With the first day of StocktonCon completed, Kyrun and D. Bethel begin the second day by getting in the car and driving down the 99 to Stockton. It’s early, they’re tired, they’re going wherever the conversation takes them.
While this morning conversation doesn’t touch on conventions or marketing strategies, they dive deep into a major aspect of comics culture: continuity. It’s at the heart of a lot of stories and in the hearts of a lot of fans, often to the point of taking despicable actions when a creative team makes changes that they don’t like.
They examine their own thoughts about the importance of continuity as well as why, it seems, so many people hold continuity with the highest possible value. Also, for some reason, the conversation dives deep into D. Bethel’s own biases when it comes to mainstream comics and how––and if––he overcame those biases.
Con Artists #01 – StocktonCon, pt. 1 : The drive home from the first day of the show. Kyrun and D. discuss making sales, confidence, and the comics they grew up reading and enjoying.
“Shortcast 45 – The Cure for Canon Shift”: An episode of A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents andPurposes where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund have a long conversation about the necessity of (or problems caused by) continuity in fiction.
“Shortcast 68 – Swinging Gates”: An episode where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund discuss “ComicsGate”, the vitriolic (and dangerous) reaction of some fans at attempts by the industry to include more diversity and modern sensibilities in mainstream comic books.
Special thanks to Kyrun Silva for agreeing to this experiment (and for driving us to and from the convention). Thanks to Ben Schwartz of Empire’s Comics Vault for hosting the table.
THE LONG CON-TINUITY: After years of teasing the topic, Andrew and D. finally sit down to talk about continuity. It starts with the continuity issues surrounding Star Wars and Disney’s purge of their Extended Universe, before it descends into talk about its benefits, its setbacks, and why it can be used as a weapon.
The ending to St. Elsewhere (re: the reference to the “snow globe ending” in this episode, referring to the very end of the show, St. Elsewhere, where it was revealed that the show was actually just a fictional universe imagined by an autistic child):
WEEK IN GEEK: Fueled by the emotions generated by the recently released trailer for Star Trek: Discovery, Andrew slipped back into the Star Trek pool by spinning up Star Trek Online and Star Trek Timelines while D. reads the first trade collection of Eric Powell’s (formerly of The Goon) newest comic series, Hillbilly, from Albatross Funnybooks.
EXHAUSTED DESPAIR: D. Bethel saw the newest entry into the venerated Alien/Aliens franchise, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, and definitely had feelings about it. Fueled by an online discussion generated by The Hollywood Reporter article, “‘Why Alien: Covenant’ Is Actually a ‘Blade Runner’ Sequel in Disguise” by Josh Spiegel (and because Andrew hasn’t seen the new movie yet), it seemed only right to bring on friend of the show and Alien enthusiast, Taylor Katcher, to talk what worked and what didn’t work in this new movie.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew learns about the seedy underbelly of LEGO knock-offs while Dan preps for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie by watching the 2009 animated film.
DOCTOR WHO KNEW?: Dan and Andrew discuss their skeptical praise for the current series of Doctor Who. Five episodes in and all episodes have been undeniably good so far. Should they be waiting with baited breath for the show to stumble as it has done for the last five series? Or should they let their freak flag fly once again?
WAKING LIFE: Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 sleeper hit, Alan Wake, was summarily pulled from all digital storefronts last weekend due to the lapsing of the licenses paid for music featured in the game. It’s a strange situation considering exactly how many games––even those released before Alan Wake––use licensed music and are still available for purchase.
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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 continues to reap the benefits of this winter’s Steam sale with the arrival of a Steam controller while Dan watches the new crowd-funded documentaries by video game journalist/personality, Danny O’Dwyer, called Noclip. Below is O’Dwyer’s “statement of purpose” regarding what he wants Noclip to be (as mentioned by Dan in the episode):
STAR WARS GAIDEN: [SPOILER ALERT] With enough time gone by since its release (and now that both have seen it), Dan and Andrew discuss Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and why it’s connecting with audiences, what it’s doing for the Star Wars universe and how it’s really doing what Marvel has been trying to do for almost a decade now.Again, we discuss SPOILERS in this discussion, so steer clear if you have not yet seen the movie (and come back and listen once you do).
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Rogue One” by Michael Giacchino (from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
-“The Gathering Storm” by Michael Allen (from Armello)
-“Boss Theme” by Curt Victor Bryant (from Slain: Back From Hell)
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew spends some time with Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror: The Card Game while Dan reads Boss Fight Books’ Metal Gear Solid by sibling team, Ashly and Anthony Burch (a book Dan may actually finish!).
GONNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE: Sony had it’s most recent Playstation Experience event which unveiled a lot of new games, most Sony exclusives, but amid that they announce the new installment of the previously-thought-dead franchise with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
Plus, an extended gameplay trailer has been released since the segment was recorded, confirming both Captain America’s and Darkstalkers‘ Morrigan’s presence in the game.
REBOOTING FRANCHISES: With the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Dan and Andrew investigate the approach to legacy franchises. Should we reboot and start from scratch, or keep pushing the continuity forward or leave it be and fill in the “cracks”?
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For all intents and purposes, that was a podcast recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Player Select” by Mitsuhiko Takano (from Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes)
-“Rey’s Theme” by John Williams (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens)