Posts Tagged ‘Joss Whedon

22
Jul
13

All New Showcase Episode 292: San Diego Comic-Con 2013

AllNewShowcase2This week, Blake decides it’s high time the Showcase got a new coat of paint, a slightly amended format, and a much snazzier archive page. Welcome to the first episode of the All New Showcase! In this episode, Blake explains the reasons for the change before sitting down with Kenny and Erin to talk about all the news from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International. Witchblade Vs. the Darkness, the Simpsons meeting the Griffins and the Planet Express crew, Riverdale swaming with zombies, JMS taking on the Twilight Zone, new series for Harley Quinn, the return of Nightcrawler, Avengers 2 gets a title and Man of Steel 2 gets a guest-star! This and much, much more in the first All New Showcase! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

And what’s cool this week? For Kenny, it’s Pacific Rim, for Erin it’s the works of the late Richard Matheson, and for Blake it’s The Argonauts!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

All New Showcase #292: San Diego 2013

Superman-Batman

22
Apr
13

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 287: Summer Movie Preview 2013

showcase logo smallThe temperatures are rising and it’s almost time to seek refuge in a nice, air-conditioned movie theater. This week, Blake and Erin walk you through all the big releases of Summer 2013 — what we’re excited about, what we couldn’t care less about, and a heck of a lot in-between. In the picks, Erin is getting into the BBC’s Sherlock, and Blake’s favorite new comic of 2012 Danger Club, returns from hiatus. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 287: Summer Movie Preview 2013

21
Oct
12

Lunatics and Laughter Day 10: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui

Writer: Joss Whedon

Cast: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Rubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Michele Abrams, Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Stephen Root, Natasha Gregson Wagner

Plot: Once in every generation a Chosen One is born, a young woman with the power to stand against the tide of the greatest predator in the world, the vampire. Unfortunately, this generation’s slayer is a ditzy cheerleader named Buffy Summers. Buffy (Kristy Swanson) and her friends are hanging out at the mall one day when she’s startled by a creepy figure (Donald Sutherland). She tries to shrug it off, but begins having dreams of an earlier life where she battled a vampire named Lothos (Rutger Hauer). In the present day, Lothos sleeps, but his minion Amilyn (Paul Reubens) is ready to wake him up. A pair of burnouts, Pike (Luke Perry) and Benny (David Arquette) encounter the girls a few times before wandering off, drunk. Benny is taken by Amilyn, while Pike is saved by the strange man from the mall, Merrick. He approaches Buffy and asks her to accompany him to a graveyard so she can claim her “birthright.” She doesn’t believe his claim that she is the Chosen One, but when he begins describing her dreams to her, she agrees to accompany him. Two freshly dead people rise, transformed into vampires, and Buffy instinctively stakes them.

Pike, home in bed, is approached by Benny, who hovers outside his window and cannot enter without an invitation. Benny cries that he’s hungry, brandishing a new pair of fangs, and Pike refuses him entry. Unnerved by the strange things he’s seen, Pike plans to leave town. Meanwhile Buffy, after some persuasion, begins the training she should have undergone years ago, taking to the night to slay the vampires.  She winds up saving Pike, whose effort to escape town is thwarted when he’s jumped by Amilyn. Amilyn escapes, but loses an arm in the process, and is scolded by Lothos for his failure.

At a basketball game, Buffy realizes one of her friends has been turned and pursues him through the streets of the city. Pike joins in the chase and the two, on motorcycles, hunt him to a storage yard for parade floats. Lothos and Merrick both intervene in the fight, and the vampire lord slays Buffy’s mentor. Buffy’s friends show no sympathy when she turns up depressed the next day, and she and Pike get in a fight in public over her unwillingness to continue the fight. Neither of them know Benny is nearby, hears the fight, and learns that Buffy is the Chosen One. With her name revealed, Amilyn and Lothos plan to destroy her.

Pike crashes the senior dance, dancing with and kissing Buffy just before Lothos’s vampires break through the windows and attack the hundreds of assembled teens. Pike presents Buffy with a bag of stakes he prepared, and she goes on a slaying spree. Benny and Pike fight in the dance, Benny offering to change his buddy into a vampire, but Pike refuses and slays him. Buffy encounters Amilyn in a stairwell, staking him in front of Lothos, who is unmoved by his minion’s death (or melodramatic death scene). Their battle spreads back to the gym, and Buffy stakes Lothos in full view of the school. Together, Buffy and Pike ride his motorcycle into the sunrise, leaving the town to wonder what the hell just happened.

Thoughts: Joss Whedon is, today, a god among geeks, creator of such cult favorites as Firefly and Dollhouse, director of the biggest superhero movie of all time in The Avengers, and pioneer of original online content with Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. (Not to mention is more recent film Cabin in the Woods, a great entry into the horror canon, my analysis of which is available exclusively in the eBook edition of Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen.) His star began to rise in earnest in 1997, when his Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show became a hit for the fledgling CW network. That show largely ignored the film that birthed the character, though. Released in 1992, Whedon was never happy with the way director Fran Rubel Kuzui treated his script, playing it as a much broader comedy than he intended. And in truth, anybody who watches more than a few minutes of the TV show will agree that the film pales in comparison. That said, though, looking back 20 years later, there is a bit of cheesy charm in this original version of the Slayer.

Whedon’s initial concept was to take the typical horror movie victim – the teenage girl – and turn her into the hero. It’s a great, simple idea, but the final film goes a bit too far in playing up the stereotypes. Buffy and her friends (including future Oscar winner Hilary Swank) are vapid to the point of obnoxiousness. That may well be the intent, but once they start jabbering about choosing “litter” as the theme for a socially-conscious school dance, you kinda want to see them all die. The only thing more irritating is the basketball coach shouting to his team to “actualize” as though it’s a defensive strategy. Pretty much all of the humor is too broad for the characters, in fact. The only really goofy moment that works is when you realize the vampires have, in fact, been invited to the dance and thus can enter. Of course they were invited. They’re seniors.

Much of the violence and action isn’t quite believable either. An early scene where Buffy chops up a hot dog Benny is using to taunt her is supposed to be an early indicator that she’s got power, but instead just seems like the director used poor editing to cover a joke that had no punch. A few minutes later, when Merrick throws a knife at her and Buffy catches it, it’s even worse. The image is so stilted I’m inclined to believe Swanson was actually filmed throwing the knife away and Kuzui played it in reverse.

For all its faults, there are some good moments in the film. Some of Buffy’s dreams are a bit silly, but others are played for straight horror. There’s a nice one, for example, where she’s going to bed and the viewer doesn’t quite realize she’s already asleep when she lies down, Lothos beside her. For a moment you think she’s just oblivious to her enemy (even though it’s already been made clear a vampire cannot enter a person’s home without an invitation), but when he gives her a teddy bear and she curls up on him it’s downright unnerving. You feel a little relief, moments later, when she wakes up. Placing one of the fight scenes in the parade float storage yard is another nice touch – the oversized figures and statuary make for a suitably eerie backdrop for a fight. It’s kind of sad this is the last thing Kuzui directed, she actually has an okay eye for horror that would have worked well in the darker-toned Buffy TV show (where she served as an executive producer). That less broad version of the character may not have been too bad in her hands.

Buffy would later become a great character in the hands of Sarah Michelle Gellar, but the embryonic form still has a bit of steel in her. Swanson’s Buffy is never quite as vapid as her friends, and begins to grow rather quickly. She isn’t the girl power icon she would later become, though. I still keep going back and forth on an element of the character that was disposed of entirely when she transitioned to television – the use of menstrual cramps as an early warning that vampires are nearby. Somebody out there help me – is it empowering to use a nuisance that is unique to women as a weapon in the fight against evil, or is it patronizing to base Buffy’s Spider-Sense surrogate on a natural process that is so often played as a negative stereotype? I feel somehow that the answer to that question would go a long way towards explaining if it’s okay to like this movie or not, but having a Y chromosome (as I do), I don’t think I’m actually qualified to answer it.

Paul Reubens is a really bizarre casting choice. At this point in his career he was already known primarily as Pee-Wee Herman, a role that he put away after an embarrassing public incident the year before. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Doing Buffy felt like an effort to rejuvenate his career, and although it didn’t really succeed, it wasn’t for lack of trying. His Amilyn works well as a sort of Renfield, the second banana to the main vampire, with just enough of an edge to feel like a credible threat. The only time he gets silly or plays up his traits as a physical comedian is during his extremely protracted death scene. (That scene, by the way, isn’t a bad joke, but it’s a joke that goes on entirely too long.) He, at least, is memorable, though. Rutger Hauer’s Lothos… not so much. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just dull compared to all of the other great vampire performances out there.

It’s an early 90s film, but it actually carries with it a lot of the tropes of the 80s teen sports movie: the character who doesn’t want to play the game, a training montage in which she unlocks her natural talent, and a Big Game at the end for all the glory. There’s even the requisite clueless authority figure (a very funny turn by Stephen Root) who both hassles Buffy for the change in her behavior and tries to be her pal, sharing far too much information with her than anybody is really comfortable with. There’s also a fun little game of “spot the future celebrity” worth playing. Hilary Swank has a sizable role, but you can also catch Ben Affleck as an opposing basketball player, Thomas Jane as a punk teenager, and Ricki Lake and Seth Green (who would go on to have a regular role on the Buffy TV show) as vampires.

For all the crap it gets, the movie isn’t really all that bad. It’s competently made, and none of the performances are horrible. The plot works, but the tone is off. This never would have made any credible “worst of all time” list, it would simply have been forgotten, one of hundreds of movies made every year that are completely off the cultural radar short months later. We remember it, though, if for no other reason than because it gave us one of the greatest horror heroines of all time.

Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.

09
Sep
12

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 271: New to Who

We’re back! After an unexpected hiatus, Blake and Erin return to the Showcase with an all-new episode. Erin talks about her new indoctrination into the Doctor Who fandom, we discuss the new Allan Heinberg Wonder Woman and Joss Whedon SHIELD TV projects, chat a bit about Marvel Now! and the new Justice League of America, and share ideas for who should star in a female version of The Expendables. In the picks, Blake doubles up with Green Lantern #0 and New Crusaders #1. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 271: New to Who

10
May
12

Everything But Imaginary #447: Avengers Assembling a New Cinematic Landscape?

It’s a day late thanks to the great CX Server Malfunction of (Early May) 2012, but it’s time for this week’s Everything But Imaginary. With The Avengers outpacing everyone’s wildest expectations, it’s time to take a step back and think about what the film may mean for the future… the future of the Avengers franchise, of Marvel Studios, of superhero movies, and of Summer blockbusters in general.

Fair warning: although this is not a review of the film, there are spoiler herein. Read at your own risk.

Everything But Imaginary #447: Avengers Assembling a New Cinematic Landscape?

03
Aug
11

Classic EBI #102: How to Make a Couch Potato Read a Comic Book

In today’s all-new Everything But Imaginary column, I step back and take a look at the construction of Marvel Studios’ movie universe — and what they may have to do to keep it viable past the first generation of actors.

Everything But Imaginary #409: Making a Movie Universe

Going back to the classics, though, back in February 2005 I looked at ways to snare new readers from the realm of television, by using their favorite shows to identify comics that may be to their taste…

Classic EBI #102: How to Make a Couch Potato Read a Comic Book

As much as I’d like to, I’ve discovered that it is statistically impossible to read comic books all the time. (I learned this one Thursday morning at 3:45 a.m. halfway through Sandman: A Season of Mists when I suddenly gained the ability to see the music.) So last weekend I unwound by watching the first season DVD of the television show 24. Which, of course, made me think about comic books, because my mind is preposterously circular in that regard.

Although I had heard a lot of really good things about 24, I’d never been able to catch it at the beginning of a season and therefore have never watched it, but when an online retailer recently had the first season on sale for just $15, I saw no reason not to get it. By the second episode, I was hooked, and I wound up watching the entire 24-episode season in less than a week. The way the show works, in case you don’t know, is that each season chronicles one day in the life of Counter Terrorism Agent Jack Bauer (played with aplomb by Kiefer Sutherland). Each episode takes place in realtime and covers exactly one hour in Jack’s life. What really got me about the show was the challenge of writing such a thing, telling one story in 24 installments, making each episode make sense as a portrait of one hour, and still having each installment end at a point of high suspense without making it seem necessarily forced.

Once I’d seen the whole thing, though, I realized that I got a very similar feeling reading a comic book. Specifically, from the new Captain America series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Now a comic can’t play with time the same way that a television series can, but many of the other elements that make 24 so great are present in this series. A story is being told in installments, each installment has moments of action and downtime, and each one ends at a point of maximum suspense. (The first episode of 24, for instance, ends with Jack’s daughter being kidnapped and an airplane blowing up, whereas the first issue of Captain America ends with Cap’s old nemesis, the Red Skull taking a bullet in the chest.)

That sort of action, the spy drama, the structure is a great thing, and it make me think about how I always say that there is a comic book out there for everyone, if only they knew where to look. So while you 24 fans are trying to get your buddies to read Captain America, I’m going to suggest a few more TV/movie analogues to some great comic books.

(And I’m not just going to suggest Star Wars fans read the Star Wars comics. That’s too easy. And if they haven’t made that leap by now, they’re not gonna.)

For fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it would be easy to suggest Astonishing X-Men. The title is written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon, for one thing, and it’s got kind of the same “us against a world of evil” mentality, with a lot of drama, but a good bit of humor as well. However, I think an even better comic for Buffy fans may be Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways. The second series of this acclaimed title starts… well… today. The basic premise of the first series was that six kids discovered their parents were supervillains, part of a murderous cult that was planning to aid in the destruction of the world. The kids – some of them with inherited powers or talents, but others with nothing but their wits – set out on their own to save the world from their own parents. The second series picks up some time after the first, and I don’t yet know what angle the new version will take, but I’ve got no doubt that it will have that same feel that Buffy fans dig.

What if you like a western? Something like Unforgiven, A Fistful of Dollars, or especially a fantasy-western like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series? Then you should be giving a read to Beckett Comics’ The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty. The book takes the classic fairy tale and transplants it to the American west, but it takes up the story near the end. An entire town has fallen asleep due to some ancient curse and a young boy, the only one to escape, is in search of a man to break the spell. When the title opens we find the boy and our unlikely hero, Cole, about to dangle at the end of a hangman’s rope. Cole is your classic tortured western hero, a gunslinger with a dark past he’s trying to atone for, even though he never believes he can. This is the sort of title that shows you how sometimes you can take two very familiar stories or styles, combine them, and come up with something totally new.

If you’ve got kids who are into (or if you yourself are into) something like Nickelodeon’s The Fairly Oddparents, you might want to check out the upcoming Mike S. Miller series The Imaginaries. Beneath all the comedy and slapstick, Fairly Oddparents is a series about the power of the imagination, and The Imaginaries is going to drip with that stuff. Folks who saw the recent preview in the Two Bits anthology know the idea – what happens to an imaginary friend when the child who imagined him no longer needs him? The pain of his parents’ divorce makes a child give up his own imaginary friend, Superhero G, who finds himself lost in an entire city made up of discarded imaginary friends. I’ve used the word “imagination” about a zillion times in this paragraph, but get ready for one more – this is the kind of comic that really tests the limits of the imagination, and that’s an incredible thing.

Maybe you just want to laugh. You’re into sitcoms like Newsradio, Scrubs or classics like I Love Lucy or Laverne and Shirley? Well man, why aren’t you reading PVP? Scott Kurtz’s comic strip is your classic office comedy – a group of geeks (and one troll) working together in a video game magazine. Throw in things like a competing magazine, a passive aggressive supervillain, frequent misunderstandings, romantic subplots, harried husbands and young crushes, and you’ve got all of the elements of a situation comedy. Kurtz, in fact, will frequently take the sort of stock situation that can be used in virtually any sitcom – a child (or troll) “runs away” after an older sibling (or co-worker) says something to upset him, and the others set out to find him, not realizing he just ran away to the broom closet. But Kurtz always has a little twist, something that makes it different from just another sitcom, something that makes it pop.

Cop dramas are huge right now. In fact, scientists estimate that if you were to play “Remote Control Russian Roulette” between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight (Eastern time) you stand a 97.3 percent chance of landing on a channel showing an episode of either CSI, Law and Order or one of their various spin-offs. So while you’re spinning that dial, why not spin over to the comic shop and try an issue of Gotham Central? Greg Rucka and the (sadly) soon-to-be departing Ed Brubaker have done a masterful job with this series, detailing the trials and tribulations of two groups of police officers (the day shift and the night shift) who have to keep the peace in a city with all of the regular muggings, murders, robberies and drugs of any major metropolitan area, but on top of that, are forced to deal with homicidal clowns, mad scientists, plant-women who can control your mind with just a kiss and some lunatic dressed like a giant bat trying to do their job for them. It’s a unique take on an old idea, and it hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves.

Then there are the soap operas. And with them all of the lying, scheming, backstabbing, deaths, resurrections and sex you could want in any given issue of Noble Causes. Like most soap operas, this one focuses on one powerful family. The twist here is that “powerful” is meant in a literal term – these guys are superheroes. There are the parents, Doc and Gaia. There’s their oldest son, Rusty, who is trapped in a robot body and whose wife Celeste has left him and he’s now dating Cosmic Rae, whom he doesn’t know is an android. Race, their younger son, died in the first issue, but his wife Liz found another dimension where he survived and she’s moved there and everything is back to normal. Zephyr is pregnant by Draconis, the family’s oldest enemy whom Doc killed, and whose son Krennick claimed he was the father because he’s in love with her and has a tendency to hire prostitutes who pretend to be her. Then of course there’s Gaia’s other son, Frost, the product of an affair after Rusty was born, except no one knew she had the affair with a version of Doc from an alternate dimension. Oh, and Frost’s affair with Celeste is what ended her marriage to Rusty.

If you’ve watched enough soap operas to have the slightest clue what I said in that last paragraph, you should be reading Noble Causes.

The point of all this, friends, is that comics are a big, wide, diverse world. And if you look hard enough, you can find something for anyone. In fact, feel free to find some more – I’ll be interested to see what you all come up with.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: February 9, 2005

I had very, very low expectations for the winner of this week’s favorite award, which may be why I was so pleasantly surprised, but I thought the first issue of Young Avengers was a great read. Four teenagers with looks, powers and names that mimic Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk burst on to the scene, and J. Jonah Jameson wants the scoop. In addition to using Jameson, the book also picks up on the elder Avengers and the cast of The Pulse to investigate these kids, trying to figure out who they are and what they’re doing, all of it building up to a last page that legitimately surprised the heck out of me. Considering that Allan Heinberg has never written comics before, I think he’s off to a great start.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.

13
Apr
11

Classic EBI #85: Deconstruction and Glory

With tax season upon us, we’re all going to look for less expensive entertainment. In the interests of helping us all with that dilemma, I’ve taken it upon myself to sift through Amazon for a few graphic novels that — at least as I write this — can be had for under ten bucks a pop.

Everything But Imaginary #394: Eight Under Ten

In the classic EBI from this week, we go back to Oct. 20, 2004, when I look at the two extremes of the superhero genre…

Everything But Imaginary #85: Deconstruction and Glory

There are many types of comic book fans — the geeks, the fanboys, the gaming crossovers, the alts, but there are only two types of fans that really get on my nerves. First are their ones who only read superhero comics. The ones who refuse to come out of the narrow little shell and experience all of the wild, diverse realms of storytelling that comic books have to offer. Second, the ones that refuse to read superhero comics, the ones who think they’re too cool for that and anyone who enjoys a superhero comic is intellectually beneath them and that by picking up this week’s Amazing Spider-Man you are contributing to the downfall of western civilization. (You are actually doing this by picking up Action Comics.) [2011 Note: I wrote this during Chuck Austen's run on Action Comics. I stand by this statement.]

Smart comic fans, I think, should fall somewhere in-between these two extremes. Nobody should ever read any comic they don’t like (save your money and buy something good), but it’s even more important not to close yourself off to a great story just because of the genre it is written in.

Just as comic book fans have divided themselves into these camps, however, superhero comics to a very large degree have divided themselves as well, and although there are some exceptions, almost all mainstream superhero titles these days play more to one side of the spectrum or the other — they deconstruct the heroes, or they glorify them.

“Deconstruction,” of course, is nothing new — one could argue that it goes back as far as Green Arrow’s discovery of his sidekick Speedy’s heroin addiction. There are lots of kinds of deconstructive stories — those that show the heroes has having all-too-human flaws or feet of clay, or those that simply show them failing, or achieving victory but at too high a price. The darker threats, the mass murders, the terrorist actions. These are the “deconstructive” comics.

Pretty much every title under the Marvel Knights banner fits this description — Daredevil is a great example. He was, in his early days, a brighter character, akin to Spider-Man, but as time went on he got darker and darker. Now his comic is the epitome of gritty, showing hard crime and real consequences. Matt Murdock’s world is not a nice place to live. Brian Michael Bendis, of course, is one of the tops in this realm of comics — along with guys like Grant Morrison and Bruce Jones, and perennial favorites like Frank Miller and Neal Adams. These are often the only comics the “too cool for school” crowd will touch, mainly because it’s so “grim” and “edgy” and helps to shatter the ideals of the spandex-clad warriors they sneer at the rest of the time.

Then we have the flip side of superhero comics — those that take the traditions and standards of the genre and raise them up, glorify them, and make them seem fresh and new again. Take a look at Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four for a primary example of this. While the “Unthinkable” and “Authoritative Action” storylines he told last year did get pretty dark, he stayed with what made the characters the heroes they were rather than pull them down, and he closed off that chapter of their lives in the “Afterlife” story by bringing back the Thing (killed in “Authoritative Action,”) with a little help from a certain Man Upstairs who looked an awful lot like Jack Kirby. Some readers balked at the unabashed sentimentality. I thought it was brilliant.

Geoff Johns has also proven himself quite adept at the glorification of superheroes, and he does it in a way that Waid often does too — he mines their pasts, digging into classic stories from the golden, silver and bronze ages, and uses them to craft something totally new. A lot of his Teen Titans series up to this point has been about bringing together threads left by the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez incarnation of the property, but updating it to fit in the new members of the team. In Flash, he keeps taking old villains and remaking them into more serious threats (as he did with the likes of Mirror Master and Captain Cold) or introducing new threats that tie into the past of the character (like Murmur and the new Zoom).

Johns may just save his best storyweaving skills for JSA, however, and it’s no wonder. This is the first superhero team in the history of comic books, and several of the oldest characters in industry are still members. What’s more, they have progeny and proteges that are carring on in their names. Johns has brought together the legacies of the Star-Spangled Kid and Starman stogether in Stargirl, restored Hawkman to a characterization that actually makes sense and even made a character with the goofy Golden Age moniker Mr. Teriffic a deep, interesting character.

But man, the stuff he’s done with Hourman is even better. The original Hourman, Rex Tyler, died fighting Extant during DC’s Zero Hour miniseries. There are two other Hourmen walking around, though, Rex’s son Rick, and an android from the future with time-travel powers. In JSA we learn that the android plucked Rex from the timestream just before his death and gave him one hour to spend with his son, who could break up that hour into increments anytime he needed to talk to his father. When Rick was almost killed fighting Black Adam, though, he and Rex switched places, with Rex back in the “regular” timestream and Rick trapped in time. Johns wrapped up that storyline in last week’s JSA #66 with an ending that showed off everything that made these characters heroes.

If we’re talking about glorifying superheroes, though, one need look no further than Astro City. Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross have created a real lush, wonderful world that pays a brilliant tribute to everything that superhero comics have to offer, and they look at it from every angle. If you haven’t read this comic, you haven’t read superheroes right.

Here’s the thing — while excellent stories have been told in both the deconstruction and glorification subgenres of superheroes, not all characters are suited for both. Superman and Captain America, for instance, never really work in deconstructed stories. When you start making Superman grim or edgy, you lose what it is that makes him Superman.

This was the big problem I had with Mark Millar’s Ultimates series, and the reason I’m not getting Ultimates 2. Millar recreated regular Marvel characters and made it a point that they were not the same as the ones we were used to. However, the new characters he whipped up seemed to me to be nothing more than the original character’s worst traits magnified to the extreme. Giant-Man was nothing more than a wife-beater. Iron Man was nothing more than a drunken philanderer. Captain America was nothing more than an arrogant nationalist.

On the other hand, characters like the Punisher just don’t hold up if you try to glorify them. Even when you go lighthearted, as Garth Ennis did in the Marvel Knights incarnation of the character, it has to be dark humor, with an undertone of madness that belies the character’s situation in life.

Then there are those rare characters that work if you’re deconstructing or glorifying superheroes. I think the X-Men are probably the best example of this. During New X-Men, writer Grant Morrison dissected these characters, brought their faults to the forefront and made them face down threats — both from without and within — that tore the team apart. Much of his story was a satire of some of the more ridiculous aspects of the characters (Magneto’s tendency to get resurrected no matter what the circumstances of his death were, for instance, or the egocentric notion that the “X” in Weapon X was a letter and not a Roman numeral). He took the X-Men apart and pieced them into something new, then he put the chairs on the tables, wiped down the counter and left.

Then he leaves and what happens? Joss Whedon comes in with Astonishing X-Men and, using many of the same characters, puts them back into costumes and sends ‘em out to be superheroes. And it works, just as well. Meanwhile, Nunzio DeFillips and Christina Weir remake their New Mutants series into New X-Men: Academy X, a book about — what else? — teen superheroes. These are kids learning to one day become X-Men, and as such, the book has several elements that both glorify superheroes (the code names, the “squads”) and break them down (how Wither accidentally killed his father with his powers, for instance).

There are many, many different things that can be done with superhero comics, and a great many of them are being done right now, done very well. There’s an old saying in some parts of the country that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. With comic books, if you don’t like one, just take a step or two further down the rack. Even if you’re looking at a rack of superheroes, you won’t have far to go to find something totally different.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: October 6, 2004

Welcome back, Bill Willingham, you have been too long absent from this list, but last week’s Fables #30 bolted you right back to the front of the pack. I’ve been a fan of this title since the first issue, friends, and issue #30 is possibly the best yet. This is the answer to “decompressed” storytelling here, everything happens at once. The Fables are reconstructing their home after a battle, the election for the mayor of Fabletown is going off, Snow White is in labor (and Bigby Wolf is the father) — there are three major storylines in this issue, a half-dozen (if not more) minor storylines, and there’s still room in there for a few surprises. If you haven’t tried out Fables, this may just be a great place to start.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.

 

21
Aug
09

Pass the fiction

I’ve been having some issues with the Department of Motor Vehicles lately. I understand this isn’t anything new, everybody has these issues, and if I ever meet Joss Whedon I’m going to pitch a Buffy the Vampire Slayer miniseries where she sets out to eradicate the Hellmouth beneath every DMV office in America. Without getting in detail, basically I’m in a position where I have to prove that the car I was in when some jackass plowed into me four years ago was actually totaled, and the two-bit insurance racket said jackass subscribed to isn’t exactly being helpful.

Danse MacabreTo get to my point, though, as I sat there waiting to be called upon for my ritual torture, I was reading Stephen King‘s Danse Macabre. If you’re a fan of horror but you’ve never read the book, it’s definitely worth your while. King takes the time to talk about what horror really means to him, mostly through the prism of the best (and worst) horror of the 30-year span between 1950 and 1980 (when the first edition of the book was published). Come to think of it, next year the book will be 30 years old. Someone get Mr. King’s people on the phone, I think it’s time for a sequel.

The thing is, though, I’ve been reading this book now for over a month, and I’ve still got about 75 pages to go. Sure, some ninth graders I know would find it astonishing that I could have read so much in such a short amount of time. On the other hand, my girlfriend Erin could tackle this bad boy before lunch then go on and read The Talisman for an encore. I’m usually in the middle. A book of this length, if I’m on my game, I could usually get through in a week or so.

So why is it taking me so long? In a word: nonfiction. I respect nonfiction. I understand the necessity of it. I even have a few nonfiction books I particularly enjoy. But nonfiction doesn’t grab me the way fiction does, and it never has. Even a book like this one, that’s well-written and fun to read, slips my mind when it’s not in front of me. If a novel is great, I’m dying to pick it up again so I can see what happens next. With most nonfiction there’s no “what happens next,” just “what happened,” which isn’t nearly as compelling a question. So nonfiction, on those rare occasions I read it, takes me much longer.

What’s more, I’d guess that 90 percent of the nonfiction I read is about fiction. Looking back at the books I’ve reviewed over the years, the few fiction books include tomes that analyze the Harry Potter novels, books that dissect the TV show LOST, several books about various aspects of the craft of speculative writing (sci-fi, fantasy, or horror), many books about the history and influence of the comic book medium… even a book about the philosophy of The Office. All books, in one way or another, centered around works of fiction.

The real world bores me. I prefer the fantasy. There’s more control for me there, be it as a writer or as a reader. That’s the way I like it.




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