TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Titans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Titans. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again: DC Judas Contract Review


Still from Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017) © DC/Warner. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Image Source: The Good Men Project.

Some of the most popular posts I ever wrote on this blog took me back to the summer before I left home for the first time to go away to school. I was 14. In that period before first independence, I read DC Comics' The Judas Contract. This is a story about a 16-year-old girl, Tara Markov, who tries to kill her boyfriend and friends to please a much older man with whom she is having sex. When she fails, she kills herself.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Jonestown - Altruism, Violence, Fear


Testimony on Jonestown? (Look at her right hand.) BCW-944-BS Photo of Jim Jones Cult People's Temple Jonestown Guyana. Image Source © Tribune Photos Archive / Baltimore Sun Photo Archive / Wire Photo.

Caption for the above photograph: "This WIREPHOTO is straight from the newspaper's historical photo archive. Wirephotos are different than traditional photographic prints!  This print is the result of what used to be breakthrough technology (now completely obsolete) that allowed a photographic image to be scanned, transmitted over 'the wire' (telegraph, phone, satellite networks) and then printed at the receiving location.  They are often on thinner, slick paper (very similar to old thermal roll fax paper) and often fade or become sepia toned quicker than traditional silver halide prints.  Long removed from commercial use, these artifacts represent an important era in the history of news media."

Before 9/11, the largest loss of civilian American lives due to a deliberate act was the Jonestown Massacre of 18 November 1978. This pacifist American cult committed mass suicide under psychological duress exerted by their psychopathic priest, Reverend Jim Jones. The cult, the Peoples Temple, had been developing under Jones's leadership for some twenty years prior to their migration to Guyana, where they died after drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The act passed into public consciousness and generated an American expression describing how someone fully and foolishly accepts ideas which are fatally wrong: "He drank the Kool-Aid."

Before their mass suicide, the cult's guard squad hunted down and murdered an American Congressman and NBC news team who visited them on behalf of cultists' family members. An account of the grisly events is here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of the Retcon 3: Time and Heroism in the Multiverse


Morrison's 18 Days retells the great Mahabharata in an animated CGI drama on Youtube (you can watch it here). 18 days is the length of the battle in the Mahabharata. Image Source: Broken Frontier.

The wavering fictional reality of DC Comics resembles theories from today's quantum physicists.  A comic book fantasy of multiple Earths and multi-dimensional universes aligns with contemporary scientific ideas of a fractured multiverse and mysterious dark matter.  It makes one wonder: if our physicists are right and the multiverse is real, what sort of creatures are we because of it, and how do we feel its effects?

Multiversity #1 (October 2014). "Every comic you ever read is real." – Grant Morrison. Behind the Panels review: "Morrison directly challenges the reader. 'Whose voice is speaking in your head anyway? Yours?' The same narration urges us to stop reading. That’s when things get beautifully weird."

Are we pawns of a larger order we will never perceive? Scottish writer Grant Morrison would say: yes. He is delivering his long-promised crossover, Multiversity, right now via DC Comics, and a glance at the multiversal map below shows that he is combining years of esoteric interests - mind expansion through drug dreams, a fascination with ancient Indian epics and religions, and a belief (expressed in 2012's Supergods) that modern superheroes are manifestations of ancient gods. More importantly, in Multiversity, the heroes exist along a metafictional continuity with our reality and time. They are part of humankind's long quest to define the line between creation and destruction, from which everything else follows in this world, and other worlds too.

DC's map of the Multiversity (August-September 2014; click to enlarge). Image Source: DC Entertainment.

From 2009 to 2013, Morrison worked with Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics to produce 18 Days, a retelling of the Mahabharata, in which a classic Indian battle sees the age of gods give way to the age of men. Two of the founders of Liquid Comics are author Deepak Chopra and his son, Gotham Chopra. Deepak Chopra famously discussed these ideas with Morrison at several comics conventions; the Chopras also published a book about it, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes (2011). CBR reported on one such discussion in 2006 in San Diego:
Superheroes, in Chopra's view, are not external beings. "These are archetypal beings that stoke the fire of life and passion in our own souls. These are potentials that exist within us, and by creating these superheroes through our own collective imagination, we are in a way serving our deepest longings, our deepest aspirations, and our deepest desires to escape the world of the mundane and the ordinary and do things that are magical."
Morrison draws from Indian traditions to marry that consciousness to the cosmos of existence. Thoughts become physical substances in other dimensions. The great epic of the multiverse involves the genesis of values in that consciousness through dharma and karma, action and negative action, creation and destruction, good and evil. In our reality, mythical heroes are legendary archetypes. But Morrison insists that these paragons embody physical forms in other times and places.








18 Days concept art by Mukesh Singh. Images Sources: Decode Hindu Mythology, Comic Vine, Concept Art, Dynamite Comics, Planet Damage, Mukesh Singh.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Farewell to Nick Cardy (1920-2013)



Since 2011, possibly no group of characters in the DCnU has suffered more than the classic Teen Titans. Sadly, the creator who helped make that series so memorable, Nick Cardy, passed away yesterday at the age of 93. A war veteran, Cardy returned to America and became one of the most important comics artists of the Silver Age. You can see a selection of his best covers here and here, and tributes here, here and here.

Cardy during his days as a soldier. Image Source: CBR.

On the Unofficial DC Discussion Boards, we discussed Cardy when he gave one of his last interviews to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in May 2013. Cardy was a veteran of World War II. He fought as part of the US Army's 3rd Armored Division, 'Spearhead,' and as one fan put it: "Holy Cow! He was in some very scary places!"

66th Infantry Division black panther insignia, designed by Nick Cardy. Image Source: eBay.

Wiki:
Cardy did World War II military service from 1943 to 1945, earning two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered as a tank driver in the armored cavalry. He began his Army career with the 66th Infantry Division, during which time he won a competition to design its patch, creating its snarling black panther logo. His art talent led to his being assigned an office job at division headquarters. This lasted, Cardy recalled in an interview, because a general who had seen Cardy's cartoons in an Officers Club had Cardy assigned to his own corps. (Cardy gave the name as "General Shelby Burke", but no one by that name or similar is found in the federal archives.) As the artist tells it, the only opening was for a corporal in the motor pool, so Private Cardy was promoted and assigned to that duty. This, he said, led in turn, upon his being shipped to the European theater, to Cardy's assignment as an assistant tank driver for the Third Armored Division, under General Courtney Hodges. Later, between the end of the war and his discharge, Cardy said he worked for the Army's Information and Education office in France.
Cardy's subsequent work as a comics artist reflected the way American popular culture helps US society digest its most difficult trials.

Because of his war history, Cardy had seen some of the most bloody human actions:
Awarded two Purple Hearts for his combat injuries in the war, Cardy experienced his share of wartime horrors; he saw his tank commander get his head blown off when they were ambushed by German troops with bazookas.
Undoubtedly because of his war experiences, Cardy's best art always had a lot of gothic dark elements. But he consciously chose to contrast those elements with his heroes' luminous brightness, innocence, freedom and beauty:
Drawing those commonplace moments in a war was necessary to his sanity. Incidents such as his tank commander being killed, or seeing cartloads of dead bodies, or opening a trap door to see dozens of scared faces looking up at him, are "something that you'd rather not know," said Cardy. "I tried to focus on the lighter stuff. "I had a policy after I got out of the Army. I was so tickled to get out of the Army alive, I was not gonna let anything bother me."
This is why above all other characters, under his pen, the Titans became beacons of youthful hope, shining out of the darkness.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 17: River Phoenix, Dark Blood and a Falling Sky

River Phoenix in Dark Blood (1993). Image Source: Box Office Benful.

There is something odd about the fact that River Phoenix returns to us now, waiting for the end of the world. This post on Samantha Mathis at Are You There God? It's Me, Generation X, reminded me that the last film starring River Phoenix, Dark Blood (1993), has been finished by its director, George Sluizer. The film was incomplete when Phoenix died on Hallowe'en 1993, outside Johnny Depp's Hollywood club, The Viper Room (see my post on Phoenix's death here).  Sluizer is seeking wide release of the film after a few private screenings of his director's cut a couple of weeks ago. He filled in missing parts of the film with voiceovers. The Guardian reviews the 'finished' piece as "fragmentary, uneven and odd" but still compelling:
Imagine Polanski's Knife in the Water relocated to the Utah Desert and you'll come close to its essence. Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis play Buffy and Harry, a Hollywood couple who have driven out into the desert (filmed with a grandeur reminiscent of old John Ford films by Ed Lachman) for a dirty weekend. Their Bentley breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Just before they die of thirst, they're rescued by Boy (River Phoenix), a loner who behaves like Huck Finn as played by Klaus Kinski. He is still in mourning for the death of his wife, whose cancer was caused by radiation poisoning from nuclear testing.

Boy is convinced the world is about to end. He also has a strong attraction toward Buffy and wants her to join him in his underground bunker. Unlike the pampered Hollywood star played by Pryce, he is in touch with nature. Living off rats and snakes, communing with his mongrel dog, he has a primal quality. Phoenix brings a wild physical energy to his role – in truth, his character verges on the preposterous but Phoenix tackles it with such commitment that he just about keeps absurdity at bay.

Pryce and Judy Davis are likewise impressive as a bickering couple utterly bewildered by the idiot savant who has kidnapped them. Davis, who reportedly didn't get on with Sluizer at all, combines prickliness, flirtatiousness and vulnerability to good effect. She shows her character's desire for Boy as well as her growing disgust at his behaviour. Pryce is the Brit abroad, growing ever more pompous as Boy keeps him in captivity and eventually discovering a capacity for violence.
Phoenix's family has reportedly refused to support the film.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

DC's Batman Shooter: The Day Evil Won


Cover art for DC Comics' Final Crisis (2008) by J. G. Jones © DC Comics. Image Source: Wiki.

In 2008, DC Comics, publishers of Batman, continued a pattern of pumping dwindling sales by publishing a crossover multi-title event called Final Crisis. The publicity motto for that series was: the day evil won. Top editor and now Co-Publisher of DC Comics, Dan Didio, commented that the series examined the question: "What happens when evil wins?" It is a good question, and an ironic one for Mr. Didio to ask. The answer appears to be: evil wins the day that DC's Millennial virtual fantasies become a reality. What happens on the pulp pages and the movie screen now happens in the cinema itself. Reality has become just like a graphic novel.

In an Aurora, Colorado shooting 20 July 2012 at the Batman: The Dark Knight Rises midnight movie première, 12 people died and 70 were tragically injured. Predictably, America's media have launched into a heavily politicized and polarized debate about the right to bear arms, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

But this election-related argument will take public discussion far off track from the meaning and origins of this tragedy. Guns were not the only weapons used here, since Holmes lobbed tear gas grenades at the crowd, and his apartment is still sealed and under investigation by bomb experts. The apartment is booby-trapped and full of jars of liquid, mortar rounds, trip wires, bombs and incendiary devices, which Holmes likely learned how to make by searching for information on the Web. He also purchased his ammunition over the Internet. Thus, some commentators might begin to ask if we should censor the Internet as we control guns. In this crime, guns and bombs and the information on the Web were not the purpose, but means, to an end.

That end is a social malaise which saw the suspected shooter, James Holmes, tell police that he was "the Joker." And in fact, everything, from the gas lobbed into the cinema prior to the shooting, to Holmes's booby-trapped apartment, is very Joker-like.

The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, sees this crime as an act of "senseless violence." But labeling 24-year-old Holmes, a graduate student who was in the process of abandoning his PhD in Neuroscience at University of Colorado, as 'insane' does not help to explain this crime. How did someone who was described by his old California neighbours as "clean cut, responsible and studied hard," and who graduated at the top in his undergraduate class in Neuroscience at University of California, Riverside, become someone who said he was "the Joker"?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

DCnU: Another Day, Another (Real?) Multiverse


All images in this post are from: Before It's News. Image from Another Earth (2011) © Fox Searchlight Pictures.

There have been a lot of loud complaints and a hell of a lot of kicking and screaming in the fanbase about DC Comics' September 2011 reboot, in which the famous pulp company tossed 75 years' worth of history out the window in an effort to catapult itself into the 21st century.  The open wound that is DC's handling of the Titans aside, I have written a post on how DC's shifts to new entertainment genres and new media (such as digital publishing) correspond with the transformation of the comic publisher's fictional universe.  I have asked whether those Fourth Wall and metafictional turns may lead to the discovery of new standards for heroic values in pop culture.  I've also talked about how comics stories, especially at DC, are the only forum in pop culture where quantum physicists' ideas of a multiverse have been consistently and constantly considered over several decades. 

"There may be inifinite Earths being infinitely created."

DC's characters, stories and tumultuous reboots actually contend with the problem of what it would mean to live in a mulitverse, assuming it existed. What would happen to reality?  Well, DC speculates, some of us would become superhuman, but at a terrifying price.  What would happen to people in that reality?  What would happen to values of right and wrong?  Good and evil?  No one else, not even the quantum physicists who are looking at the multiverse as a possible scientific fact, are pondering would it would mean for all of us if their wild theories aren't just theories.

"Reality may be more tenuous than imagined."

Now, some weird online stories about 'real' cases of people have surfaced (here) who claim they have shifted from one parallel universe to our world; these accounts are exactly mimicked in the storyline of an upcoming May 2012 DC title, World's Finest (with the great George Perez serving as co-artist): "Stranded on our world from a parallel reality, Huntress and Power Girl struggle to find their way back to Earth 2."  The oldest team of comic superheroes, the Justice Society of America, finds itself on the alternate Earth 2 in another new series, simply called Earth 2.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eduardo Barreto: Titanic Farewells

Raven: post-resurrection emotions of a character. NTT Vol. 2, #39 (Jan. 1988). 

This has been a strange holiday season.  Every week, I have heard about 3-4 deaths, either acquaintances, or public figures. Today, more sad news. Farewell to a fine illustrator from Uruguay, Eduardo Barreto, who died on December 15.  He graced the pages of DC's Titans title from 1985 to 1988.  He followed on this series in the wake of huge fan favourites George Pérez and José Luis García-López.  At the time, the New Teen Titans was still one of the hottest American comic books in the world, pencilled by two of the industry's most famous talents.  Barreto filled the shoes of his predecessors and more.  He made the characters his own.

Barreto had the tough task of making a resurrected, post-apocalyptic Raven have emotions when she had never had them before.  The cover above from 1988 was Raven's first real smile since her introduction in 1980.  After Pérez tore her apart, it took Barreto to show how a character, reborn after death, shot through with evil, would manifest emotions for the first time and bizarrely - yet haltingly and believably - come back to life to experience some joy.
New and old gods. NTT Vol. 2, #9 (June 1985).

Below the jump, some examples of Baretto's work from that period.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 7: DC's Epic Fail with the Titans and their Heroines: Terra, Raven, Donna Troy, Starfire

Raven, drawn by Diego Latorre.  Hat tip: Titans Tower.

This post was originally supposed to be simply an introductory piece for a series of posts on the character Raven, similar to the series I did for Terra (here) - the second in a blog series on the Titans' heroines' continuities. But last week's releases made me expand the introductory post on the Raven continuity series, to make a general comment on DC's treatment of the main Titans women. To see my whole review of Raven's continuity as a study of how a horror character works, please continue reading here.

On 28 September, DC ended the first month of its reboot.  Last week's Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 marked a new low in the company's two-decade devaluation and dismemberment of one of its flagship franchises, the Titans. From one end of comics-related corners of the Internet to the other, fans are debating Starfire's transformation into a low grade, soft porn, amnesiac sex doll for the sexually and cerebrally challenged (for reviews, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; and discussions here and here).  But like I say, this is just the latest in dozens of outrages inflicted on these characters. The bad treatment of the Titans stems from DC's enforcement of hierarchy associated with superhero generations, or legacies, which I've blogged about here

As far as the Titans are concerned, the record over the past decade especially proves it won't get better until the editors at DC change. The classic Titans are a special barometer for this because they are the original legacy characters, the second tier, who against all odds in the 1980s made it and became something different and better than their elders. If anything is going right or wrong in the DC universe, you'll see it in the Titans first, because DC is about legacies even more than it is about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  DC is having trouble handling its legacies concept, and it really shows.

Sidekicks were originally introduced to humanize DC's stalwart A-list heroes; Robin debuted as a joke-cracking young doppelgänger of Bruce Wayne, who could lighten Batman up.  Over time, the Titans became the echo-A-listers who could do edgy, even Marvelesque, stories the A-listers couldn't.  That included being flawed, as with Speedy's drug addiction.  But it wasn't always a weakness: Gar Logan was the Doom Patroller who didn't go insane - or whose sanity, at least, was a given - despite his never-ending confrontation with death, typical of all DP characters.  The phenomenal success of the New Teen Titans proved that there was a huge area around the A-listers of potential story-telling that could never be done with the A-listers because the latter were too powerful or too perfect.  But the NTT was successful because it did not follow the Marvel formula all the way.  The Titans always reasserted a DC ethic of pure, true-blue heroism in the eleventh hour.  They made you want to stand up and cheer for them, because they were troubled, but they stood by each other and always found a way through the nightmare.  In a way, that was a greater heroic journey than anything Superman faced when he battled Luthor, or when Batman struggled against the Joker; those threats were externalized.  With the Titans, threats were always external and internal.  They struggled as much with the dark parts of A-list legacies as they did with external villains.

Tossing the classic Titans under the bus is problematic not just for their fans, but in the long run, for DC. I have to quote Dan from It's a Dan's World: "I'd put to the jury the Perez/Wolfman era of that franchise is as key to the compan[y's] success as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns." He's right. Why? Because that era of the NTT solved the legacy problem, and removed glass ceilings that the powers that be are now so keen to maintain. The NTT established that characters could move laterally in interesting ways that allowed them to flourish beneath their absent mentors' shadows.

In the NTT, these characters could be flawed, over-burdened by impossibly huge legacies, and still triumph in different ways, based on their personalities and their individual characterizations.  It wasn't just 'about family' which has become the cloying cliché that DC's editors (even Wolfman, now) never tire of harping on about.  The Titans did and should demonstrate how DC's legacies could be a viable concept.  During the 90s, the Titans lost a lot of their drive, given that the writer Wolfman, who still had a fine ear for the characters, was exhausted and facing editorial mandates.  He also lost control of Dick Grayson to the Bat editors.  This is a critical problem for the Titans, because the Titans are Dick Grayson's gift to the rest of the DC Universe, separate from anything he ever did with Batman.  He is the first and best Titan.  In return, the Titans made Grayson, the first Robin, their ultimate leader, an individual and a respected hero.

The Titans, who overcame their derivative origins and became heroes that made it were broken down during the 1990s.  They had finally torturously been reset by Devin Grayson into something recognizable by 1998-1999 in the Technis Imperative.  Under the recent editorial régime of Dan Didio at DC, that picture changed.  Didio's entrance coincided with Geoff Johns's handling of the Titans in the 2003, which is considered a good run.  But in retrospect, Johns planted the seeds for the current mess. 

I don't know where and when Johns lost his grasp of the Titans, but I think we have to go back to this period to find it.  He supplanted the original Titans with weakened, watered-down, nth-level legacy characters (Young Justice).  Johns's vision dove-tailed well with Winick's kill off of the Titans' strongest members in Graduation Day (2003); these were characters who caused greatest static with the A-listers (Donna Troy) or who gave the Titans their claim to being a separate original and independent franchise in the DCU (Lilith) .  The Titans then showcased some really ugly concepts (Terror Titans, 2008). They became totally disposable (see: the long list of Titans' deaths from the 2000s).  They could commit murder and do Fountain-of-Youth drugs derived from the remains dead children (Roy Harper).  They could lose all dignity and previous characterizations that once showed why their superficial natures were never their internal realities (Gar Logan and Starfire).  They could lose their identities completely in their legacies (Dick Grayson).  Or they could be wordlessly and relentlessly sidelined until there was nothing left of them (Wally West).  This treatment of the classic Titans, but also the Young Justice characters (who are incredibly, getting preferential treatment from DC, although looking at them, you'd never know it) reveals that DC's top editors do not understand legacies or how they should function in this fictional universe.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the idiotic DCnU attempt to de-age the A-listers and force Titans' tropes onto them, but without the promise of final victory rooted in characterization, heart and camaraderie.  DC is trying to wipe the Titans off the map, and turn the A-listers into Titans. DCnU is the Titansverse writ large, but without the soul that made Titans stories work.  Ironic?

Speaking of loss of soul, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 continued DC's treatment of heroes as non-heroes.  It's a post 9/11, ramped up Marvel feet-of-clay idea.  As far as I can tell from Co-Publisher Dan Didio's work on the Outsiders, this is his ideal approach: lots of action and sex - low on words and minimal characterization - with heroes so flawed that they're practically villains.  The moral vacuum is the new seat of virtue.  None of this works well with DC characters, who, once upon a time, offset their godlike status with complex characterization, stories - and yes, complicated legacies.  Once upon a time, DC was not the house of simplistic, wordless, internalized failure.  The degradation of Starfire took DC one step closer to that end.

This is mass entertainment that clearly states what kind of audience it thinks is out there: the lowest common denominator.  The book and its editors are insulting the readership with this expectation.  They are especially insulting fans who like the book.  Even the bait and switch typical of Didio-era story-telling is unlikely for DCnU's 52.  This is not a set-up for a better story.  Don't believe the lie: it's not going to be all right after all.  As Shirley MacLaine said: "Sometimes deep down, there is no deep down."

Todd explains that Kory can't remember her history with the Titans and can't distinguish between men she has sex with. Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

The problem with Red Hood and the Outlaws is that it is the title associated with any reassembly of the classic Titans in the DCnU.  And there is plenty wrong here - obviously deliberately introduced to build expectations about this new universe: the issue completely destroyed Starfire's character.  It also subtly transplanted Dick Grayson's dark, crazy doppelgänger, Jason Todd, as the new leader of Grayson's Titanic legacy.  I have some sympathy for Todd, but he's being used here as an instrument to turn the tables - to turn Nightwing's separate, non-Bat adventures upside down - to finally and completely undermine Grayson's accomplishment with a separate legacy franchise that at its best was stronger and better than the Justice League of America.  Before we even get to Kory's new airhead interest in mechanical anonymous sex, the first issue featured three former Titans cavalierly murdering people.  They are 'outlaws,' with standards to match.

Kory and her nU personality.  Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

It's ironic that Red Hood and the Outlaws came out last week.  On the same day, New Teen Titans: Games finally hit shops.  The worst thing about the uproar over Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is that it has drowned out appreciation of Games, a graphic novel from the creators (Wolfman and Perez) who made the Titans world-famous; Games was over twenty years in the making, of the highest quality, and worth the wait.  This is typical of the malaise at DC.  The quality product goes to the bottom of the pile, while the intentionally worst reimagining possible of the same characters gets pushed to the fore by viral Internet marketing, propelled by bottom-of-the-barrel scandal-hype and cheap sensationalism. Maybe this is supposed to be the nU reality dystopia that would have existed in a world where Jason Todd stepped into Dick Grayson's shoes.  DC has also stated that the DCnU is an opportunity to do stories they could never normally have done had regular continuity stayed intact.

Whatever the rationale, the problems started long before the DCnU reboot.  DC's treatment of the Titans heroines has been one red flag after another on has gone wrong and why.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Art of the Retcon 2: DCnU's Orwellian Timecrunch

The DCnU panel at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con.  Image Source: Grizzly Bomb.

I've already commented on DCnU in terms of the demographics of anticipated readers here, and comics archetypes here. DCnU also reveals a disturbing, and very Millennial, treatment of history and time. The Internet has completely transformed our understanding of both.  This is because computer systems allow any historical source to be ripped out of context and juxtaposed with something that popped up yesterday.  Even before the Tech Revolution, the idea grew in the 20th century. 

The most famous use of real life retcons is in Stalinist-era USSR, when apparatchiks who fell out of favour were erased from photographs, which I have blogged about here.  It was used in South America in the 1970s, when political dissidents 'disappeared' and their identities were wiped off the face of the earth, as though they had never existed.  In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell had his protagonist employed in rewriting old newspaper articles to erase records of people later deemed undesirable by the state.  This critique of oligarchical collectivism spawned his famous INGSOC line: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."

Now, I'm not saying that the core messages in DC's fictions have anything in common with murderous dictatorships. Rather, I am suggesting that the use and abuse of history has become widespread across cultures and political spectrums in the 20th and 21st centuries.  It used to be that the past was sacred.  What had been done could not be undone.  It could be reinterpreted by historians, but only within reason and in well-sourced and well-defended arguments.  Given Orwell's communist critiques, it's tempting to put a political spin on this - socialists call for revolutions, liberals like change, conservatives cling to the past.  But the dangerous Postmodern notion that rewriting or erasing history brings money and power is seductive to all who seek them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death of Heroism and the DCnU Rebirth

The Justice Society of America, the first team of superheroes in comic book history, drawn by Alex Ross. (Hat tip: It's a Dan's World.)

I've written before about comic book superheroes as ancient gods that still survive in our culture.  They represent our most enduring grasp of right and wrong, the archetypes that come to us across the ages (see my post on Ur-memory of those ideas here), incredibly across thousands, perhaps even millions of years.  Looking at Green Lantern on a lunchbox or backpack, that seems an absurd assertion.  Perhaps we tolerate this pantheon of pagan deities in an era of mainstream Millennial religions precisely because the ancient gods have dwindled down to figures in comic mythologies that we tell children and youths; and these myths are not taken that seriously.

Yet the archetypes embedded here still have weight.  They also constitute serious commercial interests. That raises the question of why these archetypes over the past twenty years, and especially in the last ten (when DC has been under Dan Didio's leadership), have been undermined?  Why is DC Comics, the original classic superhero comics company, so preoccupied with the breakdown of heroes and heroism?  Why are their heroes dying?  Why are their characters being wiped from existence or rebooted in ways that taint them?  What does it mean when their core values are stripped from them?  Why are they being benched and sidelinedAnd why are the Outsiders, classic Titans, Justice Society, and Doom Patrol the key casualties in this reboot?  I've commented on the JLA-centric generational and Bat-commercial aspects of the reboot which left the JSA, Doom Patrol and Titans out in the cold here; and my posts on what the Titans and Doom Patrol signify are here and here.  There's a good series of posts this week on what fans are losing as the DCU dies, over at It's a Dan's World (here).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The World of Two Moons and Ur-Memory


How do we remember the times that are so far in the distant past that they are not only beyond history, but beyond memory? The ocean of time that earlier humanoid species and humans crossed before they even reached the outer boundaries of history is enormous: the Stone Age lasted 2.5 million years.  Archaeological and geological research is almost our only means of telling what transpired in that period.  Occasionally, these disciplines draw from astronomical findings, as with the report just out that the Earth may once have had two moons.

Myths and epics of deities and kings are the other remnants of that vast period of lost human experience, particularly of the last 20,000 years of the Stone Age (see my post on that period here).  How interesting it must be, then, for the creators and fans of Elfquest to hear news that this fantasy possibly overlaps with ancient prehistory.  Nature reported on the researchers' twin moon theory:
A new hypothesis claims the Earth may once have had two moons, which eventually crashed together forming our current celestial partner. This new idea, reported in the journal Nature, could explain a long standing puzzle about the differences between the near and far sides of the lunar surface. The near side is relatively low and flat with many large dark basalt mare, while the far side is high and mountainous, with thicker crust. The work, based on computer simulations undertaken by planetary scientists Erik Asphaug and Martin Jutzi from the University of California, Santa Cruz, claims the lunar far side highlands, are the solid remains of a collision with a smaller companion moon. 
While legends, ancient religious writings and folklore cannot be taken literally, they may contain weird, displaced grains of truth. For example, it is strange how old wives' tales preserve centuries' worth of domestic wisdom and tried-and-true practices: superstitions about cats bringing ill omens around nurseries turned out to have some credibility, as research into cat-borne diseases later showed.  In this case, the imaginary world of Elfquest features a fictional world with two moons.  Do myths, old or new, preserve bits of the distant past beyond memory? Can fragments of these tales catch a glimpse of lost reality?  No.  It would be foolish to assume that the Pinis, who created Elfquest in the late 1970s, somehow accurately imagined our planet's real prehistory.

But the 'two moons' here are a curious coincidence, which raises some questions.  What fundamental elements of human existence persist in oral tradition across aeons?  What is the basic common denominator of Ur-memory - what cultural material survives?  And how are these surviving fragments dressed up in ways that make them comprehensible now, for each new generation?  Pioneering work was done in this field by the Brothers Grimm in tracing fairy tales in Central Europe, even as they tracked the philological evolution of the German language.  Other attempts to categorize and thereby follow the spread of fairy tales and folktales include the Aarne Thompson classification system and Krohn's historic-geographic method.  But these systems deal with the core elements of stories across centuries or even millennia at most (through references to Greek texts).  They don't cover many thousands, or even millions, of years.

If myths mirror any literal truths that scientists later confirm, it's equally worth considering that researchers' interpretations of scientific results are sometimes coloured by contemporary expectations. Fantasy and science are on opposite sides of the looking-glass. In this case, Millennial dualism likely reflects in the latest theory that Earth once had two moons.  It's not that the science doesn't stand on its own: it can and often does.  But the flavour or tone of scientific interpretation - its metascientific subtext - is influenced by the Zeitgeist.

Dualism is fashionable right now but it's as old as the hills: dualistic legends focus on metaphors for the human struggle away from savagery. Fantasy's classic parables involve the struggle between good and evil in the human heart. In Elfquest, a Stone Age Earth with two moons is visited by aliens - the Elves - who get stranded on our planet. Using their highly evolved abilities, they interact with the earthly environment, and the result is a lot of strange, hybrid beings who are feared and worshipped by Stone Age humans as evil spirits and nature gods (see my posts on Elfquest here and here).  Primitive and advanced, familiar and alien, Elfquest's two moons may symbolize duality of consciousness.  Duality is a persistent motif in human stories across millennia. Modern legends, from popular fantasy novels to pulp fiction comic books, merely perpetuate the material once transmitted by oral tradition.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Lament for Strawberry Ice Cream


Image Source: Evernew Recipes.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi - thus passes the glory of the world. Worldly things are fleeting.  I was going to do this post on goods that are made to break (all of today's so-called 'consumer durables') so we'll buy more of them.  It's amazing that there is such hype around our environmentally-conscious recycling culture, yet we are completely surrounded by throwaway planned obsolescence. Fleeting fashions. Problems with backwards compatibility.  I remember Michael Franti's commentary on how technology inspired cognitive dissonance back in 1991. I keep pondering oxymoronic language that persists in this atmosphere, like 'disposable income,' 'approach avoidance,' 'arrested development,' and 'accelerated decrepitude.'  I don't wonder what Franti thinks now of the Internet, a drug more potent than the "methadone metronone": you can see the video for his song, Television, the Drug of the Nation, here.

However, rather than talk about planned obsolescence, I thought I would talk about planned eradication of some products that were perfectly good.  These products have been eliminated for no other reason other than they 'don't fit' with the mythologies relentlessly churned out by up-to-the-second marketing minds.  Another, related, phenomenon is Millennial rebranding. Examples:
  • I started thinking about planned eradication when DC Comics began hemming and hawing about whether it will or will not erase its Titans pop culture canon because the comics medium is going digital.  Gen X heroes 'don't fit' the visions demanded by new media, apparently.
  • Another giant 'rebranding for the Millennium' exercise took place at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, wherein the public broadcaster disposed of its classical music radio offerings and replaced them with alternative rock.  There was a national outcry against this in 2008, but the rebranding went ahead.
  • The Washington Post reported in late 2010 that Steven Spielberg is advising Nancy Pelosi on how to rebrand the Democratic party in the US to make the Democrats more appealing to Gen Y and Gen Z (Hat tip: Elite Trader): "Lawmakers say she is consulting marketing experts about building a stronger brand. The most prominent of her new whisperers is Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director whose films have been works of branding genius."  Spielberg's rep denied this report.
  • There is an article here by Charlotte Werther about Britain's Millennial rebranding as 'Cool Britannia.'
Wiki on Millennial rebranding:
Rebranding has become something of a fad at the turn of the millennium, with some companies rebranding several times. The rebranding of Philip Morris to Altria was done to help the company shed its negative image. Other rebrandings, such as the British Post Office's attempt to rebrand itself as Consignia, have proved such a failure that millions more had to be spent going back to square one.

In a study of 165 cases of rebranding, Muzellec and Lambkin (2006) found that, whether a rebranding follows from corporate strategy (e.g., M&A) or constitutes the actual marketing strategy (change the corporate reputation), it aims at enhancing, regaining, transferring, and/or recreating the corporate brand equity.

According to Sinclair (1999:13), business the world over acknowledges the value of brands. “Brands, it seems, alongside ownership of copyright and trademarks, computer software and specialist know-how, are now at the heart of the intangible value investors place on companies.” As such, companies in the 21st century may find it necessary to relook their brand in terms of its relevancy to consumers and the changing marketplace. Successful rebranding projects can yield a brand better off than before.
Corporate Rebranding: Impact on Brand Equity (2006) © Laurent Muzellec and Mary Lambkin.

Rebranding often leads to the discontinuation of products, which has been going on for decades.  There are many sites devoted to discontinued products that consumers want to be able to buy again: see here, here, here, here and here. What strikes me is the helplessness of consumers in this instance - there is even a lobby group devoted to the problem. Marketers and managers have decided what consumers 'want,' even if that's not what consumers want. They ignore real demand and replace it with fake demand.

But what happens when planned eradication transcends specific products and even whole brands?  Never mind publishers, corporations, power brokers and governments. Here is a much more common product: Strawberry Ice Cream.  Try finding it in your local grocery store.  Yes, you can get yuppified flavours like Strawberry Cheesecake Low Fat Frozen Yogurt; or Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream; Strawberry Red Bean Vanilla Ice; Strawberry Rose Chocolate Ice Cream, or Strawberry Azuki Beans Ice Cream.  You can buy Black Cherry Ice Cream or Raspberry SorbetBut for some reason, regular strawberry ice cream 'doesn't fit' in the new Millennium.  I find this very strange. Of course, you can still get it somewhere in a decent gelateria. I'm talking about mass consumption.  There are hundreds of recipes online so that you can make it yourself, meaning that a high demand for it is still there. When did it disappear from stores? 

There is a Facebook group devoted to the loss of strawberry ice cream.  Why can't you buy JUST strawberry ice cream?? The group founder: "I love all types of ice cream it's true, and ... I love strawberry ice cream the best. After many late night discussions over this creamy dessert I have come to the shocking conclusion that there is an ice cream conspiracy - for no matter how hard I search, I can never find simply strawberry ice cream." Group members suspect the Neopolitan ice cream makers. There's another Facebook group on the disappearance: Strawberry Ice Cream: The Great Conspiracy.

It's not like strawberry ice cream was a one hit wonder. It existed for a long time before it vanished from grocery store freezers in the recent past.  It made it into the top ten ice cream flavours, squeezed in behind the likes of Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

Frivolous?  Yes.  But the larger point is valid.  What criteria do marketing consultants use to decide which products 'fit' the current moment and which ones do not? And why?  Perhaps in this case, a basic classic disappeared under too much choice, too much complexity, too much competing noise; marketing gimmicks fancied up the source product until there was no source product left.

Breathless ADDENDUM: I found some strawberry ice cream yesterday at a gas station convenience store.  But as far as I can tell, it's still no longer ubiquitous in grocery stores.  Please write me if you find otherwise - I'd love to be proven wrong!

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Friday, July 8, 2011

A Titans Dream Cast


It's weird when the publishers of a fictional universe erase a whole era.  This is what DC is doing with the whole Titans comics continuity. Ironically, the New Teen Titans graphic novel Games is coming out this fall.  Originally conceived by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and set in late 1980s' continuity, Games has been delayed for over twenty years. Yet it arrives just as these stories and characters are about to be completely retconned. 

The Games graphic novel finally revisits the heyday of Titans in the 1980s, right at the point when you would expect its revival. Instead, we are seeing an erasure.  For a giant sleeping Gen X fanbase, these comic book superheroes were DC's answer to Marvel's X-men, and Games should awake teen memories. It may get old fans interested in the characters again, even though the classic Titans are being rammed through and obliterated in the DCnU reboots.  DC has shown little interest in rediscovering what made this title great, reviving its superteen soap opera formula that merged so well with sci-fi, space epics, and magical themes.  DC also doesn't seem interested in returning to complex story-telling and characterization that made the Titans title famous.  As one fan on the DC boards remarked:
Funny, I was just reading Jim Shooter's blog (E[ditor] I[n] C[hief] at Marvel from 1978 - late 80's (I think)). Someone had posted something in the comments that reminded me of the current DC way of thinking:

"Steve Englehart has said on his website that around 1990 or so, Marvel editorial decreed that character development should basically stop, since the characters had evolved "too far from their roots."

And I think Marvel went bankrupt in the mid 90's.

Let's see if DC can do better with their version of this idea.
Now that Games will soon be published, the live action Titans movie that Warner is not making is next up.  If they ever do turn to the project, would they consider the Judas Contract for the screenplay?  Or the Terror of Trigon?  Other big storylines are the team's first trip to Tamaran, Titans Hunt, or a Brother Blood film. Below the jump, a post that shows the Titans a little love.  This is my favourite possible cast for a Titans film.  There are other suggestions out there (here, here, here, here, here and here), some of which I've drawn from for this post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Art of the Retcon 1: DC Does the Time Warp Again

This isn't an alternate timeline, this is the only timeline. Booster Gold #44 (July 2011).

Tomorrow, DC's solicitations for September comic books come out.  But for the past two weeks, they have been releasing news about their rebooted fictional universe that will arrive that month. For those who don't bother with pulp fiction, this matters because the company, which owns Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, is doing a complete overhaul of all its series, based on a gigantic crazy time warp storyline it's putting out this summer called FlashpointAnd it's the time warp story that interests me, because it involves the renumbering of all titles to coincide with the first historical transition in comics from paper to digital formats.  There's a history of DC's notorious reboots here at Comics Alliance.  Of this one, CA said: "Flashpoint Throws Out the Bathwater, Baby Reported Missing."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 6: Saluting the Dearly Departed Doom Patrol

This is what Millennial comics should do: DP fighting a sentient black hole in front of the Large Hadron Collider. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #2 (November 2009).

We who are about to die salute you!  That's the gladitorial rallying cry of DC's ill-fated superteam known as the Doom Patrol.  On Valentine's Day, DC Comics announced the cancellation of several titles.  Among these was the fifth incarnation of Doom Patrol, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Matthew Clark.  This cancellation to 'free up' creative talent for production of the summer comics blockbuster Flashpoint has prompted outcry from the DP's fans (there is a petition asking DC to save the title here).  This series had poor sales but great reviews; it was considered by many to be the publisher's most sophisticated title.  Today, the last issue of the series hits comic shops.

Why?  What makes any comic, belonging to a genre known for its clichéed action and romance, its cheesy borrowings from the epics, mythology, pulps, mystery, horror, romance and science fiction even come close to having pretensions? 

Comics are sometimes one of the areas of pop culture where certain ideas are tested before they become mainstream.  This series of blog posts on the 'Revolving Door of Death' is about the use of death in comics as a means to finding new values of heroism - a new moral compass - in times that are rapidly changing.  That change involves pushing the boundaries of superheroism past the point of no return.  In that regard, the Doom Patrol fits right in - and the title is still unique. 

First, the Revolving Door of Death. Comic book creators, especially mainstream publishers Marvel and DC, have earned a lot of criticism over the past twenty-five years for cheapening death and rebirth when they used them repeatedly as sensational devices for making money. More surprisingly, post 9/11, the editors at DC Comics have killed off hundreds of heroes.  Then, in a bid to make comic book killings 'more serious,' they recently announced that their characters will no longer be reborn.  But the deaths of superheroes continue.  This trend suggests a high degree of confusion and ambivalence.  DC has continually worn down the moral stature of its heroes.  The company has made them ever more flawed and weak - while building up its villains.  DC is letting evil win.

Why?  Does this reflect a crisis in American culture? Last week, DC had Superman renounce his American citizenship in Action Comics #900, a move which won the editors a lot of criticism in comics forums and the mainstream media.  Does this chime with the intense, politicized commentary against American campaigns abroad?  Marvel Comics, echoing the 1960s' voice of social criticism, can jump on that train without any problems.  But DC, the classic American comics company, is in a strange, ambiguous place right now.  Like her exhausted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's heroes in the DC Universe are being pushed to the breaking point.  The question is where DC will go with this existential crisis and soul searching.  Comic books thrive on taking their characters to the greatest extremes possible, within the current bounds of taste and story-telling.  The catharsis comes when the heroes triumph against all odds.  DC has yet to pull off that gigantic catharsis.  Its creators are still in the midst of dragging its characters down deeper and deeper.

The Nascar accident which almost kills Cliff Steele. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #21 (June 2011).

In this context, the Doom Patrol is unusual, because they are already ahead of all of DC's other heroes as far as being pushed past the limits goes.  They were always a team 'out there,' beyond the pale.  DP stories demonstrate how changes and challenges to our concepts of life and death are transforming our society, our consciousness and our moral attitudes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nuclear Culture 3: America's Radioactive Superheroes


In the list of superhuman qualities, perhaps the most enduring are those derived from radiation.  The incredible power from our Sun has long spawned divine myths around our star.  Twentieth century science contributed a number of themes to this ancient archetype: evolution, radiation's effect on DNA, splitting the atom, nuclear power.  This is explained in a piece on nuclear accidents and the rise of the modern superhero on Boing Boing:
In the first part of the 20th century, the evolutionary scientists were expressing the idea that maybe cosmic radiation, which we've lived with on earth for our whole history, might have caused some changes to our DNA. Radiation can do that. At the same time, people were learning about evolution, which depends on random changes. I think that caught their imagination. That connection between radiation and evolution. I remember one of the earliest stories I read where they put this guy into a chamber and irradiated him, and he evolved before their eyes. Really he would have just died, but the idea remains.
Superman, Spider-Man, Captain Atom and Doctor Manhattan are all examples of Nietzsche's Übermensch; sometimes they have Messianic qualities; or they are scientists, caught in a nuclear accident; and sometimes they are Everyman figures who are suddenly raised above all others. Characters with similar origins include The Ray, Captain America, The Atom, X-Ray, the Nexus Fusionkasters and Apollo. All of them are anthropomorphized versions of qualities we attribute to the power of radiation, whether cosmic, solar, elemental or nuclear. Most of pulp fiction's characters respond to radiation by acquiring superpowers such as strength, energy manipulation and flight; but some endure a separation of body and soul by nuclear means. Some gain the ability to travel through time; and some achieve immortality. Below the jump are the most popular radiation-powered heroes in the order in which they historically appeared. In some cases, there are later versions of the same character.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 4: New Heroes for a New Millennium

Wonder Woman cast outside her regular reality and possibly time stream. Wonder Woman #606 (February 2011; originally listed as variant cover for WW #604 December 2010).

In 2010, DC celebrated its 75th anniversary. DC has long been the premier American comics company that is devoted to the modern perpetuation of classic myths. Where Marvel set itself up in the 1960s as a platform for social commentary, DC dealt with eternal archetypes. For an entire generation, DC has explored the disintegration of heroism: those archetypes have been dismantled by the very company that is supposedly committed to preserving them.  What does this mean for American heroism?