Aug 302012
 

LightningThis week’s “minorities in cartoons” entry is Lightning, a contestant on the fourth season of the Teletoon/Cartoon Network series “Total Drama Island,” dubbed “Total Drama: Revenge of the Island.” (Yes, there’s spoilers by the metric ton ahead; you’ve been warned.)

Lightning, introduced this season as part of the batch of new contestants on the series, is depicted largely as a stereotypical jock, heavily into various sports, but most particularly football. (Despite the show’s setting and his overachieving jock nature, he doesn’t seem to be into hockey.) Lightning’s signature trait is (always) referring to himself in the third person, plus a tendency to attach “sh-” as a prefix to words (“sh-BAM!”).

Lightning managed to annoy most of his teammates as the season wore on, particularly teammate Jo, who Lightning (as she pointed out in her elimination) was too stupid to realize Jo was a girl. Toward the end of the season, Lightning developed a large animosity toward Cameron, one of the season’s three African-Canadian male contestants; Cameron, in contrast to Lightning, is a sheltered, respectful, brainy geek. (The third African-Canadian male contestant, named “B,” was also quite smart, but never spoke a word, and got eliminated fairly early.) Lightning’s grudge against Cameron reached its peak when both became the final two contestants in a “brain versus brawn” season finale. There, Lightning ended up struck by, well, actual lightning, which turned his hair white—prompting him to nickname himself “White Lightning.” Wonder what a certain superhero would make of that name…

Here’s where it gets even more bizarre: the producers of the show make at least two alternate endings for each season’s finale. The various countries airing the show can air whichever ending they wish, to determine their own winner for the series. Here in the US, Lightning was deemed the winner of the $1 million grand prize. However, in most other countries’ broadcasts of the series, including native country Canada, Cameron is deemed the winner. Given Cameron was more likable toward the end than Lightning, I can’t blame them. Either way, Schrödinger (or DC Comics’ Gardner Fox) would’ve been proud.

Lightning is voiced by Tyrone Savage.

Finally, an “extra” produced by the show is the characters’ “audition reels,” which are offered on Cartoon Network and Teletoon’s websites. Here’s the one for Lightning, apparently culled from dialogue from the series rather than an original reel like the others; thus why Lightning behaves as if he’s already on the show (well, aside from his massive ego).

 

Aug 292012
 

Justice League (2011) #1This started out originally as a comment on another site, but since apparently “what are the pros/cons of the New 52″ will be asked a lot with the one-year anniversary of DC Comics’ latest reboot now upon us, I thought I’d just write one post with my thoughts and link to that in the future (the next time someone asks). Thus, here’s my pros and cons for the “New 52.”

Pros

  • DC making some attempt at diversity, including giving some minority characters (including Static and Mister Terrific) their own books. Batwoman’s own comic also remains ongoing. Unfortunately, many of said new books were quickly given the axe, save those tied in some way to Batman (such as Batwing).
  • Comics being sold as same-day digital sales is a sign there’s some attention being paid toward the future of content consumption (or maybe the popularity of new forms of comics such as webcomics). Granted, the books still have the drawback of being DRM laden, but DC’s at least following Archie’s lead.
  • The imprints/other DC lines such as Vertigo remaining unscathed by all of this.

Cons

  • Much of the tone feels like a continuation of what I’ve disliked about DC’s trends in recent years. The emphasis on shock-value violence in particular continues unabated.
  • The sexist treatment of some female characters (Starfire and Catwoman in particular) is also rather insensitive, going well past mere “cheesecake”/”fan service” standards. Note to DC: women read comics too, and the crowd you’re apparently trying to attract with this knows how to download naughty pictures of real women online for free (versus shelling out $4 for cartoon imagery)…
  • Elements that feel like a retread of bad 90s comics trends. The heroes all as humorless as a depressed 15-year-old (including, oddly, Superman) and being stuck in ugly redesigned costumes (including Superman losing red trunks and gaining pointless body armor) comes to mind.
  • Character and story ideas that sound like bad fan fiction stories. Wonder Woman in particular comes to mind, between “Zeus is my daddy,” “my people are glorified black widow spiders” and “Superman’s girlfriend.”
  • An over-reliance on Batman. Batman and Bat-character related books make up a full fourth of DC’s “New 52″ output. When Mister Terrific and Static got canceled, one of the replacement titles was yet another Bat-character book. I can’t recall if any single character’s been so over-relied on by DC historically. I’m not sure if even Superman in the 50s/60s dominated DC’s output the way Batman currently seems to, and DC during that time had Supes’ name in their logo. Granted, said Batman over-reliance extends to DC’s non-comics media as well (much as I like most of them, how many Batman TV cartoons do we need?!). Maybe Sue at “DC Women Kicking Ass” is right, and DC’s logo should be a bat-symbol…
  • While the reboot’s selling well, it’s mainly to either lapsed readers or those reading other companies’ comics. It doesn’t seem to have brought in tons of truly new readers as hoped.
  • The comics still cost too much, at $4 apiece. Even worse is they charge the same amount for their (DRMed) digital comics. Even with a price drop after a month (by a whole dollar), it sounds like a hard sell to prospective new readers (versus paying the same for an app, iTunes/Amazon.com music, etc.), who can easily get their superhero fill through movies, TV shows, cartoons, or video games with the same characters (in more publicly-recognizable depictions).
  • They still aren’t trying to appeal to children, their future new readership audience. DC’s kids’ comic line could also stand a bit of a revamp or renewed focus, plus more DCU-set books that are at least somewhat more kid-friendly. (Dan Slott’s “Amazing Spider-Man” at Marvel I could see myself giving to older kids; the same I can’t say for much of the “New 52″…)

All in all, while the “New 52″ is doing fine for the short-term (from a business perspective), I’m not sure it’ll truly change anything in the long run for DC, or the superhero comic genre in general. Offering overpriced comics to a narrow demographic who have lots of other things to spend their money on (including DC’s corporate cousin video games, TV shows, etc. using the same characters), with some of said comics’ elements coming off as tacky or outright offensive toward some (such as women) seems like a short-sighted business plan to me. Of course, from Time-Warner’s perspective, DC’s just an “IP farm,” and thus sales might not matter anyway, as long as the future TV show/movie plots and characters keep coming.

Overall, other than “Action” (which I’ll ditch once Morrison is done), I’m back to the kids’ line of books/reprints as far as DC’s concerned. As I said before, I’ll just watch the 52 stuff from the sidelines as a bewildered spectator…

Aug 282012
 

BraveSince Labor Day’s coming this weekend, marking the effective end of the summer movie season, I may as well look back now on this summer’s blockbuster films, and follow up on my post from May about how this summer’s films did or didn’t do, based on the “Jay Sherman” Test. For detailed box office information, see Box Office Mojo. Yes, some films are still in theaters, and thus their box office take can improve, but I’m just calling it as “hit,” “broke even” (if it seems slightly above or below its production budget) or “flop” as of this writing.

Movies that passed the Jay Sherman Test:

  • The Avengers: This summer’s biggest hit globally and domestically in terms of box office, even moreso than the final Batman movie.
  • The Dictator: A flop domestically (not breaking even), but seemed to be a hit internationally.
  • Battleship: Another flop domestically, but profitable with international take factored in.
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting: broke even domestically, did well internationally.
  • Chernobyl Diaries: apparently a flop.
  • Battlefield America: a flop.
  • Snow White and the Huntsman: flop domestically, successful internationally.
  • Prometheus: about broke even domestically, hit internationally.
  • Rock of Ages: a flop.
  • That’s My Boy: a flop.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: a flop domestically, profitable with international take.
  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: a flop.
  • Brave: a big hit, though seems “Ice Age” is more popular internationally.
  • GI Joe: Retaliation: N/A; afraid “Batman” would do it in, this one’s been pushed back to a release early next spring (last I checked).
  • Magic Mike: one of this summer’s biggest hits.
  • People Like Us: seems to be a flop.
  • Savages: about broke even.
  • Ted: one of the summer’s biggest hits (unsurprisingly, given it’s by “Family Guy”‘s creator… meh).
  • Tyler Perry’s The Marriage Counselor Witness Protection: wrong film previously cited, but still, a big hit, at least among African-American audiences.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man: another big hit, especially internationally. I didn’t care for this one, however (preferred the previous films).
  • Neighborhood The Watch: despite the name change, it’s still a flop.
  • Hope Springs: not sure, but assume it’s done OK.
  • The Campaign: also not sure, but guessing it did OK as well.
  • The Odd Life of Timothy Green: ditto the above two (no production budget listed), but it’s supposedly been doing OK at the box office recently.
  • Paranorman: Cartoon Brew suggests it’s doing OK, but not stellar, given how stop-motion animated films tend to do.
  • The Expendables 2: seems to be doing better internationally than domestically, but still profitable.
  • Premium Rush: a flop.
  • 7500: N/A; apparently pushed back to 2013.

Movies that failed the Jay Sherman Test:

  • Dark Shadows: a flop domestically, but broke even internationally.
  • Men In Black III: a flop domestically based on production costs (despite Will Smith’s name), but a huge hit internationally.
  • Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted: a hit domestically and internationally.
  • Total Recall: flop domestically, breaks even with international take.
  • Sparkle: broke even.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: one of the summer’s biggest hits (unsurprisingly), though “The Avengers” is the top grossing superhero film domestically and internationally.
  • Step Up Revolution: broke even domestically, did much better internationally.
  • Ice Age: Continental Drift: successful domestically, huge hit internationally, surpassing even Spidey and Bats.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: a hit.
  • The Bourne Legacy: doesn’t seem to be doing as well domestically, but successful enough internationally.

So out of the films that “passed” the test domestically:

  • Successful/broke even: 14
  • Flop: 12

For a success rate of 54%.

And out of the ones that “failed” domestically:

  • Successful/broke even: 7
  • Flop: 3

For a success rate of 70%. Hmm… no wonder Hollywood prefers formulaic films…

As for next summer, I’m guessing there’ll be plenty of sequels (probably from what came out over the previous several years), plus there’s the “Man of Steel” film finally hitting theaters, which for Superman’s sake I’m hoping isn’t a flop (or anything like the Nolan Batman movies)…

 

Aug 272012
 

Wonder WomanThe latest idea to come along in the bad fan fiction-like feel of the “New 52″ DC Comics reboot (now celebrating its one-year anniversary) is the announcement that Superman and Wonder Woman will be dating each other, starting in “Justice League” #12. See Newsarama’s article for details.

While I haven’t had problems with seeing the two date in alternate universe set stories (“Kingdom Come,” etc.), it’s not something I want to see the “real” versions do at all. (Of course, given the “New 52″-ized “emo Clark” and “Zeus is my daddy” Diana, I wouldn’t call either one the “real versions” anyway, but I digress…) Superman and Lois Lane’s relationship is quite iconic for a reason (the contrast of backgrounds, Lois a character who’s popular and strong enough to have carried her own comic at one point, etc.). Similarly, Wonder Woman’s classic interest was Steve Trevor (to the point the two even married on Earth-Two). In Wondy’s case, I never liked seeing Steve sidelined post-Crisis (more or less) and Diana go through a spate of short-lived romances (remember Trevor Barnes? Black guy with dreadlocks and possible future “minorities in cartoons” candidate?). While the “New 52″‘s finally brought Steve back (no idea if he still calls Diana his traditional nickname for her, “Angel”), he seems to be distanced from Wonder Woman the same way Lois has been. Steve will appear in a new “Justice League of America” title, while from the comics I’ve read, Lois is mostly just manning a desk at the “Daily Planet”/Galaxy Communications building or hanging out with Jimmy Olsen.

Of course, this will be a short-lived romance, being just a gimmick to get attention both among comics fandom and in mainstream press like “Good Morning America.” (Speaking of “GMA,” a character who’s supposed to be the world’s strongest woman’s a “sidekick“?) With the new “Man of Steel” movie on the horizon next year, I doubt even the myopic marketing sense of Time-Warner’s comics subsidiary can ignore that, or Lois’ role in the movie.

Then again, it might not matter what DC does anyway. Their only real role at this point, as far as Time-Warner’s concerned, is to maintain the trademarks on the characters and generate new story ideas/characters to turn into more “mainstream” venues (movies, TV shows, toys, etc.). Given DC’s leadership in recent years seems bent on living up to some of the worst stereotypes about comics readers (the shock-value violence, sexism, etc.), I can’t help but wonder what their long-term future will be like. Still, if what I’ve seen is any indication, I’ll be watching all this from the sidelines as a spectator, rather than as a customer.

Aug 262012
 

A Christmas For ShacktownHere’s the trade paperbacks and comic strip compilations of interest coming out for November 2012. Information taken from the separate comics posts, as well as Amazon.com (for the comic strips).

Marvel

  • Spider-Man: Trouble on the Horizon TPB, on sale Dec. 19, $17

Fantagraphics

  • Walt Disney’s Donald Duck, vol. 2: A Christmas For Shacktown (HC), on sale Nov. 7, $29

Boom Studios

  • Garfield, vol. 1 TPB, on sale Nov. 28, $14
  • It’s Tokyo, Charlie Brown TPB, on sale Nov. 6, $14

Comic strips

  • Jasotron 2012: A FoxTrot Collection, on sale Nov. 6, $17
  • The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (paperback), on sale Nov. 13, $100
  • The Stinking: A Get Fuzzy Treasury, on sale Nov. 20, $17

Comments

Quite a few fun choices this month. The most popular of the two, I suspect, will be the Donald Duck volume and the Calvin and Hobbes collection. The Donald Duck volume includes the classic cover-featured story, “A Christmas for Shacktown,” where Donald and the boys try to collect money to give a poor Duckburg neighborhood a nice Christmas. Said story also features an early appearance of Uncle Scrooge, before he gained his own comic.

The Calvin and Hobbes collection has already been released, but as a hardcover edition. This set is in paperback form, and thus is $50 cheaper (according to the retail prices).

The Spider-Man volume collects the storylines where Spidey tries to prevent a disaster he saw in the future (it makes sense in context), plus a trip to a space station along with the Human Torch.

Aug 262012
 

Love and Capes: What to Expect #4Here’s what’s coming out from various miscellaneous comic companies for November 2012.

IDW

Full solicitations available here.

  • Love and Capes: What to Expect #4 (of 6), $4
  • Popeye #7, $4

Boom Studios

Full solicitations available here.

  • Garfield #7, $4
  • Garfield vol. 1 TPB, $14, on sale Dec. 4

Comments

From the “Love and Capes” cover, I gather Zahler plans to use every joke involving how superhero comics treat babies he can. Which sounds hilarious to me…

The first trade paperback of Garfield’s comic is out this month.

 

Aug 262012
 

As you can see, I’ve decided to give the blog a bit of a revamp. Or “quite a while of a revamp,” as doing this took longer than expected… not being satisfied with the various other WordPress themes I tried, for starters. Anyway, long-timers might recall I’ve used this “black and white” theme before; I wanted something a bit lighter than the old theme.

The biggest change, of course, is that the blog now is on the main page of the site, instead of under the “/blog” subheading. Given the blog gets most of the site’s traffic, plus my desire to emphasize that aspect of my writing, I figure it makes sense to move it. The old front page is now an “About Me” page, which I’ve also revised and updated.

There’s a new header image, as well, which I hope is better looking than the old one. The navigation bar’s formerly separately-listed categories are now under a “categories” drop-down menu. Finally, I’ve split the sidebar’s links into categories for convenience. The RSS feeds for the separate categories are still offered in the sidebar, however, if you only wish to follow the technology-related posts, for instance.

Let me know what you make of the revised site…

Aug 232012
 

Kyle's Bed and BreakfastThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Kyle’s Bed & Breakfast,” a comic strip written and drawn by Greg Fox.

The strip focuses on the goings-on at a gay-oriented bed and breakfast located on Long Island. Given the strip’s setting (akin to the boarding house in 80s comic strip “Bloom County”), there’s a sizable cast of characters who’ve been added over the strip’s run. There’s also a variety of storylines, some dealing with aspects of gay culture, others with the characters’ relationship troubles. Most of the strip’s cast is male; befitting its soap opera nature, much of the cast is drawn to look physically muscular or “beefy.” The artwork also reminds one of dramatic newspaper comic strips or older comic books. Similar to “A Couple of Guys,” the characters are quite open about sex/sexuality, though being in the closet is an issue also dealt with by some characters.

“Kyle’s Bed & Breakfast” first saw print in 1998, and runs in syndication. Its first book compilation was published in 2004. New strips appear weekly, and may be read on the cartoonist’s website.

Aug 202012
 

Life With Archie #25Here’s what’s of interest that’s coming out from Archie for November 2012. Full solicitations are available here.

Comics I’ll be buying

  • Archie #639, on sale Nov. 28, $3
  • Kevin Keller #6, on sale Dec. 5, $3
  • Life With Archie #25, on sale Nov. 28, $4

Comics I might buy

None.

Comments

More Christmas stories this month, as well as the George Takei crossover issue of “Kevin Keller.” Complete with Takei’s catchphrase (“oh, my”).

The Christmas story in “Archie” interests me given A) the artwork (Gisele) and B) Reggie on Santa’s “naughty” list sounds funny (and long overdue).

Chuck and Nancy make the cover of “Life With Archie,” as does Clay, Kevin’s husband. This also marks the 25th issue of this title, which apparently has been a success for Archie.

 

Aug 202012
 

All Star Comics #74Given the amount of online grumbling I’ve seen online about the (admittedly) compressed five-year span of DC’s current “New 52″ timeline, I thought I’d write a series of posts about DC Comics’ various timelines. I’ll also cover the timelines’ pros and cons, as they cover various takes on how to handle fictional characters’ aging, and to what degree. (For my general overview of the different ways aging is handled in cartoons, see here.)

While there’ve been some minor modifications (such as the various Superman origin story re-tellings in the past decade alone), overall there’s four major timelines (or universes) as far as I’m concerned: the Golden Age (or “Earth-2″); the Silver/Bronze Age (“Earth-1″); Post-Crisis (as in “Crisis on Infinite Earths”); and the current “New 52” books.

I’ll start things off with the Golden Age/Earth-2 universe.

During the Golden Age proper, running from Superman’s debut in 1938′s “Action Comics” #1 through the early-to-mid 1950s, continuity wasn’t much of a concern for the most part, nor were issues such as aging of characters, etc. While the occasional book referred back to a previous story, and some changes gradually came about over time (such as the name of Clark Kent’s news paper changing from the “Daily Star” to the “Daily Planet”), for the most part, it seems comic books of the day lacked newspaper comic strips’ often-lengthy ongoing storylines. Perhaps a result of everyone getting newspapers on a daily basis, but not guaranteed to buy or even find comic books regularly? Or the higher stature regarded newspaper comic strips (over comic books) during the Golden Age? Or that newspaper comic strips are usually done by a single writer, and thus have more freedom for such extended storytelling/being self-consistent (versus the more “writing-by-committee” nature of mainstream comic books)?

Still, it seemed the attitude toward comic books and their characters was more in line with Bugs Bunny (“just a cartoon,” episodic done-in-one-issue stories) than, say, their comic strip counterparts (“Dick Tracy,” “Little Orphan Annie,” etc. allowed to have weeks-long storylines, etc.), aside from nobody aging, of course.

Years later, after the establishment of DC’s multiverse in the sixties, it was retroactively established that almost all of their Golden Age stories took place on “Earth-2,” as opposed to the then-modern universe of “Earth-1.” On top of this, earlier versions of various location/character names were assigned as being the Earth-2 versions. Thus, the Earth-2 Lois Lane worked for the “Daily Star,” not the “Daily Planet,” while the Earth-2 Batman’s butler was named “Alfred Beagle,” not “Alfred Pennyworth.” It’s generally assumed the shift to Earth-1 from Earth-2 retroactively occurred gradually over the course of stories during the 50s. For one analysis of when said shift from Earth-2 to Earth-1 occurred for the various continuously published characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Arrow, I’d recommend the website Mikes’s Amazing World of DC Comics.

Still, for this article’s purposes, the biggest aspect of Earth-2 is that it was declared to have largely took place in real time. Comics moving in real time are a rarity; “For Better or For Worse” is one strip that moved in real time during its original run, while “Doonesbury” now also largely moves in real time since the 80s. The advantage of real time is that it matches up with normal, real-world expectations; flashing back to, say, 1978 for us is the same as it was for the FBoFW (or original Earth-2) casts. Also like “For Better or For Worse,” this gave us Earth-2′s other popular trait, the characters being allowed to fully live out their lives, including visibly aging, dying, or getting married and having children (who also grew up/aged in real time). Flashbacks to earlier events on Earth-2 usually took real time into account, with Earth-2′s Clark shown having firmly grew up in the 1920s and early 30s (versus later incarnations of Clark’s childhood set on a sliding timeline).

Besides the original Golden Age comics, other major events of Earth-2 included the JSA’s retirement (due to McCarthyism) in 1951 (coinciding with their final published appearance), the 1950s-set wedding of Earth-2′s Superman and Lois Lane (soon followed by the wedding of Earth-2′s Batman and Catwoman), the JSA coming out of retirement in the early 1960s, and the debuts of the Huntress and Power Girl in the late 70s. Retroactively, the 80s series “All Star Squadron” also took place alongside the Golden Age comics.

Since Earth-2 moved in real time, starting with Superman’s 1938 debut, its timeline is the longest out of the four DC ones, stretching 48 years by the time “Crisis on Infinite Earths” finished up in 1986.

The advantages of “real time” have been outlined above; the main disadvantage of real time, however, is marketability, especially if a character were to go on to become popular. In mainstream pop culture, “youth sells,” and cartoon characters not usually aging is seen as one of their biggest assets. While this isn’t a concern for Earth-2 (since its Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. aren’t the “main” versions of the DC characters), it does see this handling of aging/timelines kept from being more widely used in pop cultural fiction set in the present (versus period pieces). Marketability’s a big reason the newly-revamped “Earth 2” in the current DC reboot has de-aged the Justice Society into their twenties, as well as cutting off their ties to historical events like World War II.

Next time: DC’s move to a “sliding timeline” starting with Earth-1 (and the Silver/Bronze Age).