Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Monday, December 31, 2012

Solestar: Support The Greatest Comic Of 2013!

If there's one comic I'm most excited for in the coming year, it's Solestar. It's currently in the Kickstarter phase, but it deserves your attention and your support.

Writer/creator Siike Donnelly is a friend of mine, who I met first on Facebook and later in person at Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles. Siike is a survivor of a brain aneurysm, a cerebral eruption that left him severely debilitated. Despite this, he's managed to relearn basic functions that most of us take for granted, such as walking and talking. He's also kept very active in the comics community, having written a few novels, doing a regular Nerd Nation podcast with Gene Hoyle , adopting an adorable stray dog named Echo, and even doing some real-life superheroing.

Usually discussions of people "overcoming" disability are incredibly patronizing, treating the disabled subject as an object of pity, and using the narrative to shame able-bodied/minded people in a way that has the opposite effect (i.e. "this person can't walk but has done so much with their life, therefore you should be able to do even better than this cripple"). They also tend to gloss over the actual challenges of disability by treating them like a super-villain that can be conquered. I'm trying to avoid that here, because I know that Siike struggles on a daily basis, and lives with a lot of pain. His many achievements do not lessen what I know he has to endure, but they do show a man who's become much stronger than most for his hardships. I believe the two defining characteristics of any person are their compassion and their willpower, both of which transcend any physical or cognitive difficulties. Siike has plenty of both.

And Solestar is the culmination of Siike's achievements, a story about a superhero's final days. It's a charity project for the Brain Aneurysm foundation, with all proceeds helping that organization and by extension the people who have suffered that insidious condition. It started as a pitch for a Superman story, but was later reworked into an original character's saga, and came out even stronger for it. And it's got artwork by over 60 people, including yours truly. (Siike gave me a script for a page that was written to my talents, so expect to see a lot of kitties doing kitty things). The artist roster has a wide array of men and women, all of them with unique abilities but each bringing their own voice to the project. There are even some big names in the mix, such as Bill Morrison of Bongo Comics, Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, and Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman.

I've read part of the script for this and really want Solestar to be published. Solestar is co-titled "the Naive Project", due to the inherent naiveté of trying to change the world with art and comics. But it's only naive if we let it be naive. Please consider adding some funds to the Kickstarter to bring Siike's story to the entire world.

Here's the link once again.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

You're Not Adam Lanza's Mother, You're Just Awful

The entire nation is having difficulties fathoming the events at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a man murdered 27 people (several of whom were little children) with semi-automatic and automatic weapons.  Many are simply speechless, unable to fathom such an insidious act against innocents. Many are very vocal, saying "never again" to a culture who worships guns and makes them so accessible despite all the casualties they facilitate. And, inevitably, some people are using this opportunity to draw attention to themselves. In the case of the so-called "Anarchist Soccer Mom", it's at the expense of her child.

Like too many blogs of mothers who have special needs children, ASM goes on about how hard her life is and how horrible her mentally disabled child is, taking her entire experience and distilling it into a sob story. A critical reader might see two sides to this story, because even if ASM's child is prone to violent outbursts, he's also the victim of a mother who tries to control every aspect of his life down to the color of pants he wears. (She doesn't believe her son belongs in jail, but constant meetings with social workers, an admitted slew of heavy duty medications, and an accelerated school with a heavily restrictive focus are all okay?). However, her position is sympathetic under the circumstances-- or would be, were it not for this line...

"I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness."

This woman, on a public forum where her real name isn't entirely concealed, compared her child to various mass-murderers who launched pre-meditated plans to murder scores of innocents. Never mind the fact that she admits her son is very personable when he's not in a meltdown state. Or that his worst actions are entirely irrational-- violent kicking and screaming, without the intellectual clarity one would need to successfully aim a firearm. No, her child's pathological defiance makes him the same as the kind of truly evil person who would go through with such a plan.

Her idea of talking about mental illness means stigmatizing everyone who looks like they could be dangerous (whether they are or not), putting them under constant surveillance, and prohibiting them from stepping out of line even slightly-- even if stepping out of line raises a reasonable objection. ASM says she wants God to help us all, especially her son. It seems more likely she wants God to strip her child of his free will, so he cannot object to her-- violently or otherwise. 

It may be easy to talk about guns (getting the small men in power to let go of their large assault weapons being another story), but guns are inanimate objects that can be subject to stringent regulation. Human beings can't be controlled so easily, nor should they. And if you compare your child to a violent killer, you're giving him reasons to actually become a violent killer-- if even his own family won't treat him like a human being.

Fuck you, Anarchist Soccer Mom.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Matt Fraction Iron Man Retrospective: That's It? Hell Yeah It Is

Genre fiction tends not to be the place for subtle, complex emotions. With names like comedy, suspense, drama, and horror, genres in their purest form tend to cater to simpler desires, evoking simple yet visceral emotions if done well. This isn't a bad thing, as that's hard to do in practice and should be lauded when done successfully. However, the best works are the ones that augur more complex feelings, put you in emotional places that are all too real but rarely discussed in our fictional fantasies. This is the difference between, say, anger at a designated foe, and pervasive frustration over a lack of personal progress. A dramatic collapse into addiction followed by a heroic triumph of willpower, versus a realization that those compulsions have just been sublimated into other areas. Or even the difference between a triumphantly happy ending, and an ending where the hero left the world slightly better than he found it-- but only slightly.

Matt Fraction has been doing this with artist Salvador Larroca* on the Invincible Iron Man for four and a half years, taking the character into emotional territories seemingly beyond the scope of the superhero genre. As of October 2012, Fraction finished his tenure on the book with a surprisingly downbeat epilogue. After a penultimate issue of all action, where Iron Man teamed up with pretty much every non-Avenger ally available (and even some enemies) to stop the Mandarin, Tony returned to America after months in his arch-enemy's captivity. What Tony concludes, to his dismay, is that the world hasn't changed much in his absence, still stuck in the past.

Actually, that's not quite true; Tony's friends and colleagues were doing okay without him. Resilient, previously Stark Resilient, became fairly successful without its mega-celebrity founder, using the repuslor technology to make superior consumer goods without a single cent of military funding.Pepper Potts moved on with her life, eventually hooking up with dowdy but reliable Carson Wyche (one of Resilient's star inventors, whose career had previously been ruined by Tony during his decadent and petty pre-Iron Man days) and learning to live without the Rescue armor. The civilian works of Tony Stark continued without him or Iron Man-- his real legacy. But that's not something that Tony can really appreciate, so the only person really stuck in the past is him. Tony's company escaped the Marvel Universe's Nietzche-esque eternal recurrence, and are off doing good if rather dull work by making better, cleaned products that are presumably cheaper. But Tony is stuck in the same cycles of heroes and villains and will never escape them, thanks to the fact that his existence as a Marvel comic character is meant to sell merchandise first.**

The main theme of Fraction's run on Iron Man is the explicit question of wether or not the Iron Man is a good thing. Sure, Tony saves the world as Iron Man, but there are plenty of other superheroes who do that without all of Tony's baggage; who don't sponsor their super-powers with military-industrial blood money, who aren't responsible for thousands of civilian deaths at the hands of Stark weapons, and who aren't so wealthy that they can retreat into their addictions while shirking their responsibilities. Some might even say that Tony's decision to atone for his arms dealing sins as Iron Man served him far more than anyone else, giving him the visceral thrill of being a superhero and catering to his death drive impulses, instead of really cleaning up the Stark-branded messes left on battlefields across the world.

This theme was much easier for Fraction to express at the start of his run, when Tony was the Orwellian ruler of the world as Director of SHIELD. When Tony relapsed into the military-industrial complex full force after the events of Civil War, it was much easier to critique the problems in his imperialistic approach. The first twenty-four issues of the Fraction/Larroca Iron Man fired upon all cylinders, especially during Tony's atonement in World's Most Wanted (which kick-started the Handi-Capable blogging, as some of you may remember). After that it was more uneven, since the Heroic Age led to Tony Stark trying for a more pacifistic approach, which really wasn't condusive to serial superhero comics. (The Stark Resilient arc was particularly egregious, with its first half being entirely set-up for Tony's new company.)

Of course, that may have been the point, because a lot of life-- particularly recovery from addiction-- isn't earth-shattering drama. It's living day-by-day, paying your bills, managing your relationships, and trying to do a little better than you did the previous day. And this doesn't really work for Tony Stark, who risks his life on a daily basis and goes through more women than James Bond. In many ways, Tony still lives an addict's life, even if he's kept himself clean of alcohol; he lives a life of consumption, keeps others at arm's length, is frozen at the emotional maturity of a teenager, and doesn't place any value on his personal safety.*** This isn't really the kind of person you want as a responsible leader for a trusted brand, and when Tony fails, his companies tend to fail with him.

The final chapters, however, did have Tony save the day when nobody else could, by ultimately defeating the Mandarin-- who was quite cleverly played as a twisted mirror of Tony's own conspicuous consumption, a Kim Jong Il-style**** hedonist so obsessed with his self-mythology that he became enslaved by it (what with the rings actually controlling him). Just like in real life, weapons are a necessary evil some times, when you need to defend the just and the innocent. But Iron Man is still a weapon, and tying worship of weapons into the public sphere has grave moral consequences, as Eisenhower (correctly) warned. So this makes the ending, with Tony leaving his company and going off to find new adventures in space, an appropriate if bittersweet conclusion.

One of Tony's final lines to his former employees is "I'll do better next time". So much of fiction deals with character development in very broad strokes, either ignoring it or having characters Learn Lessons and Grow Stronger. Tony isn't a completely different person after all of his experiences in Fraction's stories, nor can one expect him to be. Nor is Resilient poised to dramatically change the world, in the broad "curing cancer and making cars fly" strokes too often shown in science fiction "utopias". They make cleaner cars and cleaner phone batteries. They're helping people live life a little better, and they're offering it to the public in a completely voluntary fashion; you don't choose a Stark phone because of a Dr. Doom-like edict sweeping society, you presumably choose it because it's just a better phone. The world is thus a little better, from this small bit of progress-- which is ultimately the best we can hope for in terms of lasting good. Humans and their societies can't change overnight, nor can they become perfect-- they can just move in the right direction, and that's what Tony's done.

It's a complicated message for a superhero comic, but a very powerful one when fully understood. I'm really going to miss Matt Fraction on Iron Man, and despite some misgivings about certain parts of this story, I have nothing but praise for the sum of those parts.

* Larroca's art deserves special mention, as he became better and better with each issue. His tech is always beautiful and inventive, but his characterizations are also superb; though he's often critiqued for relying too much on photo reference, his art uses such economy of line that those faces get life beyond their original inspiration. I'm going to buy the new Cable and X-Force comic just for his art. And Colossus, of course.
** Which isn't really a bad thing, it just is. This is also why creators who do such brilliant things with the franchise characters deserve special applause.
*** Illustrated beautifully in the .1 issue, where Tony recounts his entire history in the context of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. If you buy a single issue of Fraction's run, buy Invincible Iron Man 500.1
**** Which is why for a moment I was disappointed that Ben Kingsley was cast as the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, because I would've gone with the Kim Jong Il puppet from Team America World Police :P

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Neil Kapit Blog's Next Topics: U-Decide!

As you've probably gleaned, I've been pretty busy lately. Not only have I been doing Ruby Nation comics that are a much bigger risk than usual (see above), I've also started a new real-world job that takes most of my weekdays. Since I haven't had the inspiration for blogs in the past few weeks, I'm contacting you, the readers, for ideas. But I will write if I get enough interest, so what would you like to see me write here;

A.) Blogs specifically about disability in comics

B.) Blogs about non-comics disability media issues

C.) Blogs about superhero comics

D.) Blogs about non-superhero Western comics

E.) Blogs about webcomics

F.) Dedicated, critical graphic novel reviews

G.) Blogs about video games

H.) Blogs about my own comics

I.) Pictures of my cat

Any ideas that I haven't listed here?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ruby Nation Chapter 3 Complete!

Finally, the first major arc of Ruby Nation is complete! The story that started with Chapter One exactly last year finished over the weekend, with two extra strips.

It's good to see things on the move; this story has been in the works since October 2011 if you're starting from Chapter One, August 2011 if you're counting the prologue, and AUGUST FRICKIN' 2008 if you count the original, primitive Ruby's World series. And there's still more planned! Much, much more!

As always, feedback is deeply appreciated.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear Something Awful: Autistics can be People, Not Bronies

Recently the humor site Something Awful did an expose on the "brony" phenomenon (i.e. adult men obsessed with My Little Pony, sometimes to the point of fetishization). The article consisted entirely of insulting the Bronies for being pervy and pathetic, and most of those insults were various permutations of Autism and Asperger's. To quote author Seth Bailey;

"As you may have noticed, I've made a lot of autism/aspergers jokes in this update. The reason for this is twofold: 1) The Autism Spectrum is a bottomless lulzmine of comedy gold that never goes dry no matter how many mother loads are discovered by the internet hate machine and 2) a disproportionate number of bronies identify (either self-diagnosed or for realsies) as autistic/aspergarian. The sperg is practically rampant in this subculture."

Take this "documentary" for example. While it was uploaded to troll bronies, these are real, honest to God members of the culture in the video. I had the misfortune of watching the entire goddamn thing and there is not a single normal person to be had; not one. I'm not sure which came first: the children's show that hit so many spergbuttons that it would inevitably become obsessed over by neckbearded futurepedos or the broken-ass brain that was looking for a children's show to latch on to. Science would suggest a co-evolution.

The basic notion expressed here is that autism has a direct correlation with not just liking My Little Pony, but devoting your life to a sexual arousal of prepubescent cartoon horses. The fact that it's expressed as humor is besides the point. This is hardly the first time Something Awful has used autistic people as a target, based on the actions of a few. And it's developed an influence to the point where simply admitting having autism on the internet carries a risk of being trolled. And reacting to that trolling makes you look over-sensitive, as though wanting to not be judged by your neurological make-up (or "broken-ass brain") makes you a member of the "PC Police".

I stopped writing my reviews of Sonichu because I felt they were doing more harm than good; I intended to make sure I was just making fun of Christian Weston Chandler for being an awful writer/artist and a personally disturbed and unpleasant individual, but I doubt it came across that way to everyone who read it. Chandler (who's also a brony) is a laughable failure of a human being, but he's that way from his own experiences, his own poor upbringing and his own bad choices. The same is true for the bronies being ridiculed there; autism is only one part of an autistic's entire persona, and while it may guide the direction in which they go, it's not an immutable lock upon who they'll be and what they'll do. There are certainly "neuro-typical" bronies engaged in these perversions, and there are certainly plenty of autistic people who have meaningful jobs, relationships, and lives outside of their fandoms. (I personally could care less about My Little Pony either way).

I doubt that a Something Awful writer would explicitly  make a joke about howall Christians were homophobic bigots, that all African-Americans were materialistic gangsters, that all homosexuals were gaudy perverts, or any other sweeping generalization about a large group of people. I don't mind the making fun of the more extreme bronies, though the unpleasant traits they express have more to do with their own personal sexual dysfunctions than simply liking My Little Pony . What I mind is the notion that because of the way I was born, I'm somehow less than human, and cannot escape association with the internet's sub-cultural laughing stocks.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Fall of Hank Pym, The Avengers' Greatest Failure

It's occurred to be before that the controversy around the character of Hank Pym (a.k.a. Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket/Wasp) has a mental illness component that's rarely addressed. The character has polarized Marvel readers since that 1981 issue where he struck his then-wife Janet Van Dyne (a.k.a. the Wasp)*. That issue, and the larger storyline to which it's connected, has been out of print for years, so the actual context of the event has been largely divorced from that one panel of Hank hitting Jan. But since the whole story has finally been reprinted in the Avengers: Trial of Yellowjacket trade paperback release (which I strongly recommend), there's finally the opportunity to examine Hank's deeds with closer scrutiny.

On the one hand, Hank does behave badly, and he's not so far gone that he loses responsibility for his actions. Having just re-joined the Avengers after an unsuccessful return to his scientific work (during which Jan tayed on the team), Hank's an unstable nervous wreck, and he takes his frustrations out on Jan. Jan, trying to be the good wife, tries gently reasoning with him, even though he's snapping at her over every perceived slight. What's important to note is that while the physical abuse of Jan is often brought up, the verbal and psychological abuse is downplayed, but that played just as much of a role in their divorce. At one point, when Jan's trying to decide which of her Wasp costumes she should wear to the Avengers meeting, Hank uses his Yellowjacket suit to blast one out of her hand. He's using a deadly weapon to destroy her property, and thus issuing an implicit threat. Jan doesn't say anything in response, still under the impression that she can help him (and thus continuing to enable his use of her as a scapegoat, as is so often and sadly the case).

Hank's behavior is reprehensible, and it goes beyond a domestic dispute and into nearly manslaughtering the entire Avengers. He creates a robot to attack the Avengers so he can shut it down and appear to have saved the day, but like all robots in these stories (most notably, Hank's accidental creation of Avengers arch-nemesis Ultron), it goes berserk, everyone sees through Hank's ruse, and Jan ends up shutting it down. It would be kind of hard for him to plead insanity when he had enough rational ability to make a giant killer robot, even if it ultimately couldn't be controlled. Looking closely at Hank's behavior, he's aware that he's doing the wrong things, but he ends up doing them anyway because he can't control his impulses and is so desperate to prove his worth. He doesn't try to win back the Avengers or his wife after these events, realizing the immensity what he's done; he doesn't even accept any charity, despite the fact that he was living off of Jan's trust fund and is otherwise penniless.

So yes, Hank is responsible for his sins. But while he could have controlled himself even in the context of his nervous breakdown, the event did not occur in a vacuum. Hank had previously been unstable, due to his own low self-esteem, his unhealthy relationship with Jan (a younger woman who he had nothing in common with, other than her resemblance to his dead first wife), his guilt over the creation of Ultron**, and the adverse psychological side-effects of his powers. And during this whole time, the Avengers were right there, watching but doing virtually nothing. Nobody on the team asked Hank what was bothering him. Nobody suggested therapy for him or Jan, together or separately. Nobody was worrying about his long-term mental stability, even when he fell into delusions where he thought he was another, more aggressive man. His marriage to Jan occurred when he was high on Science Chemical Fumes and called himself Yellowjacket, believing himself the murderer of the original Hank Pym. The great fraternity of superheroes was nothing more than a Greek Chorus bearing passive witness to the downward spiral of one of their founding members, up until his baggage became a physical threat.***

It's worth noting that this story happened right before the similar downward spiral of another Avengers founder; Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. At this point, most of the Avengers didn't know Tony's secret identity, and when he ended up dating Jan shortly after her divorce, she wasn't aware that she was dating one of her (and Hank's) co-workers. Tony fell for her and couldn't bring himself to tell her the truth, at least until Captain America guilt-tripped him into doing so. The result was a messy break-up that fuelled Tony's own depression, until he outright disappeared from the Avengers. This was due to the story in his own book, where the psychological warfare of Obadiah Stane caused him to sink into an alcoholic relapse. Tony's storyline was controlled by the Iron Man creative team, but you could see Tony fraying at the edges bit by bit in the Avengers, withdrawing from interacting with the team (and his ex), with nobody doing much to check in with him.

The Avengers have an absolutely abysmal track record taking care of their own. Hank is only one of the heroes to have a catastrophic nervous breakdown while on the team; the list of fallen heroes on the Avengers roster include the aforementioned Tony, Wanda Maximoff, Pietro Maximoff, Simon Williams, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, Carol Danvers, and more. But as far as he fell, Hank managed to pick himself up. He earned Jan's forgiveness (and even a few reconciliations, however temporary), he earned his place back in the Avengers, and everything he's done since has been an act of atonement. He's not entirely stable, but nobody is immune to stress, especially not as a superhero.

Can't he get fandom's forgiveness?

*(It's worth noting that the writer of the original story, Jim Shooter, wrote the scene as Hank pushing her away with more force than intended, but the artist drew it like just another superhero fight scene; hence, an isolated incident became a scarlet letter.)
**(Who's actually killed millions of people. How come Hank gets more grief for one slap than for creating a genocidal anti-organic monster? )
***(Joe Casey's excellent Earth's Mightiest Heroes mini-series portrayed the wedding in a much darker light, where Jan and everyone else was playing along with Hank's delusion to avoid an even greater meltdown. Not sure if this makes the Avengers look better, or much, much worse.)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Neil Kapit Update for August: I'm Gonna Draw the Crap Out of your Cat

I haven't updated this blog in too long, and honestly it's because I don't know what to do with it. It seems like I can draw some interest when I bitch about comics (particularly when I examine the disability aspects), but it's not exactly what I want to do. I guess I want to avoid the old cliche of the critic who takes out his own unfulfilled ambitions upon more successful writers.

But I'm still at work, particularly on creative projects. And for my Poet Kitties comic, I have a lucrative offer for you all. If you want your cat to appear, just follow the link and send me pictures of your cat, and a quote if you want. No charge necessary!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Goldfish's 10 Things Fiction Writers Need To Remember About Disability: The Spider-Man Movie People Should've Read This

One of the greatest essays I've read in the past few weeks online the Goldfish's 10 Things Fiction Writers Need to Remember About Disability. It's been broken up into Part One and Part Two, and both are well worth considering for any writer.

It's especially relevant to me because I read the first part the same week I saw the new Spider-Man movie, and while I liked that movie a lot, many of these things were ignored in regards to the film's antagonist. Of all the characters they could've picked, they chose Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard. This character, who thought his amputated arm was such a disgrace that he would risk his own life to cure it (and, in doing so, turn himself into a giant reptile monster), represents several things on the Goldfish's list;

3. People with long-term impairments or chronic illness are not fascinated by their own condition or their own symptoms. While Connors doesn't natter on about statistics regarding amputated or malformed limbs, he is obsessed with curing his ailment, right down to his "World Without Weakness" rhetoric. Whatever sympathy he would've gotten for his handicap and his daily accessibility issues is lost when he starts using Eugenic language, and "weakness" is a term with further reaching connotations. Note that Connors is not dying, nor is his life completely ruined due to the lack of his arm. It's understandable that he would be frustrate with his limitation and admirable that he'd go into medical science, but using himself as a test subject shows a deeply internalized self-hating ableism. (And I get that he was feeling awful at the time, looking at being fired or even disappeared by Norman Osborn, but he'd been spouting the World Without Weakness rhetoric since his first scene.)

4. Disabled people are not all young, white, straight, affluent men. Connors is an older gentleman, so he at least beats the ageist part of that majority formula, but he's male, white, (presumably) straight, and lives comfortably. Then again, the Amazing Spider-Man movie only has a few female characters (albeit in important roles; Gwen Stacy is used superbly here as Peter's confidante as well as his girlfriend, and Emma Stone does a great job with the character. Aunt May is also used effectively, albeit with less screen time). It also has only one remotely significant character of color, that being Norman's henchman. And there are no gay, bi, or transgendered/intersexed characters. Not a surprise, and I can't hold it against this movie specifically, but it does illustrate the problem; young, white, straight, affluent, and abled men still control all the most visible narratives. 

Again, I liked Amazing Spider-Man a lot as a movie, and it's definitely in my top 5 of superhero films. But it's still a reminder that big budgets and blockbuster sales are rarely given to stories outside that very limited Hollywood narrative.

5. Disabled people go bad for a reason. There is a reason, but it's not a good one; surely Connors would've known that jamming himself full of reptile DNA wouldn't go well, either killing himself (a true act of weakness, regardless of physical or intellectual challenge) or turning himself into a monster. Since it's the latter, Connors is responsible for everyone the Lizard killed, in the same way that a drunk driver is accountable for the people they run over. Worse yet, even after Connors reverts back after his initial transformation, he's clearly gone evil by this point, addicted to the power of being the Lizard and chewing every inch of scenery.

6. There aren't many reasons for disabled people not to have sex. In the comics, Connors is (or was) married with a kid, so this was averted. Here, he seems to live alone and doesn't show any evidence of a romantic life. He's portrayed as completely sexless, though at least without a family, Connors doesn't betray those responsibilities. (And that might make the comic version worse, because in one of his most recent transformations, Connors ATE his son. Surely he'd rather have had a living son than a regrown arm, had he known what the Lizard serum would do?)

9. Disabled people know other disabled people. Connors is the only disabled character in the movie. Then again, if he'd talked to disabled people about his "World Without Weakness" nonsense, they might've been offended. I wish someone had asked him which is worse; not having an arm, or living in a world that makes you feel like a pariah without two arms? (this was done very well in X-Men First Class, when Mystique told off Xavier for trying to fit in with a bigoted world. By coincidence, that movie also had a major character try to cure his disability with science and fail miserably, with Hank McCoy's faulty mutant cure. That was even more foolish on Hank's part, because he wasn't physically limited beyond being forced to hide his simian feet, which was society's fault and not his own. Though he got off easier, because while the cure made him blue-furred, he did keep his mind, unlike Connors).

10. Disability is not a conflict that has to be resolved. Perhaps this is subverted because Connors is punished for trying to resolve that conflict, being sent to prison and not even keeping his regrown arm once he reverts to his human form. But the audience is supposed to sympathize with Connors for being an apparent "cripple", and for trying to cure his condition. And ideally, that sympathy would vanish once he acted on the feeling that he'd rather be dead or a monster than alive with one less arm than most. 

Again, thanks to The Goldfish for these great discussions!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots Novel Review: A Labor of La Li Lu Le Love

As anyone who's known me in the past two years can attest, I love Metal Gear. It's been the subject of my literal autistic obsession ever since I played the original PS1 game as a digital download. Since then, I've played through every game, beat all of the games in the Solid series multiple times, collected the various merchandise (including those beautiful but expensive Play Arts figures), and worked references into several aspects of my life (including my comics). Metal Gear has all the things I look for in a story; complex and sympathetic characters, a sophisticated (if often arcane and absurd) narrative, an ability to switch between wacky humor and tear-jerking drama, and a complex metatextual understanding of its own nature as a story. The best of the series, IMO, was Metal Gear Solid 4, the canonical ending of hero Solid Snake's story as he pulls his his dying, prematurely aged body together for one big final mission.

When I heard there was a novelization of MGS4, I was initially blasé about it; novelizations are usually mediocre to poor, as cheap cash-ins haphazardly trying to shoehorn a story into a different medium. The more appropriate piece of evidence for this case is Raymond Benson's novelization of the PS1 game, which treated the story as though it were a straightforward, cheesy James Bond epic, even giving Snake several lame one-liners (such as saying "Merry Christmas" to an enemy Genome Soldier, then choking him to death and saying "Christmas came early this year!"), which didn't fit at all with his usual warrior-poet personality. But this novelization has a much greater pedigree; it was written by the late Project Itoh (real name Satoshi Ito), a Japanese novelist and a personal friend of Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima. Itoh was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and fought a long, hard battle that tragically ended with his death in 2009. Kojima even writes the afterward of this novel, praising Itoh's work here and on his original stories (many of which were originally fan fiction of Kojima games like Snatcher), and saying that his "genes" are now infused into the Metal Gear mythology. Given how the series is all about genes and memes passing from generation to generation, this is lofty and touching praise.

But how is the novel itself? First of all, I should say that if you're a Metal Gear fan who's played MGS4, you absolutely have to read this book. The narrator is Hal "Otacon" Emmerich, who recounts the final days of his hetero life-mate's life (as he promised at the end of the game, bearing witness to everything the legendary hero was). This is a unique and more somber account of the events, leaving out the action scenes that wouldn't have contributed to the plot (such as the Beauty and the Beast Corps battles, grotesque parodies of Kojima's own wacky mini-bosses), and adding some background detail that fills in the gaps and revises the sillier elements of the story. For example, there's a section on the villainous Liquid Snake's history, which removes all the "recessive/dominant gene" nonsense of his backstory and instead tells about how he spent many of his formative years as a POW during the Gulf War, being degraded and tortured and left out to dry by his own government, while his twin-brother Solid Snake became the glorious hero of Outer Heaven and Zanzibar Land. There's also some interesting sci-fi explanations of elements that might have confused you, such as all the bar codes on Raiden's cyborg exoskeleton, or the full extent of Snake's illness. It may not have occurred to gamers that flying from Morroco to Peru to Czechlosovakia to Alaska to a floating ocean fortress was very hard on Snake's lungs, given all the wild differences in atmospheric pressure.

And if you haven't played any of the Metal Gear games? To be honest, that's a bit of a harder sell. MGS4 was a game with an extremely complex plot that invoked story threads from throughout Metal Gear history. The game worked because there were playable segments that didn't need such complex understanding, as well as an easily understandable and sympathetic main story of Old Snake's final mission. Here, a lot of it is left to exposition, including details that tell what characters feel instead of showing. It was written to be accessible to a wider audience, but in the end there's a bit too much hand-holding with the dialogue, especially when it comes to Solid Snake's motivations. Then again, that may be justified by the fact that this is written from Otacon's perspective, and it seems within his character to mix long technical pieces with blubbering histrionics. Especially when it comes to Snake, since Otacon lived and worked closely with the man for nine years, and saw more of Snake's tender core, rather than his tough super-soldier exterior.

But though the writing can be overwrought, I'd still recommend this as a piece of science fiction. For all its warts, including a convoluted narrative, a generous amount of Narm, and a villain who is possessed by the transplanted right hand of another villain, MGS4 is still a heartfelt story with a beautiful message. By this point, the series had evolved from being an anti-war narrative to an anti-digital-control-narrative to an ANTI-NARRATIVE NARRATIVE. The dystopian future of MGS4, where mercenary companies have dominated the world, war exists as the impetus for the global economy (how very far-fetched, he says with a roll of the eyes), and almost everyone has their senses monitored and influenced by nano machines, is the grim result of a power struggle between men trying to enforce their own ideal narratives upon the world. The utopian obsessions, spawned by different misinterpretations of a heroic idol, have led to a struggle of liberty vs. security with a result that satisfies neither. And Solid Snake, an artificially created man manipulated by both sides, has to put things right, motivated by no ideology but the desire to keep the world afloat so future generations can make their own decisions. The kanji character on Snake's uniform/powered armor in MGS4 stands for "To Let The World Be"*, and while this may at first sound like cowardice, it's actually a strong endorsement of volunteerism. If people do not make their decisions of their own free will, as opposed to subscribing to a systemic master narrative (be it religion, nationality, or the idolatry of a hero like the Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3), then there can be no progress.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to check out some of Project Itoh's original works, right after removing the tears from my eyes after experiencing the Microwave Hallway scene AGAIN.

* You can even use this for a disability rights reading, since it endorses acceptance of differences and individual perspectives over master narratives, including ableist ones like enforcing that people try to be "fixed". 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Northstar's Big Gay Wedding vs. Cyclops' Big Dumb Utopia

(First of all, I apologize for not doing more blogging here, and want to make clear that my readers here are indeed an important priority for me. So here's more content for those interested in what I think, which miraculously includes at least a few.)

Two important Marvel comics released this week. The first one was Astonishing X-Men #51, where Jean-Paul Baubier (a.k.a former Alpha Flighter and current X-Man Northstar) and his boyfriend Kyle Jinadu married in the state of New York. The other one was Avengers vs. X-Men #6, where Cyclops and four other X-Men claimed the power of the Phoenix for themselves, and used it to transform the world into a  Mutant-run Panopticon with free food, water, and energy for all- provided nobody steps out of line.

And Northstar did much more for mutant kind and the world than Cyclops did.

Scott Summers' "Pax Utopia" (as he calls it) is the kind of quick, shallow fix that characterizes almost all fictional paradises, and creates a standard that reality can't possibly reach. With the power of the Phoenix, his X-Men have created a world where nobody wants for anything, except for freedom from his reign. In the best case scenario, living in Scott's world means you're living in a sterile but pleasant bubble a la Adolus Huxley's Brave New World, where you don't need to worry about anything because you can just get a drug for any potential pains. In the worst case scenario, it's a pervasive prison where your telepathic mutant overlords can make your disappear for even a wrong thought. This is a perversion of what Charles Xavier dreamed, because instead of appealing to the human race's logic and compassion, Scott has just scared them into submission. Then again, that was his goal with the Extinction Team at the beginning of the new Uncanny X-Men series.

Northstar, on the other hand, acted on a much smaller and more personal level-- he married his boyfriend. He even did it in the state of New York, which already allows gay marriages (as a page in the back of the comic so helpfully illustrates). But Jean-Paul and Kyle did so in front of a crowd of seemingly hundreds, human and mutant, and with members of both teams of X-Men (at Wolverine's school and Cyclops' Bay Area banana republic). This isn't just a gay marriage, but an inter-species one, and even an inter-racial one (since Jean-Paul is white and Kyle is black, though the stigma of mixed-race marriage has lessened by comparison). Jean-Paul and Kyle fell in love with each other not despite their differences, but because of them; even the difficulties of marrying an X-Man constantly chased by super-villains wasn't enough to deter Kyle.

If progress doesn't happen by choice, it's not progress. Cyclops may try to save the world, but he's long since lost interest in engaging with it. He almost never takes off his X-Men costume, he does everything as the self-appointed Leader of The Mutant Race, and he speaks of defending lofty ideals over actual people. He can't make peace with the humans because he doesn't care about them, and the gifts he offers homo sapiens in Avengers vs. X-Men 6 come at the price of making the species into mutant kind's pampered pets. The Big Gay Mutant Wedding was a much greater victory for Xavier's cause because it was a literal union between human and mutant. And better have progress start with one couple choosing love past boundaries than making humanity into seven billion well-fed slaves of mutant masters.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ruby Nation: Chapter 2 Talkback!

We're at the Chapter 2 point, Ruby Nation has hit the big revelation I've been leading towards since August of 2011. This is the point where I want to open a talkback friend for everyone who's been reading sso far. If you've been following my comic, please take a second to answer these questions. And be honest, because thoughtful feedback is necessary for improvement.

1.) How do you feel about Ruby Nation thus far?

2.) How do you feel about the ending of Chapter 2?

3.) How do you feel about the existence of the Ruby Nation Wiki/About Page?

4.) Do you have a favorite character so far? Why?

5.) Do you have a least favorite character? Why?

6.) What would you like to see in the coming strips?

Thank you in advance. You can email me any further comments and questions, as well.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grant Morrison, Supergods, and Super-Obama; WTF

A friend of mine (Omar Karindu, as he goes by on Comics Should Be Good and Alvaro's Comicboards) suggested that Action Comics #9, the filler issue with President Calvin Ellis (a.k.a. President Superman, a.k.a the Super-Obama from that Alex Ross shirt brought into canon), was filled with subtext about how companies screw comic creators. Upon re-reading the comic, it's pretty obvious, and quite troubling.

In the comic, Super-Obama faces a corrupted Superman tupla (Tibetan for Solid Thought, a living idea). This was created by the Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane of another world, who created the living idea to embody all that is great in humanity. But they needed a lot of money to bring the Super-Idea into existence, so they went to an amoral corporation who took their Super-Idea and warped it into their Super-Brand. Hence, that trio's world became an Orwellian police state ruled by a faceless, violent Super-Brand, which was colonizing other universes and killing their super-men. To quote their Clark's dying last words;

" He becomes anything you want him to be....our world wanted THAT..."

This is an interesting interpretation of the creator's rights debate that has particularly been on the forefront of the industry discussion in recent months. It also comes across as hypocritical coming from Grant Morrison. Not only has Morrison built his career largely on the characters of others (Superman in particular, but also Batman, the Justice League, and to a lesser extent the X-Men), but his interpretation of Superman transcends any writers or artists-- even Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who he characterizes more as agents of the collective unconscious rather than actual creators of the character.

In Supergods, Morrison's history text/critical essay collection/autobiography/metaphysical ramble (which I've held off on reviewing due to its extremely frustrating and rambling nature), the Scottish writer basically dismisses the problems of Siegel and Shuster. He says that he started "believing" that DC swindled these two young men out of what was rightfully theirs, but later realized that it was business as usual, and both Siegel and Shuster legitimately sold Superman to DC while expecting to keep creating other heroes. Since Morrison is one of DC's highest-profile creators, it makes sense that he wouldn't speak badly about the company that made him a star. But Supergods talks about how Superman is an idea of greatness beyond the men and woman who created him, so Siegel and Shuster end up just a footnote to their own creation. Never mind the fact that both men fought hard battles for the character that DC made billions off of, or that they struggled to make end's meet while their creation made the rich even richer. They're just sacrifices to the cause.

Matt Seneca provides a good argument against Morrison's dismissal, albeit with harsher language against the man than I would use. I love Morrison's work, though I can't and won't speak to his quality as an actual human being. But his creed, the idea that fictional characters are ultimately more important than real people, isn't just New Age bollocks. It's also the kind of idea that creates the same problem Super-Obama must face, where a faceless brand is placed above the welfare of flesh-and-blood humans. And that comic doesn't even give it a good resolution, because it's Super-Obama who defeats the Super-Brand, not the Clark, Jimmy, and Lois who rightfully own it. Lois calls Super-Obama "Superman done right", but she's just crediting him as a good example of The Brand, not praising his virtues as an individual.

Is Morrison making a hypocritical argument with Action Comics #9, arguing against the ideas that he celebrates as one of DC's golden boys? Is he making a subversives attack against the company through his comics, the kind of statement he can't make directly? Does it even matter? Not really, because Super-Obama was the star of a filler issue. Next issue, we'll go back to the young, "hip", white, marketable "Ultimate Superman" we've seen in the New 52 reboot. And it won't matter that Super-Obama was an example of how to use the brand for good, to empower the downtrodden and reclaim power from the oppressors, because the brand is more important than the sum of its parts. In the end, Superman exists to sell Superman. The great stories told with the character are the result of the individual writers and artists putting in the creative effort to animate him, but in the end, there is no inherent value to Superman. Morrison tries to present Superman as a religion, but like any religion, it can be used as a tool of oppression.

And it's in really bad taste to call attention to the problem at the same time you're profiting from its perpetuation.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Can Has New Comix: Poet Kitties!

An attempt to subvert the pidgin English of LOLCats and give cats the kind of language they feel they deserve, Poet Kitties will update with new strips at least twice a week, on Mondays and Tuesdays. You
can see the site HERE.

 And for fans of Ruby Nation; well, all three of you should be happy to know that this side project won't impede that story's progress.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Avengers Movie Review: A Thoughtful Fangasm (SPOILERS)

When I saw the Avengers movie yesterday, I thought there were two film's competing for the (hypothetical) audience's attention, and while I enjoyed one, I could've done without the other. The first film is a thoughtful character piece which takes a look at the costs of military expansion and the theory of deterrence's validity. It's immediately established that Fury would never have unleashed Loki and his Chitau'ri allies on Earth were he not fiddling with the Tesseract as a means to make weapons. He claims that he was looking at a source of clean energy, but as is so often the case with the military industrial complex, the beneficial uses of the new technology just end up as the agreeable wrapping paper trying to hide the jingoistic core. He assembles the Avengers to clean up the mess he effectively caused, and when they find out what he's really been up to, he justifies it by blaming them for bringing superhuman menaces to Earth and claiming a need for self-defense. Self-defense is perfectly valid, but it's hard to believe that Fury and SHIELD would just stop at deterrence. This is an organization wire-tapping every electronic device around the globe, confiscating/stockpiling the weapons of the worst criminals in history, and sending their highly skilled agents to capture or kill people at will. If anything, it confirms Loki's idea that people want to be ruled-- that they would rather feel safe with Big Brother watching over them, than know any true freedom. Which works up to the point when it doesn't, when you end up with neither due to an invasion. The best review I've found of the Avengers is Something Awful's, which eloquently (if critically) expresses this problem. However, I disagree with the author's belief that the Avengers is a justification of the US brand of imperialism. If anything, it's advocating the ability of individuals over byzantine political systems. The Avengers are all unique, skilled, yet damaged individuals. They may have been collected by Fury, but when they form a team, they do so on their own terms. And after they defeat the enemies, they go their separate ways, but will still come together if needed for another crisis. The Avengers don't represent America or any other nation; they represent people who can and will save lives. The only will they follow is the will of Coulson, after he proved too good for our sinful planet. The other film, on the other hand, is exactly what I feared the Avengers would be; a sensationalistic fangasm, a film that exists with no purpose beyond putting a bunch of big stars in the same room. For the most part, the Avengers avoids this due to mixing thoughtful and sympathetic character scenes with the big set pieces. However, we all know which one gets asses in seats. So unfortunately, the latter half of the movie is one long, repetitive fight. Which would be fine if it were shorter, but when you keep the action at that high level for so long, it stops being so intense. The Chitau'ri have no personality beyond being Mooks for the Avengers to slaughter (I assume they don't have families, right?), and their design doesn't even go beyond most CG aliens. When the Chitau'ri ship appeared, the big metal snake reminded me of Shockwave's craft in Transformers 3. Any time I'm comparing something to a Michael Bay movie, that's not a good sign, though at least this movie has substance beyond the prolonged final battle and at least keeps its goddamned camera steady. My fear was that this would be the end of the super hero movie's unique qualities; once they get to the crossovers, they become the same recycled garbage that so often characterizes the comics. The superhero is no longer special, but a face in a crowd of hundreds of others, with the act of putting on a costume being just another profession in that universe (albeit one that looks ridiculous to most in our universe). The Avengers doesn't go that far, as it thankfully keeps to a smaller cast and features a well-written story on top of all the requisite explosions. Still, can the next Avengers movies keep that self-contained? Or will we inevitably see "Avengers V: Secret Infinity Siege " and " Avengers VI: Coulson Reborn"? My general perspective with Marvel media (or any big franchise divorced from its original creators, for that matter) is to assume it's going to be bad and be surprised when it isn't. But with the Avengers, at least, I was surprised. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoon Rant: The Tyranny of the Dreamworks Eyebrow

-- Since I'm reviewing something that is clearly not aimed at my demographic (as Disney XD is meant for tweens and teens, not mid-twenties English MAs who perseverate over pop culture's unfortunate implications), I'm going to do this review in a more fluid structure, posted more around observations and emotional impressions rather than actual critical judgments. Even if I did think Ultimate Spider-Man was outright terrible, its existence doesn't negatively impact my life any more than I choose to let it. And I'm not one of those "you raped my childhood" fandom pundits, mainly because I think it's profoundly inappropriate to use rape as a description of anything but actual rape.

-- That said, it really gets under my skin that the Greg Weissman Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon was cancelled after only two seasons, while this takes its place. That was one of the best superhero animated adaptations ever! Why couldn't Disney XD have just kept that around, rather than making their own new cartoon with a far more dubious (and less movie-accurate, I might add) premise and execution?!

-- The first distinguishing feature of the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is the way that Peter Parker now talks to the audience and goes into dream sequence asides, a la Peter Griffin or Dr. John Dorian. This is obnoxious enough as is, since any dramatic value is rendered moot by making Peter's internal monologue a stand-up routine for an imaginary audience. This is worse in the scenes where Peter is not wearing his Spider-Man mask, because he uses the insufferable mannerisms and expressions of Dreamworks' "CGI characters with attitude". Raising an eyebrow and smirking does not validate your opinion.

What I hope to see is a Scrubs-style treatment of this where, while Peter is going off into one of his dream sequences, we see him standing completely still and oblivious in reality, with everyone looking at him in awkward dismay. Preferably followed by a bullet through his spider-brains, as he's too busy fantasizing about humiliating Flash or Nova or whoever to even recognize his spider-sense.

-- The second distinguishing feature of the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is the enrollment of Peter into Nick Fury's little superhero academy, which also intersects with Peter's day-to-day life because all of the metahuman cadets are enrolled at Midtown High (complete with movie immigrant Agent Coulson as the new principal!). There are two things about this which bother me; one, the fact that it's contrived on a level unforeseen since the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends cartoon. And two, the extremely uncomfortable taste this leaves for readers of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic. Remember how beneficial THAT Nick Fury was to THAT Peter? How cleaning up the messes of Fury's black ops stuff got that Peter killed? Then again, this Peter is one whose death I would enjoy.

--Speaking of that hostility towards this Peter Parker, the character shows many of the same characteristics as Ben 10 and Generator Rex, two other protagonists of shows led by the Man of Action studio. Both characters are young male heroes who possess all the characteristics stereotypically required of a young male Saturday morning cartoon hero. They're rebellious, but they obey the system just enough to maintain a coexistence with the real world. They have problems, but they're almost always grounded towards the "relatable" (social life, girls, overbearing authority figures) and rarely dip into more challenging existential issues. They're book-dumb nimrods who don't particularly care about academic pursuits and don't learn from their mistakes any more than they have to in order to survive. And they exude attitude at every opportunity, taking attention away from the other, more interesting characters on their respective shows.

It's a safe, marketable rebel, the kind who doesn't rebel enough to make any actual sacrifices, the everyman character who doesn't have any traits unique enough to make him a true individual. It works pretty well for Ben and Rex, since they're original characters. For Spider-Man, having him as a hyper-aggressive show-off just doesn't work. That's the kind of self-absorbed attitude that made him let the burglar go, leading to his Uncle Ben's death. Contrary to popular belief of creators, the best Spider-Man stories aren't the ones that deal with him as a teenager/young adult with teenager/young adult angst; they're the kind that have him acting as a reasonable adult, or as close to one as he can get (which puts him head and shoulders above most reasonable adults). He's not called Spider-Boy, he's called Spider-Man. He's the kind of character who always carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and agonizes over every decision he makes. The joking attitude is part of him, the front he uses to cope with tragedy and take the wind out of his enemies' sails. It isn't all of him.

-- I should clarify my own biases here; I LOATHE the teenage superhero sub-genre. I say this as someone who has read a lot of the teenage superhero sub-genre and even writes and draws his own teenage superhero webcomic. But then, Ruby Nation is meant to deconstruct these "Wake Up, Go To School, Save The World" tropes. I don't like the idea of the kid hero who treats saving the world like a game. I don't like the idea of their mistakes being just chalked up to growing pains, when countless lives are at stake. And I don't like the idea of a character becoming a superhero out of the desire to play hero, and treating that as easy while stuff like school and girls are hard. The job, as I see it, carries a tremendous psychological weight. If you're emotionally healthy, you aren't likely to put on a costume and risk your life as a vigilante. And the consequences of regular social life are nothing compared to these life-and-death situations. Maybe it's because I never fit into the regular social order of high school (even as part of a geeky sub-clique), but every time they start whining about how they can save the world but can't get to class on time or what not, I roll my eyes in aggravation.

I'm not saying they're bad or shouldn't exist, and I'm definitely not advocating the Civil War treatment of those characters (where they were treated as incompetent glory-hounds who got hundreds killed, despite the New Warriors all having been established as competent and altruistic enough to avoid that shit). But it seems to me like the problems associated with a teenager are nothing compared to the problems associated with being a superhero, not the other way around. Personal preference, personal baggage.

-- The show does have its merits. The animation is very good, and the voice acting is pretty solid. The other young superheroes are engaging characters, and in many ways overshadow Peter himself (especially Kid Iron Fist, played by Greg Cipes doing a great surfer dude/zen dude impression). Norman Osborn is used well, and the use of Doctor Octopus as a behind-the-scenes manipulator works excellently. He's extremely creepy, lurking in the shadows with his tentacles.

On the other hand, Spectacular Spider-Man did a lot of this far better, and that was evident from the very first few episodes. That show's Peter was driven by his desire to do good first, even if he made mistakes along the way. Their Harry was a more complex and tragic figure, rather than the wacky rich best friend he seems cast as in all incarnations. Their Gwen was a far better best friend to Peter than this Mary Jane, who's basically a junior Lois Lane (complete with stupidly getting herself in danger in order to get a story-- though I guess that makes her perfect for this Peter). The animation style was more unique, and the story blended drama and comedy much better. And this was in the first few episodes.

-- Overall, I don't like the show, but it's compelling in a train wreck sort of way. Maybe it'll grow on me the way the Glen Murakami Teen Titans show did. Or maybe it'll develop a good larger story, and shy away from the wacky asides. In any event, it's not for me. I also like the fact that the comic creators in Man of Action get a lot of money for these formulaic tween/teen action shows, so they have the financial support to do awesome comics like Joe Kelly's I Kill Giants and Joe Casey's Butcher Baker Righteous Maker.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chris-Chan Loses Virginity, Cosmic Order Somehow Survives

I've largely stopped covering Chris-Chan's antics on this blog, partly because he hasn't done much comic-related stuff in the past few years (with his saga now focused more on his real-life antics and the constant troll surveillance that lets us see all his failings), but mostly because I didn't want to give people the wrong idea about why he's so hilarious. I wanted to make clear that autism has no more to do with his unique lifestyle and personality than anything else, be it his sheltered upbringing, his inflated ego, the trolls manipulating him into getting wackier and wackier, or his general fear of change. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to have any effect on people who still use autism as an insult against him, especially since Chris-Chan seems to determined to perpetuate his identity as a " high-functioning autistic " (and thus, shaming everyone on the autism spectrum).

Still, there is something that might be big news for those still following Chris-Chan's saga; he finally lost his virginity. Since most of his antics were motivated by his Love Quest, the desire to find a woman that fits his criteria (re: the body of a Barbie doll with the mind of his mother), this means that the great saga of his life up until now is over. No longer is he a virgin with rage. However, Chris-Chan clearly didn't get a girlfriend, but a call girl with an all-time record in low standards. The comments about her being in her early-20's, praising him for being "bigger" than her last hook-up, and that he won't tell everyone the details except his "Sweetheart-to-Be" (who I presume is Jackie Romy, the poor girl) suggests that it was a one-time hookup. And since he's Chris-Chan, a pock-marked obese balding thirty-year-old who dresses like a fifteen-year-old girl, I assume it had to involve a large financial gain on her part, out of the pocket of the State of Virginia.

All this proves is that virginity and maturity have no correlation.

Chris-Chan didn't "achieve" anything by having sex for the first time. He is no more of a man than he was before, by which I mean a horribly egocentric and depraved man-child. He's probably even less of a man, because he spent money that could've gone towards something useful on what he calls "China". There is no shame being an older virgin, but there is plenty of shame in talking about it constantly, harassing women at every corner, and becoming internet-famous with a largely plagiarized webcomic in order to get laid (the most misguided attempt at becoming desirable in human history).

Of course, there's also the possibility that he just made the whole thing up, making the whole situation even more pathetic. Even so, unless he goes down the prostitution route again (or for the first time), Chris-Chan's only sexual outlet will remain the horrible BDSM marriage of Sonichu and Rosechu.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Autism ACCEPTANCE Month: Fuck Your Awareness

Since it's Autism Acceptance Month (a rewording of Autism Awareness Month, from neurodiversity proponents who want to take the month back), I wanted to explain what Autism Acceptance means to me, and what I hope for the future of me and other autistics I know and love.

Autism Awareness is a term used in the same vein as Breast Cancer Awareness, Kony 2012, and other "slactivist" campaigns. It means being involved only so far as sharing a link on Facebook or buying a shirt. It means endorsing a superficial understanding of the issue, but not actually trying to understand what it means (especially for the people directly involved). It may be better than being completely oblivious, but it's not enough. Where "Autism Awareness" is concerned, it's especially troubling because it speaks of the disability in the same vein as a terminal illness. The autistic person then is reduced to an object to be pitied, with the condition treated as a bogeyman that captures the "real" person underneath, rather than a factor that influences their larger individual personality.

Autism Acceptance means actually understanding that autistic people, and for that matter other people who aren't physically or mentally normal (re: everyone), are simultaneously influenced by their conditions but not defined by them. It means looking at such differences as a part of life that can't be erased, no matter how much money we pour into medical research for a "cure". It means trying to understand and negotiate with people who have different behaviors, and see what they can contribute to society on their terms.

In a world of Autism Acceptance, people on the spectrum will be able to find work based on their talents, not their disabilities. Autistic celebrities will not just be people that promote themselves for "overcoming" autism, but people with actual occupations as well. The world of Autism Acceptance will be a world where we have openly autistic doctors, teachers, scientists, politicians, athletes, journalists, artists, CARTOONISTS, and others. As Ari Ne'eman (IIRC) puts it, we'll have fewer professional autistics, and more autistic professionals.

In a world of Autism Acceptance, neurological disabilities will not be treated as an inherent stigma. The R word will be treated as hate speech, just like the N word or the other F word. "Don't be so autistic" won't be treated as a colloquial insult, and autistic people who behave like total assholes won't reflect on everyone on the spectrum. The likes of Christian Weston Chandler will be treated as a reflection of nothing but internet weirdos.

In a world of Autism Acceptance, neuro-atypical characters will abound on television and literature and be acknowledged as neuro-atypical. They will come in all shapes and sizes, not just the stereotypes of the inspirationally disadvantaged, the special needs morality pet for the martyr parents, or the autistic sociopath. We'll no longer need to make do with diagnosing fictional characters like Reed Richards or Hal "Otacon" Emmerich who probably fit the criteria.

In a world of Autism Acceptance, discussion of autistic peoples' handicaps will be focused on practical accommodation, not fanciful cures. Discussions about the "autism epidemic" and its causes will be dismissed, inconsequential compared to the people here right now. Instead of talking about sweeping, badly-researched gestures like gluten-free diets or chelation therapy, treatments will try to stick to the individual and how to treat their specific symptoms, not the "bogeyman" of autism.

In a world of Autism Acceptance, no moral ambiguity will be put into debates over news stories like the murder of George Hodgins by his mother. The focus will be on the victim, whose life was tragically cut short by the person he should've been able to trust the most. There will be no sympathy given to the mother who murdered him, because no matter what difficulties she had raising a special needs child, nothing can excuse taking an innocent life. The caregivers who murder their charges (and this is way too common) will be treated as that-- murderers, the likes of whom can and will burn in hell.

Finally, in a world of Autism Acceptance, the kids I work with at my residental facility day job will see all of these things happen, and be able to navigate a world even slightly less harsh and narrow-minded.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #1 Thoughts: The I Hate Cyclops Fanclub

I honestly wasn't expecting this comic to be as good as it was, especially with Marvel clearly marketing it towards the battle boards types who don't care about plot, character, theme, style, draughtsmanship, design, or anything else but living vicariously through their favorite character being successfully violent. Thankfully, there was all of the above stuff in this first issue by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr. And the conflict started with a bang, strong enough to make me want to read more.

The most interesting part of the book is the fact that it's actually pushed Scott Summers to the point where all the previous books have only alluded; that he is actually a villain, the kind of crackpot megalomaniac to fill the void that the semi-reformed Magneto has left. His "training" of Hope represents the exact kind of cruel behavior that caused Wolverine to take half the team to the East Coast. In that scene both Magneto and Emma are dismayed by Cyclops' ruthlessness, as he's deliberately inflicting as much pain upon Hope as possible without causing any impairing injury. He claims that this was how Professor Xavier trained him, but nothing could be further from the truth. Xavier may have trained the young X-Men to fight, but he didn't make them suffer to get his point across.

In the argument between Cyclops and Captain America, Scott tells Steve Rogers that they've never done anything for the mutant species. He may have a point, but Scott's also made clear that he doesn't want anything to do with the human race, either. He's segregated all those willing to follow him on a banana republic floating away from humanity, and he's kept the X-Men out of most of the recent events in the superhero community; the X-Men didn't lift a finger to help during the Civil War or the World War Hulk stories, and they only defended their own borders during Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Fear Itself. Now he plans to doom all of human and mutant kind by trying to use the Phoenix, reborn in Hope, to revive the mutant species. Maybe he actually believes he can control the Phoenix, but more likely he's so obsessed with his goals that he doesn't even care about who dies.

All of which would still make him a sympathetic antagonist if he at least cared about the individuals who make up the species he'll do anything to protect. But Cyclops is now no better than Joseph Kony, treating anyone in his army-- no matter how young-- as an expendable weapon. His final line, that Hope no longer has any say over what happens to her, is very telling. Hopefully now that he's crossed the moral event horizon, he'll finally get what he deserves.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Change Your Tights: Comics Without Frontiers on Superheroes and Drama

While it might not exactly be praise, it was flattering to see my earlier post about superhero fans fearing bad things happening to their favorite characters referenced by Miguel of Comics Without Frontiers. Miguel's blog is always great, thought-provoking reading, but this is an especially good piece.

The just of Miguel's post is a comparison between the drama of Mutant Massacre (one of my favorite comics of all time) and the drama of Fear Itself (the absolute height of mediocrity, without even the entertaining terribleness of Ultimates 3 or Cry for Justice). THere are many great points here, especially the observation that the Avengers never remove their costumes in Fear Itself. They're in their tights the whole mission, without showing any life outside of their battles and missions. You'd figure they'd at least change clothes to ward off the inevitable jock itch of sweaty spandex/leather/latex/armor.

I remember Mark Millar, when he was doing the Ultimates, commenting how he didn't like when Iron Man attended social functions in full armor. This is clear from the Ultimates series, where Tony (and the rest of the cast for that matter) spend as much time in their civvies doing normal-person things as they do on the battlefield in their action suits. Unfortunately, Millar fell victim to the no-life-outside-tights problem in Civil War, where most of the characters just hang around in their tights the whole story, and tense meetings have their drama undercut by the fact that characters are wearing their bird/bee/banana yellow wolverine costumes.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The "Autism Cure" In Avengers Academy, and The Fascism of Utopia

(This is largely reposted from the Comic Book Resources forums, in response to an issue of Avengers Academy where the corporate sociopath genius kid Jeremy Briggs starts recruiting super-teens away from the school. Veil, formerly a student at Avengers Academy, touts Briggs' merits by mentioning how the work they're doing reforming society and attacking social problems is far more important than fighting villains and getting bloody hands. However, the example she gives of her work is a cure for autism. Since I normally like Avengers Academy, and since Marvel is one of my main hyper-focused Aspergian interests, this read like a punch to the gut).

Wether it was Gage's intent or not, Veil's line about working on a cure for autism immediately made me want the proper Avengers to take down Briggs and anyone working with him.

The kind of " utopia " Briggs is working towards, like most science fiction utopias, is the ideal of a few imposed upon everyone else. It's getting rid of things that people consider problems with easy solutions, by making a magic pill to cure any perceived imperfections, or using force to quietly subdue any dissidents. It's creating a pretty-looking, clean community by retroactively removing any evidence that it might have been dirty, working towards an ideal while forgetting the minority experiences that give humanity diversity, meaning, and narrative.

The autism line hits home for me, true, but it's a good example in microcosm of why Briggs is as insidious as any super-villain. Maybe Veil believes that autism is just a disease that abducts children from their parents and creates wall-eyed freaks who will never grow up to prosper, but that's hardly the case for all autistics, most of whom are capable of communication, thought, and contribution (even if on different terms, such as requiring facilitated communication). Worse yet, it excludes people with the condition from the discussion. If Briggs and Veil created a cure for the X-Gene, would it be treated as an altruistic afterthought? How about the gay gene? Does society really get to decide how the individual's neurology should be, and change it by force?

The job of the superhero is to save peoples' lives, not decide how their lives should or shouldn't be. That's the other side of the coin that we've seen since the genre's inception, which is fascism.

And another good quote about the dangers of imposing one's views on others, from Big Boss in the game Metal Gear Solid 4;

" It's not about changing the world. It's about doing our best to leave the world the way it is. It's about respecting the will of others, and believing in your own. "

Monday, February 27, 2012

Batgirl 5-6 Thoughts: Ableist Garbage Day!

(Now just imagine if the Joker said that when he opened the door and capped Barbara in the spine.)

Joking and memetic-mutating aside, Batgirl has gone from being a technically competent comic with a disgusting ableist message, to an amateurishly written and sappy mess (albeit with good art by Adrian Syaf) with a disgusting ableist message. Issues 5 and 6 involve Barbara teaming up with Batman to fight a new villainess, Gretel, who gained mind control powers after a traumatic brain injury by a mobster she was investigating. It also has a script that bends over backwards trying to convince the audience that Batgirl is great and we should all love her as much as Gail Simone does. To wit;

1.) Bruce Wayne spends the first half of this arc hypnotized, and bumbles around like a puppet until Barbara breaks the spell by bringing up how his parents are dead. Batman, the most insanely prepared man in the DC Universe or any other (right down to literally creating his own backup personality in case of mind control of mental breakdown), is overridden like an amateur. I could accept this were it not so obvious that it was done to make Barbara look better by comparison, as the one who keeps her wits and saves Bruce's ass.

2.) Bruce Wayne hugs her afterwards, and whispers, " You were always meant to be Batgirl". This is an endorsement on par with the line in The Rise of Arsenal and its tie-ins, "was he not up for the task of being Red Arrow"? A sidekick's name, a weaker spin-off of an established hero, means nothing. Furthermore, it shows that Bruce, a man who's extremely guarded about his personal life and who he lets into his crime fighting circle, is perfectly fine with Barbara going into the battlefield physically and mentally unprepared after her apparent recovery. And that he doesn't particularly mind if Barbara's spinal chip gives out in the middle of a fight. Because she's more useful to him as Batgirl than Oracle, for reasons that don't exist!

3.) Barbara's narrative captions blanket the pages, with her beating us over the head with how great it is that she be Batgirl and help people. This is standard for modern superhero comics, the kind of "emo noir" that conceals perfectly good artwork behind boxes full of navel-gazing. But it's especially galling when Barbara talks about how she was never a partner to Batman, and was her own crime fighter. Who apparently took all of Batman's moves and gadgets for her great individual identity, but that doesn't really matter.

4.) Gretel is the second case in a row where the main villain of a new Batgirl story is a heavy-handed parallel to Barbara's own trauma. In the previous case, it was Mirror, who survived an accident that killed his family, and became devoted to killing everyone else who'd experienced miracles. In this case, it's a woman who was nearly killed by criminals, and is now a lethal vigilante. Batgirl makes sure we don't miss the parallels for a second, making this analogy about as subtle as a House episode where the patient's problem somehow connects to House's leg/addiction/misanthropy (re: EVERY FUCKING EPISODE). And, of course, Barbara has to be all weepy about it, telling the cops to treat Gretel well when they ship her off to Arkham.

It's also worth noting that Gretel still has clear evidence of her trauma-- her multicolored wigs disguise her bald head, which has a bullet scar where hair would've been. Further confirming that heroic characters don't have deformities, only bad guys! I can't wait to see Barbara fight a villain who's in a wheelchair, then give a speech about how she feels their pain!

In the end, what bothers me most about Batgirl is that it represents the character as "the good cripple". She was physically and mentally scarred, but she put the former behind her with a magic cure, and she's working on 'overcoming' the latter. Disability, to Barbara, was just a transitory state so she could look stronger once she emerged from it. And when she emerges, she emerges as a character who doesn't rock the boat or say anything controversial. She's just become another face in the Bat-crowd, only distinguishable by the Pollyanna-type bullshit about second chances and miracles that flows from her mouth.