Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The 500-Pound Super-Intelligent Gorilla In The Room

Conventional wisdom states that when someone from a marginalized group expresses concerns about their race's treatment or portrayals to a person in a non-marginalized group, the best move for said non-marginalized person (i.e. me) is to just shut up for a moment, step back, listen to what the other person has to say, and fully weigh what they're telling you. That's extremely wise advice.

The thing is, you can do all that with a concerted effort and still disagree with what they're telling you. Listening to someone doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with them or acquiescing to their position. It doesn't even always mean that they're right and you're wrong, or even that either of you is wrong. Just as they have a perspective you don't, there may be times that you have insights they're not aware of. If you still feel you're right, the best thing you can do is state your case as considerately as possible.

I'm about to do precisely that now, so please bear with me.

Recently, DC released their "World Of Flashpoint" map, which drew harsh but justifiable criticism from comics blogs everywhere, including mine, for its jaw-dropping racial tone-deafness in labelling Africa as "Ape-Controlled".

One of the places where it was heavily discussed is this post at the DC Women Kicking Ass site, where many back-and-forth discussions took place in the comments section. (Actually, too many. One severe limitation of the DCWKA comments section is that the format doesn't accommodate long threads very well.) Some commenters, including Sue, the main DCWKA blogger herself, contended that the problem was also that the very concept of gorillas, even Grodd, taking over Africa, still had racial undertones and also lacked imagination.

Here are some comments (combined) from dcwomenkickingass (Sue) :

There are two issues.

1) The tone deaf labeling. Grodd Controlled would have mitigated that. Under the control of Grodd as well.

2) The unimaginative use of Africa. Flashpoint is supposed to "change everything":

- Thomas Wayne the Batman

- Aquaman an Aryan despot

- Wonder Woman a crazed leader whose troops are rumored to deball any male who comes on her territory

- Captain Cold a hero

And Grodd a leader in Africa.

 ....it's still Grodd = Africa.

Grodd = Australia, now that would have a similar change in Status quo.

But Son of Baldwin takes things even further. Here were some summarized thoughts from him (also multiple comments combined):

Says who, what? That DC didn't have a single black superhero at the time it created a city of talking simians in Africa or that at the time that DC created Gorilla City, one of the prevailing racist stereotypes was depicting black people, ESPECIALLY those on the African continent, as apes? 

Both of those are verifiable historical matters. Take a course on race in America or comb DC's archives. The information is available if you look.

Marvel is no saint, but in the Marvel Universe, the greatest place in Africa is Wakanda, a nation of civilized, technologically advanced African PEOPLE.

In the DC Universe, the greatest place in Africa is Gorilla City, a nation of civilized, technologically advanced African GORILLAS.

But what about the continent's greatest superhero, Vixen? Surely her people are something special. Nope. Just your average superstitious savages who live in huts--at least, that's how they were depicted in her recent mini-series.

I don't know about you, but that's a very revealing comparison to me.

And this is where I have to get off the train.

Sue has a good point about the lack of imagination in many aspects of Flashpoint. While Johns can be a good writer at times, he often displays all the creativity and originality of a Xerox machine, which is a real liability if your job title is "Chief Creative Officer". In terms of imagination, he's no Grant Morrison, Jack Kirby, or even Bob Haney. (Did we really need "Amazons Attack Redux - Now With More Castration", Geoff?)

But where Sue and I part company is where she thinks Grodd controlling the entire African continent is an insufficient change compared to the other changes she mentioned. Let me point out some of the elements in her examples above which also didn't change:

Batman - Still a Wayne, still in Gotham.
Diana - Still an Amazon from an all-female civilization.
Aquaman - Still a water-breathing Atlantean.
Captain Cold - Still shady and brutally violent, as his freezing of Piper's throat attests.

Also, allow me to compare Grodd's status quo in "Flashpoint" to that of another villain, Lex Luthor, back during the "President Lex" period a few years back. Whereas Grodd had controlled Gorilla City on-and-off throughout Flash history, the Post-Crisis Lex Luthor exercised great power over the city of Metropolis during his on-and-off time as the CEO of Lexcorp. But in 2000, Lex ran for and won the U.S. presidency in the DCU. To me, that represented a significant (albeit temporary) change in the status quo. However, if I used the same argument Sue applied to Grodd for Lex, it wouldn't be a significant change because Lex Luthor = United States.

Which brings me to Baldwin's contention that Gorilla City's very existence is racist. I can't get behind that conclusion, but I can empathize with the thought process he must have used in arriving at it. I even wrote about it.  Essentially, without a sufficient counterweight in the form of fully-realized black heroes and supporting characters in comics (or any other medium, for that matter), any affronts or perceived affronts can seem much heavier.

And, make no mistake about it, DC in particular had no such "counterweights" in the Silver Age. Baldwin's correct: DC didn't have any black heroes until the early 70's. It definitely didn't have any at the time John Broome, Carmine Infantino, and Julius Schwartz created Gorilla City. Even now, the number of black heroes and supporting characters in total, let alone centered in Africa, is severely lacking at DC.

Baldwin's also right about the prevailing racist stereotype of depicting black people as apes, and even how black characters were drawn similar to apes in earlier decades prior to the Silver Age (by virtually everyone, not just DC). A recent trip to the Lincoln Museum reminded me that these depictions were prevalent in drawings for hundreds of years.

I'll even spot some things Baldwin didn't mention. Last August, I got the chance to meet  former Legion of Super-Heroes artist Mike Grell face to face at the Chicago ComiCon. We had some laughs about the costume of Tyroc, the first black Legionnaire, and how he designed it as silly as he could. Prior to meeting him, I had read some articles explaining why Grell did that: in protest of the racism behind the creation of the character, particularly Tyroc's racial separatist origins. I'd also read how Grell and writer Jim Shooter had intended the character of  Soljer in the story "Soljer's Private War" to be a black man, but that editor Murray Boltinoff had ordered the character colored pink (Caucasian). I'd also read how, many years before that, Shooter had intended Shadow Lass to be the first black Legionnaire, only to have that nixed in favor of giving her blue skin.

Oh, and did I mention the same Broome and Schwartz who gave us Gorilla City also gave Hal Jordan's Eskimo sidekick Tom Kalmaku the nickname Pieface?

So you see, with all the info I've presented above, how DC doesn't exactly deserve the benefit of the doubt here. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they're actually guilty in the case of Gorilla City in particular or Silver Age intelligent gorillas in general.   Simians had become particularly popular as the result of films like King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. In fact, the Kong movie was remade in 1962. (The trend of talking animals in general was also popular with films like Dr. Dolittle and TV shows like Mr. Ed.) It makes sense that Silver Age comics might choose to cash in on this trend, even without any racial biases. Plus, while it's true about the stereotyping of dark-skinned people as talking simians, two things make me doubt this was the intent with the Silver Age talking gorillas. First, DC's Silver Age artists, including the aforementioned Mr. Infantino, drew them very distinct and ape-like. Second, these talking simians were always depicted at least as intelligent as the humans around them; in most cases, they were far more intelligent. Plus, as in the case of Gorilla City, their civilizations were much more advanced. If racism were the intent wouldn't the opposite have been true?

Most importantly, though, there's the one key fact I can't get past. The real reason why the argument that Gorilla City and Grodd's conquest of Africa is racist just completely falls apart for me:

Gorillas are native to Africa.

That's why Gorilla City is located in Africa: because Africa is gorillas' native habitat in real life. The question I've heard is "why couldn't they just have Grodd take over another continent, like Australia?". My question is:  Why would he? Wouldn't a would-be conqueror like Grodd start by taking over his own home turf first to establish a beachhead and then expand outward? The only reason I can see for not doing that is a strong resistance in his own land (i.e. Superman in Metropolis or Prince T'Challa in Marvel's Africa), and, as Baldwin points out, DCU lacks such strong figures or teams in Africa.

The next question might be "But if Professor Zoom can make Batman Thomas Wayne, why can't he move Gorilla City or even gorillas in general to, say, Australia?" Again, the question is "Why would he?" Based on what I've seen so far, Zoom's done a lot of playing around with the people, but he's kept the geography fairly intact. The other cities we've seen have appeared to stay in the same location. Coast City, for one thing, is exactly where it was pre-Flashpoint. (See the latest Booster Gold issue as proof.) . So I can't see why Gorilla City would be the exception.

Whatever weaknesses Johns has in terms of imagination, I can't fault him on internal logic or consistency here.

I'll admit: I've got no special line on the general consensus of African-Americans, or any other group, on any subject. But I have to guess it's not necessarily unanimous on Grodd, seeing how the late Dwayne McDuffie saw fit to give him a prominent role in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon he oversaw.

I'll also admit I have a bias: Some people may think that intelligent gorillas are racist. But me?


I think they're AWESOME!!!!!

(Special thanks to DC Women Kicking Ass for the inspiration and Superdickery for the pictures.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sue Richards.......

....is awesome, and knows it.

(From FF#4 by Jonathan Hickman and Barry Kitson.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When She's Bad, She.....Looks Really Good!

I've noticed something with Wonder Woman's costumes over the last few years.

Many times when they have a story arc or event where a superheroine goes bad and gets a different costume, the new outfit, and consequently the corrupted heroine herself, tend to get more sexualized. The most blatant example recently was Mary Marvel in "Countdown" and "Final Crisis", but this goes as far back as Sue Richards as Malice back in the 80's Fantastic Four book.

But in the case of Wonder Woman recently, I've seen the exact opposite. The sexual elements actually get played down. The warrior aspects get played up. As a result, whenever Diana swings to the dark side, her costumes are pretty badass.

Take Blackest Night, for example.

Sure, there was a lot of uproar about Star Sapphire Wonder Woman....

....but before Wondy was saddled with that purple monstrosity, she was turned into a Black Lantern and looked like this....

Sure, this costume's about as revealing as Wondy's classic outfit, but it also looks more foreboding.

And here's the full outfit.

Looks kind of like Xena by way of 30 Days Of Night.

Hell, even Greg Horn couldn't make it look pornographic.

Black Lantern Diana is someone you don't want to mess with.

And now Flashpoint: Wonder Woman And The Furies#3 continues that trend.

While I'm not thrilled at yet another "Savage Amazons" event, this outfit might be a bright spot.

What makes these costumes work is that they emphasize the "warrior", rather than the "sexy siren".  And that's something comic artists should keep in mind when designing costumes for women who'll spend the bulk of their time fighting.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Flashpoint Map - REALLY, DC?????

I saw this map over at Cheryl Lynn Eaton's Digital Femme blog:

(Click to enlarge)

This is the world map according to the revised Flashpoint universe.

Before I zoomed in on the map, I thought Cheryl might have merely been upset at the Amazons being part of the war zone and portrayed as warlike yet again.

Then I zoomed in, took a closer look, and my jaw hit the floor.

OK, I get that Grodd plays a key role in this event, particularly since this is a Flash-related crossover. I understand that he's even getting his own mini, Flashpoint: Grodd Of War. I'm even familiar enough with the Flash mythos to know the history of Gorilla City, Grodd's original stomping ground, and to guess how it might be incorporated in the crossover, and to conceive how its forces could be formidable enough, under Grodd's direction and with Grodd-augmented numbers, to accomplish their conquest.

But are you honestly telling me that nobody at DC could have possibly seen the problem with THIS?????

Are you fucking KIDDING ME????

They couldn't have picked a better and less offensive designation like, say, "Grodd-Controlled"?

No one looked at this map and saw how this could have been just a little off-putting??? Particularly to African-American readers (like Cheryl, for example)? You know, ones who might have been tempted to give this crossover a look?

Sure, I get the Flashpoint context, but did anyone at DC consider the real-life historical context at play here, particularly with regard to the aforementioned reader demo? Even now, there are still too many people in the US who use that designation to describe the actual African continent.

It was bad enough they whitewashed and blond-washed XS, the one African-American Flash Family member, in the free previews. Now there's this.

All I have to say to DC at this point is:


Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Night Fights: Repeat Rehash Revenge - Round 6: Mild-Mannered Mayhem!

After a one-week hiatus, Friday Night Fights is back! For the current Repeat Rehash Revenge bout, our gracious host Spacebooger has commanded that the participants use one or more characters featured in the immediate previous round's fight as a participant in this round's fight. Here's my previous entry to refresh your memories of the players available to me. So who will I use this week? (Here's a hint: Reread this post's title.)

For Round 6, I'm going with Adventures Of Superman#442, written by John Byrne and illustrated by Jerry Ordway and Andy Kubert. Let me introduce the villains for this round, Psi-Phon and Dreadnaught. What's their schtick? Allow them to explain in their own words.

In a nutshell: Every time a  hero uses a particular superpower, Psi-Phon (the little guy) analyzes that power, shuts it down through mind-control, and telepathically feeds his analysis to Dreadnaught (the big guy), who replicates that power. So after a hero uses a power against them, he or she instantly loses it.

First, they battle Superman, who loses all his powers to them and barely escapes with his life. Then they go up against and defeat, in order....


.....Martian Manhunter.....

.....Elongated Man.....

.....and even Captain Marvel!

Who can possibly defeat these two villains? Why, none other than....

......CLARK KENT!!!!

Yes, CLARK KENT!!! Mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper!

CLARK KENT!!! Bereft of his powers but armed with a powerful force-field belt borrowed from Professor Emil Hamilton!

CLARK KENT!!! Who just happened to have appeared as an observer in last round's fight! (See how that works?)

Go to it, Clark!!

Mild-mannered, my @$$!!!!

You can say that again, little dude!!

So who will I use for next week's round? Clark? The Martian Manhunter? Aquaman? Elongated Man? The Big Red Cheese? Or maybe even.....Psi-Phon and Dreadnaught? Tune in two weeks from today and find out!!

In honor of tonight's depowering motif, here's some appropriate fight music from Arcade Fire.

For more mild-mannered melees, click here. And don't forget to vote!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Smallville Series Finale - Big Overture, Little Show!


I'll start with a disclaimer and a confession: I stopped watching "Smallville" years ago, around the time the network started using the show to cross-promote its WWE Smackdown program by having WWE wrestlers play Phantom Zone escapees. Since then, I've only watched three episodes (the Legion ep, the first Zatanna ep, and the Booster Gold ep) in their entirety prior to the finale. Any knowledge I had of the events of this season has come primarily from Chris Sims and David Uzimeri's weekly "Smallvillains" installments over at Comics Alliance.

I set the DVR to record the finale Friday while my wife and I watched "Thor" at the theater.  (We both enjoyed it immensely. Screw the Avengers, I want a Warriors Three movie!!)  I watched the "Smallville" finale Saturday..... and was immediately reminded WHY I stopped watching the show in the FIRST PLACE.

I watched this for the same reason that most people did: 1) To see Clark's showdown with Darkseid, 2) to see Clark actually fly, and 3) to see finally see Clark in the Superman costume. I was disappointed on all counts.

The pacing of the episode was horrendous. This finale could have served as a tutorial for how to needlessly pad a television program. This made reality show final results episodes look quick and efficient by comparison. There's no doubt that many viewers shared the same thought I kept having through the vast majority of this show: "GET...... ON......WITH.....IT!!!!!!!!!!" Say what you will about the "Twilight" movies and their excessive angsting over the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle, but at least they actually delivered some memorable action sequences. Not so on the "Smallville" finale. Sure, there was ample time for two or three extended speechifying scenes between Clark and Jonathan Kent's ghost, but apparently not enough time to treat "Superman vs. Darkseid" as more than an afterthought.

After the "Previously On..." portion which quickly recapped the entire series and got me up to speed, we see a framing sequence set 7 years later with Chloe Sullivan reading the story of "Smallville" to her son. After that, we're back in the present with the first hour focused on several simultaneous plots. There's the "will they or won't they" question about whether Clark and Lois' impending marriage is still on, as well as the efforts of Tess Mercer aka Lutessa Luthor to notify people that Apokolips, a planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it, is headed towards Earth. It seems that Apokolips has been drawn to Earth by the collective will of the millions of earthlings possessed by Darkseid's Omega mark, one of whom includes Bruce "Batman" Wayne Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen, who has not only replaced Clark's wedding band with Gold Kryptonite designed to permanently negate his super-powers, but has also shut down the satellite tracking systems of the Watchtower (not the Jehovah's Witnesses group but rather the Justice League's HQ, which is essentially the Birds of Prey Clock Tower lifted clean) in order to prevent them from detecting Apokolips, because apparently otherwise there would have been no way to detect the approach of a planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it heading towards Earth.

Clark and Lois agree they're going to tie the knot after reading each others' wedding vows (with Lois' having been edited and marked up with a red pen - a very nice touch!) and we actually proceed to the wedding scene, at which point I knew that this finale would be really bad.

Why? Because after watching the "Booster" episode, I know that this season Clark and Lois have been taking great pains to cultivate the Clark Kent persona we know and love, a major part of which is having Clark wear horn-rimmed glasses to disguise his face so that he may appear in public in his hero persona maskless without them and not get recognized as Clark. It was explained as "if The Blur (Clark's pre-Supes codename) doesn't wear a mask, Clark Kent has to". Secret identity, right?

So, of course, after all that, Clark actually decides to forgo wearing his horn-rimmed glasses for his wedding.

As someone who just got married back in 2009, allow me to point out the glaring problem here: You know all those clicking noises you heard as Clark and Lois were walking down the aisle? Those were cameras.  If that wedding is anything like real-world weddings, that means there are not only the official wedding album pictures but also friends' and relatives' individual pics. In short, a groom will probably be photographed more on that day than at any other point in his life. Perhaps even more than at every other point combined.

And don't think those pictures won't get around. In addition to the wedding albums, there are modern technological marvels like scanners. And jpeg files. And e-mail. And Facebook. There were pictures of my wedding on Facebook roughly one year before I even got a Facebook account, thanks to my friends. So you can see why Clark Kent not wearing his glasses on his wedding day is an extremely dumb idea.

Look, I wear glasses during about 90-95% of my waking moments, but I'm still vain enough to ditch the specs for contacts during nights out, parties, and especially weddings. So I understand a guy wanting to look his best for his own wedding day. However, I'm not trying to maintain a secret superhero identity.

That severe lapse signalled to me as clear as day: I'm in for a rough ride. That, and the fact that Clark's mom Martha Kent was actually saving a place for Pa Kent's ghost.

After that, Bruce Oliver is about to place the Gold K ring on Clark's finger because, for some reason, "Smallville" Gold K only takes away powers if the intended victim wears it first. Whatever, "Smallville"! Chloe warns Clark, a fight ensues, Clark gets thrown through the stained glass chapel window, Clark somehow inspires Bruce Oliver to fight off the Omega mark, and Bruce Ollie cries an X-Files-style black ooze tear. At which point Clark turns to see the planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it through the broken stained glass window. So it's back to JLA HQ to get more info on the problem.

So far, all this stuff has happened in the first hour, and it's a 2-hour finale. Still plenty of time for a grand battle royale in the second half, with Clark marshalling the forces of the Justice League, the Justice Society, Booster Gold, the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, and every other hero on the planet in an epic showdown with Darkseid and his evil minions, right? Yeah, right. If you believe that, boy, are you watching the wrong show! This is "Smallville", after all.

So of course we need to have a side plot where Tess/Lutessa is captured by an alternate Lionel Luthor, who has sewn up all of his son's cloned parts into a FrankenLex. FrankenLex is only missing one organ, a heart, which Lionel plans to extract from Tess. Tess has other ideas and goes all Jason Bourne on the scientists before shooting Lionel. Tess runs away and the Smoke Monster  the Man In Black Darkseid appears. After Lionel offers his soul in exchange for reanimating FrankenLex, Darkseid rips out Lionel's heart Temple-of-Doom-style and takes over his body.

We also have a scene where Bruce Oliver confronts Granny Goodness, Desaad, and Glorious Godfrey as Batman Green Arrow, complete with green hoodie and voice modulator. (I'd love to see an episode where that thing goes on the fritz, leaving him sounding like either Barry White or a talking chipmunk.) Batman Green Arrow then fires three Batarangs arrows into their chests, exploding them into smoke. No, really!

And finally, we have Lois learning that the President and his staff plan to nuke Apokolips, so she steals a press pass from a similar-looking reporter and boards Air Force One, where we're treated to Lois giving an inspiring speech about heroes and the Blur in particular and the staff reacting like she's completely insane, but holding off on the nukes.

The bulk of the last hour consists mostly of Clark getting pep talks. Pep talks from Martha. Pep talks from Chloe. Pep talks from the speedily-recovered Lex. Even pep talks from the Jonathan Kent's ghost.  Don't get me wrong: It was nice to see Michael Rosenbaum, John Schneider, Annette O'Toole (still hot at 59), and John Glover and his Magnificent Mane back again, but it would have been even nicer if they'd gotten material worthy of them. Schneider is especially ill-served here, with the repeated scenes of Clark consulting throughout the show with his the vision of his dead dad , who advises him to trust Jor-El and acts as if Jor-el is still alive rather than a computer simulation. Has Clark somehow become Super Haley Joel Osment?  Or Super Raines?

So now we finally get the fight we've been waiting for: Clark versus ...... Darkseid in Zombie Alternate Lionel Luthor's body. (Once again, whatever, "Smallville"!!) Zombie Alt-Lionel throws Clark around the Kent barn, when suddenly Clark hears Jonathan's voice once again advising him to listen to Jor-El. At this point we are treated to another a five-minute series retrospective in Clark's head, and then we see Clark floating in midair! He's .... instantly learned to fly!(Cue the Foo Fighters music.) Now it's time for the battle royale where Clark.... flies through Darkseid/Lionel and makes him disappear into smoke. Just like that. Fight over. Yawn.

From here there's a final scene between Lex and Tess in which Lex stabs Tess to death to spare her from becoming like him and Tess infecting him with some kind of memory-wiping toxin that erases his memories via yet another series flashback sequence. By all rights, Lex should be drooling on the floor like an infant after this, but, hey, it's "Smallville", so he's just casually walking around his office instead.

Finally - FINALLY! - Clark heads to his Fortress, consults Jor-El, and gets the super-suit, at which point Clark flies out of the Fortress while switching into the suit and I'm thinking finally - FINALLY - I'm going to get to see what I've been waiting for since the show started: Tom Welling in the Superman costume. Even this show couldn't possibly disappoint us with this moment, right? Right?


 Sure, maybe Tom Welling puts on the suit, but it's not like the viewers get to actually see it. Instead, we get either 1) far-away shots where you can see the cape and a shadow and little else, 2) tight close-ups of Welling's face, or 3) extreme close-ups of the costume, particularly the cape. Why did they cheat their viewers like this? Welling apparently has the physique to make the costume work. Did they think the costume was too corny? Sure, they can show Aquaman, Hawkman, and Booster Gold's NASCAR outfit with full decal array, but Superman's outfit is too hokey? Come on!

The next thing we see is Superman (from a really far distance, of course) pushing Apokolips away from Earth . In the space of about ten minutes, he's gone from not being able to fly to singlehandedly moving a planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it into space. But wait! There's a shot of Supes floating over Earth. Closer. Closer. We're about to get a clear view of Welling in the suit......

.....Aaannnd we immediately pan over to a Superman comic! ARRGH! We've jumped 7 years later to 2018, where Chloe is reading her son a "Smallville" comic. (And, hey, the cover price is still $2.99. Man, when DC says "holding the line", they mean it!) We see that the kid, despite being around 5, has a full-blown adult-sized bow and arrow set in his room, because Chloe apparently has no concept of child safety.

Pan over to the Daily Planet, where we discover that Lex, despite having his memories completely erased 7 years earlier, is somehow lucid enough to have just been elected President, despite the fact that 2018 is not a Presidential election year. We hear Perry from his office (Michael McKeon or a soundalike?) and we see that there's a new Jimmy Olsen replacing his "brother" who died a few seasons ago (both played by the same guy.) The scene also undercuts the suspension of disbelief required to accept Clark's horn-rimmed glassed as a plausible disguise by........having Lois also wear horned-rimmed glasses! And Jimmy 2.0 still recognizes her

Lois goes down the stairs and collides into Clark, who's apparently calling her "Miss Lane" in public despite the fact that they were almost married 7 years ago. Apparently, they'd put off their wedding for seven more years instead of merely a month or two. Once again: Whatever, "Smallville"! Clark hears an emergency, unbuttons his shirt on the roof, we see the "S", aaannd....Credits!

God, the writers couldn't have messed this up more if they were Marvel sleeper agents.

The entire finale reminded me of DC's World War III miniseries a few years back. That was when DC finished up Infinite Crisis, immediately jumped all their comics forward one year under the "One Year Later" banner, and then began publishing the maxiseries 52 that was supposed to chronicle what went on in the 1-year gap. I say "supposed to" because over the course of the maxi, writers Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka came down with a severe case of "mission creep" and forgot to address many of the DCU status quo changes from the missing year. So, to fix that, DC released the World War III mini which, like the "Smallville" finale, was designed to fill in all the continuity gaps and, also like the "Smallville" finale, was terrible.

The actors, for the most part, did what they could with the material. Erica Durance stands out as my favorite live-action Lois so far. Justin Hartley, despite the bad hoodie and voice modulator, did an admirable job as Bruce Oliver, and would have shined in either a Green Arrow series or as Aquaman in the aborted "Mercy Reef".  O'Toole, Schneider, and Alison Mack did well despite what they were given. And Rosenbaum and Glover were, well, Rosenbaum and Glover.

But Tom Welling's acting on this show has been an enigma. It seems any time he's been called upon to make a departure from his default Clark mode, whether it's being Bad Clark, being Lionel-in-Clark's-body in "Transference", or crying while watching an old film of Pa Kent shortly after Pa's death, he's delivered the goods. But his standard Clark line readings are as flat as a pancake, and the finale is no exception.

The essential problem with "Smallville" is that it stayed around for about four or five seasons too long, with no established game plan of how the series would proceed, save for the ending status quo. The "no flights, no tights" rule kept Clark far too static for far too long. Clark's constant moping and vacillating and his inability to fly were fine when he was a teen; it was part of his evolution. But in full-grown adulthood, these got irritating. Having Supergirl, Zod, and practically every other Kryptonian except Clark flying made Clark look like he belonged in the remedial class, rather than looking like the exceptional character he should be. (It would have been more organic if he had discovered his flight power much earlier and developed his control over time, even having some comedic "Greatest American Hero" style mishaps along the way, rather than having it all handed to him by Jor-El at the last second). And having all these other heroes, including even Booster and Beetle, make their debuts before Superman makes Supes look much less like a superhero pioneer.

As the show plodded through and started to lose ratings, the producers started bringing in more and more DCU guest stars. But what I found telling are the DC characters they didn't bring in. No, I'm not talking about Batman, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern. I mean characters that would have actually been relevant to a high school or college age Clark. Sure, we got the Legion, but where was Mon-El? Where was Lori Lemaris?

For most of the show it looked like the producers and writers were throwing things at the wall hoping for traction, and they forgot they were supposed to be giving us Superman's story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hornitos - Now With 100% More Rape!!!

Two weeks ago, I saw a very disturbing TV commercial, but afterwards I could not remember the name of the product the ad was plugging. I even searched vainly on Google and still had no success. Until last Wednesday, that is, when Ami Angelwings wrote about it here. It turns out the commercial is for Hornitos Tequila.

(Take a moment to view the commercial here before coming back.)

OK, welcome back. Anyone else as creeped out by this as I am (and Ami obviously is)?

Here's a brief synopsis of the commercial:

(SCENE: A woman named and a man are walking in an apartment. )

WOMAN (gently purring): "I don't know what's come over you tonight, Mike." (Goes off to get some drinking glasses.)

"Mike's" cell phone goes off and we see an exact twin of "Mike" calling from an airport. Their conversation is as follows:

AIRPORT TWIN: “Dave, did you tell April I wasn’t going to make it?”

APARTMENT TWIN aka DAVE aka THE FAKE MIKE: “I gotcha covered bro.”

AIRPORT TWIN aka THE REAL MIKE:  "I love you, man."

(April walks to Dave with clinking two tequila glasses and smiling seductively. The real Mike hears April's giggling from the other end and is really confused.)

VOICEOVER GUY: “Hornitos™ Premium Tequila: Purer than your intentions.”

Can you see the problem here? If not, let me sum it up: Dave is about to rape April in the commercial.

No, really! Reason it through: April invites Dave back to her apartment actually thinking he's Mike. She has no reasonable way to know he's actually Dave, and Dave shows no intention of disclosing his true identity. So if none of the facts above changes when April consents to sex, she's really consenting to have sex with Mike only; she does not consent to sex with Dave. Hence my referring to it as rape. April is not giving informed consent.

But apparently, not everyone sees it that way. Obviously, the people who wrote and greenlighted the ad didn't. In fairness, this type of rape is much less likely than other scenarios in the real world (although Ami was kind enough to link to a real-life case in her post).  But it still underscores the fact that many people, including the makers of the ad, are too ignorant about rape, even today. There are still too many people, both male and female, who actually respond to rape, even now, with victim-blaming statements like "She shouldn't have been walking in that neighborhood alone" or "She shouldn't have been wearing such a low-cut outfit". (My standard comeback to statements like these is "Yeah, where the fuck did she think she was, a CIVILIZED COUNTRY???" Feel free to use that in the future.)

By the way, "lack of informed consent" doesn't mean that it's rape if Mike and April had sex after either Mike or April lied about something other than their identity. Even if Mike lied that he was rich, April's consent is still sufficiently informed because she consented to sex with Mike, and he's still Mike. The same applies if April lied about being on the Pill.

If you are a comic fan, you may have viewed that commercial and had an attack of deja vu. You see, back in August of 2009, there was a controversy over an arc of Amazing Spider-Man where the Chameleon impersonated Peter Parker and presumably had sex with his landlady Michelle Gonzolez while posing as Peter. (The controversy was eventually defused by the revelation in a later issue that they had merely kissed and not had sex.) I even wrote about it here, noting how common the impersonation trope was even in modern fiction and with both female and male victims.

This ad, in the words of Yogi Berra, is deja vu all over again.

Make it stop!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the favorite moms out there!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Night Fights: Repeat Rehash Revenge! - Round 5: Dueling Loises!

Last week on Friday Night Fights: Repeat Rehash Revenge!, I brought you Lois Lane kicking butt, Kate Middleton style. This time, I'm doubling the ante by giving you not one, but two Loises.

Tonight's fight comes to us from Superman/Batman#29 by Mark Verheiden and Ethan Van Sciver. Synopsis: Clark Kent is working at the Daily Planet when he's suddenly greeted by none other than......


(Which is really strange, considering this story is set in 2006.)

Needless to say, between the pillbox hat and Lois' strange New Age dialogue, Clark is seriously weirded out.

My thoughts exactly, Clark.

But before Clark can figure out what's happening, they're suddenly interrupted by none other than.....


Harsh, Modern Age Lois. Harsh!

And although he didn't get to do more than watch this time around, Clark Kent will be taking a much more active role in the next round. (And I don't mean Superman. I mean Clark.)

Tonight's fight music is provided by none other than....

JIM CARREY????!!!!!

For more butt-kicking and hairstyle critiques, click here. And don't forget to vote!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Citizen "S"

I picked up Action Comics#900 this past week, and one aspect of the book really offended me. It represented everything wrong with modern day Big Two superhero comics and almost ruined the entire comic for me.

I'm talking about the "Reign of Doomsday" storyline that was shoehorned into the final chapter of the Lex Luthor "Black Ring" story arc. Paul Cornell wrote the quintessential Superman/Luthor story for the new decade and one of the most insightful explorations of Lex's nature ever done, and he was forced to wreck the flow of his own story arc by forcing in an obviously editorially-mandated Doomsday crossover "event". This was a terrible disservice both to Cornell and to exiting artist Pete Woods, who closed out his last issue in grand style. Although Jesus Merino is a fine artist, the constant shifting between his style and Woods' was often jarring and disruptive.

Worse, all this was in service to yet another trip by DC to the Doomsday well. I picked up the original "Death of Superman" arc back in the 90's, as well as Dan Jurgens' "Hunter/Prey" and "Doomsday Wars" sequels, both of which were well-executed continuations of Doomsday's story. Jurgens took Doomsday as far as he could go. Every Doomsday story after Jurgens has just left me cold. The well has long run dry, but DC just keeps running back. It's getting on my last nerve. DC Editorial needs to let the writers tell good stories and keep their greedy little event-driven, micromanaging hands OFF!

End of rant.

What? Did you actually think I meant this?

Above is a scene from David S. Goyer's short story "The Incident", featured in the same issue. Synopsis: Superman arrives at an Tehranian protest to demonstrate his support for the protesters. He takes no direct action, but merely stands still in a show of nonviolent resistance for 24 hours. No violence breaks out, save for some minor molotov cocktails thrown Supes' way. The demonstration goes without incident. However, Supes' involvement creates an international incident with the Iranian government accusing him of acting on America's behalf and calling his actions an act of war. Supes meets with the U.S. National Security Advisor in the aftermath and tells him that he's decided to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

I'll admit I've got some reservations about this, particularly in its execution.

David S. Goyer is a wonderful writer who is responsible for some of my all-time favorite movies ("Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight", and the cult classic "Dark City"), but what he did here has more than a whiff of superdickery

How would you feel if you invited your rarely-seen identical twin to stay with you for a few days, and your twin proceeded to pose as you, make a profound change to your life (quitting your job, getting you promoted or fired, proposing to or dumping your significant other, etc), and then depart, leaving you to deal with the aftermath?

That's essentially what Goyer, a guest writer on a one-shot 9-pager, did here. Cornell is continuing as ACTION's scribe, and I presume Chris Roberson will continue on SUPERMAN, and I've seen no signs of a third Superman book by Goyer coming out. If Cornell or Roberson had introduced this decision, I would have been more comfortable, because it would indicate a game plan for dealing with this. As it is, it has a hit-and-run feel. We don't know if this topic will ever be discussed again. Also, this shock-value move serves to further steal the thunder from Cornell's Superman/Luthor epic.

It's also unclear exactly what the ramifications of Supes' decision are. I 'm assuming that Goyer is only talking about renouncing Superman's U.S. citizenship, i.e. whatever special citizen status was conferred upon Superman specifically at the start of his career, while his alter ego Clark Kent's American citizenship will remain intact. But what are the consequences of this? How does it affect the way the Man of Steel is viewed by the general public, or by the world's governments, both American and non-American? Will it actually be a help or hindrance in carrying out his super-duties? What actually changes? That's why I would have preferred Cornell introducing this.

Still, despite any reservations I have, I'm not particularly offended as an American or as a comic reader by this story.

The right wing, on the other hand, is throwing a series of conniption fits.

In "Superman No More?" in the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last states:

"And in the end, the only truly interesting aspect of Superman’s character is his complete devotion to America. Because it’s this devotion—of which his citizenship is the anchor—that establishes all of his moral limits. Why does this demi-god not rule the earth according to his own will? The only satisfying answer is that he declines to do so because he believes in America and has chosen to be an American citizen first and a super man second.....Once he’s a “citizen of the universe” what, exactly, will he believe in? Heck, what does “citizen of the Universe” even mean? Will Superman now adhere to the Tamaran code of honor? Will he follow the Atlantean system of monarchy? Does he believe in liberté, égalité, fraternité, or sharia? Does he believe in British interventionism or Swiss neutrality? You see where I’m going with this: If Superman doesn’t believe in America, then he doesn’t believe in anything.......And if an invulnerable demigod doesn’t believe in anything, then what he really believes in is himself—his own judgments, foibles, preferences, and partialities. At which point he is drained of every last bit of dramatic interest. He’s Doctor Manhattan and all he can do is exile himself to the moon and let the little people carry on with the hurly-burly of earth."

From James Hudnall:

"Superman was raised in the heartland of America. His values were informed, not only by his parents, but by the nation he grew up in. Superman, the selfless hero, was a reflection of this great land, which has shed blood and treasure in the defense of others. America has liberated millions of people, poured untold billions into rebuilding nations torn apart by wars. We’ve propped up economies and currencies. We’ve protected others from encroaching totalitarian communism and terrorists. Those are things to admire, but to the many people who went to colleges infected by leftist professors, they’ve been taught that America is a curse on the world, instead of what it really is. There is a sad attempt to distance our heroes from our nation. Captain America was also created in the same spirit as Superman by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. All of these creators would be rolling in their graves if they knew what the publishers of their characters are doing with them now."

Hollywood publicist and GOP activist Angie Meyer gave us this gem:

"Besides being riddled with a blatant lack of patriotism, and respect for our country, Superman's current creators are belittling the United States as a whole. By denouncing his citizenship, Superman becomes an eerie metaphor for the current economic and power status the country holds worldwide."

Avi Green goes as far as theorizing:

"I wonder if this is Time Warner's revenge upon the Siegel & Shuster estates for filing suit against them? They're not helping any by taking out their anger on what they've still got left and potentially giving anyone who supports the heirs' position another reason to view loss of copyright as justified. This is just downright embarrassing."

One article on Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood site is even titled "Left’s Crusade to Destroy Our Heroes Marches On: Superman Renounces God, American Citizenship" for heaven's sake! What?? There is no mention of God anywhere, let alone Superman renouncing Him or any other deity, in this story! (By the way, does anyone else see the irony of this comic being covered on Breitbart's site, seeing as how both Breitbart and Clark Kent are pretend journalists?)

These conservative accusations are both ridiculous and extremely ethnocentric. As Clark he was raised as an American by the Kents, and those values of both America in general and the Kents in particular continue to shape who he is. His "judgements, foibles preferences, and partialities" not going to be erased by this change of unofficial citizenship; it's still inside him, and even played a role in driving him to this decision. Even though he doesn't work for the government, he still believes in ideals like truth, justice, and freedom.

Also, while America is an undeniable bastion for those virtues, those virtues don't necessarily begin and end with America. And even America is far from perfect when it comes to living up to those ideals. 

I remember hearing a quote by Al Franken which he stated that he believes liberals tend to view America the way an adult offspring views his or her parents, loving and even admiring them but still recognizing their flaws, whereas conservatives view America as a child offspring views his/her parents, refusing to see them as anything less than perfect.

Franken's analysis seems to bear out in the criticisms above, particularly when the bloggers fall back on the tiresome meme about how liberals in general, and liberal comic creators in particular, hate or are out of touch with the real America. Many of them compare this story with Captain America's 70's Nomad storyline, where Steve Rogers gave up his Cap identity out of shame for the corruption in the U.S. government.

But all these conservative critics completely miss the point.

Hudnall, for example, states that "the excuse given in Action Comics 900 is Superman doesn’t want to be accused of being part of American government policy", when, in fact, the truth is the exact opposite: Superman doesn't want America to be accused of complicity in his actions, not vice versa.

Superman didn't decide to renounce his citizenship here to disassociate himself from the U.S. government's actions, but rather to dissacociate the U.S. government from his. He didn't take this action to express shame for America; he took this action to PROTECT IT. If that's not love of America, I don't know what is. He's always loved America and its citizens and continues to do so. It's just that he loves the rest of the world and their citizens too, and is seeking the best way to serve them all. He believes that this renunciation decision will allow him to do that, and whether he's correct remains to be seen.

John Byrne put it best back in 1986's MAN OF STEEL#6:

"Superman belongs to the world."