Monday, October 29, 2012

LAW OF SUPERHEROES review

Over at Unleash the Fanboy, I've written a review of the entertaining and informative new book THE LAW OF SUPERHEROES. Here is a small piece:

 In his essay "The Embarrassments of Science Fiction," the late great writer Thomas Disch offers a diagnosis of SF that seems to apply even more to mainstream superhero comic books. His thesis is that SF is a branch of children's literature, and, as such, is emotionally and thematically restrictive. The taste for SF is acquired during adolescence, and only the most hard-core stick with it as they age chronologically. As a result, SF is escapist literature that is meant to appeal to our adolescent side; stories are simple, without examining the real-world implications of the concepts explored:
The emotional limitations of children's literature are even more restrictive. There are, here and there, children bright enough to cope with the Scientific American or even the Times Literary Supplement, but crucial aspects of adult experience remain boring even to these prodigies… Other subjects commonly dealt with by mainstream writers are also presumed not to be of interest to sf readers, such as the nature of the class system and the real exercise of power within that system. Although there is no intrinsic reason (except difficulty) that sf should not venture into such areas, sf writers have characteristically preferred imaginary worlds in which, to quote Sprague de Camp, "all men are mighty, all women beautiful, all problems simple, and all life adventuresome." (ON SF, page 5)
When comic books were first published in the early 1930s, they were regarded as ephemeral juvenilia, to be read and thrown away, long forgotten before dinner time. The earliest comic books were collections of newspaper comic strips, but even when material was finally being produced specifically for the format, the stories presented concepts that were not thought through. They weren't supposed to be -- they would fall apart under too much scrutiny.

Take for example the simplistic tale of Superman tearing down tenements in order to fight the problem of youth gangs in Action Comics #8. Superman's logic is that if he destroys the decrepit buildings in which these disadvantaged youth live, the government will come in and build all-new, shiny apartment buildings that will automatically change their lives for the better. In the story, the government does -- in just a few weeks. And, presumably, everyone whose home was destroyed by Superman (where were they staying while the apartments were being built?) get to move in, at the same rental rates.

 

 At best, you could call this story a metaphor. Or, perhaps, a wish-fulfillment fantasy. At heart, that's what mainstream superhero comics are. And things haven't changed all that much in the years since. Superheroes are still knocking down buildings while making simplistic moral and political statements -- Marvel's Civil War miniseries being a notable and popular example. Superficially, the latter miniseries seems more sophisticated and nuanced. Really, it's just longer, and has more splash panels and two-page spreads. The comics of the earliest years packed just as much story into 12 or 22 pages as modern creators cram into six issue, paperback collection-friendly arcs.

You can read the rest here.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Actually, Tom Hanks, that "Good Morning America" F-bomb wasn't the worst moment of your professional career

Recently, America's sweetheart Tom Hanks inadvertently dropped an "F-bomb" during an episode of "Good Morning America." It was all over the internet. You can watch it here if you insist.

At the premiere of his latest movie, the Wachowskis' Cloud Atlas, Mr. Hanks called that inadvertent slip,
"Worst moment of my professional career," he told Access, referring to the F bomb. "Absolute worst."

"You looked so mortified the minute it [happened]," Tom's wife, Rita Wilson, who accompanied him on the red carpet, said.

"Oh... I was," Tom added.
Tom Hanks, you will recall, was caught yukking it up with a man in blackface at a school fundraiser in 2004. When the video of that surfaced (he had no comment on the topic until a video of the incident was produced), he had this to say:
"In 2004, I was blindsided when one of the parents got up on the stage in a costume that was hideously offensive then and is hideously offensive now," Hanks said in a statement to TheWrap.  "What is usually a night of food and drink for a good cause was, regrettably, marred by an appalling few moments."
Just so we're clear: In Mr. Hanks's mind, spending a good 15-20 minutes telling bestiality jokes with a guy in blackface was "hideously offensive," but inadvertently dropping an "F bomb" on a morning entertainment show was the "Worst moment of my professional career." And of course, as his wife points out, he looked so mortified the minute the F bomb was dropped.

You'll note also that he doesn't even mention Extremely Loud Ampersand Incredibly Close.

Just so his priorities are in order.

Interestingly, it turns out that the Media Action Network for Asian Americans is protesting Cloud Atlas because, um, it casts white people in Asian roles.
"You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor to play Gyasi’s role?” asked [MANAA founding president Guy] Aoki, referring to David Gyasi, the freed slave in the film.  I don’t think so: That would have outraged African American viewers.  But badly done yellowface is still OK."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Honey Boo Boo puts that cretinous jerk Dr. Drew Pinsky in perspective

I loathe Dr. Drew Pinsky. I think at some point I probably promised to never post about him again, but I couldn't resist posting this clip of Honey Boo Boo, the star of the TLC reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, offering a delightful and precocious commentary on that dangerous narcissist:




How much better off would we all be if everyone just fell the hell to sleep when Dr. Drew appeared?

Related, from the Daily Beast: The 'Celebrity Rehab' Death Trap. Seriously, keep Dr. Drew Pinsky away from people. He is dangerous.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Superman ruling paves the way for a new JUSTICE LEAGUE movie

Over at Unleash the Fanboy, I've got a new post up about the Superman Copyfight Crisis. Here's a sample:

The Los Angeles Times (via Unleash the Fanboy!) is reporting that the recent judgment in favor of Warner Bros and DC Comics in the ongoing fight for the rights to certain aspects of the Superman mythos might help speed along the long-rumored Justice League movie.

Whew! I guess we can all breath easier, huh? Justice served, and all that? The good guys won, and we can enjoy seeing real live human actors portray the characters we've long enjoyed as drawings in comics and in animated films. Hooray. From the story:
Had Warner lost its case against the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, it would not have been able to make "Justice League" or any other movies, television shows or comics featuring key elements of the Man of Steel's mythos after 2013 unless it reached a new agreement with the estates of Shuster and co-creator Jerry Siegel. That uncertainty made it difficult for Warner to move ahead with "Justice League," which the studio's motion pictures group president, Jeff Robinov, has long wanted to make as a pillar of its big-screen superhero strategy.
I don't know about you, but I was feeling a lot of pity for the poor megaconglomerate Warner Bros, thinking that they might have to actually give a few extra bucks to the heirs of the two men who created one of the most important pop culture characters of the 20th century, so that they can make billions more dollars off that character.

And when I say "character," I of course mean "piece of intellectual property."

Read it all here.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Free autographed copy of Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist to anyone who asks either presidential candidate their position on enema murder

The stakes have never been higher, obviously. This is the most important election of our lifetimes. Tomorrow's "town hall" style debate will be the most important debate of our lifetimes. That's why I'm offering one free autographed copy of the classic novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, to the person at tomorrow's "debate" who asks *either* candidate for their position on enema murder.

That's right. Ask Obama. Ask Romney. I couldn't care less. Ask them the question, and I'll send you the book. With my signature. Also, I will inscribe the message of your choice. If you'd like for me to thank you for asking the question, I'll do that. If you'd like for me to write that you're my best friend and inspired the novel, I'll do that. If you want me to write that I've always been in love with you, I'll do that. It's your choice!

Just ask the question, and get a free book!


Illustration by Chris Wisnia.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

THE METABARONS is not a graphic novel created by robots

Over at Unleash the Fanboy, I have posted a review of Jodorowsky's and Gimenez's classic graphic novel, THE METABARONS. Here is a snippet:

Back in 2003, I attended a screening of Santa Sangre at the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival. The film's director, the great filmmaker and graphic novel author Alejandro Jodorowsky introduced the film, and at one point during the brief pre-screening interview he said, "I'm currently working on a new film, but it's unlikely that it will screen at the cinema, because it is a film by a poet, and not a robot."

The robots have completely taken over what passes for popular entertainment and culture, while the poets are increasingly marginalized. As the cost of everything goes up, the situation only gets worse. The robots take approved intellectual property A and match it with approved concept B to create corporate art marketed to fans who will then turn around and prosthyletize on message boards and websites. These products -- movies, comic books, video games -- are designed to create specific responses in consumers -- namely, brand loyalty -- so that consumers will continue to buy more products with the intellectual property to which fans respond.

 It's gotten even worse in comic books. In the past, the difficulty in translating comic book characters into believable and popularly-accessible films meant that the characters merely had to entertain readers. Today, when comics-based films can bring in a billion dollars worldwide, the characters are no longer characters. They are corporate assets, to be treated in very specific ways that will not damage their money-making potential. In DC's "New 52," writers are complaining about the level of editorial interference in the books. Editors (along with marketing, legal, promotions, and licensing staff) are calling the shots, while the writers and artists act as robots who are plugging in the approved concepts, which have themselves been strip-mined from decades of past continuity. DC's recent Craftsman tools tie-in, THE TECHNICIAN, is the extreme example -- a character that exists in the DC Universe for the sole purpose of reminding readers to buy tools.

 "Illusion of change" has transmogrified into "Illusion of story." Mainstream comics exist not as works of art created by poets, but as commercials created by robots.

 Fans have become complicit in this. As "Toy Story 3" illustrated, the owners of intellectual property expect the fans to help them promote their products by spreading the word to others. Fans understand their role not just as consumers but as prosthyletizers; it's why you see them threatening and insulting critics who challenge a film's "tomatometer." There's a lot invested in the idea that what we're being fed by the robots is not, in fact, capital-S Shit, but capital-A Art. This is why fans attempt to canonize comic book films within a week of their release -- this list of the "Top 10 Comic Book Movies [Updated 2012]" appeared only a week after the release of "The Dark Knight Rises," and only about a two months after the release of "The Avengers," and yet both of those films landed in the meaningless "top three." The robots who are creating mainstream corporate art are plugged into the emotions of fandom because they share their meager goals. When Kelly Sue DeConnick explained what she hoped to accomplish when she took over as concept-arranging robot for AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, she stated that her goal was to create the mainstream-comics equivalent of money shots:
Singh then followed up by asking DeConnick for a one-word description of the series and she said "AC/DC." "I pitched it as the short rock, classic Avengers. When I saw the movie, I managed to keep it together until that point when Iron Man flew on the screen with AC/DC playing. Then I started bouncing in my chair clapping, and that's what I'm writing for. That's the moment."
No interest in exploring character, culture, politics. She knows there's no point, anyway. Even if she weren't a robot, the owners of The Avengers (Disney, which released "Toy Story 3") won't let their intellectual property be used for anything other than selling product, and the fans themselves really only want money shots anyway.



And you can read the rest here, if you want.