Comics Ate My Brain

November 15, 2004

The Incredibles vs. The Polar Express

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 6:49 pm
The Incredibles has made, and will probably continue to make, lots more money for Pixar and Disney than The Polar Express, its fellow holiday-period animated movie. I’m no movie-industry analyst, but clearly a big part of Incredibles’ success is its pedigree — people love Pixar movies, and many times, the Disney marketing machine is irresistible (in the juggernaut sense).

Still, even without the marketing, Incredibles (which I have seen) just looks friendlier and yes, “cuter” than Polar Express (which I haven’t seen). I know that PE was created using the next phase in “Gollum technology,” and it’s an incredible technical achievement, but that’s not why people go to movies. If The Polar Express had been animated more traditionally, I feel certain it would be a bigger hit.

Superhero comics have to be careful not to follow the same allure of technique and “realism” as The Polar Express. To me the striving for realism is more of a defensive argument that superheroes do too matter and can so tell dark, depressing stories that aren’t all “Pow! Zap!” fight scenes.

Right now the superhero books which give me the biggest kick are Fantastic Four, by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, and Wonder Woman, by Greg Rucka and Drew Johnson. While both sets of creators have produced some ho-hum issues, FF is more often than not a zippy pastiche of wit, slapstick, familial relations, and sci-fi adventure; and WW melds the character’s roots in mythology with modern-day diplomacy and traditional superheroics. Both books are at least superficially grounded in the “real world” — Waid had the Fantastic Four try to institute “regime change” in Latveria, and Rucka has shown Diana at the White House — but both err on the side of fantasy and thus don’t limit themselves unnecessarily.

Contrast that with the Batman line, which tries so hard to live up to the legacy of Frank Miller (and live down the legacy of Adam West) that it ends up ignoring all the Giant-Prop-type fun stuff which made the character popular in the first place. Leave it to Grant Morrison — in a JLA book, mind you — to invest Batman not only with a “sci-fi closet,” but also with the Knight and the Squire, a pair of groupies (for lack of a better term) straight out of the ’50s Bat-books.

From what I can tell, the Polar Express movie is a weird hybrid of live-action movement and computer-generated imagery. Its technology frees its creators to make fantastic scenes, but that technology also limits its characters to what the human actors can portray. In this way it can only be a more vivid depiction of live-action. Its human characters aspire to look “realistic,” not like stylized animated humans. Because The Incredibles is full-on computer-generated animation, it is less restricted and more viewer-friendly.

Likewise, superhero comics shouldn’t try to be a weird hybrid of other media — they should stake out their own territory and occupy the field. I know this isn’t a groundbreaking thesis, but it bears repeating.

Regrets, I’ve had a few…

Filed under: crisis — Tom Bondurant @ 2:06 pm
(By the way, thanks Blogger for being completely inaccessible last night.)

Re-reading Identity Crisis #s 1-6 on Saturday, and doing Internet “detective work” over the weekend, it’s become clear to me that I wasn’t reading the right comics growing up. Otherwise I’d have this whole thing figured out.

For example, while I knew that the Calculator appeared in a series of Detective Comics backups in issues 462-67, in which he fought individual members of the Justice League before a big team-up/throwdown with Batman in #468, I was more focused on collecting the Englehart/Rogers/Simonson run, which started right after the Calculator issues. (By the way, Calc fought IC stalwarts Elongated Man, Atom, Green Arrow, Hawkman, and Black Canary.) So I haven’t read the Calculator issues, to say nothing of the whole arc, since their publication in the mid-’70s.

Lucky for me I was reading Justice League of America back then, and today still have the issues referenced in IC #3, which by their ads took place right around the time of Iris Allen’s murder. However, I wasn’t reading Flash, so I don’t know how much of this “Captain Boomerang body-switching” hoo-hah comes from the comics of that period.

Finally, while I was paying enough attention to Suicide Squad to pick up the issues dealing with the Justice League’s investigation of Ray Palmer’s death, I didn’t otherwise read SS. If I had, I might have been aware that Blacksnake, a rogue agent who used Ray’s size-changing technology, was killed in the issue after the “Atom arc” ended — so he couldn’t be the IC murderer. I would also have known more about the character of Nemesis, another Batman back-up feature (this time from Brave and the Bold) revisited in Suicide Squad. Like the Human Target, Nemesis was a master of disguise, and spent many an adventure impersonating someone else. Nemesis (a/k/a Tom Tresser) also had an evil twin, whose deeds inspired Nemesis to “balance the scales of justice” by doing good.

I’d like to think that someone — maybe even the twin — is using Nemesis’ skills and equipment to impersonate Ray Palmer on the last couple of pages of IC #6, but then I ran across someone named “Metamorpheus” (?) who was also a Suicide Squad shape-changer. At that point I figured if Brad Meltzer would use characters as obscure as Bolt, Slipknot, Merlyn, and the Calculator, Metamorpheus wasn’t out of the question either.

I still think the whole thing is a big blackmail plot designed to use the knowledge of their secret identities to control the heroes. (I did get that from those few Atom-related SS issues I read.) It could even have been a holdover from the Luthor administration, in the same vein as the “Bruce Wayne, Murderer?” scheme. The killer does seem to be appropriating the styles of different Suicide Squad members (Dr. Light, Slipknot, Captain Boomerang, Atom), so it makes sense that s/he got the technology from the government’s files on the Squad.

Regardless, while I might revisit Identity Crisis in the few weeks before #7 comes out, I’m willing to throw up my hands and admit that Brad Meltzer read more DC comics of the ’70s and ’80s than I did. I don’t think there’s any shame in that. Obviously, reading more DC comics provided more of an opportunity to make its shared universe cohesive and “real.” The idea behind Dr. Light’s “conversion” came from Meltzer’s observation that he was a criminal mastermind in Justice League and a nitwit in New Teen Titans. Meltzer has reconciled those disparate interpretations by saying Light was lobotomized.

I’m not saying I’m any less of a fanboy that Brad Meltzer, either; far from it. It’s just funny to me that as much effort as I’ve put into catching up with the back issues of Justice League, Green Lantern, Batman, and Detective over the past several years, I just wasn’t interested in the comics Identity Crisis spends more of its time referencing.

Now, if someone wants to lend me those old Flash and Suicide Squad issues, I’d be happy to take another crack at this….

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