Friday, July 25, 2014

Post Batman Day Manifesto

Now, that Batman Day is over, and we're all cleaning up from opening our Batman Day presents and hoarse from singing Batman Carols, I feel I can talk about Batman Day.  Particularly now that I've seen what was and was not covered about it online.

The blogosphere (such as it is nowadays) mostly ignored it because, as has been observed, in the blogosphere every day is Batman Day. 

January = Meth Lab Month
February = :Flout the FAA Month
March = Play Hard to Get Month
April = Youth Endangerment Month
May = Throwing Dangerous Objects Month
June = Paparazzi Month
July = Young Swingers  Month
August = Flout the DMV Month
September = Modesty Month
October = Always Dress for a Date Month
November = Fat People are Fed Up Month
December = Hanging Out With Successful Older Men Month

In the mainstream media, the gist of Batman Day articles was mostly, 'Hey, Batman's still around and currently cool!".  In the geek media, the gist was mostly, "Hey, look how the normals are observing Batman Day and maybe we can get some swag out of it!"

But I don't think I heard anyone express the sentiment I wanted to hear, mostly because Batman is SO much a part of our current culture and has been for so long.  Specifically...

Batman is most important fictional character created in the 20th century.

I defy you to name a more important one. All your private detectives and starship captains and temporary television characters and cartoon figures--is any one of them better known, better respected, better entrenched culturally across all media? No.

I could sit here and MAKE my case. But, frankly, I think popular culture and the media have made it for me over the last 75 years.  Who are you going to challenge it with?

Superman? I don't think so. Certainly he is popular and well known and as the first (well known) superhero,  he is template for all that follows.  But while Superman is someone we can idolize he is not someone we can truly relate to.  In fact, I have read estimates that Batman is twice as popular as Superman, and he certainly is more consistently so.  There's a reason that sales of Batman comics are the yardstick by which other comic sales are measured.  Movies, comics, television--Batman leads Superman, hands down, in all of them.

Mickey Mouse?  Mickey Mouse hasn't been a 'character' for decades.  With the exception of some one-offs over the last 20 years, almost all Mickey Mouse cartoons were released between 1928 and 1953.  "The Mouse" is now merely an icon, more a corporate logo than anything.  Well known, yes, but he has zero literary impact.  Ask anyone what "Mickey Mouse" stands for and you won't get any answer other than "Disney" or "profit".

I don't think there ARE even any other reasonable candidates to oppose Batman at the most important fictional character created in the 20th century, and I defy anyone to assert otherwise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In which I admire Marvel and damn DC

DC asks the question, "Is this character sufficiently popular and iconic to sustain a film?"
Marvel asks the question: "Is this character sufficiently unknown that we can use a film to make them iconic?"

DC is cowed by their trusteeship of important cultural icons and afraid to misstep.  Anything they do can only damage the character's reputation, they feel.
Marvel is content to keep throwing liver at the wall to see what sticks.  "Oh, THAT"s what will make Hulk work...!"  Anything they can do to put their characters before more people improves their reputation, they feel.

DC is afraid to make a Legion movie because the Legion is such a notoriously niche-y property.  I mean, how well can a movie do that's gotten nothing but teenagers in it? With superpowers.  And ethnic diversity. Who live in space in the future.  With lots of relationship drama and sexual tension.  Whose every financial need is taken care of, and live in one giant awesome house with space cruisers.  Who fight crime and galactic-scale villainy.  Yeah, there's no way to sell that.

Marvel looks at Guardians of the Galaxy and says, "A talking racoon! Voiced by an Oscar nominee! The kids'll love it!"

DC inherits a universe that was originally separate characters in their own separate worlds, interacting sparingly.  As a result, each character that's old enough has a grand legacy around them, but they don't fit well together in the same space.  DC inherited characters and then had to try to form a continuous world around them, something they still can't get right, which causes them to reboot every few years, in an ongoing attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable..

Marvel created a universe and start populating it with characters, who therefore all fit in it quite nicely.  Their interaction was their selling point, and while, as a result, none of them stand out too far apart from any of the others, Marvel has a very easy time selling its entire universe in the medium of cinema.  No one seems ridiculous or off-the-table because they are all of a piece.

DC is terrified people will laugh at Aquaman.
Marvel intends to sell people on Ant-Man.

DC is terrified any movie it creates won't satisfy existing die-hard fans.
Marvel is focused on making sure their movies satisfy everyone else.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Greatest Gift is Love

My final gift at my riotous birthday party yesterday was a very special and thoughtful one, carefully schemed by a coterie of my closest friends.

As long time readers will know, one of the (many) things for which I am internet-famous is my richly insightful analysis of the classic Green Lantern story by George Kashdan for Filmation, "Sirena, Empress of Evil", which contains more lunacy in a mere seven minutes than all the rooms in Arkham.

The high point of the tale is when Sirena hits Hal in the head with a brain-wave guided space owl.

Which looks like this, in case you've forgotten.

So when my dragon brother Josh was thinking what to get me for my birthday he hit upon the idea of a customer Heroclix figure commemorating this moment.  With the collusion of Romulan cousin Nick, who doped out the right dial, Josh crafted the powers and power names of the figure, while using Judge Price's assistance to commission Master Modder Dale to create the figure itself.

It was truly the most wonderful surprise gift I have ever received when I opened THIS at my party:

This would have been Kairo's view of it, by the way.

I was uncharacteristically speechless:

That's my happy face, believe it or not.

And the character card was a masterpiece all its own:

I think that henceforth Josh should be allowed to name the powers on ALL Hal Jordan figures.

That's the YGO-054 dial ("Red-Eyes B. Dragon"). A friggin' CHASE, in case you were wondering.
The real fun will be in outwitting that defense and then pelting him in the head with light objects until he's kayoed.

The true gift, of course, is the underlying love that motivated this INSANE effort.  Thank you, gentlemen, for my best birthday gift ever!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"We've all got our faults..."

[pointing to a map of California]

Tim Draper: Everything west of this line is the richest, most expensive real estate in the world: Northern California, Silicon Valley, West California. Everything on this side of the line is just hundreds and hundreds of miles of worthless desert land, which just so happens to be disowned by...


Roger Salazar: Uhhh... Tim Draper, the Riskmaster.

Tim Draper: Now, call me foolish, call me irresponsible, but it occurs to me that a multimillion-dollar ballot measure planted at just the proper point would, uh...

Democrats: Would split California into six different states. Millions of innocent voters would be politically neutered. West coast politics as we know it would...

Tim Draper: Fall into the sea. Bye-bye, California. Hello, new west coast. My west coast.

[Roger overlays map with new map]

Tim Draper: Casa del Tim. Draperville. Marina del Tim. 

Rogersburg... Rogersburg?

Roger Salazar: Mr Case, he's got his own district.

Tim Draper: Rogersburg?

Roger Salazar: It's a little bitty district...

Tim Draper: ROGERSBURG?!?!

Roger Salazar: Okay, I'll just wipe it off, that's all. Just a little district...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Haikuesday: The Shield is poetry in motion

The Shield brings every 

ounce of his giant muscles 

into play, and leaps.  

Spin the Spy Bottle

So, the latest loser in DC's 'spin-the-spy-bottle' game is Dick Grayson.

Pardon my cynicism, but nothing says "we longer know what to do to make this character work" than recasting someone in the spy-thriller genre. Um... except recasting them in the barbarian-lost world genre.  But that's another story.

DC tried to do this with both Hawkman and Aquaman.  Hawkman used to fight CAW (The Criminal Alliance of the World) and Aquaman used to fight OGRE (The Organization for General Revenge and Enslavement).  CAW had high-tech weapons out the whazoo (including anti-grav guns, acid-bubble bazookas, explosive particlizers, and protonic amplifiers), so naturally they were beaten senseless by the shirtless guy with the mace.  They did, at least have the decency to choose a hawk-themed acronym, so that Hawkman could fight them with less embarrassment.

Stupid CIA.  I bet it's full of GIRLS.

Unlike Hawkman, Aquaman didn't even pretend to need the CIA's help to fight his evil organization of choice, the broadly named Organization for General Revenge and Enslavement. OGRE's fussy about who they work for: "I wish to hire you to revenge myself on those who usurped my father's throne with a democratic movement, and then enslave our hated neighboring country of Backyardistan". "Oh, I'm sorry-- OGRE only does general revenge and enslavement, not specific requests. But we'll send you links to some other evil organizations that do targeted mercenary work."  

But OGRE wasn't fussy about who it hired, including losers like Fire-Haired Karla and the fat perv, The Invisible Un-Thing. (don't ask).  

Now, it's a little less ridiculous to have Dick Grayson as a spy, since he doesn't have Aquaman's superpowers or Hawkman's, um.... wingedness.  But putting him in SPYRAL-- a spy organization that has the word SPY right there in its name, so no one thinks otherwise--has pretty much doomed it to campy stupidity right from the get-go.  Of course, that will be offset by angst of "Robin's got a gun! Will he kill?!"

Let's see. Dick Grayson is the presumptive heir to the Wayne fortune, can do anything (he was the Boy Wonder, after all), and has been an independent operator, a team leader, and the partner to the most revered crimefighter on his planet.  "I'm going to join a morally questionable international spy organization!" is perhaps the least credible decision DC could have him make.  

I tell....the DCU is smelling more and more like it's headed to its next reboot next year.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Black and White

White Guy #1

White Guy #2

White Guy #3
Billionaire heir philanthropist playboy civic leader wealthy person

White Guy #4

White Gal #1

Black Guy #1

Black Guy #2


Black Guy #3

Football player

Black Guy #4
Loud Black Lad/fashionisto

Black Gal #1

Now, I'll admit I'm not being entirely fair. Jefferson Pierce became a teacher.  Marines aren't stupid (that's what the Army's for) and Jon Stewart is an engineer.  Plus, I'm omitting such characters as the brilliant technologist John Henry Irons. 

Here's some balance, then:

Bonus Black Guy:
One of the smartest people on the planet

Bonus White Guy:
Klutz/congenital idiot.
And yet...

I still say that for various reasons our society, even if only subconsciously, values black people for their physical prowess and attributes, rather than their intelligence and acumen.  I believe it's a vestige of American slavery, where slaves were valued for their use as laborers.

You could make a case that:
(a) most black characters were created later than most white characters, at a time when heroes were more likely to have humble origins;
(b) if you start including more characters, such as Steel, in the list above, that the disparity between the treatment of white and black characters diminishes; or
(c) as more new characters are created any such imbalance will lessen.

You could make those cases. But I'm not sure I'd buy them.  

You may find my theory about the ingrained "slave labor values" ridiculous or too distasteful to accept. Okay. Then let's pause to look at the exposed thighs, abs, and cleavage of black men:

Size matters.

Shocking, really.
Oooo, artsy.
Oh, Tyroc.

You almost never see this kind of costume treatment for white male characters (excepting Plastic Man).  Of course, you DO see it for female white characters.  Almost as if our society were valuing women mostly ... for their physical attributes.

I don't mean to make too big a deal out of this.  But I do think it's a real thing, and something we need to pay attention to, lest it continue indefinitely.

You're welcome to dismiss or contest my theory.  But at least think about it, in the process.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Monday, July 07, 2014

Bombo is no longer your friend

As Kimbareta Shakespeare wrote, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless elephant."

Unlike the devious and sexually perverse octopus, the faithful elephant is known for its long memory of those it cherishes and its undying loyalty.  It's nearly impossible to lose the affections of an elephant...unless you are inveterate embittered jackass Congo Bill.

"Egads, even my Giant Peanut Butter Fudge Trap won't stop him!"

If you think Green Arrow villains are bad, you should read some Congo Bill.  Not a lot of colorful villains in the Congo (outside of the government), so the most interesting rogues in his Rogue's Gallery are...elephants.

When Janu finally figures out that Bill makes up the Unwritten Law of the Jungle on the fly, it won't be pretty.

Wouldn't it be GREAT, by the way, if the Flash had a elephant villain in his rogue's gallery? Say, a psychedelic Ganesha Guru, who had perception-bending powers?

This one's for free, DC; get to work on it.

Anyway, being no Barry Allen, Congo Bill has limited tolerance for rogues. Even ones who are obviously gentle in nature.
Bombo's lighter-than-air shoes didn't work out nearly as well as his cold-gun.

Rather than just let Bombo loose in some unpopulated area, Congo Bill leaps at the chance to follow The Unwritten Law of the Jungle and shoot him.  Because Congo Bill is from Mega City.

That's it, Janu; just close your eyes, bury your head and quietly sob to yourself.
Just like every Saturday night in Bill's tent.

Bill is his usual supportive self about it, though.

"Why, who knows? There could be another elephant RIGHT BEHIND US.
Don't look, though."

Naturally, it turns out Bombo was being framed.  Although who could blame him anyway?  If I spent all my time with Congo Bill, I'd turn against humans, too.  No wonder the jungle gods eventually turned Bill into a part-time gorilla.

Since shooting elephants is about as heroic as Congo Bill gets, he manages to squeeze off a non-heroic haiku as he presumptively damns his pachyderm pal:

"Hey, Janu, I rented us a movie for tonight; Old Yeller."

No use blowing that
whistle, Janu... Bombo is
no longer your friend.

What haiku can YOU compose to commemorate poor Bombo or condemn Congo Bill?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Aqualad is the Devil

Show of hands....

if you have a choice between holding hands with Aqualad and singing songs 

and simply surrendering to the deep blue sea,
which would you choose?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Testimony of the Flash

"Thank you for joining us today, Mr. Allen."

"Happy to. Good morning, by the way."

"Um, yes. Nice tie, by way."

"Why, thanks. But, truth be told, it's a clip-on."
"How do you feel you are faring as a character in the New52?"

"Oh, just fine; and you?"

"Well, I think the revision of my origin robs my coin of its former powerful signifi--very clever, Mr. Allen.  But this is not about me."

"Just asking."

"You're much cleverer than you appear, aren't you?"

"The outfit helps."

"So how do you think you're faring?"

"Oh, just fine.  I usually get by just fine."

"Usually? Mr. Allen, you were DEAD for over twenty years."

"Yes, nice opportunity for lots of other speedsters to shine. Very relaxing, too."

"Are you trying to be difficult, Mr. Allen?"

"Nope; trying to help.  Are you asking me to evaluate my character's standing and condition in the current reality relative to incarnations in previous universes, particularly with regard to a possible reboot in the near future?"


"Hm.  Well I read a lot of comics and ... it's pretty much the same for all of us.  Core stuff stays the same.  Some changes are made that SEEM substantial, but those are generally confined to characteristics that aren't essential, but only thought to be such by certain subsets of readers.  For example, to some readers, the New Wally West is a substantial change because they perceive Wally's previous characteristics as essential.  But, relative to my story, his essentials remain: he's younger, I have a mentor relationship with him, and he's Iris West's nephew. 

"A similar analysis could be applied to the changes to other heroes; the degree to which they change in any reboot is directly proportional to the share of their overall qualities, characteristics, and related facts that are essential.  Compare:  Batman has a high ratio of "Essential Facts" to "Nonessential Facts" so he seems less effected by any reboot than, say, Wonder Woman or Aquaman, for whom that ratio is reversed."

"So you're comfortable with your current state of affairs and confident any new reboot won't change that?"

"Yup.  You can always rely on Flash Facts."

"No more questions, Mr. Allen."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Testimony of Batman

"Please state your name for the court."
"I'm Batman."

"Right. Of course. Good to see you again by the way."
"Get to the point, Harvey."
"Sigh. How do you feel you're faring as a character in the New52?"
"I'm Batman."
"That's not really an answer to the question."
"It's the answer to MOST questions I'm asked."
"I"m getting one of my Batman-headaches already...  Please elaborate."
"I'm Batman.  Batman is most popular character in the DCU, by some estimates twice as popular as the runner-up, Superman.  What's more, that popularity doesn't vary much with time, treatment, or medium. Despite the received wisdom that my character is a loner, it has a penumbra that all times and for decades has encompassed a host of lesser heroes, villains, and supporting cast.  This includes both constant and unalterable elements--the cave and its accouterments, Gordon and Alfred, and my principal Golden Age villains--and the more variable ones, including my assistants, lesser villains, and relationships with other heroes and groups.  I'm the yardstick by which other characters are measured, a constant. I'm the 'speed of light' of popularity.  Sales of my comic book are the reference point for comic book sales overall."

"Whether there is a reboot--the next question you're going to ask me, by the way-- is irrelevant to me.  I will still be in Gotham.  All the major elements of my story and world--and there are many-- will remain unchanged.  I will not discover that my parents were gods.  I will not suddenly be recast as no longer having the wisdom of folksy parents who raised me.  From my point of view, any reboot does not matter. My parents will still be dead, shot by a mugger in an alley in front of me."

"I'm Batman."

"No more questions."