Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alpha Flight #1: A Canadian Perspective

To get you ready for tomorrow's Canada Day celebrations, here's a follow-up to my Canadian Perspective article on Alpha Flight #0.1. As you may remember (and if you don't, just follow that link), my love for both Canada's only superhero team and Fred Van Lente's writing didn't prevent me from finding flaws in the comic's depiction of Canada. How did Van Lente and Pak do with the following issue? Why, REALLY WELL, actually! Before we get into specifics, let me just rave about how fun the issue was. The Fear Itself crossover wasn't bothersome, acting as a background action piece. The characters were distinctive and had chemistry together, the only real personality reboot being Marrina, who went from boring back under Byrne's pen to crazy funny here. And Box robots at the end? Awesome. At this point, I'm already disappointed Alpha Flight is only an 8-issue mini-series. But how did the issue manage the depiction of Canada? That's what we're interested in.

Geography
The action takes place in four locations and all of them are fairly depicted. First is Attuma's attack on Vancouver where we can't really see the city under all that water, but the journalist in the piece works for Channel 4, a very real station broadcasting out of B.C. I'm not surprised Guardian calls her "miss" (he probably doesn't get the channel in Ottawa, and oh yeah, he's been dead for a few years), and a little more so that Vindicator (I hate that name, how about we agree to my calling her Heather?) DOES know her by name. Maybe Sasquatch is always going on about her or something. And I do find it sweet and silly that Vancouver is described as being on the Pacific Coast and Newfoundland on the Atlantic Coast, because, well, that's obvious to me. From summers spent in Texas when I was a teenager, I got the impression kids were taught Canadian geography at some point (it's easy, only 10 provinces!) I'm not offended by it, but now I want to see New York specifically labeled as being on the Atlantic Coast.

The Newfoundland location is Cape Race, where Guardian teleports Attuma, and while the cliff is probably a bit higher than normal in the comic, I think Eaglesham (finally a Canadian on this project!) got it right. Montreal shows up again as Northstar's residence, and Alpha Flight later returns to its HQ in Ottawa. Taking its cue from Torchwood, it seems the team is housed right in the middle of politician/tourist country.
See?
That's the fun of the Marvel Universe. I can visit superhero haunts if I really want to.

Politics
The previous issue ended with the fictional Unity Party winning the Canadian election, presumably through some form of mind control. Here we find out they've formed a Coalition Government. This makes perfect sense. Even with supervillain shenanigans (that's still unproven), it's doubtful a newcomer to the political scene would win a majority government. So Gary Cody, the new Prime Minister, has had to ally himself with other parties to GET a majority and actually pass some legislation. And if mind control DOES have something to do with it, it would be easy to create such alliances. Problems do crop up later, however, when Cody invokes the Emergencies Act in the wake of Feat Itself (riots, Americans rushing our borders, etc.). This is akin to declaring martial law, but Cody takes it way too far here:
In point of fact, the Emergencies Act specifically state that any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don't know enough legalese to gauge if the measures he mentions are legal under the Act (arrest without warrant, detain without charges), but that part looks about right, or at least works within the context of a comic book story. A minor point - Cody says his "administration has decided, with the full support of Parliament..." which really sounds like an American formulation. The President has an administration that gets support from Congress. But I've seen the words used in Canada too, and I've more than once condemned Harper for trying to govern "American-style" (i.e. as a "President" rather than as a member of Parliament, of which he's been rather contemptuous).

This issue also makes the point that Alpha Flight are prohibited from electioneering, but that Cody nevertheless tried to get Guardian on his posters.

French
As you know, I've particularly sensitive to the use of French in American comics. While I still long for the day Quebec characters actually sound like they have the proper accent and vernacular, the French here is again impeccable. There's a lot more of it than in #0.1, as Aurora and Northstar often revert to their native tongue. Misters Pak and Van Lente? That sound you hear is my applause. Now if the twins moved away from "International French" and closer to some kind of patois, I'd be doing somersaults. "Sapristi", while not unheard of in French Canada, still smacks of the other side of the pond, for example. There's also an off-putting inference that the rest of Alpha Flight don't speak or understand French (not clear, but I got that impression from Northstar addressing his sister in French about private matters, and switching to English when she refuses to go for a private chat). As Federal employees AND national heroes, I would have expected them to all be bilingual. If they were real, I'd positively DEMAND it. Francophones want to be rescued in their language of choice, it's just how we are.

I should also mention Premier Cody's television address. The card prefacing his speech is in both official languages yes, but Canadian tradition (as tedious as even French Canadians find it) is to speak in both languages, alternating between the two over the course of the speech. There's a simple justification for the flub: Parts of the speech ARE in French but superimposed with simultaneous (albeit hesitant) translation. Bilingual Canadians all find this annoying and keep switching to the the channel of the appropriate language just so we don't have to hear the droning translation.

What aboot the stuff that doesn't fit those categories, hoser?
First, I don't know anyone who uses the word "hoser", mr. subtitle.

There are a number of Canadian touches in the book. My favorite is Snowbird turning into an arctic dinosaur.
Remember, Snowbird can only change into animals native to above the permafrost line, but I don't think I've ever seen her morph into a long extinct animal that might lived on that territory back before the continents shifted. It's the kind of cool awesomeness I expect from this writing team.

A CBC poll is mentioned. The CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's state owned television and radio. They do put out polls. One of these says 53% of Canadians believe Northstar hates Canada for... We don't hear what. In the original series, he had ties to the Quebec Liberation Front, so his crankiness at the rest of Canada is not surprising. He's probably still a Sovereignist (not to use the other S word).

Guardian chastises Marrina for her warcry ("Die, Earth scum!"), saying Canadians have a reputation for politeness to uphold, which is quite the cliché. As part of superhero banter, it's really not disturbing. I accept the national reputation, but I think perhaps we're more polite to visitors than we are to each other. If anything, it shows Guardian has a sense of humor about his Canadian heritage, and that he's at least reflected on it, wearing, as he does, the national symbol.

Finally, Marrina hopes Fear Itself won't cancel a Mother, Mother concert she's got tickets for. Mother, Mother is a Canadian indie band out of British Columbia. Though the concert could be anywhere, the recent hammer wielder attack was in their home province, which might have put the kibosh on the show. We'll likely never find out since Marrina will probably have to fight a bunch of Box robots anyway.

So in conclusion, a VAST improvement over the .1 issue. By concentrating on the characters and their dynamic, you might think the writers avoided talking out of turn about Canada and the rest of its citizens, but as you can see, there's a lot of Canada in there. Though I wasn't convinced the whole Unity Party thread was a great way to go, it does paint Canadians as inherently political, and we are. I'm not saying everyone thinks about politics (the usual demographics put their hands over their ears and go la la la I can't hear you at the mere mention of politics), but everyone's got an opinion on Quebec, bilingualism, and our relationship to our neighbor to the South. In Canada, politics go through a linguistic filter (in French Canada, the U.S.' influence is more often than not spoken of in terms of it being a huge English-speaking juggernaut), and the often polarizing language issues in this country mean we are pretty much born political. I'll let you know how issue 2 stacks up, but I do invite fellow Canadians to submit their opinions. Like I've said before, one lone Canadian does not a complete Canadian perspective make.

Reign of the Supermen #253: Zibarro

Source: All-Star Superman #7-8 (2007)
Type: BizarroOne of Grant Morrison's genius All-Star Superman ideas is that of the Bizarro Bizarro, Zibarro. Thoughtful and introspective, his living nightmare is being the only normal person on Bizarro World, the only non-opposite member of a race of terminal opposites. And Superman doesn't even bring him along when he escapes. Poor, sad Zibarro. Somebody should really give him Bizarro Ambush Bug's address.

If you thought making a Bizarro of a Bizarro would create a Superman, you were wrong. Like a video tape or photocopy, as you keep making copies, you get further and further away from the source image. From Superman to Bizarro to Zibarro to Rizabbo...
...to Zirrabo...
...to Bozziro...
...to Rozzibo...
...until you don't even know WHAT you're looking at!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kung Fu Fridays in July

July has five Fridays and you know what that means... 5 films instead of 4! (Ok, a little obvious.) If you live in my town and believe I wouldn't kick you down the stairs as soon as you opened the door, then here's what you can expect from our weekly Asian cinema showings...

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen - Ever since we saw the preview, we've been hungry for this one. Get this. It's a remake of Fist of Fury/Fist of Legend starring out favorite, Donnie Yen, and directed by Andy Lau. From the looks of it, Donnie gets to play EVERY BRUCE LEE CHARACTER EVER! Also: Martial arts in WWI era France! This thing looks insane, and I mean that in the best possible way x10!

The Kid with the Golden Arm - KFF wouldn't be the same without a monthly dose of Chang Cheh's Venom films (and one of the few to actually co-star our favorite martial arts douchebag, Snake)! It's about escorting some gold somewhere, but it's a Shaw Brothers, so it's not too important. It's all about the action choreography and the crazy skills of the characters.

Hong Kong Godfather - A latter day Shaw Bros. production that eschews the usual "Star Trek alien planet sets" and martial chivalry for gritty contemporary gangster action. I've heard good things about its finale, let's hope the stuff leading up to it is decent.

Daytime Drinking - An independent film from Korea that seems similar in content to Sideways, Daytime Drinking has a large number of festival awards and has even come recommended by readers like you. Perfect for while I'll be on vacation.

The Master - Known in the video market as 3 Evil Masters, this Shaw Bros. pic features Chen Kuan Tai, the subject of this month's poster. He's a guy who can always be counted on to wear an anachronistic(?) 'tache in these films. It's a training/revenge film, what else?

KFF Year 3 is well under way. Join us, won't you?

Reign of the Supermen #252: Unknown Superman of 4500 A.D.

Source: All-Star Superman #2, 6 (2006-7)
Type: Alternate FutureIn the twisty time tale that is All-Star Superman #6, a young Smallville-bound Superman meets three Supermen from the future, all members of the Superman Squad. Though there to capture a Chronovore, one of their number also has a hidden agenda. The Unknown Superman is actually the modern day (All-Star) Superman hiding his identity from his younger self in order to spend a few moments more with Pa Kent around the time of his death from a heart attack.

OR IS HE?!?

The Unknown Superman also appears as a prophetic hologram in issue #2 where he spouts opaque nonsense at Lois Lane. Surely, this isn't the same guy. So my guess is there really IS an Unknown Soldier/Superman hybrid in the year 4500 A.D. and Clark was simply impersonating him. Perhaps he got the idea from the garbled transmission from the future. Maybe there are MANY Unknown Supermen, just like there have been more than one Unknown Soldier. How would we know? They are UNKNOWN.

PROVE ME WRONG.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Submitted for Review: Genecy #1

Sometimes people send me comics to review. I really don't do it often. I don't feel comfortable mostly. Perhaps because when you agree to do so, you feel obliged to only be positive, and I don't like to censor myself. But once in a blue moon, I agree and I try to do my best, for the creators and for its potential readers. This is one of those times.

Genecy #1 is the brainchild of writer Gerald Cooper who hopes to tap into all the cool, bold comics and science fiction he's ingested to infuse his comics with the same kind of energy. He describes Genecy as "Conan becoming the Silver Surfer after being a slave on Apokolips", and he successfully presents that brief. The action starts on a ship in outer space, and over the course of 34 pages of story, lands on a fantasy-ish planet, fights undead demons, and meets a god who turns him into his avatar. It IS big, bold and brassy, with lots of splash pages making the events as huge and epic as possible. And had all this been drawn in a faux-Kirby style (like, say, Godland or Jersey Gods), it would have been incredibly cool. The art on this first issue is actually by DC regular Eddy Barrows (soon on the relaunched Nightwing) and while he does some things very well (the undead army, the environments, the alien desigsn) and is competent in all other respects, it seems to me the story demanded something more (or other). Or perhaps I'm reacting to the overuse of special effects slathered on over the art. The colors (or really, lighting and texture effects) too often cover up the art, and the lettering in a multitude of fonts is hyperactive and breaks the flow of the story, sometimes disappearing in the art.
From the second issue, the art will be handled by Diego Bernard who is credited with lots of work for Dynamite and has a lot of cheesecake art on the web. From what I've seen, I may actually prefer his work to Barrows, but let's hope his art won't be as tricked up. To me, Genecy is like a band with some good lyrics, but I can't hear them because the instruments are too loud. In music, that shows a lack of confidence. In comics, I wouldn't presume to say, Cooper would do well to dial the special effects back down and let the story and art speak for themselves.

Because there IS a story here, and a whole world to explore. Cooper's almost got a kitchen sink approach to his superhero/SF/fantasy universe and I'm actually interested to see how Raknirod (the god)'s relationship with his avatar will be different from, say, Galactus and the Surfer. And how does the devilish Rathgar fit into this cosmology. Cooper's opening chapter feels like a legend told at the temple gates and it could go pretty much anywhere. There's the obvious strand of using his newfound power to free his people from slavery, but there's also his ultimate relationship with the antagonistic Rathgar and whatever agenda the godly Raknirod might have. I'm also intrigued by the mirror-like Dome of Raknirod, which feels inspired by Vernor Vinge's Across Realtime to me.
How does this world WORK? Presumably, Cooper has a number of stories in his back pocket, as he aims for Genecy to be an ongoing series. At this point, I'd say it shows a lot of potential even if I'm unconvinced by its aesthetics. The actual premise of the book will likely be made clearer in #2. So if you're interested in helping this project along (and independent comics do need all the help they can get), you can order a copy HERE.

And now I go back into my cave of vintage comics and Doctor Who commentary until someone gets me to do another review-on-command...

Reign of the Supermen #251: All-Star Superman's Inspiration

Source: Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, documentary (2011)
Type: Real life inspirationThere's a section of Sequart's Grant Morrison documentary, Talking with Gods, in which Morrison and Mark Waid tell the story (so it's corroborated) of how All-Star Superman was born. It seems they both saw this guy dressed as Superman walk by and sit on a small hill to watch the trains go by. Not some fat cosplayer either. The guy looked the part. And when they approached him, he looked back, calm and relaxed, just like on the cover of All-Star Superman #1. He also interviewed him about Lex and Lois and Batman, and the mysterious guy thoughtfully answered every question. We don't know how much of what he said actually found itself in the book, but his attitude is definitely in there. What a strange story.

BONUS: Superman as drawn by Grant Morrison in his notebooks (also from the film):
Based on that, I'd be curious to see a project both written and drawn by the modern Morrison.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Doctor Who's Daily Rude Monster: Cybermen

Cybermen in the 2nd Doctor's era weren't rude per se, but when you killed them...There'd be the vast ejaculations of white foam, usually followed by that Cyberman writhing on the floor squelching his hands through said foam. Rather disturbing, really...

Reign of the Supermen #250: All-Star Superman

Source: All-Star Superman 1-12 (2006-2008)
Type: Off-canon seriesBack when I was first reading the series (in trade, I must admit), I was one to say DC could do worse than to make THIS the one true portrayal of the Man of Steel. Now that Grant Morrison is set to reinvent Superman in an all-new Action Comics #1, I'm going to go back on my words and say I hope he doesn't. Not that the All-Star Superman doesn't have a lot going for it:
-A crazy Silver Age sensibility dressed in today's "weird but epic" comics (à la JLA)
-All the iconic people and things that should surround Superman (Lois and the Daily Planet, the Fortress of Solitude, Lex Luthor as a proper villain, Smallville, Krypto)
-The sense that Jimmy Olsen could carry his own crazy series
-The sense that Superman is a legacy hero of the highest order, inspiring Supermen of all sorts until the end of time
-A willingness to take chances (restoring Kandor for good, for example)
-Oh yeah, and beautiful artwork by Frank Quitely

However, there are reasons why the series' approach wouldn't be the best for a relaunched franchise in the DCU proper:
-All-Star Superman is supremely, almost inhumanly, serene. There's a strange lack of emotion there that would keep him at a distance from the reader. He is a god among men (even creating his own universes), and though benevolent, he lacks a quality that makes us empathize with him.
-It's a shared universe and I don't think other writers would do him justice.
-Morrison was able to reinvent Batman a number of times (compare Arkham Asylum, Gothic, JLA, Batman RIP and Batman Inc.) and there's no reason why he can't do the same with Superman. In fact, it's something he SHOULD do, having explored the All-Star dimension of the character already.
-The 12-issue series is perfect as it is, and stands as a single, strong work. Revisiting it can only diminish that.

The way Morrison's new title is described, he'll be writing a much younger Superman, probably one without the full gamut of powers, friends and tools. And there's the idea of the People's Hero in there, which does hark back to the end of All-Star, with Superman as proletariat symbol working to fix the sun.
So who knows what elements of All-Star will creep into this new Superman mythos? What, if anything, would YOU like to see from All-Star adopted in the New DC?

Obviously, there are many iterations of Superman in All-Star in addition to the protagonist, so I think I'm going to do a few All-Star-related Reign posts through the end of the month. Hope you'll join me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

This Week in Geek (20-26/06/11)

Buys

The Spring Splurge turns into Summer Splurge, though I did order these before the last day of Spring. In addition to Time Unincorporated vol.3 (which I'm now reading), I got the following DVDs: Legend of the Fist, Hong Kong Godfather, Shaolin Prince, The Adjustment Bureau, Melville's Le Samouraï, and two classic Doctor Who stories, Time and the Rani, and Frontios.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: I've sent money to the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization before, so had no problem springing for Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, a documentary about one of my favorite comics writers. Director Patrick Meany interviews the man himself extensively as well as other industry professionals to paint a picture of Morrison from his youth to Final Crisis, putting his works in a biographical context. Both Morrison's memory and honesty are up to the task and it will be interesting to now revisit some of his more opaque work, like The Invisibles and The Filth. We also get some industry gossip (like his feud with Alan Moore), psychedelic stories and images, and discussion on the comics writing process. Best comics-related documentary since Crumb. The director also includes his commentary track, which gives even more insight, though it makes one pine for the unused material that didn't fit the "story" of the film (like Seaguy and New X-Men).

If the first two series of Being Human were overwhelmingly vampire stories with werewolf and ghost subplots, Series 3, I think, is the first to get a real balance between all three characters and worlds. The change of venue helps and new supporting characters are introduced, with the comic touch of early episodes giving way to grand tragedy (it's almost too much to take in) that really feels like a series ender (the next series will be much different, it seems). The one thing I don't buy is the romance between two of the characters (won't spoil it here). Came out of nowhere and lacked the proper chemistry, in my opinion. Ah well. The DVD has a few deleted scenes, "extended" cast interviews (which only amount to 20 minutes though all four stars have their say), and a fun tour of the new set.

Can a man fight fate? I'm usually up for a Philp K. Dick adaptation, though these tend to be very loosely adapted indeed. The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, owes more to something like City of Angels than it does Dark City or Inception. Though the veil of reality is lifted, this is by no real means a "puzzle movie, no, it's a ROMANCE. A "chick flick" with an interesting Dickian premise. Not quite as subtle as I would have liked it to be at times (in exposition scenes especially), I still enjoyed it immensely. The two stars are charismatic and have a fun, bantery (yet emotional) relationship. The many New York locations give the picture real breadth and authenticity. It's a world you can believe in. And hey, Terrence Stamp too. The DVD has an unengaging but solid director's commentary, a few deleted scenes and three shot but useful featurettes (on the locations, the dancing and the romance).

The Brave Acher (a Shaw Bros. martial arts film by Chang Cheh) must be termed a failure, though it has a lot of interesting or at least intriguing set pieces (the peach blossom maze, the two marriage duels, the various training sessions). Quite simply, it is mystifying to Western audiences. There's a strange voice-over where the narrator tells us the actors' names. A guy takes a skin mask off and looks exactly the same. The musical duel with the changing seasons. The huge number of eating scenes. The fact that the Brave Archer has a bow in exactly one shot, and that's during the credits sequence! And so many characters and started then abandoned plotlines, you never quite know where any given scene came from. Somewhat saved by the cute romance between the Archer and the girl posing as Little Beggar (and it's rare that Chang Cheh even features female characters, much less allows them to be equal or stronger than males), one must still contend with events that do not tie into this relationship (which is at the heart of the climax), and a clear thruline never truly emerges. The commentary track by expert Brian Camp reveals some of the reasons why. This is meant as a highly condensed first part of a trilogy based on Louis Cha's book, Legend of the Condor Heroes. The convoluted novel explains the backstories of all those characters, and expands extensively on the title character's archery training growing up in Mongolia. As Camp explains, many an abandoned subplot here continues in Brave Archer 2 and 3, though I'm really not sure my KFF core group will want this particular story to continue...

The 2nd Doctor adventure, The Dominators, also featuring Jamie and Zoe, has many problems - ridiculous monsters in the Quarks, bad costumes, loads of repetition and padding - but chief among its sins is that it is DULL. The story warns of the dangers of pacifism, of all things, and presents Yet Another "Villains Do a Bit of Evil Mining" plot(TM), with clunky robots shrilly cooing through a quarry. It does have its moments, mostly thanks to the Doctor and Jamie's energy and the set design. However, if you choose to view it as a spoof of this kind of story, it's just accidentally funny enough to get a pass. But yeah, you'll be asking the TV Gods why this story survived whole, while Fury from the Deep did not. In addition to the usual commentary tracks, the DVD features a making of that adequately explores the conflict between the writers and the BBC (among other things, the writers thought they had the next Daleks on their hands), and the 2nd Doctor installment of "Tomorrow's Times", a series that looks at the press critiques the show got during the era.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Other Hamlets: Hambat

Reign of the Supermen #249: Superman/Quex-Ul Mash-Up

Source: Phantom Zone #4 (1982)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)
At the end of the Phantom Zone mini-series, Superman and Charlie "Quex-Ul" Kweeskill (an exonerated and amnesiac Phantom Zone villain from 20 years prior) are trapped inside the crystalline mind of Aethyr the Oversoul, who creates the Zone with its mind. As they start to merge with the Oversoul, losing their identities, they somehow manage to squelch away to another corner of Aethyr's mind and get their costumes mixed up.
Superman's new "calendar" chest emblem doesn't do much for him, but Charlie is inspired to confront Aethyr...
...but is consumed in soul-devouring flames. Superman's costume flutters back down and Supes quickly changes back into his red and blues for round 2. Where Quex-Ul failed, he succeeds, escapes the Phantom Zone and returns all the escaped villains therein, that green monstrosity of a costume but a memory.

Now of course, the reason I chose to post this particular iteration of Superman is because we lost Gene Colan this week, and I was happy to find he had drawn a project that featured Superman in clothes other than his own. He was going to be 85 this September, and had been working in comics since the 40s. His work on Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Howard the Duck and Batman is probably what most fans will remember, or perhaps Night Force, Nathaniel Dusk, Jemm Son of Saturn or Silverblade. Either way, his art looks like no one else's. A true original, there's something incredibly sinister and creepy about it that made it the perfect match for Wolfman's Code-approved horror books and Gerber's weirdness, two name two writers he often worked with. What makes Colan Colan? The last panel I posted above is a good ambassador for it, I think. Characters are defined not by linework, but by where shadows fall on them. Lighting schemes akin to putting a flashlight under your chin. There's an unfinished quality to contours that dissipate into mist. Strange panel shapes giving the reader a feeling of sustained anxiety. But most of all, that "dead eye" he often gives faces. Sometimes dwindling to a point like Aethyr's here, sometimes simply blank and pupiless, sometimes completely in shadow. He was a master of fear and I wish I'd appreciated him more when I was a kid, but I was so dang SPOOKED by the art, I probably didn't.

Heaven's relaunching Howard the Duck, I hear. Hope the angels can stand it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cat of the Geek #117: Novice Hame

Name: Hame
Stomping Grounds: "New Earth" and "Gridlock" (Doctor Who)
Side: Good
Breed: Catkind
Cat Powers: Offers the Face of Boe empathy and care. Not bad with a blaster.
Skills: Eat 2, Sleep 2, Mischief 6, Wit 7, Exo-medicine 4
Cat Weaknesses: Has dabbled in some gray areas. Seeking forgiveness.

Reign of the Supermen #248: Rebel Kal

Source: Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #3 (1994)
Type: ElseworldsWhat if the Kryptonians all came to Earth? (Take 2)
Based on: Action Comics #1 originally, but actually its retelling from Man of Steel #1
The true history: Scientist Jor-El tried to convince his fellow Kryptonians that their world was about to explode, but they didn't believe him. He only just managed to send his infant son on a rocket to Earth, where he would grow up to become... Superman.
Turning point: What if Krypton was doomed because of a plague?
Story type: New World Order
Watcher's mood: Frank Miller Lite narration
Altered history: In this Elseworld, the Kryptonians have contracted a plague, which made them flee to the only planet with the chemical composition necessary to arrest the deadly microbe and give them time to engineer a cure. Cold and unfeeling, they left their gestating chambers behind, except for Jor-El, who brought fetal Kal with him. He even managed to cure the child before it was born. The exodus was 23 years ago, and today, the Kryptonians hold sway over Earth. We're not exactly slaves, but we ARE servants, and the "cueballs" do have a code against killing. One man relentlessly fights them, and that man is a Bruce Wayne in his 50s, an aging Batman who is now more Kryptonian replacement parts than he has flesh and blood, and who plays a continual cat & mouse game with collaborator policeman Lex Luthor.
He's a little nuts. Shadowing him for some time now is Kal-El. The Kryptonians' only teenager, he was raised by the servile Ma and Pa Kent with good, wholesome human values, has let his hair grow out and is generally outraged by how his father's people treat humanity. Batman becomes an inspiration and when they finally meet, Bruce sees something in the kid. He gives him a suit based on the colors of the resistance movement and the name "Superman". And then he is seemingly killed by Luthor. To Jor-El's shame, Kal-El becomes a rebel against his own people, destroying many important installations and doing the inter-species diggity with resistance fighter Lois Lane.
She's a plant working for Luthor, but she really does fall in love with Superman (it's fate!) and helps him uncover what Batman was working on. She's the one who gives him the name "Clark" (it was her old brand of cigarettes) and together they visit Dick Grayson and Alfred and discover that Batman was going to attack an orchard where the Kryptonians were going to manufacture the cure for the plague. Without it, the cueballs were soon to die. Though his nannies, the Kents, try to talk him out of it, Kal plans to destroy the orchard and become the Last Son of Krypton. Lex has been waiting for his though, and he's gotten his hands on a chunk of kryptonite.
It's Lois Lane to the rescue. Kal is saved, but he also chooses another path. Instead of destroying his people, he tries to educate them (it was Lex's idea, really, even if it probably started as trash talk), siding with humanity and trying to reverse the tide. And hey, Batman turns up alive again. The World's Finest (the World's Only?) continue a "war that's just begun". First step was replacing Kryptonian flags with Terran ones, but I'm sure it gets more exciting after that.
Books canceled as a result: We really don't know what happened to Earth's other heroes, but we do know there would be Superman and Batman&Robin comics. Only ones you need, really.
These things happen: There's Take 1 of this What If?, of course. But in the real DCU? More and more Kryptonians have turned up alive, and some have tried to take over Earth. We're heading for a reboot on all that, but if I go by the Silver Age and the last couple years of Superman books, it looks like it's only ever a matter of time before the surviving population of Krypton balloons to rebootable levels.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Doctor Who's 10 Boldest Moves

Being a list more or less in reverse order of the gutsiest moves ever pulled by Doctor Who production teams over the last half century.

#10. Amy is Pregnant/FleshLet's start with a recent one. The very idea that the Amy we've been following for at least five episodes was a fake (though remote controlled by the real one) was quite the shocker, falling into the category of "everything you thought you knew is wrong". What's perhaps bolder is that they've finally allowed hanky panky in the TARDIS, where a couple of married companions made a baby! Moffat sure likes to lay on the "firsts". One would have thought that Russell T Davies would have beat him to it with all his soap operatics, but it seems RTD may have in fact been too skittish about breaking THAT particular fan rule ("There shalt be no indication that sex hath been had in the blue box.") And with other providers of geeky pop culture apparently of the opinion that audiences do not respond well to married heroes (Marvel and DC, I'm looking at you), there's a measure of bravery in domesticating traveling companions and not forcing them, as the show has habitually done, to stay behind.

#9. Morgus turns to camera in The Caves of Androzani
Though obviously, Doctor Who has been "told" in a number of ways, that's because it's lasted so damn long. The "live play" feel of the Hartnell years only seems different from Pertwee's James Bond Lite because television itself had time to change. The first real directorial shock comes in The Caves of Androzani when a young, maverick director by the name of Graeme Harper has a soliloquy spoken directly to the audience, one of several stylistic touches (another being Sharaz Jek under the table) that take Doctor Who into bold, expressionistic territory. Even though the new series has done video confessionals (Love & Monsters) and comedy flashbacks (The Unicorn and the Wasp), it still has never been this outrageous. I still marvel at how it ever got past John Nathan-Turner.

#8. Dalek cut-away
"Mission to the Unknown" is still the only episode of Doctor Who not to feature either the Doctor, any of his companions, or even the TARDIS. It basically acts as a prologue to The Daleks' Master Plan, but because that story is still 4 weeks away at that point, it seems properly divorced from it. Because there were so many episodes a year back then, the main cast would frequently have to be written out for a week or two as vacations came in, but never all at the same time. What an incredibly ballsy move to go ahead with this. Only the Daleks signal that this is a Doctor Who episode, but of course, they're bankable enough that "Mission" isn't THAT much of a risk. Still much more of a risk than Doctor-lite episodes in the new series though.

#7. The Doctor's first kiss
These days, the Doctor kissing and hugging is so common as to be cliché. Back in 1996 when the 8th Doctor had his first, second and third (above) kiss, it was one of the most extreme changes to his characterization ever attempted. The TV movie failed, so most fans consider its innovations failures as well, but history has shown that a kissing Doctor can bring in viewers. Maybe it just naturally came out of its Hollywoodian script and its crafters thought NOT making him a romantic lead would be the riskier proposition in the U.S. market. Or maybe they knew what they were doing and were resolute in putting their own stamp on the 7-year dead property.

#6. Captain Jack
Continuing in the psycho-sexual vein, the existence of Captain Jack seems as unlikely a proposition to succeed as any. Here we have a gay/bisexual/omni-sexual character, which is unusual enough in itself for television, especially a MALE gay character. Now make him an action hero. Now putting him on before watershed, seducing soldier boys and talking dirty. And finally, make the show he's on one that has traditionally been asexual in the extreme, with organized fandom screaming bloody murder about a kiss or three, for Pete's sake. He even kisses the Doctor on the mouth. How did Captain Jack ever pass fans' litmus test? And yet, I've had straight male fans in my living room who've professed sexual attraction for Captain Jack (little Iantos, all of them). I imagine my friends are 1) mostly joking and 2) open-minded about such things, but nonetheless, Captain Jack was EMBRACED and even got his own spin-off series. Talk about a risk paying off.

#5. The Doctor gets married
Ok, ok, we can't confirm that this is indeed the case, but since we've been allowed to believe the Doctor and River Song are married sometime in his future, it is currently true. And even if it isn't, it's still one gutsy shocker. Kissing is one thing, especially the way it's been approached (either as innocent joy, life-saving trick or unreciprocated surprise), but a deep and intimate RELATIONSHIP? It's a bomb so big, it's been set up years in advance! We've had the entire back half of the relationship (pre-marriage, from the Doctor's POV) to get used to it. It serves the Doctor (and the show) right for going no further than sharing hot cocoa with Cameca (that first year) and making us deny our libidinous thoughts for so long.

#4. The Doctor's exile
Doctor Who is about a time traveler, right? So the production team who oversaw the transition between the 2nd and 3rd Doctors (and between the black & white and color eras) must have been BONKERS to do away with that basic premise! When you watch Pertwee's first season, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a completely different show (if not for the familar names like Doctor and UNIT). And it is. From Wells' Time Machine, we head into Quatermass territory. Once again, the risk paid off and Pertwee became (and still remains) one of the most popular Doctors ever. The exile didn't last all that long before the Time Lords started allowing the TARDIS to go places from time to time, but it was still a drastic and potentially destructive move to strand the Doctor in a single place.

#3. Time War Annihilation
Aside from the confused TV Movie in '96, we really hadn't had any Who on television for 16 years when it came back in 2005. Different Doctor, different companion, different TARDIS interior, different sensibility. We were expecting that. But the most shocking change made was the destruction of the Time Lords "in between" series. Since The Time Meddler, it was pretty much expected that some production team some time would introduce the Doctor's people. Once they showed up, they became a big part of the show's mythology (for good or ill, you might say), so the last thing anyone was expecting was their erasure from history. The Doctor as Last of the Time Lords became a mythology unto itself, and though they were baggage I far from miss, I still realize how ballsy RTD was to EXPLICITLY do away with them in order to transform his protagonist, not merely streamline him.

#2. Regeneration
One of the very first moves that I can't believe was pulled off is the first regeneration. Think about it! Our lead actor is leaving the show due to illness, what do we do? After all, the show is NAMED after him. Why not just replace him? But they didn't do a Hartnell look-alike contest like they did for The 5 Doctors, no. They allowed a new actor to take on the role and make it his own, creating a tradition that has given us 9 more Doctors since. We've seen stuff like that on long-running soaps ("the part of Stefano will today be played by...") or sometimes to change a Darren, but never with an in-story explanation! It was an incredible leap to make and it's become one of the most exciting things about the Who experience.

#1. An Unearthly Child
Face it, the boldest, most ambitious, most audacious thing Doctor Who ever pulled off... is its first episode. From the strange sounds of the theme tune to the shocking entry into the TARDIS to the mysterious title to the unlikable protagonist to the very premise of people traveling through space and time in a police box that's bigger on the inside... There was nothing like it on tv at the time (nor is there now, arguably). You know, sometimes I wonder how the first person to put yeast in bread to make it rise did it. What accident or intuition led to this discovery we now take for granted. And I wonder the same thing about Sydney Newman and the original Doctor Who production team. How did they arrive at those exact ideas, and how could the BBC go for them. The show's beginnings are well documented, but it still doesn't explain the human dimension. It's crazy to think it would even work, much less for close to 50 years now.

There are runners up, of course, but often they occurred not out of boldness, but out of production necessity (the disappearing Doctor of The Celestial Toymaker, for example) or were accidents (the accidentally rude monsters would have been daring indeed had designers realized what they were doing). The death of Adric is another one I dismissed as remarkably congruous with fans' wishes, but I might have but Katarina's on here had she been a companion for more than a couple episodes. The Daleks' first appearance might be included, but they come so early, it's not like they upended the show's still developing format or anything. Overall, it's surprising how "safe" the show's been given its audacious premiere. It's why I can count the truly bold moments on my fingers. But perhaps I've forgotten your favorite?

Doctor Who's Daily Rude Monster: Ogron Eater

The Target novelization of Frontier in Space described this frightening monster as some kind of reptile. The actual televised program has other ideas however, ideas that are best expressed in motion:

Like Erato (which came after it), the Ogron Eater is made from a weather balloon. Far from the dragon/dinosaur of the Target book, it looks for all the world like a jiggly nut sack. Ogron nightmares must be terrifying.

Reign of the Supermen #247: Superman - Alien Hunter

Source: Superman vs. Aliens #3 (1995)
Type: Off-canon seriesHow do you mix Superman and the Alien together? Like this: Superman finds a devastated Argo City floating in space, and there he meets an alternate version of his cousin Kara (also above) fighting a nest of Aliens. Soon, his costume has been ripped to shreds, and he's down to an armband (lucky Kara had a spare spacesuit then), but not before he's sent some Kryptonians back to Earth in a LexCraft. Of course, these guys all have chest bursters coming out of their, uhm, chests, and Lois Lane pretty much has to throw the Aliens out an airlock one by one. In the end, Kara seemingly gives her life to destroy Argo and the Aliens (she's seen fleeing alone in a lifepod/sequel machine) and Supes returns to the LexCorp space station in the nick of time to put his arm between Alien teeth and Lois.
The end.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who Is River Song? Take Two

(Spoiler warning for A Good Man Goes to War still in effect)So now we know who River is... or do we?

Unless she was lying (which doesn't appear to be the case), she's Melody Pond, the daughter of Amy and Rory. Let's first address certain fans' disappointment. Malcontents seem to fit into two categories. The first are those who claim they'd guessed it at the start of the episode or as far back as The Impossible Astronaut (those who did so even earlier were just taking shots in the dark, IMO). These are disappointed that it was all so obvious. Well, obvious to you, or obvious THIS series. I don't know why these people aren't celebrating their cleverness. You got it! Be proud of yourself! And as I said yesterday, Moffat reveals this idea at the start of A Good Man Goes to War, then toys with our expectations on purpose. The audience SHOULD be thinking they guessed it, then second-guess themselves for the rest of the episode. The other group of grognards are those who thought for sure River was going to be a character from the past - Susan, the Rani, Romana, Nyssa, some obscure character from the novels, even Rose or Donna. Sorry guys, this NEVER made sense from a production point of view. Imagine all the New Who fans looking at each other on finale night asking "Who the heck is the Terrible Zodin?" All the crazy (and not so crazy) theories in this post and its comments.

So she's Melody Pond. She's the little girl in the spacesuit. She's been turned into a weapon by the Silents. She was conceived in the vortex. She has Human+Time Lord DNA. She's able to regenerate. That about covers what we know. We STILL don't know what her exact relationship with the Doctor is though. Are Amy and Rory really the Doctor's "in-laws"? That's crazy! How did they meet from her point of view? How did she learn to pilot the TARDIS? Why are Daleks afraid of her? WHO IS THE GOOD MAN SHE KILLED, for God's sake! There are a hundred things we still don't know. The mystery hasn't been revealed so much as multiplied. With what we now know of River's Time Lord attributes, even more questions crop up. How many times has she regenerated? And will we ever see (in reverse order of course) River played by another actress turning into Alex Kingston? The future's going to be wild (by which I mean, her past!)

So while we wait for Series 6 Part Deux, we'll get to take a look back at every River Song episode there ever was, scrutinizing each moment to see how it ties into the most recent revelation. How does she act around Amy and Rory? What portentous spoilers slip out of her mouth? And what about her death and how it justifies her not regenerating? Folks, this isn't the last you hear of this on the SBG, not by a long shot.

Doctor Who's Daily Rude Monster: Abzorbaloff

Cousin to the Slitheen (oh boy)...Not that the kid who invented this monstrosity for the Blue Peter contest meant it to be, but it looks like Russell T Davies went all-out, ON PURPOSE, to make the Abzorbaloff one of the rudest monsters ever. Not only is farting part of his persona, but he does so through an absorbed person's face. There's gross and then there's tasteless. Even his planet's name, Clum, sounds vaguely pornographic.