Sep 30, 2015

Yes, We Live in The Twenty-First Century

Yes, We Live in The Twenty-First Century
Travis Hedge Coke

Someone criticized the upcoming Blade book because it’s “ironic” that Marvel has a girl in it, since Blade was “already diverse,” being black. I’ve seen it suggested that Electricomics will fail utterly, because reading comics on a tablet is impossible for most people. Three different places online, this last week, have featured people complaining that there’s too much reference to twitter, cellphones apps, and pop music in comics right now. Peter Parker should not have apps on his phone.

I don’t believe these people are eighty or ninety years old. Even if they were, my grandpa’s in his nineties and used a tablet happily until he went blind a couple years ago. When I told my grandpa that Jane Foster had the power of Thor now, he told me that happened before I was born (and he knew, because he bought the issue at the time). My grandpa knows who Ariana Grande and Beyonce are and he knows which he prefers. If you’re between the ages of twenty and forty and my grandpa is hipper than you while being blind, old, widowered, and subject to about as many strokes in a year as there are months, you’ve dropped some balls.

This is the Twenty-First Century. The internet has been around for awhile now. The Daily Show is on its third regular host. Marvel’s Thor has been replaced by other people using the name Thor and/or the role of Thor at least four or five times now. Dick Grayson has been Batman for two extended periods. Commissioner Gordon has been a Batman at least twice in recent memory. Commissioner Gordon, right now, is of an age where, as a young beat cop, he probably rocked out to Prince.

I don’t care if Gordon listening to Prince makes you feel old. Maybe you are old. If Jubilee listening to Peaches or Ke$ha seems like a shallow ploy to act new and hip, I want you to stop and count the years between the here and now, and either of those musician’s first albums. If the times have passed you by, don’t freak, don’t fret; it is correctable.

You, too, can join the Twenty-First Century!

There is no magic number of girls or women who can be present, as supporting or stars, in comics. Even superhero comics. Ms Marvel having a title, Blade’s daughter sharing a title with her father won’t stop any male character from otherwise having a monthly ongoing. Spider-Man having three or more monthlies won’t prevent Black Panther, Jubilee, or Leapfrog from having their own monthly solo comic. It does not work that way.

Accepting this will help you enter the modern day without panicking.

Peter Parker is in his early twenties. He’s vaguely single but usually dating one or more of the fantastic, intelligent, beautiful women he’s traditionally surrounded by. Peter, of course, feels neurotic and complains about this. But Parker is going to text those ladies. He’s going to text his boss. He’s going to text Aunt May. You know why?

Twenty-First Century.

Aunt May is old. She’s not a dumbass. Aunt May can work a cellphone.

If this distresses you, ask yourself if you have a phone and use it. Ask yourself if your friends have phones and use them. If your mom or dad has a phone and uses it. If the answer to any of that is affirmative, then get over your weird hypocrisy against Aunt May and Peter Parker using their phones in comics set in the modern day. Chill. Let it be.

Marvel’s not going to force you to read any more comics with little girls or adult women in them than you choose to. Not every Marvel comic has to be for you.

DC is not going to make you accept Asians by shoving Asian characters down your throat until you surrender. You want to be racist, fine, you’re a racist.

Dynamite is not actively trolling you by hiring Leah Moore. It’s not a conspiracy to make you accept that women work in comics.

Bitch Planet is not a conspiracy against you. And if it is, boy, you must a done something to earn that.

Sep 28, 2015

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 5

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
Part 5: Boom Boom
Ben Smith

The Beyonder’s experiments into the nature of human desire has left him in a low place. His plan to court the mutant Dazzler backfired when he fell in love with her, but she rejected him. Now he’s a supremely powerful being having to deal with the ache of romantic rejection (and the pain of a bad hairstyle).

The first few issues of the series were interesting because of their ambition, and the overall approach Shooter was taking with the series, but the stories themselves were a little bit tedious to get through. The third issue got a little more entertaining, with all the strippers and pimps, but things really got going in the previous chapter, with the Beyonder thinking and behaving more like a normal person.

Will that trend continue? There’s only one way to find out.

Secret Wars II #5
Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inkers: Leialoha and Rubinstein; Editor: Bob Budiansky

The Beyonder strolls along a railroad track, when a train comes barreling down behind him. He reacts in typical Beyonder fashion, disassembling the train and sending the parts, and passengers, soaring harmlessly past him (instead of, you know, taking a few steps to the side).

In the confusion, the Beyonder continues along his path, and a young girl comes running up behind him. Her name is Tabitha, but everyone calls her Boom Boom. She’s a mutant (some would say the greatest mutant) and was heading to some school for mutants she heard about up in Westchester, New York (but they’re wrong, she’s the worst).

Her father wasn’t too happy about her being a mutant, and tried to beat it out of her. (That adds child abuse to other topics such as suicide and prostitution that have been covered in this series. Those are topics you’d expect to see in boring movies nominated for Academy Awards, instead of the what this arguably should have been, the equivalent of a summer blockbuster “popcorn” flick. Personally I think it’s what makes it fascinating, but others probably disagree. They’re wrong.)

Boom Boom’s mutant power is the ability to create “time bombs” made of energy (but her real skill is in never stopping talking).

Boom Boom asks the Beyonder what his deal is, and why he seems so down (cue the obligatory recap pages). He relays to her his story, and how he fell in love with a woman that didn’t love him back. Tabitha is familiar with rejection, and the range of emotions it can create. You can try to fix yourself, thinking you’re the problem. You can pretend nothing is wrong, or wallow in your grief. (Or you can get drunk and watch a lot of nature documentaries. It’s all a journey. Life’s journey.)

The Beyonder is frustrated with the nature of human desire, and wishes he had never come to Earth. Here, desire is a nuisance that has left him feeling incomplete, while back in his dimension he was everything, he was complete. Boom Boom disagrees, believing that you can’t just check out on life. You have to keep on trying, or else you just lay down and die. (There goes more of that suicide talk.)

The Beyonder disagrees, and has deciding to return where he came from. She gives him a hug goodbye, and after he leaves, breaks down in tears at the prospect of being alone again.

The Beyonder arrives in his empty dimension, but it’s not the same. He feels like maybe he should have brought some things, and then some more things, but it doesn’t matter because he can’t bring her (Dazzler). At least, not of her own free will.

Just when he’s about to fully lose himself in self-pity, a time bomb left by Boom Boom goes off in his back pocket, breaking him out of his funk. (What are friends for? Hurting each other, to distract from the pain of life, that’s what.)

The next day, Boom Boom is hitching for a ride on the side of the interstate, when Beyonder pulls up in a car and gives her a lift. To show he’s not mad about the prank, he heals her black eye.

As he gives her a ride to Xavier’s school, he still insists that he’s going to return to where he came from, but she’s still not convinced he’s ready to quit on life. (What he should quit on is that hair and wardrobe.)

They arrive at the school, and Boom Boom gets out, walks up to the door, and knocks. Before she can even finish introducing herself, the X-Men spot the Beyonder, and rush past her to attack him.

He’s little more than bored at their efforts, and sends them all tumbling away from his car before speeding off.

The X-Men chase off after him, leaving a distraught Boom Boom all alone, running off into the forest crying. Some time later, the X-Men return, unsuccessful, more concerned with their petty internal squabbles (a trademark of the franchise) than the young mutant that had been on their doorstep a little bit earlier.

Boom Boom calls for the Beyonder, but he doesn’t come. She creates the biggest bomb she can, threatening to let it go off and kill her if he doesn’t show up. Tabitha clutches the bomb tight (please kill her) until it goes off in a flaming burst of energy.

But the Beyonder finally arrives, saving her from certain death (damn you). This time she was the one ready to quit, after facing rejection at the hands of other mutants.

The Beyonder decides to take them both for a ride, into space. Specifically the headquarters of the mighty Celestials. (Celestials are basically really old, supremely powerful “space gods.” In the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the space station Knowhere was the hollowed-out head of a dead Celestial.)

The Beyonder isn’t all that impressed with the Celestials, believing that they just stand around worrying about the universe but not actually doing anything about it. So, they go to “the boardwalk,” a tourist trap that alien races built around the Celestials.

After having a few alien hot dogs and sodas, Boom Boom gets the Beyonder all riled up about how the Celestials didn’t seem to notice him. He claims that he’s all they’ve been thinking about, and flies up to challenge them by threatening to destroy the universe, unless they stop him.

They surround him…

…and in a display of his ultimate power, The Beyonder repels them all.

I don’t care what you think of this series, that was impressive.

In a cosmic battle that regular beings can barely comprehend the full scope of, The Beyonder eventually stands triumphant.

Boom Boom is understandably shaken up, frightened of his willingness to destroy the galaxy to prove a point. He tries to win her back, by offering to make her more attractive, or older. But she wants no part of him anymore, and demands he return her to Earth.

He does, and then after cruising around the universe for a bit, returns to his mansion in Brazil. He checks in on a few of his projects, like Algrim the Elf, before turning on his record (ha!) player to listen to some music.

Little did he realize that Dazzler’s album was the record cued up to play. Beyonder sad.

Meanwhile, Boom Boom calls the Avengers, to warn them of the omnipotent being that is more than a little bit unstable at the moment.

Later, at the same campsite where they first spent the night, Boom Boom calls out for the Beyonder again. He’s very happy that she called. He had even contemplating giving up before she called for him.

Unfortunately for the Beyonder, it was all a trap planned by the Avengers to attack him with the combined might of a collection of Earth’s most powerful heroes. After getting no resistance from the one from beyond, Captain America stops the assault.

Rejected by the woman he loves, and abandoned by his only friend, the Beyonder is a broken man. That does not bode well for the future of the universe. The Avengers let him leave, not knowing what to do.

Like I said before, this may not be the mindless slugfest that many fans were looking for in a sequel to the original Secret Wars, but I think it’s been a pretty interesting experiment in exploring aspects of human existence. Most of us regular humans might go through a phase of destructive behavior after getting our hearts broken, but it usually involves getting drunk and going to strip clubs, instead of threatening to destroy the universe and fighting Celestials. (When I got divorced I read a lot of Cerebus. Which is simultaneously the best and worst thing to read when you’re angry at life. If nothing else, it’s a pretty fascinating look at one writer’s slow descent into madness. Much like this weekly column.) Sometimes that destructive behavior might push our friends too far, causing them to abandon us, which only serves to make us feel that much more alone.

The idea of a depressed omnipotent being feeling rejected and alone is an absolutely terrifying prospect. I can’t even imagine what I might have done with unlimited power during the periods of my life when I was wallowing in self-pity. Will the Beyonder finally break free of his prison of sadness, and enjoy all the positives in life, or will he start wearing lots of black and listening to the Cure?

Only one way to find out, next week!

Sep 24, 2015

Crusher Hogan's "Last Shoot" and Why Spider-Man Ruined a Dude's Life

With the news of Ringside coming out from Image in a couple of months, I thought I'd look at another comic about professional wrestling. So here I am looking at my copy of Spider-Man's Tangled Web #14, by Brian Azzarello, Scott Levy, and Giuseppe Camuncoli, published in 2002, and wondering if readers who don't watch professional wrestling understand it.

"The Last Shoot" is the story of Crusher Hogan, who is the professional wrestler that Peter Parker fights in his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, way way back in 1962, to test out his powers.

In the first Spider-Man movie, he was renamed Bonesaw McGraw and was played by Macho Man Randy Savage.

RIP Macho. You were awesome.

"The Last Shoot" tells the story of Crusher right before his meeting with Spider-Man and, consequently, shows how Spider-Man is responsible for ruining Crusher's life without even realizing it. Now I'm a pro wrestling fan, so I understood what was going on right away, as I am used to pro wrestling words such as "kayfabe," "angle," and "shoot," and I think this story is easily understandable by non-pro wrestling fans as well. But for those who don't get it, here I am to explain it to you.

(Please keep in mind that despite being a fan of professional wrestling and having read a bunch of wrestling biographies, I am not actually an authority on the subject.)

Okay, so "The Last Shoot" opens with Crusher Hogan in the ring, establishing that he's what's known as a shooter, someone who can hurt people for real. "Shoot" means they're doing it for real, as opposed to "work," which is when they're playing a character. You can do a "worked shoot," in which you're in character, but you're grounded in the reality of the situation.

In this case, we find out why Crusher's really rough on his colleague there. The guy wasn't selling (making it look like the moves hurt), so Crusher actually hurt him for real. Selling is an important part of any match, since it makes the opponent look strong. So Crusher has a warning for the kid for next time.

This isn't uncommon in pro wrestling. An incident in the mid-2000s in an untelevised house show
had a young up-and-comer named Chris Masters not selling well enough for the Undertaker.
After repeated warnings to sell better, the Undertaker broke his arm in the ring.

Unfortunately, the company Crusher works for, Championship, isn't doing well and even his boss Bobby thinks that jumping to the competitor, Global, is the best thing for his career.

Crusher has problems with this. It's partly due to loyalty, but it's also partly because "Global is about gimmicks," and he doesn't really have one. He's just a really good wrestler. It's similar to why the WWE is different from the smaller independent promotions — personality is very important. It's hard to argue otherwise for a global product, really, as watching pro wrestling just for the wrestling is pretty niche. (The technically proficient pro wrestlers are my favorite wrestlers, and even I wouldn't watch three hours of just them.)

Crusher's wife Marie says "They just want a piece of you," and it's in those words that Crusher finds his gimmick. The next show, he shoots... on the fans.

Worked shoots have such strong appeal in pro wrestling — CM Punk's whole career turned around once he delivered his famous "pipe bomb" promo, which people I know who know wrestling is scripted thought was real. It got them to pay attention after a long while and brought the WWE into a new era where they bring the characters into their social media accounts and blurred the lines between kayfabe (the world in which the characters live) and the real world.

Whatever Crusher said must have been really convincing, because it sells out the next show. The next thing we see is Crusher loaning money out from Hammerhead, who demands it back the day after the show, with interest.

This is the part that doesn't really fit. If Crusher was sure he wasn't going to use the money, why didn't he just pad a suitcase full of random paper and then a top layer of bills? Ah whatever, it adds to the tragedy.
The next scene features a sold out crowd and the same longhaired wrestler Crusher was working with at the beginning of the story thanking him for doing this for them. This is something that fascinates me about pro wrestling: the better the main eventer does, the better the entire promotion does, so it's really about filling the correct roles and knowing when to step aside and when to step up, because the more money for the promotion means more money for everyone.

It's here that Crusher reveals his plan: 10,000 dollars to anyone who can last three minutes in the ring with him.

It's an ingenious plan that hinges on Crusher's complete confidence in his ability to shootfight. The cash incentive would always ensure a sellout crowd, and those who don't give it a try will always tune in to see who beats Crusher, because that guy would become a hero. It's even an angle with an easy way out: when it's getting stale, they can just plant the next planned main eventer in the crowd and have him beat Crusher.

But it's an angle that needs time to gain traction. It has to have time to build up, and Crusher needs to get a bunch of wins in a bunch of nights to really make the fans hate him and for any payoff to mean anything. Unfortunately, for Crusher, that very same night, this happens.

Keep in mind that at no point in the story does it say this is happening in the past, so until Crusher reveals his gimmick, it could easily have been taking place in the present day. When Spider-Man makes his appearance, the impact is heightened. We know what happens next. Crusher's career is over, he owes 11,500 dollars to Hammerhead, and Peter Parker is completely unaware of it.

But Crusher's not resentful at all, no, because the next time Crusher is seen in continuity is in Amazing Spider-Man #271 (published in 1985), where Crusher is working as a janitor who tries telling people that he trained Spider-Man. He lives alone in a New York apartment that I doubt he could actually afford (just like in Friends), and is, apparently, actually a big fan of Spider-Man.

So you know, Spider-Man ruined the dude's job, marriage, and life, but it's nice to see Crusher didn't hold any grudges!

"The Last Shoot" delved pretty deeply into the wrestling world, and as a fan, I thought that was pretty cool. Another cool thing about it for me is that co-writer Scott Levy is better known as the professional wrestler, Raven, who has never made his being a fan of comics a secret.

Sep 23, 2015

Princess Diaries and Enthusiastic Fangirling

Princess Diaries and Enthusiastic Fangirling
Travis Hedge Coke

I don’t think anyone has done a serious study on comics, anime, and SF fandom in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series. And, this won’t be one. But, with a new novel and a new spinoff released this year, I think an informal rumination could do some good in the world.

Princess Mia, at fifteen, was fond of comparing her boyfriend to Wolverine and voted, against her friends, for the 2D version of Hellboy as one of the sexiest men in the world. This, as with her wearing Star Wars underpants for good luck or regularly worrying about sex she isn’t having is not present in the two Princess Diaries movies, because they skew to a younger, perhaps more family audience. But, the books are full of it, because while movie-Mia is a bit of a generic nerd, book-Mia has very serious commitment to specific fandoms.

When I was a kid, my favorite types of stories were either romantic or Romantic, and usually both. Superheroes gush, fret, rage and reminisce all the time. Superheroes are passionate, by and large, and their relationships with other people mean the world. Eras of Spider-Man, Batman, even Deadpool, are often identified by who they were fighting most often, and who they were making sexy times with most frequently. Schoolgirl stories for youths, tend to follow a similar path, while schoolboy stories for kids are mostly about pranks, ranks, and solving logical problems. Encyclopedia Brown can sort your logic problems, but he’s not huggy, and he’d probably never kiss a sad foreign student’s face to make her stop crying, like Joey Bettany (School at the Chalet), or tear out a girl’s extension braid after she nastily called another girl, “hermaphrodite,” as Princess Mia does in Princess in Training.

I blame 19th Century standards making this received wisdom, because if young boys really didn’t want passion in their stories, they wouldn't be the traditional bread and butter of superhero comics.

Mia seems to know, as many fans do, that ho Wolverine must not kiss during a particular story is just as important - probably way more important - than who he’s putting his claws through. When we’re very lucky, in a psychically complex fashion, he puts his claws through the person he’s not supposed to kiss perhaps even while kissing them.

(Sidenote: I assume if she were reading comics right now, Mia would disapprove of how desperately Marvel seems to be stepping back from a bisexual Hercules, particularly after how good an alternate reality Herc looked while romancing an alternate reality Wolverine.)

I’m getting, from a Princess Diaries story, essentially the same energies, the same thrills and frisson as I do from a Wolverine story, from a Hellboy comic. My nieces, who also read all three of these, seem to as well, so it’s not just me being weird (it’s my whole family being... no, it really is more than that).

Cabot has written comics, for that matter, Some of the PD books utilize illustrations that I would say are more than essential and not just because “whale (not drawn to scale)” makes me laugh. If there is a superhero energy transfigured into these stories, there is also some visual flair that cannot be wholly replicated in straight prose. The visual is given, in line art or text, its due weight.

Does Mia like the Star Wars prequels so much because she also likes Hayden Christensen’s abs? Does this devalorize her fannishness? Does it imply a lack of true fandom any more than, for example, the legion of Power Girl fans who may insist her boobs aren’t the draw, yet freak out any time they are fully covered or less than enormous for longer than four consecutive pages?

For all any of us may find sexualizing Harry Potter awkward (especially when done by an adult and not a teen), we likely take little notice of how easily Hermoine (and the actress who portrayed her) were eroticized by fans. The Slave Girl Leia has been, on occasion, the only Leia action figure available new in stores, so throwing stones at anyone, fictional character or real person, who finds Anakin kind of hot, should not, at least, come from within even the broadest realms of Star Wars fandom.

To modernize this a bit, let’s swap not-yet-Vader for Loki or Thor or… well pretty much any of the very pretty and generally well-shaped men featured in a Marvel movie. Dismissing this as a side-fandom is silly. Finding Loki or the actor portraying him for Marvel does not downgrade someone’s level of fannishness. Eroticizing Black Widow or Tigra isn’t more (or less) fair game than Loki or Wonder Man.

Princess Mia’s 2D lusts are not indicative of a less-invested form of fanning than anyone else’s different 2D lusts. Her fan status is not cheapened or enhanced by having a sexual or emotional context, nor is anyone else’s. Regardless of who feels the same or feels vehemently differently. And, as a fictional character, her author does not have to hold the same feelings at the same levels, but whether she does or not, does not alter the veracity or sincerity of the character’s fannishness.

It may seem silly thing to have to defend (or too close to the bone for some of you), but the rise in prominence of the Girl Superhero Fan as a title-launching comics character (especially at Marvel; Excalibur, Ms Marvel, Spider-Girl…) springs from a need to defend. Not defensively against a straw argument or phantom hatred that you can only see if you believe in it a priori like Slenderman, but a genuine response to a very ugly, increasingly vocal subsection of many geek fandoms as exemplified by gamergate’s obsession with releasing embarrassing pictures or home addresses in the pursuit of justice against women having opinions.

I’m not saying there’s a direct linkage from the PD series to the recent Ms Marvel or the later issues of Avengers Assemble that Kelly Sue DeConnick wrote. There is a shared insistency in character type, though, or general fanning ethos. That the female geek exists, and does so enthusiastically. Maybe, also, that her enthusiasms need not be a mimicry of her stereotypical male counterpart.

Before Excalibur’s enthusiasm in Captain Britain and MI 13, Ms Marvel fangirling over her namesake in her own title, or Lt Trouble cheering on the former Ms, now Captain Marvel in recent Captain Marvel series, Princess Mia was braving bullies by wearing Amidala panties on gym days where she’d have to strip off and probably hear something derisive. Which is very Wolverine, I think, and a Jubilee one, too. I could see the Wolverine of Meltdown or the Larry Hama era rocking provocative undies in the face of those who’d take a swing at him. And, Jubilee has essentially grown into being Wolverine without stubble and cigars, honing herself through issue after issue of being Logan’s biggest fan.

And, now I’m wondering where and how Marjorie Liu’s early, very Wolvie and Jubes-haunted professional fiction is best places, in the continuum that seems to be forming from these considerations.

I don’t for a moment believe that gender is dictating the shape of anyone’s fannishness or these type of fan expression. I love sometime Cube writer, Kimberly Smith’s Hank Pym enthusiasm and her husband, and writer of roughly eighty-seven percent of the Cube, Ben Smith’s fanning. I don’t see an appreciable difference in how intensely they’re expressed. Unlike the places I frequent that are decidedly more women-centric or run by a woman, for certain television shows or manga genres, the best fanning I see via comics forums (or on social networks, to be honest) involving a majority of omen, comes to me in the form of group private messages or off-board joint skips, emails, and chats.

(Sidenote: Some of this is due to the ramifications from outside the fandom, from being discovered discussing aspects of a socially sensitive nature publicly by family or employers. And, some of it should cement how anecdotal this is because I also don’t have thorough or regular conversations with men as often as with women.)

Hypothetically, all my friends and co-fans could just be hiding the special public comics talk forums from me. The guys I’m not engaging with off-board may be having just as much, just as fascinating para-conversations. Seems more likely, to me, that the pirate utopia politics of personal Huntress Tumblr or deviantArt page for fanart, the relative protection of a PM on a forum, as opposed to a public post, has not a gender-fueled initiative, but it is culturally wrought.

Which, is probably why movie-Mia has less fandoms, is less of a specific geek and just frizzier hair and a retainer. It doesn’t wash in a standardized movie world (and, I’m saying this as a fan of those movies). It isn’t that the female fan of geek shows or comics didn’t exist until recently; Star Trek was saved by its fandom, but most specifically by notable women who loved it. Pop culture itself, popular entertainment has erased the and obscured women in fandom and women who are fans (as well as downplaying or erasing women working in geek fields, from the sciences to science fiction). That’s where we’re at, culturally. Our entertainment does reflect the social reality we think we have.

Outside of the Engineer while Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch were working on The Authority, can anyone think of a superheroine in the entire DC multiverse who was a comics fan as a kid? I can think of a few others who read comics as kids, but a dyed in the wool fan? Angie might be it. And, that’s just weird.

Sep 21, 2015

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 4

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
Part 3: Can’t Buy Dazzler’s Love
Ben Smith

It’s time for the introduction, but my mind is blank. Go back to one of the introductions for the first three parts, I’m proud of those. Maybe math is the answer. You can’t ever go wrong with math. I never understood why kids in school found math difficult, they give you all the answers, or at least how to get them. (I had more trouble figuring out the themes in books like "I Am the Cheese.") Secret Wars + Jim Shooter + Mike Zeck = massive sales success. The Beyonder + leisure suit + jheri curl + (a possibly insane, it’s unclear by that point) Jim Shooter = massively disappointing sequel.

The problem with math is that it’s boring, and it sucks. Nobody likes math, except weirdos. If math is so great, why did it never get high on heroin and write “Smells like Teen Spirit?” Because math lies, that’s why. Math would tell you that Secret Wars II was a disappointment, but math got wedgies every day during school. Don’t listen to math. Listen to your high school art teacher, who was most likely high on LSD when he wanted you to paint a unicorn rodeo.

I say math is wrong. Now, let’s paint the unicorn rodeo that was Secret Wars II. Who’s with me?! (No one? Fine!)

Secret Wars II #4
Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inkers: Leialoha and Rubinstein; Editor: Bob Budiansky

The Beyonder swaps spit with a beautiful actress named Sharon Ing, on his way out the door. He has other business to conduct, but she’s sprung on that sweet Beyonder loving and doesn’t want him to go.

Regardless, he heads downstairs and hops in his convertible automobile. Not wanting to wait for traffic to clear, he merely uses his powers to send the car soaring through the air.

The one from beyond is developing a better understanding of the nature of desire, so he decides to conduct some more pointed experiments of gratification. He revives Algrim the Elf, because of his overwhelming singular desire to kill Thor. (Tie-in alert!)

As he runs down a list of other various characters in the Marvel Universe and their desires (more tie-ins, including the greatest hero of all, ROM: Spaceknight) a trio of Air Force jets descends upon him. The flying car is on a flight path that takes it on a direct course for the White House, so they have orders to shoot it down.

The Beyonder,takes this attack all in stride, and decides to switch vehicles with one of the Air Force pilots, because he likes his better. The Beyonder speeds off in the F-16 fighter, while the smoking car sets down at the nearest garage, with one bewildered pilot.

The Beyonder wants to visit Owen Reece (The Molecule Man) and lands the jet on the street outside his place in a suburb of Denver. Owen invites him in, and Marsha (Volcana) says hello on her way out to a dancercise class. Owen disintegrates the jet, since he’s trying to keep a low profile. (The life of Owen and Marsha would make a decent reality show. Well, maybe not, since all they do is sit around and watch television. If you could watch a reality show about the life of any comics creator, who would you pick?  Not because you like their work, but because you think it would be the most entertaining option. It has to be Alan Moore, right? For the wizardry alone. I wonder what his house looks like. We need a comic creator version of “MTV Cribs.”)

This time, the Beyonder is interested in the nature of love. Owen does the best he can to explain love, about how Marsha cared about him as a person, and not because of what he can do or what he could give her. Eventually, her affection helped him move past his own self-doubts and he was able to love her back. A mutual love that is greater than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, his statement is that love is great, but it should be mutual, and it should be real.

The Beyonder teleports back to check in on Sharon Ing, who has committed suicide because of her overwhelming love for him, that he did not reciprocate. (Wow, that’s a pretty heavy topic for a superhero crossover. The only thing worse would be watching a puppy clubbed to death.)

He revives her, and questions her about why she loves him so much. She explains it’s because of what he does to her, how he makes her feel, what he can do. (All the things Owen said were bad signs, for those paying attention.)

He’s not impressed and decides to move on, scanning elsewhere for a suitable candidate to attempt to find real love. After scanning the entire world, he focuses in on Alison Blaire, otherwise known as the mutant songstress Dazzler. (Shooter was one of the main proponents of the creation and push of Dazzler. Dazzler was originally supposed to be a full multimedia effort, with a real artist named Dazzler releasing an album alongside the subsequent comic detailing her heroic adventures. That fell apart, but Shooter refused to admit defeat, forcing her into a seminal X-Men run by Claremont and Byrne. I love that dogged determination by him. Never let disco die! Anyway, nobody cared about Dazzler, but dammit, he’s going to have the Beyonder say she’s the most interesting woman on the planet, so you can all go to hell.)

Sharon is heartbroken and angry over this continued rejection, leading to this odd panel of her waiting for the elevator.

Elsewhere, Alison is the passenger of a bounty hunter, bringing her in on some unnamed charges athat are outstanding against her, which she seems more than willing to try and clear up. But the Beyonder teleports her out of the truck, and into a bubbled habitat in the vastness of space.

Confused and scared, Dazzler attacks him, obviously to no avail. He’s able to calm her down and explain who he is. and what he’s been doing. (Cue ‘80s-style recap of previous events.)

After all that, now his goal is to experience love, and has picked her out of all the women in the world to try and give it a shot. He begins to court her as best he knows how (give him a break, just last issue he was romancing prostitutes) first by taking her to a secluded igloo out in the artic, for a little bearskin-covered cuddling. (What man hasn’t wanted to jump straight to naked bearskin covered cuddling? No man I want to know, that’s for sure.)

When she turns that down, he tries a horse-drawn carriage and flowers. Next he tries a carnival in Rio, and then lunch in Paris. (I love that the Beyonder is just as clueless as most guys, trying to win her with fancy things and exotic places. Wait, that probably works most of the time. Whatever. Look, in my opinion all any woman needs is a near mint copy of the first appearance of their favorite superhero. The rest is just gravy. Mmmm, gravy…)

Having thus far continued to strike out, the Beyonder takes her to a mountaintop, and hits her with some lines about how wonderful and special she is down to the very essence of her being, and it’s starting to work.

She wakes up the next morning in his house in the South of France. She heads downstairs and meets him for some breakfast, when he decides that he must get her a gift.

He teleports to Edmonton, Canada, right after Omega Flight has withdrawn from a battle against Alpha Flight (if the prospect of that doesn’t get your blood pumping, then you’re normal). Canada’s greatest superteam immediately attacks the powerful stranger, because that’s what heroes do in the Marvel Universe. (Puck tumbling into action cracks me up. It’s great that they made a little person a superhero, but I don’t know why they decided to have him tumble around like an idiot. It’s an offensive stereotype, and my feelings have absolutely nothing to do with me being short and a former gymnast. Will I get in trouble if I say Puck is the worst? I don’t care.)

The Beyonder defeats them quickly and easily, because they’re Alpha Flight. He digs into Shaman’s bag. (Poor Native American fans, with only Shaman or dead Thunderbird to represent in comics. Was Forge created yet? It doesn’t matter if he was.) First he pulls out a full-grown woman (which I find hilarious) that turns out to be Shaman’s daughter Talisman. Then he finds the gold ring he was looking for, and bounces out. Deuces, Canada.
The Beyonder returns to find Dazzler in the midst of storming out. She’s had enough of this and wants to return to New York. He obliges her, and teleports them both there instantly.
This only continues to make matters worse. She appreciates all his gifts and trips, but she doesn’t want them when they come so easily. She wants to get back to her life, to get back to her dreams.

So of course, he puts her in the middle of a sold-out arena where she’s the headlining act. As enticing as that is, she’s still not interested, and wants him to put them right back where they just were.

He does, and is almost immediately surrounded and attacked by the Avengers.

The Avengers press their attack and actually overwhelm him. When they ready themselves for the uncharacteristic killing blow, Dazzler intervenes, distracting the Avengers long enough for the Beyonder to teleport them away.

She is reasonably suspicious of the Avengers uncharacteristic behavior, and the one from beyond admits that they weren’t real, only constructs he used to try and prove that she cares about him. (Ah, the old sympathy ploy. My favorite move for the first 20-25 years of my life. It is not a good move. Utilize better moves, youth of the world.)

Dazzler admits that she was concerned for him, but he’s still just too powerful for a normal person like her. To prove his commitment, he grants her half of his power, so that they can truly be on equal footing. Transfixed by her new power and awareness, she momentarily loses herself in him. But she quickly regains her thoughts, and flees. Overwhelmed, she returns the power to him, without realizing that she will fall to her death without it.

She does exactly that, and the Beyonder stands over her dead body, distraught that she would not love him no matter what he did. (Welcome to humanity, pal.) In his rage and grief, he lets out an energy bolt that winds up destroying a nearby galaxy. (I can only hope it was a galaxy of broccoli people, joining the asparagus aliens obliterated by Dark Phoenix.)

After he calms back down, he revives and heals Dazzler. She finally admits her love for him, and wants them to get married immediately. For a moment, he is happy, but he comes to his senses, and reveals that he was controlling her. Like Owen had said, it’s not any good if it’s not real, and he releases her from his influence.

She will remember nothing of what has happened, believing that they merely had some adventures together. Instead, he will be the one that is left to try and forget her. (Nothing heals a broken heart like strippers and hookers, big guy.)

The Beyonder has learned the biggest lesson of all about being a human man: repeated crushing rejection from beautiful women. (As my friend once told me, every relationship you have in your life is merely a process by which you determine what you want in a perfect significant other. He was high and listening to “Pretty Hate Machine” though.)

I can’t help but notice the lack of Matt Murdock in this issue, which was teased at the end of the last chapter. Up to this point, I haven’t felt any of the side stories that appear in the main series to be overly distracting from the primary narrative, but this is the biggest disconnect so far. And yet, despite my hyperbole about the previous issues, I found this to be the most enjoyable one to read so far. As interesting conceptually as it has been to center a heavily marketed event series around a cosmic being learning to poop, it didn’t always make for the most engaging storytelling. Now that he’s moved past the basics of eating and sleeping, we can get into the real meat of being human, like love and the need to be loved.

The Beyonder has had his first brush with true rejection. That can’t be good for the human race.

Next time, more leisure suits!

Sep 19, 2015

Swallowing Its Own Tail: On Spider-Gwen Artwork

Swallowing Its Own Tail: On Spider-Gwen Artwork
by Antonio Nelson Ruiz

There’s this on-and-off “thing” between myself, Back Issue Ben and the Cube’s Grand Poobah where they post the latest Spider-Gwen artwork and cosplay and I point out how it’s wrongwrongWRONG! While it’s mostly just joking around and stuff, I still do find myself genuinely annoyed by what I feel is a widespread inability to capture the character’s spirit. This sorta thing is usually something I’m fairly loose and carefree about, too!

You’ve all seen the artwork, some done by the industry’s modern-day greats, all beautifully rendered and slick and ooh and ahh. It’s not even the masked pieces that bother me, to be honest. The unmasked artwork, though? Like nails across a chalkboard. It’s frickin’ 616 Gwen Stacy cosplaying as Spider-Gwen! Like, almost every single time! “Too pretty!” I’ll exclaim in frustration. The hair’s wrong. The face is wrong. Most artists seem to get the suit right, though, so there’s that to be thankful for. I just can’t seem to get past the face and hair. It’s not the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 created by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi, goshdarnit.

Few days ago, Back Issue Ben showed me a work-in-progress Spider-Gwen piece by Mark Brooks. His art’s gloriously glossy and his women look strong and powerful like superheroes should. He’s done a guitar-wielding Mohawk Storm that just shouts Rock Goddess to the high heavens. But his Spider-Gwen was off. It wasn’t bad; it was just off. Like maybe artists had heard of Spider-Gwen, but just never bothered to crack her comic open and instead were using artwork found on the internet for reference, which is a problem that just ends up swallowing its own tail.

Perhaps I simply have a different take on this new Gwen Stacy. Maybe I’m the problem. I’m not, but I thought I’d at least entertain the notion for the sake of some brief humility. Nah, I’m right. Gwen’s a modern gal from New York – Queens, to be exact. She’s a drummer in a rock band called the Mary Janes. She’s kinda grungy around the edges, but not too much. She gets “mask hair”, a little tangled and frizzled and maybe even a little sweaty ‘cause masks will do that to ya sometimes. She’s not glamorous; she’s not beautiful – at least not in the traditional sense that spawned the original Gwen Stacy. She’s not plain, either. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle where style and grit meet and that’s the neighborhood Gwen Stacy lives in. She may make a face, but she’s willing to get her hands dirty.

Folks don’t care. We want our heroes, and especially our heroines, to be beautiful and unattainable and to look awesome as cosplay. I see it as an ongoing problem in the industry that I probably don’t have the vocabulary to properly tackle, rant-wise. A recent feud between artists over Spider-Gwen kinda highlights what I’m talking about, that we’re conditioned to accept sexualization without batting an eyelash, even jonesing for it, even if it doesn’t fit the character in question.

I suppose you could blame the skin-tight costume, but then you’d be swallowing your own tail.

Sep 17, 2015

Do We Care About Continuity Too Much?

I am a big fan of the work of the legendary Carl Barks and his American-comics successor, Don Rosa, on the iconic Disney characters, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Barks created a rich world and told all sorts of tales filled with hijinks and high adventure, influencing not only American comics, but also American filmmakers such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Don Rosa carried on in that tradition.

I'm well aware that my investment in the Ducks is pretty much just in the Barks-Rosa iteration, in much the same way that my love for The Wally West Flash really is just for one particular iteration of that character. As such, none of this makes me want to watch Ducktales. It doesn't make me want to hunt down the Duck comics by Al Taliaferro, who drew the original Donald comics, nor does it make me want to hunt down the Duck comics published in Europe, where these characters are really really big. A reader of mine recently commented on an old piece:
Regarding European comics readers, I remark that: 1) Barks is the most reprinted artist, not only in fancy books for collectors, but also in the weekly and monthly cheap comics; 2) practically every kid in Europe reads a certain quantity of Disney comics at some moment in his life, it is kind of a cultural feature of the continent. Considering these two aspects, one can view Barks as one the few cultural bonding agent for the latest generations of Europeans.

As I understand it, European Duck comics for the most part either just do their own thing, or they're working off of Barks' established mythos the way Don Rosa did, but they don't make a practice out of sticking to each other's continuities. So knowing myself, I won't really enjoy getting into other Duck universes that's not the Barks-Rosa iteration, so I never bothered looking for how other artists depicted the Ducks.

Except for Marco Rota.

In various interviews, Don Rosa says things like "I’d give anything to be able to draw as fabulously well as Marco Rota!!!" So I tried looking for scans and looking at what's up with Marco Rota, and, well, yeah. The man draws like this.

And this.

And has storytelling like this.

Visually speaking, that's right up my alley. He draws close enough to Barks and distinctly enough that the Ducks have their own different lives under him. I like it!

Unfortunately, there are no official English translations of Marco Rota's work. All those scans up there are fan translations done by Geoffrey Moses. (It's awesome. It makes me want to translate Filipino comics for the fun of it.) And this is a story called "From Egg to Duck," which runs through Donald's entire life, from hatching out of an egg, to being found by Uncle Scrooge and his sister Grandma Duck, to moving to Duckburg, to being hired by Scrooge, to his cousin Della sending him the nephews, to meeting Daisy. It's a fun story going through Donald's life.

But... wait a minute.

In Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, an Eisner winner and one of my favorite comics of all time, we know none of that is true. Regardless of whether or not the Disney Ducks lay eggs, Donald was born to Hortense McDuck, Scrooge's sister in Duckburg. Scrooge is only related to Grandma Duck by marriage — Hortense's husband Quackmore is Grandma's son. Donald has a twin sister named Della, not a cousin. And while Donald does meet Scrooge as a young man, he doesn't factor into Scrooge's life prominently until 1947, when Scrooge decides to stop being a hermit and finally meet his remaining family.

Life and Times is Rosa's love letter to Barks' stuff. He took Barks' references to Scrooge's past, created a timeline out of it, and crafted a story out of it. So in terms of continuity, Rosa's is the "real" narrative.

But do we care about continuity too much? "From Egg to Duck" is a fun story regardless, an enjoyable look at what could have been Donald's life. Why can't I enjoy both?

Rhetorical question, though — of course I can. Fiction is fiction, and these characters aren't real. So why is it that we as a fandom seem to have a hard time with different versions of characters? I'm thinking, right now, of the upcoming Marvel Amazing Spider-Man title, where Peter Parker is a successful world-traveling inventor running his own company while living in the Baxter Building. In other words, he's living Tony Stark's life while living in the Fantastic Four's house. This bugs some fans, some of whom are still stuck in 2008 and believe Peter Parker should be married to Mary Jane Watson, some of whom believe Peter Parker has no business being a successful man with his own corporation, let alone one living in the first family of Marvel's house.

Me? I like it. Peter Parker has no business being a successful inventor like Tony Stark. That's exactly what makes it interesting. Can you really look at this as anything other than a setup for his biggest downfall?

If you're opposed to Peter Parker being in this setup, how about treating it like an alternate reality? If you had described "From Egg to Duck" to me before I'd read it, I'd have thought it was incredibly stupid. But it was enjoyable and I see no reason why the preset parameters of what I know of the Ducks should get in the way of me enjoying a fun story.

I've mentioned on the Cube before, several times, how I do not actually like John Byrne's take on Superman. That's not because it isn't "my" Superman, but because I genuinely find the stories to be of lesser quality than I would like to read. Yet, the decade or so that followed Byrne's run on the title, known as the Triangle Era and featuring writers such as Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, and Louise Simonson, produced some of my favorite Superman comics using the continuity Byrne had set up. I just pretend Byrne's stuff didn't happen. It makes me enjoy that era more.

Continuity is an incredibly useful tool in creating a story — The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck doesn't exist without it. But it shouldn't hamper you from enjoying another story that's enjoyable on its own merits. These aren't real people. Why limit your enjoyment? From April to December 1942, Archie Comics released three different stories about how Veronica Lodge came to Riverdale. All are entertaining. While you may prefer one version, or while they may choose an official version, you are not prohibited from enjoying them all.

If you find it hard to accept a new take on a character, open your mind and try looking at that story in a vacuum. See it as an alternate reality if you have to. See if it entertains you. You're allowed to like it without having to reconcile it with what came before. Why limit your enjoyment?