Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why Mark Waid Is Awesome

"My first allegiance as a writer is to the story. Second allegiance, if not my characters, is to the integrity of the characters I didn't invent. Allegiance to the paying audience is the Road to Hell. "Fan Service" is the express lane. While I agree it's not good business to piss off your audience to such a point where you'll drive them away, "good business" is the last thing I should be thinking about when I'm actually writing. Writing "what the audience wants" or "what will please the audience" is the domain of the hack. A writer stands or falls by the integrity of his work. Everything else is secondary."
- Mark Waid, EiC Boom! Studios


I'm sure I'll have something written up about all of these shenanigans that are going on on the Interwebs sometime soon, but for now, just... revel. Revel in Mark Waid.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fight Klub

As VS slows down drastically, I've been looking at other CCGs. There's something zen-like, meditative, to me about deck construction and gameplay of many of these games, and so I'm on the look out for the next one.

One that caught my eye has been Fight Klub, Decipher's newest game. Featuring head-to-head matches with characters from film and television, Fight Klub looks cheesetastic, and the gameplay looks to be relatively solid. It's always hard to tell if a game like this will take off, especially a niche one like FK, but I definitely wish them all the best, and I'll be giving the game a shot.

You can reach the FK site at www.decipher.com - and if you want to get in, say seventhsoldier sent you.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Comics Can Be Great

A lot of people have talked a lot of smack about Batwoman. Why? Because Batwoman has had very, very little definition as a character, especially when held up next to the extraordinarily well-rounded Renee Montoya - already one of the best characters in comics, Renee has been getting better and better under the pen of Greg Rucka.

Batwoman, however, has had precious little in the means of characters, other than 'lesbian who had a thing with Renee once', and this has caused a little backlash against her as a 'token' character. With Batman gone, however, a spot has opened up in Detective Comics for some of the supporting characters, and Greg Rucka is using this to, finally, flesh out Batwoman.

And you know what? It looks awesome. Credit JH Williams III, one of the most creative, fascinating talents in the industry. Credit Rucka for remembering that, as scary as the Bats should be, they are ultimately about peace, not vengeance, about saving people, not about punishing them.

Here's to hoping Kate Kane's segment works out well here. It certainly looks promising!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Weekday Update III

Ah, once more, he returns.

Well, with the death of VS, I find myself with a little free money and a lot less to write about on the blog. Marvel and DC seem to be in a bit of a dry spot for me in terms of 'things that I'm interested in and can afford' which means they've sort of doubly hit a dead spot in the area of 'things that I'm interested in that I can write about extensively or at least every now and then'. Of course, with the news that Greg Rucka and James Robinson will be collaborating on the new Superman: The World of New Krypton mini, that might be changing, because Greg Rucka is one of the better talents in comics today, and while I haven't read anything from Robinson outside of Starman, Starman happens to be a triumph of comics publishing, and thus I'm excited to read a little more from him.

But, hey, expectations aren't high.

Again, on a personal note, 'I Am Very Important' was rejected again, this time by the fine folks at Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, while 'Over the Hill' is out for consideration (but is not particularly strong as-is, and so will and should be rejected). I'm still working on two separate short stories, but I've found myself rather slammed this semester for time and inspiration, and so they are progressing slower than I might like.

Coming up this month? One or two more 'Best Books You Aren't Reading', probably some write-ups on TV that's worth watching right now, and more existential flailing to figure out what the hell it is exactly that I want this blog for.

Wish me luck, and enjoy your week!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

VS News

Well, it's official.

It comes as no surprise to any of us, I suppose - VS is gone. That said, I don't believe that I was the only one holding out and hoping that we'd catch a break. I don't pretend to know what it was exactly that tipped the scale, but I am nonetheless rather remarkably sad at the passing of what turned out to be one of my favorite pastimes of... well, of this particular decade.

To those fans of the game, I hope you don't regret the money and passion you poured into the game. I don't. I fully intend to keep my cards - and I fully intend to keep playing the game, whenever possible. I'll teach friends the game, and if I ever have kids, chances are pretty good that I'll teach them, too.

For now, however, we have become an entirely online community. With no more hobby leagues and no more official sets, where we go from here is entirely up in the air - will we fade away, forgotten? I hope not.

To that end, I'd remind everyone to try and stay active in the blogs and forums, and to be on the lookout for fanmade sets to be released for Magic Workstation, a platform that allows free online play of VS. At least one fanmade set it coming up in the near future, based on DC's recent Final Crisis, and with hope, there will be more to come.

Thanks to Ben Seck, Billy Zonos and others, who kept giving us quality cards and probably kept the game alive long past when anyone else would've expected it.

VS is Dead - long live VS?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Watchmen News

To give a little history on the Watchmen setting (I have no idea if this is actually in the movie itself), a fake newscast has been released celebrating ten years of Doctor Manhattan.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Season

So, the nominations are up for this year's Oscars, and like many years, they seem to reward careful mediocrity over stunning execution, critical/popular acclaim, or... uh... any other category you could base such things on. I loved The Dark Knight, and I was truly disappointed by the lack of Oscar nods it got, but the real crime? Wall*E, one of the most daring films of past year and perhaps the best romance of the past five, is left out of a Best Picture nod in favor of blatant Oscar-bait like Benjamin Button.
Is Benjamin Button a bad movie? Of course not. It's well-crafted, heartfelt and interesting. But it never once reached the highs of Wall*E.

Feel free to chime in with the actors, actresses, and films you feel got snubbed this year!

The List Of Nominations

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Batman R.I.P. pt 2

Spoilers of course.

From the astonishing Pinderpanda.

What does it mean?
Note: Batman RIP is polysemic, ambiguous, elliptical and all those other things that're great for literature and troublesome for bald 'fact files' like this. The section that follows therefore cannot aim to be as 'definitive' as does the rest of the guide, but can only aim to be plausibly interpretive.

What do the red skies mean?

Red skies appear on a number of occasions throughout Morrison's Batman RIP.

In the opening 'flash forward' sequence to events six months after the main storyline, over the skies of contemporary Gotham as Batman pursues 'The Green Vulture', during the sunset Honor Jackson shares with Bruce, and during Bruce's subsequent transformation into the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

Red skies have a particular meaning in DCU-lore. They were first seen during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, most notoriously in what became known as "Red Sky Crossovers" - issues marketed as Crisis tie-ins which had little connection to the storyline other than that particular colouring choice.

They are now a familiar omen of disaster. As DCU#0 puts it, "When the Multiverse is on the verge of destruction, when the skies drip red as the barriers between parallel universes bleed... When Earth's greatest heroes rise up together, willing to sacrifice everything they have in defense of all they hold dear... That war is called a Crisis."

2006's Ion maxiseries eventually revealled that the reason for this is that the weakening of the walls between universes during times of Crisis allows for a glimpse of 'the Bleed', an arterial channel between realities first introduced in Warren Ellis's Stormwatch run which went on to become a major part of the cosmologies of both Wildstorm and Final Crisis.

The association of red skies with Crises raises the question of RIP's association with Final Crisis. Addressing this in an interview Morrison says, "it could be the start of it, because those red skies have been seeping in for a while, but it's certainly not happening at the same time as Final Crisis #1. It could be happening a week before or something, but I haven't exactly specified it." (IGN, August 2008 ). So the red skies should be seen as signs that the Final Crisis was immanent, rather than that it was underway. This fits the sequence of events in the story.

This leaves the red skies in the six-months-later 'flash forward' sequences however...

"That's actually even more in the future than Battle for the Cowl," says Tony Daniel, "[That] would, hypothetically, appear at the very end of it" (Daniel, Newsarama, December 2008).

This places them well after the conclusion of Final Crisis, and would seem to suggest that on that occasion a red sky was simply a red sky.

Red also has a significance (or at least a significant lack of significance) in the red and black pattern the Joker is making throughout the story. The red skies also serve as visual references to this.

How exactly did the Joker talk with his tounge sliced in half?

In Batman #680 the Joker reveals that he knows Doctor Hurt's true identity by mutilating himself to display a serpent's tongue. It has troubled many readers that he appears capable of comprehensible speech after doing so.

It is however entirely possible that the Joker wasn't capable of comprehensible speech before doing so, and the tongue slicing merely serves to make this explicit.

The Joker was shot in the face in Batman #655 and, when he reappeared in #663 had undergone facial reconstruction surgery leaving him incapable of producing any sounds except "a subhuman paste of of slobbery vowels and clicking consonants." The prose story in that issue makes it very clear that, while the Joker thinks he's talking, all that's coming out is "mangled phonetics and toxic intent."

When this version of the Joker reappears in DCU#0, Tony Daniel draws him with retracted lips which would be unable to manufacture any rounded vowels or labial/labio-dental consonants. Daniel is careful never to actually show him speaking.

It seems very likely that the Joker we see in RIP is talking in the same "subhuman paste" and that his speech balloons (coloured green to distinguish them from conventional dialogue) contain the words he's trying to say rather than the actual noises coming out of his mouth.

Careful reading of the arc shows that nobody, from the Arkham psychiatrist, to the Club of Villains to the members of the Black Glove, show any sign of understanding him before or after the tongue-slicing. They respond only to the fact that he has spoken or to actions that he's taken rather than to the content of anything that he has said. There's no evidence that any characters with whom he converses in Batman RIP can makes heads or tails of what he's saying.

There's one exception to this.

The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh has an extended and two-sided conversation with the Joker, and is able to fully understand him both before and after the tongue-slicing.

But then, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh also has two-sided conversations with gargoyles.

Batman typically works by gathering evidence and consciously interpreting it. In RIP we're shown that as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh this process is unconscious. Whereas normally he'd read the city and deduce what the clues were telling him, in this state of mind he experiences this as direct linguistic information; "Shh! The city's talking" (Batman #679).

It follows then that he'd also be the only one able to converse with the Joker. Just as he interpreted the city's clues and experienced them as talking gargoyles, he'd be able to read the Joker's body language, intent and phonetics and experience them as actual speech.

It's also worth looking at what the conversation is about. The Joker is insisting that all life is fundamentally meaningless and that all attempts to make sense of it are doomed. And the World's Greatest Detective is making a liar of him...just by the simple act of understanding it.

Who (and why) was the Black Glove?

At San Deigo 2008 Grant Morrison said that the Black Glove's true identity would be someone "everybody in the world knows." Curiously, when the identity was eventually revealed, much of the readership failed to recognise him.

Lets go back to when Morrison first took on the Batman monthly and he mentioned that he'd "rather Batman embodied the best that secular humanism has to offer" (Newsarama, 2006). This take on the character has proved vital to how Morrison has written Batman throughout his career and is crucial to understanding why the Black Glove is who he is.

By 'Humanism' here, we're talking about the whole raft of philosophical ideas that came out of the Enlightenment and told us that it was possible for us to stop thinking of life as one long downhill ride from the Fall or the 'Golden Age' and to start thinking that humans had a chance to improve the world and themselves if they started playing smart and making the effort.

Where Batman comes in is that humanism does this through reason, rationality, science and all that sort of stuff, to the exclusion of all the irrational mumbo-jumbo that's also a part of being human. Arkham Asylum, by a younger and angier Grant Morrison, punishes Batman for his humanism by painting him as a repressed, joyless prig and having him suffer humilation and agony for his failure to integrate into himself myth, ritual, chaos, the Id, and all the other things reason excludes.

By the time of Morrison's JLA run things are very different. Here Batman is routinely defeating gods and ur-gods by holding to these values.

Inbetween we get Batman: Gothic, where reason and rationality are shown to be effective but limited. Batman solves the mystery, but an epilogue reveals that he's been blind to a major player in the events....the Devil himself! Humanism works here, but remains oblivious to the man behind the curtain.

The Devil next reappears in Morrison's Batman mythos during RIP, where he's wearing Mangrove Pierce's body and using the name 'The Black Glove'.

Batman is invested in a project which attempts to improve humanity through reason and rationality. There's no greater threat to that than the possibility that deep down inside humanity is a kind of irrational evil from which it can never escape.

The Devil's the ultimate supernatural bogeyman. There's no greater threat to it than the possibility that people might one day be able to work and think their way free. If that's true then the Devil's days are numbered.

The Joker is well aware of who the Black Glove is, making numerological references to the Devil, quoting the Rolling Stones and illustrating the point by fashioning himself a serpent's tougue. He also claims to know why the Devil hates Batman (#680) and it has to be because of this; the possibilities for humanity that Batman's values and achievements represent scare the Devil (#681).

Batman has to acknowledge though that the Devil is a part of him. Just as humanism tried to exclude from its discourse the irrational side of human experience, Batman tried to fence off the nonsensical aspects of his own life experience inside The Black Casebook; "All the things we'd seen that didn't fit and couldn't be explained went into the Black Casebook" (#665) but when he writes the final entry in the Casebook he faces the posibility that he's reached the limits of reason.

In the various isolation experiments, initiations and Thogal rituals we've seen Batman undertake he's found this 'source of pure evil' deep down inside himself. And as Doctor Hurt breathes, "The Black Glove always wins" it is Batman's own black glove we see smashing through the helicopter window.

Since we're talking about a book set in the shared universe of the DCU we have to mention that this is a world not short of Devils and Devil-analogues... Neron, Satanus, the First of the Fallen, Lucifer and plenty of others could all in different ways be thought of as 'The Devil' in DCU continuity.

I would suggest that it is not helpful in understanding Batman RIP to do so here. What Batman trimuphs against here is the idea of the Devil rather than any specific pre-existing variation on that idea. Although perhaps we should mention Orion's warning from Final Crisis #1 concerning Darkseid and his retinue of evil gods; "They did not die! He is in you all!"

It'd be tempting to give the last word to Damien, who says, "I know the Devil exists, or at least something exists which might as well be the Devil. I've met him." (Batman #666)

The Black Glove is something which might as well be the Devil.