Archive for March, 2012


The Top 15 Best Fighting Game Storylines: Part 3 (5-1)

March 21st, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Part 1!
Part 2!

Before I finish off the list, I want to point out an honorary mention of sorts. When they came out with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, they changed a lot of the endings. For some, the art was altered to feature different characters. For many, the dialogue was changed and made half as long as in the previous game. Still don’t understand that one. A couple guys from the first game got new endings because the previous ones were pointless. For instance, Ryu’s ending in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 features him facing off against Iron Fist in a Madripoor fighting tournament. Considering Iron Fist is in the upgraded game, there’s nothing special about his surprise reveal. So instead, Ryu’s ending has him discover a new role in the world.

Huge smile on my face when I saw that. Coincidentally, Iron Fist’s ending involves him starting up a new Heroes for Hire with Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Ryu, Chun-Li and Rival Schools’ Batsu. I’d easily pay the $3.99 every month for that comic.

5) Jinpache’s Emotional Deaths

Jinpachi Mishima was a good man who opposed his evil son Heihachi, but due to some convoluted storytelling, he became imprisoned underground for decades, infected by a gene that’s driving him to destroy everything. He becomes released during the conclusion of Tekken 4 and sets up the tournament for Tekken 5. Part of Jinpachi wants to get all the great fighters out of the way so he can lay waste to the planet. Part of him wants someone to stop him before he goes too far.

The elderly Wang Jinrei has been in the Tekken cast since the beginning, but he’s also been boring as hell while adding nothing of interest. One thing established is that he and Jinpachi were good friends back in the day and that’s one of the reasons Wang is out to stop Heihachi. Throughout the fifth tournament, he gets this strong feeling that something unbearably terrible will happen at the end. When he faces Jinpachi, seeing him in his demonic form, he outright refuses to fight his best friend. Jinpachi begs him, saying that his human consciousness is weakening by the moment and he needs to die soon or else. Wishing there was another way, Wang reluctantly goes to town.

What follows is one of the saddest video game moments, thanks to some fine voice acting (even though one guy is speaking Chinese and the other Japanese) and captivatingly realistic CGI work. Jinpachi lay on the ground, back in his human form. Wang tries to comfort him, saying he shouldn’t have to apologize for what he’s done. Weakly, Jinpachi wishes that they could have one last drink, but then he dies and instantly melts into sand.

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Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica and the comfort of nostalgia

March 21st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Before I moved out to San Francisco a few years ago, I was going through my stuff at my grandparents’ house. I found this diary/photo album for kids. Actually, it may have been for parents, now that I’m thinking about it. It’s a little fuzzy, but each spread was a school year, I think, with spots for a photo, a list of accomplishments, goals, and all of that. The book was mostly empty. I think everything past the second grade was blank, but I’d scribbled on a few pages. On kindergarten or first grade, I forget which, I’d written that I wanted to be a comedian/astronaut, or astronaut/comedian. Some combination of the two, or maybe I thought a slash meant “and/or” instead of just “and.”

I used to get a big kick out of reading about black holes and astronomy. I never really cared about the speed of light or whether or not a phaser could conceivably be a real thing, even in fiction. But pictures of stars? Talking about how stars could orbit each other in a never-ending death spiral, feeding off each other until their balance is upset? Supernovas, dark matter, and that face on Mars? That really got me going. I’d be a fool to try to figure out why it hit me so hard — it was forever ago at this point, and I remember only a little of that time — but space definitely held a huge amount of appeal to me. It’s alien and scary and beautiful.

I’m not sure when that changed. My mom got divorced, we started moving around, and I guess it just fell by the wayside. I read some SF in middle school, once I got a library card and could bike around on my own, but it didn’t take, generally. I could never stand hard sci-fi, and to be perfectly honest, space-based sci-fi without pictures was and is a hard sell for me. Killer robots? Cool. Descriptions of alien vistas, like those in Larry Niven’s Ringworld? Ehhh…

In the back of Twin Spica 12, Kou Yaginuma has a post-script. A couple, actually, but the one that struck me the most was about time travel. Yaginuma speaks on wanting to go back in time and apologize to a girl he made cry, confess his love to another, and fix all the little errors we all make. He says:

If I had a time machine — I’m sure everyone has thought about it at least once — but in my case, it’s more than once. Late at night at my desk, I’m always thinking about such things.

I want to go back to the place I’m nostalgic for. I want to apologize to the girl I made cry. I want to let that horrible teacher have it.

I know I’d be turned down, but I want to tell that girl how I felt. I want to change all of my regrets into happy memories. I want to erase the no-good me.

If my destinations are the past and not the future, I guess that means I’m an adult now. But perhaps… having a past I long to return to means that I’ve lived a pretty good life.

People say time machines are the stuff of fantasy. But in fact the starlight we see is actually hundreds of years old — phantom light reflecting a past world, something of a time machine. I don’t understand the theory of relativity or wormholes or any of that hard stuff but time travel to the past through reminiscence is within my capability.

Picking up a favorite manga from my childhood can make me feel wistful. If the manga I draw can be someone’s time machine one day, I really couldn’t be happier.

I never had a telescope, not that I remember. I think I went to an observatory with school once or twice, and maybe some an IMAX film on space, back when those were strictly for educational purposes. My interaction with space was limited to stargazing (a possibility in the countrified town I grew up in, not so much in San Francisco, I realized in horror a couple years ago while out with friends) and reading.

Yaginuma’s Twin Spica made me remember that. I’d put space and my prior infatuation with it entirely out of my mind at some point. I’d forgotten how interested I was in stars and all of that. But Twin Spica stars Asumi Kamogawa, a young girl who is positively in love with space and dreams of being a rocket driver. Her dream is to go to space. She’s motivated from childhood, young childhood, to fulfill that dream. The series is the story of her trials and travails in astronaut school, and the friendships she enjoys along the way.

All of the characters have slightly different goals, but space is the common denominator in all of them. Space isn’t… I said that space is Asumi’s goal, but that isn’t right. It’s going to space that’s her goal, and that’s something else entirely. Space isn’t so much a goal as a… signpost, or a symbol of her achievement. But even that isn’t right. It’s not a trophy or a prize. It’s a thing that exists for her to aim at, and in the course of aiming at it, experience new things. Getting up there above the Earth is a motivator, not a goal.

The depth of Asumi’s love, and the way Yaginuma goes about portraying it, is incredible. It really brought back those feelings of idly wondering what the Oort Cloud is like, or what color Proxima Centauri is now. Twin Spica is like falling down a wikipedia hole, only instead of dry information, you’re diving into someone else’s emotions. You can feel the love when you read these books, and that’s an incredibly good feeling.

Twin Spica is at times melancholy, funny, serious, and goofy. Yaginuma covers a lot of ground over the course of the series, from heartbreak to grief to fruit-themed jokes, but more than anything else, Twin Spica feels comfortable. It’s a strange word for what’s sometimes a stressful or sad tale, but it’s true. You’re essentially watching a group of children grow up and learn who they want to become, just like you did. You can see mistakes they’re about to make, or spot areas where they were smarter than you. It’s a funny feeling, but a welcome one.

It’s nostalgia, but it isn’t like the nostalgia that led me to pick up Spider-Man comics at the grocery store after I quit comics. That’s a nostalgia for an object, for Stan and Steve’s baby. It comes from a desire to look and see how something I used to like is doing. The time travel nostalgia of Twin Spica is more like nostalgia for a specific time period. A when, rather than a what, that’s gone all fuzzy now, but still feels warm and inviting. I guess that is exactly what nostalgia is about: a yearning for yesterday. Twin Spica gets me caught up in a feeling I don’t have any more, though it sometimes returns in spikes, like when I find things like this scaled chart of the cosmos and then spend an hour on wikipedia googling up concepts I’d forgotten about.

There’s this bit later in the series where a character from the book is shown to have become a role model to complete strangers, little children in particular. It’s not pitched as yet another glory for that character, at least not primarily. It’s more like something that’s almost incidental, a side effect of that character’s dream. Infectious optimism or motivation, in a way. It’s a nice reminder of the fact that people can and will watch your path as you go about your life and chase your dream, whether you realize it or not. When your nose is to the grindstone and you’re wondering what it’s all worth, there’s somebody out there thinking “That’s the life.” The process of chasing your dream may enable, or encourage, others into doing the same. This isn’t really related to the nostalgia point much at all, but I wanted to be sure to mention it. It’s my favorite part of volume twelve. It’s probably the kindest moment in a series full of them. And I think it speaks well of Yaginuma’s skill with a pen, as well.

I remain impressed at the story Yaginuma told, and how he chose to tell it, but it’s the time traveling that got me most of all. The fact that he was able to evoke that feeling so well, well enough to reawaken that feeling in me personally, is a genuine achievement. It’s not that his artistic accomplishments revolve around me, either, so much as he’s so good at his job that he brought something out of me that I didn’t expect when I first picked up the series.

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Work Formerly In Progress: Rebutting Sims & Uzumeri on Justice League

March 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Originally, I wanted to write a rebuttal to a couple of reviews of Geoff Johns & Jim Lee’s Justice League that David Uzumeri and Chris Sims wrote. I disagree Justice League is in any way emblematic of everything wrong with comics, or even most things wrong with comics. Somehow, I also disagree with Uzumeri’s point that it shines with strong characters. I think there are good character moments in it (each character gets a chance to shine, which I greatly enjoyed), but the characterization is light. I made a joke about going at Sims and Uzumeri on Twitter, Laura Hudson called my bluff, and I started work on the post in earnest for ComicsAlliance.

To make a long story short, I burned out on modern cape comics in a major way partway through this essay. More specifically, I burned out before I got a chance to talk about Justice League at all. I’d had this grand (not really) structure planned–I’d point out why Jim Lee and Geoff Johns were the only people at DC who could do the Justice League relaunch justice, then I’d talk about how the series is structured like a posse cut (this didn’t appear out of thin air, it was going to be integral before I realized I wanted to write about posse cuts more than comical books), and then break down exactly why it didn’t need to be a heartbreaking work of incredible characterization to succeed as a Justice League comic. (“Don’t let me do it to ya, dunny, ’cause I’ll overdo it” is basically how I approach writing, I guess.)

But to make a short story longer, I lost the thirst for it partway through. I liked Justice League 1-6. If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d say “I spent four bucks on each issue and didn’t feel bad about it” and then condescendingly explain to you why I hate grades. (They try to quantify the unquantifiable.)

So to make a long story even longer than it should have been, below the bar is my nearly unedited draft. It’s a little over a thousand words about Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and who they are and how they came to be. It’s a little cleaner than how I usually work — I usually throw in a lot of placeholder sentences and stuff to get back to later, as well as admonishments and “What is the point of this paragraph, stupid?” — but all that stuff at the top is notes for stuff I’d intended to get to or wanted to structure the essay around. Hopefully you like reading it.

(Keeping with my uncontrollable habit of biting rap songs for titles, “Allow me to reintroduce myself” has its direct origins in Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” and “Back For The First Time” is a ref to Ludacris’s first [major label] album.)

allow me to reintroduce myself: justice league 1-6
back for the first time

geoff johns is the superhero guy. bendis is his only competition.
jim lee is the superhero guy. hitch took a stab, but lee is that guy who has shifted cape comics twice–with x-men #1 and batman: hush

it’s about big moments, it’s a blockbuster
it’s The Expendables, it’s Fast Five

The Posse Cut
Point: This isn’t an introduction. It’s a reintroduction.
Point: This is a blockbuster.
Point: Every character gets a moment to shine.
Point: This sets the foundation for relationships in broad strokes, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Point: It ain’t perfect. (lee’s art, johns’s dialogue)
Point: This Is Fast Five

Jim Lee and Geoff Johns are an interesting choice to relaunch Justice League for a wide variety of reasons. The number reason is probably that Lee and Johns are among DC’s biggest moneymakers, and combining the two is pretty similar to printing money. It makes sense financially, but I think it also makes sense from a creative point of view, too.

Jim Lee, love him or hate him, has had a tremendous effect on modern comics. He’s had indirect effects, like publishing Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics or selling Wildstorm to DC and enabling the creative renaissance of that line, but in terms of direct effects… he’s hard to beat. His X-Men #1, written by Chris Claremont, sold over 8.1 million copies. It was the height of the X-Men boom, I think, and the X-Office spent some time chasing that dragon. Later, he co-founded Image and co-created the late, lamented Wildstorm Universe. Ten years after that, he teamed up with Jeph Loeb to create Batman: Hush, a twelve-issue story that was a shot in the arm for the character and returned Lee to the top of the sales charts.

Lee’s spent a lot of time doing work in other media over the past few years, but he’s an undeniable superstar, and possibly the artist in cape comics. His style helped redefine the X-Men, and through the X-Men, superheroes in general. Lee and Rob Liefeld get dinged a lot for pouches, but the people who trot out that tired old joke don’t realize that their styles were a shift forward. It was a move toward real-world utility, a way to increase the realism of comics without sacrificing the technicolor fever dreams that make cape comics so much fun.

Lee’s style incorporates the advances that John Byrne, Frank Miller, Art Adams, and Neal Adams brought to cape comics and pushes them a little further. The X-Men wore gear that was more like uniforms than costumes. Physiques became more chiseled under his pen. He sought out that sublime space between realism and fantasy and sold eight million comics off the back of his style. That’s impressive, and I think it’s turned Lee into one of those quintessential superhero artists. Kirby defined capes for our fathers and grandfathers. Jim Lee redefined them for us.

Geoff Johns has had a different (and shorter) route to the top, but he’s still a very significant player in the cape comics field. He’s the guy who spins straw into gold. With a diverse array of artists, Johns has revitalized, or been largely responsible for the revitalization of, Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, the Justice Society of America, Barry Allen, Aquaman, the Teen Titans, and several other characters besides.

Johns is the king of cape comics right now. His only real competitors in impact and quality are Grant Morrison, whose work has been limited largely to Batman for the past few years and the ongoing reboot of Action Comics for the past few years, and Brian Michael Bendis, who is currently in the process of wrapping up his almost eight-year stewardship of Marvel’s Avengers titles. Morrison is telling a sprawling, messy story about Batman that has lasted almost six years, and Bendis has never been able to match Johns for sheer bombast and scope.

Johns has found a formula for cape comics that works, and probably owes more than a little to Stan Lee’s approach in the ’60s. Rather than being a victim of Silver Age blinders that a lot of people think he is, Johns is actually firmly enmeshed in the Bronze Age. The level of violence in his comics tends toward the gory, which is definitely a hallmark of the modern era of DC Comics, but he has consistently managed to find an angle to approach a character from that resonates with readers. There’s no greater proof of that than the fact that Aquaman, his reboot of the Paul Norris character with artist Ivan Reis, is a top ten seller in the Direct Market.

“Aquaman sucks” is a long-running joke, and Johns turned it into the engine that makes that series go. These type of nerd in-jokes are generally grating — see also any “Glasses are a stupid disguise!” joke in comics — but for some reason, the series works. And I’m not even close to the target audience for that series, but I bought it, month-in, month-out. It’s not a particularly deep work, but it works on a basic superheroic level. You get Aquaman, he behaves like a hero should, but it doesn’t come off hokey or fawningly Silver Age. It’s a modern Aquaman, and I don’t mean modern in the sense of gritty. I mean modern as in suited for today’s day and age, post-Die Hard, post-Matrix, and post-The Fast and the Furious. It’s appropriate for 2012.

Modernizing characters is a tough row to hoe, but Johns has pulled it off time and time again. I got heavy into his first run on Flash when I was getting back into comics, and the Johns/Kolins run remains one of my favorite runs in comics. Sinestro Corps War was a great tale, and I’ve never been a Green Lantern fan, really. There’s something about his approach, the way he marries personal stakes (a thing that reminds me of Marvel-style heroes, actually) with superheroic stakes (Sinestro is gonna do _______) and gleeful violence (almost always on the part of his villains, his heroes remain almost squeaky clean, even after being given permission to use deadly force) that really strikes a chord.

long story short DC chose the best two people to work on the relaunch and the result was a book I enjoyed a lot, despite being sometimes clunky (“you’re the world’s greatest superheroes!”) and the army of inkers they brought in toward the end

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Fright Night & The FP

March 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Fright Night, screenplay by Marti Noxon, directed by Craig Gillepsie, 2011 (Amazon VOD): I never saw the original, but 2/3 of this movie basically sucks. There’s a stupid subplot about the lead guy having deserted his nerd friend (who gets killed) so that he could hang with the Kool Kids Klub, and it’s just as dumb as he sounds. Apparently his skin cleared up and he… actually they don’t ever say how he made the transition from unforgivable nerd to horrible jock, just that he started dating the cutest girl in school. Oh and also, she doesn’t even like the dudes she hangs around with, and she’s dating the main guy because he’s different, and also she liked him when he was a nerd anyway, so… cheer up, nerds! Because… uh… those girls who hang out with guys you hate are just waiting for your skin to clear up, and then it’s on? There’s a Dr. Who in here, too, and he’s wearing leather pants for some reason.

The 1/3 that doesn’t suck is any time colin Farrell is on the screen. You can tell when an actor has hit a point where he or she just doesn’t care about their original career trajectory and is content to just screw around and have fun. James Franco did it, and to great effect. Johnny Depp did it and immediately fell off. You could make a case for Walken, I bet, post-King of New York. Samuel L Jackson. These dudes show up in marginal or awful movies, deliver the best role of the film, and then move on. Now it’s Colin Farrell’s turn, and it’s great.

Fright Night is basically “Colin Farrell is a dick.” He’s every nerd’s worst nightmare. He’s hyper-masculine, ruggedly attractive, competent, walks around in tight shirts, and would probably have sex with your girlfriend and mother at the same time. He doesn’t even really have a plan beyond “Mock the dork faking the funk next door, hook up with his mom, suck blood.” He’s Alpha Male Plus. He’s a walking, talking, source of constant emasculation.

All of the light, all of the interesting bits in this movie, are Farrell’s. He slings a broken motorcycle well over a mile through the back window of somebody’s car. He smarms it up with the main guy’s mom. Everything he says to the main dude is great, full of really charming menace. At one point, someone threatens him with silver bullets and he just says “Werewolves” and grins. It’s too good. There’s a bit in the trailer where he digs a hole in someone’s lawn, grabs the gas line, and yanks. It’s even better in the movie, because he goes and gets a shovel, aaaaaa! I can’t even tell you how much I enjoyed that or why, beyond a hard injection of the mundane and awkward into the fantastic being something I greatly enjoy. Man, actually, that’s exactly why I liked it. Same thing for the bit at the end of Collateral where Tom Cruise tries to run after Jamie Foxx and trips over a chair. It’s such a nice thing to see in a movie, like a dash of imperfection in what is otherwise a well-oiled machine.

There’s this weird consistently fresh feel to most of the action scenes that makes it quite a movie to watch. A few of them wrap up in a cliche way, but the depiction is always good. It sorta reminds me of Max Payne that way, because that was another movie that was incredibly flawed, but had such a filthy approach to effects and action scenes that I watched it a couple times. The demon hallucinations and awkward first-person were great, but the money shot is that bit at the end where the snow falls on the gun. It’s not a new idea (I think it’s even been done with swords), but dang, they really sold it in Max Payne. Fright Night takes a few of classic vampire movie gimmicks and turns them on their head in the same way.

The FP, directed and written by Brandon Trost & Jason Trost: I thought this movie was skin-crawlingly terrible. I saw it at SF Indiefest in a theater full of people who seemed like they loved it, though, which made it even worse, in a way. I sorta realized I wasn’t gonna like it when they started in on nigga this and nigga that really early on in the movie. (I don’t remember seeing any black people with speaking roles in the flick.) There’s a conversation to be had about that sort of… ironic re-appropriation of the word nigger by white people, and obviously anything can be done well, but the wooden delivery and awful writing kept this movie from being anything I’d call “done well.” I mean… son is wearing Confederacy gear and he’s called Sugga Nigga. Really though?

It satirizes a bunch of different movies, subcultures, and character types, but it does it in the most asinine possible way. It’s just… thoughtless. I assume that all of the actors are so wooden as a style thing, but that really only works to make the movie a slog to get through. It disintegrates whatever emotional content the lines had, which was not much to begin with, and bad acting plus cliché writing generally results in a bad movie.

I liked a couple things. Dude that plays L Dubba E, Lee Valmassy, and Art Hsu, who plays KCDC, swagger their way through their roles and are funny sometimes. I wouldn’t mind seeing them in better movies. Past that, though… nah. No thanks.

edit: I saw this with three other friends, so we had the middle of a row on lock. That’s always nice, going to movies with a posse. BUT! The guy sitting directly behind me kept repeating fractions of the jokes of names of characters on the screen and laughing, like he was on some type of tape-delay laugh track that also read all the jokes aloud two seconds after they said them. He ain’t help my mood any.

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Brothers x Witzke: On How We Talk About Watchmen

March 19th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I had some thoughts about how we talk about Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen after that last interview made the rounds. I think it’s about as good as everyone says it is, but I don’t agree that everything else is as awful in comparison. It’s a nebulous, annoying conversation to have, because there are so many variables to take into account–who’s saying it’s the best, what publishers allow creators to do, and on and on. Anyway, I wrote something up and emailed it to a few friends. Sean Witzke, supervillain, hit me with a response that I thought was really valuable. So, here: point/counterpoint, with David and Sean.

David: Alan Moore gave another interview, and that means that we’ve got another chance to think about how DC screwed him and how all modern comics suck and are just suckling at his literary teat even to this day. He’s upped the ante this time to saying that Watchmen, his masterwork with Dave Gibbons, is not only the best superhero comic ever and constantly ripped off, but single-handedly saved the comics industry, too, because the industry was in shambles in the early ’80s and then turned around after Watchmen came out. Which is demonstrably untrue, but whatever. More interesting is his idea that Watchmen is still the best cape comic ever.

You can’t really blame him for holding that position. Watchmen is a crystal of a comic book, self-reflective and reflective of our culture (at a certain point anyway) simultaneously. The writing is on point, the art is on point, and it’s a really good comic in general, no matter how I feel about the plot or whatever. It’s the real deal, and everyone’s said it over and over. So it’s no wonder that Moore looks at that book, and at what people have said about it, and at the current comics industry, and says what he says. Watchmen is the one comic, above all others, that gets the praise it does.

Watchmen is generally treated as Best Comic by the comics industry and its fans. It’s credited with moving cape comics past their genre roots, being a high watermark for cape comics, and the source of the brutality, ennui, and trauma that we think of whenever someone says the phrase “’90s comics.”

I don’t think any of these are strawmen that I’m setting up just to knock them down, either. Watchmen is consistently the one book that everyone (the generic, anecdotal everyone, so maybe this is a strawman, but I sure hope not) recommends to new readers or readers who want a bit of maturity. Watchmen was the only comic on Time’s Top 100 Novels list a few years back. When we look at the ’90s, you often hear that people “learned the wrong lessons from” or “missed the point of” Watchmen. Watchmen is a big deal, deservedly so, but I can’t help but feel like it is a bigger deal than it should be, if only due to received wisdom and a lack of a strong resource for comics history.

The Best Comic thing sticks in my craw the most, I think, because it’s such a fake idea. I can’t think of a Best Movie or Best Song, or even Best Western or Best Rap Song. It’s such a broad brush to paint a work, and therefore a genre, with that it doesn’t even make sense. No one out there is saying that anyone who watches movies absolutely has to watch Carol Reed’s The Third Man or Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. They might recommend those to you, but always as a part of a spectrum of must-watch films. “Oh yeah, watch this, that, this Kurosawa over here, and this De Palma once you finish that.” I like this wikipedia list of films considered the best, because it’s so diverse. The IMDB list is varied, too. I disagree with a lot of them (The Dark Knight is in the top ten?), but it’s still interesting to look at. I think it’s notable that no one film on this list has the same status amongst a broad subsection of movie fans (movie watchers? “people?”) as Watchmen does amongst comics fans. Ask ten people the best movie and you’ll get a variety of answers. Ask ten comics fans and probably at least half of them will say Watchmen. Why does Watchmen get the Best Comic treatment, other than being good?

Part of it is that Watchmen is the result of a conscious effort to make a literary comic. It’s not just about entertainment or ongoing adventures. It’s about competing with Moby Dick, or making a work intended to operate on that same level. Which is admirable, to be sure. The vast majority of cape comics are bent toward direct entertainment, which I think is also pretty admirable. But it has the effect of making Watchmen a stranger in a strange land. It’s got capes, but it’s exotic, too, because of that literary influence.

Conventional wisdom holds that Watchmen represents a watershed moment in comics, is partially at fault for the excesses of the ’90s, and is the peak of cape comics. You won’t find none better. I used to agree with that, more or less, but I don’t think I do any more. Watchmen wasn’t a quantum leap forward into a new context so much as it was another step in a road comics had already begun. It was step six, rather than an all-new step one. The idea of cape comics for adults, or cape comics that deal with heavy themes, had already been broached, most especially by Steve Gerber and several other cats working at Marvel in the ’70s. I feel like there’s this idea that Watchmen is the point when cape comics went from goo-goo ga-ga baby stuff to actual books adults could read — comic books blossomed into *~Graphic Novels~*, essentially. And that isn’t true, either.

You can track what led to Watchmen in cape comics, in pretty concrete terms, too, I’d argue. I’m far from an expert (an understatement), but you can find prior examples of the flawed in Lee & Ditko’s Peter Parker and Lee & Kirby’s Ben Grimm. You could look at several characters in Watchmen as examples of what happens when that flawed hero stops trying to be a hero. Rorshach is the opposite, even–he’s a hero who has no business being a hero, but keeps at it out of sheer hard-headedness.

The bleak miasma that gives Watchmen its tone, the sense of unrest and doom infests the book, feels very ’70s to me. That’s when Marvel was going hard with the idea of uncertainty and unrest, whether it was Luke Cage appropriating superhero iconography in order to escape a return to prison and make a buck or Spider-Man losing when it counts and not being able to do a single solitary thing about it. The Heroes for Hire area of ’70s Marvel, the Luke Cages and Shang Chis and Misty Knights, feels particularly relevant here, as their stories often dealt in moral ambiguity or a distrust of the establishment. Many of Marvel’s heroes were outlaws first, too, at least in the eyes of the public.

What I’m trying to say is that Watchmen is definitely a watershed moment, due mainly to the level of craft and approach that it brought to cape-based material, but it isn’t an unprecedented one, and I think that’s an important factor that we often leave out when we discuss Watchmen and its influence. If Watchmen never happened, I’d bet cash money that the ’90s, the ideal of the ’90s that most of us hold, would’ve still happened more or less as they did. The hallmarks of the ’90s, whether you’re talking pouches or grittiness or realism or whatever, were set in motion long before Watchmen happened.

The moral ambiguity, the physical and emotional trauma, the poison that hammered comics in the ’90s, all of that has its roots in the very beginning of the Marvel universe, when Stan and Jack and Steve and them were revolutionizing comics and making them cool again. They set comics down a road that inevitably leads to clones and crossovers and whatever else. There’s a logical progression from “Spider-Man screwed up, but now he tries harder” to “Spider-Man fails the love of his life and gets her killed” to “Spider-Man is a clone/crazy” to “Spider-Man is hardcore now.” It’s upping the ante on the flawed hero, bit by bit. The fallen hero and anti-hero are just another take on that same basic idea, which is itself another take on an even older idea.

Watchmen is very good, sure. It’s a high watermark for comics, but I don’t buy that it’s Best Comic. It deserves its place in the canon, it earned its place, but the highly elevated status we’ve given it is at least partially in error. It’s warped the conversation about the content of comics, the skill level, and comics history. It’s actually really frustrating to me, because I’m making an effort to go back and learn this stuff so I don’t put my foot in my mouth constantly, and Watchmen has twice the gravity of anything else. It’s hard to get around, and more than that, it’s hard to unlearn. Watchmen‘s GOAT status is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it feels like at this point.

Now that I’m done with this, I sorta feel like I’m saying “Watchmen is overrated.” That’s both not my point (in the sense of snarky dismissals) and my actual point at the same time (in the sense of taking a realistic look at comics history). Strange place to be.

Sean: Well, here’s the thing, though –there is a movie — Citizen Kane. And Watchmen totally is Citizen Kane, it’s the one work of art you have to reckon with, reconcile. Either disregard and burn down despite it’s legendary status (because its so boring, and so processed and its old and everyone who took from it took the wrong thing just like Watchmen) or realize that, yes, it is a masterpiece despite all those things.

I don’t know, you could also say that Pulp Fiction has a lot more similarities to Watchmen, because it spawned a million horrible tics and a million 70s references. So many bad tone deaf movies, but it also helped change the way movies were made and released. I mean, I just saw an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson where he said that Tarantino wasn’t an influence on Boogie Nights, but the reason he got to make it at all is because he was coming after Pulp Fiction.

I always think all the bad 90s grim and gritty hallmarks are so much like that. Because the ninjas and assassins and pouches and teeth, all of those things come from guys honestly making things they were interested in. They all became received wisdom, the way that Neal Adams and Gil Kane did for the previous generation. The 00s are a lot like the 80s, especially in comics, because there was such a rejection of the previous set of what is cool that it’s just knee-jerk “oh god 90s”. Which is kind of right, because there’s so much to be rightfully rejected, but in comics, everything was thrown out. Now the weirdest, worst things are all slipping back in from the 90s because we’ve got a good gap of time. There’s a reason that Dave Gibbons was playing with flat/exaggerated facial expressions, there’s a reason that Frank Miller was writing ninjas, because he wanted to write about honor, there’s a reason Moore wanted to discuss fascism with Steve Ditko’s iconography, there’s a reason Art Adams exaggerated gesture. I don’t think you can blame those guys for anything. All the people that came after them, yeah they fucked up. That’s not their fault. Anymore than it’s Moebius’ fault for Tron Legacy.

And beyond just Watchmen, there’s big works in all sorts of genre and media. There’s Moby Dick, there’s 7 Samurai, there’s Akira, and Pinnocchio, and Metropolis and the Twilight Zone, and The Godfather II, and Die Hard, and David Copperfield, and Illmatic, and Goodfellas, and the Searchers, and Star Wars, and I Robot – there’s all sorts of THE GRAND WORK in all sorts of media/genre, that you have to at least give your time, where if you’re going to take the genre seriously you have to give it your time because even if it isn’t the greatest thing you’ve ever been exposed to. Hopefully it isn’t, because if you have a certain level of tastes you’re going to have more personal preferences/ tastes — but you’ve got to reckon with that shit. If you like comics, you have to have really given Watchmen your time because of where it is in the medium, even if you fucking hate it. I hated Citizen Kane the first 3 times I watched it but I knew that I should keep giving it a chance. I’m not a Metallica guy, but I know that Master of Puppets is the “best” metal album.

Here’s the real thing that Watchmen did though, and I didn’t realize it until Abhay pointed it out for me. Watchmen said that you could take this material (superheroes, alternate reality stories) and tell a finite, complete story with it. There could be intertextuality and generational narratives and have legitimate minor characters, and actual consequences and politics. Stories, stories that matter, they have ends. And Watchmen is the first story that was taken to the real world (whether or not it was the first really doesn’t matter, the revolution starts when people notice fires in the street not when the plans are drafted) and said “oh yeah this stuff can actually work as a novel, it’s not just endless soap opera/pulp/sitcom that you can walk in and out of at any time because its an endless middle”. Making more Watchmen comics, as Abhay said, actually say that people were always right its just a garbage dump of endless dudes punching dudes, there’s no finite quality to anything. (I actually think the way trilogies are now par for the course in mainstream hollywood, and 6 season tv shows are doing the same thing to how people watch film and television). You’re right about Gerber and Stan And Jack – and shit, Miller and Moore both said that American Flagg was the reason they manned up and did Watchmen/Ronin, because it introduced real sophistication in a way that Marvel comics never ever ever did. Of course they’d both done Marvelman and Daredevil at that point, and it becomes all a gray morass of what happened first.

It doesn’t matter, no one outside of comics saw it. Watchmen they saw, and it was undeniable.

We’ve got to keep tearing it down so it can be replaced, because its still too big an icon, which actually paradoxically says a ton about how good the comic is. Comics as a whole needs to be able to say “fuck Watchmen” in a way beyond Grant Morrison’s shitty sniping in JLA: Earth 2, and I don’t know if we’re really at that point yet as a medium. I think the way that people are talking about/reacting to Moore isn’t the same thing, and Watchmen 2 really isn’t the same thing either, it’s wallowing in it rather than surpassing it.

Of course we know that Winter Men is the same story but better. But no one but us weirdos read it, it didn’t penetrate the culture. That’s important. Like, really important even though I could give a shit about ever getting anyone to read comics and actively try to avoid ever getting anyone “into” comics because i find evangelism disgusting. Great works, that shit matters, and no one with a brain is ever going to go “oh you liked Watchmen here read (whatever shitty comic people then recommend to people normally. Scalped, yeah Scalped is absolute shit that people like to read)”. No one goes “hey you liked Citizen Kane, you should see Dune“. Because no one starts with Citizen Kane, they have to watch it because it’s a monolith. If they like it or not is irrelevant. You shouldn’t start the film course with Eisenstein, you should have to work up to it. But you still have to cover it in the course, right?

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This Week in Panels: Week 130

March 18th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Hey now! Taking a break from the fighting game countdown list so I can do my usual Sunday thing. This week I’m joined by Was Taters, Space Jawa, Nawid and Jody.

While I’m one to gush about Carnage USA, the real star of the week is Fantastic Four. Holy shit, that comic.

Batman and Robin #7
Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

Captain America #9
Ed Brubaker and Alan Davis

Carnage USA #4
Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain

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The Top 15 Best Fighting Game Storylines: Part 2 (10-6)

March 17th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Click here for Part 1!

To answer a question from yesterday’s comments section, I never did get around to playing Blazblue. I really need to rectify that. So if there’s anything on the list you completely disagree with, pretend that if I were to get around to playing through Blazblue, I’d put it in that spot instead. Everybody’s happy.

Now back to the list.

10) Lee Chaolan: The Good Son

Tekken’s core storyline is about the world’s most dysfunctional family. Four generations of the Mishima clan beating the shit out of each other. It mainly started with Heihachi Mishima throwing his son Kazuya off a cliff as a training exercise. Kazuya survived by allowing his body to become host to a demonic entity and returned years later to exact his revenge. While the CGI endings for the first Tekken are hilariously dated in appearance, I always enjoyed the big twist in Kazuya’s. By all means, he should be the hero in this situation. He’s a pretty generic design and his father is evil and wronged him, so he should in response be a good guy. So he picks up his father, carries him in his arms while walking forward… then drops him off a cliff before giving an evil smile to the camera. Love it.

At the same time, if Kazuya was to come off as a hero on paper, Lee Chaolan should have been a villain (and he was in the anime, but that’s neither here nor there). Lee was adopted by Heihachi for the intent purpose of making Kazuya jealous and driving him to be better. After the first game, Kazuya takes over Heihachi’s criminal organization, the Tekken Zaibatsu, and makes Lee his underling. Lee hates what his life had become, forced to work for his despised brother and realizes that all his life, he’s been used as nothing but a pawn. After Heihachi comes back to retake the throne, Lee slips away and lays low for several decades. During this time, it’s speculated that the Tekken 3 boss Ogre found and killed him. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

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The Top 15 Best Fighting Game Storylines: Part 1 (15-11)

March 16th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

I’ve always been a big fan of the fighting game genre in video games. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, Soul Calibur, what have you. I can get into nearly any fighter. These days, the games are held under a microscope due to the high-profile competitive nature of tournaments and online gaming. I don’t do tournaments, I don’t play online and I can’t do an infinite combo to save my life. A lot of the time, I mainly care about sitting back and playing it one-player.

I guess it’s the way I grew up. I had Street Fighter 2 for SNES and while it was fun to play against my friends every week or so for an hour or so, there were more hours on lazy afternoons where I had to fly solo. It was about having to play through the game and defeat M. Bison with every single character and see their endings, then try at a harder level. When I rented a new fighter, I had to see every ending. It was the ritual. It was fun.

Behind the gameplay, it’s the characters and the backstory that make it for me. They add the flavor to it all. That’s why I could never bring myself to care about any Virtua Fighter. I know the whole game is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, it’s so bland that I can’t bring myself to invest in it. I want one-player campaign modes like in Soul Calibur or the Challenge Tower from the new Mortal Kombat. I want new shit to unlock and I want it to last. I want special introduction animations before matches that happen because both fighters are siblings. And when one of those guys wins, I want them to say something specific about the loser.

As cheesy as they are, I love the characters and storylines in fighting games. Sure, there are only so many ways you can set up “bunch of dudes fight each other one-on-one”, but there’s some creativity and personality in there. It makes me want to play and learn characters who come off as cool, funny and/or dynamic. I don’t care if they aren’t top tier, I never let go of my Venom/Juggernaut/Morrigan team in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or my Chang/Iori/Rock team in Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Recently, I picked up Street Fighter x Tekken and Soul Calibur 5. SFxT is a crossover that features counterparts from different companies playing off each other while they all reenact It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, only with more punching. Soul Calibur 5 has a weak story mode and an arcade mode that has you play several matches before congratulating you and asking if you want to try again. Guess which one I’ve been playing more.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve played a lot of these babies. Some good, some bad, some ugly. While many fighting game storylines don’t really hold up as anything exceptional on their own, there are some aspects that I still think are awesome. Here are fifteen of them.

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Uh Oh, Here Comes Trouble

March 14th, 2012 Posted by guest article

Guest article by Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett.

(Quick warning to all you readers: may want to save this one for home. Some images are possibly less than work-appropriate.)

Years back, I bought, and then wrote about, a weird miniseries called Marville. It was a six-issue title that had a quasi-seventh issue. As far as I could ever tell, not finding a copy of it myself, the final issue was nothing but instructions on how to submit a pitch to the soon-to-be-relaunched Epic Comics imprint of Marvel. That relaunch would basically be about as much of a fiasco as Marville itself. I started looking around for as much information on it as I could. It seemed like a good idea – be a line that would allow for creator-owned works in the Marvel wheelhouse, and let some young upstarts work on properties which didn’t get much attention.

From what I can find, a total of fourteen issues were published under Epic before it was shut down and abandoned a year later.

I’ve looked around for any backissues, just to see what the quality of what came out was like, but the only thing I ever found, or that most people would have heard of from the line, was a Mark Millar miniseries. It was called Trouble. And I may be the only man on this Earth who liked it. (Yes, I know that the nerd-Hulk was apparently a fan in a later Ultimates story. I said our Earth for a reason, you pedant.)

I’m exaggerating a little – someone else out there has to like it. For some reason it got a hardcover trade last year, 8 after its initial publication. It’s the first time that a solicited collection of the series actually came to market. (Apparently one was announced and then quietly canned due to the book’s weak sales.) Still, it’s easily a unique work among the rest of Millar’s catalog. I’ve heard a lot of his work referred to as “popcorn flick” comics, especially since he began writing books to be turned into films directly – well, Trouble is basically “romantic comedy comics”. Or maybe something a little less mature, “teen sex comedy” comics. It’s got a real American Pie vibe to it.

And yes, just because I’m sure some of you are thinking it right now – this is the book where a young May gets teen pregnant and has a baby named Peter. I don’t hold this against the book for a single instant, since it’s pretty apparent that it’s not that May and that Peter.

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This Week in Panels: Week 129

March 11th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Hello, neighbor. Welcome to ThWiP.

Pretty good week with Venom finishing off its awesome Circle of Four storyline and the conclusion to Heroes for Hire‘s stealth cancellation miniseries follow-up Villains for Hire. Animal Man gave us one of the best superhero moments in a long time (despite the contents of the panel this week, Buddy is the best superhero dad). And Huntress finishes off her miniseries with so little drama and feel for danger that I’m wondering if Levitz inputted the God Mode code when writing it. Here’s the six issues summed up: bad things were happening and Huntress stopped them without any problems whatsoever. The end.

This week I’m helped out by Was Taters and Space Jawa, so that’s something.

Action Comics #7
Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker

Age of Apocalypse #1
David Lapham and Roberto de la Torre

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