Sunday, April 20, 2014

Villainy's Victors 88- Satan

88) Satan from The Adventures of Mark Twain-

Satan is a difficult character to dissect because he has appeared in almost every form of narrative media. After a while, it becomes hard to pick out a version or incarnation that is particularly memorable. But that's not always the case. Sometimes, some writer somewhere comes up with a unique take on the character.

I should clarify that I have never seen the obscure claymation film, The Adventures of Mark Twain, a loose adaptation of the writer's more obscure stories, in its entirety. However, this clip featuring Satan became popular on the Internet and, as it is the only part of the movie where the character appears, I feel qualified to discuss this.

(After watching that, keep in mind that the MPAA rated this movie G. I consider this proof that the MPAA hates children.)

This Satan is not so much God's antithesis but rather His doppelganger.  In the film, his actions are eerily similar to the God of the old testament. He convinces the main characters (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Becky Thatcher) to make people from clay which he then brings to life. However, when his creations begin to annoy him, he destroys them  for their perceived sins. Furthermore, he does not see these actions as evil, as he himself defines his every action as morally right. He even identifies himself as an angel. This version of Satan is unsettling not because he opposes God but rather because he hews more closely to biblical conceptions of god than a viwer might care to admit.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Continuity of Action

If there is one lesson I should have learned over the years of being online, it is do not read the comment section. It never ends well.  You come to realize  that the reason no one in any position of power listens to the things to people say on message boards is that, if it was of any value, people wouldn't say it on a message boards.

But anyway, I was reading the message boards comment section and I was struck by one poster.  This poster was complaining about how Marvel comics doesn't seem to respect continuity anymore. And it occurred to me that seven years ago I would have been this guy.

And I realized that my stance on comic book continuity had softened over the years and I hadn't even really noticed it. In large part, I blame the X-Men. I came late to the X-Men so I got most of my information from back issues. But for me the best X-men stories were either the original Lee-Kirby stories and Chris Claremont and John Byrne's later run.

I brought my first modern X-Men comic around 1994.  It really couldn't have been more new reader unfriendly if the ink used on the page was made of cyanide and hydrochloric acid. I still have it. The sole purpose of this comic was to clear up a plot point about Psylocke and Revanche and which of them was the real Betsy Braddock. If the previous sentence meant absolutely nothing to you, consider it from the point of view of a 7-year old kid in the 90s.

I had no idea who these people were and why anything in the story was important or what any of it had to do with the X-Men. Admittedly, I stuck it out but I was alway a persistent kid. How many kids my age read the comic, got confused, and gave up on the hobby?

And over the years, as I learned the material and I learned the minutiae of continuity, I came to forget how confusing it all was back in the day. I don't think I really remembered it until I had a chance to re-read some old 90s X-Men at my local library and I realized it was all terrible. Every line in the comic seemed to reference something that happened in another comic that you hadn't read. All the character's spoke in information dumps that were necessary to have even the slightest chance of following the story.

What I'm saying is that I understand the purpose of continuity: It creates a sense that the stories matter, that they impact the live of the characters we know and love. But it's not really worth it when that comes at the cost of good storytelling, is it?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Villainy's Victors 89- John Jaspers

89) John Jaspers a.k.a Faust from Faust: Love of the Damned

WARNING: I am talking about the comic book. Not the movie!!!. Under no circumstances, should you attempt to watch the movie. Should you watch the movie, this blog takes no responsibility for any side effects up to and including depression, loss of appetite, and obsessive desire to listen to the music of William Shatner.

You have been warned.

Now that that bit of unpleasantness is over, I should probably qualify that technically John Jaspers is technically the  "hero" of Faust: Love of the Damned. It should be further qualified that this is completely accidental. Jaspers is a schizophrenic artist who agrees to serve as an assassin for Satanist cult leader and crime lord, M, who may actually be Satan, in exchange for power and Wolverine claws. He grow an ego about the whole thing, which leads to falling out with M who has Jaspers killed. This doesn't take and Jaspers returns wearing a truly awesome superhero costume declaring war on M and his henchman.

This results in Jaspers being the hero of the story completely by accident. His motivation for opposing is a mixture of personal revenge and paranoid schizophrenia. He is constantly followed around by a Greek chorus of delusions who alternately egg him on and try to convince him that what he's doing is, in fact, insane. His brutal methods raise the question if he isn't actually worse then the evil he finds himself opposing.

The answer to that question, by the way, is no.  M and his cohorts are much worse. (It's not a very cheerful comic). But this character still gets on the list, if simply because in any other story, he would be the villain. It's a fine line between the god guys and bad guys and sometimes that line is completely arbitrary.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Assembly Line Heroes

It should come as no surprise that one of my chief complaints about DC Comics is that the comics they produce are not a lot of fun. This is because this is everybody's (or at least everybody with Internet access) chief complaint about DC Comics. The problem with DC at the moment is that every character must be dark and edgy and violent.

It makes a sort of sense.  I understand the appeal of dark and edgy characters. Audiences love badasses that play by their own rules. We fantasize about being these people, no longer bound by the petty rules and restriction of everyday society and strong enough to impose our whims on others. Nobody makes Batman do paperwork.

And that by itself wouldn't be so bad.  After all, power fantasies are pretty much at the heart of superhero comics. But its combined with another trend that makes these comics a chore to read. You see, it's no longer enough for the heroes to be badasses, they must also be tortured badasses.
They have to have deep psychological scars that explain why they are who they are and why they feel compelled to go forth and fight crime.

I suppose this create an illusion of depth. By giving a character psychological issues , you can create conflict and it allows for some compelling psychodrama. But it doesn't work for every character. I shouldn't look at Captain Marvel, a superhero who hung out with a talking tiger, whose most dangerous enemy was a worm who wore glasses, and fell like I'm reading an issue of Batman.

I'm not saying superheroes should be angst free. Done right, it could make for cool stories. Some of my favorite Batman comics were done with him in full on brooding avenger of the night mode. But it shouldn't -- it can't be every single character. Theres nothing wrong with superheroes being relatively light hearted and, dare I even say it fun. I wish the people who made the comics would remember that from time to time.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Still More Thoughts on an Inconstant World

You know that building is nice when the toilets are so well constructed and designed, most of your time in the bathroom is spent wondering if you're allowed to use them.

Unsettling realization of the week: I was reading TV Tropes the other day and I came across a reference to the mostly-forgotten Marvel comic, The Saga of Chrystar, Chrystal Warrior. The entry discussed how in the comics, Chrystar's brother Moltar is turned from a lava-man back into a human by the evil wizard Zardeth. This means that he can never have any physical contact with Lavour, the lava-woman he loves. The unsettling part came when I though to myself "Huh! That's funny, I was just thinking about the same thing the other day."

Is it wrong that I want Godzookie to be the new American Godzilla movie?

Yes. Yes. It is. On so many levels.

Actually Godzilla had at least three kids in his many appearances. Which begs the question, if Godzilla is the last of his kind, who in God's name was the mother?  This becomes especially disturbing when you realize that the only plausible candidate is Mothra.