Friday, May 16, 2008

A few items of no import

(a) Have you looked at lately? They've added a feature where you can click a link and get a T-shirt printed with the headline of certain stories, complete with the CNN logo.

At what point did CNN realize that the time honored tradition of creating the bizarre (and therefore appealing) headline had crossed over to an artform of the surreal? How far is the jump from to The Onion?

Obviously (or perhaps not so obviously) they aren't doing this with hard-hitting news, but right now the following seem to be available.

-Lawmakers say its time to tax porn
-Navy plebes scale greased obelisk
-Secret UFO files released to the public
-Legions of half-inch frogs invade town

CNN is still covering actual news on the front page, but its interesting to see them embracing the tabloid side of journalism.

(b) Here's an article that expands on some of what I was talking about in a post a few days ago. It discusses why Marvel seems to be able to have a good game when it comes to bringing movies to the screen, whereas DC Comics struggles when the connection to the studio should be a pipeline.

I don't entirely agree with the article, and I sort of roll my eyes when I see statements in print like "Marvel has always been one step ahead of DC". But I DO think its interesting how the author mentions the culture of Marvel vs. that of DC and how the differences can be reflected in how they've handled the move to major motion pictures. And I do agree with his conclusion.

(c) We're headed out for Radiohead in Houston tomorrow, leaving Lucy and Jeff in the care of erstwhile house-mate Nicole. Wish Nicole luck. Lucy is one pushy little busy-body, and Jeff is prone to strange fits of purring/ suddenly biting.

At the moment, however, we are having a nice moment. Jeff is literally squished between me and Lucy on the sofa. Unfortunately, I can't take a picture because my phone is charging on the kitchen counter, and if I get up, they'll both move.

(d) the weather here the past two nights was really bad. Reports have come in that League-Pal Matt had to take his car in for extensive body work, etc... after his car was sort of demolished by "grape-fruit sized" hail.

I had wanted to clean out our garage before this point in the year, when the really scary weather can suddenly blow in, but its still full of all kinds of stuff, and I just haven't done it. I hope our cars do not get destroyed.

Texas weather can be nothing, if not exciting. Living in Arizona, I was amazed at the predictability of the weather. Whatever the weather folks said would happen usually did. You didn't feel like you actually needed to check the weather all the time. And, in fact, the weather segment on the evening news was always very, very brief. Not so much here in Texas. And, it sounds like, across a lot of the US this year.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stray Thought of the Day: Ewoks are Evil


In "Return of the Jedi", remember how the Ewoks had captured our band of adventurers and were taking them back to their village? If it were not for Luke's quick use of the force and C3PO's improvisation as a minor diety, weren't the Ewoks going to cook and EAT Luke, Han, Chewie and the others?

Logically, can we assume then that the Ewoks may have had some success eating previous interlopers to the forest? Such as the contract crew which would have had to come to Endor to build the shield generator? And, possibly, the Storm Troopers themselves?

One has to wonder, then, if when the Rebels and Ewoks allied in the 3rd reel if the Ewoks weren't just thinking "it sure is neat how this meal is helping us catch a whole bunch of other meals! Why, when we're done consuming the white-shelled ones, we can use their head-shells as bowls or drums!" And, also, were Han and Co. not foolish for so easily trusting the little monsters once C3PO had won their freedom? After all, they had to still look quite succulent to the beady little eyes of the Ewok village.

Chief Chirpa points to the proper location for the chips, veggie tray and Rack of Solo.

Perhaps it is only our genetic predisposition to see small, cute things with big eyes as innocent that keeps us blind to the menace beneath the leather hood (what kind of leather? Dried and tanned Storm Trooper flesh?).

Perhaps the Storm Troopers were in the right to want to kill themselves an Ewok, so as not to wind up as a main dish at some feast (surely blasting with the tunes of Meco).

You also kind of have to wonder how awful the 6 movie series would have wrapped up if Luke had met his fate as a casserole.

Wicket found most of the meal delectable, but the large, furry one was a bit chewie.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Unemployment Chronicles: Things I have realized from watching TV

From American Idol to the shows where people compete to become a dancer on a cruise line, it seems all of these shows have bizarre fashion and hair stylists who make-over the contestants to look like nothing resembling people on the street. And the contestants are forced, by contract, to go along with the bizarre styling choices of the show's staff. If not true, the only common denominator for people (specifically dudes) who make it on reality game shows is that they all use spackle to hold their hair-do's together and, in their regular life as the guy who re-fills the lettuce at the salad bar at Applebee's. Also, the Hollywood approved "urban" outfits that one normally only see on commercials.

All Soap Opera characters are dangerous to themselves and each other.

In the past decade, Jerry Springer has done nothing but up his game exponentially.

The Writers Guild strike has left the evening TV schedule a lonely and bleak place for the remainder of the summer.

I don't care if Astros games are occurring on the West Coast. I don't want to start watching a game at 9:15pm.

When it comes to new episodes, Mythbusters is on an erratic and unfathomable release schedule.

Not all reality shows about people chasing ghosts around in empty houses are equal.

The non-romantic pairing of Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin is the best pairing on TV comedy today. Except for maybe Tracy and Kenneth. Also on the same show. So, hey, an episode of 30 Rock is a pretty good bet for your TV dollar.

"Raiders" holds up a lot better than "Temple of Doom". There are a lot of problems with "Temple of Doom", from mild racism/ white man's burden type stuff, to the inane antics of Kate Capshaw as wacky vocalist, Willi Scott. One wonders if Spielberg weren't so enamored of Capshaw, would he have left so much of her in the final product.

The new ads they have on during day time TV shows and late, late night TV shows make me want to go to technical college and fulfill my destiny as a 20-something woman in scrubs handling charts.

American Idol is rigged. For no apparent reason. Well, not entirely rigged, and I think I know why they want to manipulate the results to an extent. And his name is Taylor Hicks.

There is an amazing amount of TV on each day wherein they discuss the ongoing lives of "entertainers" whose work I have never seen or heard.

Somebody, somewhere is excited about the "Sex in the City" movie, but we don't know who that person is. I assume its the same people who sit home with their cats pretending that the show reflects their lifestyle in some way. Who will rent the movie or buy it at Target.

The dogs don't really watch TV. Even when you explain the plot to them.

All Lifetime Network movies were filmed between 1991-1994 and star women who look sorta familiar, but you can't place.

Telenovella actors have taken vaudevillian melodrama to a whole new level that American soap actors can't even begin to match. It's almost like a life or death struggle to see who can chew the most scenery.

And, hey, feel free to add your own observations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wow. Just... wow.

Democrat who won't vote for Obama because he's a Muslim. Go here.

I am not in favor of any kind of written test in order to be allowed to vote. But, c'mon, America... work with me here.

Superman Red/ Superman Blue

Over the weekend, DC Comics revealed that they are planning a mini-series to be released in the weeks leading up to the very real 2008 presidential election. The series will be entitled "DCU: Decisions".

Here for a Newsarama interview with DCU Editor-in-Chief, Dan Didio.

"Decisions" is supposed to define the political leanings of various folks within the DCU. I assume we'll see some folks pop out exactly as previously defined. Green Arrow as the lefty, Green Lantern as his right-swinging pal. Hawkman coming out as a firm GOP'er. Ambush Bug as a registered Democrat.


A large part of me wonders about the wisdom of bothering to identify the political leanings of characters from whom you're trying to derive a profit. Had this been the months leading up to the highly devisive 2004 election, I would have felt Didio and Co. had lost their marbles altogether.

Politics are almost always only mentioned in some super-villainous light in super-hero comics. In 2000, Lex Luthor took the Oval Office (with Pete Ross, Superman's boyhood chum, as VP). The story seemed a bit forced, but was mostly intended to put Lex not just completely outside of Superman's grasp as a deputized officer of the law, but to give Lex the one thing he'd always wanted: the adoration of the people/ almost unlimited power.

The story didn't really bounce off of devotees of either side of the aisle too badly as Lex ran as a third party candidate, and pretty much tried to act as President as he had as CEO of LuthorCorp.

It's worth noting that real life events, such as 9-11 and the real-life US's entry into Iraq and Afghanistan, are mentioned mostly in allegory in the comics.

Anyway, Lex left office under less than ideal circumstances. Whether he achieved his goals, foreign and doemstic, seems unlikely.

Unlike Nixon, Lex knew how to leave office with a little panache

Unfortunately, I can't shake the notion that the continuity nutty and emotionally stunted fans of super-hero-dom in comics will handle the series with acomplete lack of the perspective that Didio is assuming that reasonable and mature adults are supposed to keep in mind when discussing politics. I've been on the message boards.

In short, I think that with "Decisions", DC is opening the door for a series that's just going to welcome people to abruptly turn on some of their characters when they find out that, say, Cyborg votes Libertarian. And, in the long run, that's going to cause DC some readers/ dollars.

No matter the intention of the series, people come to politics with a boatload of pre-conceived notions about "the other guys". Even today, as Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama continue the drudgery of the 2008 campaign to clinch the Democratic Nomination, the actual policy differences are fairly limited. Most of the discrepancy is in how each candidate wants to achieve the exact same goals. Yet, right now the Democratic party is suffering major upheavals as the schizm causes silly in-fighting so "our guy" can win instead of "your guy".

Apply that to a system with essentially two parties. Each has significant platform differences and where they DO agree, they might choose vastly different paths for achieving the same outcomes. No big deal, but for those of us who didn't snooze their way through 2001-2004 and how unnecessarily uncivilized it became, I'm foreseeing a lot of unhappiness with readership if these real-life political wedges are driven into their super-heroes. Isn't fighting off Despero enough? Ithat a school voucher issue?

The DC Universe is populated with characters who the reader is supposed to like. Even Ollie Queen (Green Arrow) and his nutty liberalism could be embraced by right-wingers, as Ollie can be a caricature of the beatnik with half-baked ideas. It's not too far off from how conservatives caricature liberals to begin with. Especially a limousine liberal like billionaire Ollie Queen. In the end, everyone can find something to like.

However, most of the characters aren't so well defined, and DC has carefully side-stepped getting in too much political discussion over the years. I had assumed that this tac was taken so that anyone could just assume that the hero(es) they've chosen to follow might fall in with their own basic set of beliefs. All are do-gooders, all lend a helping hand to those who need it, just as most folks would like to believe they would. If they had heat-vision.

This isn't necessarily limited to comics. When one considers the characters on TV, how often does one think about the political affiliations of their favorite sitcom characters? The characters may occasionally express some political notions, but the characters are usually portrayed as center of the road quite intentionally, so as to keep the viewership within a large tent and ensure the show reaches all kinds of audiences.

Defining, say, Aquaman, as a member of the Democrats may surprise right-leaning readers who had otherwise not given the matter much thought (I have no idea what party Aquaman would throw in with. He'd be a nut for environmental matters, but as a monarch... well... it just seems that he wouldn't buy much into all this voting business, anyway.). Why give your audience an opportunity to suddenly question their own loyalty to a character? Especially these days, when loyalty is largely what's keeping the DCU afloat.

Further, why take the opportunity to further define and explore the characters away from writers/ editors/ etc... who will handle the character in the future? Writers are not without their own biases. If I, as a writer, believe that all GOPers think Alaska serves no purpose but as a place to drill for oil, and Red Tornado has been cast as a Republican, can I write a story about Reddy fighting off evil corporate merchants hellbent on destroying the Alaskan wilderness for fun and profit?

My hope is that the "Decisions" series will explore the heroes while keeping the discussion open ended and friendly, just as its often fascinating to learn more about your own friends of all different political stripes. Part of why I became a DC fan was that, as I became an adult and found myself in the workplace, I recognized the JLA, the JSA, and the partnership between Batman and Superman for what it was... people putting aside their differences, and even their motivations, to work toward a common cause. Where Marvel's FF had unbreakable family bonds and a cosmic accident which forged their team, the JLA had only their intentions and good-will to pull them together. Where the X-Men were a team of folks banding together to fight a common cause by accident of their birth (which I still see as a great set-up), the JSA pulled together, at least initially, as a domestic front to battle our WWII enemies. That dynamic, which reflected a friendly working relationship was easier for me to identify with than the Steans Clan being bathed in cosmic rays, and JLA became something I could relate to.

If the "Decisions" series is complex enough, if it takes the time to explore and appreciate nuance... then there's a place for this series beyond the shrill point-counterpoint of the cable news networks and their talking heads. Do I think DC can actually pull that off...?

I have my doubts. It a 4-issue series with two writers which Didio has promised have diametrically opposing viewpoints. Part of my wariness may be taste, given the two writers they've listed. Neither of whom I particularly trust.

Right now, I'm also not ready for DC's PR push on this one and the inevitable, attention getting headlines during an election year: "Wonder Woman a LaRouche Democrat?"


Last year, Marvel's epic "Civil War" painted a picture of government obedience for masked vigilantes. Some have accused the DCU of following suit with a devisive topic, but I never felt that Marvel's "analogy" really worked. After all, it seems unlikely that in any universe that laws would not be passed managing crime-fighting. Or that crime-fighting without a license of some sort wouldn't be looked upon a bit suspiciously by law-enforcement and the citizenry alike. If the analogy was supposed to be about getting on-board because the government says so, they needed something a bit trickier than the story they presented. And it's possible that "Decisions" will be all too concrete and preachy.

Mostly, I worry about defining any of DC's Big 3 (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) in any political light. As law-eforcing (and somewhat abiding) do-gooders, one could paint the characters either way. And, in my opinion, part of the attraction of such larger-than-life figures is that all 3 characters have well-developed personalities, given the current writing, and the writers (and fans) would have an idea as to the opinions of the Trinity on any given topic. But rather than discuss those topics, the characters can express their beliefs through their actions, staying above the petty squabbling of political discourse. After all, none of the three ever stopped to ask a politicians to take on crime, social injustice, etc... They've always simply acted where others have not. That's the ideal for the costumed, crime-fighting, super-hero, anyway. Respecting the law while always being forced to live just outside of it in order to do what others cannot.

To complicate matters, many superheroes, especially Batman and Superman, were born out of the issues and circumstances of the Depression, with a huge dose of the idealism that comes with youth (Siegel and Shuster were in their mid-20's when Superman hit the stands for the first time. As were Bob Kane and Bill Finger when Batman first appeared.). Crime was rampant, families still fought poverty, and the world was in a precarious political position. However, in the post WWII years, and thanks to editorial codes, increased marketing, and various other influences, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman each changed greatly. Just as they would again and again, reflecting the time and place in which they were written.

I have my personal opinions. And occasionally you'll see them in print here at The League. I also see how certain characters are defined by their actions and how they've been written for years. And I'm comfortable with that. I also believe in followong one of the basic rules of writing a narrative: show, don't tell. "DCU Decisions" seems to be doing exactly the opposite of all that.

And, honestly, having my opinions of each character's political leanings hasn't ever taken away my enjoyment of the comics.

I personally don't talk politics here because I believe in a big tent, just like those sit-com producers. But, like the JLA, I also think most folks who come to The League can agree on end results, if not the way we get there. And when we can't agree on those end-results, on what we really, really want.... well, hopefully we can hear each other well enough to agree to disagree and move on. Nothing that can't be smoothed out on with a good sit on the back porch with a drink.

After all, just as Supermans Red and Blue learned... there are two ways to do everything, and when they work together... they end all crime, solve all social injustice, and each get a girl of their dreams.

Leaguers... behold. Two sides, working together: Superman Red/ Superman Blue

Make of that what you will.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Understated Brilliance of Sesame Street

Denyce Graves and Elmo

Somehow the "Grover as Waiter" skits had a profound impact on me as a child, leading to some sort of pre-school existential despair as I commiserated with Grover's lot in life.

This is sort of how I understand the classics, anyway.

DeNiro and Elmo

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The League Reviews: Speed Racer - The Next Generation

I was asked by some nice folks at the same marketing company that had me review "New Frontier" if I'd review a DVD of what I think is the pilot of the new TV series "Speed Racer: The Next Generation". I haven't seen the new feature film of Speed Racer, but I thought I'd pop in this DVD and give it a whirl.

I knew it was going to be a trouble when the low-fi credits rolled and the writers were listed as "Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray", the DC Comics writing team who never met a cliche they didn't like. The opening is horrible CG with a re-imagined Southern California rockin' take on the great Speed Racer theme, that literally sounds like a guy, his guitar, and Garage Band. Its... not good.

But, I confess to a warm place in my heart for DJ Keoki's inspired circa 1993 club re-mix of the Speed Racer theme.

So, after the credits? Yeah, uhm... it never really gets better.

The premise is that a young man of the name "Speed" arrives at a "racing academy" of some sort which is run by the now middle-aged and oddly grandfatherly Spritle. "Speed" gets hassled by upper-classmen who are mean, because that's what happens in these coming of age stories, in order for our hero to have an external as well as an internal struggle. There's a quest to become the best racer, and despite the fact that Speed seems like a nice guy, pretty much everybody has it in for him but his wacky roommate with a deep, deep crush on Speed Racer (who also built a robotic Chim-Chim), and some busy body girl whose significance is never really fleshed out.

And, as with the original Speed Racer, the fate of the world seems to be hanging somehow in the balance of the who is the best race car driver in the minds of all the characters.

The animation is some sort of odd mix of CG and what looks like Flash. Or something. And I'm not kidding when I say this, but the character design and animation both really, really reminded me of Planet Unicorn (ed note: I feel bad about bagging on Planet Unicorn. Its actually a lot like the educational comics I remember getting in elementary school on the dangers of THC, or the recent comic we got from the vert on flea control. As in, "well, it's recognizably a person, and my art-student kid needs the work, so we're forging ahead"). I mean, its really, insanely bad.

The vehicular animation sorta looked like someone with 3D Studio Max and some free time. Its the sort of stuff that truly does seem as if it were designed as some sort of web freebie. And, honestly, if I thought that this was the future of animation, I would despair.

There's some particularly crappy CG in a portion where the laws of time and space breakdown and Speed drives on a "virtual track". Its tough to explain, because it makes no sense and sucks, but the animation here is a weird mix of bad CG and, maybe, Q-Bert.

Also, Speed has an oddly bad haircut. I don't know how they got to actual animation with that particular hair-don't, but it looks a bit like a ladies' haircut of some sort. Like a wedge gone bad or something.

Behold, Speed Racer Jr. and his stupid, lumpy face

It all sort of made we wonder. The quality of the original Speed Racer cartoons was always kind of iffy in both the animation and plot departments. I was never a huge fan of the original show. As I recall, it was usually just on between other cartoons, and I always felt the show was a little light on Racer X and Chim-Chim. But the show did have a particular look, which this show did nothing to preserve, even while including stock Speed Racer art in the show in various ways.

All in all, the overall cheapness of the movie just reeks of a fairly cynical money-grab on the part of Warner Bros. Which makes sense. I sort of think that's how the whole Speed Racer enterprise has been handled since they started running those E-Surance/ Speed Racer TV spots.

The voice acting is poorly directed, and uniformly flat. The guy playing Speed sounds like he's perpetually apologizing. His roommate (Gordon? It's been twenty minutes, and already I can't remember), is shrill and irritating. But no matter the scene, all of the voice actors use exactly the same intonation. Its weird, and kind of reminiscent of when people make funny Flash movies on their own and just do the voices themselves or get a girl from their class to speak in one of the parts.

There's an odd Luke Skywalker storyline to this story, which Palmiotti and Gray go ahead and acknowledge early on in the movie. In fact, the only thing I really liked about the movie was when the characters would occasionally make comments on the action, which seemed to almost acknowledge the lack of effort on the part of all hands.

Whatever magic folks might have felt the original series contained isn't part of the equation here. Even the races feel dull and lifeless. What was considered to be life-or-death struggles in the original series is reduced to some sort of VR racing in this version, with cardboard cut out characters, 100% recycled plot elements and bland and/ or annoying protagonists. The family dynamic of the Racer clan is intentionally missing in order to give our hero a journey of discovery, and teh school yard setting takes away any weight that the international racing in the original series contained.

In many ways, this pilot reminded me of a lot of the first issues of comics from the post Spidey-boom of 2002 or so. Teenager with a mysterious gift gets hassled by his peers for simply existing, plus there's a shady adult businessman with dire plans for our hero. Unsurprising this might feel familiar, as few have ever accused Palmiotti and Gray of blowing readers' minds with original concepts.

I dunno. I've already thought too much about this, especially for something I'm highly suggesting you avoid.

I was going to do a give-away of Ol' Speed Racer here, but I like all of you too much, so I'm not going to force this DVD upon you.

There's also a trailer for an Avengers Babies movie on the DVD. Or Avengers Next. Or Something.

Happy Mother's Day!

Hey, Leaguers!  It's Mother's Day.  

This year I need to salute not just the two Mom's in my life (Hi KareBear and Judy!), but all of the Leaguers who have become Moms over the past few years.  

CB, Maxwell, Denise, Jilly, and all the Moms-To-Be.  I am sure I missed one or two of you, but, hey, I salute you, too.

Being a Mom is a tough job.  Just ask KareBear about raising her two hare-brained sons.  We didn't really do our part to ever make things easy.  And I don't think much ever passed without some snarky comment from Jason and myself.  Seriously, KareBear was well within her rights to pop us in the back of the head about five times a day.  

And...  I'm pretty sure Judy sort of experiences the same thing during our little visits.  She didn't lose a daughter, she gained a lump of a son-in-law.

Anyhoo, thanks to the Moms for all they do.  And a special salute to all you Leaguer Moms out there.  Hope your kids got you a card.