Comics Ate My Brain

May 14, 2011

On “Smallville’s” Big Finish

Filed under: smallville, star trek, superman, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 3:00 pm

It’s pretty much redundant to say that the classic Clark-to-Superman transformation is archetypal, because Superman is the archetype for so many things superheroic. Accordingly, I will always make room for any version of the transformation, especially one staged like a walk-off grand slam, and accompanied by gratuitous John Williams music.

That’s — SPOILER ALERT! — pretty much how “Smallville” flew off into TV history last night (here’s the YouTube clip). Once it was announced that this season would be the show’s last, and once I realized I actually had some free time on Friday nights, I ended up watching a decent amount of these final episodes. (ComicsAlliance’s “Smallvillains” feature made it easy to keep up with the show otherwise.) Last night I also followed reactions of the faithful on Twitter, first at #Smallville and then #SmallvilleFinale. Now, I know, Twitter; but even discounting the OMG! factor, clearly the show developed an audience devoted enough to keep it on the air for ten years. Heck, it probably could have run until Tom Welling started to look like the Earth-2 Supes and the special DC guest-stars were Aztek, Kid Psycho, and Sugar & Spike.

(more…)

November 15, 2009

Mad or Bat?

Filed under: batman, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 3:58 pm
In an early episode of “Mad Men,” one of Sterling Cooper’s proles (I think it was Harry Crane) wonders aloud about his mysterious boss, Don Draper. “Maybe he’s Batman,” Harry laughs.*

Well, in light of last week’s third-season finale, maybe Harry was more right than he realized.

SPOILERS FOLLOW for that episode (and for the series as a whole)…

… but first, I’ve been waiting a long time to quote this exchange between TV critic Alan Sepinwall and “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm:

[AS:] Before they cast Ryan Reynolds to play Green Lantern, I was saying to everybody that I thought you’d be perfect casting at that, but is that the kind of thing you would even be interested in doing?

[JH:] It’s interesting. I was in talks with a lot of those people. Now they’ve tapped Mr. Reynolds to do that. And I think that’s a really good choice. My thing with the sort of superhero genre is, it’s a tricky balance to create. I think “Dark Knight” did it best, “Watchmen” did it fairly well. But whenever you’re a superhero, you’re literally a super man. You don’t have any vulnerability, and that becomes very difficult to relate to, or almost becomes comically earnest. And I think there needs to be a second level, whether there’s a darkness like “Dark Knight” or a sense of humor even. That can propel those things. If it’s just guys in tights and capes running around shouting character names to each other and throwing fireballs, it almost becomes unintentionally funny. I would never say never to something like that, but there has to be a different level. And fortunately, there are so many amazing graphic artists out there right now that are writing these stories that have deep layers. Frank Miller obviously is one of them, and Alan Moore, and guys like that, but there’s a whole new generation who are writing these new ones that are really deep and dark and cool and funny and superheroes.

[AS:] There are probably some people out there who would look at [Don] Draper as a superhero to them.

[JH:] Sure, there’s a lot of that. He’s kind of Mr. Perfect in a lot of ways, seemingly so.

The immediate irony of Hamm’s position is that Don shares one major character trait with most superheroes: a secret identity. Born Dick Whitman into hardscrabble circumstances, Dick/Don survived a forgotten Korean War attack with his old life literally blasted away. He returned home under the name of his fallen commanding officer, eventually reconciling himself with the original Draper’s widow. In time they became fast friends, although “Don” had to get a divorce in order to marry his current wife, Betty.

Naturally, Don’s past has intruded upon his present on a few occasions. Dick’s brother’s visit ended tragically. Scheming account manager Pete Campbell discovered the secret and threatened to expose Don, but SC partner Bert Cooper dismissed the threat. (Bert later used the secret to compel Don to sign an employment contract which Don had been resisting.)

These all paled in comparison to the doomsday scenario of Betty finding out the truth, which she did late this season. Don came clean, pretty much, and for a while it seemed like the Drapers would be able to move forward together. Maybe that will prove true in future seasons (I don’t see the show abandoning Betty and the kids entirely), but for now, Don has moved out, Betty is on her way to Nevada for a quickie divorce, and the show’s focus has apparently shifted in favor of Don’s workplace.

In the other late-season upheaval, said workplace isn’t quite Sterling Cooper anymore. Rather, in a series of behind-the-back passes, Don and his partners have formed Sterling Cooper Draper Price, their bulwark against being absorbed into a bland, faceless Madison Avenue adscape. (As noted here, the agency which bought the old Sterling Cooper was responsible for Coke’s treacly “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” commercial.)

To do this, Don must repair his other damaged relationships, not just with Pete, but also to his protege Peggy Olson and his colleague Roger Sterling. This struck me as a very Batman-ish thing to do, especially since the Batman of the late ’90s (and forward) had also surrounded himself with a surrogate family. In time-honored fan tradition, therefore, I will try to map Don’s relationships to Bruce Wayne’s.

Betty Draper is superficially similar to any number of Bruce’s girlfriends who can’t figure out why their date ends whenever the Bat-Signal lights up the sky. Clearly Betty’s split from Don goes deeper than that. In Batman terms, she’s Silver St. Cloud, who dumps Bruce after she discovers the truth; although Silver was more remorseful than Betty appears to be. Indeed, Betty is upset with Don basically for lying to her since they met. Don tries to rationalize this, asking rhetorically when he was supposed to tell her (first date? proposal? wedding night?), but no dice. Betty’s reaction is a dagger through the heart of any secret-identity lifestyle, even despite her own fumbling attempts at infidelity. Still, we’re not so much concerned with Betty here.

Pete Campbell is the Huntress/Helena Bertinelli, a rival of Don’s who nevertheless seems bent on aping his methods and even going a little farther. I would say that Pete is Robin/Jason Todd, but neither Don nor Pete want to be mentor and protege. Besides, Batman admired Huntress enough to sponsor her for Justice League membership, and Pete is sufficiently forward-thinking for Don and Roger to recruit him into the new firm. (Also, Pete has the big clients they’ll need.)

Roger Sterling worked his way out of Don’s good graces over the course of this season, divorcing his wife in order to marry Don’s 20-year-old secretary and thereby giving in fully to his midlife crisis. The sale of Sterling Cooper, and the prospect of facing an unbearably boring retirement alongside a vapid trophy wife, is the kick in the pants Roger needs to revive his old competitive spirit. Accordingly, Roger is Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, who gave into his more destructive impulses and had to prove himself to Batman all over again.

(Bert Cooper is Alfred, Don’s older confidant who knows Don’s background but doesn’t care. Don doesn’t need to mend too much with Bert.)

Finally, Peggy Olson is Robin/Nightwing/Dick Grayson, Don’s number-one protege and the person who might have been the most wounded by Don’s callous appraisals. Peggy started at SC as Don’s secretary, but her ideas for a lipstick campaign led to her becoming a respected copywriter. This season, though, she was seduced (literally — eww) by Don’s rival Duck Phillips. Peggy realized she was becoming stuck in Don’s shadow, and it was implied pretty heavily that she was thinking about going to Duck’s firm. She stayed with SCDP, though, because she and Don both have tragedies in their pasts which shape their views of the world. (Peggy gave up a child for adoption between seasons 1 and 2, and Don helped her through it.) I suspect many “Mad Men” fans would gladly throw Don’s marriage under the bus if it meant keeping Don and Peggy’s relationship intact.

Now, I’m sure Don’s personality and attendant relationships have a lot in common with other cold-on-the-outside characters and their ensembles. It’s a simple way to humanize those kinds of characters. I stand by that Peggy/Dick comparison, though, even if it means Duck is the Starfire….

* [Considering that Harry said this in 1960, well before any of the major Batmania periods, I wonder if Superman, more popular at the time, might have been a better comparison.]

April 24, 2009

Repositioning Scully

Filed under: tv, x files — Tom Bondurant @ 8:40 pm
I’m pretty far into The X Files‘ penultimate season. Specifically, I’ve just watched “Three Words,” where Mulder tries to reclaim his old job only to run afoul of Doggett (because Doggett is being set up by still-mysterious forces). These are fairly decent episodes, although they show pretty clearly that Mulder and Scully have gobs more chemistry than Scully and Doggett.

Between Mulder’s absence and Doggett’s struggle to prove himself (to the viewers, that is), Scully is Season 8’s constant. Accordingly, Scully steps into Mulder’s shoes as the agent “open to extreme possibilities.” However, Scully also takes on Mulder’s quest for a lost loved one. Mulder was searching for his sister, and for the first part of S8, Scully searches for Mulder.

Naturally, Scully’s quest plays into her not-quite-romance with Mulder. She has given up a normal life to stay with the X Files — not exactly to stay with him, because she has her own reasons for wanting to uncover the truth — and he is therefore her touchstone. She can’t abandon him, even if she weren’t carrying their child. All her eggs, as it were, are in his basket. The show has told us more than once that, in a very real sense, she has no other life to go to. (I haven’t seen the second movie yet, but I think that statement is still true as of Season 8.)

I suppose my question is this: does all of that make Scully so dependent on Mulder that it hurts her as a character? Certainly Scully isn’t a bad character without Mulder — the “Roadrunners” episode finds her stranded in a sinister little town, and she handles herself well for the most part — but so far through Season 8, Mulder has been the elephant in the room. The reverse was not necessarily true for Mulder, who got more than a few episodes where Scully was either out of the picture or reduced to a supporting role. To be fair, the show tried to balance its solo stories, with M & S each getting an episode opposite the Lone Gunmen, and each having to play phone-tag while the other was in the field.

Regardless, there’s only five episodes left in the season before Mulder leaves for all but the last two hours of the show; and I am left feeling like Scully isn’t quite playing off Doggett or Skinner as much as she’s still paired with Mulder’s ghost. When all is said and done I think this is unfair to her; but the show seems to have been pointing her in this direction for a while, so it’s not unexpected either. I don’t know if it’s sexist, but that aspect of it nags me too: Scully needs to find Mulder because she loves him, in a way quite different from Mulder’s need to find his sister.

So, is Scully diminished for standing by her man? Thoughts?

February 21, 2009

Thoughts on Donna Troy and "Dollhouse"; or, If You Wait Long Enough, It Gets Better

Filed under: new teen titans, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 9:38 pm
Last night I was taking care of a couple of nerd obligations — watching “Dollhouse,” because clearly someone has to; and trying to come up with my fifth list item for Tom Spurgeon‘s “Five For Friday” feature — and found myself flipping through the Who Is Donna Troy? paperback collection.

WIDT? features the eponymous story from The New Teen Titans vol. 1 #38 (January 1984) in which Robin helps Wonder Girl reconnect with her past. It follows that one with Tales of the Teen Titans #50 (January 1985), the double-sized issue chronicling Donna’s wedding. After a five-issue Titans storyline involving Donna’s secret outer-space origin, it concludes with a short piece about Donna’s memorial service (she was killed in a story not reprinted here).

It’s no stretch to say that Donna — or, perhaps more specifically, Wonder Girl — has had a strange and complicated history. “Wonder Girl,” like “Superboy,” started out as the teenage version of an adult hero. Thus, Wonder Girl was the younger Wonder Woman. However, as the Wonder Woman comics got increasingly crazy in the 1950s and early ’60s, the adult Wonder Woman found herself teaming up not only with Wonder Girl, but with the toddler Wonder Tot. The story goes that, when the time came to create a super-team for the teen sidekicks of adult heroes, the editor noticed only that there was a Wonder Girl, and put her on the roster without checking to see where she came from. Consequently, the “Wonder Girl” who first appeared with the Teen Titans in 1965 didn’t get a separate origin, or even a real name, for four years. The first mention of the name “Donna Troy” came in Teen Titans vol. 1 #22 (July-August 1969), courtesy of writer Marv Wolfman.

Of course, Wolfman and artist George Perez would go on to produce most of the stories reprinted in the aforementioned paperback, and that’s really where I want to start. Unlike her colleagues, Donna didn’t have that much of a history from which character traits could be derived. Robin was struggling with independence from Batman, Kid Flash was already in semi-retirement, and Speedy had that unfortunate junkie phase. Therefore, it wasn’t hard for Wolfman and Perez (and especially Wolfman) to flesh out Donna as everyone’s friend, and sort of the wholesome girl-next-door. Since she had no real history, pros and fans alike could see whatever they wanted in her.

Naturally, that kind of approach can produce a creepy slippery slope, where Donna stays popular and loved because we said so. In 2003, Donna was killed (for all intents and purposes) in a fairly ignominious way at the climax of a miniseries designed to reshuffle DC’s teen-hero and former-teen-hero team books. It was done mostly for shock value, since the reactions of various characters would cause said reshuffling. However, those were the characters: the book in which Donna appeared, Titans, never got as much attention as DC had hoped, and certainly not as much as the other team being broken up, Young Justice. Thus, on one level, Donna’s death was an opportunity for the characters to voice what DC presumed would be the fans’ reaction — except that by 2003, Donna’s popular days were at least about ten (and probably closer to 15) years behind her. Younger fans wouldn’t have connected with Donna the way the older fans had; and we older fans had, I suspect, become jaded and bitter about superhero death anyway.

Still, Donna’s death led to the last story in the Who Is Donna Troy? collection, writer/artist Phil Jiminez’ account of Donna’s wake. Jiminez is a huge fan of all things Wonder Woman and Teen Titans, and had drawn the JLA/Titans miniseries which led into the Titans ongoing which was cancelled as a part of Donna’s death. This made Jiminez an especially appropriate choice to eulogize Donna. His story is rife with the kind of references and in-jokes which we enlightened superhero fans are supposed to condemn as “inaccessible.”

Regardless, if like me you recognize the references (notwithstanding the fact that they refer to earlier stories in the WIDT? book), or if you know the significance of the “HELLO MY NAME IS DONNA” doll, odds are you’ll find the story moving, as I did. The pivotal moments in Donna’s life — finding her real family, getting married, dying in battle — resonate with those who “knew” her, because they are built on the readers’ own hopes and dreams. I’m convinced that the fans who like Donna Troy actively want to like her in a way that other characters with more established histories don’t facilitate.

What’s this have to do with “Dollhouse?” Well, it’s not that Donna is a blank slate on the order of Echo, or that people who like Eliza Dushku really like Eliza Dushku in some preternatural way. Instead, it’s the notion that a series can be actively challenging to its viewers for a while, almost daring them to watch; and then turn a corner, change things up, and become all-of-a-sudden “good.”

By now we all know the criticisms of the show’s premise. Last week’s episode reinforced those criticisms: why go through a shadowy criminal enterprise when you could hire a real person, etc. Last night’s episode helped justify the Dollhouse’s business plan, even if it raised still more questions (as pillock observes, what kind of infrastructure must it have?). However, it was a step in the right direction. Apparently the back half of this batch of episodes really reveals the point of the series, and these we’re seeing now (including that debut episode, which I gather was reworked heavily) are just standalone warmups.

Question is, though, how much of the bad stuff must we wade through before that corner to Qualityville is turned? I have watched the first episodes of both “Farscape” and “Babylon 5” and wasn’t sufficiently intrigued to continue with either; but I stuck with any number of shows which started out fair-to-middling and only hit their stride after a year or two. Whether I became more receptive to their individual charms, or they each simply got better, is something of a moot point; because in the end, the result is the same. You sit through a lot of fair-to-middling stuff so that the payoffs will matter more. “All Good Things…” was a reward for watching “Encounter At Farpoint.” DS9’s “What You Leave Behind” even included a montage. I know I’ll be paying special attention to the Final Five’s early scenes whenever I watch “Galactica 2.0” all the way through. “Lost” seems to be composed exclusively of buried details. Accordingly, if “Dollhouse” lasts long enough to build up its own macro-story, I’m sure I’ll look back on these early episodes with a more practiced eye. That doesn’t mean they were necessarily good … just that they were, I don’t know, tolerable. I’m not real comfortable spending my time just on the tolerable, but obviously I do believe in giving a show a chance to prove itself.

Going back to Donna, I do think that “Who Is Donna Troy?” and “We Are Gathered Here Today” (the wedding issue) were, by themselves, good comics. By that I mean that they were crafted well enough so that the emotional moments were built on elements from the stories themselves, and not merely on the reader’s pre-existing awareness of the character. Sure, it helped if you knew Dick and Donna’s relationship, and especially Donna and Terry’s, but I read each of those for the first time when I had been away from comics for a couple of years. In this respect I think Perez’s layouts and character direction help greatly, especially with the wedding. Talking about these stories in the context of the overall series, I thought they succeeded

almost despite the fact that there’s not much more to Donna beyond being pretty and nice. However, the peculiar alchemy Wolfman and Perez were able to use on her has turned that around into a kind of unequivocal goodwill — that because she’s so nice, we don’t want anything bad to happen to her, and we even actively wish her well.

To be clear, that kind of success is in addition to whatever enjoyment a reader new to the whole Donna thing gets out of those stories. Donna went through a lot of mediocre stories before Wolfman and Perez came along, and the duo didn’t make her a star overnight either.

That’s the appeal of serial superhero comics, though, isn’t it? Even the bad stuff gets repurposed eventually … except the really quite extraordinarily bad stuff (like the “Teen Tony” Iron Man or the Team Titans book), which is annihilated in the metaphorial incinerator. Still, if even the bad stuff has some potential value, aren’t we just lowering standards with each bad element?

More than likely, I suppose … but regardless, it sounds like I’ve been suckered into “Dollhouse” for a while….

August 17, 2008

There are many copies … and they have a Pam.

Filed under: tv — Tom Bondurant @ 1:44 am

No one likes to hear about another person’s dreams, but every now and then mine involve TV or movies, so I figure those might slip through.

Recently I dreamed that Jim Halpert was the Twelfth Cylon. This gives me the same creepy/funny vibe as the revelation of Marge Simpson as Head Vampire in that one Halloween episode.

Anyway, it made perfect sense at the time. Jim has been romancing Pam so that she can (unwittingly) breed little Cylon/human hybrids. I don’t remember exactly how Dwight reacted when he found out, but obviously it would make his life a lot more interesting.

So now, of course, I am mentally trying to match all the US-“Office” characters with “Galactica” roles: Michael = Baltar, Creed = Tigh, Jan = Roslin, etc. I would map Ryan and Kelly to Tyrol and Callie, but I like Kelly too much. Can’t quite figure out where to put Stanley or Kevin, though.

Also, now I’m thinking that no one wants to hear about my TV-related dreams either….

January 21, 2008

Quien es mas Klingon?

Filed under: star trek, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 6:24 pm
The mega-Trek-watching project continues. Yesterday included “Disaster,” which features the birth of Keiko O’Brien’s daughter as assisted by Worf. It’s a broad scene, and perhaps not the most imaginative, but it’s played well. It probably helped establish the “Worf uncomfortable = funny” theory.

However, yesterday it just confirmed my own theory that Worf, son of Mogh = Dwight K. Schrute. Let’s compare and contrast.

1. Upbringing

Worf: Parents killed by Romulans. Separated from brother at early age. Raised on Earth by humans.
Dwight: Raised by humans on Earth, but that doesn’t really do it justice.
Advantage: Dwight

2. Security Credentials

Worf: Security chief of USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. Strategic Operations Officer aboard Deep Space Nine. Proficient in Mok’bara and skilled with the bat’leth and mek’leth weapons.
Dwight: Former volunteer sheriff’s deputy. Security corporal, Dunder-Mifflin Scranton (honorary title). Purple belt in Goju-Ryu karate. Proficient, I suppose, with nunchuks and pepper spray.
Advantage: Worf

3. Honors

Worf: Won 2368 Forcas III Bat’leth tournament.
Dwight: Awarded Dunder-Mifflin Salesman of the Month 13 times in 12 months.
Advantage: Push

4. Secret Lovers

Worf: K’Ehleyr — murdered shortly after introducing him to their son.
Dwight: Angela — clandestine romance almost completely hidden from co-workers; ended when he killed Angela’s cat.
Advantage: Dwight

5. Disgraces and Separations

Worf: Endured discommendation from Klingon Empire for almost two years. Quit Starfleet to fight in Klingon Civil War.
Dwight: Family shunned him for two years (ages 4-6) for forgetting to save excess tuna oil. Quit Dunder-Mifflin to protect Angela.
Advantage: Dwight

6. Feelings Towards Cats

Worf: Disliked Spot. Later became Spot’s caretaker.
Dwight: Euthanized Sprinkles.
Advantage: Worf

7. Wore Red Uniform As …

Worf: Lieutenant J.G. aboard Enterprise; Lt. Commander aboard Deep Space Nine.
Dwight: Staples clerk.
Advantage: Worf

8. Pass On What You Have Learned
Worf: Performed R’uustai ceremony with young Jeremy Aster, initiating him into the House of Mogh. Raised son Alexander for a few years aboard the Enterprise.
Dwight: Secretly made Pam Assistant to the Regional Manager.
Advantage: Push

9. Historical Confusions
Worf: Struggled with true identity of Kahless “impersonator.”
Dwight: Struggled with true identity of Ben Franklin “impersonator.”
Advantage: Dwight

10. Enemies
Worf: Romulans, Q, Borg
Dwight: Andy, Jim
Advantage: Worf

There’s more, I’m sure; but I’m not through all of TNG yet, let alone DS9.

Ironically, Star Trek seems to be pretty low on the totem pole of Dwight’s nerdy pursuits….

[EDIT: Corrected “advantages” for #s 5 and 6.]

September 28, 2007

HSM 3000?

Filed under: tv — Tom Bondurant @ 6:45 pm
So the Best Wife Ever and I were talking about “High School Musical’s” female lead. (It’s not important why.) She mentioned that Ms. Hudgens had been dating her “HSM” co-star — “what’s his name, Zapp Brannigan?”

If only, darlin’. If only.

September 26, 2007

Can’t blog; watching TV

Filed under: meta, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 4:16 pm
Sorry about the lack of content. I was out of town all weekend (got in at midnight Monday morning thanks in part to my old nemesis, the Atlanta airport), and between getting caught up on Monday and having a killer headache yesterday, haven’t had a chance to post here.

In comics-related news, though, I did finish the bulk of Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics (I haven’t read much of the review-and-commentary section yet). I also read all of The Complete Peanuts 1965-66 Friday on the plane. Both were really excellent, as you might expect.

I also finished watching “The Venture Bros.” Season 2, and of course caught the premieres of “Chuck” and “Heroes.” It’s probably unfair to compare the three, but “Venture Bros.” was great, “Heroes” was good, and “Chuck” left me a little cold. With “Chuck,” and to a certain extent with “Heroes,” the style is there, but the underlying structure is pretty standard. I felt like I knew everything that was going to happen in “Chuck” even before I watched the pilot, and in fact I skipped a couple of minutes towards the end (after the day is saved) and didn’t feel like I missed much. Future episodes look like they could fall into a predictable pattern, too. I’ll give it a couple more weeks, but it’s not begging to be put on my must-watch list yet.

Almost forgot to mention “Reaper,” the first few minutes of which almost charmed me even through last night’s killer headache. It’s on tape (yes, tape; don’t judge me) and I’m looking forward to the rest.

Anyway, “Heroes” was fun, although it was quite the info-dump. Good to see David “Sark” Anders again too.

As far as posts go, look for a Thursday Night Thinking here tomorrow, as well as thoughts on the end of “Smallville” at Blog@Newsarama; and then my Friday Night Fights entry. I also want to remember Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s 20th anniversary. I’m still trying to figure out a posting routine, and the lack of travel in the foreseeable future should make that easier. Thanks for your patience.

May 13, 2007

Playoffs, hype, and "Friday Night Lights"

Filed under: tv — Tom Bondurant @ 11:07 pm
“Friday Night Lights,” one of my favorite new shows, has been renewed for a second season. I liked the first season very much, and I found it much more endearing from the start than either “Heroes” (which grew on me) or “Studio 60” (which squandered its potential). I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, but I will gladly make time for “FNL.”

It’s a hard show to define. It focuses on a small-town Texas high school’s football team, so there are lots of sports metaphors, but there are also meditations on the nature of fandom, religion, family life, and growing up. It has a large cast, but all of the characters have at least some nuance; and while It’s not teen-centered, it sure doesn’t put the teens in the background. Mostly, it deals with the obsessions a small-town success story can produce, and the expectations which go along with those obsessions.

Last season, the team struggled to cope with the first-game loss of their star player, and (SPOILER!!!) their trip to the state championship. Accordingly, the TV season spanned a total of about 3 months, from late August/early September to late November. This gives “FNL’s” second season some options. It can tell some stories from the remainder of that school year, but those won’t have the constant pressure of each week’s football game as a backdrop. It can also pick up at the start of the next year’s season, with the players that much older, but the viewers having missed out on their maturation.

What’s this have to do with comics? Well, sometimes I thnk that superhero world-maintenance has a lot in common with athletics. The average “Hero A fights Villain B” story, like the average scrimmage or game, shows our hero flexing his muscles in a natural, everyday setting. Individual games have meaning in football, more so than in other sports, but as “FNL’s” Dillon Panthers showed last season, you can lose a few games and still come back to win it all. Therefore, not every game has to be the one to change everything.

However, a team in the playoffs will quickly find itself in a lose-and-go-home situation. In that sense, the stakes are a lot higher, because every game is potentially the last — maybe for the season, maybe (if a player’s gone as far with the sport as possible) for good. Of course, a lot of good teams come out of the playoffs having been eliminated, and depending on how good the team was supposed to be, often that elimination can seem premature. Thus, those outcomes combine with fan expectations to color the perception of that particular team for a long time. Big crossovers, and big events generally, are like the playoffs, because the hype is front-loaded and we fans are conditioned to expect the same kinds of altered perceptions. However, while it might be reasonable to expect to see superheroes in the “playoffs” on a regular basis, the real growth happens between the games and in the off-season.

I wanted the Dillon Panthers to win the state championship this season, because for a show on the ratings bubble it might be the only shot they had. Now that I know it’s not, the question then becomes how they will handle losing the next year. Not that a high-school football team can’t repeat; but it’s not dramatically plausible. This season was about fulfilling expectations, so next season can be about coming up short (just not in the ratings department, I hope!). Sure, the playoffs are important, but fans shouldn’t feel entitled to a certain lofty outcome year in and year out. Likewise, superhero publishers and fans shouldn’t have to rely on big events to produce those lofty outcomes year in and year out.

“Friday Night Lights” demonstrates that a show about football can put football in the background a decent amount of the time and still be dramatically successful. I’ll be waiting for its return, to see how it builds on that success.

August 22, 2004

Teen Titans "Aftershock Part 2"

Filed under: animated, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 7:15 pm
Well, “Aftershock” was no “Judas Contract,” but there was no way it could have been. It’s fitting that “Teen Titans”‘ take on what is probably the most famous New Teen Titans story arc is a perfect example of how the show is different from the comic. The show has to be different because the medium demands it.

“Aftershock” gave Terra a pretty final fate while not crossing any lines inappropriate for younger viewers. (I was very surprised that it also seemed to say goodbye to Slade in a pretty definite way — although I think that will be reversed before too long.) I found the end touching, perhaps because it is a more palatable way to deal with Terra than the comics did.

The comics had more time to set up Terra, and thus more material from which to draw pathos and tragedy. Terra’s story began in New Teen Titans #28 (1982) and lasted about 16-17 issues. Because that Terra wasn’t manipulated, abused, or misunderstood, her story turned out seedier and more disturbing. At the end of “The Judas Contract” (the 4-parter which wrapped up the arc), the Titans were reeling not just because they’d lost a friend and teammate, but also because they felt violated by the whole series of events. It was therefore fitting, and perhaps a way of healing for both characters and creators, that Wonder Girl’s wedding in Titans #50 — probably the happiest moment in Titans history — took place six months after the end of “Judas.”

Since such long-term arcs wouldn’t have worked for a half-hour cartoon, I’m impressed that “Aftershock” packed as much emotional impact as it did. The animated Terra was more rebellious than dangerous, and her journey to the “dark side” was less voluntary than her counterpart’s. As a teen hero on a show which glorifies teen heroes, she couldn’t be completely evil (which made the comics’ Terra even more daring, especially 20 years ago). The cartoon Titans don’t deal in subplotted angst like their print ancestors, nor should they. For what it accomplished, “Aftershock” honored “Judas Contract” as well as it could.

Besides, before too long the cartoon will take on the saga of Raven’s father Trigon, and we’ll see how it deals with another Titan’s literal dark side….

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