I was watching television when an advertisement for Disney's upcoming cinematic abomination The Sorcerer's Apprentice(that high-pitched turbine sound you hear in the middle distance would be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spinning in his grave at a bastardization of his work created solely as a Harry Potter cash grab) and in those moments as the white-hot haze of contempt and rage worked their magic over me I experienced a moment of sublime clarity: I am rapidly coming to hate the concept of the Chosen One.
It's a staple almost as old as fiction itself: the one boy/girl/man/woman/dog/cat/pineapple who can save the world and defeat the Evil One, thus restoring peace to the land and blah, blather, bleh. The coming of this hero is usually foretold, most likely via a prophecy or an oracle or even an urban legend spread via word of mouth. He'll be meek an unassuming at first, maybe even an outright child, but gradually he levels up in badassery until he finally slays the Big Bad, the music swells and the credits roll and etc, etc, etc. . .Joseph Campbell noted the similarities between myths across various cultures and eventually created a term for this kind of story: The Hero's Journey. Basically, it breaks down as follows:
'A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.'
Within this pattern everything from Beowulf to Braveheart, from Gilgamesh to John McClane can be encapsulated. Which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to attempting to win over an increasingly genre-savvy audience.
Don't get me wrong, in the hands of a master storyteller this formula can be as gripping and engaging as anything you've ever heard but it seems of late that this story is the only one that can be told. As a result what was once a seemingly shock-proof, indestructible example of story is now beginning to show telltale signs of wear.
I've no issue with a hero being the last hope. Hell, it worked out just fine for my favorite non-kryptonian hero Luke Skywalker(and yes, I realize a lot of my bile from the earlier paragraph could easily be applied to Luke. Kinda. Maybe. Shut up) in his rise from whiny farmboy to the first of the Returned Jedi. The whole notion of one chosen throughout the world to battle the demons, the vampires, and the forces of darkness didn't bother me either, as Buffy Summers was part of a continuum of Slayers whose legacy spanned the centuries. These variants on the classic Hero's Journey work for me, as they worked for legions of Star Wars and Buffy fans the world over(and even Star Wars and Buffy took that formula and turned it completely on it's head: Anakin Skywalker may have been the Chosen One, but look how he went about it. Buffy took Destiny by the throat and shook it until the Chosen One became the Chosen Many).
No, it's the repetition of this cycle over and over in the wake of Pottermania that's making my teeth grind together, as Hollywood throws whatever it can up on screen in the hopes of squeezing a tired premise one more time in hopes of wringing blood from a stone. While The Sorcerer's Apprentice might actually be a decent film, and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief may well have rocked on toast, it's this continued reuse of a tired formula again and again that is a surefire kiss of death to your film, comic, or novel. Simply put, your audience knows the score. Give them some credit, and throw them the occasional twist to keep them amused and entertained(Deep Blue Sea contains my favorite example of this, as the Heroic Leader archetype in the form of Sam Jackson is suddenly and rather graphically cut off mid-sentence. Stone silence in the theatre save for me busting out laughing and thanking the screenwriter mentally for tipping his hat to me so jauntily).
If a story is well-told with passion then whether or not it's structure is familiar won't matter at all. But if it's just in it for the money, we're going to see the emperor's new clothes exactly for what they are. Nothing at all.
SERENITY: FLOAT OUT One-Shot: Comics based on licensed properties are always a caveat emptor scenario, but I have to say this one was a pleasant surprise. Going into it my mind was put at ease by the knowledge that writer Patton Oswalt (easily one of my favorite comedians) was a long-time fan of the show and had pitched the idea to Firefly/Serenity creator Joss Whedon and met with his approval. The book's story is that of an Irish wake held by some of Wash's friends from before his days running with Malcom Reynolds and company, and helps fill us in on that period before he became a leaf on the wind. It's fun to hear these stories, though sadly this is not the 'Oh-hey-Wash-is-actually-alive-'twas-only-a-flesh-wound' story that we all secretly yearn for. Still and all, the last page had me grinning from ear to ear. It's a tribute from a fan to a character near and dear to the hearts of browncoats everywhere, and well worth a look. The bonus material is pretty fun too, but I won't dare spoil it.
HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD #1: I've been a bit leery of the promises of the Big Two with their Shiny Happy 'brightest days' and 'heroic ages', promising a return to the stately days of yore when in fact it seems to be just a new coat of lacquer that doesn't do a thing to conceal the latest round of shock tactics and gore porn. However, I have to admit this book surprised me as it actually manages to live up to the shiny THE HEROIC AGE banner atop the issue's cover. It's a fun read reintroducing the eponymous heroes, Clint Barton and Bobbi Morse, a couple whose long and storied past has recently been settled and a fresh start has them out and ready to kick butt and take names. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Marvel heroes, and to see him back in the purple and blue slinging arrows and wisecracks while Mockingbird kicks butt and looks damned good doing it. . .it was like coming home. Of course, it's not all smiles and sunshine, as there's threats from old enemies, new foes, and surprising twists from within the crimefighting partnership that promise to make for an entertaining first story arc. Haven't encountered Jim McCann's writing before but I have to say he has the character's voices down pat, and he handles the intrigue and action with aplomb. David Lopez's art is a nice mix of classic and contemporary, and I have to say I hope this team sticks around. H&M is a book I'd recommend to those looking for a comic that's actually fun. A good start Marvel, keep at it.
ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN & WOLVERINE #1: Yeah, I never thought I'd ever read a book with Spider-Man again, particularly in the wake of the character's stupidest story of all time, and if you'd asked me if I'd read a book starring GrrrSnktBub without the benefit of being held at gunpoint I'd have told you those recreational pharmaceuticals you were on must be choice. But at the recommendation of a friend I decided to gird my loins, grit my teeth, and read a book featuring two characters that hold about as much appeal for me lately as a trip to the dentist for a root canal or two. And. . .and it. . .and it didn. . .aggggh. . .the words keep catching in my throat, let me take a sip of tea first. Ahhh. Much better. Ahem. It didn't suck. I know, I'm shocked too. By rights I should revile this book for it's crass attempt to pair two media-friendly Marvel heroes together to get Marvel a little of that Superman/Batman money, but the fact of the matter is this book was a well put together and entertaining read. Jason Aaron provides us with versions of the two leads that each bring their own distinctive voices to the narration, and while I may dislike the wider versions of the characters at large, within this book it feels like a classic Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One of old. Adam Kubert's art doesn't hurt either, and while sometimes I his style to be a bit too gritty, here it's bright and crisp and serves to make the book feel. . .well, like a superhero comic. Another breath of fresh air from Marvel. This is getting spooky.
THE GREAT TEN #7: I will state this as simply and plainly as I can: if you're not reading The Great Ten, you're missing out on one of the most original and enjoyable superhero titles on the market. It's a ten(grrr. . .nine) part series, self-contained and starring the superhuman champions of China, heroes with names like The Accomplished Perfect Physician, Thundermind, The August General in Iron, and the Shaolin Robot. This series finds China under assault by what seems to be their ancient gods. Can the Great Ten stop the assault and unravel the mystery behind the gods' return? Each issue has been a spotlight piece for a member of the team, and herein we encounter the Seven Deadly Brothers, a warrior cursed with complete mastery of all the forms of Kung-Fu. . .and living seven lives simultaneously whether he's whole or split into his component selves. Writer Tony Bedard has been knocking his work out of the park on books like TGT and R.E.B.E.L.S. (another book you should be reading or you're missing out), and the art by Scott MacDaniel actually works with the stylized and fantastic setting where I've found it a bit of a poor fit in other comics. If you want a self-contained, enjoyable read with a lot of crazy action and crazier concepts, you'd do well to give this series a look. Get it now while you can; only three(grrr. . .two really thanks to executive meddling) issues remain in the series limited run and I'd be very, very surprised to see it collected in trade.
SIF #1: The Lady Sif, warrior maiden of Norse Mythology, has had a rough time of it lately over in Marvel Comics. A plot by Loki had him usurping her body and placing her mind in the body of a cancer patient. Thor discovered the ruse and restored her to her true form, but the outright theft of your own body isn't something you just get over. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick explores the consequences of some of J. Michael Stracynski's writings on Thor's title, and deals with a warrior woman seeking to recover her confidence and personal power in the wake of so potent and personal a violation. Of course, at the same time she's also fighting aliens possessed by a parasite that've taken over an alien space-horse's sentient starship, so it's not a complete gloomfest. Ryan Stegman's pencils really mix the world of contemporary Broxton, Oklahoma with the outer space shenanigan with style and aplomb, and the story left me entertained enough to want to see this team revisit Sif as she finds her place on Earth and Asgard alike. An entertaining enough one-shot comic, though the cover does the character a bit of a disservice by placing her in the shortest short-shorts I've ever seen. But if that's the most I can quibble about, we're doing all right.
That's all I've got for now. More as I work to slay the beast that is my To-Read pile.
All right, gradually whittling down my To-Read pile, here's what I've been into of late:
-BATMAN AND ROBIN #11: Up until Grant Morrison began his mad little romp with Dick Grayson as Batman and Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son Damian Wayne as Robin, I'd largely given up on the Batman books. I'm sure they were entertaining, but the depiction of Batman as Batgod over the years had worn down my enthusiasm for the character's comicbook adventures. Yes, I'm aware that Batman is a grim avenger out to get justice from the criminal element for the death of his parents and their deaths haunt him and he must walk alone without emotional ties a man of strengthblahblahblahblahBLAH. The apathy reached it's apex with the release of Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT which (hold on, put the pitchforks and torches down) while an amazing film and a powerful emotional study of both a man and city on the brink, wasn't really a lot of what I'd call fun. There's a reason I gravitate more toward the depiction of Batman in series like Batman: The Brave and the Bold these days: I'm tired of the sturm und drang when it comes to superheroes. What's wrong with good triumphing over evil while having a little fun in the process? That I think is what Grant Morrison gets. While sometimes he can wander far, far off the beaten path while on his peyote-induced visionquests dictated to him by the Lord High Space Coyote, when he's on the ball (and on his meds) Morrison gets superheroes. He knows that their adventures are larger than life, often almost but not quite silly, and that the primary mandate should be entertainment. His portrayal of Dick Grayson, the former high-flying boy wonder and longtime hero in his own right stepping into the role of the Dark Knight and honoring his mentor while still being his own man is entertaining, and it's just logical. Dick as Batman works, and I don't want him sent back to the second tier when Bruce Wayne returns. Damian Wayne is a little bastard, an arrogant little punk who I initially felt deserved a good smack to the mouth, but over the course of this series he's grown on me, and I like the interplay between the more laid back, slightly jocular Batman and his grim, ass-kicking, all-business Robin. Alfred is more than a mere gentleman's gentleman here; he's the anchor, doing his best to be a father figure to both heirs to the legacy. The book has three stars really, but BATMAN AND ROBIN AND ALFRED doesn't really have the same panache. This issue kicks off The Return of Bruce Wayne arc, and with the aid of masked detective Sexton Blake (whom Damian finds a little. . .familiar), the clues left by the time-lost Bruce Wayne are beginning to be unearthed. Also, a long-lost member of the Wayne family is set to make his own comeback, and he's not a very nice man at all. As I said, when Morrison is on point he knows how to bring the thunder, and the issue crackles with an enthusiasm that can't be denied. Andy Clarke's work on pencils is very good, a nice mix of the initial Quitely style with a hint of Aparo. I hope he's on board for the long haul. An entertaining book that I initally gravitated toward because of two words (flying batmobile), Batman and Robin is easily one of the few reasons I return to DC month after month. Oh, and what's better than a flying batmobile? A flying batmobile piloted by Alfred. Check it out.
-DOOMWAR #3: Hey, Doctor Doom is back! Latveria must've recalled that faulty Doombot taking orders from a glorified gangster/third-tier supervillain because this is the premier villain of the Marvel universe doing what he does best: terrorizing the planet. Doom has invaded Wakanda, home of the Black Panther and is out to get it's unique vibranium ore to forward his own plans for a world entirely under his rule. The new Black Panther and King T'Challa (the former Black Panther and the current version's brother) have called upon a band of heroes from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men to aid the King in liberating his land and saving his queen, Storm, from Doom's clutches. Okay, I have no idea who Jonathan Mayberry is, but this guy has given Doom his balls back. This is the Doctor Doom of the John Byrne era, the apex of arrogant assuredness in the belief that his way will provide a better future for all men and women. . .under his immortal and eternal rule. Scott Eaton's art provides widescreen action that puts you in the midst of a nation in chaos, and his depiction of Doom makes Darth Vader look like a 98-pound asthmatic. I will not give away this issue's twist, but it is so. Good. So good, that I grinned from ear to ear when this book was finished. If you aren't reading this book you're missing the best portrayal of the bad doctor to come down the pike in twenty years.
-THE SPIRIT #1: After the horrible, horrible, ho-rib-ble experience of watching Frank Miller's cinmatic excrementI had little desire to look upon anything based upon Will Eisner's classic creation. Nothing could wash the reeking filth of that corruption clean. But it was part of DC's new First Wave line of pulp-themed and inspired books, and looking at the pedigree (written by Xenozoic Tales creator Mark Schultz, with a backup by Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz) I girded my loins, handed my brother my hard-earned cash and say down with the title. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The book was neither insipid nor trite, but an entertaining romp that reintroduces us to the world of Denny Colt and Central City without overstaying it's welcome. The art by Moritat is stylized and fresh, with some nice little Eisnerian touches that I found fun. Schultz gets the character, and I like his rueful, slightly cynical voice as he has Denny narrate to us in the best gumshoe tradition. The backup by O'Neil and Sienkiewicz is very much an Eisner pastiche, and it has a nice twist ending in the classic Spirit style. If you've got a little money left over after buying the latest round of crossovers you could do worse than to pick this up as a fun little breath of fresh air. I say give it a look.
-GREEN HORNET YEAR ONE #2: I've been a fan of The Green Hornet since I was a kid, listening to C100FM's Theater of the Mind broadcasts of the classic radio program from the '30s. The Green Hornet and Kato were as easily accepted as superheroes to my young mind as the dynamic duo of DC, and I remember picking up the NOW Comics adventures of the emerald enemy of evil with enthusiasm. When I heard that Dynamite would be producing both the contemporary, Kevin Smith penned version of the character as well as the classic version from the early 20th century, I was in like Flynn. Sadly though. . .this book qualifies as another 'good but not great' for me. Matt Wagner has proven in the past that he can write the period adventures of a masked hero (if you haven't read his excellent work with Steven T. Seagle and Guy Davis on Vertigo's SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER you missed out big time), but here. . .mm. It's a Year One book, which frankly I'm scratching my head over. I guess we need to explain who the Hornet is, but couldn't we do that during an actual adventure? It makes me yearn for the days when comics had that little blurb above the title page detailing the protagonist's mission statement then launching right into the action. The book is clearly meant to be The Story Behind The Legend. . .but I don't want that. I don't need it. I want the Green Hornet and Kato at the height of their powers being badass. I don't need to see how they got into the groove. I'm reasonably sure I can put that together for myself, thanks. The art by Aaron Campbell is another problem as well. . .it feels muddy and too contemporary. This art style might work for something like NEW AVENGERS, but a pulp story needs an artist whose got a pulp mentality, a feel for the work. It's not gelling for me. The book is competently done and if you're a newcomer to the Hornet mythos I suppose you might find it fun. But for $3.99 US a pop, I don't want to pay for 'good'. I want Great. Skip it and try SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL 1: THE TARANTULA.
-THE WARLORD #13: This. . .this one will be brief. The pain of loss is still healing. I have got to give Mike Grell his due; I legitimately did not see issue #12 of this title coming. Within the span of about 22 pages plus ads Grell took everything we found comfortable and nostalgic about the title and threw it into a garbage disposal. Simply put, he changed the game. There's a new Warlord in town, an event which takes the book's previous status quo and flips it upside down, and an entirely new twist on what we've been used to. It's gut-wrenching, it's painful, and it's awesome beyond the telling of it. If DC truly is planning to end this series with issue eighteen then they are fools, and will be sent by Lo Pan to the Hell Where Fools Are Skinned Alive. I've already reviewed the DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS WARLORD VOL 1 elsewhere , but simply put it's one of the best grindhouse movies the '70s never saw made. Buy this book and buy it quick, because all too often in this industry what's original and fun gets buried beneath the chaff.
That's all for now, more as the To-Read pile gets smote.
-DOC SAVAGE #1: Ehhhhh. . .not so good. Paul Malmont wrote THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL, which rocks on toast but it's painfully clear in some of the staging and dialogue choices that as a comicbook writer, he makes a helluva dancer. Howard Porter's art--while amazing with contemporary fare--feels a bit too contemporary with something like DOC, which is clearly trying to straddle a pseudo-pulp/Batman: The Animated Series feel. The Justice Inc. story was a bit better, but I'm here for Doc Savage, not Richard Benson. Simply put, when the best item to come out of the issue is the Zatanna preview, we got a problem.
-MAGOG #8: As part of my effort to show I can embrace the new and different I gave reading MAGOG a try. The eponymous anti-hero spun out of Alex Ross and Mark Waid's quite excellent KINGDOM COME as the epitome of a brand of darker-edged 'heroes' that were little better than the scum they were fighting, until Superman's return to the scene inspired the Old Guard to rally and show the arrogant demigods what being a hero truly meant. Magog is really little more than a kinda-cool looking piece of visual parody(he's designed as pretty much a walking piece of snark against the Rob Liefeldian excesses of '90s superhero design), but as a potential series lead? There's not much to work with. Recently Geoff Johns (God-Emperor of DC Comics) decided to take the concept of Magog and build a full-fledged character during his run on JSA. Intrigued by the notion of longtime favorite writer Keith Giffen and penciller Howard Porter teaming up on an 'anti-hero' book, I decided to shop outside my normal comfort zone of talking apes, jetpacks and fins to take a walk on the darker side of the street. Truth be told, after eight issues I'm thinking of pulling the ripcord. The series is by no means wretched, it's just kind of. . .there. There's no real hook to it, apart from Magog(aka Lance Corporal David Reid) going John McClane on bad guys while having an internal monlogue about how silly most superheroes are with their outdated codes of conduct. While that'd be fun for a mini-series or one-shot, I can't really say it's worth your hard-earned comicbook dollar. There's the seed of a decent series in here, and Porter's art is well done but yeah. . .no pop here either. Let me put it to you this way; I've been readin this book for eight issues and I had to consult Wikipedia to find his real name. A fun visual? Yeah. Memorable? Not so much.
-R.E.B.E.L.S. #15: Buried beneath the miasma of MegaCrossovers That Will Change Things Forever, R.E.B.E.L.S. is easily one of the three best continuing series DC is putting out right now (THE WARLORD and BATMAN AND ROBIN filling out the other two slots). It's epic space opera with a band of unlikely misfits struggling to survive in the depths of space against nigh-unbeatable foes. It's the best of Star Wars, Farscape, and Firefly with a twist of superhero convention and scale. This issue makes for a suitable jumping on point as the series takes a breath between storylines, and the introduction of Starfire(the eye-candy that walks like a woman) is a pretty significant development, as writer Tony Bedard has this unlikely group of cosmic heroes come to terms with the fallout of their actions to liberate the Vega sector from the parasitic minions of Starro the Conqueror. Claude St. Aubrin and Scott Hana really cut loose with a mixture of cool visuals that make the various aliens and individuals come alive. It's fun, fast paced, and there's not a single Green Lantern in si--
S.H.I.E.L.D. #1: Jonathan Hickman is one of those writers who came out of nowhere who just plain gets superhero comics; what they were and what they can be. Here we see him craft the history of Marvel's uber-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. as not only a globetrotting band of spies and soldiers but as a conspiracy that has woven it's strands from ancient Egypt through historical China, Florence, and Rome. A conspiracy driven to protect the world and ensure that it ends at it's proper time and not before. Hickman does a nice job of blending the historical romance with the scope and span of the Marvel Universe and the mix of influences is entertaining as all get-out. A story about the triumph of human ingeniuty and the victory of knowledge over ignorance (it can't be a coincidence that this story's 'contemporary' setting is the 1950s) that presents a heroic front whilst hinting at the darker shadows of a conspiracy is provacative and holds the reader's attention until the last page, which ends on a cliffhanger that had me grinning ear to ear. Da Vinci as the Tony Stark of his era? Gallileo vs. Galactus? Celestials running amuck in Ancient China? Yeah, you pretty much need to get on board with this book. It's awesome, new-reader friendly, and just plain fun in a way most comics just aren't anymore.
That's all for now. More as I make my way through my To-Read pile.
"The easiest thing to do on earth is not write." (William Goldman)
Yep. Talkin' about writer's block this time. Yessir. This is me, sitting down to talk to you about that most dreaded of writer pitfalls, and how ironically enough it might be to your benefit to be blocked.
Writer's block is defined as follows:
Writer's Block –noun a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.
The act of writing is a hell of a lot of fun. You're creating something entirely new from whole cloth, unearthing something from the depths of your subconscious mind that no one has ever seen before. It's a heady experience, and when it's going well it has a literal, physical feeling. I've felt when it's going well, that little thrum throughout the whole of my being as I realize I'm creating. It's amazing stuff. And then one day, or evening, you sit down at your desk, you take out your pen or boot up your word processor, you wiggle your fingers like that cartoon pianist you saw that one time on looney tunes, you reach down and. . .
Nothing. Crickets. The echo of a vast, empty cave.
Sometimes it's due to circumstance; we all have off days, or we're sick or travelling and our focus isn't what it could be. But when one day bleeds into another bleeds into another and you've got absolutely nothing, what starts as a minor hink in your work schedule becomes something else entirely, something that can utterly terrify the aspiring artist and fill them with that nameless dread, that utter certainty. It was a fluke. It's over. There's nothing left to say. The well's run dry. And as much fun as just dealing with the sudden blockage is, the fear is what will ultimately cripple you if you let it.
We each have something to say, something that's uniquely our own. Whether that expression comes through writing fiction, or through art, or dance, or even a well thought out piece of non-fiction posted to a blog, that expression has merit. The trouble is that--sooner or later--we come to the blank page or the empty screen, face the rows of lines stretching off into infinity or that blinking cursor amidst the vast plain of white space and we just freeze. Anxiety grips us, unreasonable expectation seizes us and holds us prisoner to standards and ideals that we can't possibly hope to attain, at least not right away. How do we work past this? How do we fight something that is, really, ourselves? I've been giving it some thought lately and here are a few ideas off the cuff to help the process of erosion along when dealing with writer's block:
1. Examine why you're blocked: I'm a natural daydreamer, a writer who definitely views writing as directed play. If I had to sit down and examine the moments I was most blocked up critically, I'd have to say the real reason I don't get anything done in those instances is the work starts to feel less like play and more like a chore. And nothing is guaranteed to have my subconscious dig in its heels and cross its arms in stubborn refusal to budge like the notion of Work. With this in mind, I can examine why I'm feeling it's a chore and ways to try and make it more enjoyable for myself.
Taking a step back from your work and examining how it makes you feel can also be an important step forward. Examine why you're blocked. Could it be because that last paragraph you were on feels like the end of the story? If that's the case, could it be expanded into a novella, maybe even a full novel? Examine the work and your feelings toward it. Chances are you know why things have slowed down, even if you haven't acknowledged it consciously yet.
2. A secret identity: Okay, so you're not going to go out and fight crime or anything but how about trying a pseudonym? This can work wonders to ease performance anxiety about writing and it can do a lot to spice things up in the study. While you've never written a Western in your life, Tex Jenkins was born on a cattle drive and busts broncos like they're going out of style. Or a horror story might be well out of your wheelhouse but for James Eldritch they're par for the course. Think of it as equal parts roleplaying and writing, trying on a completely new persona and just cutting loose in ways your regular writing self never would. You might find the sudden rush of ideas and play lead to something substantial. At the very least it'll help you prove to yourself that you can write if you get out of your own way.
3. A schedule: I covered this in my first WD segment, but a solid schedule can go a long way toward getting your mind geared up for writing. If you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that between the hours of 11pm-1am your butt is in a chair scribbling away, your mind and creative juices will sync gradually to accommodate that time frame. And bear in mind that as long as you're writing, it's a victory. A paragraph or a page, as long as you've got something down for that day, it's a step forward.
4. Read: Stephen King wrote in his excellent work On Writing (which if you don't have you should get for an examination of a master discussing the craft) that there are two key things a writer needs to do: read a lot and write a lot. If you find that you absolutely, positively have got nothing, maybe try picking up that paperback you bought a couple months back but haven't gotten the chance to read of late. You've got some time squirrelled away now, right? No sense in letting it go to complete waste. Sit in front of the notepad or the screen with a good book and let someone else do the driving for a while. If a passage strikes you as particularly striking, try transcribing it. Examine how it that passage works from top to bottom as you replicate the author's beats on your own keyboard and notepad. Hunter S. Thompson transcribed whole passages from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby on his quest to become a better author. Reading is the rain that keeps the metal soil nice and arable. Read everything you can, anything you can. Maybe even pull out a really bad book and read it, if for no other reason than to throw down the 'I can do better than that!' gauntlet. Read, and remember why it is you want to get into this racket in the first place.
5. Relax: Don't take it so seriously. Remember to try and find the joy within the work, and remember to put expectation, as well as what you feel the reaction of others might be on a high shelf in the back of your mind and leave it there until the day's work is done. It won't always be easy, as that mental image of Writerly Perfection is a hard one to shake. But just remember that as much as you may grapple with writer's block and the demons of self-doubt, chances are good your favorite author has too. As with all things, persistence will trump talent eventually. It's in finding the mix that you can go from minor to major, from amateur to professional.
Until next time, in the words of Red Green, keep your stick on the ice.
ETA: All right, let me explain: After the balloon goes up and the world is left an iiradiated wasteland with mutants and giant monsters galore, a group of heroic scientists operating out of an underground complex wear medieval-looking armor and roam the countryside in defense of the remaining few bastions of civilization. Riding giant dalmatians. Dear God, I want it right. Now.
'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.' ~Bible: Romans
Stop me if any of the following sounds a bit familiar: A wealthy millionaire, living in an opulent mansion on the outskirts of a major metropolitan city, wages a nightly war on crime and corruption by donning a cloak, going forth with the aid of his European man-friday to bring justice to the mean streets in a one-man war on crime. All of this is true of Marc Spector, the man known as Moon Knight. . .but it's not quite as damning a fit as you might think. Yes, Moon Knight does resemble a certain bat-themed hero from the city of Gotham, but scratch the surface and you find a much more interesting character than any mere knock-off.
In the beginning Moon Knight was little more than a cool visual, a one-off antagonist in Marvel's horror comic Werewolf By Night. Contracted by a mysterious Committee to bring in the eponymous hero of the book, Moon Knight went on to develop something of a growing fan following, enough to warrant a few one-off stories in Marvel Spotlight, and eventually his own backup feature in The Hulk's color magazine back during the peak of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferigno popularity. Under the pen of writer Doug Moench and the amazing pencils of Bill Sienkiewicz, the back-up feature would set the tone for the character's backstory, and eventually lead to the establishment of his own monthly series. The closest parallel I can bring you from contemporary pop culture would be the character of the bounty hunter Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back. What would start out as little more than a striking background image would eventually develop layers that made him a unique and rich character all his own.
Marc Spector is not a nice man. A paid mercenary and soldier for hire, he and his comrade in arms Jean-Paul DuChamp (whom he affectionately calls 'Frenchie') come into the employ of a ruthless soldier of fortune named Raoul Bushman. Coming across an archealogical expedition led by Doctor Peter Alraune and his daughter Marlene, Bushman decides the temple will provide an ample source of loot and plans to plunder it. Spector reaches his breaking point after Bushman murders Dr. Alraune, challenging him to single combat. It's a fight that leaves Spector a beaten, bloody mess. Wandering the desert wounded and without water, he's found by worshippers of the temple's deity and brought to the site. There, laying on the dirt-floor of a temple centuries old Marc Spector's heart stops. He dies. . .and is reborn beneath the statue of Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance. Donning himself in an ivory cloak Spector goes forth and defeats Bushman, this time seemingly a great deal more formidable than he was before. Returning to America with Marlene, Frenchie, and the statue of Khonshu, Marc becomes a super-hero. Utilizing the money gained from his years as a mercenary he purchases an elegant manor on the outskirts of Manhattan, creating the identity of millionaire playboy Steven Grant to better mingle amidst high society. To keep his ear close to the streets he crafts another identity, that of New York cabbie Jake Lockley. One man suddenly becomes four men as our stage is set: Marc Spector, the mercenary looking for redemption, Steven Grant, the altruistic millionaire who Marlene herself believes is the 'true' identity of the man she's fallen in love with, Jake Lockley, the cabbie and man of the people, and Moon Knight, the masked hero and possible avatar of Khonshu. Which of these identities is the real protagonist? Sometimes even Spector himself isn't too sure, and as the series progresses those moments of hesitancy and confusion burrow and entrench in his psyche from slight cracks into full-blown fault lines.
You see, that's the real trick of Moon Knight as a character, and as the character is examined in greater depth you begin to understand. Firstly, Batman--while driven--merely pretends to be crazy to provide him with an edge against the criminal element. With Moon Knight, there is a very strong possibility that the man may actually be insane. He believes he owes his life to an ancient god of the moon and vengeance, and has become a warrior acolyte in the name of his god. Batman is a crimefighter. Moon Knight is a warrior-priest. Batman fights for justice, to ensure that what happened to the eight year-old Bruce Wayne never happens to another helpless child. Moon Knight fights for redemption, to atone for the things he did as Marc Spector that he is deeply ashamed of, and to honor the god he feels he owes his life to. Batman is a superhero with pulp trappings, while Moon Knight feels more like a pulp hero with superhero trappings.
This first essentials volume introduces us to the character, and provides a fascinating look at how a concept like Moon Knight develops. From his origin as a one-off mercenary created by a criminal group to the eventual retcon of it all being a set-up by Marc and Frenchie, to the development of the character's backstory and his motivation for his nightly crusade, it's fascinating to watch Moench and Siekiewicz work, adding layer upon layer to the character until what results is an amazing mixture of concepts and ideas that come together in a whole that provides for an entertaining and surprising read. Those that feel that Moon Knight is little more than a dark knight doppelganger would do well to give this volume a look.
The character has undergone something of a second renaissance these days, with a recent series penned by writer Charlie Huston detailing the hero's return after a long absence, as well as further exploration of the character as a near-madman clinging to the edge of sanity by his fingernails. Artist David Finch made the book's visuals stunning stuff, and The Bottom is a favorite series of mine and one I point most of my friends to if they want something that has as much grit and assorted jaw-dropping amazement as Nolan's The Dark Knight. With Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1, we see the beginnings of the character, the seeds planted that took a simple mercenary antagonist and forged him into a character that people are still telling stories about 34 years later. Recommended.
'The dance of battle is always played to the same impatient rhythm. What begins in a surge of violent motion is always reduced to the perfectly still.'~ Sun Tzu
The Martial Arts. A road to better awareness of the self, the seamless blend of mind and body moving as one in perfect sync, ancient wisdom handed down to provide the means to better the soul and broaden the horizons. Oh, and whip-kick someone in the face in one of the sickest things I have ever seen.
Let's face it, most people will never be quite on book with what the founders of styles like Kung-Fu or Karate or Aikido were trying to impart through their teachings, but we see the results in our popular media and find it to be, in the more common parlance, utterly badass. Martial Arts films still remain a draw at the box office, and as Batman: Arkham Asylum has clearly proven computer scientists are hard at work devising new and effective methods of conveying the giddy feeling of punching someone in the trachea, rearing back, and then driving your boot directly into their solar plexus sending them hurtling into a concrete wall. Simply put, the Martial Arts remains a keen source of entertainment for audiences everywhere. It was as true in the 1970s in the grindhouse theatres as it is today on the DVD shelves of your local Blockbuster.
One thing I absolutely, positively adore Marvel Comics for is it's ability to do it's best to stay current with trends in popular culture. It may not be as true now as it was then, but in the 1970s there was a feeling of mad science to a lot of Marvel's books. Where monsters were big, such as the Hammer Horror films, Marvel resurrected (heh) it's monster comics with titles like Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, Zombie, and Man-Thing. When post-apocalyptic dystopian futures were the rage, enter Marvel's Amazing Adventures, featuring the exploits of Killraven amidst the ruins of civilization in the wake of the second invasion from Mars. And when Marvel grew hip to the growing popularity of Kung-Fu Flicks, they immediately jumped in with both feet. Shang-Chi, the heroic son of Sax Rohmer's epic villain Fu Manchu, soon became the star of his own book with The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu. Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu was the second such title, but another character took the stage in Marvel Premiere #15 in May of 1974, one who has endured to this day as perhaps one of the Marvel Universe's deadliest warriors: Daniel Rand, the Iron Fist!
Daniel Rand is the son of a wealthy Industrialist, Wendell Rand. Together with his mother Heather and partner Harold Meachum, the three seek a mystical site that Wendell once visited years ago, the fabled city of K'un L'un in the Tibetan mountains. En route Harold Meachum seizes an opportunity to murder Wendell and attempts to convince Heather--whom he has always loved--to come with him back to civilization. Heather rejects him and mother and son fight to survive amidst the harsh cold and the savage animals of the mountain range. Heather gives her life valiantly to save her son and young Daniel finds himself taken in by the monks of the ancient city, a site that fades into and out of our reality every ten years.
Taken in by the warrior-monks, young Daniel is taught by the legendary martial arts instructor Lei Kung the Thunderer, who teaches him mastery of the martial arts. A rare honor is bestowed him as Daniel is given the rare chance to obtain the power of the Iron Fist by defeating the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying in ritual combat. Yes, Shou-Lao is an actual dragon, who must guard the still pulsing fiery heart that had been torn from his chest countless eons ago. During the battle Daniel's chest is branded by the Scar of Shou-Lao, and in his defeat of the dragon he staggers to the brazier containing the heart and plunges his hands in, granting him the power to channel his living essence or Chi into his fist until it becomes. . .like unto a thing of IRON!
Have I mentioned lately that I love comics? It bears repetition.
Passing his final test with his newfound power, Daniel prepares to re-enter the world of man as K'un L'un rematerialized onto the terrestrial plane. Leaving the fabled city, the Young Dragon seeks the man who killed his parents, determined to exact justice for their murder and see the guilty punished. Does he succeed? Yes and no.
Created by the amazing team of writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, Iron Fist went on from his humble beginnings to become one of the premier martial arts heroes of the '70s. Even when the Kung-Fu boom began to fade he was paired with Blaxploitation-themed hero Luke Cage to become part of the crimefighter/mercenary duo of Power Man & Iron Fist. The character has always been a cult favorite, and recently had a resurgence in the spotlight thanks to titles like New Avengers, spinning off into a title all his own in The Immortal Iron Fist written by the killer team of Ed Brudbaker and Matt Fraction with art by David Aja, which played with the mythology to delicious effect. The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 features work from writers like Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Doug Moench, and then Chris Claremont. The art chores went through a number of hands from Kane's skilled pen through to such luminaries as Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, and Pat Broderick before eventually introducing us to some of the earliest work by artist (later artist-writer) John Byrne. This first meeting of two such amazing talents would prove lightning in a bottle, and their earliest work together shows the initial sparks that would give way to the bonfire.
My enthusiasm for the work is as obvious as it is unabashed, and there are a metric ton of things I'm biting my cheek not to spoil for you; from battles with ninjas to cultists to supervillains alike. The inevitable battle betwixt the Fist of K'un L'un and a certain armored Avenger, the first meeting between Iron Fist and Power Man and the story threads that lead to an amazing showdown at the end of his initial title which is just pump your fist awesome. Were the Iron Fist stories meant to be ruminations on power and responsibility and the place of the individual in society and the inevitable letdown of high ideals versus modern cynicism? Of course not. They were meant to be entertaining adventure stories that did exactly what was promised on the tin; Kung-Fu action in the Merry Marvel Manner. And boy howdy did these talented men deliver on the promise. With 584 pages of black and white adventure for about $16.99, this book--like most of the Essentials line--is an amusement park's worth of pure reading fun that's both easy on the wallet and guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment. Recommended most highly.
'Hello, I'm Batman, World's Greatest Detective and professional badass. Before I spend an evening punching criminal scum in the soul, I enjoy a hearty bowl of Quaker Oatmeal. It provides me with the nutrients I need to bring justice to the mean streets of Gotham, and it can help you get through your busy days on the go. With such down-home goodness, it'd be downright criminal not to enjoy a bowl.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum; I'm feeling a lot less bitter and jaded about comics in general these days. Maybe it's reading all these Marvel Essential and DC Showcase trades(we'll be talking about them in April. Boy howdy will we be talking about them), but there's a feeling of optimism and fun in me in regards to my hobby that I haven't felt in a while.
It's been said by my friends that the only things I enjoy about comics are that they're out once a month and in color. It's a funny little bit of humor between friends, but I'll admit that it's a role that I don't relish. I'm the Old Fan, the one who isn't happy with all the newfangled changes and whatnot and things were better back in my day and we didn't hold to all these scary new ideas and we read our floppies with a slurpie and a smile and we liked it! We lovvvved it!
It's a funny bit to be sure, but is it really anyone you'd want to be? Hell no. Old Fan's no fun. Old Fan is a killjoy and a seething cauldron of Bitter. Nobody wants to be the spectre at the banquet.
I'm passionate about superhero comics, this is true. I wear my love of the genre on my sleeve and make no apologies for it. But at the same time I don't think I should have to go to something I don't find myself all that interested in, which is what I am when it comes to the current crossover crop. It's not that I feel they're bad per se, though I do tend to riff off their elements that I find amusingly irritating (time bullets, the death/gore parade, assorted wheel-spinning), it's just that I'm tired of playing keep-up with the whole big show all the time. It seems these days that you can't just appreciate a single title very much anymore, everything seems geared toward pumping out the crossover issues and the multi-part storylines resolved in other titles and you have to buy this book because herein everything is explained and nothing will be the same again evar(until the next time)! Simply put I began to feel my hobby becoming kind of a second job, and I didn't get down with that. I go to comics for one key factor, one essential element that I absolutely, positively must have: escapism.
A recent article over at Comic Book Resources made me think about my position on certain storyline and moves by the Big Two. If comics truly are catering to me as the graying audience, why is it that I feel more ostracized than ever? Shouldn't I be happy that everything is all about me and my desire for nostalgia trips? Well I'm not. Let me explain why.
The thing I miss about the comics of my youth aren't the fact that they were about the minutiae of the hero's background or why this is the way it is when it's really about this, we just never talked about it. . .until now(DUN DUN DUN)! What I liked about the period of comics I grew up reading was that things were changing. Barry Allen died and Wally West became the Flash. Peter Parker went from a struggling college kid to a professional photographer and husband with his own book published featuring his Spider-Man photos. Hal Jordan got older and more seasoned and was working to pass the torch to the next generation of Green Lanterns. Superman was re-energized as a dynamic character and less of Your Dad's Superhero. It was in the wake of Crisis On Infinite Earths (an attempt by DC to settle it's past decisively before moving into the present) that I went from being a kid who read comics to a comics fan. It was in those moments of change and transition that I came to love the genre with a passionate (some might say too passionate) intensity that continues unabated through to the present.
These days I don't really get that feeling of forward momentum or change. Old characters are coming back, newer and more original takes get shelved, and any outright new characters are largely brushed aside in favor of the Tried 'n True. While I still read books from the Big Two (Power Girl, Warlord, Magog on the DC side, Hercules, Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova on the Marvel) I by and large skip the mainstream titles, where the past is king. I read books like Atomic Robo or Invincible, Savage Dragon or Dynamo 5, where that feeling of movement, of dynamism is still alive to me. Does that make me an old bitter fart? I don't think so. I think it makes me someone who loves what came before, to be sure, but wants that same feeling of moving with the characters through their lives right now. I don't want the past rehashed. Acknowledged yes, embraced for all it's exuberant goofiness most assuredly, but I'm not saying 'Everything after 1989 is crap!' I'm saying that I want that dynamic feeling back in my escapism. That's what makes stuff like Marvel's The Heroic Age and DC'S First Wave line look so inviting. The chance to get in on the ground floor of something new and bold, something exciting. It's an intriguing time, to be sure, one in which storytelling possibility abounds.
Still if they could throw some gorillas with jetpacks in there? Yeah, that'd be good too. Just sayin' is all. . .
All right this isn't my normal comicbook ramblings and ravings and for that I apologize, but I had to get his out somewhere before memory fades and I lose all track of yet another instance in life that struck me surreal as all hell.
See, my life has these moments. Not good moments per se, nor even bad, but what they can be called is weird. Really, really weird. And today certainly qualifies as one of the stranger ones I've had in a while. Let me set the scene for you.
I work night shifts at an office in the downtown core. Parking underground costs money I do not wish to spend, and parking on the street just gets me paranoid so I've settled on the compromise of public transit. After I shower, dress, and grab a snack I take up my Bag of Holding, slip the iPod on and head down to the corner bus stop to catch my ride to work. A simple enough routine, though sometimes complicated by the usual vagaries of public transportation. Today was a bit different however, as I'd lent my iPod to my brother on Friday for his night shift job so he could listen to some tunes and podcasts, and I hadn't yet called to collect it. I was just going to hop the bus and ride, maybe read one of my Marvel Comics Essentials trades on the way to work, so I didn't think anything of it.
I get to the corner stop and begin to wait, a few other folk milling about next to the glass enclosure on the corner. As I do a young woman ambles up towards me, conversing on a cell phone. Now please understand, I am no eavesdropper. It's never my intent to listen in on someone's conversation. For the most part I was drifting along in my day to day haze of thought, thinking about how cool a Michael Jai White/Tony Jaa Power Man & Iron Fist movie would be and who the villain would be, when gradually the conversation began to impose itself on my thought processes. This woman was not speaking at a private, semi-murmur 'I'm-in-a-public-place-and-am-talking-about-private-stuff' tone. She was at her normal speaking voice, which carried quite well.
Over the course of (her side) of the conversation I learned that her friend Mary was in jail. Apparently there'd been a bit of a fracas with the local constabulary and 'the crazy bitch' was now locked up in jail. Frankly she'd seen the writing on the wall for some time, as Mary had her issues with certain controlled substances and a boyfriend that was, apparently 'a total psycho'. Details of the arrest (learned second-hand from a friend of a friend) were discussed, as well as the possibility of her being out on bail. All this said without a trace of self-consciousness, not even a casual look over the shoulder to see if anyone might be listening in. My eyes remained locked up the street for some sign of the bus, which gradually approached. I got on board and prepared for a quieter ride, as surely the confines of the bus would have her speak at a reduced volume.
As the bus ride began the topic began to gradually shift to another topic, one in which the young lady and her friend began to discuss something. . .else. It took my sleep-addled brain a few moments to process the babble, but gradually it became clear.
". . .well how long does he usually last. . .?" a giggle.
". . .it must be because you're tight."
For a moment my brain had nothing. Then the little troll that handles my perversion got back from his coffee break and connected the dots for me. Oh shit. There's no way. There's no way they're talking about--
'. . .you're on birth control right? At least tell me you're on birth control."
--yep, they're talking about sex all right. Sex. On a public bus. Right across the aisle from me. With all the Nimoyian stamina I can muster from my tired frame I somehow manage to lock my facial features into a neutral expression.
". . .well the pill, the pill's okay but it makes you fat. I swear. I seen a couple of my friends take it and they kinda ballooned. Me, I'm on the patch. It's making me thinner and my boobs bigger. . .yeah, my boobs are huge now."
I thank JesusAllahBuddha that I decided not to crack open the Red Bull in my bag, for I most assuredly would have done a spit-take all over the back of the head of the sweet-looking older woman sitting in front of me. Again, this woman is making no effort to conceal her conversation. As far as she's concerned, the contents of this phone call are as safe and secure as that of a church confessional, as though some bubble of inaudibility is trailing her and ensuring that none of us can hear her speaking at a normal tone of volume within a confined space.
". . .hm? Oh, about a 34C now. Getting bigger too. What's the bra size after C?"
I am dying. I am literally dying. I run a hand along my mouth, desperately trying to hold on. I share a glimpse with a woman sitting across the aisle from me and we both exchange a single telepathic message of 'What. The. Fuck?' I'm torn between my desire for decorum and my morbid curiosity to see just how far this can go.
". . .dude, dude, you totally need to look after that shit. You can't be having a kid that has like sixteen years between you. You need it to be like eighteen, twenty, maybe thirty years. . .dude I'm 19." that last said with the conviction of a veteran of a thousand psychic wars.
I sit there, gobsmacked, shaking my head a little as the bus comes to a stop. She rises, and walks out the door, continuing to hold court with her friend and talking up the street as she walks on and the bus pulls away from the curb. For a brief moment in time I looked through a window into an entirely different world, one that is as alien to my way of thinking as the sands of Tatooine or Barsoom. It was amazing, it was astounding, and most of all it was goddamnned weird.
I just got back from the Emerald City Comic Con a few days ago and I do plan to blog about it, but the need to write is currently buried beneath the strain of adjusting my sleep schedule twice within the span of a week and working at my 'real' job. Content to come soon, promise. As a teaser I had an absolute blast at the con, a great time had with friends in easily the most pleasant con atmosphere I've ever been in.
'I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.' Rene Belloq, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
'There's a strong streak of good in you, Superman. But then nobody's perfect... almost nobody.' Lex Luthor, Superman(1978)
A common complaint levelled by people who only have a tangential knowledge of Superman as a contemporary comics character (beyond what they've seen in movies or the impression of the Silver Age lingering in the pop culture mindset) is that Superman is impossible to write convincingly because he's too powerful. Now in the interests of fairness, this belief isn't entirely without justification (back in the '50s and '60s Superman could blow out a star like we'd put out candles on a birthday cake), but to me it seems an easy way of removing the character from consideration. Oh, Superman is obviously too powerful to be dealt with on a physical level so where's the dramatic hook?
Putting aside the fanboy rebuttals I have in my back pocket (he's no longer a living god, and there are a number of characters who--while putting up a helluva fight--he'd probably end up losing against, that the character is as much about his wits as his fists and is not nearly the caped flying brick pop culture would have you believe, etc, etc) the purest and simplest way to challenge Superman is not through a physical confrontation. Oh no. Don't get me wrong, the battling giant robot apes (see, toldja I'd get back to it. . .) rampaging through downtown Metropolis will never truly get old, but beneath the shiny veneer of all his fancy powers and the madness of alien invasion, crime waves, and other assorted madness inherent to living in a comicbook universe its all really icing on the proverbial cake. The key to challenging Superman is not physically, but morally. That's something I think it's all too easy to lose track of amidst the capes and laser vision.
Take Superman's nemesis, his opposite number, one Lex Luthor. As times have changed, so too has the portrayal of the yin to Superman's yang. At first he was little more than your traditional Mad Scientist with a Grudge, then later portrayals would see him go from a scheming, sneering meglomaniac to a tortured and vengeance-driven soul to the epitome of corporate greed and dirty dealing, to the President of the United States on DC'S Earth(political commentary anyone? Anyone? No? Okay, I didn't really want to hand it out anyway)! These days the portrayal has settled on 'Vengeful Genius/Ex-Friend of Superboy's with an axe to grind' which--for all my love of DC's Silver Age Insanity--I feel is not the way to go with the character. Hence my first installment of Villain Tune-Up, an effort to put Lex's character up on the block and examine what about him works, and what could work better.
One of the things I think I need to address, and I've seen it both in the works of Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison respectively, is this recurring point that Luthor could save the world if only he didn't feel Superman was 'holding him back'. With respect and deference to these two talented writers, I must take that notion to task. To me that idea takes away an element of Lex Luthor that I feel must be supremely critical in order for him to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the 'common rabble' of DC Villainy. Luthor is not a petulant child, at least, not in such an overt manner as that. No, Lex's mania runs far, far deeper than mere petulance and feeling cheated at not being the one to lead humanity into a new golden age. To be truthful, Lex Luthor could give less than a gnat's fart in the wind about people or the world. Lex Luthor is in the business of Lex Luthor. He is the single smartest human being on the planet(I'd say late 11th-level intelligence for the DC fanboys out there. Yeah, he's that smart, he'd have to be to hold his own against Brainiac I), and it is only the impediment of his own hubris that keeps him from completely destroying any obstacles in his path. He really could do all those things Superman says he could; cure disease, abolish hunger, design a new golden age where everyone could live in peace and utter harmony. He really, really could.
But honestly, where's the fun in that?
Luthor loves the world exactly the way it is; each continent a powderkeg, each city a firecracker, and he's the kid with the zippo lighter. Of course, as was once stated so brilliantly by his cinematic counterpart, nobody wants a war. But Lex does so love keeping the threat alive. He's grown up in a world where he is--without doubt--the smartest man in the room, the building, the city entire. He looks upon the world as his toy, his own personal Rubik's cube to solve or misalign in whatever way he sees fit. Where Superman is the benefit of order, Luthor is the threat of chaos. Where Superman is the responsibility of power, Luthor is power without responsibility. The world is his playground, his own personal rumpus room wherein he can build death ray lasers and killer robots and assorted mayhem, where he can create a multi-billion dollar corporation like LexCorp solely because he was bored and it was a rainy Wednesday afternoon and because he could. Luthor is the Da Vinci of super-villainy; criminals should be beating themselves into unmerciful pulps just to get their mitts on jotted out plans found on a diner napkin. He is, simply put, The Greatest Criminal Mind of Our Time. And he loves it.
Unlike the Joker, Luthor doesn't kill for the pleasure of it. Everyday people are far, far too beneath his notice for him to be caught up in petty vendettas or anything so declasse as sadism. No, they're toys. He's a little disappointed when they break, of course, but he's not actively looking to destroy the world or kill anyone in his path. They're there to be his audience, to see just how utterly inferior they are compared to his genius. Sometimes he even spares them, if for no other reason than it amuses him to play god. They're all such easy little equations after all, so utterly and completely predictable. Except one.
Luthor doesn't want to kill Superman. At least not all at once. No, the kryptonian is far, far too interesting a problem to just dismiss out of turn. If Luthor wanted Superman dead, chances are he'd eventually find a way to do it and make it stick. It's that ego thing, it keeps tripping him up. Why? Why does he do it? Why does he try? What's the angle? How can he be made to bend to my will, to be just another plaything to be discarded? Luthor is fascinated by Superman, to the point where--if any other of his so-called rogues gallery were to come close he'd stop them from killing him. Superman is Luthor's personal project. Killing him? Easy. Breaking him, making him see that all his cherished ideals about Truth, Justice and the charmingly quaint ideal of the American Way are just so much smoke? Therein lies the game.
Luthor's not brooding, he's not petulant, and he's not a heavy. In fact he can be utterly charming and one of the most alive people you've ever met(picture Downey Jr's Tony Stark but without a single redeeming characteristic and you'd be in the ballpark). But every time he walks in a room, even if it's just in a suit and tie, the reaction should be similar to Darth Vader's debut in Star Wars. It should be an 'oh crap' moment in a given issue. Metallo? Parasite? Darkseid? All things Superman's prepared for, knows how to deal with. Luthor is the guy who makes Superman nervous. Superman.
That's who Luthor is, at least from here in the cheap seats.
I don't think this one will be especially long, chiefly because it's a bit more stream-of-consciousness than my usual blog posts. There'll be a point to be made, but right now I thought it might be interesting to at least open the discussion in the hopes of finding like minds or even contrary opinions to help either confirm my own opinion or see it challenged.
I'm 34 years old. Lots of people as they creep into their middle thirties tend to deny their age but hell, I'm just happy to be here. Every gray hair on my head and line on my face I wear like a badge on my sleeve, and the state of my life taken on the whole is one that I've earned. Decent job, good friends, burgeoning creative venues. . .I'm proud of what I've accomplished and hope to do more to build from what I've already established.
As an aging fanboy coming up in the '90s and the early '00s, I noticed the growth of Internet culture; particularly in the form of Internet Forums and chat rooms. The premise of these online social watering holes is pretty simple; register in the forums, create an online name or alias, and then sign-in and talk with like-minded bodies. I used to do it a lot, and still do from time to time, though primarily I tend to utilize social programs like Facebook, Twitter, and yes Blogger for my own social hub/soap box.
The online culture is prevalent with aliases and online handles. In many ways I sometimes think it's like X2: X-Men United when Magneto asks the young kid his name, he replies with his given name and the Master of Magnetism simply states no, what's your name. To which the kid sheepishly grins and says 'Pyro'. It's an extension of our identity, or perhaps a protection of our original persona. It's intriguing stuff, to be sure.
But part of that online alias/perceived anonymity engenders standards of behaviour that are baffling at best and outright demoralizing at worst. Things are said online and from the safety of a keyboard that would never, ever be spoken in real life.
Recently I've taken to making most of my online handles reflections of my name, StacyD being the most common (though Twitter apparently already has a StacyD on hand, so I'm now StacyHD. Hugh Dooks, not High Def). Simply put, and knowing full well how corny this is going to sound, I think it's important that we own what we say. For better or worse our words reflect who we are, both in terms of what we contribute to an intelligent dialogue and who we are as a person. In an age where we can do the things our distant ancestors only dreamed of and communicate with people all over the world in a manner of moments, do we really want the epitaph of human dialogue and intelligent discussion to be 'd13 n00b?'
Gah, this is entirely too mature a topic given my usual fare. I'll be back debating Superman vs. Captain Marvel in my next post or something equally light and fluffy, promise.
With my upcoming trip to Seattle for the annual Emerald City Comic Con and Star Wars Celebration V on my mind, I thought it'd be a worthy diversion to set down a few thoughts on proper convention etiquette. Whether you're an old hand at attending Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions or a relative newcomer, it never hurts to go over the basics and establish some guidelines. Best to have and not need than need and not have, right? Without further ado, let's jump right into it:
Convention Etiquette 101:
1) The Golden Rule: A very simple creed to live by and a positive necessity at a con, doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you is just good common sense. That doesn't mean you need to be a Pollyanna or a milksop, but just remember to be polite and pleasant whenever you can. I know it can be difficult when the line to get food stretches off into the horizon or the guy jabbering behind you on a cell phone at a panel is working your last nerve, but a little civility can go a long way.
2)Cultivate patience: Waiting in line is a fact of life at cons, whether it's for a panel, food, or even the washroom and general admittance. Focus on the destination rather than the journey at those moments you feel your patience begin to fray. Save up some really geeky questions for impromptu debates between friends, or hey, maybe even strike up a conversation with the people around you in line. You might make some new friends, and that never sucks.
3)Don't be greedy: Yes, you're here to get Wil Wheaton's autograph, you loved his voice over work on Teen Titans and the Legion of Super Heroes and you thought his guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory were bust-a-gut funny. Thing is, we the people behind you did also, and we'd kinda like to say hi and get something signed for ourselves, so could you maybe e-mail him the epic sweep of your life story so we can get a shot at a signature? I know, I know, Rule #1, but remember that we're here to see our idols as well. . .
4)Always Ask Permission: One thing about Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions that I love is getting the chance to watch local and travelling cosplayers go completely Muppet Labs and make the future today in terms of insanely awesome costumes. And they're usually more than willing to get a picture taken and strike a badass pose for you to immortalize them for your Facebook album or flickr page. Something to remember though, is to always seek their permission before you take a picture, to ensure that they're A)Not trying to get somewhere or B)Not busy. Doctor Fate may fight the Lords of Chaos and their evil machinations but Buddy Wasisname in his outfit may want to take off the helmet and get a Coke.
Also(and this is very very rare)there are certain folks within the fan base who follow those in costume in hopes of shots from. . .shall we say. . .creative angles, particularly when it comes to female cosplayers. Always asking permission and taking a tasteful picture is infinitely preferable than being seen as one of the creeps, and if you do spot something like that going on let someone on staff know. We're all here to have fun, not make people feel uncomfortable.
5)Don't be mean: Like the great Buckaroo Banzai said, we don't have to be mean. This may tie in with Rule #1, but remember that above all else we're here to have fun and hang out and exult in the things that we find to be awesome. Yes, you might have certain concerns about a given direction your favorite book has taken or the paper quality of certain releases but I'd ask that you approach the parties you hope to raise your concerns with privately, rather than getting into a panel and grinding it to a complete halt with a confrontational attitude. Also, while I may not get anime and manga fans, and while I really don't get the furries, I respect that they're having fun and just want to come to a place where they can enjoy themselves in an inclusive, friendly atmosphere. Really, didn't we get enough clique jockeying back when we were in high school? Do we really have to bring that to a place we're in control? Hell, maybe this year will be the year some plucky anime fan finds the series that turns me around in terms of my opinion on anime or manga, and I might bond with furries over my love of Usagi Yojimbo and Captain Carrot. The point is we're all out to have a good time. Grandstanding and being mean-spirited need not apply.
6)Avoid becoming Torg, the Living Log Jam: Let's face it, the aisles of a convention can get crazy busy. If you can, try to be as salmon-like as possible and get to where you're going as best you're able with as much civility as you can muster. If you have to stop for anything, try to make yourself as small as possible. Remove your Con Swag backpack and set it by your feet, and if asked do your best to move for anyone you might be blocking. Cosplayers should be aware of how much space there is in an aisle. If there's room to pose and people can get around, have at it. If things are a bit congested, perhaps suggest adjourning to the lobby. Sometimes people need to get where they're going as quickly as possible (like me after two cokes and a bran muffin) so if the aisles are moving, people can get where they need to go and stay happy.
7)Thank your vendor: Speaking as a guy who's worked both sides of a con, thank your vendors. He came here in the very, very wee hours in the morning, set up his booth, and now gets to stand on a concrete floor for about 8 hours busting his hump so you can get a shot at quality merchandise (merchandise that could be found, say, at Red 5 Collectibles!) for a decent price. They do the most gutsy thing imaginable; making their passion their profession, and anyone who suggests they have it easy is quite mistaken. Next time you buy something from one of these fine people, thank them for the effort it took to get out here and set up for you. It's just good karma.
8)Have fun: Remember that above all else, a convention is that rarest of opportunities: a chance to get together with people who understand why it's so important that the Earth-2 Superman was named Kal-L and he defeated the Anti-Monitor in one of the sickest fights ever, or that the Force is an energy field that unites and binds all living things, or that Sheridan's farewell to Delenn is one of the most heartbreaking scenes depicted on film. These are people who understand, who get it, and who prove that you're not alone for loving this stuff. That other people do too, from all walks of life from all over the world. More than anything else this love of the shared passions we have for our 'crazy books' and 'sci-fi stuff' is one of the most amazing things I've ever encountered, and it's ability to join complete strangers in bonds of shared experience is something to truly be savored as one of life's rare joys.
Oh, and if you could help me complete my run of Sleepwalker, that would be so boss.
One of the truly great things about this time in popular culture is the oppurtunity that arises to introduce those drawn in to the medium by movies and television to the sheer scope of comics proper. While not as household a name as his frequent partner, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby's influence on the contemporary superhero comicbook cannot be denied. The man co-created a slew of classic characters from Captain America through the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man. . .the list goes on and on. His art style was nothing if not distinctive, and the scope of his ideas ranged from the contemporary to the cosmic, often within the same issue. He stands as a giant in the industry, and rightly so.
Kirby's style was one of the first I consciously recognized even before I became aware that comicbooks were actively created by individuals, rather than simply magically materializing into a grocery store or pharmacy. I think the first time I ever encountered his art was in an issue of the comics adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, bought as part of those wonderful 'grab-bags' of comics that used be sold in department stores for about fifty cents. Another similar purchase by my parents yielded a copy of The Eternals #1, and years later when I bought a copy of Super Powers #6 at the Green Gables in Fort McMurray, Alberta, I knew immediately that this was more of the same. Kirby's art is powerful, energetic, and dynamic. If it could be summed up into a single word, it'd have to be action; things jump out at the screen, machinery looks intricate and futuristic, figures look primal and idealized, a mixture of primitive and paragon. Kirby's characters don't walk, they stride. They don't jump, they bound. Even when they're standing still there's a sense of a coiled spring ready to snap, that something is about to be unleashed and when it does it'll be sudden, intense, and amazing.
It was through the cartoon SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show that I was first introduced to Kirby's personal opus: The Fourth World. At the time I had no idea that uber-baddie Darkseid, his son Kalibak and the scheming majordomo Desaad were anything more than the creation of Hanna-Barberra and Saturday Morning, but in later years I've come to appreciate Kirby and his creations as perhaps some of the most ambitious and amazing concepts to come out of North American Comics.
The story of the Fourth World begins with an ending:
'There came a time when the old gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil! It was the last day for them! An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust!'
From those opening lines in New Gods #1 we're then introduced to the core concepts of this universe: That from the destruction of the realm of the 'old' gods sprung two new worlds, the idyllic and utopian New Genesis and the smoke-filled, fiery dystopia of Apokolips. New Genesis is ruled by the benevolent and wise Highfather in accordance with the will of the Source, a primeval energy said to be part of the very foundations of creation. Apokolips bends to the will of Darkseid, the despotic ruler of this grimy, industrialized and warlike planet who yearns to bend the whole of creation to his will, both through force of arms and the discovery of the Anti-Life Equation, a formula of incredible power that will give him absolute control over the whole of sentient thought. The twin realms have discovered such amazing technologies as sentient supercomputer/companions called 'Mother Boxes' and the powerful 'boom tubes' which can span vast gulfs of space and allow for near-instantanous travel. An uneasy peace has existed between the two worlds thanks to the Pact, a nonagression treaty that culminated in the exchange of the sons of both Highfather and Darkseid. Darkseid's son, the warrior Orion, was raised on paradisical New Genesis, his adventures chronicled in the central New Gods. Highfather's son. . .well his tale is the story of Mister Miracle.
Thaddeus Brown is a down-on-his-luck escape artist who hopes one last big break as the theatrical Mister Miracle will win him a wager placed years ago with a criminal. His sidekick and friend, the dwarf Oberon, is of the opinion that the stunt won't work, but Thaddeus is determined. The pair meet a mysterious young man, Scott Free(yes, it really is his name, explanations to follow) who offers to assist with their act, and displays some feats of ledgermain with eldritch, intricate-looking technology(Kirby-tech was always awesome looking) that aid him in his own escapes that seems almost. . .unearthly. When Thaddeus is killed by the aforementioned criminal in an effort to weasel out of the bet, Scott takes up the mantle of Mister Miracle in an effort to avenge his death. Scott defeats the villains handily, and goes on to become an escape artist and general magnet for trouble. You see, Scott is the only man to ever escape Apokolips. That's a blemish on the reputation of Granny Goodness, denmother of the 'Terror Orphanages' that indoctrinate the Apokoliptian youth into a life of servitude and slavery from near-birth. Scott's luck has him running up against old foes from Apokolips. . .and an old friend as well in the form of Big Barda, leader of the Female Furies--the elite female corps of Darkseid's armies--- and a fellow renegade fleeing the tyranny of Darkseid. Eventually the attacks and pursuit of the two fugitives grow to be too much, and they must return to Apokolips to earn the chance to fight for their freedom in trial by combat.
What I absolutely love about Kirby's work is his energy, the sheer exuberance he managed to put down on the page no matter the subject matter or if it was work for hire. With his Fourth World creations he was given the keys to the kingdom and could essentially tell any kind of story he wanted. And he went for it with a kind of glorious abandon that'd make his daredevil of a protagonist proud. Mister Miracle was an adventure story, but he wasn't a traditional superhero, rather a performer(based in part on stories artist Jim Steranko told of his days as an illusionist) whose unearthly origins often landed him in serious danger. His background was a tragic one, but from the beginning there's a core of optimism and goodness that grants him the potential to be far more than another one of Granny's drones. In fact, he takes her mocking label of 'Scott Free' and embraces it, turning that gesture of contempt into a credo to live his entire life by. Scott values freedom; be it his own, his friends, or the Earth's, and he'll do whatever he can to defend it. He's a compassionate, adventurous soul and easily one of Kirby's finest characters.
Another aspect of the book that I love is that the hero's 'love interest' is anything but the typical damsel in distress. Big Barda kicks ass, a warrior nearly without peer with superhuman strength and resilience. She's the brawn of the pair, where Scott relies more on quickness and his wits. A seasoned, hardened fighter, she nevertheless has a core of goodness to her that even the worst indoctrination and brutality can't squelch. She and Scott fall for each other, but the relationship doesn't feel forced, but rather a natural outgrowth of their situation and cameraderie. Kirby based Barda physically on actress Lainie Kazan, but the interplay between the two characters was apparently based--however slightly--on the relationship between Jack and his wife Roz. That lends a bit of veracity to their relationship, and it makes them feel real. Barda to me is Wonder Woman refined; a badass warrior woman who can be feminine (as in her quite revealing casual attire) but when action calls for it and there's a threat to her safety or her friends she can be utterly relentless (via her warsuit, fearsome martial skills, and her weapon of choice the mega-rod).
The stories are late Silver Age/Early Bronze Age in tone, and the dialogue sometimes veers into the territory of the cheesy, but the book is nothing if not fun. Seriously, how can you not love a book that features a villainous criminal mastermind named Virman Vundabar? Seriously, say the name and try not to smile. Kirby's art is an acquired taste to some, and I'll grant that it's not without flaw but there's just something in his characters and in the way they move, the situations they get into. . .even the covers have an energy that the current crop of 'movie poster' style covers of today just lack. If you haven't read any Kirby and want something self-contained that doesn't require decades of comicbook minutuea committed to memory, or just a fun little adventure serial with a twist of space opera, give Mister Miracle a try
I'm Stacy Dooks, a writer living in Calgary, Alberta I'm a fan of all things popular culture, literary, and all points in between, and have pretty much committed large chunks of both The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and DC's Who's Who to memory. Whether or not that's entirely a good or bad thing I leave to the discerning reader.
This blog is an experiment in creating a public forum for my discussions about comics, pop culture, and writing and what they mean to me. Thanks for stopping by!