Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Thoughts on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

September 28, 2018

So, quite a while ago I talked about X-23 (2010) and said I’d talk more about TPBs that I was reading. I, uh, never really got around to doing that. But as I noted this week I recently read Peter David’s “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” and since I couldn’t actually write blog posts this past weekend due to not having power, I thought it would be a good idea to slide a relatively quick commentary on it here to fill in my Friday spot for this week.

The series takes place in the middle of but mostly in the aftermath of Civil War, where Peter has revealed his secret identity to the world, rejected the pro-registration side, and become a fugitive. It brings back a number of characters and situations from Peter’s earlier days, like restoring Flash from his coma — with amnesia so he has forgotten being Peter’s friend, bringing Betty Brant back into the picture, and having Liz Allen write a book bashing Peter for how he treated her when they were together and he was hiding his secret identity from her. Heck, he even mentions Felicia at one point. It goes even further when it has a cross-dimensional version of Ben Parker arrive to cause some issues for the team, adding in a future version of himself as well as of his daughter, who gets turned into a kind of a Joker-type villain due to misfiring nanites that her lover uses to try to break her out of a virtual prison. At the same time, a supernatural being created solely out of spiders is trying to breed with Flash or him and kill Peter, and others show up, like Mysterio and Chameleon.

To be honest, that’s the weakest part of the series: the plots. They are long and convoluted and confusing and very often rely on continuity that someone new to Spider-Man won’t really get. The book is pretty good at explaining what happened before so that we aren’t lost, but it’s hard to build that emotional connection that many of them require in order to pull them off. The supernatural threat is the weakest of them, while the Ben Parker storyline is interesting but ends rather oddly in order to set up the next one. All in all, the plots are nothing to write home about.

But where it does shine is in the character interactions. The Flash plot starts annoying, but builds towards the end as Flash gets to reveal his non-bullying side. Betty Brant gets some great interactions with both Peter and Flash. Liz Allen’s character arc is short, but reveals that she didn’t really want to smear Peter, but needed the money the book would provide and so didn’t feel like she could complain too much without risking that … which then leads to Betty Brant getting involved. But the best one is probably how it deals with Jameson discovering that Peter was Spider-Man all along, with a lovely short arc that involves him firing Robertson, facing down Spider-Man in a long discussion, and reconciling with Robertson.

Peter David has always been really good at funny dialogue, which makes him a perfect writer for Spider-Man. And as expected, it really works here. Each character gets humour in their own voice, but also probably make more jokes than at least some of them would normally. The humourous touches really add to the enjoyment of the work, even when the plots themselves aren’t really wowing anyone.

Overall, it was entertaining. None of the plots are classic plots for good reason, but it handles the Civil War upheaval about as well as could be expected, and the character arcs actually do manage to build in the emotions that they needed to succeed. It was definitely worth reading.

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My Lists Are Long …

August 3, 2018

So, I’ve talked about the lists I’ve updated and created to try and get things done. The three lists that are on the blog are, well, all rather long, and also aren’t entirely complete. For example, I only have three hourly shows listed on my list of shows to watch on DVD despite the fact that I do indeed have a rather large library of DVDs to watch, that contain both shows that I’ve never watched and shows that I have watched but really want to watch again. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ll return to Knight Rider after finishing Dynasty, and so it might not even be accurate (the half-hour list is pretty much right). And when it comes to my reading list, I have a large number of philosophical works listed and, on top of that, have a number of works that count as “literature” that I want to slide in there at some point. Oh, and I’ve already mentioned the six+ boxes of fiction that I want to read. Essentially, I’m setting up lists that, if I try to complete everything on them, will likely take me years to complete.

I might be overthinking this a little …

That being said, I am making progress. I’ve made good progress on the history books that I wanted to complete, and so can expect to finish the list in a couple of months or so. He-Man has stalled a little since I started slipping Dynasty in as well, but that’s only because I’ve taken time away from it to watch Dynasty, which means that I’m about half-way through it. All I really need to do is live up to my bargain and actually watch the half-hour show in the evenings, after watching one or more episodes of the hourly show and hitting a convenient time point. And I’ve still made some progress on He-Man anyway, especially in the last few days. Finishing Persona was a coup, and I’ve started Persona 2 and am making progress with it … although it turns out that games are working out the worst, because every time I play Persona 2 it reminds me of how much better Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, and a number of things keep reminding me of other games that I’d like to play. Thus, I feel the most dissatisfied with the games I’m playing, and there actually isn’t an alternative like I had with “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which was to read it for an hour or so and then read Deadpool graphic novels in my general reading time. I don’t have free general game playing time nor do I have a lot of games that I could play in general spare time to at least let me play a game that I want to play or enjoy. The counter to that is that for video games there are far fewer games that would make me feel that way; Persona 2 is just a special case, and only because I like the modern Persona games that much more than them that it drags down my enjoyment of those games.

However, an issue with this is that I have little programming projects in the queue as well, but the pressure to finish these things tends to distract me from doing them. It’s not so much that I consider those things more important than the programming projects, but that I consider them at about the same level, and due to time constraints it doesn’t really work to do them in the early weekend afternoons like I had planned. What I’m finding is that my morning stuff plus cooking lunch plus cleaning up takes me just past the starting point for those projects, but then that wouldn’t leave me a lot of time before I’m supposed to play games (and I only have a few days to do that as well). I don’t want to delay playing games because a) I need the hours to get through them in any reasonable amount of time and b) I don’t want to play them too late because then I might not fall asleep that well. Plus, playing them too late would also cut into the time I can explicitly watch those DVDs. So it’s just easier for me to start playing earlier and then finish earlier, and I still get my watching and reading done as well. It just ends up cutting off all of those little projects, which then makes me feel bad that I’m doing nothing on them.

I think a reshuffling of my schedule is in the offing …

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how I progress with this and how satisfied I’ll be with the whole thing as time goes by. So far it hasn’t been terrible and it has been nice to finish some things that I’ve always wanted to finish, but there have been moments when the things that are supposed to be mostly fun haven’t actually been fun. We’ll have to see if they’re fun enough for me to still have some fun with things while still feeling that I’m progressing.

“What Do I Most Want to Rewatch” Ranking of the MCU movies

July 18, 2018

So, I’ve now mostly caught up to the MCU movies — at least the ones that are out on DVD — and so I thought it might be good to do a ranking of them from best to worst. Now, I’m going to steal a line from Chuck Sonnenberg and not try to rank them on the basis of which movie is objectively best. No, I’m going to rank them strictly on personal interest: which of them _I_ like the best. And, in fact, given that this is me and one of my main criteria for movies is whether or not I’d watch it again, I’m going to rank them with the primary criteria being which of them I most want to rewatch when it comes time for me to look for a movie to watch, with some other factors coming into play when the ranking is close.

Note that I’m only doing the MCU movies, and not Marvel movies as a whole, so this leaves out the X-Men movies and Spider-man movies, including Homecoming (because I haven’t seen it yet). I’m also not going to talk about “The Incredible Hulk”, because I haven’t seen it, either. If I was doing all of the Marvel movies, Deadpool would win by a landslide.

1 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As a movie, this is the one that I most want to rewatch, although the ending can drag a bit. It has good character dynamics, an interesting plot, a plot that ties into the overall plot of the MCU movies well, a plot that also has a strong personal connection to Cap, good new characters, and interesting revelations about some existing characters. It gives Maria Hill a chance to show off, Black Widow a chance to develop, and develops relationships between Cap and Falcon and Cap and Black Widow (the “Secure the engine room, then find me a date.” “I’m multitasking.” exchange is both funny and revealing) and even Cap and Fury. The action works well, the drama works well, and the movie hits the right notes with its humour, too, cracking the right jokes at the right times. Again, other than the ending dragging, it’s a good movie and one of the reasons that I think they actually managed to do Captain America right.

2 – Marvel’s The Avengers

Building off of the characters that were already established, this movie is just a plain fun movie to watch. The action works, the jokes work, the drama and interpersonal dynamics work. The plot is serviceable and Loki makes an interesting villain. One can nitpick over its flaws, but at the end of the day it’s really just entertaining.

3 – Captain America: Civil War

I don’t like it as much, and the ending drags even more than the ending to “The Winter Soldier”. But the action scenes are good and I really like the interaction between Vision and Wanda. It’s probably an average Avengers movie, which is how I consider it to be as opposed to a Captain America movie.

4 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

This carries on a lot of the themes from “The Avengers”, and so gets a boost from that. It’s also the bridge from “The Avengers” to “Civil War”, which makes it a movie that I rewatch when I want to watch those two movies again. But on its own it’s okay, decent, kinda entertaining. There are some good lines and scenes, but at the end of the day it just doesn’t do as much for me as the other three movies do.

5 – Guardians of the Galaxy

This movie is mostly a sci-fi comedy romp, which makes it entertaining to watch. But it is mostly disconnected from the greater MCU, which means I have no other reason to want to watch it, and the second movie isn’t as entertaining, so I have no reason to want to watch it as a precursor to watching that one. So I watch it when I’m in the mood for it, specifically, and it’s entertaining enough that that does indeed happen relatively frequently.

6 – Thor

I like the movie, but most importantly I also like “The Dark World”, which means that I get some push to watch it when I want to watch both. Unfortunately for it, I don’t care for either of those two movies as much as I like the other ones on this list, thus it has to be placed beneath them. It’s good, but not that good, and the movie that follows it is also good, but not that good.

7 – Captain America: The First Avenger

I found the movie okay the first time I watched it and liked it better the second time I watched it, but it has one major, fatal flaw: it’s not as good as “Winter Soldier” is. Well, okay, there’s another, probably more fatal flaw: I don’t need to watch it to follow “Winter Solider” or “Avengers”. Thus, watching it only makes me think about watching them instead, which means that I tend to think of that ahead of time and so go watch one of them instead. Good movie, but not as rewatchable as the others.

8 – Iron Man

Of the Iron Man movies, this is the one I like. However, the other movies appeal to me so little that not only do I generally not want to watch them, when I do think it might be nice to watch the entire trilogy having to watch the last two movies turns me off the idea. Which means that I rarely decide that I want to rewatch it, even though mentally I do think that it would be nice to rewatch it on occasion. It’s kinda like Mass Effect in that regard: I’d like to watch the first movie again, but that means watching the other two to watch the entire arc, and I don’t really want to watch the entire series just for what I liked about the first one.

9 – Ant-Man

I keep forgetting that I have this movie on DVD. The movie itself is good enough that it should probably be higher on this list — it should likely overtake “Iron Man” — except that it has no necessary link to any other movie that I own and anything else in the MCU. I just did rewatch it and it was fun, but that’s all it really is. It’s not good enough to be watched on its own and there is no reason to watch it to watch the better MCU movies. So, again, I keep forgetting it exists, which is why I don’t rewatch it. Duh.

10 – Thor: The Dark World

I like the movie, but it falls into the low end of “Good” just above “Meh”. That means that I don’t really have any reason to actually watch it specifically. So I only watch it when I watch “Thor”, and sometimes not even then. It doesn’t make me want to watch “Thor” again, and isn’t a movie that I need to watch if I myself decide to watch “Thor”, so it only comes into play when I want to sit down to watch “Thor” movies. And the third one is not appealing enough to make me do that.

11 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

As I commented when I watched it, it tries to do way too much, and nothing from the first movie really pushes you to watch this one. In short, it’s “The First Avenger”, only not as good a movie. It’s a “Meh” movie with little link to the other movies I have.

12 – Thor: Ragnarok

The same thing applies to this as applies to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”: it’s a “Meh” movie that you don’t really need to watch to understand any of the other movies right now, and the other two movies don’t provide enough of a lead-in to make me care about watching the entire “Thor” trilogy. My impression of this might change when I rewatch it to get the parts I slept through, but the fact that I haven’t done that yet is a pretty damning indictment of it as a movie that I want to rewatch [grin].

13 – Doctor Strange

This is a solid “Meh” movie that I don’t need to watch for any of the better movies, since it came after them. There are serious problems with it and it isn’t the Doctor Strange movie I was hoping for. Right now, I have no idea when I might watch it again.

14 – Iron Man 2

I have no interest in watching the last two Iron Man movies, but this one is higher on the list because it is the first appearance of Black Widow and that interests me enough to consider watching it again, even though when I do I usually regret it.

15 – Iron Man 3

Since Black Widow isn’t in this movie, I usually just regret it when I rewatch this movie. I don’t think either of the movies are bad, but they just don’t really interest me.

16 – Black Panther

This movie has the same issue that I have with “The Force Awakens”: the more I think about the movie, the less I like it … which is what generated my long thoughts on the movie (which don’t even mention that I found his suit being entirely bulletproof a detriment for a melee combatant). I didn’t enjoy the movie the first time I watched it, liked it less the more I thought about it, and so have almost no desire to ever watch it again. It’s also disconnected from the main MCU and has no initial movie to drive a desire to see the next stage in the arc. I am as likely to watch it again as I am to watch TFA … or, actually, less so, because I might watch that when I watch all of the Star Wars movies, and that is not going to happen for “Black Panther”.

Your chance to help decide what I write about!

November 29, 2017

So, I’ve been running with the three updates a week schedule for quite a while now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. It even managed to survive my incredible busy time without all that much of a hitch. In doing this I’ve also started to figure out what things work, what things don’t and how things can work out better in my schedule, which then might start to make the blog more predictable consistent in how things work and what sort of content you might see here. In short, there are certain types of content that work pretty well whether I’m busy or not, and that are also things that I like talking about and am going to do some things with anyway, so I might as well talk about them.

The key is that what works best for the blog are things that I can watch, read or do at any time and then comment on later without having to refer back to the original source material that much. If I can do that, then it really makes my blog writing more flexible and so gives me things that can be done in a relative hurry if I’m busy but that I can do in free time if I’m not busy. TV shows are the ideal for this, and books are probably the worst (since to comment on arguments fairly I generally want to quote from them). But since a lot of these things are things that I haven’t focused on or that are suddenly fitting into my schedule better than they did before, I’m also a bit short of things that fit into those categories and so need to find some new sources for those sorts of posts.

Here is your chance to guide me towards new things to try in those areas.

So, one thing that I’ve found myself lately is watching Extra Credits youtube videos and commenting on them (which in their case means “Disagreeing with them”). In fact, I’m planning on commenting on another couple of them in the near future. But other than SF Debris, I don’t really watch a lot of youtube videos, especially when it comes to gaming. And about the only other commentator on games that I read consistently is Shamus Young, and I’m thinking about digging through his old columns — which he is planning on revisting himself, making this so much easier — to find some other things to talk about. But what other video game commentators do you guys like to watch or read who might have things to say that I might find interesting and want to talk about? While ones that I would probably disagree with are in some sense good — because it’s always pretty easy to write posts disagreeing with people (Hi, Extra Credits!) — I’m also open to people who just say things that might bring up interesting, tangentially related ideas for me to talk about (Hi, Shamus!).

A couple of caveats, though: for youtube videos, the videos can’t be longer, on average, than a half-hour, and can’t be Let’s Plays. Text reviewers are not only excluded from those restrictions, they’ll get precedence because it’s easier for me to read them anywhere and quote them if I want to talk about what they’re saying.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing more frequently is commenting on TV shows that I’m watching in general, which you saw with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Transformers, and most recently Cheers. I’m currently watching Frasier, and will talk about it as things go along, and I still have a show like Wings waiting when this is done. But since I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, I don’t have much of an idea of what shows might be worth watching, and for my purposes — see the upcoming caveats — don’t want to risk trying something out that I don’t think will be good.

Right now, there are a number of caveats. First, for at least the next year it looks like half-hour shows are what I’ll be watching, and that’s all that I could do for the blog because it would take me too long to watch hourly shows to be useful for generating content on the blog. However, that isn’t limited to sitcoms, as it can fit into anything that is half-hour in length and sounds interesting, like cartoons (for example). Second, these have to be completed series, and it has to be the case that I can get the entire series for a reasonable price. Ideally, if I can order them all on amazon.ca, that would be wonderful. EDIT: I’ll pretty much be buying DVDs, so if it’s not out on DVD the chances of my watching it are slim to none. Third, they can’t be too long; the eleven seasons of Frasier and Cheers are probably about the limit, although that’s more number of episodes rather than number of seasons.

As an example, I’m right now looking to see if I can get Hot in Cleveland — which I’ve talked about before — and maybe, now that its run is done, 2 Broke Girls if I can get the seasons for a reasonable price. Big Bang Theory is out because it is still running and is too long anyway, as is something like The Simpsons for the same reason.

I’m also interested in getting suggestions for books to read and talk about. I do want to keep reading and writing about deeper and more serious topics like that, even though it takes me a while to get around to commenting on them (I have finished reading Philipse’s book, for example, but still have to finish writing posts about it), and I’m a bit out of the loop on what the most recent or, for some genres, even what the popular books and topics are. So I’d be looking for suggestions in the genres of theology, philosophy, and history primarily. I’ll also consider requests for TPB comic editions (but, at least for now, not Alt-Hero).

Now, just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about it. For example, I still intend to write about video games, but that will still be limited to the ones I play, and I won’t be soliciting ones to consider as something new so I can talk about it on the blog. And I’ll talk about music and my own eccentricities and do song parodies and talk about computers and write philosophical posts regardless. It’s just that these are categories that it is both relatively easy for me to write about and that I’m fairly uninformed about what’s out there that I might want to get into and write about, which is why I’m asking for suggestions here.

Also note that this isn’t like Chuck’s requests. I don’t put these on a list and promise to have them completed at some time in the near future. I’ll do them if I feel like it and get time and can get them without breaking the bank. I’ll try to respond to all comments as to whether there’s even a chance of it and I’ll try to put something up for things that I’ve bought and so plan to get to at some point, but any suggestion you make here is a suggestion that I’ll consider but may not do, even if I think it’s a good one.

Diversity in Comics …

April 19, 2017

So, comic book sales aren’t going all that well. And so the question has arisen of whether that decline is being caused or helped by diversity, or if diversity is the way to solve that decline. Alex Brown at Tor.com is arguing that diversity is not, in fact, the problem. She’s responding specifically to comments from David Gabriel:

Later, Gabriel gave another interview that, in part, rehashed that hoary old proverb that diversity doesn’t sell: “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”

As I’ve already said, Brown thinks he’s wrong. I’ll get into her arguments later, but I think it will best frame the discussion if I give my opinion first:

Diversity doesn’t sell.

Now, when I say that, I don’t mean that a diverse cast of characters won’t sell, or that a female or black main character won’t sell, or anything like that. For the most part, if the characters and book are well-written and get noticed by readers/consumers, they’ll sell. What I mean by that is that using a claim of “This is diverse!” will not, in and of itself, drive sales, at least beyond the short-term, especially in a field that hasn’t actually been diverse. The problem is that, from the start, you are going to have some fans that are deeply resistant to anything that might be considered as diverse or deviate from the norm. Maybe those fans are indeed racist and/or sexist, or maybe they just see it as too deep an intrusion of politics into their media. These people, as soon as they hear “It’s diverse!” as a selling point, are automatically going to avoid consuming that product. Now, the argument is that those fans will be balanced out by more “diverse” fans who would buy it for the diversity, but the problem is that if that’s not a form of media that they would normally buy they aren’t likely to stay with it or even pick it up in the first place because, well, they likely don’t really like that media in the first place, and not everyone — yes, not even all nerds or geeks — like every type of “nerdy” media. So the hope to balance those who hear the word “diverse” and spit with those who hear the word “diverse” and have their ears perk up probably isn’t going to happen.

But even if it would, trying to sell on the basis of diversity has an impact on “middle-of-the-road” consumers like myself. I’m probably as middle-of-the-road as you can get here, and when the main selling point of a work is “Look how wonderfully diverse it is!” my immediate reaction is “… Really? That’s the best you can say about it?” How about talking about how great the story is? Or the characterization? But simply saying “It’s diverse!” leads me to think that that diversity is the main point of the work, and not the story or characters or whatever. And I get very skeptical about a work when the best people can say about it is that it has a diverse cast. That skepticism will get me to avoid spending my money on it, and instead to buy things that are “safer”, where I know — presumably — what I’m going to get. So trying to sell it on diversity is going to push away people who don’t care whether it is diverse or not, but are worried that diversity is the only thing it has going for it.

So, while I say that a work being diverse isn’t going to hurt its sales, promoting a work for its diversity will. Now let’s look at Brown’s view on diversity and how it isn’t the problem:

Disregarding the sugarcoated PR update Marvel made praising diverse fan favorites, Gabriel’s comments are so patently false that, without even thinking about it, I could name a dozen current titles across mediums that instantly disprove his reasoning. With its $150 million and counting in domestic earnings, Get Out is now the highest grossing original screenplay by a debut writer/director in history; meanwhile, The Great Wall, Ghost in the Shell, Gods of Egypt, and nearly every other recent whitewashed Hollywood blockbuster has tanked.

But are these really good examples? Get Out is a fairly unique take on horror, and benefited from that. Ghost in the Shell is the best known name out of the other examples, and was likely going to be a hard sell given that it is based on anime, which a lot of mainstream audiences have never heard of (as an example I, who is more tuned in to these things than the average person, had heard of the anime, but never watched it). She’s trying to do the comparison based on a movie that had some racial implications vs some movies that she calls “whitewashed”, but doesn’t compare the impact of genres and quality and what impact that might have on their sales. So it’s hard to say that it’s just “patently false” when her examples aren’t ones that would, well, prove the statement.

So let’s look at comics specifically. Maybe those examples will be better:

Even sticking strictly to comics, Black Panther #1 was Marvel’s highest selling solo comic of 2016. Before Civil War II, Marvel held seven of the top ten bestselling titles, three of which (Gwenpool, Black Panther, and Poe Dameron) were “diverse.” Take that, diversity naysayers.

Black Panther #1, which had a big following from the movie tie-in and was an established Marvel character, did well, certainly. That being said, it would be a bit odd to challenge Gabriel using that as an example, since he talked about returning to core characters instead of promoting diversity specifically and, well, Black Panther, as I just said, is a core Marvel character. So let’s look deeper at the monthly numbers, starting in April, where Black Panther, Gwenpool and Poe Dameron were all in the top ten. The thing to note here is that those were all #1s, and Marvel had another #1 in that top ten, which was C3P0, which she ignores (droids obviously not being “diverse”). #1s always get a bump due to them being the first issue, and all of these had ties to other things that would get them noticed. As I’ve already mentioned, Black Panther got a boost from the publicity from Civil War. Poe Dameron was linked to “The Force Awakens”. And Gwenpool was linked to both Deadpool and Spider-man, and was such an odd concept that people might definitely be interested in checking it out just to see what the heck was going on with it. Obviously C3P0 got the same boost.

So let’s look at what happened the next month, which had Civil War II 0 and maybe some other Civil War II crossovers. Black Panther #2 fell to 9, Poe Dameron fell to 12, and Gwenpool collapsed to 45. But that could be the influence of Civil War II, right? Not likely. Amazing Spider-Man #12 didn’t move at all compared to #10 and was only slightly 10,000 higher in sales than #11. Spider-Man Deadpool #5 sold basically the same as Spider-Man Deadpool. Star Wars and Star Wars Darth Vader didn’t lose any ground at all (Darth Vader actually sold more issues in May than in April, Star Wars had a slight decline). And Deadpool, despite releasing two issues that month (11 and 12) stayed roughly the same as well. So it’s far more reasonable that the decline came from the issues no longer getting the #1 boost than from Civil War II.

In June, more #1s flood the top ten, and so they lose even more ground (Black Panther comes in at 27, Poe Dameron at 43, and Gwenpool at 76) but Black Panther’s sales are mostly flat while both Poe Dameron and Gwenpool lost sales. For comparison, Star Wars stays flat, Darth Vader loses some — but also has two issues in the month — Amazing Spider-Man loses but has three books in that month, including the Civil War II tie-in — which didn’t lose when compared to Amazing Spider-Man in May — Spider-Man Deadpool’s sales are flat, as are Deadpool’s.

So, given these numbers … I’m not sure what “that” the diversity naysayers are supposed to “take”. It doesn’t really look like the new, diverse comics outperformed those focusing on core characters after the glow from their first issues faded, and most of them had influence from core characters or other media buttressing them in the first place. This is not a good argument that the idea that diversity doesn’t sell is just patently false.

Brown then moves on to differentiate the old school comic fans from the modern comic fans:

Comic book fans generally come in two flavors: the old school and the new. The hardcore traditionalist dudes (and they’re almost always white cishet men) are whinging in comic shops saying things like, “I don’t want you guys doing that stuff…One of my customers even said…he wants to get stories and doesn’t mind a message, but he doesn’t want to be beaten over the head with these things.” Then there are the modern geeks, the ones happy to take the classics alongside the contemporary and ready to welcome newbies into the fold.

So, technically, by this I’m both? My subscriptions included — when I still had them in force — Deadpool, Darth Vader, and Agents of Shield (with the latter clearly being “contemporary”). So I like my classics and I like my contemporary, and don’t care one way or the other about “newbies”. However, I am indeed one of those customers who says that I like stories an I don’t mind a message, but I don’t want to get beaten over the head with it. And, to be honest, I can’t see what’s wrong with that. Is Brown going to suggest that being beaten over the head with a message is a good thing? She could be trying to argue that what they see as “being beaten over the head with a message” is nothing more than being diverse period, but she’d need to a) demonstrate that and b) well, actually say that. Which she doesn’t as she moves on:

This gets to the point made by a woman retailer at the summit: “I think the mega question is, what customer do you want. Because your customer may be very different from my customer, and that’s the biggest problem in the industry is getting the balance of keeping the people who’ve been there for 40 years, and then getting new people in who have completely different ideas.” I’d argue there’s a customer between those extremes, one who follows beloved writers and artists across series and publishers and who places as much worth on who is telling the story as who the story is about. This is where I live, and there are plenty of other people here with me.

So, Brown is promoting customers who don’t care about the specific characters, and don’t care about the specific stories, but care about who is telling the story? I mean, okay, there are writers and artists that I might chose to follow to books that I might not otherwise buy, like Peter David or JMS, because I like what they do. But even then I’m not likely to pick up a work with a character that doesn’t interest me. And for artists, that’s more likely to be an exclusion list than a “Oh, I like their art but hate the character and story, so I’m going to buy it!” So … where do I fit in this paradigm? And where do the “old school” customers who do follow writers and artists around fit?

Or, does Brown really mean that she cares not about their skill, but about who they are? Does she follow them because she likes their work … or because they are themselves “diverse”? This would indeed be a difference, but I’m not sure that it’s one that we should promote as being a good way to approach comics, or that comics should try to appeal to these customers who don’t seem to care about the actual product.

Blaming readers for not buying diverse comics despite the clamor for more is a false narrative. Many of the fans attracted to “diverse” titles are newbies and engage in comics very differently from longtime fans. For a variety of reasons, they tend to wait for the trades or buy digital issues rather than print. The latter is especially true for young adults who generally share digital (and yes, often pirated) issues. Yet the comics industry derives all of its value from how many print issues Diamond Distributors shipped to stores, not from how many issues, trades, or digital copies were actually purchased by readers. Every comics publisher is struggling to walk that customer-centric tightrope, but only Marvel is dumb enough to shoot themselves in the foot, then blame the rope for their fall.

I have to agree with her, in some sense, on this. As I’ve said before, the subscription model is terrible, which stops me from subscribing. This is at least in part because they keep cancelling and rebooting books, and because they keep driving events that would require me to buy far more than I’d like just to get the entire story. Brown says more about this in the post and all of those points are reasonable. I do agree that this is probably causing more of the problems than “diversity”. But as I said above, the solution to that is not going to be promoting diversity, because that doesn’t help.

When you look at the sales figures, the only way to claim diversity doesn’t sell is to have a skewed interpretation of “diversity.” Out of Marvel’s current twenty female-led series, four series—America, Ms. Marvel, Silk, and Moon Girl—star women of color, and only America has an openly queer lead character. Only America, Gamora, Hawkeye, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! (cancelled), are written by women. That’s not exactly a bountiful harvest of diversity.

But Brown thinks that, indeed, that’s the solution. On what evidence? What evidence does she have that ramping up the diversity is going to improve their numbers? None of her examples demonstrated that at all, and weren’t bountifully diverse themselves. And then she says this:

Plenty of comics starring or written by cishet white men get the axe over low sales, but when diversity titles are cancelled people come crawling out of the woodwork to blame diverse readers for not buying a million issues. First, we are buying titles, just usually not by the issue. Second, why should we bear the full responsibility for keeping diverse titles afloat? Non-diverse/old school fans could stand to look up from their longboxes of straight white male superheroes and subscribe to Moon Girl. Allyship is meaningless without action.

So, those who are diverse and thus would be the intended audience can’t be expected to, you know, actually buy comics in the way that keeps them afloat. Instead, those who are not the intended audience and many of whom who have no interest in being an “ally” in the first place need to belly-up to the bar and buy those comics for … reasons. Riiiiiiiiight. Or, you know, they can keep buying the comics that they, you know, actually like and let you buy the ones you like and keep them going. If you can.

Really, this is just ridiculous. If the comics can’t appeal to their own intended audience enough to get enough sales to avoid cancellation, then they should be cancelled, and appealing to those outside of that audience to save them is just … well, doomed to failure, and utterly entitled.

“Diversity” as a concept is a useful tool, but it can’t be the goal or the final product. It assumes whiteness (and/or maleness and/or heteronormitivity) as the default and everything else as a deviation from that. This is why diversity initiatives so often end up being quantitative—focused on the number of “diverse” individuals—rather than qualitative, committed to positive representation and active inclusion in all levels of creation and production. This kind of in-name-only diversity thinking is why Mayonnaise McWhitefeminism got cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi while actual Japanese person Rila Fukushima was used as nothing but a face mold for robot geishas.

So, know who “Mayonnaise McWhitefeminism” is? Scarlett Johannson. That’s a great way to encourage “allyship” by tossing an ally under the bus, and then driving the bus forward and backwards a number of times just to really drive home how loyal you are to your allies.

Also, I agree that making diversity the goal is not a good idea, because it leads to simply counting diverse characters/writers/artists instead of making sure that, for example, things are actually done with those characters and their diversity or that you are getting interesting, quality and also different narratives. So, given that … how come her examples above are all about counting the numbers? She just counts the numbers across more fields than simply the characters in the books themselves. Kinda hypocritical.

At the end of the day, using diversity as a main selling point doesn’t work. Diverse audiences won’t flock to media they don’t care for just because it happens to be diverse, those who hate diversity will avoid the titles like the plague, and everyone in between will just throw up their hands in frustration and retreat to those boxes of comics they have in their basement because, hey, at least they know what they’re getting. Brown’s arguments in favour of more diversity aren’t demonstrated and Gabriel’s comments ignore the real structural problems in comics that have nothing to do with diversity. Until people can figure out what’s really going on, comics are not likely to recover.

Thoughts on X-23 (2010)

March 13, 2017

So, after deciding to focus more on buying and reading Trade Paperbacks, I’ve decided to comment on some of the ones I’ve read that I feel are worth commenting on. The first one of these is the TPB covering most of the X-23 comic books series from 2010. I admit that I was looking forward to reading this when I found it, because I’ve always, at least, found the idea of the character interesting, as well as what little of her history I gleaned from the other books. So I was very interested in seeing how she worked in what was, essentially, her own solo mag.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

The problem is that X-23, at least there, was a character that had no personality … or, at least, didn’t have a personality that she revealed. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, as that sort of personality was reasonable given her history and provided for an interesting contrast with Wolverine, who with a similar history had a very strong personality. However, that would make watching her go through issue after issue as the star of the comic fairly boring, so the writers decided to team her up with someone who had personality. Having that be Wolverine would risk making the book be all about Wolverine, so they gave her … Gambit. But Gambit is also established and also has a very flamboyant personality, so the risk was still there. To me, it seems that their attempt to deal this was to tone Gambit down so that he didn’t overwhelm X-23 and overshadow her in her own book. However, this left Gambit less interesting, and so they weren’t really able to leverage his personality to make up for X-23’s lack of personality. Thus, at the end of the day, adding Gambit ends up not solving the problem they wanted to solve while still at times having Gambit’s history overshadow X-23’s story.

The best parts of the TPB are when X-23 and a vampirized Jubliee are paired together, because this dynamic actually works. The two of them have similar issues and a similar link to Wolverine, which gives them a lot in common. But Jubilee has maintained — and possibly even enhanced — her personality, which provides an interesting counter to X-23’s stoicism. However, they are roughly of an age and, more important, are roughly of the same prominence (both of which are odd considering how much longer Jubliee has been around). Thus, they seem to be two contemporaries and even friends hanging out or working together, while with Gambit it seemed like X-23 was hanging out with her favourite uncle, which is a completely different dynamic. I think that it would have worked so much better if it had been X-23 and Jubilee for the entire run.

I’m not going to go into details on or talk about the story, as I found it passable but not particularly interesting in any way, good or bad. But the character dynamic between X-23 and Gambit and X-23’s lack of personality did, indeed interest me. I don’t regret buying it, will likely read it again, but don’t consider it particularly interesting.

Comic Lapse …

January 18, 2017

I think I’m letting my Marvel subscriptions run out next year.

I’ve already talked about the problems I’ve been having with it. They’ve continued to get worse. Agents of SHIELD is over. Darth Vader is over. I’m not enjoying X-Men ’92 that much. I ended up taking Star Wars: Han Solo … and it ended, to be replaced with Darth Maul. I’m not interested in the replacements, had already been having a hard time finding good series to replace the ending series with, and am not interested in scouring the lists every few months to find something cool. The only series I still like is Deadpool, and I’m tempted to just wait and buy the trade paperbacks. Sure, price-wise they’re more expensive, but then I get the entire story one-shot, too, and have an easier time storing them.

It’s been a while, certainly, and if things hadn’t kept changing so much I would have stayed. But it changes too much to be worth it for me right now.

Pop Culture Speculation: How Marvel Got Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Spider-man “Back”

October 26, 2016

So, Marvel recently managed to get the rights to use Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in their Avengers movies, and also managed to get the rights to use Spider-man in their movies with a tighter relationship with Sony. I have some speculations on how they managed to do that.

The key is that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have generally been better known in the comics as Avengers than as mutants. Sure, they have the relationship with Magneto and have been in the Brotherhood at various times, but most of their main storylines were as Avengers. I suspect that Marvel argued that while they don’t have the rights to X-Men characters, they have the rights to the Avengers, and thus characters that were in the Avengers are fair game in, at least, Avengers stories. Fox could have argued that, but since these two characters were well-known as Avengers and less so as X-Men, this was the case that, if they were going to lose it, they would, and losing the case might result in a broader interpretation than they liked. So they let it go, and made sure they put Quicksilver in the next X-Men movie to maintain their right to use those characters even if they were also in the Avengers.

Now, Spider-man has actually been an Avenger for quite some time now, and so I suspect that they went to Sony and made the same argument. Sony would have had a better case for claiming that Spider-man is better known as a solo hero than as an Avenger … but they also didn’t have any team affiliation for Spider-man either, which would lead to the argument that Marvel can use him in a team and they only have his solo rights. Since Spider-man isn’t an X-Man, that doesn’t leave Fox with an opening to argue that they can thus use him, too. Sony also isn’t knocking Spider-man out of the park and isn’t competing as much with Marvel over this stuff, and so likely decided that playing ball and getting the free promotion from Marvel was worth more than they’d get from fighting it, and so gave in.

The evidence for this is that recently Marvel has started adding more and more mutant characters to other teams, particularly the Avengers, and downplayed the X-Men. Kitty Pryde was also with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a while. Deadpool joined the Avengers. They had an entire mixed X-Men/Avengers team for a while. All of these seem aimed at one thing: associating X-Men characters with the Avengers so that Marvel can claim that they can use them in Avengers storylines.

Now, the most interesting character in this is actually Wolverine. He joined up with the Avengers at about the same time as Spider-man … before Marvel started having success with their own movies. Thus, an argument that they just added the character there to get around the Fox rights to the X-Men won’t really fly (like it would for the others). But Wolverine is clearly an X-Man first and foremost. It’ll be interesting to see if Marvel tries to get Wolverine into the Avengers movies, and if Fox will let them get away with that.

Anyway, just speculation. I have no inside knowledge and even lack a lot of outside knowledge here, but it seems to work for me.

Thoughts on “Civil War”

October 14, 2016

So, I recently managed to watch “Captain America: Civil War”. My thoughts on it will contain spoilers, so I’ll put it below the fold:

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Diversity Through Replacement …

July 22, 2016

So, according to Time, Tony Stark is going to be replaced as Iron Man, in the comics, by a black woman. Essentially, she’s some kind of genius who builds an armoured suit in her dorm room, which impresses Tony, which leads, eventually, to her replacing him after Civil War II. And as I read that, it came to me that there have been a number of moves to attempt to add diversity to the admittedly not particularly diverse — but not completely non-diverse either — Marvel Universe by replacing existing characters with diverse replacements rather than building new characters or giving more prominence to existing characters. And I think this is a big mistake.

Let’s take one of the earlier examples, where Thor was replaced by a female Thor, despite the fact that Odin had to essentially retcon all of history by calling “Thor” a title and not a proper name, and ignored all of the other previous characters who had held the title of “God of Thunder” who were not Thor. No, they went with a female Thor, essentially replacing the existing Thor with a female version. And since the fact that this character was female and so added diversity was played up by many, that this added diversity does seem to be a major reason for the move. Except … if they wanted to focus on a female Asgardian with special abilities doing … whatever it is that the female Thor was doing, why not elevate Sif and give her her own book and series, or at least temporarily replace Thor’s book with a book for her? Or put her in some of the Avengers teams instead of Thor? After all, in the Thor movies, the character filled a warrior role quite well and was, it seems to me, rather well-liked, so trying to play on that to both increase the popularity of the books and the character should have been a slam-dunk. And it worked well for Phil Coulson. So, then, why wouldn’t they take an already well-established character and let her be herself and see if that could float? Why not try to add diversity, if they wanted that, by adding instead of subtracting?

Replacing Captain America with Falcon makes even less sense, in my opinion. At least in this case they were leveraging the success of Falcon as a character in the movies … but Falcon, as Falcon, was a long-running, well-established character, even as an Avenger himself. He might have been Cap’s sidekick in the movies, but in the comics he really was his own character, semi-distinct from Captain America. To strip away his unique identity to shoe-horn him in as Captain America should have been seen as a grave insult to any of his fans. And especially since there were always characters who were more tightly tied to the Captain America mythos — Nomad, for example — that could have taken over and whom it was more logical for them to take up the shield, as again Falcon had no real need to take it up. Now, since I haven’t read how that came about, you could argue that it all makes sense in context … but taken as an overall idea it seems to make more sense to highlight Falcon as Falcon and, if you have to replace Captain America, do it in a way that allows you to establish a completely new identity for the character.

The same thing can be said for this new replacement of Iron Man, which is ironic because Iron Man has actually had a successful replacement that promoted diversity, as right around the time of the “Secret Wars” Tony Stark was replaced by James Rhodes, who was a) not in any way a scientific or engineering genius and b) also happened to be black. But he also happened to be a long-time friend and confidante of Tony, and someone Tony could clearly trust. And he was popular enough that even when Tony Stark returned, he ended up getting his own suit of armour, the War Machine, and becoming a stable enough character to play an important role in both the Iron Man movies and the Avengers movies.

If they wanted to diversify the line-up while replacing Tony Stark, why not someone like Pepper Potts? Which they already did in the movies and I think even in the comics at some points. She’s trusted by Stark and could provide an interesting new perspective on the whole thing. Instead, they’re going with someone with a similar background to The Beetle, although presumably she won’t try to take on heroes to prove herself first. Hopefully.

Even the new Ms. Marvel reflects this odd thinking. Sure, Carol Danvers got promoted to Captain Marvel, and so wasn’t really replaced … but why invent a new character and then stuff them into a specific existing role, especially one that you then had to build a relationship to Captain Marvel to? Heck, replacing Wolverine with X-23 and having rename herself Wolverine seems odd … and was a reason why when Wolverine died off and I was considering actually, you know, switching to a book with X-23 in it I didn’t, because X-23 as X-23 was interesting, but X-23 as Wolverine was not. Yes, the stories might be different, but it’s still true that at that point the X-23 identity was subordinated to the Wolverine one. Sure, as a tribute to him it made sense … which is more than I can say about the other ones, I guess.

It strikes me that the people pushing for diversity seem to want to be able to piggy-back on the name recognition of existing characters, and are afraid to try to sell their diverse characters strictly on their own merits. That’s why they want to see Miles Morales replace Peter Parker in various media instead of simply getting his own books/movies under a different name, and why they want the movies to make Peter Parker gay instead of introducing a gay character. This, at a minimum, sells those characters short. She-Hulk, for example, finally managed to get some popularity not by replacing the Hulk, but by being very different from him. Deadpool’s success comes from him being unique, not from being a rip-off of Deathstroke. Emma Frost at least used to be one of my favourite characters because who she is, not because of who she’s emulating (and I’m still bitter about the cancellation of her solo series, which I really enjoyed). Magik is another one of my favourite characters because I like her as a character, not because she gets shoe-horned in as the new Doctor Strange or some other such nonsense.

If you want diversity, you need to have more confidence that diversity can work on its own. If you don’t have that confidence, then “cheating” by fooling people by playing on name recognition is not the way to gain diversity, because more than anything else it shows that even you don’t think these characters can work on their own. And if even you don’t believe that, why should anyone else?