Saturday, July 31, 2010

DC Animated is Giving Me a Great Birthday Present

Coming September 28 from DC Animated: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. An adaptation of the excellent Supergirl arc from Superman/Batman. Batman, Superman, Supergirl and Darkseid; what more could a DC fanboy want?* And with a Green Arrow short feature attached, it looks for this release to be tying into the final season of Smallville on top of everything else. Life is good!

*except for perhaps the Amazon/Wonder Woman subplot to stay intact and not be gutted by licensing issues, which hopefully it won't.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Boys.

I borrowed this comic from a co-worker; to be honest. I would've felt dirty if I'd paid money to read it. The Boys is a series by Garth Ennis that makes you long for the "pure of heart" hero worship of the original comic version of Wanted.

The premise is fairly simple. "Who watches the Watchmen? The Boys do." Superheroes have become a liability, and a small CIA group is formed to keep them in check by any means necessary. This includes blackmail, threats of violence and even murder. I have to say that I honestly lost count of all the problems I had with the series, but I'll try to keep as good of an inventory as possible.

The first introduction to superheroes in this world (called "
supes" as a derogatory) is a shot of the leader of the group looking up in the sky to say "I'm gonna get you." The second is a tender moment between a young couple interrupted by a Flash-wannabe slamming the girl of said couple into a wall, with her boyfriend still holding her dismembered hands. He's given the runaround by the "supes'" lawyers. Soon after, the young man who just lost his girlfriend is approached by the leader of "The Boys," Billy Butcher.

What follows is an epic depiction of evil vs. slightly-less evil. The lead superhero team, "The Seven," are seen putting a new, doe-eyed young female recruit through an initiation more suited to a porn starlet than a defender of liberty. A young edgy
superteam is caught on tape doing things which would make Caligula blush and given the ultimatium to throw one of their own to the press.

You see, The Boys monitor every
superteam. They know everything that goes on behind closed doors, and they're not above using it for purposes of blackmail. There's an implied theme among the group that all of them have suffered losses at the hands of careless superhumans, but it really just feels like window dressing for the real issue.

The leader of The Boys, Billy Butcher, makes several telling statements over the course of the story. They are all along the theme that some
superhumans need to be watched, some need to controlled, and some just need to be taken out. And all of this is because someday they might realize that they have something better to do than save people. This seems to imply that they would become rulers and tyrants if not closely monitored. This may be a valid case, if not for the fact that there seem to be no supervillains in this world. No one with powers who just openly attempts to take control by force.

Along with some stray lines about corporate sponsorship and the pampered lives of "bloody yanks," it paints a pretty clear picture. Personally, I can think of nothing better for a world such as this, than the few who have yet to be corrupted really learning that they do in fact have something better to do than save people

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Entertainment Weekly: "Are Superheroes Still Super?"

It's been a pretty slow summer blockbuster season, superhero-wise. The Iron Man sequel was ok, but not great, and there wasn't really anything else to fill the void (and Harry Potter won't show until November) until the next batch. (I was so underwhelmed by Inception...that's right, I said it...) So I was exited to see the EW arrive with the first glimpses of Green Lantern and Thor. I wasn't too keen on the cover; it looks like Hal Jordan was skinned alive. But I'll reserve judgement for now, and I'm glad they're going with the more recent version of Thor for the movie.

But I was also intrigued by the essay after all that: "Are Superheroes Still Super?" by Jeff Jensen. The main premise of the piece that "when any movie genre starts toying with parody, it's a sign that the genre may be played out. Is the superhero movie past its prime?" Well, off the bat, I'd say "no." There are parodies of every genre, yet we still have romantic comedies, vampire movies, and action flicks, so it's a non-sequiter to say that parodies signal the end (hell, what would the good people at MAD magazine do, if that were the case?). As long as life is a struggle, there will always be a need for heroism.

But there are a few interesting points in the essay that seem to answer the title's question in the positive (and connects to the core of what this blog is all about, which was a response to the idea that heroism was a bad thing, something to be overcome.) Comic books were not immune, but all the "moral dubiousness" of the anti-hero trend began to work against the genre; as Jensen puts it, "[all] that edge and irony made comics cool again, but over time it actually narrowed the appeal of the medium to just the geekiest geeks." This has translated into less-than-stellar box office for the movie adaptions for Kick-Ass, Jonah Hex, and even the venerable Watchmen. Jensen seems to take this as a bad sign for comic book movie in general, but one can only do that by ignoring (or critically maligning) the unexpected phenomenon of 300, which affirmed the idea of heroism.

Jensen is not unhopeful, however, and continues by speculating on the next wave, including Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers: "If they succeed, the next decade of superhero cinema could be as fertile as the last, and, one hopes, marked by greater diversity (Cut to Wonder Woman, impatiently tapping her her red leather boot.)

This is something that crossed my mind; it seems that the movie versions are best suited for the origin story, or with the trilogy taking on the "hero's journey" motif of classical mythology; it's less suited nowadays for the "serialization" approach of the comic books. This seems odd, at first, considering that the golden age of cinema featured popular serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. I don't know if it's a change in the audience, the cost of production, or that the epic nature of movies now compared to then simply call for a bigger story than what was featured in the shorter serials of yesteryear. In any case, if, by diversity, Jensen simply means more female or ethnic characters, that would only be a surface-level change to the the above, it would still focus on the origin and trilogy approach, whereas the serialization approach of the comics allows for character development over a longer timespan. And that brings us back to the parody aspect, it's easy to parody a formula, and the more epic, the better, so it may be more accurate to say that the parody is less around the idea of heroism and more about the formula. But the side-effect is that the idea of heroism gets attacked by-proxy.

Jensen concludes by noting the "repackaging" of unused or even recently-used characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man: "the same heroes who ignited the current superhero boom...may be burdened with the great responsibility of revitalizing the very genre they started. Hopefully, there's a superpower for that." This is to miss the point; it focuses too much on the "super" and not enough on the "hero." It is a start to point out the fatal flaw of the anti-hero approach, but we don't define a positive by its negative. Incidentally, no "superpower is needed," it's a power available to any who stand up for their values. It's not superpowers or costumes, but integrity and courage, which, by the way, are the best defense against parody.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lest We Forget: Geert Wilders Rides On...

[I'm on something of a "summer vacation" from blogging (i.e., working my butt off). It's not always easy to keep up when keeping one's own affairs in order, but the world does goes I'm reprising this story in light of Facebook's recent removal of the official Geert Wilder page. (Hat tip to Damien for the head's up.) I do respect the fact that Facebook is a free service, and that the owner's have the right to pull it. But I respect Wilders even more. So lest we forget, here's a reprise on the Trial of Geert Wilders. And please find the time to speak up on Facebook to restore his page.]

I've been pretty focused on "the war at home," but today, I'd like to focus attention "across the pond" and lend my support to an international "hero in exile," Geert Wilders.
(Image by Bosch Fawstin.)

From The Trial of Geert Wilders: A Symposium:
"Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders goes on trial in Amsterdam on Wednesday, January 20, on charges related to his political campaign to stop and reverse the Islamization of the Netherlands. The International Free Press Society has asked an array of legal experts, authors and journalists to reflect on this momentous event, and we present their comments below."

Who is Geert Wilders? You can get the full story at Wiki and elsewhere, but briefly stated, Wilders is a Dutch politician (and an atheist Libertarian) who has come under intense scrutiny and persecution for his opposition to Islam. Not "moderate Islam." Not "Islamic Terrorism." No, simply Islam, for what it is at its core.

So why is Wilders a hero? For having the courage to call Islam for what it is, at its core. And he's not been shy about it; Wilders has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, stating: "The book incites hatred and killing and therefore has no place in our legal order." If only more people had stated the same about Hitler before the Holocaust. It's easy to denounce after the crime, it takes real courage to speak up against a popular atrocity.

Wilders is a hero who has put himself on the front lines, which has gotten him not only banned from entering the U.K. for a time, he is also on trial for "hate speech," referring to his movie Fitna (Arabic for "disagreement and division among people.) Wilders describes the short film as "a call to shake off the creeping tyranny of Islamization". Reactions ranged from boycotts to YouTube bans, as well as the aforementioned U.K. ban and current trial. (And let us not forget the violence, both threatened and real, over the "Mohammad cartoon" controversy.)

Wilders is a hero for putting his own life on the line to protect not just Dutch values, but American values, which are universal values. This is not just a free speech issue, it is a fight for individual rights against not just religious tyranny, but tyranny in general. This trial is an important one, and the outcome will set the tone of that fight for years to come. (For a more personal account, I invite you to visit someone with first-hand experience: Bosch Fawstin's The Infidel, not only for his comic book work, but for his essays like "Calling Islam 'Islam'")

Geert Wilders is the "hero of the day" in support of him at his trial tomorrow. If you ever wanted proof of a "hero in exile," this is it. If you support Geert Wilders and our fight (and if you value freedom, then this is your fight, too), you can make a donation to the Geert Wilders defense fund. Give what you can, if you can. But money is not the only option; you, like Wilders, can speak up and make a stand.

Fitna by Geert Wilders

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day Art: A SHOW OF HANDS (3 of 3)

(Click image for full-size)
(Back to 1 and 2)

Independence Day Art: A SHOW OF HANDS (2 of 3

(Click image for full-size)

(Continue to part 3 of 3)
Back to 1 and 2)

Independence Day Art: A SHOW OF HANDS (1 of 3)

Because it's not just the "Fourth of July," but Independence Day...And to remind us of that, here is some of my artwork from my story A Show of Hands: A Cautionary Tale of Heroes In Exile. The full story is available in pdf. The following images summarize wordlessly not just the story, but the past and present, though hopefully, not the future. Dedicated to those heroes of truth, justice, and, yes, the American Way...Without further ado...

(Click images to see full-size.)
(Continue to Part 2 of 3)