Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spoiler resistant Dr Who Review: Angels Take Manhattan

Two seasons ago the Daleks took Manhattan, but they must have given it back because now the Weeping Angels have taken it.[1]

Steven Moffat's Who seems more continental than previous versions, if your idea of continental is New York and a couple of other places in the USA. I get that this is for the American audience, but surely part of Who's appeal to Americans is the fact that it isn't set in all the familiar places, like New York.[2] How about going to some truly exotic locales and setting an episode in Japan or Finland for a change?

This episode has some good bits and some astonishingly stupid bits. The stupid bits include the plot, and the idea that the Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel.[3] For the sake of a sight gag, our suspension of disbelief is required to accommodate the idea that a 151 foot tall statue can stroll through one of the busiest cities on the planet and nobody would bother to look at it. I mean I know New Yorkers are famously blasé, but you'd think a few might give it a second glance.[4]

Not as deadly dull as their previous appearance, but this episode does confirm my original view that the Weeping Angels were a fantastic one-off, but are terrible as ongoing characters. Ultimately we learn almost nothing more about them than we already knew, and the little that is added is stupid. They are still scary things that jump out at you in the dark, but that's all they are, and putting them in different settings so they can go boo somewhere else is not character development.

I'd add something about clunky plot devices and the way that once again the rules of time only appear to be unbreakable when it suits the story, but then it would be spoilerish.

Ultimately, it seems like Moffat is trying hard to wedge the Weeping Angels into the Who villain pantheon. But it's not going to work because they have no depth. I predict that they will disappear as soon as someone else takes over as showrunner and will not be seen again for at least ten years, when they will be viewed with nostalgia and reappear for one episode, and unless they are then reimagined with greater depth, everyone will realise why they only worked for the one episode and they'll be dropped again.

1. Seriously, you couldn't do better than reuse a title from two years ago?
2. Plus British actors doing American accents are often as laughable as American actors doing British accents.
3. Not really a spoiler. We find out before the title sequence.
4. Also how is the Statue of Liberty a Weeping Angel? Are they now able to animate ordinary statues? This is a major departure from the characters as previously seen, so it would have been an idea if someone had mentioned it in the story.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Zero tolerance

In comics traditionally issue #1 is the origin story, where we first get to meet our hero or heroes and learn how they become the characters we'll be following. This is the most important jumping on point, so it always bewilders me when the first issue is not used to introduce the character; it's the opposite of welcoming.

DC's big relaunch last year gave every title a new number #1, but in an absolute festival of missing the point, most writers didn't bother with an origin story. Some, notably Green Lantern, opted to ignore the entire event and continue with the story in progress from the previous series, apparently unaffected by the universe changing events that spawned the renumbering. Others commenced with a story to introduce the characters, but not an origin story.

Only a handful, and those mostly being the series that introduced entirely new characters, opened with an actual origin. And I think this may stem from DC's odd idea of taking a clean slate and then squeezing out all the possible freshness by burying it under five years of back story.

So a year later we are getting issue zero of everything. If issue #1 is traditionally the origin, then issue #0 is a tale of what happened before the hero became the hero. Of course when issue #1 opens five years into the story, then issue #0 can be any time before that. But at least in these days of glacially paced, writing for the trade decompression, the issue #0 at least tempts you with the prospect of a done in one single issue story, which is why I've taken another look at several titles I dropped early in the relaunch.

Birds of Prey actually has something closer to an origin than issue #1 had, giving us the first meeting of Black Canary, Batgirl, and Starling. And while it is a done in one, it is caked in plot hooks for other comics; the upcoming Team 7 book, the current BoP, the new slimline Amanda Waller, who I still didn't recognise without a label, and whatever book she's in now that I'm not reading. Even so, I enjoyed it enough to consider giving BoP another go, although the gratuitous underwear shot cooled my interest a little. How many issue zeros with male leads are going to show them in their boxers, I wonder?

Wonder Woman was a delight. A fun Silver Agey tale about Wonder Woman as a teen, writer Brian Azzarello having spotted that you don't need to overload the narrative with a bunch of story hooks to keep readers coming back, you just need to tell a good story.

I enjoyed half of Batman #0, with it's origin of the Bat-Signal and the effect that light in the sky has on several members, or future members of the Bat-family. Yes, it was continuity-heavy, but still a nice mood piece. The other half was a story set immediately before Bruce thought of dressing up like a bat, which featured Red Hood, who is now a gang, the leader of which has the original Silver Age Red Hood dome, but misses the point of having it completely covering his head by having it only go down to nose level. It's kinda stupid. Is it still the Joker? I don't care.

Green Lantern followed its course of ignoring the rules that everyone else has to follow by continuing the story currently in progress. This did involve giving an origin to yet another male, Earth Green Lantern (seriously, that's five now. Are women constitutionally incapable of "overcoming great fear" or are the rings just sexist?), but only because it had reached that point in the story. And issue zeros have never been associated with origin stories particularly, anyway. This is issue twelve and a half to all intents and purposes.

Supergirl was kind of the first part of the story that we met in the middle at the beginning of issue #1. It might even have been better placed as issue #1, since it introduces us to the character and gives us some background, which the actual issue #1 failed so badly at, being basically a fight scene between someone you didn't know and some other people you didn't know. If this had been issue #1 then at least you might have had some investment in one of the characters when they got to the big fight scene.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hunger Games Barbie

If you ever want to know the definition of inappropriate, it is this: Hunger Games Barbie.

A Barbie in an anorak, armed with a bow with which to murder other dolls.

I can't decide if it's more of an oxymoron than Elektra Barbie. I think it has the edge because despite being an amoral, murdering antithesis of all things Barbie, Elektra, as a female comic character, at least has the requisite body shape, whereas Katniss isn't supposed to even be able to walk in heels.

Of course I want one now.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Just another Dalek horde

So anyway, one of the things you notice about the Daleks in the latest episode is that there is a fuck of a lot of them. Which is interesting, since the entire species was seemingly destroyed about three years ago, with only a couple escaping (and possibly Davros) to World War 2 to usher in the ugly rainbow Daleks.

And those were only created by Davros from his own genetic material, and presumably a lot of scrap metal. Not an easy task when you have only one good arm and one mad Dalek to help. And he was only around because mad Dalek Sek Caan rescued him from the Time War, which killed all the previous Daleks. Except, you know, the ones that ran a satellite TV channel, back in the first season.

So what I'm thinking is that when the Dalek horde claims to be all the Daleks there are, what they mean is they are all the Daleks in this part of the galaxy, and there are lots more Dalek hordes elsewhere.

At the very least I think they must have some automated assembly line cranking out little Dalek shells as needed. I see it as some massive spaceship, slowly travelling through space swallowing ore-rich asteroids and stripping out everything it needs to build more Daleks, just waiting for Davros, or the Dalek Supreme, or whoever is in charge of any given horde, to send in an order for five million Daleks to be dispatched to the front lines.

And another thing; given that the Daleks are supposed to be the most formidable force in the universe, when was the last time we actually saw a planet they'd conquered? I guess it's just possible they mine them for parts and move on, except for the ones they fit motors to and pilot around the galaxy for shits and giggles, and maybe play conkers with them, but I'd still like to see that side of them. It would be a nice change to see Daleks that aren't either front line troops or upper management.

EDIT: It occurs to me that the Daleks shown in Asylum of the Daleks were described as the Parliament of the Daleks, and while skipping past the notion of the Daleks having anything like a democratic society, I am left thinking if all those thousands of Daleks are only representatives of many more Daleks, then my theory of multiple hordes seems to be borne out by the show.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Spoiler resistant Dr Who review: Asylum of the Daleks

So, Asylum of the Daleks.

Not bad. Hugely self-indulgent, obviously. Given that, I was a bit disappointed that they didn't spend a bit more time on Daleks through the ages, which seemed to be the whole point of the exercise. And how exactly were the mad Daleks different from the regular kind, apart from being all old and worn out?

As for the big twist, I guessed it might be something like that in the first ten minutes, so not a huge surprise. 

Still better than most of last season, though.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jack Kirby: One Panel

I was going to do something to mark the birthday of Jack Kirby, and then it was too late, and then I thought what the hell, I'd do it anyway.

There's this one panel from Tales of Asgard that really sums up everything about Kirby to me.

It's Knorda, the Normal-Sized Queen of the Mountain Giants*. She appears in one episode of Tales of Asgard, back in Journey into Mystery #109. But what she epitomises to me is how much Kirby cared about his work. He could create comics at a rate almost unheard of today, and yet even throwaway characters who only appear in a couple of panels, like Knorda, have their own style and personality.

*Yes, I know I've posted this panel before. I really like it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Post Postmodernism

I used to enjoy all the little pop culture injokes and references in the stories I read or watched, but these days it's feeling a bit done to death. I think a lot of it maybe has to do with the way so many movies now are retreads of what's gone before, either sequels or remakes, while comics are lost in finding 'iconic' versions of themselves, which translates loosely as two parts silver age, three parts 90's extreeeeme in the case of DC, but again results in the rehashing of old stuff. And instead of building on their rich heritage to tell new stories in a well defined universe with a strong history, they relaunch a messy do-over, where some titles follow established continuity while others have restarted from scratch, and no one seems to have any clear overview of how it all fits together. And that's when they're not pilfering Watchmen to create all sorts of new material that are supremely irrelevant to the work they are based on, because the original was complete in itself.

And then you get fan stuff, which takes the concept of a throwaway pop culture reference and expands it beyond all sense of restraint to stealing entire scenes from movies and repeating the script word for word, as the Nostalgia Critic has been doing lately. Lifting five minutes of dialogue from The Search for Spock without adding anything original (beyond the production values of a school pantomime) IS NOT FUNNY. The sequence itself is boring because you know exactly what is going to happen, so then pointing out that it's a reference, when we'd worked that out ourselves five minutes earlier because it's one of the most iconic moments in the history of SF movies you are making a shabby copy of is also NOT FUNNY.

It doesn't help that the majority of these in jokes are referencing the same old classics that everyone else references. Entire generations have grown up knowing the original Star Wars movies, not from watching the films, but from seeing choice bits of the script endlessly recycled in everything from kids' cartoons to political satire.

It reminds me of the story about Jack Kirby, who read an interview with some new guy on the CAPTAIN AMERICA comic. The new guy said he wanted to produce CAPTAIN AMERICA "in the Kirby tradition."

Kirby grunted and said, "This kid doesn't get it. The Kirby tradition is to go create a new comic."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Race against Time

The comedian Louis C.K. does a great routine about white privilege, part of which talks about time travel.

He says:

I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it will be fucking awesome when I get there. That is exclusively a white privilege. Black people can't fuck with time machines. A black guy in a time machine and it's like, "Hey, nothing before 1980. I don't want to go."

Which may be funny, but is not strictly accurate.

Sure, Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries would be problematic, to say the least, and America up to the 1960s (or later), but while a black person earlier than that in Europe might be considered exotic because of their rarity, they would not be actively discriminated against. There are records of black people living in England that go back many centuries before the slave trade without evidence of discrimination.

And then again, if we assume the white person with a time machine is an English speaker, there are plenty of times and places where he would be unwelcome, liable to be pressed into slavery (it's never been just for black people), or shot on sight for being English.

Women, on the other hand, are stuffed. Doesn't matter what race they are, without some man to support them, they'd be considered property most times and places prior to the twentieth century.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Having cake and eating it beforehand

It's blogiversary time, being seven years since I started this nonsense, so I thought I might mark it with one or two musings on the subject of time travel.

At the end of the first Superman movie, our hero is faced with the dilemma of either saving a whole town, or saving Lois Lane. Spoiler alert: He does both. But how he does it is interesting.

First he saves the town.[1] Then he rushes off to save Lois, but Tragedy! He's too late, and she's dead. So he flies up into space and starts whizzing round the world.

He is not making the planet spin backwards, as some people seem to believe. That would be stupid. He's just accelerating past the speed of light, which causes him to go back in time,[2] which makes it appear that everything else is going in reverse. I don't know why this is confusing. It always seemed obvious to me.

Anyhow, he's gone back to the point where Lois hadn't died yet and rescues her. Yays all around.

the question that I don't think is ever addressed is; does this mean that he now hasn't saved the town? Has him appearing in the past overwritten the previous timeline? Or are there now two Supermans at this point in time? And if so, what happens to the spare?

For the sake of argument, let's say that the Superman who saves the town goes back in time to save Lois, even if she has already been saved before he leaves. That way there is only ever one Superman, it's just that his timeline is a bit tangled.[3]

Of course once you've established that you can always fix stuff later, it all gets a bit Bill and Ted, except worse. Bill and Ted time travel never overwrites an incident, it just allows our heroes to decide to have done something, and then subsequently go back in time to actually do it. They don't cheat. Ted's dad's keys are missing in the movie long before B&T decide to take them, so they will always have stolen them. The timeline is not changed. When Superman goes back in time he adjusts the timeline so events happen differently.

Which means that not only can Superman go back and change any event he doesn't like, he can be in several places at once. He can oversleep, and then go back in time and still get to work on time. He can be defeated by Lex Luthor, but so long as he escapes afterwards to go back in time, he can get a do over until he gets the best outcome. If necessary he can go back and destroy Luthor's Big Zappy Gun of Doom and at the same time defeat Luthor himself at a different location, and also stay home to watch the Superbowl, if it happens to clash and he's into sports.

The downside is that he ages at the same rate, whether he's going backwards or forwards in time, so if he overdid this kind of thing he'd getting older than everyone else because of all the side-trips he was making, but Superman doesn't seem to age at a normal rate so it probably wouldn't show. It might also get a little confusing after a while, so I imagine his To Do list would get complicated.

1) it's been a long time since I've seen it, so the details elude me.
2) Though you'd think it would be difficult to fine tune how far back you went at that kind of speed, even for the Man of Steel.
3) And let's not think about the original timeline, where she isn't saved, that sets the whole thing up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A little bit of politics

Dear America,

The way to have fewer gun massacres is not to limit access to Batman costumes, it's to have fewer guns.



Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Other time She dated a Girl

Adventure Comics #384 (Supergirl Showcase vol. 4 maybe, one day)

Now it has to be said, Silver Age Supergirl is a terrible flirt. In fact it's Supergirl standard plot trope #2: Supergirl falls for someone inappropriate and it all goes horribly wrong. Consequently, it's hardly surprising that she'd occasionally fling herself at a guy who was actually a girl in disguise.

No, I lie. That's still weird. But it is all very Shakespearian. Except, despite all the cross dressing, Shakespearian couples invariable end up as male/female.

So in Adventure #384 Linda is jealous of her friends of the issue, who have been computer dating. She's sad that she can't use the service to get a proper match because she couldn't give her true details, and anyway, no Earth boy would be up to her standards.

It then occurs to her that she can use Superman's super computer as a dating aid. Superman is a bit put out at this frivolous usage of his technology, but he will get his own back, oh yes.

Superman's advanced high tech computer concludes that Supergirl would be best matched with Volar of the planet Tomar. Why it picks this person requires some speculation. I'm guessing that either 1) Superman, at his most passive aggressive fixed the results, b) the computer knows more about Supergirl than she's admitted to herself, or iii) it's a piece of junk.

Superman warns her off following the machine's advice, but in a vague way, so that when she gets back he can be all "I told you so" even though he didn't bother to give her the information he has that would have allowed her to make a much more informed decision.

Superman really is a dick sometimes.

Supergirl flies to Tomar for the weekend, and immediately finds Volar. He invites her home to meet his parents, which is maybe moving a little fast, but she's keen. Meeting Volar's father, she notices that his mother is treated as a servant. Tomar explains that women are considered inferior on his planet. It's been this way for centuries, since some galactic Republican misogynist stopped by to preach that women need to be kept in their place, and zapped everything with an X chromosome with his Suppressor Ray to make them docile and obedient. And apparently all the guys went "sure, why not?", subsequently indoctrinating all women from infancy to see themselves as inferior.

The two continue about their superheroing business, catching crooks and rescuing people, but Supergirl finds herself mocked and belittled because she's female. Whether this is the first time Supergirl has faced prejudice, I don't know, but she doesn't like it.

But then she's also put out that Volar is failing to, um, put out, complaining that after several hours in her company he hasn't yet tried to kiss her or even hold her hand.

Later that day, while spying on Volar having a quiet chat with his father, Supergirl learns that Volar will have to give up his career as a superhero the very next day, as they've run out of a mysterious serum and can't make any more. His father tells Volar to get rid of Supergirl, so she won't see what happens.

She hangs about all night, and when they see she's still there in the morning they invite her in. The shock sends Supergirl fleeing back to Earth "where I belong!"

Yes, you've guessed it. Volar is a girl in disguise. The mystery serum just made her boy mask work. She had planned to give up being a superhero and go back to being a second class citizen once she was no longer able to keep up the facade of being a guy, but Supergirl's example has inspired her to continue her career, despite how she knows she will be treated, and maybe she can set an example that will fight against the prejudice.

Supergirl comes off as spectacularly self-centred here. She's embarrassed by her own behaviour, and can't see beyond that to the plight of her colleague, so ground down by prejudice that she has to save the world dressed as a guy or she won't get any respect, or the society which has cast their entire female population into virtual slavery on the word of some visitor who, by his own admission, was out to get back at all women because he got dumped. But then, as is clearly indicated, Superman knew about the entire situation beforehand, and he was entirely okay with it.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Bandette #1

So I thought I'd try this thing where I review a comic that's actually currently available once in a while, and try to stick to things I either want to recommend, because they are very good, or ones that are so bad I can rant entertainingly about. Bandette would fall into the first category.

Colleen Coover is awesometarts and always has been. Paul Tobin I'm still not sure about. The only thing of his I've read before is Gingerbread Girl (also drawn by Colleen Coover), and I was a bit nonplussed by the weird narrative device. I'll give it another try some time.

Bandette is, I'm fairly sure, inspired by the French series of novels and comics Fantômette, which in turn was (I think) inspired by the novel Fantômas. How much more there is to it, I don't know, as Fantomette doesn't seem to have ever been translated into English. Which is a sad thing, as it looks like heaps of fun.

Issue #1 of Bandette sees our heroine breaking into a mansion. But things don't go to plan and a chase ensues.

The art is expressive, in Coover's light cartoony style, supported by detailed, if slightly impressionistic backgrounds. In every panel. Tobin's script compliments the art, such that within a few pages you get more of a sense of who Bandette is and what she's about than many comics manage with their acres of exposition.

It's only thirteen pages of story, but it's also only 99c, so by my calculation that's a still cheaper page rate than any comic from the major publishers, and to be honest there's about as much story as a typical DC or Marvel anyway. And it's prettier.

Plus it's 99c. Who can't afford 99c to try out an excellent new comic?

Currently only available digitally from Comixology, but for those who are technologically deprived I have a suspect that it will turn up in trade paperback when it's finished.

Guardians of a rather smaller Galaxy

Marvel just released some art to promote an upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

Hmm, now what's missing?

Oh, right, all but one of the female members of the team.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Other other Amazons

Action Comics #342 (Supergirl Showcase vol. 3 one can but hope)

Way back in the mists of time, I wrote about how Lois Lane was shipwrecked on a desert island and encountered a lost tribe of Amazons. It seems the oceans are simply awash with Amazon-inhabited islands, as the same thing happened to Supergirl nine years later.

Our story opens as Linda Danvers, along with a couple of other random students[1] from Stanhope college who have won a scholarship to send them to the South Pacific for a week to collect specimens for the college aquarium. The three travel by ultra-modern hovercraft.[2] In fact it's so ultra-modern that it doesn't even have a pilot.

Actual hovercraft circa 1965

Now small hovercraft aren't ideal vehicles for ocean travel, however ultra-modern they are, and while the crew are napping their vessel is caught in a storm. While her companions huddle in terror, Linda slips out and flies the craft to a random island because for some reason she couldn't navigate them to wherever they were supposed to go.[3]

Dawn breaks, and the girls seem unperturbed by their situation, lost on an uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. Perhaps they have a radio and have already called for help. I don't know. It never comes up. But before they can go hunting for marine specimens for the college fish tank they are attacked by strange women, who overturn their vehicle, which by now is looking more like a hydrofoil than a hovercraft, but still nothing like either.

Actually, I think there is a pilot. It's hard to tell, when, apart from the tall woman with the cap, all the other girls are dressed so similarly that it's difficult to tell between college girl and island Amazon. And none of them have personalities.

But back to the plot. The girls are brought before the Amazon Queen Jarta, who tells them they must stay and become Amazons, the strongest women on Earth. To facilitate this, she feeds them with what she calls the "nectar of strength", which will give them great powers in three days.[4]

Until then, they will be kept as prisoners, have to wear slave-girl outfits, and perform menial tasks.[5] So let's see if I'm getting this right; the plan is to piss them off and then give them super powers? I'm not sure this is going to end well.

The next morning they start their labours. Wait a sec. The last scene was only the previous morning, unless the Amazon village is a really long walk from the sea shore.

You can tell it's the Silver Age by how unsexy the slave-girl outfits are.

Linda is set to buffing some statues that are oddly masculine for an entirely female society, while her companions whine about how tough it is to sweep and cook. Looking up, they see what they think is Supergirl passing overhead. But in fact it's just a sea bird that Linda dressed her costume in the previous night. For some reason.

The next day Linda pretends that the Nectar of Strength is already affecting her, and generally screws around with the Queen, spoiling her ponygirl fun,[6] dropping coconuts on her head, and almost drowning her. The Queen retaliates by commanding her to finish building the royal pyramid [7] while she goes on a picnic.

Unfortunately the Queen hasn't provided enough stones to finish the huge monument, so Supergirl, in full on asshat mode, partially dismantles the village to provide stones to complete it. She's really going out of her way here, too. Rather than take down one building at a time, she's clearly taking stones from all over the village to cause as much chaos as possible.

This is too much for the Queen who begs her to just go the hell away. Linda's smug thought balloon here assumes she doesn't want the competition of someone so strong, blithely ignoring what a huge pain in the ass she's been and the damage she's caused the community.

So Linda and her two fleeting acquaintances [8] sail away. I can see there's only three of them now, so either they never had anyone to pilot their "hovercraft", or she decided to stay on the island and hang out with the super strong, all-girl society and play pony games.

It's an odd Supergirl story. She's usually the nice one, not given to the dickish behaviour and sadistic mind games often displayed by her more famous cousin and his close friends. She would eventually make it to the official home of the Amazons, but not until 1973.

1) She studies there for six years, but never seems to hang out with the same students two issues in a row.
2) Which the artist clearly did zero research on. I know this was pre-Wikipedia, but hovercrafts were news in 1966; that's why writers kept dropping them into stories. Pictures weren't that hard to find.
3) I'm assuming red kryptonite, as that was the excuse for everything in those days. I mean she's got X-ray telescopic vision and can navigate between stars, but she can't find her way in the rain?
4) Charles Atlas eat your heart out.
5) On second thought, this sounds a lot like Golden Age Paradise Island.
6) This gets more and more like Golden Age Paradise Island. If you don't know what a ponygirl is, you probably shouldn't Google it.
7) I think you're mixing your mythologies there.
8) Who do have names, but there's no point in remembering them as they'll never be seen again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Assuming Amethyst

After almost thirty years, Amethyst Princess of Gemworld is getting a relaunch. And it looks exactly how I thought it should be; Amethyst reimagined in Magical Girl style that would appeal to all the teenage girls that read manga and watch Smile Precure.

And then there's also a comic. For reasons that elude me, the new comic looks nothing like this and to make sure it will only appeal to the same old comic readers, they've grown Amethyst up and made her all gritty and miserable.

Says writer Christy Marx:
"She's just turning 17 rather than being 13. She has a very different family background, but the same basic things are there. She grew up on Earth with a strange childhood and ends up back in her homeworld which she's never seen before.
I'm taking a more intimate, familial approach to her adversary, who is her homicidal aunt who does not want to share power. I'm going for something dynastic with emotional complexity that will draw people in, and not just a bunch of people swinging swords. I'm trying to avoid a sparkly-crystals-and-pegasuses kind of approach. This is an alien world with blood powers that are related to crystals, but I'm going for a much more holistic approach."
So more adult, blood powers, no sparkly pegasuses (pegasii?). Got that.

So what if I wanted sparkly pegasuses? If Amethyst isn't going to fill that gap in the market, who will? Why do you hate sparkly pegasuses, Christy Marx?!?

Dan Mishkin, co-creator of Amethyst, had this to say:
I also think what they're setting out to do isn't worth doing. My understanding is going to be this is going to be a seventeen-year-old Amy Winston who discovers that she's Amethyst and that she's had a pretty rough life in those seventeen years. You can do that, and because of the rules of the game you can even call it Amethyst. But to say that it's essentially the same as what we did -- I'm sorry, I just don't think that's true, because essentially what we did was a story about being on the cusp of adolescence and discovering what the moral choices of adulthood are going to be. You don't do that at seventeen; you do that at twelve or thirteen.
On the plus side the new version seems to have an outfit that covers more of her body than most comics heroines are allowed. But on the other...

No sparkly pegasuses.

Amethyst can be found in upcoming editions of DC Nation on Cartoon Network. The comic Sword of Sorcery launches in September, along with a Showcase collection of the original series for you to compare it with.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Supergirl Silver-Age Same Sex Marriage shock!

Action Comics #357 or Supergirl Showcase vol. 3 if it ever gets published.

Look, it was the Silver Age, and a Superman-related comic. Nobody could ever do anything straightforward, especially if it was anything to do with relationship stuff. If people went straight to the point, instead of concocting convoluted and unwieldy schemes, we'd lose about two thirds of Superman comics of the 1960's.

 So here we have a typical example. Thal and Veena, who live on the planet Zhonnia, are engaged, but Thal becomes infatuated with Supergirl after she rescues the two of them from drowning in a burning sea of oil, and he breaks of his engagement to Veena.

So does Veena simply call Supergirl and have her tell Thal she isn't interested?

If you said yes, then you fail at Silver Age.

What Veena in fact does is disguise herself as a man and convince Supergirl that she (Supergirl) had married disguised-Veena-guy [1]and then a year later got amnesia and forgot about the whole thing.

This includes getting yet another girl to dress up as Supergirl to help her fake the wedding photos.

Then she invites some friends over from Zhonnia including Thal, so that he, seeing that Supergirl was married, would lose interest in her, and go back to Veena.

Of course Supergirl is not so easily fooled by a girl pretending to be a guy, and catches on while they are snogging, when she notices that Veena (in disguise) puts her (his) arms around her (Supergirl's) neck, like girls do, and not around her waist, like guys do.

Honestly, Kara? That's what you're going with?  That's the only thing that gave it away?[2]

Despite this "proof", Supergirl is entirely comfortable continuing with the relationship until she works out what exactly is going on. and when she does put the pieces together she cheerfully helps Veena conclude her plan, and at no point says anything that resembles "What the HELL were you THINKING?"[3]

 So no, Supergirl didn't actually marry another girl. But she did think she had. Possibly. Well, she definitely kissed another girl, anyway. At least once.

Interestingly, they would one day rerun this plot for realsies. The getting married and then forgetting it, not the complicated pretend part. I thought it was in particularly poor taste, myself. But in Superman #415, after Supergirl died in Crisis of Infinite Earths, a different alien guy pops up and spins the same yarn to Superman, about how he had married Supergirl but then she forgot, which is why she never mentioned to anyone that she was married and never invited anyone to the wedding or anything, and I'm going to just assume it was a con that time too, I think.

1. But didn't invite anyone to the wedding, even Superman.
2. At no point does she use her x-ray vision to gather further evidence. This is a family comic. 
3. It was the Silver Age. This kind of thing happened so often it was hardly worth commenting on. Or maybe she was bi-curious and this was a good excuse to try out some girl on girl liplock. "But she told me she was a guy!"

Speed of Thought

.22 bullet = 720mph
M16 rifle = 2,180mph
Speed of sound = 768mph
Speed of light = 670,615,200mph (186,282 miles per second)

Speed of thought* = between 23 and 268mph. Which may seem kinda slow in comparison, but bear in mind it doesn't have to travel very far.

*By which I mean the speed of action potentials in the myelinated neurons of the human brain, if you want to get technical.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Bit Grimm

I'm interested in folk tales, or fairy tales, if you prefer. These days they are generally considered only to be the province of children, but go back a couple of hundred years and they are decidedly not purely kiddie fare.

I'd blame Disney, but to be honest, the rot set in decades before the Evil Empire of The Mouse first started putting their stamp all over them. Thomas Bowdler got the whole thing started in 1807 by rewriting Shakespeare with all the good bits cut out. He has justly been recognised with the introduction of the word 'bowdlerize' to the English language:


transitive verb
1: to expurgate (as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar 
2: to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content 
bowd·ler·i·za·tion noun
bowd·ler·iz·er noun
With the success of the hacked up Shakespeare, other people without the talent to write anything original got on the bandwagon of desecrating important work by taking stories not specifically intended for children and making sure that even the most delicate five year old wouldn't find anything remotely challenging in them. Thus we have the Thousand and One Nights becoming The Arabian Nights (with all the sex cut out) and Andrew Lang's variously coloured Fairy Books.

Shakespeare survived the destruction, but many folk tales were not so lucky. You need to look very hard indeed to find unexpurgated editions of many stories, which is something I've been hunting for a while. I'm particularly interested in Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Originally Jacob and Wilhelm studied folklore, collecting tales and stories from oral tradition and recording them. Their book of Children's and Household Tales was a huge success, and they continually added to it over 17 editions. Unfortunately, they also got a bit overenthusiastic about copy editing the stories to make them stylistically similar, adding dialogue, removing pieces "that might detract from a rustic tone", altering the plots and incorporating "psychological motifs". Over the years, they expanded and added detail to the stories to the point that many grew to be twice the length as the original versions; in later editions eliminating sexual elements, and adding Christian elements. After 1819 they began writing specifically for children (children were not initially considered the primary audience), adding entirely new tales or adding new elements that were often strongly didactic to existing tales.

And that was before the book was even translated into English.  I thought I'd found an early English edition in Google Books.  It was called German Popular Stories and dates from 1823. But as the preface indicates, the English editors were already hacking out bits that the Grimm's hadn't got around to bowdlerising themselves, yet.

I started with Snow White as a point of comparison, to make a quick check of each edition I found. Earlier editions call her Snow-Drop, for one thing. And then there's this curious part where, after consulting her mirror,  the Wicked Queen sends the girl away. In this edition it goes:

When she heard this, she turned pale with rage and envy; and called to one of her servants and said, "Take Snow-drop away into the wide wood, that I may never see her more." Then the servant led her away; but his heart melted when she begged him to spare her life, and he said, "I will not hurt thee, thou pretty child." So he left her by herself; and though he thought it most likely that the wild beasts would tear her in pieces, he felt as if a great weight were taken off his heart when he had made up his mind not to kill her, but leave her to her fate.

Which is odd, because the Queen hasn't told the servant to kill her, just take her away. I spot a clumsy edit. Also, right at the end, the Queen is so annoyed that she falls ill and dies, which is kind of vague and convenient.

So then I hunted up all the other editions I could find of the Grimm's work, under various titles, and looked up Snow White/Snow-Drop in each one. All of them seemed to be derived from this same version except Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm which dates from 1886.

 This variant, entitled Snow-White, tells the story slightly differently. The passage quoted above becomes:

This gave the queen a great shock, and she became yellow and green with envy, and from that hour her heart turned against Snow-white, and she hated her. And envy and pride like ill weeds grew in her heart higher every day, until she had no peace day or night. At last she sent for a huntsman, and said,
"Take the child out into the woods, so that I may set eyes on her no more. You must put her to death, and bring me her heart for a token."
The huntsman consented, and led her away; but when he drew his cutlass to pierce Snow-white's innocent heart, she began to weep, and to say,
"Oh, dear huntsman, do not take my life; I will go away into the wild wood, and never come home again."
And as she was so lovely the huntsman had pity on her, and said,
"Away with you then, poor child;" for he thought the wild animals would be sure to devour her, and it was as if a stone had been rolled away from his heart when he spared to put her to death. Just at that moment a young wild boar came running by, so he caught and killed it, and taking out its heart, he brought it to the queen for a token. And it was salted and cooked, and the wicked woman ate it up, thinking that there was an end of Snow-white.
Which is much more fun, and makes the Queen much nastier. Of course she also gets a much more specific and unpleasant fate at the end:

First she thought she would not go to the wedding; but then she felt she should have no peace until she went and saw the bride. And when she saw her she knew her for Snow-white, and could not stir from the place for anger and terror. For they had ready red-hot iron shoes, in which she had to dance until she fell down dead.

Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm is available free at Project Gutenberg, along with several other, tamer versions of the Grimm's stories.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Black and White Blues

Dear DC,

It's been four years since your last Superman Showcase collection,  and three since your last Superman Family*. I enjoy these collections a lot and I have supported this line by buying all the volumes you've released that interest me, reviewing them, and blogging about the ones I particularly enjoyed, but I'm tired of waiting, so I'm going to go read scans of the comics that would make up subsequent collections while I'm waiting for you to get around to publishing them so I can give you money.



*Okay, I see there's a new Superman Family due next year. If I start blogging about the stories in it now you can consider it a really early review.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Red Shirt of Doooooooooom!

There's an established point of culture that wearing a red shirt in Star Trek (the original series) is the mark of doom.  I recently came across this entertaining statistical analysis of this phenomena, which does indeed bear out the assumption, showing that 73% of all crew member deaths occur to those sporting the fabled red shirt. It also does some other entertaining statistical analysis of red shirt death.

The only element I was disappointed not to find was what proportion of red shirts overall died. After all, the 73% only stands out if you assume that shirt colour distribution is equal. If the majority of crew were red shirts then it would would be expected that the majority of deaths would also be red shirts. And considering the rate they got through them, that's not an unreasonable assumption.

And yes, I guess I could go watch every episode of the show and count them myself, but I don't honestly care that much.

EDIT: Further thoughts

Actually I realise it's impossible to work out what percentage of the crew were red shirts (unless it's listed somewhere in a book or something). The analytical study assumes a stable figure of 430 crew, but this fails to take into account all the replacements transferred in for those killed in action. Also, since we never get to see the entire crew, we can't tell how many of them are red shirts, but assuming that the division of shirt colour is roughly equal among the crew, there would be more red shirts in total because whenever someone dies they are replaced by someone with the same shirt colour and red shirts die the most.

So it remains that in simple numbers red shirts die far more often than other crew members, How statistically significant this is may be impossible to tell, but while it's less significant than simple numbers suggest, you're still better off in blue.

The Problem with Comics

Quite simply, the big problem with comics right now is too little content for too much money.

Currently a typical mainstream title costs £1.99. (UK currency) One issue will typically give me one quarter to one sixth of a story, and will take perhaps ten to fifteen minutes to finish.

I confess to having a short attention span. When I'm reading a story in 22 page chunks it doesn't take too many months before I've lost track of who all the characters are, what they are doing, and why I should care. I recently read the first ten issues of the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'm going to keep following it.

Why? Because it took five issues to get Miles Morales into the costume. Another five issues and we haven't even finished the opening story. It's entertaining but the pacing is positively glacial, and it's just not good enough to hold my interest while it takes years to parcel out the story in such tiny bits. It almost feels like a cheat to produce this in monthly comic form at all; it would read so much better as a 120 page trade paperback put out twice a year.

Now consider I also have a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  It costs me £2 per digital issue, which will give me something like one novella, four novelets, four short stories (all complete in the issue), and assorted review and commentary columns.  It typically takes me more than eight hours to read, spread over a week or two.

You see why I'm not reading many new comics these days?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lego equality fail

Product Description

Stop Lex Luthor from dominating Metropolis in the Lego Superheroes Superman VS Lex Luthor's Power Armour set. Luthor has built a kryptonite powered suit of armour, complete with kryptonite laser beam. Can you dodge the beam, rescue Wonder Woman and save the day? Includes Lex Luthor, Superman and Wonder Woman minifigures, as well as a bonus comic. 

 Really, Lego? You're making Wonder Woman a victim to be rescued, now? I swear, lately it feels like we are further from equality now than we were twenty years ago.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Superman Vs The Elite
Action Comics #775

Wherever comic fans gather at some point there will be a discussion over who would win in a fight between any two given heroes. The truth is that it depends entirely on who is writing and what comic it's in.

The original comic that the new Superman OAV is based on Superman Vs The Elite took thinly disguised caricatures of Warren Ellis' superhero supergroup The Authority and pitting them against Superman, in what was essentially a fight between the classic DC style and the overblown 1990's Image style. As this was a Superman comic, Superman wins, and teaches a moral lesson about restraint and the rule of law.

The video was written by Joe Kelly, who also wrote the original comic, and the larger canvas gives him much more room to expound on the concepts in the comic. Sadly, he doesn't do this by making the message more subtle or exploring it more deeply, so much as having characters stand around and deliver speeches. It's very obvious and preachy, and you can practically see the big neon sign flashing 'AUTHOR'S MESSAGE' everytime it happens.

There is little that has been added to the story that isn't dreadful. Menagerie, the lone female member of the team, has gone from having no personality or dialogue to cliché sexual predator. Manchester Black's origin appears to have taken place in Victorian London, with everyone speaking atrocious mockney, but it does result in something I never expected to see; Superman calling someone a wanker[1].

The one bright spot is the dialogue between Supes and Lois Lane, which is witty and clever. Their relationship is spot on, which only serves to make their light, intimate scenes bizarrely out of place in such a heavy-handed, preachy melodrama.

The Elite are Kelly's straw men, displaying all the worst qualities of the 90's Image Extreeeeeme style[2]. Which rather makes it odd timing to produce an animated version, when the reinvention of DC has given us a Superman whose philosophy is difficult to distinguish from the bad guys in this movie. Arguably you couldn't even write The Elite in the new DC; their power to shock for their extreme stance loses all its power when Superman and Batman are bahaving as badly as they are.

1) A much more offensive term in the UK where we know what it means.
2) Apart from the pouches. All 90's Image-style characters had pouches everywhere.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Three Months Later

By Week four of the relaunch I'd been so grossed out by all the sexploitation they'd fitted into their launch month that I lost the will to say much about the final batch of titles, but three months later it seems like a good time to revisit the grand relaunch and see how much of it has stuck.

Not much, I have to say. My reading habits are fairly erratic, and none of the titles leaves me shivering with anticipation, so I often find myself catching up a couple of issues at a time. Which is often no bad thing, since they are almost exclusively paced to be read in the subsequent trade paperback edition. Anyhow, let's see.

From the original 52 (plus one that first appeared a month later), I've got it down to:

Batgirl: I keep forgetting what's going on in the story. Could use a "Previously" page. Or just be published quarterly as a graphic novel series.

Demon Knights: Hooked me right at the start, unlike most of the titles, but my attention is starting to drift. Needs to get on with the plot.

Flash: Hey, I'm as surprised as you. I always found the Flash incredibly dull, but I'm enjoying the new series. Has a lot to do with the creative art style.

Frankenstein: Another that got my attention right at the start. Had enough twisty turns to keep me reading and finished the first story before my attention wandered.

Green Lantern: Opened well, despite being the least "relaunchy" title in the set, but I don't expect it to hold my interest long term.

Green Lantern New Guardians: A stand out first issue achieved what few others managed - introduced a protagonist and gave him enough character to make you sympathetic towards him before throwing him into a bizarre situation that hooked you into wanting to read the next issue. Sadly, by issue four it is sinking beneath the weight of GL continuity and the typically ludicrous behaviour of the Guardians. One bad issue and this one gets dropped.

My Greatest Adventure: Technically not one of the Fifty Two, but after three issues I'm still remembering to pick it up. Having three stories is definitely a bonus for me, though traditionally anthology titles don't do well.

O.M.A.C.: It's entertaining, but there's something really forgettable about it. It might have hooked me in time, but as it's being cancelled, it's not going to get the time.

Wonder Woman: Initially liked the fresh take on the character, but I'm beginning to think it's straying a bit too far from the source material.

That's quite a steep fall off from the first month, and most of those that are left are about one bad issue away from being dropped.

I'm left feeling like whoever DC are aiming their comics at now, it's not me.