Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era

Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era
Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era by Jonathan Gray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I was 17, I would watch South Park and the Daily Show and gain my opinions of current events off of those shows. Honestly, despite what some might say to that, I was more informed then than I am now. Both kept me up to date on the political climate, the war, and events of our country. Somewhere, I stopped watching both, mainly stopping South Park for it's crude humor. But I only stopped watching the Daily Show due to it's time and my changing schedule.
Reading this book made me rethink what I've been missing and now I'm watching the show again online, where it's much easier to adjust time for. This book highlights the power of satire, the mistakes or failures of the genre, and the importance of political satire. A good read for someone who doesn't know how they feel about the current state of satire television, or for someone who might doubt the importance of The Daily Show and its kin.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle
Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle by David Michelinie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fun comic. Not great, but fun. I liked the 80's vibe of the whole affair, and Tony Stark is a fun character. I read this with the desire to read an important Iron Man story, which was Demon in a Bottle. Having heard so much about it, I expected a long battle between Stark and alcoholism. This book however, is seven issues of Iron Man dealing with Justin Hammer and some super villains, getting stressed, having a drink once or twice, and then going full alcoholic in one issue. I'm of two minds of this.
On one hand, it's great to see that such a big story could be covered in a single issue back in the day. The writers really new how to compress a story. On the other hand, it seems like a big enough issue to deal with over the course of a longer format. It's not until the last issue of this volume that Tony becomes an alcoholic, ruins his life, decideds to battle the bottle, overcomes, and is back in the game. It's about 15 pages of real struggle.
Still, it's a good story, and the non-DIAB issues are fun enough to warrent a read-through.

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Review: Batman: Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, Vol. 2

Batman: Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, Vol. 2
Batman: Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, Vol. 2 by Greg Rucka

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As good as I thought Batman: Bruce Wayne: Murderer was, the following volumes never matched up. The story slowed down and refused to pick up the pace over the next two volumes and we were treated to a very in depth, CSI mystery that moved at a crawling pace. Honestly, I don't remember much of the second volume alreay, as most of it was the Bat family reiterating the Bruce could be the murderer.
This volume started to move much faster, but it took Batman getting back in the game to do so. While the first volume had me wondering who the real murderer was, the second caused me to stop caring, and this volume spoiled the whole thing (hint: don't look at the cover). Considering that was the only thing I was really into near the end, knowing who did it was a letdown.
As a whole, the story is good, in pieces, it flounders.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

On Gary and High School

I'm working on an animation project for one of my classes. It's a story I've written about Gary, a teenage zombie who just wants to feel normal in high school. After writing the script and reading through it again, I realized how much of myself I've put into the Gary. Aside from the fact that he doesn't speak, he goes through a lot of the same things I went through in school.

1. Gary basically lives in his room. Why? Because his family is distant and doesn't really understand him. Sure, they're flesh and blood, but they don't understand why he hates school. To Gary, his family is there but not in a protective sense. In his room, he's free just to be himself, surround himself with posters that he relates to, and is able to relax without feeling the world watching him.

2. Gary hates the school bus. A school bus is a satanic transportation device and the day I stopped riding that thing was a very good day. You are taking all the problems of high school, all the people you wish you didn't have to see, and cramming them in a 50 seater with enough room for knees to touch and sleep to be impossible. This invention is able to compress all of high school in a 20 minute ride through the city. For those who don't fit in, it ends the benefit of giving you no escape route. There were days, on the bus, that all I could do was wish that I could fly and never get inside that leather-scented bus again. The "cool kids", if there is such a thing, sat in the back and smoked pot or made out. Sitting up front was no win, since those on probation were there and hated you for not being in the same boat as them. So, I sat in the middle, trapped between two worlds I wanted nothing to do with. Gary lives the same life and my heart goes out to him.

3. Gary hides behind a book. It's all I could do as kid to escape that hell the state demanded I go through. Reading let me out of class, out of bullying, and kept my head down. Gary, who has no friends, just wants to go unnoticed. It's like an ostrich with its head in the sand. The reader no longer concerns himself with the real world and, in doing so, hopes the world does the same to him. Most of the time, there's no such luck.

4. Gary has a very specific bully, Dwayne. How is it, in a school of thousands, one person can find another person just right for him. It's like the bully is specially made for you. He knows all the things you hate to hear, knows all the names you can't stand, and knows exactly how to make you hate life. Dwayne doesn't bully any one else but Gary and somehow, my bullies never bothered others. I should feel flattered but I think I could have done without.

5. Gary can't talk to the girl he likes. Like a bully, there always seems to be one other person made just to make you hate school. She's the crush, the girl you want to see every day, who you can't talk to lest she realize you exist. Gary has Courtney, a pretty girl who doesn't tease him, but giggles at his geeky moments. She's the girl that any poor soul in high school crushes on. Gary will sit there, forever, and imagine talking to her. But it's only a dream, we know our place and keep to the status quo.

6. Gary is alone during lunch. It's strange how this can happen. You surrounded by class mates but you still find the one spot that keeps you isolated. You sip your milk and watch the minutes go by as lunch ends. What kept me from talking to others? The same thing as Gary, a set belief that any venturing to others will end in failure, as the past has proven to be true. Poor guy.

7. The gym. Here it is, one of the biggest reasons to hate high school. I'm glad that a program, meant to improve intelligence, still grades you on a basis of athletic and physical ability. There is no reason for this anymore. Gary, a zombie, is barely attached as it is. He limbs fall off trying to climb the rope or lift weights, he can't swim, and he's the target of dodgeball. The school system is broken and gym proves it.

But Gary is unlike me in one big way. He goes to the dance after school. Why? Because he hopes to see Courtney and still is positive about change. I never had that dream. I knew my place. After school dances were for people who enjoyed school. An after school dance was not on my agenda. I had games to play, books to read. But Gary takes that chance and it pays off. I won't say how, as I still want you to watch the thing when it's done. The ending, in a way, is an alternative to my own choices. In as much as Gary is like me I can use him to see what might have happened. It's all dramatized and given a fun tone, but, who knows, maybe it could have been me?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Ghost Rider and Cameo Characters

I saw the new Ghost Rider movie and it wasn't that bad. Not to say it was great, or even very good, but it was much better than the first movie. In fact, the new one really worked to create it's own identity, something the first failed in the realm of super hero movies. This film is a Ghost Rider movie, because it can't be anyone else' movie. The cinematography and direction would only work for a character as weird as the Spirit of Vengeance.

But it's still not a great movie. Nic Cage does a good job at being weird and likable, especially in the scene where he's fighting back the Rider persona. But even with the head first approach of both actor and directors, the character of Ghost Rider is not a strong one. Johnny Blaze has all the elements of a good Marvel character; tragic past, poor decisions, and lifetime to make up for those bad choices, but the rest of his story fails to intrigue. When the Rider shows up, he's creepy and has that punk attitude you need in a flaming skeleton biker, but in the end, he's a flaming skeleton biker. He lacks the real personality as the Hulk, who can be stopped in his rage to confront what he's done, or even DC's demon Etrigan with his weird rhyming. The Hulk, who tends to be as wordless as Ghost Rider, can show emotion. The Rider can be a skull on fire.

Not to say I don't like the character. He can be written well, as some comics have proven, and even this movie proves he can have a presence. The problem is that it's not a presence that can carry a movie. Ghost Rider, in my opinion, is a cameo character. As a cameo character, he should show up, steal the scene he's in, and leave with us wanting (or at least with us thinking we want) more. If Ghost Rider were to show up in a future Dr. Strange movie to help the good doctor, that would be cool. Starring in his own two hour movie? Not so much. This is the same thought I hold to with him in comics. Have him show up in a few issues every now and then in other character's books and move on. Maybe give him a miniseries every now and then but never his own book.

But Ghost Rider isn't the only character who suffers from cameo status. The Punisher, Steel, Catwoman, and Elektra have proven this theory to be true. The Punisher would benefit from making a cameo in a Spider-Man or Daredevil movie, like he did in the comics. In fact, considering Fox owns the rights to both the Punisher and Daredevil, it seems like common sense to include them rather than stretch them out. Elektra only works with Daredevil, Catwoman with Batman, and I have no idea for Steel. But even a movie as bad as the Fantastic Four knew to keep the Silver Surfer as a side character and not give him his own film. There's a reason these characters, and Ghost Rider, fail at the box office and don't leave an impression of us, it's because they can't by themselves. A cameo character is meant for just that, and trying to make it go further will only hurt him.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Batman: Bruce Wayne: Murderer?

Batman: Bruce Wayne: Murderer?
Batman: Bruce Wayne: Murderer? by Ed Brubaker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was great. I guess I've been reading a lot of mediocre Batman books that I was surprised I could like one of his books so much. There are some great moments throughout, but really, it's the whole story that shines.
Bruce Wayne has been framed for murder and is now in jail. Unlike Matt Murdock people now accept to be Daredevil, Bruce can't let any hints out that he's Batman. So, he sits and weights, all while his city is without his protection. But Bruce is only a part of this story, as Nightwing, Robin and Oracle all deal with their own feelings towards Bruce and the case before them. Nightwing goes through some emotionally powerful moments in dealing with Batman, especially at the end of the book. All of Batman's "family" have their own theories and beliefs about Bruce's innocence and their struggles with those beliefs make for great writing. The end, with Batman's heavy and dangerous decision, is big moment and is probably the most growth and character I've seen in a Batman story in years.
The art changes throughout but stays at high quality. Really, this whole book is amazing and it's pacing is spot on. Highly recommended.

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On Sidekicks

There's a difference between the Marvel and DC comic book universe but it's hard to define. Both universe have characters that mirror the other such as Green Arrow (DC) and Hawkeye (Marvel), both tell similar stories such as Brightest Day (DC) and the Heroic Age (Marvel), and both are long running super hero universe with interconnection between titles.

One difference I've been looking at is that Marvel, with one or two exceptions, doesn't have sidekicks. At all. I'll give someone Bucky to Captain America but in reality, Bucky has become his own character in his Winter Soldier arc, and considering few reading today read about Cap and Bucky, it's safe to assume few connect him as a sidekick. While on the other hand we have Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow all with "families" of sidekicks. A few years ago, when Marvel launched the Young Avengers, there was a bit of irony to it, since we all knew the Avengers didn't have sidekicks, and the creators went with that. Hulkling, Patriot, and Iron Lad were all unconnected to their adult versions, except by name.

So, why is this? Why is the DC universe littered with sidekicks while the Marvel universe has next to none? My theory, such as it is, is that the DC universe needs sidekicks to battle its own iconic nature.

Superman and Batman represent the main point of my theory. Superman is almost a non-character, he doesn't change. He struggles and makes hard choices, but he doesn't change. He's not a character that will grow from one story to the next. He will always be Superman, no matter what happened in previous issues. That's why there are so many retellings of his origin, because its the only time in his story that's he's allowed to grow and be a character. After that, Superman is an icon. Batman is the same type of problem, he's essentially a non-character. The tone might change in his book and go from campy to dark, but the character doesn't move forward. Batman is a mission obsessed character, who has all the knowledge and skills he'll ever need. It's part of the reason his origin is so compelling, it's when he's the most unsure and goes through the most change.

Marvel, on the other hand, while recognizable with Spider-Man and the Hulk, are less iconic. Spider-Man doesn't hold the same power or respect of Superman, no matter how much his movies make. But that's okay, because his movies show what makes Spider-Man successful. Peter Parker, as a character, is always growing and changing. He has his core message, that great power comes with great responsibility, but that's a creed to strive for whether than one that is lived out constantly. In fact, watching Peter struggle with that creed can come with the most amount of drama. Other characters in the Marvel universe gain from the same appeal. Iron Man is cool but watching Tony Stark deal with conflicting motives and his own addictions is the drama, and the character growth that we want to see over long periods of time.
I think, at a certain point, someone over at DC realized this issue. Considering comics are a constant, long-term source of entertainment, Superman and his fellow heroes needed more than their iconic status to carry them through. If Batman can't change, can there be a character like Batman, related to Batman, who interacts with Batman, who can change? Yes, there can and they named him Robin. And then Nightwing. And then Batgirl and Huntress and Spoiler and Red Hood and so on. Superman has Supergirl and Superboy. Flash has a whole family of speedsters and the Green Lantern has a whole corps of fellow heroes (though, I might argue, the Green Lantern corps is a very Marvel idea and DC should be thanking God they came up with it first).

But this works, because Robin can change while Batman doesn't. Robin can struggle with the ideals he stands for, he can die, he can turn to the dark side, he can kill. Supergirl can abandon Earth, Speedy can suffer from AIDS, Kid Flash can become the Flash. This is the power of sidekicks. I've heard some people argue that sidekicks are stupid, a comic device that didn't age well and makes little sense. We've all heard the countless Batman and Robin jokes. But I think the DC universe needs sidekicks, otherwise it's in danger of growing stale from it's main heroes own advantages. A sidekick doesn't just help a hero, he saves it.