Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Quick One While He's Away

I am a few hours from stepping on my airplane, but since it seems to be the topic du jour around the big table, I thought I'd throw in my few cents on the subject of yelling at stupid people.

It's a bad idea. I've probably done it myself a few times. It feels good to vent. But... it's the least productive action possible given the circumstances. It's so unproductive as to almost be counterproductive.

To wit:

* Sometimes following serialized fiction entails buying books you don't like or don't enjoy. I still think it's something of a misnomer to say that people don't want these books, however. They obviously do want them or they wouldn't be buying them. Sometimes you keep up just to see how bad it can get, or to have something to complain about, but that doesn't mean you're not getting some kind of value for your money if that's what you're doing. We've all done it, and it's not unique to comics: how many people do you know who have kept watching a TV show long past its prime, or followed a book series, or went to see movies they knew they wouldn't like because a favorite actor was in them? Negative enjoyment is not physical pain, and it's still possible to enjoy something you don't "enjoy", when you factor in ancillary context. Just think: do you know a Milwaukee Brewers fan? Or a Boston Celtics fan? No one calls them crazy for watching a losing team - even when the team loses chances are they still enjoy watching the game.

* There's this idea at the back of these complaints that comics spending across the industry is somehow a zero-sum game. As much as some may protest, there is at the heart of the matter a core assumption that if people would just stop wasting money on crap they would spend their money instead on Nextwave / Casanova / Sleeper / Love & Rockets / Kramers Ergot. The consumers that makes up the majority of the audience for mainstream comics are not fans of the medium. They are fans of specific characters and concepts, as well as connoisseurs of a specific type of aesthetic experience that can only be gotten from sewrialized heroic fiction. If these characters and concepts ceased to be published, they would probably not continue to be comics readers. Just look at how enthusiastic so many superhero fans are over shows like Buffy and Heroes and Lost: the medium, much as a vocal minority may fight against the tide, is nowhere near as important to the vast majority of comic readers as the message. And the message is serialized heroic fiction. If the Marvel Universe ceased to be published in comic form and instead became a series of ongoing live-action soap-opera programs on a dedicated cable network, many fans would probably grumble, but most would put up with the switch in formats and continue to follow Captain America and Wolverine. And probably never read a comic book again if it wasn't Garfield.

* Most importantly: if something that someone else does bugs you, leave it alone. This is a hard lesson to learn, but learned it must be. You don't win any friends by berating stupid people, and it just succeeds in raising your blood pressure.

Stupid people will always prosper, and short of an IQ-based genocide followed by a selective eugenics program dictated by alien overlords, that will always be the case.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bullet Points

* It should come as no surprise to anyone that Ghost Rider was very close to my platonic ideal of what a superhero movie should be. At no point during the proceedings was I at all tempted to throw something at the screen. I can't remember a movie since the original Superman that has done such a good job of communicating a character's specific visual appeal. With Ghost Rider, the visuals are a huge part of the appeal, and once they had that part nailed, well, they could fill the rest of the plot with salt-water taffy and I'd have been content.

* But man, they should really change the name of the movie to Eva Mendes' Breasts with Ghost Rider. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.

* So, yeah. Civil War. Heh. I was quite amused by Augie De Blieck's advance review of the final issue. Now, De Blieck is a Marvel fan. You know if you've lost Augie, you've lost the plot, because in the past he's shown a very generous willingness to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt. But his reaction seems to be a big fat shrug, never a good thing for such an enormous initiative. And it is extremely telling to me that after discussing the issue his very first thought is what Marvel is going to be like when the current leadership is gone... could be just a coincidence. But never a good sign for the Powers That Be if your most popular product instills such yawning indifference in your target audience that the idea of replacing the Boss is the next logical thought.

* I'm going out of town for a little bit starting tomorrow. So if there's anything important anyone needs to ask before I go . . . well, good luck with that.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Memo to Reed Richards

Re: The Infinity Gauntlet

I believe he said so:

I think Doctor Strange didn't say anything because he was being nice.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Big Pile 'O' Crap

Wolverine: Origins #11

I think there's some sort of hard-and-fast rule about the fact that, whenever you've got a long-standing adventure character, the moment you run out of stories to tell that don't involve chipping away at that characters' origins and defining moments, you have officially entered a baroque period of steadily diminishing returns. So when I see a comic book with Wolverine's long-lost son (heretofore known as "Poochie"), I can only think that somewhere along the line someone at Marvel totally lost the plot. Yeah - Wolverine, one of the most prominent super-heroes in the Marvel Universe, just happens to have a long-lost son, and he's slimy Eurotrash, and he's got claws coming out of both sides of his wrist - oh yeah, this is just a fantastic idea. I think he needs a skateboard to go with those totally extreme tattoos. At least Wolverine's nubile teenage girl clone was nice enough to look at.

But man, Steve Dillon is still one of the best. I have to think he is having a ball drawing this crap, because the alternative is just depressing.

Thunderbolts #111

One of the great things about comics - well, strike that, all entertainment period, but comics especially - is that whenever an old idea stops selling, the Powers That Be can always be counted on to totally screw up the original concept in the name of trying to squeeze more money out of an existing trademark. This is an important distinction for anyone involved in corporate comics, and I daresay it is a simple enough rule that it can be distilled into a mathematical formula:

Trademark > High Concept

Having a book on the stands that exploits the Thunderbolts brand is much more important than keeping the brand cohesive; given how hostile the market remains to even established brand names, it is considered prudent to squeeze every possible ounce of juice out of every recognizable brand. It's not that the new Thunderbolts is even a bad idea for a book: in the wake of Civil War, the government sponsors a team of the world's most dangerous super-villains to take down rogue superheroes. Sure, it's essentially Suicide Squad with Venom and Bullseye. And the post-Civil War world building is hokey and contrived. But there's a germ of an idea there. The problem is, the idea is not the Thunderbolts.

I have intermittently kept an eye on the Thunderbolts since the very beginning - I bought the first issue off a supermarket spinner-rack, if you can believe that. I haven't always bought the book but I have always liked the idea. It's a simple idea: reformed villains seeking redemption. That's it. It's so simple, it almost writes itself: redemption. You can do a lot with that. There's the "will-they-or-won't-they" tension of morally-ambiguous "heroes", there's the distrust from established superheroes, there's the "misunderstood-criminals-on-the-run" shtick. But at the end of the day, if you don't have a group of super-villains who, by hook or crook, are trying to improve their lives, it's not the Thunderbolts, it's something else entirely. Call it something else if you wish, but it's not the Thunderbolts.

So yeah, put the Green Goblin, Venom, Bullseye and S&M Speedball together. Make it so that S&M Speedball loses a massive amount of blood whenever he uses his powers - great idea. Throw in Moonstone - she was never anyone's favorite anyway. But leave Songbird and the Radioactive Man - two characters who Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza have spent years trying to redeem - out of it. Because putting those characters in this book is just an awkward fit, and sort of an insult to the fans and creators who followed them in the old book. They're not household names, they could easily do the book without them. When the hell are we going to see Songbird join the Avengers, a la Avengers Forever? Every issue that the character is involved in this deplorable mess, that day becomes more and more distant, which is a damn shame. That might have been fun - this is just depressing. I've always believed that Mark Gruenwald was 100% correct when he sad that it was a creators' responsibility to leave a character in better shape than when he found them, but apparently Warren Ellis believes that it is his responsibility to break all the toys.

Ghost Rider #8

This was a perfectly fine comic book, with no catastrophic errors in judgment on the part of the creative team. It looks great. Javier Salteres and Mark Texeira were made to draw Ghost Rider: just one of those weird things. Daniel Way seems to be working on an extremely old-school interpretation of the character, and given all the crap that Ghosty has been through in the last decade or so, that's probably for the best. Back to basics.

But - wow, this issue has nothing at all to do with Civil War - despite the Casualties of War banner on the top, there is nothing to indicate that this comic even occurs in the same universe as Civil War. One character mentions the events in passing, and that's it. Maybe next issue will see a full-on crossover, with SHIELD going after the Ghost Rider, but wow, if I bought this issue for a Civil War tie-in, I'd be pissed.

And there is the small matter that this issue seems to have the exact same plot as the last Ghost Rider comics I read - which just happened to be the most recent issues of Ghost Rider, the Richard Corben arc. Johnny Blaze stumbles into town and is immediately taken into police custody for a crime he didn't commit... wow, what a concept. Where are the editors?

Justice Society of America #3

Hey! Howabout a superhero comic that doesn't involve lots of innocent people being gruesomely murdered by neo-Nazis? No? Oh, damn.

Could you at least give me one that doesn't involve Wildcat's long-lost son turning into a giant kitty? No? Oh, double damn.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes II #6

What's that you say? The Wasp is hot? Yes she is.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

We Live In A Political World

So it's good to see that at the moment when the administration is pressing their case for Gulf of Tonkin 2007, the whole of our coutnry is absorbed in the custody battle / paternity drama over a dead model's daughter. That pretty much says it all about America right there, doesn't it?

PS to Milo: We should have made that bet.

On the matter of Civil War: how come Razor Fist, who - let's be frank - is essentially a double amputee without his special blade prosthetics, was put in the Negative Zone prison, while Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime as well as one of the most dangerous hand-to-hand combatants in the Marvel Universe, was still stewing in Rikers? You can't tell me that Razor Fist was nicked for violation the Registration Act, considering his "powers" consist of not having hands. The Kingpin, however, certainly deserves a place in the Negative Zone if anyone does. Is it because he wasn't arrested for a Registration violation?

But most importantly, why the fuck would they put Razor Fist in there? Since I saw that my mind has been well and truly boggled.

For that matter, since possessing "Deadly Hands of Kung FU" is apparently enough to make you a major player in the Marvel Universe, does that mean that every advanced black belt and boxing champ had to register with S.H.I.E.L.D. as well?

Did anyone catch the Cate Blanchett profile in the 02/12/07 issue of The New Yorker? It is was the one with the Dave Heatley cover? (And, incidentally, isn't Heatley about the last person you'd expect to see covering The New Yorker? I mean, yeah, Crumb did some pretty scabrous stuff in his day but he didn't contribute to the magazine until long after he'd become a "cultural institution". Heatley's dream comics are some of the most disturbing comics I've ever read. I have a hard time imagining that the magazine's self-satisfied art czars would have much of a desire to give such a scruffy provocateur their imprimatur, such as it is.)

Anyway, this Blanchett piece was the worst example of celebrity puff I've read in many a year. Written by John Lahr, it is frankly embarrassing, not so much for the magazine but for the author and all of us reading at home. It's pretty obvious that Lahr has a huge woody for Blanchett, and this colors every observation made throughout the piece. For some reason the magazine doesn't have this piece online - they take down the previous week's contents to make room for the current week, oddly enough - but it's worth tracking down anyway. Profiles are a tricky business, in that a profile writer has to walk a pretty fine line between sycophancy and hatchet-job. Obviously Lahr is so deeply infatuated with Ms. Blanchett that he should not have been allowed anywhere near writing this feature.

But it's funny - the piece reproduces enough of Blanchett's own vacuous statements that she effectively hangs herself despite Lahr's obvious intentions to lionize her. There's a passage discussing Blanchett's most recent role in Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal, and the challenges of playing an upper-middle-class intellectual bantam-weight with delusions of bohemian splendor. It's a good movie, and Blanchett does a good job making a generally unsympathetic character at least tolerably opaque, but Blanchett's own words reveal that she is every bit the petit bourgeois egoist that her character supposedly lampoons.

And, since you were good enough to wade through all that twaddle, here's 3:32 of pure bliss. And if you don't think the tiger at 2:37 is the great thing ever, well, you're off my Christmas list.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Although "Wannabe" may be their signature song, my favorite Spice Girls song has always been "Spice Up Your Life". Released as the first single off 1997's Spice World, it was initially delayed to avoid chart conflict with Elton John's rewrite of "Candle in the Wind", following the death of Princess Diana of Wales. The seven-day delay worked well, allowing the Girls to claim their fifth consecutive UK #1 after the track was finally released on October 13, 1997.

The single did not fare so well in America, however:
Due to the song's idiosyncratic sound — a hybrid of pop and samba — it was unable to fit into a particular musical mould. Hence, the song was seldom played on U.S. radio (peaking at a very low number seventy-two on the Hot 100 Airplay), resulting in it stalling at a lowly number eighteen on the Billboard Hot 100. Some would argue that it would have been wise for Virgin to release the more U.S.-friendly tracks from Spiceworld to radio instead, namely "Saturday Night Divas" or "Denying". Despite its disappointing chart position in the U.S., the track added another U.S. top-twenty to the group's already impressive list. "Life" also helped the Spiceworld LP debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart at number eight (it would eventually climb to a peak of number three after the release of the group's first film, Spiceworld: the Movie). (1)

"Spice Up Your Life" still sounds like nothing so much as the actual physical movement of a paradigm shifting, a thousand bags of pop rocks mixing with a thousand bottle of fizzy rootbear in the hollowed-out skull of a decadent and decrepit society. A statement for the ages, the ultimate distillation of "Girl Power" to a skeptical world.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

Ladies and Gentleman, I present the Next Great Catchphrase of 2007: "Man douche."

Where did it come from? I don't know. Why? I can't answer that. But it did, and for this we shall be HAPPY.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Got What You Want

That is, if what you want is an absolutely horrible late-90s pop-gangsta single that has been stuck in my head for the last day or so...

You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Odds & Ends

Am I alone in thinking that Marvel's Dark Tower spin-off is just not going to be a success? For all this talk about "heavy promotion" and midnight sales, I am just not seeing how Marvel is going to get the readers in the store. The audience will be whatever portion of the normal comic shop crowd likes Stephen King, plus maybe a handful of King diehards who somehow managed to hear about the book in the first place.

I cannot help but remember Truth: Red, White & Black. There was another massively-hyped serious for which Marvel succeeded in pulling huge preorders . . . only to see the book wither on the vine. And this was long before the current three-week cut-off on orders, so retailers had already ordered three months of Truth before they saw it was a stinker. At least now, retailers will be able to see how well (or poorly) The Dark Tower #1 sells before making their final decision on #2. But I suspect #1 will be a quarter-bin staple for many years to come, unless Marvel can make good on the promise of luring King's readers into Ye Olde Nerd Emporium. I'm not holding my breath.

It might sell well in the inevitable collection. Of course, people thought 1602 would sell well, too, and that book actually had the bestselling author's direct involvement, not merely a competent and well-liked but by no means massively popular substitute. Can Marvel get The Dark Towerin front of the audience who would buy the book? Every single signpost says "no" -- even the eventual collection will have to work hard not to be consigned to the oblivion of the non-manga comics ghetto at Borders.

And yes, I did quite like The Truth; a shame they tried to sell it as something it wasn't. There was no way the conventional mainstream audience was going to accept the series as it was, and Marvel's failure to recognize this fact was nothing short of a tremendous lost opportunity. If it had found the right audience . . . ah, but it was never to be.

It is interesting for me to see all the reaction to Joss Whedon being cut from the Wonder Woman movie . . . firstly, I am more than a mite surprised that this many people care one way or the other. I mean, despite her ostensible icon status, the reality is that Wonder Woman has never been more than a niche success in comics. Some people really like Wonder Woman, but obviously nowhere near as many as Batman or Superman or Spider-Man or even Green Lantern. Is it any surprise that Warner Bros. would want to maximize their potential audience by crafting a Wonder Woman film with the broadest potential appeal? For all the fond memories associated with the Linda Carter TV show, any Wonder Woman is going to be a dicey sell. I predict: cleavage, explosions, and not a lot of the serious mythological context heavy-duty Wonder Woman fans are probably expecting. All the ponderous claptrap in the last Superman film succeeded in doing nothing so much as reducing the film's potential toy sales. It is possible they could manage to craft a middle-ground approach more similar in tone to The Lord of the Rings, but that would by no means be a sure-fire success either, because despite the fact that such an approach would resound with Wonder Woman fans, it is a far cry from the general public's expectations. Wonder Woman, to the general public, means invisible jet and sparkling lasso, so that's probably what we'll get. And some hot brainless bohunk to play Steve Trevor, undoubtedly two steps behind Wonder Woman while she gets up to all sorts of cross-cultural hijinks in man's world.

Light-hearted fish-out-of-water buddy movie with action setpieces, easily-merchandisable villains and incredibly attractive young twenty-something leads? Check.

Joss Whedon is a filmmaker who, like Kevin Smith, has built his career out of narrow-casting to the most lucrative audience possible. He has never shown so much as the slightest proclivity towards broadening his appeal. Smith, for all his failings, at least tried to make a play for a broader audience -- but sure enough, Jersey Girl was enough of a failure to send him back into the arms of his beloved nerd fandom. I suspect Whedon might have a similarly hard time playing to a general audience. He may have a knack for exploiting a certain niche, but you can only rewrite twenty-year-old X-Men comics for so long before people realize you're not exactly Godard.

And while we're on the subject, am I the only person actually looking forward to the Ghost Rider movie? All I've seen so far is snickering, which I don't understand at all. Ghost Rider has one of the coolest visual hooks in all of comics. The Ghost Rider I've seen in the trailer looks as much like the comic as you could possibily hope for. Flaming skull-headed biker out to wreak vengeance? Check!

It would be really hard to screw up Ghost Rider. At its core, it's one of the simplest concepts in all of comics: a dude makes a deal with the devil, gets screwed, gets cursed. As long as the movie hits those beats, it shouldn't have any problems. Yeah, the guy behind the camera is the same guy who made a mess of Daredevil, but the main mistake they made with Daredevil was trying to cram twenty years worth of story into an hour and a half. The result was a thin gray mush that was only occasionally enlightened by a few fun performances. Ghost Rider doesn't have any similarly iconic storylines to weigh the filmmakers down. With just a little bit of imagination they should be able to make the ... ahem ... bare-bones of the Ghost RIder story into a fun popcorn flick. If they fail at that much, I will truly bewail the idiocy of contemporary filmmaking.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

It seems like yesterday, but in reality it was eleven years ago that the Spice Girls sprung onto the pop scene, like invincible goddesses of yore springing fully formed from the brow of Zeus - unstoppable, unique and irreplaceable. In the months and years since their debut the Spice Girls and their music have changed every facet of the world we live in, helping through the talisman of "Girl Power" to bring the world outside our windows closer still to the world inside our hearts.

Originally released in the UK on July 8, 1996, "Wannabe" became not only one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, but in the process reached number one in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Latvia, the United Kingdom and the United States. By the time "Wannabe" hit number one in the US, the Spice Girls had already achieved their fourth UK number one - with "Who Do You Think You Are". The Girls thereby achieved the rarified honor of having the number one song on both sides of the pond at the same time - albeit with two different songs!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Important Things For You To Know