PHOENIX FALLING?: The Phoenix Comicon has come under scrutiny recently as it became public that, essentially, people would have to pay to be volunteers at the show by paying dues to become members of the Blue Ribbon Army Social Club. Dan and Andrew discuss the issues surrounding this controversy, such as “Why is this a controversy at all?”
MINDING THE NUMBERS: In a Bleeding Cool article covering December’s comic book sales numbers, Andrew and Dan dive deep into 2016 sales by Marvel and DC and compare their respective performances and draw some interesting (if very not scientific) conclusions from the data.
Despite some mild technical difficulties and some remote-location recording, Andrew and Dan bring you through the holidays with a brand new Shortcast!
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays some updated versions of previous Weeks in Geek, going back to Master of Orion and Civilization VI while Dan is mildly skeptical of the new Image Comics series from Mark Millar and Greg Capullo, Reborn.
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For all intents and purposes, that was a Shortcast recap.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew finally sat down and saw Marvel’s newest addition to its cinematic universe, Doctor Strange, while Dan sits down and replays the opening of Mass Effect 2.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: After being pushed back in the movie schedule before getting removed completely, The Inhumans finally gets a release date…on television…kind of. While it’s premiere will be in IMAX theaters for a few weeks, Marvel announced that a The Inhumans tv show will air on ABC alongside Agents of SHIELD. Dan and Andrew talk about this newest plan and what it says about the static between Marvel’s movie house and television studios.
NEW WHO, IN COLOR: The Second Doctor’s premiere story, “The Power of the Daleks,” is getting a DVD release in fully animated form (due to the original episodes getting wiped by the BBC in the 1970s), but more interestingly the release will be getting an extra feature of the whole story in color. Andrew and Dan discuss this feature as well as the state of missing Doctor Who, based on the News Blast Andrew wrote about this announcement.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“More Human Than Human” by White Zombie
-“I Am the Doctor” by Jon Pertwee
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew played DC Legends as well as Peter Molyneux’s new mobile game, The Trail while Dan got sentimental up reading Prophet: Earth War issue number 6, which finally wraps up the big Prophet reboot.
REMEMBER, REMEMBER: Though Dan and Andrew missed November 5th to properly discuss V for Vendetta, in the eyes of some Americans, the country did us a solid by possibly setting up a situation where that story could happen for real. They discuss V for Vendetta‘s relative applicability in terms of the comic, the films 2005 release, and 2016 America. Being an Alan Moore book and with the recent elections so near, politics are discussed but––with hope––done so through a critical lens and as it applies to nerdy stuff.
Leave your thoughts about this week’s topics as comments at forallintents.net. Join the Facebook page for conversations with listeners, exclusive links, and notifications about updates to the website. Subscribe and leave a review of the show on the iTunes store to help spread the word to new potential listeners. Also, be sure to subscribe to the official YouTube channel.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“The Girl from Ipanema” by Antonio Carlos Jobim
-“Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young
It’s no surprise by now that I’m a fervent X-Men apologist and proudly so. Such sentiments are only bolstered by their very strange treatment by Marvel over the last eight or so years. Most of my conspiratorial talk is just for fun, but there are some details that eke through and seem just a bit too shady to be mere coincidence. There was the omission of any mutants from the cover of Marvel’s 75th Anniversary magazine, which was given away for free (which Andrew and I discussed early in our show’s history). Since then, they have made Cyclops––the boy scout figurehead of the mutants (ostensibly the Superman of the X-Men)––a terrorist murderer (#cyclopswasright), they have legit killed the most famous mutant character, Wolverine, and now they are having the team nobody really knows about (but they really want people to know about) fight the team they want everyone to forget about in the “Inhumans vs. X-Men” event (but not before they have a prologue event literally called “The Death of X”).
Comicsverse are, admittedly, as apologetic about the X-Men as I am, but they approach this topic with a collectively cooler head. Jack Fisher’s article looks at what he describes as the problem with this fight beyond the obviously corporate undertones that poison the well. He sees this forced skirmish as a severely problematic one based on the origin of these teams and how these continuous “…vs. X-Men” storylines are doing more cultural damage in the long run even if books are being sold. Fisher boils it down beautifully:
Whatever the outcome and whatever the legal undertones, the concept between Inhumans vs. X-Men is flawed. On one side, you have a minority that has been forcibly sterilized twice in the past decade. On the other, you have a team with a tradition of racism, xenophobia, and slavery. It’s not a battle between heroes as much as it is an exercise in contrivance.
I don’t know much about the Inhumans, but it seems that in the cinematic universe they are building them from the ground up. On more than one occasion, it has been noted (especially by co-host Andrew) that they’re just trying to slot them in the empty socket where mutants normally go. But that exacerbates the problem, I would argue.
It’s not as the Den of Geek article linked to in the last paragraph argues that the Inhumans are “the same basic idea, but with the serial numbers filed off.” It’s worse than that. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mutants were created to represent the minorities of this country and to dramatize their plight and struggle to accomplish two things: first, it presents these otherwise uncomfortable and possibly unknown issues to the predominantly white readership; second, it gives minorities (be it color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation) a safe place to go in the world of comics. The X series of books is about showing what true prejudice, bias, and hate looks like and having the minority survive.
And what happens?
In 2005, editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada instructs the X-writers to kill off all mutants except for 198. Genocide. Narratively (and creatively), it made sense. Mutants work best when they are a minority. But they were also presented as being the next stage in human evolution. With so many mutants on the planet (by 2005, at least) it seemed that theory was correct––science wins again––until they were forcibly made a minority again. That, of course, was the big event. But the small things, such as the omission from the Marvel 75th Anniversary Magazine cover, killing off fan-favorite characters, pitting C-level characters against them, etc., when piled together that makes a pretty loud squeaky wheel. Holistically, it looks like corporate monkey-wrenching and favoritism and simple catering to what is popular right now. But that isn’t all of it.
When taken in as a whole with the knowledge of what the X-Men actually mean, it looks like the type of thing the scared majority does to keep a minority down, and, in this day and age, it’s rather sickening.
With Halloween behind us, a lot of Lovecraft-focused articles circulated around the internet in celebration of the ghastly day. Mostly well-trod biographies or overviews of his racism, these are valid and important conversations to have as they can add a lot to the knowledge of the casual consumer. Much like the Luke Cage article I shared before, the most interesting article that I saw this last week was a roundtable discussion of Lovecraft and his work by three writers whose works have been influenced by his mythos: Kij Johnson, Cassandra Khaw, and Ruthanna Emrys.
The conversation is important because, despite being short, it digs deeper than a normal roundtable usually goes. The interviewer gets right to the point and discusses Lovecraft’s racism and what his legacy should be in a modern context, and––even better––the writers don’t shy away from giving tough answers.
As a reader of both Lovecraft and Lovecraft criticism, I belong to a few Lovecraftian fan pages on Facebook in the hope that there will be discussion as found in Joel Cunningham’s article. However, on the whole it’s a rather soft engagement with the material. What frustrates, however, is whenever an article that addresses his racism or intolerance starts making its way around the internet, the claws come out and the hate speech––for lack of a better word––fills the subsequent comments. Just as bad is the insistence on apathy in many cases, and that is a tragedy.
To say anything about Lovecraft’s work requires an acknowledgement of his love for the sciences. Like, a capital-L Love. The scientific method is all about asking questions, not picking sides. Science seeks to find how things thread into their place within the context of the universe and to see how that weave is part of a larger puzzle, a puzzle getting larger all the time. Science does not reward partisanship or apathy, it rewards the explorer. The fact that most Lovecraft stories warn people away from the scientific method is because Lovecraft himself was intrigued by the seemingly infinite possibility that science could offer us and then turned it on its ear for dramatic purposes. Why? Because horror stories are fun.
Again, referring to that previous Luke Cage roundtable I previously linked to, this type of conversation that these writers have about Lovecraft are the types of conversations we should be having because they are new and interesting and the ultimate outcome of this discourse is not to decide whether Lovecraft should be banished from modern thought or not––far from it. If we did that, we would be unable to have some interesting conversations. If anything, it would actually more firmly establish his place in the canon as someone worth talking about. Simply brushing off his racism will only keep him from reaching that place where I, most certainly, and most Lovecraft fans feel he should be woven into.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watches the season 3 premiere of Star Wars: Rebels (as well as talks about the extended edition of Ghostbusters aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call) while Dan talks about going to a heavy metal show to see the band, High Spirits.
BULLETPROOF BLACK MAN: Dan and Andrew talk about their first impressions of Marvel/Netflix’s Luke Cage, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though neither had finished the season by the time of this recording, they talk about the general conversation about the show and what it brings to the superhero cinematic genre that others haven’t really done before. Dan published some interesting links this week about Luke Cage, specifically.
Leave a comment at ForAllIntents.net. Be sure to join the official Facebook group for conversation with other fans. Be sure to leave a review on iTunes to help spread word about the show to new potential listeners.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Theme” by Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad (from Luke Cage)
-“Up and Overture” by High Spirits
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.
That the comics industry works through strange machinations puts the whole situation mildly. It’s an industry perpetually flailing for readers and sales, but its movies are making more money than any other adapted medium in history. Combined with all of the crossovers and events that “The Big Two” (Marvel Comics and DC Comics) push––and the associated bumps and crashes in sales––there is no doubt that there is something funky about how the comics industry works, but it also that blame has been mercurial, shifting scapegoats depending on the ails of the current generation: people aren’t reading comics anymore because of video games; people are waiting for the trade paperback collections instead of buying individual issues; the movies and tv shows are more accessible and modern than the books; print versus digital distribution, etc.
The problem this has caused shows that the blame-shifting that moves the industry has done its job rather well, getting the industry to blame itself rather than looking for a deeper seed. This Outhousers (what a name) article does a fine job at pointing the finger away from general culture (which does have its share of culpability, just not nearly as much as we apparently want to foist upon it) and toward the one constant in the last, at least, thirty years of the industry: a monopolized distribution system.
Diamond Comic Distributors is the only distributor for the Big Two as well as the other top-tier publishers such as Image, Dark Horse, Oni, etc. While that in itself is not inherently bad, a look at its practices and demands upon the publishers (and creators) reveals a rotten core tethering together the ever-changing problems from which the industry suffers.
It’s a bold statement, but also not much of a surprise––as an independent comicker, if you want to get any ground in comic stores around the country, you must meet the demands of Diamond, and their barrier to entry is unreasonably high. Some of it comes across as honest gatekeeping, which is fine to a point; you want only good comics to make it to stores, but it also puts an extreme burden on pretty much any independent creator unless you have found word-of-mouth/viral success through the internet. Even then, it’s still best to pitch to a publisher and have them deal with the distribution.
The Outhousers article shines a bright light on the issue, but being an independent blog in its own right, I wonder how much change it can actually inspire. I’ll just do my part, then, and keep the conversation going.
For all of the video games that land onto store shelves or on the front page of an online retailer, it’s astounding to see how many games are out there right now. From what I have come to understand, mostly from listening to gaming podcasts that have interviewed developers (to having interned for a startup developer myself back in the late nineties/early aughts), what astounds even more is how many games don’t get made, despite going into production.
Development is shut down all of the time with apparently little cause given, in many cases. Luke Winkie’s article presents a fascinating case study into one example of this, through the lens of a developer who worked on the nearly-finished Infinite Crisis, a MOBA featuring all of DC Comics’ major characters, before it was shut down.
I argue that the saddest part of a game getting shut down mostly has to do with the ache of possibility, that a game with promise won’t ever see the light of day. What’s heartwarming, though, is that an unreleased game seems to have little effect on a developer’s resume, often because it’s not the developer’s fault that a game got pulled. It usually has to do with business decisions from investors and the like, people gauging the market and finding it unfit for whatever they had already pumped thousands or millions of dollars into.
What this tangentially touches upon is another heated conversation in the gaming world right now, one about the poor working conditions afforded to people who work in the industry. If there is a bright spot, it could be that despite all the other issues you have to face as a game developer––working within strict budgets, big teams, time crunches (and long hours), aggregate review scores, etc.––working for years on a game that never gets released doesn’t damage your possibilities to continue working in the industry at all. In fact, the bigger the “failure,” the better it could be for you.
While not about a particular aspect of nerd culture, Frankenfield’s article finds a thread strung through most aspects of geekdom: a legitimate choice between independent and “mainstream” products. In most nerdy and geeky venues, these exist side-by-side––I think of the gaming scene (specifically video gaming; Andrew will have to answer for the tabletop angle) where venues as amalgamated as Steam as well as the more hierarchical PSN or XBox Live give independent products prime real estate in an effort to get both triple-A and the snarkily titled “triple-I” titles on players’ screens. For all the drama that has surrounded video games press in the last few years, it has acted to level the playing field, not through any particular agenda as much as finding good indie games and wanting to share. For all nerdy avenues, Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced funding platforms have been key in getting independent products more mainstream attention, even if it never officially achieves that status.
More than ever, the line between “independent” and “mainstream” is blurring, and I think it’s a good time to ask some simple, problem-posing questions: how and why? I think the second question is easier to answer than the first. The divide is closing because traditional “mainstream” products have become less satisfying over time. Perhaps that’s the wrong word; mainstream products have become predictable and staid even though they still rake in profit. But we see this most popularly, I think, with television (though an argument could be made for any nerd media right now). Even though the major networks are still the ratings kings and producing the most popular content, the revered content is made outside of those avenues, the top producers of which are probably HBO and AMC, currently. It was them, and networks like them, that pioneered the “new golden age of television” in which we now find ourselves. NBC, CBS, and ABC are not the trailblazers here, even if they are the “winners” using outdated metrics.
As for the “how”, that is an answer that produces the most consternation and danger as this movement progresses. The nice thing about the mainstream system is that it provides traditional and, for the most part, proven processes for bringing projects to life. The problem is that, over time, the process became corrupted by brown-nosing who-you-knows with impenetrable baselines for entry. The rise of the independents, as Frankenfield illustrates, took advantage of new media and presented new content on its own terms, letting the audience find it, even if that audience was niche. The problem with this is––and I saw this all the time in webcomics––that, arguably, the independent road to success can only be travelled once. Again, with webcomics, the success of strips like Penny Arcade or PvP or Axe Cop led to unwarranted (and unproven) codification of paths to success and many eager creators became wrapped in false righteousness when their duplication of Penny Arcade‘s arc didn’t provide the same results for them.
With new media––specifically, internet-based media––it seems that roads to success are made out of sand and are erased as soon as they are coursed. It makes “success” a much more malleable phrase for independents than a mainstream product ever could find. It’s why maintaining a self-sufficient comic through ads, Kickstarter campaigns, and regular Patreon contributions could be seen as more of a success than the new Ghostbusters, even though its gross revenue is approaching $220 million dollars (I’m this fully cognizant of the fact that those returns are less than the production budget and marketing budget combined, but there was also Zoolander 2; check those numbers). Whether it’s in the black or not, people still paid $220 million dollars to go see it, which is impressive from an indie standpoint, but to many it’s a mainstream failure, whereas in the context of self-sustaining webcomics we could mean an amount that simply covers hosting costs. If anything, its this relative definition of success that’s going to be making the biggest marks on pop culture in the future, and Frankenfield points to specific examples of this––Louis C.K. and Chance the Rapper––to get this point across.
It’s no secret that I hold Marvel’s persecuted mutants close to my heart, and to that extent, I cherish the filmic versions a bit more dear than many MCU properties if only because of my nostalgic tie to them (while wholly acknowledging that Marvel makes better movies, on the whole). That being said, I have long felt that it would be a mistake for the X-Men and their associated titles to move from Fox to Marvel Studios. To be frank, I was hoping to write an article about it, but Kyle Anderson at Nerdist hit that nail before I did.
I echo Anderson’s point wholeheartedly that the X-Men work best when mutants are the only super-powered people on the planet. I realize this only really exists in the context of the movies as they have been wholly integrated into the Marvel Comics universe since their inception, but as an easily digestible metaphor that can make the largest impact, it’s a context that is much more effective than if they had to interact with super-soldiers and aliens (though X-Men: Apocalypse got a bit close to that mark and, according to Bryan Singer, is a direction he wants to go in the future).
But, referring to what guest Elijah Kaine said during our Shortcast, there currently is room in popular culture for more than one continuity. Naturally, we all assumed it would be a stark line between Marvel and DC because that’s how it exists in the print world. However, we aren’t seeing an effort really coagulating on the DC/Warner Bros. side of things despite their best efforts and it’s also smart to think of things existing more broadly. We have the MCU, we have the Arrow-verse, and we have the X-Men continuity, among others. It’s a much more nuanced and multi-faceted world we live in than, perhaps, we want, but I think, overall, it is better for it.
NOTE: Kyle Anderson is the co-host of a podcast I’ve talked about before––Doctor Who: The Writer’s Room––in which he and Erik Stadnik talk about the writers from classic Doctor Who (1963-1989). They provide incredibly in-depth critical analysis of scripts and their writers that, I would argue, makes it essential listening if you are a fan. This may also make me a bit biased toward Kyle Anderson’s argument, though I didn’t realize he was the author until after I had read the piece.
and, in a slightly different interpretation of the column’s title, here is a video that is “Worth a Look”:
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?