Dec 7, 2016

Work Ethic

Work Ethic
Travis Hedge Coke

This doesn’t really pay.

And, sometimes it isn’t fun.

Those two factors you need to understand before you start many of the kinds of questions, or pose the sorts of suggestions that people do, to someone who writes critically about comics.

Everything I write for publication has drafts. The successful first-draft writer is a myth perpetuated by professionals to make amateurs feel incompetent and not become competition, and to promote their brand of superior competence. And, I have no faith in my competence being anything like exceptional, so I double-check often. I fact-check and, also, I run things by trusted friends, family, and colleagues to see if my angle is appropriate, if my tone or conclusions are reasonable. Most of my articles start as lists, details, examples, and agendas combined and recombined into more elegant and relevant formations, added to and subtracted from with sporadic bursts of furor, glee, and necessity.

I have turned down better-paying gigs with wider readership built in, because they don’t want the kind of work that I want to do, occasionally because their general ethos is ugly to me, and once, flatly because I knew I would let them and their readership down. This isn’t just a job, or a vocation, but a game, and if you don’t play games mostly within the rules, you’re not playing the game, you’re just scamming the punters.

The Comics Cube isn’t a news organ. It isn’t a clickbait farm of misinformation and deliberate ignorance. Ben, Tanya, Duy and I, none of us write the same sort of articles, and we probably don’t have hugely similar methodology, either. It kills me that Kimberly doesn’t write more for the Cube; her title, alone, for her column, has allure. Before I ever wrote for the Cube, I thought Duy’s short capsule explanations of techniques were fantastic. His piece on Alan Moore in Grant Morrison’s Supergods bugged me, because it’s ill-researched, but why shouldn’t it be? There’s no pretense of being the final word or authoritative. Plus, it’s still a better record than anyone at Newsarama or io9 has.

I want to be a guy who can do Back Issue Ben, but it will never happen. Approximating it for just one article has felt like trying to not die. I have to get up and screw my head on tight, every day, to make sure I don’t forget where it is. Ben Smith is Captain America, and no one can convince me otherwise. Back Issue Ben’s ability to let everyone in, to walk us all through, is probably what Steve Rogers’ art was like, when he was a comics artist. I’m not that welcoming.

I like to let things flow like funk, like good music, good jazz. I like losing people, and making them play catchup. Or, losing them, and just waving goodbye as we speed on ahead into fun, new territory.

So, I make my lists. I have my agenda, my framework, my allies and avenues of research, and I start writing. If facts change, the article is appropriately altered. Not just the simple fact, itself, but the consequences.

Good comics criticism involves research. And, comics is not just words, or pictures, but also a medium and a market and a historical and cultural

Comics criticism can’t stop with a couple google searches. It can’t be about looking at one page out of all context or one speech balloon. I have seen good people do that. I’ve done some, myself, though hopefully not without couching it as such or correcting it later. Some laxness is unavoidable, particularly since, again, there is no money in this and very little aid.

I have to take my lists and look at the actual comics, and other comics, and outside sources, to see if not only the words line up, but the visual representations mirror or fall into a pattern. To see where a story has been, and were it’s going. The work history or lives of artists, writers, editors. The politics of the moment it was originally released. The technological limitations at play. I have to be fair.

I don’t want to cheat and fix one figure or function but say everything still adds up the same. There are places that will do that, even if they have checked the work and know it is not true. I don’t want to disgrace the Cube like that, and I don’t want to screw you, either. For what? Clicks? Attention?

This is comic book criticism, comedy, and journalism. The only clicks in that are ones that inspire rage and hate, fear and anxiety. Look at the hot button headlines in comics “journalism” and it’s all race-baiting and manipulation of facts, to help geeks feel persecuted and everyone else feel persecuted by geeks. Hydra Cap. Nobody at a major website was naive enough not to know they were whipping that up, or how ugly what they were stirring was. Any moral panic at a new black character or there’s a woman temporarily as main character in a comic that used to have a male lead, the people putting together that panic, at a professional level, know what it is they do. They know Thor has been a white construction worker, an alien with the head of a skinned horse, a frog before that scare piece about Jane Foster as Thor is even off the front page of the site.

And, those places? They run the correction but don’t change their piece, or at least, they never change the conclusions. Bad math. Ugly math.

I may screw up, but I don’t want my screw ups or exaggerations to result in someone hating or fearing other human beings for their skin color, their gender, and the existence of that being represented in a comic book. When I see articles asking why comics fandom or comics geekdom can get so brutal and hateful, “Why is this, this way?”, I find myself saying back, that it is because we let it. Because the comics critics and news organs, by and large, have followed a long, fannish tradition of inciting anger and panic, and then looking the other way at the larger consequences, every single time. I’m trying to not be that.

I’m not demanding that you come along with me. I’m just enjoying the drive and want to point out some nice sights to those who are along, how good the air smells, how nice the trees look and the buildings in the distance, as we go somewhere interesting. And, then go somewhere else a week or two later. Trying not to toss beer cans and empty bags out the window to mess up somebody’s lawn as we pass. Trying not to exhaust myself, doing your work for you, instead of our work, for us, and taking my fun where I can find it.

So, before you ask why I don’t cover this piece of news or why I don’t follow this trend, why don’t I write this intensely-researched, book-length examination of a bestselling comic or one that nobody bought… just read this, instead. And, you’ll either know why, or you’re one of the people we happily left behind, hoping that some day, you’ll catch up again, and we’ll have a good time together when you do.

Review: Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys

Due to international shipping restrictions and the shipping speed of my country, Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys took a while to get to me. While waiting for it, I was wondering if it would be worth the wait.

Well, it was.

The previous volume in Fantagraphics' The Complete Carl Barks Collection, Donald Duck: Trick or Treat, had, chronologically, the last long (longer than 10 pages) Donald Duck story by Carl Barks. Terror of the Beagle Boys comes chronologically before that, though, so this volume actually has three long stories, the most notable of which is "Dangerous Disguise," a 28-page spy thriller where Donald Duck and the Nephews encounter Madame Triple X, from whom they must protect America's secrets.

While reading "Dangerous Disguise," I actively thought to myself, "Wow, I keep forgetting how good Barks is." A perfect balance of drama, suspense, and comedy, with masterful storytelling at the heart of it. A real page-turner, "Dangerous Disguise" has all you could ask for in an action/adventure dramedy, but for those of you interested in the historical aspects of these things, this is also one of the rare times that Barks' humans were actually humans, not anthropomorphized beagles.

The stories and covers in Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys first appeared in Four-Color #308, 318, 328,348, and 353, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #124-134, and were published from January to November 1951. They consist of the following stories:

Long Stories: 
  • Dangerous Disguise. I already spoke about this above, but hey, it's a story with femme fatales and a villain named "Donaldo El Quacko." What's not to love?
Also, maybe, a murder.
  • No Such Varmint. The boys really want Donald to have a job they can be proud of, and takes him to someone who has invented a device that can evaluate skills in order to align it with a career option. He's told he should be a detective, but Donald really, really just wants to be a snake charmer. Scrooge then needs a detective, so he hires Donald, and... hijinks ensue. The climax is a big splash worthy of Jack Kirby — or of Carl Barks.
  • Donald Duck in Old California.  Donald and the boys take a trip to California, taking in the historic sites when they get into an accident. They then have a collective dream where they're stuck in old California, in the days of cowboys and the Gold Rush.
Short Stories:
  • Terror of the Beagle Boys. The titular story of the book is short and introduces the Beagle Boys, but they don't have much in the way of screen time. The story focuses more on Donald and Scrooge's attempts to prevent them from breaking in and stealing Scrooge's money. The first couple of pages are quite novel though: Donald pacing around worrying about, a role normally filled by Scrooge, when it's revealed that Scrooge paid him to do his worrying for him. Every time I think I've seen it all from Barks, he does something small that keeps the whole thing fresh.
  • Billions to Sneeze At. Scrooge develops an allergy to his money so he has to live like a hermit for a while. In the meantime, Donald has to take over his loaning business, but Donald's got all heart for the poor folk, and no brains...
  • Operation St. Bernard. To get a new merit badge for the Junior Woodchucks, the boys have to train a dog to go into the snow and look for lost travelers. Unfortunately, their dog, Bornworthy, is a coward. Donald does his best to be a good uncle and help them out, which gets them into real trouble when a blizzard comes in.
  • A Financial Fable. A cyclone takes millions of Scrooge's money and distributes it to the people in the general vicinity, including Donald and his lucky cousin Gladstone. This causes a change in the economy, and leaves Scrooge broke. However, Scrooge knows economics well enough that he knows he'll get the money back, and it wouldn't even take long. I have no idea if Carl Barks had a background in economics, but he certainly seemed to have a solid grasp on the concept of supply and demand; this not being the first story I've seen him do that has basically been a lesson in "Why don't rich people just give the poor people millions?"
  • The April Foolers. It's April Fool's Day, and the boys really want to play a trick on Donald. This is one of those slapstick stories where everything circumstantially goes wrong for our protagonists.
  • Knightly Rivals. Donald and Gladstone are both trying to be Daisy's leading man in a play, but to be true to character, Daisy asks them to be knightly and chivalrous to each other. They can't take it, of course, and tension escalates.
  • Pool Sharks. Donald builds a swimming pool in his backyard. The entire city of Duckburg finds out about it, and starts using it.
  • The Trouble With Dimes. Donald finds a rare dime and sells it for five dollars. So he goes into Scrooge's money bin, buys a bunch of dimes for a dollar each, and then sells them for five dollars each. He keeps going with this, but he's learned absolutely nothing about how too much supply wrecks price, so he basically ends up owing Scrooge money. So of course the boys have to save him.
  • Gladstone's Luck. Gladstone and Donald are playing golf, when all of a sudden, Gladstone's become terribly unlucky. Is there a catch? Of course there is.
  • Ten-Star Generals. To get merit badges for the Junior Woodchucks, the boys have to make a bow and a canoe using only items found in the woods, and also have to exhibit life preservation skills. Donald thinks, as he does, that he can do better than the boys, and out of genuine avuncular concern, tries to pre-empt the Junior Woodchuck Grand Marshal and pass off his (bad) creations as theirs. An interesting read for little facts, like how to start making a canoe, or what gets used in a bow if there's no string around.
  • Attic Antics. In this story not written (but drawn) by Barks, Grandma Duck and Gus Goose have two mice living with them, Gus-Gus and Jaq from Cinderella. As weird as that already sounds, Daisy's coming over to sleep over, and then Pete comes over to rob the house. Why this motley selection of characters? I have no idea. The story's still fun, but little of it makes sense, including why would Daisy Duck be visiting Donald's grandma without Donald? (My no-prize explanation: Daisy is the boys' paternal aunt.)
  • The Truant Nephews. The boys decide to play hookey, but everywhere they go, they run into a school or truant officers.
    I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of Barks, but it helps that this volume still has long stories. The short stories are fun too. As someone who works with numbers, I'm always more amused than I should when I see Barks playing off of these, to the point where I feel like they could be used in a classroom.

    Well recommended.



    Dec 5, 2016

    How I Learned to Love Ahsoka Tano

    How I Learned to Love Ahsoka Tano
    The Clone Wars, Maybe Not So Bad
    Ben Smith

    Star Wars is ingrained in my DNA.  It’s the first thing I can remember loving with the all-encompassing passion that tends to dominate my entertainment life.  My parents have a grainy picture of me getting a Millennium Falcon one year for my birthday.  One of my earliest memories was going to see Return of the Jedi with my family and my grandmother.  (The theater was one of those old school theaters in the mall, and my parents bought me a stuffed Ewok teddy bear after the movie.  I carried that thing with me everywhere until it literally rotted to pieces.)

    I’d be surprised if anyone that was a kid at any point when one of the original Star Wars movies came out didn’t have at least some sort of affinity for the franchise.  (That’s not a claim of ownership, or that my generation loves Star Wars the best, I’m simply referring to the time period as I remember it.)  Star Wars had the best toys, the best Halloween costumes, the best bed sheets, the best stickers, it was everywhere and everything.  Star Wars may not have often been my biggest entertainment passion since those halcyon days, but my love for it will always be there, ingrained in my blackened soul.  Call me a victim of marketing, I guess.

    Besides the Ewok television movies (I liked them, but in my defense I was like 6 years old) I’ve never been a big fan of the expanded Star Wars universe.  Despite being a lifelong comics fan, the comics have rarely ever worked for me.  The cartoons have varied from pretty good to abysmal, but never great.  Part of the problem is that so much of what makes the Star Wars movies great is the light sabers, the aerial battles, the voices of the actors (James Earl Jones) and the all-time great musical score.  Most of that cannot be replicated well, if at all, in a comic or a novel.

    My primary problem with the prequels is the same problem I have with most prequels: we already know what’s going to happen.  (The prequels have many flaws, but Ewan McGregor is not one of them.  I feel bad that his spectacular performance as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi will always be lost amid such a terrible series of films.  He and Padme are the only true heroic figures from that series of films, and he was a much better actor than she was at the time.  I love Portman, but she's very not good in those films.)  It’s even harder to get behind a main character in Anakin that is eventually going to betray everyone around him and turn to the dark side.  

    Out of the prequels came an animated series, The Clone Wars.  Much like everything else that wasn’t the original trilogy, I didn’t like it.  Here was this new character, Ahsoka Tano, that I couldn’t stand.



    She was the annoying teen sidekick, that was flawless and perfect and often as capable, if not more so, as the seasoned Jedi.  (I don’t like to use any of the dismissive terms used for characters that are aggressively forced upon the audience, but she was definitely pushed hard.)  The thing that probably bothered me the most, is that if she was so great, then why didn’t she factor into any of the movies.  To me, the movies are the main story, and everything else is complementary.  That made her either irrelevant to the grander narrative, or fodder to be killed off at some point.  Either result gave me little reason to care about her in the here and now.

    Except, one of the stranger things about my overwhelming love for the new movie, The Force Awakens, is how it led to Ahsoka Tano becoming one of my favorite Star Wars characters.  More on that later.  Unfortunately, Ahsoka didn’t have that big of a presence in the Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse, except for the series I’m going to be looking at today.

    So, long-winded preamble aside, let’s take a look back at Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

    STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS #1 
    Script: Henry Gilroy; Pencils: Scott Hepburn; Inks: Dan Parsons; Editor: Randy Stradley

    The war between the Republic and the Separatists has made its way to the colonized world of Ahsoka Tano’s people, the Togruta.  Count Dooku arrives on the planet, with promises of peaceful occupation and offers of sanctuary.  Some time later, the Republic has come to Kiros to rescue the now missing Togruta, led by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Ahsoka Tano.  Together with their clone squadron, led by Captain Rex, they fight against the Droid troopers of the Separatists.

    (One of the big factors in making me a rabid Ahsoka fan was the current cartoon series, Star Wars: Rebels. Unlike some of the previous television undertakings, Rebels has been allowed to weave in characters from various Star Wars continuities.  Set 5 years before the original Star Wars movie, it details the beginning of the rebellion, and has had episodes featuring R2-D2 & C-3PO, Lando Calrission, Princess Leia, and even Darth Vader.  At the end of the first season, the new team’s mysterious rebellion contact was revealed to be an older Ahsoka Tano, now a very capable Jedi.  In the second season, they brought back Captain Rex, revealing that he was one of the few clone troopers that successfully removed the implant chip that forced all the clones to turn on their Jedi and slaughter them on behalf of the Emperor and his new Empire.  As I said earlier, one of the things I originally hated about the Clone Wars cartoon was how inconsequential it seemed, but Rebels has made good use of its best characters.  Much like comics, it uses its own continuity to strengthen the current product.)

    Obi-Wan and his team have secured the area, giving Ahsoka time to lament all the destruction being done to her homeworld.



    The leader of this Separatist faction agrees to meet with Obi-Wan for negotiations.  Commander Ugg threatens Kenobi to surrender, or he will ignite the thermal bombs he has hidden all throughout the city, destroying everything.



    Obi-Wan plays to Ugg's vanity, and tricks him into accepting a one-on-one duel to settle the matter, giving Anakin and Ahsoka time to locate all the bombs.  Anakin holds off the Droid troopers while Ahsoka disables the first bomb, then it’s on to the next one.



    Obi-Wan is doing his best to hold off the much larger Ugg, while Anakin and the rest of the team continue to look for the bombs.



    Ugg finally figures out he’s being distracted, and activates the detonator to set off any bombs that might remain.  Unfortuantely, there was only one left, and it was inside his own escape ship.

    Ugg lunges at Obi-Wan in a rage, but Obi-Wan easily sends him hurling out of the window, and falling far down to the pavement below.

    The Separatist army has been defeated on Kiros, but there is still no sign of the missing Togruta.  However, Obi-Wan has discovered several transmissions from Ugg to the Zygerrians, notorious slave traders.

    The quest to find the missing Togruta begins.

    Like I said, I wasn’t a big fan of Ahsoka when the Clone Wars cartoon series initially debuted.  After having seen The Force Awakens, I developed a desparate thirst for more Star Wars content, so I gave the Clone Wars another try.  In the fifth season, Ahsoka is framed for a crime, and the Jedi are pressured into expelling her from the Jedi order so that the Republic (specifically Chancellor Palpatine) can try her in court.  Anakin uncovers the truth and clears her name just as she was about to be found guilty and sentenced to death.  The Jedi apologetically attempt to bribe her back into the order by promoting her to the rank of Jedi Knight, but she refuses, saying she can no longer trust them.  She leaves, and isn’t seen again until her shocking reveal in the Rebels cartoon.  The sense of betrayal she felt from the very people she was supposed to be able to trust, and her subsequent rejection of their apology, was one of the best moments in all of Star Wars canon.  It made me an instant fan.  We watched the rest of the Clone Wars looking for her to come back, but she didn’t.  I realize now, that this was their way of getting her out of the line of fire before Palpatine took over and had all the Jedi killed.)

    STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS #2
    Script: Henry Gilroy; Pencils: Ramon K. Perez; Inks: Dan Parsons; Editor: Randy Stradley

    Anakin and Obi-Wan confer with Yoda.



    Count Dooku has already begun to spread word that the Togruta were destroyed in the Jedi’s attack on Kiros.  Obi-Wan informs Yoda of the clues they found pointing toward the Zygerrians.  Yoda relays to them how the Jedi had previously suppressed the Zygerrians slave trade, but to proceed cautiously. Anakin is appropriately (for once) worked up, having been a slave himself as a young boy.

    They travel to Shi’Kar, a lawless region for scavengers, smugglers, and pirates.  Luckily, they run into a Zygerrian ship.  Anakin wants to attack, but Obi-Wan convinces him that they need to take a subtler approach.

    Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka board under the pretense of offering new merchandise, but things quickly turn hostile when he assumes they are there to sell Ahsoka.



    In the ensuing chaos of the battle, a rocket fired into the side of the ship threatens the integrity of the seal.  Ahsoka closes the seal, locking herself on the slaver’s ship with the Zygerrians and separating her from Obi-Wan and Anakin.



    The Jedi ship is still clamped on tight to the Zygerrians, so they try their best to knock them off.

    Distracted by trying to shake loose the Jedi ship, the Zygerrians have left Ahsoka unattended.  She contacts Obi-Wan and Anakin for advice on her next move.



    Ahsoka tries to use the Force to unlock the rear maintenance airlock for her allies, but is interruped by one of the Zygerrians.  He grabs her communicator and offers them a trade, Ahsoka for their men.

    Obi-Wan and Anakin make their way to the rear airlock door in a pair of spacesuits, fighting off some monsters that the Zygerrians unleash to try and stop them.

    Obi-Wan and Anakin finally make their way onboard, and offer to spare the remaining Zygerrian’s life for any information he has on the missing Togruta.  He doesn’t know where the Togruta are, but has heard they are to be auctioned off on Zygerria by their queen.



    Now, the search continues to Zygerria.

    I definitely appreciate this depiction of Ahsoka.  She’s very capable, but not infallible.  She makes some heady moves in the middle of battle, but still needs her teammates to help her out in the end.  Every new major character is going to receive a big push from the creators, so the only hope is that they do it in a believable and balanced way.  I think it’s done pretty well so far in this series, unlike Stern and his version of Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau).  I like Monica Rambeau quite a bit, but there’s only so many times you can read established legends like Captain America and Thor wax poetic about her before it gets a little ridiculous.

    Seeing as how I waxed poetically for eight paragraphs about my childhood with Star Wars, we’re going to have to end this here for now.

    In case you couldn’t tell, I enjoyed The Force Awakens quite a bit.  All of the more prevalent criticisms that people had with the movie online, were all criticisms I noticed as well, I just didn’t care.  (Except for the criticisms about the race and gender of the main characters, those are criticisms that I would never have.  Nobody should ever have those criticisms, unless you’re 7 and think girls are icky.  That’s the only acceptable reason to think that way in a modern society.  Seriously, go live somewhere else.)  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and really have no desire to try and pick it apart.  (For some, Rey was pushed hard to the point of unbelievability.  It’s an understandable criticism, but I have to wonder if anyone would care as much if she was a guy.)  Unlike superhero movies, which I tend to nitpick for all the things that are changed from the page to the screen, Star Wars is one of the few movies I was able to just appreciate and enjoy.  You can’t ask for more than that.

    Dec 1, 2016

    Magneto, Xorn, and Our Sad Sense of Scale

    Magneto, Xorn, and Our Sad Sense of Scale
    Travis Hedge Coke


    The supervillain, Magneto, once spent about two years real time’s worth of monthly comics, pretending to be a Chinese political prisoner, teaching a class for troubled students at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning in New X-Men and related titles. He revealed himself, he got beat, and the world was saved.

    To this day, there are still people insisting that this was a late-in-the-game change, that there’s no good evidence he was always Magneto, and that for him to have achieved this impersonation would be impossible.

    Now, I am less interested in defending the writers and artists in their plotting, seeding, or representation of this masquerade, than I am whether purely in its mechanics, it could be pulled off. Are all the elements necessary present and in appropriate action? And, I think they are. I believe, what the real issue ends up being, is not that this masquerade was nonsense or impossible, but more honestly, that both in-story and in terms of audience, people have limited perspectives. Our sense of scale is, quite often, very limited, even self-limited, in order for us to function, day to day in real life, and to keep a hold of a story as a whole, and scenes in specific, as we experience them.

    Let’s go through the most frequently given, or most reasonably considered proposals of why Magneto could not have always been Xorn…


    Reason #1: Magneto Couldn’t Have Built a Prison Made of Iron

    First of all, he’s Magneto. It’s made of iron.

    During this run, we saw Magneto’s sometimes daughter, who has similar, though less powerful control of magnetism alter a giant robot into a statue of her father the size of Godzilla in about half a page/six minutes. She was assisted, in this, by one super-fast man of just over normal strength, and a couple yokels with hammers. If she could construct that, in such a short period of time, how hard is an iron room and a couple attached hallways?



    Secondly, Magneto had the assistance of a mutant whose power was to create subservient homunculi. These were used to populate the fake the prison, act as guards and arbitrators, et al. How difficult would it be for them to pick up appropriate tools and help put in a light fixture or tile a floor?

    And, lastly, at this time, Magneto was the head of an advanced nation. They had technology that we, in our world, do not. And, yet, I can easily imagine that the President of the United States, or the heads of China, Germany, or Ireland, just to pick a few countries, could manage to have a small building constructed, if they so desired. People build houses, prisons, shopping centers all the time.

    If you believe that Magneto could have built more than one asteroid base with a functioning biosphere, why strain at the notion that he built or had built a small prison?


    Reason #2: Their Powers Are Very Different

    Xorn, supposedly, had a sun for a brain, could not be telepathically read, healed living things, and shot energy out of his face. He could, potentially, create a blackhole if he wanted to.

    Magneto, on the other hand, has some gifts with resisting telepathy (and some technology to those ends) and controls magnetism in a variety of sometimes kind of implausible, but close enough to believable ways.

    So, how could Magneto fake Xorn’s abilities?

    Xorn never actually heals, anything. He “kills” small robots in the bloodstream of several X-Men. He rips a cement mixer off its metal bracing. He fuses small robots to Xavier’s spine to help keep it together. And, after a bird dies, we see it, glowing, fly away. That is, more or less, the extent of what we see, other than some generic power blasts from his face, and something that causes a fire.




    He, by his own admission, perceives electromagnetic radiation.

    Just starting with the pure silliness of “a star for a brain” as a physical, genetic mutation, questions begin to arise within characters, themselves. How does he eat? How does he poop? And, they should, within the audience, arise as well. How does he exhibit superhuman strength when manipulating a metal object? How does he turn off or fuse together microscopic robots with “healing powers”? Why can’t he heal anyone when they actually need it?

    Reason #3: Why Don’t the X-Men Recognize Him?

    None of the X-Men ever see his face, for one thing. But, beyond that, they never hear him talk, either.



    Xorn, again, by his own admission, “talks” by vibrating air molecules with his powers, to generate sound. While he does not say this, it is easy, then, for me to imagine that he’s also putting on an accent of some kind, but regardless, it is less believable, to me, that he would sound the same as his normal speaking voice, using this techniqueue , than it it is believable to me that he sounds very different.

    Wolverine is annoyed that he did not smell that this was Magneto, but considering the school had an influx of dozens, if not a couple hundred students, it becomes, for me, easy to imagine him missing Magneto’s scent, even if Magneto isn’t altering it with cologne or something else.

    What we have, then, is a man with a different face, a different voice, allies who will vouch for him, a plausible backstory, an affable personality, and no good reason for this impersonation.

    Magneto’s masquerade as Xorn is straight up Silver Age supervillain, yes, but it’s also just super, super petty. He isn’t doing it as much for the sake of his taking over the world plans, which could be effected other ways, as he is spite and jealousy and ego. He wants to screw over the X-Men, and his former friend, Professor Xavier. To stick it in, twist it deep, and break it off.

    The X-Men, being mostly rational, and sensible, good people, who want to see the good in others, including repeat supervillains, are less prepared for spite and envy to get that much the better of someone. Not even just with Magneto, but internally, in the organization, in the same issues as this storyline played out. Wolverine nearly suicides over a damning set of probably falsified documents about his past. Emma Frost and Cyclops are engaged in an extramarital affair under the excuse that it’s merely thoughts they’re sharing, imagined scenarios. Jean Grey spends the entire storyline avoiding just talking to people, because she’s trying to protect them. Beast is a ball of self-deprecating, troublemaking emotion and snappy patter. And, Xavier got hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat, by one of his own teenaged students. There’s all sorts of stuff they can’t see.


    Reason #4: Magneto Wouldn’t Use Drugs

    In this storyline, Magneto is addicted to the mutant stimulant, kick.



    In previous stories by other authors, Magneto has used mutants who could stimulate him and his powers, and even became reliant on them. He has used mechanical means to enhance his powers and performance.


    Reason #5: Magneto Wouldn’t Kill So Many People

    You and I must read about very different Magnetos. Magneto is constantly, and consistently trying to kill loads of people or actually doing it. His flip the poles trick, which he tries again, here, is by necessity going to kill a whole ton of people. His invasion of a peaceful nation to enslave its population had to have had a death toll. His attack on Manhattan, via EMP, in Fatal Attractions, resulted in many deaths and was a blatant terroristic assault on innocent people. He has literally gone to societies with limited external contact and enslaved, tortured, and experimented on them for his own ends. The reason he was put in charge of the nation of Genosha, was that he blackmailed the UN into giving him that power, by threatening the lives of most of the world.

    In case you had not considered it, “most of the world,” would also include most of the mutants on that world.

    Yes, in one storyline, Magneto refused to kill one girl, the student of a former friend. Not killing one person, one time, does not erase a history, a lifetime of multiple murders, both human and mutant.

    So, yes, Magneto would kill so, so, so many people if it achieved his goals or if he was just mad enough at the world that day. Let’s not forget, he once kidnapped and brainwashed the X-Men because a colleague of their boss performed medical procedures on him to try to help him live a saner life. He, kidnapped her, too, and tortured the hell out of her, but at least there, there’s some tit for tat relationship. Colossus or Rogue didn’t have anything to do with that. Further, while he was committing these acts of brainwashing, his followers, who he was willing to kill to defend and support, were busy torturing, assaulting, and murdering innocent people in the name of genetic supremacy.

    Magneto was born under a star and will be buried under a tombstone, both of which read, in big sparkly capital letters: WOULD KILL SO MANY PEOPLE.



    Erasing the extent of Magneto’s murderous behavior, on the basis of the one time he did not kill Kitty Pryde, or that he one time liked a woman romantically, is a understandable and human failing. It’s part of that perspective issue we have, as detailed up top in this article. It’s easier for us to remember two or three decent things he did, than to grapple with the extent of the horrific actions he has willingly undertaken. Big-time evil is hard to deal with. Large death tolls, even when ostensibly not backed by evil intentions, can be horrifying. We don’t often like to think, for example, of how many people die in actions authorized by our heads of state. Or, how many accidental deaths we overlook in order to keep enjoying the benefits of cars and other modern conveniences. What reliance on fossil fuels costs us. What we buy, as nations and cultures, at the cost of warfare, bombings, and minefields.

    We self-limit our perspectives in order to continue and to thrive. Unfortunately, doing so means that, in a metaphoric way, our Magnetos can dress up like Xorns and we probably buy into it for twenty issues until we see the Magneto clearly and just really would rather they’d been Xorn the whole time.

    Nov 28, 2016

    Unpopular Opinions: Return of the Jedi is the Best Star Wars Movie

    Unpopular Opinions: Return of the Jedi is the Best Star Wars Movie
    Ben Smith


    Welcome to Unpopular Opinions, where I make an outlandish claim and do my best to support that claim using the measured rational approach that has made me an internet sensation.  (Editor’s note: Back Issue Ben is not an internet sensation.)  In this inaugural edition, I go straight to the best franchise in the history of fiction, Star Wars.  Popular opinion, in my experience, is that The Empire Strikes Back stands as the greatest film in the movie series.  There are certainly more than a few fans that believe the original film is the pinnacle of the series (and, having watched it again recently, it does have a surprising amount of quotes that have permeated into pop culture).  Yet, I’ve very rarely seen any declare that Return of the Jedi is the best.  It was even used as a meta-commentary joke in X-Men: Apocalypse:  “The third movie is always the worst.”




    So, my plan is to prove why they’re wrong, why you’re wrong, why your face is wrong, and also maybe discover a little bit of something about myself along the way.  Let’s get started.

    Jabba’s Palace

    Luke Skywalker and his crew systematically infiltrating Jabba the Hutt’s palace to rescue the captive Han Solo, culminating in an exciting battle above a ravenous sand monster, is probably the best sequence of the entire franchise.  (Han being frozen in carbonite is up there as well.)  The overall atmosphere of Jabba’s Palace was a perfect example of the crazy alien set pieces that Star Wars became famous for.  We also have Leia in her Boushh bounty hunter disguise, and Lando in his palace guard disguise, both of which made for cool looking toys.  Luke vs the Rancor might look woefully outdated as far as special effects go, but it’s still a gripping scene, and serves to highlight how formidable Luke has become as a Jedi.  Not to mention, Han Solo is in top quipping form throughout the entire thing.


    Luke:  I used to live here you know.
    Han:  You’re going to die here you know.  Convenient.
    Hoth was great.  A tiny rebel ship engulfed by a huge Star Destroyer as it flies overhead of the camera, iconic.  All the movies had stunning beginnings, but Return of the Jedi had the best.  Plus, there’s more Boba Fett in this one.  You can never go wrong with more Boba Fett.

    (As an aside, among many other things, I think the Special Editions adding a scene with Jabba to the original movie ruins the surprise of seeing Jabba for the first time in Return of the Jedi.  He’s referred to many times over the course of the first two movies, but nobody could have predicted a giant slug monster was the gangster being referred to with such fear.  Of course, all of this is moot if you watch the entire film series in order, starting with the prequels, but the point remains, sometimes maintaining a little bit of mystery can add a lot.  Just ask Wolverine fans.)  

    The Ewoks

    When I was a little kid, my parents took me to the store right after seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater, and got me a stuffed Wicket plush toy.  I carried that thing around with me everywhere.  Kids loved the Ewoks.  Those kids got older, and jaded, and it became cool to groan over the “kiddie” Ewoks ruining the last Star Wars film.  I’ll admit, I was one of them at one time.  Those are many of the same people that will praise Empire for being dark, and having the unhappy ending, as being more realistic.  Look, darkness is part of life, but so is light.  If your life is nothing but darkness and failure and disappointment, then you have my sincere sympathies.  Dark and violent isn’t automatically more realistic, or have more merit or artistic worth than something that is fun and light and good.  (Inside Out is one of the most smartly written and deeply layered movies I can think of, and it’s an all-ages Pixar movie.)  I love The Empire Strikes Back, but if that’s where the story ended, well that would be a pretty terrible end.  Don’t be so cynical, embrace the plushy fun of Wicket.

    Nothing is darker than straight murdering teddy bears.


    Speeder Bike Chase



    Star Wars has no shortage of fantastic vehicles, and the speeder bike is no exception.  Luke and Leia racing at breakneck speeds through the forests of Endor, fighting the “Biker Scout” Stormtroopers (another underrated costume design) is one of the most viscerally thrilling action pieces of the saga.

    The Force is Strong in My Family

    Longtime readers of Back Issue Ben will know that emotional connection is what really gets to me as a consumer of entertainment.  Luke and Leia having this emotional conversation in which Luke reveals that Darth Vader is his father, and that she is his sister, is a prime example of that.  (Even though it really doesn’t make much sense that they are brother and sister.  As legend goes, despite what George Lucas will claim, Leia was never planned to be the “there is another” reveal, but Lucas deciding that he was too exhausted to continue the film series as planned, led to them shortening the planned story, and also conveniently ending whatever love triangle might have still existed between Luke, Leia, and Han.  Originally, as rumor goes, there was going to be a convoluted reveal of another character strong in the force that would figure more prominently in the planned third trilogy that happened after Jedi.  It may have been Luke’s long-lost sister, I can’t remember the exact details.)

    It’s a Trap

    One of the most iconic and oft-mocked lines from the trilogy, as delivered by squid-faced Admiral Ackbar.  (I went to a Star Wars convention once, and the gentleman that played the role of Ackbar would sign his photos with “it’s a trap!” included.  A personal note about that convention: the actress that does the voice for Ahsoka Tano was there, and I didn’t get her autograph because I wasn’t a fan of the character yet.  I wish I could go back in time and fix that.  Well, actually, if I could time travel I’d use that power to go back and buy old Transformers and Star Wars toys off the shelf and put them in a storage locker for 30 years.  Fantasy life goals.)  

    Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker



    The rematch between Luke and Vader has all the elements you’d want in a climactic battle.  The Emperor watching on as father fights son, spaceships pitched in an intense battle outside the creepily unfinished death star (a fantastic visual).  This is epic storytelling at its best.  Vader senses Luke’s fear for his sister and threatens to pursue her instead, resulting in Luke’s angry attack as the music swells.  Well, let me just say, that it gets me right in the feels.  (Another positive about this movie, Luke has become a badass in the time since the previous film.  He spent a lot of his time whining in the first two movies, but by this one he was calm and confident, decked out in black and kicking ass.  The green saber is just cooler too.)  An epic beginning and an epic end, what more could you possibly want in a movie?  (We’ll ignore Lucas’ constant tinkering ruining Darth Vader’s big redemptive moment by dubbing in an unnecessary “nooooo,” echoing the oft-mocked moment from Revenge of the Sith where Anakin learns that Padme died.  So awful.  So so very awful.  Disney, please release the unaltered versions of the original trilogy for purchase.)

    Leia’s Bikini



    I’d be remiss if I didn’t include what is arguably the most iconic costume of the entire franchise.  Yes, it’s perverted and dirty and sexist to acknowledge it as such, but I don’t care.  Address your complaints to the inventor of testosterone.

    There, I can say without reservation I definitely proved to you why Return of the Jedi is the best of the Star Wars films, without a doubt.  Sure, A New Hope may have made the most money, created the entire universe, and had the most iconic lines.  The Empire Strikes Back may have my favorite Luke costume, the first light saber battle between Luke and Vader framed beautifully by glowing orange lights in a chamber hissing and buzzing with machinery designed to freeze someone into a giant brick.  Sure, it may also have had snow monsters, and a visually stunning snow battle between snowspeeders and giant AT-ATs … oh man.  I forgot about the AT-ATs.  Damn, Empire Strikes Back was the best one.

    Oh well.

    Nov 25, 2016

    It's an Alternate Version

    It’s an Alternate Version: How We Keep Forgetting Alternate Means Something
    Travis Hedge Coke

    DC did not “turn Alan Scott gay.” An alternate reality Alan Scott is gay. An alternate version.

    You know what alternate realities are. You know what alternate versions are. You are an adult (or a smart kid). You know the score. There are alternate versions of Batman where he looks like Michael Keaton in a rubber suit the neck of which cannot turn. There are versions where he’s a cartoon. Where he’s Christian Bale and the bat-theme is increasingly muted on his costume and equipment. You know this stuff. Quit pretending you don’t.

    I’m of the opinion that Wonder Woman was never confirmed in any real sense as not bisexual or potentially so. That the subtext, such as it is, of the oldest Wonder Woman comics isn’t even subtext, it’s not even particularly quiet, it just didn’t use certain words or explicit gestures. That said, the one we have right now? She’s an alternate reality from that. This isn’t the same Wonder Woman from her first appearances. We know that. In story, even, we have explanations for this. Cosmic machinations to alter reality.

    If you can wrap your head around three or four different continuities of Batman movies, if you can accept that an alternate reality makes this character evil or this one have a different hairstyle or they can be a cartoon animal, then when it comes to race or sexuality, you’re drawing a line. You.

    Ty Templeton explains why gayness matters better than I could.


    If a story has a reality-changer, a magic person or a special tool that alters reality, and suddenly a character is different than their established take… I don’t care if the story did not tell you explicitly that the change came from that reality-changer. Connect those dots yourself. If you can’t, I don’t believe that you actually can not. You don’t want to.

    If reality gets changed in story, and there are elements changed and the only thing that bugs you is that a tertiary character who hasn’t supported any solo comics of note in possibly seventy years being gay on an alternate universe, that’s about you. That’s revelatory about you.

    If you can handle a Batman who is blonde, like Val Kilmer played him, or balding, a Batman who is tall or medium height, but it’s race that holds you up, it’s because you feel race is a bigger deal.

    Spider-Man was a humanoid pig for an entire ongoing series. Spider-Man has been impregnated by a World War Two villain and gave birth to himself. He’s grown four extra arms. I’m sorry, but in my world, four extra arms is slightly more absurd or gimmicky than a completely different kid with similar powers dressing up like his hero to continue a legacy as a new Spider-Man. That kid’s not white?

    If you survived all of these, but draw the line at one being black or a girl, you're saying that
    evil, clone, from the future are lesser changes and more acceptable for Spider-Man
    than being black or female.


    Well, fuck me. Some kids aren’t white. Who fucking knew?

    If you know enough to complain, then you know enough to realize that corporate-owned characters, characters adapted to tv or movies or toys often are cast differently or have changes wrought. You know enough to understand that this or that story may exist in a different reality than another and that this will mean there are differences. If you didn’t know, right away, then by now someone has explained it to you. You’ve seen it mentioned in a comments section, or you read the comic in question, watched the movie, or just had the basic gist run by you. And, even if you hadn’t, you could probably put it together if you wanted to.


    Normal Spock and Evil Spock are Normal and Evil Spidey. Tuvok is a black guy
    from the same species. Miles Morales as Spider-Man is a black guy of the same species.

    You don’t want to. You want to foist a bowdlerize version of appropriate and right onto all of us, as if it is reality. You’re offended by certain kinds of existence, ethnicities, genders, sexualities being less deniable, less erased or pigeonholed. Captain America is literally a costume, name, and set of tools and special drugs developed by the US Government for application to a wide range of soldiers. That’s every version. This or that version may give you more details, differing details, but at its core, Captain America as an identity, was designed to be able to dress up anyone appropriate, arm them, and send them out to fight. It’s not a sacred, inviolate name for only one man. It’s the alias of a kind of soldier. If you can handle more than one actor playing the role, and so far that has not destroyed the fabric of our society, but you get hung up if in a comic, a black man temporarily uses the name because it was given to him through appropriate channels, do us all a favor and admit to yourself and to the world that this is the line you are drawing. This is a thing you cannot countenance. Because, clearly, reality is just fine with the change.

    And, if you can’t do that, then at least do us the favor of ceasing to spread misinformation fueled only by your insecurities, or potentially, your actual dumbness.
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