Have a drink. It might help that mortis attitude of yours.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Crazy 88s

So, I've been writing this blog for about a year and a half now. Not continuously, of course. There has been more than one extended absence. I would say I've done it pretty much non-stop for 6 months - 26 weeks - 180 or so days. It has been pretty exhausting at times. I mean it's tough being creative enough to come up with a post where I talk about bubble hands (scroll down it's at the bottom).

What do I have to show for this commitment? 88 average hits a day.

That's awesome.

For real.

I might not get the most hits in the world but the fact that 88 people (or 44 people checking twice a day, or 11 people checking four times a day, or one person who is just clicking like mad) visit my blog is pretty great. As a wiser man than I said, "Ben, if you were a business and you had the same 88 customers coming in every day to buy what you were selling you would be doing pretty well." He's absolutely right. I feel like John Grisham.

So thanks to you dedicated and crazy 88 readers that take the time out of your day to read my random thoughts and opinions.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's Cool To Be A Robot

So I've been holding onto this post for a little bit, ever since San Diego in fact, but I've found some time to actually do it. So here goes. As I said in the 8/2/2007 podcast edition, my favorite bit of news to come out of the SDCC was this:

Rob Schrab is returning to finish the story of Scud: The Disposable Assassin , and much like Girls, there are plans to publish it all in one book - or as Larsen called it, "one gigantic, mind-numbingly big volume."

So I combed through Internetland and came up with more links, a Newsarama interview and stuff from Rob Schrab's on website. Not to go into too much detail (because you can find out from the links), but the series left off with a cliffhanger, one that has stuck with me for about a decade now. Maybe because I followed from Scud from its inception, I enjoyed it immensely. When the comic suddenly stopped it was like a good friend walking out with a goodbye. Or maybe because I'm a completist at heart, it kills me to know that there is one issue left undone.

The big question, of course, is what is it about Scud that made it so great in the first place?

I was thirteen or fourteen when the first issue hit the stands, during a tumultuous time in my comic reading. It was the start of a two or three year period when I swore off of comics as a whole. With the let downs that were "Maximum Carnage" and "X-Cutioner's Song," Marvel had become passé in my book (yeah I was the type of teenager to think things passe'). In 1995, Oliver Queen was killed so I stopped reading DC in protest. By 1996, even Image, which I had deemed comics for cool kids, had burned me out with "Fire From Heaven." Scud was one of the last comics that I was reading. Although, I would think that Battle Chasers and Crimson were the bee's knees shortly.

Scud appealed to me in the most juvenile way, I was fifteen after all. It was one of the first comics that I remember reading that used swear words, that treated gratuitous violence with humor and zaniness. Schrab recommended a page by page soundtrack and voice casting. It was a comic that said, "Don't take me seriously. Just have fun." The main character fought a robotic zombie dinosaur. It was amazing.

Maybe two years back I dug out the old issues and reread them. What I found was not what I remembered. Sure all the craziness and fun art was still present, but there was a level to the story that I did appreciate at the time. Hidden underneath Voodoo Ben Franklin and the werewolf arm, Scud is an exploration of character and, in some sense, maturity. Here is a being, a modern day Pinocchio (who has no desire to be a real boy), who has been designed for one thing: to kill and then die. Yet, he chooses not to and instead forms relationships and friendships, saves the world and travel realities. As the series progresses, Scud's life became more difficult, more complex. Just like real life as it progresses. It is a classic search for purpose, it just happens to use dialogue like, "That's cool. Can you not poop on me anymore?"

The most interesting part of the series, to me, is that by the end Schrab really hated the comic. He called the last issue "thrown together" and "fatalistic." That his "private life was echoing his art." Wouldn't it be the other way around though? Wouldn't the protagonist's search be a reflection of the writer's search? As someone in his mid-twenties, the same as Schrab when the series was coming out, who is still figuring out my path, this search speaks to me. Its questioning, its search is really very poigniant. I think Schrab really summed up the series best with this panel from issue 13:

Ain't that the truth? I really look forward to issue #21 because maybe, the character will get it.

Countdown to Adventure, GO!

So Newsarama put up preview pages of Countdown to Adventure.

Look at that. I love me some jetpack action. I'm excited. Aren't you exited? If not, why?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I’ve Been Boosted

So there have been a lot of reviews talking about how great Booster Gold #1 was. I should know, I wrote one. The story moved swiftly, the characterization was spot on and there was a ton of humor. But you know what my favorite moment in the whole comic was? This panel:

What’s so great about it? Well right under the words, “Late City Final” we have this sentence,“Little Tiny Type Of No Consequence. Really. You Shouldn’t Even Waste Your Time Trying To Make It Out.” I felt like Geoff Johns reached out from the page and slapped my geek self in the face. Now, I’m posting it on the Internet. I think there might be some irony here, but I was never good with that.

When I laughingly showed this to my co-workers I got this, “Man, your glasses must be working overtime. I can’t read that at all.”

So for all those other people who can’t see that small print, the newspaper second from the left reads, “Friday, November 23 2007” and “ Fake weather report: rain, snow, typhoon, hurricanes, blizzards, cyclones and hail, clearing towards evening.

Raiding the (Story)Arc: Justice League of America #0-12

The last issue of Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America hit the shelves this past Wednesday and boy were people happy that the writer is leaving. To hear people’s reaction you would have thought that I had stumbled into the magical land of Oz and some witch had been crushed by a house. I mean there were whoops and cheers and lots of “Don’t buy it. Just wait a month.” I was baffled. I couldn’t understand why everyone was getting ready to take to the streets, make like sailors and kiss some nurses. I mean, it did not work but it was not the worst thing I’ve ever read in comics.

So I asked.

This was Scipio’s reply, “As a writer, Ben, you should be the most offended.”

Before we go on let’s clarify one thing: I’m only kind of a writer. I mean I’m just a thesis away (due in October!) from an MFA in Creative Writing but I haven’t been published or anything. Still Scip’s comments to me felt like a challenge to try and approach Meltzer’s run as I would approaching a more literary piece of work in my studies.

Before I start I want to say, aside from this moment, you will not see me mention that the Leaguers call each other by their first names, nor will you see me use the words, “It’s just not the JLA.” Yes, I believe the spirit of a book is very important but there have been so many iterations with so many vibes *ahem* who can really say what the “League” is. The Satellite League had some ridiculous adventures. The Bwa-Ha-Ha League had some ridiculous moments and the Detroit League was just ridiculous. However, all the teams showed respect to the title Justice League of America. If there is one thing that Meltzer has done correctly in his time as writer it is to show proper reverence for that which has gone before. With that respect in mind, he set out to create the best contemporary league possible.

He failed. Yet, not for the reasons you think.

Meltzer ends his first issue with the following lines: “This is a story about history and destiny. And love and coming-of-age. And friendship and passion. And my name is Red Tor—My name is John Smith. And this is the story of my life.”

Inherent in these few not-so-complete sentences is the weakness that plagued the comic, kept it from being all it could be. Justice League is a team book but Meltzer wrote it like a series of interlocking mini-series. The pages about Vixen was the Vixen story, the pages about Black Lightning was the Black Lightning story, and so on. It was always someone’s story and never the League’s story. This lack of cohesion, of separate storylines going at their own pace, is the same thing that bothers people about Countdown. However, Countdown never claimed to be a team book.

Exacerbating this issue is the fact that not every character had a storyline to plot out. Some characters felt simply stuck on because they were. Red Arrow and Geo-Force got so much page time because Meltzer obviously had something to say about them. He had no idea what to do with Black Canary. Thus she was again reverted to a supporting role to an archer, same thing for Green Lantern. Wonder Woman and Superman did little more than punch things and Batman became the voice of exposition. If a team book is going to be driven by individuals then every person had better be important. It is the danger in doing a team book this way.

Finally, Meltzer failed to pace his character progression correctly or realistically. Comic readers can suspend belief about people flying or punching through walls; they have a harder time suspending belief about how characters act. Red Tornado wants to be human so badly. When Meltzer writes him as a robot during the flashbacks he still acts pretty human. The “proper gander” sequence is a good example of this. After his spirit is returned to the robotic body he has less personality than Data from Star Trek. When did his chest open up? Similarly, the Red Arrow and Hawkgirl arc stayed pretty much “playful banter” until the pages of issue 12 when she finds out he has a daughter. Then she can’t wait to get into bed with him. If the writer is going to make the team book driven by the individuals, all their development had better be authentic.

This lack of the individual supporting the team is why Meltzer wrote in so many splash pages of the characters as a team or shaking hands or gearing up. It is why he devoted so much time to the team standing with each other, thus slowing the overall stories. It is why he ended his run with “ –for all its changes—the league never really changes.” Not only does this sentence not really work, but also it is Meltzer forcing the idea of a cohesive team on us because we do not see it occur naturally on the page. To phrase it differently, Meltzer is telling us the group is the JLA rather showing it. At a time when, thanks the One Year Later reboot, the League should have been at the center of the DCU, the title was floundering to find its own footing.

There are a couple other missteps throughout the thirteen issues: a flat joke, a poorly paced scene, and some repetitive dialogue. These are issues that most writers have from time to time but if the core of the comic is not strong enough then every other problem becomes that much worse. I am not doing backflips over the fact that Meltzer is off the book. I like the author, I think his run on Green Arrow was awesome and enjoyed Identity Crisis. I also think there were good moments in his run. It is a shame that his ideas were so poorly executed and so publicly. Perhaps given more time he would have found his stride but he did not get it. So let’s all take it for what it was and look forward to McDuffie’s upcoming run.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Love The Smell Of Podcast In The Morning

Hey, Hey Folks-

The latest edition of the Big Monkey Podcast is up. It's full of thrills, chills and near spills. We even have a heart warming moment where Devon believes in love. So come join the joy and fun that is the BMP. Tech Guy Brian is getting ready to leave us so I did all the sound editing this week. Please let me know how I did so I can work toward perfecting the art of equalizing.

Thanks all

Note: Big Mike has put an excellent post about superheroes and America. Read It!