WHAT’S NEXT?: Considering the imminent political event happening in the United States of America, Dan and Andrew examine how television has taken a look at the presidency by comparing and contrasting the pilot episodes (mostly) of The West Wing and House of Cards (though they specifically already discussed the House of Cards pilot in Episode 37).
*Audio clip captured from The West Wing, “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part II.”
INFINITE CRISES IN INFINITE MOVIES: This week, news hit that director Rick Famuyiwa left the DC/Warner Bros. film, The Flash, late into pre-production. This is the second director to leave the project, and the third to leave a film set in the DC Universe established with 2013’s Man of Steel (before this, Michelle MacLaren left Wonder Woman). Andrew and Dan examine the state of the DC Universe movies and wonder what the outcome may be for this grand experiment. Referenced in this segment is the Ghostbusters v. Star Trek Beyond discussion from Episode 101, if you want background on that controversy.
Again, D. Bethel’s webcomic, Long John, has finished up its second chapter. We encourage you to give it a look and to share if you like it.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“The West Wing Opening Theme” by W. G. Snuffy Walden (performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra)
-“I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls
-“House of Cards Main Title Theme” by Jeff Beal
DC Comics’ Wonder Woman recently made the news in a rather peculiar way. The United Nationsannounced that they have selected Wonder Woman to be the “United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.” As Wonder Woman approaches the 75th anniversary of her creation, she will be used by the United Nations to promote messages of and about the empowerment of women and gender-based violence.
It’s not every day that a fictional character gets named as an honorary Ambassador for the United Nations. The UN will be holding an official ceremony on October 21 to “bestow” the title upon Wonder Woman. By doing so, the UN hopes to promote its Sustainable Development Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The President of DC Entertainment, Diane Nelson, along with unnamed “special guests” will join the Secretary-General for this honor. It is not clear if Gal Gadot or Lynda Carter will be among the attendees.
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?
As a writing teacher, the research-based portion of my scaffolding tends to always yield at least a few “Do video games contribute to youth violence?” proposals every semester. Honestly, it’s a tired debate but not because of the questions being asked, but for how little conversation actually happens. Lately, the pattern seems to be that when a new study is published that either states that games do or do not incite violent behavior in children, people then post those studies (or, let’s be honest, articles written about the studies) like flags planted in the ground and say, “The problem has been solved,” and walk away until the next one hits.
The point of view Brian Crecente presents in his article is not only unique, but important. What’s most important is not that he picks a side; instead, he actually problem poses the issue as a way to generate discourse and not simply promote the tribalistic partisan yelling that such topics tend to degrade into. To literally pull from my lecture notes, questions that start with a “do” or “is” can only yield yes or no answers, discouraging discussion and investigation. However, problem-posing questions––the classic Who What When Where Why and How questions––don’t do that. They beg for thoughts and ideas and points of view rather than declarative sound bytes. On big topics like this––especially when topics like gun control and mental health are forced into public interest by yet another shooting by a young person––such nuance and differing points of view should be more thoroughly explored rather than just drawing a line in the sand.
What’s also important in this article is that its author is not a single-adjective author the likes of which we normally hear on these issues. He writes as a father, but he is also clearly a gamer, a person who grew up with games––violent games, too, no doubt––and that informs his approach to the topic, which is a new voice in this conversation and one worth listening to, at least.
Superhero movies live and die on their sense of verisimilitude. As discussed when I talked to Elijah Kaine, the X-Men films succeeded at existing within the apparent paradox of being both faithful to the characters but also being incredibly divergent from the source material. The Marvel films (and Deadpool as well) have become renowned for being, probably, the most faithful comic book characters on screen so far, but even then there is a fair share of divergence. But when Man of Steel orBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice land in theaters, they are derided for being too divergent from the source material. Then there are the ultra-devout interpretations like 300, Sin City, and Watchmen which are all over the place in terms of criticism and praise. This exposes the question embedded in all of our discussion of superhero cinema: “what makes a good comic book movie?” An entire Comic Con panel, I’m sure, could be dedicated to this question, but it’s one that Matt Singer surreptitiously addresses in his article as it relates to the ill-fated Green Lantern movie from 2011.
His basic argument is really interesting––is it damning to be, in a sense, too faithful to the source material?
Green Lantern is maybe the best proof to date that when it comes to superhero movies, faithful doesn’t equal excellent.
I’m sure this point is arguable, but I am not a Green Lantern scholar in any sense; however, it does help to focus the discussion around superhero movies––what does a faithful adaptation/movie look like and is it a movie we want to see?
I started reading Penny Arcade in 2002 or 2003. Since that time, it has evolved into the strangest of pop culture chimeras that evokes a sense of awe but has an underpinning of fear that, for some reason, it could all come crashing down at any moment. As a business, it felt like it expanded incredibly fast, but it withstood the current it helped create. They added more and more people to the fold, but the basic personality and attitude of the site persisted. The two creators went from being struggling, edgy voices of the generation to being––I assume––reasonably wealthy magnates of a new industry, but they seem rather unchanged by the developments. It could be argued that all of this growth and stability came from the direct management of the Penny Arcade business manager and president, Robert Khoo.
With Khoo announcing his exit from the company, it understandably has a lot of people worried. He was the master of the Penny Arcade Jenga tower, and, as he walks away from the puzzle, the worry is that it will, surely, crumble in on itself.
Matthew Loffhagen looks at what a post-Khoo Penny Arcade could look like, especially through the lens of PAX, as the keys of the kingdom are handed back to the original creators, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. Loffhagen focuses on a more legitimate worry than the knee-jerk reaction a lot of the internet provided (basically likening Khoo to an internet Jesus), and looks at the co-creators’ behaviors with fans and controversial statements and stances they’ve taken over the years and how that could impact not only the conventions but also the fans (the famous Dickwolves disaster comes to mind, among others). Drawing the line from one poorly-said statement to a massive PR catastrophe seems easy in this new administrative situation.
However, such thinking discounts Khoo himself. If we have learned anything in his decade-long+ tenure as the nerd mastermind, it’s that he knows what he’s doing. Watching everything from PA the Series to Strip Search, it’s clear that Khoo is a chess master, the Deep Blue of business, always three steps ahead of everyone around him. With that in mind, what becomes clear is that Khoo’s decision to leave was not rash; he left because he knew he could and Penny Arcadewould be fine without him. While Loffhagen’s very specific concerns are, indeed, valid, I think overall that Khoo is leaving Penny Arcade exactly where it needs to be, even if it isn’t as clear as we would hope.