Reading “Funeral in Smallville”

The first half of All-Star Superman is not as good as I remember it being.  It has its high points (“The Gospel According to Lex Luthor” is still a darkly funny examination of Superman’s arch nemesis, even if current real-world context makes megalomaniacs who fawn over authoritarians and fascists more scary) and it has some real low points (the two-issue Lois Lane arc is garbage in too many ways to be redeemable).  The sixth issue of the series falls somewhere in between the extremes; it’s not a bad story, but it’s also not a terribly memorable one.

“Funeral in Smallville” acts as something of an origin story for Superman.  It’s not The Origin Story (Morrison and Quitely dispense with all of that on the first page of the first issue in a terse four-panel layout that hits the high points without belaboring a story with which readers are almost assuredly familiar) so much as a snapshot of one of the defining moments of Superman’s personal history.  In many continuities, Superman operates as an adult in a period of time after the death of his adoptive father Jonathan Kent.  This is a significant moment for the character because it marks his transition from relying on Jonathan’s advice and guidance in building a moral compass to learning how to navigate his role in the world independently.  In Morrison’s Silver Age inflected version of this event, Jonathan Kent dies while young Clark, as Superboy, is busy trying to corral a Chronovore, a multidimensional creature that eats time.  It’s a weird, nonsensical explanation for Clark being unable to get Jonathan emergency help when he realizes he can’t hear his father’s heartbeat, though I suppose the point is to prevent a scenario like in Man of Steel where Clark disregards the safety of other people in the middle of a large scale emergency.  It wouldn’t look good for Clark to abandon his fight with the Chronovore to save his father when other people could be injured by his withdrawal (again, never mind that this story sets up a cadre of future Supermen who have traveled back in time for the express purpose of dealing with the Chronovore so Clark doesn’t have to get involved).

Anyway.

Aw, Clark. (Pencils by Frank Quitely, inks & colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

The reveal at the end of this issue is that one of the future Supermen, the Unknown Superman of AD 4500, is actually the Superman we’ve been following in this series come back in time to try to prevent Clark missing Jonathan’s death.  That he fails in this task is a poignant moment when you couple it with young Clark’s immature assertion that he can save everybody and what we’ve seen of Superman in the present so far where he never stops watching for opportunities to save people from danger.  This is a story about Superman’s limitations in the midst of a series that’s exploring if he can reach an unlimited state.

The biggest complaint I have with this story is that while its emotional core is solid, it’s also heavy with Silver Age fluff.  Morrison and Quitely build in cameos by Clark’s high school friends Pete Ross and Lana Lang, include the thoroughly absurd Krypto the Superdog (no explanation is offered for why Krypto is around in Clark’s past but he’s never mentioned in the present), and has clunky expository dialogue like, “It just turned Farmer Stone’s cows in the hamburgers they were destined to become!”  This stuff’s supremely goofy, and it can be really entertaining, but it clashes terribly with the significantly more grounded scenes showing the Kents contemplating Clark’s growth and what the future holds for him.  I’m not a huge fan of the juxtaposition in this issue.

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Reading “The Gospel According to Lex Luthor”

It occurs to me that Grant Morrison spends the first half of All-Star Superman exploring what he thinks is at the core of several iconic Superman characters (to review, Superman has everything under control and kind of doesn’t trust humans; Lois Lane is only concerned about her status in relation to Superman and only realizes the patriarchy is a thing after getting high on “alien chemicals”; and Jimmy Olsen is a hapless schmuck who believes that Superman’s safety takes precedence over that of Earth); they all hark heavily back to the Silver Age, for which I guess Morrison has the most nostalgia.

Issue #5 of All-Star Superman features Morrison and Quitely’s take on Lex Luthor, the seminal Superman villain.  The last few decades have tended towards treating Luthor as something of a secret villain; starting with John Byrne’s Superman reboot of the late ’80s, The Man of Steel, Luthor has been depicted primarily as an ultra-wealthy businessman who engages in clandestine criminal activity.  This version makes him a nice foil to Superman, since Luthor’s status makes it impossible for Superman to confront him directly, even though many of his schemes are designed to directly attack Superman.  There was even a period in the early ’00s when Luthor got himself elected President of the United States and Superman couldn’t do anything about it, even though he knew that the country had elected a supervillain (oh, to have an actual criminal mastermind heading into the White House instead of, well, you know).

This is only the first time Superman saves Luthor from accidental death in this issue. It’s funny until you start to think about the fact that Luthor’s a danger to everyone on the planet and these moments of secret heroism enable him to continue in his delusion that he deserves to rule over everyone. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman and Travis Lanham)

Morrison totally ignores all that history though, instead opting to present Luthor as he was originally conceived and depicted from the ’40s into the ’80s–as a criminal genius who openly flouts society in favor of flagrant supervillainy.  Morrison’s Luthor begins the series in a position where he’s pretended reform, but some investigative journalism from the Daily Planet reveals that he lied about that; he’s swiftly arrested after Lois’s dad (he’s a general) stumbles across Luthor in the middle of enacting the scheme that leads to Superman becoming overloaded with solar energy so that he’ll die.  We catch up with him again at his trial where the judge lists off the names of some of history’s most destructive and dangerous men (including Hitler) as the people Luthor takes as his personal role models.  There’s nothing subtle about this version of the character; he’s an unapologetic narcissist and megalomaniac; his only weakness is his obsession with Superman’s apparent superiority to him (the plot that kicks off this whole series is brought about by Luthor one day realizing that he has crow’s feet while Superman still looks the same age as always).

Now, here’s the thing that Morrison does in this issue which I love.  Luthor is an arrogant jerk even when he’s locked up in maximum security prison with other supervillains; in fact, he goes beyond arrogance into blatant carelessness.  The conceit of this issue is that Clark Kent has scored an exclusive interview with Luthor while he’s awaiting execution on death row.  Clark goes to the prison where he finds Luthor tinkering with projects that appear harmless, and in an interview that spans a prison riot and a harrowing underworld escape (for Clark, not Luthor), we see Luthor expose himself to mortal peril multiple times only for Clark to clandestinely save him.  Before they leave Luthor’s workshop, Clark saves him from electrocution by a faulty extension cord, and Luthor doesn’t even notice.  That’s just how smug he is.

A reminder that Luthor is always dangerous, even when he’s ridiculous, even to Superman. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman and Travis Lanham)

And this is the thing that Morrison does which is so great.  Luthor is a genuinely scary supervillain.  He’s brilliant, motivated, and completely unconcerned with anyone besides himself, but he’s also terribly dependent on the mercy of Superman.  He can’t acknowledge this fact, but it clearly terrifies and infuriates him.  If not for Superman’s largess, Luthor probably would have gotten himself killed long before this moment, and the world would be a better place for it.  Even more striking with all this is that Superman continues to protect Luthor because he sees Luthor’s potential; the man could do incredible things to improve the world if he would just get over his obsession with besting Superman.  I think Superman’s a little naive on this point (Luthor listed Adolf Hitler as one of his heroes!), but he’s in a position where he can allow himself some naivete.  Aside from the most recent scheme that has succeeded in getting Superman to die a very slow death, Luthor can’t hurt him, and he’s able to prevent Luthor from hurting others.  This dynamic strikes me as an unconscious expression of privilege in action; when you have someone who can’t actually be harmed by another person’s nastiness, they are much more easily able to be forgiving; considering that the rest of the world recognizes rightly that Luthor is a clear and present danger to everyone, Superman’s mercy seems misplaced here.  Considering that the issue ends with Luthor escorting Clark out through a secret passage he burrowed with the help of one of his “harmless” inventions before returning to his cell, it’s clear that the only person capable of keeping Luthor in check is Superman, and he has a case of the Pollyannas when it comes to his arch nemesis, who we know has already succeeded in killing him.

Reading “Superman’s Forbidden Room”

The second issue of All-Star Superman serves the purpose of citing much of the continuity that Morrison is going to gleefully pull from in building his version of Superman’s world while also establishing the stakes of the larger story being told.  We know that Superman is dying from his recent trip to the sun, and here he tries to come clean with Lois Lane, someone whom he’s deceived for the length of his career.  This is a timeline where we’ve never seen anything like Superman revealing his secret identity to Lois, let alone them getting married; their relationship appears to be founded more on all the weird stuff of the Silver Age Superman (thoroughly catalogued at Superdickery) where Superman just went to absurd lengths to keep people from finding out who he is.  That Lois begins the issue totally skeptical of Superman’s confession to be Clark Kent is a nice way to put all the terrible stuff he did to her in the Silver Age in a context that makes narrative sense, and then it takes an absurdly dark and delightful turn.

The key thread for this issue is Lois’s skepticism of Superman suddenly coming clean with her.  It gradually escalates into full blown paranoia as Lois decides that Superman is actually plotting something sinister when she stumbles into a room filled with superscience and diagrams of Lois’s body.  This all culminates with Lois shooting Superman with a green Kryptonite gun (he’s fine; green Kryptonite no longer hurts him after his sun supercharge) and Superman revealing his birthday surprise for Lois: a day with the same superpowers as him.

Lois being all action-hero-y when she’s at the height of her drug-induced paranoia. Notice how she’s drawn in a nonsexualized way and her fears revolve around being forced to be Superman’s mate. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant)

What’s fun about this issue is the way Lois descends into her paranoid state; Morrison never breaks from her perspective throughout the issue, so we see a very logical internal progression, even as Superman does everything he can to be totally upfront with Lois.  He shows her all the wonders of his Fortress of Solitude, which is a cool premise by itself for an issue.  There’s no major conflict happening here other than a minor lab accident that we don’t know about until the very end.  It’s just Morrison throwing all his favorite parts of the Superman mythos out there for Quitely to illustrate and letting us marvel at it all.

Of course, there is a dark side to this issue.  Lois’s paranoia is induced by exposure to a toxic substance, but her reasoning that it’s suspicious for Superman to come clean after he’s lied to her for years isn’t wrong.  As the audience we know that Superman is trying to get his affairs in order because he’s going to die, but this issue does give us an opportunity to consider how it all looks from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know what we know.  There’s a certain paternalistic edge to Superman’s actions here (not his hiding Lois’s birthday present, but his decision not to tell her that he’s dying), and it’s uncomfortable that Morrison asks us to dismiss Lois’s concerns at the end of the issue just because her paranoia’s been artificially elevated.  This is the unfortunate duality to the premise of All-Star Superman that our hero is at the peak of his abilities, and because of his elevated consciousness he knows best in all situations.  Morrison and Quitely fully embrace the tradition of Superman as a messianic figure, but they overlook the fact that he’s still mortal with finite, if vast, knowledge of the universe.  We’re supposed to trust that Superman always makes the right choice, but in this little issue that’s just about his relationship with Lois we get a relatively deep exploration of the problem with entrusting a single person with so much responsibility.  It’s one of the few moments where Superman’s flaws are highlighted in an otherwise optimistic, idealistic series about him.

Here’s Lois before she’s exposed to the gas. She’s shown naked in the shower, in a pose that doesn’t seem anatomically possible (her feet are flat on the floor, but her legs are flexed like she’s on tip-toes), wondering if “Superman’s girlfriend” is going to get what she wants. The more I think about this issue, the grosser it feels. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant)

On the art side of things I have just one complaint about Quitely’s work in this issue.  I normally love his stuff (his figures never look like unblemished mannequins the way you get in some other artists’ superhero drawings), but there’s one panel in this issue where he draws Lois taking a shower to get ready for her dinner with Superman.  The showering itself isn’t a problem, but the pose that he puts Lois in bugs me immensely.  She’s standing flat-footed in the shower, but her back is arched and her legs are flexed like she’s wearing heels.  It’s a small complaint; this is one of the few times in an issue that otherwise depicts Lois in action running around deserted hallways where the objectification is blatant.  I don’t think we ever seen anything like this again in this series, but it catches my eye every time I read through the issue, and it bugs me.

Despite all this, the issue ends on a high note, with a splash page of Superman presenting Lois’s birthday gift to her, with the promise that next time we’ll get to see them operating as equals, at least for a day.

So I Just Saw Justice League: War

After I watched The Flashpoint Paradox a few weeks ago, I was really looking forward to checking out the other two DC Animated movies that are currently on Netflix.  I watched Son of Batman first, and it was alright, but it didn’t leave a particularly strong impression on me (I kept getting distracted by the absurdity of Talia Al Ghul’s wardrobe, which consists of an unzipped catsuit at all times, even when she’s hanging out with the League of Assassins where everyone else is dressed up like a ninja; it really threw me out of the story).  Then I got to Justice League: War, and I was much more satisfied with this movie.

In light of all the recent discussion about Batman v Superman, I always find it interesting that there’s so much focus on the live action side of DC superhero adaptations when Warner Bros. has had a phenomenal series of animated adaptations for over two decades, first with their various animated series of major properties and then in the last ten years their steady production of self-contained movie adaptations of famous comics stories (I was at my local video store the other day, and on a lark I went to check out their animated section to see if they had any other DC movies; Warner Bros. has produced over twenty animated films in the last ten years).  In the last couple they’ve moved towards adapting recent significant comic arcs, which is where Justice League: War comes in.

Justice League: War is a retelling of the Justice League’s origin story in DC’s recently retired New 52 continuity.  It features Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Shazam, and the Flash at the beginning of their careers when no one yet really knows what to make of superheroes.  Because of an invasion plan being carried out by Darkseid, these heroes, despite not being inclined towards teamwork, are thrown together in order to foil Darkseid’s plans.  Because this is a team-up story, no time is spent on origins for the cast except Cyborg, whose injury and rebuilding occurs as a matter of course in the movie’s first act; everyone else only gives bits of background information in passing.

The visual style of this movie is really engaging on top of everything else. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

What I find most interesting about this story is the way the heroes are characterized.  Going back to Batman v Superman, I’ve seen a lot of discussion of the way the two central characters are represented in ways that are so inconsistent with their previous popular depictions.  Batman’s supposed to be so steeped in paranoia that he resorts to using tactics that are far more brutal than what’s seen in other versions of the character; Superman’s apparently a rather selfish figure who’s spectacularly failing to connect on a human level with the people he’s supposed to be protecting.  I don’t particularly care for cynical representations of these characters (even Batman at his most fascistic is still supposed to be a principled hero), but I can see why someone might want to explore them in a scenario where they have real failings connected to the circumstances surrounding their extraordinary power.  In Justice League: War, you don’t get any of that.  Batman comes off as a little insular when he first encounters Green Lantern, but it quickly becomes apparent that Batman’s the only member of the nascent Justice League who understands that they need to cooperate in order to stop Darkseid (late in the movie he gives Green Lantern a pep talk explaining that they’re just a couple of regular guys who have gotten caught up with actual superhumans, and working together is going to be imperative to saving the world, then he hops a ride to Darkseid’s homeworld in order to rescue Superman by himself; Batman is a ball of contradictions, but he’s a likable one here).  Superman, in contrast, is kind of a jerk.  He’s arrogant when Batman and Green Lantern first meet him (perhaps justifiable since Green Lantern immediately attacks him instead of trying to talk, like Batman suggests, and they’re clearly not a match for him), and he continues to be a showoff throughout the rest of the movie (he and Wonder Woman have a clear mutual admiration society going on in a nod to their eventual romance in the New 52).  Superman’s characterization here doesn’t have any concern with his usual significance as a symbolic figure; he’s the team’s big gun, and that’s the extent of his value here.

The rest of the team’s characterizations are interesting, though I’m not nearly as well versed in their histories to be able to comment extensively.  Hal Jordan and Barry Allen’s depictions are pretty consistent with what’s seen elsewhere; Hal has a level of confidence that’s not fully backed by his proficiency with his power ring, and Barry’s just a nice guy who thinks it’s cool that he gets to hang out with superheroes.  Diana is written in that mode that’s common to her origin stories where it’s assumed that she’s completely unfamiliar with modern Western society; I find this a little irksome, because some naivete is okay (a scene where she tries ice cream for the first time is charming), but when it translates into her not having a basic understanding of diplomacy (she bails on a meeting with the US president because she gets tired of waiting even though she’s explicitly in America to meet with the president) it feels like the writers are equating coming from a culture with a substantially different technological level and social structure with being an idiot.  Shazam acts just like most of the teenagers I know; he’s exactly as annoying as he should be (my complaint about him stems mostly from the fact that he’s not treated as being on the same level as Superman; I’ve always understood that DC’s Captain Marvel was supposed to be a peer of Superman, but with a magical bent to his powers rather than a sci-fi one; perhaps there was some readjustment in the New 52 and the character’s renaming that puts him on a lower tier that I don’t know about).  Cyborg has the most fleshed out character arc, since this is also his origin story, and it hits those beats perfectly well.  The whole time I was watching though, I kept thinking back to this essay about the problematic nature of Cyborg’s character in context of the DC universe and how this retelling of his origin fails to correct any of those issues.

Setting aside characterization, both the good and the bad, this movie’s remarkably satisfying in other ways.  The animation’s excellent, and the battle scenes are choreographed in a way that keeps them engaging (and unlike certain live action adaptations, the writers don’t forget that regular people are endangered by all the chaos the supers are causing).  If you’re interested in seeing a Justice League origin movie, you really could do a lot worse than this one.

So I Just Saw Disney’s Hercules (2)

So Hercules is Superman is Jesus.

It’s an interesting bit of parallelism that’s going on there, since in all three cases we’re dealing with men who find themselves in a place alien to their innate nature looking to do right by their fathers.  Oh, and they all, while being alien to their environment, are simultaneously native to it.  The native part relates to their sense of humanity, and I think that reflects a pretty cool feature of our own relationship to divinity (or, if you aren’t religious, things which are greater than us).  For all the division we strive to create amongst ourselves so that we can put everything into comprehensible boxes, our largest cultural heroes embody a sense of unity with those things that are different from ourselves.

Nifty.

Anyway, drawing the discussion back down to consider just parallels between Hercules and Superman, we have the narrative of the hero being separated from his birth parents through fate, adopted by humble farmers who represent the simple, salt-of-the-earth human culture that will help temper any innate inclinations towards greatness, and the hero’s slow realization of his potential which blossoms into acceptance and celebration by the masses that fostered him.

It occurs to me at this point that this heroic archetype is kind of a sausage fest.  I’m wondering if there are any female versions that we might consider as well.  If anyone has any suggestions, let me know in the comments below; I’ll ponder this question myself in the meantime (also, if we can’t think of any examples, then why is this not an avenue that’s been better explored?).

The parallels aren’t limited only to Hercules and Superman, though.  Like I mentioned last time, I see some similarities between Hercules and Superman’s supporting cast.  Megara and Lois Lane share the rather dubious distinction of being the hero’s intrepid love interest who finds herself stuck being a damsel when everything about her character says that this is not the role she should be playing (we’re introduced to Megara when she’s in the middle of negotiations gone wrong with Nessus the river guardian; she insists she can handle things herself when Hercules shows up, but he rather ham-handedly takes it upon himself to save her anyway; as for Lois, just look at any depiction where her nose for a good story leads her to get captured by the villain).  On the flip side, Hades and Lex Luthor are villainous foils who are jealous of the birthright of their opponents (Hades wants to rule Olympus where Hercules rightfully belongs as a son of Zeus, and Luthor has a pathological envy for Superman’s innate power; both villains are also immensely powerful in their own right; Hades rules the underworld and eventually holds dominion over all mortals, including Hercules, and Luthor, in his more gonzo depictions, has so much power, influence, and raw talent that he can manipulate events on a global scale in his favor).

So Hercules is a movie that cribs extensively from the Superman narrative as it explores the question of what makes a legitimate hero.  A lot of the movie’s second half deals in a parody of contemporary pop culture where celebrity is synonymous with heroism, which isn’t necessarily a poor critique, though it’s not terribly well developed (drawing parallels between Hercules’s popularity and the cult of personality surrounding famous athletes isn’t bad, but the fact that Hercules really does go around helping people in concrete ways kind of underscores the absurdity of the comparison).  There’s also a bit of subtle commentary on the fact that Hercules becomes a hero because Hades keeps trying to kill him (in this version of events, it’s Hades who instigates all the challenges that represent Hercules’s famous labors).  It reminds me of Unbreakable, but much more lighthearted and with a less plodding pace.

Of course, this is a Disney movie, so we have to take that parody of pop culture and turn it into some kind of wholesome moral (for the kids), so eventually Hercules learns that the characteristic of a true hero is not just helping people, but selfless sacrifice as expressed in his willingness to die in order to save Megara from being dead (an act that parallels how Megara ended up in Hades’s service in the first place, which leaves me wondering why Hercules gets immortality for doing it, but Megara gets eternal servitude and an ingrate ex-boyfriend; double standard much?).

Ultimately, I think this adaptation suffers quite a bit from stylistic overload.  Heracles as a subject has a lot of material associated with him (the stuff that gets referenced in Hercules is honestly just skimming the top) that could make for some really interesting storytelling opportunities.  Instead, what we get with Disney’s take is something that heavily borrows its themes and structure from contemporary pop culture (the connections between Superman and Hercules strike me as too intentional on the part of the directors to simply be a product of archetypal storytelling) while using the source material as a sort of window dressing.  The aesthetics of the film do some interesting things in referencing Greek art and drawing on a more contemporary musical tradition, but in the end it feels like mostly flash with little substance.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/13/14)

Faith

1. One thing in my series on the train wreck that was my conversation with Damon, a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on explicitly was the fact that I went back to the Nicene Creed of 381 as the foundation of my system of dogma.  Most Christians today, regardless of their location within the Church’s various branches, affirm that version of Creed, and so it is a cornerstone of orthodox faith within Christianity.  It’s pretty barebones in its assertions (you don’t get a whole lot besides the establishment of the Trinity, Jesus as wholly divine and wholly human, and belief in the Crucifixion and Resurrection; the technical details of any of those points are still pretty vague and open to interpretation), but it defines what the core of Christianity is for most of the world’s Christians.  This article does a pretty nice job of articulating the frustration I ran into with Damon when his response to my bringing up the Nicene Creed was that it was “valid, but incomplete.”  I suspect this is probably an outpouring of thought from the diminished importance of Church tradition over biblical interpretation that’s common in Protestantism in general and evangelicalism in particular.

2. Following on that, here’s an article from David Hayward discussing one particularly nasty response to Rachel Held Evans’s very honest meditations on how to proceed in relation to evangelicalism after the World Vision incident from several weeks ago.

3. I recently discovered a new blog.  It’s called Scribalishess, and it’s a fantastic combination of fancy pen reviews and explanations of Hebrew scriptures.  Being a lefty, I can’t really do a whole lot with fancy pens other than admire the aesthetics of them (someone, please tell me if a fountain pen has been invented that can be comfortably used by a southpaw with the signature curled claw writing position), but the writer is a professor of the Hebrew Bible, and she’s written some fantastic explanations of the problems with how contemporary Christians tend to approach the Old Testament.  For a sampling of her work that I’ve really enjoyed so far, follow these links: “The Day My Son Was Taught ‘Bible’ in Public School”, “Leviticus Defiled: The Perversion of Two Verses”, “Reading Genesis 1 ‘Literally'”

Science

1. I get a lot of my science news via io9.  Recently, I was really excited to see that they hired a correspondent for news in Washington, D.C. related to science policy.  I think this event is not unrelated to an updated manifesto that was published by io9‘s chief editor, Annalee Newitz, this week where she writes that, whether you like it or not, science is a political issue, and policies that affect scientific research and education need to be addressed.  Wholeheartedly agreed.

2. Following that, here’s an article about the brouhaha stirring at a technical university where a couple who are creationists have been invited to speak at a commencement ceremony.  This is an interesting case mostly because the couple in question are also engineers, and they plan on speaking only about their engineering backgrounds at the ceremony.  Nonetheless, opponents of the decision are arguing that the university shouldn’t even recognize people who take part in political efforts that directly seek to undermine science education, even if it’s an unrelated field.

Gaming

1. There’s still a long way to go to get to equal representation of all demographics in fiction.  This talk given at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference by Manveer Heir, a game designer for BioWare, gives a pretty good overview of the excuses that lots of folks within the games industry are making, and points towards some goals that developers should keep in mind.

2. I’m only a little surprised I’ve not seen this before, but this is a very thorough exploration of all the problems with the user interface in the first Mass Effect game.  Anyone who’s played the series knows that the first game had some major drawbacks, especially in relation to its inventory system.  It’s also a good write up on how a player interacts with a game and what good visual design does to facilitate the experience and immersion of a title.  Also, in the follow-up that looks at Mass Effect 2‘s user interface, the writer validates everything I was thinking about the simplification of pretty much every system between the two games.

Comics

1. So Carol Danvers has been Captain Marvel (in the Marvel comics universe) for a couple years now, and all accounts say she’s been a success in her new role.  Now I’m hearing that Marvel’s launching a new Ms. Marvel, and she’s a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey.  Why am I not reading this series?!

Movies

1. Last summer I watched a really good movie called Another Earth.  Now the director of that film is about to release a new movie that explores the tension between a materialist outlook and confrontation with scientifically inexplicable phenomena.  Personally, I think a lot of people make too much of the perceived conflict between science and faith (it’s one of my pet peeves about Rob Bricken’s reporting at io9 that he always seems to take this angle in writing about things that examine the relationship between science and faith), but this new film might still be worth seeing.  Here’s the trailer, if you’re curious.

Fun

Art by Lauren Dawson. (Image credit: http://iguanamouth.tumblr.com)

1. There have been a lot of live action adaptations of Superman and Batman over the years.  Also there have been a few of Wonder Woman.  That doesn’t change the fact that Wonder Woman as a character has not seen a notable live action adaptation since the 1970s.  Here’s a compilation of the looks of various adaptations of DC’s Trinity over the years with a rather wry jab at Wonder Woman’s poor representation.

2. I have not read every Shakespeare play (honestly, I’m more of a Marlowe fan), but based on what I know about the ones that I have read, these 3-panel plot summaries are pretty spot on.

3. Time travel is a lot of fun in stories, but looking at visualizations of how it actually plays out are probably even more of a blast.  Here’s a quiz where the time travel in various movies are illustrated on timelines and you get to guess if you can recognize the film based on its pathway.  Like all things from BuzzFeed, it’s kind of stupid, but still entertaining.

4. First, there was Sharknado.  Now, there’s Poseidon Rex.

5. The Muppets instantly make things better.  So here’s a collection of fan art mashing up the Muppets with various characters across the Marvel and DC universes.  My favorite might be the first one that features Dazzler singing with the Electric Mayhem.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/4/13

Well, I’m back to work now, so we’ll see how I manage keeping up with my steady stream of content.  In the meantime, while we all twiddle our thumbs worriedly, enjoy some links.

Comics

1. Over at Me: A Wannabe-Superhero, Elizabeth Sharrod posts some thoughts on why she enjoys wearing shades.  They provide a level of protection out in public that I know I don’t get to participate in because I always have to wear my glasses (can you imagine how much it would suck for Cyclops if he needed corrective lenses?  That would be one nerve-wracking visit to the optometrist.

2. If you’re interested in comics, but you don’t know where you might start to read some of the better classic stories, here’s a good thread on i09 where readers suggest their favorite crossovers.  Anything you see that involves the X-Men, I’ve read, and generally I agree about their quality.

Fiction

1. 300 Stories has another flash fiction piece that tickled me this week.  Since I started following there’s been something new every day, so check it out if you enjoy quick bursts of story to spur you on.

2. This is not fiction per se, but it is some handy advice on making a setting from scratch.

3. If you like fiction, and you like it free, then hurry up and go download Tor’s collection of five years’ worth of short stories.

Religion

1. John Scalzi is a fiction writer, but this week he posted a meditation on Matthew 6 that captures a little bit of the motivation that I think most Christians strive for when they serve others.  I can’t say that I always succeed in acting selflessly, but it’s a good reminder.

2. From Defeating the Dragons, a post discussing the difficulties of separating the acts of reading and interpreting the Bible.  We all bring our own interpretations to what we read, and the Bible is no different in that respect.  I think conversations between parts of the Church would probably go much more smoothly if we could all remember how difficult it is to set aside our biases when reading the Bible.

3. Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice gives us the first in a series he’s doing on verses that have profoundly affected him.  The first is a meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose the base things, the despised ones and those who are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”  The fact that God chooses the despised ones is reason enough for me to choose them too.

4. From Rachel Held Evans this week, an interview with Nicole Baker Fulgham, a Christian activist for improved public education.  Fulgham’s agenda does not deal with homeschooling or creationism, only with trying to address real deficits in the public school environment through faith-based outreach.  I’d love to hear more from her.

5. In the wake of Rachel Held Evans’s CNN article last week about Millenials, everyone and their clone has put forward an opinion about the issue.  Here’s Richard Beck’s take, which is remarkably generous and, I think, astute.

Movies

1. I know The Wolverine is out and doing about as well as I expected it would, but I’m much more looking forward to this version directed by Woody Allen.

2. I’m sure everyone knows this, but The Simpsons do a lot of movie parodies.  For anyone who might want a chronological catalog of all of them for the first ten seasons, here’s a couple of videos.

The first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Ret...

I reiterate: the next Superman movie will be based on this. Cover art by Frank Miller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The more I hear that Man of Steel 2 is going to be based on The Dark Knight Returns, the less hope I have that it’ll be a good follow-up.  I don’t want an old Batman versus a young Superman, I just want Batman and Superman being awesome together as the perfect complementarian couple (he’s justice and he’s mercy!).  Aside from that, it strikes me as a huge mistake to base a Superman film on a Batman story.  Actually, just give me 90 minutes of Superman and Batman doing this.  Thanks, DC.

4. James Cameron, what are you thinking?  Really, what more plot could you possibly have to fit into three more movies in the Avatar franchise?

5. The most fun part of this discussion thread on i09 is that I scrolled down through it, and realized that thanks to this summer, I’ve now seen a lot of the movies that people mentioned.  Also, if you’re looking for sci-fi and fantasy movie recs, these threads pop up pretty regularly over at i09, and they’ve not disappointed me yet.

TV

1. Rachael and I just finished marathoning Season 5 of Breaking Bad this weekend.  It was wonderful.  Here’s an alternate universe take on the series’s premise wherein Mr. Black quits his job as a meth cook when he finds out he has cancer and dedicates his life to teaching.

Gaming

1. Because extra violence is always the way to update a classic game, check out this rendering of Super Mario Bros. Level 1-2 with added blood, bombs, and a dragon.  Seriously though, I don’t see how the extra violence really improves this.  It’s a beautiful render otherwise.

2. I was originally just going to link to this funny short about Atlas and P-Body from Portal 2, but I followed a link rabbit trail and ended up coming across a bunch of other videos made by Zachariah Scott.  The one about Chell is quite poignant, and the series on turret mishaps is quite precious.  Check them all out when you have some time.

3. Hi, my name’s Jason… and I’ve used walkthroughs.  They’re kind of an integral part of gamer life, even if no one wants to admit it.  So I’m happy that someone did.  Also, back in their heyday before wikis became the de facto source of game tips, strategy guides were a great source of high quality game art.

4. This is a strange one, and I’m really not sure how I feel about it myself.  So, this guy at a conference gave a talk on gaming as a religion.  I think he was trying to draw a comparison between the sacred space that a lot of folks enter when they go to worship and the gamer trance.  I’m not buying that though, because generally after I finish a gaming session, if it’s gone on for too long, then I feel drained and listless.  After a worship service, I generally don’t feel drained and listless (unless the pastor went way over time and there’s a line for the bathroom, then I’d really like to feel a little more drained and listless).  Saying that gaming is a religion is, I think, taking the idea of subculture too far.  I love playing video games, and I love the possibility of religion intersecting with my preferred subcultures, but I never mistake my gaming hobby for my Christian faith.  Also, jeans tucked into galoshes?

Feminism

1. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s video series Tropes vs. Women in Games.  She just posted her third installment this week, so I thought I’d pass it along.

Current Events

1. I’m very poor.  Does that make me contrarian?

Science

1. Unfortunately, instantaneous teleportation does not seem to be a feasible technology to pursue at this time.  Unless, y’know, we just want to use up a much ambient energy in the universe as possible and accelerate the heat death by a few billion years.

2. I’m always skeptical of any headline that goes “[Blank phenomenon happens] says science.”  Science is not some monolithic czar passing down judgments about the nature of physical reality; it’s just the collected knowledge that’s been sifted out through countless hours of research and study by people for centuries.  So yes, this article’s headline is “Money turns People Into Jerks, Says Science,” but don’t think of it as science making the claim.  Think of it as the proposal of the researchers at UC Berkeley based on their own observations.  It probably needs to be corroborated by other researchers, but it’s still a fascinating look at how advantage inclines us toward selfishness.

3. I love stories like this.

4. To add to everyone’s weight neurosis: the universe is expanding, and that might mean we’re all getting bigger and don’t even realize it.

5. Apparently Pinocchio got it all wrong.

Miscellaneous Nerdiness

1. I teach English, so I have a little internal chalkboard that screeches whenever someone makes a linguistic error.  Fortunately for me, I don’t let this on most of the time, although now that I’ve written this on my blog everyone will silently judge me for silently judging them.  Otherwise, here’s a fun video about a bunch of words that people commonly mispronounce.

2. Every teacher has fantasies of pranking their students in ridiculous and humorous ways–especially if it involves taking away their cell phones.  I’m kind of appalled that a teacher actually did this to his student, but I think the internet is a better place for it.

Links that Turn You into a Gibbering Idiot

1. I bet insanity inducing blueberry pie is the best insanity inducing pie.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.