Friday, July 18, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy at the Cinema Today

Guess which movie I saw today at noon?

I wasn't ready; you probably aren't either.
I don't know what that ... thing was, but I would never have guessed it was Heath Ledger
Now THAT is how you handle the love interest in a comic book movie!
How can one movie be so depressing and so inspiring at the same time?
Harvey's nurse.
A 1922 two-headed silver dollar. Thank you; it doesn't kill anyone to be accurate!
Harvey's deception.
Riding with ones head out the window, as dogs do.
The ferry dilemma.
Bruce Wayne's final car looks awfully familiar to a 1970s Batman fan.
How to make a pen disappear.
Loiter? Intimidate? Catastrophic? The Batmobile certainly is literate.
Alfred's deception.
"How do the defendants plead?"
Batman versus the SWAT Team.
Lucius's tough decision.
The mad dog metaphor.
Gordon's deception.
"What bus driver?" Really, it's the slight movement before "What bus driver?".
If you thought Iron Man made a statement against terrorism, you were wrong.
250 52nd Street.
Bruce Wayne's employee problem.
Batman's deception.
How Two-Face gets his name.
Chinese barbecue.
Wow; it really IS all part of the plan.
Announcing ones plans in advance.
Getting one phone call.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Making (or not making) a Splash

I've been working on edu-tainment DVDs for Big Monkey, and mostly recently one on comic book terminology and lingo.

Explaining some of these concepts has been a pleasure for a natural born didact, er, I mean, teacher like me. But it's also made me a little sad... .

As I've been writing on them, I've realized that some of the conventions in the comic book medium (as opposed to "comic book conventions"!) have fallen into desuetude, and I think comics are poorer for it.

Things like...

  • Letter columns
  • Editor's notes
  • Logospeak
  • Caption boxes
  • Continuity (heh)
  • Splash pages

I think the splash page is one I miss the most. The splash says, "Here is where the story begins and this is what it's about." Nowadays, if there is anything like a splash page, it's made part of the story, and instead of being prefatory, it's often the last page of the story. When and why did our comics become Latin sentences, where you have you to wait till the end to get to the one word necessary for understanding all the others?

Perhaps it's because stories are now "arcs" and take place over six issues instead of one. In any case, we've lost something valuable. Since covers nowadays often are isolated pieces of art, relatively unconnected to the story within, the absence of splash pages means that most stories have no single-image that represents them.

If you want to refer visually to "Robin Dies at Dawn" (as Grant Morrison has lately... a lot), all you have to do is use the cover. If you want to refer to the Space Canine Patrol Agents (as I do ... a lot), all you have to do is use the splash page (well, splash panel, really).

Without such conventions, we lose the ability to make easy visual reference to a particular story. In fact, most of the faded conventions I mentioned are of that same order: they are visual hooks that allow a reader to understand a story better.

To many modern comic books readers, such devices may seem too, well, device-y. But comic books used to be cups with many handles; easy for anyone to pick up and access the contents, no matter where they were coming from. In losing these conventions, we've removed the handles from the cup. This makes it much harder for the uninitiate to pick up, and more likely to drop or spill if they do.

If we want comics to be accessible to more people, we need to stop worrying that a story relies on past continuity; we need to start worrying that we've deprived ourselves of the tools (like editor's notes) to explain it when it does. Some new conventions have arisen, such as the "catch-up" intro that Marvel's using on some titles (such as Spider-Man and Hercules) that tells you the story to date. Do not criticize those conventions as old-fashioned, but as forward-thinking. Comics always need new readers, and they need such conventions to help them become seasoned readers. YOU may not need such things, but comics do, so embrace such conventions as the open doors through which comics greet their new fans.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • That Central City looks like Central City in Rogue's Revenge.
  • "I have always found the eating plan to be an excellent backup."
  • That the cosmic egg, a vestige of the JLA/Avengers crossover is still part of DC's continuity.
  • "Sidekick City".
  • Wow. That situation with Iris didn't quite work out as expected, did it?
  • I bet Despero's the kind of guy who'll never stop to ask directions.
  • That I'm not sure which is scarier, Inertia or Zoom.
  • Blue Beetle talking to his "backpack".
  • Superspeed decapitation... yay!
  • That Jimmy Olsen is part of that particular JLA database.
  • I guess being Inertia takes a lot of guts.
  • Nnamdi's clever subterfuge.
  • Okay, that Poison Ivy story was almost pure EC Comics! Take that, Doc Wertham!
  • Manhunter versus Black Canary. Heh. Heh heh.
  • Spider-Man in Daredevil's costume. Why aren't you reading Spider-Man?
  • Trigon putting a cherry on Raven's pancakes.
  • I like this "Infinity"; howcum I've never heard of her before?
  • Say what you will about Judd Winick's writing (and I have), but his Batman is all five kinds of cool. And SO much cooler than Green Arrow.
  • The highly unexpected guest star in Birds of Prey.

Monday, July 14, 2008

NEWSFLASH: Warner Bros. Remembers They Own a Comic Book Publisher!

DC and Warner Bros. having a summit on pulling their act together on the comic book movie front?

Well, it's about darned time.

It's been a classic case of dog versus tail. At Marvel Comic, oops, excuse me, I mean Marvel Entertainment, the comics are the dog and the movies are the tail. Yes, the tail may be much BIGGER than the dog, but it's still a question of who's wagging whom. Marvel's memory is quite clear and they know that until they started pumping out the films, they were on the verge of backruptcy. Remember that? Marvel's clearly ticking through its available and most high profile characters one by one, and building their brand by building movies around them.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is busy churning out, oh, "The Bucket List", "Fool's Gold", "10,000 B.C.", and the box office boffo "One Last Call". All this while it's got a panoply of American culture's most recognizable fictional character, known for generations, with the kind of high public profile that Marvel dreams of, all gathering dust on the cinematic shelf.

Oh, I'm not being fair, I know. The Batman franchise is pretty much exercising its full muscle, and Superman is at least, well, awake now. Quick what was Warner Bros. biggest movie splash in 2007? That's right: 300. And, as a graphic novel, 300 didn't exactly fly off the shelves, you know. It's one of things people kind of just ... look at; not buy.

Some of surprise hits at the theater have been based on what I can only kindly call "sleeper" or "cult" comics. I mean, Hellboy? Really? History of Violence? Friggin' Art School Confidential? Okay, that wasn't exactly a "hit", but you get my point. The studios are figuring out, thanks in part to Marvel's cinema chutzpah, that even the most obscure and poor-selling comic book generally has more potential than the average stack of Hollywood screenplays.

I think either Wacko or Yakko has finally woken up and smelled the popcorn: "Hey, these 'comic book movies' might be something popular and profitable... if only we had the rights to some comic book characters... ." Part of the problem, of course, is that Warner, which makes movies, is the dog, and DC, which makes comics, is the tail. Now, that's not something that can be really changed, but it can be ameliorated. Do the smart thing, Warner: set up a sub-studio, or an "imprint", or whatever you movie folks call it, whose sole job is to put on movies based on the comic book properties Warner owns, and put Michael Uslan there.

And take another tack from Marvel: focus your love and attention on the characters themselves and the comic books they came from, not on their previous media appearances. The previous Batman franchise faltered when it became an homage more to the Adam West show than an interpretation of the Bob Kane comics, and the Superman franchise stumbled out of the gate because it insisted on being a sequel (a remake, really) of a movie that came out 30 years earlier, rather than being about the Superman of today.

Learn also the (eventual) lessons of Smallville: stop being embarrassed about it being a comic book. Embrace the cape. That includes the shared universe of heroes; when a guest appearance by Aquaman causes a huge ratings spike, that should tell you something. After that, Smallville virtually became the JLA Headquarters.

The excitement being generated by the prospect of a joint Avengers movie that's being set up is nearly obscene. And, face it, almost no 'regular' Americans could rattle off an Avengers roster, whereas most of them could make a decent stab at listing the classical Justice League. The JLA's profile is off the charts compared to the Avengers. Warner's is the spoiled rich kid too bored to play with the fantastic toys it already owns, while Marvel is being the imaginative kid with a set of Legos.

Thanks for waking up, Warner Bros.! "Wonder Woman: the Movie" will appear in her comics themselves, when it should have been premiering on the real world big screen. Roll up your sleeves, and try to catch up... .

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Company Crossover

Okay, what is below is not safe.

It is not safe for work.

It is not safe for kids; teens, even.

It's not safe for many straight adults.

Heck, I'm not even sure it's safe for ME.

That said, there is NO nudity, and NO actual ess ee ecks. And you won't have to watch much to get the point.

And I know this ...

it did make me laugh.

Not kindly. But I did laugh.