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The Post-Game Show » Geekery

Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Category

British Steel

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

cavillclarkkent

Full disclosure: I’ve been an admirer of Henry Cavill’s work (by which I mean his bone structure) for a while now. I’m fairly confident that he’s the most handsome man in the world (a position previously held by George Clooney), and he’s overdue a shot at the big time, so I was giddily over-excited to hear that he’s been cast as the new Superman.

From what I’ve seen, the general response online has been very positive. Most agree that he looks the part. He has the jawline, brilliant blue eyes and dark hair. He’s not a bad match for John Byrne’s definitive modern interpretation of the character, though no human being could look good with the bulging neck that Byrne always drew. In fact I’d say Cavill’s only flaw is that he’s perhaps too good looking for Superman, who is the most sexless of all the superheroes. Cavill is also one of the shorter actors to play the role,  but short here means 6′ 1″, so I think the magic of cinema can make it work.

As you may have heard, some people do have a problem with the casting - because Cavill is not American, and Superman is an American icon. The objection is frequently underscored with the question; “How would you feel if an American played James Bond?”

Yet it’s hard to think of a British icon who has not been portrayed by a non-Brit. Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Queen Elizabeth I and, yes, James Bond have all been played by foreigners. In fact the first actor to play Bond was an American named Barry Nelson. Technically Woody Allen also played an American Bond in the 1966 Casino Royale. Even if you don’t count that, two of the five major movie Bonds were Australian and Irish, and plenty of Americans have been considered for the part, including  Adam West, Clint Eastwood, James Brolin and Burt Reynolds.

A better example than James Bond would be Doctor Who (or the Doctor, if you’re picky), who has always been played by British actors on the show, though he, like Superman, is an alien. Some fans probably would be appalled if an American took the role, claiming there is some quintessential British quality to the character that an American can’t hope to grasp, but I would put them in the same crackpot category as the Cavill bashers.

There are some characters that probably should only be played by someone from the right country. Captain America springs to mind. He actually, literally stands as a representative of his country, down to his very name, and I think a substantial crowd would boycott an un-American Captain America. I don’t think many other characters fit in the same category. For all the rest, it’s more important that they are played as the right nationality than that they are played by the right nationality.

And when you get down to the nitty gritty, it actually makes perfect sense for Superman to be played by a non-American. I don’t mean because he’s an alien, since that obviously limits the casting possibilities (and Rene Zellweger would be wrong for the part), but because he is an immigrant. He’s an American icon because he represents the dream of coming to America to achieve. His creators came from immigrant families, and their view of America was through immigrant eyes.

Super-nerdy side note: If you read Action Comics Annual #1 from 1991, it’s established that Superman was legally recognised as having been born in the US (”from an artificial womb”) so that he would be eligible to run for president, but (a) we know that Superman was born on Krypton, (b) this is obviously a very stupid story, and (c) the immigrant reading of Superman is much more romantic and pro-American than the needlessly defensive ‘artificial womb’ reading.

A few people have also complained that Tom Welling should have got the part. You know, the kid from Smallville, who plays pre-Superman Clark Kent. There is so much wrong with this idea that it’s barely worth rebutting, but the most obvious objections are that Welling is a terrible actor with wet eyes, and making a movie that’s associated with a crappy CW show with an audience of three million would needlessly hamper the movie’s appeal. We should all be very grateful to be spared a big screen Tom Welling Superman.

On the other hand, he is an American.

Glee: The Alignment Chart

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

My friend Christopher Bird has a thing for alignment charts. If you don’t know what that means, these people will explain it to you.

This week Christopher made the Mad Men alignment chart, followed by the DS9 alignment chart, and since he’s declared Alignment Chart Week at his his blog, I suspect there’s more to follow.

It seems like the sort of nerdy thing I like to do, so I thought I’d have a go at it - hey, it’s Alignment Chart Week! - and because I thought it was a fairly safe bet that Christopher wasn’t going to do one for Glee, I decided to step in to the breach. The world needs a Glee alignment chart, right? It was either this or classic Warner Brothers musicals. Maybe I’ll do that one next.

Click to make big.

ac-glee1

I know someone will surely call me a misogynist for putting women in all three ‘evil’ slots, when I could have put Sandy Ryerson or Dave Karofsky or Brian Ryan in there. My response to that is, shut up; evil women are awesome.

SDCC 2010: The Vindication of Dr Wertham

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Over half a century ago, psychiatrist Dr Fredric Wertham warned about the corrupting influence of comics. He drew special attention to the ‘injury-to-the-eye’ motif, a common comic trope showing eyes being threatened by sharp objects. It was Wertham’s belief that such gruesome images were encouraging delinquency in America’s youth. “The injury-to-the-eye motif is an outstanding example of the brutal attitude cultivated in comic books”, wrote Wertham, adding, “it causes a blunting of the general sensibility.”

soti-eyemotif

It took about 55 years, but yesterday, one nerd finally stabbed another nerd in the eye. If only Dr Wertham were alive today to see the promise of his fearmongering realised!

The incident happened at the San Diego Comic-Con, and reports are fuzzy, but it seems that two nerds were fighting over seat-squatting in the big hall where the major movie panels take place. And they weren’t even good seats! The police said it was off to the side of the hall! The good news is, the attacker stabbed the victim in the eye with a pen, so comics can still be tied to a culture of literacy in America’s youth.

It will be tempting for the nerd blogs and forums to read far too much into this incident over the next few days. Questions will be asked about security at SDCC (no more pens at book signings!), about the ethics of seat-squatting, and about whether rooms should be cleared between panels - though those questions are raised every year anyway.

There’s also bound to be some attempt to define and expand upon the phenomenon of ‘nerd rage’, and to link this incident to the sort of frothing, intemperate anger that manifests on online message boards, where fanboys in the comfort of their homes thoughtlessly and senselessly hurl out violently invective at writers and artists whose work they don’t appreciate.

These people are not representative, they’re just loud. There’s an inclination in some professional quarters to dismiss all online criticism because of this vocal but unpopular minority, and that’s a shame. The crazies are easy enough to identify, and their impotent anger should easy enough to dismiss. Let’s remember all the people at San Diego this weekend who have never stabbed anyone in the eye.

godhatesnerdsPhoto source.

This incident is the second brush with real-life news at this year’s Comic-Con. The first occurred on Thursday when the bigots from the Westboro Baptist Church went through with their promise to picket the convention. I’m told they lasted about half an hour, and photos reveal that they were substantially outnumbered and outclassed by the counter-protesters, who revelled in their sin of idolatry with signs boasting, ‘All Glory to the Hypno-Toad’, and, ‘Magnets How The *?*! do they work?!’ Nerd pride!

In terms of actual comics news, I’ve been disappointed by how little of interest seems to have seeped out of the convention. Last year’s big announcement from Marvel was that they had acquired the rights to Marvelman - and what an exciting rollercoaster of Marvelman comic releases we’ve had since then! This year, Marvel was a little more stealthy in hinting that it will be bringing CrossGen books back into print.

CrossGen was a publisher with promise. It boasted of having the money to present a serious challenge to the market dominance of Marvel and DC, and it offered up an interestingly diverse slate of titles. Of course, the money thing turned out to be an exaggeration, and the line folded in 2004. Disney acquired the assets in bankruptcy court, and with Marvel now owned by Disney, there was already some speculation about a CrossGen revival under Marvel.

Hopefully that’s what we’re going to get, and if this means new CrossGen books, that’s great. If it only means reprints, that’s also kind of great, just not as great. One thing that I’d really like to see the major publishers get better at is repackaging and republishing old out-of-print material - both their own and other people’s. And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to buy some more Marvel trades that don’t have ‘Dark Reign’ or ‘Siege’ on the cover?

The big ‘other media’ news yesterday was the formal unveiling of the frighteningly handsome Avengers movie cast.

avengerscast

That’s Robert Downey Jr, that SHIELD agent guy, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, and writer/director Joss Whedon. More pertinently, it’s Iron Man, that SHIELD agent guy, Black Widow, Thor, Captain America, Nick Fury, Hawkeye and the Hulk.

This is a much stronger cast than I think anyone ever expected, for a movie that seemed unlikely to ever get made. It should be manageable, though, as all the characters bar Hawkeye will have been introduced by other movies (and even Hawkeye is likely to cameo somewhere, probably in the Captain America movie). It also seems plausible that the Hulk (now played by Mark Ruffalo) could be one of the threats in the story, in keeping with Marvel tradition.

Two things jump out at me about this cast. First, there’s no Don Cheadle/War Machine. That actually makes sense; what’s the value of having two Iron Men in an already crowded ensemble? On the other hand, that makes it a very white cast, but it’s fair to say that the Avengers have always tended a little towards the Aryan. As great as it would be to have Black Panther or Luke Cage in there, I’d rather they were introduced in their own movies first.

Second, there’s only one woman. I would hope that they can add at least one more to the roster, and given Joss Whedon’s penchant for nerd madonnas, I’m sure he’ll find the room. Whedon has confirmed that Ant-Man won’t be in the movie, but Wasp still could be, and as Thor already brings magic into this world, it wouldn’t bend the genre to introduce the Scarlet Witch. Ms Marvel could be a lot of fun - I don’t think ladies with the basic Superman power set have been shown on-screen since Supergirl. I assume they’ll save Mockingbird for a Hawkeye spin-off.

I also have a couple of reservations about this movie. It’s going to be released in 3D, but there’s no word on whether it will be shot in 3D or converted. I’ve yet to see a live action 3D conversion that worked, and besides, I’m already bored of 3D movies - I suspect I won’t be the only one by the time this movie comes out in 2012.

I’m also reticent about Whedon as writer/director. Like Avengers comics writer Brian Bendis, Joss Whedon is very talented, but like Bendis, he has a very distinctive voice as a writer, one that tends to overwhelm the voices of the characters. I don’t think Bendis’s idiosyncracies serve an ensemble cast very well, and though Whedon has had better luck with ensembles, he still feels like an awkward fit for the Avengers.

Of course, Bendis’s Avengers books have been a big success for Marvel, and Whedon’s Avengers will likely be a huge hit as well. That’ll be one in the eye for me.

Two Houses, Both Alike in Dignity

Monday, August 31st, 2009

The House of Mouse is buying the House of Ideas. If you don’t speak cutesy corporate nicknames, that means Disney is buying Marvel - but you knew that already. You’re on Twitter. You’re on the internet. This is not the first blog you’ve been to today. Nerds are flopping all over the place about this one. This is big news!

There have been three main responses that I’ve seen. The first is a dropped jaw, because this has come completely out of the blue - even people working at Marvel have been taken by surprise. The second response has been to identify humorous synergies between superheroes and cartoon characters and chortle about them, because Disney produces neutered entertainment for unsophisicated audiences, and Marvel… hey now wait a minute…

The third has been to ask in shocked tones, ‘but what does this all mean?’ And because the gag reel is best left to Twitter these days, I’m going to dwell on that third option, although this is all rootless speculation on my part, and responsible people will tell you not to listen. With that caveat in place; what does this all mean?

It might mean nothing at all. At least, that was the official line this morning from Marvel editor CB Cebulski on Twitter; “We’re told it’s like when Disney bought Pixar… everything Marvel stays as is.” So, don’t worry, everybody! Disney spent four billion dollars on Marvel (four billion dollars) because they plan to leave everything exactly as it is! And, in other news, when you wish upon a star your dreams come true!

The Disney/Marvel deal is not going to be the same as the Disney/Pixar deal, wherein Pixar’s Steve Jobs became a major shareholder in Disney, and Disney’s animation arm was eaten by Pixar. (If Disney’s comics get eaten by Marvel, that won’t be quite the same shiny plum.) Disney brought Pixar in because they wanted Pixar to provide creative vision for Disney.

Marvel is not going to exercise that degree of leverage. The best Marvel can hope for is that it retains creative control over Marvel. Walt Disney President Bob Iger says that this is indeed the plan; the philosophy is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But who gets to say what does or doesn’t constitute ‘broke’ in the world of comics publishing today? It’s quite a broken industry.

A lot of the online speculation says that this is about movies - a field where Marvel characters have enjoyed unprecedented success in the past decade. Yet the X-Men franchise remains at Fox, the Spider-Man franchise remains at Sony, and the Avengers franchise (including Iron Man, Thor and Captain America) remains at Paramount. If Disney wants a big Marvel movie franchise, it’ll have to build one from scratch, and without any of Marvel’s biggest brands. All existing third-party licensing deals are being honoured, including video game deals.

(There is talk - from John Lasseter himself - of Marvel and Pixar doing something together, which is sort of exciting, except that it would be Pixar’s first foray into licensed properties, and that sort of isn’t exciting, that’s sort of compromising.)

The official press release says that the plan is to “significantly build” both Marvel and Disney through this acquisition. The investor call went further, stating that Disney wants to develop Marvel’s catalogue of lesser-known characters “across multiple medias and territories”. (Yes, they said “medias”, at least they did according to my datas.)

If Disney doesn’t get the hit movies and isn’t going to touch the comics, where does that growth come from? Well, it’ll come from theme park rides and consumer products, according to the PR storm. All I know about theme park rides is that I like them; I don’t know how much of a role character branding plays in convincing people to go on a rollercoaster. Do spider-webs on the car maketh the ride? Given that there are already Marvel-themed rides at Universal Studios, how much demand is there for Aunt May’s Amazing Stairlift-O-Tron?

As for consumer products; a search for ‘disney consumer products’ took me to disneyconsumerproducts.com, where you can read about Disney pyjamas, Disney dolls, Disney bedding, Disney laptops, Disney Eggo waffles, Disney Princess dress-up sets, Disney furniture sets, and even Disney wedding dresses. Now imagine all of that with X-Men logos all over them, or flocks of Silver Surfers. Maybe you too will soon be able to buy the fishtail fluted wedding dress that Mary Jane Watson wore when she married… on second thought, maybe that’s not the best omen.

Even if Disney can now put Spider-Man on a hot water bottle, it presumably can’t put the movie Spider-Man on a hot water bottle, and isn’t that the one boys want? If Disney’s stategy really is to develop second-stringers into merchandisable brands, I’m fascinated to know how they’ll manage it, and to what extent it will rely on Marvel’s pool of creative talent over Disney’s. One wonders if Disney got roped in on the line about Marvel’s impressive stable of 5,000+ characters, when what that really amounts to is a lot of obscure Spider-Man villains that can’t be used because they’re Spider-Man villains.

And of course, if Disney does want to make the characters marketable, how can it not touch the comics? How can they not bring in content guidelines? The obvious parallel to the Disney/Marvel deal is Warner Brothers’ ownership of DC, and it’s no secret that Warner has been nanny-like in its protection of DC trademarks. Can we expect a lighter whip from the company that didn’t want Aladdin to have nipples because nipples are too racy? Is Emma Frost going to have to put on a coat?

Honestly, I think we might be surprised. After all, I was being unfair (for hilarious comic effect!) when I implied that Marvel and Disney only put out neutered entertainment for unsophisicated audiences. Even on Disney’s family entertainment channel, ABC Family, you can currently watch an interracial teenage male-male relationship unfolding on Greek, and that’s consdierably more progressive than anything Marvel has ever put in front of a family audience. And this was a TV channel that Disney liberated from the grisly talons of Pat Robertson! So long as Sleeping Beauty’s castle isn’t on the packaging, Disney can be quite a broad church. Dogma and Kill Bill were both produced under the Walt Disney umbrella. Disney really might leave Marvel alone to do its own thing.

Corporate ownership might even free Marvel up to be bolder than it has been in the past. The notion that you need to be indie to innovate is passé in a Pixar world, and Disney is not Warner Brothers, and Spider-Man is not Superman. The security of having a major company at its back - and the reach that such a company can provide - could actually push Marvel to flex its creative muscles more liberally than before.

CB Cebulski followed up his earlier twittering by adding, “From all I’ve heard up here these past three hours, Disney merging with Marvel is a VERY GOOD thing for us”. I hope so, and I can believe it, and not just because the editors have probably just had their health insurance upgraded, or because freelancers might finally be getting a comp box.

What Disney brings to Marvel is a media machine that vastly outstrips what they’ve been used to, and if that means the talents of folks like Skottie Young or Stuart Immonen might now be exposed to a wider audience, or that Marvel will have more money and resources to scout and develop talent, that’s terrific news.

And maybe that’s the real benefit that Disney gets out of this deal. We already know that comics have become a form of R&D for other media, but that need not only apply to stories and characters; it could apply to creators as well.

(For the record, my favourite joke from a long, grinding morning of Disney/Marvel mash-ups on Twitter, came courtesy of Andy Khouri: “No more muppets”.)

Twilight: Full MMOn

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

welcometoforks

There’s a rumour going around, repeated on some news sites, that a Twilight MMO (massively multiplayer online game) is in development. Yes, a game in which you can immerse yourself in the thrilling setting of Forks, Washington, hailed as the logging capital of the world. At last, a game where kids can escape the dull trudge of small town life and all the petty stresses of high school by pretending to be high school students in a small town.

Oh, but with the addition of womb-nibbling throbbing Mormon psycho sparkle vampires. And teenage dogboys with great abs.

Exciting as this sounds, it seems that the story is a bit of a fraud. A game is being developed - but not by anyone with the rights to develop the game.

If you go to TwilightTheVideoGame.com and click ‘enter’ (because there was always a possibility you might go to a website and not want to enter), you will be treated to a tremorous school flute recital that you cannot switch off, and some happy spew about how Twilight The Video Game will “allow players to immerse themselves into a depper form of storytelling and adventure”.

dogboyThe inappropriate abs of a 17-year-old.

Click on ‘Meet the Staff’, and you can read about Brandon, Bethany, Maile and Beth (all in the third person) and Steve, Gretchen and Christine (all in the first person). Apparently Steve is a “fierce friend” and was adopted as a baby; Bethany shows and grooms dogs; Maile designs packaging for snack foods (hey, I love snack foods); and Brandon regularly earns his place on the Dean’s list (which I assume is a good thing, but it sounds like ‘the naughty step’ to me). Click on the News page and you get… nothing! Click on the Links page and you get… the thrilling realisation that people still make websites with Links pages! Oh, GeoCities, how we miss you.

The stink of fancruft lingers over everything. There is no mention anywhere that author Stephanie Meyer or license-holders Summit Entertaiment are involved in any way. Further investigation reveals that this is a fan project that the creators intend to hand over to Summit for free, on the assumption that Summit will lap it up rather than, say, shut it down with a leaden and humourless cease-and-desist.

tillicumparkDefer your virtual gratification at Forks’  Tillicum Park.

As far as I know, it is the first fan-fiction video game. That in itself is slightly exciting - game-making technology is now so cheap and freely available that people actually can do this stuff in their garage, and while it may not be great today (I’m assuming), it could be great tomorrow. It is the continued democratisation of media. Hurray! And it’s being wasted on Twilight. Boo!

That said, I wish Brandon, Bethany et al luck with their endeavour. Working on the game will probably be a good learning experience for them all, and if they do succeed, well, think of the fun we can all have with a Twilight MMO. I expect the folks at 4chan will be first in line to get accounts.

And yes, the park in Forks, Washington, really is called ‘Tillicum Park’. No, no-one else seems to have noticed how hilarious this is.

SDCC09 Day Four: The Hangover

Monday, July 27th, 2009

It ended with a ‘pfft’. At least, that’s the impression that I get from way up here. After the Marvelman announcement on Friday, it seems the news out of San Diego dried to a trickle. What happened the rest of the weekend? Where did everyone go? Saturday was dead, and Sunday is always dead. In fact, Sunday is where publishers stick their ‘oh and also’ panels; the low priority panels that they don’t expect to draw much of a crowd.

Sunday is when Marvel closed out its schedule with its ‘Women of Marvel’ panel.

blackcatpearlnecklace

Yeah, baby. Feel the representation.

‘Women of Marvel’ is actually about women working for Marvel, rather than the female characters, which is probably just as well given how the company tends to market female-dominated books like Heroes for Hire and the horribly named Marvel Divas. It even seems somewhat remarkable that Marvel can field a six woman team for such a panel, though three of those women are colorists, and one was an editor. The only writer on the panel had proved herself as a novelist first.

Before anyone snaps at me for disparaging colorists, let me be clear; I like colorists. Some of my best friends are colorists. But where else would you see Marvel fielding a panel that’s 50% colorists, except maybe at a colorists panel? Colorists are becoming the nurses of comics. It’s a fine profession, but there are other options for women to pursue. Why can’t Marvel field a panel with at least two female writers, and at least two female pencillers? Maybe even on a panel that doesn’t have the word ‘Women’ in the title? (According to the schedule, ‘Women of Marvel’ was the only Marvel panel with more than one woman on board. Mondo Marvel, aka ‘World of Marvel’, had none.)

magnetohead

The X-Men panel was not on Sunday, but I’m just catching up on that coverage. According to Comic Book Resources: “September is when “Nation X” begins, with two other September shipping specials, ‘Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus’ and ‘Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men’ laying the groundwork for the story. “They all sort of flow into each other,” Fraction told CBR News.”

I’m so confused. I miss the days when they used sequential numbers to get the flowing going. I am very much in favour of putting the crossovers in their own little mini-series, but as soon as you start needing checklists to follow a story, there’s something wrong.

In other news, Scott Pilgrim is becoming a side-scroller video game! I have nothing really to say about this; I’m just excited. If they don’t have an Honest Ed’s level, I’ll cry. (Honest Ed’s is not in the movie. I consider this a disaster.)

zquinto

Zachary Quinto is getting into comics - at last, Sylar in mylar! And when Hollywood comes to comics, you know what that means; generic ideas that the author thinks are original, presented in a style that shows no understanding of the medium, on a schedule that would try the patience of a saint. Hooray!

But, what’s this? Quinto isn’t writing comics? “We’ve talked about it. But I feel like my instincts as a writer probably lend themselves more, at this point, toward screenwriting,” said Quinto. So what is Quinto doing? His production company is teaming up with Archaia to develop new comics, and his role will be… well, it’s not clear. From the sounds of things, he may just be using his star power and geek cred to lure in talent. (When it comes to selling comics, celebrity names don’t seem to count for much.)

Reading between the lines, one suspects the aim here is to produce ‘proof of concept’ comics for potential TV and movie licenses. Let’s hope he can come up with a bigger hits than Jada Pinkett Smith’s Menace, or Rosario Dawson’s Occult Crimes Taskforce.

Finally, let’s talk Torchwood. There was a Doctor Who/Torchwood panel; it wasn’t on Sunday. But let’s talk about it here anyway, because Children of Earth finally wrapped in the US on Friday, which means it’s now safe to talk about it. Spoilers follow, of course.

torchwood-boys

Ahead of SDCC, Russell T Davies spoke to Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Ausiello about the series conclusion and the backlash over the death of Ianto. One of Ausiello’s questions was whether Davies has felt pressured to ‘de-gay’ Torchwood, and Davies’ answer infuriated me:

“I think you can forget about people picking up gay rights as an issue. It’s rather like children picking up nursery blocks and waving them in the air but having no idea what it entails. We’re talking about issues in my entire life here, not just one small television program. If they did research they’d go and look at the history of gay and lesbian characters that I have put on screen. They should simply grow up, do some research, and stop riding on a bandwagon that they actually don’t know anything about.”

There you have it, kids. Russell T Davies is the only gay in the village. He knows about the gay, and you do not. Not even if you are, say, gay media website AfterElton, where they asked this weekend, ‘Who killed the gay better, Buffy or Torchwood?‘. In poll on the same site, which has a predominantly gay readership, more than half of readers said they would not tune in to a fourth season without Ianto. But what do they know about being gay?

Was the death of Ianto homophobic? I actually don’t think so. It is another in the storied canon of ‘kill the queer’ stories, sure, but as with Joss Whedon, I think it comes down to what has the most narrative impact. It was cheap and sloppy writing, but it wasn’t a case of killing the queer because he’s queer.

That’s just my opinion, and other people read it differently, and not because they’re dabbling in arcane things they cannot understand. It is a legitimate question to raise. It is especially legitimate to wonder whether, even if Davies was not consciously being homophobic, he was subconsciously responding to certain pressures.

Russell T Davies has a deeply pompous image of himself as not just a writer, but a ‘writah-darling’, as in, ‘I am a writah, darling’, and this is a manifestation of it at its worst. At the Who panel this past weekend, Davies tried to ameliorate fan rage, saying, “I have nothing but respect for internet fandom: I understand that some things I have said have been taken the wrong way - and I understand that, and that’s OK because sometimes people will always read things the way that makes sense to them.”

So, you see, when he said, “They should simply grow up, do some research, and stop riding on a bandwagon that they actually don’t know anything about”, that was taken the wrong way. Stupid fans.

Torchwood has been confirmed for a fourth series, in which an adorable puppy will join the Torchwood team, only to be flayed alive and drowned in vinegar.

The puppy will be bisexual.

SDCC09 Day Three: Slow News Day

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Would you fight in a war to defend someone else’s rights? Probably not. Given the choice, I think very few of us would lay down our lives in that way.

But would you march for someone else’s rights? Just take a few hours out of your day, to be seen and to be heard, because it might make a difference in the lives of thousands of others? Brother, can you spare the time? Some people do. A minority on a march will be there not for themselves, but for their friends, their family, their country.

Would you vote to uphold someone else’s rights? You’re in the voting booth anyway. All you need to do is tick the right box, and it will make all the difference in the world to the freedoms and happiness of your neighbours. In California, almost half of voters would. Maybe you’re one of the one in two.

Would you change the bar you drink in, if it made a difference to someone else’s rights?

What’s the least you think you might do?

Today is the last day of the San Diego Comic-Con.

There was no news yesterday. Perhaps everyone was too hung over from the Friday night parties to do any reporting? Or perhaps Saturday is no dominated by move and TV show panels that no-one wheels out any announcements on Saturday?

Ain’t It Cool News recapped the first footage from Iron Man 2; both Lost and Heroes had panels (and with Heroes saviour Brian Fuller now off the show again, it’s hard to get excited about another season of that); David Tennant and John Barrowman kissed (it’s not very exciting); DC talked about Blackest Night and Marvel talked about Dark Reign (it’s all so grim and gritty) and since both of those crossover events are already going on, there’s nothing much to say about either.

If the comics journalists are stuck for a story to write about, I have a suggestion. As far as I can tell, none of them have covered the Manchester Grand Hyatt story at all. Not even to challenge it. Not even to present the fact of it. Perhaps they would cover it if someone fed it to them in a press release?

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SDCC09 Day Two: Reds, Whites & Blues

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

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This is Red She-Hulk, because Marvel are not out of new ideas, no sirree. Sure, they’ve done the ‘female version of male character’ thing a lot lately, with the likes of Black Panther, Ultron, Hawkeye, and so on, and they’ve done the ‘evil version of good character’ thing even more, with Red Hulk, Daken, and the entire Dark Reign thing. But ‘evil female version of male good character’? That’s some crazy innovation right there!

I expect the creative process was exhausting, too. ‘Do we go with ‘Red She-Hulk’, or ‘She-Red Hulk’? Let’s have another writers’ retreat’.

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Last night saw the announcement of this year’s Eisner award winners at Comic-Con, with deserving wins for Comic Book Resources, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, Art Baltazar’s Tiny Titans, and Image’s Comic Book Tattoo. Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman won Best Continuing Series, despite not being a continuing series. Whoops. It is a terrific book, though; it’s just in the wrong category (or a badly named category, perhaps).

Get the full results at The Beat, courtesy of Heidi MacDonald.

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The movie version of The Losers is apparently coming along nicely, as series artist Jock released a comic-art poster showing the names of the cast. What’s interesting is that the comic book cast was at least one-third ethnic - Pooch and Aisha. The movie cast has a black actor playing Roque. A Spanish actor is playing Cougar, so presumably he’s being played as  Hispanic. (My comments tell me he was in the comic as well. I don’t recall, but of course, we never saw his face.)

This is a particularly strong example of an odd trend in comics-to-movie (and TV) adaptations. Alicia Masters turned black in Fantastic Four. Kingpin turned black in Daredevil. Pete Ross turned black in Smallville. Iron Man opted for the black Nick Fury. Hollywood is not known for its embrace to diversity, but when it takes on a comic book story it actually has to add black characters. Existing ethnic and female characters also often get a profile boost. Comics are so bad at this stuff that even on a mature readers Vertigo title, Hollywood takes the medium to school. Hollywood. It’s like getting racial sensitivity seminars from Pat Buchanan.

Aside from the Eisners, the biggest news out of SDCC yesterday was that Marvel has acquired the rights to Miracleman, or rather, Marvelman. For years Marvel insisted that we call him Miracleman, now they suddenly want us to call him Marvelman again. So indecisive.

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Marvelman was created in the 1950s by Mick Anglo, and famously reinvented by Alan Moore in the 80s. Fans are treating the acquisition of Marvelman as a big deal, but it’s really just the long-anticipated fulfilment of something set in motion years ago. The purpose of the Neil Gaiman Marvel comic 1602 was to raise money to sue Todd McFarlane for his unauthorised use of the character, and to clarify once and for all who actually held the rights. Even then it was clear that the eventual intent was for Marvel to take ownership and reprint the comics (though it sounds like Marvel does not yet have all the story rights).

The name reversion was also always part of the plan, but it may suggest a worrying development for fans of the character. It seems inevitable that Marvel will try to integrate the character with the Marvel universe, but Marvelman is basically a Superman analogue (by way of Captain Marvel), and as Sentry has proved, Superman analogues do not fit well in the feet-of-clay Marvel world. Squeezing Marvelman into a world of crossovers and Red She-Hulks will be like having characters from The Wire dropped into One Life To Live.

Showing the full extent of his sophisticated understanding of Marvelman, Marvel editor Joe Quesada said, “It is arguably the JD Salinger of comic book characters”. JD Salinger is an author, of course, and not a fictional character. Quesada may have been thinking of Charlie Salinger, Matthew Fox’s character from Party of Five.

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An update on the Manchester Grand Hyatt boycott, which I wrote about earlier in the week. I don’t know if the comic industry has taken notice, but the folks at the Hyatt certainly have. Their marketing director stopped by my blog yesterday to say that Doug Manchester has recanted his position on gay marriage. “Mr. Manchester believes that every American is deserving of the opportunity to receive all of the benefits from civil marriage, gay or straight.”

That sounds good, but it’s only words. Nothing has changed. Mr Manchester spent $125,000 to help strip Californians of their rights. He’s now donating $25,000 to support giving them different rights, plus hotel credit to lure gay customers back to the hotel. That does not balance the books. If Mr Manchester truly believes that every American deserves equal rights, we need action, not words. Let’s see an equal or greater donation in support of gay marriage, from the same wallet that donated $125,000 to take those rights away.

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I’ll leave you with a little palate cleanser; the trailer for Sam Raimi’s new swords-and-sandals TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which debuts in January on Starz and sees Raimi re-teaming with Xena star Lucy Lawless. It looks gloriously violent and shamelessly sleazy - all thighs and biceps as far as the eye can see. While HBO’s Rome did everything on an expensive set, Spartacus is shot on cheap-and-cheerful green screen, 300-style. It will be terrible in all the best ways.

Sources: CBR, Newsarama, The Beat.

SDCC09 Day One: The View from Up Here

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I’m not in San Diego for the Comic-Con. I’ve been three times before, and I was thinking of going again this year, but it’s too daunting a prospect. Tickets and hotel rooms both sold out at such a rate as to suggest the whole thing was going to be a hellish scrum, and that doesn’t seem the best way to spend my money.

So instead I’m watching the news from afar. The big news from yesterday as far as the mainstream media is concerned was the Twilight panel. I twittered last week; “I predict there’s going to be a Twilight-fuelled mob riot at SDCC this year, and at least one comic creator will be killed. Mark my words!”

I was wrong. Well, so far. But the LA Times did report on squabbling in the shanty town that sprang up in the queue for the Sparkle Vampires days in advance. Do I feel like I’m really missing San Diego this year? Who wouldn’t want to be in the same place as thousands of dirty cranky hormonal Twilight obsessives, I say!

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It seems the young girls in the queue (aka Twilight’s intended audience) were being bullied and jumped by the over-entitled ‘Twi-Moms’, the crazy Jean Teasdales who make the Twilight phenomenon so terrifying. It’s one thing to have inappropriate stirrings for buff 17-year-olds, but quite another to be loud and obnoxiously tribal about it at the sprightly age of 40-something.

In tech news, Comixology has announced an app for reading comics on the iPhone, which is interesting, but not necessarily compelling. Reading comics on a screen may be (part of) the future, but I personally don’t much enjoy reading text on a screen the size of an iPhone, and I don’t see comics being any more fun to read that way.

Longbox also announced a few more names signed up for their digital comics service, including NBM, Dabel Brothers and Archaia - but still no ‘killer name’, which is what I think they’ll need to be a big success. The closest they’ve come is the news that some Image creators will be signing up with their own work, but I had already assumed that would be a the case when Kieron Gillen mentioned that he’d written such a provision in to his contract.

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Robot 6 at CBR is running a quote of the day for SDCC, and for preview night they ran a quote from Grant Morrison, which included this:

“I don’t care about geeks, you know? Geeks shouldn’t be given power. When geeks get power, you get Hitler.”

No, Grant, you get Barack Obama.

Actually, that’s bullshit, but it’s not as big a pile of bullshit as the Hitler comparison. It’s so dispiriting to see how readily creators turn on fans when they get mired in crossover, event, and marquee superhero comics and get a greater exposure to the outspoken maniac minority. For whatever reason, the average quality of Grant Morrison’s work was higher before he started writing mainstream DC titles, and if that realisation is making him insecure, he shouldn’t take it out on the fans. That’s totally what Hitler would do if Hitler was writing Batman.

A few movie posters have been unveiled, including one for the boys, and one for the other boys:

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DC Western Jonah Hex is not a comic series I’ve ever read, but I was mildly interested in the movie. This poster has killed that interest stone dead. It looks sterile, tacky, and full of Megan Fox, and it conjures up bad memories of LXG and the laughably bad movie version of Jean Giraud’s Blueberry.

Prince of Persia… well, Jake Gyllenhaal still doesn’t look very Persian, and the wig still looks like a wig, and the choice of font is just odd, but what the hell, he’s pretty, so I am going to go and see this.

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Talented Spaniard Jefte Palo has been announced as the artist on the new Brother Voodoo title at Marvel, written by Rick Remender, and the previews look lovely. I refuse to call it ‘Doctor Voodoo’, as I think it’s patronising and racist to suggest that a black character needs to be called ‘doctor’ to get some respect. If the counter-argument is that ‘Brother Voodoo’ sounds too cliché, well, maybe you shouldn’t be publishing a book about a Haitian houngan with a skull painted on his face? You’re either committed or you ain’t, Joe.

On a final note: a lot of my friends are freelancers for major publishers, and this is a busy week for them, so they probably haven’t had a chance to read my piece on the Hyatt boycott in defence of gay marriage. Here’s the problem: I’m calling on the comic industry to show a social conscience, but the comic industry isn’t taking my calls.

This is my plea to my friends and to anyone else in comics or comics reporting; please spread the word. Whether you agree with the boycott or not, you must agree that it’s better that people make informed choices. “I didn’t know about the boycott” or, “I don’t know what the boycott is for” is the popular meme of the moment. People should know. Please, pass the link around.

Credit: I’m getting my news from CBR and Newsarama. You should too!

SDCC09: San Diego, Why Don’t You Come To Your Senses?

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

What defines a superhero? Powers? Costumes? Code names? Those may be the elements that make a character ’super’. The ‘hero’ part comes from one place; a willingness to fight for what’s right even when it’s not convenient.

The other thing about superheroes is that they’re fictional. The people who read them, and the people who write and draw and publish them, are under no obligation to follow their principals. We normal, ordinary folk can relish these tales of brave men and women standing up against wicked deeds, but when the time comes for us to stand up for an idea, well, that’s where the line is between fiction and reality.

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Which brings us to San Diego Comic-Con 2009, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt. SDCC is the biggest event in the comic book year, bringing together thousands of fans in one huge sweaty hall. It’s one of the biggest conventions to hit San Diego every year, and the hotels in the area are always booked out.

One of the official hotels is the Manchester Grand Hyatt, owned by Doug Manchester. In 2008, Doug Manchester donated $125,000 to the successful effort to strip Californians of their right to same-sex marriage with Proposition 8. For the past 12 months there has been an organised boycott of Manchester’s three hotels - the Grand Hyatt and the Grand del Mar in San Diego, and the Whitetail in McCall, Idaho. The boycott does not apply to other Hyatt-operated hotels.

Labour leaders and gay rights groups have backed the boycott.

The comic industry does not.

On the one year anniversary of the boycott last week, organisers claimed they had cost the chain $7 million in business.

But not comic book business.

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Comic book publishers, writers, editors and artists are all staying at the Manchester Grand Hyatt this week. I won’t name names, because I know many people had forgotten about the boycott even though this is the second year that it has hit the Comic-Con, and the organisers of the boycott did not do a good job of getting word out to the industry. I also feel that naming names would make people defensive, and I would rather they were contrite.

The problem - and it’s an appreciable one - is that the San Diego Comic-Con is huge, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt is only two blocks from the convention centre, and it is traditionally the social and business hub of the whole event. Most of these people work on superheroes, but they are not heroes. They will not do the right thing if it’s inconvenient to their business, or worse, to their buzz.

Last year some attendees argued that the boycott would punish the wrong people - the hotel staff. That’s an odd argument. People aren’t going to sleep in the streets or drink water all weekend if they are not at the Hyatt. Some waiter somewhere will get your tip, and he won’t be less deserving than the waiter at the Hyatt. When you choose to eat in one restaurant, your heart cannot bleed for all the waiters in all the other restaurants you walked past.

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The other argument against a boycott is that people can spend their dollars, but mark them with a word or phrase or symbol that shows that this money comes from a queer-friendly source. Even assuming that people buying beers that they intend to expense later will be paying in cash, how will those markers ever make it to the account sheets? Even if every pro-gay person who stays or drinks at the Hyatt during this convention goes to the front desk and registers their objection to Doug Manchester’s position, will they be heard? It’s better than doing nothing, but only barely. It’s a fig-leaf for the conscience rather than a response.

The boycott is not unique to SDCC, and it has had an impact, because Doug Manchester is reeling. Two months ago, ahead of the convention season, Manchester tried to make amends - in the most wretched way possible. Having donated $125,000 to oppose gay marriage, he pledged to donate a fifth as much, just $25,000, in support of… civil unions. That’s not a reversal of his anti-gay discrimination. That’s the same position from a new direction.

Manchester also promised $100,000 in credit to local gay and lesbian groups - a bribe that gay groups have said they will reject as ‘blood money’, should it ever materialise (it hasn’t yet). All of this comes after the fact, after Proposition 8 passed in California and millions of gays and lesbians were stripped of their rights. Far too little, far too late.

Doug Manchester wants the gay dollar, but he still does not support gay equality. The boycott continues. It should continue, either until Manchester recants his position and makes a donation greater than $125,000 to a marriage equality group, or until Proposition 8 is repealed or overturned.

But the comic industry is not part of the boycott. Every dollar spent by the comic industry at the Manchester Grand Hyatt is a dollar spent in support of hate.

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Fortunately these comic book people all work in the media, and that puts them in a great position to fight that hate. One of the easiest ways to combat prejudice is to increase the visibility of diversity. The major comics publishers have skirted by with a minimum commitment to diversity, usually doing less than the least they could do, and sometimes just edging across that line as non-committally as possible. Even smaller publishers tend to shy away from gay content, feeling that it’s a different audience and a different market, rather than part of their audience and part of their market.

It is unfortunate that money spent by that audience is being used to line the pockets of a gay rights opponent. One might charitably assume that most of the pros who make this mistake are doing so in ignorance. Hopefully they will not remain in ignorance, and having recognised their error, will be happy to redress the balance through their work. After all, as of this week they cannot claim neutrality. They can either stand by their support of Doug Manchester and Proposition 8, or they can stand against it.

Most people don’t have what it takes to be a hero, and stand up when it’s difficult to do so - not when there are beers on the table and the company is buying. But these people don’t have to be villains.