Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thoughts on Superhero Movies

With next year’s The Dark Knight Rises ending the current Nolan Batman trilogy of films, I am wondering what exactly is coming next with the franchise. Is the succeeding films going to follow along with the Gotham City envisioned by Nolan or will it be a reboot, with a new origin for Bruce Wayne/ Batman? Given the recent changes in the Spiderman franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a reboot.

Earlier today, I was listening to Comicvine’s podcast, and they were discussing the latest news about The Dark Knight Rises.  When the discussion came around to what comes next, they seemed to suppose a reboot is on the horizon. I am honestly wary of such a prospect.

To be honest, I like Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns to Nolan’s two outings. I do like the gritty realism that Nolan imparts, but the adherence to realism also causes some problems (like limiting the possible villain pool or no Robins).  With a new direction, could a redemption of Poison Ivy be in the offing or better interpretations of Robin and Batgirl? Hell, will Jason Todd or Tim Drake or Damian Wayne get a chance to be Robin in addition to Dick Grayson?

I want continuation in the Batman series. I want to see Dick Grayson, Barbra Gordon, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne all get some screen time. I don’t want to have a retread of the Joker, Catwoman, Ra’s al Ghul, etc. again. I don’t want a repeated origin story. I get that Hollywood is, for the moment, obsessed with origin stories and reboots. Spiderman is getting one, Batman’s already had one, the X-Men may or may not have had one (I hope that one has had one), and I don’t know if Superman is getting one or not.

I want something like the James Bond series applied to these comic book movie franchises. Except for a few interruptions (and the recent reboot), Bond has been both steady and easily open to reinterpretation. The first Bonds with Connery are different from the Bonds with Moore. Now, as long as there aren’t any more Schumachers or Die Another Days, I don’t see why the Batman series cannot continue on like the Bond series, just change directors and lead actors every few movies or so.

But with my luck, I’m thinking that the next Batman movie will be another reboot with a whole new cast and another take on the Joker. Now, I know that most of this post has been about Batman, and I haven’t touched on many of the others. The thing is that I’m a huge Batman fan and am not as fond of some of the others (I liked the X-Men trilogy, Thor, and a few others). However, my concerns are mostly linked to Batman.

My hand wringing over The Dark Knight Rises‘s successor film my be an indication that, for me, film may not be the best format for comic books. I get that they make the most money, but really, a serial format is more suited to the serial format of comic books. To be honest, I think Batman the Animated Series and X-Men are the best adaptations of those series. Above the cinematic portrayals of the Joker, there is Mark Hamill’s definitive Joker.

Of course, I look forward to The Dark Knight Rises and whatever Batman movie follows.

Finding the Right Genre for the Idea in My Head

I’ve been wondering lately if certain ideas require certain genres as the best medium to get the idea into a fully formed story. By genre, I’m meaning the forms of written expression rather than a type of literature. Short story and novel rather than space opera and sword and sorcery. My thoughts crystalized when I read Scott Snyder’s afterword to American Vampire. His argument that American Vampire needed to be a comic book series touched my own thinking. I, too, think that certain ideas call for certain ways of telling.

So, how does one tell what form is best for an idea? I think instinct is the best guide. That and experience. Look at the idea, think about it, and work on it. Does it perform well in a shorter venue or does it demand something larger, grander? Is the idea playable, linguistic, or visual? Does it scream for movement and sound, or is it okay with pictures and balloons?

The idea itself may want/ need/ be attuned to a certain format. But does that mean that the writer has experience in the medium? I guess this part of the equation looks to what the writer is most comfortable with as a craftsman. Is she (or he) best at short stories, novels, comics, movies, games, etc.? What are the skill sets needed to work one rather than the other?

Finally, all of this leads up to a (hopeful) publication and payday (after the work has been done). This also raises questions. Is getting published in one medium easier than in another? What does the writer need to know, or who, to get their work out there? Do agents multitask in genres? So many questions.

I don’t have the answers to all of these questions (or most of them). I’ve been thinking about them long and hard as regards my own projects. This all goes to show that I should have taken art class far more passionately than I did (although I don’t have much of a talent, but that is correctable with work).

Okay, take a deep breath, and get back to work.

Review: American Vampire vol. 1

I’ve been on a comic book binge lately. One of the most recent newer comics I’ve read is the first volume of American Vampire by Scott Snyder (and Stephen King). This volume is a fantastic introduction and a highly enjoyable read.

American Vampire is a reaction to the recent spate of vampire fictions. From the terrifying predatory creatures of folklore and early horror, the vampire has increasingly been eroticized and moderated. The vampire has been defanged and looks for love rather than blood. This is for Snyder and King a travesty (and one I agree with). I understand why vampires as romantic partners (or sexual partners) have become popular, but I much prefer the predator to the lover.

In addition to reclaiming the vampire as monster, the series also focuses on America and its metaphoric conflict with Europe. The two kinds of vampire are essentially representative of the tropes and stereotypes of each location. The American vampires are in many ways superior to their European counterparts (save for their numbers). This can become a little jingoistic (on both sides), but it does not take away from the story as a whole. That America as a place plays such a powerful role in the series is quite refreshing.

The volume is divided into two parts, the main story line and a backup origin feature. The main story line is written by Snyder and stars Pearl Jones as the main protagonist with Skinner Sweet playing a more Puck/ Satan role. I really enjoyed this part. King handles the backup story which details the origins of the first American vampire, Skinner Sweet. King’s story is interesting if perhaps less well realized than Snyder’s story. But perhaps I much prefer Pearl Jones as a heroine to Skinner Sweet as an anti-hero.

The art work by Rafael Albuquerque is absolutely fantastic. It is almost a perfect match for the story told.

Well, that is it for American Vampire. I highly recommend this first volume.

 

The Silliness of High and Low

I’m not a fan of the concept of high and low fantasy. To me, high fantasy is limited to epic fantasy (with maybe certain heroic subgenres being included). By contrast, low fantasy is too broad. Is fantasy genres that do not share epic tropes really all low fantasy? This does not work for me. Indeed, it would be better to just go with the subgenres without any further separation.

Now, I get that the terms high and low fantasy are meant to relate to setting. A constructed world or an extremely altered Earth is referred to as high fantasy, and a setting that is based on a recognizable Earth is often termed low fantasy.

But, the problems come in when one realizes that this system is not perfect. Middle Earth is set in Earth’s distant past, but it is an Earth so different, so altered that it might as well be a different world entirely. The same can be said of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, it is set on Earth, but an Earth so altered and fantastic as to be another world. Middle Earth is high fantasy, but the Hyborian Age is low fantasy. Why?

Well, the issue is that the Conan Saga is sword and sorcery, not epic. This is when a form of genre classism comes into play. I mentioned earlier that epic fantasy often seems to be the only genre that is included in high fantasy. When I mentioned that low fantasy is muddled and broad, I meant it.

Furthermore, high fantasy gets muddled when one thinks of non secondary epic fantasies. Harry Potter is an epic fantasy set on our own contemporary Earth with just a separate and hidden wizarding community. While the novel takes place almost exclusively within that hidden community, the known world is still very present. So should this be high fantasy or low fantasy? The setting, I argue, should mean it is a low fantasy, but most people place it in high fantasy because it has epic tropes.

So, is it the setting or is it whether the work is epic or not? I think that the binary was originally intended to be based on setting but gradually came to be so closely equated to epic fantasy that the two genres have become synonyms of each other.

So, I think it has come time to discard the two terms entirely. Instead of utilizing high and low fantasy, which are inherently class based terms (and imply a ranking system), I propose using a more clearly setting based system. If a work is a constructed world or an Earth so clearly altered as to be a constructed world, then it is a constructed world fantasy. If a work is set on Earth (even if it takes place in a hidden world or a slightly altered Earth), then it is an Earth based fantasy. And that way, there should not be a synonym between any of the terms of fantasy.

To conclude, I dislike the terms high and low fantasy. I think they do not work and they come across as being a little silly.

Sometimes, Taking Time Off is the Best Medicine

So, I managed to beat the Raven level of DCUO yesterday after a day or two off (man Nightwing was easy!). And today I slammed two more mission to get myself to level 15!

If things get frustrating, maybe the best course of action is to take time off from focusing on the problem and doing something else.

When an Author’s Politics are a Problem

Given the recent controversies surrounding Frank Miller and Orson Scott Card, I thought it might be a good idea to explore what to do when an author’s politics (or other beliefs) become a problem.

If you don’t like an author’s works, then his or her politics won’t influence whether you read the work. Example, I read Card’s Ender’s Game in high school and haven’t touched a work of his since because I didn’t like it. I find his politics scary, but it doesn’t change whether I read him or not.

Now, let’s take Frank Miller and Ian Fleming as writers that one likes, but then discovers that their politics are scary. What do you do? Well, if the issue is more important than your enjoyment of their work, then quit reading them. If you are torn, you love the work but you don’t want to support the artist financially, then check out their stuff from the library (or buy their books used). And if you want to purge the author from your bookshelves, donate or sell the book. Then at least you or someone else is making money off of the author rather than the author him/herself.

For example, given Miller’s rant, I am not going to buy any of his stuff again. But if I ever want to read or watch his stuff, I’ll just check it out of the library (like I did with all but The Hard Goodbye).

Now, dead authors are more problematic. How do you deal with authors whose politics were mainstream (or not) in their day, but are today out of bounds? Again, you don’t have to read them. But if one wishes to read the work, look at it critically. Be aware of the history and what your opinions are on it. If reading Huckleberry Finn troubles you, that is perfectly legitimate. Be aware of why it makes you uncomfortable.

Take Ian Fleming. The James Bond novels are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and classist. Reading Fleming when Bond goes off on those monologues are painful. But just as Fleming deploys stereotypes, those stereotypes are sometimes subverted (whether Fleming intended it or not). This subversion can come either by the characters themselves or by the knowledge that the Bond series can be read as wish fulfillment on the part of Fleming himself. That Pussy Galore “gets cured” of her lesbianism by falling in love with Bond is laughable, and reveals the narrative for what it is, a straight man’s fantasy. That similar antics were common in the literature of the day should come as no surprise, and my anger at it should not come as a surprise either.  And who can’t feel a sense of satisfaction when the American and British intelligence services so grossly underestimate Mr. Big’s operation and power?

In the end, how one deals with an author’s politics is up to the reader. Should authors stay silent when it comes to speaking about politics? I would say no, but don’t lay everything out there. If one’s political positions are so outside the pale of accepted political discourse, maybe one should not advertise it.

P.S. Rachelle Gardner has a good list of things authors may not want to write on their blog at her blog.

Some Thoughts on Frank Miller

As many of you may know, Frank Miller harshly criticized the Occupy Wall Street movement in a recent blog post. Personally, I’m not surprised that he made those comments. They fit into the world view that he often espouses in his works.

To be fair, I’ve only really read Sin City and Batman: Year One. I’ve also watched 300. Now, I rather like the Sin City stories, but I also recognize them for what they are.

Frank Miller’s work often valorizes the strong individual, rugged and self militarized, who battles it out against a corrupt society, all the while spouting right wing talking points. Basically, the plot of most of the Sin City yarns is this: hero gets into scrape over a girl (who is threatened by corrupt authority) and must then deliver brutal justice to the perpetrators. From corrupt politicians, dirty cops, powerful crime lords, and cannibalistic priests, Miller’s work portrays the myriad forms of a corrupt and corrupting society. Mixed with a strong dose of noir, it is never certain whether the ending is bitter or bitter sweet.

The individualism depicted and romanticized in Sin City is clearly right wing, if not borderline fascistic. But 300 takes that imagery and runs with it. (As a disclaimer, I have not read the graphic novel 300  but I have watched the film adaptation.)

For a great take down of 300, go read David Brin’s essay at his blog (http://davidbrin.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/move-over-frank-miller-or-why-the-occupy-wall-street-kids-are-better-than-spartans/ ). I’ve even commented there. And to further my comments, I was, personally, more interested in the half naked men than I was in being annoyed at the utterly horrendous usage of history. While the conceit is propaganda, it still reveals what it is that Miller values: strength and an elite warrior cultural mindset that emphasizes glory, even if it is spectacle.

I’ve read elsewhere (and listened on podcasts) that have opined that Miller’s work has steadily declined over the years. This I can believe. Miller has been a revolutionary voice in comic books, but his inability to move on, to change and adapt, means that the revolution has already passed him by.

Sometimes It’s the Obvious

So after taking a break from DCUO for a few days, I came back and finished out the Queen Bee side missions as well as the Bane mission. Then, I finally beat Donna Troy (and Starfire, too). Now, if only I can beat Cyborg. . .

Anyway, I managed to get Bane and Starfire to go down in a single battle. Plus, I don’t think I had trouble with Donna this round either. I just needed a better handle on my powers than I’ve had.

But, I did realize something- the levels aren’t glitched (although I do wish the demons would stay longer). Basically, the allies and enemies don’t respawn. That’s why Donna Troy may appear by herself after a while, no one else survived. And this playing session, I didn’t have any hangups with powers or collecting stuff. There was a large queue, and I watched Sanford fall to Oregon during the lag time. So it worked out in the end.

Now, I’ve got to go find some histories on Singapore, Venice, and New Orleans.

A Quick Review of One Piece Vol. 1

So, I finally took the plunge and read the first volume of One Piece. And it was awesome. Eiichiro Oda is amazing. Not as good as Fairy Tail, but certainly one of the best first volumes of a manga I’ve read.

The story is excellently realized and wonderfully executed. The characters are engaging and interesting, if a little deformed. I found myself being carried away with the story.

The art is excellent, if a little cartoony (not that that is a bad thing).

I have a theory that to be a great shonen manga, the artist must create characters, story, and a world that takes the tropes and archetypes of the genre and take them in directions that are new and unusual.

Which is where I do have concerns about the series. I Monkey D. Luffy going to annoy me to no end at some point? I don’t know, but I look forward to finding out.

Beating a Queen and Insufferable Glitches

In keeping with my beating up Dr. Fate post, I beat Queen Bee yesterday (I’m surprised at how easy she was). The only annoying thing about the Queen Bee level is her minions, who tend to gang up on the player character.  Piece of advice though, get some distance and use ranged powers/ weapons.

While I did beat Queen Bee, I really wanted to beat the Teen Titans (really the Titans) during the Raven mission. Unfortunately, the level seems glitched. There should be some demons around to attack the Science Police and Donna Troy. But occasionally, they don’t show up. Another issue is the weapon is disabled. This is extremely frustrating. So hopefully, it gets fixed eventually.

Anyway, I think that I need to take a break from the game for awhile and do a few other things.