Sunday, 30 June 2013

Journalistic Objectivity and Star Trek

A brief, and possibly not well-rounded, thought. I was mowing a lawn the other day, which leaves rather a lot of time for my mind to wander, and I started thinking "What would it truly take for journalism to be 100% objective?" It's impossible for us. No matter how well you research the facts, no matter how clear your photographs are, you will only ever be reporting a story from one point of view: subjectively. But what if there was a journalist who could cover and present a story or event from hundreds of different angles simultaneously? What if the story could be understood from every angle, published as a purely objective experience, and processed the same way in the mind of the reader. And then I thought, you know, there is someone who can do this...

The Borg.

Imagine a division, a guild if you will, of Borg journalists. This collective intelligence tackles one news story at a time, surrounding the event, flooding it with drones and recording the story from all possible points of view. That story is compiled as a collective understanding of what happened, and downloaded to the rest of the Collective to educate. Each drone would receive a fully objective understanding of the happenings. Fat lot of good it would do humans, though. Our minds have enough trouble understanding what we happen to be seeing most of the time; if our brains received a "file" filled with many, many points of view, we'd probably just explode. So, the moral of all this is that printing the truth is possible. All that is required of us is that we surrender our individuality and assimilate. The pen is mightier than the sword. Resistance is futile.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Marvel's Civil War Is More Relevant This Week Than Ever Before

It's been an interesting week in America. And by "interesting", I mean to say heart-wrenching, passionate, inspiring, revolting, devastating, an epic week in politics and humanity. We've seen Wendy Davis stand up, literally, putting an incredible amount of energy into defending the rights of women in her state. I will direct you to this article, because I think it needs to be read more:  We seen gay marriage rights defended. We've seen an incredible amount of rage erupt at the decades-old racist statement of a lady who, frankly, slipped up. And it's been moving. I'm not American; I grew up north of the 49th, and all of this news moves me but is so far removed from where I live geographically that it seems almost fictional. This couldn't really be happening to our world...could it?

But it is, and that makes it all the more fascinating to me. I only know what happened this week because I started using Twitter and made an effort to follow some very interesting people right off the bat. As a result, I had my feed flooded with Wendy Davis-related posts on the 25th of June. The ones that got me thinking were these: user @Anne_Savage tweeted "Texas: Got a gun? That's cool, carry on. Got a vagina? I'm sorry ma'am we're gonna have to regulate that. ", and @blahblahblack said "I'm going to bed. I plan to dream about a world where guns are under more control than a woman's uterus. ". Gun control never stops being a part of the news. Obama and the Senate recently had a bit of a falling out over that issue, and I doubt we'll ever truly see the end of it. But these comments online made me think about a story I've read, a story I really, truly love, about government regulation: The Marvel Civil War.

It actually surprises me how few people have read this particular event. Maybe I'm just talking to the wrong crowd of readers, but it seems that the violent polarization of the Marvel universe should have been a bigger deal than it was. For those unfamiliar with the story, a small team of wannabe heroes in Stamford, CT bites off more than they can chew and attacks a notorious super criminal, triggering a nuclear blast that wipes out the town, killing hundreds. The government response to this situation is to enact the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring all people with superpowers to register their true identity and power with the government. The superpowered population of America divides over this issue, one side rallying around Captain America against the registration, the others siding with Iron Man and the government. It was a massive conflict.

So in America this week, we have the never-ending struggle to regulate civilian weaponry, and we have multiple instances of the government attempting to regulate civilian biology (abortion law) and civil rights (gay marriage). The Superhuman Registration Act attempted to regulated civilian civil rights because their biology was deemed equivalent to weaponry. That sounds awfully similar to me. Now, this is not the time or place for a full academic rundown of these parallels. Frankly, it's too early, and I have a bus to catch. But think about it. Keep it in mind and go find a copy of Civil War and read it. I haven't gone through the whole thing myself in a few years, so I'm a bit rusty, and can't pull details off the top of my head the way I'd like, but I'm going to dig out those books myself and see if I'm on the right track with this thought. Comics were created as a cultural narrative. Let's remember that. Someday someone will be able to read through superhero comics and understand 20th and 21st century North American culture the same way we can use The Illiad to get a handle on the ancient Greeks. Maybe this is part of that.

For those interested in the Civil War event, I recommend reading in this order:

  • Road to Civil War
  • Civil War (main event book, written by Mark Millar, art by Steve McNiven)
  • Civil War: Iron Man
  • Civil War: Captain America
  • Civil War: Frontline 1&2

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Superman, the Man of Yesterday

I'm going to go ahead and say it: I think Superman is outdated. I'm entirely open to thoughts and discussion on this front, but in the last few it's struck me just how poorly suited Big Blue is to a modern audience. What is Superman? He was the first true superhero, published back in 1938, something the world had never really seen before. He could lift cars and fly, and he had an infallible black-and-white sense of morality. He was the epitome of "the good guy" in an age where that's all there were, the Good and the Bad. In comics this was almost highlighted by the four-colour printing process, a hero with very clearly defined morals printed entirely in primary colours. But that just doesn't fly anymore.

I've spent the week since watching Man of Steel reading online articles in response to the film. The response is atrocious. I have seen article calculating the property damage done to Metropolis in the film, forums arguing about Superman's heroism versus The Avengers' modus operandi, and a massive online debate about how Superman...shaves. This is how we treat our heroes today. We look at everything they do in the stories we pay millions upon millions of dollars to go see, and we pick at it. We pick apart every little detail because we want to be one up on them, we want to be ahead of the curve and smarter than everyone else who went to see that movie. We don't actually want heroes; we just want to criticize them. The way I see it, the moment you willingly go to a movie about a guy who flies is the same moment you forfeit any and all rights you may have had to critique the realism  of said film. But what it comes down to is this: the modern moviegoer doesn't know how to see superheroes as allegorical, mythological symbols anymore.

Superman wasn't meant to live in our world. The universe that holds Metropolis, Gotham, and Coast City isn't our reality; it's a reflection of our reality, a distillation of the world we see around that was purified with the intention of teaching us something. Unfortunately, we've lost that. Now all we can do is look at that and scoff because it clearly isn't "accurate". We're missing the point that these places and characters were written as myths and legends. Some of them can adapt, it's true. Batman has done a marvelous job of that, becoming the kind of gritty, earthy street hero that every modern movie buff can drool over. But Superman doesn't have that knack. He's never been as adaptable as Bats, who had a tool and contingency plan for everything. We're experiencing Kingdom Come all over again; Batman's gimmicks have pulled through and retained their power, but Superman is lost by the wayside, yesterday's symbol in tomorrow's world. He's obsolete, he's black-and-white in a world that only sees in shades of grey. We just received the greatest Superman film ever made, true to the character and packed with symbolism worthy of the First Superhero, and all we've managed to do with it is wonder how he shaves.

75 years ago we called him the Man of Tomorrow, but tomorrow is yesterday's news.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Why Alberta matters more than Superman right now

A thought on property damage in media as I watch news feeds of southern Alberta slipping under the worst flood waters they've seen in nearly a decade. I've seen a lot of hype online about the Superman movie, Man of Steel. I've seen a lot of people gripe about the buildings destroyed onscreen, the lack of heroism in saving the folks in those building, fans nitpicking about how the Avengers did a better job, even an article meticulously calculating the onscreen computer generated property damage. People, can we pull our heads out of our butts for a second and realize that the skyscrapers Superman may have destroyed aren't worth beans, because real people are losing real homes right now, and they could use some real heroes about now. Let's stop pissing at each other about CGI rubble and go out and do something real. Thank you.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Inconceivably Large Comics Post - Part 2 - Trade Paperback Collections

Let's start with a confession: I might be a little in love with Brian K. Vaughan. Even before I knew who he was I admired him, back when I sat around book shops reading the collected Y:The Last Man series, having no idea and not caring who wrote it. I just knew I loved the story, that it was better and edgier and more meaningful than some other comics I'd picked up. And that makes sense now, looking back. Because that's just what he does, and he does it well.

Saga. If you don't know this title, find it and pick it up. There is a shortage of good fantasy comics in this (Skullkickers is the answer to that problem, I fervently believe),and sci-fi material seems so...done. It's hard to find a new science fiction idea these days. But Saga  is...fresh. It's a tantalizing blend of fantasy, sci-fi, whimsy, ghosts, rocketships made from trees, sworn oaths and swords and robots and babies with horns being born in mechanics' shops. It's a story about the power of family. And it is hands-down one of, if not the, best comics running today.

On another facet of my Brian K. Vaughan obsession, I've been reading Ex Machina. Now, there's an old, worn-out sci-fi title for you.Latin used to be trendy, you could use all these mysterious phrases and make your stories sound scientific and cutting edge and ethereal...but now it's getting old. So why read a series with a name like that? Because it is the the most socially conscious comic I've read short of Watchmen, and Watchmen was a story for another time. In Ex Machina, Vaughan has created a story addressing the modern world post-9/11, and that is the most interesting thing about it: a writer being willing to confront a culture still raw from such trauma. The story follows Mitchel Hundred, the only known superhero in the world, retired, and now the mayor of New York City. He faces a host of political traps, ethical conundrums, webs of intrigue, and life-threatening scenarios. And he always learns something, comes out the other side of the conflict with a greater understanding of his place in society and society itself. It's a deftly woven story, spun as only Vaughan can spin.

Now, I have developed another love in my comics forays. I've become a little (and maybe more than just a little...) disenfranchised with superhero comics, and a different genre has captured my imagination: crime comics. A year and a half ago at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel discussion with Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka talking about exactly this type of comic, and realized all of a sudden why I liked Brubaker's Winter Soldier so very much. It had more in common with The Hunt for red October than with, well, superhero comics. Those are the kinds of comics I want to write, dark and intricate and mysterious, more than just high-flying action. Of course, I'm not opposed to high-flying action. But I've always loved a little cloak-and-dagger. So when I picked up the first volume of Brubaker's Criminal series, having just finished researching his career for a wiki page on, I found just what I'd hoped for between the pages. Gritty, street-level, pull-no-punches noir, where the ink in the shadows practically reeks of tobacco and whiskey and gun smoke. The characters are real people.They love and cry and bleed like real people, described by Brubaker's pen and brought to life in Sean Phillips' panels. Every page is a treat. Every volume is worth buying. It's a masterpiece of modern noir, for those who still appreciate such tales. I certainly do.

And last but not least, let me touch on a years-long love affair with the X-Men. The Ultimate X-Men, to be fair. I started reading these volumes in bookstores six or seven years ago, volumes titled The Tomorrow People and Return to Weapon X. I didn't really get it back then. I knew I liked the art, and the characters were cool. But I didn't know the writers then, and I knew nothing about the other versions of the X-Men. Here, Wolverine is a remorseless savage turned father-figure/jilted lover, with a hardcore bromance going between him and Colossus. Who is gay. Which Nightcrawler just doesn't understand. Meanwhile, Beast dies, and Storm loved him so she gets emo and really badass and...well, it's all great. The bulk of it is written by Mark Millar. The Mark Millar. The Kick Ass guy. Bits and pieces have been picked up by, um, Brian K. Vaughan (no prizes as to why I like this series) and Robert Kirkman. He's sort of a big deal. So, I picked this whole series up at discount about two years ago, 19 volumes for $190, except 14, which is where I'm stuck until I can find it. It's been years in the making, but I'm finally at a point where I can look up from these books and say "Oh this? Yeah...READ IT."