Saturday, July 28, 2007

I just had a revelation.

Judd Winick and Bill Willingham are the same person.

Think about it. They both drove Batman into the ground. They both insert hamfisted politcal allegory into everything they write. They both have deplorable track records writing women. They both write long-standing characters out-of-character to suit whatever agenda they're pushing. The only difference is that one's an obnoxious conservative and the other's an obnoxious liberal.

How can this be? Easy. Alternate Earths. I'm hoping Final Crisis will sort this all out. And maybe erase them both from continuity.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I don't see a problem with it.

I usually have a strict policy of not talking politics on my Blogger journal; I keep my political ramblings limited to my LiveJournal. But this is something that's been bothering me for some time, and it's relevant to my interest in comics, so I've decided to post it here.

There's been some discussion in the comics fan community lately over the cover to a collection of various Batgirl stories from the '60s (and the same has happened many times before over many other matters) that shows Batgirl putting on make-up rather than, you know, kicking ass like a super-hero should. The reaction has been the same as it always is: The fangirls on one side saying how demeaning it is, and the fanboys on the other side saying how they just don't see a problem with it and that the girls shouldn't worry their pretty little heads over it.


See, that's what I think is wrong with society. It's not the the Klansmen, the wife-beaters, or the gay-bashers who are the real problem here. We can see their evil for what it is and deal with them accordingly. No, the real problem here is, just like MLK said, the status quo-worshiping moderates who just don't understand why all those coloreds, broads, and queers have to be so darned uppity. After all, things look awful swell from where we're sitting; why do all of them have a problem with it?

If someone has a problem with anything in our society, it is their right -- it is their DUTY -- to speak up about it. You don't have to agree with their viewpoint, BUT YOU CANNOT TELL THEM THEIR OPINIONS ARE NOT WORTHWHILE.

I'm not even going to get into my own opinion of the cover. I just wanted to get that thought out there.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Comics Thoughts

I've been to both comics stores in my town and I can't find The All-New Atom #13.

I... I just need a moment.


I... okay. I'm... I'm centered. Moving on.

I did get a copy of Justice League of America #10 against my better judgement. It... wasn't horrible, but dammned if it couldn't have stood a crapload of improvement. It's intensely annoying how the characters seem to stammer whenever they speak. Putting ten ellipses on every page does not make dialog sound natural. The way he has characters say the exact thing at the exact time hundreds of miles apart is really vexing, and with all the color-coded internal monologue boxes flying around I have trouble remembering who's saying what.

The problem is that Brad Meltzer is altogether too lax about continuity and characterization. Since when is Wildfire the Red Tornado's future self, or was he just saying that to disorient Reddy? And what really made me mad was how Mister Terrific said they should just let the Legionaires kill themselves, like it's not a big problem. News flash: Being an atheist or scientist does not mean you have no respect for the sanctity of life! *waps Meltzer with a newspaper* Bad Meltzer! Baaaaad theist! No cookie!

I'm ashamed to have that hideous Michael Turner cover in my collection, too, for all the reasons everyone else across the comics blogosphere have already covered in depth. I don't have as much problem with Ed Benes's art -- I mean, I like my super-heroes, male and female, to have larger-than-life proportions and lots of sex appeal (which is why Power Girl/Citizen Steel as drawn by Dale Eaglesham is now my OTP) -- but they all have the same builds and same faces, and the cheesecakey poses he puts them in annoyed me a great deal after a while. I shouldn't have bought it, but dammit, I hate having a hole in a storyline in my collection like... like... the Atom...

*emo tear*

Why must bad things happen to good geeks? Why, Gail? WHY?!

Friday, July 06, 2007

When the Cicadas Cry

June, 1983. At night in a small town in rural Japan, a teenage boy murders two girls, bludgeoning them repeatedly with a steel baseball bat until they stop living. Realizing what he's done, the boy drops the bat and stares in wild-eyed disbelief at the two corpses before him. Cue title card.

So begins Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: When the Cicadas Cry*. A Japanese animated series that aired in the summer of '06, Higurashi is a 26-episode thrill ride of pulse-pounding suspense, gripping mystery, and gruesome horror. A mild-to-moderate anime buff, I'd heard a fair amount of buzz about this show last year. My interest in anime had waned a bit over the last several months, so to get myself back into the medium, I thought, why not give it a shot?

*Released in English as When They Cry -- Higurashi, "higurashi" being a particular species of cicadas with a distinctive mournful call. And the red "na" is, oddly enough, an official component of the title.

The premise of Higurashi is unusual. The series consists of multiple "chapters" telling the same story over and over again, each time from different perspectives or with significant divergences from previous chapters. Many storylines are mutually exclusive: A character who dies one way in the first chapter may die differently in the next, and not at all in the chapter after that. Practically every character gets to play the hero, villain, or victim over the course of the series.

There are, however, certain elements that run throughout each chapter without changing. At its core, Higurashi is about an average teenager named Keiichi Maebara who moves to the tiny village of Hinamizawa, where he falls in with four girls: Easygoing Rena, tomboyish Mion, would-be tough girl Satoko, and Cute (with a capital "C") Rika. The five spend lazy summer days hanging out and playing games; if it weren't for the gory opening scene described above, I'd have immediately assumed that this was just another fluffy, superficial harem comedy and passed the show over completely.

By the end of the first episode, however, we begin to see that there's much more going on here. Keichii learns that his friends are keeping something from him, a tragedy that struck Hinamizawa five years ago: In retaliation for a proposed dam that would have flooded their homes, a government employee was lynched and dismembered by the villagers; each year for the next four years, one more person has been mysteriously murdered and another disappeared completely, all on the night of the annual Watanagashi festival to the local deity (or demon?), Oyashiro-sama. The prefectural police refuse to look into the murders, chalking it up to "Oyashiro-sama's Curse." What's worse is that some or all of Keichii's friends are connected to the incident, either as blood relatives of the victims or as possible conspirators. And the eve of Watanagashi is fast approaching...

I reacted negatively to some of the show's elements. What really took me out of it first was the sheer level of moe, that hard-to-define anime aesthetic that aims to attract male fans to female characters through the use of stock quirky character traits, over-idealized physical appearance, a glut of cuteness, and worst of all, vulnerability. I managed to get past it once the show got rolling, and it actually worked to the series's advantage juxtaposing the deliberately "cute" imagery with the increasingly dark subject matter, but it was a pretty big turn off for the first fifteen minutes or so.

And then there was the violence. Really, for the most part, Higurashi sticks to the old horror adage that it's better to keep the most horrible parts off-screen and in the viewer's imagination, but when it does show violence, it shows a lot. In fact, there was one point late in the series in which one character repeatedly stabs another that was so gory that for a split second I had to stop myself from chuckling at just how over-the-top it all was. I just couldn't suspend my disbelief any further. So, yeah, this is not a series for the faint of heart (or the faint of stomach).

Yet there is much to recommend the series. Higurashi very skillfully weaves a shroud of suspicion, paranoia, and doubt over all its characters. The most fascinating aspect of the series is that we are never quite sure just who or what is behind the grisly events of the series. Is there really a supernatural entity visiting its vengeance upon transgressors, or is it the mundane but very real evil of human spite that is driving the characters to their dooms? We are provided with leads that suggest one or the other, and by the penultimate episode we think we see the whole picture. Or do we?

The soundtrack, too, was enjoyable. The ending theme wasn't to my taste -- a sappy ballad sung completely in ungrammatical, heavily-accented English -- but the opening theme really stood out to me. A rather intense elegy with slightly disturbing lyrics (for frame of reference, it reminded me a bit of Evanescence), the song was a welcome change from the typical bouncy, saccharine J-pop anime theme songs to which I'd grown accustomed. I didn't pay a great deal of attention to the in-show music, but the sound crew did a commendable job at crafting sound effects that enhance the constant feeling of wrongness that pervades Hinamizawa, particularly the haunting, ubiquitous chirping of cicadas that punctuates every episode.

In closing, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is an intense experience of gripping psychological drama and bone-chilling horror. If you're a fan of anime and/or horror, you could do worse than to give it a try.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Secret Origin of Filby Pott!

In lieu of a post of any substance (on which I am still working, btw), I thought I'd post something a little different. I've been on Blogger for almost a year now. I've made a friend or two, and I've been linked to a few times. So I reckon now would be as good a time as any to reveal the deep, dark secret behind my username and blog title...

First of all, "Pott Manor" isn't a drug reference. Nothing to do with pot. I'm not saying that anyone I know would assume that, I just get that a lot is all.

To begin with, I first got on the vast series of tubes that is the Internet at age 14 back in 1999 when my Mandarin teacher had my whole class set up email addresses so she could communicate with us easily. On the spur of the moment I came up with "wibstap," a quirky mash-up of my full name (William Barrett Staples) which would remain my online handle for the next couple years.

Then, in May 2001, I happened upon Elendor MUSH, an online text-based role-playing game based on J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novels. ("MUSH" stands for "multi-user shared hallucination," and is a more social offshoot of MUDs, or multi-user dimensions, which are basically MMORPGs without graphics). As I've noted in the past, I'm a huge fan of Tolkien's, and I dove right in.

My first character was a hobbit named Wilby Pott. Get it? Wilby? Will B.? God, I am so clever... Anydangway. "Pott" was from an obscure poem by Tolkien, "Perry-the-Winkle," which mentioned in passing an "Old Mayor Pott." Wilby as a character was basically me as a hobbit, only older and more idiosyncratic. As a character, he was rather shallow.

And he never got to develop much because in a month he was dead. I accidentally wandered into a ghost's tomb and it ate Wilby. Buh-bye Wilby. Time for Will to make a new character. A new character named... Filby Pott. Wilby's bereaved father. Get it? Filby? "Wilby" with an "F" instead of a "W?" God, I am so -- *ahem*. Moving on.

At first I played Filby as a slightly tragic but mostly goofy old loon who refused to acknowledge his son's disappearance. (The body was never found, being eaten by a ghost and all...). He wandered around the Shire being confused and senile and getting on people's nerves. In retrospect it was a fairly insensitive mockery of real-world mental illness, so it wasn't long before I contrived some event (I don't recall what) to "shock" Filby back into sanity. Yeah, it's totally unrealistic, but I was 15-16 at the time, gimme a break. I organized a little role-play memorial service for Wilby. From then on out, Filby was his own character.

And from there I went about building Filby's personality. Slowly but surely it came into focus. I retconned his backstory so that he was a cold and calculating businessman (er, businesshobbit) who had been counting on Wilby to carry on the family trade. Over time, he crossed the line into outright villainy, pulling dirty deals and sending out nasty ne'er-do-wells of all sorts to do unsavory jobs for him. He lived in a big, scary house called... Pott Manor. (Well okay, a small scary house -- he was a hobbit, after all.) He even got into politics briefly, running for Mayor just like his ancestor. In short, he was a weird three-foot hybrid of Professor Moriarty, Boss Tweed, and Lex Luthor.

And that was a problem. Hobbits are good, simple folk who enjoy nothing more than good food, good ale, and a good bed. Filby enjoyed none of those. He was a rotten old bastich who got a kick out of ruining people. I've got no problem playing a villain -- every hero needs one, after all -- but in the environment he was in it was just utterly outrageous. On top of that, I'd just gotten fed up with the game's petty politics and personality clashes with other players, and decided it was time to retire. So with a couple of friends, I cooked up a role-play plotline to take Filby out of the picture permanently by having all his wrong-doing exposed, forcing him to flee the Shire for good.

Check out Filby's last fling here. It's my best performance, really. And a big shout out to my buds Natania and Michael, the Harrisons, for pulling off Percival and Sinlo, respectively. Love you guys!

I like to think Filby is still out there in Middle-earth, somewhere. Probably stewing in a corner at the Prancing Pony, grumbling to anyone who will listen about days gone by and how he'd have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids.

Anyway, I've kept a soft spot in my heart for the old rotter after all these years, and to this day "Filby" remains my handle of choice all across the Internet. Most folks assume it's just a funny little name pulled out of thin air, but the fact is it's got a lot of meaning for me. Filby truly is my alter ego, and I wouldn't trade him for anything.

And now you know the story of Filby Pott.