5 kick right now, watching the show from beginning to end and just drinking it in. Each time I watch it I think I come away with something different.
In reading I'm much the same. Sometimes I'll really want to delve into a good science fiction novel, maybe something epic like Herbert's Dune or Heinlein's Glory Road but I'm just as content opening the latest mass market Trek paperback if I think it's going to provide an escape. Sometimes I don't want the bells and whistles of SF, but read a (gasp!) contemporary novel. Taste is subjective and cyclical. And let's not even get started on my shifting taste in comics. We'd be here all day and into the night.
Am I alone in this pattern? I'm not too sure, but I hope not. I think you need to have a bit of variety in your passions and hobbies, if for no other reason than no one thing can sustain you over a long period of time. The people I've met through science fiction and fandom have all had other passions, other hobbies and pursuits that I think they move through much as I do through my own. I find it interesting that we often have these parallel tracks for our own pleasures, though we may define ourselves as one thing or another. It's interesting how that need for categorization seems to follow us from the world of the mundane, as if we need some kind of classification, some kind of label. Is that for our benefit, I wonder, or that of the world outside? I'm not sure. Maybe it's just some ingrained need in us for some form of heirarchy. Personally to me a fan is a fan is a fan, be you into superheroes, hard science fiction, or anthropormorphic art. As long as fun is being had, as long as you find others who share that passion and are peacable and friendly about it, there's no worries on this end.
I find the whole notion of fandom to just be fascinating in it's ability to create an almost instantaneous rapport between people. I was working the Red&White Club here in Calgary on Sunday with my brother, running a table and helping sell his wares when a couple of teenagers came to the booth. One was commenting quietly on the Spider-Man/Red Sonja trade we had for sale, so I opened up to the kid and dropped a few thoughts on Spider-Man. It was like throwing a switch. He instantly brightened and we had a good ten minute conversation about all things Spider-Man, X-Men, and Marvel in general. The kid went from shy and somewhat laconic to lit up and stoked, talking passionately and at length about his ideas for a fan script and the characters he'd created for it. He visited the booth a couple times after his purchase just to chat. It was amazingly cool, and a phenomenon that I never get enough of. We spend so much time concealing our fantasy lives from the real world that when we meet someone who gets it. . .oh, it's the sweetest feeling of all isn't it? Someone who understands, who shares our drive and our passion for the genre. At the end of the day I think that feeling of connection and community does a lot for us all personally.
I live for those kind of moments.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Okay, okay, I get it. Marvel Zombies & Marvel Zombies II did really well and you're setting things up to get readers stoked for MZIII. Totally cool and a sensible marketing paradigm.
But do we have to continue with the 'zombiefied' covers? I just don't see the need for them anymore. You've done so many zombie variant covers it just doesn't work as a draw, at least for me anyway. Maybe work it in as a surprise? Do the regular version of the cover, then the inside front cover could be the zombified version. Why give that page away to Spaghettios or an escalade ad or somesch when you could use that spot to build some hype? That way I get an unexpected bonus, you get some free publicity and we all go home happier.
That said, this cover is pretty boss:
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
ZOT! 1987-1991 by Scott McCloud
I've read and enjoyed Scott McCloud's excellent examination of the comics medium, Understanding Comics, but I always wondered where his voice of authority on graphic storytelling came from, and what he'd done prior to that epic work. Apart from a look at one of his online strips starring the character, I'd never had the oppurtunity to read any of McCloud's work starring his dimension-crossed lovers amidst the world of the everyday and the world of a tomorrow that never was. With the release of ZOT! 1987-1991, we get a rare and intimate look at both the work of the writer/artist, but also commentary on his creation's roots and his thought processes in its inception and implementation.
Zachary T. Paleozogt (Zot for short) is a swashbuckling, high-flying, (courtesy of antigravity boots), laser pistol firing teen hero of the classic mold who lives in the 'far-flung future of 1965', a utopian vision of the future where everything Popular Mechanics and Tomorrowland promised us--flying cars, robot butlers, a world free of conventional crime or poverty--has come to pass. Oh, there's the occasional supervillain or coal-powered mad scientist from another planet, but by and large the world is a paradise. Zot's uncle Max discovers our world via his super-science, and travel between the dimensions becomes possible. Enter Jenny Weaver, a 14 year-old girl whose parents are dealing with divorce, she's struggling with the pitfalls of public education, and an older brother who's a pain. Their paths cross and it's pretty clear it's kismet, but Jenny maintains that Zot is 'not her boyfriend. . .we just like hanging out.' Mmhm.
The first half of the book 'Heroes and Villains' is a bit of what you'd expect with dimensional travel and the contrast between utopia and the real world. The book itself is a contrast between idealism and realism, and nowhere is that more evident than in Zot's more or less disastrous attempts to apply his superheroic mentality to a world that doesn't treat its heroic figures all that well. Zot also has to learn to come to grips with the fact that just because he believes he can save everyone doesn't make it true, no matter how good a person he is.
The second half of the book is--I think--where McCloud truly begins to find his voice as a storyeller. 'Earth Stories' has Zot trapped on Jenny's Earth with no real knowing if he'll ever find his way home again. Here Jenny and her family and friends come to the fore, each in their own single issue arc that highlights characters that feel as much like real people as they are supporting cast. Of them all, my favorite has to be issue #33 'Normal' featuring Jenny's friend Terry coming to terms with both her sexuality and the pressure cooker that is the high school environment.
Zot! is just plain fun on a lot of levels:the imagery of the utopian 'future', a rogues gallery featuring villains ranging from the humorous De-evolutionaries and Doctor Bellows to the creppy Arthur Dekko and 9-Jack-9. A future with flying cars and swashbuckling heroics makes for entertaining reading. But there's depth here too, and McCloud takes us--via commentary interspersed between issues--into his background and creative processes at the time of the book's creation. It's at once enjoyable entertainment for the reader and wonderful insight into the working method of another creative artist. Reccomended most highly.
Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow Lionsgate Films. Written by Christopher Yost, directed by Jay Olivia.
I'm a fan of superhero comics in general, and if it's one thing we superhero fans love it's resisting any and all forms of change. Now sometimes that's warranted, as in cases where Spider-Man makes deals with the devil, but in others that intractibility can prove to be a major detriment.
Now to be fair it's not all the fault of fanboys like me. Superhero stories cannot truly become the heirs of the ancient sagas and heroic ballads of the past because of one very salient and pertinent fact; superhero comics cannot change. They can provide the illusion of change, sure, but there'll be no last arrow to mark Green Arrow's grave or the ultimate resolution of humans vs. mutants, because once they do that the story's over. And Time Warner and Marvel Entertainment have far too much invested in their properties to ever bring their legends full circle and provide an end to their continually-rebooting-to-keep-up-with-the-times beginnings.
When I first heard of this movie, to be released as part of Marvel/Lionsgate's direct-to-DVD feature film line, I was completely turned off by it. Why not adapt some of Tom DeFalco's excellent MC2 work if we're going to jump Marvel's heroes into the future? Why do the characters look like that? The animation style seems so. . .well. . .stylized. In short, I had my arms crossed and my face scrunched up in the best Mr. Horse tradition, fully prepared to hate this film. But as the advance buzz trickled in, and I heard it got a standing ovation at the San Diego ComicCon (no mean feat in getting an auditorium of comicbook fans up and cheering) I decided to put aside my preconcieved notions and actually let a new idea have a chance.
And I am so very glad I did. Next Avengers is easily the best animated Marvel film yet, walking the tightrope of drawing in new blood while at the same time providing architecture and pieces that longtime Marvel fans will enjoy and appreciate.
It's several decades in the future and Earth's Mightiest Heroes have retired, their world largely trouble-free, to build lives and families of their own. But evil arises in the form of their constructed successor, the robotic Ultron. Originally designed to protect humanity, it decides the best way to achieve it's programmed goals is to control humanity. The Avengers attempt to fight back, but in the end they can't prevail. Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is ordered by Captain America to get the children to safety. From a hidden sanctum the daughter of Thor, the son of Captain America and the Black Widow, the son of the Black Panther, and the son of Giant-Man and the Wasp are raised in safety. Until, of course, one day when that safety is shattered. Soon a confrontation with Ultron becomes all but inescapable, and can a group of kids, an old armored avenger, a severed android head and the former love of the strongest being on Earth hope to stand against the calculating menace of an enemy that took on the world's greatest superheroes and walked away?
Previous efforts in Lionsgate's work for Marvel have felt a bit constrained, either by their desire to cleave to the comics or to do their best to toe the line with continuity while being accessible to new viewers. With Next Avengers it's clear they've hit their stride. The story of the Avengers' Last Ride (ingeniously told as a bedtime story) is just amazing, and the background nods to the old team are cool enough to make longtime fans nod and smile knowingly. A further miracle is Christopher Yost's writing of the kids, making them feel at once real and heroic, but not annoying or kitschy. Yes, these kids are kids and have a lot of growing up to do, but you enjoy them as people as well as heroic archetypes.
There are bits of business here I'd love to gush about (Iron Avengers, Tony's candid take on Clint Barton's reaction to a request for aid, and the at once touching and ghoulish moment in Ultron's 'Trophy Room'), but that'd run the risk of spoiling all the fun of the film. If you've got about an hour or two and want to have a kickass time that will appeal to all ages, I highly reccomend you check out Next Avengers. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Then I saw this on comicbookresources.com. Anticipating the worst, I clicked on the flash player.
And all was forgiven as my eyes lit up with purest geeker joy.
Glee. . .
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Firstly, in regards to Christian Bale and his recent domestic dispute with his family. The celebrity cult culture seems determined to railroad everything into a 'Dark Knight Curse' or the like, with shades of the Crow all over this production. Personally I think it was a guy trying to deal with the emotional strain of losing a friend so suddenly and senselessly having a moment of human weakness, but of course we'll drag it out and dissect it from all angles and try to slap a convenient label on it. 'Cause that's what we do.
Was also reading reviews online of the film on the CBC website and it seems that the consensus from the Eloi seems to be that the film lacks a certain innocence about it, that it's sacrificed it's comicbook roots for a more 'serious' tone that drains the fun out of things. Check out the review here, and a despairing look at the characterization of the Joker here. I think if one digs beneath the layers of bemused condescension one can find a desire on the part of each reviewer to have 'their' version of Batman on the screen, the one that appealed to them. Ms. Onstad seems to favor the Burton version whilst Mr. Lishinski seems to favor the era of Caesar Romero and the bam, zap, pow! of the 1960s Batman television series. Neither point of view is without merit, as each successive vision of Batman has always had an appeal and a charm.
But the point seems to be that in trying to create a film that took it's subject matter seriously(or at least as seriously as you can take deformed killer clowns and people dressing as giant bats anyway), Nolan and his crew somehow took away some of the 'magic' inherent in the Batman mythos. Which to me reads that they dared to take something so declasse as a comic book and made it a challenging piece of entertainment. No, worse than that--they dared to make it approach art(pop art maybe, but still art). And comics are trash after all, a disposable medium meant solely for children. I mean, everyone knows that right? How dare those comicbook fans get notions of leaving their ghetto and be accepted by the mainstream? Gives them ideas, doncha know.
Meh, I could just be in a cranky mood. All I do know for certain is that The Dark Knight was as perfect a film as I've seen this year, and from all indicators the next adaptation to watch for is Zack Snyder's take on Alan Moore's Watchmen. It's a good time to be a fan of genre, and an even better time to be one of comics. Here's hoping for glories to come.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
We'll be back on
Friday Wednesday, promise.
Ps. Sorry about that, but jeez was The Dark Knight frickin' rad. . .I needed some time to decompress. Mea culpa.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
-George Bernard Shaw
I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one. I woke today with a lingering sense of mailaise, and have been doing my ample best to delay or postpone the work without outright throwing in the towel. I don't know if that says a whole lot in the favor of Simon Williams, but I made a promise and dammit, I'm a guy who does what he can to keep his promises, so let's go. May the wind be at our backs.
Wonder Man is a placeholder character, really. Created to put dibs on what on paper sounds like a cool name, Simon Williams has always maintained a solid C-listing in the cape and tights set of the Marvel Universe. He's somebody who'll end up on the Avengers roster because he's a character that's free to use because let's face it, nobody will. Which is a bit unfair because on the face of it, he seems to have a lot going for him. Superhumanly strong, able to fly, nearly invulnerable, and he's been back from the dead at least two or three times. He's rubbed shoulders with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. His best pal is a former Avenger and current X-Man the Beast. Certainly there's a great deal of interesting background to Simon's character. So why doesn't he work on his own? I mean, when you come back from the dead to find an android copy in your place and the android copy is more popular than you are. . .what does that say? I think it says that Wonder Man is a cipher with the potential to become a character. He just needs that little bit of push that will accentuate his unique qualities and bring them to the fore. Those qualities we'll call Identity, Celebrity, and Immortality.
Identity: Consider the nature of Simon Williams; a young man thrust into a position of corporate authority who made a dumb move and allied himself with a supervillain, made into a godling, sacrificed his life rather than betray the Avengers, then died, only to come back from the dead to become a superhero and struggling actor. He had no head for business, got killed as a (albeit reluctanct) supervillain, was somewhat inept as a superhero, and is trying to be an actor when he has the ability to juggle tanks and Tony Stark on speed dial. Why? Why be an actor when the Avengers can give you a sweet stipend and you only have to worry about beating the crap out of the Absorbing Man every once in a while to earn your pay?
Maybe there's a bit more to it. Maybe his need to be an actor, to portray different characters on stage or screen. . .maybe that's an indication of his own need for identity, or maybe a need to escape his own. Maybe the guilt over his betrayal runs a bit deeper than he thought and he feels uncomfortable in a role he feels he hasn't really earned, so he attempts to earn acclaim and respect in another medium altogether. Of course, being an actor in Hollywood leads to another sort of recognition altogether, which leads to our second quality.
Celebrity: If celebrities are the new gods (apologies to Kirby), then what of a celebrity who has the raw power of a god? Simon certainly qualifies, and as the resident superhero of the L.A. scene he'd make for an interesting contrast between the heroic fame (the efforts of firefighters saving lives on the local news for instance) versus celebrity fame(TMZ's gawd-awful, gleefully evil razzing of anyone famous at any moment of vulnerability, to say nothing of the Entertainment Tonight/Barbera Walters 'celebrities as jus' folks sort of approach). Imagine what it must be like to have to deal with at once trying to be a committed actor and artist in an industry that wants to use you up and spit you out. Now imagine being the guy who has to protect that city and it's bloodsucking mass of neuroses and machievellian intrigue from the Wizard's latest rampage because they thought his script about his heroic efforts against that arrogant fool Reed Richard's was crap, or Dragon Man's latest rampage. The potential for stories here would run the gamut, from the hardcore superheroing of the merry Marvel manner to a bizarre mix of superheroics and Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. In fact, I think Campbell would be a good model to base Williams off of; heroic looking, matinee-idol looking, certainly a talented actor. . .but he keeps getting shunted into one odd project after another, never really getting that critically acclaimed mega-blockbuster.
Immortality: Simon has been dead on more than one occasion. He got better. What's that got to be like? Especially now, as a being of pure energy that just looks human? Peter David did a fun series starring Wonder Man entitled My Fair Superhero, wherein it's revealed that Simon will live for hundreds if not thousands of years. What kind of effect does that have on a guy, knowing that he's the man who can never die?
Well, as always I feel that if you're going to crib notes you should swipe from the most talented guy you can find, so I'll just snag a few thoughts and ideas from Russell T. Davies from his character of Captain Jack Harkness. A man who can't die might be a bit of a melancholy figure, at least to start with, living beyond friends and family into an increasingly uncertain future. But there might be some positive aspects too. Becoming a bit more forward thinking, a bit more patient, a bit more willing to sit down and learn because you have the time. It's a blessing and a curse, and while it'd be easy to get overly maudlin with the latter the former should have it's place too. I think tales of 'Future Simon' and his exploits would be quite fun. If nothing else, a crossover between Wonder Man and Hercules: Prince of Power would be hilarious. Two rambuncitous Avengers in the far flung future, and easily the most hedonistic pair of the bunch to boot? Get Bob Layton on the phone.
Also, there's the notion of what life means when it can't end. This could be a great oppurtunity to bring Simon's brother Eric, the villainous and undead Grim Reaper, to the fore. Would there ever be a chance for the bridges to be mended, even after thousands of battles across countless years? Brothers forgive, after all.
So there you go. Perhaps not enough to sustain an ongoing series, but certainly enough to cast the character in a slightly better light and provide for the occasional enjoyable one shot or mini-series to while away a summer's afternoon, preferrably on the patio with a coke slurpee. It's not reinventing the genre, but it is making it fun, which was kinda the point.
Huh. That wasn't such a chore, now was it?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
'Everything you know is wrong.'
-The Firesign Theatre
Pity Robert Reynolds, the Golden Guardian of Good, charged with the power of a Million Exploding Suns granted him by his downing of an experimental formula that made a geeky and shy young teenager into a superhuman powerhouse, the Sentry! The Sentry was created by writer Paul Jenkins in one of the most enjoyable fakeouts in recent comics history; passing off the idea of a lost Stan Lee creation during the early days of Marvel Comics. The initial series was an intriguing examination of power and consequences, inner demons and true heroism. Had it been left as a simple 'What If?' sort of mini-series I think it'd stand as a really interesting and entertaining story.
Unfortunately, the Sentry was brought out of limbo by necessity; the Avengers were being restructured and there was a need to fill the caped flying brick slot left empty by the departure of the mighty Thor, so Rob Reynolds was tapped, rocking a mullett and seemingly back in action as one of the cape and tights set. The Sentry: Reborn told a story of Rob's inner struggle to both find a place in a world that had remembered him as its greatest hero, forgotten him, and then kinda remembered him again, his wife Lindy's potential infidelity, and the fact that he might very well be insane, as his id made manifest--the shadowy figure known as the Void--was seemingly on the loose again, causing mayhem and destruction in its wake. By the end of that series the new status quo was established, wherein the Void was seemingly destroyed, Rob regaining some semblance of a normal life, but with the knowledge that the Void would return to balance the scales, performing acts of atrocity to counter the Sentry's acts of heroism.
So what we have is a potential oppurtunity to explore the Marvel universe from the height of the Silver Age to the modern day via the medium of a Superman archetype, something that universe has never truly had before(though cases could be made for characters like Hyperion from the original Squadron Supreme or the Gladiator, but they're either from other dimensions or too far from Earth to really count). It's a goldmine of potential stories. You have Rob dealing with being an struggling writer as well as the mightiest human being on the planet, his wife Lindy trying to find her place in a world she'd only remembered as half a dream, at once in love with the man she marrried and pining for the god he can become, his headquarters the Watchtower, home to the world's most powerful man as well as the fellow heroes he serves with, even a superpowered (robotic) corgi known as the Watchdog. Add to it the potential to travel from the Silver to Iron Age and back again in flashback format and you can see how The Sentry could not only be a book about one man's struggle against the forces of evil from without and within but a commentary on comicbook superheroes from the beginning of the Marvel Age through to the present, and perhaps beyond.
Unfortunately, it's potential that so far has been unexplored. Not out of any sort of malice or anything I believe, but simply because of the needs of plot. Sentry is a member of the Mighty Avengers, the Government-sanctioned 'official' team that comprises Earth's Mightiest Heroes after the divisive fracas of Marvel's Civil War crossover, but he's been a member since the retooling of the team into the 'New' Avengers some years back. To say his utilization has been less than spectacular borders on understatement. Indeed, it seems that the Sentry is handled in much the same way as the animated version of Superman in the early seasons of the Justice League cartoon; have him attack the Threat of the Week and promptly have his head handed to him, to illustrated that the TotW was indeed serious business. 'Gasp and Choke! It dropped Superman/Sentry!' Of late he's been formidable enough, unless someone waves a picture of the Void at him, or impersonates the same. Then off he goes, yipe-yipe-yiping in the best Warner Bros. manner. As a result what could be one of the coolest characters created by Marvel in recent years is basically handled as the equivalent of a redshirt in Star Trek.
So needless to say, it's a tall order for today's tune-up, as the character seems pretty much totalled: a joke on most messages boards and pretty reviled in fan circles. So how do we fix the Golden Guardian, make him the best character he can possibly be? We explore what makes him work, find those aspects that intrigue the reader, and then bring those elements to the fore. For the Sentry, I'd say those aspects are Power, Duallism, and Consequence. So let's break it down:
Power: The Sentry is the result of a refinement of the super-soldier serum that created Captain America, a forumla so powerful it made Robert at once both a god and a demon. As a result, he has Superman-levels of power as a base. What he's capable of he hasn't really explored, but he could easily be the strongest non-deity on the planet save the Hulk, and the most powerful mind on the planet, right up there with Charles Xavier. Given the fact that the Void has a tactile existence outside of Rob/The Sentry, he may also be able to make his thoughts a physical reality. Given the somewhat fracturous state of Rob's mind that may not necessarily be a good thing. But the Sentry has power, scores of power, reams of it. There's the old Marvel chestnut that 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility', and we've seen how Peter Parker handles it. But what about godlike power? What happens when you find out you're easily the most powerful being on the planet? What would you do with it? More importantly, what couldn't you do? Throw in the fact that Rob in fact stole the formula as a young punk to get high. He wasn't special or important; anyone could have drank that formula and become their highest aspiration and their lowest depravity all at once. That's the glory and the tragedy of it; that maybe someday humanity will ascend to that level of power, but also to the depths as well.
Being one of the heaviest hitters in the Marvel Universe opens up doors for the character. Yes he can thwart the occasional bank robbery or get the odd kitten out of the tree in the best blue boy scout tradition, but equally he should be called in to deal with problems regular superheroes (hell, regular teams of superheroes) can't handle. He should be the representative of Earth to a lot of these powerful, eldritch entities. It'd be very interesting to see the Senty cross paths with Galactus I think, to say nothing of other cosmic level entities and powers. He shouldn't lose his connections with humanity, but he should be seen as the exemplar of humanity; all that it could be, for good or evil, and all the potential it could meet in time. The Sentry as a flawed example of what we could evolve into, a forerunner of humanity's potential destiny. And that flaw leads us into the second aspect.
Duallism: Imagine you down a serum that grants you incredible amounts of power. Power that could change the world, more power than maybe any one person should have. It makes you a god, with all the promise for good or evil that entails. Maybe your Clark Kents or Peter Parkers could handle that, maybe even your Billy Batsons or Mike Morans. But Robert Reynolds was a messed up kid, a schizophrenic, and when that formula interacted with his body and mind it made manifest both sides of his persona. All the Apollonian ideals went into the form of the godling Sentry, and all the Dionysian impulses went into the living shadow of the Void. In essences, the Sentry quite literally is his own worst enemy. There are unconscionable crimes on his conscience, tinted with the knowledge that this is the one enemy he may never be able to permanently defeat. After all, you can imprison most psychopaths, lock them away, even execute them if there's no other option. But if that mass murderer lives in the corners of your own head, what then? Here lies the difference that makes the Sentry so very different than his kryptonian template, than even his occasional sidekick the Incredible Hulk; the Sentry knows for certainty that the good he's done in this world has been balanced by equal acts of evil by the Void and despite the fact that he's been 'destroyed' by being tossed into the sun that avatar was only a construct. The Void can never be fully gotten rid of, because the Void is as much a part of Robert Reynolds as the Senty is. How do you come to grips with something like that? Clearly it has to be dealt with, a resolution met. The idea of a hero looking over his shoulder constantly would eventually wear thin, though the notion of the Void still being there, still offering his potential running commentary a la the god Khonshu in the current Moon Knight series is tempting. But eventually Rob would have to confront his inner angels and demons, which could lead to something entirely new. . .but that's a post for another time. For now, that conflict, that knowledge that he is at once everything he could ever hope to be and everything he fears he could be makes Rob a helluva interesting character, at least from where I'm sitting.
Consequence: The notion of consequences is something seldom explored in superhero comicbooks, and it's pretty clear why; the average superhuman battle would destroy portions of large cities and leave an atrocious bodycount, to say nothing of how different the world would look under the influence of super-science; if you have Reed Richards and Tony Stark in your world how are you not on fusion power and flying cars by now? But the fact that this take would distance the world of the ficton from the everyday world outside our door stays the hand of the editorial teams of the Big Two.
But imagine you're a guy who for a long, long time wasn't a hero. Just an ordinary guy, or so you thought. You had bills to pay, a mortgage, a wife that you loved madly (and sometimes drove you mad). Your life was wonderfully, blissfully mundane. And then you find out it's all a lie and in fact you're the mightiest superhero on the planet living in a fortress in the heart of New York city with a sentient computer and a robotic superdog, fighting guadily clad villains and oh yes, you also might be the ever so slightest bit insane, with a serial killer living somewhere in the depths of your brain. A serial killer who could--and this is the thing that keeps you up long into the night--in fact be the 'real' you. Think about the consequences of a revelation that huge. Think about how it affects you, the people around you. Your wife, your friends in 'The Life', the friends you had when you were just Rob Reynolds, aspiring writer. Your psychiatrist, their family, the whole of the world around you. With the Sentry you can explore what it is to have that insanely huge comicbook reality just dropped into the lap of an ordinary person, with all the glory and horror that it entails. You can explore what it is to actually be a superhuman being, and one that tries it's ample best to fit it's square-peg, complicated self into the round holes his contemporaries seem to handle so easily. The potential is vast indeed.
So there we go. An examination of a potential breakout character who's been handled a little shabbily (c'mon, you have to admit it just a little), and what could be done with him. If you haven't read The Sentry or The Sentry: Reborn I encourage you to do so. If you have, I'd love to hear what you thought, and what you think could be brought to the table.
'The way of a superior man is three-fold:
virtuous, he is free from anxieties,
wise, he is free from perplexities,
bold, he is free from fear.'
Monday, July 14, 2008
So why does J'onn J'onzz draw the short straw and become the sacrificial lamb of the extended Justic League family? Well the short answer would be because he's not a name character, hasn't had a title in years (save for a brief mini-series after Infinite Crisis), and is just recognizable enough to longtime fans to carry a sting while at the same time obscure enough not to explode the Internet (imagine if it'd been Batman who'd been the one with a fiery spear driven through his chest. It'd be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the offices of DC that day. ' A week before the release of our mega-movie featuring this guy and you kill the character off?!').
Look at his power suite; super-strength, flight, near-invulnerability, super-speed, 'martian' vision, telepathy, shapeshifting, invisibility and intangibility. He's also a detective, having been an officer of the law on his homeworld, the Red Planet of ages long since past. He's a Superman/Batman hybrid via Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian Epics, who's easily got the coolest abilities on the block. So why aren't copies of MM comics flying off the shelves?
I think it breaks down to the three As: Appearance, Accessibility, and the Alien. Let's explore these beat by beat:
Appearance: He's green, and his classic outfit just looks. . .well, it looks wrong in a modern context. I will admit the suit he had been placed in for his mini-series did indeed look cool, though the colors should be a tad brighter. To my mind J'onn isn't the Grim Avenger. He's not one for rain-slicked streets at midnight. He's one of the last creations of the Silver Age of comics, and while he shouldn't be wearing some weird bathing-suit/suspenders combo with Captain America booties, he should be rocking something a bit more traditionally superheroic.
As to the famous allegations of Morrison, that people can't get past his green skin, nah. One of the most popular movies out there right now features a shapeshifting superstrong protagonist who happens to be green, so I think the concept could be sound. It just needs a hefty injection of the second element
Accessibility: Having a superintelligent shapeshifting alien as your lead character can be a bit detrimental if you're hoping to gain your reader's emotional involvement and sustain it over a long period of time. Consider Spider-Man. He's easily one of the most popular superheroes around, because we can relate to him. Peter Parker may be a bouncing, swinging, dashing young demigod in his red and blue tights, but he's also a guy who has to make his rent, has relationship problems, and deals with a boss who is a total and complete asshat. J'onn J'onzz is a martian who masquerades as human beings, but isn't really one of them. Unlike Superman, he's seen the end of his world firsthand and remembers it's culture, painfully so at times. He enjoys his human friends and cherishes them, but recognizes that he's always going to be a little apart. Hence, the distance and seeming Olympian detachment can work as a detriment to any serious exploration of the character.
So how do we fix this? As always in times of doubt in the best use of genre archetypes and tropes I turn to Doctor Who. The Doctor is an alien, the last of his kind, and incredibly intelligent and clever. He walks among us, looking like us, but isn't really a human being. Over the years we've had the odd story where he's on his own, but most often he's accompanied by a number of human companions. These serve two functions; to provide the audience a vicarious place to put our expectations and observations serving as someone we can relate to, and to also ground the character of the Doctor a bit further into human concerns. I think J'onn needs that in order to be a more successful character. He can look human, makes himself look more human in his 'superhero' appearance, but he needs a human element. He needs someone perfectly normal to ground him, to help the audience see him as less this stern sentinel at the gate and more of a man from far away who wants to help, but isn't all that sure how to relate to us. If we feel we know someone and their point of view, it helps us to become more comfortable with them, to pull for them and understand their problems. A human secondary character (be it a person he meets in his guise as Detective John Jones or someone he saves as the Martian Manhunter he strikes up an unlikely friendship with) would be just what we need to make the character just a bit more human.
But bear in mind we only want a bit more humanity. For by and large the real appeal of the Martian Manhunter lies in the third element.
The Alien: The character of the Martian Manhunter was created during the 1950s, the heady period when the thought of life on other planets was at once thrilling and terrifying. While thrillers like Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers were scaring the bajaysus out of teens in theaters everywhere, Jack Miller and Joe Certa created a hero who'd survived his world's destruction, saw the good in humanity, and wanted to stay and help them meet their potential. With powers and abilities beyond mortal men. . .well, you get how familiar this idea is. And it is painfully easy to see J'onn as a knockoff of Superman(because, y'know, he is exactly that) but the key differences to J'onn's character make him a potential gold mine for storytelling:
1) He doesn't have any dim memories of the cataclysm that destroyed Mars; he was there on the ground when it happened. Only a freak accident, a one-in-a-million-trillion quirk of fate spared him from dying with his people. He remembers his world's science, it's art and culture, it's people with a painful vividness(being of a telepathic people must mean everything new is shared and disseminated across the entire mass consciousness of a people, with maybe the option to pick and choose, a reassuring background noise inside the mind. Now it's just silence). Unlike Clark Kent, J'onn wasn't raised by humans, he arrived on their world as a refugee, a survivor who had to learn to acclimate to his new environment. That he enjoys Earth and likes its people is beside the point. He's not from here and he knows it.
2) That said, he does have the unique vantage point of being Earth's protector, as well as an immigrant who's come to this planet and become quite comfortable with it. He's a booster for humanity as well as a stalwart guardian. With his abilities he's experienced human existence from just about every point of view and enjoys their culture and art with the enthusiasm of an older brother figure. He gets frustrated with the depths humanity can sink to (militarism and humankind's genius for war strikes him very, very White Martian), but at the same time it's tinted with the knowledge that one day humanity will (with luck) inherit the stars the way his people once did. Simply put, in my opinion he's often cast as sort of DC's take on the Silver Surfer, and that isn't the best fit. He's more Doctor than Surfer in my opinion.
3) He's an alien, but he's also a hero. That heroism comes from a desire to see justice done (the Manhunters were an investigatory body on Mars) and to protect the innocent. J'onn should take that duty seriously, but also recognizing as a telepath a fundemental universal truth: doing good deeds feels good. It's giving of yourself for another, creating bonds of camaraderie and friendship. On Mars that feeling must have been even more intense, and by doing his best to help others on Earth, he's keeping the last embers of his heroic life on mars(pardon the pun) alive, while at the same time showing that he's there to help.
So there we go, some problems addressed and potential solutions suggested. Of course, as with anything, your mileage may vary, but I think we can see that the character of the Martian Manhunter has storytelling potential, and could easily carry a series(or at least a series of mini-series). What do you think?
Until next time.
But after peeking my head out of the lj warren I saw the totality of very hip blogs out on Blogger and elsewhere and decided that I should expand. Not really one giant leap, but a small hop in the hopes that a slightly more public forum will encourage me to write more and keep the scribbler fires stoked.
So, you ask, what will TCD have to say that I can't find in like a zillion other comics blogs? Well, apart from an erudite, charming, and--let's face it--dead sexy host I think you'll find a personable sort of guy that likes to talk comics, pop culture, and writing and is pretty enthusiastic about storytelling in all it's varied shapes. I hope to have reviews of books I'm reading, comicbooks I think you should check out, and my own little bits and pieces of creative errata I'll throw your way. It's kind of my hope to be a bit of a booster, bringing some enthusiasm and accentuating what we all can enjoy. If it runs a bit too close to being an extended episode of The Chris Farley Show I trust you'll pull me back from the ledge, but I also don't want to become ComicBook Guy either. We'll try to walk that tightrope together.
Simply put, this is a place of enjoyment. It's a diversion from the everyday world that I hope you enjoy. Think of it kind of like a tastefully appointed reading room, one that every reader secretly yearns and hopes to have, with those rich leather armchairs, the bookshelves with those wonderful rolling ladders stretching up and up, the crackling fire keeping the chill of the mundane world at bay. We sit around in silence, reading and enjoying our various entertainments, but unlike the Diogenes Club we can look up and talk things over, share what we enjoyed about what we've experienced in a respectful, friendly atmosphere. If that appeals to you, then welcome aboard.
I'll wrap things up by giving you a teaser of what I hope to do this week. Starting Monday I'm going to be looking at some 2nd or 3rd tier comicbook heroes that I feel may deserve a second look, be they long time creations or newer ideas that haven't gotten the attention I feel they deserve. Each day of the week will have it's own alliteratively appropriate character. Who will we be starting with later today?
J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, the latest casualty of the Crossover Craze(see what I mean? Tightrope). Tomorrow we'll discuss why this character hasn't worked in the past, and why he could well be a potential goldmine in disguise. Until then.