Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Kind of Hate this Idea - High School Batman

iO9 posted concept art from a never-developed cartoon idea about "what if Gotham was a high school, and all the villains just people in a high school?  And Bruce the dreamy, broody guy?"

Lately, pretty much any alternate version of any familiar comic property dreamt up on DeviantArt gets big props from the online comics community, and I'm not surprised that a show that hits as many notes of popular generic media spliced with something as popular as Batman is getting oohs and aahs. 

this is funny for as long as it takes for you to figure who is what dumb TV high school stereotype
I LOVE Batman stuff that's for kids, so that's not what I think I dislike.  So much of the high school stuff in comics (and there's a ton of it) feels more like an idea of high school that came from watching movies than from people who went to high school.  And/ or adults working out issues because they didn't feel cool enough in high school.  And there's so dang much of it.

I dunno.  It just seems kind of like trying to make Batman work in Mean Girls, and if you're going to do that, why not make it Batman in day care.  Or Batman in the old folks home.  Or Batman in the office.

But I also know: there's going to be a large fanbase that feels that DC totally missed the boat by not doing this. I semi-respectfully disagree.

I don't know exactly why I'm not crazy about this.  If anyone wants to speculate, we have a comments section.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm glad that DC went with The Brave and the Bold, instead.  And not just because B: B&B has a rocking theme song.

The Frontier is Everywhere

This is not official NASA work. This is a NASA fan film.

And it encapsulates exactly why I believe in a space program by the people and for the people.

iPhone comes to Verizon

It looks like iPhone is finally coming to Verizon in February. I am not one who cares all that much as I haven't drunk the Kool-Aid on Apple product, but it's nice to have the option. Its time for my upgrade, and I am well aware that the iPhone has a lot more apps, etc...

Really, part of me wants to get an Android just so I can give that blank look to Apple-Zombies when they start insisting I've made the wrong choice. I confess, that look of anxiety and consternation I get in reply is just really gratifying.

Verizon's announcement page.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Action Comics #900 (900!) Variant Cover by Alex Ross

complete with "guy freaking out in the corner".

If you've been to my living room, you'll have seen prints by Alex Ross up on the walls and a framed copy of Superman #680 by the door.  I'm a fan of Mr. Ross' work.

While I enjoy the heck out of retold versions of the Superman story, there's something kind of astounding about Superman's appearance in Action Comics #1.  In 1938, some gangsters are kidnapping a reporter, driving crazy, basically just to throw their weight around, and suddenly their car is stopped by a man.  Stopped.  By.  A.  Man.

He tosses the car around, bullets do no harm, and he quickly dispatches the crooks and gently reassures the shaken reporter.

Its the sort of thing that puts the world on notice: from now on, everything is going to be different.

The reporter, of course, is Lois Lane: utterly fearless and already in trouble because she told a mob boss to take a hike when he made "romantic" overtures (she, of course, has no idea a Superman exists and would pull her fat out of the fire when she's getting in the mob boss's grill).

One of the things the comics have forgotten how to do is remind the reader of the wonder of a Man of Steel.  If the story is told from the perspective of Superman, then we forget that what's happening here is being told because its so unique and crazy in our world (there's a whole argument for why Clark Kent is important to Superman that fits in there).  And one of the things I like about the work of Ross is that his style puts these things into a context of a world where you can see how the world would be effected.  Ehen he drops his superheroes into the middle of a Rockwell-eqsue watercolor of the world, we can understand just what sort of feeling it would be to see a Superman chuck a sedan fifty feet into the air.

Provided our gunman isn't insane, we know he's doing some quick algebra in his head, because he's seeing something new and immense and serious and it is coming right for him (and killing that guy... its just going to provoke this thing all the more).

The phrase "adolescent power fantasy" gets thrown around a lot.  And that's fine.  Whatever gets people through the night.  It was the vision of two teenagers imagining a world in which a person has the power to not be cowed by the guns or brute force of those who would do harm to others, no matter their number, that gave way to Superman.  And the American ideal of the super-hero.  And I like the idea that if when we're blessed with the ability to help, we do so.

Also, I just like seeing Superman chuck a car and the guy freaking out in the corner.

Action Comics #900 is an amazing milestone.  900 issues since 1938.  The comic should arrive in April or early May with, I'd guess, a few options for covers. 

Go Ducks!

I am rooting for the Oregon Ducks in the 2010-2011 BCS  Championship Game.  That's just how I roll.

That two-point conversion was just kind of awesome, btw.

Just wanted to make that clear here before the end of the game.

For historical purposes, when I'm looking back at posts, they were playing Auburn, about which I have no particular feelings, positive or negative.

post game edit:   You can't say Oregon didn't give Auburn a good game or that they didn't have a great season.  Way to go, Ducks! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back from Sub-Diego - I read a lot

In the Aquaman comics from around 2004, the waterfront of San Diego was somehow cleaved from the shoreline and plunged into the ocean.  The populace that survived the incident were turned into water-breathing folks, like Aquaman's peeps, the Atlanteans.  Aquaman came to the rescue, and became the hero of Sub-Diego (get it?).

Unfortunately, the writers on the book took way too long to explain what the heck had happened and why, and what started off as a great story idea fizzled, was canceled and subducted into continuity oblivion by 2006's Infinite Crisis event (which also killed Aquaman and led to the very confusing and not all that interesting follow up with Aqua-Knight/ Fake Aquaman/ Who Approved This?).

Anyway, that's what I think of when I stand near the water in San Diego.  Also: oh, look, a sea gull.

I do not have the romantic attachment to San Diego that folks in Arizona had.  It was where everybody went the minute they had a day off.  There's no real equivalent for Texans, who hold their own beaches in semi-contempt, and who generally look down their nose at each others' cities (sorry, Amarillo).  And there certainly anything in Texas that looks like San Diego, although you can certainly see certain architectural similarities between the all-recent construction in San Diego and the more recent sky-riser condos here in town.  They all have that "this is shiny and looks like it was deigned on a computer!" feel to the architecture that I suspect we'll find regrettable in another 20 years or so.

That said, I do not dislike San Diego.  Its nifty.  Its clean and pretty.  It has a lot to offer and it looks expensive as @#$% to live there.

Anyway, I presented at a conference on Saturday, and I guess it went well.  Aside from that, there wasn't much to do.  I kind of walked around, but wasn't feeling very touristy.  So I wound up watching the Texas A&M game, read two graphic novels and the better part of two books.

I read the first volume of DC's Brightest Day, and kept thinking "I shouldn't be enjoying this".  Its kind of silly, it manages to set up a whole bunch of plot in a clumsy fashion and introduces ideas that I'm not sure I care all that much about, but...  I actually liked it quite a bit.  I'm a big Martian Manhunter fan from way back, I like how Johns handles Hawkman and Hawkwoman and their convoluted history, etc...  And I try to read anything with the Jason Rusch version of Firestorm (which I never thought got a fair shake when DC tried so hard with that series about 6 years ago).

Aside from that first shot at what looked like a neat run on Aquaman (see above), I've not been a huge fan of the comic or character.  I just never found a hook.  But I kind of like what Johns and Tomasi seem to be doing with the King of the Seas.  Sure, its not as straight up FUN as the Brave and the Bold version, but please, somebody at DC get Aquaman figured out.  And none of this magical water-hand or hook-hand hoo-ha.  Just...  Aquaman.  And that's what this first volume of Brightest Day seems to be offering up (and I like Mera, who has usually stood around like vermicelli more than a character)

And like most Johns and Tomasi stuff, it seems like its actually going somewhere, which is not what I'd necessarily say about a lot of series.  Sure, its a little aggravating that the White Ring won't just lay out its plans, and instead is being all elliptical and messing with Boston Brand and whatnot, but...  you kind of get the feeling that it'll be worth the payoff.

I am not reading every single tie-in.  I'll read stuff I'm already reading, but DC is not going to be able to convince me that buying Titans is a good idea.  And as little heat as its generating, I don't see me reading JLA: Generation Lost, either (because, man...  I was kind of done with Maxwell Lord as soon as Diana enabled him to see where he'd been, if you get my drift).

If the creative team on Wonder Woman can get Diana squared away (and that seems increasingly possible), this is the first time in  25 years I can think of that the Original 7 of the JLA have been able to walk into a room and look one another in the face (just when Barry shows up, J'onn and Bruce got taken out).  There's just so much potential there, and its potential I think DC squandered multiple times over the years - most recently by demonstrating that they didn't understand what Meltzer was doing with the JLA either strategically within the DCU or from a character standpoint.

In fact, I'm kind of looking forward to a DCU that seems geared toward trying, if even for a short while, to have the most recognizable versions of their properties in one place at the same time.  Sure, change is the thing that makes the world go round, but it would be nice to see the main continuity find a way to work in an epic age for itself where the characters were the idealized versions of themselves, just for a while.

No secret, I love the DCU, and I always will.  But I also no longer feel like I need to buy everything DC puts out there.  When you don't see editorial working to make sure their properties the best they can be, I don't feel the urge as a reader or consumer to participate.  Somehow Johns (and Tomasi, increasingly) almost always makes me feel like I am getting somebody's best effort, and the effort of someone who cares more deeply about doing right by the characters than putting his stamp on that character.  That stamping part just comes naturally, in a way that I think you could almost say reminds me of how the stable of 70's and 80's-era DC writers made it work.  I'm thinking of guys like Paul Kupperberg, Elliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, and even Marv Wolfman.  Only, you know, its Johns, so you tend to see a lot more disembowelings (Mr. Johns will one day learn that you don't need to actually show the disembowelings, you can just mention that they happened). 

I also read a Greatest Batgirl Stories Ever Told collection, and it was really, really fun.   Some of its a bit dated, some of it isn't.  Aside from the original origin story, everything in it was new to me (bot not necessarily news to me), so I finally got to read the story of how Babs got sent to Washington to hold elected office.*

Also reading a good chunk of a collection called Lone Star Noir, which is a collection of crime stories written about various locales here in Texas.  I admit I jumped ahead and read the Austin section.  The stories are, admittedly, hit-or-miss, but its interesting reading.

And I'm plowing through book 4 of the Parker Novels by Richard Stark (aka: Donald Westlake), The Mourner.  It's tough to know what to say about it other than: that is most definitely a Parker novel. Dude likes to hit people with guns.

But I'm back!  And now it slate and I should probably just go to bed.

*a bit odd reading that on the day Rep. Gloria Giffords of Tucson was shot, I confess

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Statesman's Own Perry White

My hometown paper is, was and always will be The Austin American-Statesman.  Its called The Statesman in town, and, aside from the masthead, rarely will you hear anyone call it by its full name.  I grew up reading The Statesman, and to the annoyance of some roommates, even during college I often had a subscription.  And when I didn't, I picked it up off the rack at the grocery or corner store. 

Trends change.  These days I only get the weekend/ holiday edition.  Facts are facts.  I read my news online.  Heck, I read the above the fold stories on my BlackBerry walking in from the parking garage some days.  But I do read The Statesman.com almost every day.  And they've gotten very good at social media and finding you where you are already, be it email, Twitter, etc...

Certainly Austin is not alone in civic pride, or finding success for news outlets that have realized that the changes in news delivery due to the power of the internet mean a local focus can be quite powerful.  The past few years The Statesman has really embraced those ideals.  But I only thought about that as a consumer of news.  I never thought about who was making those decisions, or what was happening in the newsroom.

It seems that a lot of that effort has been thanks to Michael Vivio, the publisher who has been at the helm of The Statesman the past few years.  I suggest reading Vivio's good-bye column at Statesman.com.  Well, Vivio now has a fan for life.  In his column, he says:
A lesson learned: Countless times during the last two and a half years, I have reminded our people that Superman was a reporter as a way to focus thought on the value of our mission. It may seem like a trivial comparison, but the point I try to make is that the same motivation that powered Superman — the pursuit of truth, justice and the American way — is the very reason why we must find a way to survive in this changing media world. It motivated us to succeed because what we do matters.
During my tenure, we exposed corruption, sought truth from politicians and protected the public from faulty products. Along the way, we hopefully entertained people and made them think.
I am proud that the employees of this newspaper stayed focused on that mission during my tenure. And I know they will not lose that focus when I am gone.
 A regular Perry White, this guy.  Only, you know, without reporters turning in stories about how a magical artifact turned them into a 50-story Turtle Man.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'm Going to California for the weekend.

I'm leaving on a plane tomorrow and going to San Diego for a few days for work.

This means I will be in contact in only spotty bursts and may or may not post or answer questions or respond to comments or whatever.

really looking forward to watching the News 4 team

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I was a DCU Online MMORPG Beta-Tester (and it was awesome)

For years and years, DC Comics and Sony Online Entertainment have been working to build a Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game.  I think I first heard about the game circa 2006, and its been a moving target for me to try to synch up buying a new computer and figuring out what the system requirements would be for the game.

At any rate, just about the time I got the computer I'm currently using, I received an email informing me that the beta-program I'd signed up for was including me in their beta-test group.  Ie:  I would get to play the DCU Online game for free for a while and submit feedback.

I also had to sign an NDA.  Basically, nobody wanted me complaining online about issues the game would no longer have by release day.  And, I assume, they didn't want me talking too much about the storylines, etc...

I'll try not to spoil the game too much, but I will share the storyline that sets things in motion:

In the not too distant future of the DCU, the heroes and villains are locked in an epic, final battle.

oh, wait.  DC made an amazing video opening for the game that sets it all up:

If you didn't just watch the above video... I cannot help you.

Anyway, future-Luthor has returned to the past to release exobytes, a sort of nanotechnology which give an extraordinary number of people superpowers in the hopes that when Brainiac attacks, the Earth can repel the assault.

You get to design your character from a large menu of choices, including:

  • Hero or Villain
  • Mentor (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Luthor, Joker, Circe)
  • Powers
  • Weapon/ Attack
  • Costume (body type, "skins", hair, costume parts, colors, etc...)
  • Movement type (Acrobatics, Superspeed, Flight)
And likely other stuff I'm not thinking of.

My only real point of comparison is City of Heroes, which I played for a while circa 2004 or 2005.  I am not a gamer, and I assume that's part of the attraction of a DC Comics-based MMORPG for Sony Online.  Its almost impossible for me to envision wanting to play other games, but to at least try the DC game?  I had to.

The gameplay is actually easier than I first believed, and I assume for PS3 Players and folks not on a laptop, it will be even smoother.  I don't know what I liked better about the controls than CoH, but it did seem like I was hunting and pecking a lot less on the keyboard and fights were dictated far less about button mashing and more about good allocation of energy points, etc... (which you burn up when at different rates when you use different powers).

Movement takes only a short time to master, and unlike CoH, you start off with one of three movement types that makes getting around the absolutely enormous cityscapes a blast all on its own.  Its a lot of fun to walk out of the police stations and jump up the wall like Nightwing or lift into the air like Superman (especially if you gave your character a cape).

Character Design screen

All that is great, but to some degree, City of Heroes obviously went into that territory to one degree or another.  What makes the game fun for someone like myself is that it is EXACTLY the DCU.  All players start off on one of Brainiac's ships, having just escaped imprisonment.  You fight your way off the ship, learning how to use your powers, etc...  thanks to clues on the screen and instructions from either Oracle (if you're a good guy) or The Calculator (if you're a bad guy).  And the team-up factor so common to DC Comics is high.  Before you finish even that first level, you team up with either Superman or Luthor.  And that is awesome. 

My first post-escape mission for Cosmic Kid (the character I was playing with whom I got the farthest) was to deal with an invasion was to take on an invading Gorilla Army sent by Gorilla Grodd.

I mean:  how much more DC Comics can you get than "Grodd's invading forces need taking down" and then slugging it out with laser-toting gorillas and picking up "Incredibly Advanced Gorilla Technology" items as your loot?

Again, the city scapes are both amazing and dead-on to the spirit of the homes of Superman and Batman.  Metropolis is all shiny skyscrapers, and Gotham towering deco buildings with jutting gargoyles you can trod out upon and gaze down upon the city.  And the cities are both HUGE.  Its odd that you basically do learn the fake geography of an imaginary city a bit, as both are bigger than the city I currently live in. They have specific neighborhoods, amazing locations, etc... all which you can get an audio tour of, guided by the voice of Booster Gold.

You can also move around the JLA Satellite, which must have been a blast to design for somebody.

Speaking of voices:  The producers landed Mark Hamill for The Joker, Kevin Conroy as Batman, and other familiar voices for the other main characters (I think it must be Gina Torres voicing Wonder Woman, and it is perfect casting).  Its a huge kick to take marching orders from Batman as voiced by Conroy, and gives a sense of "authenticity" to the game that you were never going to get from City of Heroes.  

Most play takes place within missions (very DC-centric missions, at that).  Take on HIVE as they infiltrate the local sports stadium.  Fight Poison Ivy and her walking plant minions.  Lots of stuff like that, and all consistent in tone.  You can move between Gotham and Metropolis more or less at will depending on what missions are thrown your way.

Things I didn't like (some come with the caveat that this may be different in production versus beta):

Obviously there's a lot of people out there with (a) far more time on their hands than what I've got, who were dozens of levels above me, and (b) people starting with lots more experience in MMORPGs who seem to have a natural advantage starting.

from a "Magic" mission with Raven, Dr. Fate and Zatanna

I felt the costume selection was a bit limited in some respects, and certainly would have liked greater flexibility over body and face type.  City of Heroes had an amazingly powerful tool for this sort of character design, and it seems odd that DC, years later, is less flexible.  While I like Jim Lee's art as much as the next guy, you should be able to pick more than "child", "he-man" and "'roid-freak" for body types.  And not all women are a size "Power Girl".

During the last weeks of play, it seemed that it felt a bit less pointless to just fly around your respective city environment and "patrol". But it was odd that there was so little interaction with normal humanity.

In some ways, the game is a reflection and commentary upon the state of superhero comics.  Your character in the beta didn't have a civilian identity at all.  There was no moving back and forth, and while I understand nobody wants a superhero game where you switch to The Sims for part of your gametime, seeing the DCU only as a place where you look for brightly costumed people to smack around is likewise a bit too close to a self-referential comment upon what's demanded of and written into superhero narratives most weeks for my tastes.  While humanity does appear, its mostly as victims and screaming masses.  The same sorts of prop humans that appear in backgrounds of the average superhero comic, but to whom the characters in comics and game are in no real way, tied.

All that said, I had a great time beta-testing.  And even a good time seeing stuff I submitted turn into patches (a sure sign I was not alone in some of my issues).  I built an affinity for ol' Cosmic Kid (have a list of names ready to go when you finish character generation.  I did not), and I'm sad that it seems he's gone with the wind now that the beta test is over.

As you gain more powers as you progress, I grew to really like how the powers did seem to come from the comics.  One favorite thing I would do was use a sort of "flight tornado" to surround bad guys and bump them around until they got "knocked out".  While I know its just a game, somehow it felt more heroic to do that than to, say, hit citizens who'd been turned bad with magic or whatever, with a nuclear blast.

The bad guy missions, by the way, are hilariously evil.  And the game's voice overs go out of their way to make you want to do awful things to civilians.  Sure, you're turning co-eds into little purple monsters, but they're so annoying, they deserve it, right?

DC is launching a tie-in comic with the game, which I'll be reading.  And I guess they're putting out other merchandise, too.  The monthly fee and comic are plenty for me, thanks.

If anyone else plans to play, let me know!  Maybe we can have a superhero team-up!

Oh, and because you will ask:

  • You can't play your main character as an existing DCU Character, but you can play little arena matches as major characters.  I was Batman.  It was neat.
  • You can design characters based on existing DCU characters.  They provide optional templatized character designs to start off with.
  • In the beta, I never reached a point where I figured out how to wear a Superman shield.  Maybe in the regular game.  I've seen characters with the "S" in promotional images.
  • You do team-up with major characters at the conclusion of seemingly every major adventure.  At one point, I teamed up with all the Titans, which was neat.  
  • Yes, superfast people run straight up walls.  
  • The game is surprisingly good at not punishing you for falling off of things. 
  • Zatanna is in the game a lot, and her backwards dialog is a reversed WAV file, but it works
  • The game was funnier when they just had placeholder audio put there by programmers.  Nothing like hearing a programmer not-even-trying as Hawkman and sounding like he's at the bottom of a well
  • The Lanterns are treated like special snowflakes in the game, and I could never quite figure out what was going on with them.  
  • Power effects are varied and neat

No Post Thursday

Well, last night blogger was down and I really had nothing to report, anyway.

Here's an image promoting the upcoming Batwoman comic series from DC, which I believe starts in February. I am cautiously optimistic about the series.

If you have a chance, pick up Batwoman: Elegy, the stint of Detective Comics that recently starred Batwoman. The run was amazingly popular and that's what landed Kate Kane (aka: Batwoman) her own title.  Written by Greg Rucka and art by Newsarama fan-favorite artist of the year, JH Williams.

The title will have lots of creative input from JH Williams on writing, and on art.  Unfortunately, Rucka is working on independent projects and novels and will not be returning for the new series.  That does not mean I'm not looking forward to the series, because I absolutely am.  I'll just miss Rucka.