Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Goodnight Dune now a complete children's book

found by @chris_roberson

I think this looks about right for this crowd...

A while back I linked to an image that was a pretty clever idea/  just a joke called "Goodnight Dune".

Well, its the 2010's, so of course, somebody actually went and made it into a book.


I strongly suspect Harms will now wish he had children.

"The Rack" is Back?

Looks like our friends at webcomic The Rack might not have shut down after all, and that they may have just been on break.  Good news!

You may recall we eulogized the abrupt end to the series here a few weeks back.

Looks like the characters are set up in a new shop with a new focus.  Now may be a great time to jump on board.

Welcome back, Church and Birdie!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Taking a break

even Superman chillaxes every once in a while

I posted plenty over the weekend. Scroll down and catch up.  Feel free to send in questions.

Jane Russell Merges with the Infinite

It appears that film icon Jane Russell has passed at age 89. 

Russell is most famous for her roles in The Outlaw and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (I have only seen the latter).  Curiously, I only added The Outlaw to my Netflix queue on Saturday night while watching a different movie and wondering why I'd never seen The Outlaw, a movie that had censors and moral watchdog groups bleeding out of their eyes.

apparently being this much woman in 1943 was too much for some people
Russell's performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is every bit as good as that of Monroe, in my book.  Check her out in "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?"

Godspeed, Ms. Russell.

Quick follow up on Alison Brie post - Prosopagnosia

I have decided that I have a very limited form of a rare condition called Prosopagnosia that may or may not be directly Allison Brie related.  Apparently that's a condition where one has a hard time telling faces apart.

You can read up on the condition here.
So I've decided I'm not an idiot, and that its a genetic issue or some such.  I declare my Brie-blindness a medical condition. You now owe me sympathy or something.

Curiously, some of the photos one finds when Googling Alison Brie mean I will most definitely remember who she is a bit better.

Found this article courtesy the Twitter feed of artist/ writer Phil Jimenez. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Comic writers: The Moment you add "Dark" to the name of a character, you have failed

Chris Claremont gets the only exception to this rule.  He pioneered the "Dark" prefix to character names with "Dark Phoenix" during an era that wasn't so far gone from an era when Magneto self-identified his organization as The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  If it is 2011 and your character is suffering from a "Dark" prefix slapped onto their name, please turn in your keys, badge and gun.

I get that many comic readers get locked into ideas of "edgy" around the age of 13 and never let those ideas go.  And I get that many comic readers become comic writers.  What I don't get is the un-ironic use of "Dark" to describe a character, or when a character supposedly decides "you know what, I'm feeling moody.  I'm now Dark Steve."

The fact that I keep seeing references to a "Dark Supergirl" in the pages of JLA has leaped to the top of the reasons I will not pick up the current run by James Robinson.

so is that "Dark" Donna Troy laying there?
In the very specific case of Supergirl,we just got done with a multi-year run of pretty much a "dark supergirl" (that somehow managed to never call her "Dark" Supergirl).  Adding the prefix AND seeing her put on a black outfit and a sneer is, frankly, a wee bit redundant 

But, really, comics...  isn't this kind of the ultimate break in the "show don't tell" rule of writing?  Even if someone is a bit "edgier" or more prone to suddenly listening to Nu-Metal, is this the best way to convey that idea of character growth/ change?

I'm not against writers exploring characters going down some twisted alley ways, but if your median reading age for your title is over the age of 10, do we really need it spelled out?  Don't writers owe it to readers to at least try to show a small bit of subtlety?*

But, you know, at least I get the feeling there's some level of camp to Dark Supergirl.

Hey, did you know X-Men comics gave Wolverine a be-mohawked, tribal tattoo'd son?  Who, no doubt, listens to Korn?

he is to the 00's what Cable was to the 90's.  "Dark" Wolverine: in 2021, regret shall be thy name.
They did.  He isn't Wolverine Jr. or Son of Wolverine.  He's "Daken" (seriously) the "Dark Wolverine".  This character, from a third person perspective, is, of course, very silly.  I'm sorry.  He's a trainwreck of suburban white bread totems for edginess that you pick up in high school and feel a little silly about when old classmates start posting forgotten scanned pics to Facebook.

Here's Your Problem

Let's recall that it doesn't matter if we're talking about Ben Grimm or someone whose name is, quite literally "Victor Von Doom", every character believes that what they are doing is the right thing.  Every single one, going right back to old Lucifer thinking his management style was better than that of The Big Guy.  Every character (and actual person) is the hero in their own narrative.  And this is exactly why we find characters like Lex Luthor so compelling.  Every once in a while, Lex has a point. 

"Evil", on the other hand, is only a motivation in children's stories.  While comics come out of a kid-friendly environment, we can agree that the last time we pretended we were letting kids read any mainstream comics was probably 1997.  So the label of "Dark" is even... odder.  It would seem that's a pretty loud way of making your new intentions or motivations known.

And frankly, I find the superhero comics industry's insistence on using the term as baffling as why anyone would think adopting the lifestyle of a juggalo signaled anything but that you make poor choices.

Do comic writers embrace that their characters believe that what they're doing is the best or correct thing?  As a reader, if the characters consciously select the wrong/ evil option, then the character begins to lack motivation, and in fiction (as in life) motivation is usually a character's reason for existing.  "Dark" may be how someone else perceives your character, especially if that character has made some sort of transition.  But self-identifying seems a little tricky.

Moral ambiguity in the heroic tale

Readers of this site know that I am a fan of Superman, who, to the untrained eye, stands above all other characters in demonstrating the sharp relief of "good guy" versus "bad guy".  He's the original guy in a white hat. 

But liking Superman doesn't preclude some appreciation for interesting tales of moral ambiguity.  I'm also a fan of the world of film noir, in which moral absolutes dissolve in a glass of bourbon (only to be reinforced by Hayes Code-era approved endings), spaghetti westerns, crime novels, and roller derby.  And part of what's been interesting to me about Superman stories is that he's a character who was developed in and who lives in exactly that kind of messy world.

The point of our friend, Logan (the Original Wolverine) was that he was a hero in spite of his memory lapses, flaws, and extremely rough edges.  He was, in the 1980's, the epitome of "dark hero".  There's just such a hint of "yes, but this goes to 11" that goes from interesting to bad writing.

Nothing about the comics medium nor the genre of superhero stories should mean that we can't explore the idea of moral ambiguity or moral relativism.  Adult readers should be able to manage ideas that don't fall merely into camps of good vs. evil and bad vs. good slugging it out in the street.

Curiosly, I think we were a lot better about exploring these ideas and taking them to their logical extreme in the 1980's.  Moore's Watchmen more or less exemplified this sort of exploratory reasoning for the super-powered set (both literal to the story and figurative).

somebody's got to make the hard decisions
And yet not one character in all of Watchmen identified as "Dark". 

In many ways, I have to blame the fact that Miller entitled his similarly complex exploration of superhero as righteous fascist in Dark Knight Returns and two and a half decades later, the xerox-of-a-xerox-of-a-xerox leads us to iffy concepts of moral ambiguity like "Dark Wolverine" or campy problem children like "Dark Supergirl".

The Exceptions

In addition to Mr. Claremont's invention of "Dark Phoenix", there are three additional places the use of the word "dark" is appropriate.

1)  I think its likely okay to use "dark" in the title for a character, maybe.  Batman can continue to go by "The Dark Knight".  Its descriptive, and sounds more like a sports nickname a reporter might have assigned than his actual name.  One can imagine Batman reading the paper in the batcave, seeing a headline that says "Dark Knight Protects City" and thinking well, I'm not going to fight press like that.  That said, its hard to imagine another character with a similar title in this era.  But Batman gets a pass. Batman will, rightly, always get a pass.

2)  If that was the character's name to start off with, indicating "hey, I'm a shadowy guy/ gal.  The whole 'Darkhawk' thing is meant to be spooky to begin with."  Its still a little hokey, but its the name.  We'll go with it.  But keep in mind, you're now in the company of "Darkwing Duck".

yes, this duck is strangely bad-ass
3)  This isn't actually a naming convention, but clearly, only Gail Simone understands how unintentionally hilarious the word "dark" has become, creating the battle cry for D-list new character "Misfit".  When I first saw her battle cry was "Dark vengeance!  Ssssssssss!" it was a great Simone moment, and perfect commentary on the whole concept of "dark vengeance" in comics and their suburban, white-bread readership.

When I think of characters in comics who went "dark and edgy" in their quest to save the world, the ones who were meaningful don't have "Dark" slapped on their name as some sort of code that's necessary for the audience of the typical Power Rangers episode.

4)  (late addition)  I also give Darkseid a pass.  He is, after all, a living embodiment of a concept of dictatorial fascism, which we westerners tend to think of as "evil".

5)  (late addition)  I'm also giving a pass to certain genre story titles.  Again, that's a 3rd person perspective on the story, not a character saying "hey, lookit me!  I'm evil."

Speaking of "dark", I think this video featuring a "grim'n'gritty" reimagining of Archie comics sums it up.

*Given the internet's reaction to Grant Morrison not laying exposition over every single panel in the picture books, I can see why you'd be reluctant to give the readers that sort of credit

Signal Watch Reads Comics: Knaves' Ward - Luster of Vengeance

Its always cool to see what sort of creative things you Corpsmen are up to.  This weekend, Horus Kemwer had his directorial debut shown at a film festival in Beaumont, which had participation from our own JimD and Daniel Lloyd.  That's the movie Pleadings, by the way.

Well, that same Horus Kemwer has a brother who is doing the indie comic thing, and I recently received a copy of one of his works, Knaves' Ward:  Luster of Vengeance.   I believe the kids are using the term "speculative fiction" these days for works that don't focus on "science", exactly, in their fiction.

Firstly, let's get this out of the way:  this is a DIY, straight-from-the-mind-of effort by the contributors, Matthew Isaac and David Goodman.  Its not as polished as work from a mainstream company, and there's no doubt there's a certain rawness to the work. In the manner of many independent comics, Isaac is responsible for both story and art chores, and in this outing is finding his way with both.

What the look and feel of the book reminded me of is the unmitigated creative explosions set off during the black and white indie days of the 1980's.  Isaac may be too young to remember walking into a comic shop and seeing shelves full of books that were unleashed on the world in the wake of the rise of the direct market and the fallout of the pre-kiddie-explosion Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Back then, Dark Horse published Concrete and titles like Boris the Bear and the notion that a Dark Horse title would ever see a movie seemed laughable.

The story itself has roots in socially conscious sci-fi work of the early 20th Century, such as Lang's Metropolis.  We only get snippets of the world of Knaves' Ward, but there's a sharp contrast between wealth and poverty, haves and have nots, and some of the have nots are all-too happy to play the pilot fish to the sharks of the upper classes.

An amnesiac awakens from surgery, cold, metal cybernetic replacements where his hands were.  From here, he has to fight to survive and recover his past.

I quite liked the story, and I think it shows that the creative team has a lot of potential.

Isaac's work is featured at his site, Eye of Infinity.

"Star Trek IV" and "Gilda"

Yesterday we spent the day helping Wagner move into her new pad down here in South Austin, so by the evening, I wasn't excactly pressing Jamie to make sure we got a night out on the town.  An order to Domino's later, and we had our evening mapped out.


I'm no true Trekker (I'm more of a Trekkie), but I love some original-cast, original-series Star Trek.  For Christmas, Jamie had got me a Blu-Ray set of the first 6 Trek films, some of which I haven't watched in years. 

I think we all knew about Trek growing up, but I wasn't really sold on the premise until 1984, when my folks moved us to Austin and Trek ran every weekday afternoon on the local UHF channel, KBVO.  No need to recount much more here, as, thanks to the power of the internet and 8 years of blogging, I've already done so elsewhere. 

Kirk and Spock try to decide if Pier 39 is too touristy

But what I would recount here is that seeing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in the theater was an eye-opening geek-tacular experience in my youth.  Yes, its the sit-com episode wherein the crew travels to 1987 to recruit some humpback whales in order to prevent an alien intelligence from accidentally destroying Earth with their megaphone.  But it was also the movie where people were so excited, they were cheering, standing up to applaud, etc...  really, pretty incredible.

The movie holds up remarkably well, and the Blu-Ray edition I have cleans up all the fx and optics that had gotten a little funky over the years.  The plot is, perhaps, a little silly, but its good, clean fun, and does what sci-fi does so well, and that's uses a metaphor to explain the issues of the day (ie: we need to be careful how we deal with our planet and the species we share it with, as we cannot predict the tragedy their loss will bring us). 

Also, it gives us all the line we use (inaccurately) when we see ourselves flying into the Bay Area:

Kids today won't get the scant Cold War references either as Chekov gets picked up as a Russian spy on our naval vessel, the USS Enterprise, nor the stalemate of Federation vs. Klingon that plays out in the bookend scenes. 

Its also unfortunate that we don't get a bit more time to explore the Enterprise crew dealing with the late 20th Century or get more cultural comment (and it is kind of hilarious that the single-use device, the communicator, is the size of a brick).  But I can say that to this day, when my computer at work does not do as I say, I still find myself repeating Scotty's condescending "hellllloooo, computer...".  (Yes, I work on Windows machines.  Don't judge me.)

Anyway, I still love this movie.

Oh my Goodness, Rita Hayworth
After Jamie toodled off to bed, I watched Gilda, a post WWII decidedly noirish flick about everything from tungsten cartels to romantic obsession, to philiosophizing men's room attendants.  Starring Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth, its a reminder of what an "A" noir looks like in comparison to, say, 5 Against the House

Not the most subtle advertising for why you should watch this flick
I'd pose the question of whether or not the movie would have been made without Casablanca as a predecessor, as it seems a product of somewhat similar setting, characters, etc... only without anybody having anything honorable to fight for, and sinking into noirish territory rather than the turn to the just-cause that Casablanca provides as the alternative. 

It does, however, feature Rita Hayworth as Gilda, the quickly-obtained wife of a shady night club owner, who has good reason to butt heads with his strong arm, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford).  There are some comparisons one could make to the Coen's development of the Tom/ Verna/ Leo triangle in Miller's Crossing, although here its all a bit more...  tuxedo-clad. 

The role of Gilda is remarkably well-written, with some seriously snappy dialog, and became the role Hayworth would be associated with for the remainder of her life.  She would also inspire looks and other characters in countless movies afterward.  And I find it hard to believe Jessica Rabbit, and countless other "oh, that woman singing is trouble" scenes would have existed without Put the Blame on Mame

Its definitely a film I'll want to watch again, and not just because of Rita Hayworth.  There were a lot of plot threads, some things I'll want to see again as per how whole scenes were thought through (such as the use of disguises during the Carnival sequence), etc...  Its a smart, clever movie and I can see why it turns up in so many lists.

As easy as it is to just want to applaud Rita Hayworth for her Hayworthness, Glenn Ford and George Macready are also both really good as well.  I haven't seen all that much of Glenn Ford's work, but I can see why he was a popular actor.
I hear San Antonio residents will be able to see it on the big screen this summer as part of the TPR Summer Film series!  So, you know, go check that out when NathanC begins promoting the film season.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Weekend! I Love the Oscars!


The Sting and Five Against the House

Last night we watched The Sting (which I'd never seen) and then, after Jamie had drifted off to Sleepytime Junction, I watched a an ostensibly noir flick called Five Against the House

There's not a whole lot to be said about The Sting.  It's already a popular movie and I'm late to the game on the discussion.  I always like Paul Newman, and Robert Redford was most definitely, as always, Robert Redford.  I guess I was a little surprised to find the impetus for the characters setting up "the sting" was pretty much the "young handsome male" has his "aging black mentor" killed off by the movie's villain, ie: The Simpson's Mendoza.

The first meeting of The Handsome Men's Club

George Roy Hill was a talented director, and I think all of that's on display here.  But aside from Robert Shaw as the movie's villain, it sometimes - especially in the first act - it feels a bit like "hey, we're modern actors having fun playing as if we're in an old timey movie!" rather than just playing it straight as a period movie. 

I don't want to say I didn't like The Sting, but its not going to find its way to the top of my list.

For Christmas, I received two different collections of film noir from Jason.  Its pretty neat, as I really don't know many of the movies, so every time I put one in, I don't know what to expect.  Last night, because it featured Kim Novak, I pulled Five Against the House from the selections.

It's a heist flick, and more along the lines of a B-Noir than something like Out of the Past.  The set-up is that, basically, four college buddies get bored and decide to see if they can rob a casino they visited once.  Now, two of those buddies are law students who've served in Korea, so they're a bit older.  And Kim Novak is a nightclub chanteuse girlfriend of the one who isn't suffering from PTSD.

While the movie is enjoyable enough, and the actors and plot more or less engaging enough, somebody knew the movie had one big selling point:

well, it got ME to watch the movie
It is a bit unusual in that its not a movie about guys pushed to an extreme, seeking revenge, etc...  quite literally, it starts off as a movie about four fun-living college buddies who decide to rob a casino because they're bored and they'd like to try to do something they think can't be done.

The movie is fun enough, but I'd mention it for two reasons.

1)  There's a shot very, very similar the one used in The Graduate; the famous "Dustin Hoffman framed by Anne Bancroft's leg" shot. Its almost hard to believe someone didn't remember that one.  Kim Novak, ya'll.

I'm not crazy, right?
The movie is oddly frank about sex for a 1955-era flick.  It seems Novak has been with a few dudes prior to meeting our hero (to his credit, he's pretty open minded on that score), and Brian Keith flat out announces "hey, I had sex" in an early scene after meeting a casino patron. 

2)  Soderbergh is a really smart guy, and I have to believe that when he was prepping for a big budget remake of the goofy-fun Ocean's 11, he also checked out a huge number of other casino heist movies to get inspiration.  I can't help but think that part of his inspiration for Yen's part of the plan was inspired not by what actually happens in Five Against the House, but by what they tell other people they're doing, which is smuggling an ex-jockey into the casino in a box (which they've rigged up with a tape recorder and speaker).

While its not what Soderbergh did, its not too hard to make the leap.  Then again, how many ways can you really get an inside man into a casino, I guess.

I am in favor of a good heist movie (see:  The Killing), but this one is set up a bit oddly in that it all seems to lack real motivation, and that the stakes are non-existent for our leads.  The most dramatic tension occurs between the romantic leads, and whether Kim Novak will flake on our baritone-voiced hero.  The heist feels a little gimmicky, and there's not a lot of the usual fun in understanding the set-up, which... after watching The Sting, which is all set up, it just felt wrong.

5 Against the House is not going to go down on anyone's list as better than The Big Sleep, and were it not for the slow roll out of the PTSD storyline and its conclusion, I'd have a hard time labeling the movie as noir at all (not all heist movies are noir movies.  See:  Ocean's 11 and its remake,  Ocean's 11).  But it was okay, I suppose.