Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Heart All Star Superman

I recently got my hands on a copy of the Absolute Edition of DC's All Star Superman.

Man, I love this comic.

Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely and inked & colored by Jamie Grant (all from Scotland, btw), this book sums up so much of what I love about Superman comics.  To see it in DC's deluxe Absolute format, with the pages blown up to almost the size of the original art, and to really soak in Grant's exquisite colors...  its just a huge pleasure to see story, art, form and function come together.



If you come to the book skeptical of Superman, there's nothing here to convince you away from your opinion.  But if you do like what's in the book, the important thing to know is that this isn't some wild departure Morrison has envisioned.  He's seamlessly echoing the types of stories you could read from the 50's - mid 80's (before the Byrne/ Wolfman "everyman" reinvention that also works, just differently), and adding very Morrison-ish bits that, on reflection, aren't so different from the wild stories that spawned Superman walking around with a lion's head, Bizarro, as king of the ant aliens, etc...  Morrison even has down Silver-Age Superman's always-understated way of dealing with the uncanny and bizarre.

The plot is basically this:  Superman learns that a recent trip to the sun is leading to his death.  And the events that lead up to his last moments.


I often actually wonder if modern readers who picked up the series understood what Morrison was doing.  I suspect most didn't get the careful blend of new and old, the asides (like Lois wondering if Superman was playing yet another massively elaborate prank on her), characters like Samson and Atlas showing up to woo Lois...  and all done with a mostly straight face.

A lot of people ask "who is the mask?  Superman or Clark?" And we know the 1980's told us Superman was just an outfit a farmboy from Kansas put on, but we also know that prior to 1985, this wasn't so much the case.  It was Superman in a disguise, an alien wanting to be human, to fit in and have friends in a way that nobody would question if he were green and had antennas as "the alien".

Like all outsiders, Superman is an observer and does comment upon us.  But when he's himself, and is confident in his Superman-ness (and not given to plodding, heaped upon "flaws" and "insecurities") its not that he's too perfect, its that he can be... alien.  "Yes, I will fly into the corona of the sun and save the space crew" is something Superman and no other character can say, and there's something amazing about that certainty when you see it done up right.  But at that point, you kind of have to forget about Superman as a man, or as a character one relates to, and look at him as something else entirely.

Certainly, that complicates the character.  But its also something, I suppose, a reader is either comfortable with or not.  Alien-ness does not preclude character, nor does it preclude character interaction, development, etc...



Clark isn't, as Tarantino would suggest, what Superman thinks of us.  But as Clark he does appear so very human, and in Quitely's depiction, its the best argument for how nobody would ever guess, that we can see the value of the Kent identity, all the more shocking when its stripped away to reveal the "S" beneath.  And, of course, Morrison and Quitely work in site gag after sight gag as "Clark" saves people without them noticing, and shouting at Clark for his oafishness.  Its a brilliant little addition from the spirit of the Donner movies more than the comics. 

This book doesn't address the question of "can you relate?", which I find a loaded question.  But the characterization returns to form with the stoicism of the 1950's and 60's (and which Reeves and Routh portray in the movies), and I actually quite like that granite stillness in the face of chaos. 

Which is why Morrison's Lex, and his monologuing in episode 5, "The Gospel According to Lex", flips the tables and is so compelling (and why Lex becomes increasingly fascinating for adult readers, leading to his role as the featured character in the current run of Action Comics).  What's more compelling to the reader once labels of "good guy" and "bad guy" are stripped away?  The self-made genius billionaire with endless ambition, or the alien with the true moral compass and bullet-proof skin?



In many ways, to me, and I realize this is only me...  If I'm looking for someone to observe through, its the alien who is watching and trying to help, not the unbridled ambition blaming some outside force for his failures.  At the end of issue 5, Superman/ Clark breaks and pleas with Lex for sanity, and is dismissed (the story also suggests Lex likes Clark, which is...  interesting).  Lex could have been so much more (Superman is, after all, good friends with Batman).

I haven't finished re-reading the book, but it did strike me how much the success of All Star Superman paved the way for today's post-Infinite Crisis continuity interpretation of the character.  Lex as both mad scientist and billionaire, the return of the whimsy and "anything goes" attitude of the books, reintegration of the Legion...  all these things.

And, of course, Morrison gives us a Lois that a Superman, an alien who can see his own cellular mitosis and burn holes in mountains by peering at them, can love.  Its up there with Kidder and Neil as live action Lois, with Waid's firebrand Lois...

And, of course, Morrison saved Jimmy Olsen.  With issue #4's tribute to the best Jimmy Olsen stories...  man.

The book is out as two paperbacks, and I can't really recommend them enough.

Now that DC sounds like they're wrapping up Superman's cross-country trek a bit early (or differently), and the New Krypton story is done, maybe its time to return to Metropolis and take a page directly from Morrison.  Its hard not to believe Paul Cornell, handling Lex in Action, isn't already headed this direction.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sort of what I'm Up to

In my head, this just improved Santa 1,000,000 percent
From Comic Alliance

I'm doing my last bit of traveling for 2010 and am attending a conference in Houston.  Lots of nice folks doing interesting stuff in libraries.

In a lot of ways, traditional public and academic libraries are likely behind corporate entities who have been struggling with business needs issues for decades in data management and deep storage.  In an institution such as a library that is asked to store literally anything that it is handed (and make it available to the world on demand), that management becomes a complex issue.  Its not enough just to have the item, but that item has metadata around it that describes the item.  The web's half-baked manner of tagging, keywords, etc... kind of works, but its not useful for preservation, curation, true findability and longterm use and storage.  Ie:  Its not enough to just have the thing and have it sitting on a server where Google might find it anymore than a traditional library would be terribly useful without a card catalog.

So.  Anyway, that's some of what I work on most days.  And its pretty focused at this conference.

The big challenge (not one that really falls into my jurisdiction) will be the mad scramble for the next few decades to turn paper into 0's and 1's, describe it and make it available.  Its one thing to have... stuff in a library, just sitting in a box or on a shelf.  Its quite another to imagine actually dealing with every page, every picture, every...  everything that can be in even the smallest library.  Not to mention trying to wrangle the brand new stuff created everyday and all the stuff that's deteriorating on shut-down hard drives, etc..  that never really existed as paper created in the past 20 years.

Its...  a big task.  So be nice to your local archivist, digital librarian, metadata librarian, what-have-you.

My part is the fun part, and that's working with these folks and trying to provide them with solutions, support, tools, etc...  And finding new opportunities for researchers to work together and find one another's work thanks to TECHNOLOGY.

Also, the catering at this thing was really good.  I confess to liking prosciutto more than I ought.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Here's Some Dapper Folks Enjoying the Holidays

I'm off in Houston and busy, so here's some pics of the office holiday party at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Don and Peggy ponder the meaning of the holidays
This makes me weep for myself when I ponder the office parties and lack thereof at my different employers

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Parents! Don't Forget! December 5th is Krampus Day!

Parents, we all knows kids become a bit wily around the Holidays.  The lights, the sugar, the TV specials, the promise of presents...  Really, who can blame them?

But that doesn't mean you can't use a little good old fashioned Old School Eastern European terror to keep the tykes focused.

And that's why I'm encouraging you:  hey, this year, why not try Krampus?

Ah, the rattling of chains, the frightened screams of children...  It must be Christmas!
I covered Krampus a bit last year at LoM, but as the Holidays approach, it occured to me that I had some ideas about how Krampus could fit into the Yuletide season.  Originating out of Austria and Hungary (I guess), Krampus is a traditional holiday character who arrives in tandem with St. Nick before the holidays as a reminder of the horrific fate that befalls the kids on the naughty list.  Not a lot of shades of gray in Eastern European Christmas.

I'm just saying, when it comes time for encouraging good vs. bad behavior, sometimes kids need as much stick as they need carrot.  And sometimes that incentive for good behavior is the promise of getting smacked with chains and birch branches should your moody twerp of a kid act up.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weird World of Jimmy Olsen: And then there was that time Olsen was responsible for the death of thousands

edit note:  special apologies to Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin, who I belive is the originator of the "And then there was that time..." series of comics posts.

Holy smokes.

So over the Thanksgiving holiday I ran by Austin Books' Sidekick Store.  The ABC Sidekick Store is an outlet that opens only when the Comic Gods (Brad, I guess, who would look sharp in Sun God robes), consult the star charts and tea leaves and make decrees such as "Yea, in the days following the eating of the Turkey, we shall open the doors and release upon the public a torrent of $1 back issues".  Fortunately for me, some kids of days-of-yore didn't take good care of their Jimmy Olsen comics, and there's often some issues that I don't have, or if I do have them they ones here are sort of in "dollar" shape, so I'll grab a "reader" copy while I'm picking up Superman back issues (usually from the Bronze Age).

Yes, I am the guy buying those comics.

And so it was that I found myself  reading Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #120 over the weekend.

The feature story was about how Superman, for no particular reason, propagated a misconception that Jimmy had obtained "Hyper-Strength", which led to Jimmy believing he had accidentally killed Perry White (who wasn't really Perry, but Superman in disguise.  Back in the day, it was all about disguises. I have no idea what issues editor Mort Weisinger was working through, but they were many). And, as always, Jimmy refused to learn anything from Superman's chicanery.

In the 8 page back-up story?  Jimmy kills 2200 people and calls it a "boo-boo".  I am totally not kidding.

In this tale, Superman is duped into looking in other eras, but Jimmy tracks The Climate King to 1889 (yes, the year), where the Climate King is wreaking general mayhem.  Olsen and the Climate King tussle, Jimmy steals a "Sun Wand" from CK (basically a laser), the beam of which goes astray, knocking over a dam. 

Which leads to the following:

Oops, Jimmy!  Ha ha ha!  ...hey, wait a minute...

For those of you who didn't bother to read the panels, what's been clearly stated is that Jimmy Olsen caused the Johnstown Flood of 1889.  According to Wikipedia (that has no real motivation to lie), the flood killed 2200 people and did untold damage.  The place even has its own National Park.  And here's an article.

And here, gentle readers, is where our story ends.
 
That's it.  That's all she wrote.  After that is an ad for a toy car, some fan letters, a half-baked humor strip called "Ollie", ads for Sgt. Rock and Batman in Brave and the Bold, an ad for a submarine toy, an ad for fake mustaches (I have no idea), and the back cover selling you 100 Toy Soldiers for $1.25 (which, even in 1969 dollars, seems like a steal).

By today's standards, that page alone would be a summer cross-over and three-year-in-the-making event, with the scenes of the 4 panels above spreading out over at least three issues.  But back in the day, you could kill 2200 people and be reasonably certain that it just wasn't going to be mentioned ever again.  I assume Jimmy was home by supper and slept like a baby.

I know the Comics Code Authority had their hands full and likely didn't keep a World Book Encyclopedia handy, but the mind boggles. 

Most curious is that there's no reaction seen by Superman to the news that his "Pal" has been uncovered the the source of a terrific tragedy.  Is he giving an "aw shucks" smile?  Is he staring on in horror, knowing that he has no ability to change the course of history? Was life really that cheap in Metropolis in 1969?  Was Superman covering Jimmy's tracks?  Was there a philosophical "no fault if you're in the past, sorry about that butterfly" rule in effect?

Just when I think I'll see nothing new in a Jimmy Olsen comic...

My Spidey is on Broadway

Things I think are an okay idea:

1)  Broadway musicals
2)  The music of U2 up to Zooropa (but, really, not much since then.  Sorry, Bono)
3)  Spider-Man
4)  Magic tricks on stage

The combination of these things...?

I cannot say if this is either really great or really terrible

In the case of the soon-to-premiere Spider-Man themed live-action stage musical Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, we're getting a singing, dancing Wall Crawler and Mary Jane Watson led by a director with what seems like an increasingly Ahab-esque desire to recreate special effects usually seen only in movies (and thanks to CG, at that), and who, apparently, is figuring out that in order to do the things Spider-Man does in the comics and movies, one would need the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider.  Us mere mortals tend to break.

Our own Horus Kemwer suggested this NYT article as blog fodder, and its an interesting read.

I'll be honest:  I don't care if the Spider-Man musical succeeds of fails.  I do want it to succeed, because, hey...  I like for people to have jobs and whatnot.  But...  I don't really have a dog in this fight.

  • I like Spider-Man in general, but have been off the character since the 1-2 punch of Spider-Man 3 and One More Day.*  
  • I like movie musicals and the (better staged) musicals I've seen on stage**.  
  • I am not enamored of U2 in the way the producers seem to have bought into.  
  • And, frankly, I've found the early looks at the costumes of the villains that I've seen (they kept Spidey's classic reds and blues), pretty much exactly why comic fans cringe when they hear the phrase "re-imagining". But the fact that the Sinister Six seems to at least get alluded to in the commercial for the show wins me over a bit.
  • It would be sort of interesting to see Spidey beat back the doom-sayers

Here's that commercial:



As a side bar, after growing up reading Spidey, my first thought when I hear "lavish Broadway musical" is the inevitable jab they would have done in the comics showing Peter Parker unable to afford getting into see a musical based on a fictionalized version of his own story, and, should he get in, being fairly embarrassed of a singing, dancing version of himself.  I can almost see the "Oh, brother!" thought bubble now.

The play has had a widely publicized and troubled past, including cast injuries, a complete lack of money, dead producers, very public rehearsals that went supposedly pretty badly, reportedly complicated and oft-failing wire work, a spot on the Today Show that went over like a lead balloon, and costumes that left many scratching their heads (not Spidey, btw.  He looks like Spidey). 

Its not that the costumes are, as my officemate pointed out, any sillier than the original Green Goblin costume.  But as has always been the case with the movie and television adaptations, there's a certain...  irregard for the source material that's just part and parcel of people who aren't fans adapting the comics to other media. 

oh boy
And there's this:

“What I really wanted to do, and what the ‘Spider-Man’ movies and comics haven’t done, is go to this absolutely fantastical, mythic place that is out of time, somewhere between reality and the dream world,” she said.
(cough)  (crickets)

Oooooookay.

"Making it dreamlike", "mythic" and "fantastical" is (a) not what Spider-Man is about as a character -but, hey, its your show, (b) I assure you, they've gone there already dozens of times before in comics, cartoons, etc... and (c) be careful that "dreamlike" isn't a dodge for "wow, this is a muddled, goofy-looking mess". 

According to early reviews of the show from preview night, unfortunately,the show may tilt toward option C.  The notes suggest that the show is far from ready and that the vaunted flying FX?  Pretty much what you see at Cirque (which...  I saw one Cirque show but my memories are hazy).
At the end of the day, a DOA Spidey musical won't tank Julie Taymor or even really Spider-Man, in any meaningful way.  Its just the umpteenth non-invested creator deciding "I know better than the people who make the comics and movies, the fans of the material, and if this fails, its 'cause comics/superheroes are dumb".   And in a recent 60 Minutes story, Taymor and company come off as a bit defensive and its not too early to start seeing the finger pointing at an audience who will not "get" Taymor's vision.

What's funny about Broadway is that as much as comics have fanboys, so too does the Great White Way.  Surely they don't think of it as such, anymore than Fantasy Football fans think of themselves as playing Dungeons & Dragons with football stats, but there's also an appreciation for the specialties of the theater, a differing perspective, etc... and   I foresee a lot of rationalizing and posturing around the "magic" of the show and the uncultured masses who can't appreciate legitimate theater (which has varying levels of truth). 

Spider-Man is bigger than any single piece here in a way that's going to be treading into new territory for all involved (possibly even U2).  In some odd ways, its going to be two geek audiences going head-to-head.  Spidey fans and the general audience don't care if Julie Taymor made Lion King a puppet show or not, just as its not on the docket for theater-lovers to care about 40-odd years of Spider-Man comics. 
So, look...  I'm never going to get to Broadway to see this show.  Even if I were in NYC, there's nothing that says I can afford to see a show at $100 a ticket.  As of today, its unlikely the show can travel, given the technical challenges.  So let's call it a draw.

Frankly, I choose to invest my excitement in the Batman Live Arena Show.  Sure, its a show aimed at 5-year-olds and their parents, but its also most definitely going to be BATMAN, its likely to come to Texas, and nobody will care if I'm eating an enormous pretzel and drinking a Coke while watching Batman punch the Penguin in his smug little face***.  I can expect a Batmobile, explosions, Bat-villains and all other forms of Bat-Malarkey.  Not what Bono and Julie Taymor decided to do after seeing the movie poster for the 3rd movie and catching part of the first movie on an airplane.

But, you know, I also genuinely hope that this Spider-Man play will be good and make a fortune. Because, seriously, that would be the greatest stunt of all.

Bonus Link:  A Quick Look at Previous Attempts at Superhero Musicals

*and there's a whole other post in here somewhere about how Spider-Man has succeeded in reaching the cyclical state of icon-hood that DC deals with every day and how Marvel is fumbling that ball
**I have only seen one musical actually on Broadway, and only a handful of touring productions
*** this same scenario involves Jamie buying a glow necklace and a giant foam finger reading "Batman #1!"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP: Leslie Nielsen Merges with the Infinite

The New York Times is reporting that movie legend (in my book, anyway, and I will fight you if you say otherwise), Leslie Nielsen, has passed at the age of 84.

It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside.
It's not much of an anecdote, but the first movie to ever literally make me fall out of my chair laughing was The Naked Gun.  I don't even remember exactly what scene took the cake, but I remember being in middle school at the Arbor Cinema and Lt. Frank Drebin was the funniest thing I'd ever seen (it was likely the scene where Drebin breaks into Ricardo Montalban's penthouse). 

Anyway, what I truly remember is finding myself having doubled over and the slid right out of my chair.  Always interesting when you find out a figure of speech has a basis to it.  But that's exactly the kind of movie it is (when you're 13), and that's the kind of effect Nielsen's delivery had on me.

The great thing about Nielsen was that he seemed like the straight man, but whether as Drebin, Dracula or Dr. Rumack, he got the best dialog and he delivered it with aplomb.

Frank: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

Jane: Goodyear?

Frank: No, the worst.
The Arbor Cinema has since been replaced by a Cheesecake Factory, and the third Naked Gun movie was, frankly, not great, but a generation of people grew up believing you need to be able to deliver ridiculous dialog with a completely straight face and tough guy demeanor.

And somewhere along the line, some kids might decide they'd rather be a Frank Drebin than a Magnum PI or whatever.  I'm just saying.



I am, also, of course, a huge fan of the movie Airplane! (and its sequel), and even as a pretty small kid thought "that doctor guy is awesome".  Nielsen played Dr. Rumack, who somehow either had the best lines or the best timing in the movie.  Who else could sell "and don't call me 'Shirley'"?



In college I finally ventured to the Paramount one balmy summer evening to see Forbidden Planet.  After having had grown up with Nielsen as a comedic actor, I was suprised to find him as the leading male star of the science fiction classic.  Every day when I pass down my stairwell, I pass under the movie poster from Forbidden Planet and Nielsen's name. 



One highlight of living in the greater Phoenix area was that I believe Nielsen appeared on local safety commercials.  I have no idea why Leslie Nielsen and Alice Cooper were teaming up to appear in these ads, but it was always a treat to see the guy show up on TV, clearly enjoying goofing around in the name of safer driving.

I am, of course, very sad to know that Nielsen has passed, but he left a terrific bunch of movies and TV shows behind (if you've never seen Police Squad!, the show that started the Naked Gun series, I highly recommend). 

Let's bid a great actor adieu.  Surely, he will be missed.