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Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? It’s A Comic Book Stunt?

Superhero comics run on the old serial narrative. Hero faces death. Hero is threatened by death. Then Hero saves the day. And then after a few hundred issues you have to give the threat some credibility by killing the Hero. Then you replace him with something else. Then you bring him back.

Four Supermans. Three Batmans. Doc Ock as Spiderman. And then once you’ve shaken things up, cleared the ground, you use that 8f_118056_0_SupermanVol1250HaveHorseWillFlas an opportunity to give the whole thing a fresh look before going back to the way things were all along.

Nothing really changes in comic books. That’s truer than ever because the comic book audience is now 40 year old males and they want more sophisticated storytelling without changing the stuff they grew up with. Those two are irreconcilable. And this is how you reconcile them. You make big changes and then reset them. Spiderman reveals his secret identity and then makes a deal with the devil to undo it. Big stuff happens and then it doesn’t. Everything changes and then it doesn’t.

The one thing that comic publishers fear for their IPs, even big ones like Spider-Man, is that they will be shelved and ignored. Event comics are a cry for attention. Making big changes gets readers to browse it on their iPads one more time. They make it seem like the comic is going somewhere when it’s not. When it can’t.

What can you really do with an iconic character that hasn’t been done before? Nothing.

Every comic book character has died, been replaced, had to kill, been accused of murder, lost the loves of their life, been defeated, had their identity exposed etc…

There is nothing else to do. Not a thing. Oh you can make him gay. That’s about it. And then change him back. See Vampire Slayer, Buffy. And once every comic has done its gay love story, there will be even less out there.

Superhero comics stopped being relevant a while back. Even Spider Man, one of the younger of the top superhero comics, is out of it. These aren’t stories, they’re IPs. Like Mickey Mouse or the Simpsons they’re just around because people remember them and kids buy the merchandise. That’s it.

There are no more stories left to tell. Just lunchboxes to sell. Or Apps. And the kids who buy Spider Man gear aren’t reading the comics now, they’re seeing the cartoons or the movies.

The comics began it all, but now they’re just this odd relic tagging along. Disney isn’t interested in Spider Man because it wants to sell Spider Man comics, but because it wants to make Spider Man movies.

DC and Marvel are relics full of characters to be monetized by movie studios who put movies first, games second, cartoons third and comics zeroth. Their target audience is 17. The comics audience is 37.

Batman, Superman and Spiderman comics have become the ugly stepchildren of their own IPs. Their audiences are too old, their medium is dated and they have to pull off new stunts that their audience is familiar with because their audience is pushing 40 and grew up on those stunts.

Comics aren’t dead, but the big boys are irrelevant. And being irrelevant means fighting harder for oxygen. It means more stunts which get reset and alienate whatever audience remains after the initial buying frenzy for the issues that aren’t going to be worth anything in twenty years dies down.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a dying industry trying to pull off one more comic book stunt. Peter Parker dying in Doc Ock’s body is a metaphor for the entire industry. Old fans. Old characters. No reason to go on.

The Abrams Trek II Villain

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Sure “John Harrison” could really be Khan or Garth of Izar or some other Star Trek villain, but based on Abrams Trek I, he’ll be a character so undeveloped and with a backstory so weak that if you poured hot water over him you wouldn’t even get tea.

Star Trek Into Darkness is written by the dream team of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, better known as the writers of Transformers and the guy responsible for messing up Lost and Prometheus. It stars a lot of special effects and probably not much else.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe John Harrison will be more than another villain with no credible motivation looking to wreak havoc for the same non-reason that most Bond villains do. But I wouldn’t bet the space farm on it.

Nero in Abrams Trek I had a big name actor, a suggestive name and a backstory that made less than no sense at all. Nero had less credible motivation for his killing spree than every other Star Trek movie villain, a list that includes a guy who was obsessed with plastic surgery and another guy who ran his own cult. (These stories come out of Hollywood so they’re true to life.)

Nero lost his wife and his homeworld because Spock didn’t get there in time, so he traveled through time to destroy Earth and Vulcan. Six year olds could come up with a more coherent motive for a villain than that.

In a measure of Into Darkness’ bold originality, Harrison will blow up London and probably San Francisco, because Star Trek is now completely indistinguishable from Transformers and even has the same writers.

The End of Star Trek and Star Wars

One day Paramount and Disney might meet up in a bar, go back to their penthouse for a one night stand and then hook up for good in an obscene squishy merger that will put Star Trek and Star Wars under the same corporate roof. And it won’t matter much by then because the rivalry is over and everyone lost.

Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas had their faults, and they were big ones too, but they were individuals trying to tell a story. 417px-Enterprise_destructionWith the sale of Star Wars and the end of the Star Trek franchise, those days are over. Star Wars and Star Trek are both IP’s. There’s no more stories, plots, visions or anything like that. Just a marketing opportunity.

Ten years from now, even if Paramount and Disney don’t corporately boink their balance sheets together, it will be hard to tell Star Trek and Star Wars apart. Ask a teenager now what the difference is and he won’t be able to tell you. And how could he. Maybe he’ll say that Star Wars is for kids, because he associates it with Phantom Menace and the Clone Wars series and that Star Trek is for teens because he associates it with the Abrams movie.

And he’ll be right.

Star Wars now fills the Tween niche and Star Trek hits the 17 year old target audience that every blockbuster does. Two eccentric bits of 60’s and 70’s mystic space-as-metaphor-f0r-conciousness franchises are reduced to the status of Transformer and every other IP waiting to be rolled off into theaters, consoles and app stores.

It’s amazing that Star Trek survived intact as long as it did in its gated franchise overseen by Rick Berman and his flying monkeys. It might even be alive today if Berman and his monkeys weren’t so dumb and arrogant that they killed the golden goose. UPN died and the leftovers got rebooted into a teen girl network. Star Trek fetched up on the shores of a mysterious island whose dorky overlord saw it as an exit strategy to the big time. Bigger even than Mission Impossible 3.

The rest is history, or will be when one of his movies fails, and Star Trek gets rebooted over and over again. Maybe one day it will even be a series again. Not, you know, a series, but it’ll be on TV for a while, things will blow up a lot, the writers will work out their angst, there will be a mystic arc, lots of postmodern storytelling and then SciFi or SyFy will cancel it and life will go on.

Star Trek and Star Wars were nice, but they’re dead now, Jim.

Gene Roddenberry didn’t get the chance to strangle his own franchise to death by turning it into complete crap. Everyone got lucky that he made TNG work as a concept, and as a set of characters, but wasn’t able to retain control of it. George Lucas did retain control of his franchise and killed it. But even their failures were personal. The new wave is impersonal IP’s milked like cash cows on Rodeo Drive until there’s nothing left.

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden

A zombie anthology is dead from page one. Like most gimmicky anthologies it’s limited by its topic, and zombies, despite the 21st century deadsheer number of movies and comics about them are not very interesting.

21st Century Dead is supposed to be a more modern anthology. Forget those countless anthologies with punny names all edited by the same guy that you’ve seen on the spinner rack. This is trade paperback size. It has a splashy cover with lots of gore that looks like a movie poster. And it has a punny title. And its story quality is even worse.

There are the screenplay treatments that the authors and editor pretends are stories. There are zombies as a metaphor for poverty and for television. (Yes, there are a few of each.) There are a lot of stories about family members coping with their loved ones becoming zombies, including a few stories about people feeding other people to their family members who have turned into zombies. And there’s a novella in the middle about a ghost dog protecting a little boy from an evil alien spirit or something.

But it’s hard to blame anyone involved for 21st Century Dead. Christopher Golden has bad taste as the editor, but the topic is also on the hopeless side. What do you really do with zombies? Not a lot. There’s a virus. Everyone turns into zombies. Everyone else runs away or reacts in dysfunctional ways.

The Walking Dead can do a lot out of human reactions, but that’s not enough for an anthology, and there isn’t much that can be done. A few of the stories project a rebuilt society that finds ways to harness or cure zombies and that’s as clever as it gets. A few stories aren’t really about zombies, including Orson Scott Card’s initially funny story about a wife who comes home to her henpecked husband, but that then goes off the rails, but mostly they travel the same old territory. Virus. Bite. Depression.

There really isn’t much you can do with zombies and there’s not much cleverness on display in 21st Century Dead, an anthology that exists because zombies are popular, not because there’s anything more to write about them.

The Only Reason to Visit AICN is Schadenfreude

Long ago in a place far far away (1999) Ain’t It Cool News was taken seriously, along with its head whatever, Harry Knowles. AICN is still around but it’s a site whose peculiar pleasure is that it’s run by horrible idiots whose readers hate them.

AICN is like the concert you go to only to boo the aging rocker. AICN isn’t a movie site, it’s a comments section filled with in jokes about how much the site sucks. And the responses to Harry’s Jack Reacher review sum up what AICN is. It’s a booing section that keeps the thing it’s booing in business.

The review isn’t that bad and maybe it’s not even a plant (would anyone even bother paying for a plant review on AICN now?) but it’s accepted wisdom that Harry Knowles is illiterate and that his reviews are plants.

AICN has been around for so long that it has an anti-fanbase. AICN readers wait around for Harry to say another stupid thing and turn that into a meme in the comments section. 10 years later people still remember Harry’s great review of a fake Batman script and reference it. It’s things like that which show that Harry Knowles has become a cult figure in anti-film reviews. The qualities that made Knowles seem like a standard of fanboy sincerity have long since made him into a joke.

But it’s hard not to feel a certain fondness for GORDON HAS A BEER AND CHEETS ON HIS WIFE. A review that has spawned its own memesphere and that after all these years remains unedited. The comments to it take us back to a more naive time when people only had slight objections to a review that misspelled Heroin and Cheats.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness is the Same Old Thing

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe I haven’t mainlined enough Star Trek in a while, but I have to seriously furrow my brow to try and remember the last Star Trek movie where Earth wasn’t under threat from something.

The last such Star Trek movie was Star Trek Insurrection and it was the exception among TNG movies which always went for the easy James Bond villain formula. Insert a villain who wants to destroy the earth. Fight and blow him up. The End.

Only two original series Star Trek movies endangered the earth and for all the odds and evens stuff, those movies look like a diverse and original collection of concepts and stories compared to the lame formulaic and studio driven mistakes that were the TNG movies. And Abrams Trek movies are clearly determined to head into even worse territory.

With that I give you, Star Trek Into Darkness. Earth is once again under threat, there’s once again a James Bond villain who gloats loudly and threatens destruction, and there’s some high jumps and a splashy effects scene.

Here is your Star Trek Dark Side of the Moon or Star Trek Transformers Into Darkness. Thanks B&B. You made this all possible. Oh and the blonde, I’m guessing, is Yeoman Rand?

GTA5. It’s Big, But Is It Fun?

We can all agree that when it comes to making huge open gameworlds no one beats Rockstar. And I’m a fan of the sandbox, but like Bethesda’s Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Skyrim, the open world is impressive, but the gameplay is terrible.

The GTA 5 trailer reeks of huge open worldism but also of the same rigidly structured missions as GTA 4 and the same forced interactions with game characters that are playing your friends and family. And those are not good things.

It would be better if Rockstar had taken some inspiration from games like Saints Row 3 or Driver San Fransisco which put player experience first and were and still are really fun to play.

San Andreas was Rockstar’s most open 3D GTA game. It was a world where you could actually have fun. Since then other franchises have focused on fun gameplay in an open world, while Rockstar has tried making its games into movies and commenting on politics.

GTA 5’s version of LA will be neat, no doubt, but once the novelty of the open world and its goofy characters wears off, you’re going to be stuck in cars that are no fun to drive and missions that are no fun to play while Rockstar’s Scottish developers beat you over the head with what they think is insightful commentary on the American Dream.

Did Microsoft Expect Windows 8 to Fail?

The numbers are in and Windows 8 is predictably in Vista territory. It didn’t have to be that way, but Microsoft insisted on killing any interest for desktop users by putting its mobile experience first and shoving the desktop experience into the back of the box.

Desperate to break into the mobile marketplace before it was too late, Microsoft put its crown jewels in hock, creating a competitive app marketplace by leveraging its massive desktop user install base for app developers. It was a clever, ruthless and stupid move. It got Microsoft the app development it wanted, while completely alienating desktop developers, especially game developers like Valve, which is now pushing into Mac and Linux territory, and which with Steam, has the leverage to force producers and developers to make more non-Windows game ports, and alienating desktop users.

But Microsoft had written off Windows 8 as a desktop environment from the start. The best evidence of that is how little effort Microsoft put into promoting Windows 8 to business users, who are the core of its OS business. Most end users get their OS with a new computer, without making any decision about it. Business users however make a decision to go with one platform or another and make everything compatible with that. And because of that business users are hard to sell on new OS’. With Windows Vista, Microsoft failed to sell business users. With Windows 8 it didn’t even bother.

Windows 8 continued Microsoft’s drift into becoming another Sony. With its game console business, its game publishing business and OS commercials that focus more on the low end casual user, Microsoft seems determined to reinvent itself as something closer to a company that sells personal entertainment appliances that happen to run its software, then a very successful software company.

But the PC isn’t dead. Sony is. And Apple is quickly tumbling. And Microsoft is wasting its goodwill and trashing its core business to imitate a company that is on the way out.

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