Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sitch that, Jimmy!

Back in the land of long ago I once saw a neat science lecture that was full of cool stuff about perception. One thing that particularly stayed with me was an experiment that was done live, where a member of the audience was hooked up to a headset and fed a speech through the earphones. They had to repeat what they were hearing into the microphone without pause as it progressed.

Now you'd imagine that repeating at that speed would not give you time to process the information, but when the original speech and the repeated version were played back it got very interesting. Because the original speech was full of slight mistakes, and the repeated version had corrected them. Clearly the mind is a clever and wonderful machine. Clearly also, people don't listen very hard to what they are hearing, and fill in any gaps with what they think fits the context best.

But what's this got to do with Disney cartoons?

Kim Possible is my favourite Disney TV cartoon, second only to Darkwing Duck (1). If you've ever seen Kim Possible you will know that her catchphrase is "What's the sitch?"(2). This may not be a patch on "Let's get dangerous!"(3) but it does allow for a time travel movie (4) of the series to be called A Sitch in Time. Which would be neat and clever if anywhere that carried the DVD spelled it right (5).

1. She's got this weird thing going with her upper lip that makes it look like she's got a chocolate milk moustache the whole time.
2.Sitch - short for "situation" in fashionable young persons' talk.
3. Catchphrase of Darkwing Duck.
4. If you can really call something 66 minutes long a movie.
5. A brief random sampling of internet sites found roughly half the people selling or commenting on the DVD had failed to successfully copy the title of the box in front of them and "corrected" Sitch to Stitch. How dumb does it look to repeatedly quote the ti
tle incorrectly in an article when you have the cover art prominently displayed next to it with the correct spelling?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Light at the end of the tunnel?

In which I make a few logical deductions about what we can look forward to.

For the first time since Kimiyo Hoshi was depowered and left for dead in Green Arrow #55 we have a sighting of Dr Light II that cannot be put down to a flashback or awkward resheduling of timelines. Unless Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are all so out of touch with the current superhero situation that they are unaware of what happened to her, then it's safe to say that Kimiyo is alive and well, and back in action.

In fact the dialogue here suggests not only that they are aware of what became of her, but that subsequent events have occured that we haven't been been shown yet.

Consider; Superman doesn't want her in the Justice League because she is too scary. Retired heroine, single mother, doctor (or business executive according to some), last seen powereless and symbolically raped is too scary for Superman to invite to the Justice League.

You think he maybe knows something we don't?

Extrapolation: Kimiyo has done something scary. Kimiyo has her powers back.

Deduction: Kimiyo done something scary to evil rapist bastard Arthur Light, resolving the plot lines left dangling for the last year and establishing her as someone not to mess with.

Extrapolation 2: since this important plot development has not yet been seen or previously referred to in a One Year Later title it seems reasonable to look for it in 52.

Okay, it would be nice to see a Doctor Light miniseries, but if we are going to get anything that does this story justice then I'll be happy.

Conclusion: Yay!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nana nana nana nana Batman

Showcase Presents: Batman vol. 1

I'm a big fan of wacky silver age goodness, so I was disappointed to find that this volume dates from 1964 instead of 1957 like the Superman & Superman Family volumes. The back cover blurb refers to the TV show, and I have to wonder if tying it in to a forty year old TV show is enough to make up for this bunch of lacklustre adventures.

I believe this collects stories from the period where Julius Schwartz took control as editor. The accepted wisdom is that he saved Batman from cancellation by throwing out all the weird and colourful elements and bringing it back to Batman the detective, but what we find here are stories that are dull to look at, feature a succession of drab, forgetable villains, and the "detective" elements are either so supremely obvious it hardly counts as detection to spot them or so ridiculously convoluted that it's hard to believe anyone would have either got them or set them up in the first place.

There's the kidnapped scientist whose kidnappers allow him to do a spot of shopping at the chemical supply store, so he buys a series of items which, when you take the chemical names of each form letters that spell out a clue to his location. There's the zappy thing that a villain uses to electrocute Batman, and when our hero wonders why he should have used this particular item it occurs to him that it might also be a remote control to open a trap door. That's not deduction, it's wild speculation that happens to be correct because it fits the script.

And for a series that is focussing on more down-to-earth detective and police related adventures, you'd think there might be some effort to get the police aspects of it vaguely believable. Or perhaps it is just the regulations local to Gotham City that enable a graduating police cadet to be promoted straight to detective level without any experience, and for her to then be partnered with her own father. Or maybe it's just nepotism and he pulled some strings. Certainly she is competent when she's not crushing on Bruce Wayne; she spots clues about villains clothing "because she's a woman" that Batman misses, and gets to their hideout before he does. Of course she then has to be rescued, but you can't have anyone upstaging the star, now can you?

Another Schwartz element that seems to be present here is where he would commission covers and then have the writer produce a story based on that cover. It's an interesting exercise, but he doesn't seem to have cared how the resulting story incorporates that element. Often the featured scene has little to do with the plot and just seems incongrous in context.

Possibly the most interesting thing to a modern reader is how much influence the editor had over the style of a comic at this time. Nowadays you are often left wondering whether the editor even reads the comics they are in charge of - they certainly aren't checking continuity or ensuring that characters behave and look the same as they do in other titles. They hardly even seem to be up to ensuring their titles are delivered on time. In this volume every story has the mark of Julius Schwartz all over it.

In fact, now I think about it I have to wonder how much of this dull change of direction saved Batman, and how much it was the TV show that revitalised sales of the comics. Although the show was created during this period, it features all the wacky stuff that Schwartz had removed, and even forced him to resurrect Alfred, who he had killed off. I don't intend to knock Schwartz as an editor, as I like a lot of the stuff he oversaw on other titles, but I fear his reputation on this title is misplaced.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Judd Winick is still not a misogynist

When I saw Brave New World I couldn't help but notice Winick's treatment of Mary Marvel parallel what he did to Doctor Light II - take her powers away and then drop her from a great height. Thanks to Scans Daily I now find that the parallel continues, and the only female member of the Marvel family is going to spend at least the first two issues of the new series in a coma, with severe physical damage.

Of course it's entirely possible that he hits his male characters with extreme physical trauma and leaves them for dead on a regular basis. It's not like I read enough of his work to make a comparison. It may be pure coincidence that whenever I pick up one of his comics it happens to feature a female character being severely traumatised and removed from the action, leaving only male characters to continue the story.

Let's just say if the next time I see only the female character(s) in a story put out of action (even if they aren't depowered and/or dropped from a great height) and it turns out Winick had anything to do with it, I'll begin to suspect he has some unresolved issues.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

...and then all her clothes fell off

Nude villains of the DC Universe

I'd been thinking of doing a post about all the things that are wrong with Detective #823, but it doesn't seem to have happened, but I do have to wonder what it is with female clothing in the DC universe this month.

On the cover of Detective #823 Poison Ivy isn't so much wearing a costume as garnish. On the first page we find her tucked up in her cozy cell in Arkham wearing an orange prison uniform several sizes too small for her and apparently made of tissue paper. This is confirmed a few pages later as a fight with a monster reduces it to a few shreds (don't they let girls wear underwear in Arkham?). Batman later has a fight with the same monster and yet his outfit remains remarkably intact.

Meanwhile, over at the new Atom #3, which is generally pretty cool, the wonderful Giganta pops up and pops out. It seems she forgot to bring her costume, so when she gets big her clothes explode. She tries hard to do the manic villain thing, but it's difficult to posture like Doctor Doom when she keeps having to hide her scary bits.

I've nothing against cheesecake, but if you aren't going to make any effort to have it make sense in the story, then stop pretending otherwise and just do pinups.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Unscrewing the Inscrutable

In which I make a liar of myself by underestimating my own perspicacity

Over at the Absorbascon, Scipio has been throwing a few digs at feminst comic bloggers lately. After a recent comment where he says:

bloggers who shall remain nameless have made DC self-conscious about the use of prostitution, rape, and similar sexual story elements

I responded, doubting the influence that a few bloggers would have on the editorial policy of a major comic publisher, but it seems I underestimated my own powers.

In an interview at Avengers Forever, Molly Lazer says:

After my column in the Marvel Heroes Hotspot was published, an internet blogger pointed out that, of the characters I listed as examples of strong female heroes, the majority of them had been sexually assaulted at some point. I thought about it for about two minutes before I realized that, of my list of four characters, three of them had been assaulted in one way or another. We can point to the damage inflicted on male heroes, as a counterexample, but I can't think of many male super heroes who have been raped or attacked in the way that female heroes so often are. Storylines like that happen less often these days, possibly because more people are aware of the women in refrigerators phenomenon, but they haven't completely disappeared. Comics reflect the world in which we live, and when you consider the amount of violence towards women that has gone on in the medium's history, that's a scary thought. Still, I think we're on the right path towards remedying this situation and making the comics medium one that treats males and females equally.

That was me.

I did that.

I made someone at Marvel think.

But only for two minutes.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Skrull Culture

It's possible that the Skrulls might have conquered the entire galaxy by now, if only they had a little imagination. Luckily we are spared enslavement at the hands of shapechanging green guys with bumpy chins due to their lack of creative insight.

The story of the Skrulls was not exactly planned out by Marvel. It's entirely possible that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby never intended to use them again after their first appearance back in FF #2, but they stuck around and have popped up all over the Marvel universe in succeeding decades.

But I don't think anyone has ever really put all the pieces together and considered how Skrull culture actually works. Now I don't pretend to know all the details; I certainly haven't read every Skrull related story, and it's been years since I last read some, so set me straight if I'm missing something.

When the Skrulls first appeared in FF#2 (I'm discounting their retconned previous appearance in Marvel: The Lost Generation as the whole series seems to have been written out of continuity now) they pretend to be the Fantastic Four. They can shape-change, but do so only to copy the FF. In fact it is apparent that they have total control over their body shape, but they only use this to stretch when pretending to be Reed Richards.

Ultimately, and I'm sorry if I'm spoiling this for anyone, they are defeated by transparent lies and fooled into thinking that comic book art is a photographic representation of reality. CGI would be wasted on the Skrulls - they are completely taken in by line art and a four colour dot screen.

Looking at this now it seems absurd that they could possibly be fooled. The explanation given is that their eyesight is poor. I don't believe it. There is no way they could possibly have duplicated the physical forms of the FF so accurately if they are myopic enough to be unable to distinguish between comic art and photos. So what's the real reason?

Quite simply, the Skrulls have no concept of fiction. They are entirely devoid of creativity. If there is a picture of something it must be real because they cannot comprehend the concept of making a picture of something that does not exist. This is their one blind spot and the thing that cripples them. They have the ability to be anything they can think of, but they do not have the imagination to do anything other than copy the things around them. Sure, they have an empire. But I suspect if you looked into Skrull history you'd find they were just copying the imperialist activities of the Kree.

Look at how Skrulls are presented when we get occasional glimpses into their society. In our world if everyone could shapechange, it would all be about fashion - everyone would look like the latest celebrity, fads in physical shapes would sweep through the world. Society would fall apart because nobody would be able to keep track of who everyone else was as they changed shape at whim. But the Skrulls keep their own shapes unless they have a reason to change. And they use tools when they could reshape their own bodies to be tools. In fact it is their lack of imagination that allows their society to function.