Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blink logging

Photo by thenestor.

This was the scene a block away from my front door last week. This is not manipulated or an optical illusion or even a giant mirror: that's a big glowing sphere resting just off the pavement in Washington Square Park. When not illuminated, it looked like a cousin of Rover from The Prisoner. The whole of the park was surrounded by twisting rivers of thick electrical cables; generators and equipment trailers were on all sides, along with the biggest lighting cranes and dollies I've ever seen in person; the park was full of film shoot personnel and bald albino vampire women -- okay, that last part is pretty normal, but so many all together?

Seeing the park late at night -- ground level illuminated as if by daylight, night sky above -- looked exactly like something from Magritte: this one perhaps, or an inversion of this one.

As I was walking past one night, I oveheard two NYU students discussing the weird scene. One of them said "It's about how Will Smith is the last person on Earth and he's fighting vampires" and then I realized what was going on: they're doing a remake of the I Am Weasel episode "I Are Legend" with Will Smith in the Michael Dorn role! I just wonder who they've got to play the role of Baboon...

This item about Tamora Pierce criticizing Mark Millar caught my eye the other day, and I think it acts as a pointer to something larger. Pierce's initial remarks seemed to me entirely appropriate and justified...but there was an outcry that making such statements about a fellow comics professional was unprofessional, and she issued an apology immediately thereafter. Links to the various relevant posts can be found at the link above.

Lisa provides a number of counterexamples in her summary, and the trend she demonstrates really underscores a major issue in gender politics. In our society, men are encouraged to behave like ten-year-olds (see the squabble between Peter David and John Byrne, or between Peter David and several others, or between John Byrne and anyone else) and are either rewarded or at minimum not often penalized for doing so. Women are taught -- indoctrinated from the start -- that their role is conciliation, accomodation, and compromise. Men are supposed to define their territory and ward off challengers; women are supposed to be concerned that no one's feelings are hurt.

It sounds ridiculously cartoonish when put so simply, but isn't this at the root of this sort of thing? Many fans cheer Byrne et al on for their outbursts; fans of Pierce approve her being big enough to apologize. Certainly there are exceptions on all sides: Gail Simone strikes me as someone tough-minded and outspoken, and I know from personal experience that Jeff Parker is diplomatic and courteous in the face of provocation; by the same token there are fans who call Byrne out on his bullshit, and fans who feel (as I do) that Pierce had nothing to apologize for and that her challenge to Millar was entirely legitimate. But there is still this underlying reflex that it was the woman's place to defer in the face of criticism.

I read a lot of blogs by male and female correspondents, and I see a lot of arguments. Overwhelmingly I see male bloggers stand by their words and refute challenges, and female bloggers thank critics and genuinely try to see their point of view. I don't think this behavior is innate in the genders, but engrained in our training so deeply that we're never fully aware of how preprogrammed the response is. I think we would all be healthier and more capable if we recognized this dichotomy and consciously tried to borrow more from the imaginary "other side" -- humility and receptivity to criticism need not be an unmale trait; having the courage of one's convictions and standing by even harsh words is not unfemale.

With the conclusion of Seven Soldiers appearing on my birthday as well as a major issue of Planetary, you have to know going to the comics shop yesterday was a big deal for me. I'd like to do some kind of overview or commentary on at least the former...but deference to our friends in the midwest who won't be seeing it until next week (due to a major blunder by Diamond) gives me an excuse to put it off for a few days. In capsule form, both of these comics were resolving long-running and convoluted stories...and neither one held a lot of surprises. That's a bit disappointing. The finest sort of conclusion (and one at which Grant Morrison has excelled in the past; Warren Ellis by contrast has never been an especially plot-driven writer) is one that takes the reader or viewer utterly by surprise, but stems so logically and inevitably from everything that's gone before that afterward you can't imagine it concluding any other way.

Morrison has done a number of epic stories in which I never saw the end coming, but then I felt like a fool for not having anticipated something so obvious and self-evident. (One of his favorite tricks has been showing us the ending but not letting us know that it was the ending, and then coming back at the nominal end to say "it was there all along!" I love that kind of thing.) Here, we get 29 lovely issues of winding up an elaborate clockwork mechanism...and one issue of watching the little tin toy going through its motions. It's witty and entertaining -- but I feel disappointed in that it didn't turn out to be anything more than I was already expecting.

Maybe it's impossible to outdo such a dramatic buildup and exceed so much reader anticipation; maybe creators need to be more cautious about setting up such high expectations in the first place.


  1. A lot here I'm unfamiliar with, but I am oddly satisfied that the relatedness-factor of The Prisoner and I Am Weasel has just increased by a point.

    The thing about endings is, you want to be fooled. You don't want to see it coming, but it has to have been POSSIBLE to see it coming or it's a deus ex machina.

    In other words, we want the author to be just a little smarter than us.

  2. That's exactly right.

    I should add that Grant Morrison is very probably the smartest writer in comics -- or at the very least the cleverest, and those aren't necessarily the same thing -- and I've reconsidered my initial feelings of disappointment over this particular story. I've begun to think that what seemed perfunctory was actually a bit of a ruse on his part, and that he's constructed a comic that seemed on the surface to be telling one story, but in reality may have been telling a completely different story. If that's the case, he may possibly have been a bit too clever, because there's no dramatic point where he actually comes out and reveals "this wasn't the story you were led to believe" -- or I may just be reading too much into it.

    I'm sure we can get The Prisoner and I Am Weasel even closer via the Simpsons episode starring McGoohan...

  3. Happy birthday, RAB...

    Regarding your 7 Soldiers post on the Beastmaster blog: Does the pivotal crossword answer you mention happen to be (appropriate for this series) 7-Down? And is that answer someone's initials?

    Don't forget the new Who today...!

  4. Garrie Burr! Now there's a name I haven't seen in years. How the heck are you?

    The answer to 7 Down was obvious at least since Zatanna #4...if it wasn't already clear all the way back in Seven Soldiers #0. For me the pivotal revelation was the answer to 1 Across. More on this tomorrow, I think...


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