Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Life on Mars

So, in-between Netflix shipments of Doctor Who, I've taken to watching the first season of "Veronica Mars," which I bought on reliable advice a few weeks back. Let me tell you, it's been a good couple of months for me discovering new shows and music I like.

What Veronica Mars ends up being, if I may be so glib, is a little like "Chloe Sullivan: The Series," except that all the Weird is mundane Hollyweird as opposed to Krypton-weird. Oh, and Veronica's rarely a damsel in distress pining away for the boy who doesn't notice her. She's what Chloe Sullivan should have been, and that's pretty much exactly what I want from TV.

Incidentally, though, I keep getting this "Dexter" vibe from the series. I think it's the music, coupled with the first-person narration and the story arc style. Which reminds me, I still have to watch the rest of last season of "Dexter."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Loaded words

Is there a phrase more heavily laden with condescending sexism than "your pretty little head" (usually preceded by some variant of "don't worry")? It's like fiction shorthand for "sexist jackass," kind of like how kicking puppies is shorthand for "evil."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pacting it In

Apparently Shadowpact has been cancelled as of issue #25. That pretty much solves my problem of continuing to purchase it. No sense in leaving only three issues un-bought, even if the quality of the book has taken a serious nosedive.

Goodbye Shadowpact, we hardly knew ye. Your current writer included.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bone to Pick

Boned.I haven't read "Bone," despite having heard good things about it ever since I started buying Wizard oh so long ago (and long before I stopped buying Wizard, also a fairly long time ago). I've been planning on picking up the One Volume edition ever since it came out, but so far I haven't gotten around to it. Fairly recently, I looked at the new color trades that have been collecting the series, and I like the look of them. Then again, I like the compact-ness and the pricing of the One Volume edition.

So, I put the question to you, my loyal readers: most of you have probably already read Jeff Smith's magnum opus; most of you probably have some insight on this, so which version should I buy? Would I be better off getting the whole series in one convenient package, or waiting and splurging a bit so I can see it in four-color glory?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spending Green

Damn you, DC Solicitations. You're making it very difficult for me to not buy Superman/Batman anymore. I mean, take a look at this solicitation text (emphasis added):
Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Art and cover by Shane Davis & Matt “Batt” Banning
The penultimate chapter of “K” presents Superman vs. AAB (The All-American Boy) in a no-holds-barred fight through Smallville! Only Heroes scribe Michael Green and his writing partner, Mike Johnson, could create the AAB — a supersoldier with Doomsday’s DNA that’s infused with Kryptonite! Can Batman help the Man of Steel defeat AAB, or will we witness “The Death of Superman” all over again?
On sale May 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

It's like they're creating plots with a Superman-themed set of those word refrigerator magnets. And I just can't freaking resist.

Edit: Okay, there's no way these are real comics.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Jerry Ordway
Cover by Ordway & Bob Wiacek
Batman and Jay Garrick stand against an android samurai with a bad attitude!
On sale May 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Batman vs. Robot Samurai? Who gave DC the injection of awesome this month?

Oh, I see. Bruce Jones is taking over Checkmate. I guess nature abhors that much sucking, so other comics got better as a result.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Loaded Questions

"Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?" is the 3rd grade version of "Have your stopped beating your wife?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Steve Gerber: 1947-2008

This is where I should be saying something insightful and inspiring about the work of Steve Gerber and what it meant to me. This is where I'd like to be saying something like that, but I can't, not honestly. I know I've read some of Gerber's work, I know I've enjoyed many of his characters, I know I've read about his legal battles and his work-for-hire disputes and all the various problems that have plagued his work and the recent revivals of Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown. The problem is that I don't feel like I've read enough, like I know enough of what his writing is like, what his themes are, or anything of substance.

But I know that after seeing the outpouring of praise and support over the last couple of days, I feel like I've missed out on something big. But I'm certainly willing to find out what I've missed. Where should a Gerber neophyte start to get an appreciation of his work?

Goodbye, Steve Gerber, though I never knew you at all. I hope, in some small way, to correct that.

Bad Sequels are Superman's Kryptonite (also: Kryptonite)

Everyone knows my unconventional feelings toward "Superman Returns" and my strong dislike for perennial villain General Zod; many are aware of my nostalgic love for the "Death and Return" story. But my against-the-grain Superman opinions don't stop there, true believers! On the contrary, they extend all the way back to those halcyon days when someone thought the best way to spruce up a Superman movie was to turn it into "Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy," except with Superman as the Mummy and Richard Pryor as the comedy duo.

Yes, friends, I'm talking about "Superman III"--and, for that matter, "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." I've always been far more partial to the latter than the former.

Now, I realize that talking about which of these movies is better than the other is a little like debating which pile of elephant dung stinks less, but the pointlessness of a debate has never deterred me from participating (after all, I'm a comic fan).

As a kid, "The Quest for Peace" always held a special place in my heart. I loved the Superman movies long before I developed critical faculties, and "Superman IV" was, full disclosure, my favorite. "Why, oh dear Rao, why?" you may ask. The answer at the time was really quite simple: it's the only one of the four where Superman actually fights a supervillain. Now, you might quibble about Lex Luthor and General Zod being potential supervillains, but my criteria for the term included simple things like "costumes" and "distinct powers." Nuclear Man wasn't much of a villain, but he was a damn sight better than Richard Pryor and that low-rent Luthor knock-off.

I mean, really.The biggest problems with both movies tend to be the over-the-top slapstick humor and the lack of any regard for the source material. Incidentally, "Fantastic Four," you may want to pay attention to this. "Superman III" is easily the worst offender on both counts. Richard Pryor's role is an embarrassment on every count; Gus Gorman less a character, more a collection of various characters from a terrible sketch comedy show. Is he a genius or a buffoon? Evil, or just stupid? Utterly incompetent, or an actor skilled enough to fool a crowd of people and the Man of Steel into believing that he's a general? Lenny Luthor may have been annoying, but he was consistently annoying.

And speaking of Lenny Luthor: oy. Why Lex Luthor, supposedly the world's greatest criminal mind, insists on surrounding himself with such ultra-morons is far beyond me. And as bad as Otis was, at least he was endearing in a doofy sort of way. Duckie should have stuck with Molly Ringwald.

I would, of course, be remiss in my discussion of the terrible humor in "Superman IV" if I neglected to mention the double-date scene. I can think of few movie clips that would qualify for Superdickery, but Superman making two dates with two different women at the same time (apparently so he can spend as little time with either as possible) and almost certainly risking revealing his secret, ranks right up there with destroying the world's money, tormenting Jimmy Olsen and Aquaman, and, well...this.

If I understand correctly, the campy slapstick humor is a result of what the Salkinds wanted the Superman films to be like in the first place. Less reliance on the comic book source material, more reliance on sight gags and the old "Batman" series. It's a shame that they didn't pay some attention to the comics; it's not like there's any dearth of material for seriousness or silliness in them. Why make up a new quasi-Lex Luthor character when you could just make Richard Pryor into the Prankster or the Toyman? Why invent Lenny Luthor when you could just as easily use his niece Nasthalthia (or, Nasty could have taken the place of the brother/sister duo in "Superman III," bankrolling Pryor's Prankster). And why, why on Earth or Krypton or any other planet, would you make a Superman movie where a villainous supercomputer is built and never call it Brainiac? How much better would "Superman III" have been with just that one small shout-out to comic fans? "It's the most powerful supercomputer in the world. I call it...Brainiac."

Okay, so it wouldn't be much better, but those little details do make a difference. Today's comic book movies are filled with those tiny Easter Egg shout-outs, which add to the depth of the fictional universe and act as a little wink and a nod to the comic fans, as though to say "look, we love these characters as much as you do." Those things being absent wouldn't be too great a loss; those things being conspicuous by their absence, however, detract from the story. And just as if you had Batman fighting a grinning psychopath named "Mr. Smiley," depicting Superman fighting a giant supercomputer that isn't named Brainiac takes away from the story.

This would be a good place to mention Superman's masonry vision (or, as I called it in childhood, "rebuild the Great Wall of China vision," a power with even more limited application than super-ventriloquism and the memory-wipe smooch) and the other powers he seems to gain and lose at random over the course of the series. It started out in "Superman II," where Zod telekinetically grabs the police officers' guns with his heat vision, or something, and the trend continues with the cellophane S-shield, the weird hand-beams, and the inexplicable hologram battle.

So, back to the "which is better" question, here's how it breaks down:
Superman IIISuperman IVAdvantage
Comic ReliefGus Gorman, genius-buffoon and central frigging character.Lenny Luthor, annoying valley-boy sidekick to Lex, and incidental character.
VillainsRuss and Vera Webster, brother/sister tycoons who seem an awful lot like the businessman Lex of the '80s comics.Lex Luthor and Nuclear Man, a solar-powered clone (?) of Superman who looks an awful lot like Rocky Horror.
Special EffectsSuperman fights himself; Vera is turned into a Cyberman in a scene that creeped me out as a kid.Superman is often just a cut-out being moved around on the film; when he lands on the Moon, you can see the wires.
PlotTycoons use supercomputers to get richer, Superman gets split in two, buffoon eventually realizes that the guy in the cape is the hero.Superman rids the world of nuclear weapons to satisfy a kid's letter, Lex Luthor creates a clawed Nuclear Farah-haired clone of him to wreak various sorts of havoc.
Love InterestAnnette O'Toole as Lana Lang and Pamela Stephenson as Lorelei Ambrosia.Margot Kidder's Lois Lane and Mariel Hemingway's Lacy Warfield.
Super-dickerySuperman becomes, like, Snidely Whiplash.Superman dates two girls at once.

So, as my totally scientific table demonstrates, "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" is clearly the less smelly turd. Why was I doing this again?

Anyway, somewhere up there I mentioned that each film contained the seeds of greatness. And it's true, there are elements, however small, of both these miserable Superman sequels that could result in fantastic films. They didn't, and probably never will, but that won't stop us from pointlessly considering what might have been. So tune in next time for "Movies I'd (Re)write for Free"!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stating the Obvious?

So, this thought has been rattling around my head for awhile now, and I keep wondering if it's actually some kind of insight, or if it's something that everyone else takes for granted and I'm just slow on the uptake.

Anyway, there have been quite a few characters in the history of the Legion who are analogs of "modern" heroes, intentionally or otherwise. Mostly, I think, this is because there are just a limited number of powers that superheroes generally have. And while I'm sure that this connection isn't intentional (as the future character debuted three years before the more contemporary one), it occurred to me recently that Ultra Boy is the future version of Ultra the Multi-Alien.

Introducing new Batman villain Four-Face!You probably all know Ultra Boy's schtick--normal guy gets swallowed by space whale and bombarded by energy, ends up with a slew of powers that he can use one at a time. Ultra's is a bit similar--normal guy gets shot by several different alien-transformation beams, ends up with a slew of powers that each correspond to one quadrant of his body. His left arm is magnetic, his right arm is super-strong, his right leg can fly, and he can turn one leg invisible, which really isn't all that practical, and unless you're extremely gullible, you won't get fooled by Super-Skru..oh, wait, sorry. Forget the last bit.

Point being, both "Ultra" characters have sets of powers that are quantized in some fashion, confined to solitary use or use from only one part of the body. While it might not exactly be the stuff great stories are made of, I think it's enough to warrant a team-up. I'd love to see them swap limitations; Ultra gets the one-at-a-time thing while Ultra Boy suddenly has flash-vision coming out of his left leg.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Look out!

So, "The Girl in the Fireplace" is the second Stephen Moffat Doctor Who story where the Doctor dances. I'm waiting on tenterhooks for the episode where the Doctor does this dance:

Ooh, or how about "Rose Tyler, the Happy Trotty Elf"?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Doctor is In Awesome

Holy crap, "Doctor Who" rocks.

Over the course of the last week or so, I've been watching season 1 of the relaunch. Somehow, despite having seen several episodes of the new series, I've only previously managed to catch two episodes with Christopher Eccleston: "The Empty Child" and "The Parting of the Ways," episodes somewhat bereft of their gravitas being seen out of context. Watching the series from the beginning has been an absolute treat. There aren't many shows that can alternate so successfully and so powerfully between funny, touching, scary, and suspenseful. I quite literally jumped out of my chair when they "killed" Rose in "Bad Wolf"--a moment which wouldn't have been nearly as effective if they hadn't already "replaced" Rose earlier that episode. Lynda Moss was a fantastic misdirection character.

One of the things I really like about this series is that it engages in social commentary, the way science fiction shows, almost as a rule, used to. I think a great deal of this has to do with the fact that the series doesn't take itself too seriously. Social commentary was essentially the purpose of "Star Trek," and it worked because they weren't afraid to crack a pun or make a joke at the end of all of it. The more serious the Star Trek shows became, the more they focused on building some kind of coherent universe as opposed to telling more-or-less isolated stories with a constant cast, the more hollow and contrived the commentary felt, when it showed up at all. The series became increasingly detached thematically from anything resembling real life, just as they also became more pessimistic, more grim, and less like an idealized estimation of the future. Sometimes that worked, when the characters drove the story (see: The Dominion War arc); more often, it failed miserably (see: the Temporal Cold War arc...or, hell, anything from Voyager and Enterprise).

Doctor Who's sense of humor about itself is what allows it to tell stories about futuristic reality television and animated mannequin armies; the show isn't specifically concerned with dotting all the continuity i's and crossing all the universe-building t's, it's concerned about telling good stories with good characters, and occasionally saying something about the state of affairs in our time, on our world.

That's something that I'd like to see more in American sci-fi. I hear Stargate SG-1 was pretty good about keeping things light, but that ought to be the rule, rather than the exception. Science Fiction would do well to remember its roots.

In the meantime, though, I'll be travelling with the Doctor.