The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Archive for August, 2011

Behind the Curtain: An Excuse to Post My Wikipedia-Derived Knowledge

Posted by Matt on August 27, 2011

So, there’s that call for a boycott on Marvel products since the Kirby case ended. In principle, I actually agree with it. But I guess I also have to agree with Tucker Stone in that most sane people shouldn’t be buying Marvel’s shitty product anyway. I know I wasn’t.

Well, that isn’t true. While I don’t read Marvel comics or see Marvel’s movies (the former out of apathy, the latter out of laziness) or buy Marvel-branded trinkets (because I’m an adult), I did buy one Marvel product in the past year or so laden with Jack Kirby characters: Marvel vs Capcom 3. And there’s a new one coming out in a few months. Oh criminy, my love of fighting games clashing against my respect for creator’s rights.

It got me thinking, though: how much influence from beyond the grave does Kirby have on this game? I thought it was nice in the first version when the end credits listed the individual creators of all of Marvel’s characters, albeit not specifying who made who. How much of the game’s roster is from Kirby? Counting the new Ultimate MvC3 characters, let’s see:

(All characters, unless otherwise noted, were co-created with Stan Lee)

Captain America (with Joe Simon)
Dr. Doom
Galactus
Hulk
Iron Man (with Larry Lieber and Don Heck)
Magneto
MODOK
Phoenix (sort of: Jean Grey/Marvel Girl was created by Kirby & Lee, with the Phoenix persona and design created by Chris Claremont and David Cockrum. The Dark Phoenix was created by Claremont & John Byrne)
Sentinel
Super-Skrull
Thor

So, 10 of the 25 Marvel characters (plus the final boss) were co-created by Kirby. Let’s also recognize the creators of the other characters in the game:

Deadpool (Fabian Nicieza & Rob Liefeld, with the character’s modern comedy persona established by Joe Kelly & Ed McGuinness)
Dr. Strange (Lee & Steve Ditko)
Dormammu (Lee & Ditko)
Ghost Rider (Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, & Mike Ploog)
Hawkeye (Lee & Heck)
Iron Fist (Roy Thomas & Gil Kane)
Nova (Marv Wolfman & Jon Buscema)
Rocket Raccoon (Bill Mantlo & Kieth Giffen)
She-Hulk (Lee & Buscema)
Shuma-Gorath (Steve Englehart & Frank Brunner, with the name/concept first appearing in Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard’s posthumously-published short story “The Curse of the Golden Skull”)
Spider-Man (Lee & Ditko)
Storm (Len Wein & Dave Cockrum)
Taskmaster (Dave Michelinie & George Perez)
Wolverine (Wein, John Romita, & Herb Trimpe)
X-23 (Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost, who originally created her for the X-Men: Evolution animated series, and then adopted the character for comics a year later)

First thing’s first, I never noticed what a grand pedigree the new UMvC3 characters had until now. Thomas, Mantlo, Giffen, Kane, Wolfman, Englehart, and Ploog are all legends. That’s kind of neat. I also never noticed how prominent an idea man Thomas was at Marvel.

It would’ve been cool to do the same thing with Capcom’s characters. Unfortunately, video games, being more like film than comics, has many more people working on each title, so figuring who really was the brains behind the characters would be pretty difficult. I know the original Street Fighter team was also behind Final Fight (and thus Haggar). Shinji Mikami is the mastermind behind Resident Evil and all the characters you see in the game for the most part, Hideki Kamiya is the main man behind Devil May Cry, Atsushi Inaba the guy to blame for Viewtiful Joe, and all three combined to make Okami. Keiji Inafune was the co-creator of the Mega Man series, but was the main guy for both the X and Legends spin-offs, and thus essentially the man behind Zero and Tron Bonne. Inafune is also the guy who brought us Frank West and Dead Rising. Tokuro Fujiwara was the main programmer behind Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and also had a hand in the original arcade version of Bionic Commando (although Spencer in MvC3 has closer ties to the NES version of the game, and of course the American-developed modern remake). Shu Takumi is originator of the Ace Attorney series. But that’s about all I can say for sure.

But the point is, Kirby’s pencil marks are all over this game, alongside many others. Should I be a terrible person and make up some excuses to get my fix, or should I respect the creators who don’t get a cent from the use of their creations and abstain? Oh man, my morals are going to be put to the test come November.

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Me vs Me (Circa June 2010)

Posted by Matt on August 24, 2011

I decided to go back and look at my top ten favourite albums. For lazy people, here’s what I said in June 2010:

10. Revolver – The Beatles
9. Midnite Vultures – Beck
8. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon
7. “Heroes” – David Bowie
6. SMiLe – Brian Wilson
5. Amnesiac – Radiohead
4. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
3. The Mollusk – Ween
2. OK Computer – Radiohead
1. Low – David Bowie

There really aren’t that many changes I would make, but I definitely question some of my choices here. For example, why is Amnesiac so high? I still really like; it’d probably be my 3rd favourite Radiohead album. There was even a point where I would rank it higher than Kid A. But I could have sworn that was a few years ago, not last year. I am now pretty solid in my belief that Kid A is a far better album. I think it might have taken me longer to come to that conclusion; Amnesiac‘s best tracks, like “I Might Be Wrong”, I think are easier to get into. But after a few listens, I realized that Kid A really starts out strong, and basically never lets up. Those songs just sound so strange and alien, heights that it’s follow-up doesn’t reach.

The second upset would probably be replacing “Heroes” with Station to Station, which I think is a far more recent decision on my part. I remember having a hard time picking a second Bowie album for the list (and there had to be a second Bowie album because Bowie is the best at everything); Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane were both in the running. “Heroes”, like Amnesiac, is a great album, but I think having listened to Station to Station several times over the last few months, I think it edges out the rest of Bowie’s discography. I think what helps is that it’s a short album, which it doesn’t feel like because the opening track is 10 minutes (and 10 minutes of endless greatness). It’s got a feeling of conciseness; the Thin White Duke has a musical point to make, does it, and then leaves. There’s no missed beat on any of the tracks. And the songs are just so fun. “TVC15” and “Golden Years” and “Wild is the Wind” manage to find a halfway point between Ziggy/Aladdin Sane Bowie and Berline Trilogy Bowie, and it just took me a little bit of time to realize that. So yeah, that’s a definite switch.

Other than that, I’d move around a couple albums, too. But let’s actually look at what my favourite album list looks like right now:

10. Revolver – The Beatles
9. SMiLe – Brian Wilson
8. Midnite Vulture – Beck
7. Kid A – Radiohead
6. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon
5. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
4. The Mollusk – Ween
3. Station to Station – David Bowie
2. OK Computer – Radiohead
1. Low – David Bowie

Top two don’t change, because it’s gonna take a titanic effort from someone to take down Low and OK Computer from their thrones. Those two are PERFECT albums.

After that all that Station to Station talk, I decided that it goes in the bronze spot. I just like it that much!

The Mollusk is still amazing, another album I can listen to forever. I saw that AV Club had recommended it to people as well. Good for them.

Pet Sounds is Pet Sounds. Not much to say about that.

I ranked up Excitable Boy, because that’s another really fun, easily re-listenable album. It’s more than just “Werewolves of London”, folks. Any of these tracks could be an eternally remembered Zevon classic.

Kid A is lower-ranked than Amnesiac was on the last list, even though I do think it’s a better album now. It just didn’t have the impact the rest of these have, is all.

Apparently, nobody has told Beck that Midnite Vultures is his best album. Real shame. Because it is.

Then there’s SMiLe and Revolver, both albums I have nothing interesting to say about.

See you next year, me!

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The Legendary Hero is No More

Posted by Matt on August 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Morrison (or Grant, if you prefer),

I was a late bloomer, if you will, when it came to comics. I didn’t grow up with the modern mythos, the adventures of Marvel and DC’s line-up with costumed crime-fighters, like you and so many other people did. What I knew about them was gleaned from the licensed products: the television shows, the toys, and everything else. I didn’t know about all the things, great things, those comics contained.

I was given a huge load of comics in high school. Quite the variety, really. Classic Lee/Romita Spider-Man, Watchmen, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, Gaiman’s Sandman, at least one example of Kyle Baker…works both classic and modern. But none, none, affected me quite as much as your with Richard Case (and numerous other great artists!) on Doom Patrol.

When I first picked up Doom Patrol, I was taken in by the weirdness of the characters, the Scissormen, the Brotherhood of Dada, Danny the Street, et al. What delightful fun, I thought. My appreciation of your work only grew the more I read; it opened my imagination to all the possibilities comics had, the limitless number of images, the infusion of Burroughs, the rebellion against a world determined homogenize everything, and the way it can make you connect with its characters. Your characters were people I cared about, people whose adventures I wanted to read about. All of these things culminated in your last issue in that series, which is one the most sad, beautiful things I have ever read.

Doom Patrol, more than any other, has come to be my personal high-water mark for comics. It is the thing that inspires me the most. Part of my motivation for attempting a career as a writer is to give other people the kind of joy you gave me in those comics, and all the subsequent series of yours that I’ve read. I just want to thank you for that.

With that, I come to my main reason for writing this: I think we’re finished as artist and audience.

I haven’t read any of your recent Batman work (although I have read Arkham Asylum and Batman: Gothic, both of which I enjoyed), or Final Crisis for that matter; I’m simply not interested. I could gather in your early work that you really do love DC Comics and it’s characters; they seem to be as near and dear to you as your comics have been to me. You’ve probably dreamed for years of becoming the architect of some of the world’s best known fictional characters. I do not begrudge you for this; I simply skip that part of your output that does not interest me, and wait for the next Seaguy.

No, that’s not my problem. What my problem happens to be is the side of you that these last few years have brought out in you. This is has been especially troubling in the last few months, as you have been interviewed about your autobiography (which I have not yet read, and with all that has gone on, may never read now). To be honest, in a lot of these interviews, you’re come off as full of shit.

Let’s take your recent Rolling Stone interview, for example. Specifically, your controversial statement about Chris Ware. Now, I’m not a Ware reader (not out of indifference or antipathy, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), and to be fair, I think you sort of have a point. I think the critical corners in the comics world have spent far too much time setting up the world as the superhero crowd-pleasers at Marvel/DC with versus the lonely white boy stories told by Ware and others, as if those are our only two choices. They’re not, and the sooner we exit that dichotomy, the better off we’ll be.

No, where I have a problem is your calling them out on being “privileged American college kids”, and that this comes from your “Scottish working class” background. Maybe that would actually have been true when you were writing Zenith, or Doom Patrol, or The Invisibles, or maybe even New X-Men. But not now. Not when you own a house in Hollywood, get preferential treatment from a large corporation to keep their multimillion dollar trademarks in circulation, and get paid god knows how much to write movies about aliens fighting dinosaurs. You have no fucking right to criticize anyone else for being “privileged”.

Then there’s your statements about Siegel & Shuster in your book. You know, the guys who created the character you seem to think is so important, and are going to be writing about starting next month. You apparently don’t think their side of the story is very important, and that the half-century struggle for proper recognition and compensation for creating one of the best known fictional characters of the 20th and 21st centuries is trivial. Despite your attempts to convince everyone that superheroes are the modern mythology, you can’t make us overlook that Superman, Batman, and the rest were created by very specific people, and are now the property of another group of people who see them simply as a brand for them to sell. You can’t make them go away. The creator rights battle is a major part of the history of the so-called supergods, and I think people are beginning to realize that they may be the most important part.

You know, I don’t like to armchair analyze other people’s motivations, I really don’t, but all these things: the dismissal of people like Ware who aren’t big fans of superheroes, the dismissal of critical circles like The Comics Journal, the dismissal of the creators of the characters you write for, the dismissal of Alan Moore because he realized what a raw deal the superhero industry is and makes sure everyone knows it…it really sounds like your are trying to protect yourself from all the people that make you feel guilty for wanting so bad to be where you are today, the guy who gets to direct a superhero universe (under the auspices of the money men at Warner Bros). You probably need to make sure Alan Moore and all those other voices never get to you, because if they ever do, you’ll realize that, not long ago, you were one of them. Fighting corporate tyranny and it’s sadistic enslavement of imagination. You were once the solution to the problem. Now, you’re the problem’s willing servant.

But again, good for you for getting to live out your dream. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will continue to read and enjoy Doom Patrol, Animal Man, We3, The Filth, and all the rest. But I just don’t think I can take anything you write from now on seriously. Not like I used to. You’ve been compromised by the allure of the corporate superhero.

Thank you so much for all you’ve given me.

Now take your Batman comics and go to hell, old man.

Additional reading:

Dan Nadel at The Comics Journal
David Brothers at 4thletter!
Abhay on the Siegel & Shuster Thing
Comics Commentary

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Which can be misconstrued as saying The Dark Half is the scariest story ever

Posted by Matt on August 18, 2011

I find disorders like paranoid schizophrenia and depression to be among the scariest things in the world. There is something to the idea of a thing that only affects you (in a way) and can’t be turned off. Like a deformity, a curse, something that follows you everywhere, can’t be satisfied, can’t be quieted; it’s as permanent as every other sensation. The only short term solution often involves forcing your personality to change, whether it be through changing your life patterns or taking drugs. Sometimes, these things will eventually rid you of the problem. Other times, it can return, even worse than before. In either case, once you’ve suffered something like this once, you will always remember it, and you’ll be stuck with a lingering fear that it could return. That can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t know if it’s just a hypersensitivity to noise or something else, but sometimes I think I hear noises. Whispers. I know they’re not really there, but sometimes it just feels like I can’t make them stop. I’ve lived like this for most of my life. It’s not that bad, really. But it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder what it would be like if those noises I can easily dismiss were a lot louder, a lot harder to ignore. Omnipresent. I wonder what it would be like if I couldn’t use my rationality to rid myself of the fear that creeps in. Then, I wonder what would it be like if this was a regular occurrence, and if there was no easy way I could deal with it, other than a major medical intervention. This scares me more than anything else.

What’s worse is that there is no single cause to these disorders. Certain events can trigger them, but there’s no germ, no force we can blame our problems on. Sometimes, they simply happen, even to people we don’t expect. To people who didn’t expect it themselves. It is simply something that happens to us, a fact of the chemical interactions that make up our thoughts. I guess saying “what’s worse” at the beginning of the paragraph was sort of hyperbolic. It’s not something that I find to be that frightening, or that puts me into a state of “oh woe is the chaos of nature” nihilism. It’s simply…a fact. Something that’s good to know. A point of interest. Not that knowing will render the problem null if and when it ever shows up, although I think a greater understanding will make sure the proper steps are taken as quickly as possible.

It is a topic I come back to. I mean, it’s horrible, and something I’d probably do anything to avoid. But as creative type, I like looking at these things that scare me, and trying to understand why for me personally, why it might be the same for other people, and as many other angles as possible. It’s a good way to get ideas for stories and characterization. It may also help with my mental health, but why should that ever be a priority?

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The People Will Know When You Have Failed Them

Posted by Matt on August 16, 2011

With it looking like I have failed to become a student of journalism, why not talk about journalism some more?

The more I think about it, the more I think that journalism is a fucking science. The ADHD news cycle has moved past it already, but there was a good month there where tabloids were being scrutinized for their shitty tactics and scary level of political influence in the UK. In Greater Canadian Motherland, we have no such problem, despite Quebecor’s ubiquity on the newstands of the nations (and yes, I see as many people picking up the Winnipeg Sun as the actual[ly kind of mediocre] newspapers). It has been kind of interesting/amusing to see Sun News end up as the failure pile in a sadness bowl it is, desperate for anyone to pay attention to it. So much for Fox News North, you conspiracy nuts.

I’d like to think most people who buy tabloids know that they’re paying for screeching paranoia for people who want to be outraged all the fucking time, and that it’s really only for entertainment purposes (shitty entertainment, but when has that ever been an issue for most?) That’s way too optimistic of me. Chances are the people picking up the Sun think they’re getting the same level of quality information as readers of the Free Press. But that’s probably because they see the news, in all its forms, as a form of entertainment. Through the fault of the press, who have on a whole dumbed themselves down to reach some mythical rich idiot demographic that keeps getting distracted by shiny rocks or something, and/or the people themselves, who just don’t fucking care, the idea of the news has been distorted into either something you gloss over before you look at the TV listings, or a thing you read to have all your previously held opinions validated.

It shouldn’t be either. For the most part, good journalism is essentially politically neutral (although not really, because most politics involves molding reality in the minds of the people who let you do stuff, and unfortunately truth and information often gets in the way of that). I mean, facts well told may be unpalatable to one person who overly identifies with a political mindset, but facts hold no biases and are equal opportunity. As long as the information is accurate and provided within the proper context, we can be sure that decisions are informed, even when they completely disregard the facts for wild fantasy.

The idea that it has to be either shrieking or bone-dry is a false one. There is style in news reporting, and it involves skillfully and clearly conveying all the vital information of a story. It can be informative and entertaining you know, unless you can only be entertained by bright colours and movement. There is no hope for you then.

Now down to the science part, which is hilarious considering how badly reporters often mangle stories from the world of science (documented pretty frequently by Ben Goldacre). Journalism has what should be a scientific model system built in: science papers have peer review, newspapers (presumably) have editors and/or fact checkers. Now, editors aren’t going to make your reporting go from shit to gold, and poor/manipulative writing can still creep through. Even so, there’s still a level of assurance that a second opinion is being brought in, so we don’t just get straight prose goop from the reporter’s notepad to your table.

Whether or not the editors are doing their job is another issue entirely.

There’s also the issue of transparency. Science has built-in transparency: all published papers are easily accessible, and references and details about experiments are required. Reporting can’t quite have the same level of transparency, what with confidentiality of certain sources imperative. That gets into a whole ethics battle that will likely rage between journalists forever.

This means the comparison isn’t 100% perfect, of course. But in a very broad sense, science and journalism are still pretty close: both are based on reporting real, tangible information, require truthfulness and clarity on the side of the reporter, and need to pass a review process, where hopefully the information is confirmed as legitimate before being released for mass consumption. Both should be readable by everyone, and both are essential to understanding the world and making sure we don’t screw it up further. The dubious examples of both should be easily identifiable for most, and they should be criticized for it. No one should be ‘tricked’ into reading a tabloid, they should be able to detect the sensationalist shit just from the headline.

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The Social Media Universe Explained

Posted by Matt on August 9, 2011

As you may have noticed, I have joined numerous websites based on the idea of mass communication. One may wonder how I can keep track of all my web domains, or if I’ve joined the legion of Internet ADHD Victims. The jury is still out on the latter (not really, I totally am), but for the former, it’s all about having each account serve a specific purpose in my web of advertisements for me. You may prefer one mode I choose over the others, so I will now explain what those specific purposes are:

WordPress blog – Longer posts about things I don’t like, people I like to insult from afar and under general anonymity, some bad reviews (because I can’t review things very well), and observations about creativity and writing for the most part. I will be embarrassed by whatever I’ve posted here as little as a week after writing it.

Tumblr – Links to things I read or find interesting. Because I really hated doing that on the blog. Also, a record of my Internet ADHD.

Twitter – Dumb statements I make on the fly because I think I have to. Links to my Tumblr posts awkwardly shoehorned in. Attempts to communicate with people I respect, only for me to delete all replies because I’m afraid of looking like a fool.

Endless Reaction Shots – Beats the hell out of me.

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