July 2006 Archives

Those who worship evil's might

Several weeks ago, Henry Jenkins started a new blog to coincide with the release of his forthcoming book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. I find his work smart, original, and accessible, and since Jenkins often defends the kinds of pursuits I enjoy, such as gaming, I've been following his blog steadily.

Over the course of two days, Jenkins recently posted two essays on comic books and U.S. foreign policy that I think most comic book bloggers and fans would want to read. They are based on a chapter Jenkins contributed to a book called Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11, and he has promised a third part to the series will be coming soon.

Jenkins posted the essays partially in response to an article published in the political journal The American Prospect comparing the actions of the Bush Administration to the Green Lantern Corps. In this article, author Matthew Yglesias claims that Bush and his cohorts have a "comic book view of how international relations works."

Jenkins's essays demonstrate that the attitudes expressed in comic books after 9/11 regarding U.S. foreign policy are more sophisticated and more progressive than those of the Bush administration. In Jenkins's first essay, I was fascinated by his precise reporting of how the major comic book publishers and individuals within the industry were affected by 9/11 based on their physical proximity to ground zero.

It was also refreshing to read Jenkins's account of how mainstream and independent publishers collaborated and were influenced by each other in the period after 9/11. That's what I like about Jenkins's work--although he writes about popular culture topics that are often discussed in the media, his approach is always a nonobvious one. If you're interested in comics, games, fan fiction, or fandom, you should really check out his blog and his other work as well.

It's the Joe and Teresa Show

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I've mentioned before that my friend Joe has a podcast that has earned him a bit of notoriety, especially in the Quaker world. For while I was a bit worried about Joe's rising celebrity among Quakers, because naturally I wondered about the effect his microcelebrity would have on me. What if I was with him and he was mobbed, could I be crushed by Quakermania?

Fortunately, Quakerism is only one of Joe's many facets. There's also his gay facet and his gothic facet and his Madonna facet. The Madonna aspect took over not long ago when Joe decided to move on from the whole Quaker identity thing and remake his podcast as a personal journal. And what could be more personal than sitting down with me for a little chit-chat?

It doesn't matter if you don't already listen to podcasts or if you don't have an iPod. You can just click the link on Joe's page and the .mp3 file will play right in your browser.

Superheroes Return

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Batman smokes in his underwear.I wrote previously about the twin Batman art exhibits that are going on in Palm Springs this month, but a visit to the girls's site prompted me to revisit the m gallery, and they now have a nice preview of their Gotham show up. There's a really a lot of nice work, although I especially liked this painting by Brad Vancata of Batman looking rather louche while smoking a cig. I wonder what brand Bats smokes?

There's also an article in the L.A. Times that discusses Adam West's solo show, Beyond Batman, and his relationship to the Batman character. I mentioned in my earlier post that West was going to be at the show opening, but according to the m gallery blog, Julie Newmar is now expected to drop in as well.

While we're on the subject of superheroes, I thought I'd announce that I did indeed go see , and I thought it was excellent. I don't know why so many critics are finding fault with it. I only have one minor criticism (NO SPOILERS). In one of the ship scenes with Lex Luthor, the duet from the opera Lakme is playing in the background. I would have expected the Superman Returns director to know that ever since the Sarandon-Deneuve Motion Picture Film Act was unanimously passed by Congress in 1983, the Lakme duet is not be used as background music in any movie unless two women are making it on screen. And to think some people said this was a gay film.

The Queen's castle.I picked up Slave Labor Graphics's comics title, Wonderland number one, not sure whether I would like it or not. I had previously bought the first two issues of one of SLG's other Disney series,The Haunted Mansion , and had decided not to keep buying it. But I purchased Wonderland largely based on the fact that Tommy Kovac's name was attached to it.

Being a Southern California gal, I have an affection for all things Disney. At this point in my life, I feel this to be an unjustifiable and unruly passion. Nonetheless, I am reconciled to the fact that there are some things about one self that one cannot change. Some things must be lived and suffered. So it is with my love of Disney.

I say all this mainly to let you know that I bought The Haunted Mansion comic book with the expectation and hope that I would enjoy reading it. I had a vague idea that this comic was part of Disney's general effort to extend their brand and sub-brands in every which way possible. Thus, movies become soundtracks become toys become cartoons become parades become rides become comics. Or some variation of that sequence.

On the site Haunted Mansion Secrets, you can read differing opinions about whether the Haunted Mansion ride was originally intended to tell a story or not. It certainly seems, based on the accounts on this page, that there were once some story ideas kicking around that may not have made it to the final ride. Although certain characters, rooms and scenarios suggest story fragments, these stories may have been added later to enhance a staged effect, rather than serving as a starting point.

This lack of story in the Haunted Mansion ride presents a problem for adaptation. In the first story of issue one of the Haunted Mansion comic, the story is actually not a story at all, but the voiceover from the ride itself, illustrated. If you are a ride aficionado, there is some pleasure in simply reading the lines. As someone who writes for a living, I was actually amazed at the complexity of the language in this speech, compared to that in present day entertainments.

Nonetheless, it wasn't really a story. And as I got further in the book, the same problem kept arising. Cleave too close to the ride and there's no real storyline; create a real story with complex characters, and you start to lose touch with the ride.

Wonderland is an interesting contrast, because its origin point is a book, which the Disney movie adaptation is based on, which then became the basis for the ride. I found Wonderland a better read, perhaps because of the literary reference point. There was a story behind the story, so to speak. The artwork in Wonderland is also incredibly fluid and dynamic, and aids the movement of the story considerably. Disneyland's Alice in Wonderland ride is a classic, but I'm glad it wasn't the basis for this title.

Alternative pop histories

Through a link from Neilalien, I went to read Rabbi Simcha Weinstein's article, "Jewperheroes!" on the early Jewish creators of superheroes as well as the borrowed origins of the superhero type from Jewish culture. Although some of the material in his article was familiar to me, I found his personal commentary about his relationship to his Jewish identity interesting and was intrigued by his role as rabbi at the Pratt Institute. I was also unaware of some of the particular Jewish resonances he found in the Superman story.

Rabbi Weinstein's website, which identifies him as "the comic book rabbi," has more resources on the subject, including a podcast called "Is Superman Jewish?" I haven't listened to it yet but I probably will. He's also written a new book, called "Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero." I see, as he states it in his article, that Rabbi Weinstein is affiliated with Chabad, an orthodox sect of Judaism which I mainly know about through their very entertaining annual telethon. Anyway, between his article and Mike Sterling's series of posts on the the topic, I feel my resistance to the new Superman movie wearing away.

In a more progressive vein, the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend and I went to see The Tribe, which bills itself as "the unorthodox, unauthorized history of the Jewish people and the Barbie Doll in about 15 minutes." Like Rabbi Weinstein's article, The Tribe is a chronicle of the Jewish people's impact on popular culture and a commentary on the role of outsiders in society generally. However The Tribe, which is, in fact, only about 15 minutes long, is mostly concerned with the secular Jewish experience. It asks the question, "What ties secular Jewish people together?" and arrives at some vary forward-looking and inclusive answers about the meaning of the word "tribe."

The Tribe is an excellent little film. The creators were on hand the evening we saw it and described it as "an appetizer." They intended the movie as a jumping off point for what they considered the main dish: a group discussion about the movie. I liked this idea tremendously. It invited the audience into the artwork and I took it to be a very generous approach. I also liked the format of the movie, which struck me as essay-like. I could definitely see the influence of the Internet in its making, although the creators insisted it was really the Talmud. Same diff.

At long last Elric 3

I am a big fan of number one and two of DC's Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer. At a certain point, when number three did not show up in the comics shop, I began to wonder. Now, I'm not a big follower of previews--for the most part, my consumer experience is that comics show up on the rack and I buy them. So I turned to my comics dealer for answers: did I miss something? has it been canceled? is there an expected-to-arrive date? "As far as we know, Elric has not been canceled," was the answer.

My last trip to the shop finally turned up the desired goods: Elric number 3. I brought it home, but before reading it, I checked the DC website to see when the last book in the series, number four, is scheduled to appear. It turned out August is the promised date, so I went ahead and read it, rather than put it aside until I had number four in hand. It was a good issue, although the parallels to the Bush administration were a bit heavy-handed in my view. Bush's crowd is already so cartoonish to begin with, you really don't need to belabor their villainy.

I haven't waited so long for an issue since the days when I was collecting Aria. Another series--this one on television--that is frustrating my patience is HBO's Rome. Fantastic series, but it's a very long wait until season two. It just goes to show you that when it comes to schedules, there's a definite line between creating anticipation for a series and just plain annoying people with a long wait.

Say it with Gunpowder

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Over the past two weeks, I've occasionally heard the sound of firecrackers and amateur fireworks going off nearby. The crackling and popping sounds reminded me that July 4 was on its way. Never mind that Los Angeles is experiencing an "extreme heat advisory" and that fireworks are illegal in L.A., it is an established fact that there is no better way to show national pride than to light a fuse.

Four boxes of snakes fireworks.I don't mean to suggest that I dislike fireworks, I just haven't gone near them since the sister and I had an accident with some firecrackers. I was a teen, she was a child, and we both lost our hearing for several minutes when she mistakenly picked up a firecracker we'd lit, thinking it had exploded, only to find out, as she went to drop it into the bucket I was holding, that it was not so. As it turned out, the sister's hearing only partially recovered.

Still, I have many happy memories of fireworks. My first love--and the first fireworks I can recall actually lighting myself--were snakes, as seen here in this colorful packaging photo. I don't know the details of how they work or what they're made of, but they are sold as pellets in a matchbox-size box. When you hold a match to the pellet they quickly grow to long snaky lengths while giving off a noxious cloud of smoke that tends to attract attention. This can be a problem, because snakes also leave a long sooty stain behind them, guaranteed to anger the adult whose driveway or patio the snake was lit on.

I was also fond of ground flowers, spinning fireworks that use persistence of vision to create the illusion of a flower image. However, I was usually attracted to a certain type of fireworks first by its packaging, and only later by its display. These paintings inspired by firecracker labels show some of what I found appealing about fireworks packaging. But it was not just the graphics I was attracted to, it was also the inventive product names, like "Inferno" or "Delerium Fountain."

While perusing this online gallery of fireworks packaging, I was taken aback at how indiscriminately racist some of the older packaging was. No group was safe, apparently, as the advertising for the "Geo'gia Cracker" attests. Of course, stupidity seems to go hand in hand with fireworks. One past July 4, while visiting relatives in a rural area, I insisted on "staying with the truck" while an older male relative traipsed off into the dry brush with a squadron of kids and several handfuls of bottle rockets.

"Oh no," I protested, hanging out of the cab, "I'm comfortable right here."

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