El Sijo's Blog

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Comic Books in the Internet Era

superhero-internetIt’s my blog’s 2nd anniversary, and appropriately enough, my topic today is Comic Books, which used to be my favorite. For most of my life, I was a comic book collector- until I quit a few years ago, driven out by the cynicism I felt was included in most modern superhero stories. What happened?

That is something I have long pondered- especially when, in other media, more positive takes are still thriving: movies, TV Shows, cartoons, toys- with some exceptions, most seem to recall that superheroes are meant to entertain and inspire. Not be “realistic”.

But today I came to a realization. What had changed in our society that could have such influence?

And then it came to me:

The Internet.

It used to be that creating comics was an insular process, done by an editors and his staff. The only feedback they got was from letters fans wrote. And those were usually written by those who really cared about the comics.

But in the Information Age, anyone can leave a spur-of-the-moment, often meaningless reaction- yet the companies, bombarded by such messages, tend to be eager to respond to them, on the mistaken belief that they represent their true audience. This may be the reason why in recent years, Marvel has replaced nearly every major hero with a substitute of a different color or gender, completely missing the point- that’s not diversity, that’s tokenism, as I discussed in another article.

It’s a little known fact for example, that back in the early 2000’s Warner Brothers pretty much rearranged DC’s editors in order to have them “update” their heroes for the times. This is why for example, Superman no longer wears red shorts. Like the rest of his suit isn’t silly.

At least, some of the success of the non-comics material seems to be filtering back. DC is currently in the middle of bringing back a more “traditional” approach to their comics (supposedly) with their Rebirth event. Similarly there are rumors Marvel will be restoring their original characters sometime this summer.

I sure hope so.

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Iron Man: Rise of Technovore

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A few years ago, Marvel produced several Anime-style movies probably in hopes of helping sell their characters in Japan. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore was done in 2013 by Sony’s Madhouse studio, and could be described as “Iron Man vs Akira” -the latter being a reference to the movie that helped introduce Anime to the Western world. (Note: I saw the film in Japanese with subtitles, I don’t know if other versions are available.)

In IM:RoT, a new character named Ezekiel, who can manipulate “technovores” -a kind of artificial microbes- attempts to hijack a satellite created by Tony Stark for anti-terrorist purposes, and use it for his own, mysterious agenda.

I found several parallels to Akira (though that might just be me, or coincidences). Akira is about some teenagers from a dystopic future who are experimented on by the military and turned into monsters with great powers who then tear the city apart. Ezekiel is also (apparently) the result of experiments who gained powers and had an apocalyptic agenda. Unlike Akira though, he’s not motivated by anger but by cold, detached logic. In fact it’s Iron Man who has the Akira role as he seeks revenge for the apparent death of a friend. Ironically Stark calls Ezekiel “a brat” but Pepper Potts points out to Tony he has been acting like a child himself.

Another Akira parallel is that, while set in the present, it had some dark moments. Ezekiel’s first attack killed 300 people; War Machine (apparently) dies; SHIELD spends most of the movie trying to arrest Iron Man (admittedly he went off to deal with the problem on his own); we see terrorist activity involving The Punisher; Ezekiel compares the human race to ants; Ezekiel monsters out; and the world almost ends. There are also moments of curious contrast to those, like Ezekiel’s all-white sanctuary and Pepper resting in Tony’s Mansion.

Overall, I find the movie very uneven. Many characters are just “off” especially Tony who goes as far as working with The Punisher -a known killer- to reach his goals, or Nick Fury who should have known better than to send his agents after Iron Man; there are several plot holes, like the fact that Tony *just happens to have* what is needed to defeat the Technovores without even knowing it; and questions are left unanswered (like, who or what was Sasha?)

On the positive side, the movie looks good; there’s a great attention to detail, especially in the scenes involving Ezekiel. And the action scenes, all of them, do not disappoint.

If you are a fan of Iron Man (and Anime) you will probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect it to make much sense.


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Diversity and Superheroes

why-black-panther-and-other-non-white-superheroes-are-necessary-today-a-more-diverse-cre-498185

Diversity is a hot topic these days; minorities want more representation, and the world of entertainment has tried to provide it. Now that superheroes have become a fad, it is only logical they follow suit. But the way it’s being done, honestly, baffles me. For the most part, instead of giving more exposure to characters of diverse genders, ethnicities or religions that they already own, they are changing existing characters to fit those roles!

For example, Thor was replaced by a woman (and not by Lady Sif or the Valkyrie, long-time supporting characters of his, as you’d expect) who just called herself “Thor”; Jimmy Olsen was hinted as being a Transvestite- never mind that all the times he had dressed as a woman were as disguises (and those stories were intended to be humorous) and later reinvented as a Black Man on the Supergirl TV show! Batwoman was reintroduced as a Lesbian, never mind that the original version was most definitely straight (why not give the identity to Det. Montoya, an existing lesbian character instead?) and there was a controversy over whether Daniel Rand (Iron Fist) should be made Asian for the live action TV show, simply because some people think the “White Guy who masters Kung Fu” stereotype is offensive. Honestly, this feels like tokenism to me: “why use the actual minority characters when you can change more popular ones to fill in for them?” Besides, you know that, in most cases, these characters will return to their original status. Does anyone believe The Falcon will remain as Captain America?

Admittedly, Non-WASP characters are few and rarely as well known as most major Comic Book characters. But if no push is done, their situation will never improve. After all, there were times no one had heard of Superman or Spider-Man! I’m pretty sure if they wanted, DC and Marvel (and their parent companies) could find ways to make them popular. Make them members of famous teams, then give them their own spin off series, movies or shows. Most people agree Marvel screwed up in not giving Black Widow her own movie by now, despite being one of the most popular characters in the Avengers movies, for example. Sure they might fail, but if they never try, how will they know?

Also, if they feel they don’t have diverse characters who are strong enough to support their own series, or fear the ones they have are too stereotypical (which admittedly was a problem with many) then create new ones! The new Miss Marvel, a Pakistani-American teenage girl, has been very popular in the comics, and I bet she would transition very well to TV.

All I’m saying is, if the big companies really want to gain the support of minorities, they need to give more than a token effort. One of those “obscure” heroes might very well be the next Big Thing.


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Why I hate Flashpoint

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I might seem to be in a bad mood lately. In my last blog entry, I picked on a little girls’ cartoon (Little Charmers) and now I’m outright saying I hate a comic book story. But at least in this case, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Flashpoint is a major story plot affecting the DC comics superhero, The Flash. It is better known as ‘‘The Reverse-Flash killed Barry Allen’s mother” plot; you may have seen it as part of the (current) version of that character’s TV show. In it, The Flash learns it was his foe who went back in time and killed his mother. So naturally, he too goes back in time and stops him. And, somehow, this ends up screwing up history. Not just his personal history- ALL heroes’ origins! Instead of Bruce Wayne’s parents dying, HE dies, and his father becomes Batman- and his mother, THE JOKER! Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s peoples fight a war that ends up sinking Europe, etc. In the end, Allen realizes he must stop himself from saving his mother so everything can go back to normal. And it does- kinda; there were differences, which is how DC explained its “New 52” reboot. (Though recently they are claiming there was another cause.) Flashpoint got adapted into an animated movie, and was a mayor plot point for the first season of The Flash, and (spoilers) the finale of the second season has brought it back AGAIN.

Let’s look at the things that are wrong with it:

-The story tries to set itself up as a ‘noble sacrifice’: Allen must allow his mother to die to save the world. Except a) she only died because a time-traveling villain killed her, it isn’t as if Allen had prevented her preordained death and b) The story doesn’t make sense!! At most, saving his mother might have prevented him from becoming the Flash (tough I don’t see how) but it definitely wouldn’t have affected the lives of everybody else on Earth unless they are saying that ANY change in history would be this chaotic (ala The Butterfly Effect) and that has never been the case before in DC (in fact it pretty much makes time travel useless.)

-The story is basically writer Geoff Johns stroking his own ego. You see, Johns is also one of the three people Warner Brothers put in charge of DC comics years ago. His obsession with The Flash is well known. In Flashpoint, he introduced an (unnecessary) tragic element into Allen’s past, and attempts to pass it off as something epic that eventually had universal consequences. And he got accolades -the most obvious of which are the multiple adaptations of the idea- for it! The fact he is effectively The Boss and What He Says Goes seems to escape many people.

-The story partially seems inspired by a previous Flash storyarc from the 1980s in which Reverse-Flash also murdered someone close to Allen- in this case it was his wife, Iris. It was one of the first major “dark”, post-Silver Age stories (for DC) as it led to Allen killing the culprit and then standing trial over it. Ultimately it turned out she wasn’t dead after all (time travel was involved) so it had a happy ending, unlike Johns’ imitation.

Flashpoint is ultimately, a poorly-written, over-hyped storyline that Just. Won’t. Go. Away. While not my most hated comics story (not even my most hated DC story) I certainly cannot recommend it to fans of good superhero stories.


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My Fifty Years as a Fan

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As I post this, I’m now 50 years old. Mine has been mainly an uneventful life; yet I feel very grateful for my existence. I have friends, I have family, I have my health- and I have Fiction. As far as I can remember, Fiction in one form or another has formed part of my life, helping me escape the dullness of my reality. So today I want to take the chance to celebrate it. (Warning: this is going to be long. 😛 )

It all began for me in the 60’s as for most people: with TV cartoons. In particular, there was one about a little turtle (sorry, can’t remember the title) who wanted to fly. After many attempts, it succeeded in the end… because it got KILLED and became an angel! O_O What?? I know, it was a joke, I get that now but boy was I PISSED as a Kid! And I actually did something about it, too: I took a book that (conveniently) had printing only on one side of the pages, and used it to draw my own version of the story in which the turtle fulfills its wish without dying. Yep, that was my first fanfic! Oh, and I was in the story, too- making it a self-insert as well! How appropriate. XD

Next came comic books. In Spanish, at first. There were two types: translations of American companies such as DC or Gold Key (no Marvels- probably due to some copyright or distribution issues) as well as original ones made in Mexico featuring characters such as Kaliman or Fantomas. Comics in English started being sold here in the late 70’s; I was floored by my discovery of the Marvel Universe (I already knew Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The Avengers from the cartoons, but had no idea there were so many more!) From then on I actually would spend my lunch money once a week on comics. 😛 I ended up becoming known as the local “comic book kid” and my collection, by the time I stopped, had soared to about 700. I still have it btw.

In the 70’s I also discovered Anime. Well actually I had seen “cartoons” such as Speed Racer before, I just didn’t realize they were from Japan- much less the potential in them! That changed with the Giant Robot show Mazinger Z in 1972. While barely known in the US, in Hispanic America it became very popular, to the point people still remember it today. It became my favorite anime then and while I have seen better ones since, I still have a lot of appreciation for it.

I met some fellow geeks in high school- wow, I wasn’t the only one?- who introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons and therefore to the concept of role-playing. We didn’t get to play much, but I found the whole idea that you could mathematically describe even magic mind-blowing; I began collecting rpg books for its own sake.

In the 80’s, something unexpected occurred: one of my hobbies led me to a profound revelation. I used to read Fantasy novels- not many, but I was a fan of Piers Anthony, especially his Incarnations of Immortality series. In them, concepts such as Death or Nature were physically embodied by humans as if they were jobs that had to be passed on. The bad guy was The Devil, who was supposed to not be an Incarnation at first. But in the last two novels, it was revealed that not only was the Devil a human too, but so was God, and the Devil had been trying to undo the injustices caused by the current, uncaring Divine Officeholder all along! I was raised Catholic and I got very nervous as I realized where the novels were heading; I even considered dropping them. But after some thinking, I realized that was silly. What kind of faith you have if you allow something made for entertainment challenge it? Even more: I realized that I had never actually thought about religion. Like most people, I just accepted what those who raised me taught me to believe. But people are free willed, and we should decide by ourselves what we believe in.

In 1996, I played my first RPG video game- Super Mario: Legend of the Seven Stars. OK I mostly bought it because it was a Mario game, but I so greatly enjoyed the experience that buying the guide/then the RPG/then playing for hours till I found everything became a habit for years. Too bad they don’t make game guides anymore (online walkthroughs aren’t quite the same.)

The coming of the new millennium… was not a nice time to me. Because of the recession, I lost many of my resources- Blockbuster Video, my local movie theater, local bookstores- all gone. Worst of all were the comics. The things DC and Marvel did to characters I had followed for years left me aghast. DC started it with the “Secret Identity” event where the rape AND murder of Elongated Man’s wife was a major plot point; and Marvel’s lowest point came with the “One More Day” story where Spider-Man makes a deal with Mephisto (aka as Satan) to save his aunt’s life, erasing his marriage from history in exchange! By the time DC decided to revise its history *yet again* with 2005’s “Flashpoint” event, I threw up my hands and gave up on comics altogether. Not on the characters- I still follow Marvel and DC in movies, cartoons etc; just not in the comics. I keep hoping some day things will improve… but from I’ve heard, that’s not the case, yet. Oh sure, there are exceptions, I hear good things about comics like Batgirl or Miss Marvel. But not enough.

Things improved with one thing, tough: the Internet. It put me both in contact with old friends (such as Liz, a lady from the States I had befriended via an animation newsletter in the 80’s) and an the RPGClassics Agora, a website where I posted my first online stories and spent a lot of time chatting with people of similar interests. However problems both personal and with my computer led me to reduce my activities for a while.

Finally, last year, something happened. After being paid to do a video on my computer, I found the experience so enjoyable I started my own Youtube channel. That felt so fulfilling I started this Blog as well- another experience that’s been greatly rewarding. 🙂 And recently, I started my own webcomic- that one has been harder to pull off, but I still enjoy it. (You can see it here, if you want: http://raitokomikku.thecomicseries.com/comics/1/ ) Oh btw, I also made a special video to celebrate some of the events mentioned above. You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L9a0FV8OoA&feature=youtu.be

So what’s next? Well, who knows? That’s half the fun- taking things in as they come, enjoying what you can, learning from what you can’t. I guess that’s the lesson I learned after 50 years of life, and now share with you all.

Before I finish, I want to send a message to some very special groups of people: To TV Tropes.com, especially to my fellow players in the Justice Avengers Forum Game; and also to the Basic Action Super Heroes RPG Facebook group, where I hang out and post ideas often. Thanks to all of you for your support in recent times. May we have fun together for many years more! 🙂

 


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Oh yeah, I write Fanfiction, too! ;)

Psion.pdf_page_1

In fact, I have in effect been doing it all my life (more on that in a future blogpost) though it wasn’t until last year that I started posting it on the Internet. And to my surprise, people seem to have liked it! Well at least the ones featuring currently-popular characters, such as Steven Universe. Still, it feels good.

So I though today I would talk about my fics- specifically, about the one that is 100% original (though it does pay homage to certain character stereotypes): An American Superhero in Japan!

As you can tell from the title, this is the story of an American hero and his adventures in Japan- specifically, a Japan that resembles the one from Manga and Anime more than the real one does. It’s my way of repaying both American Comics and Japanese Animation for all the entertainment they have brought to my life over the years.

The basic premise deals with Psion, a teenage hero with telekinetik powers from New York city. Despite being active for two years, the local populace barely knows of or appreciates him, and he finds it frustrating. He decides to go on vacation to Japan to get away from things, only to find there’s someone gathering the local supervillains into a dangerous organization. The Japanese military then asks *him* to help them organize the local heroes as well, as they believe American heroes are more given to team up than the more independent-minded Japanese ones. Seeing a chance to finally gain some recognition, he accepts.

So far, only the first story is complete, but I’m working on the next one. If you’re a fan of fanfiction, superheroes, or Anime/Manga, give it a try! You can find it here: http://www.quotev.com/ElSijo

And check out my other stories, while you’re at it. 😉

 


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Roleplayers! #3 and #4

Roleplyers #3

I now continue with my reviews of the comic book series about the misadventures of a group of role-playing game fans. (For the reviews of issues #1 and #2, see my earlier entries in the blog.)

Issue no. 3 is a “Special Cosplay Issue” (for those who don’t know, ‘Cosplay’ is short for ‘Costume Play’) and was actually made with help from two real-life Cosplayers. The story takes place a week after last issue, and Elliot and Sally are still mad at each other (after the latter killed the former’s character in-game for being mean to her.) The group decides to visit a Cosplay Convention, where Cassie befriends a somewhat overweight cosplayer. A sexy cosplayer insults her new friend, saying she ruins her character, but is rebuked by Cassie and, surprisingly, Elliot and Sally . Turns out the two had something in common after all: both were bullied as kids. They make up, but the bitchy cosplayer swears revenge.

Roleplayers #4

In issue no. 4, Cassie befriends a guy she likes from Acting Class and invites him over to role play along her friends. What she doesn’t know (but we the readers do, so this isn’t a spoiler) is that he’s the brother of the girl she “offended” last issue. In the game, the party sets out to find a way to resurrect Elliot’s character, and they find a female half-orc (played by the new guy- remember, all characters in this game must be women!) whom they rescue and she joins the group. Then they beat a necromancer, but she betrays the group, kills one of the player characters  and then reveals who he really is!

Opinions: Issue #3 has been my favorite so far. Not only it was good exposition about Cosplaying, but it also dealt with issues of body image, which are very important but seldom touched upon.

Issue #4, however, I found confusing. I mean, what exactly do the ‘bad guys’ think they achieved? The game characters aren’t real, killing them does nothing (in fact, in real life if a player intentionally ruined a game session, most likely he’d get thrown out of the game and the play called out as null.) The only real harm was to Cassie’s feelings, and I would be disappointed if she let it hurt her for long, she’s a smart and strong female character.

The best part of both issues, however, was as usual, the art. Derek Chua is great both at depicting the real world and the fantasy one, and while there’s plenty of cheesecake in the series, the realistic girls are also attractive.

Roleplayers is an Irrational Comics production and I recommend it for fans of RPGs, comics, comedy and drama. You can find it at: irrationalcomics.wordpress.com