Friday, June 29, 2007

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #1

I hate variant covers.

Not for any moral, "they're-ruining-comics" reasons; just because I sometimes have a hard time choosing which to buy. When I was reading Dynamite's Red Sonja series, it was especially difficult because I'd usually like two or three of the covers every issue (but I refuse to buy more than one copy of the same book). That's what ultimately led to my dropping the monthly Red Sonja issues in favor of picking up the eventual collections with their complete cover galleries.

That's not why I'm not going to buy any more of Devil's Due's Sheena, but I'll get to that in a second. I'm just bringing it up because I had a hard time picking between these two covers.

Jusko cover

Nicola Scott cover

I love Joe Jusko's work in general, and the lush background in that top image is gorgeous, and exactly what a cool, jungle setting should look like. His Sheena is stunning, but not overly sexualized. Still, she's just standing there.

Nicola Scott's cover in the second image is sparse on setting, but Sheena is so kick-butt in it. That's the one I ended up with.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the story turned me off enough that I won't have to make that decision again. Rather than having cool, jungle adventures, Sheena gets to join up with some environmentalists to defeat an evil corporation that's destroying the rainforest. Not that saving rainforests isn't a noble effort, but "yawn."

Sheena doesn't even fight anyone in this issue. Her panther does, but just a corporate lackey with a handgun. Who, by the way, feels the need to offer a long explanation of why he's justified killing Sheena before he actually does it. And she just stands there and let's him finish.

Once Sheena does decide to take action, she's shot with a tranquelizer dart before she can do anything. How exciting.

You'll notice that there's also a strong focus on Sheena's butt. I'm not actually complaining about that. I don't have a problem with her being sexy or scantily clad; those are requirements of the genre, whether you're talking about Sheena or Tarzan. And dadgummit, they're fun requirements.

Althought this picture is pushing it:

Johanna at Comics Worth Reading expresses her concerns with this panel: "I don’t think a human body can do that — isn’t there a scary amount of torso hidden behind that giant thigh? gotta make sure we don’t block the boobies — but it does present an in-your-face crotch shot."

I'm going to argue that she might be wrong about the anatomy and that it's an improbable, but not impossible pose. But she's right about the purpose of the shot. It's completely gratuitious and unsubtle, even for a jungle girl book.

Johanna's being too harsh with her next comment though: "Speaking of face, who cares about that? Hair means not having to draw features or cheekbones." From her comment about "idly checking out" the book, I'm guessing that she didn't actually read it (not that I necessarily blame her), but it becomes obvious later on that keeping Sheena's face obscured for a while is intentional. And not because Matt Merhoff can't draw faces. When she lands after being tranquelized, there are several shots of her like this:

I'm not sure why they went that way. I think maybe they were trying to get us to think that maybe Sheena was someone we'd recognize, but she's not, so the big "reveal" -- while proving that Merhoff's not hiding an inability to draw features and cheekbones -- is a letdown. Sadly, just like the rest of the book.

Actor chosen for US Life on Mars

Jason O'MaraJason O'Mara has been chosen to play Sam in David E. Kelly's US remake of Britain's Life on Mars TV series.

He was tapped to play Philip Marlowe in a pilot for ABC, but all the articles I'm finding about that are from January and Marlowe doesn't appear on a list of ABC's shows for next season, so it looks like that must've fallen through. Not sure I wanted to watch a modern-day take on Marlowe anyway, even if I am craving good, private eye shows.

I know O'Mara from his role as Stuart Maxon, Anne Heche's publisher on Men in Trees. Seems like he wants to play a detective and I bet he'll be good at it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

American fish gods

Neil Gaiman and his daughter Maddy are visiting the shooting of the next Hellboy movie and Maddy's taking pictures. This picture of Abe Sapien and Neil is too cool not to share.


Some quick Star Wars links

The Southeast Regional Library's Circulation Department blog noticed something familiar about this Western cover.

And speaking of Star Wars, if you thought Meco's disco version of the Star Wars theme was cool, it's only because you haven't heard the Bordens. Complete with belly dancing interlude.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

LibraryThing

I've been signed up at LibraryThing for a while now, but just today started adding books to it. It's gonna take a while to get everything entered, but it's a fun tool.

Added a widget for it to my sidebar, too.

Jungle Man (aka Drums of Africa)

Flash and MingThe cover of this DVD said Jungle Man, but the title card in the movie itself claimed that it was Drums of Africa. I'm not sure what the deal is, but it's not worth trying to figure out.

Whatever it's called, it's about an hour long, but half of that is filled with randomly insterted stock footage of animals. The other half-hour is about a party of rich folks who go to Africa to photograph some "lost" ruins called the City of the Dead. The group is made up of a young cad named Bruce, his best friend Andy, Bruce's fiancé Betty, and Betty's dad. Betty and her dad aren't invited at first, but Betty whines about her boring life until Bruce and her dad cave. Her dad's a pitiful, spineless guy who not only gives in to Betty constantly; he also lets himself get dragged along on her "adventure."

Dad's got a brother though who's a missionary in Africa not far from where the City is supposed to be, so the group hires a worse-than-useless guide (he's supposed to be funny, but he's actually stupid, annoying, and dangerous) and goes to find Betty's uncle. When they get there, they also meet a handsome doctor who's using the mission as a lab from which he's trying to cure a local, but deadly plague. And the reverend missionary has a pet tiger that he's named Satan for some reason. I'm thinking that maybe he's not as pious as he appears. Either that or he really hates that cat.

The Reverend and Doctor warn Bruce and Andy against trying to find the City. No one's ever returned alive, etc., etc. Oh, but you need to know how to get there? Here, even though I've never been to the City myself, I'll draw you a very detailed map.

I'd like to tell you that I won't spoil the ending as a matter of courtesy, but honestly it's because I'm already bored just thinking about the rest of the movie. There's no way I'm going to take the time to type it out.

The only notable thing about the film is that it stars Buster "Flash Gordon" Crabbe and Charles "Ming the Merciless" Middleton as Doc Hammond and Reverend Graham. They're not bad actors and Crabbe is even more charismatic here than he is in the Flash Gordon movies. It's just too bad that Jungle Man/Drums of Africa is mostly about Betty and Bruce, so neither Crabbe nor Middleton has anything interesting to do.

Links: Comic book cliffhangers, a Lordi movie, and paying your dues

One of the coolest recent comics cliffhangersHorror

There are a couple of Lady Bathory movies in the works.

Heavy metal monster-costume band Lordi is doing a horror movie. And did you know that there are Lordi comics in Finland, written and drawn by Mr. Lordi himself? Me either.

John Rozum and Kody Chamberlain's The Foundation comic, about a group who's trying to stop the prophecies of Nostradamus from coming to pass, has been optioned for a film by Paramount.

Comics

Kill All Monsters! editor Jason Rodriguez has a fantastic post up at Blogarama about comic book cliffhangers and that crazy desire comics nerds get for next month's issue right now.

Women in Fiction

A while back, I was invited to share one of my posts at the POWER in Comics Community. Unfortunately, I couldn't access the site at the time, but it looks like I can now. The group's mission statement is to Promote Ownership of stores and publishing houses, Writing & drawing of comics, Editing of comics & Reading of comics and graphic novels for women and minorities. I'm having trouble signing up for it, but once I can I'll be sure to take them up on their invitation.

Writing (and making comics) is Hard

The Beat has a great summary of the recent MoCCa (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) Festival. I especially like her thoughts on alleged "classism" in the indie comics community and the need to pay one's dues.

Alas, even in a world as egalitarian as indie comics, where almost everyone wants the kids to do alright, the reality is that not everything is created equal ... But it takes a while to become a Paul Pope or Adrian Tomine, let alone a Kim Deitch. Maybe you have to pay your dues by sitting there behind a table wishing someone would stop by. Maybe being more selective and having to pay your dues is part of the process.

As someone who's done a fair share of "sitting there behind a table wishing someone would stop by," I certainly think so.

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me

I could smooch Steve Jobs right now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jungle Jim

Jungle Jim, Joan, and Malay MikeI thought I'd take a break from Tarzan movies for a while and explore some other jungle adventures. Jungle Jim is based on a comic strip by Alex Raymond (who also created Flash Gordon). The version I watched stars Grant Withers as "Jungle" Jim Bradley, but there are also some later movies and a TV series that starred Johnny Weissmuller (with a pre-Superman George Reeves as the villain in the initial movie). The Weissmuller versions don't appear to be available on DVD yet, but you bet I'll be keeping my eyes open for them.

The plot of the Withers version is that a young girl named Joan is shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and several years later becomes an heiress when a rich relative dies. Two men go looking for her: one a close friend of her family who wants the inheritance to go to the right place; the other an unscrupulous uncle who wants to make sure she never leaves the jungle alive. When the uncle's party kills the friend and his guide, Jungle Jim, a buddy of the murdered guide, goes after them to bring them to justice.

It turns out that Joan has been raised in the jungle by a couple of white fugitives who call themselves the Cobra and Shanghai Lil. The local natives believe that Joan is a goddess of some kind, a myth perpetuated by the Cobra as a way of controling the natives into protecting him. It's his way of discouraging any representatives of Western justice from coming to bring him in. Naturally he grows a little paranoid when all these white folks start showing up in his part of the jungle, some of them wanting to take Joan away.

It's disturbing to see that pretty much every native tribe in the serial is controlled or employed by a white person, but this was 1936. That doesn't excuse it though. It's wrong and it's sad.

Other than that, it's an enjoyable story. Like Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars it employs a neat comic strip method of recapping previous episodes, but Jungle Jim is even cooler. Each episode opens with a person opening up a newspaper to the comics section. The camera zooms in on the "Jungle Jim" strip and then slowly pans across the page to present the recap.

Joan is a cool character. She's befriended a pride of lions who protect her and handles herself just fine with a little help from her native friend Kolu. I love that Joan and Kolu are presented as an alternate group of heroes. They (and their lions) rescue Jungle Jim and his pal Malay Mike as much as they need rescuing themselves. And Joan has plenty to do throughout the story as she keeps learning new things about her past and shifts her allegiances accordingly.

Jim's a fine hero too and even Mike -- whom I expected to be nothing but comic relief -- is good in a fight. Both end up fighting a lot of jungle animals and the battles are well-executed and fun to watch. Even the animal footage is used well. The more of these old jungle adventures I watch, the more I see directors splicing in stock animal footage just to fill time and its boring. Jungle Jim doesn't do that. (It does, however, have a lot of tigers roaming around Africa, which is silly.)

There are also some nice plot twists that caught me off guard. I won't say more than that, but it was good to be surprised several times in what looked to be a straightforward story. All in all, a fine serial. Jungle Jim isn't replacing Tarzan in my heart anytime soon, but I really enjoyed this one.

Links: I was on TV, Omega Flight continues, and Something About Mary (Marvel)

Not enough links today to really categorize, so I'll just do this willy nilly.

Kill All Monsters! was on TV! Sort of. G4TV's Attack of the Show did a segment on comics blogs and featured Blog@Newsarama. One of the posts they showed was the one about KAM! from a few days ago.

Over at the Alpha Waves message board, Omega Flight artist Scott Kolins hints that there's more Omega Flight coming once the initial five-issue mini-series is done. I've been moaning (mostly to myself) about how long it's taking them to tell this initial story, but if there's more coming up behind it, I'll be patient and shut up.

Forces of Good has a nice summary of Mary Marvel's career to date. I'd forgotten that the "H" in her version of SHAZAM stands for Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, from whom she gets her supernatural strength. Since Hippolyta is also Wonder Woman's mom in the DCU, I'm wondering if any of DC's writers have ever exploited that connection in a story. Seems like a natural.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars

Flash and Queen AzuraI really enjoyed the first Flash Gordon serial, so I expected to like the second one too. Unfortunately, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars was disappointing.

It started out okay. After the adventures from the first serial, Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov have turned into a sort of super team, going out in Zarkov's space ship to defend Earth whenever trouble threatens. They're returning from some mission or other when a ray from Mars strikes Earth and causes a bunch of earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Flash, Dale, and Zarkov get back in their ship and zoom to Mars where they learn that the Martian Queen Azura is siphoning off gas from Earth's atmosphere. She needs the gas to develop weapons for her war against the Martian Clay Men and doesn't care that she's destroying Earth to get it. Flash and the gang quickly learn that Ming is on Mars and is the real mastermind behind the Earth's peril. He's out for revenge after Flash Gordon and is manipulating Azura to get it.

Which is all good, but unlike Flash Gordon, Trip to Mars tends to drag. Maybe the newness has worn off, or maybe the new characters aren't as intriguing as the earlier ones, but I got bored watching Flash race back and forth between Azura's city, the kingdom of the Clay Men, and the spooky forest of the Tree People. The first serial was full of whacked out monsters and man-animal hybrid races, but Trip to Mars sticks with just three and doesn't get enough mileage out of them.

There's some political intrigue as Ming works behind Azura's back to achieve his goals, but Azura's a nasty enough character herself that we never feel bad for her and the intrigue is inconsequential. It doesn't matter which bad guy comes out on top, because Flash is going to have to take down both of them eventually.

Dale's not as interesting a character here as she was in Flash Gordon. Not that she had a lot to do there, but we could see her and Flash starting to fall for each other and that was fun. Here, they're such an old couple that any affection they show for each other is more buddy-like than romantic. For most of Trip to Mars I was convinced that at some point they'd decided to be "just friends" and we'd just never seen the conversation. But then someone (not either one of them, by the way) mentions matter-of-factly that Flash and Dale are in love, so I guess they're still together. They've just lost the spark.

I might be a pig for saying this, but I wonder if there's a connection between the easiness of their relationship and the fact that Dale's quit dying her hair. It may have more to do with trying to get Jean Rogers to look more like the brunette Dale from the comics, but it amuses me to think that she no longer feels the need to go for the bombshell look she sported in the first serial. She also dresses a lot more conservatively this time around. I guess Mars is more modest than Mongo. This might raise an interesting discussion, but when a character is basically nothing more than eye candy, it's too bad when she doesn't even succeed very well at that.

Zarkov, on the other hand, has a lot more to do this time around. In the first serial he pretty much stayed in the lab, but here he's a bona fide partner to Flash and spends as much time throwing punches as he does throwing switches. I'd much rather have seen Dale in that role, but that might be a lot to expect from 1938. Even Happy Hapgood, a goofy reporter who stows away on the adventure (he'd be played by Steve Buscemi if someone decided to remake it), gets in on the action. He's played for laughs, but he's still a bigger part of the story than Dale, who's major contributions are to bomb the Tree People from the air and to be hypnotized into stabbing Flash. Not to dismiss her bombing the Tree People. That was pretty cool actually.

There's some other cool stuff in Trip to Mars. The Clay People generate a lot of pathos, there's a bridge in Azura's city that's made out of hard light, and Azura's soldiers have personal "bat-wings" built into their uniforms that they use as parachutes. The recap of previous episodes at the beginning of each chapter is also cool. They have a Martian soldier standing at a computer screen and turning a knob as comic strip panels scroll by and summarize what's come before. It's a nice homage to the source material.

But then there's the crappy music. It's obviously culled from a lot of different sources (I recognized Bride of Frankenstein, also produced by Universal) that seem to have been mixed into a single track and then looped over and over again. I can't tell that any thought was given to how the music might affect the mood of the scene it accompanies. There's light, ballet music over fight scenes and dramatic, "dangerous" music over simple exposition scenes. It's a mess.

By the end, there was enough cool stuff and enough frustrating stuff that I'm divided about my opinion of it. It didn't turn me off of the serials, but it did make me want to take a break before watching the last one, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. I liked it, but it was a disappointment after Flash Gordon, which I loved.

Links: Incredibles sequel, pirate treasure, and mighty goofiness

Pirates

While searching for a location to hide some fake treasure for a promotional contest, divers found the real thing.

Superheroes

Brad Bird's thinking about an Incredibles sequel.

More thoughts on how to do a Lois Lane comic.

Writing is Hard

What Type of Writer Should You Be?
You Should Be a Film Writer: You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind. You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life. Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling. And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me

I am mighty.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tarzan's Desert Mystery

Boy gets caught in a giant spider's web.I'll try to keep this short since it's my fourth post of the day. Just getting a little behind on reviews and need to catch up.

In Tarzan's Desert Mystery, Jane's still in London. No update on how her mom's doing, but she's stuck there because of the war and is making the most of her time by working in a military hospital.

She writes a letter to Tarzan asking him to send her a jungle remedy that will help her patients, so Tarzan, Boy, and Cheetah leave home for a distant jungle where Tarzan knows he can get the plants.

To get to this other jungle, the trio has to cross a desert. There they meet an unscrupulous European racketeer who's using his influence with a local sheik to make huge profits at the expense of his oppressed workers. The sheik's son is onto the racketeer though and is trying to work with a rival sheik to end the oppression, using an American woman as a messenger.

I like that the standard Weissmuller-Tarzan formula is finally broken here and we get a spy story instead of the usual morality play about civilization's encroachment on nature. Not that there's anything wrong with that morality play, but it's nice to see something different.

Tarzan takes a back seat for most of the movie to the various desert characters and their scheming. I thought for a bit that he might become a supporting character in his own movie, but once everyone else has made enough of a mess of things, it falls to Tarzan to straighten things out and save the day.

The desert makes for an exotic change of setting for the series, so even though this isn't a classic episode by any definition it's a nice counterpoint to the rest of the Weissmuller films. By itself it's a fairly disposable movie, but it serves a great purpose in the context of the rest of the series so far.

It even achieves awesomeness at the end when Tarzan and his friends -- with the bad guys hot on their trail -- reach the other jungle and have to find the medicine while battling bad guys, carnivorous plants, and giant spiders and lizards.

The flogging of Le Corsaire

Before I abandoned the Pirate Novel (aka Le Corsaire) -- actually, before I completely reworked the concept, wrote a new first chapter, and then abandoned it -- I sent the first few pages to Ray Rhamey's excellent Flogging the Quill blog for some feedback.

For those who don't know, Ray (a novelist and freelance editor) takes a look at your first chapter and offers criticism to help you improve it. I'll definitely be asking him to take a look at my current work-in-progress when it's further along, because he had some very useful things to say about Le Corsaire.

He liked the dialogue, which is nice because I think that's generally one of my strengths, but he also points out that I need to work on including more description, "action beats," and internal monologue to more quickly draw readers to the characters. He also points out a couple of "point-of-view hiccups" and some wasted words.

Wasting words is a flaw that I'd recently noticed myself and have been correcting, but the notes on description, internal monologue, and point-of-view are all new. Even though I'm not working on this particular story anymore, it's still valuable information because it highlights things about my writing in general that I need to pay attention to.

Ray's main complaint though is that I'm "too lackadaisical in getting things started." His other suggestions are ways to make the slow build more interesting, but he's absolutely right that things don't get moving until later in the chapter. I was relying on readers' willingness to get to the end of the chapter before deciding to continue the book, when I shouldn't have assumed they'd be willing to read past the first page. "Michael's writing was good, and better when the story finally got going," Ray says. "The next page gets into action: slapping and punching and then a duel and then. . . Well, unless you turn the first page, you'd never know that."

Excellent advice (and much more like it in the link for the curious). Thanks, Ray.

(Edited to add: In re-reading this, I can see how someone might misunderstand me to be saying that Ray's comments caused me to abandon the novel. That's not the case.)

Harrison Ford on the set of Indy 4

You know, I'd completely forgotten how much I miss Indy until I saw this picture.

Welcome back, my friend.

Thanks to Heidi for the picture.

Happy Boomstick Day!

Today is Bruce Campbell's 49th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Bruce!


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Links: The Black Canary wedding, Bruce Campbell's new show, and a Tiempos Finales movie

I'm gonna try this without the bullet points and see if it looks less cluttered.

Mystery

Frank Miller is writing an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe mystery Trouble is My Business for the screen. Clive Owen is attached to star. It's one of the few Chandler novels that's never been made into a movie.

Spies

The next James Bond film has a director: Marc Forster. I wholeheartedly approve thanks to my love for his work on Finding Neverland. No word of a title for the film yet, but the screenplay will be (in part) by Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash), so how can it not be amazing? It's planned for release in November 2008.

Did you know that Bruce Campbell is in a new spy show on USA? How did I miss that?

Horror

The International Horror Guild has announced the 2006 nominees for its IHG Award.

Moonstone books has been caretaking the Kolchak franchise for a while. Now they're going to reprint the Jeff Rice Nightstalker novels that started the whole thing.

Sam Hiti shares a look at what he hopes might become the poster for a Tiempos Finales movie. Oh man, how cool would a big screen Mario be?

Rumors already abound about a possible sequel to the 3o Days of Night film. Unfortunately, it looks like rumors are all they are since Steve Niles doesn't know anything about it.

Science Fiction

Kill All Monsters! got a mention on the Newsarama blog. And I didn't even have to ask for it. Thanks, JK!

Remember the guy who combined Star Wars and steampunk? Here's someone else doing the same thing. Very cool.

Speaking of Star Wars, AtomFilms is looking for fan films featuring the female characters from the franchise.

Exploring Henry Jenkins' blog this morning I found several interesting old posts including this look at Rocketo creator Frank Espinosa.

Superheroes

More awesomeness from Kyle Baker's Plastic Man #20, further proving that I suck for not supporting it when it was coming out.

Like Kalinara, I haven't been all that excited about Green Arrow and Black Canary's getting married. I'll explain why not another time. But once Kalinara's done drinking the Kool-Aid, I'll ask her to pass the pitcher this way. I'm into it now for all the reasons she mentioned.

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me

The only Grey's Anatomy cast member fired has been Isaiah Washington. Everyone else has been invited back for next season.

In that same link, former Gilmore Girls executive producer David Rosenthal has been hired as consulting producer for Men in Trees. Which makes total sense seeing how the tone of both shows is so similar.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Smart pirates and the Evolution of the movie franchise

I discovered Henry Jenkins' blog via this post about At World's End and how it's a better movie than critics are giving it credit for (thanks to the Disney blog for the link). I thought it was a worthy second look to this discussion. He begins with the following assertion: "As a rule, one should never trust the opinion of an established film critic about a movie with a number after its title -- and one should multiply the level of distrust for each number over 2. The whole concept of franchise entertainment seems to bring out the worst high culture assumptions in the bulk of American film critics..."

He goes on to quote from several critics who can all be summed up in this review by Chris Vognar of The Dallas Morning News: "Unlike, say, Shrek the Third, which works perfectly fine as a mediocre stand-alone sequel, At World's End relies heavily on viewers' knowledge of the previous film, Dead Man's Chest. Seems fair enough, given how many moviegoers were willing to pony up for that one. Still, all the curses, vendettas, double-crosses, reconciliations, trinkets, negotiations and sea monsters longing to be human again gave me severe tired head before the two-hour mark. Summer blockbusters may have many goals, but tired head should not be among them ... So yeah, At World's End has some fun stuff. If only it weren't so stuffed to the gills with moving parts. "

At World's End should've been more like Shrek the Third? Is that really what you meant to say, Chris? Way to shoot your credibility in the head.

Jenkins argues, "At the World's End (sic) ... gets no credit for its ambitions here, no recognition for placing new kinds of conceptual demands on its spectators, and no praise for its craftmanship. Rather, it is being forced back into the box where critics place any and all popular entertainment. The perception that summer movies are mindless and motivated purely by commercial considerations is being forced onto this film; At the World's End is being whacked for every step it takes outside of the confines of a totally classically constructed film."

In other words, it's too smart. And while I still wish parts had been made clearer, I completely agree. It's what got me back to the theater to see it again a couple of times, and the reason I've got the first two movies queued up on my DVD player in anticipation of seeing it yet again. As Jenkins says, "I can only imagine the pleasures that await us when we watch all three films back to back in a DVD marathon or all of the telling details I will pick up on during a second or third viewing -- and that's part of the point. The modes by which we consume these films have shifted. Most films don't warrant a first look, let alone a second viewing, but for those films that do satisfy and engage us, a much higher percentage of the audience is engaged in what might once have seemed like cult viewing practices."

He makes a brilliant observation about the way movie franchises have changed recently from being character-based to being world-based: "Hollywood has moved from a primary focus on stories as the generators of film pitches to a focus on characters that will sustain sequels to a focus on worlds that can be played out across multiple media platforms. This shift accommodates a much more active spectator who wants to watch favorite movies again and again, making new discoveries each time, and who enjoys gathering online and comparing notes within a larger knowledge culture." He cites the Matrix franchise as an example and Pirates as another. To one critic's gripe about there not being enough Jack Sparrow in At World's End, Jenkins replies that Jack's not the selling point for the franchise (though he may have been the initial draw for a lot of folks); the Pirates world is. He gives tons of examples of how the trilogy supports that, but I'll leave those for you to read when you click through. It's fascinating stuff.

Jenkins argues that the critic's job, by its very nature, interferes with critics' abilities to enjoy world-focused franchises to their full potential. "(Critics) went into the film expecting a certain kind of experience," he says. "They hadn't successfully learned how to take pleasure from its world-building; they don't want to dig into the film more deeply after the fact, comparing notes online with other viewers, because their trade demands constant movement to the next film and a focus on their own private, individualized thoughts."

He goes on to say, "Watch a film with a group of critics and it is a rather chilly experience, each trying to suppress signs of their emotional response for fear of tipping their hands to their competition. They don't laugh at comedy; they don't cry at melodrama; and they don't know how to engage in fannish conversation around film franchises, which means that their professional conduct cuts them off from the shared emotional pleasures that are so much a part of how popular culture works its magic on us. For that reason, I trust film critics far more when they are writing about art films which demand distanced contemplation than popular films which desire an immediate emotional reaction."

Like I said, fascinating stuff. And it ought to be since Jenkins is the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, which sounds like the coolest job in the world to me. He's also written and/or edited nine books on various aspects of media and popular culture, so he knows what he's talking about.

That's what took me to Jenkins' blog in the first place. What's going to keep me going back is that he's got a series of posts on Gender and Fan Studies. So I'll definitely be talking more about that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen



I loved Ocean's Eleven. So did the rest of the world, right? Big whoop. What's not to love? George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, stylish Soderbergh direction, hip Las Vegas soundtrack, clever caper plot with just enough secrets and twists to keep you guessing. It was perfect.

In that David Bordwell roundtable I linked to a while ago, Paul Ramaeker writes that he considers Ocean's Twelve to be "an experiment made in good faith." A failed one, sure, but "the way it plays with audience expectations is both dependent upon familiarity with the first film, and radically divergent from it." I think he's absolutely right.

Ocean's Twelve had all the charm and humor of the first film, but it lost me by keeping me entirely out of the loop until about five minutes before the movie was over. In Ocean's Eleven, the audience was co-conspirators with the thieves. There was this little bit at the end where the filmmakers said, "Whoops! Just for fun we didn't tell you about this part," and it was exciting and cool. But we were outsiders to pretty much all of Ocean's Twelve, so when they clued us in at the end I felt cheated and lied to. Not that I was morally outraged or anything, but it robbed me of my fun.

Still, at least they were trying to do something different. Soderbergh's a talented enough guy that I truly suspect Ocean's Thirteen to be another conscious experiment. That's because I don't want to believe that it's only what it appears to be: a mindless remake of the first one. There are absolutely zero surprises in Ocean's Thirteen. The whole caper is explained from the beginning and every glitch in the plan is fixed in the most predictable way possible. Even though Don Cheadle's character says at one point that good thieves never repeat themselves, that's exactly what they do, stealing elements from the jobs in both of the previous films.

What I expect Soderbergh is doing is saying, "Ocean's Twelve was too different from the first one? Okay, here. Have the first one all over again. How do you like that?" To which the answer of course is a pouting, "Not very much, Mr. Soderbergh. You're right. Keep experimenting please." I just wish he hadn't had to send that message using actors and characters that I so badly wanted to see in another really great caper movie.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Today sucks

No post today.

Here's what I owe you though:
  • Ocean's 13 review
  • Tarzan's Desert Mystery review

We'll try this again tomorrow.

Friday, June 15, 2007

And another thing...

It also sucks that my posts are showing up in RSS feeds before they even appear on the blog. Or is it just me?

Has Blogger gone completely insane?

Links: Smallville sucks, Thunderbolt Hurt, and Peek-a-Boo Cap

Science Fiction

Superheroes

  • Even though I enjoyed most of this season of Smallville, I was never what you'd call "excited" to watch it. I think I've lost interest and am watching it out of a) habit, and b) curiosity to see if they're even going to try to make it flow into a reasonable representation of the familiar Superman mythos. In other words: I just want it to be over. Adding Supergirl to the cast next season does nothing to change that.
  • Crap. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I held out hope that somehow Sam Elliott would be invited back to reprise the role of General Thunderbolt Ross in the new Hulk movie. No such luck. Instead, we get... William Hurt? This is the first change from the Ang Lee film that I'm disappointed about. I mean, not just losing Elliott, but William Hurt? He's going to have to really stretch himself from the sleepy performances I usually see him give.
  • Okay, this is hilarious. Kyle Baker's posted a couple of pages from the last issue of his maniacally fun Plastic Man series for DC. The humor is an obvious parody of the dark, "mature" comics that DC and Marvel have become so fond of, but apparently not everyone got the joke. Just goes to show how uptight some comics fans have become. Still... funny!
  • I don't know anything about the I Know Joe Kimpel blog. Is it written by Joe Kimpel? Or just someone who knows him? I've no idea! I don't even know who Joe Kimpel is. All I know is that someone paints nice pictures of Mary Marvel and Supergirl. I wish he (she?) kept the Black Canary one going though instead of turning her into Batgirl.
  • Marvel is developing a Captain America movie that'll be half modern tale and half period piece.
  • They're also still trying to work out an Avengers film.
  • And speaking of Captain America, Bully's post about about Cap's playing a very frightening game of Peek-a-Boo has to win like "Post of the Year" or something.

Writing is Hard

  • Stephen King's dusted off an old, previously unpublished novel from his Richard Bachman days. It's called Blaze. What's interesting to me is his "Full Disclosure" forward (scroll to the bottom of the Amazon link to read it) that gives insight into what he calls "trunk novels," which is early work that you were never able to find a publisher for. I hear that most first novels are unpublishable except, as in this instance, when you've made a name for yourself and have a following of fans who want to read everything you've ever written. That's not negative commentary about King, whom I love, I just think it's cool that even he had a trunk full of unpublishable novels. It's also interesting to hear about how his opinion of that material changed a couple of times.

Links: 30 Days of Night trailer, pirate comics, and monster-fighting biplanes!

Stella Olemaun from 30 DAYS OF NIGHTI don't know what's up, but Blogger's only letting me post 200 characters or less now? Anyone else having this problem?

Pirates
Adventure

  • I mentioned here that I was interested in seeing DOA: Dead or Alive. This review from Geek Monthly makes me want to even more. It's faint praise, to be sure, but the trailer still looks fun and according to the review, "the female leads win points for being about a thousand times less annoying than the harridans of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. In fact this movie does what that mess tried to do and succeeds on about an eighth of the budget."
Horror

Fantasy
  • I wasn't sure where to put this, but these underwater sculptures are so hauntingly beautiful that "fantasy" feels like the right choice.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Links (continued)

Science Fiction

  • At first I was surprised to learn that Fahrenheit 451 isn't really about censorship, but once Bradbury explained what it is about, I wasn't all that surprised any more. It makes perfect sense really, though I don't think it negates the book's power to say something useful about censorship.
  • There's a CGI Thundercats movie in the works.
  • It's going to be impossible to replace Yul Brynner, but the timing is about right for a Westworld remake, I think.
  • Kill All Monsters! editor Jason Rodriguez has some KAM! preview pages from the mini-series up on his blog. They're from a previous version of the script, so the language is a lot rougher than what's going to be in the final version. He also gives some nice behind-the-scenes info about some of the conversations we had in developing the book.

Superheroes

  • Fabian Nicieza will be writing a new Captain Action series for Moonstone. I actually pitched them an idea on this one, but I'd hire Nicieza over me too. I still really like my pitch though, so maybe I'll work it into something else. And I'll certainly be checking out Nicieza's version to see what he came up with.
  • At last, the moment I've been waiting for. Mike Weiringo's upgraded his blog so that you can link to individual posts now. Like this one with his version of Mary Marvel.

Writing is Hard

  • Paperback Writer has a ton of links to good writing blogs. I haven't checked them all out yet, but I look forward to doing that.

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me

Okay. That catches me up with last week's news. With any luck, I'll catch up on this week's tomorrow.

Links: Shannara movies, Kill All Monsters!, and Captain Action

Still catching up.

Mystery

  • CBS rules. Jericho has been renewed.
  • Play Dead -- about a dog who witnesses a murder and the lawyer who tries to keep him safe -- isn't at all the kind of mystery I usually read, but that might be part of the attraction I'm feeling.
  • I don't know anything about Domino Lady, but I do love a crossover and a good femme fatale, so Moonstone's collection of Domino Lady stories -- featuring her meeting folks like Sherlock Holmes, The Phantom, and Airboy -- sounds worth checking out.
Spies

  • My Kill All Monsters! collaborator Jason Copland has an interview out on Newsarama about the thriller he and A. David Lewis did called Empty Chamber. The first issue was fantastic and the second one should be out soon (next week, I think?). Update: In the comments, Jason says that he just heard from Silent Devil that it'll be out July 27.
  • I'm not expecting much from it, but Paul W.S. Anderson (Alien vs. Predator) is directing a movie based on the Spy Hunter video game. The Rock was previously attached as the film's star a couple of years ago when John Woo was going to direct it. No word yet on whether he'll still be in it.
Horror

Fantasy

  • Warner Brothers wants to turn Terry Brookes' Shannara books into a movie franchise. Wisely, they plan to skip the first novel in the series, the Tolkein rip-off Sword of Shannara, and begin with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara. As much as I complain about Brookes' style and the derivative plot of Sword, I really do have a fond place in my heart for these books and I'd love to see them done well as a series of movies.
  • It's been a while since I'd heard news about the next Narnia movies. Sounds like the next one, Prince Caspian, comes out next summer, with the third one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, coming out the summer after that.
Blogger's acting weird, so I think I'm going to have to finish this in a separate post.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Women in genre fiction

Splash page from my short comic story THE EVIL DR LANKYThere are a couple of (related) reasons that I'm interested in the portrayal of women in genre fiction. One is that I've always gotten along well with women and most of my closest friends have always been women. I think women are fascinating, so I tend to like them and I'm interested in seeing them well represented in the stories I read or watch.

I like writing female characters too. Not as a way to show how It Should Be Done, because there are many many writers already doing it very well, but again... I just like them. The main character in the novel I'm working on is a woman (well, a girl really), so I'm particularly interested in exploring women heroes right now.

What made me decide to post about this today is a recent USA Today article that's poorly titled "Male heroes draw comic fans." Conjures up images of Batman doodling pictures of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Unfortunately, the article's just as unthoughtful as the headline.

Starting with the thesis that "comic-book movies — even the bad ones — have become a virtual Hollywood ATM ... as long as they aren't anchored by women," the article cites examples of how even Ghost Rider and Daredevil outperformed Elektra and Catwoman. Then it scratches its head over the success of Fantastic Four when Sue Storm plays such a prominent role (forgetting, I guess, that the other three stars are dudes).

What's particularly upsetting to me though as a comic book fan, is the dismissive "support" for the thesis that "there's a bias against comic-book movies with women in big roles ... because fanboys are, well, boys." That's a quote from G4TV's Blair Butler, who goes on to say, "(Fans) like women in distress or supporting roles — or in a bondage outfit with open-toed stilettos like Catwoman." Excuse me for dissenting, Blair, but the hell we do. That's a humongous brush you're painting us all with there and it's not helped by this quote from Jessica Alba: "I think the success of (Fantastic Four) is that we were aiming for the families as much as the fans. And that's a group that recognizes strong women roles."

Gah. I'm digressing, but damn it I'm a comics fan and I recognize strong women's roles. I hate that the fanboy stereotype is representative of all comics readers in that article. Like I said, it's an extremely unhelpful look at the issue.

Far more useful is this older (and better titled) article from The Hollywood Reporter: "Female action pics need hero of own." It starts with a similar observation that "female-led action film(s) getting off the ground" is a rare thing, but explores other possible causes like studio sexism, the reluctance of female actors to keep pursuing action roles, and just poor writing. It also mentions money-making female-led films like Underworld and Tomb Raider (while acknowledging that their sequels were financial disappointments). It doesn't mention the hugely successful Alien and Terminator franchises, but maybe those are old enough to be less relevant to an article on the state of movies today.

The HR article does talk though about how well women heroes have done on TV lately (as well as historically). Citing examples like Alias, Buffy, and Veronica Mars (as well as the upcoming Bionic Woman and Sarah Connor Chronicles), the article says that "it's been far more accepted for a woman to carry a (TV) show than it was for a woman to carry a movie." It's a good article and well worth reading if you're interested in the subject.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lost Continent

As I was searching for an image to go with this post, I found a shot of the opening title with some familiar silhouettes in front of it. That should give you an idea about the quality.

Lost Continent doesn't have a bad concept. An experimental missile goes off target and crashes in the ocean. Fearing what would happen if it fell into the Wrong Hands (read: "Russkies"), a mixed team of scientists and Air Force personnel fly out to retrieve the bomb and figure out what went wrong.

They track the missile to a previously undiscovered island (not a "continent" at all, despite what the title would have us believe) that's just lousy with uranium. Ignoring warnings from the natives, the party climbs a huge escarpment (a la Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World and the Weissmuller Tarzan films) and has to avoid a bunch of dinosaurs to find the missile.

The biggest problem with the movie is that the team doesn't get to the top of the escarpment until two-thirds through. They spend too much time getting to the island, and once they're there, there's also a lot of climbing to do. Getting up the escarpment takes way too long. It does build some tension about what's on top of the cliff, but anyone who's seen the movie poster already knows exactly what's on top of that cliff. It's why we wanted to watch the movie in the first place. Making us wait isn't exciting, it's frustrating.

On the positive side, the ensemble of characters is interesting. One of the scientists is a Russian and one of the Air Force pilots (played by Cesar Romero) begins to suspect that maybe he's got ulterior motives for wanting to find the missile. There's also a half-crazy mechanic who continuously talks to his parachute, an engineer who begins to suspect that he's not cut out for this adventure, a likable scientist who may or may not be the target for murder, and Romero's reluctant, but loyal co-pilot.

The dinosaur sequences are cool, but nothing you haven't seen before in a thousand other dinosaur movies from the same period. Without a better story tying them together, they're just not very exciting. We do get some excitement out of the end except that it comes out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense. I won't spoil it, but only because I think that there are some positive things about the film and there might be a worse way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I'm sure it's a way better experience watching the Mystery Science Theater version, but as far as I can tell, that episode hasn't been released yet.

Links: Elric movie, Tiempos Finales 2, and Lois Lane: Girl Reporter

This still won't catch me up on the backlog, but I'll keep picking away at it.

Pirates

  • In the comments for my At World's End review, someone mentioned that SPOILER! "because Elizabeth faithfully waited for Will, the curse was eventually broken after 10 years." To which I replied that I'd heard the same thing somewhere. Here's where. I really hope there's an extended version DVD in the works.
Horror
  • Sam Hiti has announced that as soon as he finishes his current graphic novel Death Day (which from what I've seen is going to be unbelievably awesome by the way), next on his plate will be Tiempos Finales Volume 2. His plan for the future is to work on two projects a year, one of which will be a Tiempos Finales volume.
Fantasy

Science Fiction

Superheroes

  • There's a Teen Titans movie in the works. No news on what characters will be in it (though Nightwing is rumored), but Mark Verheiden (Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) is writing and the tone is supposed to be similar to Batman Begins and Superman Returns.
  • I haven't been reading Supergirl, but I've mentioned the general fan dissatisfaction around it a couple of times. Looks like DC is serious about remedying that and revamping the character into a believable teenaged heroine. Looks like I will be reading Supergirl before too long.
  • Speaking of superheroines, and in light of my recent examination of Wonder Woman, Lillian S. Robinson's Wonder Women is definitely going on my Wish List.
  • I totally agree with Kalinara: there ought to be a Lois Lane comic focusing on her investigative reporting. It could be a great adventure/mystery comic.

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Everybody Cares About Including Me

Monday, June 11, 2007

Movie sequels: mindless repetition or serialized storytelling?

I don't even know where today went. Way too busy to do a real post, so here are a couple of interesting links and a thought or two about them.

Every summer the movie critics dust off their keyboards, crack their knuckles, and get to typing about how sad it is that the summer schedule is full of sequels. It's their equivalent to Minnesotans' complaining about snow in March, even though there's always been snow in March in Minnesota since time began. This year, the first complainer I've heard about is Patrick Goldstein from the Los Angeles Times.

"Is there anyone besides me" he asks, "who is depressed by the news that Steven Spielberg, a great filmmaker with the clout to get any project he wants off the ground, is going off to make … Indiana Jones 4?" Actually, Patrick? Probably not. At least not anyone I want to hang out with.

He goes on to do the usual whining about how sequels are all about money and being "cozy and reassuring" versus good storytelling. He's way too general about the whole thing. Yeah, there are crappy sequels, but there are good, thoughtful ones too. And not just The Godfather Part II.

I'm more in line with David Bordwell and his friends who see movie sequels as just another manifestation of serialized storytelling. As one of the panelists, Jason Mittell, says, "Continuity of a narrative world is a core part of nearly every storytelling form, but the language of 'sequel' is applied predominantly to film. 'Series' seems a more respectable term, as it suggests an organic continuity rather than a reactive stance of 'Hey, let’s do that again!'" And I think that's the key. Does the sequel continue the story (even when, like in the Shrek movies, the first installment didn't exactly cry out for continuation) or just tell the same story over again (like in the Home Alone movies, for example)?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Tarzan Triumphs

I got nervous about Tarzan Triumphs when I didn't see Maureen O'Sullivan's name in the opening credits. Apparently she'd quit the series to pursue more serious roles. After the Tarzan folks had casually thrown out Tumbo in the previous movie, I figured that continuity wasn't really their bag and that we'd probably just see Tarzan and Boy hanging out in the jungle as if it had always been just them. Not so though.

We quickly learn that Jane is off in London visiting her sick mother (whom she's never mentioned before, but oh well) and Tarzan and Boy spend some nice time missing her. We get to see Johnny Weissmuller do some more actual acting as he reads a letter from Jane and grieves her absence. Seriously, Weissmuller was a damn fine actor and he gets to show it a few times in this movie.

The plot is the old Weissmuller-Tarzan formula, but turned up to about thirteen on the Awesome Scale. Yeah, it's about "civilized" bad guys coming to the jungle to take something back with them, but in this case it's Nazis coming to carry off the wealth of a hidden jungle city. And there's a drop-dead gorgeous jungle princess to boot who escapes the Nazis and finds Tarzan in order to ask for his help.

There's some definite allegory going on as Tarzan at first refuses to get involved. As long as the Nazis don't bother him, he's not going to bother them. At one point, the Nazis even refer to him as an Isolationist. It's not until the Nazis directly provoke Tarzan by kidnapping Boy (for a good reason that I won't go into) that he's stirred to action. He draws his knife and snarls a line that had to have had 1943 audiences cheering in their theaters: "Now Tarzan make war!" It's a hell of a moment and Weissmuller nails it.

The war is as cool as any Rambo film. Tarzan uses his jungle skill to sneak around guerilla-style and ambush individual Nazis before helping the citizens of the lost city mount a coordinated offense. Even Cheetah picks up a machine gun and gets into the action (though they've toned her antics way down from the last couple of movies; no more hyper-extended sequences of her just cutting up for no reason).

I only have a couple of complaints. One is a cheap shot at Hitler that's so ludicrous it's unbelievable. Not that Hitler doesn't deserve ridicule, but really it's a terrible joke. Okay, I'll tell it to you, if you really want to hear it. If you think you might track down the movie and don't want to know, skip to the next paragraph. SPOILER WARNING: At the end of the movie, Cheetah's playing around with the Nazis' radio and dials in Berlin. When the Nazis on the other end hear Cheetah's screeching, they realize that they're not talking to their men, but think instead that they're talking directly to Hitler himself. It sounds funny when I read it, but after a whole movie that's been played relatively straight, it's just dumb.

My other complaint is about how the jungle princess, Zandra, tries to convince Tarzan to help her. Boy (who wants to help) tells her that Jane's always been able to get Tarzan to change his mind, so he instructs Zandra to dress in Jane's clothing, go on romantic swims with Tarzan, and cook delicious meals for him. I might be reading into the "romantic" part, but I don't think so. Tarzan lies down next to Zandra at one point and holds her hand. It's a little creepy that he and Boy have not so much forgotten about Jane as they have stopped caring about her in order to focus on the new girl. I kept telling myself that jungle people just have a different way of expressing platonic relationships than uptight Western folk do.

All that aside though, a great adventure film. I understand that there are more Nazis in the next one and I can't wait. I'm especially curious to see how the writers explain that Jane's not coming back at all and how Tarzan and Boy react to it.

Links: Black Canary/Zatanna hardcover, Justice League of Amazons, and Coked-Out Carrie

Coked-Out CarrieMan, it's been a long time since I've done one of these. Not gonna get caught up today, but I'll make a dent in it.

Mystery
Science Fiction
  • I totally skipped over blogging about the Star Wars 30th Anniversary. I'm not even sure why. But my favorite celebration of it was Kevin Church's "Ten Reasons I Still Really Like Star Wars Despite The Fact I Keep Saying I've Walked Away And That It's Over, Really, So Don't Call Anymore, George." My favorite reason is also his: Coked-Out Carrie.
  • I got a nice email from Richard Starkings concerning my review of his comic Elephantmen. It was short, but it was the highest praise I ever hope for from a review: "You got it."
Superheroes
  • Illustration on Paul Dini's Black Canary/Zatanna hardcover graphic novel should begin later this year, hopefully out by next summer. Dini's not saying who's illustrating but promises, "It will be worth the wait."
  • Ragnell reminded me of what could've been the coolest superteam of all time. And still could again, I suppose, if someone wanted to make another comic about them.

Writing is Hard

  • Pub Rants offers some advice on marketing.
  • Speaking of marketing, I usually skip over writer interviews because most of them end up sounding like ads for the writer's latest book. Not so with this one with Nancy Kress. Of course, it might have something to do with her latest book, Beginnings, Middles, & Ends, being a book about writing, but still, her interview is full of useful thoughts on craft.

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me

  • Doctor Doom loves the Gilmore Girls: "Doom does not understand much of your attraction with the medium of television, although Doom does confess a certain admiration of Gilmore Girls. Doom has no time or need for romance, but were he so inclined, Lorelai Gilmore, with her sharp tongue and quick wit, is indeed a paramour worthy of Doom."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Captain America: representing what exactly?

Here's an interesting (if kinda silly) article about Captain America and his role as the representative of an entire country. Like Wonder Woman, I've never been able to get my mind around Captain America and -- again, like her -- it's related to this idea of "mission." Now that I've got Wonder Woman figured out for myself, it seems like maybe I should try to get Captain America under control too, but that feels like a daunting task and I don't know that I'm that interested.

I do know this though: I completely disagree with the Brian Michael Bendis quote from the article that says, "If the country is angry, he gets angry. If the country is sad, he gets sad… He doesn’t represent a flag, but a collective emotion." That's a shaky grasp on the character, isn't it? What do you do with him when the mood of the country is generally apathetic or self-involved? Or completely schizophrenic as it was during the last Presidential election? There's no way Captain America can represent the mood of the freakin' country. He's absolutely got to represent the flag. He's got to emulate what's best about the country: it's ideals. Otherwise, maybe he should be sitting around surfing MySpace and YouTube.

I don't know if it's possible to get a good handle on Captain America though. As shaky as his representing the country's collective emotion is already, it's made even less steady by the fact that he's really representing one particular writer's interpretation of the country's collective emotion. If the writer's especially perceptive, that might be possible, but it's still going to get filtered through the writer's eyes. And the same is true if Cap represents American ideals, which vary from citizen to citizen. And writer to writer.

Does Cap represent the American Dream (which, let's face it, is pretty selfish)? Does he represent the spirit of Independence? Does he represent the power of the People to truly make a difference in the adminstration of their government? It's the same problem Wonder Woman has when writers focus too much on her Mission. The writers' personal interpretations change from run to run and makes it very difficult for readers to get their arms around the character.

I think that's one reason why people (myself included) are enjoying Ed Brubaker's work on Captain America right now. Brubaker focuses on the spy drama and the man-out-of-time angle and leaves the "representing America" stuff alone. Kevin has it right: Cap is so much more cool when he's fighting America's enemies than he is when he's trying to figure out her ideals.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tarzan's Revenge

I've been trying to watch these Tarzan movies in more or less chronological order, but somehow I missed Tarzan's Revenge from 1938. Now I wish that I'd kept right on missing it.

It's a typical Tarzan plot: a bunch of civilized folks come to the jungle to trap animals and get in trouble, so Tarzan has to save them. In this case, the civilized folks are the Reed family: bumbling Dad, complaining Mom, and pretty Eleanor. They've also brought along Eleanor's cowardly husband Nevin who likes to shoot crocodiles from the deck of a riverboat, but gets creeped out if a chipmunk runs across his foot. Actually, Nevin's the best part of the movie. His weaseliness is at least funny.

The conflict comes in when a wealthy sheik decides to add Eleanor to his harem and plots to have her party captured and brought to his jungle palace. Fortunately (I guess), Tarzan encounters the party and falls for Eleanor, ensuring his protection against the evil sheik.

Putting aside for a second the problem with Tarzan's falling in love with anyone besides Jane (who's not in the movie), there are lots of other problems to look at. Glenn Morris isn't a handsome Tarzan, but he also must not have been much of an actor either. He has maybe three lines in the entire movie and they all consist of his pointing to himself and saying, "Tarzan." He was obviously hired due to his being an Olympic athlete and he never played Tarzan (or any other character, for that matter) again.

The movie's only a little over an hour long and most of it is filled with fluff like Tarzan's goofing around in the jungle with his unnamed chimpanzee pal. Tarzan comes across as a Peter Pan type figure who spends his days loafing, swimming, and getting into mischief. When he first encounters Eleanor, she's stuck in a mud pond and he briefly rescues her before playfully tossing her back in.

Of course the plot requires that Eleanor still fall in love with Tarzan even though he's a big jerk, so she does. There's absolutely no chemistry between the two of them though and it's completely unbelievable when she decides to stay with him at the end of the movie. Oops, I've spoiled it for you. You're welcome.

Fingers crossed

We're sending out the pitch for Kill All Monsters! to our first potential publisher today. Wish us luck.

Books and tolerance

Here's an interesting article (from a poker blog, of all places) about how banning books leads to intolerance.

If this lady doesn't want her kid to read (a book with homosexual themes), fine. That is her right as a parent. But to take that option away from all the other parents in the area is just stupid ... Books are ideas, and the more ideas that our young people are kept hidden away from, the more likely they are to be blindsided by these ideas when they get out in the Big Bad World.

It's not necessarily a groundbreaking observation, but it is one that can use repeating.

What makes it doubly interesting to me is the blogger's personal story about how reading Alpha Flight helped him deal with a friend's coming out as gay. As poorly as Marvel's handled Northstar at times (though there have been others when he was handled very well), including a gay character at all in their comics was a benefit. I'm not saying that they should pat themselves on the back or rest easy and think that their work is done, but I do like that even a pulpy adventure comic can have that profound an impact on someone's life.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You're a wonder, Wonder Woman: part three

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

So, I was talking about Greg Rucka. I haven't enjoyed every Greg Rucka story I've ever read, but I love how he approaches them. He thinks hard about them, and if he doesn't think he has anything interesting to say about a character, he won't write the story. And usually, I'm interested in his take on the characters he writes about.

So, I got pretty excited when I heard that he was writing Wonder Woman and I think he did a fine job of capturing the confidence that I've gone on and on about. Where I started getting tired was with his interpretation of Wonder Woman's Mission.

Although I agree with West in yesterday's comments that giving her a Mission was probably a mistake in the first place, Rucka took it seriously and I think that's okay. It's part of the story now and dealing with it is probably better than ignoring it. But even though Rucka made the Mission the central part of his story (by making the Amazonian embassy Diana's base of operations and having her write a best-selling book that promoted Amazonian ideals), I think he was just as unclear about the Mission's details as anyone else.

Mad Thinker Scott takes a stab at defining the Mission and the thought he put into it is worth linking to even though I don't agree with him. He sees "the championing of women’s rights and equality" as the core theme of her character and I think that's the perception that a lot of people have. But Scott also summarizes the inherent problems with having that as the Mission. He says, "If fighting for women’s rights is going to be the central theme of Wonder Woman’s conflicts, she’s going to have to get into stickier situations than she has in the past. For instance, there are women’s issues that Wonder Woman could fight for in the US. She could lobby to increase the amount of child care available to working women, so women aren’t held back in their careers as much as some are now. However, that isn’t the kind of conflict that comic buyers are looking for when they pick up a magazine about a woman who can deflect bullets and throw cars."

He goes on to suggest other women's rights situations that might make for more exciting adventures, but when he takes this Mission to its logical conclusion, he sees the reason that it would never work for a serialized, ongoing story: "I’d love to see Themyscira take a more aggressive stance on international women’s rights and actually get into armed conflicts with other nations; however, I’m not sure how long that Paradise Island v. the World theme can last, and Wonder Woman’s role in the wider DC universe would be radically altered." He finishes his article by admitting that he doesn't know where the line should be drawn in regard to how aggressively Wonder Woman defends the rights of women.

My own observation is that Wonder Woman probably ought to leave alone real-world issues like the Thai sex trade and the way women are treated by Islamic extremists. That would be as pointless as having Superman capture Osama bin Laden. It might be a cathartic story to tell, but it would ultimately make the DC Universe unrelatable. In an attempt to make comics more relevant, the ironic result would be that they'd become less so.

But there's another Mission that Wonder Woman has that's not only relevant, but has the advantage (for an ongoing series) of being never ending. And it all has to do with this confidence thing. In her post that originally got me thinking about all of this, Ragnell says that "Wonder Woman is supposed to already be the woman other women in fiction learn to be." And that's the Mission, folks. She's the woman that all women want to be. She's the role model.

I'm gonna skip ahead in my chronological examination of Wonder Woman comics and mention Will Pfiefer's fill-in issue between Allan Heinberg and Jodi Picoult's runs. It's a simple, stand-alone tale that was unfortunately overlooked by many in anticipation of seeing what Picoult would do. But it's a beautiful story about the dramatic influence that Wonder Woman has on the lives of women she's never even met. They want to be stronger women thanks simply to the example Wonder Woman sets. She doesn't have to take down the Thai sex trade to fulfill her Mission in Man's World; she does it just by being who she is. If the Amazon's have a philosophy that needs sharing with humanity, it's not all that contradictory nonsense about peaceful warriors; it's that women can and should be strong, confident people. And Wonder Woman's here to show them how. And you don't have to make the comic about that all the time in order for it to be true. It's just background to whatever she's currently doing.

Back to how the comics went though.

In the end, it wasn't lack of clarity about the Mission that made me grow tired of Rucka's run. It was his slow, thoughtful plotting. There just weren't enough big moments in his early issues, which was sort of the opposite problem that I had with Jimenez's run. Somewhere in between is a balance. But more on that in a minute.

I got interested again in Wonder Woman in the build up to Infinite Crisis. DC started playing up the idealogical differences between Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, and Rucka was a huge part of making that happen. In a great issue of Adventures of Superman (written by Rucka), Wonder Woman made it clear that, unlike her male counterparts, she would be willing to kill if the need ever arose. I found that fascinating given the usual hardline, "no killing" policy most traditional superheroes take (antiheroes like the Punisher notwithstanding). I also found it profoundly believable considering that she's an Amazon warrior. Her opinions about execution and killing come from an entirely different place than ours and I loved that Rucka and DC were willing to explore that. And explore it they did just a little bit later when they had Wonder Woman kill Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman #219.

Suddenly I was entranced again and I've been hooked on Wonder Woman's story ever since. Allan Heinberg got off to a great start during his run by not only exploring the consequences of Maxwell Lord's murder, but by balancing Jimenez's big action with Rucka's personal drama. Unfortunately -- though I'm thrilled to have him involved with Gray's Anatomy -- other duties took precedence and he wasn't able to finish what he started.

Jodi Picoult's run, with the return to the fish-out-of-water version of Wonder Woman, was a disappointment. I quit buying it after the first issue of it, but writing these articles made we want to check it out again, if only to keep up with where the character is going, so I've gone back and caught up. It's less annoying than that first issue, but I'm still anxiously awaiting Gail Simone.

I'm trying not to put too much pressure on Gail to be awesome, but as I've said before, I have high hopes for her. I haven't read her take on the character, but she's too good a writer not to have one and I have faith that at heart, her Wonder Woman will be a continuation of the character who grew to maturity in Messner-Loeb's run and we saw in Jimenez's and Rucka's. I also know that Gail has the ability to tell a great adventure story while grounding it in human drama, so I'm not worried on that end either. After all: "She’s punching a monkey off a waterfall on page three."

Gail seems much more concerned with telling exciting stories about "the best goddamned warrior planet Earth has ever known" than she is about the Mission or the dichotomy between Peace and War or any of the headier stuff and that sounds exactly right to me. Jimenez and Rucka needed to explore that part of her to get her to where she is today, but that work's been done. It's backstory now and as long as it remains backstory, there's no need to go over it again. Wonder Woman's ready to punch monkeys (or air pirates, kangas, man-fish, seal men, or Christopher Columbus).

I'm sorry I never got to talking about the Justice League cartoons. That's going to require more research, but I'm at a point now where I'd love to do it. In writing this article, I learned that Greg Rucka doesn't care so much for that version of Wonder Woman, so I'm curious to balance his opinion with Siskoids (who rightly thinks that Wonder Woman was generally done correctly in the JLA comic) and see what I think.

As for Black Canary and Rogue: that'll be a separate post altogether. I'm done analyzing Wonder Woman for a while. I just want to be able to enjoy her adventures now.

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