Monday, September 11, 2017

About partisanship in the church

I'm not a terribly political person. I identify myself as a moderate or centrist - that is, I do not identify myself as a supporter of any particular political party. Since I came of age as a voter I have voted for four different parties in federal elections (which is easily done here in Canada). To those telephone pollsters I am one of those 'undecideds' who make up their figures.

I'm actually more opinionated about politics in the USA than I am in Canada; I try not to be, being very conscious that I am not a citizen of that country and I should be guarded when I speak about their political situation. Still, here I am today, about to write about US politics. I'm doing so not for the sake of the USA but because of encounters I have had with fellow Canadians on these issues.

Being a fairly unpolitical person I don't often share political messages on my Facebook page but a friend shared an amusing link entitled A Christian Defense of Donald Trump and I thought it funny enough to share with my own friends. This brought condemnation from one of my personal friends who took exception to my making fun of Trump and, rather than rebuke me in person or via email or personal message, spoke his mind there on my timeline. Said friend was a fellow Christian and told me I should be praying for Trump instead.

My friend was correct that mockery was not the most Christian way of responding to that situation. But it was a difficult message to receive because of the source - because this friend of mine was himself one whose Facebook timeline was full of political messages reposted from elsewhere, collectively espousing a pro-right wing/anti-left wing message, along with many climate change denial posts. The sense I had was not so much that my behaviour was being called out on Christian grounds but on partisan grounds. Upon reflection I was further troubled that in the week we had this confrontation I had celebrated my birthday but received no birthday greeting from him; I was serving in the mission field in Angola yet had received no encouragement from him; is this what Christian fellowship looks like?

There is no particular case for Christians being majority right-wing. Truly, we ought to be divided 50/50 - half of us on the right, half of us on the left. Yet we unmistakably tend towards the right. Why? According to James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." The message of looking after "orphans and widows in their distress" is an attitude which those on the left are in favour of, whereas the right-wing tends to advocate for self-sufficiency. There are also the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 25:34-36: "‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’"

Still, Christians tend towards the right; the right, of course, includes those parties which are against abortion, against gay marriage and other such issues which - for so many Christians - are a political deal-breaker. I understand why so many of my fellow Christians vote on the right-wing; heck, as a centrist I'm empathetic to their reasons (the four parties I've voted for have included the Conservative Party).

But Donald Trump is not a particularly right-wing candidate (except in that xenophobia and white nationalism seems to be a hallmark of the right-wing). He does not hold to any particular Christian ideals about charity or forgiveness towards others and has only paid a bit of lip service to the anti-abortion lobby. And yet so many Christians in the USA voted for him and many Christians here in Canada seem to feel they ought to support him as well because he represents right-wing interests. This is the partisanship which upsets me.

When Barack Obama was US President I saw many of my Christian Canadian friends criticizing him. I also heard a rant from one who accused him of being a secret Muslim (yes, such people exist even here). This too, seems to have been mere partisanship; I repeatedly saw in Obama a Christian man who was attempting to live up to Godly ideals in the midst of a compromising, pragmatic position. He was still vilified by Christians, simply because he came from the left-wing.

This, then, is why I originally shared the link to "A Christian Defense of Donald Trump." For a joke where the punchline is literally nothing it reveals a truth about we Christians and our willingness to adhere to dogma rather than the Holy Spirit. So many Christians clicked on that link anticipating an essay which would draw from scripture in order to explain why so many of their fellow believers supported that man. The joke is that there is no defense, but many - such as my friend - do not find that funny and are all-too eager to leap to his defense. I would be astonished - but also very pleased - if I saw this friend come to the defense of Rachel Notley or Justin Trudeau on the same basis he did Donald Trump, instead of making a false idol out of 'Team Right Wing.'

My friend once told me one of his favourite things about Jesus is that he was boldly confrontational, that he did not bow to the conventions of his time and would sharply criticize those in positions of power. And yet, when it comes to a right-wing politician, my friend suddenly became very upset at the idea of criticizing our world leaders. He's right, we are called to pray for them. But more than that, I agree with those leaders in the church that the rise of Trump amongst right-wing Christians speaks to the need for revival - and this revival is needed not only in the USA but here in Canada as well.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" - Matthew 5:43-47

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Rest in Peace Len Wein

In 2015 Herb Trimpe - artist of the first appearance of Wolverine - passed away. Sadly, the author of that comic book has likewise joined him.

In March of this year Bernie Wrightson - artist of the first appearance of Swamp Thing - passed away. Sadly, the author of that comic book has likewise joined him.

His name was Len Wein. I met him once at a comic book convention. As I grew up primarily a fan of Marvel Comics and Wein had stopped working for them by the mid-70s I wasn't exposed to much of his comic book work. Still, during his time at Marvel in the 1970s he made some tremendous additions to the Marvel Universe: Wolverine, the 'all-new, all-different' X-Men team members Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus & Thunderbird, and that fondly-remembered hero of the hoodoo Brother Voodoo.

While I haven't experienced much of his writing for DC beyond a handful of Swamp Thing comic books he did, of course, cast a large shadow over DC, such as serving as editor on Watchmen, the most influential comic book of the 1980s. He also became a television writer as his creations Swamp Thing & The Human Target were adapted into TV series. He wrote a fun episode of that great Canadian animated program Reboot ("Between a Raccoon and a Hard Place") and a few episodes of the 1990s X-Men and Batman animated programs.

In many ways Wein hasn't been given his due by comics; I understand DC treated him fairly well over the decades, but when you consider he co-created Wolverine and the all-new all-different X-Men, even though he ultimately didn't have much to do with their eventual success (Chris Claremont being the one who turned those characters into Marvel's top stars), as the originator of them it feels like the name Len Wein should be spoken of in reverance. Wow! There goes Len Wein! Instead, my personal memory of Wein will be the time I met him at a convention: he was napping at his table because no one was interested in meeting him.

Rest in peace Mr. Wein.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Death of the Author Struggle

"I caution people against meeting writers whose work they admire. Once you find out the guy's a slob in real life, how can you not let that color your impression of his work?" - Mark Gruenwald

Recently, Joss Whedon's ex-wife has spoken out about how he treated her during their marriage, particularly about his conducting affairs with younger women in his employ and emotionally manipulative behaviour towards her. This has caused some hand-wringing amongst Whedon's fanbase as they try to come to terms with the legend of Joss Whedon they themselves eagerly fed versus the reality of Joss Whedon.

The Death of the Author theory is just that, a theory. As much as we claim we can separate the work from its artist, we truly can't. If we could, we wouldn't spend quite so much time delving into documentaries and biographies of famous artists, would we? But I suppose this is a lesson every generation has to learn about its heroes and in the age of the internet it is a lesson which is disseminated much more speedily. There was a time (say, 20 years ago) where you could be a huge fan of Roman Polanski's films yet be entirely unaware of the controversy surrounding him; now, simply printing his name online is guaranteed to provoke a discussion of his statutory rape charges. Once you learn that about him it's up to you to figure out how you feel about his art; does it make a difference to you, or doesn't it?

It was about 20 years that one generation of fandom was disillusioned in its adulation towards George Lucas. As Star Wars fans struggled to come to terms with the prequels and how they felt about Lucas, many migrated their devotion to the then-rising star Joss Whedon. Although for about a decade he was just a cult TV series writer, he seemed to hit upon everything fandom valued: sharp dialogue which was lathered in sarcasm and deep cuts from popular culture; a genuine affection for many pop culture works; a particularly strong emphasis on female empowerment.

Time will tell how he will be remembered; it ought to be enough that he put his name on some works which people have a fondness for. In Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry is widely-beloved not so much for any of his personal beliefs or even particular scripts he authored but because he was the first to conceive of Star Trek. So Whedon is assured to be well-thought of in the future as people will continue to enjoy Firefly et al. He also directed one of the most successful film of all time (The Avengers, in case you forgot) so he's guaranteed to be remembered in histories of popular culture of the 21st century.

What I am observing is a fanbase which feels personally betrayed by these allegations; George Lucas was simply a man who helped tell some good stories until - uh-oh - he didn't. With Whedon, there was an ethical component: people looked to him as a moral teacher -- which means you've got problems if you're looking to popular culture to orient your moral compass.

Personally, I like it when my values are reflected in the media I consume. On the other hand, I like media which challenges my values as well, to a certain degree; I can handle a bit of Steve Ditko's Objectivism, Robert A. Heinlein's freaky free freedom or Mad Men's narcissism, although each of those three have inevitably tested my tolerance. I think what I've most responded to in Whedon's work has been his existentialist philosophy, which doesn't perfectly mirror my own but strikes along similar lines.

It is fallacious to think that any human could be a great moral teacher - people will let you down sooner or later; that's the cynical response to the fall of Whedon. However, I'm not comfortable leaving it there. Occasionally there are creative people who have been exposed from behind the curtain and not found wanting. Above I quoted Mark Gruenwald, about whom there seems to be not a single negative anecdote; his work certainly isn't above reproach but his personal life appears to have been a honourable one; my favourite comedian Jack Benny is another whose personal life holds up under scrutiny. Yes, we each have our failings, but some skeletons loom larger than others; not every creative person has a Polanski-esque skeleton in their closet, but if you're placing your hope in a creative person it might be best for you to imagine that they do.

"It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another." - Mal Reynolds, Jaynestown

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Defenders season 1 (2017) Creator Credits

Here's my latest attempt at assigning credit for the elements seen in Marvel Cinematic Universe programs. This time it's the Defenders, a show which has... pretty much nothing to do with the comic of that name. The full list of MCU creator credits is here.

Frank Miller: creator of Elektra, Matt's college girlfriend; Elektra becoming an assassin who wields two sai in battle while wearing a red costume (Daredevil #168, 1981); of the Hand, a clan of evil ninjas who battle Daredevil and Elektra (Daredevil #174, 1981); of Stick, Matt and Elektra's mentor (Daredevil #176, 1981); of Stick training Matt how to use his powers (Daredevil #177, 1981); of Elektra dying in Daredevil's arms (Daredevil #181, 1982); of the Hand's ability to mystically resurrect fallen warriors (Daredevil #187, 1982); of Stick's order and their war against the Hand ninja clan; of Shaft, a member of Stick's order who battles the Hand (Daredevil #188, 1982); of the Hand seeking to make Elektra their chief warrior and resurrect her; of Stick and Shaft dying in battle with the Hand (Daredevil #190, 1982); co-creator of Turk as a recurring foe of Daredevil (Daredevil #159, 1979); of Josie's Bar, a dive bar in Hell's Kitchen tended by the titular Josie (Daredevil #160, 1979); of Murdock wearing stubble in both of his identities (Daredevil #228, 1986); of Sister Maggie, a nun who cares for Daredevil in her mission (Daredevil #229, 1986)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Karen Page learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #57, 1969); of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970); of Luke Cage, born Carl Lucas; Cage's enemy Shades; Cage used in a prison experiment which granted him superhuman strength and unbreakable skin; of Luke as a Hero for Hire in Harlem (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); of the Defenders, a team of super heroes (Marvel Feature #1, 1971); of Iron Fist, alias Daniel Rand, orphaned at the age of ten and raised in the city of K'un-Lun, where he trained in the martial arts to become their greatest warrior, passing every test and trial before him until gaining the power to channel his chi into his fist, making it superhumanly powerful; Iron Fist called a "living weapon"; Wendell Rand and Heather Rand, Daniel's parents who perished nearby K'un-Lun; K'un-Lun, a hidden city found in the Himalayas which exists within another dimension and only connects to Earth at intervals spaced years apart (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974); of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974)

Brian Michael Bendis: co-creator of Jessica Jones, a cynical, alcoholic, superhumanly strong private detective who was briefly a costumed super hero, now runs Alias Investigations; Jessica becoming involved with Luke Cage; Luke Cage with shaved head and goatee (Alias #1, 2001); of Matt Murdock as Jessica Jones' lawyer, coming to her aid when she is arrested on suspicion of murder (Alias #3, 2002); of Malcolm, the nearest person Jessica has to a secretary (Alias #6, 2002); of Jessica having a past with Killgrave which left her with PTSD (Alias #24, 2003); of the Night Nurse, a medic who treats superhumans (Daredevil #58, 2004); of Misty Knight and Luke Cage having a romantic relationship (House of M #3, 2005); of Elektra as the leader of the Hand (New Avengers #27, 2007)

Stan Lee: co-creator of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who also fights crime as Daredevil by using his superhuman sensory powers; Daredevil costume with horns on head and red lenses; billy club as Daredevil's primary weapon; Murdock partnered with his slightly overweight college friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson at Nelson & Murdock law firm; Karen Page as Murdock & Nelson's secretary and object of affection to both men (Daredevil #1, 1964); of Daredevil's ability to detect lies (Daredevil #3, 1964); of Killgrave, a man who can control the actions of others through the sound of his voice (Daredevil #4, 1964); of Daredevil's red costume; of Daredevil's gimmick billy club which includes a cable line (Daredevil #7, 1965); of Matt becoming involved with Karen (Daredevil #8, 1965)

Chris Claremont: co-creator of Misty Knight and Colleen Wing as allies (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32, 1977); of Misty Knight's background as a police officer (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of Misty Knight suffering an injury to her right arm (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of Colleen Wing following the path of bushido and wielding a katana (Iron Fist #7, 1976); of Jeryn Hogarth, a lawyer who works for Daniel Rand (Marvel Premiere #24, 1975); of the Iron Fist as a title which many have held over the centuries (Marvel Team-Up #64, 1977); of Iron Fist and Luke Cage fighting in their first meeting as Iron Fist strikes him with his chi (Power Man #48, 1977); of Luke Cage's criminal record being cleared (Power Man #50, 1978)

Gil Kane: co-creator of Hell's Kitchen as locale patrolled by Daredevil (Daredevil #148, 1977); of Iron Fist, alias Daniel Rand, orphaned at the age of ten and raised in the city of K'un-Lun, where he trained in the martial arts to become their greatest warrior, passing every test and trial before him until gaining the power to channel his chi into his fist, making it superhumanly powerful; Iron Fist called a "living weapon"; Wendell Rand and Heather Rand, Daniel's parents who perished nearby K'un-Lun; K'un-Lun, a hidden city found in the Himalayas which exists within another dimension and only connects to Earth at intervals spaced years apart (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974)

Michael Gaydos: co-creator of Jessica Jones, a cynical, alcoholic, superhumanly strong private detective who was briefly a costumed super hero, now runs Alias Investigations; Jessica becoming involved with Luke Cage; Luke Cage with shaved head and goatee (Alias #1, 2001); of Matt Murdock as Jessica Jones' lawyer, coming to her aid when she is arrested on suspicion of murder (Alias #3, 2002); of Malcolm, the nearest person Jessica has to a secretary (Alias #6, 2002); of Jessica having a past with Killgrave which left her with PTSD (Alias #24, 2003)

George Tuska: co-creator of Luke Cage, born Carl Lucas; Cage's enemy Shades; Cage used in a prison experiment which granted him superhuman strength and unbreakable skin; of Luke as a Hero for Hire in Harlem (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); of Claire Temple, a physician who falls in love with Luke Cage; of Cage's foe Diamondback (Hero for Hire #2, 1972); of Mariah, an African-American woman who becomes a Harlem crimelord and fights Luke Cage (Hero for Hire #5, 1973); of Luke Cage exclaiming "Christmas" as an epithet (Hero for Hire #11, 1973)

John Byrne: co-creator of Misty Knight's background as a police officer (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of Misty Knight suffering an injury to her right arm (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of Colleen Wing following the path of bushido and wielding a katana (Iron Fist #7, 1976); of the Iron Fist as a title which many have held over the centuries (Marvel Team-Up #64, 1977); of Iron Fist and Luke Cage fighting in their first meeting as Iron Fist strikes him with his chi (Power Man #48, 1977); of Luke Cage's criminal record being cleared (Power Man #50, 1978)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who also fights crime as Daredevil by using his superhuman sensory powers; Daredevil costume with horns on head and red lenses; billy club as Daredevil's primary weapon; Murdock partnered with his slightly overweight college friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson at Nelson & Murdock law firm; Karen Page as Murdock & Nelson's secretary and object of affection to both men (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Archie Goodwin: co-creator of Luke Cage, born Carl Lucas; Cage's enemy Shades; Cage used in a prison experiment which granted him superhuman strength and unbreakable skin; of Luke as a Hero for Hire in Harlem (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); of Claire Temple, a physician who falls in love with Luke Cage; of Cage's foe Diamondback (Hero for Hire #2, 1972); of Luke Cage exclaiming "Sweet Sister" as an epithet (Hero for Hire #4, 1972)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Luke Cage as a member of the Defenders (Defenders #17, 1974); of Luke Cage exclaiming "Sweet Christmas" as an epithet (Defenders #24, 1975); of Iron Fist as a member of the Defenders (Defenders #62, 1978); of Luke Cage exclaiming "Christmas" as an epithet (Hero for Hire #11, 1973); of Spider-Woman, heroine Jessica Jones is based upon (Marvel Spotlight #32, 1977)

Len Wein: co-creator of Luke Cage as a member of the Defenders (Defenders #17, 1974); of Daredevil as a member of the Defenders (Giant-Size Defenders #3, 1975); of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974)

Larry Hama: co-creator of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974); of Colleen Wing, a Japanese woman, ally and sometimes love interest of Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #19, 1974)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of Patsy Walker wanting to be a hero (Amazing Adventures #15, 1972); of Mariah, an African-American woman who becomes a Harlem crimelord and fights Luke Cage (Hero for Hire #5, 1973); of Luke Cage exclaiming "Christmas" as an epithet (Hero for Hire #11, 1973)

John Romita: co-creator of Luke Cage, born Carl Lucas; Cage's enemy Shades; Cage used in a prison experiment which granted him superhuman strength and unbreakable skin; of Luke as a Hero for Hire in Harlem (Hero for Hire #1, 1972)

Jason Henderson: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a member of the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, 2010); of Colleen leaving the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3, 2010)

Ivan Rodriguez: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a member of the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, 2010); of Colleen leaving the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3, 2010)

Doug Moench: co-creator of Iron Fist battling ninjas (Marvel Premiere #18, 1974); of Colleen Wing, a Japanese woman, ally and sometimes love interest of Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #19, 1974)

Wally Wood: co-creator of Daredevil's red costume; of Daredevil's gimmick billy club which includes a cable line (Daredevil #7, 1965); of Matt becoming involved with Karen (Daredevil #8, 1965)

David Mazzuchelli: co-creator of Murdock wearing stubble in both of his identities (Daredevil #228, 1986); of Sister Maggie, a nun who cares for Daredevil in her mission (Daredevil #229, 1986)

Joe Orlando: co-creator of Daredevil's ability to detect lies (Daredevil #3, 1964); of Killgrave, a man who can control the actions of others through the sound of his voice (Daredevil #4, 1964)

Steve Gerber: co-creator of Luke Cage exclaiming "Sweet Christmas" as an epithet (Defenders #24, 1975); of Daredevil as a member of the Defenders (Giant-Size Defenders #3, 1975)

Roger McKenzie: co-creator of Turk as a recurring foe of Daredevil (Daredevil #159, 1979); of Josie's Bar, a dive bar in Hell's Kitchen tended by the titular Josie (Daredevil #160, 1979)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Karen Page learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #57, 1969); of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970)

Ed Brubaker: co-creator of Iron Fist taking the place of Daredevil (Daredevil #87, 2006); of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Tony Isabella: co-creator of Matt Murdock's Catholicism (Daredevil #119, 1975); of Misty Knight, an African-American detective (Marvel Premiere #21, 1975)

Dan G. Chichester: co-creator of the Chaste, the name of Stick's order (Daredevil #296, 1991); of Daredevil wearing body armor (Daredevil #322, 1993)

Jay Faerber: co-creator of Iron Fist battling the Hand; of the Hand seeking to control Iron Fist's power (New Warriors #7, 2000)

Jamal Igle: co-creator of Iron Fist battling the Hand; of the Hand seeking to control Iron Fist's power (New Warriors #7, 2000)

Alex Maleev: co-creator of Night Nurse, a medic who treats wounded super heroes such as Daredevil (Daredevil #58, 2004)

Olivier Coipel: co-creator of Misty Knight and Luke Cage having a romantic relationship (House of M #3, 2005)

Marshall Rogers: co-creator of Misty Knight and Colleen Wing as allies (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32, 1977)

Pat Broderick: co-creator of Jeryn Hogarth, a lawyer who works for Daniel Rand (Marvel Premiere #24, 1975)

Jimmy Palmiotti: co-creator of Colleen Wing wearing a white jumpsuit (Daughters of the Dragon #1, 2006)

Billy Graham: co-creator of Luke Cage exclaiming "Sweet Sister" as an epithet (Hero for Hire #4, 1972)

J.M. DeMatteis: co-creator of Foggy Nelson learning Matt Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #347, 1995)

Khari Evans: co-creator of Colleen Wing wearing a white jumpsuit (Daughters of the Dragon #1, 2006)

Justin Gray: co-creator of Colleen Wing wearing a white jumpsuit (Daughters of the Dragon #1, 2006)

Arvell Jones: co-creator of Misty Knight, an African-American detective (Marvel Premiere #21, 1975)

Travel Foreman: co-creator of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Michael Fleisher: co-creator of Jessica Drew's occupation as detective (Spider-Woman #21, 1979)

Jim Starlin: co-creator of Daredevil as a member of the Defenders (Giant-Size Defenders #3, 1975)

Carmine Infantino: co-creator of Spider-Woman's Jessica Drew identity (Spider-Woman #1, 1978)

Matt Fraction: co-creator of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Ruth Atkinson: co-creator of Patsy Walker, a red-headed young woman (Miss America #2, 1944)

Frank Springer: co-creator of Jessica Drew's occupation as detective (Spider-Woman #21, 1979)

John Romita, Jr.: co-creator of Matt Murdock going to regular confession (Daredevil #267, 1989)

Jim Shooter: co-creator of Hell's Kitchen as locale patroled by Daredevil (Daredevil #148, 1977)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of Spider-Woman's Jessica Drew identity (Spider-Woman #1, 1978)

Otto Binder: co-creator of Patsy Walker, a red-headed young woman (Miss America #2, 1944)

Ron Wagner: co-creator of Foggy Nelson learning Murdock is Daredevil (Daredevil #347, 1995)

Tom Sutton: co-creator of Patsy Walker wanting to be a hero (Amazing Adventures #15, 1972)

Joe Quesada: co-creator of Matt Murdock wearing red-tinted sunglasses (Daredevil #1, 1998)

David Michelinie: co-creator of Elias Wirtham, a physician (Amazing Spider-Man #344, 1991)

Ann Nocenti: co-creator of Matt Murdock going to regular confession (Daredevil #267, 1989)

Kevin Smith: co-creator of Matt Murdock wearing red-tinted sunglasses (Daredevil #1, 1998)

Ross Andru: co-creator of the Defenders, a team of super heroes (Marvel Feature #1, 1971)

Leinil Francis Yu: co-creator of Elektra as the leader of the Hand (New Avengers #27, 2007)

Erik Larsen: co-creator of Elias Wirtham, a physician (Amazing Spider-Man #344, 1991)

David Kraft: co-creator of Iron Fist as a member of the Defenders (Defenders #62, 1978)

Marco Checchetto: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Ron Garney: co-creator of the Chaste, the name of Stick's order (Daredevil #296, 1991)

Michael Lark: co-creator of Iron Fist taking the place of Daredevil (Daredevil #87, 2006)

Antony Johnston: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Scott McDaniel: co-creator of Daredevil wearing body armor (Daredevil #322, 1993)

Andy Diggle: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Bob Brown: co-creator of Matt Murdock's Catholicism (Daredevil #119, 1975)

Jean Thomas: co-creator of Night Nurse; Linda Carter (Night Nurse #1, 1972)

Win Mortimer: co-creator of Night Nurse; Linda Carter (Night Nurse #1, 1972)

Sam Rosen: creator of the Defenders logo (Marvel Feature #1, 1971)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Thoughts on artificial gravity

Last week I was watching the prestige science fiction film Arrival and it made me think about Star Trek and Star Wars.

Wait - stop! No, come back! Hear me out!

In Arrival the mysterious alien ships visiting Earth can be accessed by their human visitors through a sort of airlock. Because the ship has artificial gravity on board this causes people entering the ship to suddenly float at a right-angle as they shift from Earth's gravity to that of the ship's.

It's a moment meant to emphasize the strangeness of encountering another species but it caused me to reflect on how this science is normally used in science fiction. Some science fiction avoids the question of gravity aboard ships at all, preferring zero-gravity environments. But in Star Trek and Star Wars, the world's two most popular science fiction franchises, artificial gravity is a given.

The issues surrounding artificial gravity rarely come up on Star Trek. From time to time there would be a gravity failure on one of the ships. Enterprise, being the series set at the chronologically earliest point of the franchise, played with gravity a little more than the others - there were certain gravity glitches the characters would experience.

Yet Enterprise ignored an idea which Arrival explored - what about the airlock? That series frequently had alien visitors board the ship through its airlock (as transporter technology wasn't fully reliable). What would have happened if a visiting ship had to dock at a 90 degree angle because of its physical shape? What would a boarding sequence look like in that instance?

But then I began to think about artificial gravity in Star Wars and realized, "oh yeah - they have that too." Many have argued Star Wars is more fantasy than science fiction and I'm afraid I'm about to repeat that argument. Space and technology in the Star Wars films is extremely familiar and lived-in. Everyone is accustomed to being around some 200 different species at any given time, traveling through space at faster-than-light speeds is a given and the franchise's most popular vehicle is deemed "a piece of junk" by its universe's standards.

Where I would say Arrival and Star Trek hold concepts in common is that the characters experience a sense of awe and wonder as they're exposed to the wider universe. In Star Wars, all of the awe and wonder is calculated as an effect upon the audience, not so much as to be experienced by the characters. That is, we in the audience are supposed to think the Millennium Falcon is cool; those in the film do not.

What would exploration even look like in the Star Wars universe? It seems as though everything in that franchise has to be somehow connected to the Force. If you're mastering the Force, what else could the universe offer you? Among their thousands of culturally-acclimated aliens, why would people in the Star Wars universe want to go seeking another race? What purpose do planets serve in the Star Wars universe beyond military and commercial ventures?

The aliens in Arrival possess certain abilities (no spoilers offered) and the knowledge they carry changes the course of humanity. In Star Trek, various aliens have been shown to possess different abilities or cultural values which provide interesting contrasts against humanity's (one notable Trek race has the same abilities as the Arrival aliens). But in Star Wars, the only people credited with particular powers or beliefs worth coveting are those who use the Force. It is, as David Brin has argued, a pro-elitist perspective. For all that multiculturalism seems to be a universal norm in Star Wars (outside of the very British Imperials) the Force divides the universe into haves and have-nots. To paraphrase George Orwell, in Star Wars all people are equal but some are more equal than others.

And that's what the artificial gravity made me think of. Even Gravity didn't inspire me to think this much about gravity.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Rest in Peace June Foray

99 years is a pretty good run.

June Foray was one of the last living legends of the Old-Time Radio era. She was also a beloved voice actress in animation (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes) but radio sharpened my appreciation for her talents. She collaborated many times over the decades with Stan Freberg, including as a featured player on his all-too-brief Stan Freberg Show in 1957. You can hear the entire series at archive.org and I highly recommend you listen to them all - it was one of radio's funniest comedy programs.

She appeared all over radio - Family Theater, Lux Radio Theater, Command Performance, Favorite Story, CBS Radio Workshop, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. She also performed in an episode of my favourite radio series Suspense - the 1956 version of "The Man Who Stole the Bible."

Thanks for the laughs, Ms. Foray.

Friday, July 21, 2017

"Now let's be perfectly clear, here." The Divided States of Hysteria #1-2 review

Although a tag for Howard Victor Chaykin already exists on this blog from previous articles I am not exactly a Chaykin fan. Most of the Chaykin comics I have read over the years have been stories he drew and someone else wrote. Of those stories I read which Chaykin did write & draw, I didn't find that they held my interest.

Chaykin has certainly been talked about in the comic book industry lately due to his new Image series The Divided States of Hysteria. Who would have thought a series with that title would rattle people's cages? Indeed, in an editorial found in issue #1 Chaykin recalls the first announcement of this series at Image Expo being greeted by "a neutral, mostly uninterested audience." That changed when issue #1 came out and several people (many of them comics industry professionals) were outraged by its contents, followed by a second outrage at the preview art for issue #4's cover, which resulted in a change of covers. All of that hit before issue #2 had even come out!

I attempted to follow the discussion but what I found difficult to ascertain was what exactly it was about issue #1 that people had a problem with. No one was posting panels or quoting dialogue to show what they hated. In fact, the response seemed to be "it's so terrible I can't even begin to tell you, so I won't." Lacking this context, I became more and more interested in the series. I hadn't paid attention to any of the promotion - I read the Image solicitations every month and the solicits for The Divided States of Hysteria left no impression on me. But now I was learning what it was about and that was... intriguing. I am, certainly, a reader willing to indulge viewpoints I don't agree with - witness my previous entries on this blog re: Steve Ditko or Dave Sim. Issue #1 was sold out but a 2nd print came out to coincide with issue #2.

Above all, The Divided States of Hysteria is an exercise in venting. This is an angry comic written by an angry man - an angry liberal man who sees much to be outraged by. The reaction to this series, then, is an outrage against outrage over the thing which outrages both groups. It is almost impossible to keep from seeing the content of this series (and the reaction to it) as emblematic of the ugly side of the USA as seen in last year's election. In The Divided States of Hysteria, one liberal points his finger and says, "Look at this hellhole we live in!" And his peers gasp, "How dare you draw our attention to that!"

But what is The Divided States of Hysteria actually about? It is set in the near-future shortly after the US President (presumably Trump) and most of his cabinet have been assassinated, but this has only led to even worse things for the state of the nation as people become more and more divided (hence the title). The central protagonist is Frank Villa, a Pentagon official who learns of a looming terrorist attack and fails to avert catastrophe. Consequently he loses his government job and is hired by a private firm to put together a team of operatives to hunt down the people responsible for the attack (a consortium of Muslim, black supremacist and white supremacist allies-of-convenience).

Villa's four operatives are introduced in issue #1 and recruited at the end of issue #2. Each is in prison when Villa finds them: Henry Noone is a black supremacist who went on killing spree which targeted only white people (obviously drawn from recent real life "anti-white" gunmen in the USA); Christopher Silver appears to be a transvestite sex worker who was assaulted by her three johns and shot them all to death; Paul Berg is an expert poisoner who preys on wealthy people ("the 1%" as he calls them); Cesare Nacamulli is a serial killer who targets random people to avoid forming identifiable patterns.

It's the character of Christopher Silver who provoked the aforementioned outrage. It's actually a little difficult to pin down Christopher's gender but she appears to be a man in women's clothing (no surgery); I use the term 'her' because it's what the story uses. She's introduced in a three-page sequence in #1 where she's seen with her three johns, who feign outrage upon 'discovering' she has a penis (Silver notes in her narration they knew that when they hired her and were pretending so that they could claim the "trap defense"). When the trio begin beating her she takes a gun from her purse and shoots them all dead. Christopher stands apart from the others because her punishment is unjust - she acted in self-defense, whereas the other three prisoners were sociopaths preying upon others: white people (Noone), the wealthy (Berg) or strangers (Nacamulli). Silver is picked for Villa's team not because she's in the same league as the others, but because the johns she killed were coincidentally linked to the terrorist network.

I can't bring myself to be outraged by the treatment of Silver because the story's perspective is that Christopher Silver was wronged. She is granted a righteousness the other anti-hero protagonists do not possess. For all I know, she'll turn out to be the conscience of this series (or then again, maybe there is no conscience). Chaykin has called this a "revenge story" so it stands to reason that the person who was wronged will attain vengeance by the tale's climax. I understand people speaking out against this comic book because they don't want to read it - they shouldn't. I can't bring myself to agree with those who don't want this book to exist - there, I must side with Chaykin's remark: "I’m being impugned from my side of the aisle–by the sort of people who say such things as “I’m all for artistic expression, but…” It’s that “but” that undercuts all that “…all for…” No, you’re not really. If that were the case, there’d be no buts."

I'm afraid my problems with The Divided States of Hysteria will be of little interest to anyone. Chaykin has a bad habit lately of abusing his pages with Photoshop. A behind-the-scenes feature in issue #1 shows the transformation of a page of Chaykin's pencils into the finished product and I much prefer the lines on the penciled page - whenever a Photoshop background or graphic is used it's wicked obvious and jarring. The use of computer-generated imagery to fill in details feels cheap, which I'm sure is intentional - Chaykin spent time with Wally Wood early in his career and one of Wood's mantras to his apprentices was "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up." Wood would have loved Photoshop. Further confounding are the two kinds of lettering boxes, seen below:

First there's the blue narration boxes which look like they belong on a 1999 Geocities page (so says the owner of a 1999 Geocities page), then there are the speech balloons with their tiny, near-invisible tails which cause momentary confusion when trying to follow which person in the conversation is speaking. I've called out Chaykin's comics for this one before and I'm afraid I must again - letterer Ken Bruzenak: you are my least favourite part of this comic book. Your lettering consistently interferes with my ability to follow the story being told, which is just about the last thing lettering should do.

Perhaps because I am not a citizen of the USA I have a few degrees of removal from their toxic political culture and can better enjoy this book as an outlet of liberal rage. Certainly when I think about the state of politics in the US, I get a bit angry; mostly depressed. I am not one who normally advocates on behalf of offensive/provocative art - I say, 'well, I agree in principle with its right to express itself but I sure don't want to read it.' I don't enjoy exploitation films, the exploitation 'homages' of Tarantino, 'rape revenge' films, splatter films or 'torture porn'; I was never an angry youth so I never enjoyed young angry music. Yet here I've read these two issues for sake of getting better informed on the controversy and find myself interested in following the plot. Weirdly, then, for the first time in my life I find myself reading a Howard Chaykin comic book I'm willing to follow regularly. Uh... thanks, people who wanted this story banned!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Another article up at Hugo Award Book Club

This time I've written an article about robots entitled 'Who Own the Robot?' This one was intended to provoke a little discussion so you are most welcome to head over and comment (I will be monitoring comments both here & there).

Sunday, July 2, 2017

New essay up at Hugo Book Club

The Hugo Book Club blog has graciously published an essay I wrote about science fiction. The essay is about the many science fiction authors who have dabbled with pseudoscience and cultish beliefs. It's entitled "Pseudoscience, Belief and Science Fiction." Check out the blog, they have a wealth of knowledge about science fiction past and present.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On being Canadian

Some say we Canadians have no national identity - that our culture is too fluid, mercurial to be defined. Others claim we are only defined in the ways we differ from our neighbours to the south. Perhaps we spend too much breath protesting our independence from the UK and difference from the USA. It seems at times as though Canada is defined primarily by bilingual signage, kilometers, maple syrup and hockey.

My own Canadian experience has been spent in the province of Alberta, never residing in any other province or territory, never visiting the north territories, never venturing further east than Quebec. I'm from the province of cows, oil and gas, the supposedly Conservative stronghold (recently, said stronghold has rather crumbled). The redneck province, living in the city where guests are invited to don white cowboy hats.

I grew up thinking myself rather conservative, yet never understood the 'redneck' culture. I grew up in a small town with a 12 acre property, but I didn't wear cowboy hats, I couldn't stand country music, I didn't enjoy watching rodeos, feared riding horses and I didn't drink until I was an adult - and even then, it look me years to find a taste for beer. As to oil & gas? The two years I spent working in that sector gave me valuable experience but my employer was simply terrible; it was dispiriting place to work.

My city will soon be invaded by swarms of those who wish to see the Calgary Stampede, to watch chuckwagon races and hear popular bands. In the 19 years I've lived in this city I've visited the Stampede all of once. If that were the epitome of Calgary culture I would feel very distanced indeed.

But this is Canada. I've never identified myself to a particular political party (instead, I call myself 'centrist') and I love that. I have voted for virtually every political party possible, even parties which clearly had no hope of winning a seat, provided I agreed with their platform. I like my national anthem and I feel proud when I sing it at a hockey game. When I visit Africa I wear the Canadian flag on my luggage and pinned to my shirt because I'm proud to let them know where I hail from. In turn, I've found that those nations like my own.

I have Canadian heroes: Romeo Dallaire, Lester B. Pearson, my uncle Dr. Stephen Foster, William Shatner, Dr. James Orbinski and James Turner. As a comic book fan I've taken pride in this nation being home to one of comicdom's most popular super heroes, Wolverine; birthplace to Joe Shuster, one-half of the team who created super heroes; and to Dave Sim's 300 issues of Cerebus, a landmark in independent publishing. Heck, in comics Canada has everyone from Kate Beaton to Guy Delisle.

Canada has been good to me. I think I've been good to Canada. Happy Canada Day, my friend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fiction that won me back

People who know me know that I'm extremely picky and stubborn like a mule. When I get a notion into my head I'm loathe to reverse my position. Growing up, I was a terrible problem for my family whenever they wanted to see a movie in the theater because I would veto most of what the cinemas were offering. And once I decided I didn't like something, I would remain steadfast in my resolve.

This being so, let's look at three times where I had set myself against a project - only to be won back.

I watched a fair bit of Mission: Impossible growing up, starting with the 1980s revival series, then seeing the original program when it ran in reruns on FX. It was often an uneven series (particularly in the later years) but there are many episodes which I can point to as great television. The series also had a great number of repeated tropes, moments which would appear in virtually every episode and so would be anticipated each time - and then surprised in those episodes which didn't follow the typical Mission: Impossible formula.

I did not like Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. Oh, how much did I not like this film. As a Mission: Impossible fan, I simply couldn't stand seeing the program's hero - Jim Phelps - turned into a villain then thrown under the bus in order to promote Tom Cruise as the new hero. This film angered me, so much so that I couldn't appreciate any of the craft which went into its much-admired stunts.

Many years later I found myself on a flight from Canada to Sierra Leone and noticed Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol among the in-flight entertainment. After getting through the films I really wanted to see, I lowered my expectations in order to give Ghost Protocol a shot. I reasoned that while it wouldn't be the Mission: Impossible I enjoyed, as it was directed by a director I enjoyed (Brad Bird) maybe I'd get something out of it. I was won over by the time the opening credits rolled.

The bongo music - the fuse moving across the screen - the clips of upcoming moments - wow. Instantly, I gleaned that Brad Bird might have been a fan of the original series. I became immersed in that film and enjoyed that it was - like the original series - an ensemble piece (that is, less of a Tom Cruise vehicle). So many of the trademarks of the television program were present, from stealth gadgets to changing room numbers to trick people. I enjoyed this film so much I went to see Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation on its opening weekend! Ghost Protocol remains a film I would happily watch again.

I came somewhat late into Star Trek fandom, arriving just as Star Trek: Voyager launched. I went back to catch all that I had missed and soon found there were episodes I liked, other episodes not-so-much, characters I liked, characters I loathed. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine became my favourite of the franchise I still watched Voyager to the end - gradually realizing it wasn't that great, often viewing it from a sense of inertia and seldom engaged with the stories, but it wasn't bad enough to switch channels.

Then came Enterprise. Although I had misgivings about the series' approach to continuity, I respected that the program wanted to break out of the usual tropes and find a new angle on the Trek formula in order to attract a wider audience. I gave the first season some rope and found it likeable enough. That changed with season 2, particularly with the notorious "A Night in Sickbay" episode, but also a series of other similarly lousy programs. I gave up partway into the season and decided I was done with Trek. I ignored what I heard about the show's changes in seasons 3 & 4.

One day, a friend eagerly insisted I watch the season 4 two-parter "A Mirror Darkly." I spent a great deal of time laughing at the over-the-top performances and the audacious number of references to classic Trek. This convinced me to go back and see the rest of season 4 to discover what the series' new showrunner (Manny Coto) had done to improve the series. I ultimately judged he had made the show a solid good program and felt better about how Trek's TV franchise wound up. Still, some fans insisted the show had actually become good in season 3. Eventually I would watch everything I had missed (including more of the lousy season 2 episodes) and concluded that it had actually become decent near the end of season 2 and even hit an all-time high during its 3rd season. Enterprise didn't deserve a better chance - simply being Star Trek gave it a better chance than most programs - but, like every Trek program, if you ignore the really bad episodes it's not such an awful series.

Finally, Star Wars. I've blogged before about how Star Wars was a very important franchise to me in my childhood but how I began to feel disinterested even before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released. That feeling continued throughout the era of prequel films. I recognized the product as a legitimate Star Wars offering, yet had a sense of disassociation, not feeling any emotion about seeing the product. This finally changed when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which offered some compelling new characters alongside a hefty dose of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is the common bond between these franchises. To win me back to Mission: Impossible, it took an homage to the original series opening; for Enterprise, it was bringing in the Mirror Universe; for Star Wars, it was familiar characters and situations. But I would say in each instance nostalgia was a means to an end, not a means unto itself. Beyond the nostalgia I sensed in the opening of Ghost Protocol, I enjoyed the risky stunts and character interplay. Enterprise dug deep into franchise lore for its 4th season, but it also worked hard to rehabilitate its own characters, particularly by calling out its lead character (Jonathan Archer) for his sins. Finally, The Force Awakens trod upon familiar soil, but it was the new character Finn who gave me hope for the franchise's future.

How about you? Is there a series or franchise which you came to dislike, then found yourself being won back?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Roadblock and the Art of Smothering Explosives

Here's a great scene from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #29 (1984) by Larry Hama, Frank Springer and Andy Mushynsky. The scenario: Cobra has planted a bomb on the boat the G.I. Joe team is gathering aboard. It is discovered by the Joes' expert explosives defuser Tripwire. Hama endowed each of the G.I. Joes he wrote with a particular unique personality trait to set them apart; Tripwire was notorious in the series for being extremely clumsy, seemingly the last person you would want to see working with explosives - but when at work in the field, Tripwire would become intense and determined. This scene gives us Tripwire's attempt at being heroic. He flings himself upon the bomb:

It sure looks like good ol' Tripwire is about to go out in a blaze of glory, right? At least his comrades will be safe - assuming his body could shield a bomb intended to destroy an entire vessel. Unlikely, I guess. But behold how his teammate Roadblock reacts:

Roadblock takes the bomb from Tripwire and punts out the nearest vent, causing it to explode in the ocean. He then gently reprimands Tripwire for his actions:

"That took a lot of heart back there, Tripwire, but don't do it again! Uncle Sam paid megabucks to train you to fight with a team. A dead hero don't do his buddies no good and medals ain't no shinier when they're posthumous."

Well said, Roadblock. Come with me now to G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #233 (2017) by Larry Hama, S. L. Gallant and Brian Shearer. The scenario: A terrorist has just lobbed a grenade into Roadblock and Duke's vehicle. Roadblock catches the grenade midair and smashes out of the car to get rid of the grenade; problem: they're in the middle of a crowded marketplace with civilians everywhere. There's no safe place to dispose of the grenade!

How to shield the civilians from the blast? Roadblock simply places the car door over the grenade to smother the explosion. This works.

So 33 years ago Roadblock should have followed up his speech to Tripwire with: "...Now maybe if you had a car door with you, that would be something..."

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Defense of "Oceans"

Yesterday my church introduced a new song to our congregation - "new" being a very relative term. "Oceans (Where My Feet May Fail)" was written by Matt Crocker, Joel Houston & Salomon Ligthelm of the band Hillsong United in 2013. It's been a popular Christian tune over the past four years; it took this long for someone in my church's worship team to suggest performing it.

The song was already on my mind because of an article I had seen on a Christian blog: "Hillsong's "Oceans" (Where This Song Fails)" by Jonathan Aigner. I did not agree with his conclusions about the song and with "Oceans" entering my church's repertoire, the time seems right to respond.

The tone of Aigner's article is very troubling for a Christian blogger speaking to a Christian audience about Christian worship. The opening paragraphs are full of snark and presume the audience already shares the blogger's opinion of the song ("If you’ve been in contemporary worship circles, you already get what I’m talking about"). He then relates an anecdote about how he first learned of the song from a teacher, including as many dismissive and condescending remarks as he can ("...I said, wanting to be supportive..." "...she probably didn't know the difference").

But then he gets into his criticisms, beginning by complaining that the song doesn't rhyme. He states "on the most basic level, this is terrible poetry," having no apparent appreciation for free verse - it is a valid form of poetry and common to contemporary worship. I understand that he doesn't like it but he presents his opinion of contemporary worship as though it were something quantifiable or canonical. His distaste for the song is evident in the anecdote about the teacher, as is the relish he takes in tearing down something he knows other people enjoy.

He goes into some lyrical analysis which is astoundingly off-base. He complains that "I thought we were trying to walk on water, which will fail of course, because we aren’t Jesus." I don't know what denomination he belongs to but it is not impossible for us to do perform the miracles of Jesus for we "can do all things through Him who strengthens." (Philippians 4:13). Further, the phrasing is "let me walk upon the waters," which is a prayer, something we want to see accomplished. He also complains about following this lyric with the phrase "take me deeper," suggesting that this indicates drowning. "Deep" is referring to a more profound understanding of Christ, not a vertical direction.

He complains next about the word "I" being too common. Amazingly, his next section complains about the use of the Spirit which is pretty important to the context of the "I"s: "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders." As well, throughout the song are the "yous" - "I will call upon Your name," "I am Yours and You are mine," "Your sovereign hand will be my guide," etc. This doesn't seem to be bad theology to me - I am not a singer, songwriter, musician or theologian but the song is talking about setting out under the direction of the Holy Spirit and that we have no borders - that the titular oceans need not impede us. As someone who has stepped out into the world (across the ocean, in fact) on mission work and has had his trust in God strengthened through those experiences I think I could pray to this song.

The blogger closes his post by noting Hillsong Church isn't currently playing "Oceans" (or another popular song of theirs "Shout to the Lord"). He presents this as some proof of the song's irrelevancy. He ignores that the reason the song has left rotation there is that the band is constantly writing new material. Songs fade in and out at churches across the world; my church does not perform the hymn "Lift High the Cross," but that's not a slight against that old ditty - it's a great hymn, but it's not quite right for the current environment of my church. It is right for other churches. One can only fit so many songs into the set lists in the course of a year!

Above all, I have to return to the tone of this blog post. Christ left us instructions for how to love each other (John 15:9-17) and to deal with those among us who sin (Matthew 18:15-20). Unfortunately, he did not address those occasions when we will wish to write snarky criticisms of our brothers and the way in which they worship. Again, I am not a theologian but I will suggest Jesus wouldn't care for it.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

It's a Wonderful Woman (Wonder Woman film review)

At the dawn of the 21st century - before Marvel's super heroes came to wider audience awareness - Wonder Woman was one of the world's top three best-known super heroes alongside her DC pals Superman & Batman. Although her comic book had never been a sustained hit and her television exposure limited to a live-action show and a few cartoons, Wonder Woman was extremely well-represented in licensing and, due to her continuous presence and prominence in comics, became the go-to reference for discussions about female super heroes.

Although I know a lot about Wonder Woman, I've never been a fan. Heck, I've read about 12 issues of Wonder Woman taken as a whole and most of those were George Perez issues. I haven't read so much as a comma from Greg Rucka's work. I suppose you can chalk it up to my being a Marvel fan, coupled with the generally underwhelming reception much of her recent work has received. I've also kept away from the latest attempt at creating the DC Cinematic Universe and had no intention of watching the Wonder Woman film - until a week ago when there was a tempest in a teapot about misogynists trying to label the film anti-male. I chose to counter that by giving the film my money (strangely, the people who are against this film have also chosen to fight it by giving it more money).

While I have no particular interest in Wonder Woman as a fan, that at least frees me from many of the anticipations fans would have about how she's portrayed. Let's assume I'll be talking *SPOILERS* here on out.

Part of what I enjoyed about the film Captain America: The First Avenger is that it was set during World War II, the conflict which spawned an immense flurry of comic book super heroes, yet had been largely excised from the big screen adaptations of said heroes up until then. Upon hearing Wonder Woman would be set during the first World War instead of the second, I assumed it was an attempt to avoid comparisons to Captain America: The First Avenger. However, Darren Mooney made a good case for the idea that the first World War was better suited to the mission statement of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was, after all, a character created to oppose not only the 2nd World War but the very concept of war.

The problem, then, with World War II is that it is less open to anti-war criticism, especially in the mode of a blockbuster super hero action film. Although both sides in the 2nd World War committed atrocities, the sheer magnitude of what the Japanese did to the Chinese and the Germans to the Jews renders any attempt to criticize the Allies' behaviour as 'unfair.' On the other hand, World War I has long-since been absorbed into popular thought as an unnecessary and pointless bloodbath of carnage which was so badly botched that it spawned a whole other terrible conflict. Thus, in Wonder Woman our hero is allowed to be against the Germans, yet appalled by the Allied leaders speaking callously about casualties. Popular culture has only really remembered two stories about the 1st World War: All Quiet on the Western Front and Blackadder Goes Forth; Wonder Woman will make sense to anyone who is familiar with those works.

What I appreciated the most about the film's characterization of Wonder Woman is that she was incredibly earnest. It's a quality I personally appreciate in super heroes such as Superman and Captain America - the idea that they're nice people, a bit naive but very trusting and trustworthy. The story itself is very accessible, standing alone as an origin story that doesn't feel the compulsion to intentionally set up future films. This seems to me to be what DC should have been doing all along and will hopefully inspire them to make a bit of course-correcting for their coming films. It's not filled with sarcastic remarks like so many of the Marvel films, but it's not oh-so self-serious either. The film understands it has a fantastic premise (woman raised on all-female island created by the gods) and treats it like a great Greek myth instead of a dour Greek tragedy.

In recent years it's become very popular to depict Wonder Woman with a sword and shield, playing up the idea of her as a rough warrior woman. I've had some problems with that as I've always thought she was powerful enough to handle enemies without needing to kill them, y'know, like Superman (*ahem*). I suppose a shield is fine, but seems derivative of Captain America. Yet, behold! By the climax of Wonder Woman she's shed the shield and sword and the final battle with Ares is conducted using her traditional equipment - her fists, her bracelets and her lasso of truth. Bravo!

The fight scenes certainly remind one Zack Snyder is a major part of this film series as the speed-up/slow-down stuff felt right out of 300; I actually enjoyed most of them, particularly a scene where she slow-mo dodged a sword thrust while kicking a man in the head. However, a scene near the end where she went into slow-motion while piling through a bunch of Germans felt like it was sapping energy from the climax instead of ratcheting up the tension.

Steve Trevor was handled very well, treated as a decent, likeable guy. I wondered at times if the climax would go for the he's-old-she's-young development (as in Justice League's "Savage Time") but his purpose in the film - demonstrating the good aspects of humanity for Wonder Woman - was nicely played. It's a pity this is his only film appearance; guess she'll need a new love interest next time she gets a solo film. And how about that, look at the box office! There's totally going to be another one of these. Warners, now that you've raised people's expectations don't screw up again.

I suppose there are three things I could nitpick:

  1. Diana is never called Wonder Woman, thus joining the ranks of other super hero characters who try to play down their codenames (Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Falcon). It's a little weird considering the film committed to a reasonably faithful bright red/blue Wonder Woman suit and as it was set in the past it would have seemed... less corny, I guess. (having grown up with super hero comics I never find this stuff corny)
  2. When the film didn't open with Diana's creation as a clay statue (instead referring to it) I wondered if they were going to go with the more recent retcon where she's the daughter of Zeus, and I became convinced the moment Hippolyta began uttering ominous things about Diana's origin. The thing is, it doesn't matter. Zeus is dead. Statue given life by Zeus or daughter of Zeus, what's the difference? I guess as the daughter of Zeus it places here on more even footing with Ares but the "shocking revelation" about her parentage didn't change anything. (I also guessed she was the god-killer; you grow up with these tropes, you stop getting surprised)
  3. The moment David Thewlis appeared I instantly went, "bad guy?" The man simply has that look about him. Now, if the character had been played by Patton Oswalt I wouldn't have suspected a thing (don't know how believable Patton Oswalt would look firing lightning from his hands).

Did you like Wonder Woman? Has it changed your mind about the future of the DC Cinematic Universe? Do you know more about the comics and have some perspective on that? Don't be shy, I'm easy to speak to; comment below.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Hey, Hugo!

A friend of mine recently obtained a bit of research on the state of comics over the past few years so that he could compose a pair of blog entries about the Hugo Awards' category for 'Best Graphic Story.' It's not too long so if you'd care to check it out you'll find part 1 here and part 2 here!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Coming in September: Bloodstone & the Legion of Monsters!

Another trade paperback collection featuring one of the first Marvel comics I served on as head coordinator: Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone. Tying that book into Bloodstone has finally paid off!

BLOODSTONE & THE LEGION OF MONSTERS TPB

Written by DAN ABNETT, ANDY LANNING, DENNIS HOPELESS, JOHN DAVID WARNER & MORE Penciled by MICHAEL LOPEZ, JUAN DOE, SONNY TRINIDAD & MORE Cover by GIL KANE

The MU's most marvelous monster-hunter — unleashed! And she's brought along a few friends... When young Elsa Bloodstone learns her father was legendary creature-killer Ulysses Bloodstone, she soon discovers that blood runs thicker than water! With her father's powerful gem around her neck, Elsa takes up the family business — so look out, Dracula & Co.! Watch Elsa kick beastly behind with her NextWave pal Boom Boom and her own team of groovy ghoulies, the Legion of Monsters! Plus: Discover the full scope of the Bloodstone legacy with astonishing tales from the files of Ulysses himself! Collecting BLOODSTONE #1-4, ASTONISHING TALES: BOOM BOOM AND ELSA, LEGION OF MONSTERS (2011) #1-4, MARVEL PRESENTS #1-2, MARVEL MONSTERS: FROM THE FILES OF ULYSSES BLOODSTONE & THE MONSTER HUNTERS and material from MARVEL ASSISTANT-SIZED SPECTACULAR #2 and GIRL COMICS (2010) #2. 312 PGS./Rated T+ ...$34.99 ISBN: 978-1-302-90802-7

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

RIP Rich Buckler

On May 19, comic book artist Rich Buckler passed away. He had a long career in the medium but was never upheld as one of the industry's leading artists, perhaps because he carried his influences - Jack Kirby & Jim Steranko - a little too obviously upon his sleeve. He's best-known for creating Deathlok, the original cyborg soldier of the future. It was during his Deathlok stories that he also created a fellow named Devil-Slayer whom you may remember from a post I wrote; Buckler liked Devil-Slayer so much, he created him three times!

For myself, I'm most pleased to recall Buckler's time as the original artist of All-Star Squadron with writer Roy Thomas. Although Buckler left within a year, he set the tone for that title's six year run. Most of the fans & pros eulogizing Buckler call Deathlok his finest hour and I won't disagree, but in terms of comic books which had a foundational impact on how I approach super heroes, All-Star Squadron looms large within the canon. Rest well Mr. Buckler.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Looking back on my first thousand

This seems like a fine time for me to reminisce about the history of this blog. Initially I didn't have much to share on the blog outside of advertising my Marvel Comics publications; I never felt comfortable talking about what went on behind-the-scenes there - and I still don't. The blog has no particular focus - it's about comics, primarily - films, secondarily - old-time radio, tertiarily - and whatever else beyond that.

But thanks to my friend Colin Smith I became inspired to write about comics on a more meaningful level and more fully discuss what I found enjoyable about the medium; my essay "Why Do I Like Super Heroes?" is probably the best of those. I am also proud of my opinionated editorial "The Quality of Mercy." Probably the two most important works on this blog are my first "Unearthed" entry, a review of All-Star Comics #62, which began my occasional forays into comic book back issues; the other being my long list of creator credits for the 2012 Avengers movie, which began my regular feature on crediting the people who developed ideas seen in super hero films.

I've written many decent essays about comics history; the best of them ran through topics such as the shape of Dr. Strange's eyes, adaptations of John Dickson Carr in Suspense comics, a defense of Steve Ditko's Speedball, exposing the many art swipes in Ross Saakel's Captain Wonder, a multi-part feature "The Troubles of X-Factor", another multi-part feature looking back at Roy Thomas & Howard Chaykin's Star Wars, a multi-part feature on Captain America & Iron Man's hostility, and examining the sources which inspired Iron Fist.

Beyond that I was very pleased to write an article expressing my fascination with the character of Karamaneh, a look at episodes of the Jack Benny Program without Jack Benny, comparing Chaplin to Gandhi and my Star Wars Episode I anecdote.

This blog will continue to be what it is; views have increased steadily in the last year and while comments are scarce, I'd happily keep blogging into oblivion regardless of the impact it has; it's been a fine release of various tensions inside me over the years. Thank you for indulging me.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What is funny? (1,000th post!)

Do you like to laugh? Sure, we all do. When people discuss what makes them laugh the word "subjective" tends to appear, as though comedy were the most subjective of all forms of entertainment. We don't all agree on what is sad, frightening or thrilling either, but comedy is the whipping boy. Perhaps this is because if you don't believe that, say, a ghost story is scary you might still be entertained by it in some other way; but when comedy is not funny it is considered less than worthless.

I have come to realize I am a particularly prickly person where comedy is concerned. I like what I like; I don't put much effort into discovering new comedies, whereas I do place some effort into exploring new horror stories, adventure stories, etc. I have seen maybe 1.5 episodes of Saturday Night Live; I've never gone to a live comedy show; I haven't watched sitcoms for a decade; I very seldom watch comedy films in the cinema.

Recently I was browsing Netflix to find something to watch - I wanted something light and enjoyable, so I browsed through comedy. I couldn't find anything that I thought I would enjoy except for those shows I had seen before. That got me thinking: what about all the things I do like? What do they have in common? Come with me and we'll see.

Self-Deprecation

I've mentioned before that when I first became interested in old-time radio I listened for the science fiction/horror shows and skipped over the comedies, believing they would be old-fashioned and unfunny. And yet, I soon found one program which made me laugh: The Jack Benny Program. Jack Benny was a comic who knew his limitations - he couldn't master snappy patter. Thus, Jack's character was the schmuck instead of the wit; Jack's program constantly featured his supporting characters puncturing his ego, frequently to observe he was not as handsome, smart, funny or likeable as he believed himself to be - and I laughed because it seemed as though it were true and Jack deserved to be humiliated.

The wonderful, intangible part of Jack's routine was that his audience knew he was putting on an act, that "Jack Benny" was a false persona, yet he didn't break character (even Jack's ad-libs were very much on-point). I have found few other comedians so willing to put themselves down; to some extent, this is also what I enjoy about Robert Benchley's articles and short films; he would project an image of a dignified, urbane gentleman, but really he was another schmuck.

The Non Sequitur

How best to describe it... I like the snappy, witty remark, particularly when it is in stark contrast to the other party's statement ("the stooge"), and especially when it's surprising, totally unexpected; "non sequitur" seems to be the term which best describes it. I enjoy how authors such as P. G. Wodehouse & Damon Runyon would subvert genre expectations through clever dialogue and situations. I see this humour in my love for Groucho Marx's retorts:

This kind of humour tends to be heavily sarcastic or sardonic. The first party has come to play chess, but the second party arrives to play tennis - with a pogo stick - and demands the first party explain why he isn't similarly prepared. I was late in discovering Mystery Science Theater 3000, but its format of witty remarks and put-downs mixed with affectionate chiding truly spoke to me.

I've since come to learn, however, that one should not abuse their "witty" humour in public as it quickly becomes intolerable to friends. I've also learned how my idol Alfred Hitchcock used such remarks to disguise his own shyness; these remarks are basically a form of self-defense.

Satire

Over time I've learned I have low tolerance for the all-encompassing statement. I am the one who picks holes in every broad remark, noting the exceptions to each and every rule. I am similarly quick to note the cliches which infuse popular culture and when a masterpiece of satire appears - say, Stan Freberg, Cerebus, Monty Python, the Tick, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, Batton Lash - I nod in approval. The object being satirized need not be obvious; some of Bob & Ray's satire is best enjoyed when you are aware of their target (listen to at least one episode of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy before listening to one of their "Jack Headstrong, the All-American American" skits) and yet, even in this instance, a parody of a children's science show which I'm not familiar with, I recognize they were satirizing a particular format and style of programming; the satire is specific in its target but broad in its humour:

I've never read a Nancy Drew book in my life, but Kate Beaton has had great fun writing her own comics based on the covers of Nancy Drew novels:

Edgar Wright is perhaps the best currently-working film satirist, mocking the sitcom (Spaced), zombie genre (Shaun of the Dead) and crime story (Hot Fuzz).

Returning to self-deprecation, some satirists would satirize themselves; witness Edgar Allan Poe and his connected stories "How to Write a Blackwood's Article" & "A Predicament," or Michael Kupperman sending up the entire genre of comics:

Self-deprecation works well with satire - however, I'm not confident that simply doing the opposite of the source material is sufficiently funny. "Dracula, but stupid" is not a solid basis for a film. Great satire digs deeper than the surface and exposes the tired tropes and cliches behind the entire genre; it's Poe making fun of morality tales in "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"; it's Stan Freberg making fun of lawn mower commercials while selling lawn mowers; it's Bob and Ray selling you a suit that will not only save you money, but make you money!

Laugh, won't you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Now on Comixology: Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files

As of today, Comixology is selling digital copies of one of the first comic books I served on as head writer: Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files, a book released as part of the 2006 'Marvel Westerns' month-long event. Here's their promotional blurb:
Masked men, lawmen, dudes, owlhoots and vigilantes! From the battle of the Alamo to the dusty streets of Tombstone, the men and women of the West that was are finally unearthed in this scrapbook of memories from the personal collection of the modern-day Phantom Rider! Featuring entries on the Black Rider, Tex Dawson, Gunhawk, Kid Colt, the Masked Raider, the Outlaw Kid, the Phantom Rider, the Rawhide Kid, the Steam Rider, the Two-Gun Kid and more!

Buy the book here for $1.99!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Looking back at Superman: The Animated Series

I had begun the 1990s as a devoted fan of Marvel Comics, but by the mid-90s my interest in Marvel waned, and with it comics themselves. Around that time I began paying more attention to the animated television program Batman: The Animated Series. Although Batman was a character who I'd never particularly liked in comics and I was well out of reading DC titles I gradually came to admire the lush, stylish animation and the depth of storytelling on that series.

I was fortunate enough to flip over to the WB in time to see the premiere of Superman: The Animated Series, a program which I didn't realize had even been in the pipeline until I saw it on the screen. As opposed to Batman, Superman was indeed a character who I'd enjoyed in the comics and I was pleased to see the same creators who had led Batman (chiefly Bruce Timm) were bringing that same level of craft to the program.

During Superman's second season the program became The New Batman Superman Adventures as Batman moved from Fox to WB with brand-new episodes. The problem, however, was that I never knew when new episodes of either program would air and the merged title was now appearing 6 times a week on WB's schedule (Saturdays was often a 1.5 hour timeslot!). Various episode of both series slipped past me, until finally I went to college in '98 and didn't see the remaining episodes; Superman: The Animated Series aired its last new episode in 2000.

Recently I bought a DVD collection of the entire Superman: The Animated Series and it was somewhat revealing to see the episodes together in order. I feel that the show started off with a very strong first season, but the remaining years carried a lot of flab. Tim Daly voiced a fine, likeable Superman; Dana Delaney was a joy as a feisty, smart-mouthed Lois Lane; the other supporting characters were very recognizable, but tended to keep to the background (has anyone ever written a terrific Perry White story? if so, I haven't read it).

I think the problem with Superman: The Animated Series is its villains. Don't get me wrong, Clancy Brown is perfectly cast as Lex Luthor and Luthor's characterization (based on the Byrne-Wolfman interpretation) was spot-on; Corey Burton was great (perhaps underutilized?) as Brainiac and their concept of Brainiac being quasi-responsible for the destruction of Krypton was actually a pretty good revision of Superman's history; Malcolm McDowell had a fine voice for Metallo, though the villain only had a couple of good stories - as the creators noted, a villain who carries Kryptonite in his chest can end fights against Superman far too quickly.

But then there's the rest; I mean, they did their best with Parasite, I guess. The creators had done such a fine job making the villains on Batman: The Animated Series compelling that it's strange to see how many villains on Superman misfire. Of course, the creators didn't think too highly of Superman's comic book rogue's gallery; according to Bruce Timm:

"Once you get past them [Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, Parasite] suddenly you're in the realm of 50 year old guys who are a little overweight, wearing business suits."

There are other Superman villains from the comics who turned up on the show - Mr. Mxyzptlk was terrifically funny in his first episode; Bizarro was a great mixture of humour and pathos; Titano was... well, a giant ape (too bad they skipped on the Kryptonite vision, it's the most interesting thing about the comics version). Maxima was, for some reason, renovated into a joke character and Kirby homage, to the extent that she didn't resemble her comics counterpart much at all beyond wanting to mate with Superman. They used Phantom Zone villains but avoided General Zod for some reason (did they think he was overexposed?).

But as to those overweight guys in business suits, Toyman was completely renovated into (as the creators noted) a veritable Batman villain (it's surprising he never teamed up with their Mad Hatter or Baby Doll). The other Superman foes of that type (Prankster, Puzzler) were nowhere to be seen; the type of villains Timm was referring to were primarily cerebral threats to Superman, and as they had remarked before how difficult it was to write Riddler stories on Batman, it's no surprise they wanted to avoid similar characters.

And thus, they brought in Intergang and Darkseid from Kirby's Fourth World stories. That wasn't a bad idea at all - Darkseid debuted in an issue of Jimmy Olsen, to be sure; Superman was part of Kirby's original Fourth World stories and they kept pretty closely-aligned to his universe over the decades.

There were also original villains: Livewire, Volcana and Luminus. None of them are much to write home about - Luminus was somewhat interesting as the idea of Superman battling holograms was a different type of threat... Volcana's story was a weird X-Men/Men in Black homage that didn't catch fire (applause, please). Livewire might've worked if she weren't exceptionally and deliberately irritating; she was an attempt at giving Superman a wise-aleck foe similar to the Harley Quinn character developed on Batman but she was seldom funny and never sympathetic, the two qualities which made Quinn succeed.

And then there are the guest stars. Batman seldom dipped its toes in guest stars during its Fox run - there's Zatanna in one episode... pretty much it. Yet in the first season, the Superman creators brought in Lobo for a two-parter (Lobo was a very popular character in comics at the time). Then season 2 brings in the Flash with his foe Weather Wizad; soon after there's Dr. Fate and his foe Karkull; season 3 has the Legion of Super Heroes; Green Lantern (with his foe Sinestro); Aquaman; plus five episodes given over to Batman and his foes.

The guest appearances start coming closer together in the final season, but more than that, I suddenly realized how little Lex Luthor was seen in that season; through season 1 and most of season 2 Luthor was seldom absent, appearing even in episodes where he wasn't the threat (such as the season 2 episode "Target").

So, is Superman's rogue's gallery really all that shallow? I suppose of those villains they didn't use on the show there is Terra Man, the Kryptonite Man, the Atomic Skull, Silver Banshee, the Ultra-Humanite, Master Jailer... but there were also episodes of Superman which didn't rely upon a great super-villain, namely two of my favourites: first, "The Prometheon," a story where the threat is a giant alien which is drawn towards heat - in that episode, the alien is simply a great problem which needs to be solved rather than beaten in a fight (the alien also has no dialogue); the second, "The Late Mr. Kent," a brilliant script in which Clark Kent is believed dead and Superman has to solve his 'murder.' Similarly, Batman featured plenty of great episodes which didn't depend on the hero's rogue's gallery: "P.O.V."; "The Forgotten"; "I Am the Night."

I find Superman loses steam quickly; that first season still holds up pretty well; a friend of mine considers the entire program simply "a test run for Justice League." If you've never delved into the DC animated universe programs I would certainly recommened you start with Batman - it's the best; Superman might be the least among those shows but there are enough strong episodes to redeem investing your time in the program. Uh... maybe skip most of season 3 except for "Knight Time," "Unity" and "Legacy," though.