Monday, May 18, 2015

License Request: Gamefan Comics

It's recently been announced that The Legend of Zelda comic that ran in Nintendo Power was an instant bestseller on the sales chart, which isn't too surprising given the nostalgia factor and that there hasn't been a reprint for years.  I'm still awaiting another collection of the Mario comic from that same magazine, in all its glorious insanity.  Strangely enough, an earlier reprint had an extra comic including Wario, but not the follow-up segment where Princess Peach wanted a Samus Doll (in conjunction with Super Metroid that was coming up that year)  It was written by the author of Even a Monkey can Draw Manga, whose satirical advice still seems relevant years later, and the prediction that Ninja manga would make a comeback a decade before Naruto came onto the scene.

The Nintendo Power comics were also notable for introducing elements that would later be added to their games, such as Luigi's crossdressing, fear of ghosts and Peach being a badass (which eventually led to noble attempt Super Princess Peach, the only game where PMS is a Superpower)  The other two comics, StarFox (the prototype for Krysta) and Metroid (the Chozo, the annoying male partner) had lush art, but were less comedic.  I was surprised to find out the artist for both was Japanese, since it certainly didn't fit the usual profile.  (I don't consider the detachable Pokemon Fumetti or the Blast Corps comic with its serious American art to count)  Possibly on the minus side, we never got to see Friendly Floyd in any games, even though he's along the same annoying lines as Stanley the Talking Fish, which is strange considering the weird popularity of loathed Tingle.

Being bereft of any comics that adhered to my taste, the Mario and Zelda additions were a welcome (if temporary) addition, and I was sorry to see them go.  I would've killed to have the surplus of material that's available today.  Even withstanding the German Mario comics that had Necronomicon readings, Cthulhu parties and Zombie Peach.  I would've gone for the latter, even if it ended on an ambiguous note.  Just look at all the craziness present.  Despite the wonky writing, they're even more hallucinogenic than the games themselves!
Even though this is an Extreeeme version of Mario and gang in Hell,
everybody still seems to be having fun.
Nintendo Power wasn't the only gaming magazine out there, but in terms of comic content, it was the most memorable.  There are Howard and Nester scans are available online, but when it comes to a segment of other Gaming Magazines that also had comics within its pages, their presence is strangely absent.

Or maybe not.  The founder of Gamefan Magazine, Dave Halverson, has mentioned several times that he doesn't want copies of his magazine available online, so websites that have declined to be faced with lawsuits have followed his wishes.  Most gaming magazines are little more than glorified advertisements and hyperbolic excitement (save for the shining example of game journalism of Next Generation, which were above the usual grade) and for awhile, mentioned that interested parties could purchase digital copies online.

This seemed to work for awhile for the first three issues with promise of more to come... until the GameFan store suddenly went under, leaving curious parties and nostalgic fans out in the lurch.  To add insult to injury, the replacement GameFan online shop no longer bothers to sell magazines, and is now regulated to selling games instead.  Might as well cut the middleman, amiright?

Even though the majority of the online world seems willing to abide to his wishes, it may have the unintended consequence of backfiring on potential customers who may not be aware that such things exist.  Since there's no concrete way to tell which magazines have the relevant content that we'd be most interested in, it makes it harder to make a blind purchase just to look at 3-4 pages of a silly comic.  Especially since today's gaming audience are more likely to wean their experience on online manuals that'll give step-by-step instructions.

This is somewhat of a shame, since the appeal of game magazines (apart from seeing your favorite games given coverage) is from the various layouts designed to capture your eye (of which GameFan was an expert in) where other magazines were devoted in seeing the amount of advertising space vying for your attention.  Anybody remember the numerous various of Fritz... for the Don Bluth inspired BrainDead 13?  "Fritz... He's a real %$#@!"  "Fritz... He can only count to two."

These gaming mags were also our first peek at the blooming interest in Anime, with interest in titles such as Ruronin Kenshin and Flame of Recca.  Their choice of screenshots could give the sensation of seeing the action happening between frames.

For all its good points, GameFan wasn't without its flaws.  It was notorious for praising games up to the skies, if they fit to a reviewer's preferences, and give low scores for other elements, such as disagreeing on the style of music playing.  And it would pander to the male gaze.  To get an idea for how they represented the staff avatars, they were shown in typical Liefeld caricatures that I was notoriously ignorant about, since I wasn't the target audience.  To get an idea of what comics in the 90's were like in a gun-crazy culture, these panels from Archie's TMNT spinoff, Mighty Mutanimals may help my point.

One common trait was to give heroes bulking biceps, persistent scowls, and have them lug around honking huge guns.  Having loaded their weaponry with load to spare, and going on a trail of bloody vengeance, the animals march their way towards their target...

Only to wind up completely exhausted after walking around with heavy pea-shooters.

Adventures of Monitaur, drawn by cover artist Terry Wolfinger, featuring the writers of GameFan (some who used multiple shared aliases) and the titular character who was basically The Tick with a computer screen for a face.

His mission was to protect gamers from purchasing intentionally shabbily made games whose only intention was to make a quick buck.  Amusingly enough, this last game would be a regular feature for WarioWare.

The origins of Monitaur had its humble beginnings as a doodle in the DieHard Gameclub, before being considered a potential mascot.  Beyond that, I have no idea how he initially started out, since he's little more than The Tick with a computer screen for a face.

But for origin stories designed to provoke a reason for indulging in the dangerous world of game reviews, none does it better than the second half of the GameFan mascot; The PostMeister.
 Going further along the S-hero analogy, they would routinely face off against the dreaded Blowmeister, who was an expy for rival gaming magazines, such as Electronic Gaming Monthly, and was routinely portrayed as a Mother Brain figure.  One of their last encounters had said Blowmeister's head dropped into a vat of hydrochloric acid, which would've ended things there... or so we thought.

The next issue opened up with a cute 'lil innocent-looking striped-shirt kid sucking on a lollypop who as soon as he was within the Monitaur's hideout, suddenly started bulked up and looking massively non-cute with straining veins and revealing that the man they'd killed was his Father, and he wanted revenge.  He put up a good fight despite having gone through multiple dangerous operations, but in the ensuing scuffle, a team member wound up unintentionally killing him by ripping his blood bags off him.


Of course, you can't get rid of a persistent enemy that easily, and he self-destructed via a dead man's timebomb, spreading his body parts all over the landscape, infecting his mind on any nearby animals, no doubt popularizing on the extreme coverage of Earthworm Jim.

This led to the next two issues of conflict where the GameFan team wound up in that most Shonen-like cliche of resolving conflicts - via a tournament.  But this was no ordinary tournament - this was more along the veins of Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage, and the dozens imitators they spawned.

They ran through the ranks of increasingly stronger opponents, to finally come up to the Bull Boss... who was somewhat anticlimaxically defeated in a few panels.  Monitaur asked the editor if this was finally the end of this reoccurring villain, and was reluctantly confirmed in the affirmative.

After defeating the Big Bad once and for all (for real this time!) and it was for real, the comics seemed to suffer from a sense of aimlessness.  Without an overarching villain to unite them together, they resorted to the promotional gaming cameos for whatever system was deemed "hot" at the moment.  These segments wouldn't be too bad in themselves if it weren't for the fact that the author couldn't figure out how to end these stories on their own, and left it entirely up to audience participation.

Asking readers to finish a story of continuous build-up into one solitary panel might've been asking for too much.  If there was some kind of collection (ironic, considering the PostMeister was in charge of the mail) surveying their attempts, this might've been salvaged.  But there never was any attempt at follow-up, either because of reader's lack of interest, or faulty memory for something that happened months ago, and who'd have the time to focus on that when there's all kinds of new games to lord over?  So, in a strange way, Blowmeister wound up defeating GameFan after all.  (Though from going through the unbelievably true horror stories in the background, they may have dug their own grave themselves)

From the link above, some more comic pages can be found right under the legendary "Cybermorph review" that was written on acid, giving overzealous praise of "surreal planet sounds" and "aware enemies" for a second-rate 3D shooter.

It'd be nice to have a full collection of these Adventures of Monitaur, if only for their appreciation of ludicrous elements, much like warped historical artifacts that could've only existed in their time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Jason Shiga's Ice Creamon

Jason Shiga's DEMON has just officially entered the halfway point of its planned story and is currently one of the most addictive webcomics currently running, despite its initial setup not revealing itself for the first couple 50 pages or so.  At first, it looks like a twisted take on Groundhog Day where a man tries to commit suicide, but wakes up to find himself in the same room, with some things slightly changed.

It's difficult to describe the plot of DEMON without giving away the basic premise, since so much of the enjoyment comes from finding subtle clues embedded within the narrative that doesn't become apparent until later.  The best spoiler-free concept of the premise is that it's somewhat of a mixture between Death Note and Breaking Bad.  A perfectly ordinary everyday man suddenly finds himself in a position of considerable influence, and begins abusing said influence almost immediately.  To bring the comparison further, DEMON is also notorious for it's numerous cliffhangers from its daily pages that are a mixture of dense infodumps to maddening sparse, which is perfect fodder for the commentors to endlessly debate and theorize over.  One even managed to correctly predict the potential outcome of an initial setup before the big reveal appeared.

More surprising (or maybe not) is that readers have continued to stick around after the controversial 5th chapter that the author admitted was the "most depraved" but absolutely necessary to the overall narrative, since it showed just how far Jimmy Yee was willing to go.  It was also a major reason for why it wouldn't be commercially available in book form, since pretty much every editor loved DEMON, but had problems with that 5th chapter.  While it's not unusual for certain controversial scenes to be toned down (the brutal internal tentacle rape in the 2nd volume of 3x3 Eyes, where Torren Smith said that level of sexual violence was nowhere as prevalent in later volumes comes to mind) to reach a wider market, but sometimes having something diluted in order to increase sales can run the risk of alienating reader's intelligence.

The whole story can be available to Patreons who are willing to pay to see the whole story upfront in all it's maddening glory.  It's certainly an attractive proposition, even though updates are now daily instead of just week-daily.  Today's clientele who are used to "waiting for the trade" can be somewhat puzzled with the prospect of having smidgens of a story trickled out over an uncertain frame of time.  Why would you want to stick around for the slow crawl if you can marathon the distance?  There's a certain kind of thrill in seeing events reveal themselves in a deliberate way, and try to imagine what could possibly happen next, before the whole story is made available as Cliff Notes.  Fans aren't able to read perennial favorites like Calvin & Hobbes in short bursts, since they haven't lived in the same release output they originally came from.  All those strips had to come from someplace.

What makes the waiting period more tolerable is the presence of other fans who are willing to contribute to the narrative in creative ways that the author never thought of.  Noelle Stevenson's Nimona had some of the best commentors for her webcomic, from photoshops of Sharkgirls to the Voldemort-like Director's elongating Giraffe-like neck, to Daniel Stubbs' fanfics of background guards commenting on the action, and trying to calm themselves by implementing PONY TIME.  Now that the book is available in Dead Tree form, only the first three chapters are available in their charming rough drafts.  It's understandable, but somewhat of a shame, since so many of the enjoyable comments were on how much FEELS the current page was giving them.  After awhile, that admission of shared suffering becomes redundant.

Starting with page 339, a commentor, MattMattMattMatt did some revamped comics that were Relax-O-Vision versions of the increasingly dark originals.  Cream Van in particular seems to be a favorite.

Now, I check DEMON twice a day.  Once for the regular comic, and again for the bonus fan comic.  I've left some of the more spoilery strips out, since they're more enjoyable once you've compared them with the originals.   Apart from a few pages, (355, 356, 369) Mattx4's contributions have been fairly consistent.  Here's hoping that he keeps up his energy for the next year or so.

And on the rare occasion where perfectly mundane pages appear, the inverse is taken to Nightmare Fuel conclusions.

The title of this post comes from Bigger J's suggesiton of what Mattx4 comics should be called.  For those who aren't satisfied, here's a substitute that's a riff off a certain Anime:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Remaking the Joker

There's been another redesign of The Joker on Suicide Squad that's had some fans upset.  This comes on the heels of the Dark Knight Snyder version, which because it was being played by a Brokeback Mountain actor (that ironically enough, was the Indy definition of Gay Cowboys Eating Pudding), gave fears that he would give a less than sterling portrayal.  (Nevermind that Frank Miller's Joker displayed overly Gay tendencies benefiting a portrayal worth vilifying)

It's not unusual to have a beloved character replaced with a similar expy if the previous actor is no longer available, no matter how much money you throw at their graves.  I suspect that what everybody seems to be clamoring about is the need for Jaret Leto to appear more extreme than the previous incarnation.  Scott Snyder did his utmost best to create a "realistic" portrayal of the Batman's world, which sadly, seemed to extend towards the Superman movies as well, which should've been a study in contrasts, rather than similarities.  The Joker by all rights should've been a mix of comedic and terrifying, though the focus seems to be leaning more towards horror than comedy.  So how did they choose to portray his threatening nature?  Why by having Memento-style tattoos sketched all over his face and chest.  There's going to extremes to make a point, and there's going beyond the boundaries of good taste in order to provoke a reaction.

The design for The Joker seems tailor-made to what studio heads feel should resonate strongly with the audience, rather than have those traits appear naturally.  This comes from relying too much on analyzing certain trends and capitalizing upon them.  (Tattoos are cool and threatening!)  It gives the stench of simply trying too hard and thereby rings hallow.
This could be a prime candidate for Seinfeld is Unfunny.
At least they didn't try to go the Scott Snyder route he did for the comics (Yes, the man wrote for the comics as well as the movies) by putting the lead villain in a Saw face mask, probably because smearing makeup all over your face wasn't considered profitable enough if anybody could simply do it themselves.
Fun for the whole family!
Having the Joker redesigned to suit the tastes of current events is nothing new, but there should be some kind of consistency.  The most enjoyable aspect of the Joker, other than his homicidal tendencies (which have been overplayed in favor of his other talents) is that he's also capable of outrageous and outlandish plans that have the surface element of being funny.  And the recent serious portrayal of him from his skin mask and botched makeup is very far removed from the inspirational source of humour he comes from.  It smacks of simply trying too hard to be relevant and extreme.

Furthermore, they're also committing the cardinal sin of borrowing too many elements from Hannibal Lecter.  Whenever a TV series or movie tries to delve into a serial killer's threatening nature by having them appear overconfident in shackles and smelling the interrogator's perfume, I begin to tune out.  Constantly reusing the same traits that made Hannibal intimidating reeks more of copycat attempts, and like other copycats, they're pale imitations of the original.  There's more than one serial killer mindset, and simply rehashing the same one over and over gets tiring after awhile.  Others, like the Green River Killer, who simply killed, and appeared apathetic when revealing the location of the bodies, and was unable to fully explain his motivation behind his acts are more believable and unsettling.

But that's the thing, isn't it?  Having nihilistic shocking portrayal of the depths of humanity is easy.  Creating 4th wall-breaking black humourous jokes is hard.  When stripped down to his basic elements (a maniacal clown who delights in doing outlandish crimes that defy conventional methods and takes refuge in audacity), the Joker works perfectly well.

Of all the portrayals of The Joker, there's one that I'm surprised hasn't made wider strides in the Entertainment industry, of a once-popular figure who bleached himself to the point that he was virtually unrecognizable from how he first looked.  I'm speaking of course, of Michael Jackson.
From MAD's Similarities between Greek Mythology & Musicians.
Like The Joker, Michael Jackson did all kinds of outrageous acts that would be considered too extreme for attention-starved narcissists.  One reporter described Michael Jackson's antics as being an exaggerated representation of Celebrity culture.  Other Celebrities are subject to their personal whims and private demons.  Michael Jackson just happened to go to further extremes than what would be considered normal.
If millions of people consider cosmetic nose surgery acceptable, Jackson embarks on a long-term program of self-renovation that all but obliterates his nose. If society is obsessed with white and black skin, Jackson bleaches his so thoroughly that it must be protected from the sun with the utmost care. If much of humanity strives desperately to appear young, Jackson makes it his lifelong project to look and talk as much like a child as possible; (...)  Moreover, when everyone agrees that standard sex roles are weakening, he moves a major step further by becoming an androgyne, wearing his hair in the manner of an old movie actress and talking like a teenaged girl of two generations ago.
When faced with criminal charges that would be considered career-ending moves for anybody else, Jackson simply took them in stride and his numerous fans continued to support him, no matter what he did.  If he actually killed anybody, he would've unintentionally bred a cult more terrifying than The Following.  But maybe being too faithful to the source material is too taboo for the Entertainment division to consider.  They'd hardly want to acknowledge that their business is culpable for creating self-centered mentality with celebrities.
See the resemblance?
Or is it just me?
As far as I know, apart from the fedora and Sean Penn hair, there's never been a similar comparison between the two pale-faced performers.  Not even an ElseWorlds successful version of The Joker, which would be fairly interesting from a sociological point.  (After all, the Joker is extremely fond of pointing out the hypocrisy of media whenever possible)

Oftentimes, The Joker is portrayed as someone who is a master manipulator, creating a seemingly chaotic chain of events that plays to a plan that only he can see, giving him the sense of someone who's above it all.  If we're to take his insanity defense seriously, he'd have to be shown incapable of telling the difference between right and wrong, which is difficult given how much glee he takes in defying authority.  These instances would show that he does know the difference - he just doesn't care.  A truly insane individual would be spouting a rambling stream of consciousness where rational thought hardly comes into play.  The closest anyone got to this form of Joker was Joker: Switch where he had his mouth improbably surgically moved to the back of his neck, and tried to find out who did this to him, with less than stellar detective work.

Some other alternate interpretations that haven't been fully explored:

Being immortal:  The Joker is infamous for routinely coming back from the dead from situations that would normally kill any other man.  Frank Miller's abysmal sequel The Dark Knight Returns had among its technicolour nightmare sequences, an immortal Joker being casually beheaded and catching his own skull in the same panel.  Just recently, it's seems that Snyder's gone this same route, going for the dull immortal walker archetype.

Being effectively immortal is certainly a logical explanation for how he keeps routinely escaping such hubris deathtraps.  However, my interpretation was somewhat different.  The kicker being that he himself doesn't know this.  Whenever he comes back to life, he fills in the blanks of how all those bullets dodged him by inventing some elaborate scenario of getting out of that situation that he'd devised ages ago, even if that plan never actually happened in the first place.  He could be casually playing Russian Roulette in private, and getting a bad luck of the draw, then while his head's recomposing itself from being shot at point-blank range, and he's wondering where all this blood's come from, thinks that he loaded his chamber with red paint, and resolves to do so next time.  With how often he rewrites his personal history, being a mixture of a skilled gangster, a failed comedian, and a hitman, this wouldn't be too much of a stretch.
People's lives are so much more interesting if you just fill in the blanks yourself.
Even funnier would be if he was constantly confronted with this information, and shown irrefutable proof of his unknown ability, The Joker would refuse to admit the obvious and see this attempt as nothing more than trying to goad him into committing suicide.  Especially if they constantly kill him over and over, and The Joker refuses to believe it.

Being an avatar for Nyarlathotep:  The Lovecraft connection is tenuous at most in the world of Batman, its most infamous tribute being Arkham Asylum, which was an unnamed commodity for years.  Every once in a while, Nyarlathotep would take over the Joker's consciousness, as a human who can process more information that would normally drive mortal men mad, and given knowledge that man was not meant to know.  (The Joker is broadband, other people are dial-up)  Such constant influence on a rational mind would drive them to irrationality when left alone, which would be part of Nyarlathotep's devising, since he prefers more to leave madness than death in his wake.
"Why would I cause one death
when I could inflict torment upon Thousands?"
Considering the vast resources that can be gleamed from everyday ordinary objects twisted into strange shapes, escaping from a Maximum-security prison is nothing more than child's play.  When possessed, there's a kind of dual cooperation where both sides get to fulfill their sides of the bargain until such time when Nyarlathotep's finished his deeds and leaves the Joker to his own devices.  Being used to the demands of his eons-old masters, Nyarlathotep sees no qualms about following his host's unusual whims, as long as their interests coincide.

Which could explain why Batman is reluctant to kill the Joker, since he's the one human body he keeps coming back to, and if he suddenly died, Batman would have to find another avatar that the madness-inducing being would spawn from, which would be made doubly difficult, since this time, he knows he's being watched, and will spare no time or expense to drive him to distraction in ways that The Joker could only hint at.

Subtle Smile: The Joker is well known for having his trademark Gwynplaine rictus grin, which only serves to further heighten his frightening appearance.  When it comes to portraying realistic versions of this, the closest constant would be from Greg Rucka's Gotham Central.
You know someone's truly unnerving
when they dominate the room without saying a word.
Similar interpretations would have a constantly smirking smug gangster who is constantly spouting non-sequiturs in addition to thinly veiled threats.  Even when he's being beaten within an inch of his life, his smile never wavers, since he knows the right words that'd bring his tormentors to tears with a quick turn of phrase.  This isn't someone you want to face in a Dark Alley, or even in a Brightly Lit Alley.  This is someone who uses every available resource to his advantage and handles himself cooly, even as everyone else (except Batman) falls to pieces.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Kigitsu Katsuhisa's Franken Fran

Just recently, I was introduced to the welcome and long overdue news that one of my favorite Mangas, Franken Fran was finally licensed.  Way back when David Welsh was looking for appropriate Horror-themed titles, I suggested this title in his comments, which he later posted two days later.  It's one of the few instances that I'm grateful for being called out for my contribution.

"I like to think of Franken Fran as Pinoko all grown up, and being raised with the Doctor’s medical skill would make her a prime candidate for doing outlandish operations that would be banned in any country. Admit it – all the elements are there – she’s a childish tumor with no qualms of ethics or humanity, and enjoys operating madcap experiments that would make Desty Nova proud, just for the fun of it."
Part of the appeal is the ditzy "Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter" trait taken upon its head by having said makeshift Frankenstein daughter fill in for the Professor's absence, which allows her to do all kinds of weird experiments on an unsuspecting audience who only expect the best of her service.  Despite her ditzyness and ability to cry at a client's prospective plight, her dexterity and multi-tasking is far beyond the realm of mere mortals.  Furthermore, she accepts all her clients wishes without judgement, no matter how outlandish they may seem.  Need to repair your failing eyesight?  Just upgrade to a broader spectrum where you can see radio waves.  Want to become immortal?  Just inject yourself with Cancer cells.  Her descriptions of horrific medical terms is put in such a  matter-of-factually way that it's hard to stay mad at her otherworldy detachment to the subject.  A certain amount of desensitization is necessary for surgeons to succeed in their operations.  A doctor who faints at the sight of blood is probably in the wrong line of work.  (Though one that could operate blindfolded and work by touch would be interesting, if practically limited)

Considering the amount of medical skill she displays, and that she's only his assistant, the Professor's (who's often referenced to, but never seen) ability must be on a truly staggering level.

While the majority of Franken Fran is standalone stories, there's a reoccurring theme where the Professor's other daughters resent Fran's usurping what they assume should be their job, but since their talent lie more on assassination than saving lives, they're not really suited for it, and despite their bloodthirstiness, they're far less frightening than the girl who's casually rearranging your inner guts to save your life.

It's certainly gained something of a cult following, and was one of the first series that I helped foster some interest in for a reluctant blogger who was put off by the cheesecake covers (which are blatant lies that don't reveal the gruesome science behind them)  For a long time, I thought it'd never get licensed, due to one of the early chapters having an unusually ambiguous ending that was a culturally specific urban legend that's rather obscure.  Whether the notes will be as extensive as the scanlators' will be undetermined.  Even if that remains a mystery, the majority of the series is enjoyable for its satirical black humour and would be a natural progression for fans of Black Jack.  Of all the Mangas influenced by that classic (and there are many), Franken Fran with its multitude of mad science and condensed storytelling is easily the best.

However, there was only ONE story that I was reluctant to re-read again, amidst stories of a cult based around a macroscopic human circulatory system and anthropomorphic transplanted human limbs.  (I've read a lot of Shintaro Kago stuff)  That one story involved a specific type of plastic surgery.

While there were other stories that involved bodily mutilation to achieve changing genders or achieving immortality, those weren't as disturbing to me as this one.  In this instance, the client wanted to have her appearance changed to become more appealing to her boyfriend.  While putting on a false front to appear more attractive is nothing new, this goes far beyond the realm of applying permanent makeup.  No, what she wanted was to look like a character from a popular Shoujo Manga.

The characters are already cartoonily exaggerated, so taking that prospect further just raises the shackles for me. Not to mention that Asian people's self-respect about their epicanthic eyes is a self-image problem.  It strikes too hard to me for a series that plays fast and loose with medical plausibility.

As if the process of maintaining an already impossible body figure wasn't bad enough, she's regulated to a state of constant check-ups and monitoring to the point where her existence is limited to just appearing beautiful.  She has to be on a very limited and restricted diet due to the amount of food she can fit in her mouth, and lie in a tank of nutrients to cultivate her unnatural body image.  It's awkwardly similar to Michael Jackson's post-surgical conditioning.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Day by Mayday

The Great Exhibition
George Baxter, 1804-1867
May 5 - May Day Bank Holiday (Spring Bank Holiday Scotland) - Mayday!  Mayday!  I've run out of money!

May 26 - Spring Bank Holiday (May Day Bank Holiday Scotland) - Stupid Bank closed again.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pet Peeves: Author / Artist Disharmony

Scott McCloud and Harvey Pekar have long been of supporters of Graphic Novels (or as I like to call them, Comic Paperbacks) that truly great feats of literature can be achieved through harmony of both art and text working in concert with each other.  One or the other can dominate in other works, but its those that combine those spectacularly that are the most memorable.  When those traits are out of sync, they can lead to disunity and confusion.

This can be a tricky subject, since the meanings and motivations of creators are not always well-known, and are generally kept out of the public eye unless there's enough cultural interest in said stories.  Fortunately for us, the best and most examples come from Operation: Jail the Justice League!, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky.

This is a Silver-Age story where Green Arrow decides to spontaneously retire from the Justice League over "personal reasons" that he declines to give any further information on.  The other members figure that he's being targeted somehow, and decide to dress up as Green Arrow themselves, so they can deal with whatever threat is making him so scared.  The only one who's spared this is Wonder Woman who is unable to patrol the streets due to looking too much like a Rule 63 version, long before the term was even coined.

Apparently, having a change in disguise is more limiting than expected, since pretty much everyone winds up being easily defeated by C-list villains for the sake of the plot.  By all rights, Batman shouldn't even have this much trouble fending off the Penguin's hat-tricks, yet the other heroes are similarly left incompetent.  After each defeat, the hero winds up looking like the villain, and the villain looks like the hero, which allows for easy apprehension by the cops.

By all rights, this shouldn't be a complicated plan to understand.  Every time one of the "Green Arrow" heroes get defeated by a villain, they get switched and placed in jail while the villain gets off scot-free.

In the very next instance of the switcharoo, Martian Manhunter is accosted by Dr. Light, yet at his defeat, his Dr. Light persona winds up looking confident rather than defeated.  Rather than reverse engineer how some influential comics would've been written, (with the exception of Alan Moore whose overly verbose scripts are laden with dense commentary over something as simplistic as a panel of falling rain) a greater challenge would be trying to figure out how such an amateur mistake could've gone past the editors.

I'm not much of a fan of the American style of comic scripting, since they read too much like Hollywood scripts for my taste, constantly putting the setting and location before the dialogue.  What probably happened was that this scene was written as "The form of Martian Manhunter (Green Arrow) lies comatose in the air while surrounded in rings of light as changing into Dr. Light, while on the roof, Dr. Light changes into Green Arrow and looks upon in triumph."  Only, the artist made the mistake of having both Dr. Lights look active.

Things only get more confusing with the last "victim" Dr. Woodrue and Atom, switching places.  Here, the comatose body of the Atom changes into the standing pose of Dr. Woodrue, while the comatose body of Dr. Woodrue turns into a standing Green Arrow.  It's possible that the artist had no idea how to superimpose two collapsed bodies on top of each other, one being smaller, and easily obscured.

This isn't my only source of discontention.  This particular annoyance can come from artists who are more concerned with how "cool" each panel looks, rather than how they're combined on a page.  Panels that bleed into each other is pretty much a staple of Manga, but can lead to general confusion when the boundaries of invisible borders aren't made clear and leave no clear clue for where the wandering eye should flow.  That kind of crime can be understandable for those who struggle to understand the form without understanding the function (more on this later), but this shouldn't be much of a problem for individual panels.  Kelley Jones' Batman is enjoyable more for the portrayal of grotesque anatomy and misshaped bodies cast in warped dark shadows than anything else.  Exaggerated muscles is nothing new, but you'd think there'd be better consistency between panels.

In the very first frame, the terrified doctor is reaching for a medical hammer conveniently close to his hand.  In the very next panel, the hammer has somehow turned around in his hand, ready to strike his foe.  In the last panel, the doctor's hand is caught due to "lightning quick" reflexes, yet has somehow switched hands somewhere during the downswing.  That's some fast sleight-of-hand there.

Granted, this could all be chalked up to artistic license, but chances are, Kelley Jones saw the words, "Doctor reaches for hammer", "Doctor lunges towards foe with hammer", and "Foe catches arm clutching hammer" as three individual instances taking place.

For a more overt example of how artists tend to ignore the writer's intentions, check out these panels of Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man.

Here, Felicia is menaced by an approaching Venom, with a chandelier peeking out at the upper corner.
Somehow, despite having one leg caught, Black Cat managed to notice a hanging crystal ornament behind her and kicked off the chain with her free foot, and have it fall on Venom, even though he was nowhere close to the instrument.  Now, it could be argued that there was more than one chandelier in the apartment suite, but realistically, how often do you see more than one fancy overhead light in more than one room?

Even independent comics aren't free from this glaring flaw.  The historical comic on folklore song Stagger Lee was easily understandable, showing a clear argumentative division between two men.  And then this page came up, which blurred the lines between Billy Lyons and Lee Shelton further than intended.  To differentiate between the two men, Lee Shelton was cast in a Mexican scrawled outfit, while Billy Lyons wore a checkered outfit.  Other than the text box creating potential confusion, can you tell what the problem is?

The key clue comes from the words "Conversely, a little shrinkage occurs in the process of turning Billy Lyons into the big man's perpetual victim."  If we're turning Lee Shelton into a more imposing figure, then Billy Lyons should be larger first, then smaller second.  Chalk this up to being constantly overexposed to people Hulking out in more popular comics.  Unless this confusion was intentional.

Just as annoying are people who take inspiration from the source material, but are unable to interpret it properly.  For years, comic fans were nervous when Hollywood became interested in doing adaptions of their favorite titles, after having been burned by low-budget movies that only scratched the surface area of their comics.  For the most part, those fears have been a combination of confirmation and justification due to results being a mixture of faithfulness or misguided interpretation.  Watchmen in particular suffered from being too faithful to the action scenes, (which weren't the book's most memorable moments) while downplaying or condensing other scenes that deserved more attention.  The most successful adaptions are those that adhered to the spirit of the comic, rather than being a lavish devotion to the comic (which usually doesn't translate well onscreen).  There are many examples of minutiae left out in Movie adaptions of Comic Books, or Comic adaptions of movies.  Chances are, something's going to be left out of the equation.  But I think this example of a homage to the MAD parody of L.A. Law portrays my point best.

For the most part, the majority of the cast are able to recreate the poses as portrayed on the cover. However, the two actors on the far right annoy me.

Richard Dysart is doing a thumbs-up that's pointing up, and nowhere close towards the judge's direction, while Jimmy Smits is just impotently dangling his tie in the air instead of using it as a makeshift noose.  Alan Rachins can be forgiven for having his palms spread outwards, and Susan Ruttan looking extra surprised, since they're closer to the spirit of the parody.  It could be argued that actors would be better prepared to understand the motivations of their characters, but you'd think they'd be able to understand the nuances of a drawn page better.  Otherwise, they're just going through the motions without understanding the meaning behind said actions.  It's also annoying that no one who took this photograph noticed this discrepancy.  But maybe there were just too many moving parts to pay attention to the small details.