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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The Best of 2016

rs_600x600-161202140354-600-best-of-2016-mhTo many people -including myself- 2016 was a bad year. But nothing is absolute; there were good things as well. And since this is a science fiction/fantasy blog (and I don’t care to remember the bad things) I present you now my favorite series of 2016:

This was a surprisingly good year in animation. In addition to expected hits like Zootopia and Moana, we had films like Kubo and the Two Strings (stop-motion, but it counts) and even Storks and Sing were much better than I expected! On television, Steven Universe continues to reign with shocking revelations both personal and cosmic; and the return of DC’s heroes in Justice League Action was long awaited. And as a Latino, I appreciated Disney finally giving us our own Princess with Elena of Avalor.

As for Japanese animation, my favorite of the year was My Hero Academia– best American-style superhero show ever done in Japan ever (I also liked One Punch Man, which was also about superheroes, but was more of a deconstruction.) Funniest Anime of the year goes to Konosuba (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World) which deconstructed fantasy role-playing games. On the other hand, I had a love/hate relationship with Re:Zero. For one thing, it was a show for sadists, as the main characters were killed or made to suffer over and over again- but at the same time, it had an intriguing premise that begged you to keep watching to see if the heroes would ever win. (I guess I understand why people watch The Walking Dead now.) Funny how deconstruction seems to be a theme these days eh?

In live action, I didn’t see that many movies. Deadpool was another surprise in that I hate the character but I enjoyed most the film well enough. Captain America: Civil War was thankfully excellent despite being based on a terribly comics storyline. Doctor Strange was OK but I wasn’t too happy with the changes they made (I  refer more to the SFX than the ethnicity of some characters). Arrival was probably the smartest film of the year (probably too smart for its own good.) Before you ask, no I didn’t see Rogue One yet (I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan, especially when I knew the ending ahead.) I’ll catch it in DVD and tell you my opinion then.

I don’t watch much television these days -most comedies and dramas don’t do much for me- but I was hooked by two in particular: The Good Place and Designated Survivor. Both have surprisingly clever writing. And I’m quite amazed in how Good Place is effectively mocking the conventions of religion yet hasn’t gotten called in for it. As for survivor, you might wonder why its listed here. Well, since it obviously takes place in a different version of the present, I count it as Science Fiction. In any case, its a clever use of the designated survivor protocol as well as a great drama with lots of intrigue. And do I really need to say that Stranger Things is also on my list?

Finally, we had some great video games as well. Pokemon celebrated its 20th anniversary successfully with Pokemon Sun and Moon, which not only had a neat Polynesian setting (which in turn had great synergy with Moana’s) but also modernized the franchise in many ways. Final Fantasy also had a great year with both the fun World of Final Fantasy and the more traditional Final Fantasy XV. Note I don’t play shooters, so I can’t talk about Overwatch.

That’s all I can think of now, but there were plenty of other things both I (and I’m sure, you) enjoyed as well last year.


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Why Superheroes and pessimism don’t mix

Wow, I haven’t posted here since July? superman_vs-_the_elite_2012My apologies, I was really really busy both with other projects and personal matters. I hope to do so more often from now on.

Anyway: today’s subject is one that has bothered me since the late 80’s, when the whole “Grim and Gritty” comic book era began. But lately its become more obvious than ever, especially with the clash in styles between the Marvel and DC comics movies. So I want to give my two cents on the matter.

First, let’s define exactly what a super hero *is*.  Most people assume that any character with powers and/or a costume is a superhero. This is not correct.

Originally, a Hero was anyone who achieved feats beyond the usual. Morality was not a important factor; most of the good they did was incidental- for example they happened to slay a monster that preyed on the locals, but not necessarily because they cared about them. Hercules has had his image cleaned up in modern versions but in the original tales he wasn’t so nice, he even killed his own family during one of his berserk rages.

However it cannot be denied that has changed over the years; civilization has progressed and despite what many cynics will claim most people today respect life and other human rights, and revere those who step up to defend them. Policemen, firefighters and medics are very much real-life heroes, most of the time.

In order to be a super hero, then, the character must be capable of feats beyond even those of modern human heroes. That’s where superpowers, of any kind, come in. And yes I’m aware that I’m implying that characters without powers, such as Batman, aren’t true super heroes. And they’re not- they are crimefighters at best. Now I’m not saying they cannot be just as noble or effective, but at the end of the day, the superhumans have the advantage. Sure, Batman might be able to beat most foes, but he’s also very smart and resourceful, something that doesn’t apply to every hero (even those with powers.)

Note that having a costume or a code name, while they are traditional tropes, are not strictly necessary. Most characters in the TV show Heroes did not wear anything unusual, for example (ironically, despite the title most characters there weren’t sufficiently heroic to count either.)

So we can conclude that a superhero must both be *truly* heroic AND have superpowers. This leaves out characters like The Punisher or Deadpool. Not that they call themselves heroes, but their fans do (and the companies behind them market them as such.)

Now I’m not saying this type of characters cannot have their fans. They exist to fulfill certain type of audience’s fantasies, and that is OK. Unfortunately their popularity has stained the public image of heroes, at least in the mind of some writers (who feel that superheroes MUST be deconstructed, as if everyone had a skeleton in their closet that has to be brought out) and even worse, on those of company executives who think “grim” is the “in” thing now so the characters much change to fit.

This is where I take umbrage; you can have your “dark” heroes if you want, but don’t mess with mine. I don’t care to see Superman, for example, who is supposed to be the greatest of heroes, reduced to a mopey bully because its more “realistic.” Sadly, the only way we can protest is by announcing our opposition (like I do here in my blog) and with our wallets (don’t spend money on their comics, movies or merchandise.) Now I know these things are cyclical and will someday change again; I hope its sooner rather than later.


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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

flashpoint-comics-cover-dc-number-1-one

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 Hero Academia: Superheroes from Japan!

my-hero-academia

Japanese Animated series starring superheroes are a rarity (American-style ones, anyway) and good ones, even more so; I think the last one I enjoyed was Tiger and Bunny. But My Hero Academia has impressed me so far. What I like about it is that it *gets* what heroes are about, in a way even many American comics, shows and movies don’t.

The story takes place on an Earth where, a few decades ago, humans with superpowers (called “Quirks”) started being born. By now, 80% of the population has powers! But not all quirks are equal; while some people do become superheroes (or villains) most just carry on with their lives.

The main character, Izuku Midoriya, never manifested a quirk. This ruined his dream of being a hero like his idol, the World’s Greatest Hero, Sup- err, I mean, All Might! However, he still insisted in applying to the Hero Academia, even tough he was ridiculed by it. But one day, he found himself trying to save a classmate from a villain -never mind that it was the same kid who had bullied him all his life; he just had to do something! His courage inspired All-Might (who secretly cannot use his powers for long anymore due to an injury) to recover and save the boy. Impressed, the hero revealed to Izuku that his quirk was actually passed on to him, and in turn he had chosen Izuku to be his successor!!

Now equipped with a copy of All Might’s power (tough one that hurts him since he’s only started to learn to control it) Izuku has entered the Hero Academia, and although it will take at least three years of training, he will one day be the Greatest Hero of All!

Other characters include:

Katsuki: Izuku’s rival, who has bullied him since they were kids and hates him more than ever now that he has mysteriously gained a quirk. However it seems that he is slowly heading for some redemption. Has the power to create explosions.

Ochako: A nice girl with anti-gravity powers who befriends Izuku at the Academy. May be his love interest.

Tenya: A super-speedster who was suspicious of Izuku at first, but then realizes he’s a true hero. A by-the-rules-all-the-time type.

Eraserhead: the homeroom teacher. Has the ability to cancel other people’s quirks with his stare AND uses “living cloth” strips to entangle people. Sounds like a cynical ass but deep down he may mean well.

There’s many more, but these are the main ones in the early episodes (I’m only up to #9 or so) so I’ll leave it there, besides I want to leave it to the reader to check the show and discover them on his or her own. (You can watch it in places such as Crunchyroll.) There’s also the manga it is based on, of course.

Recommended for: Fans of American Superheroes, Anime, True Heroism, and Good Characterization.


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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! 🙂