Friday, November 14, 2008
I had missed this because I only read DC comics these days, but Stephen Colbert's clever but knowingly doomed campaign for the presidency (in South Carolina) survived and thrived in the Marvel Universe. In fact, he won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College, because, according to Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, "the Marvel Universe reflects what happens in the real world."
Now there's a counterfictionally loaded assertion.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Oddly enough, on the whole, I find Marvel's NYC far less interesting than Gotham or Metropolis. There's less room to play with, and while DC's fictional cities each have their own mythologies, Marvel very rarely makes use of the history of NYC in its storytelling. (It's worth noting that NYC actually exists in the DC Universe. Nightwing is hanging out there, at the moment.)
(Via Kottke, shared by J. Lavolette.)
Friday, October 24, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In its narrative gaps, its false depths leading nowhere in particular, its bogus grief over stakeless destruction and faked death, “The Dark Knight” echoes a civil discourse strained to helplessness by panic, overreaction and cultivated grievance. I began to feel this Batman wears his mask because he fears he’s a fake — and the story of his inauthenticity, the possibility of his unmasking, counts for more than any hope he offers of deliverance from evil. The Joker, on the other hand, exhibits his real face, his only face, and his origins are irrelevant, his presence as much a given as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or Fear Itself.
The Joker’s paradox, of course, is the same as that of 9/11 and its long aftermath: audacious transgression ought to call out of us an equal and adamant passion for love of truth and freedom, yet the fear he inspires instead drives us deep into passivity and silence.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Part of the drama of the original trilogy is the tension between Vader and the uniformed non-clone military. Also, the fleet is composed along racist lines: no unhelmeted clones, no non-Caucasian aliens. (The Bounty Hunters are dismissed as "scum.") Where do these guys come from? Are they conscripts? The mobilized remains of a brownshirted imperial militia?
Along with the retarded faceless droid armies in Phantom Menace and after, not exploring the encroaching militarism of the Empire is a serious oversight. It's not just a political failure that produces the empire -- it's the seizure of the mechanisms of force and the elimination of the Jedi as a competitor on the legitimate use of violence. As someone interested in how armies work, and fictional representations of soldiers and officers, I love the intimations in the OT and feel that very large gap in that part of the story.
Armies I think have to be seen as an emerging theme of the comics as well, and in some sense superhero stories are inherently anti-military. Obviously the recent Iron Man film addresses this head-on, but you also have The Hulk, Captain America, Nick Fury and SHIELD, and so on.
There is a utopian imagination at work whereby we seem to dream of a world where right-minded, ultrapowerful civil servants (whether Supermen or Jedi) eliminate the need for standing armies, traditional manifestations of force, and hostile international/intergalactic relations.
The great counterexample might be the Green Lantern Corps, a kind of armed invisible UN that is designed to keep the peace but also act as a kind of nuclear deterrent against interplanetary (as opposed to merely global and local) aggression. The Green Lanterns effectively seem to recognize each planet/sector as sovereign and world wars as local affairs in which they need not interfere.
And so, as with Star Trek, international or interethnic conflicts get allegorized as conflicts between actual aliens, while Superman, Batman, and friends are available to deal with local petty crime.
Star Wars may be the only manifestation of an honest-to-goodness civil war where the conflict between superhuman beings (the Sith and Jedi) are played against the backdrop of a purely human conflict between two organized armies. The events intersect but they do not determine one another. Even the destruction of the second Death Star has nothing to do with the Jedi or the Force really; it's Ewoks and rebels killing storm troopers, and a non-Force wielding fleet whomping the Death Star and Imperial troops.
So: how do these armies get started? (The rebel army is even more of a mystery.)
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Recent articles about the political leanings of popular comic book characters got me thinking about the uncanny valley between fictional and real-world ideologies. We’re happy to have characters speak in broad terms — “With great power comes great responsibility” — but the minute they start referring to specific issues, we become very uncomfortable.
How does The Flash feel about immigration? Is Wolverine pro-choice? Does Black Canary support the First Amendment rights of hate groups? We don’t know, and really don’t want to know....
I’d argue that the thematic success of comic book characters, and comic book storylines, comes from how closely they can approach the line separating Real from Too Real, without crossing it.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Our earlier post on countermusicals attempted to open the door of our fictional musings to explorations of fiction and counterfiction in music. A question posed there, and a question that is posed daily amongst fervent music geeks, was, and is: If you could construct your own supergroup of existing musicians, alive or dead, who would you choose and how would you arrange them? Much like crossover comics where fans finally get to see Spiderman team up with Green Lantern (I honestly don't know if that ever actually happened) for a token adventure, imaginary supergroups are your chance to bring your favorite musical worlds (pop or otherwise) together to play in tandem and fulfill your fantasies. Take your favorite guitar player and place him/her in front of your favorite drummer, behind your favorite piano player, your favorite harpsichordist, next to your favorite avant-garde vocalist. There are no rules. Just be sure to specify Beatles or Wings-era McCartney if you choose to go down that path.
To start things off, let's see what kind of band I can piece together. On guitar I'm tempted to go left with Johnny Greenwood or right with Doug Martsch, but I think my best bet is with J Mascis. I want there to be some cohesion in my group (sonic cohesion, not play-well-with-others cohesion), so I'll forgo obvious vocalist choices like Björk or Mark Kozelek and just stick with Robert Pollard (circa 1992). (Hamilton Leithauser a close second there for vocals.) Drums are easy with Glenn Kotche. We'll place Kathy Foster on bass guitar for sheer hotness, but also for excessive radness. To round out the sound, I'll also put Spencer Krug on the keyboard, but we'll restrict him to his more straight-ahead playing of Wolf Parade as opposed to his explorative Sunset Rubdown work.
How's that? Now you try.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The Waits vs. Newsom discussion was refueled this week by NPR's "All Songs Considered" concert series release of a recording of an epic Tom Waits performance at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. The concert recording and Waits' performance was so remarkable that Tim and I couldn't help but fantasize further about the notion of a collaboration of covers between Waits and Newsom. With the recent birth of this very blog, there was an immediate connection to be drawn between Counterfictionals and what we might now dub as "Countermusicals." In the spirit of what Counterfictionals has set out to do, I see a lot of fertile territory out there for documenting those discussions we have all had so many times before:
To demonstrate -- not that I need to -- let's go back to the example Waits and Newsom. In plotting our dream album of cover songs, we managed to plot Waits interpreting "Sawdust and Diamonds" and then Newsom putting some harp over her singing "Sixteen Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six." Beautiful. My favorite Waits song, though, is most certainly "Downtown Train." I suggested to Tim that this would be a track that I'd love to see covered by Newsom. Tim responded in saying perhaps a female vocalist might actually get the gender (assuming heterosexual relationships) right on "Downtown Train." The lyrics as sung by Waits:
Outside another yellow moon
punched a hole in the nighttime, yes
I climb through the window and down the street
shining like a new dime
the downtown trains are full with all those Brooklyn girls
they try so hard to break out of their little worlds
You wave your hand and they scatter like crows
they have nothing that will ever capture your heart
theyr'e just thorns without the rose
be careful of them in the dark
oh if I was the one
you chose to be your only one
oh baby can't you hear me now
Will I see you tonight
on a downtown train
every night is just the same
you leave me lonely now
I know your window and I know it's late
I know your stairs and your doorway
I walk down your street and past your gate
I stand by the light at the four way
you watch them as they fall
they all have heart attacks
they stay at the carnival
but they'll never win you back
Will I see you tonight on a downtown train
where every night is just the same you leave me lonely
will I see you tonight on a downtown train
all of my dreams just fall like rain
all upon a downtown train
Considering that "Downtown Train" hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989 only after being covered by Rod Stewart, I think this is a poetic jumping-off point for the discussion on Countermusicals. Rod Stewart wasn't afraid to ask "What if?" and it garnered him a #3 hit. That's probably not a big deal for Rod, but as far as opening the floodgates of this blog, it might be a big deal for me.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Graham Nolan and I had an ongoing argument about whether Bruce was raised Catholic or Protestant. I recently conceded to Graham than he must be Catholic. No Protestant ever suffered guilt the way Bruce does.
So what would you do with religion in a comic-book universe? (This may be a more interesting question in the DC universe than the Marvel universe, where all the pre-Christian deities—Zeus, Ra, Odin—are semi-active characters.)
What religion is your favorite character? (Click here for a cheat sheet.) How do you know and how does it affect how he/she operates? (Keep in mind for the purposes of this question, "religion" is cultural as well as theological.)
One should not think of Superman as a Peeping Tom. A biological ability must be used. As a child Superman may never have known that things had surfaces, until he learned to suppress his X-ray vision. If millions of people tend shamelessly to wear clothing with no lead in the weave, that is hardly Superman's fault.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Back to my question, though. Omar, by his own admission, is "all in the game" whereby his life revolves around his participation in Baltimore's drug trade. From a law-and-order standpoint, Omar is a villain because he is quick to kill, steal, and sell drugs. From a heroic standpoint, however, Omar operates by a strict code: Stealing a line directly from Bunk Moreland, Omar says "A man's got to have a code." Omar never puts his gun on a civilian or non-participant in "the game." Omar flips out when the Barksdale crew breaks the longstanding sabbath ceasefire and nearly kill his grandmother on her way to church. For most of the series, Omar is also a vigilante driven by revenge -- revenge against the Barksdales for the death of Brandon Wright, revenge against Stringer Bell for setting him up, revenge against Marlo Stanfield for his attempted framing of Omar for murder, and so on. In addition to his vigilante status, he is also often working in cooperation with the Baltimore police, or doing what he can on their behalf as he lurks in the shadows of the drug corners pursuing his own agenda.
The portrait painted above, for me, draws some clear parallels to our friend Batman. Batman has an agenda of vengeance, though he operates by a strict code. That code generally means Batman only comes into contact with those who are willfully involved in "the game." Batman colludes with the police, but generally only on his own terms and, again, within his own code of conduct. (Omar is occasionally persuaded against his will to cooperate with the police, but more often than not, when the Baltimore detectives need Omar's help, they are forced to appeal to Omar's own sense of justice and morality in order to persuade him to do what they need him to do. Please recall the fucking brilliant scene between Omar and Bunk to illustrate this point.)
Like Batman, because of how he operates, Omar is often without friends, or friends he can trust, and he must live in hiding. Omar's headquarters, like the Bat Cave, are usually in abandoned row houses or tenements. Omar doesn't have an elaborate array of computers or gadgets, but he does have the best and biggest guns in town, and he usually travels by way of an unmarked vehicle (see point #3 of Gavin's primer on the Bat) such as a utility van or taxi cab. Omar also conducts his business under a cloak, whether it's something immediately evocative of Batman, such as his black duster jacket, or something more simple as a hooded sweatshirt. (Or sometimes Omar's disguises become more complex, like when he dresses up as an old man in a wheelchair in order to gain access to a Barksdale drug house.)
Additionally, toward the latter stages of the series, just saying Omar's name on the streets of Baltimore would incite immediate fear and chaos as small-time drug dealers would immediately run in the opposite direction or just throw their drugs into the street if they heard or saw Omar coming their way. How many crooks has Batman defeated simply by evoking his name or image? Both Omar and Batman learn to use their enemy's fear against them, usually to the point where all they have to do is arrive on the scene to decide the outcome.
And what about Omar's many sidekicks, or Robins? (See Gavin's point #5.) The death of his first Robin, Brandon Wright, is what first sends Omar over the edge. But Omar can't last long without a sidekick, so in subsequent seasons, he recruits "Brandon replacements" -- Dante, Renaldo -- who fill the same sidekick role, but never quite fill Brandon's shoes. And Omar's sexual relationships with his sidekicks further complicate his relationships with them. And we also learn that Omar, like Batman, usually has a plan to kill them all if need be -- see Dante.
The more I think about, the more parallels I begin to see. What did I miss?
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Would you rather. . .
A. Be a great and celebrated novelist, or
B. Be friends with Batman?
Given the proclivities of the contributors of this blog, I thought it would be an interesting question to also pose here. What do you think? Would you rather?
Some important points that you will want to consider before making your decision:
I think the choice is clear, but is it too obvious?
I would like to make the argument that, as much as I enjoyed the movie, that I came away with the conclusion that the Batman, as Batman, simply doesn't work on the big screen, although, strangely enough, the Joker does.
"Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" work largely because Christian Bale is a good enough actor to make you forget that he isn't really playing Batman. While Nolan and Bale deserve credit for sticking to point #2 of my "Batman Best Practices," Nearly all of the Batman movies filmed to date, whether Burton, Schumacher, or Nolan, seem to deal with Bruce Wayne's angst over putting on the mask, and his desire to create a situation in which he wouldn't have to be the Batman any more. In Batman as Batman, this conflict doesn't make any sense. It is strongly hinted that even if Bruce Wayne's parent's hadn't been killed, he would have been something like the Batman. Maybe not quite so dark or violent, but every bit as obsessive over the application of his own sense of right and wrong. (This idea is contained in both points #1 and #4. The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne isn't what made Bruce Wayne the Batman. He did that to himself.)
There are elements of the Batman that simply don't work in a live-action summer blockbuster. Not since Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" has any film even much bothered to try to show Batman as a detective, and Nolan's Batman never really has to figure anything out. Ra's Al Ghul just shows up at his house, he discovers the Scarecrow's operation by accident after following Rachel Dawes to Arkham, and he's so helpless in dealing with the Joker that he has to create a universal surveillance system in order to find him. Nolan's Batman is more of a special-ops soldier. He's really good at designing small tactical operations, like when he pulls the crooked banker out of his building in Hong Kong, but he's not a detective. (But who can imagine a "detective" Batman movie? There are plenty of great detective television shows and films, but Batman as Sherlock Holmes, throwing hardly a single punch, probably wouldn't pack the theaters.)
Secondly, beyond the fact that point #1 of my best practices cuts off the "should I be Batman" conflict that nearly every film seems to feel the need to use, no actor would ever agree to use the comics' primary visual cue of the point: Wayne wears the Batman mask even when he's hanging out by himself in the Batcave. In real life, as an actor on a film set, that would be damn uncomfortable, and would eliminate most of the actor's face time. Whatever you want to say about Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, and Bale, none of them are Lon Cheney, willing to disappear behind makeup for an entire film.
(Side point, or addendum to best practices, call it point 3.1—the bat-suit is not armor! In the modern comics, Wayne wears kevlar beneath the costume, but it should be closer to cloth than plastic. Light, slient, and not cumbersome. This, again, may simply not work on screen.)
In opposition to all this, it's interesting how faithful Nolan's Joker is to the comics, and the way that they are able to adapt key elements of the comics in realistic ways. In the modern cable/broadcast/satellite TV world, I don't know that it makes sense for the Joker to hijack every TV set in Gotham to announce his crimes, but Nolan makes an excellent choice in having the Joker videotape himself doing terrible things to people and sending it to the news outlets. the Joker doesn't have to hijack the broadcast when the networks are more than happy to air the footage of their own volition. It's a chilling commentary on our contemporary media culture.
Other key elements that Nolan is able to make use of are the Joker having a "multiple choice" past as shown by his infinitely adaptable "how I got these scars" story, and his aptitude for disguises. On the other hand, a Joker who is ultimately unwilling to kill the Batman doesn't make any sense. I'm willing to buy the "I don't want to kill you. You complete me" line as a lie containing a deeper truth from a character who is prone to such things, but the Joker's "you won't kill me, I won't kill you" when he's hanging upside down at the end doesn't make sense, and is the opposite of the long-delayed but ultimately inevitable dance of death that makes Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke" work. The Joker needs the Batman in order to exist AND he wants to kill the Batman AND he wants the Batman to kill him. That contradiction is at the root of his insanity, and it's what makes the character run.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
That's the outfit Obi-Wan wears when he's playing the old hermit on Tattoine. It's also how Luke's uncle dresses; essentially, it's the "Tattoine man" uniform.
Jedi knights dress like this:
Anakin building R2-D2 makes a lot more sense. For one thing, R2 knows his way around Tatooine. It seems even in Ep. IV that he's been there before. For another, Anakin is a slave, mechanic, and pilot. He needs a versatile Astro droid a lot more than he needs a protocol droid. It would be a great nod back to Jedi if at some point in the first prequel, R2 were carrying a tray of drinks.
So where does Threepio come from? Well, if you take my general treatment of Prequel #1, where Padme discovers the clone army and is met by Obi-Wan, Qui-Gonn, and a young Anakin, we still have to account for how Padme is able to contact Yoda and the Jedi Council to send for help. So, it's obvious -- she sends the message by way of her protocol droid, C-Threepio, who then (much to his chagrin) has to guide the two Jedi, the pilot Anakin, and his sarcastic droid R2 back to her location, where they face off against Darth Maul, etc.
This, I think, would definitively solve the Jar-Jar problem. Jar-Jar Binks's function, particularly in the first of the prequels is essentially identical to Threepio's in Ep. IV (and if he'd been well received, probably would have continued to be basically identical throughout). He's a sometimes obnoxious coward who becomes a kind of reluctant hero, and serves as comic relief. The only problem is that he's unsympathetic, poorly animated, unfunny, and more than a little racist. So why not go with the tried and true? Threepio, especially in his back-and-forth with R2, can be both the comic relief and the familiar still points around which you re-construct this world.
This also, I think, restores R2 and Threepio to the central role they play in the original trilogy, and explains their bond to each other and to Luke and Leia. R2 is their father's droid; Threepio is their mother's. In their own way, the two droids are both siblings, children, and parents to the family Skywalker.
P.S.: You might note that I slid Qui-Gonn back into the story, after I'd basically cut him out in my first treatment. Well, I had a chance to watch The Phantom Menace again a couple of days ago, and Qui-Gonn is the best thing in the movie. He's the only person in the entire trilogy who actually seems like a Jedi: an intelligent, humane warrior with a warm sense of humor, in the best tradition of Obi-Wan in Ep. IV. And Liam Neeson can act. I would still cast Qui-Gonn as the partner, not the teacher of Obi-Wan -- Obi-Wan always says that Yoda is his teacher, and Ben has got to get old as hell somehow -- who discovers and begins to train Anakin, who is killed by Darth Maul and bequeaths his training to Obi-Wan, who Yoda doesn't think is ready. (Not because he's young, but because he's reckless -- "So was I, if you remember.") You can also, assuming that Padme is somewhere between Obi-Wan and Anakin in age, but if they're all adults, set up the jealousy that helps Anakin foster his resentment. The second movie would then show how Obi-Wan fails in his mentoring of Anakin, Anakin slips to the dark side, they duel, and... you know the rest.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Of course, the comparison is more than a little strained.
As Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, 'He has to run away -- because we have to chase him.' That's real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised -- then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror. Perhaps that's when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.
Once again, Frank Miller is really good for a take on Batman as something of a right-winger, but it has nothing in common with what Limbaugh describes. Batman never kills. Batman struggles constantly with his conscience, but he never "violates his values." The Batman identity is not a compromise. It is an end in itself. Bruce Wayne never had any interest in becoming a cop, and he has no desire to "take off [his] mask and speak plainly in the light of day."
The Batman is not a good man driven underground. In many ways, he is a bad man, but he is the best of bad men. Most importantly, Batman is not the justice system, and does not desire its sanction. Batman is not an argument for legalizing torture. If you want to make that argument, you need to examine Jim Gordon. Batman does not tell you how to run a society or how to deal with other people. In fact, the dysfunction of the Bat-family/society is a common theme of the comic books. Batman is not and cannot be an argument for any government, right or left. Superman is your man for that. He's the one interested in the effect that his actions have on society. Batman just wants to knock out the punk taking the old lady's handbag. (Every once in a while you get hints in the comics books that demonstrable involvement by the Batman in a criminal case is enough to get charges thrown out of court. This idea, the logical opposite of the ridiculous image of a masked man testifying in court, is underexplored.)
I'm not really interested in arguing politics here. In fact, I would be deeply interested in a conservative reading or re-imagining of the Batman. It just has to be better than Limbaugh's.
- Make one movie. The story that's absolutely essential to see is how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, how the Jedi are defeated, the Empire comes to dominate the galaxy, Luke and Leia are born, and the rebellion gets started, plus maybe some clarification on what "the clone wars" are all about. Virtually all of that happens in the last movie in the trilogy. Nobody was pining for the story of Qui-Gonn Jinn or Jar-Jar Binks or how Boba Fett's dad died. So, condense your action, trim the inessential, make one movie, and hire Steven Spielberg to direct it. Make it the best movie in decades and move on with your life.
- Tell more than one story. If you have to make three movies, to walk your way up to "Episode IV," they don't all have to be about Darth Vader. We can see Han Solo's backstory, follow Princess Leia through her youth, watch Yoda and Obi-Wan and Mace Windu confront the Sith and, you know, be people. Part of the strength of the original trilogy is that it's able to track several characters and stories simultaneously: it's not all Luke, all the time.
- Okay, if you insist. If it must be principally about Vader, cast everyone older and shift all of the action forward. Anakin's age in each of the trilogy should roughly correspond to Luke's, tracking from his late teens to early thirties. I mean, is Vader only supposed to be in his mid-forties during the original trilogy, but Obi-Wan has somehow aged to the point where Tarkin thinks it's impossible for him to be alive? I'd cast Kenneth Branagh as Obi-Wan, and have him or Qui-Gonn or whomever find Anakin as a teenager.
- I think the whole Buddhist attachment-is-suffering arc is fine, so play out that whole thing from the second movie where he kills the Tuscan Raiders as revenge for his mom right away. Anakin needs to be dark and powerful and spooky right away. You could essentially merge most of the action of the first two movies; go straight to the clone armies. The whole trilogy should be the Clone Wars.
- This would be a natural way to introduce Padme; she discovers the development of the clone army and disappears, Yoda sends Obi-Wan to retrieve her, he crashes on Tatooine, finds the young pilot Anakin and begins to train him, they discover the clones, retrieve Padme, sparks fly with Anakin, Palpatine plays the whole thing off, end it with a big clones and Jedi vs. droids and Darth Maul battle.
- There's no way Anakin builds Threepio -- a protocol droid built by a child on a desert planet? -- but he could probably build R2-D2; a childish, impudent droid with way more capabilities than an average R2 unit, and who's a perfect swiss-army-knife assistant for a pilot and Jedi.
- The second movie in my trilogy would be a lot like the third in Lucas's. Anakin and Padme are already having a secret relationship -- no need for longing looks and rolling around in fields -- and Anakin is frustrated to be underneath Obi-Wan when he knows he's already a more powerful Jedi. Palpatine turns Anakin to the dark side, together they destroy the Jedi, Obi-Wan and Anakin fight, lava, etc. Padme, pregnant, flees as Obi-Wan and Yoda try to hide her.
- My third movie would be new, and help fill in the gaps between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Structurally, it would be a lot like The Empire Strikes Back, insofar as it would be Vader and the Empire in pursuit and the nascent rebellion on the run. The essential conceit is that you need to follow Darth Vader -- Vader, not Anakin -- as he pieces together his broken body, builds his suit and the Imperial fleet, clashes with Yoda and Obi-Wan, and searches the galaxy for Padme and (he thinks) his child. Vader wouldn't be a hero, exactly, nor would be a villain. He would be something else, a dark protagonist -- fighting the Empire's military almost as often as the remnants of the Jedi, dismissing the Death Star as a mere "technological terror," trying to find a way to throw off Palpatine's yoke. You would have a much clearer sense of the context of his character going into the original trilogy, the mentality of the Sith, the emergence of both the Empire and the Rebellion, etc. Here you can introduce a young Chewie, Han, Lando, if you wish; you close with a major battle between Vader and Palpatine, Yoda and Obi-Wan where Palpatine becomes disfigured, Obi-Wan and Yoda are presumed dead (but are able to escape), Padme dies, and Obi-Wan and Yoda hide the children. At this point, Vader's hopes of overthrowing the Empire, reuniting with Padme, and bringing order to the galaxy are lost, so he fumes and pursues the rest of the rebellion... until he discovers Luke, which changes everything.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Mason un-grounds the Odyssey, often gorgeously, turning Homer's twisting tale into a sermon on indeterminacy. He allows this grand myth of homecoming no beginning or end, just banks of fog, endless mirrors, Borgesian labyrinths.... He has Homer dream of refineries. He sends Odysseus to China, to Hades, to psychoanalysis. He makes him a sorcerer and Achilles a golem crafted from river mud and a slave girl's blood. He lets Odysseus return to Ithaca to find it abandoned, to find Penelope a ghost, or worse, married to a fat old man . . . it had never occurred to him that she would just give up. Odysseus' journeys never end. Or maybe they never begin. Maybe, instead, the war never ends, and Agamemnon ages in a fortress dug beneath Troy's sand beaches that expands dendritically, sending off new shoots in all directions as avalanches reclaim whole wings. Mason delights in doubles, spirals, conceptual mazes and Möbius strips. He is only occasionally too clever. Mainly, he is a wondrous pleasure to read. --Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times
Doesn't that sound awesome? Hat tip to The Little Professor.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Of these, I think my favorites are the Lego Star Wars games, which have an unusual quality -- not only are there new lego-based gags, but some of the action is condensed and simplified, while other parts are filled in or lengthened out to extend the gameplay. This seems like an interesting problem for any kind of counterfictional -- what do you omit, what do you keep, what do you extend and expand?
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Let me clarify what I mean. I mean that Han Solo is sufficiently strong in the force that he can perform acts that would otherwise be impossible; that, in Obi-Wan's formulation, he is partially guided by it in his actions but that it also responds to his commands. If Han Solo were younger and had been trained to use the Force, he could have been a powerful Jedi; instead, he simply becomes the last of the Jedis' most important ally.
1) Han Solo does things that are otherwise impossible.
Luke and Vader (especially young Anakin) are remarkable, inventive pilots, as is Lando, but Han blows them all away. In one scene after another in Empire, Han is able to perform feats that Artoo or Threepio say are mathematically near-impossible. He does this in a ship that has a remarkable warp-speed computer but which appears singularly unsuited for close-quarters maneuveurs. Finally, he gets the drop on Vader in Episode IV, and while Vader may have been distracted by his sensations re: Luke, this is still evidence that we are dealing with a very special pilot.
2) Han Solo can communicate with his mind.
Seriously, how are we supposed to otherwise believe that Han can talk with Chewbacca, Greedo, Jabba, and every other alien he meets? Jabba needs an interpreter (Threepio) to talk to Luke, the Princess, etc.; but Solo can talk English to him and Jabba can talk Hutt back? Han's communication abilities fall well outside any "he was raised by Wookies" ad hoc hypotheses. Note that Leia, too, possesses amazing communication abilities, able to impersonate a bounty hunter and communicate nonverbally with Ewoks, along with her ability to telepathically connect with Luke. But Leia's also got the Force, son.
This also suggests that different people strong in the force have different strengths and weaknesss. The Princess is a fair shot in combat, but her strength is in mental communication and resistance to the same. Luke is a great physical fighter, Yoda a manipulator of the universe, Obi-Wan skulks and sneaks around, Palpatine experiments with life, dominates underlings, and deals in pain. Vader can do almost everything, but even he is best known for his piloting ability and his gift for crushing windpipes. Solo can fly, dodge, shoot, and talk to the Universe.
3) Han Solo denies believing in the force, but his denials sound like confirmations.
Han says (I'm paraphrasing) "I've gone from one end of the galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's some all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no force controlling my destiny, that's for sure." At this, Obi-Wan laughs to himself. But the way Han poses the question is one of control. Han doesn't feel bound or controlled by the force, because he can use it, albeit unconsciously. Han doesn't believe in odds; he thinks he's been lucky, but as Obi-Wan says, "In my experience, there's no such thing as luck."
Likewise, there's no way Obi-Wan gets on just any ship willing to take him and Luke to Alderaan. He's played dumb before, but he knows exactly who Han and Chewie are and what the Millenium Falcon is. If he's going to save the Princess from Vader and make it to Alderaan with the stolen Death Star plans and Vader's son in tow, he's going to need a pilot who's strong in the force. And he may have found the strongest.
4) Han Solo has no parents.
This I'm actually taking from Wikipedia's summary of the extra-cinematic books on Solo's origin, but essentially he's an orphan on Corellia. Right in his name, it tells you that he's self-generated. Now, let's see... who else in the Star Wars universe is born into poverty under mysterious circumstances with crazy-ass piloting skills? Now, if you buy the suggestion in Return of the Sith that Palpatine somehow made Anakin -- that is, manipulated the mitichlorians (groan) into bringing him into being -- isn't it possible that Han Solo is another one of Palpatine's experiments? A gifted pilot, strong in the force, strong enough maybe to defeat Vader were Vader ever to turn on him? But this experiment got out of Palpatine's control, the child was lost, to piracy and smuggling, only to turn up one day on the Death Star's doorstep. All five of them -- Luke, Leia, Vader, Obi-Wan, and Han: very nearly destroyed together. Instead, Palpatine is left to play out his Sith triangle with Vader and Luke. Oh well. C'est la vie.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
1. Bruce Wayne is the mask. Batman is the real identity.
There are a number of sources for this idea, but the first place I heard it articulated was by Kevin Conroy, who did Batman/Bruce Wayne's voice for the Batman Animated Series. I would go a bit further and play with the idea of Bruce Wayne being just one of Batman's masks. There is some precedent for this in the comics: Matches Malone, Lefty Knox. Batman can be anyone, anywhere. Paranoia is at least as powerful as physical intimidation. The man you've worked with for years, your best friend, could be the Bat. The Bruce Wayne: Fugitive storyline also plays with the idea of a Batman without Bruce Wayne, and the Over the Edge episode of the Batman Animated Series provides another key to that door. Batman would still be Batman even if the Bruce Wayne mask were taken away.
2. Never during the day.
This is a throw-off line from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, which writers ignore at their peril. The Bat doesn't make public appearances. He doesn't testify in court. The only time you will ever see him is when he takes you down or saves your life, and even then, only for a moment. The Bat only works as a secret, a rumor, a myth. The Bat can never be captured, tied up, or examined under light. The mask is flimsy, and the only way to keep someone from pulling it off is to wear it sparingly. Other masks (see #1) are more durable, and just as useful.
3. The utility belt has a finite number of pouches.
Batman: Year 100 has the best take on this. Making Bruce Wayne a man with unlimited resources is ultimately a mistake. Batman is interesting only in his limitations. No superpowers. The only available tools are what he can carry silently. In this spirit, there is no Batmobile. (Also see #2.) Batman does not travel in a marked car that stops at traffic lights and signals left turns. If he drives, it is in an unmarked car, without the mask. Motorcycles make more sense, since a helmet is a mask, but still only something plain and unmarked. Something that can be abandoned.
4. There is something deeply wrong with Batman.
Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum is a good source for this. Batman can't be written as totally crazy, because the sense of right and wrong is so essential, but Batman is so hell-bent on rightness, on structure because of something missing inside of himself. He has to spend every moment of his life building order out of chaos because he doesn't have that order inside of him. Detective fiction is also instructional: Batman is obsessive/compulsive (look at his trophy room in the Batcave), and either a bit autistic or sociopathic. He can't forget and constantly has to organize the information in his head before he loses his place. He can't relate to people, but is a tremendous actor. He's jarringly detached, but he can never let go of anything.
5. Jason Todd
He was Robin. He died. He's dead. Bringing Jason Todd back was the worst decision a Batman writer has ever made, and that's saying a lot. The false Jason Todd in the Hush storyline is interesting. Jason Todd really being alive is not. Losing a Robin, and the guilt Batman feels (or doesn't feel?) about it is key to his character. His inability to stop using a sidekick is key, too. Hell, at the time she replaced Tim Drake, Batman didn't even like Stephanie Brown. Why do children keep seeking the Batman out, and why is he, the strongest will in the DC universe, unable to say no?
In the future, I'd like to revisit individual elements of the Batman—the costume, the villains, Gotham, the origin story—and examine what changes and what says consistent. (Hopefully I can dig up some nice images for some of these topics.)
As evidenced by the various Elseworlds titles, the Batman mythos is hugely productive. There are a million ways to take the basic elements of the mythos and translate them to a variety of situations. I'd like to posit the (hopefully) controversial thesis that Superman doesn't work in the same way. With the exception of Mark Millar's outstanding Red Son, I'm not aware of a wealth of really interesting variant superman stories. Anybody want to call me on that?
Fictions already run counter to fact. Counterfactuals, in logic, philosophy, or history, imagine an alternative possible world, to test a theory, to prove an argument about contingency and necessity, or merely to explore the question, "What if?," like the Marvel comic book title.
The same approach can be taken to fiction, to imagine a book or a story where proper names still single out the same individuals but everything else is different. A book other than the book, a fictional fiction other than the fact of fiction. Fiction has its theories to be tested and other worlds to be explored.
So with counterfiction we ask "what if?" to our favorite stories, books, comics, and films, for fun and (non) profit. Some of our counterfictions we will write ourselves, and other entries will discuss counterfictions found in the wild. The point is to try to open up just a little more imaginative space in works of the imagination, and to make fiction live in fiction a little more brightly.