Comic-Con Album Pt 42

Mark Hamill, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Nikon n90s 35mm SLR camera, Fujifilm NPZ800 color negative 35mm film.
Mark Hamill, Comic-Con exhibit hall

I believe he was shooting Comic Book: The Movie at the time. Never watched it. I hear it's a weird little commentary on the state of superhero movies at the time.

This marks the end point for this particular segment of the series. The output for this Comic-Con album was not as prolific as last year's event. It would be several years before I would get comfortable with color, and only after I had transitioned to digital photography. The analog equivalent is a tough medium to master.

Pt  29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41,


Ultraman Vol. 4

Ultraman Vol. 4, Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.
Story: Eiichi Shimizu
Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi

Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.

The bold tagline for the Ultraman manga might be “This is the beginning of a new age”, but the series has so far been about the previous era. Ever since Shinjiro Hayata inherited the superhero mantle from his father Shin Hayata, he’s been required by Edo, Mitsuhiro Ide, Dan Moroboshi, and the rest of the old men of the Special Science Search Party (SSSP) that he deserves to work with them. Everything they’ve done to him is for the most part a continuing series of trials to prove that the new Ultraman is as capable as the original. Will they finally learn to trust Shinjiro and ease off a bit on their high expectations after four volumes? Not a chance. If anything, they just crank it up a notch. I’m not sure if this is some metaphor for the enormous pressures faced by our current generation of kids? Or is this what happens when nostalgia exerts a disproportionate amount of influence on popular culture?

Unfortunately, Shinjiro is still a bit of a doormat despite being constantly needled by Moroboshi since they met back in volume 2. The SSSP agent doesn’t believe that the teenager has the stones to be the professional killer of extraterrestrial terrorists required by the job. And It doesn’t really help Shinjiro’s confidence when it was revealed in volume 3 that Moroboshi also wears his own Ultraman suit, which Moroboshi describes as the 7.1 version of the series. Fans of the franchise will recognize the reference to Ultraseven, the second Ultra hero of the franchise. Additionally, the supporting character Jack is a thinly veiled reference to Ultraman Jack. With his dad included, Shinjiro is constantly being judged by at least three past Ultras on whether he can live up to their heroic legacy.

The volume’s big set piece isn’t just another fight with a rogue alien, but a battle orchestrated by the SSSP in order for Shinjiro to unlock another hidden ability. The organization sets a new standard of ruthlessness by exhibiting a willingness to endanger not just Shinjiro, but the lives of innocent bystanders. Given such crass behavior, his unquestioning loyalty to the SSSP is surprising and disappointing. He’s simply too absorbed with his new superpower to care. Shinjiro continues to be a very dull main protagonist, and the lack of appreciable character development from him after 4 volumes is starting to grate.

Also frustrating is the slow pacing of the manga. The serial killer/stalker case from volume 1 is only now clawing its way to some kind of belated solution. But this long simmering B-plot has so far been deeply uninteresting. This should have been resolved a lot more quickly. But teen idol Rena Sayama and her father police detective Endo have been used in such a random and disjointed manner, they come across more like filler than people who really matter to the storyline. If the narrative arc is going to be stretched out to this degree, can't there be at least one character who isn't so one-dimensional readers can't nurture some emotional investment?

Ultraman Vol. 4, Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.


Beautiful Darkness

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.
By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset)
Translated by Helge Dascher.

Beautiful Darkness is sort of a cruel joke played on readers who believe in the power of fairy tales. Or to be more precise the kind of fairy tales parents usually tell their kids when they want to assure them there is a higher power who punishes the wicked and rewards the innocent. In the later graphic novel Beauty (which was also drawn by Kerascoët in a completely different visual style), there are supernatural forces who interfere in the lives of mere mortals. No such beings exists here. Whatever magic is manifested is entirely earthbound and found only within human beings. But what happens when the moral order that guides them is dissolved and humanity’s constituent fragments are left to fend for themselves? BD explores in miniature what happens during the slow decay of civilized order and logic into the uncaring but much grander patterns of the natural world.

If this sounds very grim, the book’s narrative approach is disarmingly seductive. The story begins looking very much like a conventional children’s book illustrated in lush watercolors. A spritely blonde woman with large black eyes named Aurora is living a fantasy life as a princess. She’s having tea with her princely, redheaded beau Hector when their world suddenly begins to liquefy around them. As giant slimy globs fall, the denizens of this kingdom fight their way through the purification until they emerge into the open air. The reader is then made aware of the story’s first major twist: that their grand home is the body of a young girl who has died in the woods under mysterious circumstances.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

The cause for the girl’s sudden death is never fully revealed, through an ominous full-sized adult figure keeps hovering in the background and will come to play an important role later on. Led by the irrepressible Aurora, the sprites attempt to rebuild their world around the girl’s rotting corpse like survivors eking out a living near the ruins of a crumbling city. The entire project starts out in good spirits, and everyone appears to be more-or-less cooperating with each other. But cracks soon appear as each character starts pursuing their own competing agendas.

BD’s narrative possesses a deceptive episodic structure. Everything starts out with an air of naive optimism. The incidents are mostly comical and seemingly inconsequential. But as the mistakes accrue, each mishap and misadventure pulls the sprites inexorably towards some terrible doom. Halfway through, there’s a growing sense that events have reached a point of no return. The sprites increasingly turn on each other and blood is spilled on a more regular basis. What starts out as an impromptu society has broken up into factions.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

What enhances that dread is the cartoonishly cute manner of the sprites. This gives them a sense of vulnerability which stands in stark contrast to the humans and the natural setting, which are drawn with detailed realism. This visual contrast underlies a difference in scale. The magical beings are dwarfed by their surroundings, making them appear to be constantly in danger from attacks from the local fauna and exposure to the elements. But that scale mostly emphasizes the overall indifference that greets the sprites. For the most part, nature simply ignores them. And that kind of cosmic insignificance is so much worse.

The cartoony style is also key to making the sprites into instantly recognizable archetypes. There’s the shy wallflower, the manipulative queen bee, the eager sidekick, the self-sufficient loner, the squabbling triplets, the cutie doll, etc. Hector is a foppish aristocrat with little depth to him. As they all emerged from a dead girl’s corpse, it’s easy enough to suppose that they might embody different facets of her psyche. If this is the case, then Aurora is the heart of the girl. Sweet and trusting, the image of unassuming feminine beauty, she’s the only person who seems emotionally invested in keeping everyone together. And her reaction to her own failures makes for some of the book’s most unsettling passages.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

Given BD’s premise and increasingly gloomy tone, I’m not entirely surprised that the book has drawn comparisons with Lord of the Flies. Both map out how altruism eventually loses out to the Will to Power. It’s certainly possible to see in BD’s subversion of fantasy imagery a nihilistic critique of the illusory nature of morality and futility of civilized modernity. This could be the most accurate interpretation of the tale, given the creators’ cultural milieu.

But there’s something about the lovely portrayal of verdant nature that reminds me of the Sea of Corruption in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Just as humanity fights a losing battle against the world-spanning toxic forest, the sprites are slowly being consumed by the incomprehensibly vast woods. The story begins in spring and follows the imperceptible rhythm of nature’s seasonal changes. BD ends on a down note, during the depth of winter. But just as Nausicaä saw a vision of a world cleansed of man-made pollution, maybe there’s a new, beautiful spring beyond the last page of this book? Or maybe not.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.


50th Trek: The Physics of Star Trek

In honour of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I'll be writing a series of posts discussing a favorite example of Star Trek related media.

The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss  Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
The Physics of Star Trek
by Lawrence M. Krauss

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.

If Trekkies helped spawn the current fashion for fan-themed documentaries, The Physics of Star Trek would inspire the trend of books which blended two kinds of stereotypical nerdery - academia and pop culture. Virtually every successful franchise seems to have been subject to this kind of treatment: comic book superheroes and supervillains, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Harry Potter, even that other, less rational sci-fi series with “Star” in its title. Compared to the era when Carl Sagan or David Attenborough or Fritjof Capra would rarely deign to reference popular entertainment, our current big-brained public figures promoting education such as Michio Kaku or Phil Plait are more likely to  mention the latest film, television show, or graphic novel, if it will help them make a point about how science functions in the real world. If author Lawrence Krauss may have initially treated the idea of a science book based on Star Trek a joke, it almost makes sense in retrospect as the logical start for the trend. When the book was published in 1995, Trek had already been talking about the future for almost 30 years.

The title for the book is somewhat misleading. The first half does cover the history of modern physics in more-or-less chronological order, from the classical mechanics of Isaac Newton, the two theories of relativity by Albert Einstein, atomic theory, to the weirdness that is quantum mechanics. But this is Star Trek after all, so Krauss must venture into the fields of astronomy and cosmology in later chapters. He even gives his two cents about biology, psychology, computer science, and philosophy, because of course he does. Unsurprisingly, it’s that last part where Krauss is at his least sure footed. At barely 175 pages, TPOST is a slim volume. But it’s hardly a quick read because of the nature of its subject matter. Nevertheless, Krauss does his best to cut down on the jargon, and there’s not a single mathematical equation in sight. The most he does to illuminate some of the more complex ideas being discussed is to use several schematic drawings. It’s about as plain-spoken as a physics-based science book written by a Ph.D. can get.

What does become apparent as the book progresses is the enormous difficulty of the task Krauss has set up for himself. Star Trek was already a massive franchise in 1995, which included The Original Series, The Next Generation, seven feature films, the first two seasons of Deep Space Nine, and the first season of Voyager. Given that TNG was the most successful part of the franchise, the book tends to reference it more than any of the other Trek series. Like a later-day positivist version of Capra, or a real world Sheldon Cooper, Krauss has to demonstrate fluency in two different realms, then attempt to draw a connection between them as both a trusted expert in his field, and as a judgemental fan.*

That’s not so simple because like any form of speculative fantasy, Star Trek isn’t just cribbing from the textbook. There’s a lot of artistic license involved in the writing of any episode. Trying to make sense of Trek’s fictional universe is like translating a book from English to Chinese, then into Korean, then French, then back into English. Basically, Krauss is assembling his own head-canon. When examining technologies such as the matter transporter or the holodeck, Krauss has to surmise from multiple episodes which aren’t always consistent with each other just how those technologies function before he can give an explanation on whether they might even be feasible in this universe. Is the matter transporter just transmitting a data-rich signal to the receiving device, or is it sending with it a matter stream as well? Is the holodeck just producing holograms, or is it also manipulating solid matter whenever necessary? When he synthesizes a model for how the warp drive might work, Krauss rather optimistically explains, “This scenario must be what the Star Trek writers intended when they invented warp drive, even if it bears little resemblance to the technical descriptions they have provided.” You don’t say?

As for the answers Krauss provides for Star Trek’s three key technologies (warp drive, time travel, matter transporter), here’s the (spoiler alert!) Cliff Notes version of his analysis. All of these technologies would generate stupendous energy requirements that make them practically unfeasible. And while general relativity does make warp drive and travel to the past at least theoretically possible if not probable, matter transporters run into the theoretical limits of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which puts an absolute limit on the precision for measuring the fundamental properties of a subatomic particle. So no one’s beaming up any time soon.

Science has naturally moved on since 1995, though so far not in a direction that would change any of Krauss’ basic answers. The development of quantum teleportation uses particles for encoding and transmitting information, but still won’t allow us to transport a living person. Newer measurements about the fate of the Universe have led cosmologists to speculate about dark energy. The long hypothesized Higgs Boson particle was found in 2013. Another hypothesized phenomena, gravitational waves, was finally detected earlier this year. The discovery of thousands of exoplanets has only deepened the mystery of why we have not yet found new life and new civilization outside of the Earth. Even our own solar system has gotten so complicated that astronomers reclassified Pluto as a “dwarf planet”, whatever the hell that means. And as for exploring strange new worlds, NASA now faces competition from the private sector. But these companies arguably wouldn't exist in the first place without Stat Trek serving as inspiration.

However cleverly organized, TPOST utilizes only a very narrow set of tools to study the franchise. So it comes as no great shock that the book has galvanized other experts to give their own interpretations based on their particular field of knowledge. To date, this has included biology, computer science, ethics, business management, history, metaphysics, and religious studies. But I suspect that the book which will resonate most with the current market is the one that tackles how the Federation managed to build a post-scarcity society from a post-apocalyptic setting. If Lawrence Krauss has succeeded, however accidentally, in proving one thing, it’s that Star Trek can be viewed to be just about anything.
*Krauss prefers the label "Trekker" when talking about Star Trek fans.


50th Trek: Trekkies (1997)

In honour of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I'll be writing a series of posts discussing a favorite example of Star Trek related media.

 Trekkies (1997), Director: Roger Nygard Host: Denise Crosby,  Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
Trekkies (1997)
Director: Roger Nygard
Host: Denise Crosby

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
“I don’t know, I hope it lasts forever … As long as it’s thoughtful, it’s a good thing." 
- Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
One of the early criticisms levelled at Trekkies from the very community it was portraying was that it spent way too much time parading a more extreme version of Star Trek fandom instead of representing the majority composed of more “normal” fans. The documentary’s most infamous character was and continues to be Barbara Adams, an alternate juror for the Whitewater trial of Governor Jim Guy Tucker who achieved nationwide notoriety for wearing her Starfleet uniform to the courtroom,  tricorder, rank pips and all. When discussing her actions, she referred to her fellow fans, “I don’t want my officers to ever feel ashamed to wear their uniform.” On the face of it, it’s pretty ridiculous to compare a homemade costume to a military uniform. But she insisted on people showing respect for her rank of Lieutenant Commander, even at the printing press where she worked from within its binding and finishing department.

Trekkies quickly latches on to cosplay as a signifier of the more eccentric fan. Family man David Greenstein has a Star Trek-themed man cave and bathroom at home. To his wife’s horror, he admits to wanting to modify his earlobes in order to appear more Vulcan. Alas, he can’t afford the operation. Denis Bourguignon runs a sci-fi themed dental office, complete with staff wearing blue science officer uniforms. He and wife Shelly admit, to the embarrassment of the film’s host Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from The Next Generation), that cosplay plays a significant part in their sex life. Richard Kronfeld is fascinated by Trek’s fictional technology. He’s seen motoring down a road to the local Radio Shack using a homebuilt replica of the Total Life Support Unit used by Captain Pike. But the most charming example is the teenager Gabriel Köerner, who would go on to become the film’s most recognised character after Adams. Always filmed in costume, Köerner is the kind of passionate, nerdy, self-aware kid who proves to be an eloquent spokesperson. He’s the one who when his interview is interrupted by an unexpected phone call, responds with the immortal line "Peter, this is the worst time you could have called! Go away! ... ok bye."

Naturally, the Klingons take things a step further. They write sex manuals and enact their mating rituals, learn the Klingon language, and translate everything from the Bible, William Shakespeare, popular theme songs, to sports terminology. Some of them even have time to be heavily involved with charitable work. Other fans are also inspired to follow different creative paths. Köerner proudly displays the CGI models he made for a fan film being produced by his club. Filk (science fiction folk singing) gets only a brief mention. As do several female fans who read and write “slash” fiction (erotic fan fiction), though Debbie Warner is singled out as a member of an anonymous mailing list and author of “The Secret Logs of Mistress Janeway.” This is juxtaposed with a scene of Crosby showing off her personal fan art collection, which includes several risqué illustrations of Tasha and Data (played by Brent Spiner in TNG) captured in flagrante delicto.

However, the true weirdos are only mentioned in passing. There’s the guy who wants to collect James Doohan’s (Montgomery “Scotty” Scott) blood. Another who paid $40-60 to drink the “Q-Virus.” Another who wanted Ethan Phillips (Neelix from Voyager) to help him ease his way into death. Or the guy who keeps sending brochures addressed to “Star Trek.”

It’s this fixed component of amused ogling that seems to have upset fans at the time. Still, it would be a huge mistake to think that Trekkies goes out of its way to mock its subject matter. The cast and crew being interviewed consistently express awe and admiration for Trek’s enduring popularity. A recurring motif is how Trek’s progressive message has inspired a lot of people, including women and minorities. And many of the actors (though William Shatner [James Kirk] is noticeably absent) can recall positive interactions with their fans, whether they were media personalities, NASA astronauts, or most notably, a suicidal woman who was gently coaxed by Doohan to turn her life around.

What’s become more obvious since is that Trekkies blend of carnival sideshow and joyous celebration is a product of a different era. While geek culture was becoming ascendent in the 90s, it was nowhere as ubiquitous as it is today. A throwaway line from Köerner and a fansite created by superfan Anne Murphy serve as a reminders that geeks were still in the early stages of colonising the World Wide Web in 1997. As such, the film is informed by the need to expound on the nature of fandom to non-fans. Some viewers will unfortunately see these people as stupid or hopelessly deluded. But there’s a certain underdog quality that shines through. Many of the interviewees come across as erudite and cognisant of their outsider status. For the most part, they seem happy to pursue a hobby the world doesn’t get. And In our highly polarised environment where Gamergate, the backlash against Miles Morales, and other stories that serve as a reminder that sexist and racist attitudes exist within fandom, the pro-science, inclusive world view expressed in Trekkies is almost salutary, if a little earnest at times. Or as Spiner puts it “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone, Star Trek fan or not, who wasn’t peculiar…. We’re all peculiar.”

Another thing that stands out is the film’s focus on the convention as a defining characteristic of fandom. Apparently, not everyone knew back then what basically goes on during a convention. So Trekkies takes time to point out that people mingle with friends and other like-minded individuals, buy and sell a lot of merchandise, meet some of the personalities involved with the franchise, and take lots of pictures. When compared to the massive Hollywood presence seen in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, these conventions possess far humbler production values, and are more local in reach. Not that it stops anyone from spending thousands of dollars on, say, a genuine Klingon forehead prosthetic. But that sense of "I have found my tribe" is a constant. As one attendee speaking for herself and her friends recalls "The first convention we went to... we were all accepted. And when we left and went back home, we had to act normal again." Several Hollywood representations of fan conventions have since taken their cue from Trekkies.

While surveying a broad spectrum of modern fan pursuits, Trekkies is smart enough not to over-explain Star Trek itself. The film doesn’t go into any detail about Trek’s fictional universe, and only mentions a few of the people behind its creation. The references and technical jargon will be appreciated by the initiated. But the viewer isn’t punished for not knowing the meaning behind “The Emissary”, “saucer separation capability”, “Romulan Star Empire”, or for not caring about the never-ending debate over who is Trek’s favourite captain (thankfully, Captain Archer wasn’t in the running at the time).

One particular debate that actually hasn’t aged very well is whether fans should refer to themselves as Trekkies or Trekkers. The film’s participants express a range of opinions favouring one term over the other, but what underlies all their arguments is a wish for greater respectability. What all of them fail to recognise is how little control anyone has over the popular use of language. In an age where Internet memes are easily co-opted by an opposing side, the idea that a simple word change could alter the prevailing perception surrounding an entire subculture can feel a little naive. But then again, the same could be said of Star Trek.


50th Trek: Just a Geek

In honour of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I'll be writing a series of posts discussing a favorite example of Star Trek related media.

Just a Geek  by Will Wheaton.
Just a Geek 
by Wil Wheaton

Former child actor Wil Wheaton once came to a fateful decision during a 1989 Star Trek cruise. After observing the apparently unhappy state of the original series cast members in attendance, he chose to leave the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation and jump start a film acting career. This looked like a good idea, when considering the circumstances. Wesley Crusher was an unpopular character often perceived by fans as a Mary Sue standing in for Gene Roddenberry. His presence on the show was greatly diminished. And Wil wasn't getting along with new executive producer Rick Berman. So it seemed like as good a time as any to jump ship and try something new. But instead of leading to bigger and better things, his acting career would stutter and then come to a complete standstill. Wil would spend the next 15 years ruing his decision to leave the legendary franchise at the height of its popularity. Two byproducts of this rocky period were a popular blog he began in 2001, and a memoir published in 2004 called Just a Geek.

Wil’s connection to TNG was initially the obvious draw when I first discovered his blog. But it soon became clear that unlike most other actor’s websites, which usually function as a vehicle for self-promotion, Wil was more than willing to discuss his many failed efforts to land an acting gig. His early blog posts often attempted to be glib about these experiences, but over time would increasingly express anger, disappointment, desperation, and self-recrimination. This is carried over into JAG. Roughly half the book’s content is material reprinted from his blog posts. But unlike most bloggers, Wil developed a true command of story structure. His best posts are typically written as well-crafted anecdotes usually conveying some kind of point, or at least an amusing punchline.

But the meat of the book is found in the original content, designed to connect the disparate blog posts into a unified narrative. Wil’s blog was often praised for its candid and personal quality. But he admits here that there’s an element of public performance to his blogging. Wil initially tries to convince himself and his audience that his career didn’t take a nosedive after he left TNG. His narcissistic inner struggle is displaced and divided into two anthropomorphized duelling voices: "Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn't A Mistake” and the “The Voice of Self Doubt.” But numerous failed auditions grind down whatever optimism he once possessed, and Will begins to express frustration towards the industry. He bitterly complains about Hollywood’s preference for “edgy” actors and pursuit of all things popular. And like many has-beens, his fragile ego takes a further beating as he’s reduced to dependency on the convention circuit, desperately hawking autographs, reminding fans (and even fellow cast members he’s fallen out of touch with) that he still exists, appearing on game shows or any event that would have him, and selling personal items on eBay. That’s when he hits rock bottom and starts reconsidering whether he even still wants to be an actor.

One remedy to Wil’s downward spiral of depression and denial is his love of Star Trek. Virtually all of the book’s emotional highs are about his intermittent involvement with the Star Trek franchise. Wil’s unusual position is that he blurs the line between  celebrity and fan due to his being a lot younger than the rest of the TNG cast, a factor that inevitably colors Wil’s personal interactions with them. He’s never quite their equal in terms of experience or maturity. So he ends up playing the role of the callow youth who looks up to his smarter, wiser, and more well-adjusted colleagues. This has the benefit of making him into a POV character for the reader whenever the cast convenes at a convention, or most memorably during the filming of the wedding scene in Star Trek: Nemesis.

But Star Trek is also a source of great ambivalence, which isn't surprising given the book’s premise. Wil’s pop culture legacy already includes an internet meme sometimes called “The Wesley.” Things come to a head in a famous blog post describing Wil having an imaginary conversation with a beloved Wesley Crusher action figure. The post is included in the book to document the author finally exorcising his personal demons. It’s an uplifting story about how Wil learned to see the character he’s most known for playing in its proper perspective. But whatever inner peace Wil achieves is later shaken when he receives news that not only was all his dialogue in Nemesis left on the cutting room floor, he was also snubbed from receiving any invitation to attend the film’s premiere.

12 years after JAG was published, Wil’s informal writing style remains just as engaging. It's a precursor to the uncomplicated, chatty tone now prevalent on the Web, minus the emojis. The book makes for a quick read. But a few things also stick out. Because JAG is based on blog posts revolving around Wil’s own quest for self-validation, none of the other characters ever come into proper focus. Not even his faithful wife who puts up with a lot of his sh__. No doubt this was a decision on Wil’s part not to reveal too much about his private life. But this does mean that the reader is stuck in Wil’s head for the duration of the entire book. The effect of this myopia isn't entirely satisfactory as it can at times leave the impression that a few crucial elements might have been left out of the story.

Another source of annoyance (at least to me) is the uneven quality of Wil’s authorial voice. Wil has a habit of switching back and forth from a more flippant attitude to one that's more confessional. He isn’t afraid to being a little sentimental when he’s being serious. But then Wil tries to inject some humor, and the effect can be a little dissonant. This is especially cumbersome when he juxtaposes very juvenile and crass statements with more doleful insights. An early example in the book is when he visits a Hooters restaurant, spends time ogling the waitress and talking about her boobs, only to be reminded of his status as a failed actor. His transition from leering fratboy to morose artist can be quite awkward.

JAG was fashioned to chronicle the experiences of a struggling young actor who transitions into a writer. But 12 years on, it’s become more than apparent that the internet has facilitated a new kind of fame, one which Wil just happens to be an early manifestation. His blogging would anticipate how today’s celebrities have become heavily engaged with social media. While many of them work hard to connect with their fans, Wil has already convinced his fans that he’s just one of them. He may not have fulfilled his ambitions for the silver screen, but Wil’s newfound popularity has helped to revive his acting career. And no matter what, Wil has still managed to preserve his brand of geek identity. Only now, he’s joined during the rapidly burgeoning convention season by a new generation of web-savvy nerdlebrities such as Adam Savage, Jonathan Coulton, and Felicia Day. Wil Wheaton isn't alone.


Godzilla Resurgence (2016)

Godzilla Resurgence (2016). Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, et al.  Gojira (Godzilla) created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsubaraya.
Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, et al.

Gojira (Godzilla) created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsubaraya.

Shin Gojira has been heaped with tremendous praise from Japanese media outlets, being hailed as a “masterpiece of unprecedented filmmaking.” Reactions from western critics/fans who managed to see it have been understandably a little more mixed. Toho’s relaunch of the film franchise since the underperforming Godzilla: Final Wars from 2004 had a lot riding on it. Unlike the Legendary Pictures 2014 movie, this film was aimed squarely at the local market. So it returns the king of kaiju to his roots in Japan’s tragic relationship with nuclear power. For this story, the events it alludes to aren’t  America's 1954 testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific but the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, though the ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also invoked in one scene. But there’s also something more fundamental about the story. None of Hollywood’s Godzilla adaptations have come close to invoking that peculiar sense of collective awe and helplessness in the face of nature’s wrath found within the Japanese film series.

The Fukushima references come in thick and fast during the film’s opening 25 minutes. The coast guard is investigating an abandoned boat floating on Tokyo bay when a massive quake causes the Aqua-Line Tunnel to flood. The prime minister and his cabinet convene to address the calamity, but the roomful of mostly middle-aged men can’t quite figure out what’s going on. In one amusing sequence, they transfer from the PM’s office to a general conference room, then back to the office. The PM then changes out of his business suit into a blue work uniform before giving a press conference. By the time the politicians figure out the cause of the quake, a giant monster has emerged out of the bay, swam upstream through a canal, crawled onto dry land, and commenced stomping through the neighborhood's cramped streets like a walking tsunami. Only mid-level cabinet secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) realizes early on that the monster is responsible for the mayhem. When he later points out that it took the cabinet a full 2 hours to decide on a concrete course of action, he’s told by his superior Hideki Akasaka (Yutaka Takenouchi) to shut up and not rock the boat.

That opening section is unmistakingly the work of Hideaki Anno. The quick jump cuts between the cabinet scenes and the monster’s progress through Tokyo, closeup of pensive faces, talking heads shot at every conceivable angle, heavy use of onscreen text to label every place name, political figure, and piece of military hardware, even the orchestral soundtrack, are devices used in his landmark anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Once the PM decides to mobilize the Japanese Self Defense Forces to take out the monster, Anno uses one clever segment to emphasize the unwieldy nature of the Japanese hierarchical structure. A JSDF helicopter pilot radios his field commander for permission to fire, and the request is passed up a needlessly long chain of command until it reaches the PM. But the topical focus may be a big stumbling block for non-Japanese audiences. The film has a huge cast of Japanese name actors playing various supporting and incidental roles in order to better convey the vast scope of the government's bureaucracy. After a while, this starts to feel like an exercise in seeing how many famous people can be crammed into one film.

A particular shortcoming that American viewers will probably complain about is the lack of “character development.” The film does not dwell on the private lives of its cast. Unlike the 2014 film, there’s no family at the center of the drama. None of the politicians, not even the PM, call home to make sure their families are safe, and both Rando and Hideki appear to be single. This lack of personal stakes might be seen as a drawback. On the other hand, this spares viewers the mind-numbing horror of having to witness cloying scenes of family reunion found in many Hollywood disaster flicks. Anyway, that would only distract from the main focus, which is the story of a nation experiencing and eventually moving past a terrible event. At the individual level, this translates into young guns like Rando and Hideki learning to work together as the older generation around them fails to adapt to a fast changing world.

The other character of significance is Kayoco Anne Paterson (Satomi Ishihara), a Japanese-American envoy. Anime fans will recognize her as the latest example of that stock character, the part-Japanese foreigner (see Asuka Langley Soryu). So she gets to be played by a Japanese actress, speak in fluent Japanese, but skip the use of honorifics (gasp!). Kayoco carries herself with a little more swagger than would be acceptable to many Japanese woman because she was raised in the west. She delivers her random English lines with that weird voice that often passes for a foreign accent in Japanese entertainment, but just sounds to most Americans like an atrocious attempt to mimic their pronunciation and speech patterns. If turn about is fair play, then the absurdity of the character is the whole point.

Godzilla Resurgence (2016). Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, et al.  Gojira (Godzilla) created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsubaraya.
Satori Ishihara and Hiroki Hasegawa

Despite her job, Kayoco switches sides as the two nations goals begin to diverge. But in the beginning, the film hammers home who's really in charge. Japan's government is first portrayed as weak. The PM keeps dithering and JSDF hardware proves insufficient to the task. So American military intervention to help stop the monster's rampage is initially welcomed. But the Japanese become ambivalent with the dawning realization that the Superpower from across the ocean is as much an existential threat as the monster. The other American cast members are all pretty awful. Hovering at the edge of the screen, never in focus, always mumbling their lines, and never directly interacting with their Japanese counterparts. At every level, the U.S. behaves like a distant authority figure, not as Japan's ally.

As for the monster that will be later known as Godzilla, he’s a weird mix. Like some past incarnations, he’s an unidentified species that’s been exposed to heavy radiation. But Anno’s new twist to the formula is that Godzilla now mutates like a pokemon going through various stages of evolution. The amphibious form that emerges from the ocean looks downright silly with its large bug-eyed expression with gaping mouth. The final form seen in all the promotional material makes him into a horror movie creature. His clearly visible rib cage and exposed glowing red flesh give the impression of a rotting corpse. Godzilla moves more like a zombie than an enormous beast. Anno imbues him with new abilities. His traditional radioactive breath comes in different forms, from a fine mist to concentrated energy beam. The tail and spikes on his back can fire their own energy beams. He emits some kind of EM pulse like the MUTOs of the 2014 film. He can reproduce asexually. He might be able to fly. There’s theoretically no end to what he can do considering his ability to mutate. This Godzilla feels like something that would fit right at home within a modern anime series.

In the 1954 original, lone scientist Dr. Daisuke Serizawa invents the Oxygen Destroyer, the only weapon that can surpass the destructive power of Godzilla. He uses it to kill the monster at the cost of his own life. In this 2016 reboot, the film’s lone scientist is already dead. So who then saves Japan? Basically, Japan saves itself with the help of a few allies. Rando creates a task force composed of misfits like himself, and the solution they eventually come up with brings the country together behind a common cause. It's as if the nerds finally found a way to wield japan's mighty bureaucracy to accomplish some good and clean up all of the nation's persistant nuclear contamination. Unfortunately,  the resolution  is somewhat underwhelming as the CGI effects used so successfully throughout most of the film fail to make its implementation look very convincing. Otherwise, this is still a more optimistic ending than the original. But victory is only temporary, and the film’s parting shot leaves the viewer with a deep sense of uneasiness about the future.


Superwoman #1

Superwoman #1: Story/Art: Phil Jimenez Inks: Matt Santorelli Colors: Jeremy Cox Covers: Steve Downer, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson  Lois Lane created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Lana Lang created by Bill Finger and John Sikela.
Story/Art: Phil Jimenez
Inks: Matt Santorelli
Colors: Jeremy Cox
Covers: Steve Downer, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson

Lois Lane created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Lana Lang created by Bill Finger and John Sikela.

Superman and his supporting cast have always been at the center of every convoluted twist in DC’s shared universe. It wasn’t that long ago that the publisher brought back the Post-Crisis version of the character, then killed-of the newer New 52 version. The new Superwoman series is a homage to one aspect of the character’s history. As unexpected as was the announcement for this new comic, Lois Lane and her romantic rival Lana Lang have been known in the past to temporarily gain superpowers. The comic is rife with continuity nods that, depending on one’s perspective, is either a confusing mess that makes it very difficult for any new reader to understand what’s going on, or cleverly plays to nostalgic fans.

It’s great to see the underappreciated Phil Jimenez working in comics again. His densely packed pages with panels loaded with text is pretty much a throwback in today’s industry. And the first half of this comic is a bit of a headache to get through, which is devoted to explaining the current status quo. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure which version of Lois was actually in the comic. And Lana’s reinvention as a science/reporter type was a bit unusual. Oh, and Lex Luthor is again wearing another suit of armour and apparently suffering from Helicarrier envy. But the mid-story plot twist did at least end the heavy emphasis on exposition in order to concentrate on the seat-of-your-pants action sequence. And the plot twist did make Lana a much more interesting character in the series.

It’s difficult to say in what direction that much-discussed-on-the-internet cliffhanger ending is leading towards. My first guess was that it was a typical comic bookish misdirection. But most of online fandom seems to be taking it at face value.  If so, it’s not a particularly dignified way to send off a character that hasn’t been particularly well-served by the New 52 era. But unfortunately for that person, DC’s continuity does need a bit of uncluttering.

Superwoman #1: Story/Art: Phil Jimenez Inks: Matt Santorelli Colors: Jeremy Cox Covers: Steve Downer, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson  Lois Lane created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Lana Lang created by Bill Finger and John Sikela.


Deathstroke: Rebirth #1

Deathstroke: Rebirth #1. Story: Christopher Priest Art: Carlo Pagulayan Inks: Jason Paz Colors: Jeremy Cox Letters: Willie Schubert Covers: Aco, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Stephen Platt, Peter Steigerwald  Deathstroke created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez.
Story: Christopher Priest
Art: Carlo Pagulayan
Inks: Jason Paz
Colors: Jeremy Cox
Letters: Willie Schubert
Covers: Aco, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Stephen Platt, Peter Steigerwald

Deathstroke created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

Deathstroke is not a character I have any particular interest in reading about as the protagonist, and the New 52 relaunch purged most of the continuity elements that made him a fascinating villain for the Teen Titans. Without that history, he’s just another super soldier sporting a cynical attitude. But DC seems determined to revive the character’s short-lived, 90s-era popularity. So he’s been given the Rebirth treatment in a new series that’s less about superhero adventures, and more about gritty, violent tales featuring ruthless mercenaries. Fortunately, the writer hired to shepherd this latest relaunch is Christopher Priest, who’s perhaps best known for his critically-acclaimed run on Black Panther.

Like most Rebirth issues, the comic certainly works as a reintroduction to the character. The fragmentary storytelling moves back and forth between a younger Slade Wilson taking his two sons camping in the woods during the dead of winter, and the present-day version working on a job for an African warlord. The former is terrible human being. An absentee father figure who’s hellbent on teaching his kids life’s harshest lessons and moulding them into manly survivalists like himself, even if it means literally beating those lessons into them. The latter’s a soldier of fortune who follows a strict professional code of ethics. But an unexpected appearance of someone from his past complicates his loyalties.

Deathstroke: Rebirth #1. Story: Christopher Priest Art: Carlo Pagulayan Inks: Jason Paz Colors: Jeremy Cox Letters: Willie Schubert Covers: Aco, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Stephen Platt, Peter Steigerwald  Deathstroke created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

Carlo Pagulayan draws a pretty cool looking update to the original design of George Perez. His style conforms to DC’s house style, which is to say that it’s good but not particularly unique to look at. What let’s the issue down are the muddy colors of Jeremy Cox. The usual bright blues and oranges of Deathstroke’s costume are replaced by more neutral hues that make it harder to read the character on the page. This is exacerbated by the African setting being drenched in dull earth tones.

The strangest part of the comic is the unexplained presence of an elderly Clock King. His advanced age and his Silver Age style costume are oddly out of place in this comic’s more down-to-earth milieu. He adds an element of intrigue in a competently told, but otherwise conventional comic.


Comic-Con Album Pt 38

Lara Croft Tomb Raider Cosplayers, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Nikon n90s SLR Camera. Fujifilm NPZ800 color negative 35mm film.
Lara Croft cosplayers, Comic-Con exhibit hall

I was vaguely aware at the time that Mark Hamill was filming Comic Book: The Movie at the exhibit hall.

Pt  29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37,