Comics Ate My Brain

January 7, 2010

How I’d Fix Generations

Filed under: star trek — Tom Bondurant @ 9:25 pm

With plok asking bloggers how they’d change last summer’s Star Trek, and with me not having much to say about that, here are some thoughts on how 1994’s Star Trek Generations could have been a more fangasmic Trek film.

In many ways, Generations is a victim of circumstance. Conceived and produced by “The Next Generation’s” team while that show was winding down, it was filmed in the spring of 1994 for release in the fall. Meant to bridge the gap between Kirk’s crew and Picard’s, it is hardly entry-level, and plays much more to devoted “TNG” fans than to any other group. In the context of the TV show, it’s passable, but it really doesn’t work as a standalone movie. While Soran and the Nexus are new, Data’s emotion chip was last seen in “Descent” (Seasons 6-7), there are “bad” Klingons despite ST VI‘s peace initiatives, and the Enterprise-D is destroyed just as potential new viewers were getting to know her. Plus there’s now an Enterprise-B and its hapless captain, along with references to otherwise-unseen Original Series stalwarts.  Indeed, watching Generations makes one aware of what’s not in it. The more the viewer must fill in the blanks himself, the weaker the film is.

Thus, Generations desperately needs a steady drip of context, stat!

(more…)

December 20, 2009

Fiddle-dee-dee!

Filed under: fanfic, green lantern, justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 2:19 am
Not sure what’s turned my thoughts to fictionalized warfare. Maybe some Avatar osmosis, although I’ve cooled to James Cameron’s directorial charms. Anyway, in trying to get to sleep the other night, I started thinking about a Green Lantern story. (It could easily be a Justice League story, but would center around GL.)

Basically, the initial setup was this: Green Lantern — doesn’t matter who, might as well be John — is patrolling Sector 2814 when his ring detects an approaching starship. It’s an advance scout for a massive armada headed, yes, straight for Earth. Naturally, GL alerts the Justice League and also buzzes Oa for backup. The JLA is prepped and ready for action, but the word comes back from Oa: reinforcements denied. In fact, a Guardian gets on the horn to tell John specifically that he is to offer no resistance to the invaders. Instead, he is to observe and advise them. He can protect the Earth’s best interests, but the Guardians have determined that the invasion must be a success, because that’s the only way Earth can survive.

John then contacts the JLA from aboard the invading scoutship and explains the situation. Obviously John is conflicted, but ultimately he has no reason to distrust the Guardians. Besides, he (and presumably any other Green Lantern in the area) will theoretically be able to influence the invaders in Earth’s favor. Of course, the JLA and the rest of Earth’s super-folk have no such conflict, and while there is some debate over whether to follow John’s lead, eventually the choice is made to repel the invaders.

Thus, the stage is set: hundreds (if not a thousand) hostile starships bearing countless troops, versus the Justice League, Justice Society, Teen Titans, et al. There are pitched battles in orbit and fierce fights on the ground, but the invaders eventually get past the superheroes. The invaders seem to be looking for something, but they don’t know quite where; and they tear the dickens out of several regions in the process. Cairo, Helsinki, Nepal, and Salt Lake City are hit especially hard. Regardless, thanks to John, casualties are amazingly low, including among the superhumans. Indeed, the invaders start ham-fistedly rebuilding the infrastructure of the devastated cities, even advising local leaders on alternative forms of government.

Once the invaders believe Earth has been subdued, though, the JLA and its allies strike back using guerrilla tactics. This is quite successful, in part because the invaders are caught off-guard. Before they know it, they’ve lost half their fleet and most of their infantry has been incapacitated; and they’re ready to retreat. After Green Lantern has escorted them out of the solar system, he gets a call from Oa: the Guardians are pleased.

Pleased?!? John spits. You could have stopped all this before it even started!

Yes, muses the Guardian coolly, but the [invaders] needed to be taught defeat. The Guardians knew that bloodying the invaders’ collective nose was the only way to get them to leave Earth alone, but calling in the GL Corps would have merely turned the invaders’ attention to Oa. It seems the invaders are a particularly thick and brutal race, but one thing they do especially well is fight — so they would have first found a way to eliminate the GL Corps, and then they’d have come after Earth. And make no mistake, John Stewart, intones the Guardian, [the invaders] would have dedicated their very existence to wiping us out. Now, however, they see that even if they defeat an enemy one day, it also won’t stop until it’s driven them off. The Guardian wraps up by saying they regret having to manipulate John and the other Earth GLs as they did, because (irony alert) they normally don’t work like that.

* * *

Now, clearly there are a number of problems with that story. I first thought of it when I was half-asleep, and I fleshed it out on the fly just now. The point, though, is that it is a blatant morality play about the Iraq war, and I’m not sure that something as deadly serious as Iraq (or Afghanistan, or wherever else the U.S. finds itself) should be trivialized, even potentially, by adapting it to a superhero setting. For one thing, it’s designed to leave no lasting scars on the Earth or its people. For another, the invaders are pretty one-dimensional — they’re looking for WMDs because they think someone on Earth attacked them, but that’s never really made clear.

Still, if you declare that some subjects are off-limits to superhero stories, aren’t you shortchanging the genre? Joe Kelly wrote a decent Iraq-related issue of JLA, where President Luthor basically lies to the Justice League to get them to invade an inoffensive country; and Greg Rucka put Lois Lane in harm’s way in “Umec” during his tenure writing Adventures Of Superman.

I actually do like the story, mostly for the moral dilemma it puts GL in. I suppose you could strip out the more obvious real-world parallels and make a passable 2- or 3-issue arc out of it. It wouldn’t have any real-world lessons, but it might be entertaining, and it would definitely explore the relationship between a Green Lantern and his little blue bosses.

Still, on balance I’d like my comics to be open to larger moral concerns. I’d just hope they’d be able to get past all the fantastic stuff.

December 16, 2009

Forbidden Trek

Filed under: star trek — Tom Bondurant @ 3:04 pm
No, I am not just now realizing that Star Trek owes a tremendous debt to Forbidden Planet. Every time I watch FP I imagine that it is the greatest unfilmed Star Trek episode ever. I mean, really: Leslie Nielsen is pretty much a Roddenberry captain, he works for the “United Planets,” and the four main officers are the commanding officer, first officer, ship’s doctor, and chief engineer. The only thing missing is a Spock figure, and I’m not sure that “Doc” wouldn’t fill that role pretty well.

Probably the weakest aspect of the movie is the romance between Nielsen’s J.J. Adams (that name’s oddly familiar too, given who directed the latest Trek) and Anne Francis’ Altaira, and that’s not all bad. I bought it from her point of view, but by the same token Adams knows full well what she’s feeling and to my mind takes advantage of it.

Still, it’s great fun to spot the other elements which would later find their way into Star Trek. The mysterious loner and his female companion figured in “The Man Trap,” “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” and “Requiem for Methuselah,” the all-knowing computer was a staple of Original Trek, and of course there’s the design of the deceleration devices.

Oh, and Dr. Morbius reminded me a heckuva lot of Dr. Orpheus from “The Venture Brothers.” Now I want to see Dr. Orpheus’ daughter in the Anne Francis role….

December 14, 2009

Re-posting: At least it wasn’t A Wrinkle In Focused Totality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 4:35 pm
[If you think you’ve seen this post before, you have. I deleted the original to get rid of spam comments. No non-spam comments were harmed by this procedure.]

Yesterday [December 2] I finally did something I’d been meaning to do for years, namely re-read Madeleine L’Engle’s classic young-adult fantasy A Wrinkle In Time. I can’t remember the last time I read it, but it had probably been close to thirty years ago. It wasn’t as mind-blowing as I remember, but I do want to read the rest of the series.

AWIT was also a lot shorter than I remember, although it was pretty dense nonetheless. I wasn’t expecting all the Christian references, and I definitely wasn’t expecting them to be so prominent. It didn’t feel like a book written in the early ’60s — more like something from the end of the decade or the early ’70s.

Perhaps most striking, though, was the Chris Claremont sensibility I got from the whole thing. Yes, I know that if anything, AWIT would have been an influence on Claremont, not the other way around. Still, you have a mousy, nerdy teenage girl unappreciated by her peers, who’s part of a family where almost everyone is either hyper-competent, extremely attractive, and/or outright super-powered. They all live in the rural Northeast (close to Westchester County?) where our heroine Meg meets her soulmate Calvin, who almost immediately starts talking about his own special destiny — maybe not in those terms, but close enough. Meg and Calvin and little telepathic Charles Wallace have a series of well-written intergalactic Christian-flavored adventures against an implacable evil, until everything is solved by the power of love.

Now, despite that smart-aleck tone, I did like the book, but darn if it didn’t seem like C.S. Lewis’ Uncanny X-Men.

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.]

October 27, 2009

Podcast thoughts

Filed under: meta, podcast — Tom Bondurant @ 12:16 am
As you might have guessed, real life has intruded on my attempts to do weekly-roundup podcasts, just as it did on the written versions. I don’t mind doing them; but there are logistical difficulties, most of which concern a certain 14 1/2-month-old and her various bodily needs. In other words, it’s been hard finding an hour (at least) to record and edit the things.

Therefore, because I can’t quite tell how many of you actually listen to and/or like the podcasts, I’m asking now. Sound quality notwithstanding, would you like me to keep doing them, or would you prefer I go back to weekly posts on this site? My feelings won’t be hurt either way, and I may even do a little of both.

Thanks!

October 5, 2009

New comics 9/30/09

A light week means a shorter podcast, and at the risk of being immodest, this week I think I am finally starting to put all the pieces together. Comics discussed include the Astro City: Astra Special #1, Blackest Night: Titans #2, Gotham City Sirens #4, Green Lantern #46, Justice League of America 80-Page Giant #1, Superman #692, Unknown Soldier #12, and Wonder Woman #36. Olivia helps as well, and as always the music is by R.E.M.

Download it here, stream it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!

September 28, 2009

Where are the Marvel nerd pages?

Filed under: meta, questions — Tom Bondurant @ 9:54 pm
Writing annotations for Trinity was a whole lot easier thanks to the wealth of DC nerd-sites on the Internets. The Unauthorized Chronology of the DC Universe is an excellent, well-reasoned, and fairly comprehensive timeline of post-Crisis DC. The DCU Guide indexes most characters’ appearances, both currently and in the Golden and Silver Ages. Mike’s Amazing World Of DC Comics focuses on the company’s publishing history.

However, for a company which made Eliot R. Brown a legend among nerds, I haven’t been able to find comparable resources for the Marvel Universe. If I want to know how Dr. Strange’s Defenders appearances dovetailed with his various solo series, where do I go? Last week I was curious to see whether the Essential Spider-Woman books covered all of the character’s major appearances, but I’m unaware of a Marvel counterpart to the DCU Guide. I’d love to see month-by-month charts of Marvel’s output over the past seventy years, but again, no luck.

So what about it, True Believers? And don’t tell me it’s because you actually have lives….

New comics 9/23/09

Good grief, it’s another huge week for the podcast, although this one comes in at just under 40 minutes. The lineup includes Beasts Of Burden #1, Blackest Night: Superman #2, Detective Comics #857, Fantastic Four #571, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #5, Galactica 1980 #1, Justice League of America #37, Madame Xanadu #15, The Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror #15, Supergirl #45, Superman: Secret Origin #1, and Wednesday Comics #12. Music, as always, is by R.E.M.

Download it here, stream it via the player on this page, or visit the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!

September 21, 2009

New comics 9/16/09

Big agenda this week not just because a whole lot of comics came out, but also because we’re catching up from last week. That means forty-odd minutes of laconic drawlin’ ’bout Action Comics #881, Agents Of Atlas #11, Batman And Robin #4, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #4, Blackest Night #3, The Brave and the Bold #27, Captain America Reborn #3, Green Arrow & Black Canary #24, JSA Vs. Kobra #4, Marvels Project #2, Warlord #6, and Wednesday Comics #s 10 and 11.

Download it here, listen to it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here. Music, of course, is by R.E.M.

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