Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Talk to the Kobold

Readers of this journal already know I have a face made for radio. Now discover that I have a voice made for the printed page as I do a podcast with Ed Healy and Wolf Baur over at Kobold Quarterly. Yes, I'm trying out all this newfangled technology!

More later,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Omnibus

So I was pleasantly surprised to find out the one of my original books, The Brothers' War has been re-released as an omnibus edition, combined with J. Robert King's The Thran in a big bug-basher(not that Brothers' War was all that short a novel to start out with) called Artifacts Cycle 1

I had no knowledge that this was coming, but it's pretty cool.

More later,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Comics: Isn't That Special?

One more, and I will be done with kicking about Blackest Night. As I said, it wasn't a bad comic book by any means, but it shows a lot of the stresses that affect serial storytelling. We talked about Statics versus Change (or Issue versus Serial) and Backstory versus Nostalgia (noted here as the Return of the Zombie Heroes). There's one more dualism that I have that is shown in the back end of this comic.

The Unique versus the Popular.

Here's the challenge. You create a hero/protagonist. He's popular. And one of the cool things about your super-powered protagonist is that he or she is unique. At least at the start. Last survivor of a dead planet, or only individual to receive the Super-Soldier Serum. Hit by a lightning bolt spilling chemicals on him.

But then they might get a sidekick with similar powers. Or an opponent with a similar origin, and before you know it, you are hip-deep in characters with similar powers to your once-unique hero. And in attempting to deal with that strange dualism, a new cycle is created, of cutting back the kudzu of similarity, only to see it regrown over time.

Take Flash. For many years, he was pretty stable, with a super-powered sidekick (Kid Flash) and an opposite number (Professor Zoom). Yet in Barry's passing, there was a sudden uptick in speedsters. Kid Flash became the new Flash, and in turn picked up his own sidekick (Impulse) and speed-powered foes (A new Zoom). Oh, and a cult of super-speedsters worshiping a bad guy named Savitar. And the return of the original Golden Age Flash (the golden agers were confined to another earth for a while, then were moved off-stage for a few years, then brought back). And a super-powered opponent for Impulse. And couple OTHER golden-age speedsters (Johny Quick and Max Mercury (originally Quicksilver)) and a future version (XS). And a bunch of russians with super-speed. So suddenly our unique hero has bunches of competition.

Such that Flash, newly returned to his own book, now seems to be (not-so-slowly) reducing the power levels of the other speedsters, in what would be a return to uniqueness. Of course, this may be lethal to the others with those powers.

Green Lantern has it worse. For a while, he was a guy with a magical ring given to him by an alien. But soon we found he was just ONE guy with a magic ring among a bunch of OTHER aliens, all with magic rings. This was the Green Lantern Corps. And a lot of the dynamic of the series swung between Green Lantern as a member of the corps in space, and Green Lantern as a hero on Earth. Sometimes the GLC went away. Sometimes Hal as Green Lantern went away (creating MORE Green Lanterns as replacements on Earth). But the dynamic of a specially-powered individual among other specially-powered individuals was pretty established.

But now things have gone off the rails entirely. Now we have a host of lantern corps, one for every color of the spectrum. Some are logical pickups - Green Lanterns hate yellow, so Green Lantern's arch enemy, Sinestro, has a yellow ring (remember what I said before about even-matched enemies). But that was a unique item. Now he has his own yellow lantern corps, which acts on fear like the GLs work on willpower. OK, that's a logical expansion. But now Star Sapphire, another GL villain, gets HER own corps. And we add the Red Lanterns (Anger), Orange Lanterns (Greed), Blue Lanterns (Hope), and Indigo Lanterns (Beats the heck outa me). And of course the Black Lanterns (Death, not really an emotion, but neither is willpower, really).

So now we have a large percentage of the universe with color-based ring-powers. And now not only the Hal have to compete with three other human GLs and the horde of fellow corpsmen, but now a huge collection of OTHER aliens with OTHER rings. And then the challenge is how to make YOUR hero special in a universe filled with others with similar abilities.

I would put a fiver down on a massacre, with just enough survivors that will pop up over the years to keep the stories coming.

More later,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Comics: Retro White Bread

Now, in the last installment, I mentioned that I was a fan as a kid of the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. In fact, I would put myself in the DC category as a kid - DC had more stories per issue (since I didn't know that many of those tales were republished from earlier books), while the Marvel books were continuing tales, and in a world without Direct-Sale comics shops, the chances of getting two books in a row were thin indeed.

But I have to tell you, one of the reasons I eventually shuffled over to Marvel was that the DC universe was filled with middle-class, middle-aged, white guys. The JLA was filled with white dudes, even the Martian Manhunter, who was obviously green, was a white guy.

All that stuff about depth of character and political views and evolving relationships between heroes? Most of it after my time, starting with the "Hard-Traveling Heroes" era of Green Arrow and Green Lantern. But a lot of the history and personality of these guys were added pretty much after the fact.

Look at their secret identities - Supes is a reporter, Bats a millionaire playboy (OK, he's above middle class), Wondy held a number of jobs in the military and government. Green Lantern was a test pilot, Flash a forensic scientist before CSI made it cool, Martian Manhunter was a cop. Hawkman was a cop from outer space. Elongated Man was a mystery writer. Not a struggler or slacker in the bunch. In fact their secret IDs were pretty much just a hook to get them involved in the story.

And the stories were pretty much detective stories. Something odd happens, the hero gets involved, follows the clues, reveals a greater crime, fights the baddie, everything gets resolved. All that differed was the hows and the impediments. Batman would have his lab in the batcave, Flash would solve matters with super-speed, Green Lantern would have his power ring. Need to slow the heroes down for storytelling purposes (or to reach page count)? Kryptonite for Supes, dehydration for Aquaman, fire for Martian Manhunter. Throw something yellow at Green Lantern - yeah, here was a hero who could be defeated by Spongebob Squarepants.

But what about how yellow representing fear, which was the enemy of willpower, the source of the Green Lanterns' abilities? Later stuff leavened into mythos through retroactive continuity (The dreaded RetCon you always hear about). Ditto with the Speed Force, which didn't even exist when Barry Allen sacrificed himself in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now the speed force is part and parcel of the Flash Mythos, and the Fear/Yellow impurity has been deeply justified, removed, and reinstated a couple time in the Lantern vocabulary.

So here's another dualism of modern continuity storytelling - Statics versus Change, or perhaps call it the Issue versus the Series. The old comics I read as a kid were timeless in the fact that they did not ever change. Flash would always be late to dinner with his girlfriend Iris West. Green Lantern would lose planes are an alarming rate as he had to bale to be Green Lantern. Clark Kent would continually have to disappear whenever it was a job for Superman. Only when they engaged with the nature of time, of connecting the serial issues together into their larger mythos, did suddenly filling in all the blanks become important. Then the cracks of repeated action began to appear, and the stresses for the character to change over time suddenly become apparent.

Stresses, in the case of many of DC Heroes, to (temporary) death and (temporary) replacement. And in particular, to revisions of their past heritage, putting stuff in that that wasn't there before, and creating the illusion that it was always so.

One more thing I want to say on this, but for now, More Later,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Comics: Dead Men Tell More Tales

So I was talking about Free Comic Book Day a while back, and I mentioned the DC giveaway, Darkest Night, which was a promotion for the upcoming major event of the same name. And it is a pretty good tease, in that it raises my interest in at least the core books of the series, but it does underscore several challenges to serial story continuity in general and to DC in particular.

Here's the book in brief. Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and Barry (Flash) Allen gather at the grave of Bruce (Batman) Wayne and talk about death and mortality. In the course of it, they mention they have both been previously dead, along with a bunch of the current DC pantheon. A supervillain, the Black Hand, is watching the conversation, and after the heroes leave, decides to raise someone from the dead to be part of his "Black Lanterns" (though the exact "who" is up in the air, as it is a bit confusing).

The back half of the book is a tour through the rainbow of various lantern corps, but that's a problem for another day. The thing to note here is that both of the main protagonists have been dead previously. Dead and replaced by younger individuals. Dead and supposedly never to be replaced.

And yet, here they are. Standing over the grave of another deceased hero, who has a timer on his gravestone for his eventual return. And Hal even lost his "grey-at-the-temples" look.

Now, there is a behind-the-scenes reason for this, involving the balance between backstory and nostalgia. Both Hal and Barry were Silver Age heroes, meaning they showed up in the fifties and early sixties. As time progressed, the people who locked in on those characters got older, and the heroes seemed less relevant and more clogged with history. So Barry Allen died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and was replaced by his former sidekick, Wally (Kid Flash) West. Hal got a shoddier deal, going crazy, blowing up a lot of stuff, before eventually sacrificing himself as well in some lame followup (and eventually became the replacement for ANOTHER superhero, the Spectre).

OK, tempus fugit. Time marches on. And though I read the Barry and Hal versions back as a kid (Green Lantern drawn by Gil Kane, Flash by Carmin Infantino, who drew his characters with chins sharp enough to open soup cans), I was willing to follow up with the new guys. In fact, the new Flash books were much more interesting than the originals, and I came to like Kyle Raynor as the "last Green Lantern" (something else that did not stick).

So what happened? Why are Hal and Barry back? I think part of it is that there was an age bracket of fans who DID feel that the heroes were taken from them too soon, and it took the passing of years to get these fans to the decision making level with the controlling media company. So looking at the slumping sales of the replacements (actually All Comics have sales that are slumping - it is the nature of that particular beast), they could reasonable speak of the resurrection of the old traditionals.

And so Hal and Barry are back, joining the legions of the formerly dead (Superman, Green Arrow) and those cuing in the anteroom (Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Firestorm). And just for clarification, I'm not talking about staged deaths, one-issue deaths, dreams, elseworlds, or imaginary stories. I'm talking about long-term yep-the-hero's-gone throw-the-funeral deaths. In fact, I think only Wonder Woman hasn't been dead-dead of the DC Pantheon.

Zombies. The entire DC Universe is now made up of restless dead. Probably not something you really want to think about, but it is the unfortunate result of the continuing and opposing forces of backstory versus nostalgia as a drive for making comic book stories.

More later,

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sauna

And when I said I intended to sit on my back porch and embalm my nerve endings in alcohol, I meant to say I intended to put a sledgehammer through my neighbors' sauna.

We have great neighbors - Ron and Connie. Connie is a school teacher and Ron's retired from working a body shop. He's also a handyperson who always has a project or ten that he's working on. He's the guy that can patch together your lawn mower when it rusts out, or is over with his chain sawwhen a deadfall comes down. He's build and rebuilt a lot of things over on their property, including a small sauna.

Now in regards to this sauna, it was built some 37 years ago at their first house, and moved over here when they moved. It was about five foot square and ten foot high, and made of local cedar. But time and rot has taken its toll in places, so they decided to take it down.

And I'm sitting my back porch and I hear the banging, and Connie shouts over "You want to help?" and I say sure and spent the next hour or two helping them reduce the old sauna to kindling. And I had to work to keep up with Ron, who does have a few gray hairs on me. And Ron had built it SOLID all those years ago, with 4x4 cedar posts that were really 4x4 (ask your local wood technician why a 4x4 is not 4x4 anymore). So with must effort, we managed to bring it down without either snagging the power lines above it or crushing Connie's lucifers (well, not crushing them too much, and they will come back).

So all in all I would call it a good afternoon's work, and a great way of blowing off steam. I offered my sledge-wielding services if they wanted to destroy anything else in the future. Because that's just a good-neighbor thing.

More later,

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Returned

I've spent the past week in another land, far from this one, on business for my company. And I have to say I was a most insufficient, but low-maintenance, tourist.

I spent most of the week within a particular five-square-mile area, its borders defined by the airport, the hotel, and where I was working. My day consisted of awakening, preparing, breakfasting, commuting, working for four hours, lunching for an our, working for another four hours, returning to the hotel, dinner, then catching up on other work and finally crashing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I placed a very light load on the tourist industry, and in appreciation it in turn made things easy for me to go about my business.

I did only the smallest smattering of sight-seeing, and while I was greatly pleased with the results of the week, and the people whom I was working with, it is the sort of thing that I can't talk about right now. The responsibility was such that, even though I had Internet access, I had nothing to say here, nor even the time to craft a coherent message. I did not even turn on the TV over the course of the week. The image that sticks in my mind is the evenings, watching the sun set over the valley beyond my hotel window in brilliant hues.

Nevertheless, I am home now, and even though everything went very well, I am very, very tired. I'm thinking of just sitting on the back porch today, replacing as much of my bodily fluids with alcohol as I dare, and just dialing everything back a notch. Or ten.

More later,

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Comics: The Pull List

It's Free Comic Book Day, so if its been a while since you've dropped in on your Friendly Local Comic Book Shop, now's your chance. Mine is Spy Comics, as I've mentioned before, down in Federal Way.

It is also an excuse to update my pull list. Since I'm a regular, I give the store a list of books I will definitely be buying each week, and they pull them from the shipment. That way they are available, and then I skim the shelves to see if there is anything I want to add (I usually go for the three-book rule on most new attempt - I buy three issues of an ongoing before I add it to the pull list. Limited series, of course, I decide with the first issue).

But looking over the new list, I see the results of the most recent attempts at big ticket events. DC, which pitched its entire fictional universe into a Final Crisis that killed Batman, has practically evaporated from my list. A few team books are all that remain from a following that included the Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern main books and followers.

Marvel, on the other hand, did very well by its Secret Invasion and follow-up Dark Reign. Quick Summary here: in the former, the Skrulls invaded. In the latter a bunch of villains get their act together and take over the heroic roles. And as a method of expanding book sales, it has been pretty successful. Not content with two Avengers titles, they now have four - Mighty Avengers (formerly Tony Stark's Republican Avengers, now led by Hank Pym, being deceived by Loki), New Avengers (formerly Captain America's Liberal Avengers, now led by Hawkeye, who was dead but apparently got better), Dark Avengers (led by Harry (Green Goblin) Osborn in a Thunderbolt-like attempt to pass off villains as Heroes), and Avengers: The Initiative (left over from Civil War as a training operation, manipulated by Skrulls, no one in charge right now). Not a bad little franchise, and what happens when you do a mega-event right.

Also increasing on my list are books I am not reading, which the Lovely Bride is following, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (OK, I read that one), Angel, and Spike, as well as the Marvel adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which the LB says has all the lines right, but the pacing is weird. So she's slowly being drawn back into the comics world as well.

Anyway, if you get a chance, go check out your local comic book shop, tell them I sent you, and enjoy the puzzled look on their faces because the don't know me.

More later,

Update: So I get to Spy before noon, and the place is packed. I'm serious. Easter-Sunday at church packed, with Rick working the cash register in a flurry and Paula helping people in the crowded aisles and passing out bags of the free comics. I got about ten feet in before I gave it up as a hopeless and left the field for the happy customers with copies of graphic novels under their arms. I really hope everything went well for them, because the joint was jumping.

On the swag itself? A very nice self-contained Wolverine story from Marvel which covered the last bit of Logan's life that had not been examined. Aliens/Predator promo from Dark Horse that were the opening pages from new series. A Sonic comic from Archie that patches together frames from earlier comics with more text than its target audience will want to read. A Cars (the Pixar film) comic from Boom that tells the protagonist's story with a perfect example of unreliable narrator. A bunch of articles from the Wizard/Toyfare group that may be a bit questionable for the youngsters. A chapbook sample from a Magic Novel, Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell, from WotC.

And "Issue 0" of Blackest Night, the Green Lantern themed big summer event, which really deserves to be unpacked and examined on its own, since it underscores a lot of what comic universe simultaneously cool and frustrating. But more on that later.