An Ode To Camp

The 90s were a hell of a time, weren’t they? Think about it. It was a halcyon era for animation and for comic books that people look back at with some shame. I, however, being a real life Disney villain look at this time with pride and joy. So let’s talk about the grim-dark comic book era, camp and why I secretly love Joel Schumaker’s Batman

Here’s the thing: I love how absurd comics are. Orphans become gods. Super heroines are created out of a love of BDSM and feminism. Villains fall into acid and make excellent Kierkegaardian arguments about the nature of good, evil and the absurd. One of my favorite comic books characters is Booster Gold who is literally from the future and uses time travel to be a hero in the past because of his ego despite being a normal regular guy with no powers; just future information. What’s not to love? 

So knowing that about me, it may be a shock that I do not like Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies. I get it, it’s a good movie. But when I grew up and my rooting in the lore of Batman is Batman the Animated Series. With that preface in mind, you may now see why I find those films to be a grim foretelling of movie trends to come. While many praised Nolan for “grounding” Batman and his world; I personally felt it was too much of a departure. I was horrified by a Joker that was an “agent of chaos” and a Bruce Wayne who looked bored in every scene he was in. I was horrified by a Raas a’Ghul who was in a dreary outfit and a Batmobile that looked like some reject Stark Industries project. 

Needless to say; the grim dark method of superhero movies just doesn’t do it for me. When I say grim dark; think of a Zack Synder DC movie. Not that those aren’t valid but they’re certainly…an aspect of comic books. And the grim dark vs. camp debate is one that goes back decades in comics. 

Comics are weird. I say that as a person who loves comics but the absurdity is one of the things I love the most about comics the most. And while many comics are dark and grim (look at literally anything Frank Miller has done) they usually manage a brightness and camp and color that is still fantastic and elements that are still usually hilarious or campy to offset the darkness of the piece. 

It’s always been important to me that most superheroes have a rooting in either propaganda (like Superman and Captain America) or as nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves decades ago (like Batman and Green Lantern) and many of them were incredibly campy. Now, I’ve used camp and campy a few times and let’s back up and do a little defining. Campy is a word that does get thrown around a lot but at its core: camp is humor, expression and style that is extravagant, at times tasteless and tacky and at its pure foundation is pure self-decadence. When I say superheroes are campy it’s because…well, think of Batman in the 1960s. Surf boards, gadgets and strange cars. Think of The Avengers in the 70s and 80s fighting villains that are either powered by rock and roll or cocaine. 

But the late 80s and 90s brought a desire for comic books to be serious and then everyone got different costumes. Color vanished from costumes. Everyone had guns. Jason Todd had to die. Superman had to die and thus any optimism or joy. Comics got serious. 

I feel this most when it comes to comic book movies, especially the early ones. Think of the original X-Men slate of movies that was so offended by the color that they even had the nerve to make a jab at it via a sly comment made by a boring actor trying to play Cyclops. I was shocked. I grew up with the X-Men having iconic and colorful costumes and to think they wouldn’t “photograph” or “film” well just need to look at their local comic book convention to realize that if done correctly: color can still be fantastic. Really only a few major directors and franchises seem to have this issue mostly because for better or worse the MCU seems fine with embracing somewhat comic accurate costumes while shunning color in backgrounds aside from a few noted exceptions to the norm. 

Where I feel the most annoyance with grim and dark is in the storytelling. Now, comics have some dark storylines but in the movies, there’s just no room for levity or joy.  Honestly, the character I see this most in may shock you but it’s the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime comes up a lot on this blog and every time I go out of my way to mention that for me, the true canon version of this character is in Batman The Animated Series. To me, the animated version is the perfect mix of humor, darkness and being absolutely terrifying to a young mind. Which is why its always a shock to me when they make him such a humorless character in live action adaptations as of late. Why take a character with such an iconic design and make him just simply a chaos agent or a mentally ill person. And in many of these instances, nothing is added to the character by taking away his humor or charm. Making him just menacing or just scary or just mentally ill takes away what makes him as a villain so damn fascinating. The Joker’s appeal, in my opinion, is that he has a warped view of the world and of how things should operate and if you need an example of how to balance menacing and funny just look at The Killing Joke

I could go but there’s one more example I want to bring up before I wrap this up and that’s where I feel this trend has negatively impacted characterization and that’s Superman. Now, I’m not the biggest Superman fan mostly because he’s always been a blue boy scout to me and as an alumna of the Bruce Wayne School for Successful Orphans you can probably tell where my allegiance lies when it comes to the DC Trinity. But like Bruce Wayne, I’ve always admired Clark’s optimism and ability to find good in humanity. Which is why Man of Steel was such a damn disappointment. Now, this movie wasn’t the first to want to tarnish the reputation of the Blue Boy Scout like InJustice but Man of Steel just took a character with so much hope and so much joy and made him a sad, moping mess who at the end of the film ends up as a murderer. What is gained by doing this? Is he somehow more relatable? He’s a buff alien who is a Jesus allegory. He’s not supposed to be relatable. And why does making him moody and dark and brooding suddenly make him relatable? It’s just weak writing. 

I miss camp. I miss optimism. I miss color. I miss superheros havings dumb adventures and villains with silly plans that affect only a city block and not the entire world. I fell into comic books to escape the realities of a world that is dark, random and full of violence. 

There has to be a way to balance humor, action and tension and seriousness with color and jokes that make sense. There just has to be.

Wait, didn’t we start by talking about Batman Forever?

So, Schumaker as a director is a hot mess and I cannot and will not say this movie is good but it did something that now I find rare, beautiful and curious. It gave us a Batman that was strong, a Riddler that was hilarious and a Two-Face that was over the top. This was superhero drag and its best and dammit it was good. And I think what makes it so good now is looking at the movies we got after it featuring Batman. So many of them are dark, brooding and take themselves too seriously but it took someone willing to disrespect a narrative like Schumaker to ignore lore, canon and anything else and see the series for what it is: a campy, vaguely homoerotic romp.

I think we fear humor and camp in comics because many of us comic book fans are defensive. We’re used to having to rationalize our hobby as not for kids and that means running away from anything that could “de-legitimize” the thing we like. But camp is what got me to love comics and I have no issue explaining that at the same time as being serious and strong of a narrative there can also be humor and levity.

Embracing The End

_There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story._ Frank Herbert.png

After our last post about webcomics, a very common thread appeared as I ranted about why I fell out of touch with some formerly beloved comics: many of them just need to end. And this doesn’t just apply to webcomics, we realistically could have an entire other blog just on anime series and television shows that need to end for a myriad of reasons.But embracing the end of a series is hard; it’s something that I as a creator have really only dealt with once. I finally finished a long fiction project that I started when I was a teenager (no, you can’t read it).  I’m by nature a creator and ending a work is hard. If left to my own devices I would never finish a story, hell the long fiction piece I was working on I continue to dip into that well with short stories and side narratives. I’m afraid to let this piece of fiction go. But we’ve established that I’m a bit of a self-indulgent writer. This fiction piece will never be seen by mortal eyes so it’s okay for me to relish in trudging up old plot points. But for creators who create to be seen, embracing the end is vital.

Before we dip too far into series that refuse to end, I want to talk about a few that ended perfectly. Cowboy Bebop obviously is a perfectly ambiguous ending that if you don’t question when the movie is supposed to be happening ends a serious and dramatic series on a serious and beautiful note. Adventure Time just gave us an ending full of heart and power thus proving that Pendleton Ward is now even better than his master, Butch Hartman (a man who is physically incapable of ending anything[ unless a network demands him to do so]).

Comic books are always in a strange limbo as far as endings go because death means nothing and a character will continue on despite different continuities and canons but that doesn’t mean that comic books don’t ever end. Watchmen as a graphic novel had a fantastically powerful ending. The Death of Superman was such an intense cultural touchstone that folks actually assumed the comic book industry is would collapse upon itself after the death of a beloved icon.

And even an unsatisfying ending is better than nothing. I’ll go on record saying that the end of Trigun is hot garbage but hey, at least it ended. Wolf’s Rain had a terrible ending that I am still angry about but more episodes wouldn’t have fixed the show’s serious structural problems.  InuYasha and really most of the big shonen series have had lackluster endings but them ending has been so powerful and cathartic.

Enjoy positivity, we’re here to talk about the times where a show refused to end and thus have all dragged us down with its pathetic death rolls. I mentioned Sister Claire in my webcomics post and that’s very high on the list for me as far as webcomics that just need to end: we are so far from the original plot that it’s embarrassing. Case Closed is an anime that started many years before me and is now approaching the 1000th chapter of the manga and the point of the main series is so far buried that it is up to be the next mystery for Conan to solve. One Piece should have ended literally years ago and I am refraining myself from talking about it further because it will make me the angry.  

But wait, my usual strawman screeches from the rafters:

But series have to keep going because of money!

Thank you, strawman. Where would I be without you?

Okay, so in anime especially there’s plenty of reasons why a company would keep a series going. Free! Is a series with zero plot that did not need a season three and the third season has taken a series I love and has made me hate it. Boruto is a sequel no one asked for because hey, you kids loved the Naruto. Bleach is going to get a stupid sequel because hey, you love that show, too, right? And many of these series just ended. Bleach’s ending was awful and weak and had easily 4-5 ending points that you can see where painfully drawn out because money. While I could have any entire post about the cash-grab sequel and the horrible thing that is a filler arc, this is more about a lack of an ending due to being a poor writer.

And I don’t say that to insult any writer who is objectively better than I am. But not being able to end a body of work does show some weakness as a writer: one very common to many writers including me, a well-intending idiot.

InuYasha comes to mind. Rumiko Takahashi is a brilliant storyteller and its because of her characters that I am the fan I am today. But she started with a series that could have easily been a few volumes and stretched it out into a series that finished when I was in college. For the record, I started this anime and manga at the same time when I was 12. And it finished when I was an adult: that’s weak storytelling. You can even see the series start and stop and drag on and not know what to do with its at times bloated cast and meandering point. And you can see her be more concise with her more traditional romances, no other series of hers has such a problem ending: she simply struggled with InuYasha. She likely built a world too big for herself and then spent a great deal of time trying to fill that world. Eventually the ending to InuYasha Final Act which was already beginning to meander on after the first anime was cancelled due to her not being able to end she had to rush an ending that left longtime fans like me deeply unsatisfied: but hey, it did eventually end.

Webcomics are an entirely different format that are suited for being longform. And for a slice of life, that’s okay. It’s okay to have a webcomic that doesn’t have a foreseeable end as long as it stays consistent. Girls With Slingshots ran for a small eternity but stayed consistent for its 10 year run and when it did it, it was satisfying and perfectly appropriate for that series. But comics like Sister Claire are now so far removed from its plot that I long for its final end. I’m happy to know that Menage a Three is hopefully wrapping up soon and the other affiliate comics should wrap up.

To rag on a franchise I love, Harry Potter as a world has refused to die because Jo Rowling apparently has too much time on her hands and truthfully her intrusions into the lore and canon of Hogwarts have only soured my desires to continue my studies with the esteemed school: I’m happy to go rogue and create my own stories based on scaffolding that Rowling built for us.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, I divulged that I just finished up one of my long-running fiction pieces. It’s based on a series I love and I started it when I was in high school. I finished a few years ago because I was determined to finish it. During my time after high school, the muse I had to write the series was my then partner, but when my partner left me, I stopped writing. I did my best to will myself to finish the work and I did. It likely will never be published because it’s about as self-indulgent as self-indulgent can be and likely no one would want to read such a thing. But I struggled to end that work and I still dabble in its lore and with its characters because I’m afraid of what will happen if I let this rest. I’m scared I’ll lose that world, those characters, their personalities.

When I say that refusing to end a work is a weakness it’s one I’m fully aware of.

One day, this blog will come to an end.

But not any time soon.

See you next time.

 

Genocide Lite: Our Current Media Obsession

_A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic._Joseph Stalin.png

When I was growing up and watching the shows that went on to influence me, the villains were mostly cartoony. And not just by the fact that they were animated but also that their plans were quite out there. Think of The Joker in Batman The Animated Series, his plans were almost always just to ruin Batman’s day and maybe hurt a few people and rob a bank or two. Even Dr. Doom’s plans for Marvel weren’t huge, he just wanted to be left alone and rule his made up world. The villains all had tangible goals and their plots were usually just an inconvenience to the hero. It’s one of the reasons the egotistical Loki of the first Avengers movie was such a trip for me: I’m used to comic book Loki who rather just steal Thor’s underwear or something.

But as you’ve seen during this magical adventure we’ve had this year discussing framing, villains and villainy: you’ve likely noticed a theme. That theme is that the current bad thing of the era is genocide. And I don’t mean that hyperbolically. It’s literally the aim of most evil dudes in movies recently.

A Buzzfeed article recently discussed that the theme of the last 10 years of movies has been animals overtaking humans as dominant species as a social commentary for our misuse of the planet. But I think the real theme of current movie bad is the systematic or sudden removal of a large amount of people. You’ve seen me mention it over and over again as I rant about framing.

And it continues to bother me each time because I get more and more angry that the prospect of hundreds, thousands, millions of people can die in a narrative and we still side with the villain. So in today’s post I want to talk about when that shift seemed to occur in comics and movies and why it’s so terrible.

Earlier I mentioned the motives of comic book villains during the Gold and Silver age. Most of them had pretty small goals or mostly non-lethal lofty ones. There was a lot of desire to enslave a population or take over a planet or rob a bank. Many of the Gold and Silver age villains barely even had a body count back in the day. It wasn’t until the 70s or so that comic villains got more intense about wanting death as part of their domination. This actually starts to appear around the first introduction of Thanos in the comics during the 1970s. Thanos’ goal in the comics was to woo Lady Death and the only way to do that is to send her souls. She’s impressed by numbers (the O.G. size queen) and so Thanos does all he can to add to his body count to please his mistress. We didn’t get a shift in his goals being objectively genocidal until much later in the comics. Then his motivation becomes the weird meditation on resources we get in the Infinity War movie. We’ve seen comic book characters go down this route before. Parallax wants to eat the Galaxy in Green Lantern, Galactus wants to do…whatever his motivations are and that usually involves a ton of people dying.

The first mark in the shift of genocide as plot point can be seen in a comic that means a lot to me but I don’t get to discuss enough: Watchmen. Moore’s brilliant graphic novel tackles this issue incredibly directly with Ozymandias’ terrible plan being spelled out quite clearly: killing millions, to save billions. There, there’s the shift. Suddenly, the madman isn’t mad, he’s just an extremist looking for the most rational solution to a major problem. And I adore Adrian’s plan. His motivations to stop the war by zapping in a psychedelic interdimensional space squid to wipe out most of New York is flawed but that’s the beauty of Moore’s prose: you can sort of see where he’s coming from. But even though the framing tells us Ozymandias’ plan is rational for that universe, the way everyone else treats him after the reveal of his plan reminds us that this is terrible. The movie is a hot mess but the film also does a great job of demonizing Ozymandias’ dumb plan even though he uses Dr. Manhattan nonsense to vaporize a bunch of folks rather than the space cephalopod.

The only mass death in comics that could possibly rival death toll mounted by Ozymandias was House of M for Marvel. This storyline saw the end to mutants in the decades long run of Marvel comics and in a simple phrase more than half of the characters that made Marvel great simply vanished. It was a heartbreaking event in the comics and we considered Scarlet Witch to be a villain for years after her fateful choice: even if we could empathize with her grief that lead up to the choice to utter that powerful phrase, she’s still a monster for wiping people off the face of existence.

DC Comics did have Crisis on Infinite Earths and there were many many deaths as a result and Blackest Night which is a crisis entirely created by Booster Gold because he wanted to be the hero, dammit. But as we’ve discussed, no one considered Booster Gold to be a hero of anything.

Most of the genocidal villains we get in comics and movies are framed as bad guys because that’s what bad guys do: they suggest that removing an entire section of population is expendable. Think of Star Wars: Darth Vader wipes out an entire planet and we know he’s a bad guy for it and earlier when Vader is still just annoying Anakin, he slaughters a bunch of children and Tusken Raiders and it is firmly shown that he is a bad guy for that. And even though Vader is ultimately a very sympathetic character, we don’t ever forget that he’s still a mass murderer.

Speaking of the 2000s, it’s around this time that genocide seemed to be less of a taboo. By this time, I was watching a ton of anime and several series flirt with this idea: you’ve heard me discuss Death Note frequently but also Bleach flirts with a subplot of wiping out souls and Soul Reapers for the sake of a goal, Trigun hints at this with Knives’ subplot and even if it isn’t straight up death as the goal, several anime focus on purity or a unique group rising to the top. Japan is very eugenics-friendly, which should terrify everyone. Media be it Western or eastern has a ton of focus on Chosen Ones and more pure people and if any part of that sounds scary to you, good. We’re on the same page.

Here is the problem with romanticizing genocide and eugenics: we’ve had actual genocide happen in the world. Hitler wanted to remove Jews and other “undesirables” from Germany, Pol Pot wanted to forge a new future by eradicating the past, ethnic minorities all around the world face persecution and death simply for being a little bit different. This is a real thing with real consequences and our continual sugar-coating of the slippery slope nonsense logic that continues to minimize the dangers of racism, misogyny and homophobia only makes those problems worse. When Thanos’ idea in Infinity War doesn’t sound so crazy, that’s a problem. When Killmonger’s Reconquista sounds logical, that’s a problem. We live in a world that is full of natural disasters, terrorism, racism, homophobia, sexism, hatred, bigotry and population concerns: these are real problems and to far too many people the idea of simply poofing some folks out of existence sounds like a great way to solve all of these complex problems.

I think it’s a sign of the times that genocide seems to be our main macabre obsession as was slavery and colonialism were the macabre obsessions of the Gold and Silver age of comics. We have to confront that if eugenics, social Darwinism and wiping out parts of the population for a “clean slate” ticks any box for you, you are on a dangerous path. I’ve had to confront that in myself and it’s made me infinitely more critical of the media I ingest.  

I hope you enjoyed this discussion on the deaths of too many fictional characters.

I promise the next topic will be lighter.

 

My Top 10 DC Characters

“Why do we argue_ Life's so fragile, a successful virus clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.” ― Alan Moore, Watchmen

After Infinity War left me so burned, I found myself turning to DC for some comfort. I’ve been a comic book fan for decades and I’m strangely 50/50 when it comes to the two main houses: Marvel and DC. When people ask me which one I prefer I often give them a pretty blanket answer:

Marvel for the heroes. DC for the villains.

This is a pretty diplomatic answer but anyone who really knows me that despite my numerous times playing Tony Stark, DC has held my heart for a much longer time than Marvel can claim.

So to rekindle the forge of my heart that has been pillaged after Infinity War, let’s go over at least 10 characters from DC that mean the world to me. Just like the last time with my Top 20 Animes, this is in no real order but you are welcome to read whatever you like into the order that will inevitably form from the chaos that will be this list.

I think I have to put up a spoiler warning for some reason. Just in case I say something that blows your minds.

  • The Joker
    • Now, it’s irresponsible to have any DC list without mentioning Mister J. He’s probably listening and would be very offended if I left him off this list. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with The Joker. As one of the most iconic villains ever, he’s sort of the Crown Prince of Edgelords and folks who think they’re very dark and deep and post his comments and quotes on forums and social media. My attachment to The Joker is a little more personal. I fell in love with The Clown Prince of Crime in Batman The Animated Series where Mark Hamill’s voice allowed him to be equal parts threatening and hilarious. The Joker has come a very long way as a character. He was at first a mostly cartoonish troll to and now he’s mostly a snarling Hot Topic model. But what makes The Joker so good ties perfectly into the version that is my personal favorite: The Killing Joke. This is The Joker at his best and with enough Kierkegaard to beat any philosophy minor into the ground. The Joker’s main mantra of “Everyone is just one bad day away…” is a powerful one and one I connect to. As someone who (like Batman and Jack Napier) has had a series of bad days, I absolutely deal with the demon of using pain and trauma as a rationalization towards the darkness inherent in all of us.
  • Etrigan
    • Gone, gone, the form of man…God, are there more iconic lines? I love Etrigan the Demon. He’s an older than you think comic book character who was a demon in the time of King Arthur. He’s sworn to fight against Morrigan the Enchantress and oftentimes Klarion the Witchboy (one of my many sons) but he’s also just as likely to be enchanted by Morrigan and be used as a tool for destruction. Etrigan’s design and old-timey speech won me over easily and even though he’s not a well known DC character, I still love him and I have considered getting his little spell tattooed on my body somewhere.
  • John Constantine
    • Still no Batman. Sorry, we’ll get to Bruce but I have to talk about the Hellblazer himself. So John Constantine is a strange case. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know much about him before the wildly popular TV show and the mediocre Keanu Reeves movie that I don’t hate. His character is an interesting one. He’s one of the rare cases of a bisexual character but this was of course, back in the day when bisexual was just analogous for “whore” but Constantine was very proud and aware of his status as a tool. Constantine is a demon-hunter with literally every vice you can imagine and his design, brooding mood and his ability to play well with others made me cozy up to him very quickly.
  • Jason Todd
    • See? Getting closer to Batman. There will be Batman on this list. Just not right now. Jason Todd is a fascinating character study in a comic creator making a character that everyone hates and then immediately punishing the fanbase for hating them. Death in the Family broke me as a youth and his violent death a the hands of The Joker left a massive scar on the hearts of the fans, me and Bruce. And the timing of his death is so important it hurts just as much as a crowbar to the left cheek. Jason Todd dies just after The Killing Joke and Batman’s inability to kill The Joker was one of the biggest reasons The Joker escalated and took Jason Todd from Bruce. The Joker couldn’t break The Bat by taking out Barbara, so he went after his metaphorical son. Jason Todd died for our sins and came back as an even better version of Batman: The Red Hood. It’s all so metaphorical and meta and I love every part of Jason Todd’s journey from way too smart for his own good kid to a vigilante who is at times more effective at cleaning up the streets of Gotham than Batman is. Now, better is subjective. Depending on who is writing Jason, he’s almost like a proto-Damien Wayne (we’re getting to that little anger cinnamon roll). Jason’s often written as a stark opposite to the first Robin, Dick Grayson. While Dick was nice, talented and affable; Jason was snarky, moody and already had the jump on Bruce by their first meeting. We meet Jason Todd as he’s trying to lift the tires and rims off the Batmobile. Jason Todd is the anti-Dick Grayson and you love or hate him for it.
  • Damien Wayne
    • I’m really skirting around The Bat here, I know. We’re getting there, I promise. But first I wanted to talk about this little ball of anger, pragmatism and a little bit of Raas al Ghul magic. Damien is Bruce’s son by Talia al Ghul (even though this was stupidly ret-conned I will stay with this headcanon, fight me) and he is just as wonderful as you can imagine that combination of two angry people can be. Damien’s practical, blunt and emotionless but it all makes sense considering his background training under his grandfather. Damien’s past means that he is guarded and reserved and may be based on skill one of the best and most capable Robins that have ever served at Batman’s side. And with how reserved and confident he is, it’s wonderful to see him break down.I mean, come on, Damien was convinced his Father was too soft on crime so he sent the Court of Owls to kill his own dad! How intense is that?
  • Booster Gold
    • No context. Just love him. Don’t @ me.
      • Just kidding. There was no way I was going to leave it at that. Booster Gold is hilarious. He’s a time traveler from another dimension where he’s super popular but now wants to be even more famous and does all he can to self-insert his way into the narrative of popular storylines. Because of his knack for wriggling his way into other people stories, he tends to do more harm than good. Hell, most of the bad things that have happened in DC lore he has somehow managed to be part of. Also, Booster Gold is one half of the greatest bro-mance ever with Ted Kord, the original Blue Beetle. What’s amazing is that Booster Gold has zero super powers, he’s just the right amount of narcissistic, talented and confident that he just skates into any situation and has the right tool for the job when he isn’t the one setting the fire to get credit for it in the news later that day.
  • Hal Jordan
    • I’m sure many of you are surprised. I’ve always said how much I prefer Kyle Rayner as a Lantern and Earth’s sworn protector and many of you know that Green isn’t even my color when it comes to the Emotional Spectrum: I’m a very proud Star Sapphire.  But Hal’s just such a great character, especially since his post-Crisis and with some of his New 52 edge. The writers have leaned in a little to his naive, good boy attitude and as long as we ignore the movie that no one likes talking about, I think he has an interesting power set and the fun creative edge of the hero the U.S. often needed. Many folks give Jordan a hard time for choosing dumb constructs, but hey, he does his best. He takes a lot of the best parts from his predecessor, Alan Scott, and turns them into a genuine and authentic person who is just happy to be a real hero in more way than one.
  • Zatanna
    • This magical minx was really never meant to be center stage. Her costume at first was revealing, her powers were mostly for show and she never really got to shine much outside of being the plucky assistant and occasional magical expert Batman needed. But she’s still one of the rare instances of a female character that does anything for me. I do think post New 52 she’s a little overpowered but that comic books and it’s fine. I’ve always admired how fun she was during her appearances on Batman the Animated and while her time in Justice League: Dark paints her with way more melodrama, I’m here for it.
  • Raven
    • Another magical girl? Yep. She’s one of the few female comic book characters I can relate to. And no, not just because she’s a moody, edgy, all-black clad, super goth. I mean, sure, for lots of those reasons. But there’s plenty of other reasons there, too! She’s also very empathetic, but her empathy doesn’t mean that she’s always kind. I absolutely can relate to that. Her past is something she is actively trying to run from and hide, I can also super relate to that. And realistically, depending on who is writing her: she is absolutely on par with Superman just based on magic and ability alone. What’s not to like?
  • Batman
    • So as an angsty person, I’m contractually obligated to put Batman on this list. I don’t have a choice. Superman is not boring but he’s also not super relatable to me. He’s very aspirational, as in, I wish I had even a fraction of Clark’s anything but Bruce, despite how unattainable he actually is; there is something intensely human and vulnerable about him. And it’s only in realizing that maybe he’s not a great person that makes Bruce Wayne so compelling. He’s insanely flawed. He has a secret plan to be able to not kill but emotionally and physically break all of his friends in the Justice League just in case any of them were to go rogue. He’s paranoid, driven and his absolutely subjective moral compass punishes relatively low-level offenders while ignoring larger threats because he enjoys the game too much. He pretends that he has some great code about not killing but he’s doing more harm than good keeping The Joker alive and even when The Joker has taken so much from Bruce Way, The Bat refuses to, just on some false moral high ground, to end the Clown. And while we can all look to Superman to have the right answer and do the right thing, depending on who is writing Batman, he may be the biggest villain in all of Gotham. It’s one of the reasons Batman: White Knight has been such an amazing read, if you frame it from anyone else’s point of view, The Gotham Bat is no hero. But many people can relate to Bruce Wayne. I know I could. I lost my parents, did my best to be better than my past and did all I could to make sure that the world was a better place than the one that ensured that I become an orphan by 20. Bruce operates similarly, he wants the world to be a better place while also struggling with the weight of the name he was born into and uses more than one mask to hide years of pain, trauma and feelings of inadequacy. He’s the most human character DC has ever created. We’ve all in some way felt like Bruce Wayne even if we aren’t all billionaire playboys with genius level intellect, a hidden basement space full of bats and paramilitary weapons and an ability to connect the dots that would make Sherlock Holmes even say that some of the connections was a bit of a stretch. Batman is complex and he perfectly reflects the concerns of the eras he’s in. He stands in for a type of justice that many find more satisfying than waiting for proper police procedure. Sure, if the cops get the criminal, there may be a mistrial. If Batman gets him, we’ll that crook will never crime again. But also consider when I was introduced to The Gotham Knight. It was during the amazing Batman the Animated Series run where he was the most balanced he could be. Bruce was vulnerable, suave, capable but still was just skirting around the confines of the law. The animated run did a perfect balance of handling Batman lore from his Silver Age appearances and continues to inform how actors and writers now handle The Gotham Bat.

This was a fun Top 10 and honestly, if given more time, I’d likely have a very different list that better reflects the years of lore I’ve allowed myself to fall into DC has been creating characters and weaving stories that have touched the lives of millions for decades now and these comic books will always have a special place in my heart. This list is personal, highly subjective and is in no way an accurate representation of even all the characters I like but simply don’t have time to go into further detail. Drop me a comment below if you’d like for me to do a similar treatment to any other property or query!

Make Anime Weird Again

_This place has only three exits, sir_ Madness, and Death._ — René Daumal (A Night of Serious Drinking) (1).png

Late last year, during one of Carlos and I’s famous hours long Skype calls, we ended up having a pretty profound discussion. You see, as two longtime anime fans, we were both a little exhausted by the recent trends in fandom. Shows like Yuri On Ice and Attack on Titan have brought muggles into our fair community. And while Carlos and I lamented the glory days of anime being strange and exclusive, a brilliant little anime strolled into my queue and actually at Carlos’ recommendation.

I want to talk about Pop Team Epic and making anime weird again.

But first, I want to talk about anime, the surreal and the strange. One of my favorite animes of all time is FLCL. It’s at its core a coming of age story but also features penis allegory robots, a giant steam-powered alien iron that wants to smooth out the wrinkles of human thought and a woman with pink hair on a Vespa who goes around hitting people with a guitar. Anime at its core has always been a little weird. And that can be said about animation in general, but anime’s weirdness is oftentimes a huge barrier to entry for many casual fans. Even excellent animes like Cowboy Bebop and FullMetal Alchemist have very strange parts to them and I’m empathetic to newcomers who are put off by some of the cultural eccentricities of Japanese popular culture.

This is probably going to sound a lot like fan-gating to those in the know and, yes, it is a form of that. When people who are not well-versed in anime critique and comment on anime, you get fresh hot takes like “Anime has a representation problem.” and “why are none of these women wearing pants?” True, holding anime and manga to a higher standard is important. I can be a feminist and struggle with poorly written female characters while also admitting that culturally Japan is very different than the U.S. in 2018.  I came into anime as a little one and struggled a great deal as a fan in the early 2000s when it wasn’t cool to be an otaku. I built anime clubs, made friends, cosplayed and went to conventions to find people who were like me. And popular animes that bring in casual fans can at times muddy the waters. There’s nothing like seeing someone who teased you in high school over a Naruto t-shirt back in the day suddenly saying that love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And while that may be somewhat immature to say, I’ve never said claimed to be a perfect human being.

Which brings us to Pop Team Epic. The show centers around two main characters: Pipimi and Popuko and they are surprisingly expressive considering their minimalist designs. The show is now an animated version of the popular 4-Koma webcomic and it follows many of the comic’s best gags and jokes. It’s a weird one and it’s hilariously referential and meta. There are gags that barely count as gags. Each episode is mirrored with male and female voice actors playing two teenage girls. There are crappy segments (intentionally bad ones) in the middle of each episode and there are jokes. So many jokes. And many of them are at the expense of other popular anime, video games and fan trends. Popuko many times calls fans “haters” and it’s actually quite interesting to see. I’m not normally one for self-aware humor and non-sequitur gags but for some reason, it all works for me in Pop Team Epic. And it probably is one of the best mines for reaction gifs that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. Did I mention that the soundtrack is surprisingly good?

I love how unapproachable this anime is. You have to really love comics, really love anime and really love video games to catch all the references and hell, I don’t get all the references. And the humor is often dry and doesn’t go anywhere. The animation is crappy at times, but it’s intentional and the voice acting is strange and strained. The comments about how awful the show can be is rarely lost on me and if you are looking for consistent payoff for jokes, look elsewhere.

And there are plenty times where I’ll end an episode of Pop Team Epic and have no idea what just happened. It’s strange that I’d be so attached to a show like this considering that other shows with humor like that (think Rick and Morty) are not usually shows I enjoy or overly meta shows (continue to think Rick and Morty).

Watching Pop Team Epic reminds me a lot of how many people felt watching Luke Cage over on Netflix. Many said that Luke Cage was unapproachable and “too black” and to anyone who said that (mostly casual white comic book fans), you are right. He is unapproachable and too black. That’s how his character is meant to be. The same can be said for Pop Team Epic. Anyone who says “This anime makes no sense, is poorly animated and is weird.”; congratulations, you are right. It is poorly animated, makes no sense and is weird and if you cannot appreciate it for what it is, then maybe you should try something a little more mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love plenty of mainstream animes. And that’s not to say that Pop Team Epic is some secret handshake between the “OG” otakus, there are plenty of long-time anime fans who are put off by the series and basically any actual criticism lobbed at the show is probably understandable.

But you know what? It is also nice to have something that makes anime feel intimate again. There’s something nice about having an anime that is too weird, too good and too strange to live. It’s nice having something that not everyone understands and feeling like some strange unicorn again.

Just for once, it’s nice to feel like anime is special, rare and unique again.

 

The Death of the Creator

“Literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.” ― Roland Barthes, The Death o.png

I have the benefit of following several artists on Tumblr and Twitter and while social media is an excellent way for artists and creators to connect with their audiences: is the direct contact really helpful for all of us?

I’ve touched on this topic before but it hasn’t left my mind. Because of the illusions of closeness that social media can provide, many creators that I support and follow tend to be very candid on their social feeds. Many have expressed suicidal ideation, hateful messages, unfiltered rants and have flat out attacked their readers.

Let’s take a step back.

This is by no means something that just afflicts webcomic creators: I’ll take umbrage with an author whose work I love but who I can no longer stand: Jo Rowling. I love Harry Potter but Rowling’s overinvolvement with the fan community utterly exhausts me. While she could be spending her time recasting Johnny Depp or writing the damn Marauders movie I’ve been asking for. But she’s much more content to comment on fan theories, correct pronunciations on spells and micromanage what fans have been doing with her work for the last decade. Not to say she’s done a lot of good. She’s very supportive of cosplayers of color and queer fans but her input is not needed in the Wizarding World until she pens another great novel.

Here where I will pause for those in the back hooting about author’s intent.

Let’s pick up there. I’m in the camp that would rather separate the author from the work. While it is nice to get trivia and information from a still-living author, often times it ruins interpretations individuals make. Rowling doubling down on Harry and Ginny while also reminding us how miserable the Weasley marriage is doesn’t do anything for the fans who have been saying that Harry ended up with the wrong girl. Think of the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion who will swear up and down that he designed all of the things that make his series great because they simply “looked cool”. I’d love to know how he thinks because I rarely think of the Kabbalah or the different types of angels when working on a hip, fun fighting robots show.

The Death of the Author is not a new phenomena and is a helpful way to study the work and think of some of the influences but allows greater freedom to discuss any body of work. This is helpful from Kubrick films (considering that he was a bit of a monster) to fantasy novels. Now, there are times where you cannot separate the artist from the art. It is nearly impossible to remove Orson Scott Card from Ender’s Game and that did affect their box office numbers when the beloved movie became a feature length film. It’s almost impossible to remove Tolkien from Lord of the Rings for better or worse. It is almost impossible to remove Johnny Depp from his current controversy.  

And sometimes keeping the corpus and the creator together is okay. It’s nice to hear Stephen King rant about how much he hates The Shining and how many times he and Kubrick argued over the film.

Let’s get back to the crux of my concerns: webcomic artists specifically have really taken off in this new era of social media and self-publishing. Most of the time, this is great. I love being able to connect and share my enthusiasm for something that I love with the person who made it. Some of my best convention memories have come from meeting comic artists that I love. I love having my ships confirmed, my theories heard and even being acknowledged for literally wanting to cosplay most of the comics that I read. (Saint for Rent and Devil’s Candy are high on that list, all else will have to wait.)

And others have taken their platforms to correct simple errors in gendering characters or assuming where pairings go. Not to say that fans are innocent in this. Some are downright rude, nasty and condescending. The artist always knows best and challenging a creator is almost never the way to go. But that doesn’t mean that well-intending folks are to be barked now. Well-intending is a subjective term and it is up to each individual, it isn’t always the best PR move to fuss at people. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m so selective with where I post and where I am active. I can be defensive just like the best of us so I’m careful with where I post and where I am opinionated. You’ve heard me mention before my issues with Sister Claire and how they’ve been handling criticism since the plot has seemed to fly away with all of my hopes and dreams.

How much an artist owes their audience is perpetually up to the person. Some have patrons whose word is law. Others value input from all and even more see art as a purely selfish endeavor and post and do as they wish. I’m in favor of the middle path, as always, patrons and those who pay are important but one need never forget the countless folks who support them silently just through being there.

This extends to when artists have…let’s be kind and call them ‘meltdowns’ online. Many have expressed thoughts of self-harm, candid conversations about addiction and personal confessions about mental illness. And while I appreciate the frank nature of such discussions, it’s almost frustrating and almost always heartbreaking to watch. I like I’m sure so many readers do, feel connected to these creators. As I hope you, dear reader, are connected to me in some way. It leads to questions about what readers owe creators and what responsibility audiences have to performers. Should I encourage an artist when they say they feel worthless? Do I correct someone else in the comments when they misgender a character? Do I defend a troublesome old tweet? What does an fan owe a creator? And does a creator owe their fans anything?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions: let’s bring this conversation down into the comments.