Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Advantage of Being A Reformed Completist

Over at Comics Should Be Good, Brad Curran reminds comic book fandom of the wisdom that shouldn't even be considered wisdom: "If you don't like it, don't buy it." I say it shouldn't be considered wisdom, because wisdom is usually something arguable. It's something that's learned, and usually arbitrary. Unless you're a mystery shopper or have a similar job, the idea that you shouldn't give people money for things that you know you won't like shouldn't be an arguable concept. It's a fucking given. We know this as early as childhood. When we beg our parents for ice cream or buy it ourselves with our meager allowance, we don't do it out of loyalty to the product. We don't do it because we've tasted every other flavor and feel we won't thoroughly understand Ben & Jerry's continuity if we don't get this new flavor. We don't do it because we want to go online afterwards and rant about how it tastes like shit. We do it because, as far as we know, it fucking tastes good! And if someone tries to give us food we don't like, we go absolutely bugfuck and secure our mouths against any spoon-shoving or "here-comes-the-choo-choo" misdirection tactics.

But I have to admit that, as thoroughly as I deplore the completist mentality now, it wasn't always so. As you might gather from The Daily Burn's spiffy new banner, I'm a bit of a Hulk fan. When I first started reading comics, The Incredible Hulk was all I bothered buying, UNLESS he showed up in another title. I stopped reading comics in my late teens, and when I started up again in my early twenties, I became obsessed with getting my hands on every Hulk appearance possible, no matter how unimportant it seemed to the wider story of the Green-sometimes-Gray Golitah.

The Leader's Lair was a great resource towards this end, as I found a very thorough list there of the Hulk's guest appearances. I patted myself on the back when recognizing the guest-spots I already had in my collection, and panicked when I saw the ones I didn't. "What?!?! The Hulk's head appeared in one panel of Quasar #28 as part of a list of potential mates for a cosmic being, and no one sent me a memo on this?!?! EBay, here I come! (swoosh!)" I spent more money than I'd like to admit herding issues of comics I probably never would have picked up otherwise like Battle Tide II, Cage, Contest of Champions II, Fantastic Four Unlimited, Marvel Comics Presents, Marvel Vs. DC, New Warriors, Secret Defenders, Silver Sable and The Wild Pack, Warlock and The Infinity Watch, Alpha Flight, Code of Honor, etc., just because the Hulk was credited as appearing in them, and in a lot of cases he showed up for one or two panels, most times as part of one of the various Jim Starlin "Infinity" things. Not that all of the comics I picked up during my completist crusade were crap (most were, though)--in fact without it I probably never would've discovered Christopher Priest's Black Panther--but I didn't care about the quality. Of course, I KNEW John Byrne's second run on Hulk sucked before I dug them up in the back issue bins! I knew it! I didn't care! Hulk was in it, and I had it on very good authority that he was the strongest one there is!

It took a long, slow BJ to cure me of my completist mentality, the BJ in question being Bruce Jones. His stupid, tedious, non-thrilling thriller broke the completist's back. I took a good, long look at one of the last pages of The Incredible Hulk #53, which featured Bruce Banner stomping alongside train tracks towards super-Hulk-baddy The Abomination, clutching a pair of blue Fat Pants around his waist like a goddamned infant and thought, "What the fuck am I doing reading this shit?" I didn't pick up another issue until Peter David's return.

The point being that as soon as my completist mentality was broken in regards to the Hulk, that was it. It was over. Yeah, I picked up the occasional X-men and Spider-Man book when I was younger, maybe a few Avengers issues here and there (very little DC), but never enough to develop the kind of emotional attachment that's necessary to transform a fan into a completist.

So when a new DC event is on the horizon with a title as ridiculous as Infinite Crisis (doesn't it sound like a name someone would make as a parody?), there's no temptation. When X-Men fans bitch about the 12 X-books they don't like versus the 3 they do, I can't relate. It took me as long as the (now, it seems almost ancient) "Fall of The Mutants" crossover to realize what a pile of shite the whole thing was becoming. I don't feel sorry for X-fans, and I don't agree that the X-books need to be fixed. Fixed? Why? How many damn books do X-fans have to choose from? You think Chuck Austen is the Anti-Christ? Fine! There are only a few dozen other stacks of SNIKT!-literature to choose from every month. Pick another one and shut the fuck up. If I had a half-dozen ongoing Hulk titles to choose from every month, problem solved. Drop it and move on.

Plus, you have the Internet now! You don't like the current storyline? Well, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can find out when it's going to end! You can log on to one of 38 comic book message boards you're registered to and find out if any like-minded folks think you should give it another go. When Bill Mantlo threw the Hulk into the "The Crossroads Saga"--giving fans a mute, apeish Hulk who dumbly wandered into various dimensions and got his ass handed to him by red-skinned toddlers and Aliens wanna-be's for over a YEAR--if I had had the resources available to find out that the storyline would end at #313 with a celebratory trouncing of those Canadian bastards in Alpha Flight, I would've just taken a break until the How-Many-Ways-Can-The-Hulk-Violently-DIE series was over. But I didn't! You do! Utilize your spoilers, goddammit.

Now, I'll probably pick up "House of M," at least at first, just because I've been liking Bendis's work lately. If it sucks, it's gone. If I don't fully understand the Hulk "House of M" tie-ins, or the tie-ins to any other books I'm reading without the LS? Big deal. I'll either deal with it, or just drop the books until HOM runs its course.

Besides, we've all missed an issue here and there of our favorite books. Even chunks of issues. Has it ever really caused THAT much of a problem? Obviously, it hasn't--if you're enamored enough with the adventures of the Fantastic Four that you're willing to spend the time, energy, and money necessary to get all of their appearances, well...unless you've been reading without missing a beat since issue #1, you were able to enjoy it after missing quite a few issues, weren't you? What the hell is different now?

Just try it. Just drop ONE book. Drop one and see how easy it becomes.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The End of Buffy

This past weekend my girlfriend and I had plans to go out and do something fun. I work the night shift at a local NPR station, and for the past few months I've been working six nights a week (Monday through Saturday), as well as going to school part-time in the day. Usually Sunday afternoon is the only time we have together, and unfortunately this is also the only time I have to recover from the previous week. This past Saturday was the first I've had off in a long time, and we planned on spending it...well we had no concrete plans (though my girlfriend was leaning towards karaoke), but we knew we wanted to get out of the apartment. Due to some harrowing events involving my mother which I won't bore you with here (but which you can find on my livejournal page), we missed our chance. We didn't get home until about 8:30 pm, at which point our exhaustion left only enough energy to celebrate our day's good deeds by ordering in, proudly cheating on our low-carb diet, and watching the last two discs of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Seven DVD collection. Remember, as I wrote in a previous post, I jumped on the Buffy bandwagon quite late. I'm not including this post in the "Pleasant Surprises for A Latecomer" series because it wasn't much of a pleasant surprise.

Had I not known beforehand that this was the final season, I think I would have figured it out pretty quick. The light-hearted humor that helped define Buffy is all but gone, and seems contrived when it is present, replaced with an overpowering sense of finality. I think Whedon and co. took a big risk here, and in the end I don't think it worked. Take Season Five for example. Most of the season delivers the usual humor and introspection, with the occasional trip to a much darker place (e.g., "The Body"). It isn't until the last three or four episodes that things get persistently dark and perilous, and those last few shows combine to form one single work that's short enough to not exhaust the audience but long enough to give it the emotional weight it needs. Take those three or four episodes and stretch them into an entire season, and you have Season Seven of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

It seemed like a lot the creative team's ideas were exhausted. Rather than come up with some new concepts, they fell back on oldies, like the musical interlude in "Selfless" taken directly from the previous season's "Once More, With Feeling." "Lies My Parents Told Me" seemed like a direct swipe of Season Five's "Fool For Love," not because both featured part of Spike's origin story, but because Buffy's last words to Principal Wood ("The mission is what matters") echoes the quote from the flashback in the beginning of the episode just as the line "You're Beneath Me," worked in "Fool For Love." Even "Storyteller," admittedly one of the few humorous breaks in Season Seven and one of my favorite episodes of the season, was really-in many respects-a repeat of Season Four's "Superstar."

It certainly wasn't horrible. It was okay. It was watchable. It simply wasn't the high caliber of most of the other seasons.

Unfortunately, as to the questions of who lived and who died, there were no real surprises for me. I happened to stop by a Buffy/Angel message board a while back, and checked out the FAQ. Despite the fact that the FAQ is geared towards newcomers to the shows, the author of the FAQ gives away MAJOR plot points (the deaths of Tara and Anya, the death and subsequent resurrection of Spike, the fact that Dawn is "The Key"). On a related note, I should also express thanks to the folks who put together the packaging for Season Seven, which features a picture of Xander in his eyepatch.

I was glad to see Andrew survived, though I already had a vague idea about that from someone who had mentioned that he had appeared in an episode of Angel after Buffy ended.

I was surprised, though, at the brutality of Anya's death. As I mentioned above, I knew she was on the hit list, and she's a good choice considering she wasn't around as long the original Scoobies, but around long enough to be more of a favorite than Principal Wood or Andrew. I guess I expected some kind of emotional last words or something equally cheesy and predictable. Bravo to Whedon for not giving me what I predicted, I guess having her left behind in a pile of rubble and bodies seemed a little too brutal.

And maybe it's a minor quibble, maybe not, but what the hell was the point of leaving the non-super guys in the school so the vampires wouldn't "escape?" Escape? Where? Into the bright California SUNLIGHT? I don't know, maybe I missed something.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I never watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer until well after the series ended and entered syndication. I saw and enjoyed the 1992 film–and still count Paul Reubens’s death scene as one of the funniest ever–but I think what kept me away from the TV series was the advertising. The spots I saw for the show emphasized the dark and sexy aspects of the series but never the humor, and it was tough for me to imagine that I could take a character named “Buffy” seriously as a monster-killer without the same kind of humor that made the film bearable. If I’d just known the show was as hilarious as it actually was, I wouldn’t have waited until a couple of years after its conclusion to check it out.

If I recall correctly, Buffy repeats ended up being scheduled either right before or right after The X-Files repeats on FX, which is the only reason I tuned in at all. I wouldn’t say I was hooked right away, but I remember the chilling grins of the villains of the first Buffy episode I saw start-to-finish, The Gentlemen of the well-loved “Hush,” left enough of an impression that I was sure I would see them again in my nightmares. I tuned in every now and then after that, but didn’t really become a genuine fan until FX started repeating the sixth season, right about the time of “Life Serial.” I got enough back info from my girlfriend and her best friend to keep everything coherent, and I grew so enamored with the characters that later–when my girlfriend suggested we try to go a month without TV because she felt it was taking her away from her academic work–the fact that I’d just watched Tara get murdered in “Seeing Red,” was the only thing that inspired me to say, “Yes, honey, this is a good idea. This is a good idea for next week. After Willow kills people. Next week.” I think some justifications were thrown in there, like arguing that I’d be unable to sleep without Charlie Rose (this, by the way, is a good example of why italicizing show names is good–without it what I just wrote might sound kinda weird), that I was too young to enjoy the Dark Phoenix Saga and I should at least get to enjoy the Dark Willow one, if I had been making money at the time I probably would have offered her some, but alas my girlfriend’s well-executed pout-face rendered it impossible to watch Warren’s skin fly off him like a rain-slicker until only a couple of months ago when we got the DVD collection.

Since we first started really getting serious, I always told my girlfriend she was more to me than a friend and a lover–she’s an ally. The perfect example of our alliance is how we’ve managed to refine our skills in telling our respective families exactly what we want for Christmas and birthdays: gift certificates. I tell my family I want gift certificates from my local comic shop, while telling them to get my girlfriend gift cards to Best Buy. She likewise tells her family to get her Best Buy gift cards, AND to get me Best Buy gift cards, thereby allowing us both to get piles of new DVDs and me piles of new graphic novels. This year, we loaded up on Buffy.

On the advice of co-workers and friends (who, in retrospect, were dead wrong in dissing Season Four), we started on Season Five. Unable to resist the Dead Buffy cliffhanger, we went right for Season Six, where the “Dark Willow and Her Stupid Crayon” saga was finally revealed.

Well, we weren’t going to go right to the last season from there, so I got my girlfriend a $100 gift card (with absolutely NO hints towards what I would personally like her to get, no sir, not a one), and she used it to get–among other things–Seasons One and Two. After we finally finished with the first two, bank account be damned, I bought Three, Four, and Seven (not all at once).

Just for the record, neither of us really have any interest in Angel. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when Season Four came and went without one whiff of Cordelia, and there was no way I was going to pay money to end my bliss. Not to mention that I have a healthy–if not complete–collection of the third volume of Silver Surfer. If I want Super-Stoic-Guilt-Man stories, I’ll crack open the “S” longbox.

I am never so much a geek as I am when watching new Buffy episodes with my girlfriend. She will attest to the fact that I usually roll around on the futon and pump my fists like the dirty sweat-monkey I am every time the opening theme starts.

I do not treat comics as overtly interactive as I do Buffy. My girlfriend will also confirm that I have set words and phrases I call out when specific events occur. Since I considered him to be the most annoying aspect of Season Five, every time Riley Finn speaks, I bark, “DIE!” “Why don’t they kill her...” is usually groaned after just about every scene with Cordelia. I loudly root for Spike no matter who he’s fighting (including Buffy), and not since high school when a buddy and I stood up in a near-empty theater and cheered on James Caan’s vengfeul bitchslapping of Kathy Bates in Misery have I felt such vicarious bloodlust until Giles went after Silver Surfer Angel with that torch in “Passion.”

What I think is so miraculous about Buffy is the same kind of thing I saw in Bubba Ho-Tep. Despite a lot of absolutely ridiculous premises, low-rent special effects, and comic-book-absurd action, Joss Whedon and co. not only make you love these characters and laugh mercilessly at them, but in the midst of hilarity he can make you ball your fucking eyes out. A TV exec could hardly be blamed for saying, “No, Joss. You cannot kill off the main character’s mother at the end of an episode about a crazed, runaway SexBot,” but Whedon did it and followed it up with one of television’s most chilling and disturbing looks at the aftermath of death.

I do have ongoing issues with Buffy. Two issues, to be precise. One is pretty small.

Accents. I dearly wish that if Whedon wanted folks with accents, he should’ve either gotten natives from the lands where the respective accents were used, or just passed on them. The English accents are okay, but let’s just say that there’s a reason why I didn’t mourn the loss of Kendra The Slayer, nor the Southern Potential (who turned out to be The First), or–should she fall (still working on Season Seven)–the Aussie Potential. Maybe they are natives. I don’t know. They don’t sound like it, dammit.

Oh wait, actually I have three ongoing issues.

The second issue can be summed up in an equation:

Southern California high school + No Mexican Students Until Season Seven = a lot of white people work for TV, don’t they?

Finally, maybe it’s just because I happened to do the bulk of my Buffy watching during the same semester I took a Sociology of Gender class, but something really bothers me about the whole juxtapositioning of gender roles in Buffy.

Now, I preface this by saying that I know it isn’t the job of Buffy The Vampire Slayer to make feminists’ jobs easier. Ultimately, it’s just a (great) TV show, but this is a problem I have with it, and I think it’s valid.

Mostly, I love it. Whedon turned the horror genre on its head. The young, attractive, thin blonde teenage girl chases the killer through the woods, instead of the other way around. The woman gets to be the hero. The woman cradles her lover’s head after she saves him from the villains. The man proclaims defiantly to his captors that she will come for him. All great. No problem. Girl Power, yay. It’s the kinda thing that should be changing the world.

My problem is that Whedon and co. don’t come through with the whole promise. The gender roles aren’t switched in Buffy–women discard their prescribed gender roles, while the men’s roles are firmly in place, and I just don’t think you can have one without the other.

Xander is probably the best example. Usually, when he’s hurt it’s for comic relief and we’re usually led to believe it’s his fault. When Xander tries to get an Initiative gun to work while Willow and Buffy chat nearby, he’s electroctued, Willow briefly glances over to watch him shake and turns back to Buffy without missing a beat. When he pulls himself out of some rubble in “The Zeppo” after a Scooby battle with some uber-demons, Faith laughs about his “manliness” and he’s consequently left out of the Scooby adventure for the rest of the episode. Instead, he goes on his own adventure, and we’re led to believe he’s finally found some contentment because he gets to screw and to succeed in violence, both of which are necessary to be a “real man.”

Think of it this way, put Xander in Tara’s spot at the end of “Family” and what do you think would’ve happened? Do you think Spike would have given him a light tap on the nose to test whether or not he was really a demon, like he did with Tara? Or, as I think is more likely, do you think Spike would’ve knocked the holy shit out of him, followed by the Scoobies cheering through his unconsciousness, prying him out of the wall and slapping him awake to give him the good news?

And it isn’t isolated to the physical stuff. When Willow or Buffy pine over a desired man (or woman), we’re supposed to feel sorry for them if they don’t get who they want and happy for them if they do. When they cut someone loose, we’re led to believe it’s out of strength. When Xander pines over a girl, he’s usually depicted as pitifully inadequate at best, completely selfish and petty at worst. And of course he’s usually punished (Bug Ladies, Evil Slayers, Demon Women, Life-sucking Mummy Princesses, Dark Priestesses etc.) when he finally manages some success with a woman. It’s okay that Buffy is at first oblivious of Xander’s feelings towards her, but it’s not okay for Xander to be ignorant of Willow’s desires.

For much more blatant examples, see The Trio.

I know most folks consider Xander to be the show’s strongest reflection of Whedon himself, but I don’t think it ends with Xander. Spike’s situation, once the chip is implanted, is not so different from Xander’s. The scene in which Spike learns of his inability to kill humans is blatantly treated as a case of impotence (and it’s funny as hell, I’m not denying that). Afterwards, he’s often referred to as “neutered.” He can’t be as violent anymore, so he can’t be as much of a “real man.” In fact, he’s also punished for his lack of manhood early on. His life as a vampire starts because he failed in his attempt at conquest over a woman.

Like I said, it’s a problem I have with the show but it doesn’t–no matter how long-winded I get about it–take away from my enjoyment of it. Regardless, I think the fact that women ARE allowed to throw off their shackles in Buffy far outweighs any validity my arguments may have, I just think it’s too often forgotten that in a society where men oppress women, we don’t just need to work on the women. We need to work on the people who are causing the problem in the first place.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Regarding what is apparently the ONLY reason anyone has anything to say about Young Avengers

Apparently there is some question about whether or not Hulkling and Lightning Lad from Young Avengers are a gay couple. I'd be lying if said I didn't suspect the same thing after I read the first issue, and I think the real intrigue isn't found in the few lines of dialogue from the comic that raised the questions, but in the fan response to the author's hints (misdirection?).

Like everyone else, my first suspicion was that Lightning Lad wanted his staff in the back door of Gamma Base. But I developed an alternate theory--and certainly a less controversial one--that the writer may be pulling the wool over our eyes.

Hulk and Thor are fierce rivals. Everyone knows that. Hulk vs. Thor debates clog the Internet like cell phone callers on subways and buses. It's indicative of one of the major differences between the superheroes of DC and Marvel. Read Identity Crisis and you get the feeling that everyone in the DCU has everyone else's pager numbers. Read Secret Wars and you learn that, when brought together to work towards a common goal, Marvel's stars would often rather beat the shit out of each other than do what needs to get done.

A back issue that would normally sell for pennies skyrockets in price if you put Hulk and Thor on the cover pounding on each other. Go check the Comics Guide's prices for Defenders #9 (the first volume) and Defenders #11 and compare them to the "Avengers/Defenders War" issue where Thor and Hulk fight--Defenders #10--and tell me that I'm wrong.

So maybe, just maybe, the Young Avengers writer is making a joke out of this? Teenaged, less mature versions of Hulk and Thor treat each other with more respect and generosity than maybe any comic book superhero male duo, whereas the more mature versions will start throwing punches at the drop of a winged hat, usually destroying enough square blocks to adversely affect three separate Starbucks in the process? Yeah, maybe, that might be a joke. Sounds like one. Looks like one. Could be.

But maybe not. What are we basing our suspicions on? I don't have either of the first two issues right in front of me, but as I recall, in the first issue Hulkling and Lightning Lad compliment each other on their fighting ability. In the second, after Lightning Lad mentions that he feels he's getting better at flying, Hulkling responds with something along the lines of, "You don't know how happy that makes me."


Now that's gay. That's gayer than gay. "You don't know how happy that makes me?" I bet gay people have said that before. Just hearing that phrase makes the sons who haven't been conceived in my non-pregnant girlfriend's uterus want to live a life of crime just so they can be thrown in prison where they'll be able introduce interior decoration to the penal system and get gang-raped by sexy white supremacists.

My sarcasm is directed right back at me, by the way. Like I said, I suspect it just like everyone else, which is what makes the response to this thing so fascinating.

I'm sure a lot of folks remember the "Free Your Mind" spots MTV used to run (I haven't watched MTV in a while so I don't know if they still run these). There was one in particular, where two cowboys face off in the middle of a desert, their hands at their guns. They eye each other warily, step forward, and suddenly clasp each other and start dancing. Afterwards, the screen reads something along the lines of "Would you rather they shot each other?"

Am I the only one who detects a similarity here?

For years, Hulk and Thor have happily volunteered as each other's punching bag and punching bag-ee, and we've lapped it up. We watch these two so-called "heroes" obliterate property, businesses, livelihoods, and lives (you KNOW all of those buildings weren't condemned just as well as I do) in what are basically super-powered bar brawls, and we'll pay quadruple for 'em if we can get them NM five years after the fact. We scan particular panels as proof in the online debates about who REALLY won (even though neither ever have or ever will, and you know that, too). And when we somehow think they should have fought, but they don't--as was the case with many who read the Avengers/Defenders battle in The Order who whined that their new and improved (and subsequently DEAD) Uber-Thor didn't get a chance to tussle with the Hulk--it's considered so heinous an act that the authors should be kidnapped by Israeli Special-Ops and flown to Nuremberg for trial.

And we never question whether or not that's okay.

But Hulkling tells Lightning Lad he did a good job in a fight against criminals, and not only do we all suddenly assume that Hulk's younger counterpart wants to shove his Green Destiny down Lightning Lad's throat, but debates about homosexuality in comic books erupt all over the net.

In the meantime, when the Hulk throws an entire fucking train on Thor's head in the last Hulk/Thor battle Stan Lee ever wrote, thereby causing an explosion which destroyed an entire trainyard (property, livelihoods, businesses, lives) over what was nothing more than a grudge match, our only questions are along the lines of whether or not Thor was wearing his belt of strength, whether or not this shows Hulk's strength level goes above the 100 ton mark, which of Hulk's 3,498,573,956,948,564 incarnations was at work, if anyone can make some wicked-ass wallpaper out of the panel, etc.

Perspective. Subscribe today.