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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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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My Fifty Years as a Fan

50

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


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El Santo, “The Silver-Masked One”

Unlike other heroes I have been writing about, El Santo was was based on a real person: Mexican wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, who also starred in a series of movies. His iconic on-stage persona was also adapted in comic book form for 35 years! He inspired other wrestlers to follow in his steps as an actor as well. He died in 1984, but his legacy is still felt both in the wrestling circuit and in Latinoamerican culture.

This is my description of the movie version of him in Basic Action Super Hero terms:

Brawn 2 Agility 2 Mind 1 (10 points)2060065-santonewcomicks7
Powers
Martial Arts Mastery (Defensive, Grappling, and Tricky styles) 2 pts.
Advantages
Appeal
Celebrity
Contacts
Disadvantages
Normal
Rogue’s Gallery
Secret (identity)
Skills
Athletics/Acrobatics (x 3 skill multiplier)
Investigation/Gut
Mental Malfunction: Sense of Honor- Santo lived by the “wrestler’s code.” He would not reveal his face unless beaten in a (fair) fight, and was an honorable man who felt it was his duty to use his skills to fight injustice.
Point Value: Stats 10, Powers 2 = 12 points
Background:
A mysterious wrestler who swore never to take his mask off unless he was beaten in combat, “El Santo” (The Saint) also began helping the authorities to investigate mysteries and fight crime. Over the years he would fight everything from gangsters to mad scientists to vampires!