Thursday, December 29, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred?

By Robert J. Sodaro

While it may be considered somewhat incestuous to reference one’s own blog postings (on another blogsite even) in this forum, I just haven’t been seeing any chatter about what is going on in Spider-Man’s various titles, in regards to The Other storyline (either here, or on the other sites I frequent).

Thus, as one of the resident reviewers of SpiderFan.org, I felt that someone should chat about these event, and I’ve nominated myself. Now, if you don’t follow Spidey’s titles, then perhaps you won’t care about what is going on, and if you do follow his adventures, you most assuredly already know.

Still, I should warn you that this posting does contain spoiler elements as it does discuss the on-going plotlines (the stories in question in this post all occurred last month, so the specifics are probably already known). Hence, with that in mind, and with everyone sufficiently forewarned, you are all invited to make the leap.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred?
Robert J. Sodaro

OK, by now others may have seen this story, I’ve already seen it in a couple of places, but I thought that I’d post it here as well; sort of to “alert the troops” as it were. The story is this, just recently a Richmond, VA man was convicted for looking at cartoon images of young girls being forced to have sex with adults. He is the first person who has been convicted of a 2003 federal statute that makes obscene cartoon drawings as well as photographs an illegal form of child pornography. While I’m happy another sick-o pedophile, pervert, scumbag is off the streets and put away where he won’t hurt anyone, I can’t help thinking that that this sort of Thought Police kind of law can only wind up being bad for our industry.

Please, keep in mind that I am, in no way, shape, or form defending this guy, or what he was doing (looking at these kind of images, and printing them out on a public computer at an Unemployment office while supposedly “Job-Searching”). I can’t help but to think that there is a metric ton of this type of Anime already out there, and while it was once risqué, “blue” or NSW, it is now potentially (if not actually) illegal, and we as comicbook fans, retailers, and pros, should be aware of this.

To be sure, according to what I’ve read on the matter, the guy was already a convicted kiddy sex-offender who was, by the terms of his release, legally prevented from being around kids, or looking at any material considered to be pornographic (especially kiddy porn).

As one blogger put it,
“Nobody is defending child porn, but if a cartoon can be child porn, what about literature? Is "Lolita" child porn? Hey, even the Bible has racy stories that involve incest. How about an abstract painting with a title that suggests underage sex? How about a song about it? — Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen." To find out how a man can get incarcerated for over 1,000 years for possessing cartoons”


Personally, I find this all a little bit chilling.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Return Spidey to the Macy's Day Parade!

Hey, I realize that I’ve been absent from this forum for way too long, I apologize for that (and have a long-delayed post that I hope to get up within the next week.

Anyway, in the mean time I’d like you all to chew on this little tidbit. Apparently I must be the only one on the planet who didn’t realize that the Spider-Man balloon was no longer a part of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Well I just came across an on-line petition that has been started to rectify that egregious oversight, and to get him reinstated. That link can be found here. Click through and sign up. I did.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Return of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R.!

THUNDER
Hey for all of you T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent fans, Two Morrows Publishing has recently published a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Companion volume. I mention this now, as I have an interview published in the book (and just received my copy).

If you are interested in reading the book (and I heartily recommend it as it is fascinating — even the stuff that isn’t mine), you should all go out and buy it at either Two Morrows or Amazon. (the beauty of using either one of those links is that you don’t even have to “go out” to buy it, just click through and buy a copy.

Part of the reason that I happen to get involved with this project is that I am good friends with John Carbonaro) who owns the rights to the Agents, having purchased them from Tower (and then having won a copyright infringement suit against the unscrupulous individual who attempted to steal it out from under him) back in the ‘80s. As we all know, John has been attempting to get the Agents back in print all those years, and has nearly succeeded a number of times (and actually succeeded almost as many times).

zoomWell, anyway, I’ve known John for quite a number of years, and have written extensively about the Agents. In this new book, I managed to get an interview I conducted with one of the supergroup’s original writers published, and I’m about as giddy as a schoolgirl over it.

If anyone is interested in acquiring a copy of the book, you can get one at either the Two Morrows Web site, or off Amazon. Personally I’m hoping that you go to Two Morrows (let’s support the guys in our industry, and all that).

Anyway, the book is available, and I just got my copy, so I’m a happy guy. Now go and buy one. (And if you ever run into me at a Comic Con, and have your copy, I’ll autograph it for you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

By Robert J. Sodaro

As a rule, I’ve always been a bigger fan of Marvel’s Heroes than of DC’s Heroes, which is not to say that I don’t like DC heroes, I just gravitated towards Marvel’s heroes. I’m sure there is a reason for that, but I’m not going to go into it here. That’s not what this post is about.

Still, I do have extensive runs (knowledge and fondness) of many DC titles and characters, so I found this article in the New York Times interesting.

Since I haven’t followed the DC heroes as much in recent years as I have in years past, I’m just going to post the link, and present the information without comment, except to say that what DC is proposing is an interesting idea, and merely the fact that it is an interesting idea, makes it worth the effort.

Will DC succeed in re-tooling their characters? Well, I for one, certainly hope that they do — not — I might add, because I think that their characters are tired, or need re-tooling, but because I’m interested in seeing in what they will do, and yes, this is a new Millennium, and thus a new breed of readership, so perhaps re-tooling is necessary.

Is this to become DC’s Ultimate universe? Who knows? Will I sign on for the ride? I don’t know that as yet either, but I am considering it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Rising to the Challenge?

Well, it’s all over the Net now, Erik Larson’s tirade against mediocrity — at least I think that’s what Erik was mewling over this time — I’m honestly not entirely certain what set him off this time (remember boys and girls, The esteemed Mr. Larson was the author of the infamous CBG letter “Name Withheld” many years ago), and I’ve also read Peter David’s knee-jerk reaction to Erik’s rambling, venomous, and scatological rant.

Now as loath as I am to put myself in the middle of these two industry giants (and no, I’m neither being snide nor glib — I have an immense amount or respect for both men, I know Peter (or, more to the point, Peter knows who I am, and we’ve chatted on a number of occasions over the years), and (while he probably doesn’t recall) I did meet Erik once (back in ’97 or so when I was at San Diego Con). Though, as I’ve never had any formal contact with Erik (outside that brief meeting on the floor of the Con), it is entirely possible that he knows me by reputation (I used to write extensively for various publications in the fan press, as well for several publishers, most notably (in this case, at lease) for Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios (back Rob was still at Image), which is why I was at San Diego that year (Rob flew me out at his expense, and then assigned me several articles to write for him while I was there).

I say all this up front not only to establish my bona fides, but also to make it clear that I harbor no ill will towards either Erik or Peter. Nor is it lost on me that there is no small amount of animosity between these two blokes, for reasons that are both inexplicable as well as pass all understanding. Thus, for me to enter the fray at this point is sort of akin to me saying, “Do I want to be mauled by the tiger, or do I want to be mauled by the other tiger?” Still, I (foolishly?) move forward in my quest for understanding.

Having said all of that, I now blithely throw myself into the pit.

In his Thursday, September 29 column for Comic Book Resources, Erik threw down the gauntlet to comicbook creators everywhere (especially those who work on company-owned characters) by calling them (us) both pathetic and pussies. By way of comparison, he holds up Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko — later on in the piece he also cites Mike Mignola, Todd McFarlane, and Frank Miller (and of course, by subtle references, to himself). That’s when he calls us pathetic and pussies, and compares us to some nameless chump who works at McDonald’s (we don’t own the franchise, we can’t even eat the food without permission, all we do is wear hair nets and pass out company-owned product — OK, that last part was mine, but I’m fairly certain that’s what he meant), with nothing at all to contribute to the world of comics.

Perhaps he’s right, but I’ll get back to Mr. Larsen in a moment. First I want to examine Mr. David’s response.

I mostly agree with Peter. As always, Peter makes well-reasoned, well-thought out comments that very clearly make his point (he cites a couple of possible reasons for Erik’s column including but not limited to a) To challenge the community of creators to submit something of interest to Image, b) Jealousy towards Peter and other creators, for their better-selling work, c) Larsen’s inability to sell a Hulk concept to Marvel. There are others, but these will do for now. I’m going to guess that Peter might be right on some level, but I simply don’t know, and refuse to personally speculate. Peter goes on to point out that Stan Jack Steve and all the rest of the Silver Age Marvel staff actually did work on company-owned products, (and did so without publicly griping about it I might add). However Peter’s main point seems to be that if someone is happy working on someone else’s concept, they should do that, but if people want to create something out of whole cloth, they should go and do that instead.

I agree. Not everyone is adept enough to create new, exciting material (I’ll even go so far as to point out that when Stan, Jack, and Steve were working together, what they did was magic. However (and I know that I’m going to get slammed for positing this), in later years (with the possible exceptions of Kirby’s Fourth World, Ditko’s Creeper, and all of the Silver Age Marvel material the Stan co-created with other Marvel artists) when these three worked apart from each other their material was simply not as popular, ground-breaking, or even memorable as their Silver Age Marvel Collaborations. (Erik cited Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur, but can anyone honestly tell me (with a straight face) that Devil Dinosaur was as compelling as the FF, Galactus, the Silver Surfer? Ditko gave us The Question and Mr. A (whom I personally love), but neither rose to the levels of his work on Spidey or Dr. Strange. And Stan? Now I’m a huge fan of Stan, but even I’m willing to admit that since Stan stopped writing Spidey and the FF, nothing he’s done has risen to those levels. With all due respect, I’ll cite the revisionist history he did on the origins of a number of DC heroes a few years back. I personally found them mostly unreadable.)

Still, by comparing us to the guys who, by all accounts resurrected the industry and for all intents and purposes, saved comics from winding up on the trash heap of Pop Culture is completely unfair. Going by Erik’s own example (comparing us to Stan, Jack, and Steve), my own son who is just now learning to play guitar probably shouldn’t touch the instrument unless he can measure up to Mozart or Beethoven; my brother who learned to play guitar as a teen, should have probably shot himself in the head because he only got as far as playing at our church’s folk mass and never even got as far as playing someone else’s music in a garage band.

In my own response to Peter’s post, I said in part ”…Ultimately, it shouldn’t really matter, some guys have what it takes to create something interesting out of whole cloth, and some guys don’t. You can’t (or shouldn’t) denigrate an excellent carpenter simply because he isn’t Frank Lloyd Wright, and can’t design buildings. It simply isn’t fair.”

Especially when you consider that in an earlier post (Thursday September 15) Erik blasted all of the fanboys and wanabe creators who deluge the Image office with crap submissions. “Seriously.” He writes, “What were you thinking?” He chides at great length under-talented individuals who seem to look at their fannish work and think that it is good enough to get them published alongside Larson (and Jack, and Steve, and Mike, and Frank). “What were you thinking?” He asks. “Of course [your mom] thinks what you’re doing is terrific — she's trying to be encouraging!” He then goes on to say that most people suck, and don’t have a single original idea in their heads. I actually understand what you mean, but, by the by, nice way to talk to the people who put money in your pocket, Erik.

If one were to compare the tone of these two columns, Erik seems to be telling us that unless we are as good as the very best this field has to offer, we should stay home and continue to flip burgers like the snot-nosed punks we are, and yeah, and by the way, thanks for buying all of my way-cool shit. (You can almost see him channeling Bugs Bunny saying “What a Maroon!”) Making him come off like some popular actor who refuses to mingle with the rabble that pay their hard-earned money to go and see his films. Which creates an unfortunate image that I’m not entirely sure that Erik wants to foster amongst his fan base, or the industry, for that matter.

Still, I can’t help but to think that both men are entirely oversimplifying the creative process, and quite frankly, both of them should really know better. Here’s my point, and one they both missed. You can have the most tantalizing brilliant idea in the entire universe, but if you don’t have the means or wherewithal to get it to someone who actually cares about it, or can do something about getting it published, it is absolutely worthless. Think I’m wrong?

Consider comicstrips, there are like a handful, a handful and a half of comic strips that appear in newspapers around the country, and most of them look like all the rest. Want to know why Peanuts is still in the paper, even though its creator Charles Schultz has been dead for a couple of years and there I no one creating new strips? It’s the licensing agreement that’s keeping it there now. So even if some new, young, up and coming, dynamic artist were to have the new Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, or whathaveyou it couldn’t get into the paper because the 50-year-old strip of a dead guy is is currently occupying the Real Estate that the company that controls the strip’s image won’t gamble on the possibility that some new, wet-behind-the-ears punk can make them as much money as what they already have. Imagine for a minute that 50+ years ago the young Mr. Schultz was denied entrance to the funny page because some other strip was then occupying the spot to which he was entitled?

What do you have to say about that, Mr. Larsen? And, by the way, what do you have to say about the dozens of comicbook creators who work at Image on titles and/or characters that you created but don’t own them? Are they pathetic pussies as well?

Hey, has anyone looked at TV lately? I have, and (from a dramatic viewpoint) it is full of three kinds of shows, Cops, Lawyers, and Doctors). Need I go further? Look at the cop shows CSI and Law and Order each of which have three or four franchises, and five or 10 derivative shows (good as it may be, NCIS is just CSI gone military).

The people who make the decisions tend to buy what has already sold. Need more proof? Last season Medium proved to be a compelling show about a psychic that solves crimes by talking to dead people. This season there are one or two new dramas about people talking to the dead, as well as more than a couple of reality shows about psychic detectives, plus a movie or two on their way to the theaters.

Oh yeah, and while were here, let’s look at movies. Check out much of the films of the past few years and you’ll see that a significant percentage of them that are big-screen versions of old TV shows — not to mention that most of the rest of them that are film adaptations of books, comics, and stage shows. Books? More of the same Tom Clancy has become his own cottage industry and has half a dozen on-going series on the shelves (written by other authors) that are essentially mining the same vein of military action/thriller. Sci Fi books? They are mostly other authors (including the esteemed Mr. David) adding to the established universes of series adapted from film and/or TV (Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, et. al.)

The guys in power like to buy stuff that has already sold.

Want more proof? Look at the history of our own industry. The FF and Avengers were — by his own admission — Stan’s spin on comics already being published by DC. Plus, how many times has one publisher knocked off their version of a character on the other side of the aisle? You can put all the twists and turns on “new and improved” characters but aren’t they all just more of the same?

Anyone besides me remember all of the very cool universes that exploded on the scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Malibu, Milestone, Valiant, Image (whoops)? Look across the board, folks, and you can see iconoclastic archetype characters in every one of these companies. (Malibu’s Prime was Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, while The Night Man was Batman, and Prototype was Iron Man. Over at Milestone Static, Hardware, and Icon were that company’s (ethnic) versions of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Superman. Even Image had its fair share of Wolverines, Hawkeye/Green Arrows, X-Men/Factor/Force, etc. ad. nausium). Not that any of the “derivative” characters were bad, many of them were actually quite good.

In fact, look at Daredevil was, when created, cast by Stan in the role of an adult Spider-Man (the wise-cracking, fearless, adventurer with a sense of duty). In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s DD was deconstructed by Frank Miller and then reformed into Miller’s personal take (Marvel style) on Batman (the dark and brooding avenger of the night — a role into which DD better fits, by the way). Static, Backlash, and The Creeper were all “inspired” by Spider-Man and I enjoyed each of those characters, because of that relationship to Spidey.

To return to the point, I personally took no umbrage to Erik’s challenge and determined to get up off my fat, aging butt and DO something I’ve been talking about for years. I fully intend to actually submit some project ideas that have been kicking around in my head for a time (I’ll report back to you later on how that goes). Personally, while I have a huge amount of respect for Peter, and love to read his writings (both column/opinion work, as well as his fiction) I truly believe that he really does have it in for those Image guys — granted it goes both ways, but I tend to see it on the same level that I tacitly observe arguments between my kids, one says one thing just to get the other’s goat, and then other responds in kind.)

You see, while I feel that Erik's rant was overly vitriolic and unnecessarily scatological in nature, I really do understand (I think) what Erik was attempting to say. I picture him sort of like that football coach who is attempting to guide his potentially talented, but underscoring team to a state championship. I read this column by Erik as akin to the half time locker-room rant by that angry coach who is majorly POed that his team is down by a touchdown and two conversions, and now they seem to have given up the ghost on ever winning. All the coach (Erik) is attempting to do is light a fire under us to get the blood rushing back into our game, so we will produce the kind of results that he knows we are capable of producing.

Now, while I don’t entirely agree with the way he chose to do it, I do believe that as much as he may or may not like or approve of them, Erik is just as tired of CSI knock offs on TV, Peanuts still appearing in newspapers after his creator is dead, and Spider-Man re-boots as are the rest of us, and he really just wants us (the next generation of creators) to succeed and produce a new pantheon of heroes for this new millennium. At least that’s the way I’m choosing to read his column. So I’m going to move forward, convinced that he wrote this particular column just for me.

I’m going to do this because, I’ve always felt that the thing that made me a writer was not so much that I had something to say, but that what I had to say was of such value that people would not only seek me out to read what I had to say, but actually offer me money for the privilege of publishing my words in order for other people to be able to read what I had to say as well.

Thus far (20+ years after my first published article, and still selling) nothing has come to my attention that has caused me to think otherwise. This, of course, makes me either an incredible egoist, or — quite frankly — right, and I still don’t have enough evidence to prove that issue one way or the other.

Having said all of that, boys and girls, it is important to remember this one thing: Nothing is Sacred

Monday, August 15, 2005

OK, I don’t want to twist my arm too much by patting myself on the back or anything, and I don’t certainly want to claim (too much anyway) a certain amount of prescience in my thought process, or even suggest that someone read what I wrote, and then acted upon it, (Heck, I’m not even going to say “I told you so”, but I sure did have a slight sence of déjà vu upon raeding this post last week on BuzzScope.

Last week, Daily Variety released an article confirming some rumors I'd recently heard, stating that some people were indeed arrested at SDCC for selling pirated copies of movies, and are currently facing serious felony charges and some jail time, not to mention, a much larger, pending FBI investigation.

All I have to say is WOW! I always knew that I was good, but I never really knew that I was That good.

If anyone is interested, I am available for Lottery drawings, and trips to Atlantic City.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

While it is entirely possible that I waited too long to have this discussion, I kind of wanted to talk about George Lucas’ future vision that is Star Wars.

(I wish to beg your collective indulgences, as some computer-related headaches — that are mostly resolved — have put me a full two weeks behind in all of my writings. Hopefully, I will eventually catch up.)


You see, I remember what it was all about back in the beginning. I saw the first Star Wars film in 1978 when Lucas turned science fiction on its collective ears. Back then; the film was simply called Star Wars. It was 1977, and I was a junior in college (if you are of a mind to do so, you can do the math and figure out that I probably have underwear older than you or you can just go here and learn it for yourself). When the trilogy was re-released in 1988, my son, Dylan, was seven, and I took him to see the film. He is now 14, and was the one who suggested that we go to see the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith (which I reviewed here if you are interested).

So we went to the film and saw the future become the past as the entire Jedi nation ate it’s own tail (ever hear that C&W song about some hick from the Ozarks who, through a series of intermarriages and unusual relationships, winds up becoming his own grandfather? Well, that’s sort of what happened here with this film). So here we are, at the end of a dynasty. For the story of the Skywalker family has come full circle, and now all characters are in their proper places so as to meet themselves in (our) past (their future) and complete George Lucas’ epic dysfunctional family saga. Only, in spite of my thoroughly enjoying this installment (far more than I enjoyed the last two films) this isn’t quite where I remember coming in.

Now, I recall that Lucas had once stated that there would be a third trilogy relating what occurred after the end of the Empire fell at the end of Return of the Jedi. Then, years later recanted that info as he told us that he essentially answered, “Yes” to a question that he was repeatedly asked by reporters, simply to shut them up. In this later piece, he flatly stated that once he was done telling the rise and fall and rise again of the Skywalker family, he would be quit of the series. Needless to say, there have been even more recent stories indicating that maybe he’s changed his mind again, or not, depending on what day it is, which way the wind is blowing, and to which on-line fan source to which you are currently listening.)

I recently read an article where some highly-placed mucky-muck associated with the Star Wars Saga indicated that Lucas would never quite be done tweaking the two trilogies, and would probably spend the rest of his life re-issuing “updated versions” of these six movies. Hopefully while this may be true, Lucas will also again renege on his recant and grant us fans a look into the further lives of Luke, Leia and the rest of the Skywalker clan.

To be sure, anyone who has read the novels, comics, and other related future chronology already know what has happened (will happen?) as it is all ready there. Hence, translating any of the hundreds of pages of books and comics into a new movie would be (should be) child’s play, and certainly easy enough for Lucas, who can, if he chooses, simply lock himself into his Skywalker ranch (or his new digs in San Francisco) Howard Hughes-like and endlessly tinker with the six films to his heart’s content (one rumor has him re-digitizing the epic into a 3D extravaganza, while another has him recasting it endlessly with Looker-style digitized animatronics of classic Hollywood icons in all the roles (imagine Clark Gable as Hans Solo, Vivien Leigh as Princess Leia, John Wayne as Jabba the Hutt, William Shattner as The Big Giant Head…wait, those last two were just me slipping a cog., but I think you get the point.)

At any rate, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing more Star Wars films (Hell, I’d would actually love to see that Star Wars Holiday Special that ran once on TV back in ’78 and hasn’t been seen since, and in spite of what I may have said in a previous column about bootlegs, I’d even be willing to go to the Grey Market to purchase a copy (a buddy of mine tells me that he just scored the thing on VHS, so I just may actually get my wish on that, but I might just borrow it and give it back, so that I don’t violate my own mojo).

Still, given as there is still something of a buzz going on about the films, I just thought that I’d jump into the fray for the fun of it. However, before I get fully into this, I do want to say a few things. Back in college, when I first saw A New Hope, I remember thinking that it was the coolest sci-fi film I had ever seen. My then girlfriend’s boss thought that it sucked (and perhaps, in retrospect the woman was right, if only for what it eventually became, but that’s an entirely different post) needless to say, I wasn’t having any. I loved the film and couldn’t stop singing its praise.

So much so, that not only was one of my very first published pieces a discussion of what was going to be going on in the third film (OK, so I cribbed some of what I wrote from another article as well as some discussions I was having with my friends, but I was young, what did I know). I actually saw the Empire Strikes Back twice (the second time because I was asked to craft an episode of a one-page gag comicstrip that I had just taken over for the videogame magazine that I was working for at the time so that I could parody the film for the strip. The strip was called Video Victor and was essentially an excuse to do Bee puns (Victor was a Bee)and stupid videogame jokes. But Hell, it was the first time I was getting paid to write fiction, so I was happy to do it.

When Return came out, everyone hated the Ewoks of Endor, realizing that they were simply low-grade, scaled down Wookies, plus the plot seemed to be such a re-working of the first film that it was almost unnecessary. Personally I thought the Ewoks were cute, and mostly harmless, nor was I much impressed by the lightsaber battles in any of the first three films, plus the great race through the woods of Endor really do anything for me. Actually, truth be told, the endings of both the second and third films seemed to be such letdowns.

In Episode V the Rebel alliance got their collective butts whipped pretty good, Luke lost his hand and discovered that his father was the most feared man in the galaxy. But the film itself somehow wound up on an upbeat note, something that I never got. Episode VI had a real win, but it seemed somehow anticlimactic, plus, with the absolution and salvation of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) and the “ascension to a higher plane” by Obi-Wan Kenobi it set up a dichotomy for no one to ever die again (thus establishing The Force’s “Holy Trinity” and firmly establishing it as a sectarian, non-religious religion).

Then we had the interminable 16-year wait to view the next installment, which, only proved how much better the original trilogy was. That’s right, you hear me. The original Star Wars Trilogy was better as an overall vision than was the second trilogy. (Look, for the sake of this article we are going to refer to episodes 4–6 as the first trilogy, and episodes 1-3 as the second trilogy, if only because while the first trilogy is chronologically second, it actually came out first, plus it works that way for me, and I’m the one writing this article.)

Needless to say, having (finally) seen the second trilogy completed, I honestly could have waited another 16 years, if only for Lucas to have gotten it right. Sure, sure the effects were way cooler this time out, and we finally (FINALLY) got to see a couple of truly hot lightsaber battles (the fight with Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul in Phantom Menace, the battle in the coliseum in Attack of the Clones, and the throwdown between Mace Windu and Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith were way-epic, with the Windu/Palpatiane match-up being the very wicked-best). However, things this time out I hated included the revelation that The Force was somehow measured by particles in the blood. Things I could have done without include the pod race, which was more tedious than thrilling (remember, I didn’t much like the chase through the woods in Jedi), and the stale, phone-it-in, cardboard cutout one-dimensional acting handed in by most of the cast throughout most of the films. At least in the first trilogy you got the feeling that these actors were making the effort to earn their pay and entertain us).

Oh yeah, no discussion of the relative merits of the saga would be complete with at least some mention of Jar-Jar Binks. Many of the people who went to see Episode I when it came out hated Jar-Jar, I never truly understood why, as I was entertained by him. To this day, the only reason that I can come up with that I didn’t find him as hatefully offensive or annoying as did most other fans is that my son was eight at the time, and Jar-Jar’s foolishness helped make the film accessible to my son, and thus appealed to me. Both Dylan and I still like the character.

Finally, one of the biggest failures of the second trilogy simply couldn’t overcome was that we know how the story ends. (Yeah, yeah, we also knew the ending to Apollo 13, before entering the theater, but Tom Hanks and company still made us believe that we didn’t quite know everything that was going to happen, and kept us on the edges of our seats as the capsule descended into our atmosphere.) That’s right, folks, if you were to view the six films in their proper order, the Big Reveal in Empire (the whole “Luke, I am your Father” thing) has a hollow ring to it, as we already know it; and this gets to the heart of my (admittedly, overly long) rant.

For the line to work properly, (assuming the story had been told the “correct” order), Anakin’s story would have had to have been told different, resulting in a not only a completely re-written back story, but (I believe) a more thrilling one as well.

Consider this spin: a second character would have mirrored Anakin’s path during the second trilogy. (Anakin’s younger/older brother, best friend, little/bigger cousin — it really doesn’t matter) but it is this character (let’s call him Joe Skywalker), who winds up becoming Obi-Wan’s apprentice. By introducing this character as a red herring it allows for Empire’s big reveal to work as well as it did. Let me explain:

As stated, Joe becomes becoming Obi-Wan’s apprentice and winds up falling for Padmé, but so too does Anakin and now you have a Luke, Leia, Han Solo triangle to add that riff of sexual subtext and tension to the film that was there for the first trilogy (and so lacking in the second). As Joe becomes schooled in the ways of the Jedi, Anakin becomes something of the rogue, a proto-Han Solo, if you will, who (thanks to Senator Palpatine’s subterfuge) also studies the Jedi arts, only, as it turns out, he is every bit (if not more) adept than Joe. As there is also some physical attraction between Padmé and Anakin (girls do so like those bad boys) by the third film it is reveals that Padmé had a brief fling with Anakin, which is what throws Joe into a rage, and causes him to turn his back on his mentor Obi-Wan, and align himself with Palpatine, who has been playing Joe, Anakin, and Obi-Wan against each other from the very beginning), During the climatic battle on the lake of fire between Joe and Obi-Wan, Joe gains the upper hand, because Obi-Wan can’t quite bring himself to kill his beloved student, so Obi-Wan goes down to a powerful attack by Joe.

In flies Anakin who takes the killing stroke meant for Obi-Wan, and manages to deflect it from the downed Jedi Master. Anakin then picks up Obi-Wan’s lightsaber (or, better yet, produces his own) and fights Joe to a standstill, proving that he was the better man all along. Ultimately an explosion kills one and disfigures the other (we are not told which) and a wounded, and disheartened Obi-Wan leaves both men (whom he believes to both be dead) and returns to the Great Hall.

It is there that we learn that Padmé has died during childbirth. We also learn that Anakin’s wife (oh yeah, he had married and impregnated his wife as well. The two women were so happy that they were both going to be moms together, they became as close as sisters). Only Anakin’s wife (let’s call her Jane) was also fatally wounded during the attack on the Jedi Council — where Anakin had sent her for her own safety) died during childbirth as well. We are never told which child lived, and which one died (nor are we told that there are actually two children). The unnamed infant is sent to live with the only surviving Skywalker relations on Tatooine. So, at the end of Sith, we are lead to believe that the child was the offspring of Padmé’s child and Joe, but there is room for doubt.

It is in this fashion that the two big twists of the first trilogy (Leia as Luke’s sister, and Vader as Luke’s Father) are set up, and would still have still worked as the shockers they were, for we wouldn’t have known that Luke was a twin, and there would have been some doubt as to the ultimate identity of Darth Vader.

I personally like this version more than what occurred (and not just because I wrote it, but because of it’s complexity). Only, it never would have worked, for as we all now know, the storyline for the second trilogy was written in broad strokes by Lucas way back in 1975 (some stories have it that the big reveal of Vader being Luke’s father was actually a spur-of-the-moment add-in by someone on the set of Empire, and was never actually part of Lucas’ original story).

There is also ancillary evidence of how much was set in stone in the second trilogy. A friend of mine observed that the relationship between Anakin and Padmé reminded him of the relationship he had with the girlfriend he had when he was 17. He felt (and I concur) that Lucas formulated the story when he was in his late 20s and actually wrote it down while in his early 30s, and then shopped it around Hollywood, to a round of “Nos!” By all accounts, no one wanted his script, so when he did eventually manage to sell (the second half first, as it was, admittedly, the better story) and it became the huge moneymaker that it wound up being, he decided to teach Hollywood a lesson, and do the thing himself, exactly the way he wanted, just to prove (on some level) that he could do it and make a ton of dough.

No disrespect to Lucas, but he is a much better visionary and technical revolutionist than a writer and/or director, and while he should have remained at the helm as executive producer of the saga, he should have left the scripting (over his plots) and actual direction of the films themselves to folks better suited for those tasks.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. And remember, Nothing is Sacred.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The ultimate heresy?

I’m about to commit the highest form of heresy in this field that we all love so dearly.

And what’s worse, I’m doing it freely, and of my own volition, and because I honestly and truly feel that what I’m about say needs to be said, and up until this very moment, I don’t believe that anyone else in this industry has had the chutzpah to say it.

Further, I say this knowing full well that as I post it to the ‘net, it will be up there and will be read by others, and could (quite possibly) read it, refer to it, and even link to it. Further, that (due to the natures of the Web) that it could also quite possibly be there forever.

Yes, boys and girls, it is even entirely possible (and even quite probable) that it just might even be read by people who might actually be able (and willing) to do something about it.

What to know what I’m talking about? Come and follow me...

I know how Hollywood can end (or at the very least seriously curtail) video piracy.

Yes I do, and if you were honest with yourselves, so do you. What the various studio heads need to do is to send teams of Federal Marshals to comicbook, sci-fi, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star War, and similar-themed cons and arrest any vendor selling bootlegs.

Then they need to arrest the convention planners for allowing vendors to sell bootlegged videos and DVD at their conventions.

Then they need to arrest the owners of the hotels and convention halls for allowing the hosting enterprises to hold conventions where bootlegged merchandise was being sold.

Then, the Feds need to do the same thing at flea markets across the country, and serve up subpoenas to the various on-line auction sites to police their sites for bootlegged films.

Think I’m being harsh? Perhaps, but if there was a legitimate business in your neighborhood that was knowing allowing someone to operate out of their establishment who was selling stolen merchandise, or drugs, or conducting an obviously illegal enterprise, you would want the cops to arrest not only the person committing the felony, but the person who was knowing enabling them to do so. Why then is my proposal any different?

Still, I tell you three times that this line of thought is heresy in this industry. Why? I flat-out don’t know, it just is.

Yes, I’m a comicbook aficionado. I discovered the art form in ’61 or ’62. I remember reading the issue of The Flash when Barry Allan met Barry Jay Garrick in Flash #123, so I’ve been here for a while, but I have to tell you that I’m also a movie buff. I remember watching late-night movies on our local TV channel (way before someone thought to invent cable TV). I watched many old B&W classics and enjoying them.

I’ve been working professionally in the field of comics since 1981; I’ve been reviewing movies since 1990 (in fact, I’ve long since determined that I’ve averaged a movie a week since then, so yeah, I’ve seen quite a few). Needless to say, lately when I go to the movies I keep seeing these pre-movie PSAs about how it is, you know, a really bad thing to download, copy, or otherwise reproduce movies. And I know that we all know that, but every time I go to a comicbook convention, I see dozens of tables hawking DVDs and videos of films that we all know are bootlegs (some because the films are still in the theaters and others simply because of the quality of the packaging materials).

And yes, I know that the price of movies is way up there, but part of that reason is that people are bootlegging them, and I understand that people purchase bootlegs because they want to own the film, but don’t feel that they should have to actually pay the full fare to see it. We all think that we are simply entitled to own something that someone else worked hard to produce, and I simply don’t get that attitude.

Some years back, a very good comicbook friend of mine sent me a couple of videos of a pair of bootlegged films that he had acquired. He made copies of them and sent them to me, thinking that I would enjoy them too. Well, you remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer had Jerry sit in the theater with a mini-cam and videotape the film from like the 14th row? Well that’s what these films were like. They were awful. Like trying to watch a scrambled cable channel through the distortion.

I couldn’t watch them and I very politely told my friend never to send me bootlegs again.

Seriously folks, bootlegs are stealing, and I’m not kidding around here. I’m betting that if someone figured out a way to bootleg current comics and tried to sell them at conventions they’d be tarred, feathered, horsewhipped, and ridden out of town on a rail, but somehow bootlegs of films, TV shows (and music) are fair game. Why is that? I’m a creator (I wrote two books, Kiddie Meal Collectibles, Trivia Mania: Commercials and Ads My name isn’t on the cover, but trust me, its mine), and a short-lived comicbook series (Agent Unknown), ands I know that I worked hard to produce those three works (as well as numerous other published non-fiction works) and I’d be the first guy filing a Federal copyright suit if I learned that someone was attempting to bootleg my property, and so to would all of those greedy, self-serving, self-appointed, so-called “fans” who line up to buy bootlegs.

I’m not even going to play the “moral” card. Making, buying, and/or selling bootlegs is flat out wrong. I won’t participate in the practice, and I look down upon anyone who does. It really is that simple.

And yes, I honestly believe that the big studios in Hollywood should start pressuring the Federal government to send Federal Marshals to comicbook cons to arrest people who traffic in this material. While bootlegging will never completely go away, putting pressure on the people that enable others to do create and sell the bootlegs to stop allowing the practice to occur out in broad daylight will certainly curtail it.

Well, for what its worth, that’s my opinion, and remember, Nothing is Sacred.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Once and Future Batman (and Beyond)

A few days ago, on June 17, 2005, DC Comics and Warner Bros. attempted to resurrect one of their greatest heroes, as well as correct one of their biggest missteps, The Batman. In this newest outing, Director Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, Memento) takes a whack at presenting Christian Bale as a comprehensible version of one of the greatest, and most well known comicbook characters ever created. From the trailers and the hype surrounding this new incarnation of Bruce Wayne’s altered self, this reviewer (and comicbook fans around the globe) hopes they can successfully pull it off, especially in spite of the dismal, disrespectful outings Gotham’s protector has been accorded in the past.

Please note, this article isn’t so much a review of the current film (as it was actually written prior to viewing Batman Begins), as it is a look back at the previous film incarnations of Batman (I’m going to totally pass on the two B&W Serials that came out in the ‘40s (The Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), but only because I never saw them. I’m likewise going to ignore the Batman movie that was produced in 1966 with the cast of the Batman TV show, for obvious reasons. Also, if you are looking for my thoughts on the current Batman film, you can look at my regular movie review column (Suspension of Belief), already in progress at www.PopThought.com.

In the past, what has hobbled Batman’s filmic versions has not been the actors (Fans initially railed against, then supported Michael Keaton as Batman, while George Clooney has — unjustifiably in this reviewer’s humble opinion — long been blamed for the failure of the franchise). No, the fault for the franchise’s ultimate failure must rest squarely upon the shoulders of the films twin directors. Tim Burton’s visually arresting, but completely soulless twin films Batman and Batman Returns, and Joel Schumacher’s horrendously worse Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. While Burton is less to blame (he at least had better — no, make that actual vision) I personally blame Schumacher, for he so obviously had no respect for the source material. Schumacher's visualization of Batman was not so much the character that was originally envisioned by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, but a pale reflection of how the director must have remembered The Dark Knight Detective from his own long ago youth.

Unfortunately, there was still too much of the ‘60s style Pow! Bam! Zap! Batman wrapped up in Schumacher’s films that they were doomed to failure. Not to fault Adam West and Burt Ward, but it was their incarnation of the caped crusaders that set comicbook characters (both in print and in film) back 100 years, dooming them (and those of us who read comics) to the kiddie ghetto of disposable pop culture crap, to be ignored and shunned by adults everywhere and nearly took the entire industry with it. In fact it wasn’t until the graphic novels of (among others) Alan Moore’s, and Dave GibbonsWatchmen and (ironically enough) Frank Miller’s own version of Batman courtesy of The Dark Knight Returns, that comicbooks in general and superheroes in particular, began to gain any semblance of adult sensibilities and respect.

However, while Schumacher's version very nearly did to the hero what Batman villain Ras Al Gul* never could (that is, put a stake through The Batman’s heart), it was Tim Burtons twin films Batman and Batman Returns, that ultimately let Gotham’s protector up for the big fall. For while Burton’s version had more heart than Schumacher's, it was clear from the start that Burton was far more interested in style over substance. (In fact, on one talk show at the time, Burton admitted that while there were a great many wonderful Batman stories to tell, his films just weren’t any of them.)

For all of his terrific visuals, Burton only really had three brief moments across the both films that were true to the legend of Batman (or at least the Batman that I remember reading). The first one occurred in the first film, where Bruce Wayne was sitting at night in the dark of a cavernous room in Wayne mansion with enormous, ornate windows behind him. He is sitting stock still, in the dark, and the room is empty except for the large chair in which Wayne is sitting. Suddenly, behind him, we see the Bat Signal illuminates the Gotham skyline, and Wayne snaps to life.

This was perfect, for as all comicbook fans know, Batman works differently than all other comicbook heroes. We know that, Clark Kent is Superman, and Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but in the case of The Batman, it works the other way. Playboy philanthropist Bruce Wayne is the secret identity, and Batman is the real character. Much to their credit, the writers of the animated Batman Beyond TV series also got this right, which is why that series also worked so well.

On the animated TV show, in one particular episode, Terry McGinnis, the high school teen who has become the new Batman, is fighting a villain who utilizes sound as a weapon. The villain has managed to gaslight the elderly Bruce Wayne into questioning his own sanity, and had Wayne committed to a mental institution by affixing a sonic device to Wayne’s skull that broadcast static, bumfuzzling the old man, filling Wayne’s head with “voices” that stymied him. Upon being rescued by McGinnis, Wayne ascertained that while he was indeed incapacitated by the device, he knew he wasn’t crazy because the voice in his head kept calling him “Bruce” and that's not what he called himself. Puzzled, McGinnis asked, “What do you call yourself?” All it took was a look from Wayne, to get the teen to respond, “Oh, yeah, right.”

Burton once again displayed his understanding of the character in Batman Returns when Wayne (again Michael Keaton) meets Selena Kyle (Catwoman, Michelle Pfeiffer) for the first time (as Wayne — he had met her as Batman the night before), and says, “Oh yeah, we've met.” Kyle corrects him, saying that they haven’t met. To which Wayne replies, “Sorry, I thought I was someone else.” Again Kyle attempts to correct him by saying, “You mean you thought I was someone else.” At which point Wayne realizes that he has once again confused his identities, and simply abandons the conversation. Later on in the film, at a costume ball, where everyone else is in a costume, comes the third incident. Both Bruce and Selena show up, to the party as Bruce and Selena, and apparently recognize each other as Batman and Catwoman. Bruce says, “Let’s go upstairs and get out of these costumes,” again clearly demonstrating that it is Batman and Catwoman who are the characters, and Bruce and Selena who are the costumes.

Other than these three instances, Burton’s films are a disjointed, near incomprehensible mess, presenting Batman, not as the Olympic-Class athlete and Sherlock Holmes-level detective that he is in the comic, but as Iron Man in a Bat suit, without the boot jets and repulsor rays. Still, this was far better than in Schumacher’s outings, which completely disrespected the source material (in the comics, the writers are essentially required to treat the subject matter with gravity in order to be taken seriously, but in the films it is patently obvious that Schumacher never treats the story seriously, simply because it was based on a comicbook).

While I’ll admit, that Keaton made the best Wayne, and Val Kilmer (Batman Forever) was probably the best Batman (he was the most athletic), it was Clooney (Batman & Robin) who actually looked the best in the suit. Still, simply looking good wasn't enough, and the writing and direction of Schumacher’s films all but sank not only the franchise, but very nearly the future of comicbook superhero films. Thank Stan (Lee) that the current crop of comicbook directors (Bryan Singer; X-Men, X-Men 2), and Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2) were comicbook fans first, and directors second. It has been their unwavering dedication to the source material that has so successfully transformed these “All in color for a dime” heroes from the printed page to the Silver Screen.

So, for us who are fans of both the characters, as well as the genre of comics-into-films can only hope that with Batman Begins, Nolan (who was able to give us unique and intriguing visions, in both Insomnia and Memento) will be able to bring The Batman back to his roots, and resuscitate both this faltering franchise, as well as increase the fan base support by growing the franchise of transliterations of superheroes from page to screen, proving that the X-Men and Spider-Man films weren’t so much exceptions, but the dawning of a new age of a new rule: one that allows for the perfect marriage of these two most American media.

Those of us, who grew up both reading comicbooks and watching films, can only hope this will occur, and we will be treated to smooth translations for years to come.

*Keep in mind that this article was written prior to this writer having knowledge of who the villain was in Batman Begins.
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