Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Monday, September 28, 2009

Uncanny X-Men 515; What Cyclops Needs

As the X-Men emerge from the Dark Reign crossover Utopia, now as an isolationist nation with an almost entirely mutant population ( a good summary can be found in Newsarama's review here ), I continue to be baffled as to what writer Matt Fraction is trying to do with the X-Men's leadership. And this generally isn't a good sign for an ongoing superhero comic in the traditional model, when you have no idea if you're supposed to be reading the book ironically; is Scott Summers supposed to be a brave leader in charge of tough decisions, or is he a blundering fool?

The presentation of the character in the last issue makes him seem especially unclear. Mere moments after securing his borders, Cyclops is finally getting around to making the X-Men's island a place that can actually support a population. He's just getting to giving orders to set up food and water and power, and it's clear that the other X-Men are quickly losing faith in him. At the same time, he's acting as though he's in charge and knows what he's doing, requesting that the other mutants have faith in what he's doing. He even tells his old mentor Charles " You had a dream, I have a plan ". Except that he hasn't had a plan, he's just been stumbling around from crisis to crisis, barely breaking even.

We see that Scott Summers is breaking under the pressure of being the mutant messiah; his few quiet moments show the man completely wiped out, like he's a feather's tap away from a nervous breakdown. But he's still acting as though he's the strong, confident leader. He's making decisions, they're just really sloppy, spur-of-the-moment ones. It's like he went completely mad years ago and nobody told him.

Which makes sense given the character's backstory-- this is a man who constantly has to be careful of the death rays coming from his eyes, who was orphaned at a young age and taken in by a strange telepathic teacher who molded him into a soldier ( instead of a son ), who has been in love with one woman to the point of being with three alternate versions of her, and who recently betrayed that woman to give into a mistress ( Emma ) that appealed to his repressed desires. Except that the " Cyclops is too riddled with PTSD to be a credible leader " plot has been going on for years now. And the other X-Men haven't done jack or shit about it; they're clearly questioning his ability to save the mutant race, but they still follow him.

It's a tremendous elephant in the room, and it's going from being interesting to being maddeningly frustrating. I think at this point, the other X-Men should stage an intervention for the guy, all of his closest friends confronting him on just how damaged he is. Instead of Hank being catty ( okay, pun intended ) about Scott's poor choices, or even leaving the team in a hissy fit, how about Hank telling Scott about how he hasn't dealt with his problems? Instead of Logan slapping Scott in the face every time X-Force gets another insane murder mission, how about Logan invoking Jean Grey's name to remind Scott of how far he's fallen?

It'd certainly be better to see one of the series' most important characters build back up, instead of remaining broken and pretending otherwise.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Voice Casting Your Favorite Comics

One of the reasons the comic book is my favorite artistic medium is how much more they offer the audience a chance to fill in the sequential blanks. It's common knowledge in comic theory that the action occurs in the gutters between the panels, just like music theory posits the importance of the space between the notes. Depending on how engaged you are in the reading, you can imagine massive theatrical productions between the lines, impressive animated motions with powerful voices. The voices and movements not provided for you like in TV or film; yet at the same time, you are given more to " work with " than with prose.

This is not to posit comics as the superior medium, but to emphasize the importance of voice in comics, and why it's such a useful tool for creators and audiences alike. When I read a favorite comic series, be it a gag strip like Penny Arcade, an enduring superhero comic like Iron Man, or a darkly comic satire like Preacher, I like to have clear ideas of what each character sounds like as I read. I draw upon my memory of various actor voices from animation and live-action, and try to find an appropriate voice. I also do this for my own work on Ruby's World; for example, every time I write Ruby's dialogue, I imagine her sounding like Alyson Hannigan playing Willow in the early seasons of Buffy.* The characters are different, but there's a similar vein there; Hannigan specialized in playing intelligent but socially awkward and unusual girls with strong senses of obedience to the rules. Prior to her transformation, Ruby was a pathological overachiever much like Willow, and that carries over even in her outlaw life in current strips, Hannigan's nervous, scattered energy adapted to my own work.

Of course, this isn't just a tool I use for my own stuff; it also enhances my fandoms. In the case of superhero franchise comics that have spawned countless extra-media adaptations, this task is easier; who in their right mind would NOT hearRon Perlman when they think of Hellboy's voice? Even with characters who have had multiple voices, there are still clear favorites; to me, tbere is no Wolverine but Steve Blum, and all others pale before the gravely adonis he represents. But then, there are plenty of characters who haven't appeared in other media, so how are they interpreted? What do we go on for those existing only in comics?

As much as it sometimes seems, comics do not exist in a vaccuum; they are stories connected to the rest of pop culture. For example, a character like the comic villain Herr Starr from Preacher draws upon several tropes; he's a bombastic dictator, a stereotypically evil German, a sexual deviant of increasing perversions, and a fool who's often humiliated by his own designs. So the connection I make; Kelsey Grammer, doing the voice of the Simpsons' erudite psychopath Sideshow Bob. The connection enhances the reading; Starr's lines sound much more horrific/pathetic when expressed through Grammer's voice, even if Sideshow Bob never endured nearly the same level of torment that Starr received ( getting hit in the face by a rake repeatedly still doesn't compare to being anally raped by an accidentally male prostitute in your first appearance ).

I rarely hear mention of this theory, since it requires so much internal influence; Wolverine may be Blum to me, but he could be
Cal Dodd, Scott McNeill, Hugh Jackman, or That Guy Who Made Him Sound Australian to any other reader. But they all contribute to the larger understanding of who Wolverine is, and how he goes from being lines on a paper in the form of a hairy little thug in a canary yellow clown suit to a meaningful icon. Every aspect contributes to the larger experience, even if it's just subjective interpretation of how the characters might sound.

Except for Australian Wolverine. That's just wrong.

( * Caveat; I write Ruby sounding like early Willow. Before all the Wicca crap; before the character went from a responsible, scientific mind to a magic junkie who blasts everything away when she's not pretending to be exclusively lesbian.