Wednesday, February 19, 2014

QuizUp, Up, and Away!

So, for the past almost-a-week I've been addicted to QuizUp, a game that scratches a trivia itch that I'd forgotten I had. I've always been kind of a trivia buff, growing up on Jeopardy! and the like, excelling in Scholastic Bowl in high school, and spending way too much time among the top spots of a comic book trivia game on an IRC channel back in college. I've been rising up the ranks in a few categories (I beat the guy who's ranked top in the world in Superhero Comics!), and reporting the occasional inaccuracy and spelling error along the way, because the only thing I'm better at than trivia is pedantry.

But early on I noticed the fundamental unfairness that Batman gets his own category under "Literature" and Superman doesn't. So I submitted fifteen sample questions for a Superman category, and they seem to have gone over pretty well. A content editor at QuizUp sent me back their guidelines for submissions, and I've been working on expanding that list. I've got my Superman Encyclopedia, my Official Superman Quiz Book, and The Chronological Superman open as references and inspiration right now, not to mention years and years of sponging up this information instead of something useful.

So here's where you can come in (it's okay, the content editor said I could enlist friends!): submissions usually consist of 100-300 questions, and I'd like to be on the high end of that. I know I could probably break the bank just on minutiae from the post-Crisis-pre-Flashpoint era, but I want to have some variety and some other super-brains involved. So if you're a Superman enthusiast, feel free to toss over some questions, fun facts, or other bits of content and/or inspiration that you think could be helpful. There's no deadline, but I'd like to submit within two or three weeks. There's also no apparent difficulty limit (though after playing through one too many "who said this random line" questions in the "Star Wars OT" category, maybe there should be), and I figure the softball questions will be the easy ones anyway. So get obscure with your bad self and let your multicolored freak flag fly.

In terms of question content, here's the scoop:
  1. Questions are multiple choice, with three incorrect answers and one correct answer.
  2. I'll be submitting everything on their Excel template. You don't need to worry much about formatting, but if you do send stuff in Excel/table form, lovely.
  3. Questions can't be longer than 130 characters, including spaces. Answer options can't be longer than 30 characters, including spaces.
  4. All answer choices should start with an uppercase letter.
  5. Try to avoid questions that involve choosing the one answer that's incorrect. If you do one of these, make sure "NOT" is in all-caps. For instance, I have "Which of these has NOT been a location for Superman's Fortress of Solitude?"
  6. Any titles within questions should have double quotation marks (") around them. Titles in answer choices don't need any special punctuation.

I've already contacted some Superman Superfans of my acquaintance, but if you know someone I missed, feel free to direct them this way. You can leave stuff in the comments here, or e-mail me at tfoss1983 [at] gmail.

Oh, and if you want to challenge me on QuizUp, my username is tfoss1983, but the display name is Tom-El. Friends are very welcome!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Guessing Game

I watched a movie today. The screenplay was written by a critically-acclaimed filmmaker who had previously worked on Batman films. The protagonist was a dark-haired guy, played by an actor from the British Isles. As a baby, our hero was sent away in a ship to a new world by his dying parents, carrying with him their hopes and dreams for a better future. He was raised by simple folk, who were nonetheless wiser than they seemed. He grew up yearning for Justice, wondering where he came from. As an adult, it turned out that he had special abilities not shared by mortals, and that he was part of a greater destiny. He fell deeply in love with a red-haired woman from another land, and in a secluded sanctum in the frozen north, she helped him find his true purpose. But there were other forces at work, forces of evil, forces who stood against the hope represented by our hero, and who would stop at nothing to remake the world to fit their ideals. The hero fought his nemesis to defend those he's sworn to protect, and in the end, he killed his foe with an injury to the neck, and saved the life of the red-haired girl. He then flies off into the sky, and it's said that others will follow him into the stars. I had wanted the movie to be really good, but in the end it was kind of dumb and overlong.

Oh, and Russell Crowe was in it.

Do you know the movie?

Naturally, it was "Winter's Tale," an urban fantasy-tinged romance that was released this week. Parts of the story were quite good, and the special effects (when they showed up) were quite nice. There were some nice, moving moments, but the attempt to turn what should have been an interesting, character-driven story into an epic battle between good and evil--right down to having Lucifer himself involved--fell flat. There were a couple of characters whose brief appearances lead me to believe there's more of them on the cutting room floor or in the book that this was based on, leading them to become little more than magical black man and mystic Native American stereotypes. The film ends with a bit of narration that seems overly concerned with justifying the logical implications of the metaphysics suggested by the plot, and it fails mostly in that it calls specific attention to those shaky metaphysics in the first place. If it had toned the scales down a bit, and been more confident in its central romance and characters, it might have been quite good. As it turned out, it's the third disappointing movie with Russell Crowe I've seen in the last year and a half.

And it would have been greatly improved with someone being pursued by a bear, but that's true of most films.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Problem of Doomsday

Apparently there's talk about DC redoing the Death of Superman story for the New 52, which shouldn't be entirely surprising. They've spent the last year redoing Batman: Year One, so naturally they'd look toward their most successful single story as another greatest hit to replay (Heaven forbid they try to make new stories; the New 52 is about repeating things that worked in the past). It's just a shame, because Doomsday is so completely played out. Doomsday has been played out since the last page of "Superman" (vol. 2) #75, which frankly should have been the last time we ever saw him.

I love the Death and Return of Superman storyline. It's bloated, it's tied into a huge mess of early-'90s subplots that make the story difficult to recommend to new readers, but it's better than a lot of people give it credit for, and it's a pointed commentary on the '90s trends toward younger, edgier, more violent versions of heroes. Given how DC has embraced those trends wholeheartedly with the New 52, it's again unsurprising that they'd want a version that was free of such uncomfortable subtext.

But I don't love Doomsday. Doomsday was never a character; he (it?) was a tool. Doomsday was designed to be a mindless force of nature, an unstoppable creature of death and destruction made incarnate, something that could believably kill Superman, without making Superman's sacrifice entirely anticlimactic. Doomsday was also a creature who could die in the battle without triggering all our uneasiness over Superman killing, since Doomsday was barely even alive in a conventional sense. There are probably other ways to read that battle besides Superman fighting against popular sentiment, against the idea that he's outdated and no longer has a place in the world, but I think that's the reading that makes the most sense given the rest of the story.

Just like that notion, Doomsday just won't go away, no matter how many different ways he's disposed of. I've talked before about my distaste for General Zod, and the problem with Doomsday is perhaps even worse. Zod, at least, has a personality. Zod can be reasoned with; Zod can form plans and have nuances to his character. Doomsday is pure, unrestrained, unthinking brutality, which makes him kind of a one-note character, inasmuch as he even is a character. And while Zod can presumably be killed for good, Doomsday's actual power is that he can't. Ever since his second appearance, his ability has been that whatever kills him only makes him stronger, so you can't even have the out of breaking his neck.

Doomsday's appeal, in addition to his presence in the top-selling comic story of the last twenty-five years, mostly has to do with his unique (if frequently ridiculous--bike shorts?) appearance, and the fact that he presents a physical challenge to Superman. There was a time when recurring physical villains were a fairly small part of Superman's rogues gallery, mostly consisting of Metallo, some Apokoliptians, a rotating cast of Phantom Zoners, and arguably Parasite and Bizarro. Over the course of the last thirty years, that roster has grown somewhat. Lex Luthor got a bodysuit, Brainiac got various upgraded bodies, Atomic Skull was altered into a more physically threatening form, villains like Conduit and the Eradicator and Mongul were introduced, but the number of villains who routinely go toe to toe with Superman is still rather small. The problem is that these are the villains who are largely perceived to be Superman's A-list, I think. It's understandable that artists want to draw (and audiences want to read) Superman hitting things--I'm certainly among them--but there's a way to do that without having him constantly in fisticuffs with his enemies. Superman's been fighting robot henchmen for most of the last 75 years, and I honestly think that's more satisfying than seeing him avoid hitting a battlesuit-clad Lex Luthor in the unarmored head.

So Doomsday keeps popping up, because people keep looking through Superman's rogues gallery for villains he can get into a decent fistfight with, and running out of options. There have been some valiant attempts to make him interesting, and I'll readily admit to reading and rereading every panel of "Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey" more times than I can remember. But even that story recognized that Doomsday alone is an uninteresting villain; he only worked in concert with the Cyborg Superman and (to a lesser degree) Darkseid. His next outing was as a pawn (and host body) for Brainiac, which was the last story creator Dan Jurgens told about the monster. Then we got the inevitable (and ridiculous) Superman/Doomsday team-up against Imperiex, then "Superman" #175 which gave the creature intellect (and wrapped a bow around the villain's entire existence), then we got the Reign of Doomsday nonsense with variations on the creature and I've kind of tuned that out.

A lot of this would be avoided if writers would stop feeling so beholden to the idea that every Superman story needs him socking the villain across the jaw or punching someone through buildings. Relying on Superman's strength rather than his intellect gives us diminishing returns both in terms of repetitive storytelling and serious limitations on threats and enemies. He's never going to be able to have a satisfying fight with the Prankster or Toyman or Mr. Mxyzptlk. There's a reason most of Superman's villains are more intellectually challenging, because it requires more clever storytelling than "who can punch harder?"

Failing that, they could at least dig a little deeper for a Vartox or a Titano or a Rampage, rather than giving us another unnecessary spoonful of Doom. Or, you know, they could invent new characters and try to tell new stories, but I suspect blame for that falls more on the shoulders of the editorial staff.

All that needed to be said about Doomsday was there in "The Death of Superman." All that reasonably should have been said was done by the time Jeph Loeb finished up his issue with the character. And yet he continues to stick around, because he has evolved beyond the ability to die. It's just a shame that he can't seem to evolve into something interesting.