Saturday, April 12, 2008

Something about your birthday...

Hey, Leaguers... The League is getting out of the way for Jamie, who has written up some sort of birthday message.

And... here it is:

Happy Birthday, Ryan!!

While I can't put it as eloquently as Steanso, I would also like to wish the League a most happy birthday. Ryan and I met nearly 15 years ago while I was attending Trinity U (also Steanso's alma matter). We did not start dating until some 2+ years later, but each of the few times we met during those pre-dating years I knew there was something special about him. There was a fascinating mixture of mischief and kindness in his eyes that made him memorable.

Thankfully the stars alligned our junior year and we've been together ever since. He proved his worth early on when, already aware of my kidney problems when we started dating, he spent a whole weekend in my hospital room when I was frighteningly (and not attractively) ill. This devotion has continued throughout our relationship, and I cannot count the number of times Ryan has dropped everything to care for me. Visions of him slumped in an ER room chair exhaustedly attempting sleep at 3:00 am come to mind. He has been my advocate and comforter in tough times.

Our rough patches were not all medical, and we had a difficult four years living in Arizona. Finding it hard to meet people there, we were forced to rely solely on each other for company (sorry Mel, Jeff, but you do not talk last I checked). Ryan kept us sane with his good nature and humor. We were able to joke with each other about our situation, which made it tolerable.

It may seem as if I am highlighting the low points of our relationship, but I am writing under the assumption that everyone out there knows of Ryan in some capacity, even if just through his writing. I find it more telling of a person's character how they react in challenging circumstances and thought some of you may not be as familiar with this side of Ryan.

So thank you Ryan, for being my champion, my entertainer, my psychologist and best friend. I love you more than I can express in this short tribute and hope you have the happiest of birthdays.


Tom Ames' Prayer
by Steve Earle

Everyone in Nacadoches knew Tom Ames would come to some bad end
Well the sheriff had cought him stealin' chickens and such
by the time that he was ten
And one day his daddy took a ten dollar bill
and he tucked it in his hand
He said I can tell you're headed for trouble son
and your momma wouldn't understand

So he took that money and his brothers old bay
and he left without a word of thanks
Fell in with a crowd in some border town
and took to robbin' banks

Outside the law your luck will run out fast
and a few years came and went
'Till he's trapped in an alley in Abilene
with all but four shells spent

And he realized prayin' was the only thing
that he hadn't ever tried
Well he wasn't sure he knew quite how
but he looked up to the sky

Said you don't owe me nothin' and as far as I know
Lord don't owe nothin' to you
And I ain't askin' for a miracle Lord
just a little bit of luck will do

And you know I ain't never prayed before
but it always seemed to me
If prayin' is the same as beggin' Lord
I don't take no charity

Yeah but right now Lord with my back to the wall
Can't help but recall
How they nearly hung me for stealin' a horse
in Fort Smith Arkansas

Judge Parker said guilty and the gavel came down
just like a cannon shot
And I went away quietly
and I began to file and plot

Well they sent the preacher down to my cell
He said the Lord is your only hope
He's the only friend that you gonna have
When you hit the end of Parker's rope

Well I guess he coulda' kept on preachin' 'till Christmas
but he turned his back on me
I put a home made blade to that golden throat
and asked the deputy for the key

Well it ain't the first close call I ever had
I'm sure you already know
I had some help from you Lord and the devil himself
It's been strictly touch and go

Yeah but who in the hell am I talkin' to
there ain't no one here but me
Then he cocked both his pistols and he spit in the dirt
and he walked out in the street

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Superman stinks?

Back before Superman Returns, I used to get a lot of articles like this one forwarded to me. It's an article basically stating why Superman is a terrible character. (Thanks to Randy and Simon for the link.)

There are two basic forms these articles take:
1) I am a comic fan, and I know what makes for good superheroes, and Superman is NOT IT
2) Superman is too outdated for our morally complex times (this one is usually written by a non-superhero and/ or comic fan)

These articles are usually, I assume, meant to blow the lid off of people's pre-conceptions of the All-American hero. Often they are meant as a justification of the Marvel-style of superheroes and/ or Batman as the rightful heir to being "the best hero ever".

It's a weird sort of thing to want to write such an article, even for a comic site or publication. Really, no other character generates the same negative ink, just for existing. I don't recall if I've ever seen a "why Spidey is a terrible character", "why Batman is just dumb", or "why Captain America should stay dead/ retired already".

I do think the linked article does distill the basic crux of the arguments by comic nerds who do not like Superman. It's what I would characterize as argument #1, why Superman is not a good Superhero by and for comic nerds.

The four points for why Superman is a bad character are (more or less):

1) Indestructibility
2) Moral absolutism
3) Superman's very presence somehow lessens humanity
4) Superman is given powers, and somehow that's unfair

As I mentioned above, these arguments are usually paired with the relative bad-assery that the comic fanboy finds in Batman, Spidey or Wolverine. Now, clearly The League is a pretty big Batman nut, and our Batman fandom runs many years longer than that of our Superman fandom. We understand the argument. We also like Spidey, and feel sort of "meh" when it comes to Wolverine.

The biggest problem with most of these articles is that its pretty clear that the writer has only a cursory understanding of Superman, usually formed from a high-profile project of the cross-over variety, or a team book. And quite often it seems the writer is finding ways to force the world to see Superman through the filter of Dark Knight Returns. And, quite often, the writer has selectively omitted certain aspects or perhaps just missed some detail of the story which they are citing.

The League rebuts:

Indestructibility- usually the number one writing complaint for writers trying to take on Superman. He can't be shot. He doesn't fear a gas main exploding.

All of these are true. That was kind of the point of a guy who didn't need to worry about bullets, etc... when Superman was developed. If he could be shot and die, he'd be someone else.

Yes, if you want to get technical, Superman can be hurt by Kryptonite. Or magic. Or have his powers shut off under the light of a red sun (as seen in recent issues of Action Comics). But that's not really the point.

Superman can't be injured by conventional means, but those around him CAN. People can get injured. It's one thing to get shot at, its another thing for Superman to worry about the bullets bouncing off his skin and sailing all over the place. Its another thing to worry about escalation when that super-villain knows he can't get you, but blowing up a few city blocks will sure get your attention (or poisoning all the air ducts in Metropolis, right Lex?).

This doesn't address that many other fan-favorite characters are also invulnerable. The Hulk. Thor. Wolverine (from a practical standpoint). Iron Man. Captain Marvel/ Shazam. Green Lantern. Martian Manhunter. Colossus. And, hey... even Booster Gold.

Superman, like Batman, is a character featured in perpetually produced serial fiction. Neither will ever really die, no matter what an editor or executive might think will temporarily push up sales on a comic. At what point does it not become absurd for the man in tights and bat-ears to not ever just get a bullet between the ribs from some thug who gets off a lucky shot (and you can't tell me every crook in Gotham wouldn't be carrying at least two guns just for purse snatching)? Or why doesn't someone just start shooting at Wolverine from across the room with a decent gun? Or Spider-Man, for that matter? Heck, at least Superman has an excuse for shrugging off bullets, and at least the crooks in Metropolis aren't going to just wait for their lucky shot if they know it ain't going to work.

Are we to understand that the folks of the Marvel or DCU are too dull to understand that a well placed IED could take out most of the Bat-gang, most X-Men, etc...? And while that may make those characters a bit less fantastic than the Man of Steel, worrying about getting hit with a pool cue is not really what Superman is about. Consider Superman the guy feeling guilty when the bomb goes off because people were injured, and he didn't spot the bomb in time with his X-ray vision.

To suggest that the writers of Superman comics do not address the invulnerability issue in the pages of Superman comics, and elsewhere, is a bit disingenuous. It's addressed in almost every issue. It's considered Superman's responsibility to use that invulnerability (more on this later).

And to suggest that Superman has never confronted a villain who knew his weaknesses, or who wasn't a physical threat to Superman is just simply inaccurate (Mongul, Darkseid, Doomsday, Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, Brainiac...).

Moral absolutism - When this pops up, it's usually when I get the feeling the writer has never stooped so low as to actually have read a Superman comic in his/ her life. Superman comics are generally about Superman not being sure what path to follow when confronted with an almost insurmountable moral dilemma (see Busiek's "Camelot Falls").

Our writer said: Superman has no values of his own, so he's content to just uphold the values of the ruling class

True, in that usually Superman returns the situation to the status quo before the end of the story. It's been 60+ years since Superman was portrayed as a misfit working outside the law. But to state that he has no values of his own displays a fundamental disregard for 70 years of Superman comics. That's also not to mention that the same is true of roughly 90% of what's out there.

If you really want to dissect that statement, we can go back to our friend, Batman: A rich plutocrat who goes out each night and performs vigilante acts beyond the law on a populace that is obviously desperate enough to turn to crime.

Our writer says:

In Batman: War on Crime, Bats comes up against a young boy holding a gun on him. Batman, understanding the complexity of crime and the reasons for its existence, talks the kid into dropping the gun and giving up a life of violence.

Superman would probably just use his heat-vision to melt the gun, then put the kid in prison where he'd become a hard-bitten thug who'd murder somebody a few months after getting out.

For Batman (and the actual purpose of that story, if I recall), that kid was the exception to the rule. If the kid were seventeen or eighteen and holding the gun, Batman would be telling the kid how long each bone would take to heal as he broke it. The writer's suggestion regarding Superman's solution is a fairly inaccurate portrayal as the Man of Steel has EVER been portrayed. Most likely today's Superman would either let the kid unload the clip, then ask him where his parents were. Or, melt the end of the gun and have the same conversation with the kid Batman had in Dini's book.

The writer also suggests Superman's book "Peace on Earth" is a simple story about Superman stopping hunger. I'd encourage Leaguers to read the actual book. "Peace on Earth" is about Superman's inability to solve everyday crisis, and how it weighs on him. It does look at the complex reasons for hunger, and how intervention by any power might be problematic to solving the problem.

Superman has never been portrayed as a puppet of the powers-that-be, but certainly in the post-Wertham-era, he's not been the wise-cracking outsider living outside the law that Siegel and Shuster originally conceived. But a quick glance through a year's worth of Superman comics is a reminder that Superman lives outside of humanity to a large extent, and is aware of the corruptibility of the status quo. He doesn't merely act as a super-cop with all thought to the letter of the law as the author would suggest. While he's certainly not one to just pass by a drug deal on the street, he's here to try to protect us when we can't protect ourselves.

For that matter, its kind of a silly suggestion to bring up that Superman is just some guy who thinks his morals should be enforced. Isn't what Superman is doing the same sort decision making every elected official, police officer, soldier and appointee who ever had to make a decision that would affect others?

In short, what the author seems to want is a Superman who deals with complex situations. I would welcome him to take a look at the past few decades worth fo comics.

Superman's very presence somehow lessens humanity - This is kind of the Lex Luthor argument.

The argument here is that Superman's presence and tendency to act on humanity's behalf somehow suggests that humanity is stupid and dull and needs a savior. As the author points out, this was Lois Lane's argument which earned her a Pulitzer in "Superman Returns". This author felt that Lois's argument is never really defeated by the movie's action, a point which I would note goes out the window when Lois's plane is rescued by the Man of Steel and we can see in her eyes when she realizes her article might be a bit inaccurate.

Superman was created, to an extent, as a fantasy character by two kids who were seeing the corruption, wrong doing and abuse in their world. Keep in mind, this was Cleveland during the Depression, and one of these guy's fathers was gunned down in his own store.

In the first issue of Action Comics, Superman stops the execution of a wrongfully convicted man, smacks around a man abusing his wife and rescues Lois from a local thug. Not bad for a day's work.

These days Superman tends to stop giant robots, intergalactic forces bent on destroying the fabric of space and time, or well-meaning time travelers trying to make the point our author is trying to make. Humanity needs to save itself. Which sounds great until the next mudslide, earthquake in a third world country, or nuclear meltdown.

That's more or less the current idea behind Superman, that someone can take action immediately, not wait and hope that the Red Cross will show up after the fact. We may believe ourselves masters of our world, but when we are not... when we fail or we can't save the day... that's the story of Superman. When the lights are flashing at Hoover Dam and all hell is about to break loose, who shows up to patch the dam with his heat vision and get the generators back online, say a quick hello and then disappear back into the sky?

I don't think that suggests anything negative about humanity. And maybe it even suggests something about what anyone can do to step in and help someone else out when they're in a crisis.

Superman is given powers, and somehow that's unfair -
Well, that's kind of the point, isn't it? Sure, everyone on his planet had to die for him to get the powers, and touching a piece of his planet will kill him... But the point here is that, I think, the author is sort of saying "all those guys who made the basketball team were just lucky bastards with natural talent. If I could have worked out all the time, and maybe had professional basketball tutors, I could have been as good as them. That's what people want to see!"

This is sort of a personal preference in your superherofandom, and it has been used repeatedly in the narrative of the DCu as a point/ counter-point between Superman and Batman.

Superman has long been about responsibility of power, from his first stories onward through the present day. The decisions about how to use that power, and what sacrifices he must make to uphold that responsibility are the fabric of the Superman mythos.

The conception was always that Superman was the one with the power working for the underdog when the world was failing them. Somewhere along the line (I point to Dark Knight Returns) this whole notion that Superman was a thick-headed goof who was a government patsy appeared, and suddenly Superman's power was frightening and worked as a great strawman villain for DKR. That was more or less Miller's interpretation, and one he explained away in Dark Knight Strikes Again.

If we follow the logic of the author, Batman didn't earn his power, and so he's very likely to abuse it or misuse it. Which is only true to the extent that he's used his billions to do much but put clubhouses in space for he and his pals, and to dress up as a bat and punch out petty crooks.

I get the whole point about Batman being a complete badass because of his training, but, hey... I think this is kind of merely a question of taste.

More on the Batman v. Superman debate (which this guy can't let go):

Look, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire trustfund baby with a chip on his shoulder. I'm not sure if the author is suggesting that Superman should hang up the cape and move aside for Batman to do his thing (which kind of boils down to beating up the poor and mentally ill to make someone else pay for a crime none of these people ever committed).

As per the inevitable reference to the DKR fight between Batman and Superman, which has been replayed a million times... We Superman fans get it. Bats used Kryptonite in a surprise tactic. See him try that twice.

The thrill in DKR was seeing the unexpected, and, really, guys... Superman actually won that fight. He didn't need to fake a heart attack so as not to get his ass finally handed to him.

I might also point out: how many people would really pay to read an issue where Superman does the completely predictable and turns Batman into Batpaste? It seems like that would be unpopular.

On a final note: A long time ago I was having a similar disagreement with someone who shall remain unnamed. Their stance was "well, this is my perception of Superman". I understand that argument, to an extent. However, I do not feel it fair to pass judgment on a character based upon a few glimpses pulled from a few comics, a few spots of media, etc... Especially when using Dark Knight Returns as your basis for evidence. Four comics from a writer focused on a completely separate character do not a character define.

These articles will start making the rounds once again, I suppose. And as much time as this ridiculous post took, this is my last word on the matter for what I hope to be many, many years.

It seems that someone else has rebutted the first author's argument, and I encourage you to read their much more concise article here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

League Birthday Happenings

The League turns 33 on Saturday.

I know. I look much older and far worse than 33, but there you go.

I'm not having a b-day party (we're saving that for Mel), but we are going to go grab dinenr at Artz Rib House on Saturday, sometime around 7:30ish. If you're in town, why don't you pop in and enjoy some BBQ?

In addition to seeing me down about 15 lbs. of beef ribs, none other than Austin's own Flyin' A's are playing from 7:30 - 9:30. I figure: you can either show up and have a beer, or have dinner or whatever. We'll probably clear out around 9:30, so you could still have the rest of your night.

We're not really planning anything else, but if you want to hang out afterward, that might be arranged.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

You can help Melbotis!

Go to this link:

Statesman Golden Retriever vote

Mel's at #192. You can help! Go to #192 and vote "yes". Help out Mel! And then vote "no" on a whole bunch of other Golden Retrievers.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Nothing to blog about

I have nothing to share. I wish I did.

The weekend was slow. I haven't been feeling particularly great.

Jamie has been playing Mario Galaxies, and is much better at it than I (despite my attempts at coaching). Its interesting to see how two people will attack the same challenge in different ways.

I don't link nearly often enough to Sleestak's site, but here's a little bit of the way, way back machine. Paired with this post today from Occasional Superheroine, in which Valerie tries to figure out what women want in comics... Anyway, it wasn't that long ago that romance comics were being targeted at girls and young women, and a world which would make Betty Friedan's head explode was pretty much what they were selling.

Weird, no?

Way back when I was contributing to Comic Fodder, I posted on the topic of what women want in comics, and I admit... the answers were a little less concrete than what I would want as a market researcher. Could have something to do with women being a wide and diverse readership or something. And then young women getting creeped out when they visit comic shops and have to deal with the He-Man Woman hater's club-house atmosphere. I have no idea.

But at one point, the romance comics and comedy comics were selling. And it's interesting to note that manga brings both, whereas the average modern superhero comic is supposed to be grim'n'gritty for the most part, and therefore devoid of romance or humor, items which once drew in large numbers.

Also, you know, wider distribution channels when you could pick up comics at the drug store.

I've also been pondering a bit about the Warren Jeffs' commune interception by local authorities in West Texas.

For those of you not familiar, Jeffs led a community in Arizona, Colorado City, which was solely occupied by his followers. The community was comprised of a splinter group from the LDS, which still practiced polygamy, and tended to set up marriages between minors and dirty old men. As the minors were raised in the colony and told Jeffs was a prophet, they didn't know any different, and believed themselves to be doing God's bidding.

Colorado City came under fire in the first year or so when we'd moved to Arizona, and it was announced that Jeffs was buying land in West Texas and trying to rebuild his cult fantasy land in the Lone Star State. I had a good laugh at that.

Arizona has a sort of "go along to get along" sort of attitude. I guess its a weird side-effect of Goldwater conservatism, but people tend to stay out of each other's business to a much, much higher degree in AZ than folks tend to do in Texas. At least traditionally.

Jeffs managed to grab some extra media attention last year when he went on the lam and was arrested (and I think, convicted) for arranging marriages between unwilling teenagers and dirty old men. I imagine the folks of West Texas did not cotton to the idea of polygamist statutory rapists living nearby.

Well, it seems things have come to a head.

400 kids have been pulled from the West Texas compound. Whether El Dorado, Texas can absorb 400 kids raised in bizarro-polygamy-cult land into their foster care system remains to be seen.

If I seem uncharacteristically judgmental of the Jeffs followers, its because I consider them to be evil, evil bastards. Essentially Jeffs has found followers who managed to lay claim to the city government of a corner of Arizona, and were able to milk the system for years, use their official power to keep official power out, and had systematically set up a system to keep women/ girls uneducated and, essentially, as breeding stock. Further, I am deeply suspicious of what became of many of the young men of the community. If each man could have many wives, the math doesn't add up. And while some young men were run out of town... I'm just saying.

So if the El Dorado authorities seemingly overstepped their boundaries, in this case, maybe I understand. What was going on behind the walls of the compounds was not a secret. In fact, In Arizona it was very well known thanks to a few women who had escaped. (And I do mean escaped. These women were more or less free to stay and be happy, or... leaving was not really an option when you knew no one outside and were told Satan himself controlled the world outside the city).

I would like to hope that everything that has occured has been "by-the-book". Letting the Jeffs cult have any legal ground to stand on isn't any good for anybody, and many of the 400+ pulled from the community might now actually have a chance to have some say in their lives, not have their lives directed by cult leaders.

Anyhow, I'm tired. I'm going to bed.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Cheston Merges with the Infinite

Toll the bells, and come not to me with words of good cheer, Leaguers. Aye, turn your eyes neither toward Earth nor Heaven in joy, but let them hear your weeping and lamentations. So above, so below.

The great one is gone. He shall stride the world no more.

Ne'er again shall we see his like. His grace. His very Chestonness which made him the Cheston. He's been called home by the cosmos, too great for this wretched world, yet always making this orb greater by his presence.

Now gone. Gone forever.

I say adieu. And goodnight, sweet prince. The world shall be poorer without your light.

Charlton Heston has merged with the infinite

The League is in mourning.