Congratulations to our silent co-conspirator Eric and his bride Karen, on the birth of their son.
Seven pounds, one ounce, twenty inches long, and already a master of the blade.
As it should be.
“Verification of the tale, as one might expect, is difficult, yet certain facts are known. Tanitin Regional Deputy Marshal Miles Drake is, in fact, a lawman of the territory, a position he has held since IV.E.987….”
I am technically on vacation. This means that my blog post for Tuesday is a day late and I’m writing less-regularly than normal. Apologies for the delay. I am also in a mood, and that’s probably not a good thing to be in when trying to write a blog post, but I’m going to post this anyway, because it’s that kind of mood. You have been warned.
My son and I went to see Captain America about two weeks back, and it was as enjoyable and delightful a trip to the movies as I can remember in years. My days as a bitchy critic of cinema are long past, mind you, and I’m not interested in posting a review. I could do that. I once did do that. I stopped doing that 20 years ago. The proliferation of people who mistake their opinion for criticism made me stop. We enjoyed it tremendously, and that’s enough. Given the current state of cinema, it may be more than enough.
Rick and I did an interview on Monday for The Long and Shortbox of It with Jon Gorga and Josh Kopin, and over the course of the conversation, we ended up discussing the continued slavish devotion to that which is labeled “dark” and “gritty” in super-hero comics. You’ll get an earful on this when you listen to the podcast, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about off and on for a while now, and this seems as good a time as any to get something off my virtual chest, so to speak.
When I was working on 52, I half-jokingly asked Geoff Johns what it was with him and decapitations. If you’ve read his work, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Black Adam, in particular, had a penchant for removing the top, so to speak. His response was that he’d grown up playing Mortal Kombat. Fatalities were common, as he put it; a decapitation was de rigueur. Me, I was in college when Narc came out. Late formative years, and I still remember being taken aback the first time I watched the animated pitbulls tearing me apart on the screen.
Rick and I want Lady Sabre to be fun. Stealing a page from the Clevinger-Wegener manifesto, if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. If it’s not fun, we’re doing something wrong.
Captain America was fun. It was pure, and it was sincere, and it never once apologized for being either of those things, and in fact, that was why Steve Rogers was chosen to become the First Super Soldier. I credit an enormous amount of its success to these factors.
Here’s the thing: I am sick and tired of super-heroes who aren’t super and aren’t heroes, but more, I’m sick and tired of Hollywood blaming us for their failures. I am sick and tired of hearing various Hollywood studio execs who are as disconnected from the reality of middle-American taste as Rick Perry is from Christianity excusing the poor performance of their ill-executed product by tacitly blaming you, me, and everyone else of us who didn’t pay to see their garbage. Catwoman fails? Instead of, perhaps, just perhaps, acknowledging that the movie is a piece of excrement unworthy of use as fertilizer, they conclude instead that a female lead can’t open a movie unless her name is Jolie. So now we’re not only guilty of not being willing to pay for 90 minutes of intellectual abuse, we’re all apparently sexist jerks, as well. The problem with Green Lantern’s performance at the box office is that it’s not “gritty” enough? I don’t think so.
Art – and even if that art is commercial art, produced for entertainment – feeds and is fed by the society that consumes it. So I ask you, right now, looking around you, what flavor of escapism will go down best with you? In an era of terror alerts and bipartisan dysfunction, of rising hate and blossoming intolerance, of bank failure and wide-spread, global unemployment and recession, is gritty really what we need?
Look, I like gritty. I write gritty. There is a time and a place for gritty. I’ll take my Batman gritty, thank you, and I will acknowledge that such a portrayal means that my 11 year old has to wait before he sees The Dark Knight. But if Hollywood turns out a Superman movie that I can’t take him to? They’ve done something wrong. Superman is many, many things. Gritty he is not, something that Richard Donner certainly understood.
(Pet peeve time: for the contingent out there who sneer at heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman and Captain America, those icons who still, at their core, represent selfless sacrifice for the greater good, and who justify their contempt by saying, oh, it’s so unrealistic, no one would ever be so noble… grow up. Seriously. Cynicism is not maturity, do not mistake the one for the other. If you truly cannot accept a story where someone does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, that says far more about who you are than these characters.)
This is not an argument of era or audience sophistication. Sophistication does not negate sincerity, nor does it even deny it, as the Captain America movie proves. Sophistication demands better storytelling, clearer motivation, purer intention. “Gritty” is an apologist word in this sense, used in the place of “realism.” We don’t go to the movies for “realism.” This is why documentaries aren’t the major product in the theaters. Sophistication does not demand realism; it demands smart.
I can think of no other industry where the consumer is made to bear the blame for the product’s failure as much as Hollywood. Seriously, let’s think that one through. The movie didn’t perform, therefore it’s our fault? You got food poisoning eating the fish they served and you paid for, it’s your fault? The brakes on your new car crapped out and you wrapped it around a tree, it’s your fault?
Here’s a crazy thought.
Maybe you made a bad movie.
Today I thought I’d discuss – wait, I’ll need that soapbox – where did I put – oh, yeah. I’ll be right back. Talk among yourselves.
Here we go – man, this isn’t nearly as high as it used to be. Sorry about the delay. Now what was – oh, yeah…
I like the work of documentary film maker Ken Burns. I like his approach, both verbally and visually. His subjects run the gamut from famous Americans to pivotal events in American history to sports, entertainment, and the Arts.
There was an interview with him in a recent issue of Time Magazine where he said he had films at various stages in the pipeline that would keep him busy until 2016. A lot to look forward to. As I was reading the interview though, it struck me that no one has ever done a large scale, multi part documentary on the history of the Comics.
It has been posited that there are two art forms created in America: Jazz and the comic strip/comic book. Burns did a wonderful film on the history of Jazz. My son owns the DVD set and I’ve watched it a couple of times. But, what about comics? Sure, there have been smaller works on individual creators but never anything all encompassing. The clock is ticking. Obtaining first hand information about the early days is getting harder all the time as we lose many of the creators who invented this verbal/visual language.
Why not comics? Comics are a very insightful mirror to the 20th Century in America. We can follow the path of not only the events, but also the society and culture of any given time. The history of comics is the history of America.
The story strip was born at about the same time as the century. Comic books were created as a result of The Great Depression, and it could be argued that the runaway success of Superman was a result of that same economic crisis. Comic strip characters fought World War 2, and those that didn’t referred to the sacrifices being made on the Homefront. Later, Korea and the Communist Scare were addressed in comics and the industry was brought to its knees and almost destroyed by the Witchfinders in Congress. The rise of Marvel and it’s new approach to super heroes occurred during the decade that saw sweeping changes in the social fabric of the nation. The comics kept pace with the country and served as a pop culture record of the times.
So, now, we find ourselves in the 21st Century and there’s no question that the Big Deal is digital technology and comics is keeping pace once again. The screen you’re reading right now is proof of that.
Every now and then you’ll hear someone pronounce that comics are dead. Will Eisner was once asked if he thought comics were dead and he replied, “I’ve seen comics die four or five times.”
The fact is, for all intents and purposes comics should be dead, but they’re not. When you think of all the new forms of entertainment that have been introduced during comics life span, competing for the public’s time and money, it’s a wonder that the entirety of the industry’s output isn’t residing in some land fill in Wisconsin. But, it’s not. We’re still here. We may be making adjustments in the way we tell stories and how those stories are distributed to their audience, but we’re still here.
So, somebody needs to get on the stick (as we say here in the Mighty Midwest) and create a historical record of this fascinating, seemingly invulnerable medium. Some of the original creators are still around, but sadly, many are not. It’s ironic. For a long time Jazz garnered much more respect around the world than it did here in the land of its birth. Comics are the same way. In countries all over the world comics are considered an art form on the same level as film or literature. Just another way to tell a story. Any story. But not here.
So, I’ll step down off my soapbox now, put it back in the closet, and return you to regular programming. Maybe next time I’ll talk about Lady Sabre.
Carrying on from Tuesday’s post, I thought I’d bite the bullet and elaborate on the connection between RPGs and writing.
First principles, then, as follows. I speak for myself. Your mileage may – and most likely must – vary.
When I had more time and fewer children, I used to play a lot of RPGs. Table-top kind, pen and paper, Old School RPGs, I’m talking about. Like so many, I started with the Brown Box when I was too young to have a handle on it, switched up to the Basic Set, and then berated, harassed, and otherwise begged my parents to acquire for me the AD&D hardcovers, the First Edition. They bought them for me, too, then tried to hide them from me to use as a birthday present. I found where they’d hidden them and would sneak them out to read and play, then return them. My surprise when I unwrapped them was decidedly unconvincing, I’m sure.
By the time I reached high school, I’d fallen in with a group of Marvel Zombies, and not unsurprisingly, all of them were gamers, too. They introduced me to Traveller, RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu… the list goes on and on. Already a fan of espionage, I discovered Top Secret all on my own.
(I could have totally link-spammed the hell out of that above paragraph, for the record. You got off lucky.)
There’s a tangental discussion to be had – another post perhaps – where I’ll wax philosophical about the connection between writing and playing RPGs, but that’s for later. What’s for now is the RPG I discovered one day shortly after college, when I wandered into one of the few games stores in my home town.
And I bought it on the spot because, simply, I thought it was cool.
Much like Rick, I didn’t have a word for the appeal, I couldn’t Name the Power, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought of “steampunk” as a descriptor, despite my familiarity and love for cyberpunk, at the time. But that cover told me everything I wanted to know, told me that this was a world where I could take a lifelong love for The Great Detective, for H.G. Wells, for Jules Verne, for Poe, and smash them together in something that would be a hell of a lot of fun to play.
If memory serves, I think Jen and I played the game…twice. Maybe less. I’ve no idea why. I’ve no idea if I found the rules incomprehensible or if life got in the way or what, but all I know is, I can’t find the book any more, and I can’t remember the rules system to save my life.
Doesn’t matter. What matters is this. What I love about RPGs is that it’s about telling a story. And that was the appeal of the game, that was the promise of the cover. The stories that could be told within. The stories that could be told and shared. Digging around for reference as I wrote this, I came upon a site that mentioned the game and “Aether” in the same sentence. Up until that moment, I’d been 100% certain that my decision to use “Ineffable Aether” had stemmed from reading Brian Greene discussing the fabric of the cosmos, the term once used to describe that which space is made up of (because Aether sounds cooler to me than “we don’t know” and “dark matter” has been used to death lately). Now I have to wonder if it wasn’t slumbering in my backbrain, if it didn’t offer itself up in association with “steampunk.” If it hadn’t been waiting the whole time.
We are a technological society. When we trifle, in our sly, Gothic, grave-robbing fashion, with archaic and eclipsed technologies, we are secretly preparing ourselves for the death of our own tech. Steampunk is popular now because people are unconsciously realizing that the way that we live has already died. We are sleepwalking. We are ruled by rapacious, dogmatic, heavily-armed fossil-moguls who rob us and force us to live like corpses. Steampunk is a pretty way of coping with this truth.
There’s something to this, without question; at least, there is to me. It’s the analysis of one of the finest literary minds of our time, in my opinion, so I’m inclined to give it fair due. He could be right. He probably is right.
I loved Holmes so much as a child, I remember the delight I had in discovering that other authors had taken up the gauntlet, had written stories. I remember, vividly, lying on a bunk during summer camp, and tearing through Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, by the amazing Loren D. Estleman, followed by a chaser of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula. Writing this now, I think I may have tried to write one myself, and I think I couldn’t have been more than 13 at the time, and no, you can’t read it, and I wouldn’t let you read it even if I could find it which I don’t think I can so don’t ask.
Some things you love intuitively; some things call to you young. This had me from the get-go. This had me from the start.
Recent Addition: Lady Sabre T-Shirt. Available in unisex and women’s cuts, in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes!
Shirt modeled by renowned Land Cartographer and Intrepid Explorer of Terra Icognita, Doctor Day Al-Mohamed.