The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘batman’

So… That Happened?

Posted by BigWords on April 4, 2016

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The car you buy when you have given up on ever having sex again. And given up on life in general. Via Eco Car Blog.

While I was otherwise occupied, with things that don’t really relate to this post, a lot has gone on in my absence that doesn’t really make any sense. I’m gonna raise my hand right off the bat and admit that there is a lot which doesn’t make any sense to me anyway (the proliferation of stupid little cars being one – smart cars? Ugh, please…) but everyone should be really proud of themselves. While I was offline you guys raised the bar. The level of crazy really went off the scale, and coming to it after the fact makes it no less mad.

I’m still completely at a loss to comprehend the Sad Puppies, even though a fair few posts written over the last couple of years mentioned the fools those people. I’ve a few guesses at what’s making them sad, though to the best of my knowledge there’s no known cure for distemper. Also, nobody mentioned whether the puppies who were attempting to fix the Hugo Awards have themselves been fixed. Something to ponder, I suppose…

Then there is the mess which is being made of current politicians, policies and political parties, which probably deserves more words here, but I can’t bring myself to watch more than a few seconds of footage at a time. I honestly don’t know what the point of Nigel Farage is, other than to be a perfect character in some revived Spitting Image series, and there isn’t a single member of the SNP who doesn’t make my skin crawl. The US is, thankfully, much worse, so at least I can say “Guys, chill – we don’t have it so bad.”

I apologize to US readers, and suggest you start, y’know, calling out the racist, sexist, homophobic, isolationist bigots who are being ridiculous. Or take up rifle practice. Just sayin’. Any other time I would have found a perfect song to accompany that, but I’m really busy at the moment and Googling “Delaney Plaza comedy theme tune” is too much like hard work.

Despite not having the internet, I have been hearing some of the new songs being put out, and I can happily say that there isn’t anything ground-breaking there. Where is this generation’s Great Big Moment tunes? Hell, the sixties and seventies brought us a wealth of songs which continue, year in and year out, to be used in films, television and radio as great songs. It isn’t just nostalgia (though that is a part of their success), but the unity of lyrics, accompaniment and imagery. I’m saddened at the prospect of a disposable musical heritage being cultivated by people whose concept of “timeless” lasts just long enough until the next album gets squeezed out.

What little television I’ve seen has been punctuated by my feeling like I would rather read, or take a long walk, or anything other than being insulted by rehashed versions of things I never missed in the first place. The first show I saw – from the first episode – since getting back to a semi-stable situation was The Aliens, which isn’t exactly original. Actually, the word “original” shouldn’t even be used in the same paragraph as that show, so diluted is the plot. And the shell suits make me think of The Scousers. Harry Enfield is probably waiting on the call to make a guest appearance.

The biggest mystery to me is Gogglebox. People have talked about it as if television had a massive shift in ideology, and NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. I don’t get it. I mean… I watched an episode on the Channel 4 website, and I read some of the reviews people have written, but the idea makes no sense to be at all. Why do I want to watch a bunch of people I don’t know, who are watching television shows I don’t watch? The fact that such a series can get greenlit is probably a sign that nothing will ever be the same again… We have, as a people, given up on television as a medium. Thanks.

There are more ugly magazine covers than ever in the shops, with logos that are somehow worse with each passing iteration, and – presumably – revamped interiors which are just as aesthetically challenged. I can’t bring myself to look. Actually, I have glanced at some of the material on the shelves and I am glad to see the intellectually vapid “lads mags” have finally imploded in the critical mass of their own egos. Took long enough, mind you.

I completely missed everything that the BBC was going through, and I can’t say – with a straight face – that it was worth sticking through everything to watch. BBC3 is gone? Meh. Maybe if, y’know, the shows weren’t skewed so hard to the twentysomething market I may have raised an eyebrow, but it is no great loss. Letting go of Clarkson, however, is more of a quandary. I know he’s an asshole on the show, but it is largely a character he is playing. The new show seems to be making an effort to be as bland and unwatchable as possible, so it may not last the year. Here’s hoping…

Something else happened during my time away, and I’m not sure if it is completely pointless or only marginally stupid. In any event: Gotham. I know there are probably a thousand things that matter more in the world right now, but the very concept of a series which sets out the prehistory of Batman seems, to me, to be a colossal waste of time. The only thing I can foresee enjoying is the parallels the show will bring between Bruce Wayne and Wrath. As long as it doesn’t go all Watchmen and weird…

To be continued.

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Flashpoint Read-Through, Part Five

Posted by BigWords on May 17, 2013

There’s a few things which this series has reminded me I need to address. Small details which have been horrendously overused in comics over the last decade or so, to the point that the mere use of such hooks instantly makes me hate the story. The most aggravating storytelling device, and one which has outlived its’ usefulness through misuse, is the habit of certain writers hanging the end of a sentence onto the first panel of the page following the dialogue. There’s a perfect example of the sloppy dialogue overlap here, but you can pick up any Superman comic from the late 90s – where this seemed to occur every second page – to see just how pointless and hopeless a stylistic tic it is. I stopped reading a whole bunch of titles around the same time when I continued reading panels which had dialogue continued from the previous page.

Now wait a second – I’m not saying never to do it. That ain’t a “hard and fast” for me. I’m not going to get pissed off and throw a comic across the room through the use of that device, but when it happens all the way through the issue it does make me think twice about picking up the following issue. There are ways to use it properly, such as for dramatic irony, a plot-relevant point, or for an insight into what a character is thinking. Most of the uses I have read have, unfortunately, been of the annoying and stupid variety. My spotty knowledge of recent (well… post-2006) DC Comics history is down to these kind of irritants. When I can almost feel my IQ take a dive while I am reading, then I know it is time to walk away.

As this is the final issue, I can also get another irritant out of the way. Multiple covers. Seriously? People are still stupid enough to go out and buy more than one copy of a comic just because there is a variant cover? What is this – 1993 or something? That kind of crap was one of the reasons people stopped buying comics en masse, leading to a restricted base of readers. It is one of the gimmicks, along with holograms (Spider-Man), die-cut covers (Reign Of The Supermen), comics shot through with bullets, or lasers or whatever (The Protectors), and sundry other moronic decisions (grim and gritty revamps galore) that enabled reporters to laugh at comics with articles with “Biff. Pow. Blamm.” articles. I don’t blame them.

This really is going somewhere. Bear with me.

When I talk of things needing to evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated readership, I am specifically thinking of these things holding the form back. These are relics of an entirely pointless, and often desperate, era, and the fact that I have to point this out – in 2013 – is something that appalls me. This should be obvious. People should see cheap and tacky tactics for what they are. Bonding these blatant shows of desperation to DC’s major “event” makes the entire endeavor look like something that is not there so much for the story but for attention. It is difficult to see just how the multiple covers are meant to make this look more attractive to readers given the history of the marketing tool.

Man, I really miss the days when Marvel went bankrupt. At least they had the excuse of being run by a complete idiot to excuse the awful comics.

But I am slipping from the agenda. This is about Flashpoint.

Flashpoint 5: Ad Finem Diei

When I opened this issue the first time I thought that I had accidentally picked up the wrong comic. More than half of the story is filled with Zoom gloating, fighting the Flash, then discovering just how dangerous a war zone is for such antics. But… At no point did I ever get the feeling that they were in the middle of a war zone. The layout is too close on the protagonist and villain, and the random violence surrounding them is diluted to the point of the ongoing (and allegedly escalating) war being irrelevant. I’ve sat through enough footage taken during battles to know that there is no safe place to be when two groups want each other dead. Here, especially towards the sequence where Thomas Wayne shows his usefulness, there is no sense of epic, unholy death and destruction.

Even the return of Kal-El to the battle feels like a cheap way to end the fighting so the story can continue rather than being an organic outcome of earlier events. Back when I mentioned that both Barry and Thomas were really smart people, I may not have made my thoughts on their characterization clear enough, so I’ll add something else here – at no point, EVER, did I believe that they were acting as real people. It is not only a war zone filled with superpowered people having pretty much the worst day in the history of this AU, but there would be all kinds of secondary threats. Red hot pieces of shrapnel flying around, rocks and bricks whizzing past their heads, explosions… The actions of neither man seem to indicate any concern to their safety.

I want this to be over with already. My brain can’t take much more abuse.

When I thought about covering this series in detail, it was to prepare the way for something else, but as an examination (or indictment) of storytelling in the medium it serves its own valuable role. This is not the kind of comic I particularly have an interest in, and the only reason I read it was because it was thrown in free alongside a pile of other comics. There’s something rather sad about that. Has the importance of these crossovers dimmed away to a dull ember? Are the stars aligned just so now, that done-in-one storytelling can make a comeback? It is hard for me, being outside the main readership of DC, to see the point of something drags on endlessly. I like finite stories. I grew up reading comics which didn’t bleed characters dry through overuse.

So, the Cosmic Treadmill. Um. It… Ah. Fuck it. I have tried to word this politely an absurd number of times, and I can’t. It is impossible to take seriously. If you remember how stupid Black Racer looked on his skis, then seeing The Flash on the oversized piece of gym equipment is even more ridiculous. What next? Using a Stannah Stairlift to travel across space? I’m half expecting to turn the page and see a screencap from Monty Python with the word balloon reading “And now for something completely different.” Yes, it is that bad. Worse. It is the “fix” for the problems which Barry has been dealing with since the first issue, though the tension is so diluted by this point as to make anything and everything which follows less than epic.

These types of stories need to be EPIC.

Looking through the Flashpoint page on TV Tropes gives you some indication of just how much the creative team had to play with, and for it all to come down to a guy getting on a treadmill and burning off the coffee and doughnut diet is less than the optimum ending. It is made all the more mystifying by the massive deus ex machina to squeeze three *cough* continuities into one. Which I will relentlessly mock in a moment, but first there is the matter of the magic note to deal with. Restoring time completely obliterates the Flashpoint reality, causing the events to never have happened. But Barry, not being in the least scientifically minded, whips out the note from Bruce’s father as a gift.

It is a little problem, which could have been fixed in dialogue. Though probably more sensitively handled than “Hey Brucie-baby – I met your dead dad, and he sends his regards.” And not only is the mere existence of the note a problem, but… That fourth panel – Bruce, asking “What is it?” *sigh* It is a letter, you idiot. Have you spent that much time in the Batcave that you no longer recognize these small remnants of civilization? The baffling panels are peppered throughout the series, almost as if Geoff Johns was playing a game with his audience to create memes from the panels. The Batman Doesn’t Know What A Letter Is one never really caught on, I guess.

The plot point about the three universes is something that is gonna take a bit of explaining for those who have better things to do than pore over the minutia of comic-book history. It isn’t really three universes. There is a whole bunch of characters from Fawcett, some from Charlton, a handful from Quality and other publishers, folded into the DC chronology at various points. By simplifying to this degree, it would seem that DC is taking credit for the creation of such timeless characters as Captain Marvel, when they shamelessly hounded Fawcett out of business for producing a superior product. Are the Milestone characters still in there somewhere? And the awful !mpact ones? I gave up on both lines of comics.

So that was that.

The DC universe of old ends not with a bang but with a whimper. A pitiful, mewing, “please put me out of my misery” refrain to anyone who can hear.

Flashpoint – the perfect jumping-off point for those who want to spend less money on a Wednesday.

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Flashpoint Read-Through, Part Four

Posted by BigWords on May 16, 2013

Backing up a moment, I want to highlight something about Flashpoint which has been bugging me since the second issue, though has only become an problem here in the penultimate issue of the series. While I have pointed out the irregularities in plotting and character, there has been something else lurking in the series which has the potential to irritate and aggravate other problems. This other niggle is something so slight as to have been overlookable. The thing about telling such a complex narrative in a confined number of pages is that some things will never get properly explored within those pages (leading naturally to other titles examining those events and locations), but to tease readers with non-story about those things? Ugh.

The world map in the second issue was an entirely skippable couple of pages. They were filler. Nothing of merit or note was contained therein for those who decided to purchase all of the tie-in titles – something I found remarkably easy to resist – but it was there, lurking with tantalizing glimpses of things which sounded infinitely more interesting than the story in that issue. Land Of The Dead? Hell yeah. That sounds like something that could make for a great story. Nazi-occupied Brazil? Gorilla-controlled Africa? That kind of pulp-infused insanity is the kind of thing sorely missing in the main title, which has, for three issues, been as pedestrian as possible in every regard. The title needed something like that.

With the third and fourth issues featuring full-page sketches, I have to raise a question here as to the popularity of such a wasted opportunity – who would rather have a few pages of these sketches rather than extra storytelling pages? Anyone? Come on, who is to blame for this kind of thing? It is endlessly annoying to find these things in regular issues. If I was even the slightest bit interested, I would go out and buy the shiny limited edition hardcovers or whatever, but no. I don’t care. I don’t want to see crappy sketches that detract from the story. I don’t want to be subjected to the prospect that I may have bought the wrong series – that Land Of The Dead story is looking better all the time – and I really don’t need the headache of working out how these things all fit together from the starting point of the main timeline.

Yes, this is another assault on common sense – an intelligent reading of Flashpoint.

Flashpoint 4: Blood, Sweat And Tears

Opening pages. Important, remember. Now, when I say that the dramatic potential of the first page in a comic has the ability to drive the reader along with any twists and turns, or to turn them off completely, it is the kind of first page as seen here that I am thinking of as an example of the latter. Skipping over the fact that it is a direct result of earlier scenes, I have to say that it isn’t an ideal opener. The final page of the last issue would have been massively improved with the smallest of restructuring – the immense force of the US flying off to face the Amazon threat. You remember the scene in Memphis Belle when all those giant planes were filling the sky as far as the eye could see? THAT. Times ten. Really ramp it up.

But no. We get a glimpse of a bunch of kids watching television. Then, to add insult to injury, we oversee a pilot chatting to a grease monkey about the former’s shit-eating grin. Goddammit, DC, are you trying to devalue your characters to the point where I actually want to watch as Batman is disemboweled by an Amazon blade? To get my pulse racing at the thought of Cyborg being turned into a bloody smear?

The mandatory chatter between characters has been the downfall of most of the “dramatic” scenes thus far, and the fourth issue is no different. The problem of Barry Allen’s memories being slowly overwritten – with agonizing pain – is fixed by, I kid you not, magic. Yes, a wizard really did it. This removes the main threat to the success of the mission at hand, and as a way to get to the end of the story it also kills any dramatic potential inherent in the ticking clock. Without the threat of his memory eroding further, there is ample time for a man who can move at the speed of light to do whatever the hell he wants to do. Such a major move so far from the close of the story does nothing in the series’ favor.

The scene with the kids rambles on for two or three unnecessary pages as time is killed and pages are filled, adding nothing to the narrative that couldn’t have been better played by being shown. We do, finally – thank the gods – get to where the action is, though it is via a double-page spread and then a pin-up page, so is ultimately rather a let-down. There are no small moments, no pained faces of people trying to get their breath, or nursing their wounds, no fear in the eyes of the combatants as they try to find cover. There’s no tension… All too quickly, the battle lulls into a pause with the defeat of Captain Thunder, and the death of Billy Batson contains no sense of momentous tragedy.

Since when did DC decree that killing kids in their comics had to be played for laughs? It is the single most hilarious scene in the series so far, with lightning spurting from his mouth and eyes – reminding me of Doctor Who more than anything – amid some sort of poorly illustrated explosion, with no scale or horror to it. This isn’t even up to the level of the opening gambit of Civil War, never mind the beautiful, moving scenes of destruction from Akira or Marvelman. Explosions, more especially these days than ever, should be entirely fucking terrifying. People should feel their guts lurch, their head swim with thoughts – there should be some real impact in their use.

The really annoying aspect of Flashpoint is the wasted potential. This really could have been an important and watershed moment in the history of DC, but the constant and complete waste of that potential renders all of the promise naught.

Then we get a final page which all but says “forget the dead kid – here’s a supervillain!”

Why am I reading this with the Benny Hill tune rattling through my head? For that matter, why the hell am I still reading? I… am not actually all that sure by this point, although I am sure I’ll come to some amazing conclusion when this farrago concludes tomorrow. Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel. Or something.

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Flashpoint Read-Through, Part Three

Posted by BigWords on May 15, 2013

There are two extremely important pages in any comic – pages which the retention of reader interest is won or lost. The first page has to have something to keep the reader turning the pages, and the final page must be shocking, or intriguing, or… anything – so long as people are prompted to pick up the next issue, then the page has done its’ work. Looking through the first three issues, past the midway point in the series, we have a fairly good hit rate. The first issue opens with a “day in the life” moment that is forgettable (I had to go check how the story began), and closed with Batman grabbing Barry Allen. It isn’t the best issue to choose for such an example.

By the second issue we get a dramatic confrontation at sea, pulling us into the wider story, and closes with Barry badly burned in an attempt to regain his powers. It is the perfect way to keep people guessing as to the sweep of the story, and shows the heights this comic could have achieved routinely with a little more attention. Is this a bad series? No. It is a troubling example of the slapdash nature of superhero comics these days, which are increasingly pandering to an audience which is largely unconcerned with the traditional merits of narrative in place of the eternal question of which character is stronger.

Man, am I ever digging a hole for myself here…

And off we go, further into the rabbit hole.

Flashpoint 3: Λονδινιου

Opening, rather bizarrely, with a scene in which Cyborg gets metaphorically bitch-slapped by the President of the United States. It could have served to show the desperate nature of events, or to impart an understanding of where Cyborg has been positioned in this timeline, but like everything else it is more of a vignette than a scene, tapering off before we can discover anything interesting. Some may want to point out the tie-in comics to this series, but as I have made clear elsewhere, that stuff doesn’t count. If, while watching a film, a question is posed and unanswered, then it remains unanswered even if the answer is in a tie-in novel. Even the official soundtrack, should it contain the answer, is not sufficient. Everything should be present.

Making people go buy other books to enjoy a deeper understanding of plot and character is not something to be shied away from, but to insult the audience by offering such a flimsy handful of scenes is. The whole should be greater than the sum of its’ parts, with spin-off tales forming naturally from undeveloped branches, but here we are not presented with even the rudimentary elements required to piece together a reason for the arbitrary ticking clock. The invasion against an overwhelming enemy is not presented with even the slightest bit of common sense, and it appears from all the evidence we are given that there is a suicidal element at work.

This is the issue in which The Flash finally regains his powers, but it also presents something of a problem. Thomas Wayne explicitly states that Barry has suffered third degree burns over seventy-five percent of his body, though this doesn’t stop Barry from getting up from his bed and walking – with a little help – back to the electric chair where he will attempt to recreate the accident which gave him his powers. Lets just look at that for a moment. These are burns which have penetrated to the deepest layer of skin, over most of his body. In his condition, and with the drugs being pumped into him, Barry should not be able to do much except moan feebly.

Whatever. People in tights are gonna be hitting each other soon, which is why people bought this. Fuck the logic.

Immediately following is the reveal which should have been. Had the location of Wonder Woman’s opened this issue, with a dramatic enough scene, then I could have forgiven the mishandling of other elements, but we don’t get such style here. The rationale for Britain being the site of her battleground has not been brought up thus far, and it holds so many possibilities – none of which we get to enjoy. It would have made sense (to me) that the marrying of DC Comics history and the history of London should be intertwined to allow for something approaching a unified history.

Let me dig into this a little. I’ll be very brief. I mentioned the importance of the opening and closing pages in keeping the momentum of the story going, and there was the perfect opportunity present with the midway point to really drive home the difference between this reality and the one in which The Flash was part of the Justice League alongside Superman and Batman. We could have seen a full-page illustration of Wonder Woman, in full battle armor, standing in front of the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the dome symbolically smashed in a recreation of the damage done in WWII. There is history which ties the fictional character to the site in the form of a Temple Of Diana which is said to have been situated on the site of the cathedral.

Intelligent use of location is not something we are dealing with much in this series. It is the small details, the minute reality, which lends authenticity to the most spectacular and unbelievable scenes. When reality is stripped away, we are left with what amounts to a four-color transposition of a Michael Bay film. The narrative even manages to contradict itself in the telling – the place where the action takes is alternatively named London and New Themiscyra. You do NOT call a place a former name. I know this. Numerous European places have changed names in the last couple of decades, and when you use the old name people get annoyed. Some rigidity should have been followed in this regard.

While I am at it, I may as well speak to the use of mainland Europe as Aquaman’s stomping ground. This… Strangely doesn’t bother me so much. It would have been a nice touch to elaborate more on the societies surrounding the Amazon and Atlantean hostility, and why the situation has become so perilous. More of a solid background would have made the conflict at least slightly less random than it feels. A proper name for Aquaman’s land-grab – or sea-grab, or whatever – would have made sense in this regard. Personally speaking, naming the reclaimed area Ghotichora or something would have been awesome.

We are desperately in need of a character unseen thus far – one who has historically been the center of the DC universe. Unfortunately, Superman is nowhere to be found. The US government in this timeline have stashed him away in an underground hodymoke which only Cyborg can get Batman information on, much to the benefit of the plot. So far, this is ticking along with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The location of the secret base is soon uncovered, with an assault which leaves much to be desired in the way of difficulty. Of course, the combined forces of Batman, The Flash and Cyborg soon free the Big Blue from his predicament, letting him taste freedom for the first time.

Then the extraterrestrial gommeril decides – having tasted freedom – to fly off in search of… fresh underpants, I think. It was all the excitement that did it. For such a momentous turning point in the story it is not handled with any degree of importance. It is merely another scene played out in a story which is intent on disappointing at every turn. The final page, unlike the previous issue fudges any sense of tension by having three superheroes face off against… Wait for it, this is brilliant – a bunch of redshirts. Yes, really. The tension we are meant to feel at the prospect of a massive confrontation was probably higher than the “mediocre” setting.

Where are the giant robots for the heroes to face off against? Or something to keep my attention…

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Flashpoint Read-Through, Part Two

Posted by BigWords on May 14, 2013

or, Everything Is Better With Pirates

Yes, Pirates. Dear gods, the things I read… With Deathstroke, whose own title started out okay but descended into melodrama of the highest order, as the captain of a vessel sailing the deadly seas, the opening of the second issue strikes out in a different direction to what I expected. The atmosphere is really moody until we get back to Batman beating up Barry Allen, though I could have done without the inclusion of a terrible depiction of Clayface, who doesn’t look anything like Clayface. The chatter doesn’t flow as well as it could have, and it feels like there is a missing scene in the first part of the book.

But before we get further we need a proper title for this issue, published as merely Chapter Two.

Flashpoint 2: Siege Perilous

One of these days I will finally accept the low standards which DC have, but until then I will continue to look for intelligent, nuanced storytelling and deep characterization. Not that it is doing me any good with these superhero titles, which seemingly exist for the sole purpose of maintaining the characters in print for exploitation in video games, increasingly abysmal films and mediocre television shows. Yes, Smallville, I am talking about you. But back to Flashpoint, and the story at hand…

Barry gets off to a bad start with this universe’s Batman, winding up with a broken hand for his troubles in a scene which sounds better than it actually is. As memories flood his mind, The Man Who Would Be Flash realizes that time has been manipulated to bring about events as they are. There’s a certain line in the three-quarter page revelation which actually made me wrinkle my nose in frustration, “Wonder Woman leading the Amazons… On a blitzkrieg in London.” It is the kind of on-the-nose line which demands a red pencil in the editing stage, yet there it is.

Man, this is so disappointing in every regard – yes, even the art, which feels like it has been pulled from a late-90s title – that it is a wonder I can bring myself to continue past this point. It is waaaay too soon for that to be used, and the minimum point where it should have been revealed to be London is the third issue. The story has not gotten to the point where we need to know that Wonder Woman has taken Britain as New Themiscyra. And why the hell does DC continually screw up the spelling? Actually, given everything else I should have expected such sloppiness. This issue should have focused more on the moment, letting events play out towards the issue’s dénouement.

I’ll hold off on dealing with the Wonder Woman sequence until the next issue, but the prolonged scene in which Barry Allen sets about restoring his powers is one of the highlights of the issue – masterfully paced to set up the pay-off, though marred by a few ridiculous pieces of dialogue which fatally undermine the tension. Had it ran (no pun intended) without dialogue, it would have been perfect, but the lines kill the tension with unintentional comedy.

“They say lightning never strikes the same place twice.”
They say a lot of things.”

More than being overly-familiar to anyone who can read, the line smacks of being hastily sketched in to fill space rather than anything that speaks to character. That it is also patently stupid is another matter. Thomas Wayne is a doctor, and Barry Allen is a chemist who works with the police, and both men are undoubtedly intelligent. If anyone in the DC universe knows such a statement to be completely unfounded, it is these two individuals. There are numerous instances of people struck by lightning more than once, and it is a relatively well-known fact that both the Empire State Building and The Eiffel Tower are routinely hit by lightning.

Hell, there are a couple of thousand thunderstorms taking place right now.

It is this kind of writing which I get dragged out of the story by. Had this been Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, or other characters who have previously bounced the idiot ball back and forth, then I might have been more forgiving. But Batman and The Flash? Ugh. It does lead to the best cliffhanger of the series thus far, and for a final image it is well worth trudging through the rather turgid events. It is hard to imagine a more powerful closing scene, and it works perfectly to drag the reader along.

Some people may be wondering why I am expending so much energy on showing up the flaws in this story, but it is important to understand the conventions being used and those broken. To see the way the individual elements come together to make narrative. Even bad storytelling can teach about the way story evolves from events and characters, perhaps moreso than from expertly-told tales which are free from any criticism. By the time we reach the final issue, it should be clear that this could have been one of the most momentous events DC Comics had ever handled, had certain changes been made between plotting and publishing.

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Flashpoint Read-Through, Part One

Posted by BigWords on May 13, 2013

You might have noticed that I have been away for a while, and I thought that instead of boring you senseless with all of the dreary, monotonous blah-blah-blah, it would be more entertaining if I got right back into things. So this – a review of sorts – is the result. Do please note that my brain is still fuzzy, so some things may be… well, weirder than normal.

Flashpoint 1: Velocitas Eradico

The title didn’t inspire confidence when I first saw it. Flashpoint sounds, in all honesty, like a bad summer blockbuster. The kind of film where The Rock runs around avoiding explosions, or one in which Sylvester Stallone shoots lots of people. It is the kind of lazy title which irks me before I have read a single page, and as this is an example of DC superheroes hitting each other, it is a rather brief affair – large panels with sparse dialogue – so don’t expect an intriguing read. The cover is… Actually not as bad as I had imagined, though it immediately worries me that the main focus is one of the most boring characters in the DC stable – Barry Allen.

Look, I like The Flash. Wally West is one of the most intriguing, multi-layered characters to carry an ongoing series, Max Mercury is a brilliant, wildly entertaining character, and the supporting cast of Rogues is second only to Batman’s villains. I stopped reading The Flash’s ongoing title around the time that stupid electrical imp appeared, though the earlier Jackson Guice issues are my favorites from the run. But Barry? Ugh. Barry is a much less interesting character who is largely defined by the fact that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the Anti-Monitor.

Barry Allen should have stayed dead.

But here we are, and to make things worse, it is a story built on the premise of an alternate reality. Geoff Johns isn’t a bad writer, and he has crafted some astonishingly mature stories in the otherwise idiotic genre of superheroes, but with the opening installment of this mini-series he is not at the top of his game. He can’t even be bothered to name the individual issues, leaving this as “Chapter One Of Five”. That is hopeless, so I am going to refer to the first issue as Velocitas Eradico. Anything is better than nothing.

The plot kicks into gear when Barry realizes he doesn’t have his Flash ring, and his mother is alive. Which is a problem for those of us who simply don’t care. See, the entire story hangs on the central premise that she is alive in this reality, and for anyone who simply cannot get behind Grandpa Allen as The Flash instead of the rightful speedster Wally West this is something which cannot be bridged. There is no way to make the story work without making us care, and in the few pages of story so far, I am already anticipating the scene on the freeway where she is brutally mowed down by an eighteen-wheeler.

C’mon, don’t look at me like that. I didn’t even make the obvious joke.

Anyways, I am going to have to get to the Batman problem sooner or later, seeing as he is a major player in this. Batman, as a character, is one who carries a certain amount of leeway in interpretation, from cheesy sixties television star to grim avenger in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. Any and all versions of Batman between these polar opposites is a valid one, though some make for better stories than others. And in not a single other interpretation do we have a completely irrelevant, off-putting and damn ugly red circle behind the bat symbol. A red bat-symbol? Sure. That is fine. A red outline around the bat-symbol? Okay, I can work with that. But the circle? Oh man, is that ever the stupidest thing in this comic, and that is saying something…

But this isn’t Bruce. This is Thomas Wayne, who should be ages with Barry though looks older for some reason. Actually, considering how messed up the chronology of DC’s superheroes is, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barry was de-aged somewhere along the way – in a story I’ll happily ignore, along with all the other appearances the walking corpse has made. Actually, talking of walking corpses reminded me – where the hell is The Spectre? Or Constantine? They would surely be up to something. Or The Phantom Stranger, who seems to pop up at the most inopportune times. I’m waiting on the story where The Phantom Stranger interrupts Lobo in a public toilet mid-stream and gets his head ripped off.

Um… Where was I? Oh, yes.

There are some nice touches in the pointless splash page of ol’ pointy ears, including a Wayne’s World sign, but it is still a waste of two pages where plot could be advanced. We know this isn’t Bruce under the cowl because Batman throws a woman off the top of a skyscraper, in a scene which introduces Cyborg to the story. His conversation with Batman recalls a similar scene from Jason Todd’s days as Robin, with a line that actually made me smile. The repetition of moments which are memorable isn’t something which has penetrated into the DC universe overall, from what little I have been exposed to of the current mess, but it touches base with one of the highlights of the mid-80s version of the character.

I have a lot of problems with the way in which Cyborg delivers the page-long exposition, and the fact that Wonder Woman took over the UK (on the eighth of March? Please let the invasion have taken place on the eighth of March…) should have been one of the shock twists to come later rather than laid out in such a perfunctory manner. This issue is all set-up, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is so little meat to the story, but I had the lingering hope that something of merit could be imparted through the thin, color-by-numbers storytelling. Things come to a head on the last page with the revelation that Batman is Thomas, but there is nothing convincing me to read on.

Here’s hoping things improve.

Well, this title can’t get much worse, can it?

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Lit List: Spaced

Posted by BigWords on November 1, 2012

Season 1

Episode 1 – Beginnings

As part of the sequence where Daisy goes over Tim’s childhood, she mentions Batman comics.
Numerous comics, including Avengers, Cable, Cry For Dawn, Daredevil, The Darkness, Fantastic Four, Planet Comics, Weird Fantasy and Weird Science can be seen in Fantasy Bazaar comic shop in which Tim works. There may be more I haven’t noticed… In real life, it is the renowned comic shop They Walk Among Us.
An issue of FHM can be seen, opened to a Gillian Anderson photograph. I think it is the #84 (Jan 1997) issue.
As part of the sequence where Tim goes over Daisy’s childhood, she can be seen reading a copy of The Beano.
When Tim opens a cupboard two girls are standing in it, just like in The Shining (based on the Stephen King novel).

Episode 2 – Gatherings

The music from the feature film Misery (based on the novel by Stephen King) plays when Daisy is typing.
Tim reads an issue of Zenith while Daisy is on the ‘phone with her boyfriend, and later is seen reading an issue of Judge Dredd. There is talk on the commentary about it being the US editions, which is rather more amusing than it really should be…

Episode 3 – Art

The (thankfully fictional) magazine Flaps is mentioned by Daisy as one of the titles she submitted work to, and the office is later seen.
A whole slew of magazines are seen when Daisy goes to the newsagent, and she then returns to the apartment with magazines and newspapers.
The Guardian very noticeably falls out the top of the bag of newspapers and magazines Daisy returns with.

Episode 5 – Chaos

Socialist Worker newspaper is seen at the beginning of the episode.
2000 A.D., Judge Dredd Magazine, The Death Of Groo (and the other comics in Fantasy Bazaar).
There’s a flashback sequence which is based on the maze sequence from The Shining.
Tim reads The Independent newspaper report of the break-in at the animal testing facility at the end of the episode.

Episode 6 – Epiphanies

Tim wears a Batman t-shirt (with an image in the style of the animated series) at the beginning of the episode.
Captain Marvel (the Fawcett character, rather than the Marvel character) is referenced during the Scrabble game.
Daisy is reading Eightball issue #13 (Apr 1994) before Tim snatches it from her and begins reading it.

Episode 7 – Ends

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is mentioned at the beginning of the episode.
Mike mentions Andy McNab when he is in his meeting with the Territorial Army.
Daisy looks at her typewriter in yet another reference to The Shining.
During Daisy and Marsha’s talk, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare is referenced.

Deleted Scenes

Mike is holding Gun Magazine while asleep on the train.

Season 2

Episode 1 – Back

Tim’s opening narration is reminiscent of the one in GoodFellas, based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi.
Mike is holding Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson when he comes out of the bathroom.

Episode 2 – Change

French Fun by Catherine Bruzzone, The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, a Dummies Guide title, and a selection of Mr. Men books are among the titles seen in the bookshop Daisy is working in at the end of the episode. Other books are seen, though the names of the books are obscured by the camera angle.

Episode 3 – Mettle

Some of the scenes parody One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the 1962 Ken Kesey novel.
The sequence set in an underground robot wars club is based on Fight Club. “The first rule of Robot Club…”

Episode 4 – Help

Dark Horse Comics is referenced in a poster at the beginning of the episode.
Tyres calls Daisy “Shakespeare” when he arrives to take Tim’s portfolio.
Daisy reads Hello! when she goes to fetch Mike from Marsha’s .

Episode 5 – Gone

Another Shining visual gag appears in this episode.

Episode 6 – Dissolution

Daisy can be seen writing for Colwyn Bay Gazette in a dream sequence. Unfortunately, the website seen is no longer working.

Episode 7 – Leaves

Sophie tells Tim that she has to leave to work for Marvel.

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Get Your Geek On – Day Five

Posted by BigWords on September 16, 2011

It is no surprise that games have played a large part in my life, though it may surprise some to learn that the games which have had the most impact on me were not the usual suspects – partly because of location, and partly because of finances, the early nineties wasn’t the Nintendo era for me – it was when I was getting into the classic games of the eighties. I had an Amstrad and a Commodore from as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until the notion of coding my own games that I really started to understand the appeal of gaming. Being in control of the world as well as the character on the screen was a massive step into the immersion. The first game I wrote was a horrible, truly awful side-scroller with half of the code lifted from the games around me – all in BASIC, with a number of gameplay issues which would take me a few years to fully understand. Aside from being completely broken, unimaginative and rather rubbish, that first game was exhilarating.

I’m probably going to reveal just how long I’ve been gaming when I say this, but the Batman game which came in the big box with two cassettes and a poster (I think it was the Joker and the Penguin, the villains of the game) was probably more instrumental in getting me to keep playing than any other. It wasn’t a pretty game, by any means, though it was probably the first I completed all the way through to the end. I worked my way through the back catalog of games from the 80s which I could pick up in small newsagents – and the thought of those spinner-racks full of games cassettes holds serious nostalgia value – then looked for something to fill the need for more complexity. I think I’m missing a generation there, but there wasn’t that many games on floppy for the BBC – or, I should say, I didn’t have that many of the games. One thing people might not remember is the long loading times, which I spent gathering together paper and pens for conspicuous note-taking.

Round about the time Windows 95 rolled along (though it would have been a year or so after release that I actually got my hands on the giant desktop) I went looking for games which would test me. Most of the searching was in vain, though a few games came close to appeasing the growing need for something more than shooting and jumping. Puzzle games have, for the longest time, irritated me as much as they have entertained me, and some of the worst offenders *cough* Tomb Raider *cough* fall firmly into the “PITA” category. There was a clutch of games released in the late 90s and early 00s which reaffirmed the notion that new things could be done with gaming, and – as joyful a kid who has found a new toyshop – I was back to playing for three or four hours a day. Hostile Waters, Thief, Half Life, Red Faction, and the sublime Deus Ex. Of all the games of that era, Deus Ex rose to the position of the game I would play when I needed cheering up.

Of course, with the addition of consoles, my collection of games required that (once again) I was putting things in storage whenever my apartment got too crowded. I’ve still got a lot of the games I bought, but I rarely look back to the older titles unless, as now, I’m writing about them. Deus Ex still holds up as an amazing achievement – moreso than the middling Invisible War – and it is one of the handful of older titles which I still play. And yes, I started on a mod for it. The complete conversion never quite got to the finished state I had planned, but that was more to do with the awkward toolkit than a lack of ambition. Over the years I have spent as much time tinkering with the games themselves as I have playing them, and the beautifully simple Half Life was the game which cemented my skills putting ideas to work. Lousy graphics, in retrospect, but oh what a joy to mess with.

My own game – the one which has been burning away for nigh on ten years, through several incarnations – is looking more and more like a side-project now, with the increasing complexity required to put together a decent game making it difficult to imagine completion, never mind a solid release date. As I add more details to the script (a hefty document with multiple pathways as it is), I get the feeling it may be easier to write “choose your own adventure” book rather than expend more energy on the increasingly futile effort of putting the whole thing together. But that, right there, is what being a geek is – it’s not the necessity to go build a game, but the enjoyment of all the stuff which happens when getting there. It’s the fun of making sound effects, and recording dialogue, and playing through the wireframe working builds with friends. Again, the community aspect of geekery is at the forefront of everything.

Oh, and all those notes I used to take while playing? Those came in handy for a few different reasons. I learned how the storytelling in games worked, and wrote more walkthroughs than anyone should ever consider writing.

All those words, and I didn’t get to the boardgames, or the fan videos, or the ARG’s.

Remind me to cover those next year, when Geek Week returns. I may even have come up with a nifty graphic to celebrate the occasion by that point. Don’t expect miracles.

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Batman & Willpower = Green Lantern Batman?

Posted by BigWords on February 7, 2010

I’ve gotten bored waiting on the Comic World News forum sending me posting privileges, so I’ll post my response to Kurt Busiek’s answer to The Hooded Utilitarian’s question of why Batman (with all the willpower and intellect he displays) hasn’t been tapped by the Corps for a Green Lantern gig. The various answers about why he hasn’t received the ring are all valid, though there is perhaps a little too much “outside looking in” going on, with people justifying the non-ring status by way of saying that the books work better with Green Lantern (who is always Hal Jordan to me, no matter who else wears the ring) wielding the alien tech while Bats skulks around in alleyways and rooftops. True. But also true is the fact that the ring, when looking for a suitable replacement, would have the smarts to avoid those who would spur its’ offer.

I’ll play ‘What If…’ for a moment (even though the House Of Ideas lays claim to that particular title) and say that Batman is up against a foe who not only outguns him, but potentially outsmarts him: He’s on the rooftop, doing whatever he does between breaking the teeth of goons and mooks… Eating a sandwich perhaps, or checking Wonder Woman’s Twitter updates even. Then he hears the sound of a bank’s alarm ringing through the night, the wail of police sirens rushing to the scene, and faint screams in the distance. This is when he gets to do his stuff, rushing to the scene. But what if it isn’t just The Penguin, or some other rogue from his assembled list of walking, talking punching bags? Lets say there is a maniacal genius who has closed each end of the road with tanks. And there are a bunch of ex-military types brandishing FBG’s.

This is the point where Nightwing, or Green Arrow, or The Question, or any number of similarly non-powered characters would decide that making a call to the JLA for some serious back-up would be a good idea – 1-800-SAVEMYASS please. Not “Bats”, because he likes to like up to that nickname. He would see it as a challenge. He’s played the archetypal Badass Normal for so long that even thinking of wimping out would be completely unacceptable. Now, as he’s checking out the enemy he’ll probably spot the one critical weakness in the plan (because that is what he does), and he might let the merest trace of a grin flicker over his features for a second. But only ever in the shadows, because ‘Batman’ doesn’t smile.

Right at this moment, if it were in a P.J. Farmer novel, we would be gifted to a nice little description of a stretching of his underpants, nudging his utility belt into his stomach. Point being – Batman gets off on beating the shit out of his enemies without resorting to anything more than his brains and his fists. It is the defining aspect of the dark knight detective. And even if he did get tapped by the ring to bear the mantle of an intergalactic police force, he wouldn’t go flying off to some other planet to save little six-armed purple aliens, or talking horses, or… y’know, whatever…  when there are still pimps and drug dealers on the streets of Gotham waiting to get seven shades of shit kicked out of them. He would refuse the call to arms. C’mon, honestly – can you imagine him reciting the “In brightest day” schtick without dying a little inside.

So the ring wouldn’t approach him because he would refuse it.

And if it did reach him, he would refuse it anyway.

And if he really, really wanted a green ring (ignoring the current BN storyline) he would only have to ask GL for a loan of the damn thing. No, scratch that. He would have a plan in place whereby he would get it, even if he had to do pull some really nasty and amoral moves to get his hands on the ring, because he has plans for everything. That is who Batman is. He exists for the dank, horrible side streets of a city where you’re as likely to get gassed by the Joker, or eaten by Killer Croc, as you are to make it through the rush hour traffic in time for work. He is part of the city in ways that other heroes just… aren’t. Beyond the connection to Lois, Superman could be based anywhere on the planet. Same with Wonder Woman. Batman’s family is part of Gotham history, tying his existence as Batman to the place.

Those are the reasons why Batman wouldn’t become a Green Lantern in regular continuity.

####

You’re still thinking of Batman’s boner though, right? All my points, laid out in logical fashion, and the Bat-stiffy is all that sunk in?

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How Unforgivable Does An Artistic Work Have To Be Before Enough Is Enough

Posted by BigWords on October 26, 2009

There is a thread on Absolute Write about reading a second book by an author whose first book ain’t quite up to scratch, and it got me to thinking about how bad something has to be before a creator’s entire canon is ignored. In some ways I am able to see past the voice of a writer, or filmmaker, or musician, or any other art, to accept the output for what it is, but a small part of me knows that there is more to life than slogging through an annoying or ill-conceived concept for a few good moments. There are some big event releases coming up which I’ll be waiting a while for due to this very topic.

Avatar, James Cameron’s return to the big screen may be endlessly hyped by some, though after the dumb True Lies, an obnoxious Titanic remake, and his terrible Entourage cameo, I don’t see how he has any reason to expect my money. I’ll wait on the DVD, only if the film gets good reviews, or the television premiere if it sucks ass. The notion that he has anything new to say in the realm of SF is doubtful, especially when the idea behind Avatar is examined closely. It sounds like the plot of any number of novels by people who have something to say.

George Lucas, the man to blame thank for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is another individual who has lost any respect from me. Did he fall on his head and forget how to direct? Jeez, it’s a good thing that the fanbase ignored the terrible aspects of his second trilogy long enough for him to turn a quick buck. I’ve been wary of Star Wars properties since those films, but there have been a few games (The Force Unleashed and the Lego tie-ins) which pulled back some of the wonder from those first Star Wars films. Better than Jedi Academy at any rate…

I’m more forgiving to people who strike me as people I could have a drink with and not be irritated by. Even after Land Of The Dead and Diary Of The Dead failed to impress me, I guess I would still check out any new film George A. Romero comes up with. Is that an asshole / box office equation that I’ve just come up with? There are other creators I forgive poor quality work from, and Clive Barker – once hailed as the future of horror by no less an authority than Stephen King – is one who goes straight to the top of that list.

Cabal, a book I love as much as I am infuriated by its missed opportunities, is still with me after fifteen years of re-readings. His Books Of Blood were brilliant, and I can forgive him pretty much anything for their existence alone. His film career may not have panned out quite so well, and I’ll comfortably ignore Rawhead Rex despite it sitting on my DVD shelf alongside his other cinematic outings. I bought it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll ever watch the fucking thing – collector mentality only goes so far.

Those are familiar names. My opinion on their talent is irrelevant. Suckers will still shell out money for any old crap that is associated with Star Wars (and how else could stores shift Jar Jar Binks toys?), but that kind of loyalty has long since left me. I (thankfully) missed the One More Day storyline in Spider-Man as it was happening due to endless and awful Spidey crap from the late nineties. I hold my grudges well. Only… The Spirit (the DVD of which I finally managed to get running) is shit. I’m sure everyone is in agreement on this. Does that mean I should wait and see if Sin City 2 is okay for human viewing?

Frank Miller, whose work is divisive when discussed in polite company, is one of the very few comic book creators who have yet to create something completely unreadable. DK2 is a hard book to love, but it isn’t as terrible as some make it out to be. There is a rhythm and a specific cadence to his writing that instantly appeals, and his artwork on Sin City, while reminiscent of both Hugo Pratt and Jim Steranko in places, is a breath of fresh air. The Spirit is an anomaly, and I’m sure he will put it behind him.

I haven’t mentioned music yet, because that is trickier to separate the artist from their work. Many times I’ve heard a song which is catchy but at the same time doesn’t sound like it belongs to the performer. It isn’t necessarily that they are doing a cover of a famous track, it’s just that they aren’t the best singer for the song. Can you imagine anyone else but Roy Orbison singing In Dreams? No. That is a perfect match between singer and song, and it is a good benchmark for anyone to compare against.

Most people deserve at least two opportunities to prove themselves. If we implement the one strike rule, then James Cameron’s career would have amounted to a shit sequel to Piranha. No Terminator, no Aliens and no Titanic… It’s a good way of looking at most artistic endeavors.

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