Saturday, June 28, 2014

He is Iron Man

So, a couple weeks back I got an email from a Seattle pal who now lives in Spain while she was on vacation in Denmark (some life, eh?). She wrote:
Look what's painted in the office/guest room in the flat I'm staying in in Copenhagen... I am pretty super-hero illiterate and don't know who this is, but it's still kinda cool, no?
Here's the image she enclosed:

I wrote back and told her that it was Iron Man ("the guy Robert Downey Junior has played in what, four movies now?") and further that (a) I guessed someone had used a seventies-era Gene Colon drawing as a guide when painting the mural and (b) yes, it was indeed major cool.

What interested me most about the exchange was her reply:
I was gonna say Iron Man because of the circle on his chest, but he didn't look like movie Iron Man, so I doubted. Too bad we don't get to see RDJ in *this* get up...
So it seems that now, at least for casual fans, circle-on-chest = Iron Man (maybe). The visual device that the movies created to represent Tony Stark's chest plate dependency seems to have burned at least somewhat into the general consciousness.

And yeah, I'd like to have seen this armor on the movie, too.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

5x5 Book Review: Who Can Save us Now?

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories by Owen King (Editor), John McNally (Editor), Chris Burnham (Illustrator)

1. The behind-the-colon portion of the title of this book is misleading. Each of the stories in this collections features someone who has super-powers or who is exceptional in some way; very few of them contain stories about anyone who is a hero, either nominally or by their actions. 

2. These stories are what I would call literary fiction: in a nutshell, they are introspective, character-driven, slow-moving, and often a bit lyrical. Most of the stories do not generally aspire to reflect on or investigate the nature of heroism at all, much less superheroics; in the few cases when the attempt is made, is just seems like a prose version of something like the Avengers Initiative. The books feels less like an attempt to expand or experiment with genre boundaries than it does like slumming; Paul Chadwicks' Concrete did a better job than this collection of playing with the "reality" of superheroes.

3. I know that as literary fiction, these stories need to be Serious, but do they always have to be so depressing, too? The characters are, by and large, morally bankrupt, sexually impotent, and ethically challenged, and make bad choices, form dysfunctional relationships, and engage in destructive behavior. Only four of the 22 stories end on any kind of hopeful note, and only one is even mildly heroic. If a story makes me feel like I need a Zoloft, does that mean it was good?

4. The stories are illustrated, not with sequential art, but rather just with title page drawings. The artist, Chris Burnham, has done comic book work (he seems to sit at the same stylistic table with Frank Quitely) but his work here seems sketchy and almost anti-comicky, as if the editors really didn't want this book mistaken for a graphic novel. Because then it wouldn't be Serious.

5. I am sure that the editors and many of the authors have more than a passing acquaintance with superhero comics, at least based on the biographical notes and a few of the reference made in the stories. But all of them seemed to be running away from the superhero genre, its conventions and tropes, its potential and its flaws, even its art style. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but rather than asking "What would it really be like for a superhero-person if they were damaged emotionally?" these stories seem to say "Hey, let's put a mask on Holden Caulfield!"

Since this book came out in 2008, this should have a Late to the Party label as well...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things

So, Wonder Wife and I watched the much-ballyhooed third season of Sherlock recently/finally. After all the hoorar and to-do, I wonder if anything would have lived up to expectations created, byur frankly, I was disappointed. Without being too spoilery for anyone who is going to be finally-er than we were, here are some observations:

§ Regardless of the popularity of the show, two short seasons seems not enough in the bank to start including the sort of self-referential and fan-service bits that have been popping up.

§ Too much Mycroft and too much British Intelligence. Both should be used sparingly; as others have commented, I wanted to see Sherlock tackle more quotidian mysteries.

§ I do not like Mary Watson's backstory at all.

§ The season final reveal: bo-ring.

But all is not lost: do you want to see clever and complex mysteries solved by a brilliant, eccentric, socially-challenged investigator and his stalwart companion? Look no further than Dirk Gently.

Based on the character created by Douglas Adams (of Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) who appears in two novels (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul), this BBC series ran only for a pilot and three episodes, so the oeuvre is just one-third the size of Sherlock's, but it packs much more brio into its short run. Dirk Gently bears as little direct correlation to it hero's novels as Sherlock does to Doyle's stories, but while it changes details the show does capture the elan and spirit of the books.

Less mannered than the Baker Street series, Dirk Gently overflows with energy that is chaotic but never random. Dirk's insistence on the interconnectedness of all things and his "holistic" approach bear fruit, but never through coincidence: plots are clockwork in precision, details are important, and the mysteries are fair play all the way. Dirk also moves in a world of lost cats, cheating husbands, and stolen university technology; that these cases are often spiced with fantastical elements makes them no less grounded in the real world.

And it's really funny.

Check it out. It's a shining gem that was unfortunately lost in a reshuffle of BBC-Four broadcasting policies.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hit and myth

So, I read this pretty good graphic novel trilogy. It's about an Amazon warrior - a princess, actually - who discovers her parentage is not what she thought, and that she's actually one of the many offspring of that king of the gods and serial adulterer, Zeus himself. When this revelation comes to light, it of course upsets Hera, who is extremely jealous and has a habit of punishing not Zeus, but his children by mortal (and other) women.

Hera's attempted amercement starts a chain of events that leads to the Amazon allying herself with (and coming into to conflict with) various Greek gods (such as Hermes and Strife) and mythical creatures (such as a tag-team of killer centaurs). It is a dark voyage the heroine takes, leading her to hell (the person and the place) and revealing knowledge heretofore withheld from her - such as the Amazonian tradition of raping sailors and then killing any male offspring (a practice curbed by Hephaestus's taking them in as laborers).

The story is set in the present day, and the warrior encounters some of her half-siblings: other modern children of Zeus, living in the 21st century with the spark of the immortal flowing through their veins and possessed of some paranormal powers as a result. She also finds herself protecting an unwed mother, a promiscuous, rash, angry, lower-class young woman - the kind of girl often called a "slut" in certain circles - who is presented unflinchingly, unapologetically, and sympathetically. And who wields a mean shotgun. Oh - and there's a spaceman, too,

It's a pretty good story. It just isn't a Wonder Woman story, although it says so on the cover. Yep, that's my précis of Blood, Guts, and Iron, the first three volumes of the collected New 52! Wonder Woman series.

After I read this story, I felt the same way I did at the end of Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie. It wasn't an exceptionally bad movie, although it wasn't a very good one, and the Krypton scenes were wonderful (if a bit overstuffed). But it certainly wasn't a Superman movie: none of the elements of the mythos (can we call it that now?) associated with the character was there to any appreciable degree. There was some window dressing of names and places and such, but really, it would have been a better movie if the protagonist hadn't been Kal-El and it could have been judged on its own terms.

I think Diana got the same short shrift in these volumes. This isn't a bad story - the summary sounds a little bit like one for a post-modern, magical realism novel, and the comic pretty much reads that way as well - but where's Wonder Woman? Where are the themes and motifs that made her part of the Trinity and put her onto the landscape of American - world - culture? Does she really need to find out everything you thought you knew was a lie™? Does she really need to be a daughter of Zeus - wasn't being an Amazon enough? Does she really need Orion of the New Gods and a bunch of Hellblazer cast members to help her out?

Ah, then, maybe I'm overreacting - or mis-contextualizing. Maybe the relationship between my Wonder Woman and the New 52! Wonder Woman is more like the relationship between the Martin Nodell Green Lantern and the Julie Schwartz/John Broome Green Lantern. I mean, if there had been an internet in 1959, would people like me have been decrying the major transformation of their favorite hero not just in theme and appearance, but even in name and history as well?

I dunno. For now, I'm going to ignore WW.52 and just remember "my" Wonder Woman. Time to get out the DVD of New Frontier...