Monday, May 10, 2010

So Long, Frank

My life has been mad. It took this to get me posting again. Because here was a guy whose response to a career-ending impairment was to teach himself to be just as awesome with a different hand. I thank whatever powers (God? Crom?) that his family life reached, if not a measure of peace, then a ceasefire before his passing, though I fear those divisions will now spring up anew.

A lot of people are posting art of Conan or Death Dealer of Vampirella or what have you but as much as Frank might've loved drawing all that stuff, remember, that's only part of the picture. Only part of the man. So I've chosen to highlight something else he loved: Ellie, who preceded them into death last year. One hopes they're together. One hopes for many things.

It's always surprising, what deaths outside my immediate family affect me. Michael Jackson was a huge part of my childhood and reminded me of playing with my brother, who passed away in 2007, so whether he was a sinner or saint his death still hit me hard. Michael Turner, same way, for same reasons. I wasn't sure how to react when Don Messick was a personal hero (at a time when voicing animation was a real life goal) and I knew nobody I could commiserate with...nobody I knew even knew who he was! I didn't even know anybody online who gave a shit!

But those I can suss out more easily. I've only gotten interested in Frank's work in the last five years, though, always appreciating them as pretty images but never looking deeper, and certainly never learning anything about the man and his life. So while this is a tremendous loss for the comics community (hell the film community, the dungeons and dragons community, the art community) I'm a bit baffled that it's hitting me, personally, so hard. I wonder why that is.

And I think, perhaps it's because while Mike Wieringo's death was affecting and the loss of Steve Gerber was moving (and re-raised the dialectic he had engaged with his work), Frazetta to my mind is one of the gods. I missed a lot of the deaths of people like Jack Kirby or Bill Finger simply because I wasn't paying attention. People like Gene Colan and Stan Lee and, Crom help us, Sergio Arigones aren't long for this world. And now Frank is gone. There was always that hope, that expectation in the back of my mind, that I would meet the man, maybe on a pilgrimage to his museum. Not to get anything, even an autograph, but just to say thanks for everything. Ah well...

So long, Frank.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Now a major motion picture.

Kick Ass reminds me of Fight Club. Really. Not because I think gratuitous violence is a legitimate symbol of societal remonstration, or because both films equate sex and death for a young audience ready to embrace that message. It's because Roger Ebert hates both movies, and a Louisiana high school senior named Kohen just wrote a letter to his local newspaper calling for Ebert's retirement because the critic found "Kick Ass" to be morally reprehensible. I did the same thing eleven years ago when Ebert condemned "Fight Club." I don't know if Kohen got his article printed verbatim, but I remember my poor letter had the misfortune of being dissected and de-contextualized in an op-ed counterpoint piece. (If there's one great thing about the internet, it's that deconstructing another person's argument to make them look foolish is no longer the exclusive privilege of douchey newspaper editors.)
Kohen feels that Kick Ass mirrors Thoreau's message of Civil Disobedience, and contains a heartwarming story about family. He also claimed that it made him want to read the comic. I wonder how much Thoreau he'll find in it.
Kick Ass and Fight Club are just two examples of how Hollywood can sometimes improve upon the source material, or at least make it palatable to large audiences (apologies to you hardcore Chuck Palahniuk fans.) The Book is always better than The Movie of the book, right? Right?
There are times when this just isn't true. Going back to at least The Graduate, there are books that are actually more enjoyable as films. Add Jaws and The Godfather to that list, as well as Interview with a Vampire. It is somewhat infuriating that this ever happens, because I WANT the book to be better than the movie. (In the case of Mark Millar books though, it isn't hard to find things to improve upon.)
These kinds of films are rare and Kick Ass is certainly one of them. After ten years, I'm still on the fence about whether Fight Club is or not, but I certainly connected to the film more. I do wonder though, if Kick Ass has the staying power of Fight Club. That film still sparks heated debates on message boards, and many of its catchier lines have been absorbed into the pop culture vocabulary. A decade from now, will we be quipping "Fuck this shit, I'm getting the bazooka"?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gestalt Psychology and Batman

I became frustrated with my psych assignment this evening and decided to make a realistic attempt at including Batman to spice things up. Luckily, this was fairly easy, because the question asked me to describe six, specific principles of Gestalt psychology and give a "personal example" of each one. I'm not Bill Finger, but for me Batman counts as a personal example. What follows is the paper I submitted.

(If you came here following a text-specific search string, Hi Mrs Bengough! I put my paper online. That's not against the rules, right?)

Gestalt psychology is the study of the way we perceive the environment around us. Founder Max Wertheimer argued that perception is conceptually driven, organized along consistent rules that allow us to see the whole image, rather than simply a collection of pieces. Gestalt psychology introduced many of the basic principles of perception, including: the Figure/Ground principle, the Law of Similarity, the Law of Closure, the use of Relative Size in depth perception, Perceptual Constancy, and the Law of Prägnanz.
The Figure/Ground principle is the brain's ability to automatically separate various elements of an image into main and auxiliary parts. The figure typically has a defined shape, and holds some significant degree of perceptual meaning apart from the background. On the iconic cover of the classic comic book Detective Comics #27, (the first appearance of Batman,) the caped figure swinging through the air is clearly the focus, distinct from the buildings and even from the larger figures in the foreground. Although there are several characters pictured in the image, the uniqueness of Batman's costume signifies him as the main subject of this scene.
Another axiom of Gestalt psychology visible in the Detective Comics #27 cover is the Law of Similarity. This law presupposes objects of similar size and shape are part of a whole. The buildings in the background are all perceived as part of the contiguous cityscape, not as individual structures. In a related instance, the Law of Closure lets the brain fill in the missing pieces from an image to form complete shapes, even when part of the shape is obscured. The law of closure allows the viewer to recognize the objects as buildings in spite of the figures in the foreground occluding various lines, angles, and intersections that would clearly define the structure.
Detective Comics #27 also contains a clear example of the depth-perception principle of relative size. When objects are assumed to be similar, the larger object is perceived as the closer one. (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2012) Although the drawing of Batman is physically much smaller than the drawing of the two men in the foreground, the mind presupposes that all these men are roughly the same size and therefore Batman must be further away than the two thugs. This is also readily apparent in the disparity between the size of the hats worn by the two men in the foreground and the hat dropped by the man being carried by Batman in the background.
The various hats also provide a solid example of the idea of perceptual constancy. This is Gestalt psychology's name for our ability to perceive objects as unchanging, despite dramatic variations in sensory input. The three hats are different colors, sizes, and viewed from different angles, but there is no question that all three hats are of the same type. Perceptual constancy also applies to the figure of Batman himself. As viewers are naturally familiar with the human body, it is no stretch to assume Batman has feet, even though they are not visible on this particular cover.
The Law of Prägnanz is what allows us to separate the comic's title from the action scene below. The mind automatically constructs the simplest, most reasonable interpretation of a given scene. While it is theoretically possible Batman is swinging in front of a giant "Detective Comics" banner surrounded by floating letters and numbers, the law of Prägnanz suggests that the comic's title, while part of the overall image, is separate from the costumed figures and buildings below.
Each of these Gestalt principles describes a way the brain organizes and analyzes information. Without this series of basic rules, the visual processing center would be constantly bombarded by a deluge of unintelligible sensory signals. It is only through this carefully codified series of careful assumptions that I am able to enjoy Batman!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wikipedia is Down!

Wikipedia is down so hard you can't even check the blog to see why it's down! I personally suspect those villainous vandals over at Encyclopedia Britannica.

Umm... while you're here, check out my favorite thing ever posted to this blog.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ten for Tuesday

1. From Seattle: JQ has done a lot of things right lately, so I hesitate to bitch. But stop with the line about Spider-Man's marriage "shackling" the character. It's fine if you believe that but use a different line, because every time you use that line you just remind people who are otherwise enjoying the Spidey books how idiotic that story was. You could have introduced a bunch of new Spidey villains if Spidey was married. You could have put a concentrated effort into redeeming Spidey's old villains and bringing them back to the fore. You could have had Aunt May shack up with the elder Jameson and had Jonah become mayor. You could totally have brought Harry back from the dead (Goblin regeneration, Norman doing crazy Frankenstein things, dead-harry-was-a-Skrull). You could have made White Venom with a married Spider-Man...hell, considering the history and interplay between MJ and Brock in the title, it might have made it more interesting! And what, out of all this, does Spidey have to be single to accomplish? None of it! So he has had a few dead end relationships and a little casual sex with Felicia. Is that worth it? Really? And if Marvel likes being "realistic" then allow me to point out that Peter could still date around and nail Felicia if he was married to MJ...guys do it all the time! Some are outright cheaters, some are polyamory, but it happens. And if you think that's an unfavorable idea because it makes Peter look douchey, guess what? Making a deal with the devil does that, too.

2. From Seattle: Lian Harper was barely a character. She was a plot generator. Get Lian to safety, protect Lian, find Lian, have Lian make fun of Wally's name. Her death in Cry for Justice isn't as much of a loss as, say, Sue Dibny, but that means it's also hard to argue for her death. This wasn't a character a lot of people were attached to; emotional staked weren't raised by this character's inclusion. There is no bittersweet promise of stories never told. Her role was purely symbolic...killing thousands of people is bad, killing one little kid with a face and a name is evil. And surprise, surprise, people are pissed. Because it's cheap. It's lazy. It expects the reader to pull emotion and interest and anger out of nowhere because, look, dead little girl! That's not just lazy, that's Cobra-Commander-kicks-a-puppy-to-show-he's-evil lazy. Worse, her death becomes one more stitch in the fabric of female misfortune in (especially DCU lately) comics, existing only to make some male characters slightly more interesting (Ollie is mad! Roy is sad! Prometheus is bad!) for a brief moment. So people don't hate the story because it was a well told story, because it was "emotionally charged" and that's what art is supposed to do. They hate the story because in a miniseries filled with half-assed plotting, bad characterization, shaky logic, questionable morality, and a generally mean-spirited tone, the denouement managed to be all of the above at the same time and threw in "kind of sexist" to boot.

3. YouTube and Wikipedia are powerful tools but when their Wonder Twin powers activate they take the shape of awesome and the form of every band's discography. I don't have a problem with this since so many of these groups, artists and labels seem either permissive or complicit in the availability of this material but I think the expectation is that if you hear it and like it you're supposed to go buy it. I'm not sure how I feel, then, about pages that also link to torrents of the songs (or shows, or whatever). Badly?

4. This past arc in Batman and Robin has been far and away better than the previous two. The first arc was kind of slipshod, as the series found its feet. The second arc had more Jason Todd, who has officially become the new Joker in terms of overexposure, and a big showdown with the Matador from Daredevil. The arc with a crazy undead clone Batman set against the backdrop of the just-glimpsed London mirror of Batman's world, however, was very fun. I'm calling it a very good comic but if it had wrapped up in 2 issues I'd be stamping it with "great."

5. In my article on superhero weaknesses I neglected to mention another recent favorite, Seance, whose powers fail if he's wearing shoes and, in consequence, floats around barefoot in stretch pants like some sort of Radical Edward gone horribly wrong. You can take this as a tacit endorsement of the second volume of Umbrella Academy, incidentally.

6. Please, please, please let the Arkham Asylum sequel feature Solomon Grundy. Not as a playable boss, unless it plays very much like a God of War cyclops fight, because I got tired of the first game's "muscle guy boss fight" routine the first time I had to go through it. Just record some dialogue, have him in a cell, maybe muttering his namesake poem...maybe responding to a few prompts from Batman before going silent? You've already got Mark Hamill there, guys...

7. Is there anything preventing DC from publishing a Thundarr the Barbarian comic? If not, then where the hell is it?

8. I would like to see the Fables relocated to Lemuria, personally. I would like to see a fableworld born of theoretical history, bound to the Mundy where the Adversary probably never thought to check.

9. Old Trash Film I'd Make Into A Cult Broadway Musical: The Brute Man, with Rondo Hatton. And Mickey Rourke would star.

10. Things are far from smooth over here but they're a little better than they have been. However, we're going to take this opportunity to shift gears on the site a little. So, probably no more DAILY links for the foreseeable future. But more real articles to come. Whee.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Link: "Get me some new films."

I love this poster, you guys...

If you were listening to NPR yesterday you heard Jack Handey reading the title essay from his new book, Things I Would Say To The Martians. If you've heard it already you know it's awesome. If not, then check it out right now.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunday our dog got shot by somebody. Also we've had to go house hunting with about a week or two notice. As such, drink service will be suspended until turbulence subsides.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Shot of Amazing (Adorable Edition)

This is our daughter. From the future. She is asian.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Avengers Assembly 6

Two-Gun Kid

Tactical Advantage: Kid is a marksman on par with Cap or Hawkeye, a fast draw and handy with a variety of firearms, including modern weaponry. His time-travel adventures give him a little firmer footing than some Avengers, like Triathlon or Echo, in those situations. He is also a gifted tracker and former lawyer, both of which come in handy in his capacity as a bounty hunter and (former?) member of the Initiative. For someone in a world he never made etc, Matthew has an awful lot of contacts out there that run the gamut. It goes without saying that he has an expansive knowledge of the American southwest. For what it’s worth, he can ride a horse; I always thought it would be cool if he got the Black Knight’s old horse somehow. Speaking of which, he has Hawkeye’s old sky-cycle right now, which is awesome. +3

Tactical Disadvantage: Guns are really only very great at one thing, and it’s a thing the Avengers try to never ever do Unless Absolutely Necessary, which it far too often turns out to be. So, essentially, Matthew’s one trick – shooting stuff – is one that he isn’t even allowed to fully exploit in most Marvel Comics, lest he become a vest-wearing Punisher. He’s also an obvious weak link in the field, an easy first target to reduce the number of opponents, demoralize the team, and break the line. Still, there’s nothing about Matthew that makes him a specific liability. Just a general one. -2

Headliner: Not for fifty years or so. +1

Look: It’s a Kirby Western motif; just different enough to identify but otherwise built out of a kit. You love it or you don’t. Guess what? +1

Founder: No. +0

Matthew Hawk nee Liebowicz (How did I not know this? Thank you, internet!) is an awesome character. Hell, he was awesome at the time, with quick-draw stories full of colorful rogues and outrageous situations. It was like if George Lucas fell in love with Crash Corrigan instead of Commando Cody or Scrooge McDuck. Transplanted to the Marvel Age and carried through to modern times, the character has a self-assure charm and neat hook that has endeared him to many. He’s the definition of a fan-favorite. Yet he never really took off in popularity as he might. A few factors go into this…some people just don’t like Western chocolate in their superhero peanut butter. Some people look at Matthew’s outfit and think Sherriff Woody more than Clint Eastwood. But a lot of the reason he never stuck around is that superheroes (and depending on your definition Kid certainly qualifies) aren’t allowed to just be nice, likable, heroic, and fun; they must also be tortured, disturbed, transgressed, or transgressive. “Interesting” or “complicated” or “serious.”

Not every character needs a rape in their past or a dead party clown at their birthday; these Western characters had plenty of skeletons in their closet already (those who weren’t in the closet…). That's the business, though: Ralph Dibny was a fan favorite, a guest star who at best could hope for being a co-star and getting the occasional mini. Ralph didn’t become important until his pregnant wife was murdered and her rape outed. For whatever reason, those creators who have used Matthew have mostly shied from doing this, preferring to let him return to limbo. It seems those are the only two options. Still, could be worse. He could be Ronin.

Now, again, I love Two-Gun Kid and I would love to have him on, say, my dream Avengers roster. But I cannot let my personal feelings cloud my judgment here: he is far from the quintessential Avenger. I think he’s a great character, sure; as originally written he had a similar motivation (helping others is the right thing to do) and supporting framework (“Matt, the Two-Gun Kid was just here!” “Aw shucks!”) as Superman, only with lots of cowboys and gorillas (ok so exactly like Superman, then). But all of his skills can be duplicated by other, more versatile or more powerful Avengers, all of whom are more popular and longer-lived. He’s a hero but so has Jarvis been whenever the need arose. On a Keith Giffen-style “pick the personalities, not the superheroes” Avengers he would be an awesome addition. Otherwise…it’s supporting cast territory for Matthew Hawk. Damn but time traveling cowboys are bittersweet. +2

Total: 5

Once an Avenger, always an Avenger; he’s just not much of one.

Aww, don't be sad, Matt. Next week is the first installment of this feature to get a negative score!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Link: Still Alive

Valve released a tease of Portal 2 recently via an update consisting of audio files which, through a complicated series of conversions to Morse code and image coordinates, are clearly signs of GlaDOS trying to find a signal or worming its way into the interwebs or something. The response to this has been immediate and voracious. What I'm hoping is that this is just the beginning of a follow-the-breadcrumbs game that will ultimately outdo the awesome ilovebees in the act of baing an ad campaign-as-gaming experience.