Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ruby Nation: New Webcomic, Same Great Continuity!

After several moons' absence, the story that began in Ruby's World finally returns. Ruby Nation picks up three months after the end of World, with Ruby and her team actively working to build their super-soldier refugee state while having to maintain their morals in light of the circumstances (and what they'll be forced to do)

If you didn't read Ruby's World, you can do so any time you like, but you don't have to. The purpose of this "reboot" was as a jumping-on point for new readers. The prologue hits the ground running, but all the details should become apparent in the coming weeks for those just coming to the party. As a longtime reader of superhero comics, I'm aware both of the richness that an established history can bring, and the downsides that come with its misuse. When the history becomes too prominent, it keeps new readers from being able to understand what they're seeing. And even if the continuity is explained, it's like being told about a great story secondhand, rather than actually seeing the story. I'd rather not subject people to my personal nostalgia (except for the Halloween cosplay sketches).

There is a middle ground between having a past and being enslaved by it, however. Many of the greatest series I've read/seen/played have clearly defined backstories. The X-Men didn't become popular until the International team debuted in the 70's, keeping parts of the original iteration but forging a new path. Buffy, the greatest fantasy show ever, was based on the backstory of an utterly terrible movie attempt. And Metal Gear Solid's postmodern mastery has its roots in the plain old Metal Gear games for the MSX, before the series had extensive cutscenes, horribly tragic fates, and homoerotic subtext bordering on actual text. Wether intentional or not, it seems like all these series had a rough start that nevertheless allowed them to grow and change into something great. Stories, as well as their storytellers, have to learn by doing.

TLDR; Ruby Nation will be to Ruby's World what Metal Gear Solid is to MSX Metal Gear.

Anyway, I'll be delivering more of these musings as the series progresses, as the simple act of creating a piece of art and putting it out there is an act of ego, so I might as well take it further and show you my process as well.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Batman 80 Page Giant: Batman Fights Autism, Strikes Blow For Sentimentality

The recent Batman: 80 Page Giant makes the unlikely intersection between Batman and autism. In the story written by Joe Caramagna, a nonverbal autistic boy is reading a Batman comic when his mother takes the book away from him. She's bitching about how he can't differentiate between fantasy and reality (apparently unable to get her stereotypes straight, as most of these morons say that autistic people are too literal to be imaginative), while his father talks about how comics are just harmless fun. After getting upset by the bickering, the boy looks out the window, and either has a fantasy that he sees Batman and Solomon Grundy fighting, or actually witnesses Batman and Grundy duking it out. But in the end, this enables the nine-year-old to say his first word, to the delight of both his parents; "Batman".

The story is slightly better than most fictional representations of autism, in that the autistic by is the actual protagonist instead of a plot device to make his parents sympathetic, and the "warrior mother" stereotype is as much a pompous blowhard as a tireless champion for her child's development. The story isn't exactly deep, but given how it's a back-up strip in an anthology magazine, we can't expect too much. On the other hand, this is the only place where we'd see the autism "issue" in a Batman comic, and it's used in a revoltingly sentimental fashion, right down to the "everything's going to be okay" ending. And if the kid can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, he's got problems that are far more debilitating than the autism spectrum-- it's Sucker Punch all over again..

But the problems with the book are severely exacerbated when you take This Article into account, in which Caramagna tells his local newspaper about his creative process. I'm sure that Caramagna is well-intentioned, but those intentions are expressed in a very condescending manner towards autistic people. Because autism is such a horrible fate, the language surrounding it tends to focus on treating (if not outright curing/erasing) the disorder. In fact, Caramanga talks about how he designed the story to potentially "unlock their imagination"

I wanted to tell a story where comics can make a difference in someone’s life and get their creative juices going. I don’t want to make it sound like if you give a kid a comic, he’ll be cured. But I think they can be used as part of a creative therapy or artistic therapy. With autism, no one knows what might be the thing that unlocks their imagination.

I totally agree that a Batman comic can unlock a child's imagination. Because it's BATMAN. He's already a character with near-universal appeal, evidenced by the fact that he maintains a transmedia presence stronger than pretty much any other comic hero, and has his backstory etched in the public imagination. Using him as an autistic kid's fantasy/delusion isn't going to stir those creative juices any better than a straightforward Batman story. In fact, it's probably going to be less effective, because A.) people who buy Batman would likely rather read about Batman than a "special needs" sob story stereotype, and B.) the autistic character might outright offend some of us on the spectrum.

Aside from that one comment, Caramagna doesn't say anything too infuriating. Most of the problem is the way the interview frames the comic, as "fighting autism". Of course, these articles never see autism as part of an autistic person, the neurological identity that shapes them into who they are (albeit with a lot of trials along the way, but the trials of the autistic individual are rarely dealt with as something that causes THEM suffering; it's usually shown as the burden on their families); they treat it as a bogeyman, a Jokeresque villain that steals a normal child's soul.

Coincidentally, there is quite a bit of the Batman mythos that relates to autism. Bruce Wayne isn't on the spectrum because he's too multi-talented in his masteries, but the drive in which he trained at martial arts/criminology/invention/breathing in space definitely resonates with Asperger's-style obsessions. The villains he faces are often tragic figures, prisoners of their own madnesses, and can be sympathetic to those who have difficulty controlling their emotions. Hell, there are two characters that may well be on the autism spectrum (albeit by fantastical circumstances) -- Cassandra Cain, the former Batgirl and current Black Bat, has tremendous martial arts skills but struggled with basic language and literacy. And Bruce's artificially-conceived son Damien Wayne may also fit; he was built to fight, he was never given social skills, he's extremely temperamental, and while he wants to do good he has little to no idea how to do so.

Of course, this all requires critical thought, and stereotypes are so much easier to digest.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How To Write A Fear Itself Tie-In comic

Step 1.) Check the comic you're writing to see if there's an overarching story in progress. If there is, put it on hold until the end of the summer.

Step 2.) Find an existing character (one who isn't necessarily connected to the comic) and give them a magic hammer with a merchandise-friendly redesign attached. Don't worry about wether or not the character will actually be merchandised.

Step 3.) Give that character a new name along the lines of "(Name), Breaker of (Thing)". The first name should be something punchy, even if it doesn't make sense in any known language. The second should be something that sounds ominous.

Step 4.) Now that you have your (Breaker), have them start randomly killing (Random Civilians). Don't worry about giving them a credible motivation, the (Random Runic Dialogue) should make them seem ominous enough to compensate.

Step 5.) Have the comic's existing (Hero/Heroes) drop everything they were doing to try and stop the Breaker of Something.

Step 6.) Show how no matter what powers the cast have, or what strategies they use, the (Hero/Heroes) do anything against (Breaker). At the same time, NEVER have (Breaker) inflict any lasting damage upon anyone who counts, beyond (Random Civilians)

Step 7.) Between the action scenes, intersperse talking heads of (Hero/Heroes) whining and crying about how they can't beat (Breaker). If you wish, you can connect it to some sort of larger sociological point about the economy or the war on terror or whatnot. Don't go too far with this point, lest you get away from the Formula.

Step 8.) Resume your comic's normal storyline after the Fear Itself event is over, hoping your existing readers haven't gotten totally sick of this shit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Follow the Horrors of Spider-Island

E. Wilson is a regular follower and friend of this blog who always has good insights about comics. I'm going to repay the favor by directing you to The Horrors of Spider-Island, his admirable quest to read and review every issue of the current Spider-Man crossover. Excellent reading, and an impressive commitment.

I'll be following the main comic as well, even though I'd stopped reading ASM once I realized that Dan Slott's interpretation of a twentysomething person doesn't go much further than rollerball and drunken tattoos and the hippin' and the hoppin' us darned kids do so much. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed Slott comics in the past, Humberto Ramos' art is perfect for such an over-the-top story, and if Carlie Cooper ends up getting herself killed after her apparent regression to the intellect of a 14-year-old fangirl with anime cat ears, I will be very relieved.

(And yes, this is probably the first time I've WISHED for a superhero's girlfriend to be stuffed in the fridge, but the major sin was in making the character so shallow and obnoxious that she actually interferes with her boyfriend's saving lives.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dan DiDio Talks Accessibility and Diversity at SDCC 2011

In Response To A Very Valid Point

This is a really feeble attempt to justify the return to Barbara Gordon Batgirl. As for the attempts to diversify... I will quote a great Master Jedi and let him respond...


Oh, and the comment about "accessibility" just ground salt into the wound.

Cripz the Webcomic: A Bullet in the Spine of Bigotry

Cripz, a webcomic written by Jeff Preston and illustrated by Clara Madrenas, is to disability rights what the Boondocks was to issues of race-- a wonderful comic strip that not only takes a stand against the negative stereotypes, but takes them into the basement, chains them to a plastic chair, and works them over with power tools. It's not subtle about the way it addresses ableist inequities, and probably not for the easily offended. But some points need to be made with sledgehammer force, and Cripz obliges with the might of Mjolnir's uru head.

The comic follows two high school boys in wheelchairs; Rhett, a sensitive hyper-intellectual whose idealistic discourses tend to fly straight over peoples' heads, and Griff, a hyper-masculine rap enthusiast who milks his disabled status for all it's worth. They're eventually joined by a third character, an able-bodied girl named Katie who likes Rhett (though probably not to the same extent that he likes her) but finds Griff an obnoxious tool and doesn't take his handicap as an excuse. Griff is easily the funniest of the three, and flies in the face of the "inspirationally disadvantaged" stereotype. His innocuous look belies a wildly manipulative and borderline sociopathic mind, and were he not pitied for his disability, he would likely end up in juvenile hall. At times he seems like a male, paralyzed Sarah Silverman.

The art style seems very crude, as it has the characters as sketches on lined notebook paper pasted onto colored backgrounds. However, it works for the strip. It helps establish the otherness of the protagonists, and draws immediate attention to them. This is a talking-heads social commentary strip, so the cinematographic perspective derring-do of adventure strips isn't necessary. It works especially well in the "At the Movies" strips, where Rhett and Griff imagine themselves in movies that typically eschew the handicapped. (The Captain America spoof is especially funny, as Griff imagines that the super-soldier serum leaves Steve Rogers permanently crippled by accident, but allows him to stay out of the draft, so he can fuck all the women at home while the other men go overseas to die in battle. Yes, really.)

If I had a complaint about the strip, it would be the somewhat narrow way disability is perceived. Preston and Madrenas address the issues faced by the wheelchair-bound first and foremost, and they do touch on blindness and deafness. However, mental disabilities are not addressed, despite presenting very similar challenges. This is especially bothersome when the school janitor appears, who embodies most of the delusional deranged veteran cliches. It could easily be extrapolated that he qualifies as disabled via PTSD, yet he remains a subject for the main characters to mock. This is disappointing when you consider that Rhett and Griff are just as limited as him, even if it's their bodies and not their minds that give them the societal stigma.

But I hope that the creators will address this, because if they do, this will be one of the greatest humor comic strips ever made. Early on it captured my heart with its parody of Glee, specifically the horrid stereotype Artie's dreams of walking. Rhett's fantasy is not the ability to walk, but the possession of a pimped-out multi-story wheelchair stacked with hot chicks. Given my somewhat partisan opinion about Glee (i.e. that it's a horrible show that sits at the peak of self-aggrandizing Hollywood leftism, preaching equality but never actually taking any risks with its Benneton ad stereotypes), I immediately bookmarked the comic.

You can read all of Cripz Here.