Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

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.