Monday, December 31, 2007

And never brought to mind

So, I want to do a 2007 retrospective post, like I did last year. Unfortunately, the holiday season has not been particularly conducive to posting and planning. The majority of my comics are several hours away, and I've been playing catch-up so much this year that I honestly can't recall what comics came out this year, and what ones came out previously. Hell, just last night I read the last twelve issues of "All-New Atom" for the first time, and it was just a few days ago that I actually finished off Busiek's run on "Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis."

So, when I get back to campus in a few days, I think I'll whip up a nice, long, detailed retrospective post on the year that was: 2007. We'll hit the highs and lows, the shiny new and the broke-ass old. And, like everything else I've done this year, it'll be just a bit too late to matter.

See you in 2008!

Saturday, December 29, 2007


So, I hear that the new Spider-Man issue kills the marriage. I also hear that it brings back the mechanical web-shooters. You know, I hated "The Other," I hated the organic web-shooters from "Disassembled," but I think the marriage is a pretty high price to pay for undoing all that. It seems like undoing one bad idea with a worse idea doesn't equal out to a good idea.

Hey, wait a organic web-shooters, no marriage, no Aunt May knowing the secret--did they just completely erase the Straczynski run? And then some? I see the Morrison X-Men Protocol is still in effect.


  • Is anyone else as bored with "Death of the New Gods" as I am? I feel bad, because I liked Starlin's "Cosmic Odyssey," but I'm really kind of bored with this series, and it doesn't feel like any of the characters have distinct voices.
  • Why don't we hear more about Superman's origin from the radio show, where he came to Earth as an adult?
  • Is Willingham ever coming back to Shadowpact? I mistakenly credited his inconsistency for the sharp decline in quality, but it seems I missed that someone else has been writing the book for awhile. If this is the new status quo, then I'm done with the 'pact.
  • Why is the Tangent Comics universe becoming so important in the DCU? Honestly, it's been almost ten years since the last time they did anything with it; does anyone really remember it?
  • Am I the only one who wants to see the Amalgam universe get a similar revival? Yes, I recognize that it won't happen.
  • Why am I still buying Countdown to Adventure?
  • Why did they give Adam Strange back his old costume? I liked the new outfit.
  • Did the "Search for Ray Palmer" issues have any importance beyond "check out some of these slightly different worlds that will be gone in a year"? It felt like "Sliders." And not the good years.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Questions of Grave Importance

I don't want to overhype this or anything, but this may be the most important question I've ever blogged about. It's like if Deep Thought came up with Zen koans. Don't ponder it too closely, because it might blow your mind.

So, I get that you're not supposed to feed Mogwai after midnight, but for how long after? I mean, after all, it's always after midnight. You might be able to justify feeding them at midnight, but it's not like you can feed them instantaneously. By the time you set the food down, it's already after midnight.

And what about the time zone? Do Gremlins get jet lag?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The eyes have it

So, I just read the first two issues of "Salvation Run." It's not a bad series, though certainly not a great one either. I mean, maybe it's just because I've never read many comics with the Fearsome Five, but I could have sworn that Psimon was telepathic and telekinetic. Seems like "mind-control the Joker" should have been considered before "yell 'ow, stop that' like a baby."

I'm a little disappointed with the characterization of Ragdoll. Simone set him up as a vaguely eloquent twisted masochist, complete with his own font, but that seems to have been dispensed of entirely for a more cookie-cutter personality.

But my biggest problem is that, considering that crucial points of the last big universe-wide crossover hinged on it as a detail, you'd think they'd make some effort to get Lex Luthor's eye color right. Our Lex's eyes are green. It's Earth-2 Alexi and Earth-3 Alexander who have blue eyes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All Glory to the Hypnotoad!

Is it just me, or has "Everybody Loves Hypnotoad" gone downhill this season? I don't know, I think it's that they're spending so much time on the gymnastics flashback story arc, and it's just not as entertaining. And every now and then, it's like as soon as the episode is over, I forget what happened.

I'll keep watching, but I hope it picks up soon. It'd be nice to see if it ever reaches the quality it had back in the fourth season. Remember this?

I almost forgot about the lily pad. Those were the days.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Someone wake me up when Spider-Man stops sucking. Okay? Thanks.

Deals with Mephisto? Really?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quick Medical Question

Regarding H.R.G., doesn't a blood transfusion require, you know, a heartbeat?

I've got a No-Prize answer or two ready, sure, but that seems like a pretty basic error. I wonder what Polite Scott would say.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

One of these things is true

I just read Action Comics #858, the first part of the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" arc. Yes, I'm a bit behind on comics. Anyway, I had some serious problems with the comic, which led me to one of the following conclusions:

1. This story does not take place on New Earth.

2. Continuity lord Geoff Johns hasn't read a Superman comic in 20 years.

Now, if the former is true, then there are some serious problems with continuity. While it would clear up the whole Legion thing and the other problems in this issue if the story took place on Earth-1 or something, it does refer to the recent General Zod storyline, which by all appearances took place in the normal DCU.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the latter is probably true. See, in this issue we find nebbish Clark snubbed by his co-workers, then berated by Perry White for never making any friends his own age. Now, I don't mind so much the decision to make Clark unpopular around the office again; that I can handle. I do mind that Perry White has gone from a caring father figure who treats Clark, Lois, and Jimmy as friends to J. Jonah Jameson-lite, smoking cigars (I guess he forgot about his bout with lung cancer) and calling Clark by his last name. Especially since that character development backsliding only applies to Action Comics. Over in this week's Superman Annual #13, we get the more modern, nuanced Perry White.

The most egregious thing about that whole exchange is where Perry says to Clark, "Why, you've been here, what--three years? And yet I haven't seen you make a single friend outside of James Olsen!" Did Perry have a $&*@ing stroke? Besides Ron Troupe, who, last I checked, was still writing for the Planet, there's at least one other absolutely-in-continuity friend Clark's made since starting at the Planet. A close friend, in fact. So close that they got *&%^ing married, and Perry was at the wedding!

It's telling that, in the panel where our intrepid Editor-in-Chief makes this comment, Clark isn't wearing his wedding ring. Whether it's telling that this is on some other Earth, or telling that even Gary Frank hasn't been paying attention to Superman comics in years, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More on Heroes

Welcome, Mohinder, to the ranks of the world's dumbest smart guys. Be sure to check in with Dr. Richards.

West is finally a worthwhile character. Too bad it took nine episodes to get there.

I really like Monica.

Bob is a much better villain than H.R.G. was.

I'm glad Sylar is powerless (at least, so far as I've watched--still half of Monday's episode left to go), because this season would really blow otherwise.

When do we find out that it's not the Shanti virus but Maya's power that kills 93% of the population? Or, alternately, when do we find out that Maya's power is the cure?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Speaking of Heroes

I don't care about Maya and Alejandro.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

There go my Heroes

In hindsight, that would probably make a better title for the post about the next season finale of "Heroes." Of course, there's nothing to say I won't use it for that too.

So, I've been playing Justice League Heroes on the PS2, and I've quite enjoyed it so far. The game's certainly not without its flaws, but I'm playing through a second time (got to beef up those unlocked characters and see the alternate costumes), which I don't usually do immediately after beating a game.

In fact, the last game I started playing a second time immediately after the first was Marvel Ultimate Alliance, easily one of my favorite superhero video games of all time. Given the similar game mechanics and subject matter, comparing these two games is inevitable. Unfortunately, that's not so great for JLH.

The biggest, most obvious difference is in the size of your teams; Ultimate Alliance gives you four-hero squads, while JLH, probably because of its multiplayer feature, limits you to Dynamic Duos. I applaud the decision to include a two-player option, but limiting the teams to two heroes makes the game feel a heck of a lot more like "Brave and the Bold Heroes." Allowing for larger teams might have required some creativity or flexibility with the multiplayer option, but it would have justified the latter half of the "Justice League" name.

One of the neat ideas in MUA was the team bonus: by combining characters who fit thematically (all women, all spies, etc.) or historically (the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, etc.), you'd get some benefit to your stats. While this obviously makes the most sense with larger teams, there's really no reason that it couldn't have been adapted to the two-person system in JLH. Superman + Batman = World's Finest bonus; Hal Jordan + Green Arrow = Hard-Traveling Heroes bonus; Batman + Huntress = Gotham Knights bonus; and so on. I really think the only reason you wouldn't include such a feature in JLH is that the number of character options might give you more bonus-combinations than normal ones.

Don't get me wrong, JLH has a nice assortment of characters. You start with a pool of seven, ranging from the obvious (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) to the slightly more obscure (John Stewart, Zatanna), and you can buy six more by collecting icons in the game. Unfortunately, I've been spoiled by the sheer number of characters included in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, where in addition to playable characters, you run into all sorts of other superheroes and supporting cast members in the game. MUA is chock-full of easter-eggs and shout-outs to the fans, which really enriches the feel of the universe. JLH has only a fraction of that (though the messages on the Watchtower recorder are fun). And some of the choices made are a little on the odd side; for instance, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and Hal Jordan are all separate characters with separate voices and dialogue (albeit with the same powers), but Jay Garrick is just a costume for the Flash. I can't for the life of me figure out why they did that, unless it was to save on game size or something, but how much space do a few new lines of speech really take up?

As great as it is to be able to unlock new characters and some cool costumes (black suit Superman is teh awesome; biker suit Wonder Woman, less so), the game isn't exactly new-character-friendly. There are very few missions where you get to choose your own team (and their costumes), and none of them happen until fairly late in the game, which means any newly-unlocked characters are at a severe level disadvantage. MUA offered frequent chances to change your team's composition during missions, allowing quite a bit more flexibility, and making new characters a little less disadvantaged when they entered the fray.

The story is neat (though it borrows liberally from a couple of JLU plots and "Rock of Ages"), and with Dwayne McDuffie at the helm, it's no wonder that the characterizations are pretty well spot-on. Unfortunately, the game is rather short (and rather easy, for that matter), and a bit repetitive. While I don't necessarily have a problem with all the punch-'em-up action against largely indistinguishable grunts, drones, and robots, I do wish there were a bit more problem-solving. The bosses are tough and varied, but I couldn't help but wonder, in this Justice League game, where all the Justice League villains were. There are two Superman foes (Doomsday, Brainiac), a Flash rogue (Gorilla Grodd), a Firestorm villain (Killer Frost), and Darkseid. The only League villains are The Key and Queen Bee, and arguably the unnamed White Martians. Where are the Weapons Master, T.O. Morrow, Starro, Amazo, Kanjar Ro, and the host of other villains with names ending in "o"? It's not as though the existing villains were picked because of name recognition (the Key? Really?). Picking almost exclusively the enemies of individual heroes rather than the League's villains only contributes to the feel that this game is more "DC Comics Presents" than "Justice League."

Like I said, it's not a bad game; I've had quite a lot of fun playing it (both times). I just hope that DC's next Justice League game takes some hints from MUA, and provides the fans with larger teams, a larger cast, a longer story, more flexibility, more Justice League villains, and greater immersion in the universe. I'd also like to see a Legion of Super-Heroes game along the same lines. So get on it, DC!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Miller's Tale

So, we watched "300" on the way out to Colorado. I fell asleep at one point, and it was tough to see the laptop from the back of the bus, so I still feel like I haven't really watched the movie, but it got me wondering about several things:
  1. Why was I the only one laughing? Do other people just not find humor in stilted, artificial dialogue? Not that it was all stilted, mind you, but there were some lines at least as hilarious as "you're breaking my heart" (see: "Star Wars Episode III" or "why George Lucas shouldn't be allowed to write dialogue anymore").
  2. Why is there such a humongous overlap between manly macho films and blatantly homoerotic films? I'm looking at you, "Top Gun."
  3. What is it about Frank Miller that inspires directors to fanatically preserve the integrity of his work? Out of the three recent films based in part or in whole on Miller's work ("Batman Begins," "300," and "Sin City"), two have been panel-by-panel transliterations from comic to screen. Meanwhile, you've got the Wachowski brothers replacing Alan Moore's subtlety with a sledgehammer and changing every major theme (ordinary people may be driven to do terrible things--prostitution, fascism, terrorism; anarchy vs. fascism), and you've got Fantastic Four movies that replace Lee/Kirby creations with space clouds. Why can't other (better) comic creators instill some modicum of the respect (if not the fanatical devotion) that Frank Miller receives?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Road trip!

So, I'm going to a conference up in Denver, CO tonight, and I won't be anywhere near my computer (I still don't have my laptop, for previously-enumerated reasons) until Sunday. I know, I know, posting has already been sparse lately, but I have been working on things. Shortly after I get back, I should have posts up about the "Justice League: Heroes" game and the third and fourth Superman films.

Anyway, while we're up there, we'll apparently be going to Coyote Ugly. I don't drink, and I'm told that if I order water, they'll spray me with it. That doesn't bother me, but I'd hate to see what happens if I say "I don't know."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quick question

Blue Beetle: great comic, or the greatest comic?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Superman: Doomsday

No, not my dress cape!So, I watched the new animated Superman movie a week or so ago. Right off the bat, I'm glad it distinguished itself from the Bruce Timm animated series, looking a bit less like the previous incarnations of Superman than the revamped Kids' WB "Batman" season looked like the previous Fox seasons of the show. I know some were concerned that it'd be jarring to hear new voice actors doing familiar-looking characters, as it was when they nonsensically replaced the Penguin in "Mystery of the Batwoman" or half the cast in "Superman: Brainiac Attacks" (note: I still haven't seen and don't plan to see the latter). The animation and character designs were different enough from the DCAU to make the voice changes unnoticeable. I also liked that the designs had a certain '90s sensibility to them--Clark's face and style, Lois's brown hair, little touches like that. My only real problem was that it ran into some of the animation problems that plagued the first season of Justice League, namely the inconsistently drawn S-shield.

I thought the voice casting was well-done; my only problem was with Anne Heche's performance in the first scene or so with Lois; it felt very stilted and unnatural, and really could have used another take.

The plot was very different from the comics, but it wasn't until I saw this that I realized just how different it would have to be, due to the crazy things that were happening in the Superman comics at the time. Consider the following important aspects of the Death and Return story in the comics:
  • Lex Luthor was "dead," but living in a cloned body and posing as his own son.
  • Lex Luthor II was dating Supergirl, who was a shape-shifting superpowered clone of Lana Lang from a pocket dimension.
  • Clark Kent and Lois Lane were engaged.
  • A secretive hi-tech cloning operation called Project Cadmus was a major behind-the-scenes player in Metropolis, and were responsible for a society of sewer-dwelling monsters, as well as the grave-robbing of Superman's tomb.
  • The Justice League consisted of more or less the Keith Giffen team, who are largely unknown to the general public. They were brutally beaten in the Doomsday battle.
  • The Eradicator, a sentient Kryptonian artifact dedicated to the preservation of Krypton, was lying dormant somewhere near Earth.
  • Hank Henshaw, an astronaut, had previously encountered Superman after a failed space flight which left him and his family dying of radiation poisoning, but also gave him the ability to control machinery.
  • Pa Kent suffered a heart attack shortly after Superman's death, and Superman's return from the grave was preceded by a battle alongside his father on the way to the afterlife.
And so on. Coast City, Mongul, Cyborg's betrayal...trying to do it all justice would have led to an incomprehensible mess of a film. The fact that I was able to follow the comics at all, not knowing who the Underworlders were or what Cadmus was, is nothing short of a miracle.

And if you eliminate one thing, several others necessarily fall thereafter. Take out Lex's clone (a necessary decision, I think), and you have to remove his relationship with Supergirl, which makes her an utterly superfluous character to the story. Remove Cadmus, and you remove the whole Underworld subplot, Lois Lane's infiltration exploits, the Guardian, and Superboy. Ultimately, the plot ended up very streamlined, thanks to some of these editing choices.

I was surprised and impressed at the way they were able to roll up three of the four Supermen into a single character--a clone (Superboy) with incomplete memories and a more brutal idea of justice (Eradicator) who ultimately betrays the populace and must be taken down by the real Superman (Cyborg).

I really liked the black costume and Superman's headbanger hair (which I really don't think qualifies as a "Supermullet," it was generally drawn long all around); along with the electric blue costume, that look needs to be present in the DCU. I know the days of the dark-colored violent antihero versions of other characters (Venom, Vengeance, Strange, Thunderstrike, etc.) are over, but there's got to be someone to wear the black-and-silver outfit. Hey Kon-El, need a Kryptonian recovery suit?

Overall, I thought the film was pretty well-done. It compressed and adapted the story nicely, included some great battle scenes (and some real shocks, like with Luthor and Mercy), and more or less met my expectations. I could have done without some of the campiness of Luthor's framing monologues, but that's a minor quibble. It's no "Mask of the Phantasm," but "Superman: Doomsday" makes a decent intro to DC's newest animated endeavor.

And I can't wait for "New Frontier."

Monday, October 22, 2007

An incomplete list of things which cannot survive a fall off the top of my car

  • A Fabergé egg
  • A normal egg
  • Most mirrors
  • A snowball
  • An intricate Lego or K'Nex structure which is not specifically made to survive a 5-foot fall
  • Pie
  • Peter Parker's ego
  • Samuel L. Jackson's character in "Unbreakable"
  • My new laptop

Next: An incomplete list of warranties I didn't buy!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Reasons to take away my comic blogger's license

  • I'm actually kind of psyched about all the Tangent Comics stuff going on in DC these days. Now if only someone will revive Amalgam.
  • I'm not exactly psyched about Jim Shooter's return to the Legion. I really like the Waid Legion, and Shooter's admission that he hasn't read the comics in quite some time makes me worried about how well the personalities will remain constant.
  • Yeah, I still really liked "Superman Returns."
  • I can't stand Kevin Nowlan's art, and I've never understood why he's so beloved. Same for Sal Buscema.
  • I tried Nextwave. I thought Nextwave tried too hard. Yes, Fin Fang Foom wears purple underwear, very observant. Can you think of a new joke for issue two, please?
  • Speaking of which, I've never read anything by Warren Ellis that I cared for. Granted, I haven't read much by Ellis. What I read of Authority was rather uninteresting (Joe Kelly was right to treat those characters as a one-note joke, as far as I could tell), his issues of JLA: Classified were utterly boring, and his episode of JLU was a low point in the season.
  • And all that adds up to me having a better opinion of Judd Winick than I do of Warren Ellis, since I actually liked Winick's "Green Lantern."
  • I don't hate Marv Wolfman, nor do I wish any harm to befall him.
  • While I think the end of the Green Arrow marriage was ridiculous, stupid, and gratuitous (and, because of all that, utterly ineffective--my first thought was "okay, is it Everyman or Clayface?"), it was a superhero wedding, which means that something had to go wrong. It's in the superhero bylaws. The only reason Clark and Lois's ceremony went off without a hitch was because they agreed to sacrifice the honeymoon to terrorists. At least this time it was the groom in trouble; Black Canary fared better in that regard than Starfire and Linda Park.
  • I like Adam Strange.

I think that's enough for now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Jumping the Clark

When did "Smallville" jump the shark?

I recently purchased Season 5 (I stopped watching the show as it aired sometime back in Season 3, and have caught episodes in other forms since then) and I guess I'm a third of the way through or so. After episodes on vampire sororities and infiltrating strip clubs, it's become abundantly clear that the show is floundering, and probably should have ended before our intrepid heroes left high school.

But at what point did the show make its biggest misstep? I mean, the first season was pretty rough to begin with (what with the freak-of-the-week episode structure), but it seemed to hit a nice stride in the second and third seasons. What was the turning point?

Flipping through the booklet for the Season 4 set, I'm seeing loads of possibilities...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Heroes Takes a Fall

Spoiler warning, and all that.

So, um, the "Heroes" premiere? Kind of disappointing. Not quite as disappointing as the season finale, but certainly lacking that sort of crazy dramatic energy that characterized most of the first season.

I think part of the problem is that some of the plotlines feel pretty predictable at this point. How long is it going to take Hiro to realize that he's going to have to take Kensei's place, for instance?

I liked the comic book touches, though. There's the turn toward hopelessness (a mainstay of "time has passed" reboots) with the end of Parkman and Petrelli's marriages, there's Nathan's drinking problem and Noah's undercover dealings. Not to mention the Legacy Virus. But the two most "comic book" moments of the whole show were the "Of all of us, I never expected it to be you" scene, with the silhouetted assassin, and the mysterious amnesia there at the end. Fantastic.

But still, it felt kind of...blah. Just, flat. I suppose the series premiere was pretty lackluster too, so I hope it'll just pick up again like it did before. I'm not sure about the virus plot or the fact that Sylar's still out there; I thought they cured the disease in the last season (in Molly, with Mohinder's antibodies), and I think Sylar's going to end up overused and boring. We'll get to the mid-season break, and the recently-revealed silhouetted assassin is going to head back to his headquarters, greeted by a mysterious voice. As he turns around to attack, the camera will pan around to Sylar, sitting ominously in a chair, and we'll get the "To Be Continued" screen for a month and a half. I guess it's a consequence of being so comic book inspired that it feels like the plots are predictable, but I really hope they pull out some twists and prove me wrong.

On the bright side with regard to predictability, once we saw Claire's classmate flying, I figured he'd turn out to be Peter, keeping an eye on her (did Peter ever meet the illusion-making woman?). Now, I have to wonder. It's possible that it's Sylar (can he shapeshift into something other than a cockroach? Can he use telekinesis to fly?), and it's possible that it's just another Hero with flight as a power, but the show so far (it seems to me) has been operating on the old-school Legion rules: no repetitive powers.

Now that I think about it, though, the obvious option is that he's related to Claire, and is another child (illegitimate or otherwise) of Nathan Petrelli.

So, yeah, despite a slow start, I'll be watching "Heroes" religiously this season. Every time I think I'm out...

Thursday Night Thinking!

Been awhile since I did one of these. I wonder what the Flash is thinking here?
No, no, he's jacking in.

I'm betting "Borg cubes make terrible toilets." But let's make this interactive: What do you think the Flash is thinking?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Girls are Icky

People who've been paying attention for awhile should know that I love watching bad movies (ignore all the unfinished posts, please). Whether it's independent shoestring-budget schlock like "Shatter Dead" or bloated big-budget silver screen abominations like "Face/Off," I get some perverse pleasure out of watching terrible, terrible films.

But my love of the terrible is not limited to the wonders of the screen, oh no. I've a soft spot in my head heart for bad literature, and I listen to quite a lot of bad music as well. Of the three, bad music tends to be the cheapest and easiest to find; I mostly just turn on the local Top 40 station and listen for a few minutes.

Sidebar: there's quite a lot of bad music from previous generations, too, but it tends not to get as much radio play now. You could listen to the oldies station for days before you caught "Macarthur Park," and you might never hear "Timothy" or "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss." When's the last time you heard "Too Young To Date" on the '80s channel? Conversely, you might hear "Grillz," "Me Love," and "Girlfriend" in one twenty minute block on Top 40 radio.

Now, there's a national show I sometimes catch on weekends called The Open House Party, which tends to employ a more strict censorship policy than the regular station (I assume so it can be played across the country, regardless of regional differences in sensitivity). I've got a problem with censorship to begin with, but recently a prurient hack-job on the Open House Party exposed me to something far more offensive than foul language.

The song was "Money Maker" by Ludacris and Pharrell, a crude tune that continues this trend of mentioning women's mothers in pick-up lines, which I have to imagine is about the most unsexy thing ever. But I'd heard all that before; the new wrinkle in this listen-through was that the show censored the word "wet" in the line "How every way you turn I'll be makin' you wet."

It's clearly a reference to female arousal and I can see why you'd cut such an obviously sexual reference. Taken alone, that decision isn't surprising. It's when you listen a little longer, to the line "Get up, and I stay harder than a cinder block, man," which was not cut. Why is it that a clear reference to female arousal can't be played, but a clear reference to male arousal can? What is so different between erections and lubrication? Is it the presence of fluids? I'm sure they'd cut "cum," but that's far more specific to what it's describing than "wet;" it's not like Luda said "every way you turn I'll be making you discharge lubricating fluids." No, it's a double-standard: it's okay to talk about erections and male arousal, but it's not okay to talk about female arousal.

Seems to me that this is a symptom of a social contradiction: "the purpose of women is to be sex objects" vs. "girl parts are icky." It's absolutely fine to have a whole song where women are merely objects of sexual desire, but you can't actually discuss the mechanics of their girl parts, because that's too gross. Guy parts, however, are simple and clean and all on the outside, out in the open, not mysterious and dark and dank.

These contradictory social dichotomies show up all over the place in misogyny, both the personal and institutional sorts. There's the Frank Miller Special, "virgins" vs. "whores;" there's the classic chivalric "women are better than men and deserve exaltation" vs. "and that's why they ought to be second-class citizens with different rights;" there's even "women don't actually want/enjoy sex" vs. "all women lie/cheat/sleep around (see also: John Donne)" vs. "women who dress provocatively and flirt are just asking for it."

It happens with other minority groups too--I'm specifically thinking of the "noble savage"--but seemingly without as much frequency, tenacity, and diversity as these attitudes toward women. I've seen screeds from misogynists that hit on several of these contradictory points in a row, completely oblivious of how poorly they fit together. "Wait, getbackinthekitchen_48, if men are naturally much smarter than women, then how was she able to manipulate and trick you for so long?"

Generally stereotypes contain within them some measure of truth; that's part of why they're so widely believed and so easily disseminated--members of one group already perceives all members of an outgroup as a homogeneous whole, so traits which purport to describe all members of an outgroup fit within that framework. What people so often fail to do is actually examine the traits they've used to label these outgroups and see that they often don't fit together. If all Mexicans are lazy, then why are they a threat to your manual labor jobs? If all homosexuals just want to have loads of indiscriminate no-strings-attached sex, then why are they a threat to the sanctity of marriage? If your stereotypical traits don't jive with each other, then what are the chances that they apply to all members of a community?

The truth is that all group descriptions, all things that may be true "on the whole," break down on the individual level. On the whole, women aren't as physically strong as men; that doesn't mean that every woman is physically weaker than every man by any stretch of the imagination. It's not enough just to tell people that stereotypes are bad and that we should reject them; stereotypes are bad, but they're also a natural consequence of evolution-sculpted psychology. In order to overcome the instinct to create generalizations, we have to apply intellect: we have to recognize the stereotypes for what they are, accept that we use them, understand why we construct them, and finally see why they fail and how to overcome them. The first step toward overcoming natural drives is recognizing them as such.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Check it and see

I don't really care for Forerunner. She's just shy of a Mary Sue, and I suspect that's mainly because she doesn't really act as a Paul Dini stand-in. She's overexposed, she's unnecessary, and all the other characters seem to think she's a total badass and really important, because they keep telling us explicitly that she's a really important badass.

And now she's getting her own miniseries. Damn it, DC, isn't it enough that you're setting up Lara Croft-meets-Smurfette as the lynchpin of the next big event? Can't you leave it at that? No, of course not. Instead you waste paper on this miserable abomination:
Written by Adam Beechen
Cover by Ed Benes
Art by Ed Benes and Sandra Hope
Spinning out of COUNTDOWN, Forerunner takes the lead in her own all-new miniseries! It's a blue morning when the mysterious Monarch casts Forerunner out of the Bleed and into the middle of the SALVATION RUN! Will she play along with Monarch's head games, or will she finally sell him out to the Monitors? It'll have to be an urgent decision, because Captain Cold and Killer Frost are ready to make her cold as ice!
On sale December 19 • 1 of 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Sigh...wake me up when Countdown is over, please.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Sorry for the longer-than-usual absence. I've developed a nasty cold, which has turned my brains to mush, made the back of my throat all goopy, and filled my sinuses with gunk. Hopefully I'll be over it before any other amusingly-worded ailments develop. Gah.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Symptoms of Terminal Geekiness

There's a Greek group on campus here (a sorority, I think) named "Chi Omega." I see their letters fairly frequently on shirts and the rear windows of cars. But every time I see that "," my immediate next thought is "Manowar."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Oh, the Horror!

I'm not sure that I've ever mentioned this here before, but I watch a lot of horror movies. Most of them, like most of just about anything, are awful. Quite a lot of them are hilariously awful, which tends to be why we watch them. But occasionally you'll see a horror film that isn't quite laughable, but clearly misses everything that makes horror movies effective. There are a number of key things that filmmakers need to understand about horror movies before they start writing and directing their own, things that a hideously large number of modern horror movie directors simply fail to grasp.

Guess which movie I saw this weekend. So, here are, in my estimation, the most important things you need to know before you start making a horror movie.

1. Gore is not a substitute for suspense. I think this bears repeating and repeating and repeating to every horror filmmaker in Hollywood right now. Don't get me wrong, I liked "Saw" and "Saw II" (haven't seen the third yet). But I didn't enjoy those movies for the gore; I cringed at the gore (especially in the second one. I liked them because they had good plots with a clear understanding of suspense and of the audience's expectations. A lot of the horror movie fans who go on to create their own, whether for the big screen or for the Blockbuster shelf, remember being shocked by spurts of blood or hearing their girlfriends scream at dismembered limbs and sudden stabbings; what they often fail to understand is that the shock isn't how much blood there is, but in the atmosphere leading up to the gore. Gore is little more than window dressing; it's almost entirely unnecessary for a good scare. What you need for a good jump moment is music, setting, and other elements that create a sense of apprehension which leads naturally to a sudden climax. Blood might be involved in that climax, but it's not satisfying alone. It's the difference between recreational sex and artificial insemination: the point isn't the fluid, it's about everything leading up to it.

2. Sympathetic killers are scary. Monsters are scary. Sympathetic monsters are goofy. Now, when I say "monster," I'm not necessarily talking about something like Godzilla, but Godzilla works well as an example. While it's hard to really think of Godzilla as a horror character, it's easy to see why he could be scary. He's big, he's angry, he kills indiscriminately, he's relatively difficult to stop, and so on. Who remembers Godzooky, the animated baby Godzilla? The only scary thing about Godzooky is that someone thought it was a good idea. When you give Godzilla a kid sidekick, when you humanize him and make him sympathetic, you remove what's scary about him.

Different things can make a character monstrous. Some characters, like Godzilla, are monstrous because they're threatening and inhuman: Jason Voorhees is a mute, faceless engine of death; Michael Myers is similarly silent, slow, and completely imperturbable; Freddy Krueger is a wisecracking child molester who comes at you in your sleep. These characters frighten you because you imagine yourself in their victims' position, being chased by an unstoppable murderer. Some characters are monstrous because they're compelling and seductive: Hannibal Lecter is a brilliant, charming psychiatrist who conducts meticulous cannibalistic murders; Dexter Morgan is a funny, witty antihero with an artificial sense of morals; Dracula is a sexy, sophisticated immortal prince with superpowers. The compelling monsters scare you because you imagine yourself in their position, you live vicariously through them, you can't quite bring yourself to condemn them entirely; they scare you by making you see the monster in yourself.

This isn't to say that sympathetic killers can't be scary, but it's a different kind of scare. You get more of a "that could happen to anyone" scare, a realization of how easy it is to be pushed to doing terrible things. But a sympathetic killer isn't a monster, and the dynamic is very different because of that.

Mixing sympathy with monstrousness is like topping cheesecake with ketchup: the things are great separately, but together both are ruined. You can't turn a sympathetic character into a threatening monster because you've already identified with the character; they no longer seem threatening. You can't turn them into a compelling monster because there's no moral anxiety, just dissonance because you no longer identify with the character the way you did. Trying to go from monster to sympathetic character is equally fraught with failure. Moviemakers need to be aware of which character they're promoting, which one is the most interesting, which one the audience is identifying with, and write the story accordingly.

3. If you're going to give the killer a moral code, stick with it. The slasher genre has always had a fairly strict moral undercurrent, which was made explicit in "Scream." The audience knows that the couple who goes off to have sex is going to get mercilessly slaughtered, and that the pure-as-snow virgin heroine will live to see the credits. Especially since "Scream," you can't make a slasher movie without acknowledging this; your killer either has to follow some moralistic pattern, or has to completely eschew it and kill indiscriminately. The problem with the former is that you risk losing some suspense value to predictability and cliché. The problem with the latter is that you risk losing suspense value because the audience can't anticipate when a kill is coming.

There are, of course, ways around this. You can circumvent the "slasher morals" by establishing a different moral code, like in "Saw." You can make your hero/heroine not quite so pure as the standard. What I'd like to see some director do is follow the "slasher morals" with the first kill, setting the audience up for the standard, then shock the audience with the sudden murder of one of the morally pure characters, and continue from there ignoring the slasher morals entirely.

What you can't do is follow the morals sometimes, and kill indiscriminately other times. It's sloppy, and it makes your killer look inconsistent. When you've set up that your killer only goes after, say, the morally impure and the people who are mean to him, you can't then have him killing his friends and killing people who never committed any immoral acts on-screen. The killer's motives should generally be clear.

4. Setting is part of the scare. I addressed this briefly earlier, but it's worth repeating. Crafting an effective scare, even just an effective jump moment, requires more than just the characters. You need music appropriate to the mood and you need an atmosphere that promotes uneasiness. Too many horror filmmakers seem to lack basic understanding of how lighting, music, and setting come together to create an effective scare. It's the reason that someone shouting "boo" at you in your well-lit living room is less effective than someone doing the same thing in the woods under a full moon.

Similarly, your setting should be clear and distinctive. The audience should have some idea of where and when the action is taking place. A confused audience is not a scared audience.

5. I think this may be the most important: Effective horror movies play on preexisting fears. This is another place where it pays to know your audience, and to anticipate their reactions. Slasher movies tend to target teenagers and adults, and these groups come to the theaters with certain anxieties. Smart filmmakers know this and use it to great effect. The reason that the "Friday the 13th" movies are effective is because they play on the adults' fears of sending their kids off to camp; and they play on the teenagers' fears of an unfamiliar environment like camp, and their fear of being caught and facing consequences for engaging in "immoral" activities--sex, drugs, drinking, etc. That last bit there, naturally, is common to most slashers: the fear of being caught. The "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies play on parents' fears of child molesters and of their children suffering the consequences of their mistakes; they play on kids' fear of "that creepy guy at school," lingering fears of nightmares and the Boogeyman, and the fear that they aren't safe even in their own bed.

And the brilliance of the original "Halloween" is that it takes the mundane, the familiar, the completely safe and makes it scary. It plays off a couple of common urban legend themes--escaped mental patient, 'in this town there was a guy who once killed his sister'--and of course picks up the "getting caught" fears of the slasher morals. It plays off of common fears of Halloween, not just the "crazies come out on Halloween," but it's the natural extension of the "razor blade in the apple" myth: there are people who will exploit Halloween to get at your kids. And then it sets all this in a very normal suburb, effectively getting the audience to feel that fright isn't reserved for creepy hotels and summer camp, but it can follow you home. Top it off with a killer who is always calm, always silent, and displays no apparent superhuman abilities--a mundane, normal sort of murderer--who wears a spray-painted William Shatner mask. Familiar setting, familiar face, and familiar fears all come together to make a very effective scary movie.

And it's on nearly every one of these criteria that the new "Halloween" fails. The gore was excessive by the fifth time Michael hit the bully with the log, and never let up (and yet wasn't particularly realistic either. The effect when he slit the redneck boyfriend's throat looked like it came straight out of 1984's "Nightmare on Elm Street").

We start the film with a long segment exploring Michael Myers' childhood and how he became a mass murderer, with a family which could have come out of the "Big Book of Serial Killer Stereotypes" and a terrible experience at school. He clearly only kills people who are mean to him, either directly (the bully, the redneck boyfriend) or indirectly (the sister and her boyfriend who have sex instead of taking him trick-or-treating). It seems (in my unprofessional opinion) that he suffers from fugue states or some sort of dissociative personality disorder, since he clearly has no memory of what he's done while masked, and since he seems to recognize that killing is wrong when unmasked. Despite this, the psychiatrist says that he has no morals, or something to that effect.

We cut forward an unclear number of years, and completely foul up the setting. The movie started in the apparent '70s, but when it moves forward it's no longer clear when it should be. The ages of the characters would suggest the '80s, maybe early '90s at the latest, the cars and fashions would suggest modern day, the old-style Illinois license plates put us back in the '90s at the latest, the trucker's style and mannerisms (and porn) all set us back in the '70s, but the cell phones place us back in modern day, and the psychiatrist's rotary phone places us back in the mid-'60s. Not to mention that all the houses that we bounce between in the "modern" setting are completely interchangeable. We're told that it's Halloween, but where are the trick-or-treaters? There's no one on the streets, there's no one waiting at their front doors with candy (able to hear the screams of young girls and the wail of police sirens)...if not for the two lonely kids in costume, the movie could have been called "The Night of September 23rd" or some equally arbitrary date.

Back to our erstwhile slasher, the awkward, geeky little boy has grown into a 7-foot-tall, 300-pound grunting superhuman monster. He breaks his thick chains with no apparent effort, and broke my suspension of disbelief along with them. He then proceeds to go on a murderous rampage through the asylum, even killing the friendly janitor who protected him. At this point we've completely undermined the moral code we set up in the beginning, and we've tried to turn our sympathetic victim of circumstance into an inhuman hulk. The resultant effect is inconsistent and utterly laughable.

I applaud the filmmakers for the casting and characterization decisions with Laurie, who is both less prudish and more attractive than Jamie Lee Curtis's version. Unfortunately, we sacrifice quite a bit of realism here with an over-the-top quasi-lesbian relationship with all of her friends, which increasingly looks and sounds like "how a creepy 40-year-old man thinks/wishes teenage girls act."

Michael, upon returning to his hometown (apparently? I thought the sheriff said he moved Laurie to a different town), decides to pick up a moral code again and starts killing the fornicators, except that he also kills Laurie's adoptive parents, so he continues this inconsistent streak. Somehow, despite being superhumanly immense, he is able to repeatedly sneak up on people and enter houses undetected.

After several instances of him stabbing young girls and watching them crawl away, he goes after Laurie, who apparently shares the Myers family's superhuman durability. Eventually we get to the reprisal of the "falling off the balcony" scene from the first film, and Laurie shoots someone in the Myers mask in the face. Also, there's a running subplot about the psychiatrist's book that never goes anywhere.

And then we cap it off with an inexplicit twist ending that was revealed back in "Halloween II," and was stated more-or-less explicitly two or three times in this film besides. If you couldn't figure out who Laurie was by the time Michael showed her the picture of them together, then congratulations: you're an idiot.

It's a muddled mess of a movie. I'm glad it made changes to the original, but it seems like every one of those changes moved it toward cliché rather than away. The whole point of the original "Halloween" was to make the mundane frightening; this new version has no such overriding theme, and instead tries to make caricatures frightening through a liberal application of fake blood and real boobs. It doesn't feel like a remake of "Halloween" so much as a cheap knock-off, sold in Mexico with a sloppy paint job and brittle plastic.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Doctor, Doctor

I moved around quite a bit as a kid, so not much stayed constant through my childhood. Different schools, different neighborhoods, different shows on TV. But no matter where we've lived, my dad has always managed to find some channel airing a variety of British television series. I can't begin to count how many night's I stayed up late in the living room, watching episodes of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" or "Mystery!" or "Are You Being Served?" or "Benny Hill" and not getting a whole lot out of them. As I've grown older, I've latched onto some of these shows; I love anything with the Pythons, I've seen the vast majority of "Red Dwarf" episodes, and I'd probably sit and watch an episode of "Mystery!" if it were on. I'd at least watch the Gorey opening.

And then there's "Doctor Who." If you'd asked me at any time for as long as I can remember, I'd tell you I liked "Doctor Who." I might even have called myself a fan of the show. I could hum the theme song, talk about the TARDIS, do my best impression of a Dalek, tell you that Tom Baker's my favorite Doctor, I might even be able to say something about K-9 and The Master. And while I'm sure that, over the course of a youth spent watching late-night British television at my Dad's side, I've seen quite a bit of the series, I honestly couldn't remember the plot of a single episode. Heck, I remember making a point to watch the TV movie when it aired, and I couldn't tell you much about that either.

But recently I've been able to see a dozen or so of the revival series episodes on BBC America and Sci-Fi Channel, the vast majority of which have been with David Tennant, and I've really, really liked them. At the Con, I picked up a toy Sonic Screwdriver (with psychic paper!) and I've been spending a rather inordinate amount of time playing with it since then. All this has led to a reconfiguring of my Netflix queue, interspersing discs of "Cosmos" with discs of the Doctor.

So, I spent the last two hours or so watching "City of Death," starting my formal introduction to the series with a well-recommended Tom Baker episode, and it was fantastic. The show is clever, the Doctor is witty, there's a great deal of humor--how is it that I've managed to go this long without giving the show a real try?

Well, I certainly won't be making that mistake again. From now on, I'll be justified when I call myself a Whovian.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Excuses, excuses

It's been quite the week for, um, not posting. Part of it is because I haven't bought comics since the convention, except maybe a trade or two. And I haven't read most of what I bought at or after con, so I haven't had much to talk about.

I've been settling back into another school year, and an awesome new job. Unfortunately, despite having a lot of free time at work, I don't yet have a laptop. Dell has decided to take some ridiculously large amount of time before sending me the one I ordered, and so I've been filling my free time mostly with prose reading.

Let's see...I picked up and read through Batgirl: Year One and Ex Machina vol. 5, both of which were quite good. I wish the art had been more consistent in Batgirl; it started out with something very clean and Darwyn Cooke-esque, but toward the middle just felt sloppy. I hope, whenever it comes out, that All-Star Batgirl is like this.

Ex Machina's great as usual, though it feels like it might be getting away from the politics and towards something a little more comic book-esque with the nefarious secret plot against the mayor, with moles and assassination/conversion plots, and whatnot, but I suppose given the source of that action, that's to be somewhat expected. Something tells me we're going to end up with a character fairly similar in motivation to Hunter "Zoom" Zolomon.

I'm about halfway through the Gaiman/Vess Stardust, which is quite a lot of fun. I'll be hitting the theater this weekend to see the film, and I hope it's as good as the book would suggest. I've heard mixed reviews in general, and almost nothing from the comic reading public, so I don't really know what to expect. Usually I'd imagine that Gaiman's stuff would lose a lot in translation to the screen, but the story is so cinematic and classical already that it seems less likely.

One other neat little hitch in the whole posting issue was that I caught a nasty computer virus a couple of days ago, which was really interfering with my ability to do things online. Firefox was sluggish, and a lot of pages (especially Google-based ones) would come up garbled, or without any formatting, or with a little bold end-quote symbol in the upper left-hand corner of the page. Blogger pages, when they had any formatting at all, would be missing that bar at the top with all the "Next Blog" and other buttons, and most of the websites were redirecting to or referencing and/or (the latter was inserted into scripts on the malfunctioning page sources). Norton, Ad-Aware, Spybot, and Counterspy all failed to recognize anything, and the only removal instructions I could find were on Japanese websites. Apparently some combination of repeated restarts, fiddling with translated removal instructions, and running a TrendMicro online Housecall, managed to take care of the problem, since everything seems to be working fine. Still, I think that's only the third time since 1997 that I've had any serious viral infection, and it's easily the most obnoxious of the three.

So, since I've been out of the loop, what's been happening in comics? Anything interesting? Does Countdown still blow?

Monday, August 27, 2007


Not much to do today. I think I'm just going to lounge around as usual and watch my favorite classic Mike Connors detective series.

That's right, it's just another Mannix Monday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A birthday present for me!

So, I was lazily scrolling through the new DC solicits, when I came across something that made me jump up in my seat:

Those two are always finding something to bitch about.BATMAN/SUPERMAN: SAGA OF THE SUPER SONS TP
Written by Bob Haney
Art by Dick Dillin, Murphy Anderson, Vince Colletta and others
Cover by Nick Cardy
For the first time, the complete saga of the Super Sons is collected in one volume! Features stories from the pages of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #215-216, 221-222, 224, 228, 230, 231, 233, 238, 242, 263 and ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT #1!
Advance-solicited; on sale December 5 • 256 pg, FC, $19.99 US

Man, I grew up on these stories; for some reason, the comics which survived from my mom's collection included the majority, if not the entirety, of the Super-Sons stories, and I loved them to death. In fact, I remember looking around a couple of years ago to determine if they'd ever been collected in TPB, finding to my dismay that they hadn't. And now they will be, a mere four days before the anniversary of when I was from my mother's womb untimely ripped. I know what I'm asking for.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Not getting the Joke

So, I was skimming various blogs today, and came across a post (I forget where at this point, but I'll link to it if I find it again) which decried "Batman: The Killing Joke" for being misogynistic.

Now, I can certainly see the elements in the story which would cause someone to make such an argument. What I'm having a problem with, though, is sorting out what element in particular justifies the claim, and the reasoning behind it. Because I'm running through the various scenes in my head (it's been awhile since I read it, so I could be forgetting something), and nothing quite seems to hold up for me. I don't mean to sound crass or anything, I'm just honestly trying to figure out where this argument is coming from.

I guess, what I'm really trying to understand, is "when is fictional violence toward women misogynistic?" Is it when the violence leaves the victim obviously maimed, as with Barbara's paralysis? Is it when the violence is coupled with sexual humiliation? Is it when an otherwise strong character is turned into a damsel in distress? Is it when the violence is committed solely in service of some other plot?

The first instance is a strong case, probably the strongest of the four I've listed. But Barbara's paralysis did not need to be a continuing character trait. It was only because later writers chose to run with it, rather than subject her to any number of comic book "outs" from such a condition, that it became a permanent fixture. I can think of half a dozen ways right off the top of my head that could easily have been used to undo what the Joker did, from a skintight exoskeleton to experimental surgery to a character with healing powers or magic. It seems difficult to condemn someone for giving a lasting change to a character, when the very next writer could easily reverse that change (and given the state of comics, is quite likely to do so).

The second is strong, but bothers me on a number of levels. The first is the obvious one, that sexual humiliation is often a real-life component of violence toward women. That real-life violence and humiliation may certainly be classified as misogynistic, but when one tells a story about such violence, and said story makes it clear that this is a bad thing, can we reasonably call the story or the writer misogynistic? It's one thing if it's the hero going around being a sexual sadist and treating women as garbage (yes, Frank Miller, I'm talking obliquely toward you), it's quite another when it's the villain.
My other problem with that line of reasoning is that it seems to ignore Commissioner Gordon's similar ordeal in the same story. The Joker took naked photos of the injured Barbara Gordon, and may have done other things to her, clearly in order to humiliate her. But then he also drugged and stripped Jim Gordon and put him in a dog collar to be beaten and led around by insane bondage midgets. Is that misandry? Doesn't that suggest a more equal opportunity sort of offense?

The third line is similar to the second. I'm not sure about Barbara's character in the early '80s, but I'm hoping there was something of a distinction between it and the dainty damsel of the recent Showcase volume. Assuming that by the time she took the bullet, Barbara was a take-charge butt-kicker rather than the "typical Silver Age female," the violence certainly left her in a less-than-powerful state, atypical of the strong independent character we've come to know. But, again, the Commissioner was put in a similar situation: a strong character humiliated and placed at the Joker's mercy, in such a state that he had to be rescued. Granted, his ordeal didn't leave the obvious scars and consequences that Barbara's did, but that's less the fault of Moore and more the fault of later writers.

So, what of the fact that, in more ways than one, the violence toward Barbara wasn't the point of the story. From an outside perspective, it was done to underscore the Joker's dangerousness and psychosis, and to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Bat-family to such attacks. From within the story, it was done as part of the Joker's larger plan to drive Jim Gordon insane. In either case, it was merely means to an end. Yet, if it had been the focus of the story, wouldn't that have made this a "you touched my stuff" tale, and equally open to criticisms of misogyny?

Like I said, I'm really trying to figure out what specifically marks this story as misogynistic. I understand that it's something of a fuzzy area; we can all recognize the blatant, outright misogyny, and that's why I'm trying to figure out how people distinguish between the more subtle misogyny and plain old violence.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My best story from the con

As we told people repeatedly over the course of the weekend, Stand-Up Comics is one of only three authorized Homestar Runner resellers in Illinois. Apparently we were also the only ones on the floor at the Rosemont Convention Center. The Homestar Runner merchandise probably garnered the most attention from passers-by, and by Sunday night we'd sold out of all of it except some keychains and two t-shirts.

But on Thursday night we still had plenty of Kick the Cheat plushes and Strong Bad DVD sets. Things were winding down on the first night (which was limited admission, as I recall) when a dark-haired young man, maybe twelve or thirteen, came up with his dad to admire our Homestar Runner stuff. Eric and I chatted with him a bit about the online cartoons, while his dad took a look through the open back-issue box with all the Legion of Super-Heroes comics.

Eric, always the helpful one, told him that it was a stack of Drawerboxes, in case he was looking for something specific. I coyly said "something tells me he's a Legion fan."

See, what Eric failed to notice was that our browser was this guy:
It would have been even cooler if he'd bought something. Still, way cool.
DC Comics President Paul Levitz

He chuckled softly and said "No, just an old Legion writer looking..." and I didn't quite catch the last bit of what he said. He and Garret stuck around for a little bit longer, then left to walk around the con once more.

And that's my coolest story from the convention this year. Thanks, Levitz family!

Oh, and Rob Liefeld thumbed through our Star Wars figures. But that's not nearly as interesting.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mike Wieringo: 1963-2007

Well, that was some unpleasant news to come home to. Mike Wieringo passed away on Sunday, due apparently to a heart attack.

I really don't know what to say. There's no way I could eulogize Mr. Wieringo as beautifully as his friends have. I've never had the pleasure of meeting the man, never got to get his autograph or commission a sketch. I've just enjoyed his work for years.

And that's it: I've never not enjoyed Mike Wieringo's art. His run on Adventures of Superman was clean and polished, even if the scripts weren't. His work on Fantastic Four was nothing short of amazing. And his work with Spider-Man?

In the history of Spider-Man comics, there are three artists who, in my opinion, have been truly perfect for the character. There's John Romita Sr., the first artist to succeed Steve Ditko on Amazing, whose pencils defined Spider-Man for more than a generation. He gave us the iconic "Face it, Tiger" panel, designed MJ and Gwen Stacy, and it was his work which graced the majority of merchandise well into my childhood. There's Mark Bagley, who has all but supplanted Romita on the licensed goods, and who has managed to give two lengthy and beautiful runs on the character, defining Spider-Man for the '90s and for the '00s.

And then there's Mike Wieringo, whose clean, whimsical style was tailor-made for the wall-crawler. He made drawing Spider-Man look easy. He gave Spidey a sense of grace and fun that I have yet to see duplicated.

I consider myself so very, very lucky that the last of his work published before his death combines two of his greatest strengths--Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four--into a thoroughly enjoyable and beautifully-rendered story. I just wish we'd been luckier, and that this miniseries would have been just one link in a long chain of amazing artwork. The fact that I'll never see another cover signed "'Ringo" makes me very, very sad.

Goodbye, Mr. Wieringo, and thanks for everything.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Oh dear, this won't do at all

So, on a whim today (because I ended up in a comic shop and don't like leaving empty-handed), I bought Metal Men #1. Everything was going fine, quite well actually, for the first 2/3 or so. We got some crazy action, a neat little Julie Schwartz-esque bit of science for the villain-takedown, and even some tie-in material to "The Obsidian Age." Last time I checked, I was the only person in comics blogging who liked that story, so you'd think this comic might be written directly at me.

Then, I got to page...okay, so the pages aren't numbered. I got past the iffy mad scientist-type science without bristling too much. I grumbled a little over Platinum's statement--"where an element can change its atomic structure as easily as a girl can change her shoes"--since technically to change the atomic structure of the element would turn it into a different element, or at least an isotope or ion, but figured there's enough ambiguity in the term "atomic structure" that she might be talking about spin number or orbitals or something. Then, I rammed headlong into this brick wall:
I'm hyperactive and hypoglycemic. I'm a hyper hypo.

No, no, no. Oh man, I haven't even been able to finish the comic because of that line. Every time I try, my eyes just slide off the page; it's like the book's equipped with an SEP field. First, Newton had laws of Mechanics, not Thermodynamics. The law which became the Second Law of Thermodynamics was coined by Sadi Carnot. Second, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all closed systems tend to move toward greater entropy; an important distinction. While the universe as a whole is a closed system and thus the overall system of the universe is moving toward greater entropy, I still count this as a mistake; Magnus seems to suggest that no system can result in greater order, which is patently false. And "decay" is really a terrible term to use there, because it really doesn't describe the concept of entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder, usually in the form of heat or otherwise useless energy.

It only gets worse from there. Oh, Will Magnus, what the hell is your doctorate in? Certainly not Quantum Physics, Chemistry, or Particle Physics. Were the Metal Men crafted by a mad dentist with delusions of grandeur?
Look, even Gold thinks you're full of it.
He's almost not wrong with that first bit. The "quantum nature of electrons" is their wave-particle duality. Like all particles, electrons exhibit both the properties of waves and particles, depending on what you're looking for. The modern atomic model depicts electrons not as discrete particles in specific orbits, but as a field of probabilities around the nucleus. At each point in an electron cloud, there is a calculable probability of finding an electron...sort of. It's been awhile since I played with particle physics, so I'm a bit rusty. The problem is that I'm reasonably certain that the wave behavior of electrons doesn't lose energy at any appreciable rate.

In any case, there's no "fixed" course; electrons don't travel in orbits like planets, but are confined to specific orbital clouds until energy enters or leaves the system (in which case the electrons may jump up into higher orbitals, or drop down into lower ones) or until a chemical reaction occurs (in which electrons may be shed to or shared by another atom). To ask if the course could be "fluxed" is nonsense.

Anyway, there's no way, so far as I know, to make an electron faster, or to make it cover more space. Again, in an orbital cloud electrons behave more as waves and probabilities rather than discrete particles. They don't "cover space" in any meaningful way, and even if they could, what Magnus suggests here would require that the nucleus somehow be capable of being fooled. Being entirely devoid of sentience, this is rather impossible.

To pare down what Magnus suggests here to the real science, he's suggesting that by increasing the speed of the electrons (whatever that means), he could fool the nucleus (whatever that means) into thinking there are more electrons in the cloud around it. This isn't nearly so groundbreaking as Magnus thinks; when an atom has more electrons in the cloud around it than it should (in order to remain electrically neutral), it becomes an anion, a negatively-charged ion. Usually, this entails the creation of some cation, a positively-charged ion, and the two form an ionic bond.

Chemistry 101 here, folks: a neutral Sodium atom has one electron in its outer electron shell (its valence shell). A neutral Chlorine atom has seven electrons in its valence shell. When the two combine, the sodium loses an electron, which the Chlorine gains. The result is a positively-charged sodium ion attracted electrically to a negatively-charged chlorine ion, and they form NaCl, or common table salt.

Now, it's entirely possible to have an ion outside of an ionic bond; when you dissolve salt crystals in water, the ionic bonds are broken by the polar water molecules. All Magnus is suggesting is the roundabout way toward ionizing elements, which, while it has some effect on the element's properties (usually resulting in greater stability), is not all that amazing, and doesn't require increasing electron speeds.

So, in fact, having more electrons doesn't "trick" the atoms into thinking they're part of a different material, it jst makes them less reactive. What determines the material properties of an element is the number of protons (and to a lesser degree, neutrons). Altering the number of electrons or neutrons really just makes the atom more or less stable or reactive; altering the number of protons changes the element entirely. The main difference between inert gas helium and metallic lithium is a single proton.

Which is where Magnus makes his next big blunder:
This dial goes to 118
Atomic weight is the average of the atomic masses of the various isotopes of a chemical element, weighted by abundance (thanks, Wikipedia). To say you could "raise or lower a material's atomic weight" is like saying you could "raise or lower the average height of Americans;" it implies that the change you're making applies to all the isotopes worldwide, or to a large portion of isotopes, in order to have an effect on the global average. What I think Magnus must mean, then, is that you can change a material's atomic mass as if it were on a dial, a significantly easier and more useful concept. The atomic mass is simply the rest mass of the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of a given atom (electrons' mass, by comparison, is negligible).

Now, there are two ways in which you can alter an atom's atomic weight: you can change the number of neutrons, or you can change the number of protons. When you change the number of neutrons, you create new isotopes of the element. Larger, heavier isotopes tend to be unstable, and thus tend to be radioactive. Different isotopes of an element may have different properties from the common isotope, but aside from some differences in reactivity and radioactivity, they're pretty similar.

Changing the number of protons, however, changes the element; an element is determined by its number of protons. Given the other content of Magnus's speech, this seems the most likely conclusion of what he's trying to say: using his crackpot hypothesis, you could transmute one element into another. Unfortunately, he thinks this process A) is novel and B) might somehow leave the element's "essence" intact, or somesuch. No, Will, you can't make lead behave like gold while still being lead; not by changing the atomic mass, anyway. The only way you'll make lead behave like gold is by subtracting three protons and making it into gold.
And this process is not a new one; it's called nuclear fusion. Yes, yes, I know you have some crazy scheme about tricking the nucleus, but that's insanity. What you're suggesting is no less than fusion and fission, the real-world equivalent of alchemical transmutation. All fusion is is the addition of protons to an atom's nucleus; it's going on in every star in the sky all the time. It's just a little difficult to get that sort of thing going in the laboratory.

Toward the end of the issue, Will is despondent that the scientists were more impressed by his robots than his ramblings. T.O. Morrow tells him that the mumbo-jumbo went over their heads; I tend to think Morrow just didn't have the heart to tell him that his grasp on basic scientific concepts is tenuous at best, and he really ought to stick to his strength: engineering.

Friday, August 03, 2007


So, one of the few crappy things about Wizard World Chicago last year was that I ran into the When Fangirls Attack ladies (repeatedly) without realizing precisely who they were, and gushing at them about how awesome their blogs are. To avoid that problem this year, I'm putting the bulletin out to the whole comics blogohedron: post here (or on your own page, or both) if you're going to Rosemont this year to engage in the Midwest's finest summer nerdathon.

I'll be there, working the Stand-Up Comics booth with some of the best guys in comics retail. Of course, I'll spend some time on the floor and in signing lines too, but I should be hovering about the Stand-Up booth for the majority of time. After all, this year I have far, far less disposable income. Drop by, say hi, and maybe pick up a Strong Bad DVD set or something.

I have three goals for the weekend:
1. Find Avengers/Power Pack #3, which I somehow missed or lost.
2. Buy oodles of trades.
3. Meet Will Pfeifer and tell him how awesome he is.

So, how about you?

Friday with Freakazoid!

This Friday's Freak is brought to you by Countdown #39. When you're looking for the very best in realistic screams, look to Countdown.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Sometimes I wonder if I may have made a mistake in dropping Countdown a few weeks back.

Then, I see a panel like this...
Anyone remember Toby Danger?

...and I feel much, much better about the decision. Aieee?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

But the War has Just Begun

So, Erin Palette asked why the Autobots and Decepticons are at war with one another. It's a good question, and I'd like to say that there's a single coherent explanation for it. Sadly, given the sheer number of different Transformers continuities there are, it's hard to find a consistent answer to anything.

So I'll do my best to answer the question from the perspective of the original cartoon series. I thought about tackling it from the Dreamwave comic series as well, but I'm a lot less confident with my knowledge of that stuff right now, and I don't have the issues nearby for reference.

The origin of the Transformers in the original cartoon was somewhat fuzzy; we know that the Quintessons (five-faced robotic villain-types) were somehow involved, but the series wasn't exactly the greatest at keeping its continuity straight. There's some evidence to suggest that the Quintessons built the Cybertronians for specific purposes and sold them to other worlds for use as slaves, but a lot of that is speculation. It's specifically said, however, that the Autobots are built for science and research activities, while Decepticons are built for combat. The two factions come into conflict repeatedly, but eventually there comes the Golden Age of Cybertron, a long era of lasting peace.

The episode that gives us the best insight into this is "War Dawn," where the Aerialbots accidentally travel back in time, where they befriend a young Autobot by the name of Orion Pax. Orion's a good kid with a lot of ambition, and he really admires an up-and-coming revolutionary by the name of Megatron. Megatron's the leader of a new sort of Transformer, equipped with personal anti-gravity devices and outfitted with high-powered weaponry. Megatron is amassing followers, and Orion is keen on joining until the rebel betrays him. Thanks to quick action by Alpha Trion, one of the oldest Cybertronians, Orion Pax is rebuilt--into Optimus Prime. Prime goes on to amass his own army, and the war between the scientists and the soldiers begins once more (albeit seemingly more organized this time around).

The Wisdom/War dichotomy is central to the Autobot/Decepticon conflict. The Autobots seek progress and betterment through the quest for knowledge; the Decepticons seek progress through increasing power and subjugation of others. It's telling that one of Megatron's earliest acts in building his army was to create a device that would permanently reprogram Cybertronians to be loyal to him. Similarly telling is the fact that the Autobots' greatest weapon is an artifact containing the combined power and wisdom of every one of the Autobots' many leaders.

So the Decepticons want power, and will do anything to get it. On Earth, that means elaborate plans to dominate the planet and turn their resources into Energon Cubes. The Autobots seek knowledge and prize freedom, and see it as their responsibility to protect others from the menace of the Decepticons.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thoughts from the Pensieve

And it's done. I'm glad to say that I was able to predict a couple of the twists and turns, but certainly not all of them. I'm not ashamed to say that I teared up at least two or three times over the course of the book. I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that I wish we'd seen more of Ginny, who has consistently been one of my favorite characters. But it was a good book, perhaps a fantastic book, to end a damn good series. And that's all I'll say about this last book, at least until everyone's read it.

For years I've seen the Harry Potter books compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia series. Over the course of reading this, I've realized how well Rowling has earned that spot, and how she's managed, in all honesty, to improve upon their faults.

Lord of the Rings, for all its wonder and grandeur, can be downright boring. Parts of it are just monumentally dull. Between that and all the fictional languages, all the characters with similar names, all the people who show up only briefly then vanish or who only really become important toward the end, the books can often feel meandering and sluggish. I understand that this was part of the point; Tolkien wanted to evoke the realities of war and struggle, of different co-existing races with different languages. In real life, people don't always serve a greater purpose, journeys are long and difficult, and battles are just short breaks in a larger, more uniform tension. I understand that these are all part of the point that Tolkien's trying to make. However, making a point doesn't always make for good reading. The Lord of the Rings is a classic and a wonderful trilogy; it deserves its accolades. But it has its flaws, and in some places they are oppressive.

The Chronicles of Narnia doesn't usually have the same problem. Shorter books and less attention to realism save it from the pitfalls of the Lord of the Rings, but it has its own issues. For one, it's preachy. I can't imagine why, being entirely composed of often thinly-veiled Biblical allegory. It's hard to pick out really clear-cut morals in Lord of the Rings; you might say that loyalty is the greatest virtue, or that power corrupts, or that people often defy your expectations of them, but there are counter-examples to all those messages. In Narnia, I think you'd be hard-pressed to disagree that it is better to be childlike than mature adults, or that the greedy are easily corrupted and manipulated, and so on. Narnia is far, far more black-and-white than Middle-Earth. Besides that, I recognize that the books are set (more or less) in 1940s Britain, with proper British children, but even taking that into account, the dialogue has never quite rung true to me. It never feels like these are real children talking to each other. Part of this, I'm sure, is due to the overall point of the books; the characters are simply less important than the plot and the allegory.

It is on these flaws, I think, that the Harry Potter series shines. Though some of the books aren't as good as the others (I know I'm not the only one who was less than thrilled with book 5), they're all pretty exciting. The first four books never really let up in their mad dash through years of schooling, the fifth book tries a more steady suspense, and I honestly don't remember much about the sixth book other than it being better than the fifth. One of these days, I'll probably take a week or two and plow through the whole series. In any case, boredom is rarely an issue with the Harry Potter books; they don't feel the need to inform you on every day's events over the course of the year (as it often seems that Lord of the Rings does), but lets you peek in when things are interesting.
And while there are characters who flit in and out of Harry's life, it's amazing how many of them end up being important, far more, I think, than one would expect. There aren't many (if any) Tom Bombadils in Harry Potter. Rowling has a good sense of Chekhov's Gun.
Harry Potter isn't above moralizing, to be certain. Besides general things like the importance of love and friendship and the virtues of courage and selflessness, we see allegories to real-life issues, past and present: the House-Elf civil rights movement, Umbridge's McCarthyist witch-hunts, Rita Skeeter's dishonest sensationalist journalism, the Daily Prophet and government-controlled media, Pureblood racism, and of course, the fascist supremacist Death Eaters. But where Harry Potter uses allegory to make moral and political points, Narnia presents morals that are themselves allegorical, symbolic of specific religious morals. And the Potterverse is significantly more gray-toned than Lewis's. Even characters we're meant to revere, like Dumbledore, have significant flaws, while the ones we're meant to despise, like Snape and Draco, have some redeeming characteristics. Even Voldemort isn't just plain evil, he's tragic and pitiable.
And those flaws? Not just classical tragic flaws like hubris or pride or greed or indecisiveness, but more nuanced, realistic flaws. Harry is a terrible study, a bit of a troublemaker, and a little clueless as to who deserves his trust, and who doesn't. Hermione's weaknesses are in places where Harry and Ron excel, like broomstick riding and Patronus-summoning, not to mention that she takes overachieving to undreamt-of levels, and is often skeptical to a fault (despite living in a world of magic and dragons and such). Every character has not just faults, but faults that ring true. Harry and the other students feel like real children, talk like real children, have the sort of character flaws that real people have. In fact, I daresay that the only real caricatures in the series are the occasional incidental character, and the Dursleys--but even they get some depth as the series wears on.

I think part of it has to do with the contexts in which these series were written: Lord of the Rings branched out of Tolkien's experiences in World War I, the Chronicles of Narnia are set in Britain during the bombings of World War II. Harry Potter doesn't have any real war to call its foundation, and the only war that encroaches into the story is the fictional battle between wizarding factions. Being a story of peacetime, I think, gives it a very different atmosphere than the other canonical fantasy series.

I'm sure there are those in the next few years especially who will scoff at the Harry Potter series, who will call it a flash-in-the-pan fad with no lasting impact or staying power. They'll consider it high literary treason to lump Rowling in with luminaries like Lewis and Tolkien. Frankly, I can only see one reason why. To quote Alexander Pope:
So much they scorn the Crowd, that if the Throng
By Chance go right, they purposely go wrong;
Yes, the Harry Potter books have been popular--immensely popular--but that's less a fault than a testament to the qualities they have. Rowling built a rich tapestry of a world that drew readers in from the very start; she crafted realistic, riveting characters and shepherded them through seven years of school and life; and ultimately she tied everything together neatly. The Harry Potter books are easily more entertaining than the Lord of the Rings and more nuanced than the Chronicles of Narnia. The series has its own faults and flaws (I think we might all agree that the length of these last 3-4 books is a bit excessive), but no moreso than the others. Eventually, I hope and believe, Harry Potter will join the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings, not just in the minds of readers and fans, but in the fantasy-series literary canon. It has earned that spot several times over.

I guess, put short, what I'm trying to say is "Long live Harry Potter!"

Monday, July 23, 2007

Screening cats

As if to render the word "Classics" meaningless, AMC (American Movie Classics) is showing Halle Berry's magnum opus, "Catwoman," right now. Yesterday, USA aired Waterworld, and TNT has been on a Steven Seagal kick as of late. What makes these stations think that people will be more willing to sit through edited, commercial-interrupted dreck than to rent it?

Sigh...299 pages left.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Sorry I haven't been more on the ball with posting lately. Things just keep coming up. One of those things just came up in my mailbox yesterday, and so I'm going to cut myself off from the rest of the world as much as possible until I'm done with it. Only 614 pages left.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Top 5 Worst Transformers Ideas Ever

Transformers really is such an elegantly simple concept. Take one thing that kids like--toy cars--combine it with another thing kids like--action figures--and add a dash of simple morality play and simmer over sci-fi space opera, and you've got a recipe for success. Inspired additions like "dinosaurs" and "spaceships" and "combiners" prove that yes, you can improve on perfection. It's hard to screw these ideas up.

And yet, screw them up they have, and frequently. Now, overall, Transformers has been pretty good and increasing in quality from the '80s to the present day. But every once in awhile, a real stinker gets through. These are those stinkers:

5. The Throttlebots: You'd think "motorized Transformers" would be a no-brainer, right? The Generation One line experimented with motorized and mechanized Transformers a few times over the course of the line, to varying degrees of success. The Jumpstarters and Battlechargers had pull-back-and-go motors, and automatically transformed into robot mode as they rolled along (though the Jumpstarters had much more articulation). The Triggerbots and Triggercons had mechanically-rotating parts which would reveal 'hidden' guns in either mode. And then there were the Throttlebots. Like the Jumpstarters and the Battlechargers, the Throttlebots were equipped with pull-back-and-go motors. Like the Battlechargers, they didn't have much articulation (neither group possessed poseable arms or hands). The Throttlebots, however, didn't even have the auto-transformation feature or the snap-on guns possessed by those progenitors. They turned from little brick-like cars into little brick-like robots, whose lack of anything resembling arms (their doors opened outward) and wheeled leg-sleds (the pull-back-and-go motor worked in both modes) caused them to look like the Thalidomide generation of Cybertronians. The fact that poor Bumblebee got saddled with one of these mutant bodies for years is one of the great tragedies of Transformers.

4. The Cybernet Space-Cube: It's 1993. Transformers is enjoying a moderately successful resurgence in popularity, thanks to the Generation 2 line of toys, which mixes updated versions of the '80s figures with all-new toys. You realize that this is the perfect time for a new Transformers cartoon. Unfortunately, you have neither the time nor the resources to put one together. So, what do you do? Well, computers are all the rage, and it seems like they'd be a perfect fit for a show about hi-tech robots from outer space. And, you know, the last Transformers cartoon isn't all that old; in fact, it's perfectly good. So you combine the two, thinking they're two great tastes that taste great together. And you do this with a new, computer-animated opening sequence and the Cybernet Space-Cube, a silver Macguffin that flew through space and showed you old episodes of Transformers on shifting screens within itself. The result: any time there was some sort of interstitial or scene change or camera change, the Space-Cube would show up, shifting screens around mechanically accompanied by machine-like noises that often drowned out the sound of the show. It served no purpose other than to put a gussied-up, intrusive '90s frame around an '80s cartoon. Annoying, useless, and utterly unnecessary. And here it is, in all its opposite of glory:

3. Beast Wars Mutants: Beast Wars started with a good idea: robots that turn into dinosaurs and other animals instead of cars and airplanes. It was kind of a gamble, sure, mainly because it was a departure from the original concept of Transformers and because the animal alt-modes tended not to look very realistic. But after a slightly rocky start and bolstered by a fantastic cartoon series, Beast Wars found its stride. The original Transmetal sub-line remains one of the most consistently awesome incarnations of Transformers ever. But Beast Wars, especially toward the end of the series, had its own share of missteps. The Transmetal II/2 line would have made this list with its easily-chipped metallic paint jobs, its ugly figures that didn't look like anything in either mode, and its decision to change from Roman to Arabic numerals because they didn't think kids would understand what "II" meant. They had no such qualms with the word "Transmetal," however. But, without the TM2 line, we wouldn't have gotten the awesomeness of dragon Megatron, and that'd be a real shame. But there was one subset that had almost no such redeeming qualities: the Mutants. There were only a few of these figures made, and for good reason: they transformed not from animal to robot, but from one animal to a different animal. During the transition, you could see little robot parts inside, to signify that they were trapped between the two animal modes, but they really just serve to remind you that all you really want is to turn it into a dude with a gun. The backstory is actually kind of interesting for these guys, but being totally unable to turn them into something that can hold its own against the average Predacon or Maximal really makes them feel useless. You can take cars out of the Transformers equation, but not robots.

2. Action Masters: Incidentally, something else you can't take out of the Transformers equation is transforming. Yet, someone at Hasbro toward the very end of the original toyline decided that doing just that would be some sort of fantastic idea. Action Masters gave us Transformers that didn't change into anything, who came with weapon or accessory partners that did sort of transform. Strangely "accessory that looks sort of like a robot turns into accessory that looks sort of like a gun" wasn't quite enough transforming for people who bought Transformers because they transform. There's really only two reasons that this isn't number one on the list. First, the figures introduced a feature that would become standard for Transformers from that point onward: articulation. Say what you will about the Action Masters, but at least they had a wide range of motion. The second reason is quite simply because Action Masters doesn't hold a candle to our number one contender.

1. Beast Machines: In every facet of Beast Machines, there's something to hate. The toys were hideously ugly, and often looked nothing like their animated counterparts (something that the series had worked to correct for the last couple of seasons of Beast Wars on both sides of production). The toy sizes were determined (apparently) not by any logic, nor by importance (until this point, Optimus and Megatron tended to be the largest beast characters), but by which characters Hasbro wanted to be popular. Hence, we have a deluxe-sized Optimus Primal, a mega-sized Cheetor, and ultra-sized Nightscream. The toys continued a trend begun by Transmetal II/2, where the character doesn't look like much of anything in either mode (with the exception of some Vehicons, which were moderately okay). The series was almost completely devoid of guns, especially on the good guys' side, apparently due to Story Editor Bob Skir's own personal crusades. And then there's the show, oh dear Primus, the show. While the characters ostensibly continued from Beast Wars to Beast Machines, you'd never know it from their personalities. Nothing stayed constant except names and some alt-modes. Part of this is because Bob Skir and Marty Isenberg, the Story Editing team, are utter hacks. You may remember them from the "Gargoyles" episode about virtual reality, which was just like their "Batman: The Animated Series" episode about virtual reality (with the Riddler instead of Lexington). You probably remember their two-part "Batman" episode that ripped off "2001" and "Blade Runner" right down to the voice actors. In fact, the only good thing I've ever seen come out of that writing team is "His Silicon Soul," which still built out of their earlier plagiarism.

But I digress. Skir and Isenberg introduced into Transformers the ridiculous idea that technology is inherently evil. That might have made for a good series (perhaps a counterpoint to "Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors"), except that it was in a franchise based on robots. Robots, as you may or may not know, are made of technology. So our primary conflict is not between good and evil, as in G1, nor between different factions in a war, as in Beast Wars. Instead, it's between two groups of fanatics who are both wrong: Megatron, who wants to destroy all the sparks so Cybertron is a paradise of machinery with no free will; and Optimus, who wants to turn Cybertron into an organic, plant-filled animal haven, ridding the world of evil technology.

Add into this horrendously pedantic plotline a bunch of muddled references to Transformers series past, where the Key to Vector Sigma behaves like the Hate Plague and the Hate Plague in turn behaves like something completely different, and your result is a series that has almost no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And, as I only recently learned, a lot of the bad can be traced back to one man, who ought to be familiar to the patrons of this blog. This executive at Mainframe, the computer animation production house behind the Beast Machines cartoon, told Marv Wolfman (who co-wrote the series bible) that the show had no ties to earlier series and to do with G1 continuity whatever he wanted. This executive told Skir and Isenberg to completely disregard any previous incarnations of the characters and series, because Beast Wars was too "continuity-heavy." This executive cancelled ReBoot. And the name of this Mainframe executive?

Dan DiDio

Yes, the Dan DiDio. Now, I've met Dan briefly, shook his hand, listened to him talk about the state of the DCU. I've generally liked what he's done for DC, with the exception of his tendency toward turning decent characters into cannon fodder. I've never cared for his writing (his "Superboy" run essentially killed the title), but I don't mind his editing, not nearly as much as some people do. But to learn that he's the voice behind the worst thing ever as far as Transformers is concerned, to have my irony meter explode at hearing him express aversion to continuity...well, my opinion of Dan DiDio dropped quite a bit.

My opinion of Beast Machines, however, can't possibly get any lower. No other idea in the history of Transformers has ever taken the "robots that turn into things" idea and screwed it up in more spectacularly awful ways than Beast Machines. There's a real sort of prescience to giving the series the initials "B.M."