Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thinking About Internet/Media Power

I keep having the most interesting thoughts about using The Daily Show and Colbert Report to act social change.

I'm thinking about starting a website to petition Jon Stewart to invite Grant Morrison on The Daily Show to promote All-Star Superman. I have several reasons for this.
  1. To promote comic books in a high profile intellectual environment.
  2. To use Grant Morrison's amazing charisma and rockstar attitude to create a comic book ambassador forcing people to question their preconceptions about comic books and comic book people.
  3. To introduce people to comics through a very easy to read, intelligent, and positive story featuring a character they all know and love.
  4. To use Jon Stewart's own literary intellectualism to give credit to the book.
  5. To help influence the next Superman movie. If there was just enough buzz on the book to insure that anyone who made the next movie had to read that, it would undoubtably influence the film for the better.
I had been thinking about the fact that while there has been a lot of interest lately in superhero movies, there has been little interest in comic books. It occurred to me then that it really is just a matter of time before they start interesting people. And it's not like people have to go to a comic store when they can just order it on Amazon.

Sure, Joe Quesada has been on The Colbert Report and in a few Kevin Smith movies... and Kevin Smith has done a lot to make comics seem cool, but neither of them really challenge the stereotype. (Neither do comic fans, but I'm trying to change the minority. Don't tell anyone.)

Grant Morrison would.

Grant Morrison

My other idea was "Why doesn't Stephen Colbert ask his audience to petition their elected representatives to be interviewed by him?" Basically just to help finish his Better Know A District series. His audience really seems to follow his lead every other time he suggests something to them. They crashed Wikipedia at least once, petitioned to get a bridge in Holland named after him, and made numerous Star Wars videos of him. I think it would work, at least in some of the more liberal areas of the country.

Or did he already get all of those?

The great thing about this series is how people are taken off guard and you get to see them as human instead of politicians. Sometimes they use the footage in connection to a news article. Understanding the type of person he or she is gives us a better sense of the person and makes the news more meaningful... at least I think so.

The way that those shows are connecting with and responding to the online community is a possible way to make social change. Interesting.

Monday, January 26, 2009

There is a fine line between enigmatic and creepy...

... and I walk this line every day.

In a very real way, I strive to be more unusual every day. I think it's a method of combating boredom, but it's tied in with ideas of self-improvement and an attempt to understand everything.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle states that nothing can be observed without effecting the object in some way. I think that the reverse is true as well; nothing can be observed without effecting the observer. Or as Nietzsche so negatively put it, "if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you." I've always thought that quote represented a conservative fear of knowledge as a means of maintaining a weak ideology. Sort of the equivalent to "idle hands are the devil's playthings" the underlying message being "Work hard all of your life and don't think about things so you can die and go to Heaven."

I hope if Christians are right, we at least get to talk to God before going to Hell. If I'm going to be damned to eternal soul shattering torment for eternity, I want to at least tell him that he is an asshole for hiding the right religion in a bunch of fucked up, self-repressed dimwits and a book that has been rewritten more times than A Christmas Carol.

What's he going to do? Damn me even more?

Try as you might, it's hard to reconcile a loving God with one that condemns non-believers to eternal torment, and yet makes his Bible so unbelievable... not to mention unreadable. Occasionally I worry that I'm being a little too intolerant of this particular religion, but then I remember that those who believe in it worship a God (whom they believe is perfect) who believes that me, my family, and pretty much everyone I love deserve to suffer for all eternity for not believing that which I have overwhelming evidence not to believe in.

And consider Hell in terms of Christianity's obsession with absolutes; absolute torture for eternity. Not a lot of torture for a long time, but absolute torture forever. And I assume this is not just physical torture, but psychological torture as well like being ass raped by a water buffalo while razors slice into your pupils and rats chew off your arms, legs, and genitals. Not just for fifteen minutes... forever... with no break. So after doing this for a lifetime, you still have an eternity to go.

Just for not believing something that doesn't make much sense.

Try as I might, I can't consider Christianity to be a moral religion. I know Christians who are moral, wonderful people. I even know Christian denominations (i.e. Gnosticism) that I could believe in, but these are so far away from mainstream Christianity that most Christians would consider it no better than atheism or Satanism.

And speaking of denominations, I once asked my Born Again friend (now an atheist, but that's beside the point) about Catholics to which he suggested that the idolatry and Mary-worship of Catholicism distracts from the glory of Jesus and thus would prevent a Catholic from crossing those pearly gates.

This horrified me. That God would be so petty to decide that there were those who believed, but not enough so they too get sent to the water buffalo ass-raping table. Not to mention all of the Jews and Muslims who worship the same God, but not through Jesus. How can anyone justify that such a God is perfect?

Living a half hour's drive from anything that vaguely resembled a town, I grew up in a social group where Christianity and conservativism was the default cultural value. Although I went to a fairly good public school, socialization determined the dominant ideologies. God was real, white, and male. Guns were good. Queers were bad (most of us didn't know what they were, just that we didn't want to be one). Christopher Columbus discovered our country and made peace with the Indians.

Although I always felt that I was learning half-truths in life, it didn't really start to get to me until fifth grade when I realized that my complaints fell on deaf ears. Until this point, I had viewed school mostly as a game... which is the way you are supposed to think of it at that age. It evolves from memorization games and challenges into... work. So I started to do my work in advance so I could finish the game early and not worry about deadlines. Consequently, I ended up with old math homework shoved in the back of my desk but never turned in. I never really got why that was a bad thing. I did the work. In fact, I did it early and learned all about it.

I soon felt like a rat in a maze. It became clear to me that more than being taught, I was being conditioned... prepared for the rest of the world. But from what I saw of "the rest of the world," I had very little interest in it. Every adult I knew was somewhat dead inside. Their lives were full of unhappy compromises demanding absolute dedication.

This is when my depression started.

I couldn't do my class work. Try as I might, I couldn't see the point. It wasn't laziness, although I'm certain that helped. I just didn't care. If I enjoyed the class, I generally got pretty good grades, but I didn't enjoy most of my classes. When I took tests, I found that most of the answers I got wrong were because either I misunderstood the question or it wasn't very important information. Consequently, my only means of self-improvement on tests were exercises in memory retention... because you can't completely eliminate misunderstanding no matter how many times you double-check your answers. Essay questions were my favorite because sometimes I could just blather on about something I knew even if it didn't answer the question. Usually teachers were impressed enough that it worked.

You know, people say that teenagers think they know everything. That saying always bothered me as a teenager because I was acutely aware of how little I knew. It didn't occur to me until recently when talking to a friend of mine who is a seventh grade teacher that they don't think they know everything, they are just beginning to realize that they have questions that adults don't have an answer for... and that is truly frightening.

As Bertrand Russell observed, "Passive acceptance of the teacher's wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position." Christianity does the same thing through the blind acceptance of a perfectly moral being despite his questionable actions. This is the kind of modeling behavior that leads to tyranny.

This is also why I slipped into depression and why I have yet to escape from it. Around that age, we lose our childish comfort that we are taken care of by just, intelligent adults. We learn that the confusion and fear that we are feeling is something that the adults have learned to deal with, but it never goes away. The older we get, the more we are told that we just have to play the game and not think about the things that are wrong, but how do you look at a child without thinking about the needless bullshit that they will have to go through because so many of us have just ignored or justified the problems of life?

I resigned myself to the idea that adults knew nothing of any value with regards to these problems, so I set out to discover them for myself. Unfortunately, with no guidance, a limited twelve-year-old vocabulary, and a fledgling internet, it was very difficult to find anything that explained these problems. I soon found that I had a love of debate and would seek out people who weren't afraid to argue. It didn't matter if they agreed or not. Some of my favorite debaters were staunch Republican Christians... possibly because they didn't care if they offended me.

The Tao Te Ching was of enormous help to me. If you haven't read it, it only takes about fifteen minutes. Unlike the Bible and other religious texts, the Tao keeps to the essentials by being as clear, direct, simple, and unambiguous as possible... but no more so, thereby obeying the rule of Occam's Razor, which I believe is one of the best tests for wisdom. It also conforms exactly to Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion, which not only suggests a link between the physical world and the metaphysical, but shows you the underlying principles that unites them.

I'm not sure if I've strayed from the point. Lately, I've just been feeling very lonely and trying to make conversation with people makes me feel even lonelier. Consequently, most of my conversation involves me waiting to make a witty remark or offering an amusing non-sequitor. I suppose this makes me feel enigmatic and clever, but often I seem to fall into the category of creepy... or at least I think I do.

Bertrand Russell also said, "One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways." This is a sentiment that I am trying very hard to live up to.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Recommendation: Maus

To my knowledge, only one comic book (or graphic novel, if you prefer) has ever been awarded the Pulitzer prize. It is called Maus by Art Spiegelman, and it is the biographical story of the artist's father, Vladek, who was a Polish Jew sent to Dachau during the Holocaust. The book chronicles his life from the rise of the Nazi party to the closing of the camps by US soldiers.

There are really two stories here. The primary story is the story of Vladek in Poland, but the framing device centers around Art as he is interviewing his father for the book.

Now, to be honest, I haven't read Maus since I was in high school. There are only so many times you want to read about the Holocaust, but what I remember very clearly was the loving, but antogonistic relationship between Art and Vladek and how courageous it was of the writer to expose the flaws in their relationship. In one scene, Vladek talks about a time of infidelity with his former wife (whether he cheated or she did, I don't recall, but clearly, it is a painful memory). Vladek pleads with Art not to include it... and he agrees... yet there it is... complete with his father's plea.

It left an impression.

As you may have noticed, the book uses animals to represent different ethnicities. Jews are represented by mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, French are frogs... I don't really think any of this is racist, but rather uses the child-like iconic qualities as shown in anthropomorphized animals to impart the clear morality of children's tales on a real life atrocity.

There is little else I could say about this book that hasn't been said better by others, but if you want a comic book experience that feels like a classic piece of non-fiction canon, you can't do better than Maus. It is available in two volumes from Amazon.com (I and II) for $10.17 each. I know that violates my "one cheap volume" rule, but I make exceptions for Pulitzer Prize winners. It's also available in one complete edition as well as a two-volume box set, but you will have to search for those on your own.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Exercises in Optimism

Occasionally I realize that I tend to assume things are more difficult and sinister than they really are. For example, I was lamenting over the fact that I can get ridiculous amounts of news on comic books (much more than I want), video games, movies, television, and what have you, but I can't find a site that has interesting news and opinions on philosophy.

"Well, have you really looked?" a voice whispered in the back of my head... so I shrugged and googled "philosophy." Good place to start, right?

This is the first thing that came up: http://www.philosophy.com/

We are doomed. Absolutely doomed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Memory Dump

It occurs to me that a lot of the reason why I write is to get things off of my mind. I tend to get stuck in a repetitive loop. For instance, I kept talking about my Daredevil TV show until I wrote a blog about it. I was also blathering on about how sucktastic Superman movies in the past have been when they have the potential to be inspiring. Some day soon I need to write down my ideas for a GTA-style Batman game (until then, take a look at this: http://comics.ign.com/articles/899/899026p1.html). I also have an idea for a campy Batman platformer game based on the old TV series.

On the other hand, I'm working on my sister blog (not to be confused with my sister's blog) and hope to get it up and running in the next couple weeks. It's called The Socialist Agenda and the goal is to be about not only social observations, but suggestions. I'm currently looking at education as I believe it is the single most important element to maintaining a moral and intelligent democracy. In the future, I hope to talk about numerous other things including the legal system, economy, advertising, immigration, religion, drugs, sex, the media, and all of those huge monstrous institutions that we feel insignificant compared to.

Too often we have to just accept the bullshit of life, but too often in order to deal with that acceptance, we justify the acceptance and encourage others to do the same. How often have you had a conversation with someone about sweatshops and they say "Well, every thing you buy promotes some sort of evil." This isn't really true. Like people, there are good companies and bad ones. We all make compromises and give money to businesses that go against our interests, but we should at least be aware of when we are doing that so we can find alternatives. For example, I shop at Target which makes large contributions to the Republican party. I could go to K-Mart, but they support the Republican party too and they are crap. I have proudly never even been in a Wal-Mart and refuse to shop there because they make much larger donations to the Republican party, actively work to discourage unionization, and use the more sweatshop labor than any single business.

Getting back to sweatshops, why are we so blazé about these things? We say "sweatshop" casually as if it were synonymous with "crappy job" but the working conditions are dangerous, often employ women and children, employees have no rights, and no matter how much they work, they are still poor. Now, some people tell me that it's better that they have low wages than no wages. What they don't seem to get is that we are instituting sustained poverty, a method that has little difference from slavery. Unlike the Mexican immigrants that are picking our oranges (and underming our way of life, or whatever), the workers we legally pay do not make enough money to take care of their families.

Someone once said that if the law isn't moral, it isn't any good. I think that applies here.

Anyway, getting back to my original point, I need a place to put all of these sorts of ideas so they don't just sit in my head making me depressed. I can't help but feel that this is a form of evolution. My consciousness is extending outside my brain and onto the internet, spilling out of its confines. Of course, language (particularly the written word) has long allowed us to do this, but this is the age of information and a personal experience to boot.

A primary idea in philosophy is "Who or what am I?" The natural answers are "I am my body" (pragmatic atheism), "I am my mind" (modern intellectualism), or "I am my soul" (Platonic spiritualism).

"I am my body" is the oldest conception of self because it is so definable and physical. It is a definition based on observation. "I live, I act, I speak, I eat, I am." However, when the physical limitations of the body is challenged, the identity of self is changed. For example, if someone loses an arm, are they less than they were before? Politely, we say no. Rationally, we probably say yes. Interestingly, though, the mind often compensates for loss of body, hence the "phantom limb" phenomenon.

But more interesting to me is the driver phenomenon whereby driving a car, we are prone to think of the car as an extension of the body. Recall learning how to drive. If you were anything like me, it was awkward to operate the controls... much like a baby learning to walk, but now I do it instinctively. If I'm driving and I get into an accident, I'm libel to say "He hit me!" instead of the more accurate "His car hit my car!" It seems to me that the relationship between the self and the body is more like a vehicle... although whether or not we are dependent upon it for the continuation of our consciousness, I don't know.

The idea of a soul is based in Platonic philosophy. One of Plato's major theories was the Theory of Forms, which I think has held back Western development more than it has done otherwise. The essential concept is that every object or idea has a divinely perfect form (presumably contained in the ether), but when these forms manifest in our imperfect world, they take on an imperfect shape. Therefore, there is a perfect form of man and woman and we are all imperfect reflections of that form. He extended this concept to good and evil and even man-made objects like chairs. The Buddhist tradition holds that a chair is merely a chair because that is how we define it. If we break it, is it any less a chair? They would reply that it is no more or less a chair than it was before. It is only our relationship with the object which has changed.

This subtle difference of definition is relevent because Plato proposes a reality whereby there are perfect goals to be achieved, but these goals are not perceptible because they do not exist in our imperfect world. Therefore, Plato ascribed definition to the intangible based on observation, i.e. "Good is being nice to people," but is it still good if you are nice to Hitler?

Plato's problem was trying to make reality conform to words instead of the other way around. If "table" was to have meaning to Plato, there would have to be essential "tableness" by which he could define what is and is not a table. However, what his student Aristotle believed is that language is a product of function.

Plato was mathematician and physicist grounded in the rules of cause and effect as well as precision of thought. Aristotle was a biologist, trained in function. If you think about biology, one organ has a particular function in the operation of the whole organism. It is dependent upon other organs and other organs are dependent upon it. In Aristotilian philosophy, the table is a product of human need and function. It's definition is active and impermanent, not absolute.

Historically, philosophy and science are not fond of impermanence, but with the mainstream acceptance of quantum physics, we've had to learn to accept it.

But to make a long story short (too late), the transcendental form (or soul) assumes an absolute, which it cannot produce any evidence of, based on a need for consciousness to overcome physical reality. Naturally, a philosopher would have a conceit for preferring his intellectual constructs to the complexity of reality. However, this idea is at the foundation of the human conception of a soul.

"I am my mind" is the fall back position for the atheist or pragmatic agnostic. It's the best of both worlds between spiritualism and rationalism. However, the mind is always in a state of flux. It is influenced by the biological processes of the body and numerous mood manipulators both known and unknown. It is also subject to distortion and information loss. Therefore, if it is the real you, when is it the real you? If you are on a drug, is it still the real you? Could it possibly more you than you are while sober?

In the end, I decided that self is the point at which one views the universe and the extent of the individual's ability to effect the universe around them. If it can be argued that the self is the body, then why can't the self also be the car? If the computer becomes a place where I store my ideas, is it not an extension of my mind and therefore an extension of my self? And by using the computer to access information, it becomes an extension of my senses. As I begin to produce more creative material (even a blog), I influence people (albeit currently a few people in small ways) which changes the way they behave in the world, therefore I have extended a piece of myself further out into the world than it would normally go.

So here's to the continuation of the expansion of individual consciousness without which I would feel like I was wasting my time a lot more than I currently am.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Astonishing Adventures: Name Change Update

Just a quick update on recent name changes to avoid confusion. I'll go back and change my old posts later.

First, Astounding Adventures has become Astonishing Adventures. I still don't love the name, but "astonishing" is a little easier on the tongue. I originally avoided the word "astonishing" for its connection to the recent Joss Whedon series Astonishing X-Men, but I'm sure that will become old news by the time I'm ready to publish.

Also, for the sake of flow, I've changed the Mechanic to the Mechanist. And in case you missed it, I've changed the Alchemist to Dr. Alchemy. (There actually is a Dr. Alchemy in comics, but he is a third rate DC villain with absolutely no resemblance to my character, so hopefully I won't have to change it for legal reasons.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

X-Men answers

Well, I was looking for questions that were a bit more... informative rather than self-indulgent, but it's my own fault for trying to force questions out of people. Consequently, now I'll feel like a big geek, but that's what I get for entitling my project "Ask the Geek!"

We have a two-part questions from Elise who asks:

1) The obvious: Which X-men character do you most relate, to, why, what powers do you want, blah blah blah.

2) Do you think the upcoming Wolverine movie will be better than X-men 3. DEAR GOD I'M HOPING SO. D:

The Obvious

For much of my life, I identified with Cyclops. There is some beautiful symbolism in the character that makes for a great comic book character. This was the real genius of Stan Lee and the reason Marvel Comics is what it is today.

In their original incarnation, the X-Men were five students at a very exclusive private school: Scott "Cyclops" Summers, Hank "Beast" McCoy, Warren "Angel" Worthington III, Bobby "Iceman" Drake, and Jean "Marvel Girl" Grey. Hank was the brains, Angel was beauty and money, Bobby was the class clown, and Jean was... the girl. But Scott wasn't especially smart, funny, or attractive (at least in his social group) so instead he became the responsible one. Consequently, he is often brooding and frustrated... which is the main reason so many comic fans hate him.

But getting back to Stan Lee's trademarked sense of irony, Scott's "power" is that he destroys everything he sees. And who doesn't feel like that from time to time? Because of this, he has become very shy and withdrawn. After all, imagine not only having to wear glasses at all times, but the moment they accidentally slip from your nose, you will destroy anything in front of you... walls, animals, people, cars, buildings, mountains...

Scott is essentially a man who represses himself because he is deathly afraid of hurting someone. This is why he is a good counterpoint to Wolverine who is struggling to contain his own destructive impulses in a much less responsible way. Comic writer Warren Ellis once compared Cyclops to Batman in that both have a single-minded drive that has caused them to train relentlessly since they were sixteen to make the world a better place.

BUT part of the reason I can't identify with him any more is that people actually recognize and appreciate this about Cyclops in the comics. It is the reason that Xavier puts him in charge of the X-Men and the reason that Jean Grey falls in love with him. It's the reason that the other X-Men constantly look to him for leadership.

Not me though. Being a real human being, I've never had my true love recognize my inner beauty from afar or been put in charge of something cool where people look up to you. Besides, he can be a bit bland, but I blame this more on poor writing than anything.

But the character I have always been able to identify with and enjoy more than any other is Dr. Hank McCoy AKA The Beast. This character may have been my introduction to suave intellectualism. In other cartoons, the smart guy was always either a stuffy old birdbrain (i.e. Winnie the Pooh's Owl) or a weakly little geek. The Beast incorporates his intelligence into his daily demeanor. Originally, this was just done with unnecessarily verbose language, but even this has it's charm. I admit, my love of language and use of antediluvian expressions was likely inspired by my admiration for this character.

Also, part of the charm of Beast is how he handles his frightening appearance. He is constantly projecting an aura of confidence, gentility, and sophistication as a means of making people more comfortable. As a tall, quiet, hulking figure, I've been surprised to learn people find me intimidating. Over time, I've come to learn that people assume a lot of things about me based on my appearance. When I wear my Bettie Page shirt, they think I'm sexist. When I shave my head, they think I'm dangerous or even racist.

People make all sorts of generalized assumptions about me that I feel are so inaccurate that I would come out of the closet if I had a word that described me. Incidentally, the Beast did come out of the closet in a fairly recent comic. He said he was gay to get back at his ex-girlfriend for dumping him and she turned it into a story. He perpetuated this rumor basically to say... well, I'll let writer Grant Morrison explain it:
The Beast thing was my mocking, ironic take on the whole ‘Let’s have a Gay on the team’ current I was seeing elsewhere. I thought it would be more fun and more sophisticated to explore the very concept of ‘gayness’ and people’s strange need to define themselves using such off-the-peg labels. It was also to point out that, like the Beast, it’s possible to be flamboyant, stylish, witty and ‘gay’, without being homosexual…so I wanted to have a character stand up for the people who are neither gay nor straight nor anything other than just plain ODD - the people who don’t have shops to shop in and helplines to phone, but who feel as alienated and persecuted as any ‘Gay’. (see image to the left for more info)
Makes sense to me. He also has some of the best dialog. My personal favorite: "Everytime I hear myself called by my formal title I fight the urge to shout out, "He's dead, Jim!" Or this:
Cyclops: So whether we feel comfortable with the situation or not, we have to take him down!
Beast: Indeed, far be it from us to actually try and talk our way out of this. Why negotiate a peaceful resolution, when x-cessive pugilism would suffice just as nicely, eh? (delivers a roundhouse kick) A feat with my feet could lead to your defeat! (I crack me up.) (The enemy gets up again.) Hmmm...He's still cooking. I do feel like such a heel.
Cyclops: Hank...
Beast: Sorry, mon capitan. I promise to approach this pointless battle with renewed attention and maturity.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X3

You just forced me into a position that I will probably have to defend for the rest of my life... I actually liked X3. I didn't love it and it certainly had its problems, but I liked it more than the previous two.

Now, I should say here that I didn't see this in theaters. I actually saw it for the first time about six months ago and my expectations were extremely low. I don't know about the rest of you, but my expectations can have a HUGE effect on my feelings about a film. For example, when I saw the trailers for Mars Attacks! with its all-star cast of Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Michael J. Fox, I thought it would be the greatest thing ever, but after leaving the theater, I realized it was the biggest disappointment ever.

I'm sure it isn't really that bad. It's probably pretty good, but my expectations were high.

Now, aside from my lowered expectations, what I really enjoyed about X3 is that it was the only movie that made the "mutant issue" into a national or global one. In the 1960s, mutants were a metaphor for pubescent awkwardness and social isolation. In the 1970s, it was about racial discrimination and segregation. In the 80s and 90s, it became a metaphor for homosexuality and homophobia. They even had their own version of AIDs called the Legacy Virus.

What made the X-Men interesting to me is that it made humanity an endangered species fearful of their own extinction. The X-Men are the first of a new, evolved group of human beings who just want to have peace in their lives, but they are stuck between a world that senses the end of their species and a new generation of ambitious mutants who aren't willing to wait for human acceptance to claim their birthright.

This is fascinating stuff, especially for us ambitious liberals who are impatient for the conservative, fundamentalists to get their heads out of their ass. The reason why Magneto might be my favorite villain of all time is because sometimes I agree with him when he wants to destroy the human race. Like Karl Marx, he believes that a violent overthrow of society is necessary for true social development. However, this same casual brutality and arrogance is what leads to despotism.

All of this is contained, albeit not very well executed, in X3 which features a mutant "cure" which normalizes those that don't fit in with society (like Paxil, Ritilin, Aderol, etc. etc.). It also shows, for the first time, a true conflict between armies of mutants and humans. It gives you the sense that this isn't just a collection of isolated skermishes, but the beginning of an inevitable war for the fate of humanity. No matter what happens, ultimately, the world will not be the same.

In the first movie, Magneto had some silly machine that turned people into mutants with his magnetic power. How lame is that? And his villainous plan? Turn the world leaders into mutants so that the world becomes pro-mutant.

Isn't that a little simplistic? And if it worked, so what? I don't really care if the X-Men win... even if it will kill Rogue because she's boring.

As for X2, it was a watered down version of this brilliantly written and painted graphic novel entitled God Loves, Man Kills where William Stryker is not a rogue military operative, but a fundamentalist preacher (a la Billy Graham or Falwell) who believes mutants are the product of Satan. In a world where our religious leaders claim 9/11 is the fault of gays and feminists, I'd say this story was a lot more meaningful when he was a preacher.

But to get to the second part about the upcoming Wolverine movie... I don't know. I think the plot has real promise. For those of you who don't know, Wolverine was given his unbreakable metal skeleton from a secret military project designed to make him a human weapon, specifically Weapon-X (big coincidence, huh?). From what I've seen in the trailer, this is about him and all of the other mutants who have been made into weapons.

My fear is that this will be your standard action flick with a lot of big effects to put in the trailers, but very little substance. However, this could be really great if they try to evoke some great, masculine war films like Full Metal Jacket which stress the dehumanizing effect of military training.

Essentially, Wolverine is about a man struggling with his anger and rage. He is a man who is constantly angry at the world due to the brutality he has both witnessed and received. Because he is so long lived and can heal from any wound, he has known more pain than any person in history. His life is a struggle to be the good person he wants to be when he is one bad day away from destroying everything around him.

Finding the X-Men, Wolverine had a place where he eventually fit in. That's why Wolverine will fight harder than any other X-Man. He is afraid to lose the only place that feels like home to him. The only place he can relax and feel loved. Of course, he's a hardass, so he doesn't admit it, but you see it, on occasion, with some of the people he is closest to.

I'll wait for the reviews on this one. If the reviews are good, I'll see it in the theater. If not, I'll wait for DVD. I'm much more excited about Wolverine & the X-Men, the cartoon coming out next week (I think).

But what I really want to see is Hulk vs. Wolverine. Wolverine actually first appeared in Incredible Hulk #181 as a reluctant villain to the Hulk. He wasn't even a mutant. For a while, he was actually going to be an evolved wolverine, but thankfully, this idea was scrapped. For this reason, Hulk and Wolverine have always had an odd rivalry, but I think the biggest appeal of this match up is seeing a short, scrappy fighter with unbreakable bones, enhanced healing, and unnaturally sharp blades fight a huge, invulnerable monster capable of juggling tanks. It's a match up that's hard to beat! Add to that the fact that both have major anger issues and are constantly hunted by the military as a human weapon. The script would practically write itself. Besides, who doesn't want to see Hugh Jackman play opposite Edward Norton?

The Artist's Struggle

Franklin's recent blog post has got me to thinking (damn you, Franklin!).

Generally I have found that art can be divided into two categories: fast art and slow art. Slow art is carefully considered, well-thought out, and subject to multiple corrections and revisions. Fast art is spontaneous, immediate, and free flowing.

Both methods have their strengths and failures, but generally fast art (comic books, web comics, television, etc.) is considered low brow and slow art (sculpting, painting, novel, classical composition) is considered high brow... excepting, of course, that the prejudices regarding the medium will win out. Therefore, a slow, carefully thought out comic book like Sandman or Preacher will always be considered inferior to a quickly conceived painting or classical score.

I have always had a special love for fast art... the laissez faire, fuck-it-I'm-done attitude suggests a certain immediacy regarding the connection between artist and art admirer. As I have said before, I am a lover of classic vaudeville in part because they were artists who were constantly inventing and refining their art... often while on stage. In fact, part of the success of their craft depends on the feeling of immediacy. You can see this in stand-up comics who talk as though they are just coming up with funny ideas off the top of their head, but really they have a script that they have carefully refined over many performances. Sometimes they go off script and then some of that material makes its way into their act.

But I'm also a lover of fantasy and sci-fi, and I know that my favorite stories have tons of backstory. Many have large Bibles like the Silmarillion or The Rivan Codex which illustrates in detail characters, societies, histories, religions, forms of currency, etc. And I appreciate when that all comes together with a good story navigating me through a complex fantastical world. This is the method I'm taking with Astounding Adventures.

I have a sort of romanticism about the golden age of comics, Hollywood, and vaudeville, but the truth is that their fast and gritty style was born out of desperation. Most of them didn't see what they were doing as art. It was just a job and they were cranking out material as fast as possible just to meet the demand. Because of that, there is this massive explosion of subconscious thought which eventually took shape in forms that weren't conceived of at the time.

As an artist of any sort knows, your subconscious mind is incredibly important to the process. Often we don't even recognize what we are doing until we look back on it. Never is this more true than when we are trying to make a deadline.

This brings up a somewhat related issue of artistic freedom versus editorial control. Most writers will say they hate deadlines (except for Douglas Adams who said, "I love deadlines. I especially like that whooshing sound they make as they go flying by."), but generally I've found that when artist's are given complete artistic freedom, they produce less and what they produce is often lacking structure. Some artists just become lazy, others forget to make their art entertaining when they don't have to balance commercial demands.

Personally, some of my favorite artists were also very commercial. Hitchcock is a great example. As much as he was experimental and groundbreaking, he was constantly putting the public demand before his art because he knew that if it didn't succeed, he couldn't get the funding he needed to keep working. Chinese director/actor/comedian/martial artist Stephen Chow is the same way. He balances his reputation and hometown-hero identity as a Hong Kong film maker with Chinese national film identity and growing opportunities for an international market. (I took a class in Chinese film and wrote a paper on Stephen Chow in particular... I also had a Hitchcock class.)

In order to get what I want out of Astounding Adventures, I think I'll have to try to evoke both styles. I want a lot of shorter, self-contained stories that build into a larger mosaic in a dramatic storyarc. I also want those short stories to be meaningful and poignant similar to The Spirit, Twilight Zone, or even Star Trek where each story is, if not a parable, then at least a portrait which reveals something unique or emotionally impactful. By having such a large cast, I am able to tell longer storyarcs with some (The Mechanic, The Enigma, Dr. Alchemy, Rosie, Vesper) and vignettes with others (Tin Man, Twilight & Dawn, Tokyo Rose, etc.).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keanu Saddles Up

As soon as I saw those three words, I knew it couldn't be good:

Brought to you as only E! can deliver.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ask the Geek! X-Men

In 1992, when I was an awkward young tot of 10 years, the two biggest cartoons were Batman: The Animated Series and the X-Men. Although I watched both and now realize that Batman: TAS is far superior in both animation quality and story, at the time, I couldn't get enough of the X-Men.

I first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was playing make believe in my front yard and developed my own X-Men spin-off team. I had no intention to write it, but I drew lots of pictures, designed their headquarters, came up with a back story, and ran around throwing punches and making sound effects... much to the embarrassed bewilderment of my family. I even named them the X-Trackers.

I hated that name even then. Naming things has become the bane of my literary career.

The team consisted of the leader Glowing Fist (based on a picture I'd seen of Iron Fist with the personality of Cyclops), Axel (a heavy metal bruiser probably named after one of the villains in the video game Final Fight), Rocket (a female speedster), and others that I don't remember. They lived in a mutant sanctuary that doubled as a political lobbying group. I didn't phrase it quite so well as a child, but I think the idea was pretty good. In a recent writing exercise about what I'd do with the X-Men, I found myself strongly influenced by this idea I had as a child.

Getting to the point, if I had to pick one comic book concept that has inspired me the most, I would have to pick the X-Men, without a doubt. It's a place where freaks fit in, where their differences are celebrated and they can learn to express themselves... usually by blowing things up in the Danger Room.

Unfortunately, X-Men also has so many continuity issues and bad runs that it can be next to impossible to figure out what the hell is going on and why you should care. So I'm putting out an open call for X-Men related questions. Anything you want to know, just ask.

Just to let you know, I have read almost every single issue of Uncanny X-Men from #1 to #504 (with the exception of most of Joe Casey and Chuck Austen's horrible runs) and roughly one third of my comic collection is devoted to X-Men and X-Men spin-off titles (mostly the good stuff). So I feel comfortable saying that I am an X-pert on this subject (sorry, X-puns abound).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who the hell IS Samuel L. Jackson playing?

Elise wins the No Prize for suggesting my suggestion. Congratulations, Ellie. Don't spend it all in one place.

Well, this summer's unexpected blockbuster, Iron Man, had a hidden cameo and for those of you who didn't stay after the credits, I'll let Robot Chicken spoil it for you.

Now, this is a big development for superhero movies and I will tell you why, but first let's start with who the hell is Nick Fury?

Nick Fury

In 1963, a comic book was published entitled Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. It featured a ragtag outfit of racially and ethnically diverse soldiers operating in World War II. This outfit was led by a cigar-chomping one-eyed hard-ass by the name of Nick Fury. The team consisted of Corporal "Dum Dum" Dugan (who, along with Private "Rebel" Ralston, seems to defy both army policy and self-preservation by wearing his own hat), Gabriel Jones (token black), Dino Manelli, Izzy Cohen, Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton (Brit), and Eric Koenig (German defector).

You may notice that Nick Fury, as shown here, is as white as can be. More on this later.

In August 1965, long before Howling Commandos was cancelled, Nick Fury was transported into the modern day as an older, more experienced Colonel Fury chosen to head a new state of the art military intelligence division called S.H.I.E.L.D. which, we are assured, stands for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division (although in 1991 this would be changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate and in the recent Iron Man and Hulk movies, it is called Strategic Homeland Intervention, Espionage, Logistics Division).

What separates SHIELD from the FBI, CIA, and the rest are two things: Nick Fury and Tony Stark. Tony designs the tools and Nick Fury uses them. Amongst SHIELDs toys are the SHIELD Helicarrier, which is basically an aircraft carrier that flies; LMDs (Life Model Decoys), expendable robots that can be designed to double as specific people; and flying cars (because hey, why not?).

SHIELD was designed with the sole purpose of combating HYDRA. Marvel insists that HYDRA is not an acronym, but they just really like caps lock. If this sounds like James Bond, it's because 007 was still fairly new at that point with new books still going to print and movies starring Sean Connery.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Marvel's answer to Bond... except a lot less suave, a lot more military, and a lot more American. He never supported his own title for very long, but instead played supporting character to Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Black Widow, and countless others. When I started reading comics in the 90s, it seemed to me that Nick Fury was a good man in a bad job stuck making the hard choices and dealing with political pressures while everyone else got to put on a funny costume and run around hitting people. I always found something particularly noble and tragic about that.

Ultimate Nick Fury

In 2000, Marvel Comics launched their "Ultimate" universe with the intent of creating new versions of classic characters in order to reach new readers who might find 40 plus years of convaluted continuity to be an obstacle in reading comics. While it's success at generating new customers is debatable, the titles sold extremely well due in no small part to writers Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man) and Mark Millar (Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates).

Mark Millar is the writer of the comic that the movie Wanted is loosely based on, and from my perspective, Millar is trying to present himself as the next Frank Miller via his movie deals. In the original comic of Wanted, the lead character is modeled after Eminem while the love interest, Fox, was based on Halle Berry. Millar even released a rumor that Eminem was interested in the role (no doubt trying to use the actor's prestige would help green light the project), but Eminem quashed this rumor and it was later made with other actors.

Millar is notorious for "casting" his comic books with an eye toward Hollywood... which isn't to say he is a bad writer. Far from it. He just also is a clever marketer and it has served his career well. He even created a hoax on his opinion column claiming to have evidence of a proposed Orson Welles pitch for a Batman movie that got quashed by the studios. It was completely fabricated, but a wonderful idea.

Millar's second project for Marvel's Ultimate line was The Ultimates based on The Avengers. This used the classic Avengers lineup of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, Wasp, and the Hulk, but depicted the characters in far more realistic tones than ever before. Captain America is a hokey, out of touch, conservative who complains about language and clothing like someone's granddad. Thor is a possible mental case who is developing a liberal, hippy cult around his god-like powers. Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is popping anti-depressants to keep him mellow as he watches his scientific career go down the drain.

Millar also did a little... racial reorganization to keep the team from looking like a bunch of WASPs. So naturally, the Wasp is not one, but instead, an Asian girl... still waspish, though. Also added to the team was military attaché, Nick Fury, now sporting a very recognizable face.

Millar no doubt realized that Samuel L. Jackson was not only a comic book fan, but specifically an Avengers fan and this was his way of enticing Jackson to the role.

The Avengers

Jackson's appearance in Iron Man was a teaser for the upcoming Avengers movie. By playing the role of Nick Fury, it subtly but undeniably indicated that the movie would be based on The Ultimates... which I think is fantastic. The Ultimates is one of the best comics I've ever read. Writing and art is both top notch and the characters had never been better represented... and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest.

But more importantly, the announcement of an Avengers movie indicates that we will shortly see something that is an essential part of comic books. Namely, that they aren't about one person having special powers in a world full of norms, but it is about a bunch of people with special powers trying to co-exist with a world full of norms. Consequently, the pleasure is not just in seeing how Superman solves a problem, but contrasting how Superman and Batman solve problems... or seeing how their different ideologies are incompatible and having fanboygasms at watching them fight.

This is why my Astounding Adventures story is so complex. I didn't want to write about a superhero, but rather about a world full of them. Since I can't yet play in the Marvel or DC sandboxes, I'm creating my own.

For the first time, superhero movies are crossing over... and I can't wait to see how this turns out. The Avengers is a great example because you have a soldier from the past (Captain America), an antiquated god on Earth (Thor), a playboy in his own sci-fi suit (Iron Man), and a self-made monster (Hulk) all interacting with one another. I always thought that licensing issues would make such a thing impossible, but I guess not.

Next I want to see Hulk vs. Wolverine or Superman/Batman.

Steranko and the Hoff

Anyway, no discussion of Nick Fury would be complete without mentioning Jim Steranko, the artist whose work defined Nick Fury in the sixties and seventies. Steranko brought a degree of raciness and psychedelia that set him apart from the rest. Little known fact, he also designed Indiana Jones' iconic look for Lucas and Spielberg. Lesser known fact, he was an accomplished escape artist and inspiration for Joe Kavalier in the Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Nick Fury was also the subject of a 1998 Fox TV movie starring none other than Knight Rider/Baywatch star David Hasselhoff... and it's about as good as you'd expect a TV movie about a second string comic book character starring David Hasselhoff would be. Interestingly enough, however, the script was by none other than Dark Knight screenwriter and prolific comic writer David S. Goyer.

Ask the geek!

Anyway, thank you for asking the geek. Please ask more. I would rather be educating people about things they want to know than what I am currently annoyed about. Questions about comic books, philosophy, or writing are especially welcome, but any subject is open.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ask the Geek!

Rather than just babble on about whatever catches my attention today, I would like to ask YOU my loyal readers if you have any questions. Subjects can range from comic book/superhero knowledge to writing to philosophy to pretty much anything else. If you ever wanted to know anything about comics or you just want to discuss fate versus free-will, send me your request and if I find it suitably interesting, I'll write a post about it.

Sample questions:

Who is that guy Samuel Jackson is playing at the end of Iron Man?
What's the deal with Batgirl?
Are good and evil real?
Do you actually finish writing things, or just talk about it forever?

Friday, January 9, 2009

August 12

Today I decided to Wikipedia my birthday, August 12, and found out all sorts of things:
  • It is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.
  • It is known as the Glorious Twelfth in the UK because it marks the beginning of the grouse season, the UN recognizes it as International Youth Day, and in Thailand, it's the Queen's birthday/Mother's Day.
  • Joe 4, the first Soviet thermonuclear weapon, was test detonated on that day.
  • I share a birthday with the city of Chicago, Ford's Model T, the IBM personal computer, Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Fuller, the inventors of The Guinness Book of Records (they were twins), William Goldman, Buck Owens, George Hamilton, Bruce Greenwood, Sir Mix-a-lot, Michael Ian Black, Melissa Gayheart, Richard Reid (the "Shoebomber"), Casey Affleck, and self-gunshot victim Plaxico.
  • Died on my birthday were Cleopatra (do they really have records that accurate?), Louis the Younger, William Blake, Joseph Kennedy (elder brother of Jack and Bobby), Sir Ian Fleming, Henry Fonda (1982, my birth year), Basquiat, John Cage, Mark Gruenwald, Merv Griffin, Loretta Young, and Mike Wieringo.
Try it for yourself. See what you find.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This is how cheap my film program was

I produced this with iMovie, a digital photo camera, a handful of sound effects, and the greatest theatrical composer since Danny Elfman stopped trying.

Enjoy... or try.