The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Let’s Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn’t Know Marvel Comics (Part 3)

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Carnage

When the Venom symbiote had some kind of offspring, it attached to a Hannibal Lecter-dangerous serial killer and became Carnage — a super-energized, more agile Venom. I was first exposed to him in the Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage and thought this was an awesome villain, one that no one seems to remember. Same powers as Venom but quite a bit more wispy and agile. Still vulnerable to sound.

Colossus

A giant Russian man who can transform his body to metal (not sure if that’s skin or whole body). Reminds me of Ivan Drago. “I must break him.” I think he’s Kitty Pryde’s boyfriend, but I imagine that must be difficult. He’d rip her apart.

Cyclops

The X-Men leader that no one likes, which gives Wolverine more star power. Cyclops has no charisma, no “thing” except for being a love rival with Jean Grey, making the stupidest and most loveless love triangle since Neo/Trinity/audience. He can shoot laser beams from his eyes, but has to wear a special mask to control the beam’s intensity, or anything he looks at will be burnt to toast or vaporized to milkshake. Boo-ring.

Damage Control Guy

I’m not sure if this guy’s a real character or was just created for the game. He looks like the construction workers from The Lego Movie.  Why would you ever want to play as him?

Daredevil

Whoever he is, he’s much better than the Ben Affleck movie. He fights people with some sweet martial arts moves and his stick. Reminds me of Robin from Teen Titans. They call him “the man without fear”, but he doesn’t seem to have any power that affects that. He’s just blind. And I’m not sure the accident that made him blind also gave him his powers or not. Or he just developed them. Also, his mask still has eyeholes for some reason. I know that helps keep his identity secret (who’s that superhero around our neighborhood with the eyeless mask? I wonder if it’s the blind guy that lives nearby), but there are still better costume choices. Why use a cowl that exhibits facial features? Why not do all black, like a ghost? And why Daredevil? The Satanic vibe confuses me if he’s a hero or villain.

Deadpool

Deadpool narrates all the side missions and is generally the anti-superhero. Twin guns, twin swords, and twin personalities. He talks to himself, breaks the fourth wall, obsesses over tacos, and loves general chaos. He’s witty like Spider-Man and has similar powers to Wolverine, except I think he somehow got cancer, so his body is covered in scars. That’s why he’s always masked. But he holds no reverence for anything. You can never tell what he’s going to do. His Ultimate Spider-Man episode has to be seen to believed. And if half his antics are filmmable, this guy is going to make one kickass movie. Possibly a paradigm shift to the grimdarks we keep getting.

Doctor Octopus

A guy accidentally got four robo-arms implanted in his spine and it drove him insane, I guess. Personally, I think this is one of the most creative villains ever cooked up by Marvel. Extra limbs means extra punching, and he makes a fine foe for Spider-Man. Much better than the Green Power Ranger Goblin (and all his many clones). You’d think the video game would let you operate more than one limb at a time.

Doc Ock (Ultimate)

This is where it gets weird. I don’t know what Ultimate is, but somehow Doctor Octopus turned into Ozzy Osbourne. I got to wonder what this guy’s story is in the comics. Is he a hippie/John Lennon type? Does he deal drugs instead of make mad scientist machines?

Doctor Doom

This guy is the main foe of the Fantastic Four. His power is electricity/lightning, which I guess counters the Four, unless they all work together. Also, besides being a technological genius he’s the king of a fictional country called Latveria (which is too close to Latvia for my taste), which means he mostly gets away with crimes or extradition thanks to diplomatic immunity. Personally, I think he’s one of the stupidest villains I’ve seen. He’s the guy that made comic books so silly, when they started having villains like this, that were made of metal and shot lightning and proclaimed “I shall be your DOOM!”

Doctor Strange

This is not the name of a progressive rock band, as I once thought. He seems to be a guy who has magic powers, but I have no idea how he got them, who he fights, or what his origin is. I think he was a doctor, but I’m not sure what’s so strange about him. I think it would be better if he was some kind of amorphous being like The Unknown Soldier or faceless like Magneto. His costume looks like a D & D sorcerer’s, but his mustache screams “Knight Rider”.

The Books I Read: July – August 2014

bookshelf books
quiet susan cain
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I would love to see this as a documentary. The book itself gets a little long. But it’s comprehensive, that’s for sure. Like a Beethoven symphony, it covers all the possible ideas.

Now for those people who think this book will help with their introversion, well… the best thing the author does is tell you that your introversion is normal. You are not abnormal, you just have a different way of thinking. There are strengths and faults to introversion, just as there are strengths and faults to extroversion. The problem is that some time after WWII, society got in its head that a forceful personality was more desirable than someone who got things done with integrity and character. That’s not to say it has no good advice — it does. And it wraps up with a great summary.  Plus the anecdotes it uses are spot-on, plus the data points are valuable and easy to understand.

I would say, or at least I wish, that this book was read by extroverts, especially bosses and managers, so that they can better understand their employees and why they might not be thriving in an environment full of open spaces and pods and wasteful small talk.

transmetropolitan
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson

Imagine the writing of Hunter S. Thompson with the art of R. Crumb in a setting from Neuromancer. It’s rich with societal satire and world-building. The art is so beautiful I wish the artist had filled in the background with more detail so I could read them. I can’t believe he poured in this much world into the art.  It’s a tragedy I only spend a few seconds reading the words and moving onto the next panel.

And the writing is great. It’s a blend of different genres — mystery, empathy, horror, science fiction. Despite the fact that the protagonist is a creatively-swearing, chain-smoking, opinionated loudmouth, you can’t help but root for him because he gets the job done. Despite being so resentful of the state of the earth, he cares about keeping people in power, setting society on a proper course, and keeping the truth at front and center. And the story does all this with a healthy sense of tongue-in-cheek. If Transmetropolitan was a meal, it would be the entire menu of a fancy restaurant.  Appetizers, soup, dessert, and all.

My one regret is that I keep confusing Warren Ellis with Frank Miller. It’s the double L’s.

rainbow rowell landline
Landline by Rainbow Rowell

This isn’t the best Rainbow Rowell I’ve read. It poses an intriguing question, but the way the story renders isn’t very intense. The stakes aren’t very high, because there’s really only one conflict taking place. One plate in the air. There’s not a rival trying to take her husband or the wife undergoing depression or a mental mother. It’s really about being caught between career and family. It’s a classic question, an important question, but the journey taken doesn’t include too many obstacles or rising action.

I wanted to know more about her job. She’s a TV writer, trying to get four episodes of a cherished sitcom written in a hurry. In order to do so, she has to skip Christmas with her family in Nebraska, to the chagrin of the SAHD. Through it all, she examines her relationship, how she and he got there, why they fell in love, and realizes that, while she hasn’t made it all about her, she’s made it none about him. The book doesn’t end with any conclusions or wrapping the loose ends (which is another facet of my rating), just a promise to try to make things better.

please ignore vera dietz as king
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Angsty, mysterious, dogged — all the things I like in a YA novel. Our female protagonist is dealing with the death of a friend, delivering pizzas, living with her SAH father, and the onset of graduation. But all these details are methodically revealed throughout the novel through frequent flashbacks, scene changes, and memories.

The style of this book takes some bold risks, doing lots of things they say not to do. 97% of the novel is the main protagonist, but there are scenes from the antagonist girl, the dead boy, even an inanimate building. (And I get yelled at for one head-hopping scene in my novel.) The scenes aren’t extraneous, but they do jar one.

But that’s the thing. This is a novel for the short attention span. Scenes are short, change time and setting often, to the point where you start to forget what the main timeline is and where we left the protagonist. And it’s not like a mystery novel where someone investigates clues. They’re just doled out methodically in a sort of flashback history that led to the downfall of these teenagers.

But my favorite aspect is that the novel raises questions, which is what good books do. The title refers to what happens when one chooses to turn a blind eye to events.  The “first they came for the Jews, but I said nothing…” problem.  The book appeals to the “jaded person in a shitty high school situation” plot, which I’m a sucker for.

trouble non pratt
Trouble by Non Pratt

Not the best first act — it takes a long time to get to the primary conflict of the novel.  The main character spends her time snogging, smoking, and drinking in the park after school. They gossip about who likes who, who kissed who, but it’s all among her incestuous group of friends. So her difficulty is no surprise. The other main character is just blah. It’s not a super-serious book, and yet it misses any plot twists or character-changing events. It all seems to be one middling line, not very up-and-down.

I guess I’m disappointed because it’s not the novel I thought it would be. I’m not saying I wanted “16 and Pregnant”, but it reminds me too much of The Casual Vacancy. Maybe this is the way English novels are written, in a soap opera-y style where no one is very likable.

It’s also very British. I wished I had gotten it as an eBook so I could look up some of the terms and slang being used. I’d probably still bring it to a desert island with me, but it’d be at the bottom of the pile.

stranger in a strange land robert heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Why is it every time I read a “classic” book, I end up regretting it. Yeah, it’s got a lot of material, a lot of questions and issues to analyze, but in the end, the trip just isn’t worth it. I’ve gotten more out of the shorter trips that used this one as inspiration. The book barely focuses on the main character, the man from Mars. It leaves out crucial pieces of backstory, like how he grew up on Mars with the actual frickin’ Martians.  No, no one seems to care that there’s actual extraterrestrial life.  We just care about the night nurse with Florence Nightingale syndrome and a journalist who’s not good at his job.

At least not compared to Jubal Harshaw.  Hoo, boy, they should have a novel about him.  He’s like a proto-Spider Jerusalem. Sharp talking, indulgent, and crushing any enemies with the law they hide behind. I loved watching him give idiots the business, hammering them down with clever legalese. And he takes a large part of the first half, so that I thought it was going to be a legal thriller, like Fuzzy Nation.

And like most reviewers said, the second half is a total tonal shift. No more Jubal Harshaw. No more trying to stay hidden.  No more learning about two different cultures. It becomes satirical and touchy-feely. The first scene of the second half is that Valentine Michael Smith and his girl are trying to learn about human culture… by being in a carnival sideshow.

And this eventually leads to Smith gaining followers of his “god is everywhere, love everyone” Martian philosophy, which turns into a religion, and into a cult, and so on. No more legal thriller. There’s a lot of “explanations” which are just the author giving strawman arguments with himself. In fact, there was a lot of that in Starship Troopers too — essays disguised as fiction. Except this time it’s not about cool militarism and civics, it’s about free love. Damn hippies.

cartman south park hippies dream
one of us
One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal by Alice Domurat Dreger

The book has an axe to grind, that is true, but the subject matter is grotesquely interesting. The (lengthy) introduction promises it’s going to be more of an examination of all freaks, but it really focuses on conjoined twins. Through a historical study on subjects like Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, disastrous attempts at separating twins, plus accounts from existing paired humans, Dreger is trying to say that we shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. All these people say that they wouldn’t separate if they had the choice. The medical industry sees pathology where the “freaks” find normalcy.

It makes some very good points and I agree with the author. Except there’s one part where it really loses me. Where, if it was cut, it would have improved my rating/review. She tries to compare pregnancy to having a conjoined twin. She uses lines like “this entity is dependent on the other for food and oxygen supply. Eventually, through societal pressure and the dominant’s personal desires for independence, she decides to make the separation.” This, I feel, is deceitful, manipulating the reader through withholding information.

I don’t think anyone can deny that pregnancy is a natural part of life, with the end goal being TO SEPARATE and become an independent entity, capable of making more offspring.  Conjoined twins, while it may be natural, isn’t the typical end state, and doesn’t behoove propagation of the species. The fact that it often results in biological and reproductive problems for both parties emphasizes this fact. This attempt at melodramatic appeal, by saying that reproduction is just as normal as conjoinment, is misrepresentation to prove a point.

But if you can get past that fact, it’s one of the better non-fiction books I’ve read. If you’ve got to do some kind of high school research project you could do worse than this source.

Games Someone Should Make: Wonder Woman

Wonder woman

This could be a free-roaming action-adventure, much like Spider-Man 2, or a game like Batman: Arkham Whatever, but more linear.  Wonder Woman has an interesting collection of powers, not the least of which is her lasso of truth.

This is a fascinating gameplay element that could be used many different ways.  Maybe like Deus Ex‘s conversation threads.  You could use it for triggering quests, swinging around the city quickly (Or can she already fly? I never know these things), finding hints or clues or storyline elements.  It’d be more interesting than just “talking to everyone”.

Plus you’ve got her invisible jet, defensive bracelets, a tiara, a sword, and hand-to-hand combat.  Those all sound like good video game elements.  And there’s no reason to think a female-led video game couldn’t do well — Bayonetta, Final Fantasy 13, Tomb Raider.  If she’s not a lead character, maybe she could be a partner, like in Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us.

In fact, you could probably make a decent game if you took a few of the non-top tier DC heroes (i.e., not Superman and/or Batman).  Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, etc.  Just rotate them around, maybe a few levels where you can switch off between them.  Or like Lego Marvel Super Heroes — a game where you can rotate between them all, doing quests a myriad of different ways.

Comic Link Round-Up (Part 2)

comics folder

This used to be its own comic, but has since become a “Best of the Day/Week” aggregator. I still read it though. I almost didn’t include it in the list, since it’s not really providing new content. And I see about half the strips on Kotaku anyway. But still, it’s worth a bookmark.

I think this is the second time I’ve picked up a comic thanks to Something Positive (the first was Queen of Wands, which ended its run) (also, Something Positive will be seen on this list later). The core characters are two female friends. One is an unhappy English post-grad in a love triangle with boys and alcohol. The other is a happy-go-lucky bisexual with big boobs.

Most of the story deals with the hook-ups and break-ups of various characters. But there’s occasionally a talking cactus or a seance for amorphous cats.

Superhero satire at its finest, in easily digestible weekly form. It’s more biting and satirical than Watchmen, and funnier, plus up-to-date. It stars Wonderella as Wonder Woman pastiche who stopped caring a long time ago. She’s fought Nazi women, gorillas, space-women, her mother, the previous Wonderella, and so on. Her mad scientist is Dr. Shark and her “Robin” serves as the Mr. Bill of her world. It’s a non-serial that covers both superhero issues and everyday topics.

WARNING: Adult comic. No clicky unless you mean it. Elves and wordplay take front and center. It’s mostly one-shots, but there are a few 3-4 page threads and recurring characters. Mostly it makes fun of sex and fantasy tropes, not always together.

Do I need to say anything about this one? If you’re not following PA, you’re doing yourself a disservice. I consider it the founding father of online web comics. And even with all the great peripheral things they’ve done (Child’s Play, PAX, PATV, etc.) they’ve never deviated from their core quality. They’ve changed, they’ve branched out, but they’ve always stayed true to two guys playing video games.

A Superman Hater Watches “Man of Steel”

man of steel poster superman

Do I need to tell you my problems with Superman? No, I don’t. So I never planned to watch Man of Steel. Another origin story? Zack Snyder’s testosterone stink on it? Same damn villain? Same bland hero? Critical reception from poor to mixed? No thank you. I don’t need more Superman in my life than I have to.

But then Nostalgia Critic released his video for it, so I figured, “Damn, guess I need to see this if I want to appreciate the NC review.” I encountered the same issue with “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, and it turned out well. So I regretfully put it on the Netflix queue, fully anticipating “Superman Returns” again — a totally unnecessary movie that brings nothing new to the franchise.

It’s… it’s actually pretty good. I liked it.

It’s not without some flaws — and there are some big ones — but the good things overshadow them. A summer tentpole usually defies analyzing, but I think it’s important that I explain how I, already prejudiced against the movie, got turned around.

PRO: Telling the Story a Different Way

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad aspect, but at least it’s different. Different is something Superman desperately needs. I am so tired of origin stories because A) everyone already knows them and B) are so boring. And this being the third retelling? Did not have high hopes.

Instead this shows him finding his role in life. Learning his place in the world with his abilities. How far can a person with such power go before he goes over the line? Especially when he’s been charged with being humanity’s guardian. And it’s told non-linear — small flashbacks display his father’s life lessons and coping with his abilities as a child. It goes more into the philosophy of being a god among men.

Speaking of religious overtones, that’s another thing I was not expecting. And I do not like applying the Jesus metaphor to Superman — I think that diminishes both and makes no sense since he’s closer to Hercules. (Also, weren’t Superman’s creators Jewish?) Clark actually goes to a priest for confession/advice, which surprised me. International movies like this don’t usually go for that. But then I thought, “yeah, that makes sense”. Clark was raised by a farming couple in Kansas. Of course, he would have religion in his life. Of course he would question his presence in the light of God.

CON: Misogyny

This movie is all men, all the time. Manly men. Hairy chests. Big muscles. Fathers and sons. Papa Kent even says “You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be.” The title “Man of Steel” wasn’t used just because it’s an old catchphrase.

That’s par for the course for Zack Snyder, but I still groaned at the end where the woman says “I just think he’s kinda hot”. Seriously? She worked her way up military ranks to belong to one of the most important departments in the armed forces, working under the guy in charge of dealing with aliens. And she turns into a giggling school girl?

How about Lois?  Here, she’s about as vapid and bland as Superman. All her best scenes are at the beginning, and while her weaknesses are fewer, she didn’t get much stronger.  She doesn’t bring anything vibrant or different. Essentially, she’s unnecessary. There is no reason for Lois Lane to be on board Zod’s ship.  She’s not a hostage. In fact, the whole reason Zod’s plan goes under is because they took her on board. Here’s your sign.

PRO: Good Action

Superman’s punches sound real. He uses his heat vision when needed. The battles actually look like Superman battles, not just flying around a green screen or lifting heavy objects. They look like what would actually happen if two super-powered beings got in a fight — lots of collateral damage.



It made me have that feeling of wish fulfillment. He feels powerful. I found myself rooting for Superman, which is when I knew I had lost.  Even though Superman is invulnerable (which is a flaw I’ve often ranted about), it does feel like he’s getting hit. The damage isn’t to him, but to the town, the Earth.

And the superpowers don’t just come out of thin air. No traveling backwards in time. No mind control. No kryptonite. He doesn’t even have ice breath.

Granted, overcoming the gravity well of the World Engine through sheer will, just like in Superman Returns where he can lift a huge island that’s covered in kryptonite because he has to. What’s the point of being vulnerable to something if it doesn’t work? There’s this idea floating around that “Superman is as strong as we need him to be”. If that’s the expected behavior, where is the tension?

CON: Independence Day with Superman

While I was watching, I was thinking: this movie is about aliens, not Superman. There’s first contact, spaceship interiors, alien tech, the feeling of nothing ever being the same, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”, a big army presence, buildings exploding. This is more about the absence of Krypton than presence of Superman. Superman should be about his relationship with Earth, not other Kryptonians.

Well, it is true he does fight a lot of aliens (Darkseid, Doomsday, Braniac), but it’s in the name of fitting in on Earth. Otherwise, he wouldn’t need to be Clark Kent.  And besides, I think it’s more interesting when he tries to save humanity from itself rather than an invading militant alien force.

PRO: Superman is not so perfect

One of the problems I’ve always, always, always had with Superman is the lack of character flaws. He never does anything wrong. Nothing can touch him. He’s still pretty perfect in this, but he is shown to be suffering. He questions his place in the world, his parentage, his loyalties, whether or not to act as a sacrifice.

Also, Krypton is not the utopia previous incarnations have made it out to be. You see Zod stage the military coup at the moment of vulnerability. He follows his duty to serve Krypton and only Krypton. This gives him a purpose, makes him sympathetic, better than evil for the sake of being evil. (Also, I thought it was interesting how they went from crystal-based technology to liquid metal balls)

CON: Too Many Plot Holes

This movie is meant to be watched, not analyzed. While it doesn’t fill gaps with convenient super powers, it does leave a lot on the cutting room floor. How did Zod and all get out of the Phantom Zone? Why did all the other planets die when Krypton exploded? How much can the Russell Crowe hologram do? Is it like an AI or something? What was the deal with that scoutship that was 18,000 years old? No one ever talked about what happened to it/why it went missing? And Krypton’s used the same technology for 18,000 years so his USB stick can still work? If Krypton has space travel, why didn’t everyone go to a different planet?

Why does Zod take Lois Lane? They can’t need her for anything. What is Zod doing when he goes back in the ship, and they have that big Smallville fight between Ursa Farora and Big Guy Who Might Be A Robot? Is he fixing something? Preparing something? Why does Superman start wearing the costume just because he finds it in the ship? They could be pajamas for all he knows.  What significance do they have? Russell Crowe just opens the closet and there they are. Why don’t the people just run away from the heat vision?

PRO: Fixing a Few Cliches

Speaking of that polarizing issue, I didn’t mind it much.  I know a lot of people were upset. They cried “Superman doesn’t kill! He’s a hero! He’s the inspiration for humanity, what we’re supposed to aspire to be!” But how often have you yelled at a screen or comic and said “Just kill him! He’s going to escape anyway!” 

Superman does what he does with regret. Zod’s the last tie to his Kryptonian heritage. Yes, they never mention it again, but at least the potential is there.  I wish they had done it a little closer to like Doctor Who‘s “The End of Time” with the Master, or Trigun — where the killing had some consequences to the character development. These are the kinds of burdens heroes have to bear.

Personally, I’ve always found Batman more inspiring anyway. Bruce Wayne could have taken the easy road, could have walked away with his millions/billions and lived an easy life. But he chose to train. Chose to become a protector. Superman was born with powers. He didn’t earn anything. His conflict is more about how to balance his powers — being a god versus being a human. And his corruptibility.

I said Lois Lane was vapid and bland before, but at least she’s an improvement.  I’ve never seen a portrayal of her that I’ve liked — from Margot Kidder to Teri Hatcher to the cartoon. She’s either a cold bitch, a clingy idiot, a stubborn scoop-obsessed journalist (meant to play foil to Clark’s bumbling) or Superman’s gooey-eyed love interest. Sometimes all of those.

Here, she’s still a damsel in distress, but she does take action. She has agency.  She knows Clark’s secret, but has the moral insight to respect his wishes and not do anything with it. She changes from being manipulative to learning how to step back. Also, she recognizes Clark right away with those glasses.

CON: Still Nothing New

It’s a better told story, but it’s still the same story. Superman does not appear until fifty minutes in. He doesn’t do anything Superman-y until thirty minutes after that. He’s fighting Zod again. He’s not stopping natural disasters, fighting crime, helping build things. Granted, all the Superman stories I remember, he’s being rather silly. Like fighting comic strip characters come to life or trying to stop someone revealing his secret identity.

But why this plot again when there are so many other Superman stories the world is aching for? I hunger for a movie version of “The Death and Rebirth”, arguably the most popular (if only because it’s polarizing) Superman stories. And there’s Darkseid, Mr. Mxyptlk, Bizarro, or any villain from the superhero team-ups. I’d even have Lex Luthor IF you can make him a more formidable opponent. He’s supposed to represent everything humanity could fall to, if Superman wasn’t there. Give him a robot suit.

OVERALL

It keeps you entertained. Clearly the best Superman movie made. It’s a blockbuster — heavy on special effects, light on fridge logic. But I feel richer/entertained for seeing it.

It makes me feel more confident about the next one — “Superman + Batman”. It’s clear that Hollywood has been upping stakes in superhero movies from “hero vs. villain” to “hero vs. a few villains” and now to “Total Team-Up”, thanks to the success of The Avengers. DC is going to Justice League. Spider-Man is going to “The Sinister Six”, and Avengers has its own saga.

Before I saw Man of Steel, I was ready to dismiss “S&B”, given the bad buzz around Snyder and Nolan’s interpretation.  This would ruin not just one but two franchises (three, with Wonder Woman). But now that I’ve seen it, I’ve got hope.

Comic Link Round-Up (Part 1)

comics folder

Brawl is a cute little sketch comic about Super Smash Bros. characters. Mostly it’s about the Kirby characters, but it goes into any territory it finds funny, like Waluigi April Fool’s comics.

Unlike most video game comics, this one’s not color or pixel, but fairly sketchy art. But I like it because, unlike lots of other video game comics, which are cynical and full of violence and sarcasm (which I have no problem with, mind you), this one is just a lot of cuteness with cute characters. Sometimes it gets repetitive with the same “Kirby becomes what he sucks up”, but it has the occasional Christmas or anniversary extravaganza with YouTube cartoons or songs that push the envelope.

I learned about Kris Straub via Scott Kurtz. I followed PvP (which will be talked about later) for many, many years. Then he joined the Penny Arcade coalition and started making something called “Blamimations” with Kris Straub. And the Blamimations are hilarious, I especially recommend “Game Men”. Anyway, since they’re cut from the same cloth, I looked up what Kris Straub is up to, and found this.

Chainsawsuit is a three-panel B&W with no firm story, but recurring characters. It’s silly, but satirical. Sometimes the messages are strong about fake geek girls and government, sometimes it’s a shark-cop dudebro. That’s the nice thing about this strip, it doesn’t limit itself to one type of humor. The strips are great bite-size jokes that have high viral potential.

Here’s a web comic about lesbians. Except it’s not so much about them being lesbians, but just the things that happen in their relationship, like who takes all the sheets, morning routines, hamsters. I have to confess, I wasn’t sure it was lesbians at first, because one of the characters doesn’t draw herself with obvious gender characteristics. (Sorry — but that was part of the reason I kept reading).

But that’s the point. The comics are not lesbian humor or sex humor or stereotypes. It’s about their weird cats or who kills the spiders. This could be any married couple. It doesn’t matter if they’re girls or boys.

I don’t know why it’s called Chaos Life, and the archive isn’t extensive or frequently updated. But I like the art and the jokes are homestyle & cute. It’s a fresh take on couple life.

I started this one long, long ago, back when I found Penny Arcade and wanted more comic strips in the same vein. Ctrl+Alt+Del is about the closest thing in terms of video game humor and art style. It has similar themes and characters (one being a cloud cuckoolander and the other a straight man). But the storyline threads are longer, where Penny Arcade has no problem breaking the fourth wall for the sake of humor.

If XKCD doesn’t update fast enough for you, this is your comic. It’s not as math/physics-oriented but it contains plenty of geeky humor and stick figures. Just like XKCD, it’s variable panel, black and white, and it doesn’t concern itself with the limitations of a square medium. It won’t have those fancy comics like the shockwave panels or “The Internet as a World”, but it does have good relationship humor.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Will Become Superman (1978)

spider-man tobey maguire hands

Time will not be kind to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. I have come to this realization. Its the Marvel equivalent of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. It lit the fuse for superhero movies, but hasn’t nearly the explosive power its successors will (X-Men, Iron Man, etc.). The movies were a well-loved phenomenom now, but the trilogy is finished. And a reboot is months away, only ten years after the first. Why?

I hardly need to say much that hasn’t already been said. Sure, they’re good movies. Sometimes great. Good casting. Well imagined. Fun special effects. And far be it from me to disrespect anything with Bruce Campbell in it. But Sam Raimi is the guy who made The Evil Dead, Darkman, and dozens of cheesy syndicated TV shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. He is not used to big-budget productions.

But everything in it is comical. Sometimes comically good, like the upside-down kiss, to the comically bad, like Green Goblin’s outfit. There are so many moments that are just stupid, awful, or stupidly awful. Characters toss the idiot ball back to each other, doing things no one with a lick of sense would do, for the sake of the plot. That’s plausibility, my friends. That must be there, or everything falls.

I’ve never seen superheroes cry so much until SM3. Yeah, Sam Raimi’s trying to appeal to the humanity of these characters, but the first movie was the time for that. Maybe some of the second. But not the third. The thing that cannot be forgiven is that Raimi stopped being true to the spirit of the material. And the spirit of the material is chop-socky comic book action. It’s not Sandman lamenting over his daughter or Norman Osborn arguing with himself or Mary Jane being a bipolar pill. It should be called “Peter Parker, the Spider-Man”.

You know what people wanted to see through all three movies? Venom! You know what we didn’t see? Venom! I’m all for a writer staying true to his/her vision, but part of a successful work is giving the audience what they want. And the audience wants Venom. So what’d you do? You stuck him on that kid from That 70’s Show for a few bullshit scenes at the end. Fuck you, Raimi, for not delivering.

The Nostalgia Critic’s already cited the Top 11 Dumbest Spider-Man Moments. Here’s the quick rundown: too many American flags, irrelevant characters, hokey extras, bad CG, lack of Venom, terrible romance, bizarre AI on Doc Ock’s arms, the first movie’s comic book dialogue, emo Peter Parker, Willem DaFoe hamming it up, and the dance scene.

To me, it sounds a lot like the 1978 Superman. Good casting, fun special effects (for its time), but comical in all the wrong places. Lex Luthor, with his moll and single bumbling henchman, seemed more like The Three Stooges. Marlon Brando has fifteen minutes of screen time and as many lines, while eating half the budget. The bad romance with Buster Keaton Clark Kent. Plus all the things I find wrong with Superman in the first place.

So that’s why it seems to me that the Spider-Man movies will go down as a first try. A reflection of what it could have been, and what it will be.

Top 9 Things DC Can/Should Do For Their Reboot (Part 2)

dc comics new 52 logo

6. Make a bad guy into a good guy. Want to cause conflict and drama? Switch relationship roles. I’m not talking about when Two-Face gets rehabilitated and goes back to work. We all know he’s going to turn evil again just as soon as his plastic surgery gets ruined *again*. What if Two-Face fought for good? He is a former D.A. after all. It’s still in him. The Penguin doesn’t do much. What if he became the new Alfred? Can you imagine if Bane became a vigilante in the name of justice a la Casey Jones? Villains are so in right now. It worked for Megamind, and Darth Vader’s got more Facebook fans than anyone else in Star Wars.

It’s not going to work for everyone. You can’t make the Joker into a good guy because his motivations are purely to be the villain. He knows he’s a bad guy and that’s the role he wants to play. He doesn’t want money. He doesn’t have a conviction or thirst for vengeance. But most everyone else does. And the best villains’ strength comes from the conviction that they are right. Which leads to…

7. Make a bad guy into a good guy who’s a bad guy. Every man is the hero of his own story. Mr. Freeze is trying to find a cure for his wife. He’s not trying to kill everyone, but he needs money to do it. More money than he can make honestly in a lifetime. Batman’s the only one interceding who’s capable of stopping him. He’s the asshole. And Superman turns into a whole different story when you think of Lex Luthor as attempting to rid the world of dominance by an alien god.

Show the villain’s perspective. Batman’s put so many henchmen in the hospital and jail. Someone’s got to have a grudge on him for that. All those henchman don’t want to be there. Maybe there’s one that needs to feed his drug habit, but he’s got a wife and kids, so that he needs money. And then there’s characters like Solomon Grundy and Swamp Thing who are chaotic neutral. Don’t forget about Morpheus, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Is he bad guy? A good guy? No one knows, he’s simply a force. Half the plotlines in that series don’t even star him, they involve the characters affected by him, in both present day and mythology.

8. Superhero Groups When my uncle died, one of the things he left behind (I’d say left to me, but really, this was just junk he left at my grandparents’ house) was a box of comic books from the 70’s and 80’s, all DC. I don’t know where he got them. I don’t know when he bought them. But I’m reading them.

There are a lot of army ones like Sgt. Rock and Unknown Soldier (he was in the Air Force), and some really terrible ones like Eclipso and Matter-Eater Lad. And a hell of a lot of “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen” for whatever reason. It’s hard to read a lot of them — they’re so dated and cheesy. Seriously, Superboy, how many times are aliens going to visit Earth? Jimmy, stop visiting that lab scientist. And everyone, just keep a big box full of Hostess twinkies in the closet. Seems to stop just about anyone.

But the series I found most interesting was the “Legion of Super-Heroes”. This was a team of Super-Heroes consisting of (for the most part) Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Sun Boy, Duo Damsel, Phantom Girl, Karate Kid (not the Ralph Macchio one), obvious Marvel knock-offs like Timberwolf & Shadowlass, and other B-listers who could never have been in a comic on their own. All this took place in the 30th century (Superboy periodically time-traveled to get there, then wiped his memory each time afterward with a post-hypnotic suggestion. Plausible.).

But the thing was, none of them worked alone. When they were together, it was awesome. They worked together, they played off each other’s powers, they fell in love, they debated about new entrants, they had fights, they tooled around the headquarters goofing off, they argued over politics. That’s what led to fun characters I could believe and interesting plot lines. And it’s natural to believe that heroes would want to pool their resources. Union Dues is a great modern example of such a thing done well.

The relationship between a superhero and the people he’s trying to protect is like that of an adult and child. You respect them and attend to them, but you don’t pay them a lot of heed because they are inherently inferior. (“You are like a BAY-BEE! Making noise, don’t know what to do!”). If the humans get saved, so much the better. But there are always more. They’re like Pikmin. But superhero and superhero, beings on equal terms, that’s where the legitimate drama arises.

One caveat to this. Do not simply invoke crossovers. Those are always lame, contrived, and ridiculous. They either fight for no reason or forget about each other as soon as the comic’s over. (See Linkara’s review of Batman vs. Spawn).

And finally…

9. Experiment, experiment, experiment. You know why there was so much great music in the 70s, and not in the 80s, 90s, or today? Because people were willing to take risks. They were trying new things, experimenting with sounds, and daring to break away from what others had already done. They didn’t play it safe, they didn’t rely on what worked in the past. They were willing to put new stuff out there and see how people reacted. There were no focus groups. There were no “creative executives”. There was just “the people”.

And thanks to “the people”, we got hard rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath, singer-songwriters like Billy Joel and Don MacLean, Country rock from Bob Dylan and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the creation of genres we still use today, like progressive rock, power pop, R&B, rap, and punk.

But what people forget is that for every Jimi Hendrix there were dozens of Hall & Oates’s, a few hundred Hocus Pocus by Focus, and thousands of Abracadabra. And those were the money-makers. There will be plenty of money-losers in that group.

Stephen King put it best. There are bad artists, competent artists, really good artists, and geniuses. Geniuses are not made, they’re born, and there are few of them. Then the numbers fan out from there. But the fact is, you never know who the geniuses are. Do you think anyone in their right mind would even touch something called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” today?

You need to be less concerned about presenting returns to your shareholders and more about making art and taking risks. The greatest stuff in the world was almost always found by accident, but only after a long period of trial and error. And the key to creativity is by not repeating the past.

And here’s a bonus comic for making it so far: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Top 9 Things DC Can/Should Do For Their Reboot (Part 1)

dc justice league

I don’t know why I’m making this list. I’m not a comic book geek. I’d rather read novels than the latest issue. And comics don’t seem like a good ROI for what you get. A novel costs ten bucks and takes a week to read. A comic costs $1.75 and takes ten minutes. Not much ROI, but I’m no economist.

But don’t get me wrong, I love comics because they create great stories and fantastic art. They are modern mythology, and I do loves me some mythology.

And now the biggest news is that DC is rebooting/remaking fifty-two of their central titles, including “Justice League”, “Batman”, “Superman”, “Wonder Woman”, and other characters. There are three quarters of a century worth of canon to draw from so there’s no excuse for messing it up. But I’ve seen this before. Remakes and reboots proliferate our days. Some have succeeded (Star Trek, The Karate Kid, Batman, X-Men) and others, not so much (Smurfs, Planet of the Apes, X-Men… wait, I mentioned that twice?).

DC’s getting a lot of flak with its initial changes, and rightly so. So here’s a list of nine things I think they can do to make sure they don’t screw this up. Why nine? Because I can’t think of ten. I do this for free, people.

superman lois lane bride marriage

1. Don’t repeat the past. The biggest kerfuffle about this reboot (thus far) revolves around Superman. For one, his marriage to Lois Lane dissolved. It never happened. People feel like they’ve been cheated because it negates the plot lines and character development they’ve emotionally invested in. Same reason the “it was all a dream” is so lame. This is a risk every time you make a reboot, it’s part of a reboot’s definition. But I think people are more mad that they’re going back to ground zero.

Superman’s attempts at romance with Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori the mermaid, and anyone else starting with L has been a staple of Superman comics since they started. The writers are going back to what works, because they know it works. It worked eighty years ago. You know what else worked eighty years ago? Segregation. And socialism. And prohibition.

You can redress it however you want to, but we are sick of seeing the same origin story over and over. A missile flies down in a cornfield, superbaby pops up in front of Ma and Pa Bland and lifts their car. For some reason, they adopt him instead of turning him over to the FBI because HE’S A FRICKIN’ ALIEN. Batman Begins worked because it was totally different. It told very little of the night of his parents’ murder and more about the transformation from orphan to Batman. Plus, science has changed. We know radiation will kill a spider before it gets a chance to bite you. Gamma rays don’t create Jekyll/Hyde men. DNA can’t be rewritten. And spilling chemicals on yourself will not cause anything but some nasty stains.

deadpool common sense

2. Put focus on old and mid-list heroes that have potential. I said before about how dull Superman is, but how interesting Supergirl is. Two very similar heroes, but a simple gender switch turns the whole thing over. There’s also Ultra Boy, who has the same powers as Superman, but can only use one at a time. And Mon-El, who has the exact same powers as Superman, but is invulnerable to Kryptonite (but vulnerable to lead, which makes life on earth difficult). And I’m not even mentioning all the super-pets and the clones/duplicates from the “Deat6h of Superman” run.

My point is, all superhero powers tend to blend together. The only discernible differences come from character. But that character can make a world of difference. I have no idea who Booster Gold is, but I keep hearing sniplits of him here and there. He must be trying to be pushed, but I have no idea who he is or what his powers are. From his brief bio, he seems like a knock-off of Iron Man. And there’s Blue Beetle, the precursor to Batman. All of these are original characters that exist in the mid-list. Try focusing on them.

superhero reads newspaper

3. Give them some real jobs. Can we all agree that the superhero position of journalist and multi-millionaire is fucked out? Sure, it gives plausibility to why heroes are always in the middle of a crisis, or get the money to pay for their gadgets. But A) it’s been done and B) we’re in the 21st century now. There are no journalists, but there are bloggers. There are teenage millionaires everywhere. Most jobs are at a desk or a computer. Why not a superhero who’s a nurse, a manager, a teacher, an accountant, a dentist, a farmer, a teacher, a writer? In “On Writing”, Stephen King said “People love to read about work. No one knows why.”

this is my secret identity tank top

4. Ditch the secret identity.. Trailing on the heels of the one above, one of the most hacked plot lines comics use is having to protect the secret identity. It’s as cliche as a key change in a song. How many Superman covers have you seen where they tease revealing his identity to someone. It creates a false source of tension because of all the false alarms. The reader knows that it’s not going to happen.

Heck, if Superman didn’t have a secret identity, there’d be no plots at all. He’s basically a god. The only way you can make him lose something is if his identity is revealed or he’s got to be in two places at once. And both of these he always solves because he can go faster than the speed of light. Boring.

Plus, these days keeping a secret identity would be impossible. Look at Wikileaks, Abu Ghirab, LulzSec. The government can’t keep a secret. You can’t keep anything from the world’s prying eyes. Heck, look at how complicated the Portal 2 ARG was and how fast people solved it. Bottom line: secret identities are a crutch and implausible. And personally, I’d love to see how heroes get on with their daily lives as both a normal person and a caped crusader. That’s how TMZ works.

superman costume old and new lightning

5. Character Redesign The best way to show that you’re serious about remaking a franchise is to change the character’s design. It’s easy to do, and sends a clear message that “EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT NOW”, but can also cause a lot of controversy.

Marvel’s already done it with a half-Black, half-Hispanic Peter Parker. And boy did people get up in arms about that one. Personally, I love fundamental redesigns like that. I embrace the multi-cultural Peter Parker. I don’t believe Marvel’s doing it simply to be more “diverse” (I hate that word). I think they’re doing it because it’s something different. Here’s the key — the redesign must stay true to the spirit of the material.

For example, Superman got a new black outfit following his death. Yes, awesome. But they also changed his powers. Now bullets went through him, instead of bouncing off. Why? Bullets that ricochet send a clear message that he is an unstoppable force. Passing through him imply he’s not even there. He’s invisible, he’s a phantom. It’s stupid.

Also, ditch the silly eyemasks. Everyone has them — Robin, Green Arrow, etc. They worked in the 1950’s, they don’t work now. Do you remember in the 1950’s Batman when sometimes Alfred had to go out in the Batmobile? All they did was whip an eyemask on him, thinking that would protect Joe Passerby from going “hey, that guy in the batmobile. He looks familiar.” Seriously. They make you look like a western bandit.

Supergirl More Interesting Than Superman

supergirl flying with superman

I’ve talked before about why Superman sucks, and no one seems to realize it. No matter who’s behind the wheel, whether it’s a video game or a movie or a book, they can never seem to make it interesting. Because Superman has no flaws, no obstacles, nothing he wants. He can do anything.

Supergirl on the other hand…

Girls are fascinating creatures. They’re a lot of fun, dynamic, and live in worlds consisting of drama, passion, and relationships. Just the fact that she’s Supergirl, not Superwoman, implies that she’s got some growing up to do, some learning, some mistakes to be made. Men, are the other hand, live stories of alienation and hard-earned goals. All Superman has to do is live, and only thing he really worries about is compromising his secret identity, which is easily fixable through deus ex machinas. And these days, it’s not even a big deal to have no secret identity (Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc.).

In the comics, Supergirl was not “in active service”. She had to stay in her secret identity all the time because, well, basically, Superman told her to. ALL her dilemmas involved not revealing her secret identity, often stupidly. Her wig would get caught on a tree branch, or her dress would rip, revealing her superhero uniform (which defies all logic — if you’re not supposed to be Supergirl, don’t be Supergirl).

But without Superman, I think the story of Supergirl would be interesting, far more interesting than that of a man. Superman is essentially a living god, because all gods were made in the image of man, who is powerful. Instead give me a woman, who’s not usually that powerful and suddenly gets power. Think of a god who gets emotional, romantic, insecure about their looks, slow to forgive when someone makes them feel unattractive or stupid. Someone who needs a close circle of friends, who makes connections. Someone who is influenced by their age and monthly cycle. Someone who’s a nurturer, not a fixer. Someone who does not, and cannot fall into the common tropes of being swept away or being dependent on a man.

Existing superhero women do not seem to do this. Wonder Woman, Rogue, She-Ra, Invisible Woman, Jean Grey/Phoenix, Bat Girl/Woman, Lara Croft. These women are cold, bitchy, or dull. They’re really no different than comic book women seventy-five years ago. And more to the point, they’re not plausible as women. And not interesting women, or relatable women.

It’s the same with video games and movies. Too often we have a man in women’s clothing, because that’s the only thing the men writers know. And part of the problem is that men do not understand women’s operating systems, and there are no women to tell them. Women would like geek stuff a lot more if they were targeted towards them. And I think Supergirl is a good place to start.