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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I ♥ Mika Brzezinski

In a rare outbreak of journalistic integrity, Mika Brzezinski, presenter on the MNSBC Morning Joe show refused to read out a story on Paris Hilton, saying that it was unworthy to be the lead news story when there were serious issues of far more importance.

She then attempted to burn the report, and ended up putting it through the shredder.

I'd never heard of Mika Brzezinski before today, or the show she appears on, or even the network she works for, but right now I'd vote for her as journalist of the year for having the guts to stand up and say on TV that the minor doings of people whose only claim to fame is that the media talk about them a lot are not as important as wars.

See it here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thinking Gilligan

I was listening to the Gilligan theme song and something struck me.

The various characters are all mentioned in the song, getting a description that informs their personality and social status, except for one who is simply named. Doesn't Mary Ann have enough of a personality that they couldn't think of two words to describe her?

It's all Chinese whispers

In early Superman stories it's explained that Superman's x-ray vision cannot penetrate lead. This is because in the real world X-rays cannot pass through lead or any other material so dense.

In Doctor Who, the original Cybermen are defeated when they are forced to inhale powered gold, which clogs their breathing filters, suffocating them.

Several writers later and we find that Superman cannot affect lead in any way, but has little problem with denser materials. He cannot even heat up this soft metal with his heat vision because... well, for no reason given. We also find that Cybermen are now so allergic to gold that a coin fired from a slingshot will kill them, even though it cannot possibly affect them in the way that originally incapacitated them.

It's all Chinese whispers. Writers see what their predecessors have written and follow the form without considering the concept. And that's without even considering the stuff they change deliberately...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gilligan's whatnow?

So I had a look on Youtube to see if I could find any clips of Gilligan's Island and this was what came up...



Friday, June 22, 2007

Surprise: some comics are still fun

Honestly, I was all set to do a big rant about how the comic industry was going to hell in a bucket and I was going to build myself a fort out of Showcase Presents volumes and not come out until comics were fun again, and then I read the first Minx title The Plain Janes.

It doesn't suck.

I'm not going to do a detailed review of it because anyone with any taste is going to be writing about it. I'll just say that when I got to the last page my reactions were "aw, I was just enjoying that and it stopped" followed by "I wonder if there's going to be a sequel?"

This is a good feeling to have at the end of any book. So a good start for Minx as far as I am concerned, though my expectations had not been high, based on the initial publicity. And the name.

At the back there are several page samples of the next three volumes. They didn't make me want to run to the comic store right now to see if they are published yet, but I will be checking them out.

And it's nice to know I'll have something to read this summer that was written in my lifetime.

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Kids of Tomorrow got No Respect!

I think one of the things I like most about the early Legion is their total lack of respect for anyone. They'll travel back in time ten thousand years in order to invite their greatest hero to join their club, and then play a practical joke on him and make him cry.


They cross centuries again to invite Supergirl and then refuse to take her because while following their directions she accidentally gets a dose of red kryptonite that makes her look too old, even though A) she hasn't actually aged, she just looks slightly different (visually she just appears slightly taller and to be wearing lipstick), and b) it's a temporary effect that will wear off in a couple of hours.


So it's hardly surprising that when you see what appears to be a continuity error, such as them telling Supergirl that they are the children of the legionnaires that met Superboy, it's easy to read it as them just having a laugh at Supergirl's expense.

The bastards.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

spot the difference























Apparently Mirrorland has a stricter dress code...

The Legion again

(I hadn't been planning to write much more about the early Legion adventures, but these Showcase volumes are so full of daft ideas that I can't help wanting to share the fun.

But first, a correction. In my previous article I said Shrinking Violet and Triplicate Girl weren't introduced until Adventure #300. In fact they, and Bouncing Boy first appear in a Supergirl story in Action #276 that, more than any other appearance, has all the hallmarks of a stealth pilot, as it features the most complete version of the Legion prior to their own series.

In this story we are told that the Legion has revised its policy of only allowing one new member per year to allowing one boy and one girl per year (1). Applicants shown include Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, and Shrinking Violet. Since all of them are members by Adventure #300, the Legion series must take place at least two years later, assuming that these guys were taken on their second or third attempts, over other applicants that hadn't already been rejected (2)(3).

Other highlights of this story include Saturn Girl fooling Supergirl into not recognising her by wearing a mask, even though she is in full costume and has demonstrated her powers; the whole "super-girlfriends" routine which is ripe for innuendo by someone with a smuttier mind than I, and Supergirl's demonstration of power for her membership application, which involves destroying hugely important archeological sites by burrowing down to cherrypick a couple of choice items that made the archeoligist in me wince, and my experience is limited to watching the odd episode of Time Team; and how convenient is it that a kryptonite meteor just happens to fall out of the sky right on top of Supergirl just in time for Brainiac 5 to demonstrate his cleverness and self-sacrifice by slapping his force field belt on her and tuning it to fit her personally in less time than it takes for her to get out of the way of it. Anyone would think he had arranged it on purpose...

I feel a bit sad for poor Shrinking Violet here. I mean here she is, she's got as far through the Legion application process as having a placard with her own name on it, and then at the last minute she has to go up against someone who is related to the most famous hero in history that inspired the Legion in the first place, and who they have traveled back in time to personally invite. It must be particularly galling when Supergirl bogs off as soon as she's inducted and hardly ever turns up for meetings(4). She doesn't even get to be one of Supergirl's super-girlfriends.

Notes.

1) which makes you wonder how they end up with a 3:1 male/female ratio.
2) In Adventure #301 we find that Bouncing Boy was rejected once.
3) However, since there are no new female legionnaires between this and Adventure #300 I can only guess that Sun Boy reapplied in drag.
4) Talk about nepotism...

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Meme of Eight

I'm not big on memes, but since Walaka tagged me with this one, I thought I'd give it a go. But I'm not passing it on because that would be way too much like a chain letter, and I'd feel the need to add something like "don't break the chain or your pet will turn an unexpected colour, and your favourite TV show will be canceled on a cliffhanger ending!"

Anyhow, the rules:
I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.


Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.


1) I collect cool (anime/goth/scifi/superhero) dolls, but not in any obsessive way, unless you'd consider having twelve goth dolls on your mantelpiece obsessive.

2) Terry Pratchet once gave me a lift in his car. He's a lot less funny in person.

3) My favourite flavour of soda is banana, but I haven't seen one in years. Actually my favourite flavour of most things is banana.

4) I still haven't finished reading Seduction of the Innocent. I'm beginning to think life is too short.

5) I have never seen Gilligan's Island. And not because I don't want to. I've never watched an entire episode of Neighbours either, but that's taken skillful manoevering because it was so ubiquitous on UK TV and I've known lots of people who liked it. I'm vaguely curious about Gilligan because it seems to be part of the American experience and often turns up as a pop culture reference, but it's never been shown on British TV (that I'm aware of). Now I think about it, I could probably find at least a clip of it on YouTube.

6) I bought my first videotape before I had a VCR, my first CD before I had a CD player, and my first DVD before I had a DVD player. I mean I knew I would be getting the player eventually, and it was a bargain/something I'd always wanted.

7) My most hardcore videogame experience was playing Sakura Wars in Japanese (it's an RPG heavy on text that has never been translated).

The oldest comic I own is Wonder Woman #17. That's WW volume one, dated 1946.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's in the name

The Legion of Superheroes has always had something of a reputation for sexual equality, and now with the publication of the Legion Showcase collection we get the opportunity to see their earliest appearances, and a somewhat different picture emerges. Basically, unless you were Saturn Girl, the preferred trait for a female legionnaire seems to be the ability to fade into the background and keep quiet.

When the Legion first appeared, the name was really a bit of a stretch. Only Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad were in any way identified or got speaking parts, with a few backs of heads to suggest the Legion had more than three members. In most subsequent appearances a couple of new members would be introduced, although they never got to do much, until the Legion finally got their own series in Adventure #300.

This comic introduces two new female members, even if they don't appear in the story: Triplicate Girl is on the cover and a statue of Shrinking Violet is shown among other Legionnaire statues on the first page(1).

Shrinking Violet's first actual appearance is Adventure #301 where she appears in two panels, filling out group shots. She continues to stand at the back and say nothing for some time, except #305, where she gets to speak briefly. I can only guess this was because Star Boy was out sick and Lightning Lad was dead that day so she had to fill in, as she doesn't get to speak again until #310, where, for the first time in ten issues, she gets to use her powers. And then dies.

This being the Silver Age, she, and everyone else who dies is fit and healthy again by the end of the story. Over the next 20 issues Violet gets to use her powers twice more, to little effect, and it's not until #324 that she gets any individual attention, falling for Duplicate Boy, who conveniently leaves at the end of the story.

Phantom Girl gets it even worse. She is the first female legionaire introduced (2), appearing briefly in #290 for one panel (3). In #301 we find she is off on a distant planet on a vital door opening mission, which keeps her absent until #313. In fact she's not even listed as a legionaire, absent or otherwise, for twelve issues. She then vanishes again until #316, where she finally gets to speak, and even takes an active role in the story. She's next seen in #319 filling out the crowd scenes, and succumbs to a weapon that only affects her because she's not the star of the story.

Thereafter she appears semi-regularly, filling out the cast and occasionally getting to participate in the plot, but a lot of the time the writer hardly seems to notice she's there, which means that the contrived ending to Adventure #325 could have been avoided if he'd only remembered the power she'd demonstrated two issues earlier.

And then there's the names: Phantom Girl - A girl with a power to make herself so inconsequential that she's entirely forgotten for years at a time, and Shrinking Violet - the shy one with the power to make herself so small that nobody even notices she's present. I bet if Camouflage Girl (the girl with the ability to blend entirely into the background) had applied for membership they would have snapped her up because she would have fitted right in.


Notes.

1) Why the team have statues of themselves is not explained.
2) other than Saturn Girl.
3) two if you count the splash page, which is the same image

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

It makes me sad

I always thought that Marvel Zombies was a pretty lame joke, but that particular (un)dead horse has been getting well and truly flogged lately. Apparently this has included some theme of doing zombie versions of "classic" Marvel covers. Oh, will the laughter ever stop.

So, a tasteless theme in a tasteless comic which I wasn't going to read, anyhow. Little relevance to me other than to give me another reason not to give Marvel any money. And then I hear about something that plain depresses me, even though I wouldn't touch the comic anyway. A new cover is a riff on the cover to the first issue of the all-ages Mary Jane comic, except this version depicts an adult version of the character with large breasts and her guts hanging out.

It's the trashing of an innocent image intended for children that gets me. There's no political message, no deeper meaning. It's just taking a sweet image and shitting on it for the laugh. I could relate this to the broader subject of the way Marvel and DC can't seem to allow any character to remain innocent for long, to the point where even Mary Marvel has to be dark and angst-ridden (with a hemline that barely covers her ass, of course. See previous entry), but it's all too depressing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Girly Tips for evil Makeovers

1) Learn to cast a shadow over your face regardless of where the light source is situated in the room.

2) Show more skin. When heroines turn evil they invariably get shorter skirts and plunging necklines.

3) Accessorize with leather and chains for that badass look.

4) Ragged edges show how you have symbolically trashed your "goodie" costume, also that you are just so bad that you can't be bothered to hem.

5) Evil hair is usually bigger than good hair. Get in lots of gel for that snakey look.

6) Colours: Black, obviously, but doing a version of your regular costume in darker shades also works.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Atomsk

Paul Linebarger is one of my favourite ever authors. I discovered the science fiction he wrote under the name Cordwainer Smith when I was at school, and his lyrical prose informed my daydreams from an early age. I could never understand why his work was not more popular, why it had never been made into movies, why so few people had heard of him. But at least his science fiction remained in print (in fact I happened to notice yesterday that it's just been republished again in a two volume collection with different titles and the stories in a different order from the previous two volume collection, just to confuse you). Atomsk, written under the name of Carmichael Smith has been out of print for fifty years.

This does not mean that it is unregarded. It's not too hard to find as a collectable if you have a couple of hundred dollars to spare. But Rosana Hart, Paul Lineberger's daughter recognises that there are plenty of people who don't want to collect it, they just want to read it, and so she has made it available as a PDF. Which is how I got to see it.

It is 1949. Scraps of intelligence taken together hint at a secret underground russian city where research is being done into atomic weapons. It is known as Atomsk. Major Michael Dugan is given the task of infiltrating Atomsk, finding out what is going on there, and then leaving enough of a mark behind him so that the russians know they have been infiltrated and Atomsk is no longer an ace up their sleeve.

We follow Dugan as he slips through Russia, assuming and dropping identities as required. Unlike so many fictional spies, Dugan has to work his way to the secret city one step at a time, using skill and cunning. What would be an afternoon jaunt for Sydney Bristow is a journey that takes weeks for Dugan.

The weakest point to me was when we finally reach Atomsk and don't get to see much of it. It's not necessary to the plot, but after the big buildup I would have liked a little more sightseeing of the big mysterious place we've heard so much about.

The book is clearly an earlier work than Lineberger's science fiction. The lyrical writing is there, but it is not as developed as his work as Cordwainer Smith. The really striking thing about Atomsk is how optimistic it is. Dugan is such a good spy because he empathises with the people he encounters. He believes that the work he is doing is not just for the good of his own country, but for its enemies too. During World War 2 he works undercover in Japan as an incompetent officer gently fouling up every major project that comes through his department, saving lives not just of Americans, but Japanese too.

The book has also aged remarkably well. I mean obviously it is now a period piece, where it was "present day" when it was published, but there is nothing out of place or jarring to the modern reader, which suggests how far ahead of his time Linebarger was in his attitudes.

Atomsk is not the great american novel, but it's a fun spy story that proves that realism and optimism can exist together. There are a lot of writers today who could learn from this.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

License to Kill

When you are reading a spy novel set during the cold war, it's impossible not to think of James Bond, whose books were originally published between 1953 and 1966. Most striking is the difference between Fleming's smug dilettante and any story that deals with a more realistic take on the subject.

The problem is that James Bond doesn't actually do much spying. No spending months infiltrating an enemy country under a false identity; he's always quick in there, steal the plans, sabotage the death ray, kill the bad guy, get the girl, and out before a real spy had reached the outer perimeter in the guise of a nondescript worker. And he's always so flashy and high profile where a real spy is the exact opposite.

And then there's the whole "license to kill" business. He's a spy. It's a very dangerous business. Any spy undercover in hostile territory surely has the authority to protect themself by whatever means necessary, up to and including killing people, so why does 007 get a special certificate for it?

And then it struck me, that's not an extra qualification, that's his job description. It makes sense that they'd want the enemy to know he was responsible, that he'd be sent in for quick jobs, that so many people die when he's around. Of course it would be terribly unbritish to admit what he was really up to, so it's always couched in euphamism and the pretense that he is a regular member of the department, but it's obvious when you think about it. James Bond isn't so much a spy as an assassin.