seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Spoilers for things nobody minds being spoiled for:

I just torrented issue 2 of Steve Rogers (because I am not paying Marvel to troll me) and surprise, surprise, it's all about how the Red Skull used the Cosmic Cube to turn Steve into Hydra because of the lulz. No seriously, it's pretty much stated that it's for the lulz. With the power of the Cosmic Cube, the Red Skull could just rule the world, but he finds that unsatisfyingly easy. He'd much rather make Steve into the thing most antithetical to who Steve is. (Because that'll sell more comics)

Wait, did I say surprise, surprise? I meant to absolutely no one's surprise at all. This wasn't some great secret, it was the obvious consequence of the first issue, and the second issue reveal was an incredibly tedious flashback retcon monologue from the Red Skull with absolutely no plot. Just bad storytelling all around.

And it's bad storytelling because it's two issues worth of setup for a storyline nobody actually wants to read. Now that I have satisfied my morbid curiosity about the why of it, I will not be torrenting any more of the Steve Rogers comic, and I will certainly not be buying it, because who the hell wants to read about the Cosmic Cube-warped reality where Steve Rogers is a secret Nazi? What deep storytelling well is being tapped?

But ultimately it still feels like Marvel doesn't get the fundamental equivalence that HYDRA is a Nazi organization. There are a few references in issue 2 to the goofy multicolored outfits HYDRA wore in the '60s and '70s comics, and that seems to be the only HYDRA Marvel is trying to connect Steve Rogers to, the HYDRA that doesn't actually stand for anything except opposition to particular superheroes. BUT THAT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!!!!! The Red Skull and Baron Zemo and Baron Strucker WORKED FOR HITLER. WHAT IS SO COMPLICATED ABOUT THIS? And beyond that, supposing Marvel succeeds in delinking Hydra and National Socialism, so what? Now your big reveal is that Steve has secretly been a lifelong committed member of an agency of vague and generic evil. Who cares? What gives the reveal charge is that Hydra is a Nazi organization, you can't walk away from it when it's the only thing remotely interesting in the whole bit.
seekingferret: Kitty pryde wearing a Magen David necklace. (Kitty-Jew)
Days of Future Past is a Chris Claremont X-Men storyline from the mid-80s, widely considered one of the greatest X-Men storylines.

It opens in a dystopian future where mutants are enslaved by a fearful human dictatorship. Kitty Pryde is part of a faltering resistance that has unified the X-Men with their erstwhile enemies in the Brotherhood of Mutants. The major figures we see in the fight against the humans are Kitty Pryde, Rachel Summers, Colossus, Wolverine, and in a surprising twist, an aged, unhelmeted Magneto, Erik Magnus (once Lehnsherr). The resistance has figured out a way to send someone back in time into their younger body to warn the mutants of that time that if a particular Senator is assassinated, this dystopian path will be unavoidable. Kitty Pryde is sent, and after some setbacks she successfully achieves her mission, destroying her timeline.

It's a story about what-ifs, as most time travel stories are. In particular, it's a story about what if Magneto was right that mutants and humans cannot coexist. The dark future we see is the Holocaust recapitulated, with Magneto welcomed back into the fold as a vindicated and yet broken man because his prophecies have sadly proven true. His worst fears realized, he serves as a father figure and mentor toward Kitty Pryde. Meanwhile, Kitty is young and visibly Jewish, the person that Magneto and his whole generation had relied upon to transmit his message. It was a message she has failed to learn from, as she mistakenly aligned herself with the naive forces of liberal universalism*, but she has learned now, and she has it in her capacity now to make sure that the Holocaust really never repeats itself.

Charles Xavier is dead. His message of coexistence is not for the world of Days of Future Past. He's one of the fools sacrificed to the false idol of hope. Kitty and Erik are not unwary enough to fall into that trap, and this story is dedicated to their narrative of transmission of Jewish ideas from generation to generation.



So of course in the movie it's Wolverine who goes back in time instead of Kitty, eh? Of course in the movie Charles is still alive to speak to his younger self. The trailers make me despair of sitting through this movie.


*Of course we know that I'm a cynic about liberal universalism in general, but it's significant that DoFP is a challenge to liberal universalism from within a comic book that for decades has been a thoughtful champion of universalism.
seekingferret: Kitty pryde wearing a Magen David necklace. (Kitty-Jew)
This post is mostly me just showing off my shiny new icon, via Ultimate Spider-man. Kitty Pryde is the best, seriously.


But I just did some google searching, and I clearly don't have the right search terms to find the discussions I'm looking for. But I have a question.

All the writing about the concept of 'comic book death' approaches it Doylistically. It analyzes it in terms of the commercial feasibility of killing off popular characters. It considers the way comic book stories are open-ended and time-dilated. It considers the target audience of children.

But comic book writing these days is thoroughly suffused with post-modernism, self-awareness, and irony. Comic book writers are aware they're writing comic books, aware that their readers are aware that they are writing comic books, and aware that the characters they're writing about have had every story possible told about them over the past fifty years. It is the rare contemporary comic book that isn't, in some fashion, a deconstruction of the medium. So when comic book writers write comic book death these days, they do so knowing that their audience is incapable of really taking the death seriously. I remember when Captain America was shot and it was front page news even beyond the comic book world, and yet at the same time nobody who knew comics really took it seriously because we knew he'd be back soon. I actually had a conversation with my father where I had to explain to him that Captain America wasn't really dead, that his childhood hero would be back.


And what I would like to find is serious, critical theory conceptualizing comic book death. What are the storytelling costs of a world where no death is permanent? What stakes are meaningful, in a story with such rules? How do you subvert the comic book death paradigm? How can you tell stories about mortality when actual death is off the table?

There's a marvelously bleak moment in X-Factor Investigations that I read recently, where Siryn is told that her father, Banshee, has been killed. And she goes into full-on denial mode, and it is a stark and vivid portrait of a woman dealing with her grief, and yet her denial takes the form of an insistence that her father isn't really dead, only comic book dead. In a world where superheroes regularly return from the dead, this is an incredibly cruel irony. [And in fact, Banshee has made a few brief supernatural returns from the dead in the past few years, Wikipedia tells me.] Is Siryn's faith in her father's return a simple refusal to come to terms with the reality of her father's death, that in time she should work past, or is it something far more twisted and fraught, a trap of false hope baited with a sliver of the genuine article?

Where do I find people thinking about comics from these directions?
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
My thoughts on Iron Man 3


-I still would have rather they hadn't done the Mandarin, but if they felt they had to, that they couldn't gloss over the man who is inarguably the most important figure in Tony Stark's rogues' gallery, this was the best way they could have done it. It was a complete deconstruction of the Western media tropes about the East that can make East-West confrontations so toxic.

And it did set up some meaningful Iron Man/ Mandarin foil dynamics. Tony Stark as the avatar of American consumerism, confronted by an enemy who literally embodies the worst habits of American mythbuilding. And Tony Stark as a man who is always uncomfortable in his own body and forced to pretend to be a public version of himself that he doesn't really like, against an enemy that doesn't have any substance underneath the acting. Tony's worst fear about himself is that he is just like Trevor underneath.

But it eliminated the most vital Iron Man/ Mandarin contrast: Tony as the avatar of reason and science and progress against the Mandarin and his mystical powers, his resistance to progress, his resistance to futurism and new ways of doing things. Because the Mandarin was just a front for a scheme that fits clearly within a progress narrative, that part of the foil relationship is gone entirely, and at a certain point I wonder whether it's still meaningful to tell a Mandarin story if it's lacking the essential question that Mandarin stories are designed to ask. I think I would have rather they concluded that the Mandarin was just an irredeemably racist concept and rather than undertaking the deconstruction, they should just leave him out of the canon of the movies.

-I loved the version of Tony this movie was interested in telling stories about. He was in a committed relationship for the entire movie, he was sober, he was vocal and open and honest in communicating about his emotions, he was open to criticism, he was surrounded by meaningful friendships that he didn't take for granted... and he was still, maddeningly, beautifully, Tony Stark with all the brokenness that implies. This movie managed to show incredible growth in Tony without it ever seeming like unrealistic wishful thinking.

-I liked the version of Pepper this movie was interested in telling stories about, though I was frustrated with some details. OMFG Pepper getting Extremis is better than Tony getting Extremis. I reread the Extremis storyline yesterday after watching the movie, and I still like it, but I think the movie's changes to it were almost all for the better.

I really loved that the movie validated Pepper's feelings of jealousy toward Maya, that she wasn't portrayed as being an irrational crazy bitch, but she had feelings and it was Tony's fault for not being attentive to her feelings. That is an incredibly rare approach to that kind of story.

-I'm not sure how I feel about AIM being introduced here. Obviously it's a set-up for a future movie in some way, right? Presumably AIM will be relevant to Captain America 2 or Avengers 2. I'm hoping it's Captain America, not Avengers, since AIM spun off from HYDRA in the comics, and AIM isn't epic enough to make a great Avengers foe. But I thought this was a fairly boring version of AIM because all the crazy was kind of frontloaded on the Mandarin story.


-Harley was great. We're all in agreement about that, right?

-I'm not sure entirely how I feel about it, but Rhodey and Eli Bradley need to have a conversation about the whole Iron Patriot thing, and I might have to write it. My lord, that suit was originally worn by Norman Osborne in the comics. Giving it to an African-American soldier raised my eyebrows at the least.

-People in the theater who weren't comic book people were complaining afterward that they didn't follow the details of the Extremis tech, and why it led to people being melty and blowing up. Having read the comics, both the Extremis storyline and the Ezekiel Stane "Five Nightmares" storyline that were being merged here, I didn't really have trouble following, but they probably needed a little more handholding for non-super-nerds.

-And I was a bit disappointed with the Bruce appearance at the end, because it showed their continued friendship but it didn't show their friendship being about SCIENCE.


Today is the forty first day of the Omer
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
And uh... I just got up to the Final Exam storyline in Avengers Academy, which makes explicit a lot of the stuff I wrote about yesterday and then twists it all on its head in delightful fashion by returning to the Heroes vs. Villains paradigm that it has been so wary of. A character tries to use an archetypal supervillain plan in order to demolish the Heroes vs. Villains hierarchy that he thinks is endangering the world, forcing the characters of the Academy, who have been kicked out of Avengers Academy in the wake of AvX and thrown partially outside the world of Caped Superherodom, to become all-out heroes and save the world by foiling the villain's plan.

There are lots of ways to read this, and I think ultimately the interpretation I settle on is going to be contingent on how they follow up on the events of Final Exam. We could see it as reasserting the importance of conventional narrative, that ultimately comic books depend on larger than life heroes clashing with larger than life villains, and that the reason people read them is because of this deliberate distortion of reality. In the notion of a 'final exam' we see it affirmed that for all the questioning, the characters have learned the lessons the Avengers taught them. That is to say, they have passed the exam to become superheroes, like unwilling math students with just enough algebra crammed into their heads to pass the state tests. They were given powers, they aren't evil, therefore they must be superheroes.

Or we could see it even more prosaically as a statement of the fundamental conservatism of the Marvel universe (which conservatism does interrelate with the statement of conventional narrative I mentioned in the first theory, but I'm referring more to political conservatism for once). Villainy and radical revolutionism are conflated, nihilism and communism held so far away from the viewer that they look the same. Think of how often HYDRA and its offshoots are reduced to minions by being called 'terrorist groups', so that their ideology no longer matters. For all that Avengers Academy subverts the heroism/villainy meme on a personal level, it has no interest in actually evaluating ideologies and making decisions about who is ideologically correct. The government as Lockeian agent of the people is always correct. That is why Dark Reign could happen, after all. Maybe I'll continue this idea tomorrow insofar as it relates to Civil War and the Secret Avengers, and why they are so controversial and fascinating.

Today is the seventeenth day of the Omer
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
I may have mentioned it before, but one of the comics I've been reading a lot of on Marvel Unlimited is the recent run of Avengers Academy, which has really pleasantly surprised me in its thoughtfulness. I'd expected it to just be teen drama, but that's not at all what it's about. Instead, it's an entertaining essay on the distorted value of heroism in the Marvel Universe.

What do I mean by that?

Well, to begin with, at some point Norman Osborne, the Green Goblin, took over SHIELD, because Marvel is stupid like that. And as head of SHIELD, he tortured young children with powers to try to force their powers to activate, and despite my frustration in general with the silliness of the Dark Reign concept, I think this is a clever play on the old superhero comic joke about the character who throws himself into a vat of toxic waste to try to become a superhero.

Eventually Osborne is overthrown and SHIELD and the Avengers try to go back to normal, but they don't know what to do with Osborne's successes- teenagers who have had powers activated through torture. They are angry, dangerous, and volatile, and the Avengers want to make sure they don't grow into the next generation of supervillain. So they invite these students to a newly constituted Avengers Academy and tell them they're in training to be the next generation of Avengers. So that they can legitimately train them, and instill moral values in them, but also so they can keep an eye on them and learn their weaknesses and keep them under control. It is deeply creepy, and the moment in the first issue when the students discover the plan is the linchpin moment of the series.

At that point they have a decision to make. Or so it seems. Do they continue to train as heroes, or do they rebel against their creepy superhero masters and get interpreted as villains? But this is only the apparent choice, and what I love about this series so far is that they keep showing that this is a false binary. The series keeps butting these characters up against different models of heroism, different motivations for heroism, different styles of heroism, etc. They meet Captain America. They meet Luke Cage. They meet Norman Osborne. They meet the Hood. They meet Magneto. They meet the X-Men, the Runaways, the Initiative. In all cases the message seems to be that the important question is not about choosing to be a hero or choosing to be a villain. It's about people being faced with hundreds and hundreds of non-binary choices in their lives and struggling to make choices they can live with.

Veil, one of the students, eventually rejects Avengers Academy not because she wants to become a villain, though the Avengers fear that she does. She rejects it because she doesn't want to be an Avenger, doesn't want to be limited in her choices to being that kind of hero. She wants to try to tackle problems she finds important, instead of reacting to supervillain threats. Not because stopping supervillains is unimportant, as this kind of statement sometimes comes out. In Batman comics this theme sometimes resonates in the question of whether Batman has inadvertently created the supervillains in his own image, but Avengers Academy assumes that there will always be supervillains because there are evil people in the world. It just refuses to accept that stopping supervillains is the only or best way to find meaning and make the world better. It cuts right to the heart of brokenness in the Marvel ethos, this idea that people with powers and capes are the real heroes, the only people whose stories are worth telling as epic sagas. And it's a great character moment, too, because it is Veil leaping out into the unknown without a net to try to carve out her own path.

Meanwhile in an amazingly ambiguous gesture, another student who has been blackmailing Quicksilver into giving her lessons on how to be like Magneto tells Quicksilver that she now aspires to learn how to be like him. I've always hated Quicksilver's narrative arc, because after the thirtieth time he betrays you you ought to stop falling for it, but here in Avengers Academy it's working perfectly to show that some people are evil, but some people just mix evil choices in with their hero choices. The Avengers aren't trusting Quicksilver because they believe that *this time*, he has really reformed. They're trusting him because they know that most of the time he is fighting to do good in his own eyes, even if this may hurt them. And Finesse's choice to reject Magneto's path isn't about her moving from the villain's path to something greyer. She was always living in the grey. It's about recognizing that Quicksilver's version of the grey has enough power and meaning to satisfy him. She doesn't need to be a combination of supervillain and superhero. She can just be a combination of a good person and a flawed person.

And in one of the best resolutions to a time travel story I've seen in a long time, a future version of Reptil, traveling back, determinedly pursues the murderous path he believes is necessary to save the world, but when he is thwarted by his conscience and his friends, he discovers that his act of failure has not broken the timeline because it was motivated from the same place as success would have been. It demolishes the Butterfly Effect trope with incredible surety and again dissects false binaries of good and evil.

It is not a perfect comic. The choice to make Hank Pym the head of the Academy is in some ways a great insight. He is a man who has always been less comfortable with Marvel-style heroism than other heroes, who has repeatedly stepped back from the costume, favoring to change the world with scientific discoveries. But it is also a problematic choice because Hank is such an ugly, fucked up human being. He is such a tool of the patriarchy, such a creature of his own id, such a, at this late stage, completely broken man. There are times when I've really enjoyed the way Hank's fuckups can drift into the background of the story, important to the theme but not the point of the story. There are also times when Hank's fuckups have insistently refused to not be the main point of the story, and I get frustrated with those times because I do not particularly want to read a story about Hank Pym and his hangups. I also think AA greatly illustrates how Marvel's onslaught of company-wide stories has hamstrung comics. Whenever a storyline gets moving, having to stop so everyone can fight a bunch of insane Asgardians or Skrulls kills the movement. I'm getting close to the point where AvX is going to disrupt AA and I'm dreading it because I've been enjoying the character-driven storylines it's been telling particularly.

But despite these uneven patches, I would recommend checking out this comic.


Today is the sixteenth day of the Omer.
seekingferret: Josiah Bradley in Prison, Reading Fantastic Four (josiah2)
I did a bit of a kickstarter binge this summer, as basically every gamer I know seems to have, and premiums are starting to roll in.

I've seen a PDF rough draft of the first Appendix N adventure, which looks like a lot of fun, and also looks cheap and hasty. I don't think it's a company I'd buy from again, but I think the adventure looks well-suited to running on G+, so it's not a loss. And their mapmaker really is brilliant.

When I saw that the Stonehaven Miniatures Kickstarter had a Dwarven Bard mini, I had to buy in. Dwarven bards are the best. The minis came in this past week, and they look great. Unfortunately I don't actually know how to paint minis, so I guess I'm going to have to learn. I ordered a mini-painting starter kit from Amazon.

I've been getting regular updates from Dwimmermount, but... I have no interest in them. I'm waiting for the book. I don't ever plan to actually run Dwimmermount, but it seems clear that the book is going to be a fountain of great DMing ideas and advice. I'm looking forward to flipping through it and brainstorming. Dwimmermount, for the uninitiated, is a 1E-inspired Megadungeon designed by James Maliszewski. It is inspired by 1920s/30s pulp SF and fantasy, with the massive dungeon being among other things a potential jumping off point for portals to other worlds, as well as an ancient and fascinating and dynamic location in its own regard.

And the new Tabletop Forge beta is out, but I haven't had a chance to run anything with it. I guess the moral of this post is: Guys, I have a new low-level adventure and the D&D Next playtest rules have a new edition and I have a neat new toy to play with to run maps in Google Plus. Who wants to explore the Ruins of Ramat with me?



Unrelatedly, Nate Silver briefly turns his attention back to baseball, his original statistical home. http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/the-statistical-case-against-cabrera-for-m-v-p/

I think he is wrong to argue that these statistical indicators tell us that Trout was more valuable than Cabrera. I think the measures we have to evaluate defensive contributions to a team are improved immeasurably compared to even five years ago, and certainly let us make better comparisons between players than we used to be able to with simply fielding percentages, but there is still a lot of handwaviness in the analysis. I don't believe that simply because a Win Share analysis credits Trout with saving thirty runs, he actually saved thirty runs and that value can be naively added to Trout's offensive run creation.

I've been on-board the sabermetric revolution since the mid-90s, well ahead of Moneyball, but the best statistical analysts have always understood that statistics were an inadequate measure of value that needed to be supplemented with intuition and subjectivity. If a statistic tells us that ARod is a better defensive shortstop than Jeter, that means one of two things. Either ARod is a better shortstop than Jeter, or the statistic is wrong. Shortly after the Moneyball revolution, the Wall Street Journal began a regular sports statistics column written by Allen St. John, and every week I would read it and rage because St. John never took the time and thought to parse out which of the two choices were the right one.

Now I would never accuse Nate Silver of that particular mistake. Silver obviously knows to validate his statistics. I just think he's overestimating their fit. Defense is full of intangibles and unmeasurables, and the work-arounds that modern statisticians use to create usable defensive statistics are powerful, but not all-powerful, and they're still workarounds borne of our inability to directly measure precisely what Defense is.

The point is, statistics are good, but they're not yet perfect at measuring what makes a baseball player great, and they're limited by all the usual GIGO that haunts a mathematical model. If statistics give us a result that is counter to our intuition, sometimes we need to put a human check on them to make sure it's not the math that's at fault.




Also, unrelatedly, I got to the issue of Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos where we get a racist squad member. It is so unintentionally hilarious. And pretty awful, too. The racist squad member tries to ally himself with Reb and Fury against Izzy, Dino, and Gabe, except that Reb and Fury are all "What the fuck are you talking about? We don't take bigots in our squad," which is hilarious when your name is Reb and you're a walking talking Southern stereotype. And then at the end, the racist gets injured by not listening to Izzy the Jew, and Gabe donates blood because they match on blood type, and then the racist freaks out because he has negro blood in him now. Except then Nick Fury gives him a talking to and he gets kicked out the Howlers, but the very last panel suggests that he has learned his lesson and wants to apologize to Gabe and Izzy.

I think I need more Howler/Isaiah Bradley stories, is what I'm saying.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
This post is me fucking with [personal profile] sanguinity by pretending I got matched with her for Kaleidoscope. Or else it's me faking [personal profile] sanguinity out by being more forthcoming than you'd expect to throw attention away from the fact that I did match with her. Or it's just me reading lots and lots of Marvel comics because the Unlimited subscription is great and I've been reading piles of comics for months.


I read the first few issues of Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos yesterday. It is super-weird to see Nick Fury as a white guy with two eyes. It is also super-hilarious that Stan Lee's liberal fantasy in the 1960s of how to write a black soldier was to make him carry his trumpet into war to play jazz whenever he's not fighting. It is also fascinating to have a counterhistorical integrated commando unit with nobody saying anything about it. (Dear people who were annoyed with the integrated unit in the Captain America movie: They stole it from here. It was just as strange back in the sixties.)

I desperately want the Izzy Cohen / Inglourious Basterds crossover, where he tells Fury "It's been real, sir, but I'm a Basterd at heart." Then marches off to kill Hitler!

Also Nick Fury/Ilsa?????!!!! To bring in my other WWII fandom of the moment. Since I don't believe Nick Fury can sustain a stable romantic relationship, but I do believe he can sustain for quite a long time an unstable one.

Also, in issue 2 the Howlers lured the guards away so the US Navy could bomb a u-boat base, liberated a concentration camp, and stopped the German atom bomb project. So Badass.

I really love that Stan Lee was unafraid to tell a story about World War II soldiers that was incidentally a Holocaust story. I was really angry at the Captain America movie for not doing likewise. It's so easy to pretend that World War II was a battle among White European powers for land and money, that Hitler was evil because he refused to honor treaties, that he was, as Steve put it in that movie, 'a bully'. It's a seductive lie because it's a half-truth. But telling the story of the War without acknowledging the parallel march of the Holocaust is a horrific act of forgetting. That's something I can never tolerate. And it's something the Howlers can't tolerate, either. They have orders to disrupt the German war machine, but choose to interpret their orders in a way that lets them liberate the concentration camp on the way there, because as Fury puts it, "This is part of why we're fighting, too." Oh, my heart.

There was something very The Escapist about that moment, for those Chabon fans out there. Yes, these are American heroes. But they're also an Italian-American hero, a Jewish-American hero, an African-American hero, a Southern American hero, and whatever the hell Dum Dum Dugan is. And while that is totally tokenism, there have been manifestations of those ethnic identities that I find stirring and compelling. They're fighting for their country, but also for ethnic pride, and sometimes there is more at stake than that. Izzy is fighting for his family's safety. Gabe is fighting to break down barriers. And all of them are fighting because the Nazis aren't just the enemy, they are an evil in the world that must be fought until it is gone. And they're unified in purpose despite the cultural differences- can you believe Gabe fights happily in a group with someone who calls himself Reb?

It would be interesting to thrust this against Isaiah Bradley, wouldn't it? :P Truth: Red White and Black presents an entirely different view of America, an entirely different view of the US Army in World War II. Both are fantasies, but both do hold kernels of truth, both aspirational and real.

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seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
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