Balancing Act

As I finish up my final seminar of class work with Norwich University's Military History program, I have begun to mentally shift gears towards the subject matter of my final paper, where I'm going to be examining the role in which warfare helped to influence the comic book industry around the time of the Second World War, a subject that has long fascinated me. While looking around for materials, I have been thinking a lot about comic books and their subject matter in a more abstract sense - the dual role of the hero and villain in society, and as such, I believe that comic books tell some of the most elemental stories, which helps, I think, to account for their appeal to a wide range of readers around the world.

There is a basic appeal to superheroes - the abilities especially - when I was a young child in Elementary School, I idolized the X-Men, because I loved what they were able to do, whether it was super strength, claws, flight, plasma beams, and so forth, and much of the deeper meanings behind some of the stories were lost on me until much later. The central meaning behind each story, I think, is of the hero, whom we are meant to emulate, but what I have come to be more interested in lately is the complicated nature of the hero and villain, and how one is inseparable from the other.

This thinking comes at an interesting time. Over the past couple of months, I have been reading about a rise in costumed vigilantism across the United States, dedicated civilians who are attempting to right wrongs that they come across. These individuals, most likely heavily influenced by repeated viewings of the recent Batman films and other comic book fare, take to the streets, their faces covered, to take on crime. I have to admit, I see the appeal in this sort of thing, and I've often wondered, if I was in somewhat better shape, how I would go about this sort of thing. Fortunately, Vermont is not awash in crime, overrun by gangs and drugs, so my services will likely remain dormant for now.

Interestingly, and unsurprisingly, the rise of this fad seems to prove a point about the existence of heroes - with their rise come their counterpart, the villain. Utilizing YouTube and Craigslist, an anti-heroes group, R.O.A.C.H., has formed, offering a ten dollar bounty for the identity of one of the heroes operating out of Ohio.

With a hero, or a force for authoritative good, there must be an equal, counterpart entity that represents the opposite side of the coin. The recent installment in the Batman franchise is possibly one of the best examples of this, which helped to make the film stand out - hanging upside down by his feet, Heath Ledger's Joker cackled at Batman:

"You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won't kill you because you're just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

Essentially, the point that the Joker makes in the film is that where Batman is the force for a form of justice and order, he exists as a sort of counterpart, a ying and yang sort of effect. The same idea is applied to the character of Harvey Dent, who epitomizes the theme of duality.

DC comics see this sort of theme between heroes as well, especially when one considers the personalities of Batman and Superman. While both are arguably forces for good, they represent two very different thought processes. Batman is a vigilante, whereas Superman seems to adhere to a far more strict ethical code. Essentially, one represents chaos and righteousness - the damaged man who has no powers to speak of - and the other represents law and order - the man who is invulnerable, godlike. While we are on the subject of Superman, we once again turn to the iconic villains, and Lex Luthor is arguably one of the main counterparts in his life. Where Superman often relies on feats of strength, righting wrongs in a purely physical manner, Luthor is much the opposite - he has no powers, but is able to counter Superman through his intellect alone. Here, major themes such as obedience and curiosity come against one another, and the realm of comic books are opened to a far greater realm.

Duality is an enduring human condition, one that is completely ingrained with much of our belief system, especially the Holy Bible. I do admit, I'm not wholly familiar with the book, but there is one story that has particularly stuck with me, and that is the role between good and evil, of God and his angel, Lucifer. Lucifer was struck down to Hell because he went against God, against authority, and by all accounts, good. In a way, I have always seen this as a larger theme, where good is associated with an adherence to authority, of obedience to law, where evil is often associated with everything that is the opposite - of stepping out of the lines, to question. I don't necessarily believe that there is any sort of natural right and wrong in nature, but I see these two elements - obedience vs. disobedience, predetermination vs. free will, black and white vs. shades of grey, as a permanent quandary that cannot, and will not ever be decided by any number of philosophers. As the Joker proves, one cannot exist without the other. As I learned in an ethics class in high school, one cannot know good without knowledge of evil.

This is a strong theme throughout the history of science fiction, from Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy to Michael J. Straczynski's Babylon 5, both stories that contained this as a dominant part of its mythos. Within Foundation, there was the effort to save society, where the Mule sought to undermine all that. MJS's Babylon 5 looked to the duel nature between the Shadows and the Vorlons as the same arguments between good and bad, dark and light, order vs. chaos, as the two extremes of reality. But these are extremes to each side of the coin, as society is eager to jump to, it would seem. One of my favorite television shows, Life On Mars, demonstrates much of the same storytelling qualities, with Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler being much the polar opposites of one another, which is why their partnership works so well for the story. (The UK version, at least. The US version employed this to a far more limited extent.)

If one looks to any sort of politics in the world today, you will see that there is a division between left and right politics, because of the seating positions of an older government. In the United States, these divisions fall much along the same lines - the right is often a force for order, for adherence to principles, often along with religious support and faith, where the left is often represented by scientific reasoning and knowledge. Strictly speaking, this is a broad generalization, but you get my point.

One of my favorite short videos that I've come across recently is 'Nemisis' a Norwegian (I think) short film that demonstrates this split nature between a hero and a villain. The protagonist, Arne, desires to be a hero, but alone, by himself, he is unable to become one without the antagonist, the Nemesis, as they find towards the end of the short film. Like many other stories, the heroes are often defined by what they are not, and oftentimes, villains are placed into the story with just these qualities, which will often boil down to these two extremes.

This, I think, is why the comic books, and their stories, are so enduring in society, much like the Bible has remained for the thousands of years that Christianity has been around. The duel nature of good and bad, right and left, heads or tails, is a fundamental part of how we see the world, and the comic book format tells these stories in one of the most fundamental methods, a hero that represents one side, where the villain, who is just over the top enough to match the hero in this instance, represents the other.

There is one movie that I can think of that does this in an even better fashion than the Dark Knight, in the same sort of genre, Unbreakable. The dominant theme here is once again, that of duality, and it incorporates the long history of comic books into this story, with the two characters as polar opposites. Where one was strong, the other was weak, and so on. One carried out crimes, where the other one sought to prevent them, a never-ending loop, a sort of natural balancing act that will continue to be examined, not only through the political, philosophical and religious realms, but also through that of the brightly colored panels of a comic book.

I highly doubt that I will explore this sort of thing in my capstone paper, but there are elements of the Second World War that certainly applies, with the absolute evil that is represented by the Nazis that took over Europe, countered by the just cause of the Allied forces that took it back. I think that this balance is best represented by the introduction of Captain America in the late 1930s, with a dramatic punch to Hitler’s jaw on the cover of a comic book. In a way, without a presence such as Hitler, the very heroes that inspire and motivate us would have no reason to exist. Much is the same in today’s society with a group of costumed heroes. Without crime, they would have no reason to exist, however amusing their methods are. Heroes will always be balanced by a villain who represents everything that they are not, for good or for bad.


I saw Watchmen on opening night in Williston. Over the past couple of weeks, genre media has been talking much about this film. Advanced reviews, speculation, talk on forums and everything else has been booming, and much of this discussion has been focused on the comic's creator, Alan Moore, and his stance towards the film. Moore's attitude towards filming of his materials has been extremely negative, and for good reason; prior adaptations, such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, Constantine and V for Vendetta have all been fairly poor adaptations (although V wasn't too bad, comparatively), and Moore has disavowed any part of the film process. It's an understandable thing, but I think that it is a bit misguided and arrogant. In reality, it really doesn't mean much. The film was made, and I for one largely enjoyed it.

Watchmen has been called the world's most celebrated comic of all time. It made Time Magazine's 100 best book list, and it's won numerous awards. It is a fantastic and compelling read. The movie, in my opinion, is a faithful adaptation, but will never gain the same status as the book. Rather, it plays out like an homage to the comic book, celebrating, rather than telling the story. I think, given the circumstances, this is probably the best that could have been hoped for. Watchmen, like most print stories, is a comic that is incredibly difficult to adapt to film. The sheer volume and density of the story makes it a challenge at best. The film is a good one, but it is almost too much like the comic book, to stand on its own as a movie.

Comic books are a huge thing for the movie industry. They have accounted for some of the biggest blockbuster hits in the past decade, and after Spiderman, studios realized that with the advances in computer imaging, there was an entire backlog of stories and characters that could be adapted for the big screen. And as such, we've seen a number of very good and very bad comic book movies, ranging from Spiderman 1-3, Iron Man, The Hulk, X-Men 1-3, Hellboy, Hellboy: The Golden Army, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Superman Returns, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four 2, Sin City, and others. There's a number in the works, from Wonder Woman, Iron Man 2, Justice League, Green Lantern, and I'm sure many more.

Comics are both difficult and easy to adapt, based on the many differing results when it comes to quality. Films such as Batman Begins, Iron Man, Spiderman and Sin City have been absolutely fantastic to watch, while things like the Fantastic Four, Superman Returns, The Hulk and Spiderman 3 have largely been failures, although not necessarily at the box office.

Comic books provide a fantastic medium for stories. They are highly visual, and can pretty much accomplish anything that can be drawn upon a piece of paper (or now, a computer screen). In a way, they are an entire set of story boards for a film that allows a storyteller to tell a fantastic, visually stimulating story in a way that a novel really can't do. And comic books are extremely popular - it isn't all the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons - there is a huge and growing audience for comic books.

Therefore, adapting a comic book for the silver screen presents some different challenges for screenwriters. They don't have to imagine how characters look and interact with one another - that element is already present on the pages. Obviously, because of this, and a large fanbase, there is much pressure on the part of the production team to get things looking right, just like in the comic.

This is really the case with Watchmen. It looks fantastic, and it positively oozes from the comic's pages. The characters largely look just as I imagined them (and I’m not really one to nitpick over some of the minor differences in costumes and appearance), but the team that worked on Watchmen did a fantastic job, getting the backgrounds right, shaping the overall look and feel of the comic. This is essentially how I imagined it would look.

Another film that I've really enjoyed did the same thing - Sin City. Frank Miller's comic was presented in a neo-noir style that was excellently replicated by the film team, who used CGI to get the colors (and lack of colors) to essentially match that of the comics. Sin City, I maintain, is not so much a movie, but a moving comic, one that has jumped from the pages to the screen almost seamlessly. The stories are largely intact, the same outrageous and ludicrous characters and situations, and it looks good.

But to what extent is a direct adaptation, or even a copy, a good thing for film

s? Critically, Sin City made a splash because of the unique nature of the comic books, and how that translated right over to the screen - it looked different. But other comic book films, such as Spiderman and Ironman, which enjoy very long lineages in the print world, had to be adapted to tell the origin stories of their title characters, and that worked excellently. Both were updated - Spiderman for 2000-era New York City, rather than the 1970s when the comic first came out (although, a period piece of Spiderman in the 1970s? That would be cool), and featured a far different story than what might have been featured in the comics originally. Ironman was updated from the Vietnam War origin to the current conflict in Afghanistan to give Tony Stark a start, which worked very well, and proves that a literal translation from page to screen really isn't necessary all the time for the story to work. Spiderman and Ironman are aided by having good scripts, where the writers seemed to understand the characters and the thematic elements of the stories. There are examples of where this hasn't really worked, such as Hellboy, where the production team went in a different direction from the stories of the comics, creating a fairly different entity. The comics are fantastic, and stand well on their own, but so does the movie, which is not nearly as good, but captures much of the feel, although not the story, of Hellboy.

Other films just fail utterly. Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spiderman 3 and X-Men 3, all failed to really capture the essence of the characters and opted more for a CGI type of film that had a transparent storyline, weak characters and overblown effects. The translation process here essentially went for the glamour and exciting points of the films, but not their story core.

DC comics in particular are hard to translate, and the Batman franchise has had an extremely mixed history. The first major Batman film went more towards the darker story that really exemplifies the story, while later installments went for the visual elements. This has largely changed with the release of Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, where the creators fully understood the characters, but also how to make the film look good. Neither Batman Begins nor The Dark Knight are perfect films, but they do stand very well on their own, and are a good demonstration of a good adaptation.

Superman is a harder one to adapt, because of the nature of his story. I haven't seen the original Superman films, and intend to, but when I watch Superman Returns, I leave feeling very unsatisfied. Clearly, the production team liked the comic, and it looked very good, but the story was a rather poor one that was predictable, and didn't present the same depth as something like Batman Begins. This, I think is true with Watchmen. The creators, essentially, were too in love with the story, and essentially focused on getting it perfect to the comic. While this is admirable, it is flawed because the comic really can't be adapted, not in its full nature, and when things are dropped from the story, there is no work done to try and tie together the remaining parts. While I'm not nearly as familiar with Watchmen as some, I did see that there were parts that had been eliminated, while other parts were kept in, that probably shouldn't have. The film moves fairly slowly, going from point A to point B at a pace that allows you to take in the story, but it is at times hard to keep the entire thing in perspective. Some parts were changed, such as the ending, to the point where I felt it worked better for the film, as it simplified and clarified things for the audience. While this certainly would get fanboys annoyed, it just goes to show that a movie generally needs to be simplified for a mainstream audience.

So, should comic books be adaptations as is the case with Ironman or Spiderman, or motion comics, such as Sin City and Watchmen? I think the answer lies somewhere in between. Film and comic books are both separate mediums, and because of that, there are far different expectations and differences in how they are presented. Screenwriters certainly did a good job changing the dialog in some of the movies based off of the older comics, because expectations have changed for modern audiences. Watchmen was a difficult story to carry over to a film, and I think that the few changes that they did make helped it along, while the rest is a couple hours of the Zack Snyder fanboying the film. The results are absolutely fantastic, and we have an adaptation that looks like the comic, but feels a little off as a movie. It's certainly something that I'll watch again, but with all the hype that this movie has brought on itself, it is a bit of a letdown. But then again, anyone expecting a perfect film out of Watchmen is quite a bit unrealistic.

Top Geek Things of 2008

It's coming up to the end of the year, and looking back, 2008 has been a very fun year for geeks everywhere - in books, television programs and films, among other things. Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking back over the year to see what was the best and worst of 2008.

The Best:

Starbuck returned from the Grave; The Fleet reaches Earth. (Battlestar Galactica Season 4)

The third season of Battlestar Galactica was a little rocky in the middle, but the last episodes set up a real bang. Starbuck was presumably killed, only to turn up during a major confrontation of the Human and Cylon fleets. Season 4 opens even bigger, with one of the best space battles that I've ever seen. Our four new cylons are freaking out, Starbuck's back and everything culminates in the discovery of Earth in episode 10.Galactica has long been one of my favorite shows, and with a certain end point in mind, Season four was where Galactica got somewhat back onto the tracks, with a fairly tight story arc, only to get to another long wait for the final ten episodes. It's been well worth it though.

Pushing Daisies... back from the Grave, and back to it

After a long hiatus due to the writer's strike (more about that in a bit) my favorite show of 2007-2008 came back with a new set of episodes. There are not enough good things that I can say about this show. We left off last year with Chuck learning that it was Ned that killed her father, only to end up at the end of this season with him being awoken. It was another season of fantastic storytelling, character development and extremely fantastic dialog. Unfortunately, the show has been axed due to low ratings. Fortunately, Bryan Fuller will be going to Heroes for the latter half of Season 3.

Lost Gets Better - Again.

Here's the situation. LOST season 1 blew everyone away. Season 2 drove them away. Season 3 brought some people back, and Season 4, everything got interesting again. This season was the best since Season 1, in my opinion. We had several new characters (my favorite was Daniel Faraday, the physicist), and a couple people killed off. We started seeing flash-forwards, where Jack has a beard and addicted to pain pills, Hurley's in a mental institution and Sayid is channeling Abram's Alias. Oh, and they get off the island. Then the island vanishes.

I have Leonard Nemoy's DNA? (The Big Bang Theory)

This show started in 2007, where I was annoyed by its laugh track and annoying characters. But this year, I started watching it and enjoying it. While it's certainly a very stereotypical portrayal of nerds and geeks, it's fun, because the creators have put in place a series of fun characters, and the writers make some jokes that are actually funny. This week's episode was absolutely priceless, when Sheldon gets a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Now, if they'll just ditch the laugh track. This show's likely to be around for a while longer - it's been getting better and better ratings as the year goes on.

Back in a Nick of Time (Life on Mars)

One of my absolute favorite shows of all time was Life on Mars. Up until this year, it was only a BBC drama, until ABC picked it up and made a pilot. That pilot sucked, horribly, so the cast was ditched, except for Jason O'Mara, and the show was redone, set in New York City, given a good cast and started up. The result? A solid TV series that's mirrored the original (but it's starting to diverge a bit now), a wonderful soundtrack of classic rock and a story that's actually interesting. I can't wait for its return in 2009.

The Joker raises worldwide GDP. (The Dark Knight)

First, there was excitement when it was announced that the Joker was going to be the villain. Then Heath Ledger signed up for the role. Then he died earlier this year after filming was completed, leaving some people to wonder if the film would be released on schedule. Then Warner Brothers covered every surface they could find with Dark Knight ads. When the film was released, it went on to gross $996,680,514 in theaters. The film was a huge success, and a fantastic film at that. It was a comic book movie with true darkness, some real symbolism and good storytelling throughout. It's a pity that we won't see Heath Ledger reprise his role of The Joker, because he's done the best portrayal of a villain in recent film memory.

I am Iron Man (Iron Man)

Before The Dark Knight blew the doors off the box office, there was Iron Man. Iron Man has long been a favorite marvel superhero of mine, and everything fell into place for this film. Good story, well directed, fantastic casting (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was brilliant) and of course, the Mark II set of armor. Marvel proved that they could make a good superhero movie, one that was relevant and not stuck in the low-humor that characterized other comic book adaptations. Already, I can't wait for Iron Man 2. And Iron Man 3. And The Avengers.

Eeeeevvvvvaaaaaa (Wall-E)

Pixar has released what is possibly their best film to date. (Except maybe Toy Story and The Incredibles). Following a robot far from home, Andrew Stanton has presented a film with a cute, romantic science fiction story with some social commentary (said to be unintentional) woven into the CGI. Wall-E is easily the most appealing robot since R2-D2 hit the big screen in 1977, and his antics as he's pulled along for the ride (literally) are cute, heartbreaking and funny.And with very little real dialog.

Roar. Crunch. Repeat. (Cloverfield)

Monster movies meets social networking video and America gets its own monster. This film was brilliantly shot with an extremely fun concept. A monster comes and plays t-ball with the statue of liberty, and it's caught on camera by a bunch of twenty-somethings as they escape. The project was conceived of by LOST creator J.J. Abrams, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the lack of explanation of everything to the weird stuff, this is a very fun film to watch. Rumors are that there's a Cloverfield 2 being talked about.

With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop... The World (Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog)

This project was a huge success for Joss Whedon & Co. Conceived of during the Writer's strike, Whedon presents an aspiring supervillian, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his buddies and his quest to finish his freeze ray, avoid Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and win over Penny (Felicia Day). We're treated to musical numbers, crazy plots and a fantastic venture to prove that the internet is a viable place to release content.Take a look here.

Up, up and away! (When We Left Earth/NASA)

This year was NASA's 50th year in operation, and the Discovery channel released a fantastic documentary entitled When We Left Earth that touted its major achievements and failures throughout the years, bringing viewers some of the most incredible footage of space that I've ever seen, and telling a fantastic story of how NASA has come to be, with interviews with astronauts and support personnel. I get chills when I watch it, and wonder when we'll return to the moon and beyond.

Hobbit's Labyrinth (The Hobbit)

After long rumors, production problems and drama with Peter Jackson (who directed Lord of the Rings), Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the upcoming Hobbit film and prequel. (Or two Hobbit films?) This is extremely good news, because the people who can adequately fill Jackson's shoes after LOTR are few and far between. del Toro is the perfect director for this project, and has already proven that he can do fantasy brilliantly, with his masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. Plus, he can play in other people's universes, as per his work with the Hellboy films. (Which weren't as good, but fun)

Watchman Trailer (Watchman)

What's called the greatest graphic novel ever is coming to the big screen, much to the annoyance of its creator, and to FOX, apparently. A trailer for Watchman aired with The Dark Knight, and it made fanboys everywhere sit up and take notice. There's still complaints about how it's unfilmable and that it'll be too short or too long, but from my eyes? This looks like it'll be THE comic book film to see next year. It looks like it captured the feel of the comic book pretty well, and it's embellished a bit to look badass. Plus, Rorschach looks dead on. Just like I thought he'd be like.

Large Hadron Collider (Science)

The Large Hadron Collider was turned on on September 10th, to many worries about the world ending. Contrary to popular opinion, the earth didn't vanish in a tiny black hole. It was set to uncover the mysteries of the universe, but then it broke down again nine days later and won't be up online until 2009. But, it's still cool!

Geeks in Politics (Obama [spiderman, conan, superman] Patrick Leahy [Batman Cameo])

There's been a lot of geekiness in politics this year. No lightsaber waving from McCain this time around, but President Elect Obama has claimed to be a big Spiderman and Conan fan, and did a superman pose in Metropolis, IL. In addition to him, VT senator Patrick Leahy, a huge batman fan, had a cameo in The Dark Knight. He's also the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironic.

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Costumes)

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit earlier this year (it's since closed) called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. It featured a number of costumes from a number of classic films, such as the original Superman and Wonder Woman films, but also things as recently released as The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The fashion section was a bit of a miss for me, but the exhibit as a whole was just outstanding. Plus, they had several original copies of Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man on display. Covered in a plastic shield of course...

Star Wars Encyclopedia (Star Wars)

Del Rey released a new and expanded Star Wars Encyclopedia this year, one that is not only complete, but still remarkably up to date. That's not likely to last as long, given how fast LFL churns out canon material, but it's a beautiful repository of information in the universe. I can spend hours just paging through reading things.

"Anathem" By Neal Stephenson

I actually have yet to read this book, but it's caught my eye, and it's made a splash when it comes to the sci-fi literary world. All I really know about it is that it takes place on an earth-like world, and doubles as a philosophical text for knowledge and religion. I'll have to pick it up, and only expand my to-read list further.

A Game of Thrones picked up by HBO (Song of Fire & Ice)

Another book that I have yet to read, but I actually own this one. HBO has picked up the book for a series. If there's one thing that HBO does well, it's TV shows, because they can pour money into them and get a good result. And, they have a good track record with adaptations, with things such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. I'll watch this when it's released.

We'ss Har Wars End (Karen Traviss)

Several years in the making, Karen Traviss has finally finished her Wess'Har Wars series with book 6, Judge. Starting back in 2003, she introduced readers to a fantastic story of first contacts filled with alien races, political commentary and expert storytelling. Judge didn't deliver quite as well as I'd have liked (It certainly wasn't the strongest of the series), it carried the momentum well, and proved to be a good read, one that finished up one of my favorite series satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen will be back to writing hard scifi again, because she's incredible at it.

Trooping (501st)

This year I got back into trooping with the 501st Legion. All in all, I did a total of 30 or so events, ranging from small affairs here in VT to much larger ones. The most memorable ones were the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, Burlington Kid's Day, the Weird Al ConcertSt-Jean-sur-Richelieu Balloon Festival, Walk for Autisms, and the 2008 Woburn Halloween Parade. All my events are listed here.

With all the good things that have happened this year, there's the other side of the coin, and some letdowns, disappointments and pure flops.


Writer's Strike

Okay, this started in 2007, but it messed up television for the foreseeable future, by ending some shows and putting others on a long hiatus that has really hurt ratings. Pushing Daisies was one casualty, Terminator was almost one, LOST was put off for a year, as was 24, and already, we're on the eve of another major strike over pretty much the same issues - internet distribution. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned.

Surviving a Nuclear Detonation (Indiana Jones)

Indiana Jones came back, and he came back bland. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was an impossible undertaking to fill the hopes of fans for the past twenty years. While it's not a horrible film, it's nowhere near as high quality as Raiders or Crusade (although I did like it better than Doom). There was no passion, a crazy storyline and some annoying characters. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between.

Skyguy/Snips/Roger Roger (The Clone Wars)

Star Wars was another big LFL franchise that came back this year, and while The Clone Wars certainly had its moments, even high points, this film just extends the image of money grubbing that LFL is involved with, which is a shame. There's too much bad dialog, characters and situations to make this a good part of the Star Wars universe, but the TV show has been making some improvements. The animation is stunningly good, some of the stories are actually good, but every time the battle droids start talking, I want to throw something at my TV.

Michael Crichton Eaten by Cyborg T-Rex and Flesh eating Space Bacteria from the Past.

While my interest in Michael Crichton has waned over the years as he began to write crappy books (Such as Prey and State of Fear), there's no doubt that he's shaped my reading. I'm still a huge fan of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man and a number of his older novels. He's one of the most popular scifi authors (although he's resisted the genre title) out there with his works, most of which were made into films. It's a shame that he's passed - I was always hoping for another good story from him.

Gary Gygax failed his saving throw

Geek-God Gary Gygax likewise passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy that has shaped nerd-culture in the US forever. His creation, Dungeons and Dragons, along with co-creator Dave Arneson, was one of the defining features of geeks everywhere, something that I got into back in 2001. Along with giving geeks something to do in groups, it helped define a generation's activities, reading materials and conceptions of fantasy through to this day.

Arthur C Clarke becomes the Space Child

Arguably one of the greatest science fiction authors ever, Clarke's death hit the world hard. He helped to define the literary genre, and the actual science behind it, and was responsible for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rama, Childhood's End, and numerous others, as well as the telecommunications satellite. He will be sorely missed, and is one of the last of the golden age of science fiction to be with us.(Today would have been his 91st birthday)

CNN Hologram technology

On election nigh, CNN touted their new thing in news casting, a hologram of Will.I.Am. Looked cool, and it looked like a hologram, but it was nothing more than a lot of cameras and empty space plus some CGI. Blah. Let's see some real technology in action please.

Close the Iris! (Stargate Atlantis)

I was a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, and same with Atlantis for the first couple of seasons. This season has just plain sucked. It's a shame, because there's a good concept there, amidst the horrible characters, stories and situations. Not long now, because Atlantis has been canceled, and will be replaced with Stargate Universe next year.

Even more Confusing and Confounding! (Heroes Season 3)

Heroes Season 1 was brilliant. It introduced a new spin on superheroes, only to fall to its own success and have a fairly slow and boring second season. (To be sure, the writer's strike had something to do with it, because it got better). Season 3 was promised to be bigger and better. And it was certainly bigger, with heroes coming back from the grave, more time travel and action, but none of it really made the same impression that season 1 did. I'm still behind episodes, but apparently it's been getting better. Now that Bryan Fuller's returning to the show, can we PLEASE start off really good and get better? Please?

Weird Science (Fringe)

I was really excited for Fringe, the latest show by JJ Abrams. It was a fun concept, and had a good couple episodes at first, but just became so dull that I stopped following it. I might pick it up again at some point, but only when I can marathon the entire thing at once.

Forrest J. Ackerman Dies

Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the first science fiction fans out there recently passed away. He was a key element of the spread of science fiction fandom, and he helped to found the LA Science Fantasy Society, among other numerous achivements, as well as influencing numerous authors over his long life.

Borders Downsizes SciFi Sections

I ranted about this earlier, as did a number of authors. Borders has been downsizing their sci-fi sections. While it's understandable that they have to sell items, and that they can't put everything on the shelf, you can't predict what the next big hit will be, and you can't know that until you actually start selling things.

That's it for this year. Next year, there's already quite a bit coming up. Should be a fun year.

No Masks, No Powers, No Heroics

For all you UK people out there - I just came across this show, No Heroics, to be shown on ITV2 starting September 10th, I believe. The show is about a small group of lesser known superheroes and their lives off duty. Watching the trailer, I think this one will be a good one to catch. Looks absolutely hilarious. To me, this should be a win because it will combine Superheros with British humour, which should be an interesting matchup.A couple of quotes that just made me burst out laughing:

- Oh for Christ's sake. You're the dick who burned down the national gallery aren't you? - Yes! The Hotness, you have heard of me!

- Xerox, run off five of those for me? - Oh, I bet you're fun at the office party.

- Just look out for the anti-tank missile. - Sorry, what anti-tank missile? *Boom* - That one

This show comes at a fun time for fans of superheroes. With Iron Man and the Dark Knight dominating the box office - quite literally - this summer, as well as the recent popularity of the television show Heroes and a couple recent books such as Who Can Save Us Now? and Soon, I Will Be Invincible, there's a lot of new, original material out there. (Okay, maybe not quite as original when it comes to the comic adaptations on the big screen, but you get my meaning.)

No Heroics seems like it would fall far more with the Soon, I Will Be Invincible and Hancock side of superheroes. While trailers are usually bad things to go by, this seems to be very fun to watch, and shows a far different side of superheroes than one usually finds in the comics - we have a different sort of London and superhero environment that is much more frivolous and trite than others that come to mind. I mean honestly, how often do you see the Avengers or Justice League going out for a drink?

Because this is out in Britain, there's going to be things that you won't usually see in the US - Profanity, a vastly different style of humor and so on. Hopefully, this will live up to my expectations that are just starting to form, but man, it looks like fun. And, it'll give me something to watch while I wait for Heroes to return. (Because there's no way that I'm stretching Season 2 out until September 20th)

Trailer (Some language) [youtube=]

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Joss Whedon's done it again - created something geeky, cool and downright addicting, and which has completely sucked me into. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

The premise is fun - a up and coming super villain in LA has a blog, where he answers reader mail, talks about his plots of world domination and the girl that he's too shy to talk to, Penny, whom he sees at the laundry. Intermixed with the dialogue is some catchy songs, turning this short miniseries into a sort of geek musical.

It's stripped down, simple, but very fun and interesting to watch. I predict that in the very near future, we'll see people put together the costumes and perform this as a fan musical at a convention somewhere. It's short and easy enough to do that it wouldn't be difficult. Whedon's not a stranger to musicals either, nor are some of the cast - Neil Patrick Harris is a Broadway alum, and Whedon's done at least one musical episode. The songs are light and catchy. I've had a bunch of them floating around in my head for the past couple of days now. Whedon's assembled a nice cast of albums from his shows, which is all the more entertaining to see fan favorites.

"With my freeze ray I will stop... the world."

Like many of Whedon's creations, there's a good mixture of well crafted characters. We've got the archetype good and bad guys, but the good guy has his darker sides and the bad guy has his good sides. Along the way we meet Moist, who can make things slightly damp, and Bad Horse, "Who rules the league with an Iron hoove." It's another fun foray into the superhero genre, which seems to be getting more and more popular outside of comics. I've been getting more and more interested in this sort of thing, and this really reminds me of Soon, I Will Be Invincible and to some extent, Heroes.

This comes at an interesting time, because NBC just released the first of a series of minisodes for the show Heroes, called Postal, following a mail man with a very loud voice. The first episode features him escaping from a doberman and a couple of company agents. Minisodes are an interesting thing that really doesn't seem to have caught on to a wider audience. Battlestar Galactica, Eureka and a couple of other shows have released these, and Heroes marks the latest in the intigration of mainstream media to user-generated content and viral marketing.

Thus far, Dr. Horrible is a success. The site crashed on the first day of the miniseries release, and has been brought back up again, and the second episode hasn't given me any issues. The first episode hit the #1 spot on iTunes as well, and I'm reasonably sure that the 2nd episode, whenever that it released via iTunes, will do the same thing. Then, on the 20th, the free content will be pulled, and a DVD release will follow. Will this experiment work? It seems to be. Hopefully it'll be successful enough for Whedon to continue to do this sort of thing, and according to at least one source, they've considered a sequel series.

This comes at an interesting time - the release of the Heroes minisode, and of course, this week is the one that marks the release of The Dark Knight, easily my most anticiapted film of 2008. I declare this week to be Superhero week. Next episode will be released on the 19th, this Saturday. I absolutely can't wait to see how they wrap this up. Will Dr. Horrible take over the world and get the girl? Or at least join the League? Will Captain Hammer have his way with Penny? Will there be more catchy songs and witty dialogue? Undoubtably.

Watch the episodes here.

Memorable quotes:

Part 1

- Captain Hammer, corporate tool. He dislocated my shoulder...again... last week. (Billy/Horrible)

- I received a letter of condemnation from the deputy mayor. That's gotta have some weight. (Billy/Horrible)

- I love your hair (Billy/Horrible) What? (Penny) No, I love the...air...(Billy/Horrible)

- Just a few weeks away from real, audible connection. (Billy/Horrible)

- Armored car? (Moist) Courier van. Candy from a baby. (Billy/Horrible)

- Need anything dampened, made soggy?

- Why not cut off the head? (Billy/Horrible) Of the human race? (Penny) It's not a perfect metaphor. (Billy/Horrible)

It's curtains for you. Lacy, wafting curtains. (Captain Hammer)

Part 2

- You're kidding, what a crazy, random happenstance. (Billy/Horrible)

- Billy? You're driving the spork into your leg. (Penny)

- I say successful that I archived my objective. It was less successful as I inadvertently introduced my arch nemesis to the girl of my dreams. (Billy/Horrible)

- Which it will, because I hold a PhD in horribleness. Peace. But not literally...(Billy/Horrible)

- I also need to be careful about what I say on this blog, because the LAPD and Captain America are among it's viewers. (Billy/Horrible)

- Captain Hammer threw a car at my head. (Billy/Horrible)

- At my most badass, I make people want to take a shower. (Moist)

- The only signature he needed was my fist. But with a pen in... that I was signing with... (Captain Hammer)

The new Superhero era: The Sanctioned and Enforced Era

I saw Hancock in New York City over the weekend. For all the negative reviews out there, it was actually quite a fun film to watch, somewhere between a rated R-Comedy and a somewhat serious drama about a superhero. The film follows Hancock, a drunk, lazy and pissed off super being. Appropriately, the film opens with him passed out on a park bench. Then, bottle in hand, he takes down an SUV full of gun toting gangsters, leaving a trail of wreckage in his way. When he saves a publicist, they start to work on changing his image, first with him going to jail. First half done. There's a lot of laughs here, from Walter the Grey Whale to dropping a bully from a low orbit and catching him. The second half of the film is more drama-y, as we learn that Hancock doesn't know his past. Various revelations later, we find out his backstory, and he's a changed man. I think this makes the film a little off-balance, but overall, it works. It's enjoyable to watch, and it bring up some very interesting points when it comes to the entire Superhero genre. An additional point about the movie - Jason Bateman, whom I'm a huge fan of from Arrested Development, is a real shining star in this film - he's perfect for the role that he played here, and worked extremely well with the comedy/drama nature of this film.

The main thing that interested me here was how this film seems to represent the role in which comic book characters or superheroes now seem to play in society - this is something that I have noticed in a number of other genre sources, and it seems to be a very widespread change to the way in which superheroes are looked at - Superheroes being legitimized, generally through direct governmental intervention in said comic book universe.

The first time that I really noticed this was with the recent arc that Marvel released, entitled Civil War. This storyline, and numerous threads leading up to it, brought in the Superhuman Registration Act. This isn't necessarily a new concept in the Marvel Universe, or in comics in general. X-Men has dealt with the issue numerous times since the 1980s. What makes the Civil War arc special, at least from my point of view, is that it draws in the entire marvel community to some degree, opening up fault lines between characters. The act requires superhumans to register with the federal government, to put them under more direct control - this is sparked by a disaster when several superheroes fought several villains, killing hundreds of people in the sidelines, including children. This seems to really pull from the post 9-11 mentality of a tragedy and a huge response afterward.

This comes through in Hancock, somewhat. Hancock, a drunk and reckless superhero, seems to have caused multiple millions of dollars with his acts. In the opening scene, we see him destroy a park bench and storefront taking off, a highway directional sign, numerous police cars, a huge groove in the interstate deck, damage to several buildings before finally dropping a car on top of a building's spire. It's mentioned in in the film that this cost the city almost 9 million in damages. From there, Bateman's character convinces him to go to prison for his acts, in an attempt to appease the public, and to make them realize how much he is needed in LA. Furthermore, Bateman works with Hancock to try and get him to change how he approaches his rescues, his image in general, trying to fit more in with the public. Hancock isn't completely regulatory, but it does seem to impose some limits and realism to a traditional comic book role. It also outlines some of the basic problems with holding a superhero in prison - at one point, Hancock hops a fence to get a ball, but returns.

Two sources show worlds in which superheroes are banned by the government - The movie The Incredibles and the comic Watchmen. The Incredibles shows a sort of public outrage similar to what we see in Hancock - bystanders are injured and structures are damaged during rescues. As a result, the Superhero Relocation Program was set up, forcing superheroes to go undercover and to resume a normal life - something that most aren't really willing to do. The same thing happens in Watchmen - superheroes are likewise banned, this time via the Keene Act. Some of the costumed heroes, like Rorschach, have a difficult time returning to normal life, and continue to act in the interest of the public. There is much discussion of their return following the murder of one of their kind.

Finally, in the book Soon, I Will Be Invicible, by Austin Grossman, there is a very detailed back story to most of the heroes in the book, and a group called the Champions seems to have been a sanctioned governmental group to fight crime. The group that takes most of the action in the book, the New Champions, likewise seems to be at least tolerated, on the same level that the Avengers or the Justice League was tolerated.

Why are we seeing this switch in themes and styles since the 1980s? In part, it seems to be a material issue, especially with the Civil War arc, but overall, there seems to be far more realism pushed into comic books nowadays - and this is something that I've noticed across the board when it comes to the entertainment industry, and especially with films like Hancock and books like Soon, I Will Be Invincible, which almost blend seamlessly into 'our' world. Yet, there has always been a relative connection to the real world - World War II, Fascim, Communism, Vietnam, all events that share a connection to the real world.

Now, there's a push for oversight of the superheroes - it's almost an interesting parallel in an age of 'big government' and when the current governmental debt is $9,473,062,472,197.15. There's a lot of broad regulation in society nowadays, and logically, it makes sense that if there were costumed vigilantes, the government would work to try and legitimize them as well, in the interest of public safety. This is a pretty far cry from their origins, when heroes were largely left to their own devices, or harassed occasionally by police. (I'm speaking in broad terms here). In most cases, this government interference runs against what most superheroes stand for - some, such as Batman and Spiderman believe that the government really hasn't done their part to keep the streets clear of crime. Others seem to think that this sort of thing will hamper their efforts, and are essentially social outcasts anyway. One of the main issues in Civil War was that superheroes would have to publicly identify their alter-egos, in much the same way that judges and police officers are public figures, and face some of the same threats.

Some of this shift should probably also be credited towards how society seems to operate nowadays, turning this entire thing into a weird social commentary. The main theme with people seems to be to shift blame to someone else - "It's not my fault, it's ...." or "ADHD is responsible for my child's hyperactivity, not my poor parenting skills". Taking control of superheroes seems to be a way in which they can be used to either take the blame for when society goes wrong, where they are apparently not doing their job, much as can be argued for police and civil authorities, but also a way for governments to cover their collective butts when something, such as the Stamford, CT disaster (Civil War), the 1977 Riots in New York City (Watchmen) or the other various events. It seems that if the government tolerates the acts of costumed heroes, they themselves are responsible for their actions, sanctioned or not, and when major disasters happen, there is an attempt to rein them in somewhat. This is seen brilliantly in Soon I Will Be Invincible, where the main villian, Dr. Impossible, isn't so much evil, as he suffers from "Malign Hypercognition Disorder".

Is this sort of thing enough to consider the past couple of decades an era or sequence in and of itself, given the amount of detail and thematic distinction between this and other comic book eras?

Costumes and Fandom

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My parents have been longtime subscribers to The New Yorker magazine. I never really read a whole lot of the issues, but I did come across an interesting article by author Michael Chabon, the author of one of my favorite books of all time, the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which follows the history of comics pretty closely, and has brought out a couple of comics based off of its title character, the Escapist. The article, called Secret Skin, is part biographical essay and part examination at the characters in the superhero genre, mainly in what their costumes mean and represent. It's a brilliant article, covering a number of things that I'd never really given any thought to. The first real theme of the article is how people immerse themselves into their fantasy characters. He starts with an antidotal story that a teach told him in class, about how a boy tied a red towel around his neck as a cape and jumped from a building, hoping to fly, with the explanation being that the boy could not distinguish between reality and the reality that he saw in comic books. He then goes on to reminisce about times when he dressed up as a superhero, as Batman or Superman, to some of his own superheroes that were created out of pure convenience, and he then goes on to speak on transformation. This, I feel is one of the defining elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom, at least a part of it. I don't do a whole lot with costuming - only armor from the Star Wars movies, but I think that this applies somewhat. Chabon describes what he sees in conventions (which he frequents often - an audio interview with him via the New Yorker's site speaks on this) as a disappointment. He describes, in the article that oftentimes, despite extensive attention to detail and elaborate care, costumes fall short of what they resemble: "Without exception, even the most splendid of these getups is at best a disappointment . . . acts to spoil what is instantly revealed to have been, all along, an illusion." (Chabon, The New Yorker, March 10, 2008, 66) I don't believe that he intends these remarks as a criticism of fans that spend the time and effort, or of their accuracy, but rather, that they miss the point. Merely putting on a costume doesn't automatically turn one into a superhero, as the boy who jumped off the roof found. The costumes aren't real, they aren't a character, and their creators are creating a replica of an illusion. From here on, he discusses some of the elements that make up a superhero's costume, and chiefly examines them as an extension of the character. This is one of the interesting points where form seems to follow function, at least to some extent. He looks at the components, the mask, gloves, boots, suits, capes, and symbols, and most importantly, how all of these components relate to the person's identity. Symbols relate to very personal elements to the characters, to how this tells a story. In the audio interview, he describes the costume as an idea that wraps up a person in a number of sub stories and meanings, and how that translates the person underneath into the embodiment of an idea. "Now the time has come to propose, or confront, a fundamental truth: like the being who wears it, the superhero costume is, by definition, an impossible object. It cannot exist." (Chabon, 66) Not to say that it can't be replicated down to exacting details. I think that with a replication, you only get the appearance, nothing more. However, I think that it's how people perceive these characters that have come to life, rather than what the costume itself brings to the table - people around you make it more than just a costume. The costumer and viewer need to come together in order to make the illusion work. One instills wonder, and there has to be wonder, excitement, coming from the viewer. I've sort of found this when I don my TK armor. A friend of mine once told me that I hold myself much differently once it's on, almost like I'm a different person. I've sort of felt that as well. In a way, I think all costumers have a similar feeling - we don't become the character at all, we represent their ideas, that feeling that we'd get as children reading a comic book under the covers or watching Star Wars for the first time. It's a way of honoring the character or figure, not becoming them. The time and energy spent on their creation is almost a work of love, an homage to something that really inspires us. Michael Chabon isn't really criticizing fans for their efforts, I think. I think that a lot of other people do, because they don't really get this depth and this love. I don't really agree that costumes are a disappointment really - although there are some really strange ones out there - it's quite something, especially for the younger kids, to see your favorite character walking around, right there, in the flesh, and he shakes your hand. I do think that he's right when he says that when you see a character as an adult, you think "cool costume" and look at it in purely practical terms, whereas a child might see that and encapsulate that with everything that they've read and seen, not making the distinction that all you really have is a representation. Maybe even some adults. And that's what makes it all worth doing. I highly, highly recommend checking out this article if you've been to a Con, do costuming, a SF/F genre fan or even someone outside of all that. Read it, and let me know what you think, I'd be interested in hearing other reactions beyond my own. I have a feeling that this'll prompt a couple more things from me, which I'll be interested to see what direction it takes me in.

The full article can be read here: