Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Iron Man Represents Civilization's Worst

(Reposted from the Iron Man Message Board, in response to the usual bitching about Matt Fraction's run)

Science isn't bad, but weapons are. And the problems with Tony's character are thus;

A.) He started out making weapons. He wasn't a civilian scientist who helped the war effort against a common enemy, he was an arms manufacturer from the start.

B.) He made billions off of the weapons he designed, and was very conspicuous about the way he used that money. Wearing suits that cost more money than an Afghani family makes in a year, paid for off of land mines that maim and kill those families, isn't in good taste.

C.) Tony's wars have never been the wars for which America is proud. In the past, in-comics jingoism aside, he was associated with Vietnam. In recent years, he's been associated with Afghanistan and the War on Terror. Regardless of your personal position on either of those wars, neither has been a particularly good mark on America's reputation.

D.) Up until that one fateful trip, Tony was never a soldier. He didn't see combat himself, and left his devices in the hands of the actual fighting men and women risking their lives. Even as Iron Man, he goes into combat insulated in a metal prosthesis that does all the fighting for him. At least in the past he entered combat with a heart injury and was truly putting himself at risk each time, but once his ticker was fixed, he was hardly facing opponents stronger than himself most of the time.

E.) Tony didn't even make his money himself. He made Stark Industries more successful than during his father's tenure, but he already had millions upon millions with which to start. The hardships he knew were from his father's disdain, but to most people, that just comes across as "poor little rich boy" syndrome.

F.) Even once he became Iron Man and stopped making weapons for others, he still made himself a symbol of imperialism. A billionaire playboy, putting on an ostentatious gold-and-red war suit, entering combat with a weapon that may avoid accidentally launching missiles at wedding parties, but has no problem shooting brown people with guns. That line is paraphrased from a particularly insightful (if harsh) assessment of the movies...

Basically, the problem isn't that Tony's a nerd and not a jock, or even that he's about science and not procreation. Even if he wasn't deliberately evil before he became Iron Man, even afterwards he represents a global system of profound inequality and constant struggle. The ending to issue 500 was the worst-case scenario of Tony's fears-- that he'd never do enough good to make up for his sins. The ending, however, had his daughter live in a society starting from zero, so at least Tony's sacrifice earned humanity a second chance, with a new generation that can at least make their own mistakes instead of having to struggle with their parents and grandparents' sins.

With Iron Man, you can either try to ignore these concerns and play the character as a straight superhero genre story, or you can deal with them. If you choose the latter, as Matt Fraction has done, you're dealing with an extremely tragic narrative.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Open Letter To Mark Millar Re: Superior

Dear Mark Millar,

In the unlikely event that you have been reading this blog, you probably know my increasing dissatisfaction with your output in the past few years. This comes from a place where I once loved your work, back on the Authority and the Ultimate titles. There were innovative titles that were very entertaining and felt like genuinely modern takes on the superhero genre. Even in more recent years you've delivered some very good comics like Wolverine: Enemy of the State and the Marvel Knights Spider-Man. The frustration I feel with more recent works (particularly your ICON output and your Ultimate Avengers revamp) comes from the feeling that you are working well below your potential. Some part of me still held out hope that you'd do thoughtful works again, but after I read Superior #4, I realized that wouldn't be the case.

My experience with Superior was at first conflicted; on the one hand, I thought that the not-Superman Superman analogue was the worst cliche of creator-owned superhero writers, filing serial numbers off and calling it 'meta' rather than creating unique characters. One the other hand, I was impressed with how Simon's Multiple Sclerosis was handled. You made the character's suffering realistic and sympathetic, and you treated him as a major character rather than a pet to showcase others' greatness. And even while I'd lost interest in your other books, I still wanted to see this story progress, and see how Simon would live his life with super-powers.

But that's not what this story is about, is it? The backstory of Simon is scarcely mentioned in issues 3 and 4, and instead the story starts focusing on the Superman analogue. All the old tropes are trotted out, with Simon doing all the heroic Superman things with his Superior powers, and the world acting like he's a savior. The narrator even goes out to talk about Superman-- I mean Superior's origins, and how he inspired kids people during the 30's. This is a unique insight that everyone who's even heard of The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay already knows.

Admittedly, it's optimistic, which is a far cry from your previous Icon stories (which are about, respectively, a wannabe teen hero who pretends to be gay to get chicks, and an evil Batman analogue who impregnates his enemy's daughter with the sperm of his son and booby-traps her womb. But just because it's unique for you, doesn't mean it's unique for others. I've already seen stories that try to reintroduce wonder and hope to superhero comics. I've read Marvels, the "Heroes Return" Marvel books, Grant Morrison's JLA and All-Star Superman, Mark Waid's Fantastic Four, and other comics that believed that being traditional was revolutionary. Most of them weren't so self-conscious about it, though-- they also had inherently interesting stories to go with the nostalgia.

This would merely make it forgettable had I not read your afterword for the first issue, where you talk about the importance of creating new heroic characters for each generation, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did in the 60's. But a technicality doesn't make something new. Superior is Prime from Malibu's Ultraverse, who was Captain Marvel from Fawcett. If it was a story about a kid dying of multiple sclerosis, as in the actually GOOD opening parts of the comic, I would have loved it. But you couldn't divorce yourself from the superhero genre, and had to make MS the Culturally Noteworthy Tragic Backstory to inspire Simon when he becomes Superior. Which, in its own way, is again reducing the disabled character to a prop off which others look better.

The cliffhanger with the seemingly compassionate but actually evil Space Monkey giving Simon's bully powers did nothing to convince me that this story will be going anywhere. I'm just not going to bother, because if you've stopped caring about trying anything different, why should I care about what you do?

Hoping you'll write something interesting again,
-Neil Kapit

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sonichu Sub-Episode 7 Critical Review: Remember When This Comic Was About Sonichu?

We're Still Fighting Mall Security?

There's not much more that can be said about the plot here, as it's still Chris-Chan fighting super-powered mall security. He finally meets their leader, Jerkhief Daitenzen Bagget*. The character is based on real-life Albemarle County police officer Marcus Baggett, who actually sounds like an upstanding gentleman. His noble deeds include risking his life to get two people out of a burning building, shooting down a man who stole a police car and shot at the cops, and, of course, telling a creepy man-child not to solicit for sex in the Target food court. The latter, obviously, contradicts Chandler's perspective.

From most people's perspectives, Bagget is a brave and decent member of local law enforcement. If there is any evidence to the contrary, it is not the fact that he had the gall to get remove Chandler and his Attraction Sign from a public location. Of course, in the world of CWCVille, it's not enough that Bagget and Chandler disagree. Bagget has to be a super-villain who rides a Cybertronian war machine.** Which actually works in canon-Bagget's favor, because he's standing up to the clown-striped Caligula. The "Private Villa of Corrupted Citizens" is the underground resistance in Sonichu fanworks for a reason, after all.

This comic also has one of the most significant panels in the history; the Drinking Straw of Fail. Christian Weston Chandler's trademark failure at proportion strikes hardest here, as the straw in his avatar's mouth looks especially long, wide, and thick. Chandler is also well-documented as a homophobe. Connect the dots as you see fit...

On the plus side, Jared's comments in the previous Sonichu review were inspiring and well-written. The man he spoke of is the Peter Parker to Chandler's Doctor Octopus.

* Apparently a reference to/plagiarism of Excel Saga, an anime the Chandler loves. I should probably start watching it, because I hear it's actually good, just that the parody elements go right over Chandler's head.
** "Crackder", inspired by the Transformers: Cybertron/Galaxy Force version of Thundercracker. That was a really shitty design, with one of the robot's hands being a huge slab of the jet's back. Certainly Chandler's spent enough of his parents/the state of Virginia's money on Transformers that he could at least plagiarize a toy that didn't look like ass?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sonichu Sub-Episode 6 Critical Review: A Documentary On Human Despair

If you tried to forget the horror, I won't let you

Christian Weston Chandler has disappeared from the internet in recent weeks-- at least, he's disappeared from the parts of the internet that he doesn't like. He's still spending the majority of his life on the PlayStation Network, playing games bought with taxpayer money and racking up trophies for his "achievements". I'd lost my enthusiasm for writing these reviews at first, because the momentum of his saga was lost. However, though Chandler may have left being an amusing failure on the internet behind so he can return to being a tragic failure in real life, his body of work remains.

We must never forget.

Sonichu Sub-Episode 6 is a bizarre attempt at world-building, as Chris-Chan gives us a documentary on the 'evil' Jerkops. In this so-called Backyard Safari, Chris-Chan is the authoritative voice narrating the truth about his mall security nemeses. Presumably, this is a propaganda film distributed through CWCVille to mold public opinion. Since CWCville already has a Mayor-For-Life who maintains order through his private military of electric hedgehogs, the idea that it's a totalitarian state is hardly a stretch.

There is disturbing similarity between this documentary and the racist propaganda used by various governments, as Chris-Chan takes great pains to convince us that the Jerkops are sub-human. According to Chris-Chan, the Jerkops only think evil and naughty thoughts, are covered with disgusting veins and hair under their clothes, and instinctually loathe virgins. The Jerkhief is most distrubing of all, weighing 1'500 pounds of bone and blubber. What makes this especially disturbing is Chris-Chan's assertion that Jerkops are recruited via brain-washing the mentally handicapped, so he's effectively slaughtering helpless human beings without a care in the world. Of course, Chandler has already dehumanized his enemies, as bigots tend to do. It's easier if you assume your target doesn't feel pain.

This chapter demonstrates both why Christian Weston Chandler the phenomenon is so fascinating, and why Christian Weston Chandler the individual isn't deserving of sympathy. Chandler pursues his targets with disgusting vitriol, but his hang-ups are so bizarre and petty that he's as hilarious as he is disturbing. I mean, his fictional city uses propaganda to fan the flames of hatred against mall security officers who try to stop him from hitting on any boyfriend-free girl that moves. Who else would think up such a thing without a note of irony? For that matter, who could come up with such a concept even with irony?