Saturday, January 01, 2005

Yahoo! News - Bush Orders Flag Tribute to Tsunami Victims: "A day after he raised the U.S. tsunami aid contribution ten-fold to $350 million amid pressure from critics, Bush used his weekly radio address to emphasize the need for private relief donations to a region where giant waves killed nearly 127,000 people and left 5 million homeless.
'The carnage is of a scale that defies comprehension,' said Bush, who announced that $15 million of U.S. aid has now been disbursed to relief organizations in the area.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) and the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, were due to leave for the tsunami-devastated region on Sunday as part of a delegation assigned to assess the need for further U.S. assistance.
Bush created the delegation and dramatically increased the U.S. relief contribution after criticism over the size and scale of his initial response to the catastrophe that struck 13 countries from Malaysia to East Africa six days ago.
Critics have noted that the government authorized $13.6 billion in aid for hurricane-battered U.S. states, mainly Florida, before last November's election. "

And just what sort of world do we live in where the president of the US needs to be pressured into sending aid to disaster-stricken countries?
Now that my anti-Green Lantern rant is out of the way... I started a new book the other day, A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. It's about a young girl with synesthesia, a condition where the brain perceives things differently from what we know as normal (for example, when Mia, the main character, hears noises or reads letters or numbers, she sees specific colors and shapes). I'm about halfway through, and am loving it. It really captures the sense of learning that you're somehow different from the world around you, but when your "normal" is all you know, you have no real idea how else you're supposed to be. Very well done so far, although I'm really worried about her cat, Mango (so named because that's the color she sees when she hears him). He's sick, and I don't know if I can take it if Mango dies.

On the flipside, with this week's comics, I got a new graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli called Creatures of the Night. It adapts two of Gaiman's short stories, including "The Price," one of my favorite cat stories of all time. Ever.
Just finished listening to the filmmakers' commentary on my shiny new DVD of SciFi's shiny new Battlestar: Galactica miniseries, and now I'm looking forward to the new TV series even more. I mean, when it first aired, I thought it was great, but listening to the writer, director, and producer talk about the deliberate choices they made, I now have a much better understanding of why it's great. I took so many things for granted while watching it the first time--things that should be taken for granted, to be honest--that I hadn't really noticed the absence of a powerful orchestral score, or so much of the documentary-style camerawork (at least, the live-action stuff; the handheld-looking effects shots are still so fresh and different that I couldn't help but notice them). And I can see why sci-fi fans (not necessarily fans of the original show, specifically, but fans of the genre in general) seem to only grudgingly admit that they liked the miniseries, couching it in phrases like "it was better than I thought it would be" or whatever, even though the ratings for the second half were apparently better than the first half, which is unheard of. Because it doesn't hit those thrilling sci-fi buttons that the fans are used to seeing hit, and, as a result, I'm not sure they knew what to make of it. "Where are all the flashy, effectsy battles?" I'm sure they wondered. "Why doesn't everyone have weird names?" "Why aren't the characters all clear-cut?" I'm increasingly convinced that the majority of genre audiences just aren't equiped to handle something outside of the vocabulary they're used to, and so when they're confronted with something like this show or Firefly, they're not sure how to process it. They aren't just like everything else they've seen and enjoyed, so therefore, they must not be good.

Perhaps I'm being more than a bit cynical and unkind to the fans, but you can blame Geoff Johns and the new comic, Green Lantern: Rebirth, for that. For the non-comics-readers amongst you, a brief history of Green Lantern is necessary. Bear with me.

In 1959, DC Comics introduced Green Lantern, test pilot Hal Jordan by day; intergalactic cop, member of the Green Lantern Corps, by night. The character was a revival of a fairly different character from the 1940s; the only thing they had in common was a green power ring whose energy they could shape by force of will into anything they wanted. Over the course of the series, several back-up Green Lanterns were introduced, but Hal Jordan was the main one. Until about ten years ago. At that point, the Green Lantern comic was selling pretty poorly because, quite frankly, it wasn't very good, as writer Gerard Jones freely admits. In an attempt to boost sales, a story was crafted wherein Hal Jordan went insane from a series of personal traumas, rebelled against the Guardians who oversaw the GL Corps, committed multiple murders, destroyed the GL Corps, and became a supervillain. The power ring was passed to a new character, Kyle Rayner, who has been the main Green Lantern since then. (Jordan was eventually killed through an act of redemption, then brought back as a ghost... it's comics.)

Still, there were vocal fans who insisted that Hal Jordan could only ever be the One, True Green Lantern (even though he wasn't, you know, the first). So now we've got this miniseries, Green Lantern: Rebirth, whose sole purpose is to bring things back to the way they were.

Now, I always kind of liked Green Lantern, and I liked Geoff Johns as a writer, although I think he relies a bit much on reviving existing comics stories and characters rather than creating new ideas. So I thought I would read Rebirth. And it's horrible. It's truly, truly, awful, and it just gets worse every month. It's now at the halfway point, and it has been revealed that Hal Jordan wasn't responsible for the reprehensible acts he committed; it's because he was possessed by the spirit of an alien made up of Pure Yellow Fear! Now, I realize that any story can be made to sound dumb, and that superhero comics do require a certain suspension of disbelief. It's the execution that matters, and believe me, the execution here well and truly blows. I mean, there's the obvious bits, like how the story only really makes sense if you have a PhD in Green Lantern history, because there's no concession made for the new reader, and there's the clunky dialogue and overwritten narration. And then there's the mad desperation at work. (Apparently, white streaks in the hair are a sign of being possessed by a Yellow Fear Alien thing, so when Jordan was drawn graying at the temples more than 15 years ago, it was apparently a sign that he was being possessed. Well, looking at myself in the mirror, I have to suspect that I'm being possessed as well, because I'm going a bit gray at the temples, too.)

But here's the bit that bothers me the most: comics fans seem to be loving this book. They hate the new Space Ghost comic, because it's too dark and nasty, but this is a work of innovation and genius. (This, from the complete nerds on Aint-It-Cool-News, although now I can't find the review to link to it.) Innovation? Returning things to where they were over 15 years ago? Genius? "I'm not a killer; I was possessed by a Yellow Fear Alien?" I'm sorry; I don't see it. But I'm convinced that the fans who love it do so because it does what they want: gives them back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, the way they remember him.

But here's the thing: Hal Jordan hasn't been Green Lantern for 10 years or so. And for at least four years before he Turned Evil, his comic wasn't anything to write home about. So the folks who fondly remember Jordan as Green Lantern have memories that are at least 15 years old. Now, if you figure that most kids don't start reading superhero comics until they're eight or nine (or even seven), then this is a series done for people who are thirty years old or older. There aren't particularly good storytelling reasons to bring back Jordan as Green Lantern; the original creators are all dead, and hadn't worked on the character in decades, there wasn't anything particularly less heroic about Kyle Rayner, and his stories as a hero didn't have to overcome the hurdle of having been a crazy murderer, and neither Jordan nor Rayner is the Green Lantern featured on the Cartoon Network Justice League show, which probably has a larger audience than the comics ever will at this point. So it's not like they're bringing back the most familiar Green Lantern (that would be John Stewart, the one millions of kids watch on TV) to appeal to a broad, new audience. No, this is a series done solely for aging fans who have been waiting for the last ten years for things to go back to the way they once were, no matter how pointless. And a story that does that, no matter how poorly written, has to be brilliant.

And I'm going on about this too long, but here, at last, is my point: as you all know, I'm not a particularly conservative individual. And it is so clear that fans of the things I love very much are, whether evidenced by their embracing of horribly written crap like this, or their knee-jerk rejection of the new Battlestar: Galactica as soon as they hear it won't be just like the original. Now, in the case of the new Battlestar: Galactica, it seems that the actual viewer response, or at least the ratings, override the whiny fans. In the case of comics, however... Well, Green Lantern: Rebirth keeps selling out, while new, left-of-center books like Monolith get canceled. So, the message seems to be--loud and clear--that comics fans would rather have the safe and familiar over the new and different.

And since the disparity between sales and quality on Green Lantern: Rebirth is so great, it's got me not wanting to read superhero comics at all any more. Which, if you know me at all, know that's quite painful. (There are other contributing factors; I've talked before about how I'm less approving of the "might makes right" message the comics send, too, and how I see that as a reflection of the approval of the government, no matter how many mistakes and lies it forces its way through.) It's just not particularly fun for me to read them any more, feeling like the publishers have a mandate to publish weak, backward-looking junk because that's clearly what the fans want. And it's frustrating.

(Obviously, this post has been building for a while, so I'm going to stop now.)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Hope you all had a very happy day off, whatever holiday you celebrate. Or not. Me, I spent Christmas in the safety of my own home (big surprise), although I did venture out to the Orleans Casino--more specifically, the Canal Street Restaurant--for Christmas dinner. Had a very nice slab of prime rib, with a baked sweet potato on the side, and eggnog pudding for dessert. Even better, I met up with friends who I hadn't seen for a while, and it's always nice to renew those connections. (Okay, one of them I had seen the previous week at a crappy Las Vegas Wranglers hockey game, but it had been months and months before that. So there.)

Oh, and in perhaps one of the buggiest licensing deals I've seen in a while, we now have Dilbert slot machines gracing the floors of our local casinos. Considering that Dilbert is a character hallmarked by the fact that he won't do anything to break out of the rut of his own life, the idea of basing a gambling machine on him seems... Well, I don't want to accuse Scott Adams of being a money-grubbing whore, but they don't even have Garfield slot machines (I think), so, come on.

The previous weekend, I went away to Disneyland for a few days. It was fun, but with a few disappointments, the biggest being the closure of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Play It show. Plus it was more crowded on the Monday than I had expected it to be, which drove me temporarily out of the park and into the Downtown Disney movie theater where I finally saw The Incredibles. And it was, or they were, or whatever. I'm not sure if it's the best superhero movie I've seen in years or the best James Bond film I've seen in years. Either way, I'm glad I managed to catch it in the theater.

Book-wise, I finally finished Clive Barker's second Abarat book. It took me forever (well, a month and a half), not because it was dull, but because of my short attention span. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the Oz books I read as a kid, all full of these incredibly mad characters and places with no effort made to explain the wildness. I mean, stuff like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket are fine and everything, but pale in comparison to Barker's imagination explosion.

As for TV, during the winter rerun doldrums, my favorite new series is probably Mine All Mine on BBC America. It's this mad comedy drama, and with only one week to go, I still have no idea how everything is going to end up. It's written by the new Doctor Who producer, Russell T Davies, but it's not the Doctor Who connection that makes it great. (If anything, I'm more excited about Doctor Who because he's producing it, not excited about him because he's producing Doctor Who. If that makes sense.)

Another new favorite is Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! on Disney's Jetix block. Very much in the vein of Cartoon Network's Teen Titans, it's Disney's fairly successful attempt to create an American Anime series for younger kids. I mean, you look at it, there's no chance of wondering if it's inspired by anime or not, you know?

And then there's House on Fox. Who would have thought another doctor show could be so good? It helps that it's produced by talented folks, and it helps even more that it stars British comic actor Hugh Laurie as a complete bastard (and an American, with a flawless accent). Missed the first episode, but they're rerunning that on Tuesday. And apparently new episodes will continue in January.

Coming up, I'm going to give 24 another shot this season, I think, depending on when it's on. Definitely looking forward to Alias, in it's new, pay-attention-to-me time slot right after Lost. I continue to not see the appeal of Veronica Mars, despite rave reviews from everybody. Sorry. And I'm giving up on Jack & Bobby, in favor of sampling Point Pleasant on Fox, the new show from Marti "Buffy executive producer who isn't Joss Whedon" Noxon. Jack & Bobby failed to ever catch fire for me, and Point Pleasant looks weird and different, so there you go.

Oh, and Sci Fi has picked up Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis for next season. That'll make SG-1 tied with X-Files for the longest-running American science fiction show, I believe. (Longest running worldwide would be Doctor Who, of course.) It's possible that Richard Dean Anderson may not be back next year, but they're adding Farscape star Ben Browder to the cast. Given Farscape's weak ratings, I can't imagine they're doing it to increase the audience, but he's a good actor, so I look forward to seeing what he brings to the show. If they do lose Anderson altogether, though, that'll be a pretty tough blow.

Oh, and according to folks I respect in the UK, the new Battlestar: Galactica (already airing there) is great. So that's something else to look forward to.