THE STATE OF SUPERHERO CINEMA (AND TV): With so much superheroic media out there right now, and with Marvel, DC, and Fox swinging wildly on both the large and small screens, Andrew and D. Bethel take a look at how things are sorting out, how they’ve changed over the last year or so, and where things might go.
WEEK IN GEEK: With Andrew sick this week, the Shortcast ends up being a bit more organic than normal with both Andrew and D. sharing stories about this year’s Free Comic Book Day festivities. Specifically, Andrew got his hardback copy of Ms. Marvel, volume 1 signed by the creator herself, G. Willow Wilson, while Dan discusses the Hulu Original documentary, Batman & Bill.
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WEEK IN GEEK: As promised, Andrew watches (and loves) The LEGO Batman Movie while Dan can’t stop playing Righteous Hammer Games.
EPISODIC SERIALIZATION: With Channel Zero: Candle Cove last week and both Dan and Andrew engrossed in The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, Andrew and Dan look at what seems to be a rising tide of season-long anthology television shows. Moving away from episodic anthology shows to a single story told across an entire season and changing stories and cast in the following season, shows like American Horror Story and True Detective brought this format to the forefront of popular culture.
AMERICAN CRIME STORY AND THE FICTIONALIZATION OF LIVING MEMORY: As mentioned above both Dan and Andrew are oddly obsessed with The People vs. OJ Simpson and, frankly, they take some time to wonder why.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Far From Any Road (Main Title Theme from True Detective)” by The Handsome Family
-“Time” by Titiyo
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew messes with controller schematics for X-Com 2 while Dan freaks himself out as he delves into Syfy’s Channel Zero and the HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman.
THE DOCTOR NO MORE: As Peter Capaldi announces his departure from the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who, speculation begins as to who will take his place in Series 11 which brings with it a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall.
EVEN STRANGER: With the only time we’ll mention the Super Bowl on the podcast, Netflix’s Stranger Things debuted its second season teaser trailer during the big game and Andrew and Dan dive into their expectations.
Batman: The Animated Series has become a show whose perennial place in nerd culture is all but assumed and revered. Andrew and I discussed the show, albeit briefly, back in Episode 59 – BTAS, as a segue to talk about dreams and dreaming in fiction, but the show, obviously, has done a lot more than that throughout its 110 episodes across seven years of airing (I’m including The New Batman Adventures in the tally). When talking about the show, one conversation that must surface is its diversity of storytelling and the risks it took. What set the show apart from not only every other animated series on American television may also have set it apart from nearly any other television that aired at the time of its release. Namely, it’s willingness to have strange, experimental episodes that challenged the expectations of superhero fans and television viewers.
Sure, it will be remembered for its strong, more traditional, Batman stories like “Heart of Ice”, “The Demon’s Quest”, and “Robin’s Reckoning (Parts 1 and 2)”––the last of which won an Emmy––but it will also be remembered for its non-traditional, esoteric stories like “Perchance to Dream”, “Legends of the Dark Knight”, “Over the Edge”, and “Almost Got ‘Im.” It was a show that learned to take risks, and what’s fascinating is that, apparently, a lot of that ethos was there from the start.
One of my prized possessions, creatively, is a book written by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd called Batman: Animated which covers the history of the show and is filled with amazing photos of everything from concept art to marketing photos for Batman-branded soap. But a bit of space is devoted to the development of the idea of what Batman: The Animated Series would be, hinting at the thorough show bible that Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Mitch Brian put together. Basically, a show bible is a treatise on the characters, stories, tone, and plan for a tv show used to keep the studio on track as well as acting as a set of guidelines for artists and writers hired to work for the show. Somehow––and thankfully so––the show bible has gotten out there in pdf form and it is as glorious as I was hoping it would be.
Whitbrook points out in his article (which also has a link to the pdf) that the show bible takes firm stances in how the creators saw the show. Even if the show wiggled its way out of those chains a bit as it went on (you can’t not have a bat signal), its overall view of the character himself was carved from stone and rooted in change from the status quo:
One big emphasis throughout the bible is an ardent desire to tell darker Batman stories; after all, the last solo Batman TV series before this one was Batman ‘66. Like Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, The Animated Series sought to distance itself from that interpretation. Sometimes it did so subtly, with mentions like “no Bat Signal or hotline” to keep him separate from the Gotham police, or by making Robin an occasional partner rather than a full-time companion.
While the show worked its hardest to separate Batman from his previous televised iterations to make him into the brooding loner we all know and love, what Whitbrook’s article and its attached copy of the Batman: The Animated Series show bible illustrate (pardon the pun) is how something as important and groundbreaking as this show actually came together through an almost supernatural synchronicity of passionate, creative people who were willing to break the rules every now and then and try something new with, at the time, a forty year-old medium and a sixty year-old character.
Although I court a lot of pushback as soon as I say it, I feel pretty lucky to have grown up reading comic books when I did, in the early 1990s. For those with vehement dissenting positions to this opinion, I offer a truce by completely agreeing with you when you say the content of this point in comics history was rather lacking as creators felt the need to push good taste to its limits in many different ways. However, these comics were connecting with kids––with me––and while I can’t say their influence was all beneficial, they certainly stirred the imagination. With that in mind, a lot of choices made both narratively and, especially, artistically at the time are nigh inexcusable when held up against modern criteria.
In light of the speculator market and the inflated sense of worth the industry had of itself at the time, for a fan the early ’90s were quite exciting in spite of all of that. It was this excitement for not only the characters, stories (what there were of those, at least), and creators that drove us back to the shops every week, but it was also the industry as a whole during this time, especially during the flashpoint formation of Image Comics. I remember the creation of Image Comics happening. I remember thinking it was really weird. I remember being really excited for it, as well. (A good documentary about the formation of Image Comics exists, called Image Revolution, that is well worth the viewing.)
As the ’90s faded away and the market crashed and Marvel went bankrupt and the industry and its fans actually had some time for critical self-reflection, Image Comics, as it had started out, became the pennant we could all point to and say, “That, right there, is what was wrong with comics in the ’90s.” In some ways, such assertions are very true. Fast-forward twenty years, though, and the “worst” in industry has become the outstanding front runner for thoughtful, challenging, and earnest comics above almost all other publishers. The about-face is astounding and couldn’t have been written better for fear of being too cliché and feel-good. But it all comes down to the principles that formed the bedrock (or badrock, harhar) of the company, as iterated by Jensen in his article:
Image had two rules: all comics were owned by their creators, and no Image creator would interfere with another’s business.
As it stands today, Image Comics is a beacon in the industry and is at the top of its game. I’m sure many people lament the 180-degree turn from its superheroic start––I experience light pangs as I think about it but shrug them off––but there’s no doubt that what Image is doing today aligns (at least in theory) with the concept that founded the company: complete independence. Because of that, Image books are bringing more attention to creators, more good to the industry, and better comics for readers, and I wouldn’t trade that for the gun-toting, veiny-muscled, blood-soaked comics of yore any day of the week.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watches Netflix’s Travelers while Dan watches Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad.
GAME OVER ALL OVER AGAIN: This week, Dan and Andrew discuss not only the built-in replayability of games but also examine why we replay games. Simply among the two hosts, the reasons for replaying games differs vastly, which caused us to ask the following:
Why do you replay games and what games (or kinds of games) those would be (tell us in the comments)?
SPOTLIGHT – RESIDENT EVIL: With the release this week of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (or for those in Japan, Biohazard VII: Resident Evil), Andrew and Dan look back at the game that spurred a genre and kicked off a franchise that is now over twenty years old.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew listens to an academic argument about free to play games and, inspired by it, plays Marvel Avengers Academy while Dan plays through Episode 2 of Batman: The Telltale Series and still can’t believe how awesome Bruce Wayne is.
#CYCLOPSWASRIGHT: Bringing back resident Marvel expert, Elijah Kaine, the trio talk about Marvel and how it uses crossovers both in the narrative sense and in the business sense. They discuss everything from the thematic base of Civil War to prognosticating about the upcoming Death of X and Inhumans vs. X-Men. If you want to check out more of Elijah’s work, head to Geek Intellectualist and listen to is DC/CW television recap podcast, Superhero Recap Squad.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Iron Man 3” by Brian Tyler (from Iron Man 3)
-“For Shovelry! (Boss Victory)” by Jake Kaufman (from Shovel Knight)
-“Carmina Burana: Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna” by Carl Orff, conducted by André Previn
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew bides his time until Civilization VI releases by playing a bunch of Blizzard games while Dan swims through the lush animation and Old Norse world of Thunder Lotus Games’ Jotun.
NEWS BLAST – UPDATE – METAL GEAR SURVIVE:Metal Gear series creator and famous non-employee of Konami, Hideo Kojima, boldly said that he has nothing to do with Konami’s upcoming Metal Gear Solid V spinoff, Metal Gear Survive, on stage at this years Tokyo Game Show. Konami retaliated by releasing approximately fifteen minutes of co-op gameplay to a rather tepid response.
LEGACY CHARACTERS 2.0: Building off of the previous conversations about “legacy characters”––superhero mantles that can be passed from person to person rather than being locked to a single identity––in Episode 09 and, tangentially, in Episode 104, Dan and Andrew return to the topic now that the world has a new Superman––officially New Super-Man––and recent Legacy turns with Wolverine and the use of a Legacy character in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Ghost Rider v3.0, Robby Reyes. So, there’s lots of stuff to talk about.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew builds a new gaming PC while Dan plays Batman: The Telltale Series – “Episode 1: Realm of Shadows.”
SPOILERS REDUX AND DMCA C&D: Dan and Andrew’s discussion was initiated by a post over at the AV Club that covered an instance where major television network, AMC, issued a cease and desist order to a Walking Dead fan site, The Spoiling Dead Fans, when they started listing potential spoilers to the next season’s premier. It’s a broad topic that is hard to talk about (and, at times, infuriating), but they do their best to really take this topic apart as it relates to television shows and the networks’ loyalty to their paying advertisers.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDREW!
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“The Lighting of Prism Tower” by GAME FREAK & Shota Kageyama (from Pokemon X/Y)
-“The Lonely Man Theme” by Dennis McCarthy (from The Incredible Hulk)
-“I Can’t Watch This” by “Weird Al” Yankovic
-“Birthday Cakes” by Joshua R. Mosley (from ‘Splosion Man)
Andrew and I do our best to steer away from politics or politically-charged issues if only because those topics––no matter the side you stand for––can be frustrating discourse. Of all comic book figures used to translate the world of political friction, the X-Men seem most ripe for such utility if only because they were born from it.
I’m not going to speak to the thesis of this article, though it is well-written and cogent, but it shows a technique that I appreciated and of which I would like to see more. Comic books––well, comic book characters, at least––have jumped the divide between niche and the mainstream. If we want the source material to make that same leap, I think using these properties as lenses through which we can explain and analyze the crazy world around us––like we do with literature and movies at this point––should be done more. Whether you agree with Jon Barr’s article or not, take note of what it’s doing and you’ll see the sketch of an important step to improving the cultural validity of comic books.
The incredible point the article makes has to do with a dangerous side-effect of using fiction as allegory or critical lens:
The biggest disparity between the X-Men universe and the gun control debate is this concept of a ‘good guy.’ The world of the X-Men have those heroes to rally behind as an example of how powers should be used.
For the sake of storytelling, clear lines sometimes need to be drawn between things like “good” and “bad,” even when those distinctions are either blurry or rare in real life. The growling of political discourse has done a lot of vilification of the “other” side when, if we were all at a barbecue together, we would all probably have more in common than not. Though there may be more “good guys” than “bad guys” on either side of any debate, it is nice to use popular culture as an avenue for intellectual investigation. As the article admits, using the X-Men as spokespeople for only one side is not only irresponsible, but the X-Men themselves have been figuratively on both sides of what is arguably the same issue as gun control. But I like that possibility. If the X-Men are about anything, it’s giving anybody who feels on the outside a place to belong.
As I progress further and further into nerd culture commentary, a major thesis that continues to bubble to the surface is my strange and possibly nebulous feelings about nostalgia. Specifically, I am kind of appalled at the persistence of the idea that hardcore fans of a property deserve even a modicum of ownership over its evolving direction in popular culture. Respect and rightful say are two very different things.
I want to say this basically started with the spark of superhero cinema––with things like the first few X-Men movies and their proud abandon (at the time) of the technicolor, exaggerated costumes of the comics in favor of matching padded leather or, more specifically, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005 which really spearheaded the movement toward “gritty” and “grounded” nerd cinema. You could even argue that it started with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, but it didn’t hit a fever pitch until the turn of the century.
Since then, we have also seen reboots of properties from the 1980s that received similar “mature” treatment with efforts like the 2011 Cartoon Network Thundercats show that added liberal dashes of The Lord of the Rings to the popular ’80s toyline. Similarly, G.I. Joe made the tonal shift in 2009 with an animated series, G.I. Joe: Resolute, which pushed the beloved and silly franchise into serialized storytelling more commonly found in prime time drama, and did so to much acclaim. Similarly, the Arkham series of Batman games not only revolutionary gameplay but showed the players an even darker world than what we saw in the Nolan films with Gotham being a true den of sin and the rogue’s gallery being more grotesque and twisted than we’ve seen since the Burton films. Arguably, this is also what happened with Casino Royale which killed what little was left of the classic camp during Pierce Brosnan’s tenure. While these examples are the more well-regarded ones, the dark side of the trend has been things like the Michael Bay Transformers series and their dudebro Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cousins.
Benjamin Bailey’s Nerdist article confronts an idea I’ve longed wanted to approach, but couldn’t really find my thesis without sounding petty and bitter (when I didn’t want to––I do love nostalgia trips). The idea that the franchises of our youth are nigh required to meet our adult sensibilities as they met the sensibilities of our youth is a strange request from rebooted or extended franchises. These properties spoke to us because they tapped into a piece of the zeitgeist that others couldn’t find or hold onto. Why should we expect or want anything different when reexamined for modern audiences thirty years later?