Thursday, September 29, 2022

Mickey Rooney = KJ Apa

 I had to explain to someone the other day that, from a comic book perspective, this person

Even through this 40-year-old screen cap, you can sense how terrible he is.

is the same as this person.

Even through this five-year-old screen cap, you can sense how confused he is.

If you don't understand, you will soon. If you do, sit back and enjoy the ride anyway.

The bottle ginger is, of course, Keneti James Fitzgerald Apa, a.k.a. KJ Apa (see below auditioning for the role of "Flower" in DC's Sgt. Rock's Easy Company).

Don't get confused; the "a.k.a" is not part of his name. If it were, it wouldn't have periods. For some reason.

Like Dwayne Johnson, Apa is half-Samoan. Unlike Johnson, his name reflects this much more strongly than his appearance, but the fact that his hair's been dyed cartoon-red for most of the last five years hasn't helped.

A Samoan village Savae (chief), in fact, with all its epic highs and lows.

It's been dyed cartoon-red, of course, because he's been playing literature's greatest monster, Archie Andrews.


KJ Apa is, by all accounts, a nice (if a bit odd) young person who tries hard to maintain his dignity while starring in, how do we put this, not the most respected show on television.  

Oh, sure, it's easy to make fun of it when Archie gets attacked by a bear, but when twee pretentious Leonardo DiCaprio does it, HE gets an Oscar.

You go, KJ; all the best to you.

This, on the other hand, is Mickey Rooney.  

Even for Mickey, he was unusually upset on this occasion.

Talk about epic highs and lows. Mickey Rooney had a very long career as a character actor (at 5'2", he wasn't going to be a leading man in oldtime Hollywood), living to be 93 (despite a truly tumultuous personal life).

The earlier pic is from his 1981 sitcom when he was only, um, 87? 72? 63? 52? 44?
Who can tell, he always looked like that.

It co-starred Dana Carvey, as his grandson, when Dana Carvey was still hot.

And Nathan Lane, as Carvey's roommate, when Nathan Lane still looked ....
exactly like Nathan Lane always looks.

All articles about Rooney will quote Hollywood royalty saying he was One of Hollywood's Greatest Actors.

"Least Cautious", certainly.

Um. Okay, Hollywood; you're entitled to your opinion, although I've never met a regular person who shares it. He seemed like a shouting, scenery-chewing vaudevillian in everything I ever saw him in, and I don't mean that as a compliment.

I don't mean to deny the man his due, mind you.

He was a main player in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, after all, and that always counts for something.

If nothing else, he made possible the line: 
"What could go wrong with an Old Fashioned?"

And he was in Pete's Dragon, which was fun.

Why not just hire an actor who naturally hallucinates dragons already?

But his real impact was his early work as a child star when he starred in sixteen (!) films as Andy Hardy, the personification of American teenage wholesomeness and good intentioned earnestness. And Andy Hardy...

As personified by young(ish) Mickey Rooney

Archie Andrews (first appearance). Or 'Chick", as his friends never ever call him, not even once, in 80 years.

So KJ Apa is playing Archie Andrews who is based on Andy Hardy as played by Mickey Rooney. Now you know.

P.S. There is one other odd fact I noticed while writing this.  I refuse to let it creep me out. 


Among his many roles, in the Rankin-Bass's stop-motion special "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town",  Mickey Rooney played Kris Kringle who, impossible though it is, appears to have been based exactly

"No, really... a bear!"
on KJ Apa.

Pictured: end game.

Monday, September 26, 2022

The League of Super-Pets

I'm happy to say:

I was completely wrong.

I expected League of Super-Pets to be awful. It was, in fact, a delight, pretty much from start to finish. I didn't realize it was from the same people who did the Lego Batman movie or I might have been more optimistic.

The voice-casting was mostly great. Except for Lex Luthor; I can only assume whoever Marc Maron is has enough of his own brand that he got to play himself more than Luthor, because Lex's diction is much better than that. Heck, his guinea pig's diction was better than that.  Aw-shucks Krasinski is a very believable farm-boy Superman, whoever Olivia Wilde is nailed it as Lois Lane, Dwayne Johnson & Kevin Hart (who should really just get married at this point) were endearing rather than annoying, Bayer was a very pleasant pig, and Keanu Reeves as Batman, well, do I really have to say anything about that? 

World treasure Jameela Jamil didn't have a lot of lines as Wonder Woman but her, "You; porcine creature!" sold me completely and was worth the price of admission. For a while, I thought we had a breakthrough with our First Gay Super-Pet, but then I realized that they made Merton the Turtle female (probably just to get Natasha Lyonne, or perhaps for gender balance, since there aren't a lot of fans like to get bent out of shape about changes to Merton McSnurtle canon).

Besides: multiverse/hypertime <waves hand>

The plot was solid, its internal logic consistent, as were characterization and motivation. The threat(s) were real; the action palpable.  It's not easy to make super-powered guinea pigs threatening, but, hey, anything that takes out the Justice League automatically gets respect.  Are there a lot of surprises? Of course not.  But is that really what you are clicking that button for? I mean, if "super-power guinea pigs defeat the Justice League" isn't enough of a surprise for you, that's on you.

I very much appreciated that despite his superpowers and intelligence, Krypto is still emotionally just a dog, with the pros and cons that come with that. While the rest of the super-pets may seem like a hodgepodge, they line up well with the respective heroes they 'represent'. Chip the squirrel (obviously the Green Lantern analog) is incapacitated by paralyzed by imagining worst-case scenarios (a sort of fear).  Wonder Woman fan PB the pig (a reference to the JLU episode where WW turns into a pig) has faith in everyone except herself and needs some self-confidence.  Ace (the eventual Bat-Hound), is resilient, protective of others, and has lost his family as a puppy. Merton is fast, but has trouble looking before she leaps.  Krypto has yet to learn an important lesson that Superman has already learned but I'll let you watched the movie for that.

For comics readers like me, the movie was chockfull of visual references to in-universe DC entities.  Big Belly Burgers, Ferris Air, (Jonah) Hex Steakhouse, Jitters, Kord Industries, the Metropolis Meteors, O'Shaughnessy's, Gingold soda, Catwoman (the Broadway show), Starfire Express (the Broadway show), Sun Dollar coffee, Bruce Wayne menswear, S.Kyle jewelry, Taco Whiz, Chocos, Janus Cosmetics... I lost track.

On the whole, I appreciated the character designs. The black-background "S" for Superman's logo was a nice Golden Age touch.  Wonder Woman looked like, well, an Amazon, and Green Lantern Jessica Cruz was winningly zaftig.  Flash was clearly a runner, not a brawler.  Cyborg...

This line of his alone justifies making the entire film.

Aquaman was oddly off-model.  It seemed like they were trying for some sort of amalgam of various versions and it failed pretty badly (both visually and in personality).  I mean... a harpoon hand? For Poseidon's sake, what year is this? How is that going to be anything but wildly confusing for someone who wasn't reading Aquaman comics 25 years ago?

But he is on the screen very little; most of the heroes are.  In this film, the pets save the day, as I'm sure they all dream of doing. I hope you enjoy the film as I did.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Dazzler & Aristotle Teach You to Just Write Good Stories

A thoughtful anonymous commenter ("AC") on this blog recently said (in reply to a recent post about mishandling of DC characters under Dan Didio), 

"This probably sounds like a hopelessly simplistic take on comics, but I swear it makes sense to me: just write good stories about your characters."

The comment was so heartfelt that it seemed like it merits a reply-in-post, rather than by comment.

As Plato pointed out, "No man knowingly does evil". 

Then again, Plato never met Tom King.

I'm sure that writers of bad stories think they ARE writing "good stories". That's why "just write good stories about your characters" sounds hopelessly simplistic to you (and me). But there is still wisdom to glean from it.

1. We need to define what constitutes "good". That's part of what this and many of my other posts (such as my screeds against decompression) try to help do. 

Sometimes we have to do that by process of elimination: identifying elements that make stories bad. It's why so much fandom--not merely of comics but in general--focuses on negative criticism. It's a natural (if unpleasant) tool in the search for The Good.  Because if years spent reading ancient philosophy teaches you anything, it's that "The Good" can be difficult to define quickly and succinctly.

"Just write good stories" runs smack into the wall of that conundrum of ancient philosophy: "What is The Good?"

Just like reading Plato's "Republic", which I don't recommend because it'll give you a headache and make you angry.  VERY decompressed. Lots of jabbering, no action. Pointless "character moments" with characters who are jerks anyway. You can just read Bendis et al. for that.

Is adhering to the structural basics of storytelling (as discussed in our next point) "good writing"? I don't think so. I mean, you can drive a car perfectly well, but still use it to do evil things; so, too, with stories.

I learned that from Dr. Wertham.

When the Joker had his own comic book series in the '70s, one of the problems was that the Comics Code--or, if nothing else, the zeitgeist at the time--insisted that the villain not be allowed to get away at the end of the story. So EVERY ISSUE ended with the Joker getting captured (or the implication that he was about to be captured).  That's because The Powers That Be felt that a "good story" couldn't end with a villain escaping.  Is that something we would all agree on today?

There are other examples where time and place shift what is considered "good" in a story, but instead let's consider character.  Some readers feel that good stories will always show Bandanaman acting in character ("Bandanaman would never use a Kleenex; it's against his code."). Some reader feel that good stories show that Bandanaman isn't perfectly predictable; that would make him and his stories boring ("Did you see what Bandanaman did this month?!"). Some readers feel that good stories show that Bandanaman is neither predictable nor unpredictable, but adaptive, and make his choices depending on the situation at hand. ("What do you think about Bandanaman's difficult decision this month?")  

But does anyone care about what Bandanaman thinks...?

What about taste?  I love me some Jonah Hex, the DCU's standout weird western character. The dark ironies, the poetic justice, the small but deep personal drama with an ever changing landscape of characters. 

And there's some special appeal in brawny bondage and branding, done tastefully.

But others readers do not like those things. To them, the very elements that make a Jonah Hex story good to me are what make it a bad story to them. So, to them, there can be no 'good Jonah Hex story', unless you write one that discards those elements, making it so out of character that a reader like me would say it's 'not a Jonah Hex story at all'. 

I mean, it's not like you can send him into a post-apocalyptic future, or have him befriend Justice Leaguers, or hang out with Space Cabbie.

I could continue, but I hope you get the point. "Good" is a great concept in the abstract, but it falters as a yardstick for the concrete.  Yes, it would be good if everything were just... good.  But good is not the same thing in every case, at all times, for every person.  

That's not to say that "good" is meaningless as a goal for stories. But we must accept that it is more of a question than it is an answer.

If only I could think of an appropriate philosophical comic book reference for this point.

2. We need (believe it or not) to continue to define (or at least re-emphasize) what a STORY is. You'd think Aristotle would have covered that sufficiently in The Poetics, but I guess everything needs rebooted for a new millennium.

I do recommend The Poetics, which will not give you a headache or make you angry. Unlike SOME ancient philosophers, Aristotle knew how to keep it tight.

Stories have a comprehensible plot, Grant Morrison.
Stories have someone to root for, Garth Ennis.
Stories have a point to them, Brad Meltzer.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and an end, Geoff Johns.
Stories have diction with clarity, Brian Mumblecore Bendis.
Feel free to continue this list without me...

These are all necessary to making a story.  But note (as discussed in point 1) they do not necessarily or automatically make a story good.

If they did, then Dazzler would be the perfect Aristotelian character.

3. The word "your" in the sentence is a major problem. In fact, it may THE major problem for many modern comics writers. THE CHARACTERS AREN'T THEIRS. They aren't "your characters" Mr/Ms. Writer; they are "the characters". 

Just ask them.

They do not belong to you. Not legally, historically, culturally, or creatively. They are on loan. They exist already. Many of them, as I pointed out in a recent post, were created before you were,  Many will be around long after you are gone. 

I learned that from Mr. Mxyzptlk. 

Your job is to tell stories with the characters, not alter them, and many writers simply can't or won't color within those lines.  

When a writer is assigned (or actively chooses!) a character they often have (or are assigned!) the goal of making the character more popular. Sales matter, after all.  So they may think, "Why don't some readers like this character? What can I do to make Readers-Who-Do-Like-This-Character like this character?"  Since they can't change the readers... they change the character. Maybe they themselves never liked the character; maybe they chose the character because they thought it needed to be changed. 

Peter David never MET a character he thought he couldn't improve by simply changing it into a completely different one of his own invention with the same name.  If "Tarzan/Namor/Captain Hook rip-off' counts as 'his own invention'.

It's a natural impulse. It's also usually wrong.  If your car doesn't work, trying to turn it into a boat won't either. Just invest in fixing the damned car, or junk it.

Either the character (or group, world, set-up, etc.) are intrinsically, conceptually flawed (in which case, it should be abandoned) or it hasn't been handled correctly (or its past handling is no longer correct with changing times).  The answer in the latter case is to handle the character correctly, not alter them essentially.  If you change the character so severely that it now appeals to the people who didn't like it before, you are nearly certain to lose the people who liked it in the first place because you've now abandoned its original elements.  

You how do you handle such a character correctly? You can grow them. You can expand them. You can extrapolate them and their worlds in logical ways consistent with their themes, history, and generally accepted personality and relationships.  

This is why, although Geoff Johns has some flaws in the structure of his writing, and sometimes he's willing to write violence graphic enough to be contrary to the taste of some readers, I still consider him a very good writer to be emulated as much as possible.  Geoff Johns knows how to handle characters and their worlds correctly: neither with stifling reverence, nor with revisionist contempt.  

Just read Jane Jacobs, people. Urban revitalization is the perfect metaphor for, well, most things.

He is not here to preserve your old downtown in lucite as a tourist attraction of times past, nor is he here to raze it to make way for some putatively superior shopping-mall of the future.  

Have you noticed that one of the first things Johns does when (re-)establishing a character is (re-)establishing their unique urban environment?

Because I have.

He is here to renovate and revitalize and capitalize on whatever is unique in your town. Will you like all the stores/stories and what's in them? You will not.  But the renovator has created a new energy, a more stable infrastructure, and larger more diverse environment that permits new storefronts by other writers whose wares will interest you.

So to recap. In order for writers to 'just write good stories about the characters', we have to reach a consensus--or fight for a victory--on the idea of what constitutes good writing, in structure, style, content, and goals and what the characters (and their associated world-props) are, are like, and are capable of being and in such that way, even if not every character will appeal to every person, that every person should at least being able to find some significant characters that appeal to them.  

It's not a hard goal to describe. Just a hard one to achieve.  

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The War for the Soul of the DCU

With the release of DC's December solicits it's increasingly clear that (as previously mentioned) the winds of change have blown through the editorial halls of DC and, as my great-grandmother would have said in heavily-accented English, "blowed der stink out". 


Tim Drake is back as Robin in his own solo comic.

After rescuing the Cheetah from the clutches of the evil International Milk Company, Wonder Woman must set her sights on the real monsters behind it all…the gods of fear and panic, Phobos and Deimos. Wonder Woman, Cheetah, the evil International Milk Company, Phobos and Deimos. The only thing that sentence lacks is ETTA CANDY to make it perfect.

One Panel #634: Big Milk
The Evil International Milk Company.
With that phrase, DC just won back my heart.


I want to see Flash dealing with villains and threats like a superhero, not fussing fetidly with "speed force" and internal personal legacy nonsense like a Regency novel character.

Two Tom King comics are ending, one in which he kills a Wayne family member and the one where he killed a Green Lantern.  The ending of Tom King comics is always a good sign.

Two-Face is back menacing Renee Montoya at the GCPD. Or is he on her side...? Regardless, it's old school comics.  

Never count Two-Face out; he's VERY well connected.

DC: Mech is ending. If you don't know what it is, just be glad.  So is DC vs. Vampires (ugh).

Geoff Johns is bringing back the Justice Society (again).

Geoff Johns Launches Justice Society Of America and Stargirl Comics
Which he's been trying to do since 2016, if you haven't been keeping track.

Jaime Reyes is back to Blue Beetling.

Kal-El is back on Earth and here to stay.  

Lady Cop is back (although she's in the hands of Tom King, so expect her to be kicked to death by the Killer in Boots).

And perhaps most dramatically:

Nightwing in Dark Crisis #7 Leads To The "Dawn Of The DCU"
The Sensational Character Find of 2022

Gone are the remnants of Dan Didio's 5G plan to Kill Everyone's Childhood and replace all heroes with replicants containing only his DNA.  His crisis-driven/Crisis-driving style gave us a mess of messes for nearly two decades before the backlash overwhelmed his momentum two years ago and he was removed as swiftly, completely, and mysteriously as if he were a victim in a '70s Spectre story. 

"I can't find Dan; anybody know where he is?"
"Last time I saw him, he was... headed out."

Big ships turn slowly. Since that change was a sudden one, there was no real plan in place to follow it and it showed.  Various unpleasant initiatives with Didio's sticky DNA all over them--darkly cynical gigantic crossover events like DCeased and *snort* Dark Crisis--have had to wind their way to a close, like dying automata from a passing steampunk era. 

"ZOMG THE JUSTICE LEAGUE IS DEAD and now they're going to replace them with legacy characters!"
Uh-huh. Yes. Yes, I'm sure they are.

One of those unpleasant initiatives is Damian Wayne, a character who truly personifies Didio's approach to things.  "Robin is currently a super-competent, well adjusted guy named Tim Drake.  He's been Robin for over 25 years; as long as Dick Grayson had been when the Batman '66 TV show began. Let's dump him for Batman's illegitimate son from an Elseworlds story, who's an unlikeable murderous little ****." Didio didn't come up with the idea but he supported it 1000% percent. 

In the old days, that would have been a one-issue "fear of being replaced as partner" story,  and the kid would have been revealed as a fake by the end, AND redeemed himself by taking a bullet for Dick from  some random gangster and dying on the spot, with a few final words of regret. Instead, we've been trapped in a 15-year-long "Ransom of Red Chief" scenario.

Maybe Damian can pair up with Nightman:
"Nightman and Red Chief".

Batman versus Robin is pretty clearly about taking Damian out of the Robin role with Tim Drake going back into it.

All of the above is part of the real-world internal war for The Soul of the DCU, one that's been raging for 20 years. If Crisis on Infinite Earths issued in (or at least coincided with) the beginning of roughly 15-year Dark Era in the DCU (with its '90s exxxtreme badassery and antiherohood), the following 20 years has been a grand Zoroastrian battle between Dan Didio's forces of Darkness and Geoff Johns' forces of Light.

Action Philosophers Tpb Part 1 | Read Action Philosophers Tpb Part 1 comic  online in high quality. Read Full Comic online for free - Read comics  online in high quality .
Look, just read Action Philosophers, okay? All of it. All. Of. It.

For 20 years, Didio was pushing his vision for the DCU and Johns another and they were, at heart, as completely opposed as Uxas and Izaya. At one point, Tom King (Didio's Desaad) had Wally West going insane and murdering other heroes at the very same time Geoff Johns was bringing him back as the Personification of Hope in the DCU.  Johns eventually fell back and distanced himself from DC, given how entrenched Didio's forces were... but all that changed two years ago.  

And now Johnsian apostle Mark Waid is writing the comic that's shuffling Damian off and making way for Tim Drake, as well as bringing back to life Alfred, whom Tom King gratuitously killed with Didio's permission (or at his insistence).  Didio's plan to replace the original and legacy characters beloved by Johns with creations from his own stable was struck down by a corporate thunderbolt. Johns has returned and is bringing back the Justice Society, which he was blocked from doing properly six years ago during Rebirth, his last big push to de-darken the Didioverse.  Really, the biggest target left would be to pry the Legion--DC's ultimate symbol of an optimistic future of heroic legacy--out of the cold dead literary hands of Didio's Granny Goodness, Brian Mumblecore Bendis.  

Yes. It seems increasingly clear who has won the war for The Soul of the DCU.

Nightwing in Dark Crisis #7 Leads To The "Dawn Of The DCU"
The Sensational Character Find of 2022

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Respect Your Elders!

Comments on my previous post have given me an idea for a new rule.

It's occurred to me how little sense it makes that Tom King, who began writing Batman in 2016 and was born in 1978, should be allowed to summarily kill off Alfred Pennyworth, a character who's been supporting Batman rather essentially and consistently since 1943. Do seniority, gravity, tradition, history, resonance count for nothing? Did you read any of those stories, Tom? Or were you so obsessed with breaking down Batman that you didn't care? Your resume says you interned at DC, but you sure seem like an outsider to me.

Maybe you considered Alfred your competition.

I think it goes without saying that writers shouldn't be killing off characters willy-nilly or really, you know... at all. Hey, comics writers; I know a lot of you are novelists (or frustrated ones), but these characters aren't fodder in YOUR novels. They are part of society's collective mythos. More to the economic point: they are IP, baby. IP is gold. 

Remember this throwaway moll from "Joker's Favor" (BTAS, 1992)?
30 years later she's worth more than most Caribbean nations.

No wait, that's not right, because gold is static. They are money trees, really.  How many stupid, obscure properties need to become hits on tv or the movies or cartoons before DC realizes that WRITERS are way more replaceable than characters and that characters are potentially a LOT more profitable.  DC, if you are given a choice between "killing off" your characters or a writer, the choice seems pretty obvious.  After all, the character will never abandon you for Substack and no writer is ever going to headline a show about their adventures as a member of the British SAS.  The Polka Dot Man has a major motion picture; I guarantee you Tom King won't.

But even if you can't agree that no writer should even be allowed to kill ANY character, I ask you to at least concede this:

No writer should ever be allowed to kill off a character older than they are.

I mean, if a character has lasted longer than you currently have... it wins.  It's earned its safety, at least from YOU.  You have no idea what the world was like without it, so if you're thinking of killing if off, you don't know what you're doing.  

Let's take me as an example. If the new forces at DC (because strong winds of changes are clearing blowing there) were to call me tomorrow and say, "Well, we all stayed up all night reading the Absorbascon and agreed that YOU'RE the only person who can write VIBE!, Vibe & The Groove Crew, Vibe Family, and Breakdancer Comics. Will you do it?!" I would say (loudly enough so that my neighbor, Tom King, could hear), "Yes, but only on the condition that you not allow me to kill any characters that existed before I did."

Admit it:
you're thinking about just WHO would be in the Groove Crew.
Suggestions welcome.

Here's a list of some of the characters I couldn't kill because they are JUST older than I am:

Flash characters Eobard Thawne, Ira West, Mick Rory

You know damned well she'd shoot you first, no questions asked, before you could get to her dad.

The Doom Patrol and General Immortus

What a relief to know that one is at least SLIGHTLY younger than General Immortus.

A truckload of Kryptonians (Kru-El, Nor-Kann, Gra-Mo, Sul-El, Tala-El, Gam-El, Roz-Em, Hatu-El, Ras-Krom, Zora Vi-Lar, Ha-Kor, Nim-El, Tur-Tel)

Of course "killing Kryptonians" isn't really much of an issue any more.

Batman villains Thomas Blake, Simon Hurt, Zazzala 

Catman, in particular, has proven to be pretty resilient as a character

Green Lantern villains Neal Emerson, Karshon, Abel Tarrant 

I'm sure you didn't really need me to post those pics for you.

Aquaman character Mera

Frankly, I pity the writer that tries to kill off Mera, may they rest in peace.

Eclipso /Bruce Gordon

Have you ever wondered why Eclipso hasn't met Two-Face?
Like, even just for coffee or something?

The Legion's Jan Arrah, who doesn't know anything anyway.

Much though some people might like me to.

Hawkman foe Ira Quimby

I'm sorry, if you don't love a villain who dresses in biker drag and becomes super-intelligent by sunbathing, why are you even reading comics?


Wonder Woman foe Mouse Man 

Although if I DID kill him off, you had better believe I'd have Catman do it.



Perhaps... perhaps I'm being a bit hasty with this idea...