Monday, February 22, 2010

Captain America 603: Revolution Calling...

After calling out Joe Quesada for being a big fat liar for his denials regarding the intent of Captain America 602, (the first part of "Two Americas"), I noticed 603 had hit the shelves. I picked it up to see if the theme continued, and this is what I read...from the narrative describing the thoughts of the "Bad" (meaning "right wing loon terrorist") Cap:

Today is a different era...And they understand the important thing is that America has lost its way...

That it needs a revolution...

Now, this is pretty ironic timing, with the recent suicide flight into the IRS building...even more "uncanny," given that Glenn Beck is getting flack from Keith Olbermann over Beck's his recent comment about the Left being about "revolution," while what Beck stands for is "evolution." (He can say it, but does he really mean it?) But it doesn't take a mutant psychic to know that it's not life imitating the funny pages, but the funny pages imitating life, if one thinks in principles. Anyone who's read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals knows that Beck, love him or hate him, is not pulling this out of his ass:

The significant changes in history have been made by revolutions. There are people who say that it is not revolution but evolution, that brings about change--but evolution is simply the term used by nonparticipants to denote a particular sequence of revolutions as they synthesized into a specific major social change.

Anyway, there's another reason I picked this issue up, along with the 602, which was to explore a comment made by Marvel's Editor Joe Quesada in his "apology" over the "tea bag" sign in 602. In that interview, Quesada claims

However, where I do take exception with Mr. Houston’s article is when he states that we are calling the Tea Party racist...wait I’m sorry, that we’re saying that every white person is a racist along with several other horrible and inflammatory accusations. Nothing can be further from the truth, accidental placement of a Tea Party sign or not, those sentiments are not in the pages of our comics and are a complete and irresponsible misrepresentation. And as for his criticism of the remarks made by the character of Sam Wilson, this is a four-issue series. So to really get a full picture of why he feels the way he does and what conclusions he comes to at the end of the story, you really need to read the whole thing and not just judge a story and its intent on the first issue. What we do at Marvel is provide our readers with the unexpected and many times what is on the surface is not what is really going on.

Regarding the "racist" comment: Quesada, you're full of shit: No one has to read an unpublished comic to know why that comment would raise controversy. You'd have to be living under a fucking rock for the past year or two if you don't know that Tea Party protesters have been called racist by the likes of American Airheads like Jeanine "I'm not funny, I'm caustic and bitter" Garafalo, and "Worst Person in the World" Keith Olbermann. Either that, or you're a piss-poor excuse of an Editor-in-Chief...or an outright liar, imho. But given the nature of comics, I was intrigued by his other comment about the "unexpected" and getting "below the surface." Issues 602 and 603 are only the first half, so I'm interested to see just what this "twist" will be...not that I expect any radical departures, but to see how they squirm outta this one...but again, if one thinks in principles, one can make an educated guess as to what will happen...

Given that this story arc is coinciding with the "Captain America Reborn" storyline, which resurrects the "real" Captain America, and that the current Cap is Bucky Barnes, and the "Bad" Cap is a a psychopath third character altogether...How do I think this will end? Think "wishy-washy." The real Cap will probably show up, defeat the "Bad Cap," and act as a bridge between the Right and the Left, acting as the bi-partisan wish-fulfillment of Barack Obama. (This ending has many precedents; the one that comes immediately to my mind is the ending of D.C.'s Kingdom Come.) But this isn't typical Charlie Brown wishy-washiness, it's the "wishy-washiest." No, this "ending" is also straight outta' Alinsky:

Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.

This was the basis of the "apocalyptic" m.o. of Kingdom Come, for starters...And, in "Who Will Wield the Shield?", "Reborn" Cap visits the White House, and meets with an off-page Obama, expressing that he doesn't feel ready to "carry the shield," but assured by Obama that "this country's going to need to call on you for something much bigger..."

But hey! This is a comic book; anything can happen; people fly and swing around, turn into giants and monsters, and come back from the dead. Hell, they even violate continuity...all the time. So, anything could happen in the next two issues. But in the real world, reality cannot be so easily altered, and principles, even if ignored, will out. (And that's why the Tea Parties will give out, if Sarah Palin is to be their over.) But given that Obama "learned his lessons well" from Saul Alinsky, I bet he does have big plans for Captain America... As another Beck so eloquently puts it, "All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war." And no, he ain't talking 'bout comic books. But considering that this whole story arc is the logical end result of Marvel's Civil War storyline, well, it's just one more demonstration of the power of thinking in principles...but just "one more day" for Marvel Comics, as Quesada continues to edit deals with the devil...

'Til next month, "true believers..."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Marvel's Civil War? or, Free Captain America!

From The Washington Post: "Marvel Admits to "Mistake" in Controversial Captain America Comic"

In issue number 602 of Captain America, a new story line has begun called “Two Americas.” In it the current Captain (there have been a few of them, apparently) is on the trail of a faux Captain America that is mentally deranged and getting chummy with some white supremacist, anti-government, survivalists types going by the name of “the Watchdogs.” While investigating this subversive group, Captain America and his partner The Falcon — a black super hero — have decided to try and infiltrate the secretive organization.
Here's the key scene featuring a nasty little leftist smear against the Tea Parties (click to enlarge). I expect this from the usual suspects, the Hannities, the Huffingtons, the Matthews, so I am not suprised to see Marvel plays the race card; The Falcon says: "I don't exactly see a black man from Harlem fitting in with a bunch of angry white folks."

Now, I am not a Republican, and I am not a supporter of a Republican/Palin takeover of the Tea Party movement (I'm an Objectivist, for one, and only support the Tea Party on an ad hoc basis), let me say that since I am not an "angry white person," but an "angry AMERICAN." Falcon, you're more than welcome to join us angry Americans; you too, Cap. But since you're simply the mouthpieces of Marvel Commie Comics, I won't be holding my breath...
Now, as for Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and his apologetics:
Joe Quesada: Hold on. Before digging into this, you're starting from a false premise. There was zero discussion to include a group that looked like a Tea Party demonstration. Ed [Brubaker] simply wrote in an anti-tax protest into his story to show one of the moods that currently exists in America. There was no thought that it represented a particular group.

And yes, what Ed said is absolutely true, he does shy away from labeling things and did exactly that in this instance. In Ed’s story, there was no connection to the Tea Party movement, that’s a screw up that happened after the fact and exactly what some people are getting upset about.

In the interest of fairness, here's the link to Quesada's interview; believe what you want, but let me be the first to say it: BULLSHIT. Comics have a long history of saying in metaphor what people are hesitant to say outright; comics, fairytales, and other art forms have long been used as subversive means of propaganda. And Marvel has its own tradition of left-wing sympathizing; I'm not stupid. I remember what Marvel did with Captain America after 9-11. Stan Lee's own words betray the Marvel politics: "you couldn't have Captain America going around punching Muslims today, it wouldn't work, it would be silly." And since Barack Obama, the target of many Tea Party protesters, has appeared positively in a Spider-Man comic, I find it painfully hard to believe that this story was written with no intended reference to the Tea Parties whatsoever. (And let's not forget that Obama plays the game from the Saul Alinsky rules of engagement, so Quesada's reassurances don't reassure me.) Don't piss on my back and tell me it's just Storm passing by...

It's looking like Civil War will be more than just a comic book, so, once again, I bring you A Show of Hands: A Cautionary Tale of Heroes in Exile. (pdf)

Free Captain America! I have an idea: Riffing off of Dave Chappelle's "Racial Draft" skit, I propose a "Hero Draft '10." Marvel can keep all the other heroes, even Spider-Man, my all-time favorite, for Captain America...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Planet Hulk: Not Just the Anti-Hero...

I had two unexpected snow-days from work this week; fortunately, I had a review of Planet Hulk to write, which served to stave off cabin fever. It was pretty good overall; the art was nicely done, with the scenery based on the comic's very-cool cover art (by artist Ladronn.) Sure, it deviated from the comic series on which it was based, but it was well-adapted to a movie format; it was written as a "one-shot," self-contained story; the essential scenes were intact while making it a stand-alone story. Sure, there were changes like Beta-Ray Bill replacing the Silver Surfer, but those are superficial changes. (I personally like the way the incorporated the rock gladiator's story into the first Thor story, which featured similar rock-like aliens.)

The most important change comes in leaving the Hulk on the planet, where he is not seen as a monster, but a hero. Consider these comments from the "making of" feature on the disc: "…this isn't banner's struggle, it's Hulk's struggle...this is Hulk as his very opposed to a "Banner" driven Hulk…He's not just the anti-hero that's out there to smash and cause trouble for the other real superheroes…"

One the one hand, the "Banner-driven Hulk" is what made the Hulk unique in a world among heroes. Only, the "real superheroes" of the Marvel Universe were already different by presenting heroes as flawed, neurotic, and tragic; Spider-Man was treated as a menace, Iron Man a drunk, Captain America irrelevant, the X-Men freaks, and so's true that the Hulk is most understood as a "Jekyll and Hyde" story, except that he does associate with the Avengers, and is not out for glory or recognition as a hero...and he's not out to intentionally destroy, but just wants to be left alone; it's more a statement against society turning men into monsters.

So what's interesting in Planet Hulk is the idea that the superpowered Illumaniti seeks to rid the world of the Hulk's destructive rage by exiling him to a peaceful planet. What they are really saying, however, is that they are exiling his uncontrollable power...uncontrollable by the powers that be, whether the government or the world's smartest heroes. What the Hulk represents is the raw individual who cannot be shaped or molded to society's conventions, best captured in the source of the Hulk's rage, which is not the gamma radiation, but the child abuse of the young Banner. As a result, the rage of the Hulk is really the rage of a child who just wants to be left alone. He cannot be an "altruistic" hero, because his story is one of self-preservation. By Marvel's standards, he cannot be a hero at all, because their heroes are consciously self-sacrificing. So the only option, then, is, "this man, this monster..."

Of course, the ship carrying the Hulk to his would-be peaceful planet goes off-course, and he lands on a planet run in Roman-Empire fashion, where he is captured and made a gladiator. This is where the Hulk as hero comes in; he initially fights for himself, with no concern for the other gladiators. But eventually he does come to see them as friends...more importantly, they come to see him as more than a monster...a hero, something he is not accustomed to, and something he initially cannot understand. In the comic, his efforts to start a family and lead a "normal life" are thwarted, resulting in World War Hulk, but here, there is a happy ending (an anomaly for a Marvel story!). The Hulk defeats the Red King, the slaves are freed, and a new age is upon the planet.

There are suggested layers of political subtext that I'd like to have seen explored; mainly, the ending: what happens politically? The fall of the Red King and the rise of the Hulk leaves open questions of politics and government...does the Hulk become the new Emperor (suggested by the adulation from the crowd below)? Is it a new age of freedom? The Hulk himself is not a political figure in the Marvel universe, so it'd be a stretch to suggest that he corrects the flaws in the Roman-like empire that contradicted the constitutional elements via the dictatorship of Julius Caesar (or the influence of a corrupt government favored by Alexander Hamilton that undermines the American constitution). Then there's the question of treating the Hulk as a savior, a messiah even. At least, he's not the worn-out "Christ-like figure" (maybe more like Spartacus?), and the comparison between the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity is wisely avoided, if only because the Hulk is a far cry from the meekness of Jesus. Yes, at the source of the Hulk is the abused Banner, who just wants to be left alone, but this is no altruistic tale of the meek inheriting the earth, but of the struggle for freedom for all.

But putting all that aside (and it's probably for the best; if pressed philosophically, they may have gone the altruistic route; as it is, there's a certain neutrality that allows for my interpretation) its own way, the Hulk's story is a tale of laissez-faire individualism, of the freedom to be left alone, to associate with others as friends, not slaves. It is interesting that the Hulk could not be a hero on his home planet, where heroes are expected to be self-sacrificial, and rewarded with neurosis, public resentment, and tragedy. It's even more interesting that the creators of the Planet Hulk movie had to work outside of Marvel continuity to present a heroic character whose end is not tragic, whose heroism is not undercut by his own personal failings, and that this hero is the Hulk, just goes to show how much altruism, via Marvel Comics, has done to betray the idea of those so-called "real superheroes" in the first place.

Ted Bundy Tipped His Hand...

I spent the better part of a decade researching serial killers for a graphic novel I've been working on, and over that period of time I've realized that I owe a huge indirect debt to Robert Keppel. His insight had a major impact that research. He worked the Ted Bundy and Green River Killer case and was one of the men behind the development of the college course called simply "Murder."

He was a helpful source and companion to Ann Rule while she was writing her first book
The Stranger Beside Me. Her book was about the friendship she cultivated with Bundy while the two were working together at, of all places, a suicide hotline.

He directly chronicled some of the last active police work he did in the book
The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. He did a series of interviews with the man for whom the term "serial killer" was coined from shortly after the time of his capture all the way up to his execution. These interviews offered insight into the possible motivations of the then at large "Green River Killer," but they also served the purpose of allowing Bundy to confess to a larger number of his own crimes giving the legal system and the victims families a chance at closure.

His relationship with
Bundy was the basis of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon, with Bundy himself serving as inspiration for Hanibal Lecter. I've had a lot to say about this particular piece of work in the past.

A few years ago
Keppel's book was adapted into a made-for-cable movie and I've wanted to see it since it was made. It was recently given a DVD release under the title The Riverman. There were a few immediate insights the film gave me. First, it seems that William Peterson's haunted Will Graham was probably based in large part on Keppel's actual demeanor.

One of his first lines in the film is the parting words he gives to that day's "murder" class. Something to the effect of "don't bring the thoughts about what you just studied home with you because it'll destroy you." Something which I learned the hard way during the course of my research, which the real
Keppel probably knows more than anyone.

But the film does a good job of driving home the point about how dealing with the things that a man like
Keppel deals with takes a toll on your personal life, your family and your general mental stability that few of us can imagine.

The plot of the story basically consists of Dave
Reichert calling Keppel in to help on the case after every lead has been exhausted and the police chief is threatening to disband the "Green River Task Force." Keppel is initially very reluctant, but eventually gives in. Shortly after, he receives a letter from Ted Bundy offering help on the case sent to his house. This is shocking, because Bundy has already escaped prison twice, and he now knows where someone who was working his case actually lives.

But one last credit to
Keppel the hero: he's very kind in dealing with Dave Reichert. By some accounts everything that went wrong on the Green River case can be traced back directly to him personally. Keppel mostly treats him as a a rookie with a good heart who was in over his head in trying to deal with men like Bundy and Ridgway (Who would eventually be discovered as the Green River killer). But is has to be said that a man who allowed a suspect who had a nickname at work of "Green River Gary" slip under the radar for over a decade deserves at least some of the criticism he gets.

The plot of the story was really dramatized much better in the fictionalized accounts of the
Lechter books/movies than this true-to-life one. so I won't focus too much on it since, as I stated before, I already have. I don't think there's too much more for me to say about Keppel than what I had to say about his fictional counterpart.

What caught my eye in this version was the portrayal of
Bundy. Cary Elwes does a great job of playing Bundy in his final days. At the peak of his murderous skill he was known as a charming, charismatic, chameleon. He could easily change his appearance at will, and had an entire arsenal of skills designed to make women put down their guard around him. After years of trials and prison life, the strain of "wearing the mask" 24/7 took its toll on him, and it became obvious to anyone around him that there was something drastically wrong with this person.

One of the factors
Elwes centers on in his portrayal of Bundy is his awareness of his own myth or mystique and the fact that it was all fading in the days and weeks before his impending execution. His motivations in helping profile the Green River killer seem to lie clearly in inflating his own sense of importance and his genuine disdain for a killer who he sees as beneath him.

How much of this is true I'll never really know, but
Elwes really commits deeply enough that I ponder this idea as a real possibility. As he accounts his own crimes, he starts out full of bravado, playing himself up to be nothing less than Satan himself who could go anywhere, be anyone, and exercise absolute power over anyone he chose any time he wanted to. But after a bit of coaxing about some technical points he glossed over, some of the real answers about who he was and what he did were just pathetically disgusting.

He saw himself as something amazing. He was a brilliant college educated law student who saw himself as having an amazing future in politics. He targeted smart young women who had lots of people who cared about them and who would miss them. The fact that he was able to defeat targets such as these made him feel like he was somehow a noble hunter. Their worth, and his power to destroy it in his own uniquely disgusting way, made him a monster that would haunt people's nightmares.

Ridgway threatened all that. He was a pathetic people pleaser who had a mediocre level of skill at some blue collar job. He targeted prostitutes who by the very nature of their work are easy targets. There was nothing special about his kills, save for how many there were.

Ridgway threatened the most important in Ted Bundy's world. That's why he was so eager to help. Ridgway's existence made one thing painfully clear, not just to the world at large, but to Ted Bundy himself. He's not a demon or a monster who haunts the collective nightmares of all humanity, he was just a guy named Ted, and a pretty pathetic one at that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Heroes Finale: Go Out on a High Note...PLEASE.

(image from

I made it through this season. All I can say is that the last five minutes, while not enough to redeem the entire season, were worthwhile in their own a series finale. By acting as a bookend, mirroring the first few moments of the very first episode, it gives the creators an "out" to leave with
some grace. (On the other hand, "You can't have a little grace. You either have grace or you don't.")

But please, just end it. To quote Seinfeld again, "leave on a high note."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Absolute Justice and the Good Life

What can one say about the Absolute Justice movie event? It had a little bit of everything. It had straight-from-the-comics, no-apologies adaptations of many characters. It had a lot of guest stars that kept the signature Smallville flair (by that I mean that they changed things a lot but stayed true to the internal logic of the universe.)

It had real heart at times; some thought-provoking ideas were stated and they gave enough set-up to make me wish this show would go for another 10 years. I could really spend this whole post just talking about how all the little minutiae gave me goosebumps. I mean, I really could.

But the truth of the matter is that I think I have the most to say about the two characters pictured above. Two characters who proved that throwing the "No Tights/No Flights " rule out the window doesn't mean that real characterization and story has to go with it.

Geoff Johns wrote the episode and was in excellent form doing so. Before he became one of the preeminent writers in comics today, one of the titles he helped create was a short run book called Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. It featured a retired "
Stripesy" who had recently married a single mother with a daughter named Courtney. The daughter found out about her father's superhero past and started using some of his old equipment to aggravate him. From what I've gathered, this character was based on Johns' own sister who had died three years before the comic was developed. His love for the character shows.

The character has a bit of a history with numerous teams within the DC universe. She also has a notable friendship with the new Supergirl. Which makes me regret that Laura Vardervoort is no longer on the show since I would love seeing how the two would play off each other with Courtney's wholesome brattiness and Kara's rebellious streak.

The two characters even stared in a great episode of Justice League Unlimited together and played well off each other. Just writing this makes me wish wish DC/the CW would start work on a Teen Titans spin-off from
Smallville...but I'm getting off topic.

I have to say that Courtney/
Stargirl made the biggest impact on me for two opposite reasons. She stood as this event's nagging voice of altruism by responding to Green Arrow's comment on her costume that "she has a fondness for the stars and stripes" by saying "At least I stand for something other than myself."

But conversely, she touched on an important issue that I always focus on but is usually omitted from heroic stories of any stripe. When Chloe shows her "The Watchtower," Courtney is impressed with all the technology, but asks "where are all the pictures?" She explains to Chloe that the biggest part of the
JSA's strength was the familial bond the group had with one another.

Specifically, she implies the idea of being a well-rounded
individual and, ironically, the type of "social animal" Ayn Rand described in Atlas Shrugged. Being a hero is a very important part of all their lives and it shouldn't be treated as a dirty secret to be hidden from the whole world in miserable loneliness. There's no shame in finding real friendship, and even romantic love among those who share your values on the deepest level.