Chinese New Year is coming! Happy Year of the Horse! 春節快到了! 馬年快樂!
This will be my last entry for a while. After this week I'll be on vacation until February 11. I'll resume writing this blog then. 這是我這個學期的最後一篇文章. 這個禮拜以後開始放寒假. 我寒假後再開始動筆.
Here's wishing you a prosperous Year of the Horse, and a happy 2014! See you next month! 祝你有一個幸福的馬年和快樂的2014! 下個月見!
張貼者： Times Three 於 上午9:32
"Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars," or just "Secret Wars" was a comic book series that appeared in 1984, the same year as that kick-ass album by Van Halen. It was one of the first "crossover events" that Marvel ever did, and it was also a thinly disguised marketing ploy, intended to promote a line of Mattel action figures.
I was 9 years old when the series hit newsstands, but I didn't read it until last week. I can remember buying the action figures when I was a kid, and being frustrated by their lack of articulation. Kenner's DC Super Powers action figures came out at the same time, and those toys just seemed a lot cooler to me.
Reading Secret Wars now, I'm struck by how bad most of the art is, the labored nature of the dialogue, and the flimsy attempts to insert vehicles and playsets into the story. The plot might have been interesting if it hadn't been such an obvious grab for Ca$h, but as it is, I think the sequel, 1985's "Secret Wars II," was much better.
In Secret Wars, the Beyonder, an omnipotent being from another universe (or multiverse), abducts a group of super heroes and supervillains, and teleports them to a galaxy far, far away. Once there, the Beyonder displays his immense power by destroying an entire nebula before their very eyes (not sure how they'd be able to "witness" this event, but whatever), and uses some of the fragments of this nebula to create an Earth-like world where the super heroes and super villains must do battle.
The heroes include The Avengers, the X-men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-man, and the Hulk. The villains include Galactus, Doctor Doom, Ultron, Enchantress (What? Loki was busy that day?), Kang the Conqueror, and a bunch of other guys that I'm forgetting. The Beyonder creates a futuristic base for each team (Ca$h!), and each base contains an array of vehicles (more Ca$h!). Along the way Spider-man meets the alien symbiote that later becomes Venom (TWO Spider-man action figures! Ca$h!), and there is a lot of speech-making on both sides.
It's all predictably silly, and nothing far removed from other comic books of the day. DC, after all, was doing the exact same thing with Super Powers. Almost the entire series occurs in the daytime, perhaps because super heroes are much easier to draw in the day.
I couldn't help but wonder, however, what all those super heroes and super villains were doing at night. Were they planning their next move? Were they drawing up escape plans? Or were they just playing video games, engaging in pointless sexual trysts, or drinking themselves into a stupor?
Without meaning to do so, Secret Wars also poses an interesting philosophical dilemma. Since the Beyonder is roughly equivalent to God, how do each of the super heroes and super villains come to grips with their situation? They have, for all intents and purposes, been imprisoned by God on a hostile alien world, and forced to fight one another in order to realize their wildest dreams. How do they rationalize this difficulty? How do they come to terms with the fact that God wants to grant their innermost wish, but only at the cost of slaughtering every member of the other side?
It is a situation that presents interesting theological, moral, and philosophical problems. Not that either the super heroes or super villains are all that preoccupied with theology, morality, or philosophy. If "God" has been proven to exist, does that mean that he (the Beyonder) is the God of whatever theology they espouse? Or does that mean that there is another God - the God, for example, that Captain America worships - that exists alongside him? And if they believe the Beyonder is God (or even a God), is it wrong to kill for him? Is it wrong to fulfill his plan?
I could go on, but I'm sure you can supply other instances in which the traditional morality of the Marvel Universe might find itself inverted on the Beyonder's world. In a much larger sense, would the super villains continue to be villains on such a world? Or would they instead be the super heroes, fulfilling the will of God?
Perhaps only the Beyonder knows the answer to these questions. For as his Bible might tell us: "In the beginning was the Beyonder, and the Beyonder was with God, and the Beyonder was God." Praise be to the Beyonder, for he is a jealous God, who smites his enemies!
|The Batman of The Dark Knight Returns ends an age-old argument.|
If you can remember 1986, and if you can remember buying comics at that time, then you no doubt have fond memories of that particular year.
1986 was the year that both "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Watchmen" appeared in comic book shops, and it was the year that Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Dave Gibbons effectively reinvented the genre.
|Watchmen: the old Charlton characters writ large.|
Up until the appearance of those two landmark comic books, the worlds inhabited by Superman, Spider-man, and co. were fairly predictable places, where muscled champions fought monthly battles against costumed foes. After the appearance of those two comics, everything was different, everything was possible, and everything was new.
In 1986 I was 11 going on 12, and this was the perfect age in which to experience the transformation of the comic book industry. Up until The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, I was an avid follower of The Flash, Daredevil, and the Justice League. Up until those two tiles appeared I was also, like most boys my age, a master of comic book trivia. I knew what artist pencilled Daredevil after Frank Miller left the book. I knew who wrote the good Flash comics. I even knew the names of a few inkers.
|Things get heavy in Watchmen.|
And then, almost all at once, that world came to an end.
There were hints of it in DC's "Crisis on Infinite Earths." There were rumblings in the direction of Swamp Thing. There were glimpses in the new line of graphic novels. Comics, all of the sudden, got more complex, and much more adult.
I freaking LOVED The Dark Knight Returns. But then I had already been a longtime fan of Frank Miller. I loved his idea of an older Batman. I loved his art. I loved his characters' internal monologues. I couldn't believe how cool that comic series was, and how lame my former favorites seemed after I had read it.
|"Marshal Law." Great, but sadly overlooked by most.|
Watchmen took longer to grow on me. It may have been because it was less "superheroic" than Frank Miller's creation. It may have been too deconstructionist for my liking. It might have simply been over my head. But my friends and I could all agree that the covers looked cool, and that the plot had a way of grabbing your attention. By the third issue of the series I was intrigued. By the sixth issue I was a fan. By the 12th issue I was wondering how any comic book team could top that series in terms of drama and intricacy.
I am still wondering.
|"Elektra Assassin." Quite possibly my favorite comic book ever.|
Watchmen, by the time it finally concluded (there were a lot of delays), had rocked my world to its very foundations. While I walked away from The Dark Knight Returns thinking that Frank Miller was The Man, Watchmen left me pondering the possibilities of the comic book as an art form. They were two very different comic books, that made two very different impressions.
Both of these comics were also great because they opened the door to a host of other, more adult creations. I have fond memories of Mills and O'Neill's "Marshal Law," Rick Veitch's "The One,"and other, similarly strange comics. The only exception was Neil Gaiman's work on Sandman, which never appealed to me. To this day, I fail to understand why he's so famous.
|Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man #1, with all its variant covers...|
But of course the comic book renaissance started by Watchman and The Dark Knight Returns was all too brief. As the 90s drew closer and closer, a more market-driven sort of comic book began to appear, and both creators and companies increasingly sought to cash-in on their creations. Suddenly every #1 came in three, four, or twenty different covers. Suddenly every other comic book came in its own sealed bag, so that you had to buy two - one to read, and one as an investment. Suddenly trading cards were included in each comic, or holographic covers, or special silver ink. It all got very ridiculous, and in their rush to cash-in, many companies failed to realize that it was the content of the comics that mattered, not the gimmicks attached to them.
|X-Men #1 with its gatefold cover. This was really the beginning of the end...|
Those more market-driven comic books almost killed the industry, and a few years later even Marvel and DC were in serious financial trouble. This financial trouble is one of the reasons that multiple film studios now hold the rights to Marvel characters, and why a lot of the guys (and girls) who wrote or drew comics in the late 80s no longer continue to do so.
But for a while there, between The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and the gatefold holographic trading card covers, it seemed like anything was possible. It seemed that what waited in the wings was probably better and more thoroughly imagined than anything we had seen before. Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Dave Gibbons gave us that feeling, and each month we waited, with baited breath, for the next issue to hit the stands.
|Classic beat down.|
I recently watched the film "Lovelace," starring Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace. Peter Sarsgaard co-stars as her husband Chuck Traynor. The film was directed by Rob Epstein.
Linda Lovelace, in case you hadn't heard, was the star of the 1972 pornographic film "Deep Throat." Deep Throat ushered in a wave of "porno chic" during the 70s, and the film became widely known during Watergate scandal.
I thought Lovelace was a great movie. Amanda Seyfried is a skilled actress, and Peter Sarsgaard should have won an award for his performance as her much-reviled husband. The film follows Linda Lovelace (born Linda Boreman) from her teenage years in New York to her later years as an anti-pornography crusader.
After seeing the movie, I got interested in Deep Throat and the circumstances surrounding its continued popularity. I did some research on Wikipedia, and I also downloaded the film. Yes, it was a shabby excuse to view porn, but I did actually learn something.
Deep Throat was an extremely low-budget production, but I can see why it got people talking back in the seventies. For one thing, Linda Lovelace could put the most enormous penises down her throat and not gag. For another thing, the film embraces a humorous ethos of "sexual liberation" that still seems quite novel.
I'm not sure how many scenes she was in, but I do know that her scenes in Deep Throat are more graphic than what Lovelace would lead you to believe. Her character in the film is unable to achieve an orgasm by the usual means, and halfway through the film she learns that this is because her clitoris is located in her throat. She spends the rest of the movie going down on different guys, and a scene of fireworks exploding signals her "orgasm."
It is worth noting that Linda Lovelace's fame rests entirely upon Deep Throat. She only appeared in one other film, a home movie by the name of "Dog Fucker." You can probably guess what Dog Fucker is about. In later life she claimed that her then-husband forced her to perform in these two films, though there are many who dispute some (or all) of her claims.
Whatever the nature of her performance in Deep Throat, it is certain that Linda Lovelace endured years of abuse at the hands of Chuck Traynor. After their divorce, Traynor would go on to marry another porn starlet, Marilyn Chambers.
Deep Throat was a huge hit upon its release in 1972. This was back before VHS, when everyone was watching pornography in movie theaters. It is cited by some as the highest-grossing pornographic film of all time, though estimates of how much money it actually made vary widely. The mafia fronted a large part of the cash needed to produce and promote the film, and many adult cinemas that screened the film were used to launder money for organized crime.
However much the movie actually made, Deep Throat made Linda Lovelace a household name. Both that film and Lovelace continue to do so today. While Deep Throat offers us the image of a pretty woman with a surprising skill, Lovelace offers us a portrait of an abused woman, who later railed against the industry that made her famous. It is uncertain which Linda Lovelace is the real Linda Lovelace. Maybe both of them. Maybe neither. She remains a controversial figure, for many reasons.
I would encourage you to see Lovelace if you haven't. It's an excellent film. If you've already seen it, you might also watch Deep Throat. It's definitely not the best pornographic film ever, but it is the most historic.
I stumbled across this recently, though it first saw publication in 2004. I'm surprised I hadn't heard of it. I suppose that in 2004 I was just busy with graduate school, and this one got by me.
"The New Frontier" was an attempt to re-imagine DC's Silver Age characters, starting from the era in which they first appeared. This means that the story places Superman, Flash, etc. into the 50s, rather than placing them in a modern context. Alan Moore did the same thing in "Watchmen," though with an attention to detail that far surpasses anything you'll find in "The New Frontier."
The series begins with the dissolution of the Golden Age Justice Society, and ends with a speech by John F. Kennedy (hence "the new frontier"). The McCarthyism of the 50s is targeting "masked vigilantes," and a new generation of heroes must band together to face a new threat. The author treats the original origins (?) of the characters as canon, and also manages to fit in some of the lesser-known characters from that era. Again, this isn't anything that Alan Moore didn't do in "Watchmen," but Darwyn Cooke manages to pull it off without seeming too derivative.
The artwork in "The New Frontier" bears a strong resemblance to Jack Kirby's classic work for Marvel and DC, and I'd have to say that his less muscular characters are a welcome departure from the norm. One gets tired of comic after comic resembling something that Jim Lee cranked out the month before.
I think "The New Frontier" is pretty good, but it's not earth-shattering. The art is interesting, and many of the characters are more comprehensible in a 50s context. The Green Lantern seen in "The New Frontier," for example, is far more engaging than any other incarnation of that character.
I have a problem, however, with making Kennedy the "hero" of the series. Given that Kennedy is the man that got us into both the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs, I'm not sure if his "New Frontier" is something that Superman would have supported.
Superheroes, I think, should be above those kind of politics. If they aren't, well... they'd be Watchmen.
"Salvador shook his head. 'If there's to be a new cult,' he said, 'It won't be of my making, even if I remain its figurehead. Religious beliefs may have far more power to determine how people live than scientific ones, but their effect on the course of history is far less than what appearances might suggest. What alters the course of history is discovery and technology. If any man is to make a substantial contribution to the future of this new civilization then he must do it through Macaria, not Merkad. Messiahs, in the long run, have little to contribute to the pattern of progress, precisely because an essential part of progress is winning freedom from the prison of their arbitrary ideas. The kind of stable society that results from religious tyranny is a fake, because it depends upon deception and faith."
Ever hear of Brian Stableford? No? Well neither had I. He did a run of Daw paperbacks in the late 70s and early 80s, and (re)lapsed back into obscurity soon after. These days he's known more as a translator of obscure French science fiction novels, though his output remains prolific.
It's really a shame that he's not better known to modern readers, because "The Castaways of Tanagar" is a fantastic book. I can only assume that this book failed to find an audience because it was a) burdened with a terrible cover, b) given a less-than-interesting title, and c) it came across as too dense, too intellectual, or even too pretentious for readers back in the 80s.
Whatever the true cause of his fame - or lack thereof - I would encourage fans of more intellectual science fiction to locate this book. It follows the exploits of several space travelers as they return to Earth, their ancestral home, and describes the social experiment designed by their leader. Along the way the author finds time to say a lot of insightful things about our society, and the world presented in "The Castaways of Tanagar" is as convincing as something you might come across in Tolkein, Jules Verne, or even Joseph Conrad.
Yes, there are moments in the book where the author tries too hard to make a point. The description of Tanagarian society threatened to bring the whole thing to a screeching halt, but such faults are forgivable, given the well-delineated nature of both the characters and the environment they inhabit.
I would strongly recommend Stableford if you've exhausted authors like Frank Herbert or PKD. He offers a uniquely British take on the genre, and although his work is challenging, it is definitely worth your time.