Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Monday, May 23, 2011

Toys R Us Devalues The Meaning Of Heroism

If you've been to Toys R Us in the past couple of years, as a parent getting something for your kids or as an adult collector getting toys for yourself, you've probably seen the Autism Speaks promotions they're doing. This pro-cure organization, the organization that takes money largely for abstract research and pharmaceutical studies** over helping actual people, asks TRU customers to donate to help "solve the puzzle". Thus, the experience of the autistic people themselves is marginalized, as we are just a puzzle to be solved, a weird disorder to be put before AS' metaphorical Dr. House so it may be cured and the normal person within us can be freed.

It always bugs the crap out of me when I'm asked to donate at the register, and since they've started doing their "be a hero for autism" advertising, it's especially aggravating. Because, as a fan of the superhero comics that have led me into the store even beyond the point when it was "age-appropriate", I tend to think that the hero label should be applied to those who undertake difficult tasks for a noble cause. Raising an autistic child, especially a severely handicapped one, is a difficult task, but it's how the parent copes with the task and treats their child that determines their heroism, not the simple fact that they have the burden. (Lord knows I've seen plenty of parents of autistic people who are assholes, as well as great parents like my own). And putting down a dollar when going to a toy store means absolutely nothing. You're not sacrificing anything by giving your pocket change to a faceless "nonprofit" so they can do the work for you while you hold onto a glimmer of self-aggrandization.

And the worst part is the fact that the cashiers who ask me these questions aren't to blame, because they're just doing their job. Otherwise I'd prepare for the inevitable "do you want to be a hero for autism" question by putting on my best Solid Snake voice, and growling, "I'm no hero. I'm just an old aspie brought out of retirement for some new transformers."

* Me being in the latter category, obviously.
** Yeah, I'm getting vibes from the third X-Men movie here. I SAY WE ARE THE CURE!!!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

You Will Believe A Nine-Foot Cyberneticized Irish-Jewish Girl Can Fly

By directing her generated energy downward, Ruby can propel herself into the air, sort of like a techno-organic counterpart to Iron Man's boot jets. She hasn't done this in canon until now, but I've been waiting to show this moment for a long time, and have even teased it in some of the images in my gallery. it.

I started out simply intending for Ruby to be big and strong, but that wouldn't have been enough power to make her the game-changer on the world stage. Hence the perpetual motion abilities lend themselves to a very diverse power set. That, and I think the pink energy is a cool visual.

In conclusion, I'm not just pulling new powers for the protagonist out of my ass.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Heroic Age And Its Discontents

One year ago, Marvel's big thing was the Heroic Age, returning to a place of heroes being heroes and villains being villains after years of Civil Wars and Dark Reigns. Today, this is giving way for Fear Itself, which so far has the Marvel Universe public returning to their usual state of apocalyptic panic and incompetent xenophobia. The age of the bright, cheery shared universe status quo is ending, in favor of Mighty Marvel chaos and trepidation.

And I, for one, am relieved by this development.

The Heroic Age reminded me of Civil War in the sense that the only good titles published under that banner were rebelling AGAINST the basic premise, wether intentional or not. When Civil War was going on, the framework set up by Mark Millar was so shoddy that every other writer ended up contradicting the original intention, as seen in stories where Iron Man is portrayed as an outright villain (which, to be fair, is the only thing you can do with the creator of Clor) instead of one of two morally relative sides, or stories where the heroes' attempts to capture actual wrong-doers are hobbled by bureaucracy and petty in-fighting. The Heroic Age doesn't suffer from the same problem in the sense that it's not a poorly built world-- the premise is pretty straightforward. The problem with the Heroic Age is that the setup is anti-dramatic.

Marvel's marketing of the Heroic Age was the kind of "everything's going to be alright" optimism seen during Obama's inauguration, and lost after reality set in. Because the Marvel Universe is fictional, the authors could convincingly sweep the recent past under the rug and move forward, as seen by Cyclops dodging any and all penalties for his sins in X-Force. But by the same token, peace and prosperity is NOT ideal for a fictional universe. Conflict is what motivates good drama, but the Heroic Age moved the Marvel Universe into a peacetime state, with the conflicts largely regressed back to isolated supervillain fisticuffs.

If this meant a return to books that were relatively self-contained with shared universe compatibility becoming optional, I would be all for the Heroic Age. But Marvel launched it as the new status quo for all the books. The new Director of SHIELD, a job whose occupant is required to appear in every Marvel book, is Steve Rogers. Since his reputation makes Abraham Lincoln look like a child pornographer, he'll never be caught doing the kinds of morally dubious things Nick Fury and Tony Stark had to do (and which gave Norman Osborn a hard-on). His Avengers are basically every hero under the sun, pro-registration and anti-registration alike (though that issue's been removed). And his enmity with Tony Stark was resolved in Avengers Prime, which amounted to an Asgardian adventure making Tony beg for forgiveness (despite having a good case for pro-registration, random acts of evil like Clor aside), and Steve forgiving him.

The X-Men's DeciMation dilemma was resolved, but in a half-assed way that swept the issue of the limited mutant population under the rug and exonerated Cyclops for unforgivable sins-- note how Steve Rogers doesn't seem to know about X-Force, the Legacy Virus strain in Secret Invasion, or other war crimes. Their first Heroic Age story basically ignored the hard questions and had them fight vampires, offering little more than inconsequential fight scenes and Twilight-bandwagoning*. Daredevil's descent into fanaticism would have been justified by what he'd been through and what the heroes had conveniently forgotten, but it turned out that it was just a demon using him as a meat-puppet. And the Secret Avengers' first mission (not sure about their later ones) hardly fit the tone that black ops requires, instead having them fight villains on Mars. As Ellis put it (IIRC), it's secret because nobody cares.

The books that have been genuinely compelling in the Heroic Age have been the ones questioning this optimism. Avengers Academy is the best example, because it deals with the kids traumatized by Norman Osborn's experiments, and has them counseled by the Avengers with the most baggage of their own. Captain America has made a big deal about how Bucky can't escape his past, especially when standing next to a living Steve Rogers. And the new X-Force, with Wolverine leading a team of hardened anti-heroes instead of child soldiers, openly acknowledges that some situations will require resolutions that can't be seen in the Heroic Age. Of course, these are all stories going against the nature of the Heroic Age's naive optimism. They're saying, don't let the bright marketing fool you-- the life of a hero still casts shadows.

What's been the most interesting example of the Heroic Age's tension is Stark Resilient, the first post-lobotomy story by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca. Thanks to erasing his brain (and the Registration Database with it), Tony doesn't remember any of his Civil War-era sins. But he's pieced together what he's done, and has almost completely stepped out of the military-industrial complex that informs modern superhero stories. Not only has he retired from his role as all-seeing police chief a la Major Zero**, but he's given up trying to engage in conflict unless provoked. His goal is to win wars preemptively by eliminating reasons for conflict, be it with the repulsor batteries threatening to replace oil, or by creating new jobs in the rebuilding of Asgard. Unfortunately, his engagement with the bad guys has gone beyond self-defense and towards an obstructive pacifism, as he simply tries to avoid conflict rather than resolving it (as seen by his show of faux-groveling in the Doc Ock story). He'll have to once more learn that sometimes force is a necessary solution, and that some enemies can't be coaxed with the promise of an improved quality of life.

Still, it's preferable to slugging vampires.

*Thank God Jubilee lost her original mutant powers, otherwise she'd be a Sparkling Vampire.

** If you've played Metal Gear Solid 4, you know just how well this comparison fits.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sonichu Episode 15 Critical Review Part Two: Compulsory Monogamy

Let's Do The Time Warp Again

As if the Family Guy "Skitch" wasn't terrible enough, here we have Christian Weston Chandler's adventure through the "glory days" of high school, joined by his "sweet friend" Megan and his plagiarism prototype Bionic the Hedgehog. And if there's one thing that comes of this voyage through time and space, it's Chris-Chan's ability to play matchmaker for his forgotten electric hedgehog, while lamenting his own isolation.

At the opening of the chapter, Bionic has been on a date with Megan's furry companion, Megagi La Skunk. Megagi, a creation of the real Megan Schroeder, is distinct from any of Chandler's hedgehogs; not only is she a different species, but she has a punk-influenced look that sets her apart from Chandler's hyper-feminized Rosechus. Of course, the pink stripes and spiked bracelets don't keep her from being dragged into Chandler's interpretation of adult relationships, where things progress in a linear fashion that invariably results in sex on the third date. Megagi ends up just as obsequious as the other Rosechus, with any potential for individually stripped away so none of Chandler's hedgehogs "feel"* alone.

But this mechanically depraved form of cartoon animal sex is what Chris-Chan desires, and he whines over the fact that he can't get with Megan. She sees him about to cry and offers some moral support, which immediately perks up his mood. Megan is impressed by Chris-Chan's 180 degree mood shift, even thinking to herself that he has a "Goku-get-'em" attitude. Yes, she actually says that under Chandler's pen.

You know how many great writers recommend that aspiring authors listen to real people's conversations? Christian Weston Chandler's dialogue proves the merits to this statement. Because of Chandler's infamous contempt for anything outside his own experience, he gives everyone the same awkwardly melodramatic and childish lines. They make references that come out of nowhere and often don't fit the character-- even if Megan is an anime fan, it's highly unlikely she'd make a DBZ reference in her inner monologue about her feelings (however made up) for a man. Humor is infused so randomly that it doesn't even reflect what people might actually find funny. And nothing is ever dishonest or understated, because every character wears their heart (at whatever level of shattering) on their sleeve.

If we were to consider Sonichu as an intentionally terrible work, though, this would fit into the world's magical realism. This is a voyage into the mind of a depraved man-child, raised almost exclusively by television and video games. Everyone, even the designated antagonists, speaks in his over-the-top, reference-saturated vernacular. And if Sonichu is intentionally terrible, then it's a masterpiece on the level of anything to come from Alan Moore's wooly head.

Oh, and there's some plot about time travel and making sure that history stays on track, but clearly Chandler didn't care enough about it to have the plot make sense. So why should we?

* And it's documented that Chandler actually believes that these characters are real people, albeit in an alternate dimension a la Roger Rabbit. His concern for their welfare overrides any interest in making them interesting to the audience.