Saturday, June 24, 2006

Monkey Business

THIS TIME I REALLY MEAN IT!

The Big Monkey website is no longer having the "CGI limits reached" problem it was before. The site has turned out to be more popular than we'd anticipated and the traffic was more than servers/accounts could bear. A high quality problem!

It's now on a dedicated server and cheerily awaiting your visitation....

The Monkey welcomes you to the world of whiny teenagers.

The Monkey kills Spider-Man's wife.

The Monkey interviews wacky Johnny Ryan of Angry Youth Comix.

The Monkey clothes shirtless women.

Oh, and for those of you in the metro-D.C. area, remember the Big Monkey Members Party is one month from now (Thursday July 20, 7PM-9PM) at Busboys & Poets on 14th St. Price of Admission is one (1) Big Monkey shopping bag!

The party will feature:

Free food!
Big Monkey: The Movie!
Cash bar!
Devon singing!
The sounds of Big Monkey Radio!
Scipio laughing at Devon singing!
Door Prizes!
Local dignitaries & press!
A Heroclix surprise announcement!
The Dramatic Reading Competition!


Friday, June 23, 2006

Smithsonian Panel, reviewed

Last night Devon and I attended "Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society", a panel discussion at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History, featuring Danny Fingeroth, Dennis O’Neil, Michael Uslan, Tom De Falco, and moderator Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg.

Fingeroth ran Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man editorial line and is the author of Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society. O’Neil, an expert on comics, pop culture, and folklore/mythology, was the guiding force behind DC Comics’ Bronze Age reinvention of Batman. Uslan, an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer, is executive producer of the Batman films. DeFalco, former Marvel editor-in-chief, is the author of Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide. Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg is Curator of Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, and has edited, authored or co-authored a number of comic and pop culture guide books. He teaches a course in comic book literature at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).

It was a nice event for both the laymen and the comic book fan. Not only did everyone stay till the end of the two-hour program, most people stayed longer, and the Smithsonian staff seemed pleased by the attendance (since tickets were $25 a pop).

Bad news was, during the Q&A portion there were uncomfortable descents into fanboy wrangling between some of the audience and the panelists that left even hardcore comics-type like me squirming. The good news was, it was entirely focused on Spider-Man, which made Marvel fans look geeky and DC fans look adult and sophisticated. Nyah-nan-nah-na-nah, Marvel!

Seriously, panel discussions -- not just about comics but about anything -- should never be opened up to Q&A. I'm there to see the panelists interact, not listen to some mouthbreather charging that Spider-Man working with Iron Man is a violation of his core character while the panelists eye the exits. And that was the moderator.

I didn't learn too much, but these events are more about hearing where particular experts come down on certain issues, not for eye-popping relevations about comics' role in society (particularly for those of us who think, read, and write about such things alot; like, daily).


Best News of The Evening

Michael Uslan was an engaging speaker, with lively anecdotes and that rarest of combinations, a strong love of comics coupled with an understanding of how the real world works. He made three observations I found particularly interesting. First, Hollywood's attitude toward comic book movies has changed because the people now running Hollywood grew up reading comics. Second, Hollywood understands that "comic book movie" is not a genre. Genres wax and wane in popularity, but comics are a medium, which supplies source material in any genre. This means that the comic book movie is not a fad. Third, he predicts that we're on the verge of the next step in transmedia adaptations: quality television miniseries based on graphic novels too difficult to condense into a film.


Pleasant Unfortunate Truth

During the discussion on the portrayal of women heroes in comics, Denny O'Neill talked about his decision to depower Wonder Woman. Denny was (and is) by his own description a "pinko liberal", and affirmed that he thought the change was an advance for women characters. "You have to understand, " he said, "writers like me, we have the best of intentions. We simply don't always know how to do things well. But things are better now that there are more women writers." I've always assumed that was true, but it was nice to hear: writers aren't intentionally sexist, or racist, or out to ruin your favorite character.

[Oh, and I know that's not Denny O'Neill, but I couldn't find any pictures of him, and he looks sort of like Patrick Stewart, except for the nose.]


Unpleasant Unfortunate Truth

Well ... most writers aren't. When asked a question about the social ramifications of editorial decisions, Marvel's Tom DeFalco stated quite baldly: "We don't really think about things that like. We're just trying to sell books." In fact, he said, to some degree, "a writer's job is to piss off the readers," citing several instances where the louder the public condemnation of what he was doing with certain characters, the higher sales went. "


Rape is Real!

Naturally, someone from the audience just had to bring up the whole "Dr. Light/rape" thing.
Marvelites DeFalco and Fingeroth both said they simply wouldn't permit such a thing in a story. Apparently Marvel's vaunted realism includes Life Model Decoys but not a crime that victimizes, oh, around 600,000 women in the U.S. a year. O'Neill, although not exactly gung-ho on the idea, noted that what matters is how the subject is treated and how it serves the storyline; hey, this is the guy who wrote the Question series, remember.

The most interesting thing about the "rape discussion" was that the only person who'd actually read the story at issue was Uslan.


By Far the Best Exchange of the Evening

Denny O'Neill (charmingly self-deprecating): "Back when I was first working in comic books, the public considered us only half a step up from pornographers--"

Tom DeFalco (interrupting so as to steal the limelight with a lame joke, just as I'd expect a Marvel writer to do): "You mean half a step below!"

"Well," Denny immediately replied, casually withering in the superiority of his grise-y eminence: "Maybe at Marvel."


ZING! Denny's a very smart and witty guy, whom the years have sharpened, not dulled. I'd love to have him at one of my parties, but I'd be terrified to be on a Match Game '74 panel with him. Suffice it to say, that between the, ahem, earthiness of DeFalco and the urbanity of O'Neill my company prejudices were not undermined, but strongly reinforced (which actually saddened me, you'll be surprised to hear).


OVERALL

I'm delighted that the Smithsonian sponsored such a panel, and that I got to attend. It's a good sign they've got their finger on the pulse of current culture and know that there's more to U.S. history than Mamie Eisenhower's dress. Lovely though it is.

It was a nice mix of people and perspectives, but Devon had a more interesting idea: a panel "pitting" the Old Comics Guard versus the New Comics Guard (maybe even including some ... some GIRLS!).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Always thinking of others ... eventually.

Ah, the legendary selflessness of Superman...Oh, and, a couple billion people died too, along with all vestiges of their civilization and biome. But what matters is that we're orphans again.

I suppose we'll have to go live on one of the countless other worlds that adore us, most of which have superior technology, more stable societies, and better fashion. *choke*!

Next DC Heroclix?

Wizkids has announced they're discontinuing 16 or 17 of their less popular and ill-conceived tabletop games. Pity about "Celebrity Fitness Instructor Clix"; I'd just gotten on E-Bay the "Frosted Hair" John Basedow Unique and was looking forward to teaming him and Susan Powter against the Golden Age Jack LaLaine and Perry White.

But this will allow them to focus on their core games, including their lead seller, Heroclix; yay! So, in case they need to throw together a new DC set, I thought we should gather our thoughts and make some suggestions. Ready? Put on your Clixing Rings, kids, and let's go!


Every discussion of DC Heroclix sets has to start with the question, "Who will the Batman Allies/Enemies be?" It's one of the rules of the game, I think.

I don't think a new Nightwing REV trio is needed, but a "Fashion Model Dick Grayson" Unique would be nice (and he'd be dressed like Nightwing anyway). Similarly, an LE of Bat Enemy Cassie Cain as an out of character scenery-chewing logorrheic Republic Serial villain would a nice update. A Batwoman Unique should be de rigeur for the next DC set. That way, bloggers will have a 3D model available to facilitate their criticisms of the social impact of her breast size.

And the Question. Everyone agrees we need a Question clix. Batman Ally; smoke cloud; perplex and close combat.

Butt-kicking remakes really are needed for lots of Batvillain figures (the Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face). And, for obvious reasons, a Catman clix and new Mad Hatter are called for. At least one more Secret Six character should be made. Ragdoll is the fabulous choice, but Scandal would probably get made first for gender parity in the set. Oh, and a pog of the Stuffed Corpse of Parademon; actually better just make him a Light Object.

Checkmate calls for some new figs, too: such as Count Vertigo and the long overdue Alan Scott.

Battle for Bludhaven? Heck, that deserves its own GAME. Atomic Knight generics, Uniques of the Nuclear Family, Prof. Radium, Firebrand all the new Freedom Fighters! Tell me you wouldn't enjoy a Human Bomb with Quake, Pulse Wave, Energy Explosion, Force Blast. Why, the Monolith might even get a clix, because every team needs a "brick". Oh, and BfB figs wouldn't be complete with a Refrigerator Construct Heavy Object token for Hal Jordan to use!

Now that we've got a Rita Farr, the rest of the Doom Patrol are inevitable.

The new Blue Beetle With Pincher Action is a pretty safe bet, as is Nightshade from Shadowpact. But will WK change its mind and make a Detective Chimp Unique?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

World-Famous Elongated Irony

I tend too much to assume that everything I know about comics is common knowledge. It isn't; yesterday I almost fired someone for not knowing who Mr. Mxyzptlk is.

I always feel silly when I blog about, say, Egg Fu or the Composite Superman, because, well, everyone's heard of them, for pity's sake. But they haven't, and lots of people seem to be happy to learn about such things.

So, here's another observation along those lines, for those of you reading 52 Week 7:

You DO realize the irony of Ralph Dibny criticizing Booster Gold, right?

In essence, Ralph "Elongated Man" Dibny was the pre-Crisis version of Booster Gold. Not in the sense that being a stretchable sleuth is anything like being a flying future-tech vigilante! No, I mean in their approach to the "job".

Ralph Dibny was the first hero to actively seek out publicity, to eschew a secret identity, to strive for celebrity. You know who named Ralph "the World-Famous Elongated Man"? Ralph did. Ralph didn't get his powers by accident; he sought them out so he could become famous through them. His first story consists mostly of him stealing the limelight from the Flash in Central City.

Ralph showed up at a debutante ball -- uninvited, as I recall -- in costume, so as to be the center of attention. Then he parlays his fame into other benefits by charming, wooing, and marrying a wealthy heiress. She, in turn, used her wealth and position to land a superhero husband giving her the kind of excitement and access that (usually) even money can't buy.

It was a perfecct match, but let's not pretend it was A Love So Pure that they would have noticed each other or fallen in love if their circumstances and advantages had been different. And, no, I don't hate them; I like them fine, always did.

Ralph was, for the most part, a dilettante, whose first agenda item was to make a pile of dough in show biz (which he did, by the way). No, he never had "corporate sponsors", but he never really needed to look for any, did he?

So when Ralph Dibny, the original self-shilling superhero, disses Booster Gold for being a publicity-seeking gloryhound, well...

that's Comic Book Irony, folks.

Particularly, when he says, "All cameras, all microphones, right here, on me!"

P.S. It wasn't Booster's responsibility to think about whether your wife would come to harm because of your fame-seeking, Ralph; it was yours.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Egg Fu

You need to know who Egg Fu is. Right--now. Trust me on this one.

Some say Egg Fu is racist and one of the most offensive characters of all time. To them, I have one reply: Extrano. End of subject.

Let's face it, gang: Wonder Woman was at the forefront of confronting gender issues. She was not a pioneer in racial sensitivity.

See? Even Diana's embarrassed.


Wonder Woman was a WWII propagandist, and racial cariactures of the Japanese, German, and Italians were just part of the job. From our viewpoint fifty years later, this may seem unpardonable or at least in poor taste. But remember that the Axis nations made their "racial superiority" a crux of their propaganda; we should not be surprised that jabs of "racial inferiority" were used as a counterweapon. All's fair in love and war -- and those are what Wonder Woman was about.

I make that point because in creating Egg Fu, the Madman Bob Kanigher was trying to return Wonder Woman to her roots and revivify her title. Without WWII as her milieu, Wonder Woman had floundered. Her original mission of showing that woman's creative power of love was greater than man's destructive power of the sword was the vision of her creator, William Moulton Marston. He, of course, had to be strictly monitored by editors because his principal method of demonstrating his vision was through bondage and discipline scenes.

So in the post-war years, a purposeless, pointless Wonder Woman had paled into "My Little Pony" stories, a wan copy of the Superman Family; if you've never read a "Wonder-Tot" story, then thank Hera.

Madman Bob decided he wanted to return Diana to her pre-war vibe.

He canned all the "Wonder Family" crap and tried to pit Diana against zany villains in a setting of international politics. Of course, he also had her kidnapped by a talking gorilla from outer space, but that's another story.

Anyway, replacing the Axis's Japanese & Germans with the contemporary "foe" of the Communist Chinese, he created a villain that he hoped was in the style of the Golden Age Wonder Woman: Egg Fu. Now, remember, Kanigher is the man who created Dr. Domino, the greatest of all object-headed villains. In that context, an evil Humpty Dumpty like Egg Fu doesn't seem that strange.

Okay, okay-- it does.

He did other things, like bring back the Cheetah, Paula Von Gunther, Minister Blizzard, the Kangas. Take a look at the covers, and note the repeated mentions of "the Golden Age". Kanigher was trying to begin "a new Golden Age of Villainy".

Egg Fu was not Bob's single best decision; he later regretted it publicly. Gotta hand it to him, though: Egg Fu surely does make an impression. He's a great visual. I'm part Chinese myself, and I think E.F. is freakin' hilarious. I could do without the accent though, particularly since it's Japanese. I hate when people sclew that up.

Little known fact:
if Egg Fu ever appears in the same panel with Etta Candy, the world will end.
Heeee-ho! + Woo-woo! = Anti-Life.



Before anyone asks: no, they never really explained exactly what Egg Fu was. He simply was. Heee-ho!

John Byrne, a person of confidence, even did his own version of Egg Fu (Wonder Woman 128-129), as an evil computer from the Fourth World. Points for guts, John.

But I don't think that's the last we've seen of Egg Fu.

Do you?

Sunday, June 18, 2006