Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Month in Review: August 2010

After several months of unfocused ramblings, filler posts, gut reactions, Big Life Stuff, and occasional strokes of verbose genius, we have returned to what we (arguably) do best: geeking out about our favorite fandoms. Video games were a huge focus, and even with a fair amount of random links posts thrown in, August was characterized by some very in-depth and passionate discussions.

Also, we held a contest and celebrated two years of Exfanding Your Horizons. Awesome.

Take a moment to peruse the posts we wrote in August:

- Alex ruins a perfectly good video game post by talking about Boy Scouts instead

- A discussion about how the Atari 2600 shaped who I am as a gamer

- Alex's weekly comics news/rant/spotlight feature, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issues Thirty-One, Thirty-Two, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four

- A guest post about MLB 10 The Show, a fancy-pants baseball vidjagame

- Stories of some fun experiences I've had with co-op multiplayer video games

- An explanation of how I was spoiled by excellent RPGs at a young age

- The most absurd picture you'll see today (probably)

- The Second Easiest Contest on the Internet and an announcement of the winners

- An in-depth analysis of why Star Trek: Nemesis is not the shoddy movie I once thought it was

- A rant about comic book movie criticism

- An discussion about why I'm glad I'm not a comics fanboy

- Gameplay videos of the Flash game Dino Run

- The most unlikely picture you'll see today (possibly)

- A discussion of how Exfanding Your Horizons is a living blog

- A minor calamity where all my YouTube subscribers disappeared

- Alex's explanation of why DC and Marvel have gotten so little attention in Waiting for Wednesday recently, and a follow-up apology regarding Grant Morrison

- Batman robs a Taco Bell

- A reaction to the announcement of a pseudo-remake of GoldenEye 007

- A YouTube collaboration between me and Kirby Pink to play through Mega Man: The Power Battle

- A reaction to JAMES CAMERON's Avatar returning to the big screen with new footage

- Reflections on two years of blogging

- Wookiee the Pooh

- A guest post pinpointing the Golden Era of Comics

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Golden Era of Comics

Guest writer Michael Gray here to talk about comics, a popular topic here on Exfanding Your Horizons. I'm not going to talk about comic books, though, because I don't really read them. My area of comics expertise isn't comic books; it's pre-1950s newspaper cartoons.

Earlier in this blog, Alex said that it's kind of hard to pin down an exact date for the end of the Golden Era of Comics. Well, let me make it a bit simpler for everyone.


That's the year comics stopped being good.

But before I explain why 1948 is the year comics went bad, let me explain why I think comics prior to that time were good.

1. Art Size and Quality

Today, newspaper comics strips are four inches wide, which is kind of small. Back in the 1930's and 40's, newspaper comic strips were TWELVE inches wide. Yes, you read that correctly. They were three times are large as they are now; the standard policy was to have a strip run all the way from the left-hand side of the newspaper page all the way to the right-hand side.

So naturally, the comics were better, because the artists had more room to work with.

This is a 1930s Boots and Her Buddies comic. Notice how it is larger than my entire forearm and hand.

As a bonus, bigger strip sizes meant the artwork tended to be better. It's really hard to get away with bad artwork in a medium which is so art-heavy. You couldn't get away with the drawing "shortcuts" that cartoonists take today, such as not drawing backgrounds or drawing the characters in the same pose in every single strip. That looks really bad and screams "Incompetent Artist," who usually ended up becoming an "Out-of-Work Artist."

This is a 2010 Jump Start comic. Notice how it is smaller than my hand.

2. Plot

There are two kinds of comic strips: joke-a-day strips (like Garfield), and storyline strips (like Rex Morgan). Open up the comics page today, and you'll see that 90% of the strips are all joke-a-day, whereas two of them are storyline strips that are older than your grandmother.

Back in the Golden Era of Newspaper Comics, the exact opposite situation was the case. 90% of the strips had running storylines. Only two of were joke-a-day strips.

That's a reason why the Golden Era was good; comic strips were expected to have storylines with character development and interesting things like that. Whereas today, people distinctly do not want those elements in comic strips; they just want a quick laugh that doesn't involve having to think, thank you very much.

Interestingly enough, the strips were apparently so plot-heavy in the 1930s that my local newspaper decided to only run them on Sundays. That way, they could conveniently put the whole week's worth of strips on one page, so you could get the entire week's plot at once, instead of having to tune in every day to see the plot develop. I always thought that was an interesting way to go about presenting a storyline strip. This was later replaced by a full-color Sunday comics page, of course.

On a side note, this is why I stopped liking Calvin and Hobbes once Bill Watterson changed the layouts of the Sunday strips. I liked reading the week-long or month-long storylines where Calvin got into adventures with his time machine or evil clones, or when he flew to Mars. Those were really fun. But when Watterson switched the Sunday strip format, he sort of stopped writing long storylines and mostly did joke-a-day strips. It disappointed me.

3. Target Audience

In the golden age, the target audience for newspaper comics was mainly adults. This is because, thanks to the Great Depression, only adults could afford newspapers. Most strips were geared toward the target audience of adults, so naturally, the quality level was generally higher, and the types of storylines you saw were vastly different from the types you see today.

Note that I am not thinking of adult-oriented cartoons like the ones you see nowdays on Family Guy or Comedy Central. I am not sure why these shows are rated "M" for "Mature Audiences," when most of the jokes involve immature third-grade topics like farting and urination.

No, here, I'm thinking of something like The Odyssey. That's a masterpiece of literature, but it's adult-oriented in that the dramatic ending where Odysseus slaughters over a hundred suitors is not exactly "kid-friendly" material. The odds of you reading a newspaper cartoon today with a plot like that are zero to zero.

But back in the Golden Age, people could and did write plots like that. Believe it or not, Little Orphan Annie ran two (TWO!) Odyssey-esque series, in which over a hundred people were slaughtered at once, and the various characters debated the morality of the situation by touching on deep themes like life, death, and duty.

Granted, those Orphan Annie plotlines did generate a TON of hate mail and complaints, but the point I'm trying to make is that they could at least run a plotline like that, without it being censored to death.

Today, of course, society at large thinks comics are just for kids, which has caused the comics industry no small amount of stress.

4. No Television

The Golden Era of Comics took place before television was invented. Television kind of destroyed people's attention spans and tolerance for reading in general, but since the Golden Era was pre-TV, people were willing to read long strips with lots of dialogue. The best example (and worst offender) is "Our Boarding House", which is a strip that had so much dialogue that there was barely any room for pictures. The amount of dialogue in each panel was about the size of this paragraph.

Plus, without the competition from TV, comics were more widespread. A newspaper strip could boast having over 30 million daily readers, which is a lot. Today, you can only have that kind of exposure on TV. (Or the Internet, but the story of how the Internet is changing the face of media is another blog post entirely.)


All right, I think that's enough about why comics from back then are good. What happened in 1948 to change this?

I'm not sure, but apparently someone (I'm told his name is Fredric Wertham) decided that comics should be just for children, so they did away with all the things that I just said made comics good.

My local newspaper, The San Jose Mercury-Herald changed its comic page in 1948. Previously, they ran half of the paper's strips in the morning edition and the other half ran in the evening edition, presumably in order to get people to buy both editions. I'm pretty sure that plan didn't work, because the evening edition strips were the ::ahem:: not-so-good ones.

So in 1948, the two comics pages were combined into one. Clearly, the intelligent move would have been to keep all of the comics the way they were previously, but that's not what happened. Instead, they shrunk all of the comic strips to save space, which made them much harder to reader. This spelled death for the more text-heavy strips like our aforementioned friend, Our Boarding House.

In fact, most of the storyline strips were dropped, and they were replaced by joke-a-day strips like Penny (a teenage strip, like Luann or Zits). It was a clear message: baby boomers wanted smaller, joke-a-day strips for their kids to read, not the larger, plot-based strips they used to read.

This is not limited to my local newspaper; in fact, in 1948, Little Orphan Annie was dropped from several hundred newspapers overnight, under the pretext that it was inappropriate for children. Harold Gray retailed with a brilliant storyline that explored the nature of censorship, which made heavy use of the then-still-recent Nazi book burnings and ended with the local library going up in flames.

Li'l Abner, another major strip at the time, also ran a strip in 1948 against censoring newspaper strips. Note that all the characters have Southern accents, so it may be hard for newcomers to read:

Coincidence that two of the top five newspaper strips both ran anti-comics censorship plotlines in the same year? I don't think so.

In conclusion, 1948 was the year comics were shrunk, stripped of plotlines, and censored, as part of the push to make comics for kids only. That's why I say 1948 was the end of the Golden Age of comics.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Artist James Hance

As usual, we have a Sunday Links post for you today, but this one is special. Mostly because of how awesome it is. There’s just so much goodness here that I can’t imagine a single person not liking this.

From artist James Hance, I present Wookiee the Pooh.
Once again this week, thanks go to Dr. Nick Riviera for sending this link my way.

Oh, and if you like what you see, be sure to check out the artists’ website. There are plenty of classical art/pop cultural mash-ups, including my favorite--The Dark Starry Night. Mr. Hance has prints of all of his art up for sale--and at really low prices. There’s some wonderful stuff up there (including some originals), so go have a look.

I promise it’ll be worth it.

-- -- -- --

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On Two Years

Two years ago, almost to the day, Nathaniel and I were sitting around a little table in the middle of a gloomy little courtyard outside of our old office. We were both fed up with a lot of things. Our jobs, mostly, [Editor's note: Alex exaggerates on my behalf a little...] but there were other everyday annoyances that were bringing us down.

And then we started talking about Otakon, and Nathaniel’s experiences at the show. Then I started talking about comics, and comic conventions, and things just started rolling downhill.

Before I had that conversation in that gloomy little courtyard, though, I was aware of Nathaniel’s geeky tendencies. He wears his heart on his sleeve, as they say, and it was pretty apparent that he had an affinity for things like Star Trek and Mega Man.

But a lot of people like a lot of things, and we were both hardworking, professional people with a wide range of interests and hobbies. I just assumed that Star Trek and Mega Man were these cool little side things that he liked, and that he could never possibly be as deeply into as I was into comics.

Well, clearly, I am a poor judge of character.

During that talk, we decided to put together a blog. Just for ourselves. Just for fun. Two years later, we’re still doing the same exact thing we set out to do that afternoon after lunch.

The fact that we’ve gained readers is amazing. And shocking. And, in Year Three, we plan to do some things to expand our readership, to up that hit counter, and to take our posts to places they haven’t yet been.

But that’s for the near future. For today, Nathaniel and I just want to say thanks.

Keep reading, because we’ll keep writing.

-- -- -- --

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Contest Winners Announcement!

It's time to announce the winners of The Second Easiest Contest on the Internet! Which is now closed, by the way, so stop trying to enter.

We've received a slew of comments pointing out typos, broken hyperlinks, deleted videos, and other issues that tarnish our reputation as The Internet's Most Error-Free Geek Blug. We're simultaneously overjoyed and appalled that you've found so many problems for us to fix.

As promised, we will now give away a $15 Amazon.com gift certificate to each of the three people we've randomly selected from the comments left on the official contest post. All others will be fed to the Sarlaac.

I mean, uh, thanks for entering our contest.

Seriously, though, we do appreciate that you've taken the time to go back through our old posts with such a keen eye. We'd be interested to hear exactly which posts you went back for; feel free to let us know in the comments section!

But this time, you will comment and win nothing. Just so you know.

Without any further didgeridoo, we are proud to announce the winners of The Second Easiest Contest on the Internet! Congratulations to Scott, Luigifan33, and A Philosophical Nerd! Probability and random chance are in your favor today; you should totally go grinding for rare items in an RPG now.

We will send your $15 Amazon.com gift certificate by e-mail, so drop us a line identifying yourself and your prize will be...uh...yours! Otherwise, we'll feed your gift certificate to the Sarlaac.

I mean, uh, thanks again for entering our contest.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Exfanding Your Horizons Turns 2 Years Old!

It's official: Exfanding Your Horizons is two years old! Happy Birthday to us!

Just like we did to celebrate last year, Alex and I have assembled a list of questions that make us feel like we're special guests on a geek talk show, like Sally Jessy Raphael Donatello or something. Year Two was a big year, and our penchant for inflating our self-importance guarantees we'll make it even bigger.

Our blog rules.

Most blogs don't last nearly this long; why are you still here?

Nathaniel: I love to write. I love the stuff we write about here. I love collaborating on geeky stuff with Alex. The fact that we post consistently at 11 AM every day gives me the structure I need to keep from posting "when I get around to it," yet the flexibility to switch posting days with Alex or write a fluffy links post keeps blogging from becoming a self-imposed chore. The Internet hasn't kicked us out yet; why wouldn't we be here?

Alex: 11:00, you say? Haha...erm. Yes. Well. Of course, just to foul up Nathaniel's response to this question, I purposefully posted at 11:40 yesterday. Yeah, that's what I did. Uh huh. All part of the plan.

What was the question?

Did you honestly think we'd make it to two years?

Nathaniel: Absolutely. This blog started out as a fun little side project, and after a few weeks or maybe months, it became a habit. Two years later, it's a fact of life. Like eating, or weekly showers.

Alex: Soon after we started, I read somewhere that 99% of all blogs go bye-bye within the first two weeks. At that point, we were about a month into Exfanding, and we both took that as a major positive. That we, um, hadn't gone bye-bye, I mean.

We always knew we were better than 99% of everyone else, now it was just being scientifically proven.

Honestly, though, I had a feeling we would both be too stubborn to ever give it up, and woe unto whichever one of us tapped out first. Now, like Nathaniel said, posting here is very much an everyday routine type of thing.

What's the best part about having a blog? What's the worst part about having a blog (And no chickening out--be honest!)?

Alex: The best part is having a soapbox from which to shout. And the worst part is having a soapbox from which to shout. What I mean is, I have a big mouth. What can I say? It's my nature. So it's nice to have a bit of a forum to express myself, especially when I read or watch something that I love, and that I want to share with others.

On the other hand, expressing myself tends to get me into trouble. And, apparently, I tend to take digs at Grant Morrison.

Nathaniel: The worst part about having a blog is the sheer amount of time I spend talking about geeky endeavors instead of actually engaging in them. Don't get me wrong; I love to write, and I love to gab about my favorite fandoms. It's just that there are nights where I'd rather be playing a video game than staying up 1d3 hours later than anticipated to finish a post that may or may not be what I feel like writing anyhow.

The best part about having a blog generally makes up for that, though. It is staggering to me how much material we've written, and it's a joy to scroll through the archives and look at how our thoughts, personalities, and humor are preserved in such detail across such a broad array of topics. And we get to share that with the world.

Has blogging gotten any easier or harder since last year?

Alex: I honestly thought that we'd have nothing left to talk about by now. That was my number one concern when we started this up. But, somehow, there's always a new post waiting in the wings. And that certainly wasn't the case (for me, at least) a couple of years ago.

Nathaniel: Speak for yourself! Blogging is hard! Actually, coming up with anything to post for the next day has gotten much easier for me--I seldom stare at the ceiling anymore, waiting for a post to emerge from the plaster--but writing the big introductory posts is much tougher, as you may have noticed from the lack of them these past several months. That ties in with the previous question, actually.

When would you say your writing was the strongest this past year? The weakest?

Alex: I've told Nathaniel this already, but I think it's pretty clear that he's carried the blog this year. Whereas my writing has been very inconsistent, I think he's been in overdrive--certainly through this summer--and he's posted some of my very favorite things we've yet had on the blog.

Personally, I think I peaked at the end of last year. I felt like things were really clicking for a while there. Maybe I'm just a better writer when I'm angry, but I'm really going to try picking up the slack for the rest of 2010.

Nathaniel: I feel like my writing was strongest when we both collaborated on "theme weeks," and when I let myself loose to geek out about Mega Man and Star Trek in greater depth than usual.

It's strange--I didn't feel at any point that I was carrying the blog; I was simply adding my contributions for the day. Okay, so I was carrying the blog during Video Game Week, but Alex agreed to it, so that's his own fault.

In truth, all my strongest posts that immediately came to mind are from Year One. I think my posts this past year were less diverse than the year before, so they don't stand out as much to me. I feel like I lost a lot of focus in May and June when a lot of Big Life Stuff was going on, and most of those posts in particular seem like filler to me.

Name a few blog-related things that surprised you in Year Two.

Alex: The amount of people who robbed banks, stores, and fast food restaurants dressed as super heroes and/or pop cultural icons.

Nathaniel: I was surprised to discover that I am a fan of Exfanding Your Horizons. A few weeks ago I had this big realization that I wasn't reading Alex's post that day just to check in on the blog--I was reading it because I really wanted to see what he had to say. I've always enjoyed reading his posts and re-reading my posts, but it never occurred to me that I'm actually a fan of our own blog!

...Does that count as "a few"?

Alex: Thanks for making my answer sound (even more) trivial than it was intended to be.

Nathaniel: My pleasure!

Were you introduced to anything new/cool this year because of the blog (either by each other, or by a reader)?

Nathaniel: The films of Akira Kurosawa. Not only were the screenings fun little adventures of their own, but I felt cinematically and culturally educated afterward.

Alex: Firefly and Serenity. I love that series, and I'm glad to have been introduced to it and to all of its ancillary stories.

Who would win in a fight--Batman or Superman?

Nathaniel: What, you haven't read Hush?

Alex: Are we talking the Taco Bell Batman Bandit, or the real Batman? Because if it's the real Batman, isn't he trapped in time/space somewhere, dressed as a pirate? And isn't Superman walking Earth and moping around all the time again? EMO Superman rocks!

I'm gonna have to go with the Goon.

What are some blogging goals/site goals/plans for Year Three? Any possible exciting news we can reveal about the next year?

Alex: One thing I'd love to see would be more of a presence on comic book sites. Exfanding ads on Newsarama? CBR? Heck, yes! I think it might be a logical next step for the blog to take.


Nathaniel: I'd like to figure out when we started italicizing Exfanding, for starters.

As a blogging goal, I'd like us both to add a few more fandoms or genres to our regular idea pool. I'd like to write more about anime and Dungeons & Dragons, and I know Alex must have a few music artists or television shows up his sleeve that he hasn't told us about.

As a site goal, I hope to finish all these minor and gradual tweaks to end up with a totally polished and professional blog that shows up in Google searches for something aside from "potty mouth Batman."

As far as plans go, I'm itching to do a bunch of formal fandom introductions; it's only a matter of having enough time and energy to write them. I also intend to complete all the New Year's Resolutions(TM) Alex made for me while simultaneously causing him to fail hilariously at his resolutions.

Hey, where's that book and t-shirt you promised us last year, hmm...?

Nathaniel: Erm...we compiled all our posts from the first year and then...and then something happened that...we had everything together and...and...and...THOSE GNOMES!!!

Alex: I don't think I would buy a t-shirt--uh...I mean...they're coming soon. Promise.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 34

How is it possible that today’s already the last new comic book day in August? Where the heck has this year gone? Summer’s ending, baseball’s getting into the nitty gritty of the pennant chases, and the weather is actually starting to cool down.

As evidence of such, I wore a long sleeve shirt to work today.

What the heck is happening?! Time is flying, life things are changing. But Exfanding rolls on. Tomorrow, believe it or not, is the Second Anniversary of this humble little blog.

Two years of blogging. Two years of Waiting for Wednesdays. Two years of allowing Nathaniel to show me space-related films and television shows. How in the world have I survived all this?

Seriously, since the blog started, I went from just coming off a promotion at a little nothing of a publishing house, to getting a pay cut, to being laid off, to being utterly and hopelessly unemployed, to being hired by an amazing publisher.

It’s been an interesting ride, and we’ll have more on the anniversary tomorrow in a completely self-serving (and self-congratulating) post about how amazing we are. So be sure to stop by for that.

But for today, let’s talk comics. And, more specifically, let’s talk about which new comics will be shipping today to your LCS. Looks like it’s a bit of a heavy week, but in my continuing effort to cut down on buying single issues, I’ve managed to narrow my top choices down to just two books.

First up, from the always interesting BOOM! Studios, is a new series called Dracula: Company of Monsters. Written by comics industry veteran Kurt Busiek, this book sounds like it could be quite a bit of fun.
Check out the solicitation information from the publisher:

He's back from the dead and starring in a new ongoing horror series from the mind of Kurt Busiek.

A powerful, predatory corporation acquires a valuable asset - Dracula! They think they own him, but no one can own the Son of the Dragon. There's a monster in their midst that puts Hannibal Lecter to shame - and he plans to gain his freedom in blood. It's bloodsuckers vs. bloodsucker, as Busiek brings an incredibly modern spin to the Dracula mythos.

Joining Busiek is award-winning author Daryl Gregrory (Pandemonium) and rising star artist Scott Godlewski (Codebreakers). The epic journey starts here, so don't miss the debut issue of Dracula: The Company Of Monsters, the next breakout ongoing series from BOOM! Studios! Featuring covers by Ron Salas and fan-favorite The Nocturnals artist Dan Brereton.

And if you're on the fence about this one, check out a free preview, right here.

Seems like a cool little spin on the Dracula mythos, and I'm definitely willing to give issue one a shot. BOOM! is very hit-or-miss with me--Mark Waid's Irredeemable series, for example, started like a shot out of the gate but slowly faded into a title that I no longer read.

With comics being the price they are these days, it's tough to jump on board an all new series. If I dig issue one, I'll likely trade-wait the rest of the series.

Speaking of the price of comics...

Continuing their fantastic 1 for $1 promotion, Dark Horse today releases the $1 reprint of The Goon, issue one!
If you've never listened to a single thing I've said (and, really, why would you?), please, please, please hear me now--buy The Goon for a buck! It's a dollar! You can swing it!

Here's the blurb from the Horse:

Go back to the beginning with Dark Horse’s 1 for $1 comics!

Get in on the ground floor of twelve featured titles from our popular comics pantheon. See what started it all in these first-issue classics from Dark Horse Comics.

The Goon is a hilarious blend of pulpy horror and slapstick comedy following the ongoing misadventures of the man they call the Goon and his spastic sidekick Franky as they battle the legions of the undead!

Give this book a try. Really. It's got great art, great characters, a great premise, and great gags--everything anyone could want in a comic book! And it's a buck!! Did I mention that?!

I did?

Well, it bears repeating! Go. Buy. Get caught up before the movie comes out!

*pant* *pant* *pant*

I'm exhausted. We'll be back tomorrow with our Two Year Anniversary post thing. But before that--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Apologies to Mr. Morrison

I’ve been thinking a lot about my post last week, in which I talked about my disappointment in the current state of comics at both Marvel and DC. And I’m mostly happy with what I wrote, but one thing’s been bugging me a bit.

I think I unfairly singled out Grant Morrison, and I really didn’t mean to.

He was the only creator I mentioned by name, but I did that just to demonstrate an example of today’s tendency in comics to have a handful of creators take charge of a character, or a line, or an entire universe.

I definitely didn’t single him out because of something I have against his writing. And, come to think of it, using Morrison was probably the worst possible example I could have used. Because, even though he is in charge of the direction of Batman for both the short and long term at DC, Morrison is, as always, thinking out of the mainstream box.

Something that can't be said for the vast majority of mainstream creators. Way to obliterate your own argument, Alex.

So yeah, not that he’d ever read this blog, but still, Mr. Morrison wasn’t meant to be the focus of the post. And I don’t think he was, necessarily, but I wanted to address it because he caught some of the anti-mainstream shrapnel from that post.

While I’m really not thrilled with mainstream books at the moment, I am a big Morrison fan, and I’ve talked about his work several times on the blog before.

And, as fate would have it, I picked up and started reading, for the first time, a Morrison staple that many people have told me I need to read. Morrison’s Vertigo series, The Invisibles, is one of those books readers say "changed their perception of things."
I’ve even heard some critics whom I respect say that the series changed their entire outlook on comics. Whoa.

Even so, I was hesitant to take the plunge on the series, mostly because there are just some Morrison books that don’t do it for me. And I really, really wanted Invisibles to do it for me.

So I finally bought volume one last week, and I dove into issues one and two last night.

And, almost immediately, there was a scene that hit me like a ton of bricks in issue one. I won’t reveal the characters/people involved, because that would most certainly take away from the impact of the moment for anyone yet to read the book, but the scene involved heroes of mine.

One, in particular.

And, as such, I know quite a bit about this person’s biography. So I got the references and I understood what was happening. And it--well--it hit me like a ton of bricks. Just a brilliant, sad, amazing, hopeful, haunting scene.

I’ve heard from many different folks that there are plenty of those scenes throughout Invisibles, and that Morrison does things never before achieved in graphic fiction. I just didn’t expect to be knocked over so quickly.

So the point of today’s post is really to say sorry to Grant Morrison.

Oh, and if you'd like to check out what I'm talking about in issue one of Invisibles, Vertigo has the entire comic up online, for free, right here. (Be warned, though, that it's a mature readers title.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Avatar Avarice

James Cameron's Avatar, the GREATEST ADVENTURE OF ALL TIME, is returning to the big screen.

After grossing around $750 MILLION in theaters and immediately releasing a no-frills DVD of just the movie right after it left the theaters (with the promise of at least one or two special edition DVDs later on), Avatar is returning once more to confiscate your money in wallet-popping 3-D.

To what do we owe the honor of this grand occasion? Get this: There are nine minutes of video footage that weren't there in the original film, and the world must be allowed to witness these nine minutes on the big screen.

Nine minutes.

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was re-released in theaters with extra footage too, you know. Fellowship added 20 minutes. Two Towers gave us 44 more minutes. Return of the King returned with an extra 50 minutes.

Let me do some math: Fellowship gained almost 10% more movie. Collectively, the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings movies offered 18% more footage than audiences saw the first time around.

Avatar: Special Edition supplements the original movie by 5%.

Whoops; five-and-a-half percent. Once your movie hits the three hour mark, that half a percent gets progressively less meaningful.

These nine minutes consist of new and extended action sequences, and little bits added here and there that you might not notice if you've only seen the movie once, which is clearly not what James Cameron intended.

I can justify loving a movie so much that you go back and see it again and again in the theater.

I can justify loving a movie so much that you buy the DVD as soon as it comes out and then shell out more money for the Special Edition DVD later on because you just couldn't wait for it.

I cannot justify paying full price to spend over three hours watching the exact same film you've seen on the big and small screen for an extra nine minutes that weren't included a movie that left theaters barely 5 months ago and will absolutely appear in the Special Edition DVD you've been waiting for anyhow.

We paid for more Lord of the Rings because of the quantity of the extra footage. We paid for more Star Wars because of the adjustments to the quality of the film, for better or for worse. Plus, Star Wars hadn't formally been on the big screen for the better part of two decades when it was re-released in 1997.

Avatar? Avatar is taking advantage of your fanboy/fangirlism without so much as the pretense of it being for a good reason. Or so it seems to me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mega Man: The Power Battle on YouTube

Hello one and all! If you've enjoyed my carefully practiced Mega Man videos on YouTube, you might be interested to see what happens when I do an honest-to-goodness "Let's Play" video. As in, I'm picking it up and playing it cold.

I'm not alone, though; I'm teaming up with KirbytPink, a fellow Mega Man fan, to play through Mega Man: The Power Battle, an cooperative multiplayer arcade game that features boss battles and only boss battles from Mega Man 1-7. The first video is by far my favorite, but I hope you'll take the time to check out all three!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Revisiting GoldenEye 007

GoldenEye 007 is one of the rare first-person shooter games that I own for a console system. Oh, wow, I just made a pun and didn't realize it. How clever I am.

...But I digress. I am traditionally terrible at playing FPS games on console systems because my beautiful aim is hampered by holding down a button to go into targeting mode or needing to use two control sticks at once to move and look around (or in my case, spin around in circles and shoot my feet).

I almost won't play an FPS game unless I've got a keyboard and mouse in front of me, but GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 has the perfect combination of elements for which I'll allow an exception.

GoldenEye is perhaps my favorite (and possibly first) James Bond movie. The N64 adaptation offers a wide variety of memorable weapons, gadgets, challenges, locations, enemies, destructable objects, ways to goof around, and bonus cheats. Who hasn't enjoyed decorating the walls with paintball splatters or mowing down thugs in the Facility with dual RC-P90s? And the multiplayer mode is legendary.

I'm horrific at the harder difficulty modes due to my lack of precision with console FPS games, but the game is otherwise so brilliant that I can't help but love it.

When I saw that GoldenEye 007 is being revamped for the Wii, I felt a surge of geek excitement that I haven't felt since at least the announcement of Mega Man 9. Strange, considering I'm not the world's biggest Bond fan and GoldenEye isn't a game I've ever thought of as one of my all-time favorites. However, seeing that one picture made my heart leap:

I've always been the kind of gamer to focus on the gameplay first and graphics last, but seeing that sweeping view of the first level brought back a flood of fond memories and helped me to instantly appreciate just how much I do love the game, even if I rarely dust it off anymore. The screenshot also, in some strange way, fulfilled a wish I've had since I first picked up Perfect Dark, another N64 game of the same ilk.

I always believed that Perfect Dark had the potential to blow away GoldenEye's multiplayer, if for no other reason than the incredible level of customizability. The one thing that held the game back was that the graphics were so complex for the time that the multiplayer was occasionally sluggish, and being able to identify friend from foe from ammo crate was often difficult, especially with 4-player split-screen action on a modest-sized television.

GoldenEye seldom suffered from that problem with its comparatively simpler graphics, but I wondered how great Perfect Dark could have been on a more powerful console. Seeing that one screenshot of the new GoldenEye gave me a pretty good idea.

Now I was excited. With all the multiplayer options that come standard with any given modern game, GoldenEye's stellar multiplayer could potentially gain all the stabilizability of Perfect Dark with none of the technological drawbacks. And it would look darn pretty, too. Equally exciting was the prospect of an improved control scheme.

It may shock you to know that I look forward to trying out this game with a Wii remote. Seriously. Unlike Metroid Prime 3, I feel that motion control would enhance the experience because GoldenEye is all about aiming and shooting, period. Platforming really lends itself better to a traditional controller.

Even if the Wiimote idea turns out to be a terrible one, I could still play with the limited-edition golden Classic Controller that you can apparently buy with the game. Amazing how you can paint anything gold and make it that much more appealing to Nintendo fans (myself included).

Whoa. I've got chills.

The most interesting part about this is that the game will be a retelling of the original, starring the voice talent of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace's Daniel Craig as James Bond. I've heard of remakes, but this sounds like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban playing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in a re-release of Wrath of Khan with snazzier special effects.

That's the closest comparison I can come up with--I can't think of anything else that's ever been done before like it. I still prefer Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig as bond, but I'm very interested to see how this will turn out. I just hope the design of Bond's character model grows on me a little more--the closer to totally realistic the graphics become, the more critical I am.

Who knows? Maybe there will be a reskin option to look like any of the different actors who've ever played Bond. Imagine Peter Sellers coming at you with a grenade launcher. Multiplayer gold, right there.

Take a gander at the official GoldenEye website. I'm not yet convinced this'll be as good as or better than the original, but good Gustav Graves, does this game have potential.

Oh, and before you go, make sure you've looked at our super-easy contest!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stupid Sunday Linking!

Welcome to a Very Friday edition of Stupid Sunday Linking. This one was just too good to hold off on until the weekend, and since it's Friday and who doesn't need a laugh...I figured I'd post it up today.

As with all of these funny (and disturbing) stories, a big thanks goes to reader Dr. Nick Riviera. He is truly a curator of Internet Curiosities (that are vaguely related to comics and various other geeky things).

Without further ado, and for your viewing pleasure, I present the Taco Bell Batman Bandit. Enjoy.

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Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The One I've Been Avoiding

I’ve put off writing this post for a while now.

I’ve even started and stopped a few times along the way. I just didn’t want to make the thoughts public; I didn’t want to put the words to the screen. They go so much against the purpose of this blog that I felt like a hypocrite every time I would stare at that blinking, mocking cursor.

I’m the Comics Guy, after all. That’s kind of my thing.

But the more I think about it, the less negative I see in the issue I’d like to talk about. And the more I think it needs to be said. So I’ll write about it. Today.

Here goes.

I’ve been kinda bummed out about/with mainstream comics--particularly those produced by DC and Marvel--for the past couple of months or so, and I think that’s been reflected in my Waiting for Wednesday recommendations of late.

More than that, I’ve been disappointed in DC and Marvel for, in my opinion, telling the same story twenty different ways and selling it to us as All-New and All-Different. They’ve been giving us--for the past couple of years now--the same characters in the same situations, month in and month out.

Yeah, yeah. I know. That’s just comics, right?

But, my goodness, let’s allow a few new writers into the mix, huh? A few new voices. Some new blood. Because, really, I don’t mind the same characters in the same situations. It’s those characters in those situations--Gotham City is under siege and Batman needs to save the day; the X-Men are being persecuted, but despite that, they rise above and prove that they’re true heroes--that make comics so much fun.

And such high drama.

But I’d like to hear a different voice, every now and then, please. A different take on the characters. A different trajectory in a story that, while we likely know the conclusion from the beginning--good guy beats bad guy--can take us to new places before we get to that familiar ground.

Something new. That’s all I’m asking.

And again, I don’t want this to come across as a tirade against comics. Because, as I said, there’s no bigger, louder advocate of comics than me. Mainstream, underground, mid-line, whatever. Fanzines, magazines about comics, interview collections with comics people?

Bring them on. All of them.

If it’s good, I’ll talk about it and recommend it to people who have never picked up a funny book. Because I think comics are great. Because I think comics are essential.

They’re our myths. Our legends. They’ve given us the heroes and villains of our generation, and they’re the same heroes and villains of our fathers’ generation. And that’s pretty cool, and utterly unique in fiction.

As much as we’d like to claim him as our own, James Bond is not ours. He belongs to another time. Another generation. Same goes with Holmes. And Dracula. And Dupin.

But comics are different.

Sure, Batman might be a hero of the late 1920s. And Superman is deeply rooted in--and intimately associated with--World War II. But as times change, so have these characters. There have been many different Batmen over the decades. There have been many different "definitive" runs on the character.

You can’t say that about Bond, or Dracula, or Holmes. When their creators passed on, their characters simply were not the same. But in comics? In comics, we have creators that become vital to the history of a character--and these creators pop up decades apart.

Take Batman.

Remember when he was campy? That Batman belongs to a different generation than did Bob Kane’s "mysterioso" figure of the night. What about when his back was broken? Or when Jason Todd died? Or when he returned, old and mean and at his very best?

My Batman is Jeph Loeb’s Batman; either in Hush or in the Halloween books. That was the first Batman I read as I got into comics. That’s the one that will stick with me.

That will likely always be my Batman.

I love Frank Miller’s Batman, and Brian Azzarello’s Batman, and Denny O’Neil’s Batman. But Jeph Loeb’s is the one--because of timing, because of happenstance, because that’s just how comics are.

These days, Grant Morrison is writing a new Batman for a new generation. And that’s cool. Morrison’s voice is unique and intriguing and he possesses a wealth of ideas. He’s a great writer--one of my favorites, and a literary idol of mine.

But he’s steered the ship for a very long time now.

In sports, every athlete faces the moment when he or she needs to leave. It’s just like anything else in life--endings come just as surely as beginnings. But in sports especially, the end doesn’t necessarily come when you’re ready to go.

Sometimes it doesn’t even come when you’re at the end of the rope, physically.

The end of a veteran’s career--even if he or she is still productive and is helping the team win--comes when the Next Big Thing is ready.

The comics industry is funny. The publishers tend to wholly disregard older creators once they’ve passed their "prime," once they’re no longer "hot." Though, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how age on a writer is a bad thing.

But at the same time, comics publishers are incredibly wary of changing the status quo. Either in their books or with their stable of talent.

It’s a weird contradiction.

The publishers--and, when I say that, I mean specifically, the editorial teams working today--do not want new blood coming into the industry.

And why should they? Imagine how hard it must have been for them to get where they are. Comics is such an incestuous industry that it’s incredible anyone manages to actually break in.

And once they do? They hold on for dear life. I can’t say that I blame them.

In comics, unlike almost any other form of entertainment, the line between professional and fan is quite thin. Just check out any convention. It’s literally a matter of which side of a table you sit on.

But the truth is, getting to the other side of that table is about as unlikely as winning a spot on the New York Giants offensive line.

But that’s not where I want to take this post. Though, admittedly, it feels good writing the words. Because, even though only a handful of people read this blog, I think it’s a notion that many out there are frustrated with.

And I don’t mean this as a, “If only I could get my hands on these characters--I’d show ‘em how to make comics!” kind of thing.

Clearly, the people making the comics know just what in the heck they’re doing.

My point here is to say this. I’m bored with mainstream, super hero comic book adventures. Only so many times I can watch the bad guy mess up, and the hero pull it out in the end.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Harvey Pekar. And Joseph Michael Linsner. And Richard Moore. And Trudy Cooper.

But I don't want to not read super hero books. I want to keep following the weekly and monthly adventures of characters I love. I would just much rather Marvel publish one great Avengers book, instead of four good ones. And I'd love Marvel to pick up more creator-owned books like Scarlet and Incognito.

I dunno.

Comics are great, and I love them. But I want All-New and I want All-Different from the publishers.

That's my story. What's yours?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 33

Looking over this week’s list of new books, I realize it should be a pretty small (read: inexpensive) week for me. Notice the word, should.

And it would be a small, inexpensive week, for sure. If. Or, should I say, if not for.

You see, my LCS has been shorted comics and books and things from Diamond for the past several weeks, and I have a funny feeling all of that back stock is going to show up today. Included in that mess will be a couple of hardcovers that I ordered and the Overstreet Price Guide.

Which won't be cheap. Not even a little bit.

Call it a hunch, but I’m willing to put (more) of my money on it being a big, expensive week of comics buying. Usually, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It simply means that there’s just a whole bunch of good stuff coming out, and that I’ll be working on making a nice reading pile for the weekend.

But I’m talking, like, two months’ worth of stuff. All coming at me in a few hours. My poor wallet.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about briefly this week before we get into the books. Like most comics fans, I tend to budget out each week before I get to the store. And I know pretty much exactly how much I’ll end up spending.

Typically, if it’s a smaller week, I’ll budget a little extra to buy that trade paperback I’ve been eyeing, or whatever. Lately, though, because each week I go to the store expecting to spend a whole lot on back items, I’ve passed up some things that I normally would not have.

Passed up, that is.

So here’s the problem. A comics shop orders product three months in advance of said product shipping to them. Customers can request special orders from their retailer of choice with the same amount of lead-time.

Not a perfect system, to be sure, but it’s what we’ve got.

Just to backtrack here, and to drive the point home--It’s September when you’re ordering product for December/January, and at the same time, you’re getting product you ordered back in May. So, sometimes, losing track of purchases can happen.

But, because Diamond’s Previews catalog has ship dates, you can certainly plan ahead. Right?

Well, sure, if those ship dates actually meant something. In comics, more than in any other entertainment field, release dates mean nothing. If a director misses a release date for a movie? Fired. Never to work again.

If a comics creator/publisher misses a release date?

There’s a good chance that book will win an Eisner. It's just the way of things. In my job, if I miss a deadline? Yeah, not very many happy talks ahead for Alex. But in comics, not only is lateness accepted--it's celebrated.

The same creators are constantly late. The word, constantly, is important in that sentence. Constantly implies that they have consistent work. Even though they're always late. We forgive them, publishers forgive them, and missing (promised) street dates is so common in comics that we jump up and down when a book isn't late.

That's just plain messed up.

And with that pile of wonderful, let's get to the books that are actually going to be in stores today. First up, from Dark Horse,a book that's part of the publisher's "1 for $1" promotion, where reprints of number one issues are released for the low, low price of a buck.
Today, Dark Horse ships Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, issue one, for a dollar. This is the book where it all started--the first true Hellboy story. The first movie was heavily based on this first mini-series, and while creator Mike Mignola doesn't draw this series (it's drawn by comics legend John Byrne), Mignola does the writing and he lays the foundations for decades of Hellboy stories.

Here's the solicitation information from DH, with a little primer on the "1 for $1" promo:

Go back to the beginning with Dark Horse’s 1 for $1 comics!

Get in on the ground floor of twelve featured titles from our popular comics pantheon. See what started it all in these first-issue classics from Dark Horse Comics.

Hellboy bursts onto the film noir monster detective scene. From his apocalyptic origin in World War II England to the modern day case of the sole survivor of a doomed Arctic expedition, Hellboy must battle vampire frog creatures and worse in his debut miniseries.

If you've ever thought about jumping onto the Hellboy family of books, I can't really think of a better opportunity to give it a try. I think it's a pretty awesome idea on the part of Dark Horse--practically giving some of their very best books away--and I hope new readers take advantage.

Next up, we have an image Comics title that has been a runaway success for the publisher, and for the creative team. Chew, issues 13, ships today, and it promises all the wacky fun of the first 12 issues.

For anyone unfamiliar with this series, here's the basic premise (provided by the publisher):

Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he's a hell of a detective - as long as he doesn't mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit and why.

He's been brought on by the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, to investigate their strangest, sickest and most bizarre cases.

This book was the surprise hit of 2009, going through several sell-outs of the early issues, and demanding several printings of the trades. It's a weird series, written in a sometimes non-linear fashion by John Layman, and with incredible, quirky line art by artist Rob Guillory.

Here's the blurb for this week's issue, though it's int he middle of the latest story arc, and new readers might be lost:

"JUST DESSERTS," Part Three: Unlucky Number Thirteen! In which we see the return of rogue Cibopath Mason Savoy, a double agent is revealed and a narrative dirty trick is played upon an unsuspecting readership. Plus: What’s the deal with all those fricken chogs??

With that, I also want to mention that, last week, the Chew: Omnivore Edition hardcover shipped, and that book collects the first two story arcs of the series in an oversized, extras-laden package.

It's not cheap--right around $35, retail--but it's certainly worth it. Chew is a great series, and while it's considered a huge indy hit, the truth is there are probably only 10,000 or so people reading the series.

Let's up that number--go buy Chew!

And with that, I'm out. Enjoy your comic book Wednesday, everyone, and before I go--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


To celebrate the recent milestone of reaching 1000 subscribers on my YouTube channel, I accidentally deleted each and every one of them.

Like, poof.

I was checking out who, exactly, had subscribed to me, and I came across one subscriber whose channel apparently didn't exist anymore. So, I pressed the button to remove the channel from my list. A moment later I was back on my main page, and the subscribers list was totally empty.

A quick web search suggests it has to do with hackers, not glitches or personal incompetence. A slightly more thorough web search (checking two message boards instead of just one) suggests it's just a technical glitch that will remedy itself in a few days.

Alarmism seems to be on the rise on YouTube due to a rash of channels being hacked, but whether it's technical or hacknical, I don't see the need to panic. It's not like I want to have anything bad happen to my channel, but subscribers can re-subscribe, and basically everything can be restored in time except the lovely comments. They are quite lovely.

This opens up an interesting experiment, however. It took me about a year and a half to get to 1000 subscribers; how long will it take to reach that number again? Surely a large portion of my subscribers signed up on a whim and won't notice or care about their absence, right? It's not a perfectly controlled experiment, but it'll be interesting to me.

Especially if it's just a technical glitch and I magically gain a thousand subscribers overnight.

It's rare that a post on this blog is this short if it isn't a link or video post, so if you've still got some time to spare, please be sure to check out our easy contest that's going on right now. Long story short, you can win an Amazon.com gift certificate by telling us we've messed up.

Based on the number of entrants we have as I write this, Alex or I will have to take one of those gift cards for ourselves--you can enter almost as many times as you want, but you can only win once, and we don't have enough entrants to give away all the prizes! Entry is a guaranteed win at this point!

Not that we're excited about it or anything. Check it out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Night of the Living Blog

This blog is a living blog. I'd wager that the vast majority of blogs develop in a straight line: each new post becomes the main focus of the blog, and anything older than a few days (or hours!) fades out of view. Not so with our blog.

Like any long-running series or franchise, we frequently seize the opportunity to reference our previous posts. Alex and I produced nearly 800 pages of content in the first year alone; we can't bank on our readers all strolling through the archives or finding many of our posts in web searches, so self-referencing helps to keep our old material relevant.

That's a big part of why we do our Month in Review and Year in Review posts--if you haven't read one of our posts, we'd prefer it was because you weren't interested in the topic rather than not knowing it was there at all. Keeping the readers up to speed with where we've been helps to create a sense of continuity in our writing--not only are we weighing in on geeky matters, but we're growing as writers and developing as people. (Not to say that writers aren't people.)

Granted, we are not the only blog to relentlessly reference our previous posts, and we aren't the only ones with continuity between posts. There are other factors that make this a living blog. Comments, for example. Virtually every blog I've visited seems to reach a point where comments on a particular post are no longer acknowledged. If you take the time and effort to give us feedback, the least we can do is take a moment to respond.

I recognize that it's not always feasible for higher-traffic blogs to respond to dozens/hundreds of comments a day, but as long as we're able, there's this unspoken guarantee that we'll respond to any comment that warrants a response, no matter how old the post. We're not always so timely in that regard (read: I'm not so timely in that regard), but we'll get there.

I believe that what sets us apart most and truly qualifies this as a living blog is the fact that we go back and edit our old posts all the time. I'm not talking about the ubiquitous [EDIT:] addition that is typically made while the post is still fresh; sometimes we radically change or build on what we've already written.

The original intent of this blog was (and still is) to share the geeky things we like with other people. When we write an official Exfanding post to introduce a hobby or fandom, we want that post to be as timeless and up-to-date as possible. If a new installment of our favorite fandom swoops in, we want to make sure it's covered in our post. That's what's happened with Mega Man, Monkey Island, and Star Trek, just to name a few.

We also go back and re-tag our older posts every so often, when we've introduced some new tags that would apply. For the longest time, "Horror" was not a post tag because I didn't feel we discussed the genre enough to warrant cluttering our tag list with it, but in retrospect, Alex writes about a great deal of horror stories (both fictional and personal), so the tag has been added where it belongs.

Our blog does not travel in a straight line. Ours is a living blog. It continues to develop and change in multiple ways, in multiple directions. Even if we're not unique in that respect, we're happy this blog is truly a "web log" and not just a pile of posts.

If you'd like to get a better feel for the rich history of this blog, or if you're already well-versed and want to capitalize on your knowledge, we encourage you to enter The Second Easiest Contest on the Internet. Which, by the way, I've updated a few times since posting.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Some (Much Needed) Lighter Fare

It's been a pretty not-so-positive week here on the blog, which--while not neccessarily a bad thing--could certainly use something light and fluffy and stupid to lighten the mood.

And, since it's Sunday and I'm lazy, I've requested the assistance of Exfanding reader Dr. Nick Riviera in coming up with something light, fluffy, and--most importantly--stupid, for today's post.

So, we have two things ready to go for ya that fit the bill.

First up, check out the following photo from Google Earth, and this link. See anything familiar?
And, second up today, we have a classic Exfanding Contest Wherein You Win Nothing by Entering and Winning. Plus, there are no winners. Unlike our other epic (and astonishingly easy) Second Easiest Contest on the Internet uh, contest, going on right now (which will have winners, by the way), today I present the following photo for your consideration.
How does this have anything to do with a fake (winnerless, remember) contest, you ask? Simple. Caption the above photo. Have fun with it. Make it hilarious. Or sad. Or downright mean. We don't care. The important thing to remember, though, is that there are no winners.

So caption away--and do it for the love of captioning, and not for anything else. Like winning.

Because you can't.

Thanks again to Dr. Nick for his help in putting together this altogether useless addition to the Internet.

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Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dino Run

Yesterday's post was a little heavy, so let's lighten the weekend with dinosaurs. As a continuation of my "Flash Flood" column at GameCola.net, I've been making videos of the Flash games I've reviewed. This time it's Dino Run, a retro-styled platformer where the goal is to outrun extinction.

There's far more to see than just what I've recorded, but enjoy a gameplay demonstration by yours truly and then try out Dino Run for yourself.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dispassionate Comics Lover

I am glad that I'm not a comics fanboy. I enjoy reading comics and having an actual trade paperback library on my shelf, but my enthusiasm for comics is nowhere near what would be considered a passion. They're good entertainment, period. Anything beyond that would put me at risk for undue frustration, anger, and disappointment.

When a new superhero movie comes out, I treat it like any other movie. I've no preconceived notions about continuity or characterization. I don't scream when Spider-Man has organic web shooters. Or doesn't have organic web shooters. I like all the comic book movies everybody hates because (a) stuff blows up, (b) I like the characters, and (a) stuff blows up. I enjoy more movies that are untrue to the source material because I'm not that informed about/attached to the source material in the first place.

It's been almost two years since I started getting into comics, and I have yet to finish an entire series, read through a universe-spanning crossover event, or sample anything that isn't a Marvel or DC mainstay (Star Trek, etc. notwithstanding).

There are still throngs of characters I've never heard of, and I don't know what's going on in modern comics unless Alex writes about it. Aside from a slew of origin stories, the first quarter of the Ultimate Marvel Universe's history, and a modest number of Batman, Green Lantern, and (Jaime Reyes) Blue Beetle tales, I've had no real exposure to mainstream comics.

What I've read indicates more than a casual interest in comics, but the truth is that I've never read a Marvel comic outside the Ultimate continuity, save for one Captain America that made absolutely no sense. Up until two nights ago, I couldn't tell you the difference between the JLA and JSA. I still think Ambush Bug is a concoction of Alex's imagination. I'm widely uninformed about comics, and I'm not ravenous about catching up. I'm not a real fanboy.

Especially when you consider my lack of interest in owning any comics-related merchandise.

Aside from a fleeting fancy to own a Rorschach action figure when the Watchmen film came out, a brief consideration of buying a Green Lantern t-shirt, and this temporary notion that it might be fun to have a fist-sized replica of Skeets from the Booster Gold comics displayed on my computer desk, I haven't really considered picking up any comics swag since Michael Keaton was Batman. Not a bust, not a poster, not a Galactus-shaped pot-holder.

I've liked most of the comics I've read, but they haven't resonated with me enough to trip that fanboy trigger. The Goon came very close, but the ridiculous stories toward the beginning are more up my alley than the (still excellent) darker tales later on.

The Fantastic Four make a great team, but I can't relate with them all that well. Green Lantern's power ring is incredible, but I wouldn't want the responsibility of having one. The Batboat is cool, but hey, it's no seaQuest. I enjoy and appreciate comics, but I'm not invested enough to get sucked into one of the worst aspects of the fandom: the arguments.

All fandoms have their fair share of arguments, from whether video games cause violent behavior to whether Han shot first. (If Han plays video games, then you know he shot first.) This is strictly a matter of subjective opinion, but I'd wager that comics fans have bigger, harsher, and flat-out more arguments than almost any other kinds of fans.

Marvel vs. DC. The true "golden age" of comics. Major crossover events. Movie adaptations. Absolutely anything having to do with continuity. The skill and competence of the people behind the comics. The direction of entire franchises. The integrity of the industry. Outside perceptions of the fandom, if Alex's post yesterday was any indication.

Comics carry a stigma that almost demands a higher level of dedication to endure. If you admit to owning a Star Trek uniform, some people might think you're a big dork. If you admit to owning a comic book, there are people who will scorn you and think less of you as a human being.

While you can present a logical argument to defend yourself in such a situation, it's the scorn factor that tends to ignite a passionate response. Likewise, you'd have to be passionate about comics to keep your hobby a secret when you know so much of the world is effectively against you.

Passion and strong opinions go hand-in-hand, and being constantly on the defensive (both consciously and subconsciously) against those who misunderstand and malign you and your fandom surely keeps an emphasis on what you love about comics, and, by extension, what you hate.

Why do you think there's such rivalry between fans of different sports teams? The teams they follow are in constant competition with one another. Comics has all sorts of competition, both internal and external. Those arguments can be bad.

If you look past the dawn of Superman and go back as far as Krazy Kat and the Yellow Kid, there's more than a century of comics to argue about. We're talking about a multifaceted fandom with a great deal of history and no end in sight--the potential for arguments is limitless.

The debates I have about Star Trek and Mega Man are mostly related to personal preferences about specific installments, and the big arguments--"Is Star Wars better than Star Trek?" "Was everything downhill after Mega Man 2?" etc.--are relatively few in number. The debates play out about the same way every time.

Comics, though...the sheer volume of material and the diversity of that material almost guarantees more varied debates, especially when any given comics fan is likely to have a radically different exposure to comics than the person he or she is arguing with.

I'm talking more about the Marvel and DC universes here, as it's unfair to compare a whole medium to a specific franchise within a medium, but I feel the sentiment still applies to the broader medium. And that's why I'm glad I'm not a comics fanboy.

I enjoy reading comics, but I have neither the desire nor the ability to argue over them or complain when the Next Big Thing turns out to be a total flop. In my limited experience, the only comics to ever affect me in such a strong way (positive or negative) were based on series that started in a different medium--they were continuations of fandoms I already enjoyed.

Maybe I have yet to discover the comic that'll truly click with me; I have yet to discover Ambush Bug, after all.

I understand how big an impact a fandom can have on a person, and how powerful any form of expression can be to the right kind of person. Comics are an awesome form of expression. It's just that from both my own experience and what I've read and extrapolated from the posts and comments on this blog, I perceive the comics fandom to be an unsafe place for people who just want to read comics.

If you want to argue with me, you're just supporting my point. If you don't disagree, you're also supporting my point. Either way, I'm right...and for once, I don't like being right.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Critic

There are things that annoy me. Like parents who can’t stop talking about their children. Or that guy who sets up shop in a Starbucks and talks, loudly, on his cell phone, about “business.”

And there are things that really annoy me. Like people who watch The Jersey Shore. Or that customer in the bookstore who, while you stand on line behind him, you just know is going to ask the Dumbest Question in the World (which, of course, would be, “what do you think my dad would like?” or some variation of such idiocy).

And then there are things that...well.

We try to keep it clean on the blog, so I won’t say what I want to say. But I’ll definitely get my point across. Likely with a hint of insanity thrown in for good measure.

This past Sunday, I was sitting down, watching what is probably my favorite show on television--CBS Sunday Morning--when I saw a teaser for an upcoming spot on the show. Their film critic, David Edelstein, was going to “take a serious look at comic book movies.”

Cool. That should be interesting.

So I grabbed a Snapple from the fridge and made my way back over to the couch. Now, as any of our regular readers can attest to, I am not what you might call a “positive thinker.” I tend not to ever be disappointed, or to ever have my bubble burst, simply because I expect very little in the way of good things happening.

It’s just my cynical, book editor nature.

Still, with this week’s release of Scott Pilgrim in theaters (an almost universally beloved indy comics series), I thought that maybe--just maybe--someone on TV would have something that’s not condescending to say about comics.

And then I was hit with Mr. Edelstein’s opening:

When I was a cub, I thought to be a film critic you needed a knowledge of film (obviously), art, history, Shakespeare …What I never guessed was that someday you'd need a PhD in comic books. Sorry, "graphic novels."

See what I mean about never expecting anything?

In print, the above skews only a tad condescending, with the term graphic novel in quotes. On television, it was a whole different story. Edelstein dripped with condescension, and with a shrug of his shoulders, he dismissed an entire genre of literature.

Sure, there are comic books--stories about capes and tights and punching--that do very little to stimulate the mind beyond...well, beyond allowing the mind to watch garishly dressed figures punch one another.

But then there are graphic novels, like Watchmen, or From Hell, or The Sandman, or Bone, that do so much more. In the case of Bone, we have a graphic novel that is very much responsible for teaching countless children how to read--and, more importantly, how to enjoy reading.

But, okay. Edelstein went for the easy joke to usher his intelligent, worldly audience into the story. Fine.

Beyond the superheroes, though, there's a kind of comic-book movie that raises fascinating questions. Some filmmakers don't just want to get the content onscreen. They want to reproduce-or translate-the form. Why? I'm not sure.

Edelstein then goes on to demonstrate how reproducing comics on the screen has never worked. And what films does he use as evidence? 1982’s Creepshow and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

To his credit, Edelstein also mentions the more recent Sin City, which was a triumph in panel-to-screen translation, for sure. Of course, Edelstein didn’t like that film, calling it “shallow.”

Which, again, is fine. No qualms when a movie reviewer doesn’t like a movie. That’s the job. But to paint with such broad strokes that comics-to-film adaptations don’t work? And to base that assertion on Creepshow and Dick Tracy? I dunno. Just struck me as ringing kinda false, is all.

Edelstein continues from his preamble to his review of Scott Pilgrim, which he also doesn’t like very much. And he brings up (what I can assume, since I have yet to see the moive, are) valid points about the film. That’s his job. He knows movies.

But then he feels the need to close with the following:

I find something unsatisfying about even thrilling stylized comic book movies. You don't see the world through new eyes; you escape into a childish and hermetically-sealed version of the past. You might get more from hiding under covers reading comics.

Hulk mad.

And it's that "hermetically sealed" line that really gets under my skin.

For the most part, the comics community is incredibly accepting, passionate, and loyal. Fans go to conventions dressed like who-knows-what, and they go to have fun in a judgment free zone. The opposite of "sealed."

And "childish"? Comics shops are havens of creativity--many of today’s best writers, directors, and actors come from a childhood or an adulthood of reading comic books. Comics work has inspired and directly influenced countless films, and novels, and peices of art.

But back to "Hermetically sealed." First off, it’s not hyphenated, because it ends in "-ly." Secondly, shut up. Just shut up. Get off your pedestal, and relax. Comics are fun. Graphic novels are fun. And the people that read them get enjoyment from them.

Plain and simple. Over and out.

Sure, there are those that take fandoms too far, but I’m also pretty sure that extends into film. Star Wars, anyone? Most fans are mild mannered and pleasant and utterly, boringly normal. Some aren’t. As long as they’re not hurting anyone else, who cares?

Sorry. Tangent. Back to the film critic.

Mr. Edelstein’s job is to review films. He should do that; he’s quite good at it. But to go out of his way to bash comics in general in a review of a comic film? Unnecessary, and quite frankly, infuriating.

And with all of the wonderful, beautiful work being done in comics today--and I mean comics, as in superheroes and way, way beyond--the comments ring false. And old. And kind of mean.

Maybe Mr. Edelstein should have gotten more from hiding under covers reading comics.

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You can read the whole review right here. And, in case you're wondering, he didn't like The Dark Knight, either.