Monday, September 28, 2009

Simpsons Premiere: "Everyman"

Season premiere, "Homer the Whopper": In which Comic Book Guy pitches his hero, "Everyman," to Hollywood, starring Homer Simpson. Highlights:


"We need you so slim down, muscle up, and become the Everyman that people want to be, instead of the one they actually are."
Lyle McCarthy: I'm going to teach you healthy alternatives to eating. We don't have much time, so we'll do it to a montage to the song, "Eye of the Tiger"
Homer: Aww, that song is a little on the nose. Can we do it to David Bowie's "Heroes?"
Lyle: Eh, it's your montage.

Slim pickin's, otherwise. Territory covered in much funnier episodes featuring Radioactive Man or The Incredible Bulk (and Stan Lee!). Again, the "Achille's Heel" of The Simpsons reveals itself in its celebration of the "Everyman" and all that's wrong with America; the "Everyman" concept of this show has worn thin. That first quote above was right on target; who wants to be a "Homer Simpson?" But the show continually mocks those who aspire to be better than Homer (without remorse; remember Frank Grimes, or "Grimy," as his friends called him?). The parenthesis are just as important as they are in getting the irony of Bowie's "Heroes." Compare the attitude of The Simpsons towards "everyman" to that of Ayn Rand, who remarked that "in America, the common man is most uncommon." That was the "can do" age; now, it's "eh, someone else can do it."

Do you know why The Simpsons are no longer as brilliant as they once were? Because we are now officially an idiocracy of Homer Simpsons. Homer was once endearing in spite of his idiocy, not because of it. Now, it's just sad. And scary.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

HEROES Premiere 2009: "Anemic."

And then, there's Heroes...what's to say? It's a good time to announce my new personal statement: just because this site is called Superhero Babylon, and there's a show with the title Heroes, doesn't mean I automatically care; henceforth, I feel no obligation to blog on it. And I don't think I care anymore about this show. It doesn't wow me, it doesn't piss me off...it's just...there. As a friend of mine aptly put it, "it felt like a chore to watch." I say, "It felt like giving blood...like a sacrificial lamb." It's anemic.

The only interesting thing in the premiere was the continuation of the "Sylar as Nathan" plot, which was pretty stupid on the part of the so-called "Illuminati" of the show, but at least the consequences are there to bite them on the ass...and the idea of the "soul" of Sylar trapped in Parkman's head does provide some nasty tension...but that simply steals the focus of the show and turns it into a psychological thriller. I'll even submit that THAT is where the show excels; its strengths have been in the depiction of villains. But while great villains do help to make the hero, if the villains steal the show, then the heroes have failed. To be fair, it's not a problem specific to Heroes; it's a problem of philosophy. Ayn Rand nailed this problem in The Romantic Manifesto:
This phenomenon-the fascinating villain or colorful rogue, who steals the story and the drama from the anemic hero-is prevalent in the history of Romantic literature, serious or popular, from top to bottom. It is as if, under the dead crust of the altruist code officially adopted by mankind, an illicit, subterranean fire were boiling chaotically and erupting once in a while; forbidden to the hero, the fire of self-assertiveness burst forth from the apologetic ashes of a "villain."
If Rand hadn't died in 1981, I'd swear she was reviewing the season premiere herself. (Is Rand the new Nostradomus? Nope. "That's just the power of thinking in principles, kids.") Hiro's bloody nose and lukewarm announcement that he's "dying" is an apt metaphor for the show, and, possibly, an acknowledgment from the creators of the slipping popularity. The show's promising first season was doomed from the start to bleed internally, thanks to the inherent premise of altruism. The price of self-sacrifice is always blood. (This may be mean of me, but I have to mention it; it's an apt description of the "anemia" of the "good guys": the bleeding reminded me of "The Mad Real World" from Chappelle's Show..."oh, I'm bleeedin'!"). And her description of the "subterranean fire" describes the "Sylar" situation perfectly; the shapeshifting villain tricked into thinking he's Nathan, one of the "good guys," but starting to remember his real identity ("I am Sylar.") A self-assertiveness "forbidden to the hero" indeed!

Moral of this story? Until the real good guys figure this out, and stop offering themselves as sacrificial lambs, and as long as the villains are the image of selfishness, the bleeding will continue...

SMALLVILLE Premiere 2009: The Day After Doomsday

It's that time again, fall tv season...and with it, the return of Smallville. It wasn't so bad, but coming back from what I thought was a pretty good finale, I was a little underwhelmed. Major Zod? I feel robbed; I was expecting GENERAL Zod! (But we did get to hear "kneel before Zod", at least. But with the great Terrance Stamp on the show as the voice of Jor-El it was kind of hard to accept the pale imitation.) What was weirder still was the introduction of the Superman shield as a logo in the manner that they introduced it. The first time we see it, it should be inspiring...instead, we get the "grey" blur? Instead of inspiring, we get the "Dark Knight" pose on the rooftops...technically, he's not "Dark Clark, but "Kryptonian Clark...cold, unhindered by emotion...


Then there's Chloe. Oh, Chloe, I just don't know what to do with you. And her remark to Clark (re his refusal to save Jim via time travel): "It's good that your embracing your Kryptonian side...because you're no longer human..."...because he won't change time? This is either brilliant or lame...brilliant in concept, but lame because she knows that there are consequences if Clark changes time...Brilliant because of the allusion to the first Superman movie, in which Clark DOES reverse time (controversially) to save Lois, alluding to the fact that Clark is, after all, more human than alien...but lame, if that allusion fails to connect the aforementioned consequences...

Anyway, the point is that there is potential for greatness or folly here...After the tension of the "Doomsday" plot, it might be necessary to pull back a bit, though with the possibility of this being the last season, is there really time for a lull? It's time to build up to the emergence of the Superman that we've come to known...

And yet, paradoxically, that Superman we've all come to known leads me to predict folly...the potential for greatness lies in the development from "Kryptonian" alien-god to integrated hero whose accepts reason and emotion; THAT would be the basis for a truly "human" Superman. (And see Superman #247, "Must There Be A Superman?," for the best example of Superman a as a motivator of humankind.) But based on the persistence to see Superman as a "Christ" symbol, it doesn't take a psychic to predict that Clark's inevitable embracing of humanity will include self-sacrifice, with "humanity" equated with weakness. At least the show is entertaining enough for me to care about these characters. But if Smallville, and Superman in general, still have some cultural relevance as an icon, the same can't be said for that other show about heroes...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When the Gods are No More...

This following exchange from Clash of the Titans exemplifies why the original is one of my all-time favorites. From the novelization by Alan Dean Foster:


(Zeus): "Fortune is ally to the brave and clever. He defeated the Kraken. He defied the power of Thetis. He dared to face the might of the gods and win!"

(Thetis): "It is a dangerous precedent. What if one day, others like him should arise? Humans ready to defy the gods and go their own way?"

(Zeus): "No more sacrifices, no more belief, no more need to depend on us for guidance. We would no longer be needed. Mankind would learn to deal with the universe by himself...You worry too much, my dear. For the moment, at least, there is sufficient cowardice, sloth, and mendacity rampant on Earth to last for some time."

It's an interesting exchange in what it DOESN'T say; it's not what Zeus is implying, but the unsaid is that the gods will one day no longer be needed because of the heroic nature of man, but that the heroic nature of man will be seen as godlike in itself...a double-edged sword, really, if heroic men are simply used by other men in place of gods (kinda like the way Communism replaced religion with the State.) Of course, that's just proof that "cowardice, sloth, and mendacity" are STILL with us...some time, indeed.

To the wisdom of Zeus, and when he is no longer needed...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Clash of the Gods vs. Clash of the Titans: Give us Back the Eye!

I've been a bit preoccupied elsewhere to post regularly, but I'm gonna try, gaddumit...might as well start on the night of the season premier of Heroes. Only, I haven't watched it yet...the last season was a letdown, so I'm not in a rush. I'll catch up. In the meantime, I've been mildly enjoying The History Channel's Clash of the Gods. Each episode features a different character from Greek mythology; so far, we seen episodes on gods, heroes, and monsters such as Zeus, Hades, Hercules, Theseus, Medusa, and currently, the two-parter on Odysseus. (Odysseus was more a trickster than a full-blown hero, which reminds me, I'm supposed to write something about tricksters. I think Landon might beat me to it...).


The show is entertaining, and I am a big mythology buff, so this is like candy for me. (Speaking of eyes, the eyes of the gods in this series are freaky looking, in a very cool way. And Theseus was pretty sexy.) But I'm wondering about the timing; I don't see a lot of attention paid nowadays to Greek mythology generally, but I'm wondering if were on the edge of a resurgence? That's my hope, based on news of a remake of one of my favorite movies of all time, Clash of the Titans.

On the one hand, I'm psyched! On the other, I'm pissed! WHY? WHY??? To me, that movie is a classic. First of all, I love the soundtrack (still unreleased, gadummit). I've heard some complaints that the original Harryhausen version is dated and cheesy (passes the evil eye at Landon...:P). I've seen some favorites from childhood with adult eyes and have had that reaction, but not with Clash of the Titans. C'mon...Lawrence Olivier as Zeus...Calibos...the giant Maggie Smith head...Medusa...the Kraken...Pegasus...the Stygian Witches ("Give us back the eye!)...even Bubo the owl is not the Jar-Jar Binks some people make him out to be. I think it stands up surprisingly well, thank you very much. My hope is that the remake can retain that same sense of fun, and not pull a Batman Begins: great effects, uber-realistic, sophisticated...and NO FUN. Please, PLEASE, keep the heroism intact! The original actors brought just the right mix of over-the-top acting, which worked well with the subject matter. We'll see if Ralph Fiennes can do the same...(he was Voldemort, after all...).

But in the event that the remake desicrates the original, the gods have rewarded my loyalty to the classic with the endowment of a used copy of the novelization, written by Alan Dean Foster. I stumbled across this in a used bookstore in West Philly, and recognized it as the boon for which it is.

Now, if I can prove myself worthy for my own constellation...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Quote of the day: George W. Bush


"Everyone who died on September 11th was the most important person in the world to someone, every death extinguished a world."


---President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

Heroism gone Awry: George W. Bush

Full disclosure: I never voted for him. In 2000 I didn't vote, period, and in 2004 I voted Libertarian. That said, I think that on the anniversary of one of the defining moments of his presidency, the man deserves a look.

The early portion of his
presidency was unremarkable until that fateful day in September. For one shining moment, the man was inspirational. Back in the days when he could still keep good speechwriters (because they hadn't given up knowing how badly their work would be mangled), the man's speeches did what was necessary to keep the country going in one of its darkest hours.

To this day, his
statement from two months after the event stays with me. It informed how I view large scale and small scale tragedies and gave me a clue as to the enormity and weight involved with judging something on a massive scale like 9/11, the Holocaust, the London Subway Bombing. You take things much more seriously when you get this kind of perspective.

But that being said, I doubt anyone would ask why the man with the derisive nickname"W" belongs in the category of "Heroism Gone Awry." In the early days of his presidency, he gave the world perspective; he boldly named our enemies and was decisive in a course of action.

Then, over time, the problems started to mount.
Afghanistan accomplished little. Iraq was a questionable target and the strategy for dealing with it once involved was non-existent. We had the ideological upper hand in this conflict: it was a matter of civilization and reason against mysticism and barbarism. You would not be able to learn this from anything this man said.

The man failed so miserably at communicating the importance of the times we live in, the enemies we face and the action required that we are slowly sliding back into the same
complaisance that made 9/11 possible to begin with. The only thing that could do any more damage to his cause was his failure to act during Katrina, and how this became a rallying cry against the war effort.

Phrases like "War on Terror" and "Axis of Evil" became jokes. Top this off with the final act in office being on of the largest
socializations in American history and you have yourself the recipe for a track record that will live on in infamy. His presidency ended with the Left seeing him as a war-mongering uncompromising capitalist, and the Right simply wishing this were actually true.

The lesson to be learned here: never coast on one's past achievements, and never assume anything is self evident.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Heroism Gone Awry: Image Co-Founder Todd McFarlane

As I stated in part one the founding of Image comics was an attempted act of heroism performed as a group outing. Almost all of the founders were the best in their field at the time. Coming almost universally from the industry's highest-profile and best-selling books (many of which from the Spider-man line or the X lines). Of the seven founders three stood head and shoulders above the rest at this point, Liefeld, someone who deserves an entry of their own and the subject of this article.


Todd McFarlane rose to fame on the Amazing Spider-man (the character's flagship title) so high in fact that he was given the chance to start a new Spider-man book (entitled simply Spider-Man). It seems evident that this book was the result of McFarlane wishing to write as well as do the art, and by many he was judged to do this rather well. (Full disclosure I've never read any of his run on "Adjectiveless"). Over his time at Marvel his arguments with editorial became more frequent and extreme, the final straw being an argument over a single (particularly gory) panel.


Needless to say when Liefeld told McFarlane about the new deal he'd just negotiated it didn't take hime very long to want in.


His initial project was a book called Spawn. The book drew on a number of popular ideas and characters of the time many of which he'd had a hand in shaping. The look of the character resembled a cross between Spider-man (especially in his black suit variation) and Batman, featuring a long flowing cape and chains which seemed almost characters in their own right and a sleek sealed in bodysuit which was actually a living liquid symbiote. His story drew on the background of many of the popular horror themed heroes of the time like Ghost Rider, and he had a military background and lethal tactics that would keep any fan of the Punisher happy.


I think if you want to sum the entire decade of the 90's up in one character it would have to be Spawn.


Also Spawn acted conversely to Image the way Liefeld's numerous projects did. In the early running Spawn missed two deadlines but after that it almost never happened again. Month after month would go by and distribution dates would come and go with no Image comics shipping (or more accurately shipping months sometimes even years late) but during these uncertain times, you knew Spawn would come out every single month.


A lot of this had to do with McFarlane's early focus, he refused to do numerous spin-offs and focused entirely on his main project. As a result it was not only the most consistently on-time book for the line, it was also hands down the best. The art was solid but more so the writing was amazingly mature and complex...by Image standards. It dealt with topics like lost love, moral uncertainty, racism, homelessness and crime that was at times all too realistic.


But the writing on this book was the beginning of its downfall. About a year into publishing McFarlane brought in four writers for self-contained stories. Alan Moore wrote a story which followed up on some of the story's earliest villains and further explained the structure of Spawn's hell. Frank Miller wrote a story digging deeply into Spawn's relationships with the homeless people with whom he shared the alleys in which he lived. Dave Sim wrote a story outlining much of the idealism behind Image and "creator's rights." And Neil Gaiman wrote a story which featured a Spawn hunting angel named Angela.


These stories added depth to the growing Spawn mythos but would later become a problem.


As the years progressed McFarlane started new business ventures like McFarlane toys. This company revolutionized toy design and marketing by developing beautifully sculpted (but often fragile) toys which went beyond what an action figure line normally consists of. McFarlane's line originally just did toys for his Spawn characters but later moved on to cover movies, sports, rock musicians and countless other properties. It set the tone for a whole industry even more so than the comic work.


This was rather ironic, since McFarlane's involvement in his comic continually lessened with time, first dropping penciling, then inking, then writing. At this point he's been quoted as saying "I don't ever have to do a comic again" because he's made so much already. But as a result his financial adventurism has flourished. This often extended to sports teams and history making sports memorabilia, but it also extended to comic properties.


This is where the problem came. One of the properties McFarlane bought was Miracleman/Marvelman. This was an Alan Moore written Shazam/Captain Marvel pastiche which is often considered on par with Watchmen. Moore finished his work with the project but gave Neil Gaiman his blessing to finish it.


McFarlane's claim to the character was actually less than what was initially thought (he owned two logos associated with the character) but it didn't stop him from using the character as a throw-away background gag in an issue of one of his comics. At this point Gaiman took offense and decided to put the "creator owned" in Image to the test.


Gaiman sued McFarlane with a claim on the character Angela, a major supporting character named Coglisto, and a variant design for another period's version of Spawn. Seems like it would've been resolved simply enough since the two signed an agreement for a trade of assets, but McFarlane tried to have his cake and eat it too. As a result Gaiman and McFarlane now own the characters 50/50, and Marvel purchased the actual trademark on Miricleman/Marvelman.


The lesson to learn here, if you make a decision on an ideological basis, you better make damn sure you mean it whether it's always convenient for you or not.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Music for Exiles

Since it's thematically linked, and inspired by my writings here, I'm pleased to present my new album, Earth and Exile by Spaceplayer. Now available on iTunes and Amazon.com.



Following the past releases of Return of the Space Cadet
and Yet Another Final Frontier is Earth and Exile by
Spaceplayer. “Mental Instrumental to fill the Floydian Void”,
with a dose of Eno/Bowie, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and
William Orbit.

Earth and Exile is the latest in the “new space rock revival” that is Spaceplayer, an introspective landscape dominated by spacey sounds, soaring synths, and sonic mediations on artistic alienation and finding one’s strength in exile. From the inner reaches of outer space to the outer reaches of inner space, Earth and Exile
is the ultimate soundtrack for staying centered in turbulent times.

Track listing:
Earth and Exile
A Thousand Years of Solitude
Soma (3 For Dark Eternity)
Sense of Doubt
The Last Revolution
Worlds Apart
The Lost Revelation
By Our Love/Ascend the Stars

Earth and Exile will be available for download in September on amazon.com and iTunes. It is also available for listening and/or download at soundclick.com/spaceplayer and spaceplayermusic.com.