Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Crossing Over

I'm fairly into both American and Japanese comics, and there's something that's struck me about them, vis a vis one another. (Nothing against European comics; I just haven't had much exposure.)

Comics from both support a very wide range of storytelling genres and subgenres. Looking just at the geeky/speculative fiction end of things:

Japan: Giant robots, magical girls, super martial artists, transforming heroes, hero teams (sentai), etc.

America: Superheroes, space opera, gothic fantasy, cyberpunk, espionage, etc.

Of course, especially in this day and age, you can see any of those subgenres in either country, but certain genres still predominate in different nations. But I've made an odd observation: English-language comics are way more quick to cross genres.

For instance, looking at Japanese comics, there's practically no chance you'd see a comic that mixes robots, magical girls, and martial arts. Can you imagine a cross between Gundam, Sailor Moon, and/or Dragonball that isn't a parody?

Conversely, in the DC Universe for instance, you have an almost ridiculously huge array of different genres all coexisting: Superman, Princess Amethyst, Angel and the Ape, Sergeant Rock, Swamp Thing, the Phantom Stranger, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, etc., etc., etc. - just by reading their names you can tell that if there were no shared DC Universe, there's no chance any of them would ever cross over, yet they all still make regular appearances in crossover events.

Why is this? I'd say it's a weird trick of publishing history. DC and Marvel both started out publishing comics that had nothing to do with each other, but with the emergence of the superhero genre we started getting crossovers, crossovers became superhero teams, teams begat shared universes, and by the '70s or '80s almost everything each company had ever published was deemed to have a corner in those universes to themselves in case a modern writer had an idea for them. Nothing like that ever happened in Japan, where almost all comics are self-contained, or maybe part of a single author or franchise's greater universe.

None of this is to say that one is an inherently better set-up than the other... but I have to say, a universe where John Constantine, Claw the Unconquered, and Captain Carrot's Amazing Zoo Crew can rub shoulders is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

About Captain Planet

Lewis "Linkara" Lovhaug is a cool guy who reviews bad comics. I really enjoy his video segment on That Guy With the Glasses, "Atop the Fourth Wall", and recommend y'all check him out.

Anyway, he reviewed a Captain Planet comic...

...which started me reflecting on the show it was based on. This post is adapted from my comment on his video.

I liked Captain Planet and the Planeteers when I was a kid, though I'm fully aware of its flaws now. I guess I just liked anything with action and superheroes, plus the lessons it delivered were in line with my family's values - we were and are a bunch of blue-collar New England Democrats, and respect for the environment is something I believe in.

But the problem, as many people have said, is that Captain Planet slams you over the head with its message, appealing to cheap emotional responses, while getting half of it wrong. I'm basically a socialist, but I'm mature enough to realize that capitalist CEOs aren't mustache-twirling villains - they're human beings just like me, and more often than not believe that they're doing right.

If you want to see what a good environmentalist story looks like, watch Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. The proto-capitalist "antagonist" has noble motives and actually helps people in her own way by giving them employment and shelter. The conflict between her and the nature-worshiping protagonists (who can be seen as eco-terrorists) is far from cut-and-dry. Even the nature spirits themselves are not "good" - they're dangerous, alien creatures who can be downright monstrous.

On a less serious note, I always felt sorry for Ma-Ti, the Planeteers' fifth wheel. Everyone always gets down on him for having a stupid ability. What kind of dumb power is Heart, anyway? But when I think about it, he'd potentially be the most powerful of all the Planeteers. I mean, his powers include clairvoyance, telepathy, and mind control. Just think what he could do if he had the imagination - and the ruthlessness - to use that power to its full potential!

If I were writing Captain Planet? I'd set it 15 years in the future, where Ma-Ti has gotten fed up with being the butt monkey of the team. He's become an extremist and used his ring to become a Communist dictator, controlling the hearts and minds of the masses. The other Planeteers struggle against their former friend, but they dare not summon Captain Planet, for without Heart to guide him, the planet's avatar has become a mindless force of destruction, nature's wrath incarnate.

That's what kind of dumb power Heart is!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mister Sulu is the Man

I saw a trailer for the new Star Trek movie, and apparently it has a scene with John Cho as Lt. Sulu, fencing.

I am considering seeing it for this reason alone.

The Naked Time - the one where everyone gets a virus that makes them crazy and Sulu runs around shirtless, attacking people with his foil - was my favorite, favorite Star Trek episode of all time, of all the series. Sulu is pretty much the coolest guy on the Enterprise. Forget Captain Jerk - Hikaru Sulu is the smoothest cat in the 23rd damn century.

Part of this is my man-crush on George Takei talking. That man is so awesome. He was just so dashing, you know? Plus his activism for gay rights in the last decade is wonderful. John Cho has some big shoes to fill, but I like him too - he was great in Howard and Kumar go to White Castle.

So yeah.

Edit: "Howard"? Yeah, Howard and Claude go to Arby's... *facepalm*