Just discovered a hybrid webcomic/blog called Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. Funny stuff. Here we have the mythical creature known primarily from high school English papers: the Alot.

Go check it.

The Book Bench‘s Lucy Tang has introduced me to the work of Kate Beaton, who writes/draws “Hark! A Vagrant”: comics based on history, literature, art, and sometimes other things. Absolutely flipping brilliant. (Click to enlarge.)

Be sure to check out the series riffing on Gatsby.

Dryponder publishes a series of great photos on his Flickr page. Here, President Obama remembers his days as a member of The Avengers.

Friend of Panoptiblog and longtime good buddy John Ira Thomas, author of Shades and Angels, Zoo Force, and Lost in the Wash, is the subject of a feature profile in today’s Daily Iowan. It’s pretty cool. You should go read it, then click on the above links and buy some of his books.

…in the Bruno review:

If the subject of the satire is in on the joke, is it still satire?

Another case in point: Should I lose respect for the writers/artists participating in Marvel’s Strange Tales Max series? Or should I see it as something other than satire? Or is it still satire?

Tony Millionaire's Iron Man

Tony Millionaire's Iron Man

H/t: Laughing Squid.

Henry Jenkins has an interview with Mary Borsellino up at Confessions, and comics fans may find it interesting. Borsllino has a book analyzing the Batman-Robin characters out, and Jenkins discusses that with her.stephaniecase

But what’s most interesting to me is that Borsellino was part of a now-defunct campaign called “Project Girl Wonder,” involving the fourth Robin–a girl named Stephanie Brown. As I am a lapsed comic book reader, I didn’t even know there was a fourth Robin, much less about the controversy surrounding her.

Essentially, for those not familiar with the character or with Robin’s larger back story: when the second Robin, a boy named Jason, died, Batman created a memorial out of his costume in the Batcave. Stephanie was the fourth Robin, and her costume was different to the three boys who’d had it before her in that she sewed a red skirt for herself. Just a few months after her first issue as Robin was released, Stephanie was tortured to death with a power drill by a villain, and then died with Batman at her bedside.

The sexualised violence alone was pretty vomitous, but what made it so, so much worse for me was that Batman promptly forgot her. DC’s Editor in Chief had the gall to respond to questions of how her death would affect future stories by saying that her loss would continue to impact the stories of the heroes — how sick is that? Not only is the statement clearly untrue, since the comics were chugging along their merry way with no mention of her or her death, but it was also an example of the ingrained sexism of so much of our culture. Stephanie herself was a hero, and had been a hero for more than a decade’s worth of comics, but the Editor’s statement made it clear that he only thought of male characters as heroes, and the females as catalysts for those stories. It was a very clear example of the Women in Refrigerators trope, which has been a problem with superhero comics for far, far too long.

Read the rest of her explanation. I found DC’s way of handling the issue pretty appalling.

Arlen Spectre (D-Pennsylvania)

The Spectre (D-Pennsylvania)

So Arlen Specter has bailed on the Republican party. I expect he used his cosmic future-gazing powers to foresee that the GOP will soon be a regional party centered in the South and rural Mid- and Mountain West. Not the way I expected the Democrats to hit 60 votes, but so be it.*

John Dickerson seems awfully convinced this is great news for Obama, but I’m probably not the only one who’s unsure about that. Dem #60 won’t be a reliable vote on things like card check (not that I have a problem with that), so while it doesn’t really get them out of any filibusters they couldn’t already get the votes on. Worse, it lets the Republicans go around a year from now when it’s another election year (…sigh…) and say, “the Democrats have a supermajority in the Senate, we need more checks and balances” when little has changed except symbolism.

Still, 60 Democrats is 60 Democrats. And you have to feel for a guy like Specter, who had to feel less and less at home in the party of torture, tax cuts for the wealthy, and hopes for Obama’s failure. I remember driving home from school a couple of years ago with my buddy Hoob, hearing Specter on NPR saying something that sounded reasonable, and us saying, Arlen Specter is now one of the good guys? Arlen Specter? And now it’s official. As Obama said to him on the phone today, “We’re thrilled to have you.”

And what’s left of the decimated moderate GOP (I’m sorry, is Lindsey Fucking Graham now the moderate GOP?) is speaking up, trying to wrest control of their party. I wish them luck. We need two sane parties in this country.

* Assuming that Al Franken continues to win his court battles against Norm Coleman. At this pace, however, Coleman may just try to string it out in the judicial system until the seat is up again in five years.

** Hat tip to Nick at Hide the Elephant for the HTML lesson.

I am a devoted fan of Watchmen as originally realised by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I start with that for two reasons: (1) it seems a convention of Watchmen reviews to establish one’s bona fides up front; and (2) it means I haven’t the slightest idea whether it works on its own as a movie, for non-fans. If The Dark Knight was comics’ first great crime film, then from my seat it looked like Watchmen was comics’ first great government conspiracy epic.

I had little respect for Zack Snyder before last weekend; I didn’t see his remake of Dawn of the Dead, and I thought 300, though admittedly beautiful, was one of the most wretched, mysoginist, racist, homophobic films that has ever seen the dim light of a theater. I am now willing to at least lay most of the blame for the latter film at the feet of Frank Miller, whose work gets sketchier every year (and I don’t mean he’s spending less time on the visuals). I still question Snyder’s taste–and his “five essential movies” for Newsweek did little to disabuse me of that–but I now need to give him the benefit of the doubt. While he is gospel-true to the source material, I’m more impressed by his additions. The opening sequence, the only original scene of the film, was brilliantly executed; the soundtrack was inspired, brought to mind the kinds of films with similar epic, politico-historical films like those about Vietnam from the 70s and 80s. While I did feel bludgeoned by “The Sound of Silence,” the uses and placements of Bob Dylan toward the beginning and Jimi Hendrix toward the end were terrific. I can think of very little I wish Snyder would’ve done differently.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the acting. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is terrific as the Comedian, channeling Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr.; Patrick Wilson makes an appealing Nite Owl; but for me, nobody was better than Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Maybe it was because I wasn’t familiar with the cast beforehand, but I was expecting this to be the cringeworthy part of my Watchmen experience, and with the exception of overwrought dialogue (i.e., Nite Owl’s too-sincere, “What happened to the American Dream?”, which looks fine on the comic book page, but sounds ridiculous spoken aloud).

The film’s critics have a variety of gripes. The simplicity of the politics. The nihilism. The full-frontalness of Dr. Manhattan. None of these make sense to me. Comics have always had a tint of the morality play; anyone familiar with Alan Moore expects some degree of nihilism; and to cover up the swinging blue phallus would’ve really fucked with the character, and the only point of doing so would be to protect the delicate sensibilities of viewers who almost certainly wouldn’t have liked the movie anyway. (I was actually relieved that Snyder, and more importantly Warner Brothers, had the balls not to cover Dr. M. up.)

Two criticisms stick, in my view, but neither are Snyder’s fault. The first is that the film’s sensibilities feel very dated. The Cold War angst just doesn’t play in the same way anymore, and being handcuffed (by fear of fans or his own devotion) to the original text, Snyder had no room for creating contemporary relevance. I have heard some say that although the story is rooted in a Cold War paradigm, it is newly relevant in a post-9/11, post-Iraq invasion world. Snyder says as much himself, as the camera rises near the very end of the film, over the skyline of a Manhattan under reconstruction, the World Trade Center resting majestically at center screen. But for me, the ending of the film reiterated just how impotent such a promise of “world peace” really is in an age of Islamic terrorism. If the last eight years have taught us anything, it should be that shocking, violent events can lead to world unity, but that unity is fragile and fleeting.

I’m not convinced that Alan Moore thought this even in 1987, when the series ended. You can view the ending one of two ways, I think: either Rorschach’s journal ending up in the young reporter’s hands represents (a) the triumph of anarchy over fascism, or (b) the tragic failure of a beautiful plan, destroyed by a paranoid schizophrenic. A reader of Moore’s other work would likely be inclined to go with (a), I think.

The other problem is that Alan Moore, even when his heart is in the right place, couldn’t write female characters well and didn’t even seem very interested in trying. Silk Spectre gets into Night Owl’s hovership… thing… and it takes her about 20 seconds to push a button with a picture of flames on it, setting the basement on fire. And any reasonable contemporary viewer is thinking, Christ, are you kidding me? This is supposed to be a woman in her thirties, isn’t it? You half expect her to start giggling and flap her wrist, saying, “God, I’m so clumsy!” Meanwhile, Night Owl picks up the fire extinguisher sitting five feet away, and puts it out. I would like to expect this would be noticable even to the comic nerd viewer, but those hopes are dimmed by remembering the guy sitting a few rows behind me who noted, before the movie started, “Do you think they’ll include the rape scene? That would be awesome.” Where does A. O. Scott get his opinions about comic book fans, again?

Flaws and all, I’m betting people look back at Watchmen as a breakthrough. The fact is, Moore broke through in the mid-80s, doing things with mainstream superhero comics that hadn’t been done before. While some of the tropes of Watchmen had been seen in films from Batman to The Incredibles, it took a nearly-pure adaptation of Moore’s work to break some of the same barriers in superhero films over twenty years later. Creative filmmakers who are invested in the genre will look back at Watchmen as the film that let them tell adult stories, too.

Drawring with the kiddies…

comic03041

I was too tired and too busy the other night to really comment on this more extensively the other night, but I am absolutely thrilled that Heath Ledger got his Oscar. In only just realized that, because of the Academy’s new “we asked another actor to talk about the performance, rather than show you any of the performance” policy, we didn’t get to see Ledger’s Joker on the Oscar telecast. So go watch this (embedding sadly disabled by request) and remind yourself why he deserved it.

If anything, I am more irritated than ever that The Dark Knight didn’t get a Best Picture or Best Director nomination. Truly, you have to ask yourself: if Nolan can’t get nominated for this, then does any film from this genre have any chance?

Going back and watching this Michael Phillips and Richard Roper review only renewed my sense of indignation on Nolan’s behalf:

I certainly hope that Christopher Nolan makes some other movie, and then comes back with a killer end to the trilogy, with more actors at the top of their games, and gets Return of the King-like Oscar recognition for all three movies. That movie broke through for fantasy; maybe the Ledger win is just the beginning of the end of anti-comic book bias for the Academy.

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