Wednesday, September 30, 2009

EXTRA MEDIUM #1: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Comic books don't stay in comic books, and that fascinates me.

It's hardly a phenomenon. I know. It's part of the point. For better or worse, most comics - certainly the superhero ones - are produced in the hopes they will lead to films, cartoons, action figures, video games, backpacks, beach towels and bubble baths.

Regardless, there's something about the process of adapting a story from one medium to another that intrigues me. Maybe it's an intellectual curiosity that comes from nothing more complicated than the childlike surprise at seeing characters I had previously known only as frozen subjects on a page become more defined in a film or even a cartoon. Maybe it's because Hollywood's continuing trend of adaptations and remakes has so overtaken film that it seems like adapting a story from one medium to another has almost become an art form in and of itself.

Or maybe I'm just pissed off about organic webshooters. I don't know.

Extra Medium is a (weekly? bi-weekly?) column about this fascination of mine, of what happens when the stories in comics end up in films, television, books, and even video games. I may also explore the opposite: when stories from other media end up in comics. We'll see. This is something new to me and I don't have a lot of rules just yet.

For my first subject, I decided to look at the new PC/Console game Batman: Arkham Asylum. It's a fitting choice because, as I realized while I considered what to write about in my first column, the game is indirectly responsible for Extra Medium. It was a commercial for Batman: Arkham Asylum that renewed in me the desire to own a game console system - my last was a PlayStation 2 which I sold around 5 years ago. My lovely and generous girlfriend bought me an XBox 360 for my birthday, and since then I've been stunned by how utterly cinematic video games have become. I've been thinking a lot about whether or not certain video games could even be correctly called "games" anymore, rather than interactive movies. So when TWC formed and folks were asked what they wanted to write about, since I already had the blurring lines between media on the brain, Extra Medium was the result.

So, without any further delay other than a caveat that I have never even considered reviewing a video game before today so I hope I don't sound too dumb, I give you the first installment of Extra Medium.

- - - - - - -

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Platforms Offered: PlayStation 3, XBox 360, PC

The Joker goes in and out of Arkham so often, they may as well rename it "Harley." This time, he plans to stay for a while. Backed by an army of muscle from Blackgate Prison and a handful of Batman's deadliest nemeses, the Joker plans to put Batman through the most hellish night of his life in Batman: Arkham Asylum.

In his BATMAN ALWAYS WINS column, Matt Springer wrote "There is no such thing as a "definitive Batman."" It's a strong statement, one I agree with, and it's part of what makes something like Batman: Arkham Asylum a challenge to create. Unlike Batman games of the past, Arkham Asylum isn't attached to any specific Batman film or TV show. That left the creators (among them, writer Paul Dini) with a long history of different interpretations of the dark knight from which to choose.

The result is a perfect marriage of the more recent and successful incarnations of Batman. In spite of the stellar success of Nolan's films, visually most of the ideas in Arkham Asylum seem to come from the comics. Characters like Joker, Scarecrow, and of course Batman himself look much more like the guys you'd find in the funnybooks. Of course, Nolan's influence is there in other ways. The game's music sounds mostly to have been culled from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, though every great once in a while you're treated to a thunderous clanging of bells and singing that sounds like it could be a Danny Elfman contribution to one of Tim Burton's films. Also, during some truly disturbing Scarecrow sequences, things like the distortion of Scarecrow's voice and the red glow of his victims' eyes resemble how the character was depicted in Batman Begins. Batman: The Animated Series isn't forgotten. Arkham Asylum's creators recruited some of their talent from Batman: The Animated Series veterans including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, and of course Mark Hamill as the Joker.

Along with Joker, players will find themselves locking horns with Harley Quinn, Zsasz, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc and Bane though they're hardly the only super-baddies in Arkham. Just about any lover of superhero comics will love all the references - obscure or otherwise - to the broader mythology of Batman. Early in the game, the Riddler makes radio contact with Batman and challenges the dark knight to find dozens of objects Riddler's hidden on the island. They're not necessary to complete the game but you get rewards for completing challenges (I don't know them all, because honestly while I've finished the game I never managed to find everything). Some are simply "Riddler trophies" in hard-to-get-to spots. Some are patient interview tapes with inmates like Joker, Croc, Ivy, etc. Then there are certain items comicdom's favorite smart-ass didn't hide himself, but have to be identified with only his riddles for guidance, and many of these are objects belonging to, or newly emptied prison cells of, the absent members of Batman's rogue's gallery. While the villains don't appear in the game, players will find references to Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, the Ventriliquist, the Calendar Man, Mister Freeze, Mad Hatter and more. Mentioning my favorite of these fun additions would be a bit of a spoiler, so simply allow me to say the developers figured out a very inventive way to include Clayface in the game. And of course, all of these little references have potential to be more than simply references should Arkham Asylum enjoy a sequel, since Joker's actions have allowed for most of the aforementioned bad guys (including Riddler) to run free.

Also, while Batman: Arkham Asylum isn't the video game version of the Grant Morrison/Dave McKean GN of the same name (that would be one trippy damn video game), there's obviously a lot of inspiration from that story, as well as numerous direct references. The dark, tragic story of Amadeus Arkham is told in the game directly from the mouth of Arkham's ghost. Chapters of the tale can be accessed when the player finds stone tablets hidden in secret chambers, caves, and other various nooks and crannies throughout Arkham. Readers of the Morrison/McKean GN may notice the shapes of beetles littered throughout the architecture of Arkham's buildings. If you care to, you can even find Arkham's gravestone.

As far as its playability, controlling Batman is surprisingly easy. I'm still new to the most recent generation of video games, and I was worried there would be a complex button combination for every single move, but instead Arkham Asylum uses what the developers call a "freeflow" combat system. In other words, while there are maybe two moves that require specific button combos, for the most part there's one button to hit, one button to counter. The game decides exactly what Batman is going to do when you hit either button (e.g., whether he kicks a guy in the face or punches him in the stomach). It sounds almost too easy, but it's difficult to truly master. Eventually, you'll find yourself in the middle of crowds of literally a dozen or more thugs - some with automatic rifles, electrified batons, knives, and sometimes even boxes or cinder blocks they'll toss at your head - along with a Bane-ified thug or two, and it won't seem like child's play then. There's also a series of great stealth attacks. You can grab bad guys with grappling guns and pull them off catwalks. You can hang below them from a ledge, reach up, bang their heads on a railing and then throw them off. You can hang upside down from gargoyles (you had to know there'd be gargoyles), grab a thug, pull him up a wall and then hang him from the gargoyle. You can even wait until another thug walks under the first guy you strung up, cut the rope with a well-placed bat-a-rang, and take out the thug with the unconscious body of his buddy. As the game progresses, you get more and more gadgets (starting out with only bat-a-rangs), and your options just multiply from there.

What becomes more and more clear as you progress in the game is that the developers were committed to bringing gamers an experience that truly felt like a Batman story, and that came as close as possible to making the players feel like Batman. One interesting thing to note is that, as far as I can tell, there is no way to kill anyone in Batman: Arkham Asylum. I've tried a number of ways and so far I haven't been able to do it. First, I tried pulling a thug off a security tower. As the thug fell, a rope appeared on his ankle and he dangled rather than splatted. Next, I tried using Batman's grappling gun to pull a bad guy into an electrified pool of water. No matter how close I pulled him to the pool, like an overprotective parent at the beach, the game wouldn't let him go in the water. Finally, I tried using the same grappling gun to yank a bad guy into a seemingly bottomless pit. I succeeded, but just as I thought I had changed the dark knight forever by making him take the life of another, the game produced a splashing sound. And mind you, Batman: Arkham Asylum is no kiddy story. There are some fairly gruesome and scary bits. So I doubt the developers went out of their way to stop Batman from being able to kill bad guys because of worries about keeping it kid-friendly. They did it because that's who Batman is.

It also helps that Batman: Arkham Asylum feels like a video game created to accommodate a story, and not the other way around. Maybe more experienced video game reviewers would disagree, but to me it felt like the game had very few honest-to-God Boss Fights. While you eventually defeat each bad guy, the story doesn't follow the usual model of getting through a level, ending with a bad guy you fight, and then on to the next level. There are some villains you never really fight in a face-to-face sense, and there are some you never even capture. You could even argue, in at least one instance, that defeating the villain means escaping him, not beating him up or capturing him. It makes it feel like a genuine Batman story. With the exception of, if you so choose, spending hours and hours finding all of Riddlers hidden extras, Batman: Arkham Asylum feels like something that could easily be a story in a comic book. Nothing about it would feel awkward or forced.

I have to make a special mention of one aspect of the game that is absolutely stunning - Scarecrow. Three times, Scarecrow hits you with his fear gas, and the sequences that follow are the best reasons to play this game. As Batman, you find yourself in a nightmarish abyss, with howling vortexes spinning above and below while you try to navigate floating islands of reality to hide from a Godzilla-sized Scarecrow with a Freddy-Kruegger glove sporting syringes instead of claws. I really don't want to say too much about these sequences because, of everything that happens in the game, these are the last things I would want to spoil. Suffice to say they're scary, they're brilliant, and in one part they lead to something I really never thought I'd see - a video game's retelling of the deaths of Bruce Wayne's parents that is genuinely touching and powerful.

I guess I'll follow the best thing I can say about this game with my biggest complaint, and it's fitting because they're related. The only thing I HATE about Batman: Arkham Asylum is that it uses an auto-save feature. In other words, the game automatically saves your progress in certain spots, and writes over everything you've done. Meaning you can't just, for example, save the moment before a Scarecrow sequence starts because you love it and just might want to play that part again and again and again.

Overall, anyone who has ever cared at all about Batman's exploits should be thrilled at the idea of playing Batman: Arkham Asylum. It's a testament to how the advances in video game technology have made it possible to not only make games that are more fun, but games that are more cinematic, aesthetically pleasing, and even emotionally powerful. It just depends on who's holding the reins.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mick Reborn #2: You Can't Go Hulk Again

This was my first comic book, and really it had to be. I bought it at Arthur's Pipe & Gift Shop on New Scotland Avenue, right across from St. Peter's Hospital. There's a pizza place there now. At least there was last time I cared to notice.

I think at the time I recognized some of the characters on the cover. I'm sure I recognized the Hulk from his live-action show and his Saturday morning cartoon. I probably vaguely knew who some of the others were. Captain America. Iron Man. Maybe the Fantastic Four. The Vision looked exotic and almost scary to me, which seems pretty silly now.

What follows is no pop psychology, no retrospective reinterpretation. I was very conscious of why I bought the comic. The cover made it appear to be a story in which the Hulk faced down the rest of the world's superheroes. Later it turned out that wasn't really the case, but that didn't matter. I was a lonely and angry kid. I felt like the other kids at school would like me if they just tried to get to know me, and I dreamed of the day that would happen. In the meantime, every day on the playground felt exactly like the cover of The Incredible Hulk #278. The thing that never occurred to me until I saw the comic was that maybe on that playground I was the hero, and all those bastards who made fun of me, they were the assholes. After all, it was obvious to me from the cover that the FF, the Avengers, and the rest of them, they were the bad guys in the comic. How could they not be? They were facing off against the Hulk, and it's his comic. Duh!

When I eventually stopped blogging about comics, the story of the Hulk's exile to another world by the Earth's heroes - Planet Hulk - was, maybe, three-quarters of the way done. Everyone knew World War Hulk, the story of the Hulk's return to Earth, was coming. During a time when I was hardly reading any other comics, World War Hulk was one of the few trades I made sure to pick up as soon as it was out.

In spite of the fact that it really wasn't published very long ago, it's one of the most worn trades in my collection. Strangely enough, while I have reread it numerous times, usually I only flip through one specific scene: the standoff between Hulk and the Avengers.

Apologies if I'm misremembering, but I think it was Dave Campbell of Dave's Long Box who immortalized the phrase, "FUCK YEAH! Moments?" To me, World War Hulk was nothing but one FYM after another. Just a trailer of money shots.

For me, World War Hulk had nothing to do with Reed Richards and Iron Man and the rest exiling the Hulk into space. It had nothing to do with the death of his wife, the destruction of his alien world, a poorly timed IRS audit or any other inconveniences. World War Hulk came hot on the heels of Civil War, which was about as close as Marvel has ever come to attempting a complex, mature concept in a company-wide event. The Hulk rocked into the Earth like a mad, stripped-down Superman to punish the world for getting so goddamned high-minded. Dressed like a gladiator, like the ancient mythic heroes to whom Superman owed so much inspiration, the return of the Hulk was an apocalypse brought about by the world's Proto-Superhero - the World's Forgotten Boy - reminding his descendants of nothing more or less important than the simple fact he's the strongest one there is. No debates. No recruiting. No plans.

Punching and property damage.

More than that, World War Hulk was the realization of the promise the cover of my first comic made but never delivered; the Hulk declaring war on the entire mutie-loving world and pounding its heroes to tar. It was a conflict I'd waited decades for, and not to settle any stupid "Hulk vs." debates. I wanted to see my favorite green goliath smash the other heroes of Marvel because they deserved it. For denying him, for misunderstanding him, for hunting him and for hounding him, I waited decades for the day when I would see a triumphant Hulk clutching enough bloody capes to fill the last few minutes of 300.

It is possible that, sometimes, I over-identify.

Regardless, it seemed natural upon my decision to return to reading and writing about comics that Hulk would be my go-to guy. After all, as I wrote last week, I feel a little unsure of my footing here. It's been a while. Attaching a lifeline to the character who served as the comic book icon of my childhood seemed a good idea. Not that I would only write about the Hulk, but that he would be my doorway to the rest of the funnybook world. I don't know what's different about comics since last I was writing about them, and I need something familiar to anchor myself. Something familiar. Something dependable. Something-

Christ-on-a-space-shuttle, who the fuck is that?

The Loeb/McGuinness Hulk disappointed me as much as any comic ever could. McGuinness draws the Hulk like a Cartoon Network parody. Loeb's stories, in every way I could imagine, don't make sense. I'm constantly convinced I skipped something. Hulk will be free and at large at the end of one issue, and imprisoned at the beginning of the next, meaning the character who has been hounded by the military since his birth is now willingly submitting to imprisonment? Including going BACK to prison after he's already freed himself? I can't decide whether or not his Hulk is more or less unreadable than his Superman/Batman. His Hulk lacks the Supes-Said/Bats-Said narration that rendered Superman/Batman immediately annoying, but it has its own host of boring, vapid gimmicks. One issue features, once again, the Hulk switching back and forth between his green, savage self and the gray-skinned legbreaker "Mr. Fixit." Then, later...WendiHulk. As in a Hulk-ified Wendigo, or a Wendigotten Hulk, whichever you like better. And his time at DC has apparently left him with the notion that every comic needs enough superhero guest appearances to fill a clown car. Yes, I understand the dollars-and-cents logic of "guest appearances increase sales," but that really only tends to work with guest appearances by popular characters, right? I fail to see how Moon Knight and Brother Voodoo are going to increase Hulk sales, especially when they really add nothing to the story. Someone will say "Hey! We need some magic crap done!" and poof! Brother Voodoo shows up, does some magic crap, and leaves. It all takes place in the space of a couple pages. Wow. That's chemistry.

Some years ago I wrote a commentary piece for CBG called "WHY WON'T PUNY HUMANS JUST LEAVE HULK ALONE!?!?" My argument was that, rather than doing anything genuinely interesting with the character, writers had subjected Hulk to constant, radical change. Gimmicks disguised as depth. Rather than reproduce the entire article, I think this says it all: "We've had smart Hulks, gray Hulks, mute Hulks, evil Hulks, suicidal Hulks, psychotic Hulks, incestuous Hulks, Hulks borne of Skrulls, Hulks that don't even have to turn into the Hulk to get all Hulky, and Sybil-Hulks who change from green-to-gray and smart-to-dumb every day. We've even had a Rick Jones Hulk. Imagine if Mexican wrestlers broke Bruce Wayne's back every few years, and Spidey endured clone sagas bi-annually. That's what Hulk fans have dealt with for the past two decades." Loeb's Red Hulk proved my argument better than any Hulk run I can remember. Between the red Hulk, the gray Hulk, the green Hulk and the Wendigo Hulk, Loeb scrambled to grab any tired BS he could rather than scrounge up an actual idea.

More than any other faults I could list about the comic (and ho-boy, are the opportunities there), the Loeb/McGuinness Hulk was such a disappointment precisely because I desperately wanted to like it. Reading the Red Hulk trade as part of my re-introduction to the comic book world was kind of like a lapsed Catholic visiting his church after 5 years and walking in on his priest doing something a little too newsworthy with an altar boy.

And speaking of little boys, the Hulk's little kid didn't help much either. I knew about Greg Pak's Skaar: Son of Hulk. I think I saw an issue of it in a Barnes & Noble some months ago. When I went to the comic shop last week to clumsily rediscover my path into the comics world, I prepared by checking out Diamond's list of releases for that week, and was surprised to see the Skaar tpb was scheduled for the shelves. I found it, flipped it over, and had to blink my eyes a couple of times when I saw the $24.99 price tag. I thought maybe I was reading the Canadian price or something, but no, there it was, in black-and-white, $24.99. What the hell, I thought, That's HC prices! I "realized" that the trade must have reprinted more issues than I initially thought. I read the back description, sure I would find something saying it reprinted 12 or so issues - no dice. Seven. Seven and a little bit of an eighth.

No. I just wouldn't buy it. No way. Sure, it was written by the guy who wrote the World War Hulk I gushed over like a lovesick girl, featuring a Hulk-like character on the world Pak created for Planet Hulk, but $24.99 was too much. I'm no cheapskate. Hell, there are quite a few credit card companies, banks, and collections specialists that wish I was a hell of a lot more of a cheapskate. I might be willing to pay that much if we were talking about a comic I knew was just absolutely spectacular. If Skaar was a Morrison/Quitely book or a Brubaker/Phillips book, maybe I'd splurge. I never read a single issue of Skaar. I loved Pak's stuff on Incredible Hulk, but it wasn't like I'd seen any of his other work. After all, I loved Loeb's The Long Halloween, but that didn't make Red Hulk anything less similar to what belongs in a litter box.

Eventually, I realized it was foolish of me to expect anything more out of Hulk, particularly after reading the other books I brought home. I hadn't bought many floppies, but the books I did buy were largely confusing, boring messes. Dark Avengers hardly featured the Dark Avengers, which was particularly disappointing because I'd only bought the goddamn thing to find out who the hell they were. Moon Knight was, as Chris Allen wrote the other day, unfortunately what you would expect from the first issue of a chronically third-tier Marvel superhero. New Avengers was, as I remembered it, not horrible.

As the general cloud of ho-hum settled, it occurred to me that I simply could not afford this shit. I'm sure this has received plenty of discussion on the Net, I'm sure I'm just another geek complaining about it, but $4 a pop for a floppy is far out of my range. I can't do it. I cannot do it. I can't justify that much money to try new comics, to get comics just so I can review them online, or to keep myself stocked up on nostalgia junk food.

The comic that keeps springing to mind is Immortal Weapons. I adored Immortal Iron Fist and would've loved to check out this mini. It isn't very common that spin-offs live up to the original, but still I would've at least given it a shot. But for $4? No way in hell. And now, unlike before, there isn't even the chance that I'll "wait for the trade" since, if there is a trade, its price will be just as inflated as the floppies'.

The point is that superhero comics have proven so undesirable that the idea of purchasing one - unless I'm familiar with the creative team and know that they're a cut above the rest - is absolutely laughable. I can't imagine ever caring enough about the Avengers to spend $12/month on their exploits. For $12/month I could pay my water bill. I could pay half my cable bill. I could buy, like, at least five 2-liter bottles of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. Maybe six if there's a sale or something.

I am being forced, finally, to do what the Hulk has asked everyone to do for years - Hulk just wants to be left alone. Short of a finding a job that that pays a hell of a lot more, I don't see any other option. Hulk's going to get what he wants, and that's really not what makes me a little sad. What makes me sad, is that I have difficulty imagining there's anything bad about that. I'm not particularly worried that I'm missing the next great superhero comic. But at the same time, by missing out on the capes, I feel a little lost.

The dirty secret about me is that I've never cared about, or particularly liked, non-superhero comics. Well, that's not completely true, but even most of the non-superhero comics I've followed in the past were still action-adventure books (and someone could make a strong argument that Conan or Ogami Itto are as much superheroes as Hulk or Batman). I don't know why. There are plenty of stories I enjoy that have nothing to do with violence or irradiated heroes, I just prefer them in films or on television or in books. Something seemed inherently boring about using a comic book for non-action, non-violent stories. When I blogged years ago, and other bloggers would rave about Jimmy Corrigan or Ice Haven or Palomar, I would nod and smile and think "Yeah, that's great, whatever, when's House of M coming out?"

But here I am, desperate. I just don't have the money for this superhero thing anymore. At the same time, I know if I did have the money, there's so goddamn little that comes out that's worth it. There are so few superhero books that meet the bare minimum requirement of being more entertaining than my Xbox 360, much less the singular superhero stuff that truly soars as high as its subject matter.

So I got a new library card (my old one was all chewed up, I had some fines on it, and I moved to a new county anyway). Pretty much all they had was kind of stuff that, previously, I wouldn't have bothered with. Autobiography. Drama. Stories featuring talking animals who somehow managed to be serious. I borrowed a pile of books and brought them home, not feeling very excited about the whole venture. I took the thickest of the books and planted it on top of my girlfriend's bathroom cabinet, figuring I might flip through it if I was bored on the can. This is the book.

Luckily, I eventually took it out of the bathroom. Otherwise I probably would've been in there for three hours.

So, yeah. I changed my mind about some things.

More next week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWC and Wikipedia

I'm honestly having trouble keeping up with my fellow reviewers over at Trouble with Comics. I'll visit it in the morning, won't have time to read it at first, and then by the time I come back later in the day, there are two more posts already. It's insanity! Good insanity, but still insanity.

I finally found some time today to read the work people posted in the last few days.

Chris Allen reviews Manhunter.
Alan Doane discusses creator rights.
D. Emerson Eddy reviews Batman & Robin.
Marc Sobel reviews Disappearance Diary.
David Wynne looks back at Grant Morrison's Zenith.

As the days go by and the posts multiply, I'm more and more grateful for the opportunity to be a part of TWC. Everything I read there makes me think, "Wow, I'm one of these guys."

Also, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Superheroes, etc. has been linked to from Wikipedia. One of the very first online reviews I wrote was for AC Comics' Fighting Yank #1 at Comic Book Galaxy. The review was later reprinted in Fighting Yank #2. I re-posted the review here on Superheroes, etc., and Fighting Yank's wiki page has a link to that review on the bottom of the page under "Footnotes." Not a huge deal, but it's kind of cool to be on Wikipedia, if a little indirectly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

All you need is HULK

This is perhaps the single funniest comic book-related humor piece I have ever read on the Net, written by Gail Simone. It's from 2000, and I was reminded of it by the recent revival of necrophilia Beatlemania.

(it may not show up for you correctly if you're not using Internet Explorer-My Firefox displays it correctly, but everything's flushed far to the right for some reason)

Civility: It's fine and you're stupid

I realize it may seem strange for one of the first posts on my comic book blog to be about something not particularly comic-book-y, but. You know. Whatever. It's my blog. Bite me.

A couple of days ago, USA Today asked "What happened to civility?", citing Kanye West's drunken intrustion during MTV's Video Music Awards, tennis star Serena Williams going all Anglo-Saxon on a judge, and finally Representative Joe Wilson's outburst during the President's address to Congress.

I realize I'm a little late to the party, but since I haven't heard or read it anywhere else, I wanted to ask - Does anyone else think we're seeing mountains but looking at molehills?

First, the VMAs have never been sleepy, polite tea parties. I haven't watched MTV in years, but upon hearing of the "controversy" West stirred, I could immediately recall a handful of VMA incidents as bad or worse. I remember Bobby Brown capping a performance of "It's My Prerogative" with "We the FUCK outta here" and the Beastie Boys likewise dropping an F-Bomb in a VMA performance of "Sabotage". Perhaps the VMA I remember better than any other was when Nirvana scared MTV shitless by opening what was supposed to be their performance of "Lithium" with the first few bars of "Rape Me", then performed the song they were booked to play, destroyed their instruments in a rampage that made their meltdown on Saturday Night Live pale in comparison, and taunted fellow pop stars Madonna and Axl Rose from the stage. You have to admit, compared to stuff like that, some poor little girl having her precious moment stolen from her doesn't seem all that newsworthy. I'm sure her bank account will console her.

Second, as far as the Williams incident is I the only person who remembers John McEnroe? I mean, let me clarify here, I know next to nothing about tennis. I know there's a ball, a net, and people generally wear white. But even I know about John McEnroe because his temper tantrums were so goddamn legendary that there was a while there when it seemed like just about every comedian in the world either had a McEnroe impersonation, a hefty cache of McEnroe jokes, or both. Now, I don't want to whip out the race or gender cards, but it's tough to avoid here. Considering the noise this incident caused, the fact that the "offender" was a black woman, and the fact that someone like McEnroe could practically build a career doing this without anyone predicting the death of civility makes me think Williams's race and gender have more to do with the reaction to her blow-up than people would like to admit.

Third and finally, there's Representative Wilson. No doubt, it was a stupid move. Considering the recent track record of politicians from his state, if I were in his shoes, I'd probably be shutting the hell up as much as possible. Not to mention what he said and the way he said it were both just so silly. "YOU LIE!" I mean, even if you assume Obama's wrong or lying about covering illegal immigrants, Wilson made it sound like Obama had some kind of nefarious plan. What could he possibly think the ulterior motive would be? Is Obama going to get all of the nation's illegal workers into hospitals so government doctors can build him a cyborg army?

Still, has anyone ever seen the Prime Minister's Questions on CSPAN? Oh. My. GOD. They make that speech look like gentle love-making. All they do is yell at the British Prime Minister. They ask him questions that have NO point other than to inspire the Prime Minister to answer in a way that makes everyone yell at him. And he always has a binder with him. It's nutty. And frankly, it's damn fine TV.

So, you know, everything's fine. Civility isn't dead, or if it is then West, Williams and Wilson are hardly the Horsemen of the Civility Apocalypse.

Though, looking at their names, they may be the beginning of a website address. Cool.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mick Reborn #1: Confessions of a Dizzy Bastard

Not all who wander are lost.

But some dizzy bastards are.

I loved writing about comics online. I began by reviewing floppies for Comic Book Galaxy. Eventually I started my own blog, The Daily Burn. Eventually, for reasons I honestly don't even remember (I think I just liked the name better), The Daily Burn made way for Superheroes, etc. I had fun. I wrote all the time. Other bloggers, even a few pros, visited my blog and commented on it. Then I just stopped and didn't come back.

Why? Time, pain, and addiction to a dream world. Or, more correctly, addiction to the wrong dream world.

When my blogging initially slowed, it was due mostly to school and work. I just didn't have the time. However, eventually the problems school caused had less to do with time and more to do with subject matter. I wrote an undergraduate English honors thesis about how 9/11 impacted the storytelling of Marvel Comics. I began the project excited and sure I'd burn through it with a passion and intellectual agility that would put the other honors students to shame. By the end of it, I didn't want to look at a comic book unless I was looking at a big, oil-soaked pile of them and was holding a belching flamethrower.

If you've ever seen the episode of The Office when Steve Carell orchestrates an ill-advised "Run for Rabies" and uses the even more ill-advised strategy of filling up on pasta alfredo before the race, Carell's slow, painful stagger across the finish line will give you an idea of how I felt when I finally finished that goddamned thesis and earned my degree.

Oh. And if you've seen that episode, you may also remember Carell puking up the pasta moments after the race's conclusion. Well, something happened to me that makes the analogy complete. Weeks after my graduation, my girlfriend of 5 years left a note on my desk letting me know we could still be friends, our cats would soon forget who I was, and that I'd be returning to the apartment soon like a timid burglar to figure out which DVDs were mine.

My life unraveled in an instant, and there was no one to talk to. Since returning to school I had been working at night. Working the same schedule as Batman teaches you quickly why he's such a moody fuck. Your social life dies like a sad, unpopular sidekick. When the 5-Year-Bitch told me to hit the road, I was still working a crimefighter's schedule, so there was no one to help me through one of the most emotionally turbulent times in my life.

So I turned to the only friends I had available to me.

I immersed myself in a fantasy world of passion, war, magic and nobility.

A land of philosophy and reason.

A world of intrigue.

A World of Warcraft.

When you work nights, you're out of step with the world. When I was going through the aftermath of a wrecked relationship, I couldn't just call a friend during my usual waking hours and cry over the phone at them. My friends all have children and jobs and mortgages. But in WoW? Logging onto WoW at 3 am is never lonely. Evil on Azeroth never sleeps, after all, and neither do its warriors.

Along with substituting for my social life, WoW helped me feel better about the situation. There was no insistence that I move out of the apartment, but one of us had to and her family was on the other side of the country. So I moved back in with my parents. When I finally found a new apartment 4 months later, the only place I could afford was an attic apartment in a neighborhood many of my friends were afraid to visit. But while in my real life I suffered rejection, humiliation, and poverty, in World of Warcraft, I was a powerful dwarf hunter decked out in epic armor captured from godlike foes with a fictional bank account brimming with gold. I was the first in my guild with the epic flying mount, one of the first of my guild to the broken world of Draenor. In World of Warcraft, I was healthy. I had concrete accomplishments I could point to. I could fly.

I hesitate to say it was a mistake. It was what I needed at the time and I still have a handful of friends from the experience. But it couldn't last. Well, that's not true. It could've lasted, but it's a good thing it didn't.

Perhaps the most important person I met in WoW was a guy, whose username I can't even remember, who never heard of Spoiler Warnings. During a casual conversation in my guild's chat channel about comics, he gave away the ending of Planet Hulk. I was almost completely severed from the comic book blogging world by then, reading only GNs and TPBs and was very proud of myself for being so patient with Planet Hulk and its angry child World War Hulk. Spoiler Man was not my best friend, and the exchange reminded me that I had given up writing about a wonderful art form for the sake of an endless video game filled with faceless strangers whose friendships with me would always rank, at best, second to the game itself.

Even after I gave up the game, I couldn't come back to blogging. It wasn't even something in the forefront of my mind really. It was just a little nagging thorn rubbing against my side; not enough to break the skin, just barely enough to piss me off so mildly that I wasn't even aware I was pissed off about something.

When I was able to force myself to think about it, my prospects didn't seem good. Who would take me seriously if I came back after such a long absence? I had been out of the loop so long, I wouldn't be able to find my ass with both hands stitched to it. I wouldn't know who was still blogging, who had gone away, what comics were around, which ones had died. I wouldn't know any of the trendy blogger jokes. Do people still joke about the Internet cracking in half? Is Peter David still writing angry, public letters to Quesada every few weeks? Is everyone still reviewing Eightball #28? Hell, at least 4 or 5 Marvel crossovers have lived and died in the span of my absence from blogging. People who hate comics but watch The Colbert Report know more about the state of the Marvel Universe than me. It'd be like steering Mr. Magoo into a mine field.

Things changed for me. I made positive steps. I said goodbye to World of Warcraft. I found a lovely woman, moved in with her, and our cats know who I am. I quit smoking. I started exercising more. I stopped working nights. I got better.

When ADD sent out an e-mail to CBG alumni proposing nothing more than simply getting something going, all the doubts about coming back to blogging melted away. I felt like Christopher Guest running on stage at the end of This is Spinal Tap (not that ADD and I had ever had an angry spat over anything, or that I had news about Comic Book Galaxy hitting it big in Japan). It just felt right. I felt as if in more ways than I'm willing to mention here, I left my path. Immersing myself in comics again, writing about them for public consumption, and forcing my way into a broader discussion about them - this feels right. This feels like part of returning to the right path.

While it's questionable whether or not I can afford it, I have a fistful of bucks from the ATM, and tonight I'm going to buy some of those funny cartoon books down the street. Earthworld Comics, right near the corner of Central and Manning. I've been going there since junior high. I know the way.